Monday, December 10, 2007

Subject Two: The Young Dude

Look at him! Isn't he sweet? Subject two, "Van" to his friends.
This is Van's birth story. It' couldn't be more different from Nuvy's if it tried (see the Obligatory Montessori Birth Story at the very beginning of this blog)

Van, like his sister, gave us a completely uneventful pregnancy, except that it was a little longer than usual (10 days late the first, 9 days the second). Unlike his sister, he then decided to scare the bejeesus out of everyone on his way out.

We are 0 for 2 for birth center births. We were transferred from the birth center to the hospital with Nuvy, after a very long and dysfunctional labor, but decided to try again for the home-y, jacuzzi-equipped, birth center birth of my dreams with baby #2. I had all my prenatal care with the wonderful, WONDERFUL midwives at The Birth Center in Bryn Mawr, PA. Without exception, they rock. Julia, one of my rockin' midwives, delivered Van at Bryn Mawr Hospital, but that's getting ahead of myself.

At 7 days past due, Van got an A+ on his "non-stress test", which is a physiological assessment based on fetal heart rate and movement to determine whether or not the uterine apartment is still up to code. No problem, so no eviction.

Day 9 started busy. Nuvy was scheduled to spend the afernoon with her Baba--my mother-in-law--who was and is my local lifeline when this mommy thing gets hairy (as it does when you're well past due with a busy toddler under foot) so our usual routine was a little accelerated to get ready for the special outing. It was only after Nuvy left that I noticed a weird silence in me belly, and it hit me that I hadn't felt a single squirm or kick all day. I immediately gorged myself on high-octane Indian restaurant leftovers and lay down on my left side (I'm an avid reader of alarmist prenatal literature, so I knew just what to do).

I waited almost two hours.

Nothing. I called.

As I drove myself to the birth center, my mental tire swing oscillated between feeling like an overwrought jackass for asking to make an unsceduled and probably unnecessary prenatal visit in a very busy practice, and wondering what I would say to all the people who kept asking if I'd had "that baby yet", when it turned out that there wasn't going to be any baby after all.

Unable to contain myself, I called my poor husband to share my terror, and told him through my sobs that I was terrified, and that there was nothing he could do. Nice, huh?

When I got to the birth center, it appeared that there was a third possibility I hadn't thought of. They put me in a chair, strapped me to a monitor, and after a couple of minutes of less-than-70 bpm fetal heart rate, the nurse calmly handed me a pillow and told me to get down on my elbows and knees, and someone would get my husband on the phone and get me a car to the hospital.

The birth center office manager drove me to Bryn Mawr hospital, about a 500 foot drive, where I was taken to labor and delivery, gowned, strapped, and IV'd, and it was determined that the baby was happy (heart rate wise) only if I lay on my left side. I still hadn't felt any movement at all, but I took the bouncing green line on the monitor at face value--since that was the best news I'd had all day.

At this point I was not in labor, but was having the kind of piddly little contractions a person (at least this person) tends to have for several weeks before any baby gets around to being born. The midwives and labor nurses discussed various possibilities regarding induction, caesarean, and such, and a doctor whose face and name I still can't remember--it was the first and last time I ever saw the guy--came in and shook my hand and assured me that I would not leave the hospital without a baby. I called my mother, my doula and my husband. The nurse set me up with a potty chair, and told me not to go anywhere. Everyone then promptly left, and I lay there, on my left side, recalling my first (three day) labor and wondering how long my left hip and shoulder were going to hold out.

Incredibly, I started having real, live, serious contractions. Right then. Julia says I willed myself into labor, but I still say it was Van who said, "get me the hell out of here!", and my body complied. My doula called back to say she was in traffic and would be there when she could, my husband called to ask me what he should take to his mother's for Nuvy. I think I said the word "pyjamas" and that this was going to have to be my last phone call, because I didn't think I could talk anymore. He asked some more questions I only half heard. I hung up the phone, since I couldn't think or speak anymore. I think maybe half an hour had gone by since the first real contraction. I labored alone, on my left side, thinking that this was not AT ALL what I had in mind, for what didn't seem like nearly time enough to get the job done.

After a little more than two hours of labor, Van was born. Kent was there for about twenty minutes at the end. Wendy, my doula, was there for the last two of the four pushes it took to get him out. And now, we learned what all the silence had been about:

the knot.

Yes, there was actually a knot in his umbilical cord. See how dark it is above the knot, and how pale below? EEK! Several of the childbirth professionals present had never seen one before. The midwife said she'd seen one or two--ever. But for all that apparent lack of blood flow (which must have tightened up at the VERY end, or ... I can't even think of it), he seemed the picture of health.

To make a too-long story short, he is the picture of health, but there were some complications. In the end, after a five day stay in the NICU and a couple of brain imaging scans, he was pronounced normal-looking and sent home with the same lifetime guarantee everybody else gets.


Friday, December 07, 2007

The Stage 6 Montessori Environment

Jack-O-Lantern Days for the Stage 6 Pumpkin

As those who have almost-two toddlers can attest, the Stage 6 emergent big-kid has a sometimes-maddening taste for making changes. She can make a big plate into lots of little plate bits, or a tastefully fresh-painted wall in a flat (and highly un-scrubbable) shade of barely-there slate grey into a Timothy Leary nightmare in crayon. What follows is the Stage 6 developmental snapshot and environmental supports according to my own Montessori gurus.

