Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The True Story of How Babies are Made

One of my first exhibits as a curator at The Kinsey Institute focused on materials created to educate,  inform, and sometimes entertain their audience while providing information about sexual health and reproduction.  The exhibit, Sex Ed, included an eclectic mix of objects such as public service posters, fetal development models, educations films, marriage manuals, Japanese pillow books, birth control devices, and sex toys.  My favorite items were the children’s books.  These books were written throughout the 20th century to help parents explain the facts of life to their children.  Some books were more informative than others, but none were as straight forward and to the point as Danish author and illustrator Per Holm Knudsen's The True Story of How Babies are Made.  Published in 1973, the book clearly explains conception . . .

Monday, September 20, 2010

Pregnancy Watchers, Revisited

Becoming a parent has made me care more about certain things than I would like to admit.  For example, I just excitedly looked up the tour dates of the Yo Gabba Gabba concert.  Yet, I am still more comfortable with this new love of children’s programming than my interest in something I previously had little concern for: other people’s reproductive plans.

Early in Amanda’s pregnancy I wrote a blog entry on pregnancy watchers, people obsessed with knowing when other people are procreating.  I always found this odd.  Why did people have so much invested in other people’s personal lives?  A year later, Amanda and I are embarrassed to admit how we have become those people.  We are constantly speculating that someone is pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or even planning to eventually have children.

Being new to the sport of pregnancy spotting, we are making terrible amateur mistakes.  Amanda made the biggest of all by asking a friend if she was pregnant.  The woman was not (and did not look pregnant), but I am sure she is now paranoid whenever she wears the dress she was wearing that night. I thought that was a faux pas only men made, but Amanda was so excited at the possibility that she might be pregnant she could not help herself.  I am so determined to not make that mistake that I may also be damaging friendships.  On a recent walk, Piper, Ezra and I ran into one of the few couples in Stinesville we know.  The couple asked all about Ezra, and I think a polite response would have included asking when their baby was due.  I am 99% sure the woman is pregnant.  Not just a little, but like 7-8 months, obviously pregnant.  I did not acknowledge this on the very off chance I was wrong.  I would find it helpful if more pregnant women would wear “baby on board” shirts.

 There are so many tee shirts to select from!

I am unsure how or why my interest in people having children came about.  One might speculate that I became a parent, discovered the joy of having a child of my own, and wanted to start convincing others to join in the fun.  I am pretty sure that is not the case.  I have no desire to convince someone to have offspring.  My interest only lies in people who have clearly stated their wish to have children - especially those related to us.  We received no pressure from our family to have children and were grateful for their respectfulness.  I do not feel so generous.  Amanda has three siblings and two of them have said they wish to have children soon.  I feel like a hypocrite now pressuring them, but hurry up! – Ezra wants a cousin.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Nature & Nurture at The Kinsey Institute Gallery

For years, my co-worker Catherine and I have been planning to eventually curate an exhibit dealing with human reproduction.  We do work at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, and every show can’t be about sex. 

When Ezra started coming to work with me, he motivated us to finally move forward with the exhibit.  The result, Nature & Nurture, is now open at The Kinsey Institute Gallery.

Niki Grangruth 
Our Lady with Child and Stuffed Animal from The New Madonnas series, 2009;
The Kinsey Institute Permanent Collection

The long overdue Nature & Nurture explores pregnancy, birth, child rearing, development of gender identity, and parent-child relationships through fine art photographs, paintings, prints, sculptures, and books.

The exhibit is open to the public Monday-Friday, 2-4 pm or by appointment from September 10 through December 22.

Growing Roots in Bloomington: Making This College Town My Home

While writing a recent blog, Celebrating Love and Home, I spent some time counting on my fingers trying to recall how many years had passed since Garry and I first met, how long we had been together and so on.  In doing so, I realized it’s almost 17 years to the day that I first moved to Bloomington as an incoming freshman at Indiana University.  Wow, I’ve been here a long time!

In the intervening years between then and now, Garry and I have lived in Bloomington for 14 of those years. One would think I have long considered myself a Bloomingtonian.  Hardly! Until very recently, I’ve always thought of my residence in Bloomington as temporary.  This might be explained by the fact that most of those 14 years either one or both of us have been enrolled at IU.  Most of the time we’ve lived in rental properties – too many! Bloomington also has a large transient population and many of our friends have moved on. Regardless, I’ve always lived here with the intention of GETTING OUT.

