Sunday, November 30, 2008


Every family has stories, the stories everyone in the family knows by heart and can finish if someone starts. These are a few of mine.

** ** ** ** **

I heard this one countless times as a child, and every time Grampa told it, I loved it more.

When Grampa was a little boy, he and one of his brothers were playing down by the creek behind the family farm. They happened upon a turtle nest (pit? what do you call what a turtle lays eggs in?), and were so taken with the round, dimpled turtle eggs that they filled their pockets and lunch pails with them. Carting their treasures home, they smuggled them into the house and played with them for hours, rolling them around like big marbles. When it was time for bed, they wanted to hide their new toys away from their mother's eagle eyes. They scampered down the basement steps and secreted their find away in various nooks and corners.

I can imagine Grampa as a little boy, skipping around the basement, his shoulders hunched in an effort to be furtive, seeking out dark spots, tucking round leathery eggs underneath burlap sacks filled with dried corn, balancing them on top of jars of canned peaches and beets. I can hear him giggling behind his hands, trying to be quiet, shushing his brother when they both get too loud. And I can see him tripping over the stairs as he rushes back up to get ready for bed, trying to get ahead of his mother's prompts. 

The next day dawned, and as usual, Grampa and his brother were expected to complete their daily chores. In the hustle and bustle of the day, they completely forgot about the turtle eggs that lay quietly all over the basement. That is, until the day a few weeks later, when my great-grandmother went down the basement stairs to fetch up some pickles to go with supper, and was greeted by dozens of tiny, clumsy, flapping turtles. 

Grampa always said he'd never had his behind reddened like that, before or since.

** ** ** ** **

My dad is a police officer. Has been for over 20 years. He's seen his share of awful and amazing things, and has dozens of stories. But one of the stories that is the most vivid to me only starts off scary -- it has a happier ending.

My dad and his partner were called to the scene of an armed robbery. One of the people they found at the scene was a man who had been shot in the chest. The two officers began to administer first aid, but it became apparent that the victim's lungs had been punctured, and he couldn't draw breath. Thinking quickly, my dad slipped the cellophane wrapper off of a pack of cigarettes lying nearby, and held the thin film of plastic to the man's wound. He says he heard the plastic instantly sucked tight to the man's body, and all of a sudden the victim drew his first deep breath -- the film had sealed the wound, temporarily giving the man a closed chest cavity again so that he could breathe. If it hadn't been for my dad's presence of mind, that man might not have lived, but instead, he was conscious and breathing when the paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital, where he received treatment for his injuries. And survived.

** ** ** ** **

When I was a little girl, I would beg my parents to read stories to me before bed. I was happy to hear my books read over and over, but my parents got bored soon enough, and one night, my dad decided he could tell just as good a story as any in a book. So he settled me under the covers and told the following tale.

Once upon a time, there was a princess. And she was a good princess, but sometimes she got bored in the castle. So one day she went outside to play. Her parents the king and queen told her to stay close to the castle, and she promised she would.

But she strayed a little far into the forest, and as she was walking, she heard a noise behind her. Boom, boom, boom, she heard. She turned around, but there was nobody there. Startled but brave, she kept walking, hoping she'd imagined it. 

Before long, she heard the noise again. Boom, boom, boom, she heard. Once again she whipped around, but there was nobody there. 

Scared now, the princess realized she didn't know the way home. She turned in the direction she thought would take her to the castle and started hurrying to get out of the forest. And then she heard it again. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! She turned around, and there, standing before her, was an enormous boogeyman. He had great sharp teeth and huge claws, and he was ready to eat her up.

The little princess whirled around and started running as fast as her legs would carry her. She could hear the boogeyman behind her, roaring that he would catch her. Quick as a flash, she ran up a big hill, and putting her shoulder against a huge boulder, she pushed with all her might. The boulder broke away, gathered speed and headed straight for the boogeyman, getting faster and faster as it rolled down the hill. And just as the princess had hoped, it rolled right over the boogeyman, and mushed him flat as a pancake. And so the princess went straight home, and never disobeyed her parents the king and queen again.

