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The Nursing Mother’s Companion: Look, in six months I will tell you which of these breastfeeding books I liked the best. This one has individual survival guides for various stages of breastfeeding, covering concerns such as mastitis and nursing strikes that occur at various ages, which seems very useful and a clear improvement on how scattered they are in many nursing books.

Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents: Highly recommended; evidence-based and extraordinarily complete. I appreciate that the author characterizes both “cry-it-out” and “no-cry” methods of sleep parenting as right for some parents and some babies; this seems to me to be consistent with the research. (No, cry-it-out will not ruin your attachment with your baby, nor will no-cry methods prevent your child from developing independence.)

Newborn sleep is generally all over the place and there’s not much point to sleep training before the child is about two to four months old. Use lots of soothing techniques and try not to let your newborn stay awake too long, lest they get overtired; it’s also a good idea to establish a bedtime routine you can build on when the child is older.

People who aren’t newborns have sleep associations. Your sleep association might be the sound of white noise, reading a bit, having a cup of tea or warm milk, your blanket, or your partner on the other side of the bed. If your sleep association isn’t present, you’ll often have a hard time falling asleep. Unlike adults, babies wake up all the time in the night, so they need their sleep associations to fall asleep every time they wake up. If your baby’s sleep association is thirty minutes of being bounced on an exercise ball, then nobody is going to get a lot of sleep. It’s even worse if you, like many parents, rock your baby to sleep and then leave them in the crib. Imagine how you’d feel if you fell asleep in your bedroom, full of your sleep associations, and then suddenly woke up in a crib. You’d probably cry too.

Useful soothing tools to help babies sleep include white noise, swaddling, pacifiers, baby swings, and managing your child’s schedule so they consistently sleep at the same times each day, when they are neither not sleepy nor overtired. These should mostly be phased out by six months; white noise can be used throughout the first year, and schedule management is useful throughout life.

The easiest time to teach a baby to sleep on their own is when they are two to four months old. The second easiest time is right now; it gets harder the older the baby is. Start with bedtime; set yourself up for success by choosing a bedtime when the child is tired but not overtired, going through a quiet and soothing bedtime routine, and making the room be very very dark.

“No-cry” methods (a misnomer; they usually involve some crying) include:

  • Providing lots of soothing in ways you can live with that don’t involve you waking up all the time
  • Experimenting with seeing if the child will fall asleep on their own if you leave them alone in their crib for ten or twenty minutes.
  • Soothing your child fully to sleep using whatever method works best for you, then waking them a little when you put them in bed.
  • Gradually weaning your child from whatever you’re doing that helps them fall asleep.

The “cry-it-out” method is basically just leaving your kid in a safe and comfortable place to sleep and then not returning until they fall asleep. The author recommends full extinction (not checking on the child) as a quicker and more effective method, although parents often prefer checking on the child at regular intervals as it seems more loving.

The book also covers night waking, night eating, weaning your child from sleep soothing techniques, common causes of sleep setbacks both medical and nonmedical, and sleep in older children. It’s good. Check it out.

Your Orgasmic Pregnancy: Little Sex Secrets Every Hot Mama Should Know: A pamphlet’s worth of information stretched out into a book through lots and lots of padding, most of it entirely unrelated to sex (did you know that doing prenatal yoga is good for you?). There is some misinformation: the book claims that masochism is entirely off-limits during pregnancy, when in reality many forms of masochism are perfectly safe. It would be really useful if they had spent less time trying to pitch me on prenatal yoga and more time talking to kink-aware obstreticians to provide an actually useful resource. That said, the list of pregnancy sex positions is genuinely useful, and they had several pretty cool ideas for pregnancy-themed roleplay.

