family · food · overeating

RIP Eric Carle, or the conundrum of food in children’s books

CW: discusses diet, weight stigma

The other day, famous children’s book author Eric Carle passed away. I was a bit sad, since The very hungry Caterpillar is a firm favourite in this house at the moment (picture proof below). The tiny human is still too small to understand the text, but he loves looking at the pictures and sticking his tiny fingers into the holes the caterpillar makes into the different foods it eats.

A baby kneeling on the floor, playing with a copy of the book “A very hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.

The Internet was awash with lovely stories about Eric Carle, like this one about how he helped a woman find her missing cat. So the story of an interview he gave The Paris Review about getting into a fight with his publisher over the hungry caterpillar’s diet fit right in: apparently, Carle had not wanted the caterpillar to have a tummy ache after its epic binge fest just before its metamorphosis, but his publisher insisted that the consumption of that much (and, on top of that, unhealthy) food be followed by some kind of punishment.

The only problem: the interview was quickly debunked as a parody. It was part of an April Fool’s issue of The Paris Review. Like many others, I was sad to hear that. Which begs the question: why? Why did it get so much traction in the first place?

I mean, I get it. Even before reading this, I’d always felt a bit sad the caterpillar doesn’t get away with just enjoying its feast. But I hadn’t given that feeling any conscious thought. Now I want to explore it. I’ve done much less structured thinking than my fellow bloggers on here on the issue of weight stigma, body shaming, and how these link with eating, so I’m a bit worried I won’t find the right words here. But let me try.

I think it has to do with an underlying awareness that our relationship with food and eating is fraught, and a wish that it weren’t so. Shouldn’t innocent children be entitled to a story in which a caterpillar gets to give in to its instinct of eating? After all, it needs to, so it can transform into a beautiful butterfly. Instead, our poor caterpillar is loaded with all the fraught feelings adults have around “overeating” and food, and the twisted ways in which we project these feelings onto our kids. Sam has written about this on numerous occasions.

The issue of the fake interview and the reactions it got perfectly illustrates what Sam calls “our romantic ideas of children as ‘natural eaters,’ on the one hand, and as out of control eaters, wantons, on the other” (here). On the one hand, we think the idea of a caterpillar overindulging in a range of foods including cherry pie and a lollipop – like a child might – is cute. On the other, there has to be a teaching moment in this, because we don’t want our children to “overindulge” (and become overweight). And at the same time, the idea that the author himself did not want to include the punishment, but was forced to do so by the publisher, reinforces exactly that dichotomy: wouldn’t it be nice if food were innocent for children? Oh no, but it can’t be! There has to be a punishment! Because what if The very hungry Caterpillar ends up encouraging kids to engage in unhealthy overeating, contributing to what is often framed as an ‘obesity pandemic’? We can’t have that! Somebody (the publisher) has to play the bad cop and stop it (but what a spoilsport).

In this narrative, Eric Carle, the beloved author, takes the side of the “innocent” children, the strict publisher the role of a disciplinarian imposing an unwanted but necessary consequence. Just like with food. Ugh. It’s all quite twisted and there’s a lot of projecting and wishing things were different and we all had a more “innocent” and “childlike” relationship with food.

But the whole thing only goes to show that in our society, food is anything but innocent or something to be enjoyed freely. It has to be regulated and judged. That makes me sad too, and I almost want to change the story for my son before he is old enough to read it himself and demand the “correct” version. Maybe next time, I’m going to tell the part following the caterpillar’s dinner party like this: “That night, he felt quite full. The next day was a Sunday again, and the caterpillar was a little hungry again. He wanted a small snack, so he ate through one nice, green leaf. After that, he wasn’t hungry anymore.” Sound good?

cycling · family · fitness

Bettina is back in the saddle – in company

Woohoo, our family has emerged from the weeks of survival mode! We’re more tired than before, but who isn’t these days? In any case, I’m trying hard (and not managing very well) to shift my priorities back and include more movement in my life.

