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Over at PopMatters, Timothy Gabriele explores the similarities between ambient music and what babies hear in the womb. Of particular interest are his thoughts on the auditory development of his 6-month-old daughter:

. . . parents and caregivers responsible for the sound development of the infant have a big responsibility, even if they don’t know they’re taking on this task. The human’s first audio memories are stored in the limbic system, responsible for generating emotional responses, located adjacent to the auditory cortex in the temporal lobe. Any remembered sound therefore should automatically trigger an emotional response, however small, meaning that the parent’s provided sonic environment also has an impact on emotional development in the child (it’s thought that this is why music from adolescence, when emotion is at its most vibrant, generally triggers the strongest emotional response from its listeners).

I played Nate most of the songs referenced in Gabriele’s article and here are his two favorites:

The second one (Arp’s Pastoral Symphony) especially amazes him. When the bass kicks in around the 25 second mark, Nate’s eyes get real big, like something incredible is about to happen, and he studies my face for what that something might be. It would not be an exaggeration to say that music is becoming my version of breastfeeding. When Nate’s fussy or wants a change of pace, I usually pick up the ukulele or the guitar or the keyboard or some random percussive instrument (he’s got shakers, tambourines, bongos, etc.) and play Nate a tune. It’s like giving him Prozac in the key of C.

To the outside observer, it may appear that I am pulling an Earl Woods and that I desperately want my son to grow up to be a musician.

Could be. But I’ll settle for him just growing up to feel.

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Nate got his first round of vaccinations today. So he should be autistic by morning. But, seriously, getting him vaccinated was a no-brainer. I’ve read through Generation Rescue’s website — and although Jenny McCarthy is an attractive woman who may or may not have inspired me, as a teenager, to touch myself — I find their case lacking.

If so many kids are contracting autism from today’s vaccines, where is the study showing a relationship? Oh, wait. I just found it:

Journal: Study linking vaccine to autism was fraud

January 5th, 2011

LONDON (AP) — The first study to link a childhood vaccine to autism was based on doctored information about the children involved, according to a new report on the widely discredited research.

The conclusions of the 1998 paper by Andrew Wakefield and colleagues was renounced by 10 of its 13 authors and later retracted by the medical journal Lancet, where it was published. Still, the suggestion the MMR shot was connected to autism spooked parents worldwide and immunization rates for measles, mumps and rubella have never fully recovered.

A new examination found, by comparing the reported diagnoses in the paper to hospital records, that Wakefield and colleagues altered facts about patients in their study.

So much for that dude’s career.

As for Nate, he was a trooper today. He didn’t cry when his pediatrician (who I’ll call Dr. K) stuck an otoscope in his ear, or looked in his mouth, or checked out his nether regions. Nate even grabbed Dr. K’s finger and gave him a smile. It’s a funny thing when a baby decides to smile at you. It’s like a row of clouds has parted above and you, just you, have been chosen to receive this particular band of divine sunlight. Cue the celestial choir. Release the stardust.

But then Dr. K got the needles out.

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Last week I doubted that daughters cause divorce. “Having a boy” and “being happy” appeared to be correlated, yes, but I wasn’t convinced that one caused the other. Well, Steven Landsburg is:

But in this case, correlation does imply causation, and here’s why: If you take 3 million people, have them all flip coins, and divide them into two groups according to whether their coins came up heads or tails, then the two groups are going to look statistically identical in every way—same average income, same average intelligence, same average height. That’s called the law of large numbers, and it works for two reasons—first, the sample size is huge, and second, coin flips are random. Now do the same thing, dividing your 3 million people according to the gender of their last-born child. The same thing happens—parents of boys are going to be statistically identical in every way to parents of girls, because you’ve still got a huge sample size and because the sex of a child is as random as a coin flip. Since everything else is equal, the only thing that can be causing the difference in divorce rates is the gender of the children.

Still, I’d like to see the cross tabs. If you adjust for all the factors that tend to make people happy (and therefore less likely to divorce) – stuff like income, education, marital status, health, etc. – is the effect still present? In other words, do married women with $100,000 jobs, and Master’s degrees, and husbands, and clean bills of health, and daughters still get divorced more often than women with $100,000 jobs, and Master’s degrees, and husbands, and clean bills of health, and sons?

If so, then I will quietly begin to weep.

One tangent before I change a diaper: a number of studies suggest that boy fetuses are more likely to miscarry under times of stress. Natural and social catastrophes (like 9/11), unemployment, extremely hot climates, and poor diets have all been show to lower the boy to girl birth ratio. Call women “the weaker sex” all you want, but exactly the opposite is true in the womb. Boy fetuses need more support and are less likely to survive without it. Might this tie back into the notion that parents of boys are happier on average than parents of girls? If they’re less likely to live in high stress environments or have experienced any of the above calamities, then it would make sense.

Now, on to yellow-green poop.

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I guess it’s a good thing we had a boy:

Oh, No: It’s a Girl!

If you want to stay married, three of the most ominous words you’ll ever hear are “It’s a girl.” All over the world, boys hold marriages together, and girls break them up.

In the United States, the parents of a girl are nearly 5 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of a boy. The more daughters, the bigger the effect: The parents of three girls are almost 10 percent more likely to divorce than the parents of three boys.

Hard to believe, but it doesn’t stop there. The few surveys of parental happiness I found on the web show that mothers of sons are “happier” on average than mothers of girls. And unmarried couples are more likely to tie the knot if they learn their unborn child will be a boy. And, as if that weren’t enough, divorced women with daughters have a harder time remarrying.

