Being 3

I am a 3 year old. I have only been soothing, healing, hosting, feeding, caring for a family, and managing the structures of time in ways entirely different than before – for 3 years now.

In this new season, new Jewish year, and new birthday for Bina, I am cultivating a gentleness in my self assessment. Both because it is a value and a skill to judge favorably, and because I trust that many of my parenting ‘shortcomings’ may be temporary and useful building blocks. If you’re the parent of a 17 year old, you have worked through many challenges and invariably have repeated some mistakes, but you’re still an adolescent in the realm of parenting, so give yourself a break. If you are a grandparent, I hope you are often feeling self-actualized, but you also may just be a 3 year old at managing the role of grandparent, retirement, etc. So you too can give yourself a break.

There have been times as a parent that I felt more out of control than I ever did in my tumultuous days, because all of a sudden, it felt that everything mattered. Right as I’m trying to build this great life, I all of a sudden have less time for it then ever before, and it feels like I’m being seen for my scrap papers more than my polished finished product. It surprised me that my professional standing, my yoga practice, my ability to maintain friendships and be a decent wife, in-law, daughter, sister, niece, cousin, etc., all took on a new urgency at the same moments as my need to parent well, because I also want to model grace in these realms to my daughter.

But we are starting over all the time. We always go from novice, to expert, back to novice again if we’re still willing to learn new things. The more we make peace with the novice phases, the more we are at ease in our own skin. We are seniors in high school only to become freshmen in college. Every time we graduate the real journey begins.

While parenthood is a very singular thing, there have been other life phases that someplace along the way, without any deliberate action, felt serene and second-nature. I have always felt welcome in my husband’s family, but there is a new sense of ease that comes when you have a shared history and that family truly feels like your own. Though I still feel more challenged mothering a child than a baby, I’m getting the hang of little things like organizing our days and weeks, and knowing a few great nature escapes, and I have hopes that this will open doors toward other loftier parenting goals.

I’m now remembering that we have entirely different skin every 7 years. After a little googling (and I hope this is accurate :)), I learned that we have a new surface layer of skin every 28-45 days. We shed about 40 lbs of skin in our lifetime! What comforts me is that it is fair to be challenged in our own skin again and again, yet we can create new habits, new surface layers, in about a month.

I have 3 years of perspective on my life as a parent. I don’t want and can’t have perfection or completion, so grace along the path is the goal.

Three Really Helpful Tips for Nursing


Cross-Posted in
Choices In Childbirth’s “Expert Avenue” series

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INITIATE FEEDINGS IN BABY’S REM SLEEP: Breastfeeding is easier when you feed on cue. But by the time new moms notice the cues and get comfy, a gently lip-smacking baby may by crying. A crying baby is not one that is relaxing to latch or easy to get latched well. Many well-intentioned supporters will tell you, “please pee/shower/nap/get dressed/etc. first,” and I’m all for taking a bit of ‘you’ time, but it’s silly to always start 5 minutes late – you will feel better when your baby is calm when you get her to the breast. UNICEF’s Baby-Friendly Initiative now lists REM sleep as the first feeding cue, so when you notice baby’s sleep state change get them positioned – they sometimes will latch without even opening their eyes.

GET A GOOD LATCH: One of the best things to do is lay back, get comfortable, bring baby onto you, and let your baby initiate the latch. Laid back breastfeeding requires no major instructions. Yet sometimes it is helpful to understand some principles at work behind comfortable breastfeeding if you’re having troubles or just like more details.
It can help to start SKIN TO SKIN, baby’s whole body facing you (not only belly to belly but both knees facing you), and nipple pointed to nose (not mouth – reason being you need more space at the top of baby’s mouth for the nipple since the bottom of the mouth is taken up by the baby’s tongue – also baby will open wider from this starting point). Initiate quickly after you see the very wide open mouth, but wait for the wide open mouth patiently. If you’re seated upright, really make sure your baby is supported by your arm and not the nursing pillow so that you can pull baby up and in at the right moment. Please don’t lean breast toward your baby because you end up giving all nipple skin and not breast tissue.
If you start all this in a REM cycle you have plenty of time to get a comfortable latch.  