The youngest member of our family is now nearly 9 months old. In some ways this helps (we can do more things) and in some ways it doesn’t (increased mobility means less ability to just plop him down next to me and do 20 minutes of yoga while expecting him to still be there afterwards) with my exercise quest.

One thing that does help is that he is now fairly good at sitting up on his own, so yesterday we risked putting him in the bike trailer for the first time. Here we are, mama grinning from ear to ear about being back in the saddle and baby looking sceptical behind the yellow star I use to cover his face in an effort to keep his privacy on the Internet:

Bettina in cycling gear next to a bike trailer with a strapped-in baby in it. Both are wearing bike helmets, which makes one of them look rather like a mushroom – up to you to decide whom.

If that bike trailer looks familiar, it’s because it’s the same vehicle as our jogging buggy, which converts to a bike trailer. But while it’s safe to go running with a baby who can’t sit up on their own yet (provided you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and common sense), biking is a different story due to the speed at which you might fly over obstacles. It requires the little human to have a bit more body tension and stability.

Anyway, yesterday was the day. We strapped on his bike helmet (so cute!), hooked the trailer up to his dad’s bike, and off we went. We didn’t get very far because it started raining, as it is wont to do these days around here. But it was fun anyway! Baby didn’t complain much and even fell asleep at the end. So even if we didn’t go for a long ride, we have proof of principle: the parents had a good time and the little one didn’t hate it, so we can attempt a longer family ride next. YAY!

What sports and fitness activities do you enjoy with your kids, if you have children? If your they are older, what did you enjoy doing with them when they were small – and in particular, what did the kids enjoy?

family · fitness

Shifting priorities: Bettina is in survival mode

A month and a half ago, I returned to work after maternity leave. In a way, it was like coming back after an extended holiday: insanely busy. I spent the first three weeks in Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting just catching up. Then, as soon as I felt I sort of had a handle on things, my partner – who is now on parental leave – realised that contrary to what we had hoped, Europe’s major scientific funding body had not moved its application deadline to June because of Covid. The deadline is now 20 April. It’s my husband’s last chance to apply; next year he’ll be too old (well, too many years after completing his PhD) for this particular grant.

A picture of a woman (not Bettina), buried under a stack of books. This is sort of how I feel right now, except I’m buried under a stack of Zoom calls, laundry, dirty nappies, and reports for the finance module of my MBA.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Result: partner is now working every free minute he is not watching baby. This means that I’m on baby duty essentially every minute I’m not working. This leaves very little time to exercise. When I can’t go for a run on my lunch break, or put the little one in the buggy and run with him after work, I basically can’t do much. (On Thursday, partner watched baby for a bit longer while I did half an hour of yoga after work. It completely reset me. The man is a saint.)

It’s Covid, so we can’t spontaneously hire childcare, and our son’s daycare spot doesn’t start until mid-May. Our cleaner retired just before he was born (it was well-deserved and I don’t blame her). The house is a tip. Again, it’s Covid, so we didn’t manage to find a new one until next week (I realise that we are very privileged for being able to hire a cleaner in the first place). I decided to apply for an executive MBA just before I got pregnant, well, and before a global pandemic hit. I was meant to start last March, but it’s Covid (are you spotting a pattern yet?) and we didn’t start until September because they kept holding out hope we’d be able to have in-person classes, LOL, so now I’m in the thick of it when I was meant to be on a semester’s break.

I know it’s “fashionable” to complain how busy you are, but honestly? It’s just all a bit much right now. My priorities have shifted: I’m in survival mode. Eyes firmly set on 20 April. This too shall pass. I have leave booked in for the first week of May, and whether we’re able to go anywhere or not, I’m going to enjoy it. Now I just need to get through the next six weeks somehow… and get a run or some yoga in every once in a while to keep me going.

