Finding Yourself without Losing Baby

Kj painting 1Mothering is a challenge.  One of the biggest struggles described by women is the challenge to find time for self, or to not lose some earlier version of self during the mothering years. Some days, the mundane tasks of keeping Babies fed, happy and alive seem to engulf the former being.  Where is the “me” I used to be?  This can be especially difficult for moms who have put aside active professional careers to pick up the new vocation of chasing chocolate-fingered, squishy-cheeked bundles of energy.

I propose that the unique you is not relegated to a dusty trunk in the attic for the duration of child rearing.  You are way more creative than that.  Yes, if you want to practice something that looks like attachment parenting, or simply do not wish to use day care, you can find ways of reminding yourself of your humanhood.

I discovered this myself many years ago.  I married and had children before attaining a college degree, so there was no career to leave. There was, however, a career in my mind – art teacher.  There was a burning for exploration and a push for expanding my horizons.  I found an avenue for growth through becoming a La Leche League Leader.  This is a volunteer breastfeeding counselor.  I attended training sessions in therapeutic communication, and of course, all things babies and breastfeeding.  Every class, every conference was exciting and fulfilling for me and others.  I rose to a leadership position and found many more development opportunities.   And the best part – the organization expected us to bring our Babies to every class and every meeting!  As a bonus, I received a built-in support group of young mothers.  As a further bonus when I did go back to college, I didn’t have to pay attention during the communication classes. KJ paints 1

Later, as the mother of the grammar and middle school-aged set, I found a niche largely untouched by others – teaching children how to paint with oils.   NO sane person wants to get kids in close proximity to oil-based paints.  So, my garage became a studio and my children, along with other children in the neighborhood who were old enough to not eat the paint, created masterpieces.  I was sort of a “working” mother – but still could have my children close.

I had a conversation not long ago with a mother of two young ones who was bemoaning how much pressure she was feeling from her young-mother peers to leave her babies on a regular basis so she could “take care of herself.”  She was reminded how she had an obligation to not “neglect herself” and how she should go to the gym and leave the babies in day care each day.  She described being uncomfortable with this proposition as her Babies were very young.  I said something fairly banal in support of her decision and you would have thought I had handed her a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.  But maybe I did just that.  It is freeing to find support for those gut-level mother instincts.

But back to the premise that moms do need creative outlets and growth opportunities.  Children’s activities can provide interesting avenues into adult activities.  If your child is learning, you may be learning also.  Every violin or piano lesson you sit through is providing you with knowledge to apply to your own study of the instrument.  Every art lesson they receive – you receive also.  Those dearly missed opportunities to apply your professional skills – take them into your child’s classroom.  Stagnation is not necessary.  And before long, the Babies are tall and you have that precious “me” time is again available – although not without the pull of the mother strings that bind you forever to those children.

Find your outlets, ply your crafts, pursue your education and fulfill those needs.  But keep the Babies nearby.

Nao plays violin

Singing Babies

Singing Babies

2kjerstin5x7

 

Most people sing during childhood, before there is awareness of potential embarrassment from hitting a wrong note. Young Babies will vocalize with music and even match tones if we listen carefully. To the novice ear, they are yelling or howling. But, pay attention – especially if music is playing – you may pick up their first song. Parental praise can help turn those sounds into real songs. Conversely, parental criticism can quiet singing for a long time.

Why should singing be cultivated in the very young? Parents want the best for Babies and music is a lifetime gift. Young parents with limited resources are often concerned with the cost of music lessons, both in time and money. The voice is an instrument that is always available and putting voice to song will place Baby at an advantage for future musical instrument study. Even the most tin-eared child should be encouraged to sing

Singing creates access to brain pathways in a way that has no equal. Singing opens a place in the brain that is available only musical tones and melody. Research is revealing how fundamental music is to humans and how closely it is tied to our mathematical and logic centers. It satisfies the brain’s desire for order with its mathematical foundations, yet provides infinite variety and sublime surprise (2).

Music and Memory

Because of the power of that music has on memory, it is a tool to impact those whose memories are failing. Music has been shown to bring memories back when all other measures fail. In the study of Alzheimer patients, neurologist Oliver Sacks says that, “By pairing music with every day activities, patients can develop a rhythm that helps them to the recall the memory of that activity, improving cognitive ability over time” (3). If music restores lost memories, perhaps care should be taken to ensure the quality and quantity of music input in youth.

Music has power to embed or secure memories even for those who do not have memory decline. Music and its vibratory powers are a gift from our Creator – a celestial tool given for our edification and advancement. But, like other powerful tools, it can be used for harm also. Sick and crude lyrics stick in the brain and create accompanying effects. Be careful what you put in Baby’s brain.