Siblings Without Rivalry: How To Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too: The correct techniques for dealing with sibling rivalry are surprisingly similar to the correct techniques for metamour management. Acknowledge and accept that your partners might have negative feelings about each other, and don’t try to tell them their feelings are wrong or bad. Don’t compare your partners, saying that one is more romantic and the other is funnier. Make it clear that you love each of your partners as unique people with whom you have a unique relationship, and you do not have a hierarchy. Spread your time among them based on your needs (and, in the case of partners, the seriousness of your relationship– presumably it is relatively rare to have a secondary relationship with one’s offspring). If they start arguing with each other, listen to both sides respectfully but don’t get in the middle; leave them to resolve it themselves. However, one advantage of partners is that they are adults and can be generally trusted not to hit each other on the head with a toy truck, while children have no such guarantee.

Instead of dismissing a child’s negative feelings about a sibling, acknowledge the feelings:

  • Put the child’s feelings into words (“you’re furious!”).
  • Express what the child might wish (“sometimes you want your sibling to go away”).
  • Help children channel their feelings into creative or expressive outlets (e.g. art).
  • Stop hurtful behavior. Show how angry feelings can be expressed safely. Don’t attack the attacker.

Alternatives to comparing children:

  • Acknowledge what you see or feel (“you put away your blocks and your truck. It’s a pleasure to look at this room”) without favorably comparing the child to another child.
  • Describe the problem (“you didn’t do your homework”) without unfavorably comparing the child to another child.

Instead of worrying about treating children equally:

  • Focus on each child’s individual needs (e.g. give more food to a child that is very hungry).
  • Show children how they’re loved uniquely (“in the whole wide world there’s no one else like you’).
  • Give time based on the child’s needs (“your sister needs help with tying her shoes right now”).
  • Acknowledge the abilities of disabled children.

When one child bullies another:

  • Don’t focus on the aggressor. Attend to the injured party.
  • Don’t put one child in the role of “bully”. Acknowledge their ability to be kind and control themselves and correct others or the child themself when they describe the child as a bully.
  • Don’t put one child in the role of “victim”. Show them how to stand up for themself (“I bet you can make an even scarier face back) and correct others or the child themself when they characterize the child as weak or helpless.

When children are fighting:

  1. Acknowledge the children’s anger towards each other.
  2. Listen to all sides with respect.
  3. Show appreciation for the difficulty of the problem.
  4. Express faith in the children’s ability to solve the problem.
  5. Leave the room.
  6. If the children appear to be hurting each other, describe the situation, set your limit, and separate the children.
  7. For recurring or serious problems, you may wish to hold a parent-guided family meeting, in which you hear all sides and their rebuttals, brainstorm solutions as a family, and pick a solution everyone can live with.

Infant Massage: A very annoying amount of this book is devoted to the fallacious argument that cuddling babies is very important for their mental and physical health and therefore you should devote fifteen minutes a day to a massage. To be clear, cuddling babies is very important to their mental and physical health; a baby deprived of cuddles may get sick, have lifelong developmental disabilities, or even die. That is why parents and alloparents feel a natural, instinctive desire to cuddle babies. Outside of very exceptional circumstances– a Romanian orphanage under Ceausescu, a neonatal intensive care unit, or strictly following the advice of a quack parenting book that thinks you should avoid cuddling your child so you can tame their innate sinfulness or avoid rewarding negative behavior– you will instinctively give your baby enough cuddles that they develop properly.

(Note that most neonatal intensive care units practice “kangaroo care,” in which the baby regularly spends skin-to-skin time with the parents, and if your NICU does not you should absolutely throw a fit until they start practicing the standard of care.)

But on the other hand massage is a nice thing to do with your baby, and I have no objection to the instructions, including chapters on adjusting your infant massage for premature babies, babies with special needs, and toddlers. Might be useful for parents who want to try massaging their babies.

Fire From Heaven: The first book in Mary Renault’s the Alexander Trilogy, focusing on Alexander’s early life. Much less enjoyable than the Persian Boy, because she keeps interrupting all the gay romance with this boring “battles” stuff. Why are there battles in my book about Alexander the Great? That is definitely not what I am reading the series for. However, the Persian Boy is sadly light on Ptolemy (Alexander’s half-brother and future ruler of Egypt, not the astronomer), who is an absolute delight. And Bagoas is not exactly what one would call a “reliable narrator” about Hephaiston, which means that Fire From Heaven is the only book in the Alexander Trilogy with any amount of Hephaiston content at all, which is tragic, because Hephaiston is the best.