NURSE IN SHORT, FREQUENT INTERVALS and START RIGHT AWAY: Check it out – your levels of prolactin don’t spike based on the total number of breastfeeding hours you log – they spike when the distance between feedings is close. Each time you get a spike in prolactin you produce more milk. Some mamas get into a routine if they find breastfeeding challenging where they don’t nurse for a long time (3 hours turns accidentally into 4 by the time they get everything ready to nurse), and then they keep the baby on for an hour+ when they do nurse. This just perpetuates the challenges of breastfeeding. If you shorten each nursing session (10-30+ minutes with some snacky 5 and 7 min feeds peppered in throughout the day), and bring baby to the breast more frequently (less schedule, more on cue, but if you’re dying to hear a number: 10-16+ times day AND night over a 24 hour period), you will produce more milk, baby will transfer the milk easier so they don’t need to linger forever during each session, and the whole thing will go more easily. If you really need to pee, nurse for 5 mins, take baby off, go pee, bring baby back on and finish the session. That will mean 2 spikes in prolactin during this pee-interrupted nursing sessions.
At the hospital, I have heard staff say that some babies aren’t really ready to nurse in the first day and THIS SIMPLY IS NOT TRUE. When mothers and babies are separated there’s just less syncronicity so they may appear uninterested during some of their opportunities. If you are separated from your baby or don’t get a good latch right away, don’t despair! Just stimulate your supply yourself with a simple hand expression technique (sometime in the first hour even for just 10 minutes, and again as much as possible in the absence of a straightforwardly nursing baby), and keep baby with you (on you) as much as possible.

Remember that many of these “rules” can be broken if everything’s working well. Please spend time with other nursing mothers in general, and consult a lactation consultant or counselor (IBCLC or CLC) if you have concerns (and certainly before agreeing to supplement). Your well-meaning pediatrician may not have a good protocol to protect your breastfeeding relationship.
One more word to the wise – you have enough milk! Doubting it causes you to do all kinds of things that can actually hinder breastfeeding. You don’t need proof that your heart is beating or that your stomach is digesting – trust your body to do what it needs to do.

Please call me if you want to talk or have any questions!

Julia Mannes, CD(DONA), CLC, RYT, and mom
Labor & Postpartum Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, Yoga instructor
917.216.1991
malkayoga@gmail.com

Letter to our caregivers…

My Parenting Manifesto


Thank you for looking after my child.  As promised, I want to share with you some of the values I hold highest in my parenting approach.  I respect all of the training and intuitive goodness you are arriving with.  Please just be yourself and spontaneous as you take these ideas into consideration.  I’m already impressed with your demeanor with children, and I’d like to hear your thoughts.  

When Bina does something you think is cool, please say “thank you” or just smile, or describe why it was cool, rather than saying “good job.”  Here’s why:
http://codenamemama.com/2010/06/02/good-job/

Please validate her feelings and allow the hard feelings also to come to the surface:
http://juliamannes.blogspot.com/2010/08/youre-ok.html

We try to talk to Bina and not about her in front of her…

We value pleases and thank yous and apologies (http://codenamemama.com/2011/01/03/alternatives-apologies/), and we try to model them and very rarely bring them up directly…  I believe “whatdyousay????” is a little condescending and doesn’t really teach genuine gratitude or sympathy.  We only sparingly encourage sharing and do not force it.  I believe forcing it teaches much less about sharing and much more that the biggest person has all the power and rules by might.  So we’ll say things like [sympathizing with one who doesn’t have toy] – “it’s hard when you want something that someone else is using” or “oh, that’s so and so’s favorite toy and maybe you can pick a different toy that is just for you;” and to the one who has the toy, “Can you see so and so’s face, it seems like he’d really like to use that toy… would you consider sharing it after a few more minutes?”  We generally wouldn’t approach sharing like “you’ve had a turn, now he gets a turn.”

In our family we don’t use time-outs or punishments.  I think these focus more on short-term outcomes and desired behaviors than on long-term deep understanding and respect. I also think there are more effective approaches to improving behavior, because I don’t know about you, but when I was punished as a kid, I thought a lot more about hating my parents and revenge than I did about the errors of my ways!  If something unacceptable is going on, stay with the child while distancing from the situation.  It is helpful if you stay very calm and un-punitive.

