Friday, May 27, 2011

Please, Southwest

First of all, it is a huge relief that since we'll be living in Charlottesville at the end of the summer, we will end our six year ping-pong game between Utah and Virginia. No more flying, yippee!

But that doesn't excuse Southwest.

I used to be allll about Southwest. They were usually cheaper, and they didn't cave in to charging for bags, which is a reprehensible practice. Also, their staff was usually funny and friendly.

Nowadays, they are often pricier than other airlines, even with bags accounted for. Plus, they primarily fly into Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is quite a long drive from Nick and I's families. And, I've been given some nasty grief about forgetting a copy of Luke's birth certificate to prove that my 8-month-old child is not over 2 years old.

I could forgive these things. I could still feel fondly about Southwest. I could still feel a little thrill of joy when we do manage to score cheap airfare from them--if it were not for their "Family Boarding" policy.

Every other airline we've flown on lets families with young children board first. Southwest has open seating, and your place in line to choose your seat is determined by when you check in, or by your wealth if you pay for business select. Your place in line to get on the plane is not impacted if you have a squawling baby, or if you're travelling with two little kids by yourself, or if you have twin squawling babies. None of these things matter. Nope. What matters to Southwest is whether you have money, or whether you have an uncanny internal alarm clock that goes off 24 hours before your flight so you can leap online and check in first, getting a coveted A-group spot.

Oh, Southwest does throw families a bone. A tiny, miserable bone. They have "Family Boarding" between the A and B groups. There are 60 people in the A group. So yeah, families with babies and small children, try to find seats all together after 1/3 of the plane has boarded. Yes, we know it would be really great if you could sit near the front so you could be close to the bathroom and get off the plane quickly after a long flight across the country. But tsk tsk,  you didn't remember to check in 24 hours before the flight, so we can't help you!

Honestly, would it hurt anyone if families with infants and small children were part of the pre-board process, before the A group? No, it wouldn't. In fact, it would help everyone because the little kids and babies could all be close together up near the front, so that if there is crying or mayhem, it's contained! It's not like there are ever a thousand young families on a flight. I don't think I've ever seen more than 5.

My poor sister Alisha was flying Southwest by herself with her two cute kids at Thanksgiving, and had to sit all the way at the back of the plane to get enough seats. Just a couple weeks ago, I watched this couple with twin 3-month-old girls despairingly scan the plane for seats together and finally settle for sitting across the aisle from each other.

Please, Southwest. Couldn't you do a little better by families?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Thank you, Mom

(I know--Mother's Day is past. This is actually a good time for this post, because in part it is a Father's Day kind of a thing about Nick as well. Hooray!)

There is always a running dialogue in my head of things my mom has done for me. Different times in my life make me grateful for different gifts she has given. For instance, while I was taking a Religion and the Environment Course at BYU, I constantly thought about the outdoor ethics my mother imparted to me. When I have to make an impressive dessert in a jiffy, I send a heaping vibe of "Thank you Mom" out into the universe. I like to think that in Virginia, my mom suddenly thinks, "Wow, I'm a fabulous cook!"

But for the past year and a half of my life, the predominant subject of my gratitude has been the things she has taught my about pregnancy and birth.

I grew up with the knowledge that I was born at home. That my sister Alisha and brother Spencer were born at home. And that all of the seven children in my family were born naturally. I can't recall any particular conversation where my mom said "Natural childbirth is the best thing for mother and baby" or "You have to be responsible for your birth"or "Women's bodies are meant to have babies." Simply by knowing my mother's birth stories, I gained an unshakeable conviction that not only is natural childbirth possible, it is optimal.

This is comparable to religious conviction: When you are young perhaps you can be sustained by the faith, knowledge, and experience of your parents. But if you wish to remain religious when you are an adult, you have to bolster your childlike faith with knowledge and experience of your own. So when I found out I was expecting, I did extensive research about pregnancy, maternity care, and birth. My conviction that natural childbirth was the best for mom and baby was confirmed through numerous books and articles. Nick and I prepared to go natural. And we did it. He was there with me every step of the way, and we did it together.

I think about pregnancy and birth a lot. I read about it a lot. It's going to be a recurring aspect of my life for the next long while, considering that Nick and I both want a big family. And this is what I think about birth: It is not about the pain.

It's not.

Are contractions painful? Is pushing painful? Yes. There is pain. But it is not the pain of something wrong, it is the pain of something right. Almost every other context for pain means there is something wrong--some part of you is broken, twisted, cut, infected, scraped, sore, stung, poisoned, pinched, bit, bent, burned, bruised. There are hundreds of pills, syrups, creams, injections, and ointments to make any conceivable pain go away. Because that's the other part of most pain--you don't know when it will go away if you don't do something to take care of it.