The question is why. Are daughters really such an albatross? Do sons really cause happiness?

Slate’s Steven E. Landsburg kicks the tires on some explanations. Maybe men stick around to raise their sons? Or maybe women stay with men so their sons can have fathers? Or maybe it’s the “everybody stays happy” theory: Dad invests in making son happy; so Mom invests in making Dad happy; so everybody stays pretty happy.

On the other hand, it could be that sons are more vulnerable to the effects of divorce, thus raising the stakes of splitting up. You want your kid to wear a trench coat and skin cats? Leave his mother. Or maybe women with daughters depend less on their husbands emotionally? Why bother talking to that blob on the couch playing Halo when you can go shopping with your daughter?

Either way, I’m probably the wrong person to make sense of this. I love just about everything there is to love about women. The way they walk, talk, think, feel, smell, taste, smile, cry – all of it. The first 25 years of my life, in fact, were a love affair with women in general. The last 10 have been a love affair with one woman in particular. So when you tell me that bringing a woman into the world ruins your life, I call bullshit. That’s like someone telling me that Ben & Jerry’s tastes bad. No. No, it doesn’t.

Could it be there’s something else going on?

Rich Mother’s Have More Sons

Rich, married and well-educated women tend to have more sons while those who are unhealthy and poorer tend to have more daughters, according to a study.

Researchers studied 50 million people and found that mothers in ‘good condition’ – those who were married, better educated and younger – bore more sons than mothers in ‘poor condition’.

I am no number cruncher. The last math course I took was freshmen year of college, and I still have recurring nightmares about trying to operate a TI-85. But if nature really does hedge its bets this way, then why is everyone so surprised that women with sons are happier on average than those with daughters? Of course they’re happier. They’re statistically more likely to be rich, married, well-educated, well-fed, and healthy. The whole thing about their kid having a penis has nothing to do with it.

With some luck, one of the 3 people who read this blog is a closet statistician and can tell us if the “daughters cause divorce” phenomenon holds true when you adjust for the parent’s income, education level, marital status, etc.

Because I’m guessing it doesn’t. And until I see otherwise, I’m going to assume that the sex of the kid you have doesn’t determine whether or not you have a happy marriage.

Your marriage does.

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Remember when I wrote this?

This next year, my wife’s going to bring home the bacon. And I’m going to bring up the baby. And do the dishes. And fold the laundry. And take out the garbage. And clean the cat box. And shop for groceries. And have supper ready. And assemble the crib. And paint the nursery. And rock a screaming baby to sleep at 3 o’clock in the morning. And, on certain nights, stare up in to the city-bleached sky and wonder if this is part of the journey or the destination itself. Or both.

Well, that all still stands. I’m still ready to do those things. I just had no idea that I would be doing them all at once.

And yet that’s what every body keeps telling me about parenting – i.e. that it’s a Herculean feat of multitasking. Brian Chen had a post on Wired last Monday about what multitasking technology is doing to our ability to concentrate. In it, he talks to Vaughan Bell, a neuropsychologist and clinician at the Universidad de Antioquia, who compares our waning focus to parenting:

“If you think Twitter is an attention magnet, try living with an infant,” Bell said. “Kids are the most distracting thing there is, and when you have three or even four in the house it is both impossible to focus on one thing — and stressful, because the consequences of not keeping an eye on your kids can be frightening even to think about.”

(Kids are indeed distracting: A British study found that for drivers, the distraction of squabbling kids can slow down break-reaction times by 13 percent — as much as alcohol.)

And here I was thinking that having a kid might be a good occasion to get sober.

But, seriously, I wonder if this generation of parents is prepared to multitask in a way their parents were not. As we speak, I am writing this post . . . while texting my wife . . . while watching the preview for Monday Night Football . . . while answering incoming emails . . . while boiling eggs for my wife’s breakfast tomorrow. And somehow, I feel like I’ve got everything under control.

So, thank you, the internets. And email. And smart phones. And social networking. And, even, 24 hours news networks that have “Breaking News” whenever someone farts. You’ve all ruined my ability to perform long-duration analytical thinking, but you may have made me a high-functioning parent in the process.

Also, the extra arms I’ve grown help.

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Who knew that loving your baby could actually help it?

From Time Magazine’s Healthland blog:

Over the last several decades, more and more research has suggested that experiences in early life — even prenatal life — can have a disproportionate influence on the development of personality and physical and mental health. Now another group of studies, led by Notre Dame psychology professor Darcia Narvaez, confirms earlier work suggesting that children who get more positive touch and affection during infancy turn out to be kinder, more intelligent and to care more about others.

Narvaez, who will present her findings at a conference in early October, conducted three separate studies. The first compared parenting practices in the U.S. and China. Another followed a large sample of children of teen mothers who were involved in a child abuse–prevention project, and compared outcomes of various types of early parenting practices. The third examined how parents of 3-year-olds behaved toward their children.

All three studies suggested the same thing: children who are shown more affection early in life reap big benefits. Researchers found that kids who were held more by their parents, whose cries received quick responses in infancy and who were disciplined without corporal punishment were more empathic — that is, they were better able to understand the minds of others — later in life.

These findings will no doubt come as a shock to Dr. Gary Ezzo, whose book On Becoming Baby Wise I intend to massacre review next week.

Until then . . .

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Don’t know who to root for in this year’s Major League Baseball playoffs? Well, if your favorite team is already playing golf, here’s a quick and dirty guide on who you should be pulling for:

(Hat tip: Slate’s Tom Scocca)

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