Have you ever been in survival mode? What got you through it?

covid19 · Dancing · fitness

Bettina’s postpartum fitness parade, part 3: Kanga

This is the final instalment of my little series on the specifically postpartum-oriented workouts I did while getting back into exercise after giving birth (part 1, part 2). I saved the best for last 😉

Kanga is a workout you do with baby. It’s a mix of floor exercises designed to build back core and pelvic floor strength, choreographies and some high intensity and functional training. Normally, of course these are in-person classes. But it’s Covid, so we got to do it on Zoom (*eyeroll*. I’m SO SICK of doing things on Zoom). While the Zoom bit was annoying, the class was a lot of fun!

For the floor exercises, baby lies next to you or you will sometimes pick them up and do exercises lifting them up etc. For the choreographies and other parts of the session, the little people go in their carriers. My son usually falls asleep while Mama sweats, and since he weighs more than 6.5 kg (14.3 lbs) now, Mama sweats a lot. Here’s a video of what goes down in a Kanga class:

A video of women taking a Kanga class with their babies in Brisbane, Australia.

I imagine that whether your experience with Kanga is good or not depends heavily on two factors: one, whether you like this type of workout, and two, your instructor. For me, the choreography part was a bit outside of my comfort zone. After a traumatic experience in an aerobics class many years ago, I’ve been spending my fitness life avoiding anything that requires too much coordination. In this respect, I lucked out with our instructor, who made the choreography only a part of the class. With the instructor, however, come other pitfalls such as potential weight loss talk, which is sadly a very strong motivator for many women in postnatal fitness. In that sense, we were less lucky with our instructor, because there was some of that (getting our bikini bodies back and such). She was nice, but the focus on shedding the pregnancy weight was a part of the class that I didn’t enjoy – although many people probably won’t mind.

Overall though, it’s the one aspect of postnatal fitness I stuck with and I’m currently still Kanga-ing once a week until the end of the month when the course ends. If you have a little one and can find an online class (or even, god forbid, you’re in a part of the world where in-person classes are permissible, an in-person one), I recommend giving it a shot.

covid19 · family · fitness · fitness classes

Bettina’s postpartum fitness parade, part 2: postpartum gymnastics

So I already have to recant a promise I made in my first post in this mini-series: I cancelled my MommaStrong subscription this week. I just haven’t been doing the workouts because I enjoy other things (running, yoga) so much more and it’s not worth paying good money for something I don’t use. But anyway, on to part two of this little series on what I’ve been doing fitness-wise since giving birth.

In Germany, statutory public health insurance entitles you to a postpartum gymnastics course and will pay for up to 8 sessions (because of my work I have private insurance, but it’s also covered). I think this is kind of amazing and possibly quite unique, at least from what I hear from some of my international friends, who have been astounded by this.

Normally, these postpartum gymnastic classes are fairly mellow, aimed mostly at restoring some pelvic floor and core health after pregnancy and childbirth have left your body in… probably a very different shape than it used to be. They sit somewhere between physical therapy and a light workout and are intended to prepare you for going back to “normal” exercise and life in general without incontinence and diastasis recti problems.

If you’re interested in what these classes look like, here’s a video (in German, sorry) from a couple of midwives who have recorded theirs and put them on YouTube to cater to women who can’t attend an in-person class due to the pandemic:

Video from hallohebamme.de – postpartum PT/gymnastics class. They do their course in a “mummy and me” format, Bettina’s was a class without baby.

I think these are the right choice for most people, but if you were quite active before and during pregnancy and had a relatively uncomplicated birth, you’re probably hankering for something a bit more challenging. At least I was. Luckily, my midwife had caught onto that. She found out about a postpartum gymnastics course specifically for “sporty women” (sic) and I immediately signed up.

“Thanks” to Covid, it was an online course. Run by two midwives, we gathered on Zoom once a week for eight weeks in November and December to restart an exercise routine. The sessions consisted of warm-up, some cardio, a lot of post-pregnancy safe strengthening exercises for arms, legs, and core, and finally stretching and cool-down. Over the course of eight weeks, the intensity increased gradually.