It’s of course obvious to me now that our tenure in Bloomington has been anything but temporary. Having abandoned a PhD program and given birth to my son in the past year makes my life in Bloomington seem ever more permanent.  It need not be, but I realize Bloomington is a good place to call home. And I’m beginning to feel that it’s something more than that.

I’ve always been stumped by the question “Where are you from?”  Well, let’s see … I was born in a city my parents didn’t live in, and I’ve lived in X, Y and Z. By the time I was 12, I had lived in five cities … though to be fair I was really too young to remember two of them. By the time I moved out of my parent’s house, the longest I had lived anywhere was six years. Consequently, the idea of a “hometown” has always held little meaning for me, and I’ve never felt strong emotional ties to any one place.  But I feel tied to Bloomington. Tied to the topography of Southern Indiana. To the flora of the area and Midwest seasonality.

It’s hard to leave Bloomington for many reasons. From our food coop and daycare coop, to the community farmer’s market and university, Bloomington is a great place to live. Cultural events, art and music abound. And though many residents will complain about the influx of students, they add a vibrancy and energy that would be missing from any other similarly sized city.

Ezra and I at the Fourth Street Festival

The likelihood that we leave Bloomington seems to be rapidly diminishing. I hold out that one day we may move (how’s that for a qualified statement?), but we have no immediate plans to do so, and so I realize we really are establishing ourselves here. I realize too by choosing to set down roots in Bloomington, I’m creating a different life for Ezra than the one I had. And that’s okay. Ezra will one day have his own list of Bloomington favorites (I hope it includes Rhino’s!), but in the meantime here’s a list of some of my favorites.

Barefoot Kids (and its online store The Green Nursery)
Bleeding Heartland Rollergirls
Bloomington Area Birth Services
Bloomington Community Farmers' Market
Bloomington Community Orchard
Bloomington Restorations Inc.
Boxcar Books
Café Django
Charles Deam Wilderness area
Green’s Bluff Nature Preserve
Kid Kazooey
Landlocked Music
Laughing Planet
Lotus Festival (the free events)
Monroe County Public Library
Max’s Place
McCormick’s Creek State Park
Runcible Spoon

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


“Does he ever cry?” is a question that is often asked after someone has spent an extended amount of time with Ezra.  Many of my co-workers will claim Ezra did not cry once the entire 5 months he spent with me at my office. The intern who shared my office during Ezra’s tenure would roll her eyes at such comments, and invite people to stop by around 2 pm – Ezra’s cranky time. His reputation was certainly enhanced by my office being located on a different floor than 99% of my co-workers, but in general his standing as one of the world’s best natured babies was deserved.  He would contentedly play on the floor during two-hour meetings; smile upon meeting a new stranger; and quietly and observantly hang out in a baby carrier as I went about my workday.

Does he ever cry? The answer is yes.  He does cry; he becomes fussy; he whines; and as he enters toddlerhood he has begun to throw temper tantrums, but these are rare emotions.  When he does cry it is almost always short lived (with the exception of a few bad days at daycare) and quickly solved. So what are we doing “right” to have such a content and happy child? 

We, of course, cannot dismiss his natural personality.  He is a happy, easy-going fellow.  Apparently, some odd mixture of genetics made Ezra nothing like Amanda or me.  We realize we are fortunate and often wonder if it is unwise to push our luck by having a second child, but remind ourselves his personality cannot be 100% shaped by nature.  We like to think that nurture, in the form of several of our parenting choices, has played at least a minor role in Ezra’s behavior.

I do not want to give the impression that we believe we have found solutions to the challenges parents have been struggling with since the beginning of mankind – or more accurately babykind.  My guess is after his first question, “What was in that apple?,”  Adam’s second question to Eve was “how do we get those twins to sleep through the night?”   What we have personally found is that bed sharing, breastfeeding, baby wearing, meeting Ezra’s needs including sleeping and eating on demand rather than on a schedule, and having Ezra physically with us as much as possible helped Ezra to be a happy infant.

We came to the decision to use each of these techniques independently – influenced by our own intuition, our birthing class, our friends, and our community.  As we began to research these separately, we learned that collectively all of these techniques are tools often employed by Attachment Parents.  Our indirect path to Attachment Parenting actually makes sense considering that the ideals established by its advocate, Dr. William Sears, were based on what he believes parents intuitively would do if not for social pressures. 

