Are Babies Manipulators?

A few months ago I found myself in the throes of conversation with an ex-colleague around baby sleep. This is usually a topic I like to skirt around the edges of in certain circles due to its potential to be such a  highly charged, emotive and divisive topics of parenting. Nonetheless we were somehow there. As I’m not great at lying in the face of a direct question I found myself talking about how, at that time, Little Star was waking very frequently during the night and that I usually comfort and nurse her back to sleep. “Oh no!” exclaimed my ex colleague, as many others may have done, “can’t you see, that’s what she WANTS”.

This comment is laden with assumptions, notwithstanding that I must be a naive parent – not knowing any “better” and slave to my natural instincts as a caregiver. Another, that it is somehow wrong to give a baby what they want.

Built within the much favoured conventional wisdom of child rearing is the idea that babies behave in a way that is intended to manipulate their caregivers. This idea seems to underpin much of the logic around why babies and young children ought to be left to cry – insofar as to not “reward” their crying with that which they are seeking – parental and caregiver contact.

There is accumulating evidence that responding to, holding, nursing / feeding, and otherwise comforting a crying baby actually leads to less crying, not more crying or a “clingy” child as we are ingrained culturally to believe.

It is as though we’re so concerned with a child’s physical development that we forget their emotional needs and their psychological needs from a developmental perspective – if they’re not hungry, thirsty, have a dirty nappy etc. then they should be happy, right?. What perplexes me, however, is that even if we put aside the science around the importance of responsive and empathic parenting, the idea that a baby is trying to manipulate an adult just seems illogical.

Let us say a baby is crying. That is a fact. It is clear and observable to those around the child. We can hear the cries, see the tears, see their face screwed up etc. It seems very rational to conclude that the child is upset, that they need something, particularly as crying is their primary tool to communicate this need.  Viewing this crying as an act of manipulation, to “trick” the caregiver into providing contact and interaction is a huge, seemingly irrational leap.

Some may argue that the fact the baby appears consoled and happy when picked up, spoken to or embraced is proof the child is not crying for a legitimate reason. What if, however the child genuinely needs play, your love, your wisdom, connection with you, and thus once they have it there is no need to be upset. How would you know the difference?

If I, as an adult, were to ask my partner, a friend, a parent, a sister or anyone else I hold close for some company, some companionship or some time to spend together I doubt this expressed need would be simply ignored. That is simply not within the scope of a healthy relationship.

So what logical argument makes it okay to treat babies and young children this way? Worryingly the only construct which makes it logical is the idea that children are socially inferior to adults. That their needs are less important and may only be met when it is convenient for the caregiver.

Whilst this idea may be convenient as we go along in our busy lives it hardly feels right.

A sense of objectification rather than empathic understanding lies within the idea that babies are inherently manipulative, that they “wrap you around their little finger”, when we don’t take their needs seriously. It is a disassociation, a learned perception of a child as a thing rather than a feeling, dependent person.

Mothers, fathers, caregivers: follow your instinct. Hold your baby. They do, genuinely need you.

This post is not intended to demonise any parent or method of parenting, only to question the logic around popular assumptions and approaches towards children. I acknowledge most parents hold only the deepest love and best wishes for their babies in their hearts.

Nahmaste.

Butternut Pumpkin and Kale Med-Veg Stack

For me food is a dance. It is a beautiful balance, an exquisite, sensory tango expressed in flavours, textures, temperatures, aromas and other tantilising sensations. I love the creativity of food. But mostly I love having people to enjoy it with.

My partner is away for the week. Usually such an event is accompanied with some rather uninspired kitchening. Who can be bothered with the effort when I don’t have the pleasure of observing another’s enjoyment (Little Star is currently enjoying raw food to the near exclusion of anything else – not that I’m complaining)?

Though this week I find myself heeding my own advice. After all, isn’t my own enjoyment just as important as that of the people in my life? So why not cook just for me?

Being on my own with Little Star I decided my week needed to be easy. I wanted a big batch of something I wouldn’t get sick of that would still deliver a wide variety of nutrients to fuel and nourish my week. Hence I decided to action and idea I’ve been toying with – Butternut Pumpkin and Kale Med-Veg Stack.

Ooops! First piece already gone!

Ooops! First piece already gone!

