Monday, November 29, 2010

The Birth of Silas James

In the early morning hours of Monday, November 22nd -- the night of a full moon -- I found myself unable to sleep. I had an ache in my lower back and could not get comfortable in bed. After getting up repeatedly to use the bathroom, I finally just stayed up and wandered the house.

When I noticed a crampy feeling in my lower abdomen I wondered if I might be in labor, but I waited another hour or so, until 4:11am, before deciding it was time to wake my husband. I still wasn't sure if this was it, but I was feeling “off” and wanted him with me. We went downstairs, leaving the baby monitor on so we could hear Henry when he woke up.

At 4:35am I called Christy, my midwife. I told her about the backache and the cramping, which had started to come and go. I was able to talk to her through all of it, so I wasn't sure if it could be labor. She said that it wouldn't hurt to fill up the birth tub -- we could always drain it later if it were a false alarm -- and to call her back when we knew more. In about half an hour the contractions had grown so intense that I didn’t think I could talk on the phone and my husband called Christy back to ask her to come to the house.

My husband worked to fill the birth tub and at 4:58am he called my sister Karen, who we had lined up to watch Henry during the birth. She asked if she had time to shower and eat, and we thought she did. Henry was still sleeping at this point anyway.

At 5:25am Christy arrived, and soon after Deb, another midwife she works with, and Brandy, Christy's apprentice, came too. By this time the contractions were getting painful. I had taped a sheet of reminders for myself on the wall of our family room telling me to relax my mouth and jaw, breathe slowly and deeply, make low-pitched tones, and to trust my body. Every now and then my husband reminded me of these, but just having thought about this in advance and knowing the sheet was there was enough.

During Henry's birth I strained my throat yelling and tensed my body up so much that afterward I felt like I'd been hit by a Mack truck. I was convinced that if I'd been able to relax at all and be more in control of my reaction to the pain things would have gone more smoothly.

Henry woke up at this point and my husband went upstairs to get him. He was pretty upset to find out that the baby was about to be born, but calmed down when he heard that Karen was on her way. He came down and said hello to me as I braced myself through the contractions, which were starting to get more intense.

The birthing tub was finally filled, after my husband had drained the water heater and boiled countless pots of water on the stove, at 6:30am. I was so grateful to be able to climb into it; the water really helped make the pain more manageable.

At 6:40am my sister arrived and went upstairs with Henry to his room. She brought the board game Mousetrap and he had a lot of fun playing it with her. At one point he ran downstairs to see me, but he was fine with being led back up after only a minute or two.

At about 8am the midwives wanted me to empty my bladder, so despite my desire to stay in the tub my husband helped me out and walked me to the bathroom. It was a Herculean effort.

At 8:32am I dropped an F-bomb. Up until then I had been moaning through the contractions, able to remember my own advice to use low tones and breathe through the pain. But the pain was getting to the point that I was wishing I’d scheduled a c-section. I asked Christy, “How much longer?” She said that if I wanted to get out of the tub she could check me, but I wasn’t willing to get out again.

And then suddenly, at 8:37am, I felt like everything inside me was plunging downward. I started yelling and all the midwives rushed toward me with their equipment. It was incredible. I had no choice but to push when I was having a contraction and I could feel the baby moving downward as I did so. At this point, at 8:41am, my water broke.

Deb told me to wait and push with the next contraction, and when I did, at 8:43am, the baby‘s head came out. One more push and his whole body was in the water, at 8:45am.

I had been kneeling on the floor of the tub, hanging on to the side, and I turned around and the midwives handed the baby to me. He was pink and crying. The water level in the tub was so high that I had trouble keeping his head above the water, so the midwives helped me out of the tub and onto the futon mattress we’d set up nearby.

They laid the baby on my stomach and he immediately latched on. (In fact, he stayed latched on for an hour and fifteen minutes, until Christy decided she needed to do the newborn exam.) At 8:53am the umbilical cord stopped pulsing and my husband cut it.

Silas was 21 inches long and 8 pounds even. His Apgar score was a perfect ten.

The whole experience was so different from my labor and delivery with Henry. This time I could feel each contraction; last time I felt constant pain that never seemed to ebb and flow. This time I could feel when I was at the pushing stage; last time I never really felt a strong urge to push. This time I could tell that pushing was accomplishing something; last time I didn't know if I was even doing it right. It was the perfect textbook labor and delivery, and despite the pain I felt much more in control of everything.

I'm so glad I had this opportunity to do it again. It was an amazing experience.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Still Pregnant

My due date isn't for five more days, but I'm ready to meet the baby now. With Henry I knew he would be late, possibly by one or even two weeks, and I don't remember being impatient for him to come out. (Of course, he arrived on his due date.) This time I had a feeling the baby would be early, so in my mind he should have been here already.

The take-away from this is that my intuition sucks.

Maybe part of the problem, too, is that I have so many more complaints this time around. Hemorrhoids, crotch pain, left ear plugging up, constipation, back ache, you name it.

Also, last time at this point my time was my own. I had stopped working when I hit eight months. I could sleep late, nap during the day, and then stay up to watch a movie with my husband. Now I'm pretty much at Henry's beck and call, shuttling him to activities, doing art with him, reading to him, and then too tired at night to do anything but try to sleep. I can't complain about this part, though, because it's what I wanted, and in general I love it.