Mary Renault outdoes herself with the extremely euphemistic sex scenes in this one; I actually had to flip back and reread a few pages before I worked out that “some time later a mother fox walked by with her cubs” was Alexander and Hephaiston losing their virginity to each other.

An Apprentice to Elves: I read this series because it provides me with gay Vikings telepathically bonded to wolves. This book is not, in fact, about the gay Viking telepathically bonded to a wolf; it is about his daughter Alfgyfa who is apprenticed to the svartalfar (the elves of the title). I mean, it is a fine book, but I have expectations and they were not met. I did appreciate Fargrimr, who is probably one of my favorite trans male characters in fiction, and his complete incomprehension about why the not!Romans kept calling him a girl. “Uh, I’m obviously a man, have you ever seen a woman be a jarl?” In general, from a worldbuilding perspective, I appreciate a society that has culturally accepted roles for LGBT+ people that are weird. (“Oh, sure, you can be gay, as long as you telepathically bond with a wolf first. Oh, sure, you can be a trans guy as long as you dad needs an heir, but if you have six brothers you’re shit out of luck.”) It just feels more realistic than societies which are completely perfect and accepting and everyone talks like they have a Tumblr.

A Civil Contract: I regret the decade and a half of my life I wasted not reading Georgette Heyer. If you’re the sort of person who has worn out your copy of Pride and Prejudice and mourns that there is only so much Austen in the world, you should pick up this book. The protagonist Adam is in love with Julia, a beautiful but very silly woman. His father dies and he discovers his father has run up enormous gambling debts; the only way to preserve his family fortune is to marry Jenny, a heiress, who is plain and practical and sensible. Naturally he falls in love with Jenny and then takes five chapters to work out that he’s in love with her. It contains all the Austen goodness: a gently mocking and ironic narrative, absolutely ridiculous mothers and fathers, and a truly delightful snarky little sister. Also, at one point there is Serious Dramatic Tension about whether one guy’s investments are going to pay off. It’s great. Highly recommended.

Station Eleven: An excellent post-apocalyptic novel, in which 99% of humanity dies of a pandemic. The protagonists are a traveling theater/music troupe who visit post-apocalyptic settlements and perform Shakespeare and symphonies for them, because (as the slogan on their wagons reads) “survival is insufficient.” Unlike most post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read, the plot does not derail halfway through to be about some group of survivors fighting a war with some other group of survivors. It is consistently about rebuilding civilization all the way through. I never once had to skip past a loving three-page description of someone’s gun. I think this is an excellent decision on the part of the author and more post-apocalyptic novels should follow her example.

When I reached the end of the book I discovered this was actually Literature, because there were discussion questions in the back. In retrospect, this makes sense of the otherwise puzzling decision to devote multiple chapters to a pre-apocalypse boring middle-aged actor having affairs. However, as chapters about boring actors having affairs go, it was fairly tolerable and the rest of the book was very enjoyable.

Uptown Local and Other Interventions: A short story collection by Diane Duane. I particularly enjoyed The Fix (in which Duane actually manages to pull off starting a story with a dream sequence) and Uptown Local (set in the Young Wizards verse; even for the Young Wizards universe, has a particularly high level of the spirit of Secular Solstice). A good book to read if you’re a Duane fan.

The Door Into Fire: I thought it was just a Young Wizards thing that the villain is entropy, but apparently Diane Duane’s grudge against entropy shows up in all her books. Since she used to write for Scooby Doo, does this mean that there’s a long-lost episode where Freddie unmasks the villain and reveals that he is the second law of thermodynamics?

Mostly a fairly bland and forgettable epic fantasy novel, although I appreciated the detail that everyone is bisexual and polyamorous and this is just totally normal. I was bracing myself when a jealousy plotline happened, but it honestly felt like it was written by someone who actually understands how polyamory works and that in a poly context jealousy reflects underlying relationship problems and unmet needs, not the fact that you are in Twoo Wuv.

Warning for people considering starting the series: the last book has literally been delayed longer than I’ve been alive.