My Mother Wears
Combat Boots

A Parenting Guide for the Rest of Us
Jessica Mills
If they are going to make me come back again, can I choose to have Jessica Mills for a mother? Despite the fact that she has a weakness for a band called the "Subhumans" (that may conflict with my own passion for Jean Sibelius) I think she would do better with me than the one they gave me on the last go-round.

Not to defame poor old Mum. She did the best she could with what she had, but she seemed to view motherhood as a prison-term. She was the chief warden there at Guantanamo South.

Despite this, and like Mills, she had a profound skepticism of authority (except her own) which may have contributed to her many children's astonishing assortment of neuroses.

Like Mills, she had a profound suspicion of American schooling. In fact, Mother was so disgusted with the regimentation and crappy education in public schools that she read up on the works of John Dewey and designed a grade school for her children and for a dozen or so children of friends.

The major difference between Mum and Mills has to do with the times. When I was ready to emerge into the world at large (I was sixth of seven) Dad was snoring as usual even though I wanted out of the bakepot at one a.m. Mums drove over to St. Vincent's, she claims, sitting on my head.

In those days, there were none of the testing for putative dangers and drug choices that can now drive a would-be mother nuts: epidurals, GBS, AROMs, EFMs, and the labor inducing-drug which Mills most condemns, Pitocin. There was only ether available for Mother and wisely she said no thanks.

Mills and her husband Ernesto had carefully planned the whole birth scenario but sometimes babies have their own agendas. Emma-Joy decided that she liked it fine there in the ammoniacal soft warm floating world within. By week forty-two, the idea of a loving, incense-bathed delivery in the Birth Center was nixed, and mother and Ernesto and friends and baby (still in utero) adjourned to the hospital.

It is as harrowing a birth tale that I have ever read, leading Mills to advise the reader to do her homework thoroughly and plan for any contingency. This critic's sense is that Mills --- one who believes deeply in natural, organic, harmonious, studied, prepared life-experiences --- blew it when she made the most basic decision of them all: who was going to be her OB/GYN man.

The rigors of American hospital routine (don't fight the nurses) along with her doctor's fear of law-suits screwed all her plans, leading to an appalling procedure ... a shambles of what she hoped would be an uplifting childbirth.

§     §     §

Ms. Mills is a fine writer, and there is everything you could ask for here: what you will need from your baby and what your baby will need from you. There are cogent (and sometimes pissed-off) views of foods available for the newly-born, the cultural hazards of a three- or four-year old in Disney-run America, violence (the average child will witness 8,000 murders on television by the end of grade school), and baby cribs. She opines that since she and her child had been together so intimately for nine months, she was not about to send her off to sleep by herself.

    With the amount of breast-feeding Emma-Joy was doing at night, I wondered how in the hell parents who slept separate from their babies got any sleep at all. I was short on a full night's sleep already and could not imagine having to actually get up, walk to where the baby was crying, pick her up, nurse her, and hope she would stay asleep when I put her back down before retreating to my own bed.

Mills decided on what she calls "co-sleeping," which means that at nursing time "neither of us had to fully wake up."

    She'd wiggle and grunt her rooting mouth towards my breast. I'd respond by positioning myself closer to her so she could latch on. For us, learning to nurse while lying down had so far been the easiest nursing position to learn.

"This allowed us to fall back asleep quickly; she didn't have to wake herself up more to cry in order to wake me up, and I didn't have to wake myself more to get out of bed in order to nurse her."

This chapter contains a full exploration of the subject of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome):

    SIDS rates for babies who are exclusively breast-fed and sleep in a nonprone position in safe beds with sober, nonsmoking parents, are around one-fifty the rates seen with the standard crib-sleeping, formula-feeding scenario.

If I were going to have another baby god forbid, Combat Boots would be my constant companion. Even if you decide not to go into the zygote business, the startlingly honest fact-finding and well-researched opinions make it worth your study. Examples: what to do when your four-year-old starts to use your home-grown language around the village pastor; or when a kid makes his or her own decision to "give up the boob;" or when a parent gives the child too much in the way of freedom (and ends up being a child herself); or the wonderful chapter on diapers.

Those who use "disposable" diapers end up spending, on average, "$3,000 more than using cloth diapers." Only 7% of cloth-diapered babies "experience diaper rash, compared with 78% of disposable-diapered babies."

    The chemicals used in disposables that make them extra absorbent --- often sodium polyacrylate --- form a gel that when wet touches your baby's delicate skin and can cause irritation.

"One mama told me that a small amount of freshly expressed breast milk onto her baby's rashy bum, allowed to air dry was helpful. Another reported using olive oil steeped with fresh calendula."

--- Eleanor Turck
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