Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Baby Milestone

Baby Field Notes sat for the first time on her own on December 27 while at her grandma's house. It was pretty neat and totally unexpected. She still falls over right away most of the time, but it's a start!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Imperfect, but Finished Quilt

Finally! Here are some pictures of the quilt I recently made, the one that was a giant pain in the but to top-stitch.

Two things made this harder than it needed to be for a beginner: minky backing (plush fabric is difficult to quilt) and extra-thick batting. Yes, I learned a lot from making this one! The back may be hilly, but it's soft and WARM.

I couldn't get a better photo of the scrunched back portions, or the screwy stitches, but you can get a sense of it from this.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

1,000 quilts later...

Quilting is quite the challenge. I am approaching my wit's end for the one I have been working on, but I am almost done with it, and yes, I am looking forward to the next one. I think I have finally found something I am not naturally gifted at. I mean, usually when I try something, it turns out really well. But not this. I feel like a compete failure at it. I suppose that is one reason I am looking forward to the next one — I want to succeed at this.

This afternoon I ripped up seams three times before I threw in the towel and considered the last try 'good enough.' The top stitching is what is really a giant pain. I have figured out how to do it, in general, but this time I am using this cloth called 'minky' cloth for the back. It's very soft and very fuzzy and I just cannot get it to move well. Top stitching requires being able to move the cloth around fluidly underneath the needle in a free motion sort of way. This minky stuff feels nice but it is a royal pain to move it along.

My quilt backing is bunchy and looks bad. Mr. Field Notes tried to give me pep talk about it when I pointed out the flaws, but it didn't really work. I just can't look at the bunches and see them as neat little hills.

Right now I am just making quilts for us, but eventually I would like to be able to make quilts that are good enough to give as gifts, or even to sell. I want them to be that high of quality. I have a long way to go. My seams don't line up, the backing isn't smooth and so on.

I am in awe of the woman who writes http://freemotionquilting.blogspot.com/
She's got some mad skills — definitely PhD-level free motion quilting genius. She posts videos of her free motion quilting. I am going to have to study her technique.

Fortunately today I realized that when I first started making handmade paper, I was terrible at it. Now of course, I am really good at it and people even pay me to make them paper for their special occasions. Ten years ago I would not have thought so. My first attempts at making paper were awful. The sheets were unevenly thick and some had holes or super thin spots. If you held them up to a light, you could see the lumps. And they were roughly textured, not the smooth sheets I make now. I have no idea how many sheets of paper I've made, but I'd guess that it is in the thousands.

I really hope I do not have to make 1,000 quilts before I get good at making them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kids and Toys: Avoiding the plastic crap trap.

I am against plastic toys. Not for any sound, research-based reason, but because I just don't want a huge pile of that stuff hanging around the house.

So, I aim to stick to a few basic types of toys, which are those that cover all the basics. And, really, kids are resourcesful and inventive all on their own. They will make toys out of anything. One could argue that those cheap, ubiquitous plastic toys actually stunt kids' creativity.

But, there are a few toys that don't. Blocks are one. I finally finished the fabric blocks I set out to make. There are 9, one for each letter of Baby Field Notes' name. Each side has something different on it. On the reverse side of her name letters are numbers, and on a facing side are the numbers 1-9 in arabic. Because the numeral symbols we use are derived from arabic, there are a lot of similarities in the two sets of numbers. The white sided block, right underneath the division symbol in the photo here, is a 3, for example. In addition to some letters for her to spell out the two newfs' names, I threw in some mathematical symbols. Those sides she can have fun with later. I loved math as a kid and I won't be surprised if she does too.

As far as other toys for her to play with, we have been pretty spare. Better to not start that bad habit in the first place. I do not want to get in the habit of accumulating a bunch of plastic toys that only do one or two things and that quickly lose appeal.

So, I am trying to keep toy purchases and planned ones to a minimum of what is really essential in my opinion. Stuffed animals are essential, I think. They serve the same purpose as dolls as far as make-believe goes. They will also be a stepping stone to an interest in biology and the natural world, just like going on nature walks and playing in the garden will. She'll have her giant collection of felt food too — another one that is wonderful for play because she can pretend to not only serve meals and shop for them, she can pretend to operate a restaurant and farmer's market stand too, if she wants to. I am sure her stuffed animals and I will have to sit through more than one 'tea party' where sushi is served.

Every child needs to have a truck or two — the kind you use in a sand box or out at the beach or in the dirt and mud in the backyard. We've already got a dump truck. I get a kick out of the fact that it is in use as a handy place for us to keep a stash of diapers. More fun than leaving them in a box in the closet!

Other than trucks to play with in the dirt and sand, she'll need puzzles and blocks. Both are essential in my opinion. We've already got a few puzzles. I plan on getting her a really nice set of wood blocks to build towers and bridges and whatvever else she puts her mind to, if no one else does, but I have a feeling between her grandparents, aunts and uncles and great-grandparents, I probably won't need to buy her a thing! When she's older, we'll do the Legos. Mr. Field Notes still has the Legos he played with as a kid! Tangrams are awesome puzzles as well. They are excellent for practicing spatial skills and are fun for kids and adults alike... which is why we already have a set.

I really cannot think of other toys that kids really need. Paper, crayons, balls? That's more basic stuff we already have. Mr. Field Notes and I are really just big kids, so we've already got just about every basic type of toy I can think of. The only thing we really need from toy land for the next several years are wood blocks! Ha! I make it sound like we can get away with not buying toys for the next 4 years.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Check out all the monkeys! .... And a word on BPA and behavior

Just about every day I check the snow monkey web cam at the Jigokudani Monkey Park in Japan. I've been doing it since we came back from Japan nearly a year ago. I've enjoyed seeing the changing of seasons and the comings and goings of tourists. This snapshot is remarkable for the numbers of monkeys hanging out at the hotsprings and the complete absence of tourists. The day we visited there were easily five times as many tourists as monkeys. I had a good time but it would have been way more awesome to have them all to ourselves!

The Arashiyama monkey park right outside Kyoto is far more accesible than Jigokudani and even though a similar number of tourists frequent it, the place is bigger and everyone is able to spread out more. People are also allowed to feed the monkeys at Arashiyama from inside a cage (the people are in the cage) which makes for a fun experience — at least it was for me. I had a blat hand feeding itsy bitsy pieces of apple to the babies and also observing a bit of a sense of entitlement on the part of older monkeys who displayed a considerable amount of disdain for such stingy handouts. If I offered a piece of apple that wasn't large enough, one monkey slapped it away, more than once (so I knew it wasn't an accident). He or she readily accepted larger chunks. Spoiled much?

So, monkeys are a curious bunch, and they've been on my mind again lately on account of some research that's started to make the rounds of news sites. It's on BPA — the chemical added to plastics to make them hard and is now known to pose health risks. Well, it also apparently feminizes male behavior in monkeys. The dangers appear to be most linked to prenatal exposure. In monkeys, research published this year in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology shows that prenatal exposure of monkeys to BPA causes male monkeys to cling less to their mothers and look away more while clinging. Supposedly this is more typical of female infants in the species of monkey studied (long-tailed macaques, a close relative of rhesus macaques).