Reader, I LOVED it. The first session, I almost cried when I actually broke a sweat. I know breaking a sweat is by no means a requirement for something to “count” as exercise, but I was really craving a hard workout by that time. The women who ran the class were lovely and funny and did their best to make sure we did the exercises correctly even though they couldn’t physically correct us. The only thing missing was the community spirit that would probably have developed had the class been in-person. Although I’m definitely ready to take up other forms of exercise again, I’m still kind of sad the course is over. I was a lovely way of getting myself in gear once a week.

Are postpartum gymnastics courses a thing where you are?

family · fitness · kids and exercise · running

Running with baby!

My partner and I bought ourselves two things for Christmas this year: a hoover (vacuum) robot and a running/bike trailer to take the little human on sporty adventures with us. So on Boxing Day, we ventured out for our first run as three, which was also my first run since I was 28 weeks pregnant. It was So! Much! Fun!, even though I’m very much out of shape. No regrets on spending our hard earned euros on this new plaything! The small human enjoyed it too, or at least he didn’t complain and even fell asleep.

Bettina in running gear with a three-wheel running stroller and a snugly-dressed baby in it (no photos of baby’s face on the interwebs, sorry!).

Hooray for getting my identity as a runner back, and for making the little one part of it!

fitness

Bettina’s postpartum fitness parade, part 1: MommaStrong

This is the first in a series of posts on my postpartum fitness shenanigans. Next up: postpartum gymnastics.

Once I’d given birth, I was quickly itching to move physically. Not because I wanted to get back in shape or get my pre-pregnancy body back, which is a strong motivator for many women, and it’s complicated. I definitely get wanting to feel “like yourself” again, but there’s an unreal amount of societal pressure around postpartum bodies and weight loss that doesn’t sit well with me at all. I wanted to move because it makes me feel good, and it’s part of my identity. Honestly, in the first weeks after childbirth I struggled a bit with this complete shift of my identity to “100% mother”, and I clung to the hope that working out would provide a feeling of “I’m still me”.

Alas, you’re not supposed to work out when you’ve just given birth, and much less so if you’ve had a c-section. My midwife showed me some exercises I was allowed to do – one of them was lying down on the floor, lifting my arms, then putting them down again. Another was pelvic tilts. Not pelvic lifts, oh no. My bottom was not to leave the floor. Not really a “workout” in my book! I needed to completely redefine what “counted” as a workout. Which I did! (Incidentally, Tracy only just blogged about this yesterday, go read it if you haven’t already! I am definitely usually a person who judges her workouts.) The fact that I’m at over 240 on the 220 in 2020 Facebook workout challenge proves it – I started counting any sort of purposeful movement, even the pelvic tilts.

But still, can you imagine my delight when about 5 or so weeks postpartum I discovered an on-line programme called “MommaStrong“* that had a section for people who’d recently given birth, and then others for further down the line? And it even had a special programme for c-section recovery. It was $5 per month, so I signed up out of curiosity.**

Bettina’s MommaStrong set-up: a laptop, a red yoga mat, a baby toy (aka Captain Octopus) and her mini cheerleader: a baby dressed in blue tights and a grey sweater).

The MommaStrong philosophy is that you don’t need to work out for a long time each day to make a difference, what matters is consistence. The “Hazy Days” programme for the first 8 weeks postpartum is just 5 minutes a day. The later ones are 15 minutes each day, and for those there’s a new video every day. 5 or 15 minutes seemed feasible – it’s hard to fit in a long workout when a little person requires your attention pretty much all day. They’re basically HIIT exercises, although the “intensity” of the Hazy Days sessions is understandably low.

