Some fresh bookmarks from

The end is in sight! The construction work around this house will soon be done. I am so looking forward to having the house to ourselves, without builders, plastic sheeting, or gypsum dust.

For several months we could live pretty comfortably despite the works. The builders were in their half of the house, we in ours. Now that they’re painting the living room and kitchen, we’re all in each others’ way again. So instead of life gradually getting closer and closer to normal, we finish it all off with a good dose of chaos.

The microwave oven stands on the floor in the storage closet – with three rooms between it and the kitchen. There is a fruit bowl in the CD shelf. The coffee maker is in the laundry room. The “kitchen cupboard” of plastic IKEA bins is in the hallway, behind the laundry drying rack. I use a step stool as a side table. The bath towels are in the living room.

Ingrid is staying awake so late in the evenings that I hardly get any peaceful computer time. Something needs to be reprioritized so I get more time for blogging.

Our wooden deck is pretty much finished now and we’ve had dinner outside for three days in a row. Absolutely lovely. But if we are to eat breakfast here, too, we will definitely need some kind of umbrella thing – I had my breakfast out here this morning at 7.30 and it was already almost too hot.

Our kitchen garden is now producing strawberries at a good pace. I think I picked about 20 large strawberries to share between the three of us after dinner. Today we got the first ripe berries from the later varieties, so we could try all four varieties side by side. Both Eric and I liked Polka best – it has the richest, deepest flavour. Honeoye and Senga Sengana have a fresher, lighter flavour, and to me those two taste pretty similar. Rebecca is a variety that looks like a garden strawberry but tastes like a wild one. More weird than good.

This is a book about ethnopediatrics – child care from the point of view of an anthropologist. The question Meredith Small tries to elucidate is, To what extent is parenting based on biological imperatives and to what extent is it based on culture? She shows how differently children are cared for in different cultures, and how convinced all of these parents are that theirs is the right way and the others are crazy/wrong/weird. Parenting practices rest on parents’ assumptions about the world and on their values – they are as much a product of culture as what we eat, what we wear, or how we dance.

First, Small presents an overview of relevant aspects of human evolution – about how our upright posture and large brains lead to babies being born “unfinished”, and about the parent-child bond that is essential for babies’ survival.

Then she takes on a world tour highlighting cultural differences in parenting. The !Kung San train their babies’ motor skills so that the babies can cope with their nomadic life; the Ache carry their kids until the age of 5 to keep them safe in a dangerous forest environment; Gusii mothers don’t talk to their baby because children are viewed as low-status family members and expected to watch and learn rather than talk; Japanese mothers encourage dependence and a close bond between mother and child; American parents expect babies to cry a lot and don’t think it is necessary to respond to all crying.

Next there are more in-depth looks at three central elements of baby care: first a chapter on sleep across cultures, then a similar chapter about crying, and finally about breastfeeding – all from both an evolutionary and cross-cultural point of view.

It’s a slim book and a quick read. It could be slimmer still with some editing: at times it felt repetitive and padded with more words than it needs (perhaps in an attempt to make it feel more substantial). Disappointingly for me as a reader 60 of the 300 pages are filled with references, footnotes, an index etc. It does, however, set the book apart from all the books about babies that are really opinions served as fact, “do this because I say so”. This is, instead, “this is what other people do and here’s why”.

Throughout the book, the author remains an anthropologist, an observer standing to one side, and never quite expresses any firm opinions about what she describes. But if I were to summarize the book in just a paragraph, both what is said and what is repeatedly hinted at by leading questions, I would say this:

Babies evolved to be close to the parent, since they cannot survive on their own. They evolved to be carried rather than transported in plastic seats, to sleep with the parent rather than alone, to breastfeed frequently throughout the day and for years rather than months. Western child-rearing is to a great extent fighting against millions of years of evolution. If you work with your baby’s nature rather than against it, you will make life both easier and more pleasant for both yourself and your baby.

Amazon US, Amazon UK, Adlibris.

I had butter on my bread yesterday evening. Adrian has not yet reacted to it. Yippee!