So what should be done about discipline?  Discipline is not a major theme in our home, although I’m aware there are some children who need more help behaving in ways that people can live with.  Please talk to Bina briefly in fairly neutral language about why we don’t want to do x, y, or z, or what she can do instead, and then move on.  I try hard to state a limit only when I really feel it is important – if I’m not yet sure how to respond I’ll take a few moments of silence – because when I say no I want to really mean it and not cave after the pleading comes – then it beckons more pleading and teaches that my word isn’t serious. I don’t really like telling Bina that anything from nature is gross or that laying on the floor is gross or anything… she can run pretty much free with regard to these things as long as she’s not doing something very dangerous, I like my little jungle baby just as she is!  The major exception is I try to model putting away one toy before taking out many more toys – I need some civilization.  🙂

Bina is also a vegetarian, and we keep a kosher home.  Please don’t use food as an incentive to get her to go somewhere or do something (bribes in general we try not to do).

We try to eat healthy, please don’t offer sweets or juice or breads or granola bars or pasta, but when Bina asks for things she sees she generally should be given them.  I don’t want to create drama around food or create forbidden fruits syndrome.  The only exception is if it’s straight up mainstream candy or adult diet drinks or something really chemically.  You can explain it’s chemically or has too much refined sugar and she generally says ok.  Also she doesn’t have to finish her food or eat at a certain time, she eats to her own hunger.  I will always tell you what foods we have around that day.

We try to be eco-conscious, so we will preferentially use our reusable bottle to plastic, cloth napkin to paper, etc., even if the other option is present. We choose toys that are well-constructed and calming over those that are plastic and electronic, and we prefer to minimize consumerism in general (so we don’t buy every organic thing out there just because we prefer organic – minimalism itself is a value to us). If you want to give her a little gift, we’d prefer a hand-written note or something else from the heart to little plastic chotchkies. We don’t watch TV or play iphone games or look at little cartoons with Bina.  However Bina does ask for music and family photos on the many gadgets we have around the house, so it is helpful when she doesn’t see them too frequently.   Bina initiates all kinds of make-believe games… she sings and paints and uses playdough and cleans and does all sorts of random things that need no major planning.

Oh also we try not to call Bina princess or focus on princess-type qualities as values – nothing really needs to be said about her looks:
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=298384623524331&set=a.223098324386295.105971.205344452828349&type=1

Thanks for taking the time to read!  Hope this is comfortable for you.  It’s ok when you forget some of these, don’t feel shy!  It may take some effort to speak in new ways but if you’re interested it quickly becomes second nature.  If you’re interested in any topic I would love it if you ask, “what do you suggest I say about x when it comes up.” or “what are your feelings about x.”

I recognize that flexibility is also an important value!
We can discuss any of this that you’d like, and I’m open to dialogue.

I also created a reading list if you’re interested in learning more:

thanks again!
Julia

NY TIMES: Motherhood vs. Feminism


I Am Mom! Enough! Carnival buttonWelcome to the I Am Mom! Enough! Carnival hosted by Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama and Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children.
This Carnival is dedicated to empowering ALL parents who practice and promote and peaceful, loving, attachment parenting philosophy. We have asked other parents to help us show the critics and the naysayers that attachment parenting is beautiful, uplifting, and unbelievably beneficial and NORMAL!
In addition to the Carnival, Joni from Tales of a Kitchen Witch and Jennifer from True Confessions of a Real Mommy are co-hosting a Linky Party. Please stop by either blog to share any of your posts on the topic.
Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants. Post topics are wide and varied, and every one is worth a read.

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The NY Times has a forum debating motherhood vs. feminism. Time magazine is treating attachment parenting like an extreme sport.

It has always distressed me that the very definition of what a feminine being can do – create and sustain life – could possibly be considered anti-feminist a priori. I derive a huge amount of my feminine identity from motherhood and the abilities of my body. I gravitate toward attachment parenting because it is convenient, not because I believe in some major give-fest. I breastfeed and co-sleep because it is easier to roll over than run to the other room in the middle of the night warming formula – I babywear because it is easier to have a calm baby than a fussy one, and because strollers are unwieldy. I place no judgement on the women who can’t or choose not to do the same. But in the category of women who can’t, many would find breastfeeding easier without formula pushing or routine separation from their babies shortly after birth. If no one teaches women how to wear their babies comfortably, and mass marketers push us to buy all kinds of equipment to make our babies need us less, of course we’ll assume carrying them is a sacrifice.

