Monthly Archives: May 2012

Meet Nina: 32 Weeks

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I thought it would be fun and interesting to do a periodic series on pregnant women in this space. I’ve always been fascinated by pregnancy and since I’m not currently pregnant myself (phew), I figured I’d just find some fabulous pregnant women to interview and feature through their words and photos – and of course, follow up with them after their adorable babies are born.

Because who doesn’t love photos of delicious newborns?

First up is Nina, who originally hails from Finland. She is a genuinely sweet, warm soul with a calm, steady demeanor, a charming Finnish accent and a contagious laugh. She also makes a mean voileipäkakku, which is a Nordic “sandwich” cake and a Finnish rhubarb tart that is to die for. I met Nina about two years ago at one of our favorite local parks while I was out with my boys and she was with the little girl she was caring for as a nanny. She’d recently moved to Southern California by way of a Minneapolis suburb and knew very few people in the area. We became fast friends and I could tell she genuinely loved children and had such a natural way with them. Flash forward to today and, not surprisingly, she has a wide circle of friends, is now married to her 7-years-younger sweetheart, Alfredo, and is currently 32 weeks pregnant with their first baby. She doesn’t know the sex of the baby yet, but she’s really excited to find out when their little bundle arrives in July.

So, without further ado, the lovely Nina:

Where did you grow up and what motivated you to come to the U.S.?

I grew up in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. I got interested in traveling and different cultures and learning new languages from very early on. My mom and dad would take me and my brother on trips around Europe that got me really excited about the idea of experiencing something for a longer term and at the age of 20 I came to the U.S., to Minnesota, to a suburb of Minneapolis, and I went there to work as an au pair for a year.

Had you always loved children and known that’s what you wanted to do as a career?

It was actually never a thought for me that I would have it as a profession or as a career. However, I had always loved kids, enjoyed being around kids, I’d always babysat a lot for neighbor’s kids or family’s, that kind of thing. The au pair program presented the perfect opportunity to experience another country, another culture, being immersed into the family life, while doing something that I really enjoyed, which is taking care of kids.

What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned on the job caring for kids and what will you bring to the table as a mother yourself now?

I think the first experience as an au pair was very different in that I was a lot younger, I was only 20 and I showed up into a strange country, by myself, I was living in a strange environment in the middle of strangers and suddenly, I had a full-time responsibility of three girls. The youngest one was a few months under 2 and then the others were 4 and 6.

They were really young, and I was young, but I felt that worked out really well because I had a lot of energy and that definitely taught me the importance of patience and just going on the terms of the children. But at the same time, how important it is to have structure and discipline.

Do you think you’ll be a strong disciplinarian?

It’s hard to guess, but my ideal is to be as consistent as possible. That’s one thing I’ve learned, if you do what you say you’re going to do, that’ll take you really far with kids and build the trust between you and them and they know that what you say is how it’s going to be. I think it just brings a lot of security into children.

I’ve also noticed there’s a lot of controversy about discipline nowadays I think because people tend to connect discipline with punishment very easily, especially in the Western cultures, they are afraid many times of the term discipline or to discipline their children, thinking that it’s something bad for their children and they want to be loving parents and they don’t want to punish their children. Whereas in my mind those are two completely separate issues.

Is it different in Finland, in terms of how people approach childrearing and discipline?

When it comes to discipline, we’re pretty much in the same boat. It’s just a general trend in the Western societies where kids tend to rule the house. I grew up in an environment where there were never really any harsh punishments or anything like that. My mom and dad were both very fun-loving parents. But at the same time, we learned manners, respect. We would never leave the dinner table without thanking our mom, taking the dishes to the kitchen and that’s really something I want to bring into my family as well. And also the notion of everybody participating.

What else do you think you’ll bring from your Finnish culture and how you were raised as a child, into your own family?

A love of nature, a love of traveling. I think by and large, Finnish people are very much nature-people and enjoy the outdoors and we even, in Finland, our children, much of the day, will sleep outdoors. Even in the wintertime when it’s cold and there’s snow, the babies are bundled up and they’ll sleep outside in the fresh air.

Wow! Just for fun or is there some kind of meaning behind that?