Mostly, I think, I'm ready for the next stage of my life to begin. I want to see how this labor goes (I'm hoping to be more aware and in control this time, as much as possible at least) and to meet this little guy. I'm so curious to see what he's all about. Will he be a blondie, like I was? Will he be a good sleeper (please, please)? Will he like art as much as Henry does, or will he be athletic, or into something else entirely?

There's a lot to look forward to, and I'm ready.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

More Facebook Funnies

September 2010:

[True Mama] was laying down with Henry waiting for him to fall asleep last night when he asked, "Mom, what's four plus four?" I said eight, and then I heard him counting quietly to himself from one to eight. He paused and said, "Yes, you're right."

[True Mama]'s husband was explaining to Henry where to place his tongue to make the "R" sound correctly. Henry tried it for a while, then got frustrated and said, "You're just tryin' to make me talk fancy!"

[True Mama]‎'s son told her husband, "I can paint anything you want me to." Her husband said, "What about a mosquito?" and Henry replied, "If he stays still long enough."

[True Mama] did not realize how literally Henry would take her when she okayed a "space" theme for his bedroom. He wants the walls, ceilings and floor painted black and his bed to look like a moon crater.

[True Mama] was looking at the Chinaberry catalog when some wooden Christmas carousels caught Henry's eye. He asked if we could buy them, and I said, "Well, one costs $75 and the other is $150." Henry studied them and then said, "Oh! The more expensive one has Jesus! No wonder it costs so much -- Jesus is the son of God."

[True Mama]‎'s son fell down the stairs this morning, which was all kinds of horrible. But the one funny thing is that Henry kept asking me afterward why I hadn't asked him if he knew where he was (and he was kind of peeved that I hadn't).

[True Mama]‎'s son just said, "Two plus three is four." Daddy replied, "No, it's not. It's five," and Henry said, "I tease."

[True Mama]‎'s son was pretending to be one of two little toy fish he owns, Fishy Wishy and French Fry. He said, "French Fry is really crabby. He wasn't like that when we got married, but I'm not going to divorce him. I still love him; I just don't like him anymore."

[True Mama] to Henry: "Please stop picking your nose and eating your boogers!" HENRY: "I didn't even get anything. Besides, I do it all the time in bed and you don't even know."

[True Mama] just had to explain to Henry why he should not be going around saying the word "cock" in front of other people. He's been saying it a lot lately without knowing that it meant anything, and when he said, "COCK, Zoe, COCK!" to the neighbor girl I finally had to say something.

I forgot to mention that Zoe was eating a popsicle at the time.

October 2010:

[True Mama]‎'s son suggested we play a game he just made up, saying, "Don't worry, it's fine for an old pregnant woman like you."

[True Mama]'s son was working on a craft project and getting frustrated. He said, "They made this project just so no one would ever want to do a craft project again!"

[True Mama] got up from sitting at the table with Henry to answer the phone, saying, "Excuse me, honey, I need to answer that." Henry said, "It's okay. I'll let you."

[True Mama]‎'s son asked, "Mom, how do you get to the Domes? I'm just curious." I said, "Well, you take 27th Street off the freeway" and he shrieked, "I don't even know where that street is!" I said, "Does crying help you understand?" and he said, "No! I'm just doing it!"

[True Mama]‎'s son came inside complaining that the neighbor kids were worried that he'd get blown away. I said, "I think you might weigh more than Zoe" and he said, "No, I weigh a pound less than she does." I asked, "How much does she weigh?" and he answered, "A pound more than me."

[True Mama]‎'s son invented something that can identify how smart someone is by their voice. He said I was 200 mump-o-meters smart and Daddy was 400 mump-o-meters smart. Nice. Even better, two minutes later he said, "Mommy, I figured yours out wrong. I was including the baby." Thanks, kid.

[True Mama] was telling Henry some of the cute ways he used to pronounce words when he was littler -- "Nonny" for his sister Maddy, "zoom-zoom" for living room, etc. When I was done, he asked, "What did I say for 'toxin'?"

‎[True Mama]'s son just asked if we were going to have a lifeguard for the birth pool.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween 2010

Henry was a cat for Halloween this year. In retrospect I think we should have drawn whiskers on him, but my husband said that Henry meowed the entire time he was trick-or-treating, so hopefully it was pretty obvious what he was supposed to be.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Maternity Photos

Almost two weeks ago, when I was 34 weeks 2 days along, my friend Allie of Proud to Introduce Photography took these amazing portraits. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Henry has been having a tough time dealing with the impending reality of a little brother.

Way back when we were doing IVF, before he even knew we were thinking about having a baby, he told me he wanted me to get pregnant. When we announced to him that I was indeed going to have a baby, he merely said, "That's what I told you to do."

Since then he's changed his mind.

Now he says, "I don't want a baby. Babies are dumb. I hate babies."

I generally let Henry say what he wants, though I've drawn the line at his saying harsh things to the baby inches from my tummy. When he says he doesn't want a baby brother, I just say, "I know you don't, honey."

I'm hoping that if Henry feels free to express his emotions he'll be able to work through them, and indeed, it does seem to be happening that way. A few times now, out of the blue, he's done some art projects for the baby, to help his little brother learn things like math or sign language. This is after he'd announced many times that he was never going to teach the baby anything, that he was going to stay in his room until the baby was five years old.

