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Productivity and thunderstorms, baby


I did very little magazine work while I was in Boston. In the past two days, though, I've read about 15 stories, rejected about 125, finished editing one, and did most of the editing on another. I'm all caught up on sending rejections, but I'm still way behind on everything else. (Including CC licenses and mentioning that our fund drive is happening--I have several SH entries I need to write in the next few days.) But at least I'm making progress.

Tonight featured a big thunderstorm here in Chicago. Lots of big flares of lightning, followed by huge rolls of thunder. A five- to ten-second delay, so the lightning's presumably been roughly a mile or two away. I've been pretty much enjoying it--I like thunderstorms, as long as they're outside and I'm inside--but I'm still dubious about this idea of stuff falling from the sky. Where I come from, we don't hold with such foolishness.

Have also been helping Mary Anne with various stuff--packing up her office, various household tasks. They're moving to CA a couple weeks sooner than I'd thought. And have been playing with Elinor (the dog) and helping out with Kavya.

I have yet to change Kavya's diaper. I've only ever changed a diaper about twice, both times with parental supervision, and I'm not entirely comfortable with it yet. (Also, I still think it's kind of gross.) But I do think it's an important life skill, especially as more of my friends have kids, so I really do intend to learn how to do it and get more practice at it.

Anyway, I've been feeding her fairly regularly, and holding her. Learning to be more comfortable holding her without the help of the BabyBjörn. Will still be happier doing that when she can hold up her neck without my help, though.

I've also been singing to her, at times when she seems to need help falling asleep. I remember my mother used to sing "Dona Dona" to us, but even though the chorus is fairly cheery, it's kind of a gruesome song. And somehow I don't think the other song I remember her singing, "The Mermaid" (though I don't remember her singing anything but the chorus) really makes for a good lullabye.

So I've been singing bits of "Fais Dodo" (made harder by my inability to speak French), and the bits of "Morningtown Ride" that I can remember, and "Skye Boat Song," and "Tender Shepherd," and "Brahms' Lullaby," and "Hush, Little Baby," and most especially "Poppa Bear's Hum" and "Everything Possible." I keep forgetting about "Wish You Goodnight" and "Hearth and Fire," but I'll try to remember them for next time.

I don't necessarily remember all the lyrics. I used to find it a little odd when my friends would sing to their kids and would just make up lyrics, but y'know, I don't think Kavya can actually tell at this point whether I get the lyrics right or not, and it seems more important to keep the song going if it's helping her fall asleep than to stop and see what the original lyrics actually are. I find that the word "baby" fits reasonably well to most tunes. :)

I discovered last night that in addition to the two states of Kavya I already knew about (feeding and sleeping), there's a third state: wide awake and interested. I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to try to convince her to transition from that third state into one of the other two or not. M & K informed me tonight that she's not actually too young to be read to--who knew? I'll have to try that next time it seems relevant.

Tonight's best baby-related development: I was holding her for a while in that awake state, and she gave me several amazing smiles. Baby smiles are among my favorite things ever, even if I suspect that she's too young to actually mean it as a smile.

. . . I feel like it's important to note, in the midst of my baby-blogging this week, that I'm still in the enviable position of being Uncle Jed rather than a parent. I can show up and help out precisely because I can give her back at any time; I don't have to do the hard work of actually raising the kid 24/7. I'm very happy to spend time with her and give her parents a bit of a break now and then, but all I'm doing is helping out; the parents, as always, get all the credit for doing the actual parenting.

Speaking of parenting, M has been watching E. R. on TV lately, and I got drawn into one of today's episodes: Doug (George Clooney, who was really the only reason I occasionally watched the show back when it was on, though I didn't realize at the time that I thought he was hot) and Mark went to deal with the aftermath of Doug's father's death. A very atypical episode (with no scenes in the hospital at all), with a whole lot of good stuff about parents (especially fathers) and children. I wasn't as involved in the parts that focused on Mark's family; still, a really good episode. But not enough to get me to watch the rest of the series.

Okay, time for me to close. A little more editing, then feed Kavya and put her in her crib, then back to my hotel.


They learn smiling very young. Get yourself a copy of Alison Gopnik (et. al))'s The Scientist in the Crib.

Summarises about 20 yrs in baby development in one very sensible, non patronising book.