Just the fact that outdoor air is more clean and fresh than indoor air.

So the parents will sleep outside with the baby?

No, this is only the baby, during naptime. The parents will do chores inside the house. Which of course brings the issue of safety, because that would never happen in the U.S.

Is there more of a freedom and a sense of faith and trust in community in Finland?

It’s more relaxed. Of course you worry about the safety of your children no matter where you are, but there’s the idea that you can leave your child in your own backyard or patio in a bassinet or stroller and nothing’s going to happen. And of course, they take advantage of monitors in case the baby wakes up.

What are your fondest memories of growing up in Finland?

I think having a little more relaxed environment where we would just gather, me and my brother and the neighborhood kids and we would just play for hours outside. I mean, I can’t remember any times where we’d spend time indoors or playing video games or anything like that, it was just running around and climbing trees and outdoors. Summer or winter.

Of course times have changed, whether it’s in Finland or the U.S., but that’s my ideal picture for my children too that they would appreciate nature and appreciate outdoors and being active and having fun without staring at the screen.

What has been the biggest discomfort in your pregnancy so far?

Probably the carpal tunnel syndrome has been the biggest one, giving me trouble sleeping at night. Sometimes I have massive nerve pain that goes from the tip of my fingers all the way to the top of my shoulders.

In the beginning, I had — not really morning sickness — but all day sickness for a couple months where I’d literally walk into Trader Joe’s holding a plastic bag under my chin. I wasn’t even throwing up. I think it might have been even worse than throwing up because I was on the verge of throwing up the whole day and just gagging and having a sweaty forehead and that really, really nauseous feeling.

But I do remember one time at Trader Joe’s where I walked past the meat aisle and I started gagging really bad. Just the smell and the look of it was so repulsive to me, I had to run outside into the parking lot and I was leaning onto a tree and throwing up and this poor lady came out of her car to see if she could call somebody for me (laughs).

Have you had any cravings?

My first crazy, crazy craving in the beginning of my pregnancy, I would say it started in the very first month, I could have eaten bags and bags of tangerines. I would go to the store and I would see a bag of tangerines and my eyes would start glowing and my mouth would start watering. I think that was my biggest craving. Then once I got over the all day sickness period, after that I got a craving for burgers, like junk food.

Have you pretty much indulged in all your cravings?

I guess you kind of give yourself permission to do that. But I kind of learned the hard way because I had been loving ice cream so much like caramel truffle and black raspberry with dark chocolate. But now I’m kind of paying for it.

Anything taking you by surprise in this pregnancy?

I suppose all these different strange bodily feelings. You just don’t know about it and you don’t really know what it’s going to feel like until you feel it. I’ve had the nastiest acid reflux where I wake up in the middle of the night with acids in my mouth like I’m going to choke and I start coughing really hard. I had that for a couple of months where it was really bad where I felt like anything I ate – I’d put an apple in my mouth — and I’d get heartburn. Now it’s just been occasional and I throw in a couple of Tums and it’s okay.

 Any anxieties you’re nervous about in terms of the birth and beyond?

At this point, it’s looking to be that my baby is going to be really big, I have to say that’s the scary part for me, that I’m afraid of having a difficult birth, you know, working to get a big baby out. But beyond that, I don’t know, I just don’t know how to be really worried or afraid. And I also have a strong feeling nature will take care of things to where they’re supposed to go. And I have confidence in myself as a parent.

I feel like even if I won’t be a super mom, I will at least be a good enough mom.

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Eight Months

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He turned eight months last week, my sweet baby boy.

He’s as cool and as calm as they come, just as he was the day he slid into this world, his eyes wide open, blinking assuredly as if he’d been here before. I’m pretty sure he had.

He was my easiest labor and delivery and he’s without a doubt my easiest baby. He wakes up every morning smiling with his entire body. For the most part, he sleeps soundly and for long stretches at a time.