Chemicals added to plastics to make them softer are also blamed for feminizing behavior — and this time the research comes from humans. It's not experimental data, but pilot research published in the International Journal of Andrology shows that preschool-aged boys with more exposure to phthalates in utero were less likely to engage in stereotypical boyish play, specifically play fighting and playing with trucks and guns.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Weird mailing prohibitions in foreign countries

This morning I had to look up the USPS postal rate to send a letter to Germany, which was easy and I got just the info I was looking for: 98 cents. But I also found something I didn't expect: the inclusion of a strange item on a list of mailing prohibitions to the country — melatonin. Weird, but understandable. I wondered to myself what other weird exclusions might be found for international mailing, so I browsed the listings for other countries and discovered these.

Weird International Shipping Prohibitions:
Feeding bottles to France
Maps showing incorrect borders of Ecuador to Ecuador
Chain letters to the Czech Republic
“Musical” cards (that play a recording when opened) to Bulgaria
Leeches to Cyprus (why single out leeches?)
Police whistles to Guatemala
Bells to Italy
"Extravagant" clothes to Albania
Stilettos to the Dominican Republic
Rulers not in the metric system to Mali
Walkie-talkies to Great Britain
Blank invoices to Costa Rica
Pencils to Tunisia
Soap or socks to Syria
Newsprint paper to Guyana
Butter substitutes to Canada
Shaving brushes made in Japan to St. Lucia
Suitcases to Paraguay
Playing cards to Greece
Footballs to Iran (if they're made of pigskin)
Cassette tapes to Iraq (as if that's the only thing that's keeping terrorism alive there)

Paper and writing products (envelopes, ink, pencils, pens, erasers, chalk, etc.) to Sri Lanka.

... and whatever you are thinking of sending to Peru, forget about it because it's probably on the extensive list of things prohibited in mail sent to Peru.

Among many countries there are also the usual postal prohibitions, such as live plants, perishable food and material which may be offensive, such as pornography or religious material that isn't congruent with the state religion (such as Bibles to countries that are predominantly Muslim) as well as articles that may interfere with the country's commerce, such as leather shoes and straw hats to Ecuador, but the unexpected, other oddball prohibitions surprised me.

I also didn't expect so many countries to ban goods made by prisoners or convicts, but many do. Postal items bearing the mark of the Red Cross are also prohibited by a handful of countries in Africa, and many poor countries around the world prohibit people from mailing used clothing, be it shoes, hats or shirts. Maybe that's to prevent the spread of lice? I don't know. That would make sense, but newsprint to Guyana? Do they not want people to start up printed newspapers or what? It's not like newsprint is dangerous like stilettos are! Perhaps they really do not want people to produce printed material. Hell, in Sri Lanka, the government doesn't even want you to write.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Mealtime Psychology

Spending a week with a toddler reminded me of exactly how valuable knowledge of basic psychology can be when it comes to mealtime with a 'picky' two-year old. They are notoriously picky about what they'll eat, but rather than giving in and catering to it, parents can use a few psychological tricks to get kids munching on healthy foods.

One easy one is to give kids a concrete goal and a reward. The reward doesn't have to be sugary treat like a cookie or candy either; it can be whatever the child wants to do more than eat. In psychology, this is known as Premack's principle. For my little charge, it was a newspaper ad insert for Toys-R-Us. With obvious enjoyment, he pages through it and points out toys he likes, naming each one, and can occupy himself for a good long time. So, when he got distracted at mealtime by its presence at the corner of the table, I used that as an opportunity. I eyed his plate and estimated he had about 6 bites left (about two less than he started the meal with) and told him he could look at the flier after he ate 6 bites. He knows numbers so he knows what that meant, roughly. After each bite I told him what a good job he'd done and made a rather embarrassingly big deal of it, exclaimed how many bites he had successfully eaten. I switched to the number of bites left when he had already eaten half of them. This way, he got 'social rewards' right away for doing some of the work and when he got close to being done, he had only a small, easily met problem ahead of him. Once he ate all the bites, I gave him the toy catalog. You have to follow through if you want this incentive-reward strategy to work, and you have to be imaginative with non-sugary rewards. The goal also has to be concrete and reasonably easy to meet.

Another trick is to make eating a game. "Airplaning" food in is an obvious trick, but food can also be animated. He had dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets one day that he didn't want to eat. So I stabbed one with a fork and walked it across the plate and made a game of him biting off the dino's head, then its tail, feet and so on. Toothpicks can be used to make little men out of food too. A grape head, cooked mini carrots for arms and legs, etc. One of his forklift trucks delivered a bite of sandwich.

Both goals and games work well for getting kids to eat food they don't want to eat, but there are a few things that can be done beforehand to prevent even getting to that point.

Arranging small amounts of different kinds of foods on their plate can help kids eat more and also eat a more well-rounded diet. If one type doesn't go over well, they only have to eat a few bites of it. Yes, it takes more time to prepare, but the extra effort I think is worth it and it sets up the habit of a lifetime of eating a well-balanced meal.

Color is a good one to use to advantage too. Colorful foods are also likely to be more nutritious and can be arranged in an artful way: faces are a good choice because they have concrete 'goal' parts that can be eaten. An ear here, an eye there and soon enough the meal will be in the tummy rather than on the plate still, or worse, the floor.

Kids can and should also help make their meal. It teaches them parents and others aren't there simply to wait on them, and it gives kids an opportunity to make decisions and take ownership of their food. If so inclined, kids can also help grow the food by starting a garden or helping maintain one. Every little bit of involvement can help.

When we get to the point of having li'l Baby Field Notes eat with us, I really hope some advance planning will help us avoid having a picky eater. I like the idea of never giving her an option to eat something different from what we're having. I think our little charge always had something different at dinner, and it was always less nutritious, which struck me as weird. If I ever need to babysit again for a stretch of time, for crying out loud, I am going to the freaking grocery store and buying fruits and vegetables! And I will cut them up into little tooth pick stick men and drive them in on a dump truck if that's what it takes.

"I Wanna Dumb Fuck"

Got your attention with that one, I'm guessing.

"Dumb Fuck" is exactly what it sounds like my little nephew says when he says "dump truck." The first time I heard it, he was asking me to zoom one of his toy dump trucks around: "You dumb fuck!"

I could have died. And then I figured it out. It's a terribly unfortunate mispronunciation. Why couldn't he just say "dunk tuck" instead????

Later told us he wanted to go "see the dyke. " Ahhhrrrruh??? We figured out that he wanted to go see whether he could see in the dark after we bribed him to eat his carrots.