It is curious to me that first year residents are encouraged to devote themselves completely to their hospitals, but women are considered martyrs for devoting themselves to their babies in the first year of life. Just like residency, the early years of your child’s life are fleeting and may merit extra time commitments. To assert that it is motherhood against feminism means we have gotten used to a very low-bar version of feminism. Our workforce is largely masculinely-designed. A true feminism would campaign for access to proper maternity (and paternity) leave, flexible work hours, flexible site locations, on-site daycare, breastfeeding-normative environments, and empowering birth and early-motherhood experiences. We devote a huge amount of time, money, and effort to our educations and our careers – yet we’ve rarely held an infant and almost never seen a birth before our own. It makes sense that we are largely unprepared for motherhood, and feminist initiatives should help women in all of their endeavors both in and out of the home. Please don’t blame your baby – hold accountable the laws of the land and your benefits package.

Women are tough – they can do anything a man can do – they can give birth! – now let’s see if we can put a feminine touch on feminism. Powerful, AND caring, nurturing, sensitive women affecting global change can be the goal of feminism as well as equal pay for equal work. If you don’t want to breastfeed – don’t. If you don’t want to run around to little league games – don’t. If motherhood feels corny and unfulfilling to you, stop playing them canned children’ music and ditch a few of those plastic beeping toys. Pop on some cool music and create a motherhood that feels authentic to you. Children are adaptable and will recover from warfare, let alone your departures from either attachment parenting or Cry-It-Out parenting (and let’s face it – the “don’t pick him up you’re gonna spoil him!” zealots have been causing women to doubt themselves a lot longer in this society than attachment zealots). Let’s stop the mother blaming, “you spend too much time with the kids,” “you don’t spend enough time with your kids!” Embrace and support other women.

I’m not completely gloriously happy with motherhood at all times, and I do recognize that sometimes our children’s (and partners’, friends’, employers’) needs come head to head with our own. But we are really bad at seeing the ways that our children’s needs match ours. At your birth you probably heard- “oh, your baby is a stubborn one, she won’t move down…” We are pit against our children right from the start. If you are made to believe your child needs not just school, and not just pre-school, but also preschool prep, of course we don’t trust that we’re supposed to enjoy the time we’re spending with our kids. We’re very comfortable asserting what our machines need to run – and knowing what our companies need to run. Why can’t we be honest about what our kids need? All people including children need touch, fresh air, nourishment, shelter among other things to thrive. Give women the proper skills to nurture their babies when they’re babies – spend time with them when they’re toddlers – maybe that investment will pay dividends to our future generation of leaders (not to mention when you wish your kids would want to hang out with you).

As a birth and postpartum doula, I am privileged to witness firsthand that men and women are different – I know and remember this constantly attending births – so let’s spend less time as feminists making women be like men, and more time normalizing the needs and cycles and strengths of women. Call a spade a spade – the modern workforce isn’t flexible enough, and our peer learning isn’t broad enough to support your parenting ideal. Let’s accept that there is a wide range of acceptable nurturing, and also try to set our mothering goals to a reasonable height. Better yet, let’s stop teaching the next generation that overachieving is appropriate in either the workforce or the home. Let’s idolize the leisure class more than the “I am busier than thou” class. Don’t go blaming your children. Don’t go blaming motherhood and other moms. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Mother toddler nursing pair from WHO's website... as my friend Lisa said, "I suppose this headline doesn't sell magazines: Extended Breastfeeding Is So Boring: Women Do It All Over The World"

 

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Thank you for visiting the I Am Mom! Enough! Carnival hosted by hosted by Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama and Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants and check out previous posts at the linky party hosted by Joni from Tales of a Kitchen Witch and Jennifer from True Confessions of a Real Mommy:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon May 28 with all the carnival links.)