I'm fine with this. I really am. Henry has been my only for so long and he's old enough to know that a huge change is coming; he just doesn't know exactly what it means. But it seems that everyone we encounter asks him if he's excited to be a big brother and when he rather crabbily replies that he is not, they try to convince him that it will be a good thing.

Believe me, trying to convince Henry of something he's opposed to never works. In fact, it makes things much, much worse.

I know people mean well, but really, I wish they'd stop. It seems a little disrespectful to tell him that he'll change his mind, that he'll love having a little brother look up to him, when he's saying he won't. And I feel like every time this happens it sets him back, emotionally.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Facebook Status Updates

May 2010:

[True Mama] just overheard the following conversation between her stepdaughter and son:
MADDY: Henry, I'm fabulous.
HENRY: No, you're not. You're a pain in the butt, that's what you are.

[True Mama] was reading a book with Henry when he suddenly asked, "So *when* did Daddy give you his sperm?" It was *almost* worth the financial, emotional and physical cost of IVF to have been able to answer, "We went to the clinic."

[True Mama] is feeling the love. A few days ago, while I was finding a toy Henry needed, Henry said, "You're the best mommy ever." And yesterday I was explaining the meaning of the song "You Are My Sunshine" and he said, "Mom, you're *my* sunshine."

[True Mama] and Henry were walking around the block to catch the ice cream truck when Henry said, happily, "I smell a hint of Bomb Pop!"

[True Mama]'s son had been wanting the baby to be a girl, because his older (half) sister won't do what he says and he wanted a girl he could boss around. But now Henry says he wants a little brother, because "boys are calmer than girls."

[True Mama]'s husband and son were pretending Henry was a dog this morning, and Daddy asked, "So, do you have a bone?" Henry said, "Duh-uh. All animals have bones. Otherwise they'd be flat as pancakes."

[True Mama]'s four-year old likes to pretend he's a stray kitty and that his former owner was Dick Cheney, who did awful things like withhold food and name him "Go Away Kitty." (Hey, Henry asked who our former president & vice president were and I *may* have given him my opinion on them....)

[True Mama]'s son just said, randomly, "Boys are smarter than girls." GAH!

[True Mama] just got back from Winkie's where she went to buy birthday gifts. Henry started picking up toys he HAD TO HAVE and said, "If you'll just buy these from me, I'll be happy" and "If you buy them I'll stop whining." Good Lord.

[True Mama]'s son told her last night that he wants her to live forever, or at least until *he* dies. He said that means I have to eat healthy and not have ANY sugar.

[True Mama] was at the lakefront with Henry yesterday when he noticed a guy with no shirt on whose nipples were pierced. Henry pointed, then said, "I didn't know you could do that."

[True Mama]'s son just said, "Mom, why are you using your tired voice?"

[True Mama] put on her husband's old Austin City Limits t-shirt (a bit too small for him, but good for my pregnant self) and Henry said, "Mom, you look ug-a-ly in Daddy's old shirt. People are going to laugh at you."

June 2010:

[True Mama] sent her son in to wake up her husband at 9am this morning and say, "Daddy, Happy Father's Day, it's time to wake up, mommy wants to go back to bed."

[True Mama] is proud of her son. Henry said, "Jack (our 10-year old neighbor) thinks plastic comes from trees, but I told him that it's made from oil."

[True Mama] was loading the dehydrator up with strawberry slices when Henry came in the kitchen and said, "What are you doing to that poor dehydrator?"

[True Mama] was taking Henry to Lake Park when he said, "I hope there aren't any other kids there. I would like some peace at the park."

‎[True Mama]'s son was trying to think of the name of a city he'd heard me talk about and said, "I don't know how to say it, but if I had to pronounce it I'd say 'Hamsterdam'."

July 2010:

‎[True Mama]'s son saw fireworks for the first time last night. Henry's reaction? "The sky is even more fun than normal!"

[True Mama] let Henry pick out two pieces of candy from his parade stash this morning. As he carried them to the table he said, "Just HOLDING them makes me happy."

[True Mama] was asked by Henry to make him some toast with butter, mayo, apple butter and grape jelly. I groaned and he said, "Mom, muster up all your courage and do it!"

‎[True Mama]'s son was trying to get me to make a craft project with him. After I repeatedly said that I did not want to, he finally said, "You CAN do it! You just don't WANT to!"

[True Mama] has, in her zeal to teach Henry not to waste, created a little hoarder. He refuses to let us throw away candy wrappers, plastic bottles, tiny scraps of paper and even carpet fuzzies/dust bunnies because "I can use them for an art project!" Lord help my clutter-hating soul...

[True Mama]: This is a typical conversation with Henry:
HENRY: Mom, what happens if they're making a ball out of a pig bladder but it's filled with pee?
ME: I guess they drain the pee out.
HENRY: But what if they *can't* drain the pee out? Like if there's no opening?
ME: Maybe they cut a hole in it.
HENRY: What if you can't cut a hole in it?
ME: Maybe they burn a hole.
HENRY: But what if it can't be cut *or* burned?
ME: I guess they'd have to find another pig's bladder.
HENRY: What if there aren't any other pigs?
ME: Maybe they'd use another animal.
HENRY: What if there aren't any other animals?
ME: They go to Target and buy a ball.
HENRY: No, they can't do that. What then?
ME: I guess they give up and take a nap.
HENRY: No, they can't give up. What then?
ME: I don't know, Henry.
HENRY: Tell me! What's your guess?!
ME: I have no idea. You've stumped me.
HENRY: Tell me! You have to answer!