And so began our introduction to toddler-speak. My pregnant sister's water broke 2 months early and she has had to stay put in the hospital on strict bed rest, IV fluids and antibiotics and steroids for the developing baby's lungs, and since her son had never been in daycare, we went to her house to take care of him for the week. Now it's my dad's turn. He's really good with kids and I am sure he won't have any trouble understanding the little guy.

It sure brought back memories of taking care of my little sisters. I had forgotten some of my favorite toddler speak:

Irtday Ardy! (Birthday party)
Chet Boyardee (those horrid raviolis in a can)
Fo Fo Fire (pacifier)

That last one stuck so much in my mind, that I still call pacifiers "fo fo fires" in jest. Around our house, being young adults of the 90s, we have warped it into a "Foo Fighter" because really, the magical plastic nipple does fight "foo," a catchall term that can encompass so many baby complaints.

I am really looking forward to some adult conversation. Seriously. I now understand why moms sometimes slip inadvertently into toddlereez. Once you've been immersed in a second language like that, it's hard not to slip back into it. I really do not want to be one of those people.

The other thing I observed about toddler 'language' is that he readily recognized symbols that are part of language, even if they aren't English letters. Baby Field Notes has a quilt to play on that has Japanese hirigana on it and as soon as he saw it, he pointed to them excitedly and exclaimed, "Letters!" I thought that was really cool.

It was also really neat how he repeated immediately, and in the same tone, something I said without thinking — and fortunately — it was G-rated! ((Phew!!))

Round and round the mulberry bush......

POP! Goes the weasel.

He had a toy that played the tune and I naturally sang along without realizing. Pop! Goes the weasel, he instantly repeated. Yep, we heard that an awful lot after that. I had assumed someone already had taught him the words to it, but when his dad came home from work, he asked if we taught him the song.

It's impressive, that the ability to repeat something heard or seen just once, and it is easy to take it for granted. It's one of those hallmark human abilities. Apes imitate, but not with nearly the same facility.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A L'il Lobstah for Ya!

Here's one for my family since I haven't been able to send email lately. Gmail has been on the fritz for a few days now. Enjoy! I'll send along better ones as soon as I can =D

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Under the Sea

My most recent finished project is a smallish 'activity' quilt with marine animals hidden under waves. Inside the waves I tucked cellophane so they'd make a crinkle sound when folded down to reveal the hidden animals: a few small fish, a shark, octopus, manatee, turtle, sea lion, jellyfish and a small spotted ray.

For the reverse side I used a soft, fuzzy dark chocolate fabric and between the front and back I put some batting and tacked it down with some free motion quilting. All of the animals are appliqués from a yard of cotton fabric I found on etsy.

This project was a logistical challenge but it was fun. I first had to figure out the right order to do things so that I wouldn't have seems showing where I didn't want them, i.e. outlines of animals showing through the waves. I appliqued the animals onto the waves first, then sewed them to the fabric and then sewed the sides of the waves together. Once I had those done, I sewed some curved lines to the crests of the waves to hold down the cellophane. I did it freehand and I think in the future if I make another one of these, I'll use a wax pencil to draw the lines first so I have a a guide to follow for more tidy details.

When I had all of the wave details finished, I sewed the waves onto the lighter blue cloth background, then put the layer of batting between it and the brown for the back and started pinning, tucking in folded pieces of ribbon as I went.

All told, this one took me 9-10 hours, or just about as long as the baby's quilt did!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Finished my first quilt!

Yesterday I finished the first quilt I've ever made. Bold patterns in black, white and red cloth interest newborns the most, which is why I chose them. It took me a few weeks to find cloth in enough different patterns to make it. Some I bought online through etsy, most are from JoAnn's and a few .. are from Walfart. Each of the 20 squares is different. They are a little over 5 inches square so the entire quilt is not very big, but just big enough for BFN to squirm around and eventually crawl on.

Making a quilt can seem daunting, but it isn't hard — at least not for an easy pattern like this one. I finished it in 3 days, working a few hours at a time and never for more than about three hours at a time thanks to having a very hungry baby around. I broke it into 4 parts:

* cutting the cloth pieces
* pinning pieces and sewing them together as I went
* free motion stitching the top and bottom together
* sewing the binding on

Cutting the cloth pieces was made easy by a cutting mat, rotary cutter and clear plastic ruler/straight edge. This was probably the easiest step. Pinning was tedious, but I pinned and sewed one strip at a time, so the monotony of it was broken up. I pinned and sewed horizontal rows first, alternating short vertical strips of white cloth between patterned blocks. Then I sewed long strips of white cloth between each row.

Before I started pinning I took a snapshot of the patterned blocks that I had arranged on the floor so that I had something to reference just in case I were to jumble it once I started pinning. I never needed it, but I am glad I took it just in case. I really thought about how I wanted the blocks arranged and spent about 20 minutes arranging and rearranging them until they looked right to me. I wanted to keep similar patterns and colors away from each other and also keep a balance of light and dark.

After pinning and sewing came the worst part: laying down and pinning the batting between the top and bottom (black cloth with small Chinese characters in white). There has got to be a better way to do this but I don't know what it is. The first time I pinned them, I ended up with the top taut but the bottom piece wasn't. It looked awful so I unpinned it all except for along the top and then used that as an anchor and smoothed the cloth from the top and bottom as I pinned. It was a pain in the butt but by the time I was done, both top and bottom were equally taut.

I really had no idea what I was doing. I've never taken a quilting class and the last class I had on sewing was during some class resembling 'home ec" that I "took" during high school because it was either that or typing. I think I skipped out on much of it simply because I could get away with it. Home ec was just not my speed; I was always way more interested in math and science. It's amusing that now I would be sewing like crazy! In any case, I think a quilting class or two would probably help. My quilt has flaws, but as Mr. Field Notes reminded me, no one is going to notice but me. The flaws? They have to do with the layers not lining up just right, I think. But, it could also be I missed doing some crucial thing during the next step: free motion stitching.

To help nail down the top and bottom layers, quilters can use a special presser foot. It appears to be spring loaded and doesn't press down as hard on the fabric so there is a lot of movement to it. The trick is to move the fabric around in whichever direction you want. You can go forward, side to side and even backward, easily. But, as I was told when I bought it at a quilting shop, "It takes some practice." Ha! Does it ever!

At first I set my machine to the slowest possible speed setting because anything higher and I felt like the fabric was flying all over the place and I couldn't control where the stitches went, but then as I got more comfortable with how it moved and how I could move the fabric, I found the slowest setting wasn't optimal and settled on the middle speed. Even so, it took a lot of concentration to control where the stitches went even though the stitches were free form and not in any particular pattern — just random, wavy lines. This part was definitely the hardest, I thought, and made me think twice about whether to make another quilt.