I drove a car today. Well that’s probably no big deal for you, but the last time I sat behind the steering wheel of a car was two years ago. And that was a single drive, there and back in an afternoon. I haven’t done any real driving since before Ingrid was born – when she was tiny I had to sit in the back seat with her and keep her pacified, so Eric always drove.

Our plan for today was to move furniture, again, to let the builders occupy our old living room and kitchen, again. But that got done much faster than we had expected, so we sat here at half past eleven, wondering what to do. It was raining outside so we couldn’t just while the day away by pottering around the house and garden and perhaps walking down to the supermarket. Confined to the house both Ingrid and Adrian get very annoyingly bored very quickly.

So Ingrid and I drove to the swimming pool in Husby. That’s another thing I haven’t done for a long time: Adrian hasn’t been fond of bathing so until now it’s been me at home with him while Eric and Ingrid go splashing. Now that he (Adrian, not Eric) can go half a day without access to my boobs, and without crying about it, I can go out and do things with Ingrid again. Which is good for both of us, I think. I suspect she feels she’s been pushed aside somewhat, even though she’s been a good sport about it.

Oh right, the car. We bought a car this week. After years of resisting car ownership I gave up. Mainly I wanted a car for our upcoming Estonia trip. Financially it makes much more sense for us to rent rather than own a car – we might need it every other weekend at most. It’s a bit of a hassle so we actually don’t rent that frequently. But we will definitely need a car in Estonia, and it turns out that no car rental firm will allow their cars to be taken to Estonia, or any other Eastern European country for that matter.

So here we are, owners a Volvo something something (V40? S40?) from ’98. Our requirements were simple: a robust car, spacious boot, tow-ball. Not too expensive. Eric did some research, found a car on Blocket (sort of a Craigslist equivalent) and this Thursday brought it home. In addition to our requirements we got a roof rack, too. I can’t say I’m excited about it but I guess it will come in handy for our trips to IKEA, Plantagen and so on.

It turns out that I still remember how to drive. I didn’t even stall when taking off at traffic lights!

Wolf Hall tells the story of the ending of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that he can marry Anne Boleyn instead, and how this leads to the English Reformation. We follow these events through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, minister to Henry VIII and mastermind of England’s break with Catholicism.

Cromwell is a low-born lawyer/businessman/accountant, which would make him an unlikely hero in any case. He was, from what I’ve understood, a hated man during his lifetime, and is usually cast as somewhat of a villain in this whole affair. Here he is presented as a caring and enlightened man, taking care of widows and orphans, trying to save heretics from being burned and so on.

The story already existed, of course, and gave Mantel a lot for free, so to say: colourful personalities and tumultuous historical events. But she really brings them to life, makes it all funny, lyrical, personal; every sentence is exquisite. I took great care to read it slowly and savour every paragraph, wanting to make it last. It took me a few weeks but unfortunately I still ran out of pages in the end.

The book is extraordinarily vivid even though there are almost no visual descriptions of anything. It feels like no time has passed since this all happened: I can picture myself there among those people. The smells, the heat, the fear of disease. It must all rest on excellent research, but she uses her knowledge of those times subtly and never even gets close to didactic exposition. In fact I could have used more facts at times, and had to turn to Wikipedia for help with keeping track of all those people.

The Wolf Hall that gives the book its title is the seat of the Seymours, among those Jane Seymour, who will be Henry’s next wife. Wolf Hall is barely mentioned in this book so it is pretty obvious that a sequel is in the works. I can’t help thinking of the rhyme: “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived”, and I am anxiously looking forward to seeing events unfold.

I am very very glad I read this book and will certainly look for more of Hilary Mantel’s works.

Adlibris, Amazon UK, Amazon US.

This month’s big news is, of course, that I have gone back to work and Adrian is at home with Eric instead. After a rocky start (in part because he was ill the first few days) they settled into a routine and now it’s all going swimmingly. I express milk at work, and he gets it in his sippy cup. (Blue cup for breast milk, yellow cup for water.)

He is happy to see me and wants to nurse first thing when I get home – I usually run upstairs to change out of work clothes and into a nursing top, and then settle down with him in the sofa. He nurses frequently in the evenings but no longer stuffs himself until he throws up.

During the day he usually eats happily and well. Bread and cereal remain his favourites. Broccoli is no longer interesting at all; instead he eats black pudding and apricots and grapes.