Big kudos for you Uncle Jed. Yes, you aren't the parent, but you are using your time with her wisely. Forgive me if I get pedantic, but I think this baby development stuff is so amazing, I gotta talk about it.

Her tiny little skull already has more than half the brains cells she will ever have. In fact, the theorized reason that human beings are born so frail and needy and helpless compared to other species is that we grow our brains too big. If we stayed inside our mother's wombs until our brains were "ready", our heads would be too large to come out. Babies needs another nine months outside the womb before they are "done cooking." After that, the rate of brain cell growth slows down incredibly.

But it isn't the number of brain cells that is important. It is the neural connections between them. A neuron that doesn't talk to other neurons is worse than useless (Nola and I refer to them as morons). The more sensory exposure she gets (looking, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, moving - both gross and fine motor) and the more variety of these experiences she gets (being read books to, touching toys, smelling flowers, crawling, climbing, etc.), the more neural connections will form.

This process of neural connections is at its busiest in the few couple of years of life. Not only that, but there are windows of opportunity in that time when certain connections have to be made or they never get made. If you were to seal a baby's ears so that she could not hear during her second year of life, she would be deaf for the rest of her life even though mechanically everything functions. That's why children with chronic ear infections can have permanent hearing loss even though all the physical parts are undamaged.

After a certain age (three years old, I think) this process of making connections in the brain slows down a lot but it continues until about age twelve at which point the brain has made most, if not all, the connections it will ever make. At this point, the brain actually starts *removing* the unused connections. It culls out parts of the neural network that weren't exercised.

So yes, it doesn't matter if you get the words right as long as you're singing. It doesn't matter if you read her the Wall Street Journal, as long as you're reading. Bring her things to see and hear and smell and touch. At her age, she only gets a few hours a day when she is alert and cooperative, so make the most of that time. As an Uncle, this is one of the most valuable things you can give her.

It's amazing how much less gross diaper-changing gets (IMHO) after you do enough of it.

A lot of rounds work really well as lullabyes or as baby songs, depending. "White sands and grey sands", "Yemaya-o", and "Be like a bird" all work well as lullabyes. Theo figured out very early on that lullabyes are propaganda. We finally worked out that he would go to sleep more readily to lively tunes like "Young rider, apple-cheeked one" or sea chanteys. Go figure.

*sigh*. That was me; I thought I'd signed in.

Nina was most easily calmed by singing (and swaying to) reggae. I sang "Three Little Birds" approximately one million times when she was a baby. Also "No Woman No Cry" and "One Love/People Get Ready".

Jill, who doesn't know any reggae, did pretty well with James Taylor songs.

The Toronto Public Library has run a programme for years called something like, "Books for Babies." Parents bring their babies, and a librarian reads to everyone from children's picture books. I think the readings often include activities such as sing-alongs, clapping games, etc. Apparently, babies start making connections between the written and the spoken word quite quickly.

There's a French creole nursery rhyme where the words are pretty easy for an anglophone to pronounce:

Dodo petit popo,

Petit popo pas fait dodo,

[repeat the first two lines]

Do,do petit popo,

Petit popo pas v'lez dodo,

Si vous pas dodo, petit popo,

Mako chat allez manger 'o.

Though that one has a pretty gruesome ending, too: If you don't go to sleep, little baby, a tiger will come and eat you all up.

Sweet baby entries. I wouldn't worry to much about the head support. When I was studying in the neonatal crib at the Hospital, the intern taught me how to pick up babies by the leg to turn them around. She claimed it was safer that way, that you were less likely to drop the baby and, in her particular case, she was probably right since she examined 20 babies in under 40 minutes. I never picked up the technique, though, being too scared to pick up a baby as if it were a chicken leg. Anyway, I'm not trying to say that you should pull her out of the magician's hat by the ears... just that her neck is fine. If she survived her first med exam, there's not much worse you can do.

Sara Genge

Gruesome and lullabies seem to go together. When the bough breaks, etc. I mainly sang my kids "Semmeliberg", a standard Swiss lullaby, which consists of five verses, and the narrator dies from unrequited love in verse two; the rest takes place underground.

Reading is good for that third state, but so is just communing. It is a time to notice that you might be interesting even when you are not doing anything.

Kavya may be too young to mean a smile, but unmeaned smiles are the best kind. She is, I suspect, not too young to smile because she is happy.

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