He loves food: turkey sausage, watermelon, strawberries, cheese, broccoli, rice, pasta, beans — he wants it all — and we’ve broken all the rules with this guy. I’m sure it’s a sign of relaxed, third-time-around parenting. He’s had citrus. He’s had dairy. Yesterday — a scorcher of a day at 90 degrees — we let him taste ice cream for the first time. Why not? The second that deliciousness met his tongue, his eyes lit up, euphorically. I would have never allowed ice cream at eight months with my firstborn or even with the toddler. Poor guys.

He is playful and silly with a hearty laugh that comes from a place deep within his belly. He entertains himself for minutes on end, meandering his way through the house, finding play and inspiration in everyday items. He can maneuver a lid from a saucepan for half an hour, banging it loudly against the kitchen floor.

He has four teeth now, while more are quickly pushing through, just as his six-year-old brother’s are slowly falling out. They are a study in contrasts.

He is playful and easily entertained, my little bundle of wonder and whimsy. He loves to clap along when I sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to him, his jack-o-lantern grin illuminating the room, nose scrunched up in wild laughter. He dances too, squatting up and down, bobbing his head to the beat. I know I’m biased, but it’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.

He is magic to me.

Mothering

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“Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved.” – Erich Fromm

I write this at the end of Mother’s Day. One boy is fast asleep in bed, while the other two are still wide awake, their giggles and squeals heard from the other room.

It was a long, full day. We celebrated motherhood in a park surrounded by mothers and their mothers and quite possibly their mother’s mothers. There were lots of frolicking children with mamas casually watching them from folding chairs. You could spot the mothers from a mile away if you needed to — they were the ones who looked exhausted, yet happy to be planted firmly in a chair, if only for a few minutes.

Today, they felt especially deserving of a rest. 

My mom was there and my sister too, who is the mother of a toddler son herself. There are four boys between us. We rarely sit. We chase. We do mental head counts. We use our peripheral vision to make sure nobody strays into the street. We half-eat. We hold half-conversations interrupted by calling out our sons’ names, or breaking up minor spats, or stopping to dole out water and snacks. We wipe noses and mouths and hands. We wipe noses and mouths and hands. Yes, I typed that twice.

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel real to me that we’re mothers. Yesterday, we were mothering our baby dolls together in our bedrooms, offering them imaginary milk in tiny pink plastic bottles, feeding them make-believe baby food on invisible spoons, changing fake diapers that held no poop. But today we are responsible for all these very real sweaty little heads running wild around us. We are changing real diapers. We are keeping these boy children fed with real food, we are nursing their bodies and their minds and their hearts and their souls.

My relationship with my own mother is complicated. It is content for future posts, made up of stories I’m not sure need to be told here or now, or told at all. Before I had my own children, Mother’s Day was always unequivocally about my mother. Now, I find myself torn between celebrating her and wondering if I’m justified in wanting to also spend the day alone with my own little family of five, in my own way, surrounded by my own boys.

I never learned about unconditional love as a child, which is why the quote above spoke to me. It is something I’ve had to learn along the way. I never realized that love is not a reward you earn as a child, depending on how good or bad your behavior is, but should be a given, a constant, not up for negotiation, a well that never runs dry. Simply, a parent’s single most important job. I’ve had to re-write the script with my own boys. I now know that loving your children is everything and it doesn’t come with conditions. If you love them with all you have, the rest will generally fall into place.

Love them, love them, love them and then love them some more.

That’s really all there is to it.

A Week in Photos

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We started out the week on a dark, chilly beach with an angry sea taunting us to leave.

The boys’ grandparents made an after-school visit and we trekked through a nearby canyon to let off some energy.

We watched birds, cloaked in red and black jackets, darting and chasing one another through trees.

We ate rocky road ice cream.

We drove up the coastline and into Santa Barbara, where we explored a 226-year-old mission and studied a stone basin where Native Americans once washed their clothes in the hot sun (it made me appreciate the old noisy, temperamental washing machine I curse on a daily basis, which is currently busted).

We ran barefoot across cool, wet sand, under a vibrant blue ceiling.

This week, the toddler seemed to finally embrace his baby brother — almost 8 months later — and engaged him in some fairly friendly play, a rarity.

Until the baby started taking over too many of his toys and the toddler bopped him on the head.

Another week, another visit to the naughty chair.

How did you spend your week?