[True Mama]‎'s son dragged his arm in some syrup at breakfast this morning, and when his dad said, "Oh, Henry!" he replied, "I'll worry about me; you worry about you."

‎[True Mama]'s son ran in from playing outside and said, "Mom! It's raining!" I replied, "Well, it's supposed to rain today," and Henry said, "I guess the weather report is right for once."

August 2010:

‎[True Mama]'s son just said, "Mom, you're the best mom in the universe. Without you, I would cry."

[True Mama] discovered last night that James and the Giant Peach is too intense for my sensitive five-year old. After many tears, screeching and "SKIP THIS PART!" we switched to All-of-a-Kind Family.

‎[True Mama]'s son just said, "I know more than Brooke (seven-year old neighbor girl) does. She didn't even know about the Hindenburg!"

‎[True Mama]'s son just said, "I'll do everything I can to make you happy." Aw. I love five.

[True Mama]'s son had a pee accident the other day because his penis was stuck to his scrotum and he couldn't get it unstuck in time. Oh, the things I never thought I'd have to think about...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Swimming Against the Tide

Henry has never liked being in water.

The only way he'd tolerate bathtime as a newborn is if I went in the tub with him. When he was big enough to be bathed without me holding him, he stood up the entire time until he was about four.

He was okay with his wading pool as long as he could stand up in it, but he did not care for regular swimming pools at all, not even when someone he trusted was holding him mostly out of the water.

And sprinklers? Forget about it. Water down near his feet was bad enough; water squirting up at him was out of the question.

But then suddenly, this summer, he began to enjoy playing in swimming pools. One day we stopped by his grandparents' house and my mother-in-law suggested we walk down to their condo association's pool just to check it out. I expected Henry to walk around the edge of it as usual, but instead he immediately began to walk down the stairs fully dressed. I think he would have gotten completely wet if I hadn't stopped him.

A few weeks later we went to a hotel with a pool and once again Henry plunged right in. He took rides around the pool on Daddy's back, played in water up to his chest, and had fun climbing out the side of the pool and then walking down the stairs to get in again.

We took him back to my in-laws' pool after that, bringing kickboards and an inflatable swimming tube. It was crazy how suddenly fearless Henry was. At one point he even went under the water; he was hanging on to a kickboard with one arm and the tube with another but walked out too far and his head went under. My husband grabbed him and sat him on the side of the pool, and although Henry coughed for a bit, he didn't seem fazed at all and wanted to get right back in.

All of which made me think that maybe Henry was ready for swimming lessons. I grew up taking lessons all summer long, and while I think my parents overdid it, I do believe that knowing how to swim is pretty important.

So I signed Henry up for eight sessions of thirty minute lessons spread out over two weeks. He was not happy about it, as I expected, but I was able to coax him there.

At first it seemed to be going well. He walked with his classmates over to meet the teacher, and when she invited him to sit on the side of the pool he asked if he could walk down the stairs instead. He started to head down, and then suddenly he freaked out and came over by me. He clung to me for the rest of the class, despite the teacher's gentle invitations to join them.

I agonized about what to do. Should I force Henry to follow through with the lessons, even if he was only going to watch? Should I bribe him or try to impress upon him how important it was to know how to swim?

In the end none of these things felt right to me. I thought about what huge strides Henry had made from one summer to the next, all on his own. How he hates to be "taught" things. How we're unschooling because I believe that he'll do what he needs to do when he's ready.

I recalled the years and years of swimming lessons I had and how much I disliked them. I never go swimming now if I can help it. My husband, on the other hand, grew up with a pool in his backyard and had few to no lessons, but still enjoys swimming with his kids.

I realized that Henry will learn when he's ready to learn and in whatever way he wants. It doesn't have to be by a certified instructor when he's five.

I mean, look at that smile:

Why would I want to interfere with that?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I had my first "regular" ultrasound today, just two days shy of turning 25 weeks. We had to wait almost forty minutes for the doctor, but it was completely worth it. Not only did we get some amazing photos, but the doctor told us in every way possible that everything looks perfect.

Oh, and it's a boy. :)

When I was pregnant with Henry I could not imagine being the mother of anything but a girl; now I can't imagine not being the mother of boys. I'm pretty excited about having another boy, actually.

And I cannot wait to hold that little hand.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


Henry turned five today. Just a few days ago I looked at him playing in the living room and he suddenly looked so old to me. My baby boy is now just a boy. Sniff.

I have to say, though, that I'm pleased to see his behavior is mellowing out compared to a year ago. When he turned four he (apparently) had a burst of testosterone that led to scary fits of aggression. He still he has the occasional outburst, but he's learning to manage his frustrations, apologize when he acts badly and even show appreciation sometimes.

Lately he's been calling people the "best in the universe" -- as in, "You're my best Mom in the universe." It warms my heart. I'm so happy he's my son.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I hate to compare my kids before the second one is even born, but this pregnancy has been very different than the last one so far. Beyond the possible miscarriage scare at seven weeks and the fainting spell at nearly twelve weeks, I've suffered constipation, round ligament pain and back problems (which I have normally, but not while pregnant with Henry). And possibly most annoying of all, my left ear keeps plugging up to the point that I can hear my own heartbeat and breathing.