The end.

** ** ** ** **

Yes, every family has stories, and over the last month, I've told a number of mine. Now that National Blog Posting Month is over, I'm releasing myself from my self-imposed commitment to a daily post. But I've found that I like posting frequently, Internets, so I'm hoping that I can keep things fresh for you here at writesoftly. I do love feedback, so if you find yourself chuckling or sneering or wiping away tears or craving a Pizookie, leave me a comment to let me know.

And thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A world ago

We actually did exist before boy was born. I know it's hard to imagine (it is for ME), but I have evidence. 

What did we do, you ask? 

We took ski vacations.

We traveled to cool cities like Chicago.

We read books. That weren't written by Sandra Boynton or Dr. Seuss.

We got tan.

We took beach vacations.

We went to lots of weddings, and caught lots of bouquets (here we are at husband's brother and sister-in-law's wedding, and I'd just caught her flowers).

We went out to dinner.

We went out in nature, further away than our neighborhood.

We met celebrities. (Here I am with Dash Crofts, of Seals and Crofts.)

We went to grad school. (This is clearly on husband's graduation date and not mine.)

Then, when we learned a baby would be joining our family, ... we ate. And got kind of round. At least I did. But I was supposed to.

And we spent a lot of time touching The Belly.

We took artsy-fartsy photographs.

We slept. So we didn't have bags under our eyes.

And we were out in the world after 7 p.m. Here I am! And it's dark outside! Wow!

And as great as that life was, it doesn't hold a candle to this one.

I'm getting wiser by the minute

Things I've learned as a mother:
  • If you're working in the kitchen and you suddenly realize it's too quiet ... well, it's also too late.
  • Yes, he CAN reach your diet Coke where you left it on the end table.
  • You cannot make a kid stand up if he doesn't want to. It's frustrating and hilarious at the same time to try. 
  • You also cannot make a kid eat something he doesn't want to eat. Before boy, I used to think that when parents said, "She's such a picky eater -- I can't get her to eat XYZ," that they weren't trying hard enough. When I admitted to our pediatrician that I used to think this, he laughed until he had to sit down. There have been meals during which I've broken out in a real sweat trying to get boy to open his little pinched lips for just ONE MORE BITE OF PEAS, PLEASE, KID, JUST ONE. Nuh-uh. 
  • You can move swiftly through a bath, and read stories at a good clip, but you cannot rush a kid's actual falling-asleep process. Just take a deep breath and settle in for the count.
  • Breast milk doesn't stain.
  • Breast milk poo does.
  • Respect the baby's sleep at almost all costs. It's impossible to build your entire life around his early bedtime and his two naps a day, but everyone will be happier if you do your best to try to let him get the rest he needs. 
  • You bought a diaper disposal thingy. Use it. (This one's also known as, "If you put a dirty diaper in the rarely-used guest bathroom trash can and forget that it's there, no one will like you for it when it's discovered the following week.")
  • It's not necessary to always do the baby's laundry separately from the grown-ups' laundry. Actually, it's kind of fun to find tiny socks lurking in the corners of your t-shirts.
  • No one like to hear their baby yelling, but sometimes you've just gotta clean out that nose.
  • "Sleeping when the baby sleeps" may be the most over-used piece of baby advice ever, but it may save your sanity if your little one is not a good night-time sleeper. I've rediscovered the beauty of the nap.
  • Your parents are actually geniuses. You never understood them the way you should have. They are wellsprings of fantastic advice and insight.
  • You still don't want to turn into them. 
  • But you probably will, anyway.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Never again. Or at least, not for a long time.

Husband and I hosted 19 people for Thanksgiving dinner.

... ... ... [Still waiting for my award.]

On paper it sounded great and easy -- my dad and an aunt and uncle were handling turkeys, mom was doing mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy, plus pies, my brother and sister-in-law were handling a veggie tray with a local prized buttermilk ranch dipping sauce, and my other aunt and uncle were bringing a special family recipe of cauliflower in a delicious bechamel sauce. So I really only had to get the house ready and make a salad, plus appetizers.