Here’s what I used:

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced lengthwise
  • 2 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise
  • 1/4 large butternut pumpkin, sliced lengthwise
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 small red chillies (I like things hot! – use fewer chillies, de-seed them, or omit all together if you prefer), finely diced
  • 2 cans of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cans of brown lentils, drained and thoroughly rinsed
  • 1 can of canellini beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed
  • small handful of fresh oregano, roughly chopped
  • small handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, or to taste
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 bunch of tuscan kale, finely chopped
  • 1 tub of Tofutti cream “cheese” (omit for gluten free – it’s still yummy!)
  • sprinkling of savoury yeast (nutritional yeast)
  • extra virgin olive oil

Here’s what I did:

I started by preheating the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Whilst that’s warming I sliced the eggplant, zucchini and butternut pumpkin reasonably thinly. They do shrink a little whilst they cook so you don’t want them too thin, but they do need to cover at least a whole layer of your baking dish. I baked wayyy extra veggies – this way I can throw them on a pizza base at the end of the week – yum!

I spread them out on baking trays, drizzled with a little of the extra virgin olive oil, and put them in the oven. It doesn’t matter too much if they overlap a little – if anything they should be just under cooked. The eggplant only needed about 5 mins, the other veggies just a little longer. Alternatively you could grill them on a griddle pan or barbecue.

Okay, so it’s true – I do have a Thermomix. But you do not need one to use this recipe! A food processor can help you chop and the sauce can be cooked on the stove. I put the onion, garlic and chilies in the Thermy bowl Speed 4/3sec so they were finely chopped. I then sauteed them varoma/speed 1/3.5 mins in some olive oil.

Next the tomatoes go in and I simmered this at 100/reverse speed 1/15mins with the simmering basket in place of the MC. Basically this allows the sauce to thicken and the flavours to combine before I add the lentils (I have a terrible track record of lentils in the Thermomix – they turn to mush).

I then added the lentils, beans, herbs and nutmeg, with a little salt and pepper. I continued to cook for another 10 mins and let the flavours do their work!

Once everything’s done it is time to layer everything into a large baking dish. I started with a little of the lentil sauce on the bottom, then layered the vegetables in. I laid the eggplant in diagonally, then the zucchini on the reverse diagonal, and finally the butternut pumpkin more or less straight. This should help everything hold together on the plate later.

I topped the veggies off with sauce, kale, then a final layer of sauce covered with dolops of Tofutti and a sprinkling of savoury yeast flakes. It looks like a lot of kale, but it reduces significantly in the oven.

This is a great one to prepare ahead of time and placed in a preheated oven (180 degrees C) when ready. Cook until bubbling up at the sides and serve with mash or a lovely garden salad.

Nahmaste.

An Ethical Choice

Hot tears scorched my face as they rolled down my cheeks. I sat there, staring, mouth agape, as the credits rolled – some sort of distant reminder that the world was still spinning, still moving, that people were still doing their thing. I could not bring myself to wipe them away. I needed to feel them. I deserved them. To not would be to do some further great injustice.

My partner had left the room, busying himself in preparing a drink in the kitchen – his way of dealing with what we had both just witnessed. All the arguments I’d heard before, all the logical deductions and trains of thoughts I’d had throughout my life came swimming into my consciousness. They’d been so uncomfortably set aside in my mind. For so long there had been this discourse between what I’d logically surmised to be right and ethical and how I’d actually behaved and the attitudes I’d projected into the world.

And for what? To fit in? It all seemed so ridiculous now. Un-real. Inauthentic. Incongruous. To hold a truth yet to ignore it. To compartmentalise in such a way.

It was in that usually festive time between Christmas and New Year of 2012. As a childless and committed couple we’d been using this time to kick back and watch film. We’d had a huge year of celebrations, graduations, weddings, birthdays and travel – lots of travel. This was meant to be our unwind. We’ll indulge in film and a few good docos. We’d seen The Cove. That was difficult enough. We’d just finished Earthlings.

Our choice to become vegetarian was easily made. No longer could we turn a willful blindness to the treatment of animals in our culture, nor deny that inner impulse towards compassion that we, as fellow animals on the Earth, seem to possess.

I recall how liberating it was – to choose to live a lifestyle in line with my inner fundamental beliefs. I’d begun living a life that was more real, less manufactured. It involved a strange kind of “coming out”, where we had to go around telling everyone we were veggo now.

I remember thinking I’d have to give up being a “foodie”. But I love food, and the food we eat, so much more than I ever did before. I have a respect for it, and I am continuing to grow and understand it more.

Two years on and I have not looked back. Not once. I’ve never missed animal flesh from our diets. The food we eat is tasty, nutritious and satiating. And once meat is removed from the menu a whole new world of flavours opens up as one seeks to focus on what else goes into a meal. I get really excited about food!

Nahmaste

It’s a Selfish Thing

Why am I blogging?

Of course all that I have written previously is true. I have worked in adult education for about ten years and I do chase that spark of insight that knowledge, concept and idea sharing can bring. I love new ideas – those ideas that are new for me and new for others. I am an introvert I guess. I spend a lot of time in my head. But I have the extrovert’s at times insatiable compulsion to express outward into the world. What use are my thoughts, what use is my brain and my mind if I cannot express outwards in a meaningful way?