To many people, the idea of encouraging intuitive parenting sounds synonymous to encouraging wild, feral parenting.  This is especially true in our culture.  Our culture emphasizes self-control, discipline and the ideal of an independent infant.  Parents are taught to remain vigilant to avoid the ultimate in parenting failure:  a spoiled child.  Previous generations were taught to prevent this mistake with the reminder to never “spare the rod.”  Our society no longer advocates physical abuse, but the pressure to use methods that feel uncomfortable to many parents are still strongly encouraged for “the child’s own good. ”  The best example of this is methods that promote “self-soothing” to foster the illusion of an independent infant.  

Dr. Sears points out what seems obvious to anyone in the presence of a newborn.  They are dependent. He points out that parents want to pick up their fussy child, but fight this instinct because they are told such actions will lead the child to being dependent upon their parents for comfort.  Sears believes the opposite to be true.  Showing your child that they can depend on you helps them to build confidence.  Children express their needs through their limited ability to communicate.  They are not naturally manipulative.  Not responding to his or her cries teaches them to stop crying.  They have not become more independent.  They just surrender to their inability to communicate with their caregiver.  

Though I sound like an evangelist for Attachment Parenting, when asked if we follow a parenting philosophy I am still reluctant to use this label to describe Amanda and me. I had always felt like subscribing to a single set of parenting principles seemed naïve, trendy, and simplistic. I still believe parenting is more complex than finding the right instruction manual. Personalities and lifestyles of individual parents as well as those of individual infants vary greatly requiring different needs and approaches.  As Ezra moves away from his infant days and towards his time as a toddler his needs have shifted.  We find our approach to parenting is also evolving, but I have hard time denying that we have so far been practicing Attachment Parenting (even if accidentally).  

As an unintentional spokesperson for this form of parenting I do admit that it seems to be working well. Ezra is confident, adventurous, happy, outgoing, inquisitive, and healthy.  In addition, Attachment Parenting has made incorporating Ezra into our lives without too much disruption easier.  Since we have always emphasized routine rather than a strict schedule, Ezra is pretty flexible when he naps or has a meal.   Since Ezra feels his “home” is with us, he is pretty comfortable in new surroundings, and traveling is easy since we do not have or need a stroller, portable crib and all the accessories that require the investment in a minivan.

I recently met a mother with two sons, now 12 and 16.  Both boys were raised as attachment kids. She has a great relationship with her now teen-age children whom she describes as well adjusted, confident, happy, and independent people.  Traits all parents, including this mother, Amanda and I, hope our children will possess.  Though these traits do have one (admittedly selfish) downside, she points out.  Her 16 year old who is now away for school is already so self-sufficient that she rarely hears from him.  The attachment kid eventually detaches and turns into an independent adult.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Letter to Ezra at 11 months

Dear Ezra,

You’ve changed remarkably since I wrote my last letterWhat a difference four weeks can make!  For starters, you now have TWO teeth!

You can do so much more with two teeth than just one.

You’re still quite the dairy-guy and love mama’s milk, yogurt and cheese.  You’re quite fond of Cheerios, crackers and bread too.  But, you also have a preference for strong flavors; you liked our Pad Thai and Eggplant Parmesan, roasted Brussels sprouts and curry-spiced carrot soup.  And we don’t have to worry about an iron or protein deficiency as you will happily eat black beans, tofu and hummus. Oddly enough, you’ve refused our home-cooked macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes.

You’re spending more time playing with blocks.

It’s been fun to watch you study their dimensions, stack them or put your other toys inside of them. You’ve just started doing these things and when you stack three blocks together or put a toy inside a block you have a big smile of accomplishment and pleasure on your face.  What a new, fun thing you’ve found to do!  You also enjoy passing your toys back and forth with your father and me and moving your blocks from one container to another.

Some of your favorite activities and interests include swinging,


playing with balls,

getting your teeth brushed, and being read to.  You still love Peek A Who, but also enjoy hearing many other books from your library.

Every evening before bedtime, we go on a family walk – you, your father, Piper and I.  It’s a pleasant, quiet time for us to talk about our day and for you to calm down before going to sleep. Whether you are playing quietly or noisily, sleeping peacefully or fitfully tossing and turning through the night, I love you completely.

Your first birthday is right around the corner, and I am so excited!  We’ve sent invitations, we’ve ordered your present and decided on a cake. We’re getting closer to ready and so are you. Now, when you wear a shirt and pants you look just like a little boy!

Your mom