Music and the Body

Recent studies have shown that singing creates feelings of elation and wellbeing. Measurement of the human hormone oxytocin after a singing lesson shows that it is elevated (1). Oxytocin has been referred to as the “relationship” hormone because it creates warm feelings and human bonding. Singing in a choir generates healthy respiratory rates and cardiac rhythms (4). Singing affects the mind, the body and the spirit.

Without parents, schools, and churches to encourage and provide venues for participation, singing often goes away as an adult activity. What can be done? Lobby for singing in the Baby’s school and volunteer to make it happen. Take Baby to a church that provides opportunities for choir and learning harmony. Lots of singing and exposure to music is a platform that will allow a child to reach higher in many future endeavors.

Sing to baby in utero –this is a good time to increase your own comfort with singing. Most people sing along with their favorite group or singer. That is a great start. But take a close look at the groups you are singing with and make certain they are kid-friendly. During pregnancy, mom and dad may begin to explore kid songs – especially silly songs. Download some Raffi and learn “Banana phone!” Revisit songs from your youth – “Rain, Rain Go Away,” “Rock-a-Bye-Baby” and “She’ll be Coming ‘Round the Mountain.” The most important thing is that Baby hears songs from you from four months gestation forward as that is when their tiny ear bones begin to function. Studies have suggested that they will recognize those same songs after they are born.

Teach your toddler solfege – with some accompanying play movements . If you remember “Sound of Music,” you can probably sing “Do, a deer, a female deer, Re a drop of golden sun… “ You know solfege! Solfege is the term that describes the system of giving a name to each note and is useful in singing any scale. So, here is the game:

Do – touch your toes

Re – touch your knees

Mi – pat your thighs

Fa – waist

Sol – pat your chest

La – shoulders

Ti – cheeks

Do – top of head

This gives Baby a direction to go with tone and provides an excellent first visit to low tones versus high tones. Movement plus music always reinforces the concept.

Sing to your babies. Sing to them in utero and continue after birth. It doesn’t matter if you have a great voice. It does help if you can hold a tune and match pitch, but it is not required. Sing a diaper-changing song, make up ditties for toy pick-up time, for bed time, for wake up time. Sing in the car and introduce your captive audience to some new tunes. If classical music is not so appealing to you, the light opera of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance’s a good start. It is funny and singable for kids. Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” tells a delightful story while exploring different kinds of instruments in an orchestra. The list of fun, interesting and edifying music to play for Baby is endless.

And if you are lucky, your Baby (with barbershop quartet) will grow up to sing to his Baby.

Daddy's Barbarshop Sings to Baby

Daddy’s Barbershop Sings to Baby

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And no matter what, keep singing – especially in the car.

 

1. Grape, C., Sandgren, M., Hansson, L., Ericson, M.M, Theorell, T. (2003). Does singing promote well-being?: An empirical study of professional and amateur singers during a singing lesson. Integ Physiol Behav Sci. Jan-Mar: (1): 65-74

2. Levitan, D. (2007). This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession. New York: Plume

3. Sacks, O. (2008). Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the brain. New York: Vintage.

4. Vickhoff, B., Malmgren, H., Astrom, R., Nyberg, G., Ekstrom, S., Engwall, M., Snygg, J., Nilsson, M., and Jornsten, R. (2013). Music structure determines heart rate variability of singers. Front. Psychol., 08 July 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00334

Cello Babies

We arrive at cello group lessons.  “Oh, my… you have TWO to carry around.”   Hearing that comment from the mother of a single baby cello-player was not the first time that I had considered that  having two grand-babies in cello lessons was perhaps going to complicate my life a bit. Think of the logistical formula here:   One three-year-old who can (with eagle eye always on her) tote around her own baby cello; One four-year-old who can (with a bit more finesse and farther from the ground) tote her own cello; one crazed adult-type who must tote two cello benches under one arm (with circus troupe-like balance), and secure a 22-month-old wild man with the other hand. Exhaustion has set in just describing it. So why not teeny baby violins that could be toted with ever so much more ease?  Why cellos that are not only bigger, but require a bench to accompany the cellist wherever they go?  The answer is because the two grand-baby-cellists knew exactly what they wanted and that was CELLOS!  Enthusiasm and love for the instrument is essential to get that initial buy-in from the darlings.  Who am I to stand in the way of the next Pablo Casals, or Yo Yo Ma. Speaking of Pablo Casals, he said some very great baby things, such as:

“Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.”

“Music will save the world.”

“The art of interpretation is not to play what is written.”

“The child must know that he is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like him.”

In addition to the two latest baby cellists,  the blossoming grand-baby chamber groups consists of  one cellist (age ten), two violinists (ages six and ten); a 19-year-old auntie who plays violin, viola and cello.  And then there is the half-size baby string bass just waiting to be claimed by a future player (the 22-month-old, I think).  Fortunately, multiple pianists also sprinkle the landscape with one accordion outlier.

Someday they will ALL play together… I just know it.