Adrian is very very close to crawling but not quite there yet. First he learned to rotate in place and move backwards on his tummy by pushing off with his hands. He still does that at night – I wall him in with pillows and rolled-up blankets to keep him from falling off the bed. When I go to the bedroom I never find him sleeping where I left him. I’ve started teaching him how to get down from the sofa feet first – on his own he heads for the edge head first.

A few weeks ago he learned to keep his knees fixed while pushing, so he got up on all fours instead of moving backwards. Then he learned to get up on all fours by pulling in his knees under him rather than by pushing back with his hands, so he stays in place rather than inexorably moving away from where he wants to go. But he once he was up on all fours he couldn’t move, he just rocked back and forth.

Now he’s learned to reach and lunge forward from there, but as he does that he flops back onto his tummy so he can only do it once. But it is enough to get him marginally closer to the thing he wants. Sometimes, if the thing is close enough, he can do a few lunges and actually get there in the end.

He’s got a love/hate thing with crawling. When I put him down sitting he often turns and gets on his tummy immediately, but a second later he starts complaining loudly because he can’t get further.

Standing is much more fun. Give Adrian two fingers to hold on to, and he will pull himself up to standing straight away. A pair of hands is the best support for getting up, but if that isn’t available, he sometimes manages with a chair or a step stool. That way is harder because he needs to untangle his legs (whereas when he holds on to my fingers he can go straight forward from sitting so the legs aren’t in the way). He can reliably get onto his knees that way, but in the last few days he’s gone all the way to standing a few times.

He is confident and stable enough on his feet that he can let go of his support with one hand (or even two, and just lean his upper arms on the sofa table) and grab a toy. He’s also stable enough that I now leave him standing there without sitting right behind him to catch him. When he tires, he can sit down rather than fall.

Sometimes he slowly shuffles sideways along the edge of the table, with very small and slow steps. I don’t think he knows what he’s doing – he wills himself towards something and his feet naturally but unconsciously move in that direction.

I’ve found him hard to “read” in the past. Now he’s communicating much more clearly. He reaches towards the person he wants to be with; he reaches for the sippy cup when he wants to drink. He lets go of my hands and leans towards me when he’s tired of standing and wants to be picked up. He waves his arms in a certain way when he’s done eating, or start slapping the tray on his highchair. At night he turns on his side, facing towards me, when he wants to nurse.

He uses his crying more to communicate and less to simply express frustration. One day when he was crying I picked him up and walked around with him. I went to the hall, and he stopped crying. I went back into the living room, and he started again. He was very clearly telling me he wanted to go out. He’s done the same with the bedroom to tell me he wants to sleep. If he wants to go from me to Eric he makes happy noises when he sees Eric, and switches to crying when Eric walks past us.

We’ve started using a few signs with him but not as consistently as I’d like. We sign for “all done” (after mealtimes), and I sign “nurse”. Sometimes we remember to sign “food”, too, but often not. He definitely understands “all done” and we think his arm-waving might be efforts to sign back. When we sign “all done” he knows that he will be lifted out of his highchair so he prepares by holding his arms out. He also helps when it’s time to put his fleece jacket on for going out.

He is attentive and observant. He follows us and our doings with a very focused gaze. Especially at mealtimes, when we all sit together, close to each other and at roughly the same height. He stares when Eric opens a can of beer for dinner, or when we make particularly happy noises about eating strawberries.

Random small stuff: we tried bathing him in the kitchen sink instead of the small bathtub, and it was a great success. Previously his baths have lasted a minute or two, just enough to get him sort of clean. Now he was so happy there that afterwards Ingrid insisted on trying, too – if Adrian enjoys it so much then it obviously must be great.

As before: he very much insists on company and won’t be left alone. Sometimes it’s enough to be in the same room with him, but more often he likes to be within a metre or two.

A month of ups and downs. For a week or two Ingrid was sunny and happy; then she became moody and whiny again like she was last month. There is a lot of complaining about “why do I have to do everything”.

I wrote the above about Ingrid last month, but it applies equally well to this month. There is an awful lot of complaining. Especially any time we ask her to do something. “Do I have to? Why do I always have to… It’s unfair!” even when all she needs to do is pick up her sock from the floor and walk three steps with it to the laundry hamper.