After free motion quilting the top and bottom pieces, I prepped the binding. I suppose I could have sewn the binding onto the bottom of the quilt and then folded it over and sewed it to the top, but I didn't. Instead, I cut long narrow strips of red cloth and folded it over about 1/4 inch on both long sides and ironed it so it would stay folded. Then I ironed it in half lengthwise so I could tuck the whole piece over the edge of the quilt. I knew I would have some places where the top and bottom binding edges wouldn't match up perfectly and I was fine with having to re-sew or stitch those by hand. In the end, that only happened over about 20 percent of the edge and was easily fixed by gently tugging the part that wasn't sewn down and repinning and resewing. The binding went quickly.

All in all, this quilt took a lot, lot less time than I thought it would. I estimated it would take at least 2 weeks, but I had it finished basically over one weekend and despite numerous interruptions. I am already looking forward to the next one.

Monday, October 19, 2009

My 'Dubious' Dog Bell Plan

For a few months now, I've been battling the problem of what to do about the back door. When I let the newfs out in the morning, I leave the door open just a crack so that it's shut but not latched. They wrestle around outside and some variable amount of time later, they barge back in. Usually, but not always, I notice when they come in and can go shut the door. It's those times I don't notice, when the door has been open for an hour, that I want to solve.

What I need is a simple alarm to alert me that the door is open. A bell on the backdoor is perfect, so at the craft store, I choose the biggest, loudest bell I could find and figured I could hang it on the door nob from a ribbon — except — that would scratch up the door. So, I made a little padded cushion to hang between it and the door. It'll still make a nice clang when they rush in, but it won't scratch the door.

I quilted the cushion using a new free motion presser foot for my sewing machine. I have really limited experience using it, and it takes practice, so I'm inventing all sorts of excuses for using it before I use it on my next project — a quilt for Baby Field Notes (my first quilt). This door bell cushion was a perfect excuse for practice.

It ought to do the trick, and it might have the added benefit of serving as a bell for when they ask to go out. Katy will vocalize to go out, but not Yuki. Instead, she just stares at the door. Sometimes she nudges the nob with her nose, so I'm thinking we might be able to get her to deliberately jingle the bell to ask to go out.

Katy needs none of these tricks. But she's stuck with it. (Notice the slobber hanging off her jowl?)

Katy has these amazingly disgusted looks she shoots at us when she thinks we're being dumb (which is pretty much all the time when she's not sleeping — or eating). She shot me one of her dubious looks when
I told her to wait by the back door after I balanced a treat on the nob. It's her equivalent of the teenager's rolled eyes. You can get a hint of it in the top photo. Perhaps amazingly is too much, but she's got a real skill for looking at us this way when we ask her to do something that's beneath her... like 'waiting' for a treat. Being a trick she learned long ago, it is so juvenile.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Behavior Change through FUN

Can we get people to choose the stairs by making it more fun?

Here's a fun video that illustrates behavior modification:

How could you not take the stairs?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Infant Handedness: Baby Field Notes a Lefty?

A greater preponderance of left-handed U.S. Presidents aside, it has me concerned, a little, that Baby Field Notes might turn out to be a lefty. She's showing what I would call a strong preference for sucking her left hand, moving her left hand more, and holding things longer with her left hand.

The first question I had was whether there's any research to suggest that early hand preference correlates with handedness later. I'm still doing the research, but so far I've turned up some interesting stuff, all published in reputable journals like Developmental Psychobiology and the International Journal of Primatology.

Handedness is associated with brain lateralization and specialization, meaning that the two hemispheres are not exactly alike. The right and left hemispheres execute different functions. For example, most people process language in their left hemispheres. Spatial reasoning, such as mental rotation of objects, is processed in the right hemisphere. Although it's not a perfect relationship, the vast majority of right-handers (90%) process language in their left hemispheres, but only about 70% of left-handers do. A higher proportion of left-handed people process language in the wrong hemisphere, or both hemispheres. It's also said that they are more likely to be dyslexic.

Nonhuman primates are generally not thought to have much language capacity (there are exceptions!). They are also thought to not show much evidence of brain laterality, i.e. their cerebral hemispheres are more symmetrical in function and do not show a left hemisphere specialization for language (there are exceptions!). Furthermore, they are not thought to show a hand preference, i.e. they don't preferentially grasp or manipulate stuff their right hands (there are exceptions with this too!).

What all this means is that other apes don't have the amazing language abilities that humans have because they don't have the brain circuitry specialized for such a complex task and their lack of hand preference is one piece of evidence for that. However, I think that there is plenty of evidence that other apes have some language capacity and that it's likely early human ancestors (6 million years ago) also had language capacity. The human ability to write and recite nursery rhymes didn't just appear out of nowhere, it built upon earlier capabilities.

Left-hand preference may be just one symptom of something gone haywire in brain circuitry regarding language development given the links between the hemisphere dominance, handedness and language processing. In other words, it's not too surprising that more lefties would have language difficulties and I hope that Baby Field Notes doesn't! Language stuff aside, it would make life a lot easier for her to not have to deal with the hassles that lefties encounter.

A good example would be the rotary paper cutter we have. It, like the vast majority of paper cutters, is set up for right handers. The blade is on the right side and the grid and platform to rest the paper on is to the left. For a left handed person to use it, they would have to either operate the blade with their clumsier hand, or, they'd have to hold the paper with their right hand and reach across their right wrist and hand to grasp the arm or blade to cut the paper with their left hand — a recipe ripe for making a mistake and winding up injured.

Speaking of language I find it interesting that the word dexterous, meaning nimble or skillful, comes from the word dexter, which means right. The dexter hand is the right hand. In contrast, left in French is gauche, which in English means clumsy or boorish. Compliments that have a subversive, not so nice element to them are left-handed compliments. I'm just saying, left handers don't just die earlier (as research has found), our whole language schema paints them in a poor light.

However, left handedness/right brain dominance is also associated with being gifted analytically, particularly in mental rotation and three-dimensional problem solving.

In an effort to find out whether early left hand preference is associated with being a lefty, I skimmed a bunch of journal abstracts, and although I haven't yet found an answer, I did learn some other interesting stuff.

At just 5 months gestation, fetuses already show brain lateralization. Using ultrasound imaging, researchers measured the size of both lobes of the brain of around 100 fetuses and found that their left hemispheres were larger than their right hemispheres. Also interesting is that the girls had larger brains.

Fetuses suck their thumbs in utero, no surprise there, but they also show a preference for sucking their right thumb and this can show up as early as 15 weeks of gestation. Also, research on some primate species, including both monkeys and two kinds of apes (bonobos and chimps) has found that they have a nipple preference — left — which is also associated with a preference for turning their heads to the right, which would be toward the left breast when being carried and while suckling. What's noteworthy too, is that nonhuman primates and humans both show a bias for left-handed infant carrying and cradling.

Early on, BFN preferred the right boob, the atypical pattern. I also have a strong preference for carrying her and cradling her in my right arm. Mr. Field Notes does it in the more usual primate fashion — with his left arm — and was the first to observe that I don't. So I guess I am odd and maybe Baby FN is too.