But labor is different. It is a positive pain. It is the pain of your body working. Contractions are intense and powerful. There is nothing else in the world that feels like a contraction. The sensation of them means that your body is doing what it should. It is not a pain that has to be approached with anxiety, because there is nothing wrong. The pain of labor is not a cue to flood you and your tiny, precious, baby with drugs. It is a cue to work with your body and relax so your baby can come. The methods of relaxing are many, too many to name.

You cannot simply ignore the pain of childbirth. You have to be prepared for it. I discussed it because it is something many people are worried about. And since we live in a numb-happy culture, that's understandable. But truly, birth is not about the pain.

These are my most salient memories from labor and delivery, in no particular order. This is what birth is about to me.

The irresistable urge to sing this one particular note over and over and over again
The pressure of Nick's lips and breath against my ear as he whispered images over my resounding vocal tones
Nick's constant flow of powerful images--colors, memories, future memories, imaginings, sensations
Watching my belly grow smaller with each contraction--eerie and beautiful both
My midwife pouring warm water over my belly while I was in the tub
The whoosh of my water breaking in our living room; the feeling of my water continuing to drip on my flip-flopped feet and run down my legs, especially in the hospital lobby, haha.
The sway of my heavy body in the car
Seeing Luke's red, red body for the first time and thinking, "He's huge!"
The stability of kneeling and leaning on Nick while I pushed
Feeling absolutely exhilarated and awesome after delivery; not being able to stop smiling or talking
Watching Nick hold Luke skin-to-skin on his chest while my midwife sewed up my lil tear
Spontaneously throwing up several times during labor--it was no bother, and it was kind of funny to me for some reason, probably because Nick thinks throwing up is so funny
Devouring saltines, guzzling orange juice, and chatting up a storm in my post-delivery euphoria
Getting in comfortable positions and not wanting to move from that position, ever
The smooth shimmy of the placenta down the birth canal
Barely ever opening my eyes during my whole labor
Nursing Luke so soon after his birth
Nick pressing his hand around mine
The ring of fire as Luke crowned and the tremendous release as all pressure and any discomfort were instantly gone as he slid out

When I think about my labor and delivery, I never think about the pain. It doesn't come to mind, because it's just not important. My emotional memories of Luke's birth are sheer triumph and joy; the joy of laboring freely with the love of my life, and the triumph of succeeding in a totally natural delivery. I cannot wait to have a natural birth again, and again, and again.

Just like my mother did.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Please, judgers of little boys

So, I read this little article in the May Parents magazine called, "Help Your Son Succeed in School". It was an okay article. Mostly, it just made me have a lot of questions.

1. Why are boys four times more likely to be expelled from preschool? Setting aside how asinine and comical I think the notion of being expelled from preschool is, who is expelling all these boys?

2. Does anyone else find it weird that 58% of U.S. college students are women? Of course I want women to be in college, but that growing disproportion makes me uncomfortable.

3. Why is it considered a "disadvantage" that "three out of every four boys in a typical kindergarten class are more physically active than the girls are?" I thought childhood obesity was a big deal. So shouldn't the girls and the boys be enouraged to be physically active?

4. They say that at age 4, "a girl's frontal lobe, the area that monitors impulses, is more active than a boy's." They also say that "a typical 5-year-old boy's language area is comparable to that of an average 3 1/2-year-old girl." Have researchers tried to separate out whether differences like these are because of socialization? Have they done comparative studies in different cultures? Or are they just assuming that since these are the patterns they presently see in boys' and girls' brains, that's just the way it is?

Here's some food for thought from my Honors thesis:
"From infancy, the world of girlhood is usually more sheltered than the world of boyhood. Boys are more typically encouraged to explore the physical world, to take risks, and try new things (Etzkowitz, et al., 2000; Hall, 2007)). Boys are more frequently given tool-like toys; something that is useful or that requires assembly or manipulation. Girls are typically encouraged to be careful; they are more nurtured and protected (Etzkowitz, et al., 2000). They are more often given toys to care for, such as stuffed animals or dolls, or toys that enhance their femininity in some way, such as dress-up clothes.
In fact, a cursory review of the Toys R’ Us website gives a retail manifestation of boyhood vs. girlhood. In the “Chemistry and Physics Toys” section, there are no kits or sets that have a picture of a girl on the front; if there is a picture of a child, cartoon or real, it is always male. That is, with the exception of a kit to make cosmetics, and a kit to make candy—these have pictures of girls. The trend is the same with the sections for stuffed animals/dolls vs. building blocks and model kits, kitchen toys vs. remote control cars, etc. There’s no need to say which were marketed to girls and which to boys. The world of boyhood is more exploratory, while the world of girlhood is more passive and proscribed (Etzkowitz, et al., 2000; Hall, 2007)."
Call me crazy, but I just think there's a problem with a school set-up that ostracizes kids for wanting to...be impulsive. Run around instead of sitting still. Or that makes children and parents feel inadequate for not having a kid that reads Chaucer by the time they're 3, or whatever the insane standard is now.

