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In the first six months of parenting, these are the categories of music that one listens to:

  1. Music that makes your colicky, refluxy, teething little monster(s) fall asleep
  2. Nope, that’s it

This is mostly either whatever happens to be playing on shuffle at the moment when your midnight dancing around the living room finally works, or whatever lyrics you happen to remember at 4 am when rocking and sing/humming them back to sleep for the fifth time that night.

In the second six months of parenting, you start to move from desperate sleep-deprived dancing to something that could be mistaken for more joyful dancing, but is often just an effort to keep somebody distracted long enough for mama to take a shower.  These tend towards songs that feature the word “baby” prominently in the lyrics, combined with parental in-jokes (Arcade Fire’s Here Comes the Nighttime is a byword for impending doom in our household) or “milestones” (Sylvan Esso’s H.S.K.T. being the first time I caught them doing anything I could label “dancing” under their own steam).

Here’s the “Year 1” playlist I built up over the course of this, largely from a cargo cult mentality that if it worked that once, it will again, right?, presented in roughly chronological order of significance.  If you judge me for the music I will remember my kids’ infancy by, it’s a good sign you’re not a parent.

  1. Alice Cooper, Poison
  2. Erasure, A Little RespectAlwaysOh L’Amour (Depeche Mode was never a hit, though, oddly)
  3. Guns ‘n’ Roses, November Rain (a triumph of screaming to sleeping in a single song)
  4. The National, Fake EmpireSlow ShowStart a War (middle-of-the night low-pitched chest humming favorites)
  5. Lady Gaga, Bad RomanceLoveGameHighway Unicorn
  6. Arcade Fire, Here Comes the NighttimeAfterlife
  7. Of Monsters and Men, Little Talks
  8. OutKast, Hey YaMs. Jackson
  9. Dom La Nena, Start a War
  10. alt-J, Breezeblocks
  11. Sylvan Esso, H.S.K.T.Play it Right
  12. No Doubt, Hey Baby
  13. U2, Ultra Violet

And yes, I closed additions to this playlist about 5 months ago, but it’s taken me this long to chronicle it.  Parenting.


Diapering: earth destroyer, or crazy hippie?

Overall, our parenting is somewhere in the range of a 7 on the crappy crunchy scale, with some dips into the 2 range. (Yep, I’ll wait….okay, back now?)

Diapers are one of the both-ends-of-the-scale things.  Our primary diaper is the cloth/synthetic BumGenius FreeTime All-in-One, which, yes, costs $20 per diaper.  At night, though, we go Huggies Overnights disposables.  Cloth dipes first:

Cloth diapers have come a loooong way from the absorbant squares that you hand-fold and attach with safety pins that I and my siblings were clad in. These guys are high-tech wicking fleece numbers with multiple sizing options in 2 dimensions: we’ve been using our set since they were about 8 weeks and 8 pounds old to now, going on a year and 25 pounds old. (For the first 8 weeks, we rented a set of newborn-sized diapers from our friendly neighborhood diaper shop, Ann Arbor’s Little Seedling.)

They’re pretty darned easy to use–there’s definitely some practice bias, but we both find them easier to put on a squirming baby than the fussy little tabs on disposables–and the long-run cost/benefit is crazy good.  Even if you don’t get a bulk discount, that $20 gets you a diaper that you use about once every 36-48 hours. For us, at 9.5 months of use so far, that means we’ve used each diaper between 140-190 times so far.

At the low end of that scale, that means each diaper would have cost us 14.3 cents per use so far.  At the high end, and at Little Seedling’s bulk pricing, that cost would be about 9.4 cents per use.  If we use them until the kids are two, that cost per use ends up in the 4-6 cents per use range.

By comparison, disposable diapers are in the range of about 20 cents per diaper. If we used exclusively disposables, at our typical rate of usage, that’d be somewhere in the $2,500 range over two years.  Our set of 30 cloth diapers, plus the rental of the set of newborn diapers: about $800. Yes, there are costs to washing them and drying them (we gave up our clothesline once the dog started turning all the clean laundry on it into toys), but the 2-year savings on purchase cost of cloth diapers are enough to cover the cost of a brand-new high-efficiency washer and dryer.

There’s also a practical benefit to the reusables: it’s quite reasonable to receive a 2-year supply of cloth diapers and wipes at a baby shower, because once you’re using them, you don’t need storage space for the others, because they’re the same diapers over and over again.  Even if your friends and family wanted to give you $2500 worth of disposables at your shower, you’d be left renting a storage locker to hold them all.

If you want to talk environmental benefits, the disposable diaper industry claims no significant difference (surprise!), while the cloth diaper trade group claims those life cycle analyses are flawed, comparing the best case disposables to the worst case cloth diapers.  Fortunately, I find the practical and financial benefits of cloth diapering to be enough that it doesn’t matter if there’s zero environmental benefit.