In any case, Baby Field Notes may indeed turn out to be a lefty, and it's not likely I will be able to change that if she is. Handedness is not learned, a plethora of research suggests. Instead, it is "a spontaneous expression of the developing nervous system unaffected by the environment," as Dr. Johanna de Vries put it best.

However, other researchers, such as William Hopkins, point out that behavior can influence brain development, so use of the right hand can theoretically cause the brain to develop asymmetrically. [I think there's some merit to that, but how likely is the preference of right hand use to be just chance?] I think it's more likely hand preference is genetically determined and there's a good chance that no amount of me putting things in Baby Field Notes right hand will change anything if she is indeed a lefty.

My intuition is also that she is likely to be a lefty, given her hand preference now.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

First Date in 3 months!!

I didn't set out to make it a French day, but that's what it became. Leon Le Chameleon, a kids French song I discovered on iTunes, filled the morning air. By dinnertime I was dining in a French restaurant and sipping beaujolais. Afterward, we stopped at a patisserie on the walk home. Not bad for the first date I've had with Mr. FN in three months!

Needless to say, I freaking love love love living in this sleepy corner of the state. When we lived in this town 'the first time,' none of this would have been possible and I am so glad we waited to have a kid, even if that wasn't entirely by choice. We can provide so much more for her than we would have before — not just materially — but culturally, intellectually and emotionally.

The world wide interwebs certainly helps with that. It means I can locate French kids songs about reptiles, download them to my iPod and play them on our home stereo all without spending more than a buck and 5 minutes time. Truly awesome when you think about it. Using Facebook, I can connect with friends who also have babies and even chat with them virtually for free while I am nursing and they are 3,000 miles away. I can read research articles relevant to child physical and social development in peer-reviewed journals without having to actually go to a library. The internet makes all of that possible. Back when we lived here before, none of that would have been possible. Yes, I am a huge fan of the internet. It is truly awesome. and so is actually getting away from the computer to enjoy a night out with my honey, well honeeeeeeeeeeys, now.

The beaujolais wine, yum. I really like having a glass of red wine now and then. I think it's prefectly fine to do so even while nursing so long as you keep it to one glass, have it with a meal and drink it slowly right after nursing the baby and hours before the next breastfeeding session.

Now if I could just walk through the Louvre tomorrow morning...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Coupla' Completed Projects

Yeah baby! I finally bumped off two projects in the time I found while Baby Field Notes slept. One is a red, black and white fabric block with two loop tags and two animal silhouettes. The other is a jungle print diaper changing pad that is padded and closes up with a velcro strap.

Both are not exactly essential items, but they are nice to have. We've had to change junior's pants a number of times on the road and it's not always easy to find a clean, soft place to do it. We have been doing it in the seat of her stroller when we pop out her infant carrier, and that works, but won't be too cool if we are caught without a diaper under her butt. Uh oh — soiled and impossible to wash stroller seat! Yuck. Diaper changing pads solve that problem because they are easy to wash.

Another 'problem' solved by this little project is what to give Baby FN to look at when she has 'alone time' when I need to cook, clean or take care of my business. If she is relaxed and full, I can set her in her crib and she can entertain herself for 10-15 minutes. During that time, she loves to look, well more like stare, at the patterns on the blocks. Although she can't deliberately grasp anything yet, eventually she will and when I rattle the blocks that have bells inside, she perks up. I wish I had bells or something to put inside the block when I made it, so bells are on the list for a visit to the craft store this weekend.

Neither one took very much time, so I am planning to make more to gift to various people I know who have or are expecting babies.

The diaper changing pad cloth with the colorful animals was initially going to be part of her room's curtains, but I changed my mind about the cloth once I decided they clashed with her rug. The changing pad has a layer of quilt batting in the middle and fuzzy, soft brown cloth on the reverse side so it can also be used as a stroller blanket instead. The soft side also has an applique lion taken from some matching cloth I had. I thought it would make that side more cute and more finished. If I had it to do-over, which I certainly do since I have loads more of this fabric, I would add another layer of quilt batting and use dark brown velcro instead of tan.

A corner of Field Notes' room, is for the time being, my work space. She rested on the folded up blue blanket on the floor in front of me while I pinned the cloth. Mr. Field Notes teased her about having to get used to watching her mama do projects. Too true.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Learn to Count Auf Deutsch

While I was looking for a version of "Eins Zwei Polizei" on YouTube, I stumbled on this stop-motion animation that teaches you how to count in German, at least up to funf (5). It's amusing and charming. At the end, the groundhog stacks several pretzels and munches one.

Here's "Eins Zwei Polizei," a really catchy techno song that Mr. Field Notes discovered recently on YouTube. He says it's a traditional bed time song, although this particular song's beat is not exactly soporific! In any case, it combines counting, rhymes and repetition — perfect stuff for kids — and is really catchy.

Click here for "Eins Zwei Polizei."

Alexandra enjoyed listening to it the other night.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Don't talk to your baby! Blackberry instead.

She's just a little monkey at this point anyway.

The guilt trips that new mothers give themselves for not talking or playing enough with their infants is ridiculous — an unwarranted. Take for instance a mother of a 2 month old I know who put a sign up over her TV reminding her to talk to her daughter instead of watching TV while she breastfeeds her. Today I was reminded of this while reading a New York Times opinion piece, 'From Birth, Engage Your Child With Talk,' on my iPhone while sitting next to my baby, who was alas, not asleep. While I could have spent the entire time talking to her while I was in the car waiting for Mr. Field Notes to return with a new supply of bulk nuts from the grocery store, I instead chose to read news on my NYT's iPhone app. I admit, I felt a twinge of guilt, but it quickly dissipated.

A 2-month-old is developmentally incapable of attaching meaning to what you say; it's far more important to just interact, which you can certainly do when your baby is in the mood. Babies don't always want to interact with their parents, and they definitely let you know when they are interested. The first sign is that they return or hold eye contact. Sometimes they just want to observe stimuli around them and sad to say it, but your face isn't always the most interesting thing in the room and certainly isn't when you're breastfeeding — then it is 99% about the boob.

When not eating, Baby Field Notes finds the overhead fan appealing. The dark blades stand out in stark contrast to the white ceiling. Ditto for the shelves on the wall. She will look at them, relaxed and attentive, after she's eaten, that is if she's still awake. I rarely talk to her while I feed her. She can't respond back anyways. Bonding over a meal while talking is something reserved for a later developmental stage. There's time enough to talk during other activities (like during diaper changes), so I say, go ahead and Blackberry or iPhone or text or do whatever you do while breastfeeding baby and don't feel guilty about it.