On the plus side my complexion is flawless, whereas when I was pregnant with Henry my skin was so broken out I resorted to using Proactiv.

Okay, so that's really the only improvement over last time that I can think of. But I've started feeling the baby move in the past few weeks, and having a physical reminder of the little one inside me more than makes up for it.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!"

By Alfie Kohn

Hang out at a playground, visit a school, or show up at a child’s birthday party, and there’s one phrase you can count on hearing repeatedly: "Good job!" Even tiny infants are praised for smacking their hands together ("Good clapping!"). Many of us blurt out these judgments of our children to the point that it has become almost a verbal tic.

Plenty of books and articles advise us against relying on punishment, from spanking to forcible isolation ("time out"). Occasionally someone will even ask us to rethink the practice of bribing children with stickers or food. But you’ll have to look awfully hard to find a discouraging word about what is euphemistically called positive reinforcement.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, the point here is not to call into question the importance of supporting and encouraging children, the need to love them and hug them and help them feel good about themselves. Praise, however, is a different story entirely. Here's why.

1. Manipulating children. Suppose you offer a verbal reward to reinforce the behavior of a two-year-old who eats without spilling, or a five-year-old who cleans up her art supplies. Who benefits from this? Is it possible that telling kids they’ve done a good job may have less to do with their emotional needs than with our convenience?

Rheta DeVries, a professor of education at the University of Northern Iowa, refers to this as "sugar-coated control." Very much like tangible rewards – or, for that matter, punishments – it’s a way of doing something to children to get them to comply with our wishes. It may be effective at producing this result (at least for a while), but it’s very different from working with kids – for example, by engaging them in conversation about what makes a classroom (or family) function smoothly, or how other people are affected by what we have done -- or failed to do. The latter approach is not only more respectful but more likely to help kids become thoughtful people.

The reason praise can work in the short run is that young children are hungry for our approval. But we have a responsibility not to exploit that dependence for our own convenience. A "Good job!" to reinforce something that makes our lives a little easier can be an example of taking advantage of children’s dependence. Kids may also come to feel manipulated by this, even if they can’t quite explain why.

2. Creating praise junkies. To be sure, not every use of praise is a calculated tactic to control children’s behavior. Sometimes we compliment kids just because we’re genuinely pleased by what they’ve done. Even then, however, it’s worth looking more closely. Rather than bolstering a child’s self-esteem, praise may increase kids’ dependence on us. The more we say, "I like the way you…." or "Good ______ing," the more kids come to rely on our evaluations, our decisions about what’s good and bad, rather than learning to form their own judgments. It leads them to measure their worth in terms of what will lead us to smile and dole out some more approval.

Mary Budd Rowe, a researcher at the University of Florida, discovered that students who were praised lavishly by their teachers were more tentative in their responses, more apt to answer in a questioning tone of voice ("Um, seven?"). They tended to back off from an idea they had proposed as soon as an adult disagreed with them. And they were less likely to persist with difficult tasks or share their ideas with other students.

In short, "Good job!" doesn’t reassure children; ultimately, it makes them feel less secure. It may even create a vicious circle such that the more we slather on the praise, the more kids seem to need it, so we praise them some more. Sadly, some of these kids will grow into adults who continue to need someone else to pat them on the head and tell them whether what they did was OK. Surely this is not what we want for our daughters and sons.

3. Stealing a child’s pleasure. Apart from the issue of dependence, a child deserves to take delight in her accomplishments, to feel pride in what she’s learned how to do. She also deserves to decide when to feel that way. Every time we say, "Good job!", though, we’re telling a child how to feel.

To be sure, there are times when our evaluations are appropriate and our guidance is necessary -- especially with toddlers and preschoolers. But a constant stream of value judgments is neither necessary nor useful for children’s development. Unfortunately, we may not have realized that "Good job!" is just as much an evaluation as "Bad job!" The most notable feature of a positive judgment isn’t that it’s positive, but that it’s a judgment. And people, including kids, don’t like being judged.

I cherish the occasions when my daughter manages to do something for the first time, or does something better than she’s ever done it before. But I try to resist the knee-jerk tendency to say, "Good job!" because I don’t want to dilute her joy. I want her to share her pleasure with me, not look to me for a verdict. I want her to exclaim, "I did it!" (which she often does) instead of asking me uncertainly, "Was that good?"

4. Losing interest. "Good painting!" may get children to keep painting for as long as we keep watching and praising. But, warns Lilian Katz, one of the country’s leading authorities on early childhood education, "once attention is withdrawn, many kids won’t touch the activity again." Indeed, an impressive body of scientific research has shown that the more we reward people for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. Now the point isn’t to draw, to read, to think, to create – the point is to get the goody, whether it’s an ice cream, a sticker, or a "Good job!"

In a troubling study conducted by Joan Grusec at the University of Toronto, young children who were frequently praised for displays of generosity tended to be slightly less generous on an everyday basis than other children were. Every time they had heard "Good sharing!" or "I’m so proud of you for helping," they became a little less interested in sharing or helping. Those actions came to be seen not as something valuable in their own right but as something they had to do to get that reaction again from an adult. Generosity became a means to an end.

Does praise motivate kids? Sure. It motivates kids to get praise. Alas, that’s often at the expense of commitment to whatever they were doing that prompted the praise.