I like the MommaStrong approach overall. There’s no mention of weight loss, which is not the goal. The goal is to feel good, and feel strong, even if you only manage to do half the workout, in a nursing bra and spit-up covered sweatpants. Courtney Wyckoff, the founder and the person who leads all the videos, exudes a cheerful energy with a healthy dose of imperfectionism. She reminds me a bit of Adriene of Yoga With Adriene. MommaStrong tries to be inclusive. It’s not perfect: to start with, the name MommaStrong isn’t inclusive of all people who give birth, and they acknowledge that, but they do try. And the community helps make it more diverse – there’s a Facebook group of queer people doing MommaStrong called QueerStrong, for example.

Even so, I’ve been less than consistent. First of all, I still find it hard to do even 15 minutes every day. My baby has only recently started to tolerate watching me work out for a bit while lying next to me on a play mat without complaining. So other ways of moving, like taking him for a walk, have been easier. I also honestly enjoy going for a walk more than 15 minutes of HIIT. In the evening, when my partner comes home from work, I’m too exhausted to work out. And when I’ve had time, I’ve often preferred other forms of exercise, like yoga, or one of the other two things I’m going to write about in this mini-series: I’ve been doing an online postpartum gymnastics class and a “Kanga” class (more about what the heck that is in a future post!).

Nevertheless, I’m going to keep my MommaStrong subscription for now. I can see it coming in handy once I go back to work in February and time will be even scarcer – and I also don’t think swimming pools will reopen here anytime soon, so I’ll need something to do. A bite-sized 15-minute workout might turn out to be just the ticket.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _

*MommaStrong is a whole universe, there’s also a programme for dads, one for teens, and a nutrition programme, all of which I can’t vouch for since I haven’t explored them.

**MommaStrong has recently switched platforms and increased their price to $12/month, which, while a steep increase, is understandable given the amount of material that’s available and work the team must put in to sustain it. I was floored when I saw the extent of it for $5/month.

family · self care

Postpartum self-care stress, or how Bettina learned to take a chill pill and drink the breastfeeding tea

Cate’s crowdsourcing for her post on self-care in tough times (hello US election amid a global pandemic!) inspired me to think about my own recent experience with self-care. Admittedly, I’m in a special place regarding self-care at the moment, where it’s difficult to disentangle my self from that of another, 11 week-old human being.

In the FIFI blogger Facebook group, we were discussing how self-care is becoming not just commercialised, but also Another Thing Women Are Expected To Do. The discussion prompted me to write out a little rant. Here it is, slightly adapted for the purposes of this post. Because boy, are there expectations and (contradictory) opinions around self-care for new mothers, on top of all the expectations and (contradictory) opinions about motherhood and parenting in general.

A river under a clear blue autumnal sky: walking is self-care after Bettina’s own heart.

On top of “be there for your baby 24/7; put him on his tummy 30 minutes a day (never mind if he screams his head off); play with him and read/sing to him every day; feed him every 2-3 hours (that one’s not so much advice but a necessity of life), spend time doing skin-to-skin with baby, etc.”, it’s “drink this tea twice a day and this other one also twice a day (never mind that they taste horrible); also, drink 2-3 litres of water a day; sleep when the baby sleeps (LOL, considering he will pretty much only sleep on top of me during the day); don’t worry about the housework (but make sure everything is hygienic for the new human without an immune system); don’t worry about the paperwork and admin stuff (never mind that it has deadlines); do your pelvic floor exercises; and oh yeah don’t forget to take time for yourself.”

I’m not sure anyone’s day has the 48 hours it would take to do all of these things, but mine sure as hell does not. I really had to learn not to stress about it. Apparently all the pressure new mothers get about breastfeeding, parenting in general, getting back in shape, and so on isn’t enough. We need to stress them out about self-care as well. I know the advice is well-intentioned, but it can be really stressful at a time where your mind isn’t in a good place to be able set your own priorities and all you want is to make good choices for the tiny human you’re suddenly responsible for. It definitely took me several weeks to figure out that “sleep when the baby sleeps” is not for me except at night, and that I’ll do fine if I just drink one or two cups of breastfeeding tea a day (or on some days, none).