I don't spend much time 'talking' to Baby Field Notes and when do, I often make the sounds an ape would make to her infant — soft oooohs and aaaahs, some high pitched squeals and staccato giggle grunts too — because those are the sounds she responds to. I don't think that's an accident. At this stage, she really is more simian than human. I do speak to her, but I don't always enunciate, e.g. "I wub you," and I don't always use perfect grammer, e.g. "Oh, you so cute, cute, cute, so cute you!" As long as they are exposed to language during the critical period from birth to age 7 or so, children can speak and can acquire perfect grammar and syntax — the hallmarks of language. In fact, studies have shown that this "motherese" language pattern of using short, simplified sentences, repeating words often, and using high pitched intonation is a human universal, probably because it helps in language acquisition.

For some evidence that infants are more simian than human at this early stage of development, one need only look at the shape of their vocal tracts. Apes and adult humans have a noticeably different layout of the larynx (voice box), pharynx (throat) and tongue, as you can see in the diagram that I colored so you can more easily make them out. Compared to other apes, humans have an elongated pharynx (red) and a lower larynx (purple) that is situated below rather than behind the tongue (pink). The image to the right shows the layout of a human infant's vocal tract. You can see that it more closely resembles the nonhuman ape anatomy. As an infant matures, these parts shift toward their final, adult human form — and with it, the ability to make the full range of human sounds. Similar structural changes occur in the infant's developing brain. As the infant's tongue develops more coordination and control, so too do parts of the infant's brain related to speech.

At the tender age of 2 months and for several months more, babies can't understand speech, let alone what the heck you're carrying on about when you name all the random stuff in your field of view (as the woman in the NYT article did). Babies can only judge whether or not you respond in a timely and appropriate fashion to their calls for help — so go ahead and take care of that email, get caught up on those TV shows you enjoy, read that magazine article — and tend to that crying baby by feeding her when she's hungry, changing her diaper when it's wet and saying silly things to make her smile when she's bored. There will be plenty of time later for conversations.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Evolutionary Psychology of Andrea Yates

The Texas woman who drowned her 5 children in a bathtub has been on my mind nearly non-stop since my husband, Mr. Field Notes, was told by his new psychology prof that evolutionary psychology has nothing to say about the case, because her genes died with the kids, whereas the other perspectives of psychology do.

I have been trying to keep from going bananas about it. After all, he is only taking the class to satisfy a dumb prerequisite required for what he really wants to study. And it's only a dumb requirement because he already has a much larger knowledge of psychology than most students who take intro retain even after 6 months.

So anyway, he started taking an introductory psychology class online through our local community college and I didn't have high hopes that it would actually be a good class, and I agree that he should just do the minimal effort required to get an A and leave it at that.


When the prof so summarily dismisses my field's perspective so early on, it sort of slams the door on that perspective being seen as valuable from there on out. I just don't like the foundation it sets for the rest of the class and he can, if he chooses to, defend the perspective and show that it actually has some value, not to mention increase everyone's knowledge. I don't know if he will speak up in the class discussion forum where it came up, but I kind of hope he does.

If I were him, I'd argue that Andrea Yates killing her kids is an example of female infanticide and that under certain circumstances, killing your own progeny can increase reproductive success. It wouldn't at first glance seem so, but evolution is not as simple or as black and white as it appears.

A woman who has a lifetime of reproductive years ahead of her and has a baby that is unhealthy, sick or disabled, or for whom she is unable to care for due to life circumstances such as poverty, lack of support, or ill health herself (including mental illness), may 'choose' to kill that child (or children) and try again for a healthy one or postpone having children until her situation changes so that when she does have another child, the child will have a better chance of actually surviving long enough to reproduce. By doing so, she cuts her losses and saves wasted energy.

Rarely do other animals continue to care for sick or disabled offspring. And, there are examples of animals, primates even, that postpone their reproduction until their circumstance becomes more favorable for reproduction. Tamarins are a great example of this. Often, the reproductively mature offspring of these small South American monkeys stay with their parents and take care of their younger siblings instead of moving away to start families of their own. They could move away from home, get 'knocked up' and try to take care of those babies on their own in an area where they cannot adequately defend enough territory to have food to eat and a safe place to sleep, but they don't. And they don't go off to have those babies, realize they made a mistake, kill the babies and try all over again when they can find a place with food and shelter. Instead, they don't even bother moving out; they stay put and become adult babysitters. They invest in the genes they share with their siblings and bide their time until they can successfully raise a family of their own.

We humans don't seem to be very good at delaying reproduction until better times even with access to condoms and birth control. There are plenty of news reports of babies found in the toilet and in garbage bins, and of course, humans have plenty of abortions. There are also plenty of examples of women who wait until they're done with school and have a career and an established social support system before they start a family (and sometimes they wait a little too long and find their fertility has dropped, making this strategy not entirely foolproof either).

My point is that people kill their own kids, more often before they are even born, and while it seems counter to evolutionary theory for them to do this since it kills their genes, it doesn't kill their ability to produce kids. They can still reproduce in the future and if being motivated to kill your kids under the right circumstances means that your reproductive success isn't zero, i.e. you still have a child that survives to reproduce later, then the genes that contribute to that motivation haven't been selected against. The only thing that would truly be inexplicable from an evolutionary perspective is why people would get a vasectomy or have their tubes tied before they ever reproduce. And even that can be predicted by evolutionary theory if those people tend to contribute to the reproductive success of their relatives, with whom they share many of the same genes.

In any case, evolutionary theory would predict that a woman would be most motivated to kill her own children if:
* They are severely sick, injured, or physically or mentally disabled to the point of being unlikely to reproduce as adults,
* She lacks the financial, emotional or social resources (social support) needed to effectively care for them,
* The woman is young enough to have a better chance of successfully reproducing later than if she continued to care for the child/children.
In such cases, the benefit could outweigh the cost. For the behavior of Andrea Yates to be a perfect example of this, she would have had to be younger than 45 (an age at which there is a significantly reduced chance of being able to become pregnant) and be poor or depressed or socially isolated or have ill or disabled kids. She was 36 at the time, young enough to be able to reproduce again, and from the Wikipedia account on her, sounds as though she had little social support to help care for the children, and was convinced the children were defective.

Steven Pinker, a respected evolutionary psychologist, argues in his book How The Mind Works, that post-partum depression is a mechanism that motivates a woman to kill her newborn in just these circumstances. It has been said that Andrea Yates had been experiencing post-partum depression.

I don't think Andrea Yates is a perfect example of the 'kill your kids to bide your time and reproduce again when conditions improve' strategy, but she does fit the bill for an individual who would be expected to be motivated to do so.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Felt Food: Meat & Other random stuff

I made some more felt food! It's slow going on account of nearly always having a baby in my lap but I think these turned out pretty well.

A bowl of udon noodles, braised tofu and carrots:

A steak, tuna rolls and slices of mikon:

A fillet of salmon, cinnamon roll, deviled eggs, fruit slices and crackers:

Bacon and a T-bone steak:
The bacon has wire in it so it can be bent and stay that way. The steak has a cooked and un-cooked side so it can be flipped and 'cooked.' She has an amazing collection of felt food now — it fills 9 shoebox sized containers!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My baby looks like a Francois Langur!