  • Good Enough? — Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy writes about how Good Enough is not Good Enough, if you use it as an excuse to stop trying.
  • The High Cost of High Expectations JeninCanada at Fat and Not Afraid shares what it’s like to NOT feel ‘mom enough’ and wanting to always do better for herself and family.
  • TIME to Be You! — Becky at Old New Legacy encourages everyone to be true to themselves and live their core values.
  • I am mom and I have had ENOUGH — A mother had had ENOUGH of the mommy wars.
  • Motherhood vs. Feminism — Doula Julia at juliamannes.com encourages feminists to embrace the real needs and cycles and strengths of women.
  • There Is No Universal Truth When It Comes To Parenting — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama discusses how parenting looks around the world and why there is no universal parenting philosophy.
  • Attachment Parenting Assumptions — ANonyMous at Radical Ramblings argues that attachment parenting is not just for the affluent middle-classes, and that as parents we all need to stop worrying about our differences and start supporting each other.
  • Thoughts on Time Magazine, Supporting ALL Mamas, and Advocating for the Motherless — Time Magazine led That Mama Gretchen to think about her calling as a mother and how adoption will play an important role in growing her family.
  • Attachment Parenting: the Renewed Face of Feminism — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children embraces her inner feminist as she examines how the principles of attachment parenting support the equal treatment of all.
  • What a Mom Wants! — Clancy Harrison from Healthy Baby Beans writes about how women need to support each other in their different paths to get to the same destination.
  • Attachment Parenting: What One Family Wants You To Know — Jennifer, Kris, 4 year old Owen and 2 year old Sydney share the realities of attachment parenting, and how very different it looks than the media’s portrayal.
  • We ALL Are Mom Enough — Amy W. of Amy Willa: Me, Mothering, and Making It All Work thinks that all mothers should walk together through parenthood and explores her feelings in prose.
  • A Typical Day Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment shares what a typical day with her attached family looks like…all in the hopes to shed light on what Attachment Parenting is, what it’s not and that it’s unique within each family!
  • The Proof is in the (organic, all-natural) Pudding — Kym at Our Crazy Corner of the World talks about how, contrary to what the critics say, the proof that attachment parenting works in visible in the children who are parented that way.
  • I am mom and I have had ENOUGH A mother had had ENOUGH of the mommy wars.
  • Time Magazine & Mommy Wars: Enough! What Really Matters? — Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter encourages moms to stop fighting with each other, and start alongside each other.
  • Attachment parenting is about respect — Lauren at Hobo Mama breaks down what attachment parenting means to her to its simplest level.
  • I am an AP mom, regardless… — Jorje ponders how she has been an Attachment Parenting mom regardless of outside circumstances at Momma Jorje.
  • The first rule of Attachment Parenting is: You Do Not Talk about Attachment Parenting — Emily discusses, with tongue aqnd cheek, how tapping into our more primal selves actually brings us closer to who we are rather than who we think we should be.
  • Mom, I am. — Amy at Anktangle discusses how Attachment Parenting is a natural extension of who she is, and she explains the ways her parenting approach follows the “live and let live” philosophy, similar to her beliefs about many other areas of life.

What are we looking for?

Its is striking to me that when you look on Sittercity, you can find babysitters with experience in epilepsy, asthma, autism, and all kinds of sensitivities. All of these specialties, and “will care for sick children,” are drop-down menu items that sitters put in their profiles. As comprehensive as the list of specialties are, you can rarely find babysitters with experience in attachment or holistic parenting – and certainly not on the clickable drop-down menu! I am so glad that children with certain illnesses can find skilled caretakers, and it is also sad to me that overt thought about wellness is not at the forefront caregivers’ skill set. One babysitter told me that she had a much harder time finding work until she was certified in first aid and CPR. As important as these skills are, I wonder what other values that are getting ignored when we make prevention and treatment of major catastrophes the top priority.
When we were living in Israel, we visited the Hebron Hills with the organization Breaking the Silence, and we heard the story of an IDF soldier who realized that while he was guarding a small settlement in the West Bank, a terrorist had walked through the dessert to a different city in Israel and people were killed. This soldier felt had his unit been patrolling the dessert rather than guarding the settlement, that attack could have been prevented.
Every place we guard leaves other places unpatrolled.
When we patrol all of our child’s environment with gates and locks, we aren’t protecting our child’s need to explore.
When a woman is in labor, we often patrol the value of making sure nothing goes wrong, but we don’t protect the privacy or calm that makes labor go smoothly.
When we make fear-based decisions, we’re not guarding our parasympathetic nervous system’s need for peace and are loosing the opportunity to make a trust-based decision.
The problem is when the very policy set to avoid damage is doing damage – and it often comes from what I’ve dubbed titanic syndrome – we are in trouble when we think we’ve created an unsinkable ship. We let our guard down and forget common sense, and end up in graver danger than if we accepted an inherent risk and worked with it. You’ve prevented all the things you don’t want – but have you taken the right measures to get what you do want?
Next time I leave a babysitter with a list of emergency numbers, I’m also going to leave them with a short check-list of reminders about what we do to nourish our child.
Coming soon – “Check-list for my babysitter…(and myself).”