Why do I have to make things complicated?

Here was the appetizer list: 1) Brie with crackers. Easy, right? Open the package of Brie and arrange crackers artfully around the cheese. 2) Mini-quiches. Once again, easy, because I decided to cut a few corners and buy frozen apps. AWESOME idea. 3) Deviled eggs, one of my personal specialties. 4) Goat cheese spread on bruschetta with olive tapenade, another one of my go-tos. For the salad, I decided to make a refreshing cucumber-edamame salad, with toasted almonds and asparagus and parsley in a zesty lime dressing. 

The problem with the above menu is that it requires some prep work that I should have done the day before. Boiling, peeling and preparing three dozen deviled eggs, chopping cucumbers, blanching asparagus and edamame, and mincing olives takes time. And on the day of a big dinner, time is what you don't have a lot of, if you have a ten-month-old. 

What was I doing the day before, you ask? I was stringing lights. When we celebrated our marriage in January of 2007, our reception had a snowflake/winter theme, and the kind souls at the reception hall agreed to hang strands of white icicle lights from the ceiling for us in loops and lines to create a starlit night effect. It was magical, and we had oodles of lights left over, so I decided to put them to use. I lined our second-floor banisters (visible from the first-floor family room) with icicle lights, and then suspended and crisscrossed the rest of the lights above the open family room itself, so that in the evening, the lights put off a gentle, sparkling glow. It was gorgeous. But that was only after I'd spent the afternoon first untangling nine strands of 300-count white icicle lights, testing them to ensure they were in good order, then devising a way to fasten them to the banisters and hang them above an open-ceilinged room, WITHOUT getting them tangled in the ceiling fan. 
By the time I got the lights hung, it was way too late in the day to get all the food prepped. So I went to bed at 1 a.m. after having done only about a fourth of it, thinking, "No prob. I got this covered in the morning." Trouble is, I forgot that in order for boy to nap, I'd have to be out of commission while I lay down with him. Stupid, stupid me. Foregoing his nap was out of the question, since we knew he'd be up later than usual, so there went almost two hours of precious prep time. 

Somehow, though, (read: with husband's generous and superhuman assistance) we got just about everything done before everyone arrived at 6 p.m. Sure, I didn't have any makeup on or my hair completely brushed (it was still semi-wet from a hasty shower and pulled up into a makeshift bun), but by God, the food was hot and tasty and artfully arranged on all-white platters and plates. 

Eggs were gobbled, quiches devoured, Brie attacked, veggies crunched, tapenade spooned. Drinks were served. Lights were admired. The baby was fussed over and passed around. And by the time we all sat down at the two tables set for nine and ten people, we were ... probably too full to do the food justice. But we gave it our best. 

And sitting at the kids' table, sweaty from running around and feeding mashed potatoes to an overtired baby while husband made sure everyone's drinks were refreshed, I realized that THAT was what Thanksgiving was all about. It's always been my favorite holiday, and I half-joke that it's because it's all about food, but that's not true. It's about family. It's about the people who will come over to your house and give you a hug with extra squeeze just because they're so happy for you that you're married and enjoying life as a new parent. It's about the fact that your dad will laugh heartily and sincerely over dinner at your house because he really likes your husband, after all, and maybe even loves him a little. It's about having your grandparents over to your home for the first time, and seeing that they share in your joy, and watching them hold their great-grandson with pride. It's about realizing in the moment before dinner that you have so much to be thankful for, that NOT being thankful would be truly shameful, and unfair to most of the world who don't have the chance to enjoy the things you probably take for granted. 

I am a lucky, lucky girl. Even though I still can't feel the tips of my fingers after peeling three dozen eggs.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

This is all you get for now.

More to come. I just hosted 19 people for Thanksgiving and they've left and I'm staring approximately 27 pounds of leftovers in the face. 

And my fridge is already full.

I will post more tomorrow. 