5. Reducing achievement. As if it weren’t bad enough that "Good job!" can undermine independence, pleasure, and interest, it can also interfere with how good a job children actually do. Researchers keep finding that kids who are praised for doing well at a creative task tend to stumble at the next task – and they don’t do as well as children who weren’t praised to begin with.

Why does this happen? Partly because the praise creates pressure to "keep up the good work" that gets in the way of doing so. Partly because their interest in what they’re doing may have declined. Partly because they become less likely to take risks – a prerequisite for creativity – once they start thinking about how to keep those positive comments coming.

More generally, "Good job!" is a remnant of an approach to psychology that reduces all of human life to behaviors that can be seen and measured. Unfortunately, this ignores the thoughts, feelings, and values that lie behind behaviors. For example, a child may share a snack with a friend as a way of attracting praise, or as a way of making sure the other child has enough to eat. Praise for sharing ignores these different motives. Worse, it actually promotes the less desirable motive by making children more likely to fish for praise in the future.

* * *

Once you start to see praise for what it is – and what it does – these constant little evaluative eruptions from adults start to produce the same effect as fingernails being dragged down a blackboard. You begin to root for a child to give his teachers or parents a taste of their own treacle by turning around to them and saying (in the same saccharine tone of voice), "Good praising!"

Still, it’s not an easy habit to break. It can seem strange, at least at first, to stop praising; it can feel as though you’re being chilly or withholding something. But that, it soon becomes clear, suggests that we praise more because we need to say it than because children need to hear it. Whenever that’s true, it’s time to rethink what we’re doing.

What kids do need is unconditional support, love with no strings attached. That’s not just different from praise – it’s the opposite of praise. "Good job!" is conditional. It means we’re offering attention and acknowledgement and approval for jumping through our hoops, for doing things that please us.

This point, you’ll notice, is very different from a criticism that some people offer to the effect that we give kids too much approval, or give it too easily. They recommend that we become more miserly with our praise and demand that kids "earn" it. But the real problem isn’t that children expect to be praised for everything they do these days. It’s that we’re tempted to take shortcuts, to manipulate kids with rewards instead of explaining and helping them to develop needed skills and good values.

So what’s the alternative? That depends on the situation, but whatever we decide to say instead has to be offered in the context of genuine affection and love for who kids are rather than for what they’ve done. When unconditional support is present, "Good job!" isn’t necessary; when it’s absent, "Good job!" won’t help.

If we’re praising positive actions as a way of discouraging misbehavior, this is unlikely to be effective for long. Even when it works, we can’t really say the child is now "behaving himself"; it would be more accurate to say the praise is behaving him. The alternative is to work with the child, to figure out the reasons he’s acting that way. We may have to reconsider our own requests rather than just looking for a way to get kids to obey. (Instead of using "Good job!" to get a four-year-old to sit quietly through a long class meeting or family dinner, perhaps we should ask whether it’s reasonable to expect a child to do so.)

We also need to bring kids in on the process of making decisions. If a child is doing something that disturbs others, then sitting down with her later and asking, "What do you think we can do to solve this problem?" will likely be more effective than bribes or threats. It also helps a child learn how to solve problems and teaches that her ideas and feelings are important. Of course, this process takes time and talent, care and courage. Tossing off a "Good job!" when the child acts in the way we deem appropriate takes none of those things, which helps to explain why "doing to" strategies are a lot more popular than "working with" strategies.

And what can we say when kids just do something impressive? Consider three possible responses:

* Say nothing. Some people insist a helpful act must be "reinforced" because, secretly or unconsciously, they believe it was a fluke. If children are basically evil, then they have to be given an artificial reason for being nice (namely, to get a verbal reward). But if that cynicism is unfounded – and a lot of research suggests that it is – then praise may not be necessary.

* Say what you saw. A simple, evaluation-free statement ("You put your shoes on by yourself" or even just "You did it") tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback – not judgment – about what you noticed: "This mountain is huge!" "Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!"

If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: "Look at Abigail’s face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack." This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing

* Talk less, ask more. Even better than descriptions are questions. Why tell him what part of his drawing impressed you when you can ask him what he likes best about it? Asking "What was the hardest part to draw?" or "How did you figure out how to make the feet the right size?" is likely to nourish his interest in drawing. Saying "Good job!", as we’ve seen, may have exactly the opposite effect.

This doesn’t mean that all compliments, all thank-you’s, all expressions of delight are harmful. We need to consider our motives for what we say (a genuine expression of enthusiasm is better than a desire to manipulate the child’s future behavior) as well as the actual effects of doing so. Are our reactions helping the child to feel a sense of control over her life -- or to constantly look to us for approval? Are they helping her to become more excited about what she’s doing in its own right – or turning it into something she just wants to get through in order to receive a pat on the head

It’s not a matter of memorizing a new script, but of keeping in mind our long-term goals for our children and watching for the effects of what we say. The bad news is that the use of positive reinforcement really isn’t so positive. The good news is that you don’t have to evaluate in order to encourage.

Copyright © 2001 by Alfie Kohn.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fourth of July

We had a wonderful Fourth of July with Henry this year. He'd been to the parade our community puts on every year since we moved here, but he had yet to see any fireworks. He was always very sensitive to loud noises and that coupled with the late hour made us decide to wait. But this year he just seemed that much more mature and ready, and he was very excited about it.