Priorities

I find competing values a bigger challenge to navigate than bad habits. Sure, I ate a few latkes this holiday season, and started dabbling in refined sugar again, but my larger issue is when important work takes me away from my other important work. In the past few months, I completed an intro to midwifery course, a hypnobirth training, a women’s endocrinology training, and a few other classes – all of which took a major toll on my yoga class attendance and my family’s schedule.

When I focus on any of my priorities, it starts to feel like the ONE, the issue through which all other topics in life filter. There is a competition between my daily yoga practice, home cooked meals, meditation, getting ample sleep, creating routine, continuing education, diligent blogging, herbalism, volunteering, quality time with my daughter, and date night with my husband. Right when it feels like one has taken root so much so that I don’t even need to focus on it anymore, it starts to shake loose.

The truth is, some of my focal points actually are more important to me than others. Even when I can’t make it out to yoga classes, a daily home practice saves me, and when I loose that everything else starts to suffer. I find it helpful to pause to connect with my top priorities each day, even if I can’t have a longer meditation. I give myself one person to tune into, one task to handle, and one meal to make from scratch – and a few sun salutes – and this addresses the bare minimum for me.

We need some discipline in our daily practices – we deceive ourselves when we pretend it is ok to passively wait for the pendulum to swing us back to our highest selves. When each evening I see more of my computer screen than my husband’s face, I can pretend that I have been more busy than usual – for a few months – but if it continues I know I’m creating a problem. I need to remember that most disagreements I have with my 2-year-old can be handled by giving her a little more time, or by taking two seconds to jump up and down with her.

And yet with a little skill and a little trust, we do ebb and flow toward our highest. Whenever one value knocks another out of the field for the moment, we have to trust the trajectory of our path, and know that when something is in our psyche, we can return to it cyclically. There are some things I have learned and fully internalized as if on a cellular level, and some things I’ll need to review.

It takes a cycle of many years to become who we are becoming. Self-compassion, humor, and noticing the when and how of our small progresses helps.

I’d love to hear if the life coaches on my list agree – do we need swift action or gradual change? Comment below.

Jewish. Yogi. Doula.


Allow me to introduce myself…
Cross posted at: Kveller

I grew up in a fairly complicated and very secular latchkey home with Hanukkah bushes, Chinese take-out, and a sick mama.

My mom passed away a couple of months before the Twin Towers fell, when I was 23. Around this time I started practicing vinyasa yoga in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. I got dumped just days before both of my roommates moved out to live with their boyfriends. Yoga helped me feel calmer and healthier, and allowed me to sit with my various sadnesses. It was different from anything I grew up with.

As I continued my search for meaning, I figured I should check my own Jewish background. Though familiar, I didn’t know an Aleinu from an Aleph. I also thought something about Israelis reminded me of what I found edgy and compelling in 90s era hip hop, so I decided to learn a little Hebrew and went on Birthright (a free trip to Israel for 18 to 26-year-olds). I said the Mourner’s Kaddish for my mom the year after she passed, and it served as a mantra that brought change in my life.

I was working in music marketing when I met my husband Jonah on Jdate. When he showed up I thought, “this guy is wearing a kippah, he’s way too religious for me, he’s moving to DC in a few months, and he really doesn’t seem like one-night-stand material.”

And then I got past all that and was present. We both loved hip hop, and comedy, and spirituality (admittedly in a sort of distance-learning way).

People ask if I got more religious because of my husband. I think we wouldn’t have connected if I wasn’t already interested.

At first we traded. I would become Shabbat-observant if he would become vegetarian. Then circumstances led us to new paths. I enrolled in yoga teacher training at and about a year later Jonah started rabbi school. I learned the rhythms of the call to birth when my mentor Sasha, also a doula, needed me to sub for her prenatal and parent baby yoga classes. I had felt a distinct lack of a calling in my life but around the topic of birth, something clicked.

Jonah and I have grown together so much that it’s hard to extract whose influence affected what part of our lives. Jonah’s tzitzit and now payis–are they evidence of his devoutness, or my love of cultivated eccentricities? My sustained interest in healing–a yogic path, my ambition, or Jonah’s grounding presence in my life?