And I say this as a woman of many privileges: my partner was home with me for the first two months, so he could take care of the household and many other things, including his share of baby care duties. I have a generous leave policy that allows me to stay home with baby for several months. Our healthcare system is – compared to many others – excellent at postpartum care, free midwife visits, postpartum gymnastics and other perks included. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like for a person with fewer privileges to be confronted with all the expectations and pressure around self-care on top of everything else that being a new mother entails.

220 in 2020 · family · fitness

From the trenches: postpartum re-definitions of “fitness”

Hi all, I’ve missed you! I went on parental leave from the blog at the end of July and gave birth on 21 August. But I’m back! For now it’s going to be once a month from me and I’ll most likely focus on my postpartum fitness journey most of the time.

It’s been quite a ride! From an emergency c-section (luckily everyone involved is doing very well) to figuring out life as a parent and starting an Executive MBA at the same time (thanks to Covid, all classes are online, which is actually extremely convenient for me), I’ve sort of been in a haze for the past 8 weeks since giving birth. Some days, I feel like I’m beginning to emerge from the fog, but other days are still hazy.

Of course, the c-section meant that I was completely off movement for a short while, but once I got out of the hospital, my midwife allowed the gentlest, tiniest postpartum exercises. Thus followed a complete redefinition of “fitness” and “workout”. I’m part of the 220 in 2020 challenge group, so of course the question of what to count as a workout came up. Initially I counted any sort of purposeful movement, even if it was just lying on my yoga mat for ten minutes doing pelvic tilts (not even lifts! Tilts!) and moving my arms about. Then I was also allowed to start walking, so I could add my walks.

After about 4 weeks, I started getting impatient. I was feeling good, and yet here I was doing pelvic tilts. I know, I know. A c-section is major abdominal surgery and You. Need. To. Be. Careful. But I feel like “careful” should be defined individually? For some people, pelvic tilts might be plenty. For others, maybe they can return to a bit more a bit earlier.

I decided to take matters into my own hands. I found a very gentle post c-section yoga video online that felt right, so I did it. I had to make some minor adjustments the first few times, but they were easy enough. My midwife also gave me more exercises. But they were still incredibly boring, so I needed something else.

And then I discovered MommaStrong, an online platform dedicated to postpartum fitness. I’ll write about it in a separate post because I feel it deserves one, but basically there are different stages you go through, starting with “Hazy Days”, an 8-week postpartum programme for the first weeks. The premise is this: 5 minutes a day, be gentle, and there are modifications even for when you’re holding a baby. I graduated “Hazy Days” yesterday, so I’m excited to see what the next stage brings.

Last week, my OBGYN cleared me for exercise and I’ve been doing slightly more challenging YouTube videos since. And in another 2 weeks’ time, I’m safe to go back to the pool! I hope it stays open, since here as elsewhere, there’s an uptick in Covid cases and everything feels very fragile right now.

I won’t lie, redefining fitness after giving birth is hard. There’s no time. A little person wants to eat from me about every two hours, and in the meantime they want to be held, changed, cuddled… My body is completely different after almost 10 months of pregnancy and giving birth. But slowly but surely, I feel like I’m emerging from the haze.

blogging · family

Bettina goes on maternity leave

My maternity leave from work officially begins on Monday, so it’s only fitting that I also start maternity leave from the blog now. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve started to understand why mat leave is a thing, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have a fairly generous policy at work: things do get exhausting as you grow bigger, especially now that it’s also hot. I also find it harder to focus, and pregnancy forgetfulness is definitely real for me.

Taking a break now feels right. I’m not due for another few weeks, but I’m going to start focussing on getting everything ready for our new arrival.

I won’t return to work until February next year, but I hope to be back to blogging earlier than that! I’ll definitely keep you posted on how things go once I can go back to exercising after the birth.

Thanks for reading along, and “see” you soon!