As we sat on the blanket in the park, waiting for the fireworks to begin, though, Henry started to droop. He was laying on the ground, laying on me, saying, "I don't want to be here anymore. I want to be home."

It was pretty pathetic, but I knew that once the fireworks started he would perk right up. And sure enough, at the first explosion he sat straight up with the biggest grin on his face.

"Spaghetti in the sky!" he said.

And then: "The sky is even more fun than normal!"

He wore his sound-dampening headphones but kept lifting up the edges of them to get a sense of just how loud the explosions really were. The friends sitting around us all asked Henry if he liked his first fireworks and he was enthusiastic in his response.

I spent the next few days rationing candy from Henry's parade stash. This morning I allowed him to pick out two pieces of candy and as he carried them to the table he said, "Just HOLDING them makes me happy."

All in all, it was a successful holiday weekend.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Get a Job

Last weekend at our block party three of the local firefighters drove up in their engine to talk to the kids and let them check out the truck and equipment. One of the firefighters pulled out the Jaws of Life and asked Henry to try to lift it. Henry tried and tried, but was unable to budge it at all.

The firefighter asked, "How are you going to become a firefighter when you grow up if you can't lift the Jaws of Life?" and Henry replied, "I'm not going to get a job when I grow up." The firefighter laughed and said, "Whose kid is this?" I raised my hand and said, "Oh, he's already told me that he's living at home forever."

It was funny, but the truth is, I don't understand why we put so much pressure on kids to know what they want to "be" when they grow up. Aren't they already being something right now? And aren't people more than the jobs they do for money?

I've assured Henry that he doesn't ever have to get a job or move out because I know that he'll most likely want to do both eventually anyway. I don't really see the point in arguing with him about it right now. In fact, I think giving him the freedom to just be right now allows him to develop his interests and goals naturally.

Henry brought the incident up again a few days later and clarified: "I will have a job when I grow up, but I'm going to decide what that job is later, when I'm big."

Smart kid.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A New Chapter

Reading to Henry before bed has been a ritual at our house since he was a baby, when it was Goodnight Moon every night. At some point he started choosing other picture books to read, grabbing a library book or an old favorite from his collection.

A few months ago Henry learned that the books with the Disney-fied version of Winnie-the-Pooh were based on actual chapter books, and he wanted me to read them to him. I thought the books might be too difficult or too dull for him, but I agreed to read a chapter or two a night before bed.

I'm sure some of the writing was over Henry's head, particularly Eeyore's dialogue. I was surprised to discover that the donkey in the original Pooh books is not merely gloomy, but also extremely sarcastic. For instance, when the characters are trying to figure out how to get Tigger and Roo out of the tree, Piglet suggests that Pooh stand on Eeyore's back and Piglet stand on Pooh's shoulders. Eeyore cuts him off mid-sentence with, "And if Eeyore's back snapped suddenly, then we could all laugh. Ha ha! Amusing in a quiet way...but not really helpful."

And after Tigger bounces Eeyore into the river and the rest of them are trying to figure out how to get him out, Pooh says, "I've got a sort of idea...but I don't suppose it's a very good one." Eeyore replies, "I don't suppose it is either."

Pooh's idea is to throw rocks into the river next to Eeyore in the hopes that the waves created will wash Eeyore to shore. Piglet asks, anxiously, "Supposing we hit him by mistake?" and Eeyore replies, "Or supposing you missed him by mistake. Think of all the possibilities, Piglet, before you settle down to enjoy yourselves."

In any case Henry loved Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner and wanted to continue with chapter books. This was an exciting development for me, because I love love love to read. I was a kid who craved nothing more than to get lost in a book for an afternoon. I have so many favorites that feel like old friends and I'm eager to introduce Henry to them.

We moved on to Socks by Beverly Cleary, and again, Henry followed along intently. After that we started the Ramona the Pest books and then the Henry Huggins series, also by Beverly Cleary.

Henry seemed to really enjoy the books, asking questions and talking about them during the day. But it wasn't until we started the last book in the Henry Huggins series that I realized how into the books Henry really was. In the first chapter of Ribsy Henry Huggins' dog gets lost and isn't found until the very end of the book. Almost every night my Henry was bouncing around the bed with fear and concern that Ribsy would never find his way home again. It reminded me of how I watch suspenseful movies, with my hands mostly over my eyes.

After that we started Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. Henry loved it, as I thought he would, but although I knew that the spider died in the end, I had not calculated just how distraught Henry would get. I started to read about her death and his face screwed up and tears spilled out of his eyes. "Why does Charlotte have to die?" he wailed.

I finished the book, occasionally over the sound of Henry's crying, and then tried to explain that sometimes the best stories don't have a happy ending. He didn't accept that, as I suppose no young child would, and wanted to know why E.B. White couldn't have had Charlotte return to the barn after the fair and continue living. He fell asleep pulling my arm tightly against him and crying on and off.

I know I should feel terrible that Henry was in pain over Charlotte's death, and it did make me sad to see him so upset. But at the same time, I was gratified to know that a fifty-year old book about a pig and a spider could affect my four-year old so. My kid loves books, and more than that, he gets them. Because even when I suggested that we come up with an alternative happy ending, Henry told me, "It's too late. We already read it."