As always, I look forward to hearing the opinions of differing gurus, or the disciples of differing gurus, as it lightens the tedium of all these rules. At the time of writing, I have been recently delivered of Subject Two, my second child (three weeks ago) which is a story in itself--but more on that later. on to the Experimental Toddler's raucous romp through Stage 6.

Stage 6 Neurological and Physical Development

At eighteen to twenty-four months, the brain is twice its size at birth. The specialized functional areas of the cerebral cortex are established, and cross-patterning and hand/foot/eye dominance are usually expressed. The Stage 6 child is now capable of carrying out experiments entirely in his head. He is able to imagine an activity and decide its likely outcome without actually carrying it out. As you can imagine, this increases his processing speed tremendously.

He has twenty teeth. The bones are hardening and the fontanelles (soft places on the head) close. Just in time, too, to protect him in his now well-developed mobility. This child can walk steadily, run, hop on one foot, and climb stairs with alternating feet.

Hand-eye coordination is quite good now, and the child can begin to regulate the force of his movements. He can begin to manipulate small or fragile objects, including turning the pages of a book or using a spoon.

He can eat independently, and should practice that independence. He is aware of his body functions, though control of the elimination-regulating muscles may not be fully developed. In some cases, he may begin to express interest in toileting.

Cognitive Development

An eighteen to twenty-four month old child is capable of deductive reasoning. She can examine strategies intellectually, without the necessity of trying each one. Experience and memory—from all her practice with trial and error in the past six months—can be called upon to help with decision making.

She has a strong sense of object permanence, and looks for objects that have been put away, even if some time has passed since she last saw or used the object. She is capable of thinking in symbolic terms, equating a representation of an object with the object itself in processing strategies.

Relating to the developing capacity for symbolic imagination is the development of ludic play—imagining herself in another social role. For example, she may pretend to cook, care for dolls as if they were babies, write letters, use a computer keyboard, or any other “real” aspect of life that she sees as part of an adult role.

Her ability to remember things, symbols, people and conversations is expanding. She will remember the things you tell her now, and hold you accountable for them later.

Emotional and Social Development

A child of eighteen to twenty-four months has a well established sense of self, and an investment in protect that self. He begins to feel fear. He may be afraid of disappearing, of the dark, of loud noises. Related to self-preservation is a strong separation anxiety with regard to significant adults. He remembers dreams and talks about them.

He is beginning to be aware of how he is perceived by others. Emotionally, he feels trust and mistrust, anger, and embarrassment. He understands rules, but will test their rigidity. His play contains elements of abstraction of roles. In play he is not “Daddy” but “the daddy”. He can wait his turn at play.

At this time there is an explosion in language. His expressions change from gestures and nouns to sentences. He learns “I do, I want, I will”. He continues to show interest in the names of things, and begins to make up his own names.

Stage 6 Environmental Supports

Puppets, Dolls and Pets: A toddler approaching two years of age begins to be aware of her role in the family, and to compare it to the roles of other members. She imagines herself in different roles, especially nurturing or caretaking roles. The environment should support these sensitivities by providing opportunities to explore role playing. Puppets and dolls help to create imaginary scenarios and the child can gain experience in nurturing and gentleness from helping to care for a pet. (A baby brother is sort of like the ultimate pet. More on that later.)

Child-size Household Tools: child-size versions of practical tools encourage ludic play. We are talking about kitchen sets, little mops and brooms (Michael Olaf has a great miniature carpet sweeper that is actually useful, in a toddler kind of way), and the old dishwashing station. Nuvy's fancy-schmancy dishwashing station is on her list for Santa, at which time she'll be a week shy of two years old. If you're brave enough to hand this over to an eighteen-month-old (and I know some who are!!) please let me know how that works out for you. We have enough water hazards around with handwashing and sponge-transferring! You can get the officially-sanctioned one from or, or you could have your carpenter (or handy self/husband) copy it and buy your own dish tubs at Target for significantly less.

Transferring Activities:
Fine motor control is sufficiently developed that the child can benefit from transferring activities such as pouring water, and spooning sand or beans (watch those beans-in-the-nose, and stay away from Red-Hots!). You can provide these in a structured way, or you could sit back and watch as your child develops her own transferring activities. Of particular interest to Nuvy have been such activities as transferring cheerios from the bowl to her placemat, transferring pieces of pasta or small bites of sandwiches from her plate to her glass full of milk, and transferring her water or milk from her glass to mine, and back to hers again, or from her glass onto the table or floor, if no second vessel is available.

In setting up formal transferring activities, the orthodox way is to present the activity with the full vessel on the left, and the empty one on the right. This way the child moves matter left to right, reinforcing the left-to-right orientation of written material.

Table Setting: One-to-one correspondence continues to be of interest in Stage 6, and the child can handle more involved tasks in this area, such as setting a table for four, or placing many objects in compartments.

Squishy, Goopy, Messy Activities: The Stage 6 child continues to be fascinated by transformation, so that crushing, dough rolling and artistic activities such as water painting or fingerpainting hold his attention.

Manipulatives: His ability to mentally experiment allows the development of spatial reasoning. Manipulatives and simple puzzles support this development. This is a wonderful time to introduce board books and picture books both to read to him and for him to enjoy on his own by flipping pages and naming the objects in the pictures.