Aren't children supposed to be impulsive? Isn't that part of their beauty? That they don't have all the same inhibitions as adults?

Whose idea was it to make children under the age of 10 spend a majority of their day sitting inside? How is that good for them?

In fact, whose idea was it to organize school by having a bunch of six-year-olds in the same room together? To me, that just makes it more likely that if any given one of those six-year-olds (boy or girl) is a teensy bit challenging, the teacher will oust them. Humans don't have litters of young that are all the same age. Our families have offspring of a variety of ages--thus, the older ones can help with the younger ones and are educated in the process. Maybe human adults are not meant to have the patience for a gaggle of giggling 3-year-olds. Maybe we evolved to have the patience for one 3-year-old and his/her 5 and 7 and 9-year-old siblings.

I will say that I was happy the Parents article did not suggest parents try to change their sweet, rambunctious little boys. Instead, they suggest looking for preschools where there is more free-play. But I take issue with their assertion that "Getting your son off to a good start in school remains the best way to help him secure a bright future." I think getting your son or daughter off to a happy childhood that involves being outside, playing creatively, running around, and being safely and joyfully impulsive is the best way to help him/her secure a bright future.

What do you think?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Thank you, Stacey Killpack

When Nick and I were looking for a Bradley birth class to attend, I was given the phone number of Stacey Killpack. I knew I was getting the number of a natural birth teacher, but I didn't know I was getting the number of a vivacious, inspiring, and generous friend.

I knew there was really something special at the end of our first birth class. All the couples were in the relaxation position, eyes closed, and she talked to us about flowing water. I will never forget how her voice poured over us, infusing us with the peace and strength that we would all need during birth.

And that was only the beginning of our class. Over the next few weeks, Stacey taught all the couples to embrace each other as husband and wife during the process of birth. She gave the husbands tools to be truly helpful. She showed the wives the path of serenity, dignity, and humor during labor. Nick and I feel indebted to her for the amazing course she offered.

During that time, our friendship with Stacey started to grow. I think it really began when I saw The Hunger Games on her joyously full bookshelf, and she was willing to loan it to me. I had wanted to read it, but the waiting list at Provo Library was hundreds of people long. She loaned me more books after that. Nick and I house sat while she and her cute family took a vacation. Staying in the Killpack's home felt like a vacation to us.

And yet, not quite. A vacation implies travelling somewhere new, and while it may be fun, there is always some discomfort associated with a vacation. Living out of a suitcase. Eating out all the time. Impersonal, sanitizer-scented hotels.  Everything being unfamiliar and slightly inconvenient.

More than a vacation, being at the Killpack's was like...some sort of strange projection into the future. When Nick and I have a real house. With a real kitchen, living room, basement, multiple bathrooms, big windows, pets, backyard, everything. Where the colors are invigorating and inviting. Where there is this sweet aroma that pervades every room--almost like a mix of fresh-baked snickerdoodles and the magical scent of your mother's perfume when you're seven years old. We weren't staying in a hotel. We were living a small part of our life in their home.

I've been thinking about this because the Friday before last, we got to be in the Killpack's home again. Nick just graduated from BYU, and we had other friends graduating, plus so much family in town to celebrate. I longed to have everyone together in one place. I thought about renting a pavilion at Nunn's Park, but with the awful, finicky spring Utah's had, that was out of the question. I thought and thought about where we could go, or how we could make it work. And finally, it occurred to me to ask the expansive, enthusiastic Stacey if we could have a big crazy party at her house.

Being who she is, of course she said yes. Of course she offered for us to use their grill, their serving platters, drink dispenser, everything. And of course, everything went perfectly and everyone had such a gorgeous time at the party. Again, it felt like a projection into our future, when we have a big, comfortable house that friends and family spanning four generations can gather in.

Our relationship with Stacey has been that of her showing us our potential--our potential to have an amazing natural birth, our potential to have a beautiful home, and most of all, when we are well-established as her family is, the potential to share our sweet blessings with others.

Thank you, Stacey Killpack, for always giving us something to aspire to.