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Technical Difficulties

When I was seven weeks pregnant (the day after our confirmation ultrasound), I had such terrible cramping in my abdomen and lower back that I crawled into bed with a hot water bottle. About an hour after the cramping began I went to use the bathroom and a big glub of bright red blood fell into the toilet. The cramping had concerned me, but when I saw the blood I whispered, "Oh my God" and started to freak out.

I paged my reproductive endocrinologist, who did nothing to reassure me, as I'm sure he couldn't. But he did schedule an ultrasound for the very next morning and thankfully, everything appeared to be fine -- the baby had grown since our previous ultrasound just two days before and its heartbeat was still strong. We had one more ultrasound five days after that and everything continued to be fine.

Here's the bean on that day:

Then, at almost twelve weeks, I got out of bed at about 9PM, had some...ahem...unpleasantness on the toilet, and started feeling just horrible. I was suddenly very hot and nauseated. When I was done I stood up and called down the stairs to my husband and the next thing I knew I was lying on the tile bathroom floor, my right knee and left cheek throbbing.

After wiping a cool wet washcloth on my face and resting for a minute, the buzzing left my ears and I was able to go back to bed.

I guess I'm lucky I didn't land mouth-first on the porcelain sink, but it was still pretty scary. I called my midwife the next morning and she said that fainting is not uncommon in pregnancy and recommended taking an iron supplement and staying hydrated.

I haven't had any scary episodes of cramping, fainting or anything else since then. In fact, I've felt pretty good, although most nights I still go to bed with Henry at around 7:30pm.

Last Tuesday I had my first official midwife appointment and everything checked out fine. I'm hoping it's smooth sailing from here on out.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Trajectory to Human Life, True Mama Style

This baby was the result of IVF, just like Henry was. Like with Henry, it only took one cycle of IVF, but since we did IVF right away this time the journey was much shorter.

I did two cycles of birth control pills and then about thirteen days of various injections, sometimes three a night. My egg retrieval was on Thursday, March 4th and eleven eggs were retrieved. Of those, seven were mature and only three successfully fertilized.

On Sunday March 7th the embryologist called with an update. All three embryos were eight-celled (which is exactly what they want -- at least five but eight is the best) and grade A. She said they looked beautiful. She took a cell from each one and shipped them off to a gene testing facility in California. We would not find out if any of the embryos passed the genetic testing until the morning of the embryo transfer.

On Tuesday, March 9th we returned to the clinic for the transfer and were told that one of the embryos had a chromosomal defect rendering it incompatible with life. A second embryo would result in a baby, but one with severe physical and mental disabilities. (Curious, I pressed our doctor for more information, but he just insisted it would not be something we'd want.)

This left us with one chromosomally normal embryo, which the doctor and embryologist assured us was perfect-looking and "just waiting for a uterus to attach itself to." Here's a photo of what it looked under the microscope minutes before it was transferred to my uterus:

This shows the embryo in the blastocyst stage as it's hatching and preparing for implantation. It's developing into two distinct groups of cells -- one cell mass becomes the placenta, while the other becomes the fetus.

Infertility clinics always tell their patients to wait for the blood test to find out if they're pregnant instead of doing any home pregnancy tests because the HcG "trigger shot" (given just prior to the egg retrieval) can stay in the woman's system for long enough to render a false positive on a pee stick. Also, a home pregnancy test is not as sensitive as a blood test and may show up as negative even when the woman is actually pregnant.

I'm much too impatient to sit around and wait ten days for a blood test, so I tested at the end of the first week and found a faint positive line, which I assumed was the HcG from the injection. Two days later, I tested again and the test was negative. Two days after that the test was faintly positive, and the few times I tested after that the positive line was dark. So by the time I went in for my blood test on Friday, March 19th, I was thrilled but not surprised to learn that I was pregnant.

I was surprised to learn that I was considered to be four weeks along, though, even though the embryo was only fifteen days old. Gestation is figured using the date of the mother's last menstrual period, a fact that somehow escaped me despite a previous pregnancy.

The final official appointment at our clinic was a vaginal ultrasound. I'm not sure exactly why this is done, though I suspect that because more than one embryo is often transferred the clinic wants to see just how many babies are developing. So on Thursday, April 9th, when I was seven weeks along, we got to see this:

Yes, it just looks like a blob. What the photo doesn't show is the tiny little heart beating away inside that blob. It was good to get that confirmation. I was really pregnant!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Eleven Weeks Today -- Again

Things are about to change -- a lot -- around here. I'm eleven weeks pregnant; the baby is due on Thanksgiving Day.

I realized the other day that I started my previous blog the day I was eleven weeks pregnant with Henry. Since then, my life has changed more than I ever could have imagined, in ways I never could have dreamed.

I adore being Henry's mother. He is so smart, so funny, and so sweet. I love seeing him grow up and learn new things and develop into his own person. But I want him to have a sibling, one raised in the same household with the same parents, sharing the same memories. I want that for him now, growing up, but also for when he's an adult and his dad and I are elderly or deceased.

And I want another child for me, I'll admit. There's nothing wrong with having only one child, I know, yet I can't help looking forward to the day when I can refer to "my kids."

At the same time, I'm nervous about once again going through the exhaustion and stress and dirty diapers that accompany the first year or so of a new baby's life. I'm thirty-nine years old (the other day Henry greeted me with, "Hello, you old pregnant woman!"). Part of me wishes I had done all this child-rearing stuff about twenty or even ten years ago, but I know I'm a more aware and patient mother now than I would have been then.