Yoga has taught me that sensation is fleeting, and that sticking with a challenge is a faster path beyond it than avoidance. Judaism grounds me in ritual and mindfulness (blessings over food, Shabbat, family) in a fairly automatic way. Being present and un-alarmed at births helps laboring couples as much as anything else.

I was attending births and teaching new mamas before becoming a mama myself. Now we look after a 2-year-old baby girl Bina, my mother’s namesake, who both revolutionized and validated the ways I understand birth and life. I try to nourish wellness more than avoid illness, and know that being edgy isn’t about being tough–it’s about being true to yourself.

I am a ritual-maker, fiercely-devoted ima (mother), witness, friend, and iconoclast. Birth is my calling, yoga is my soul, and Judaism is my family.

Committed

I have decided to begin a mysore yoga practice. The first morning I showed up at Harlem’s new Land Yoga I told Lara that I am committed… but… I have to see how it works with my family after the first session. Lara politely told me that if I intend to take class, I need to be committed to 3x a week for minimum of a month.
I have been deliberating whether to babycare swap or pre-school or pre-un-school this fall. I got cold feet when the JCC required us to commit to a class series in advance without a trial session.
Tis the season to take on new endeavors. Sometimes there is a problem with our culture’s insistence that down time is a waste of time. We schedule ourselves and our children into a busy tizzy.
But there is beauty in making a commitment of our time, money, and efforts. I often notice myself weighing all the pros and cons of a particular situation only to find later that as much as I deliberated, the one variable I hadn’t considered becomes most prominent. Or if I deliberate too long, the opportunity passed, or I lost steam.
When we look for a backdoor, we often find one. But maybe we don’t need a way OUT as much as we need a way IN. When we spend our time avoiding getting stuck, we’re not spending time in the current opportunity that presented itself.
I was really pleased that Lara pressed me.
I encourage you to commit yourself to something today. Nurture that part of yourself that still has instincts and intuition and trust that you were meant to encounter the ramifications if there are some. It’s not being reckless – even if you make a “mistake,” it was a mistake that was made in the name of allowing yourself to practice using your intuition, so that there are less mistakes in the future.
I guess I’m saying… seize the day family.
Posted without 108 revisions,
Julia 🙂

from the campy desk of the yogi doula

After we returned from our year in Israel we spent a month at a camp in Canada, where Jonah taught judaism and I taught yoga. Camp had cool nights, hot afternoons, beautiful lake, a huge open sky, and a few open-minded, thoughtful individuals I will not forget. I learned how children of different ages play and learn and appreciate.

But the cooking spray had butane and propane in it. I missed our organic vegetable delivery in Jerusalem. The highly programmed days and manner of discipline were not my style. Through my own scheduling hiccup, I was busy during free swim. Bina spent mornings at daycare, and even though I worked there, for the first time I did not control her environment. She learned to say MINE like a champ, played dress-up princess barbie, and wanted cookies and chips and dear g!d egg rolls and fruit loops. And it was EVERYWHERE. Our first weeks I was not a happy camper.

“Dear Mom,

The food is bad. I don’t relate to these people. I’m homesick.”

I was out of my comfort zone.

Then, after falling in love with the special needs campers that I was not even sure I wanted to teach in the beginning, I began to notice how excellent the camp is at nourishing this program. I realized that this institution does have ideals (duh?), even if many of them are different from mine.

I’ve been learning I can’t nay-say everything (even when research and intuition are in my favor). Because, among other reasons, I’ll probably start teaching my daughter to complain a lot.

And really, why complain? I woke up every morning for a lakeside yoga sadhana. I made a difference at the daycare as morning snack collector (bye, bye candy before noon). My schedule changed and I was in the lake every afternoon until dinner (that was huge). I loved how my 15-year-old girls were so dedicated. I loved how the 15-year-old-boys feigned ambivalence but focused and giggled and asked questions at the end of a session. And I loved watching Bina navigate her environment. I might have preferred different food choices, but I couldn’t have asked for any better interpersonal choices. She started saying, “I don’t say it’s mine. I say, CAN I HAVE IT?” (kvell).

Fast forward to now, where we returned to NY and are finally settled. There are still things that I don’t especially want her to have like cheerios and plastic toy strollers. I can explain and model, or take a strong stand when the situation truly calls for it. But as she ages and I have less control, I can learn to accept these gifts: the gift of learning to step back, the gift of time spent watching an intuitive being, and the gift of learning and not always teaching. I want to trust Bina’s choices both because she’s great, and so she practices making thoughtful choices on her own.