You'll just have to take my word for it, because I lack photographic evidence, but Baby Field Notes looks just like a newborn Francois Langur.

She gets the same drowsy, relaxed look on her face. She's got the pointy little monkey ears, the plump upper lip hanging over a receding chin... the almond eyes, the fluffy red hair. A hint of a spike mohawk.

There's no way to get around the superficial resemblance of baby humans to baby monkeys, but one thing you may not know about is another way that human and monkey infants are alike — the presence of a natal coat. A natal coat is the term for the different coloration of primates during infancy that later changes. Only about 10-20% of primate species are born with different hair color than they'll have as adults.

These francois langurs are relatives of silver leaf monkeys. Like the silver leaf monkeys, they give birth to bright orange babies that stand out in stark contrast to the significantly darker adults. Black and white colobus monkeys also have babies with a conspicuous natal coat. Theirs are completely white. Chimps are born with tufts of white hair on their rears (I think it makes them look especially cute!), and some human babies and toddlers go through a blond phase before they become brunette as adults. The natal coats that chimps and humans show are less conspicuous but no less noteworthy.

Primatologists, admittedly, don't know why primates are sometimes born with a different hair color, but they have some decent hypotheses. One is that the different coloration provides a signal to others that the baby is indeed a baby and that elicits extra care from elders. Another is that the stark contrast helps adults see the babies better in a dark forest and this may help the troop better protect them from predators (who could also see them more easily, but this cost is presumed to be smaller than the benefit of adults being able to readily see the baby). Both hypotheses propose the coloration denotes the individual is young and needing extra attention. Perhaps in the same way that little blond ringlets are cute on toddlers, orange fur on these primates makes them look especially cute to adults.

No one has studied the natal coat thing among humans, and it has really not been well studied among other primates, but I think it's an interesting subject for research. Some evolutionary psychologists think that the reason that blondes are so attractive in our society is that blond hair is a trait usually seen naturally only in the young and therefore blond hair on an adult woman signals youth and therefore, fertility.

Right now Baby Field Notes has golden red hair. In the sunlight it's the color of the baby francois langur pictured above. It will be interesting to see if she developes blond hair as toddler like Mr. Field Notes had. I never did.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

SAHM vs Working Outside Home: How do other primates solve the work vs childcare dilemma?

Before I ever got pregnant, I knew I wanted the early experience for my baby to be consistent with how most primates have grown up for eons. Lots of body-contact, including sleeping together in a 'night nest,' nursing on demand, prompt and appropriate responses to her needs, i.e. nursing on demand, grooming baby to sooth her, and exposing her to developmentally appropriate stimuli.

Being a stay-at-home-mom, SAHM, was the foundation of that plan. I didn't, and still don't, think that working outside the home (if it entails having to be away from your baby for long periods of time) is the best way to raise a baby from a primatological standpoint. Looking at other primates, it's akin to leaving your baby with someone else, often completely unrelated to you, while you forage all day for food. No other primate does this. And there ought to be no surprise as to why this doesn't happen. Leaving a baby with someone else has its hazards: Others are never as careful or as attentive as they would be if the baby was their own.

But, it's a risk we humans accept out of necessity. Unlike our primate relatives, humans can't usually take their kids to 'work' with them so we face the difficult choice of what to do about childcare. While there are certainly jobs that are unsafe to perform around infants and children, the jobs most women are engaged in are office or retail jobs that aren't dangerous. If allowed to, I have no doubt that women could, and would, bring their babies to work with them. And, some do indeed get to do this, but it's largely a privilege reserved for few women.

For moms who must work outside the home, the myriad ways they solve the childcare problem is actually mirrored in some other primates, which I think is really cool.

When in need of childcare help, primate moms can sometimes rely on one of the baby's blood relatives. A natural first choice is the baby's father because he shares more genes with the baby than anyone else does besides the mother. But, there aren't many primate dads who assume the bulk of childcare, mainly due to their lack of paternity certainty. Yet, where males can be reasonably certain they are the father and when mom needs help, they lend a hand. Guys who shoulder much of the burden of infant care can find company with the tamarins and marmosets of South America.

These monkeys, like humans, have infants that are so energetically demanding to care for that two, and sometimes more, helpers are required. Mothers of these monkey species usually give birth to twins that are rather large compared to the mother's body size. Put together, the twins are equivalent to a 120-pound human mom giving birth to a 30 pound baby! That size of baby is both metabolically costly to carry and to feed. Human infants are also difficult to care for, not because they are particularly huge, but because they are basically born premature and consequently are far more dependent at birth than any other primate.

Tamarins and marmosets have, for similar reasons as humans did, settled on the very same solution about how to take care of such demanding creatures. The dads of these monkey species carry the infants whenever the mom isn't nursing, two babies at a time. This spares mom the energy so she can save it to forage and get enough calories to make enough milk to feed two babies at a time. These monkey dads also scan the trees looking for predators — birds of prey and snakes. They even hand over small bites of food to older infants. This sort of food sharing is something almost completely unheard of in most other primates, except humans.

This need for two parents to 'work' to provide for the infant is very unusual. Most primate moms do quite well without the help of the infant's father, but many still get help. Most often it comes from other related females such as sisters and the maternal grandmother. Getting help from female kin is typical among the langurs of India. Among langurs there, males leave the troops they are born into at puberty to avoid inbreeding. Females stay and and breed with newcomer males. The females in the troop are blood relatives, kin, who help each other with infant care. Other related female langurs carry a mom's baby for her at least half of the day. This gives younger siblings valuable parenting practice before they have babies of their own. Even so, first infants die at a much higher rate than subsequent ones, mostly due to the inexperience of their mothers.

As a rule, primates rarely, if ever, allow a stranger to hold their infant. So hiring a daycare center, nanny, or babysitter to watch one's child is a distinctly human pattern. It's no surprise really, that there are so many rules of operation for daycare centers so parents can trust that strangers will take care of the child appropriately.

Nevertheless, nonhuman primates do occasionally 'take care' of stranger's infants. This is especially true of high ranked females without their own infants. Higher ranking females have a penchant for snatching the infants of lower ranked mothers — to carry around, play with, and inspect. They don't keep them for very long, and that's a good thing, too, because sometimes they are so careless the babies wind up injured, if not a little traumatized. Their mothers are frightened, too. They also don't let the infants go willingly. But, being lower ranked, they don't have much choice.

Infant-snatching is an especially smart strategy for higher ranked females who haven't yet had babies of their own — they can practice on someone else's baby.

I wouldn't go so far as to call it daycare, because it hardly qualifies as care, and is rarely chosen, but it is paid for. Lower ranked mothers do often wind up having their baby handled by a relative stranger whom they have 'paid' in the form of grooming (lower ranked primates tend to groom higher ranked ones more so than the other way around). It's just not really a beneficial arrangement for the mother of the infant who is snatched willy nilly whenever a higher ranking female feels like it. And, infants are really attractive to them.