But why am I really blogging?

My lifestyle changed dramatically almost 14 months ago when I became a mother, having chosen to be at home for the formative years (though I can hardly proclaim to be the first parent who has turned to blogging as a way of developing their interests outside of motherhood – heaven forbid as a woman I can’t be completely fulfilled by simply being a mother and housekeeper). Yet we do things differently from many of our friends and even family. Some of these differences relate to parenting, others not. Our choices are always well thought out and researched. But it can be lonely.

Judgments can be stifling. Isolating. Loved ones can have a knack for passing judgement whilst proclaiming “not to judge” (I love them dearly still). So often I find myself yearning for someone to ask why we do X instead of Y. To be more interested in our well thought out, evidence based rationale than their own opinions of what is supposedly “right”.

So I find myself needing a voice. A vehicle by which to hone and express my own rationale not just on parenting, but on other topics I know and love – that to many seem so left-wing and strange. It’s a selfish thing. An indulgence. A way of self-assuring my own ego as it comes under fire.

Others will always have their opinions – as will you, dear Reader – and those will not always exist happily with one another. But I do value diversity of opinion – so hey, why not contribute to it?

Nahmaste.

Elusive Perfection

A peacefulness has befallen my frazzled soul as I sit down to write this. The calmness is refreshing, healing, rejuvenating. I can feel myself relax and come to accept the morning that has gone and the day that is to come.

I had one of those mornings. You know the type – the ones that are hard to explain why they’re hard, that perhaps only another parent would really get. Those mornings when everything goes haywire and all possibility of an organised, constructive day dissolves into nothingness, like a fraying safety rope one can’t quite grasp or a ray of sunlight on a cold day that doesn’t quite warm the heart.

My morning started with yoga. It went well. So far so good. Then shower and breakfast. Little Star is starting to make her independence known. She wants out of the high chair where she throws her fruit on the floor (does it bounce?) and onto my lap where she throws her fruit on the floor. She grabs my spoon, the rockmelon I’m eating, my coffee and spreads yoghurt everywhere. I let go of the flash of impatience which threatens. Not to worry, I’ll just wipe it up when we’re finished eating.

But Little Star is finished now. She needs her milkies. Her face and hands are quickly wiped and she’s lulled into a drowsy contentedness on the couch, in my arms, safe, warm and satiated. She’ll nod off soon. It’s a little earlier than expected but so be it. We walk tenderly to the bedroom, she rouses slightly and I continue feeding her as she drifts safely into slumber. A long process but I cannot bear to wake her.

I begin placing her in her cot and our peace is destroyed by Leczy walking in, making a racket, wanting to be close to her mum.

For me, today, it is just outside my tolerance levels. Little Star is awake and she won’t be resettled. I get angry. I’m so angry. I’ve had enough. I yell at the dog as she looks at me with those big eyes, her ears pulled back, her tail moving back and forth and her head low. It’s already 10 am, there’s fruit and yoghurt over the kitchen floor, the chickens have not yet been fed, the fire has gone out as I cannot nurture it and breastfeed a baby at the same time, it’s cold, there are seedlings about to die as I cannot seem to just get them in the ground, there’s a load of wet washing sitting in the machine I haven’t been able to hang out for two days, there are toys all over the floor, Little Star needs a bath and there’s a meal that still needs to be cooked.

It was supposed to all be done by now so I could get on with my day, so I could connect with my daughter, so that I could do something productive, something more than just maintaining a house. Who can find fulfillment in perpetually tidying? Where nothing is ever finished? Where life just circles and circles and circles around the elusive idea of a completed task?

This morning hasn’t been perfect – later as I clean the kitchen and cook the meal I wanted to with my daughter strapped to my back I realised I’d forgotten to feed Leczy.

Enter guilt stage left.

Little Star is sleeping peacefully now. We’re getting warmer as I’ve finally gotten some wet wood to burn, the chickens are fed, the eggs collected, the kitchen is clean (enough), dinner is cooked, Leczy is fed (I’ve apologised to the doggie with cuddles and scratches around the ears), Little Star is bathed and the wet washing is heaped in a laundry basket – one step closer to being hung to dry. The seedlings are still in punnets stretching for sunlight, and there are still toys all over the floor.

I am learning to be okay with that. It’s not perfect, though often times I find the need to revel in the imperfection of daily living. Relinquishing to the chaotic crazy playfulness that parenthood brings.

So, my fellow mums and dads how do you do it? How do you take it all on and keep your spirit? I’d love your comments.

Nahmaste.