“Dear Mom,

I miss you. I think of all your challenges and idiosyncrasies, and of the way you have managed to continue giving me gifts over all these years.”

I have to admit that I actually liked camp by the end. I’m loosing some of my ideals, sometimes. But going with the flow is another ideal that I neglect way too often.

Dedicated to my mother Barbara Gail Uslaner Mannes Walters, who marched to the beat of her own drummer, saw the good in everyone, made thoughtful choices (some more and some less), liked both the mainstream and the unusual, and passed away 10 years ago this summer.



We’re Growing Up Together

My husband’s rabbinical training required that we spend a year in Jerusalem. Now at the tail end of this time, I’ve been feeling a lot more “in progress” than complete. A dear new Israeli friend and I have just gotten into the swing of things on our babycare swap. A local midwife I just worked with said she had wanted to send clients my way all this coming year. I’m just starting to memorize phone numbers, get some major growth in the garden, get my yoga schedule down pat, string together (three-word) sentences in Hebrew, and figure out a good system for refilling our brita. I’m so ready for NY, but I’m not quite done here.

I’m also grappling for meaning because it’s so hard to make sense of the political climate in Israel. There are so many hurt feelings and different perspectives that I don’t always know the right questions to ask, let alone how to put forth my own assertions. And there’s often a big white elephant in the room (or playground, where I’m told it’s best not to talk politics in casual conversation).

Still, what I know about birth brought a few insights for me: The more comfortable you can get with a little discomfort, the less big discomfort comes your way. Be willing to sweat. Meet someone new even if you think you already know them, or have no idea how to greet them. We never know what can shift and make a seemingly insurmountable barrier disappear.

I was privileged to attend and teach babywearing at a gathering of Israeli and Palestinian woman joined together under the moniker Midwives of Peace. We talked about birth politics and procedures, traded trade stories, and told a few (dirty) jokes to break the tension. I learned the Israeli homebirth midwife makes 4 times what the Palestinian one does. I got to attend hospital and home births, and was surprised and relieved to find the hospital experience a bit more humane than what I often experience in NY. I attended a seder in Tel Aviv for the hundreds of refugees who walk here from Africa each year in search of asylum. I got to visit the Hebron Hills, East Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, hear perspectives from Israeli soldiers (including cousins and friends) meet a few Palestinian families (among them dear friends), and see Jewish Israel through new and challenging lenses.

Three years ago when visiting a bedouin family in the Negev desert with my husband’s family organization Kivunim, all the women were hidden – this year, just having a daughter was enough to grant me effortless entrance to this (and other) women’s areas. Thankfully Kivunim is teaching students to speak both Hebrew and Arabic, because rifts between people are great enough without the language barrier.

Amazing things happen when you put people in a room together. This is a feat unto itself; but if you can witness it, you can have a tactile experience of the other. Sometimes we learn the other is just like us. Other times it’s not all pretty, we even deepen our stereotypes. But putting even an ugly face on a nemesis is much better than a bullseye.

Nothing is lost – people I just meet now can be friends in the future; I might not have pragmatic answers for the peace process but I can trust that our abilities improve just by baring witness.

One thing has come full circle – the searing hot sun has returned to bleach the streets of Jerusalem white again.

Maybe I can expect answers the very day we fly home, which is immediately following Shavuot, a time for revelations.

But I still feel like I’m piecing together a puzzle.

Except-

Over many years I’ve been becoming a yogi, a doula, a Hebrew-speaker, and a witness to the middle east peace process.

This year, I’ve become a mother.

Maybe an iconoclastic mother who likes to practice handstands, but still a snack-prepping, nose-wiping, heart-in-my-mouth-when-my-baby-is-hurt mother. I knew it most when I searched the fridge during Passover for the leftovers I figured the rest of the family wanted least.

On paper it’s strange that the thing which feels most definite is the thing that is still so new, and the thing I will continue to grow into over my entire lifetime.

Yet it helps answer the question of why I’ve been feeling so much more “in progress” about this year, when after most big adventures in my life I have felt a lot more complete – the biggest part of my adventure this year, looking after my little toddler, is no where near complete.

“We’re just growing up together,” said a student of mine, when I asked her how she and her three-month old had been doing.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put so eloquently.