The last strategy for infant care is an unusual one seen among bushbabies. They park their babies in a tree cavity at night while they go off to transact the important business of being a primate, all the while leaving their baby completely alone. It is thought that bushbabies can get away with this because the hiding spots are relatively secure and their milk is fatty enough they can be away for long stretches. It is pretty bizarre though, for a primate mom to basically leave her kid in parked car to disappear for hours to 'shop' and 'chit chat.' If a human mom did that, she'd be arrested. But, it works quite well for the bushbabies.

Although there are a few different strategies for childcare that primates have adopted, one thing I didn't consider was that being at SAHM would be a departure from the usual primate pattern in one regard: I'd tend to be alone most of the time, cut off from socializing with others. That's not a big deal for me personally, because I like alone time — a lot. But, at some point, Baby Field Notes is going to have to regularly play with other kids so she can develop some social skills!

Species top to bottom: emperor tamarin, silvery marmoset, gray langur, bushbaby

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Visual Development - Part 3: Handmade Boppy Cover

Baby Field Notes has finally started to track moving objects regularly now with her eyes and shows interest in objects she sees. Her eye contact is more steady too. The other day I caught her looking over my shoulder at my sock monkey collection, so now it is officially time to break out the things I've made for her to stimulate her eyes and more importantly, her brain.

Recently I finished a cover I sewed for the Boppy nursing pillow I have. It's got the same bold black, white and red fabrics I used for her fabric book and the taggie blankets. I used left over ribbon to edge the cover so she has something to tug on and finger during tummy time.

The thing is, I don't use the Boppy pillow anymore. A bunch of jumbled up blankets stuffed here and there around her is way better. I just could never really figure out how to fit the Boppy around my waist and position her on it to permit easy, comfortable breastfeeding. It purports to conform to 'all body types' but it doesn't work for me, or her, so I've abandoned it in favor of blankets.

But, I still have this awesome cover for the Boppy so I am hoping to discover a way to use it for something else.

p.s. Here she is with our newest sock monkey. Can you believe that grin?!?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Primate Parenting - A Stark Difference?

When I saw this product, the BéBé Bottle Sling, at first I thought, hey cute! Monkeys! Then I thought, hold up a sec — that is weird and maybe a little wrong.

The bottle sling hangs from the handle of an infant carrier or car seat and positions the bottle right on front of the babies face. Babies learn coordination and figure out on there own how to take the bottle into their mouth and drink when they want. After they're done, the bottle returns to a spot right in front of the baby's face. It permits hands-free bottle feeding.

Cool concept.

I thought I could make one of those, how hard could it be? But then I realized, perhaps wanting to save myself from yet another project or perhaps recalling all of my many childhood pet hamsters, that this is like sticking your kid in a cage and hanging a bottle inside so they can drink/eat. A flash of a baby in a wire cage with cedar chips, running wheel and a bottle full of milk mounted to the side of the cage briefly flashed in my mind.

While I think this product is potentially interesting, and useful, it also highlights a major difference between nonhuman primates and human ones, especially those in western, industrialized countries anyway.

Nonhuman primates (most often moms but there are plenty of exceptions) have their babies with them all of the time, even at night, often in full body contact. Not until the babies are old enough to crawl on their own are they away from mom and even then they stay within arms reach. Ape babies can be in full contact with their moms for 3-4 years on average, nursing on demand the entire time, even at night while mom sleeps.

But human babies, especially those in the US, get bundled up in infant carriers, motorized swinging chairs, strollers and cribs in separate rooms starting in their first days of life.

I wonder what effect all of this 'baby parking' has on human attachment — the affectionate social bonds shared between baby and parent, and later between romantic partners. After all, it has been shown that it's a warm, responsive caregiver to cling to that young primates need for normal social development.

When that soft, warm, responsive body is taken out of the equation and replaced with a cold, hard nipple hitting you in the face, how can you possibly develop normally?

When primatologists who study parenting point out the stark difference between nonhuman and (Western) human parenting, they rarely come right out and say what effect this lack of constant body contact has on us as a species. Does it make us more prone to be solitary jerks as adults? Is that why we needed to invent stuff like religion to remind us to be kind?

I don't know what the answer is, but it is reasonable to ask.

Now, really, an argument can be made that this product allows a more natural approach to feeding if you're using a bottle. When nonhuman primates feed, they can cling to mom by themselves, riding along and nursing while she forages. Her nipples hang down and baby can latch on and drink whenever. The only real significant difference between this and and the BéBé bottle sling is the nipple and the temperature of the milk.

As long as baby gets interaction at other times, as most babies would, this product could come in very handy. I just can't envision myself using it, but they ..almost.. got me with that darling monkey design.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Handmade Gorilla-Adorned Taggie Blanket

Although I am still obsessed with making felt food for junior, I sense I am also bound to become obsessed with making taggie blankets.

I've already made three. They are all in a black, red and white theme. One for us, one for my sis and her baby on the way, and another is a surprise for someone who might read this blog. Each blanket has 9 quilted squares and on the reverse, red 'minky' cloth with a black felt applique — heart, butterfly, and a gorilla - all shapes I have a die cut for which makes it easier. Guess who gets the gorilla =D

Between the appliques and the 'minky' fabric, I put some crinkled cellophane for sound effects. Babies like the sound it makes when it's touched, in addition to the tactile stimulation all the ribbons provide. They give them something to clutch and suck on while mom's not immediately available. The bold black and white and red patterns are stimulating for infant eyes which is why I chose them. So it's an awesome design concept from a sensory standpoint. And, eventually it will have that smell than babies love to sniff on too. There you go — four senses in one piece: sight, sound, smell, touch. And, I suppose, taste too!

I could, in theory, sell these but they are so much work that I'd have to charge $75 for them and I think hardly anyone in the whole world would pay that price for them. But, you never know. If someone wants one though, for that price, I'd do it.

I keep buying fabric (and ribbons) to make more even though I rarely have time to work on them. And, I keep piling up more sewing projects! What am I thinking?! I still haven't made the curtains for Baby FN's room!

I caved and bought more fabric for them because I decided my original plan is unfeasible because it's too complicated. So now I'm just doing curtains in all chocolate brown except for a border of animal print at the bottom. I'll use the other fabric I bought and won't end up using to make her some alphabet pillows. I remember my kindergarten class had plastic blow-up letters. I thought they were cool. I must have anyway, because I remember them! I figure she'll be able to display them on her shelves and may even still like them as a teenager. At some point, she's bound to get ridicluously upset with me and spell out some fuck off message.. (maybe I will only make her one F). Yeah, she's going to swear. I don't care so long as she uses her curses judiciously. And I do have a plan for the swears.

A jar. You put in some amount of money or something your kid likes to play with and they earn it back by doing chores, or other desirable things. But never homework. I don't believe in rewards for doing your homework. Education is its own reward.

Education is its own reward.