Now, as I mentioned, we do use disposables at night.  There are certainly benefits to those chemical super-absorbing agents in disposable dipes–like letting the kiddos sleeping for 10-11 hours straight without needing a change. So using 1 disposable diaper, per kid, per night, is part of our “sleep is good for everybody” suite of parenting choices.

“Do what’s right for your baby/family”…even if it’s conventional

It’s not common in parenting circles to brag about formula-feeding, disposable diapers, and sleep training, but: yep, we do those things (at least in part).  And, hopefully I can save some new parents out there a lot of grief by assuring: yep, it’s totally okay for you to do them too, if that’s what works for you.

For context, I find there to be a big trend in hip-and/or-middle-class-parenting of pushing back against the “modern” parenting practices of our parents’ generation.  By way of example, this article chastising the very question of “how’s your baby sleeping?” is what prompts my rant of the moment:

I’m going to start charging anybody who asks the parents of one of my patients “is your baby sleeping through the night yet?  The answer to the question, while it seems polite enough, often leads to a judgment of how we’re doing as a new parent.  We have enough judges. Plus, the answer is almost always “no” and physiologically, that’s the right answer. Most children don’t sleep through the night because they are built that way. 

The “let them cry it out, is the nursery ready, put that baby down you’re spoiling him” culture can also undermine our parenting efforts.  Our culture encourages independence from a very young age and says that normal babies were never meant to be held all the time, and were meant to sleep all by themselves. 

I see things like this shared around by way of saying, “Hey, it’s okay–just because grandma thinks you need to do something a particular way with your baby doesn’t mean that’s your only choice.” (Or your co-workers, or Babies R Us, or random passerby on the street, or your pediatrician…) These pieces then tend to go into detail about (for example) the science of sleep cycles and brain activity, some evolutionary psychology theories, and discussions of indigenous/traditional cultures’ practices in order to illustrate the fact that today’s standard parenting practice is not the one and only way to do things.

And I’ve come to the realization that I’m not the target audience for this.  The target audience is the parents who were themselves raised on day care, cartoons, formula, Huggies, and cribs, and who need every detail of the alternatives spelled out for them in order to get basic familiarity and comfort with trying it out. I and my younger siblings, though, were breastfed, cloth diap’ed, and no-“screen timed” by our at-home mom, so, yeah, sure, these things are totally within my experience.

And, further, I’ve kind of got a giant chip on my shoulder at this point about it. Something about a pair of type-A perfectionists trying to parent twins “right” and reading things like this while short half our brain capacities from sleep deprivation led us to absorb a lot of guilt out of this: the detail and justification and assertiveness that’s calibrated for chipping away at Western cultural norms to create an openness to new ideas has an entirely different effect on somebody who already holds those views, and is now being waterboarded with them in conjunction with chronic sleep deprivation.

The inevitable conclusion of these advice pieces–that “only you really know what’s best for your child and family”–is intended as a shield against nosy normative interlopers, to say, “Hey, look, those cultural norms may be totally fine for some babies, but if they’re not working for your baby, it’s really okay to try something else. Unfortunately, the level of hammering home of their points that most of these writers do has the effect of implying, “(…and what’s best for your baby is clearly this stuff, not the conventional stuff.  How can you read all that stuff about millions of years of human evolution and tens of thousands of years of traditional practices, and possibly believe that suddenly after World War II we struck on something better?)”

Some of the more zealous writers out there intentionally play on this emotional vulnerability, rather than making any pretense of simply laying out options, for example, 

Likewise, why do sleep-trained babies stop calling out? Perhaps because it is futile for them to continue crying. Why cry when nobody comes?  This knowledge hurts your soul when you consider that a baby’s cry is their first attempt at communicating. Through it, the baby establishes his status as someone who deserves something. When the communication is answered, the baby’s sense of positive entitlement as a person becomes stronger. However when their cry is ignored, this sends the opposite message – that they are not worthwhile.

I fell for this parenting terrorism for quite a while, up until about the third or fourth incident of nearly drowsing off and driving into a bridge abutment on my way home from work, when I decided, you know what?  Daddy making a trip to the morgue probably isn’t “what’s best for your baby.”

For others struggling with the same, I’ll offer up a bit of an antidote: when you’re feeling guilt about not co-sleeping, or not exclusively breastfeeding, or not holding your baby 24/7, open up the Dr. Sears Baby Book and find an anecdote of traditional societies’ practices of childrearing. Then grab Jared Diamond’s The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies? to the section on childrearing practices, and wonder at how different the two accounts are.  Then remember that one of these two writers has spend 50 years doing field work in places like New Guinea, while the other charges tens of thousands of dollars for speaking engagements to tell parents how to feel good about themselves, after using his books to riddle them with guilt.

Then use that comparison to feel okay about ignoring the oh-so-clear-cut Right Way that Sears offers, and make your own decisions.  Even if those decisions involve formula.