Mealtimes bring out the worst in her: the food is wrong, the plate and the cup we’ve set on the table for her are wrong. If we don’t set the table for her she complains about that. She complains even before she knows what she is complaining about: “I don’t like this food. What is it?” She complains about having to get her own yogurt from the fridge and about having to take her plate off the table after the meal. Even the most basic requests are delivered in a whine. Basically she’d just like to sit there and order us around, and have us satisfy each of her wishes immediately.

Interestingly, she doesn’t seem to understand how her whining and complaining affects us. We do ask her to please speak nicely to us, we tell her that we don’t like it when she whines and orders us around. After enough whining I tell her she has to either stop whining or leave the kitchen so the rest of us can eat in peace. She has on occasions whined until both Eric and I are so fed up that we physically lift her up and carry her away from the kitchen – or tell her to just leave me alone because I do not want to be with her when she’s like that. And then she suddenly realizes we mean it, we’re annoyed for real, and gets all upset because I’m annoyed with her and don’t want to hug her.

For a while, earlier this month, she would end each mealtime with “Tack för maten den var god, mitt i maten stod en ko. Kon heter Kajsa, hon stod o bajsa’.” And every time she joked, she’s finish with “Jag skojar, jag skojar, du är en papegoja!”. Now that’s passed.

She likes the playhouse in its new pink incarnation (and new location) and uses much more than she used to. She especially likes sitting there with her friends and eating her afternoon snack.

Ingrid is still very fond of the iPad and wants to watch movies or play games on it every day. Her favourite game is Plants vs. Zombies. I had already played through the whole game so she can pick and choose between all the levels, and the mini games. She especially likes to play it together with me or Eric. I wouldn’t have expected her to like this game because in the past she’s avoided games where she can fail or lose, but I guess she is getting used to it.

She continues to practice reading, slowly and steadily getting more comfortable with it. It used to take all her concentration, dragging a finger along each letter. Now she has no trouble reading/recognizing familiar short words, especially words that she herself has written. Sometimes I hear her mutter words that she’s reading off the page that I am reading for her, so she can do it while she’s doing other stuff with part of her brain.

She has acquired a tendency to pose, in a stiff and silly way, when she notices me taking photos of her.

The current favourite movie is Tangled. Favourite food is, I think, soft tunnbröd with liver pâté and sliced apples. She seems to be going through a growth spurt just now – she’s much hungrier than normally.

I took the day off work so we could all go to Gröna Lund. We wanted to go on a weekday to avoid the worst crowds, and the weather reports had been promising a cloudy day which should also lead to fewer visitors. In the end most of the day was sunny but the crowds weren’t too bad. We were there as soon as they opened, at noon, and up until about half past two we could go on most rides with very little queueing.

I got to go on two roller coasters this year, Jetline and Kvasten (The Witch’s Broom). Both were great! Kvasten was fun because you’re hanging below the tracks so it feels like your feet are going to hit the house / tree / whatever you’re flying over, but the ride was a bit too short for my taste. Jetline is a serious roller coaster with steep ups and downs, and enough g-forces to give me a stiff neck. I totally agree that it is unsuitable for pregnant women, even though I found that rule most disappointing last year, when the most adventurous ride I could go on was the wave swinger.

Ingrid revisited all her favourites from last year, and also tried three new attractions: the bumper cars (that she was too short for last year), Blå tåget (a ghost train, which she found way too scary) and Rock-Jet, which had her literally squealing with laughter for the entire duration of the ride.

She was surprisingly utilitarian about her choice of rides. Nyckelpigan is her favourite, and Kärlekstunneln (the Love Tunnel) is a close second, but she only went once on each of those and then rejected them because the queues were too long, opting instead for the instant gratification of rides that were almost as good but with a much shorter waiting time.

Adrian had at least as much fun as the rest of us. There was so much to look at he could barely find time to eat. Things going swish and vroom and clang all around him, lots of people, never a dull moment. And he got the best value for money since they have free entry for kids up to the age of 3.

Jetline! Image borrowed from the Gröna Lund web site.