Happy turkey day. I'm grateful for Pepto-Bismol.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Five-sixths of a year

Dear boy,

How, exactly, did your daddy and I become the parents of a ten-month-old? We have no idea how it happened, and yet, here you are. Happy birthday, ten months ago.

Yet again, the last month has brought about amazing and exciting changes in your growth and development. Weighing in at a solid 19 pounds, you're a pound away from meeting the weight requirement to transitioning to a forward-facing car seat. It's a change we all await eagerly, probably no one more than you. I know I'd hate to be facing the rear of the vehicle anytime we went anywhere. I don't blame you, really, for melting down on long car rides.

One thing that hasn't changed, though, is your sleeping. You're still a challenge in that department, and something tells me you always will be. A typical night looks like this ... You're asleep in your crib at 6:40 p.m. You wake up and are nursed back to sleep at 7:20, 9, 11:15, and 2:50 a.m., going back into your crib each time. Each of those nursings takes between 10-30 minutes. (If I'm really lucky, you'll let me rock you to sleep in the big comfy chair in your room. For any other baby, this would probably constitute regression, but hey -- if you're falling asleep without nursing, I'll take it -- it's one step closer to falling asleep without me at all.) When you awaken again at 3:45 a.m. or so, I just give up and bring you downstairs to bed with us, an arrangement that leads to blissful semi-sound sleep for all of us until around 7:15 when you get up for the day. You are ROUGH on your momma, kid, but I am so over you crying in your room alone in the middle of the night, which we tried for several months. It just never really stuck, and since we were all miserable anyway, I figure this arrangement keeps you rested and happy, your daddy sleeping through the night so he can work and fund our play-filled lifestyle, and me ... well, I just nap with you when you do, and it's been fine. Someday, though, son, I have daydreams of sleeping longer than three and a half hours at a stretch. 

You've always enjoyed outings, but it seems as though you're more into being outside now than ever. Maybe it's because the weather has been so gorgeous, I don't know, but whatever the reason, we take more walks now and you love it every time. Even just getting the mail makes you so happy. And it's a mellow happy -- you usually lean back in your stroller and smile peacefully at the world around you. We discovered this weekend that it's a great way to calm you down before a nap, so at least through the fall and winter we may be on more outings than ever.

This month, you've been introduced to more solid foods. And not just baby food, but real food, table food like your mom and dad eat. Sort of. I don't know the last time I ever had zwieback toast, for instance, but you're loving the chance to munch on whatever we're having that's safe and relatively healthy. Your latest new foods include Pop-Tart crusts (which you adore -- it's gotten to the point now that when you see that silver foil package come out of the pantry, you start smacking your lips in anticipation), macaroni and cheese, pudding, Kix cereal, and even a tiny bite of a baked Cheeto. (Um, yeah -- I take back that part about being relatively healthy, but in our defense, you don't eat very much of the stuff I just listed. Except for maybe the Pop-Tarts.) You do swimmingly with anything bite-sized that we put into your mouth with our fingers, but lumpy food from a spoon still throws you for a loop. It's like you assume that if it's on a spoon, you can just swallow it without chewing it, and your gaggy faces are tremendously melodramatic. 

Another one of your favorite things is being naked. The fewer items of clothing you're wearing, the happier you are. This one, I really don't get. Your dad and I are modest people who aren't really into showing skin, so your love of the naturalist lifestyle is one that baffles us. Still, you're at an age where it's pretty much acceptable to appear en dishabille, so we're ok with it for now. We really only humor you right before bathtime, anyway. 

One of the most fun changes you've undergone lately is an even greater desire to converse with us, or even with yourself. You spend your playtime just chatting and babbling away to no one in particular, though it all gets cranked up a notch if we start answering you. You make sounds that could be the words, "momma," "da-da," "wow," "hey," "ball," and "teeth." We have no way of knowing if you're actually saying any of that and meaning it, which has been frustrating since I want to write SOMETHING in your baby book under "first word," but we'll just have to wait and see. 

It's been incredible to watch you get an appreciation for the reactions people have to your antics. Lately you've been doing things on purpose, just to get people to laugh at you.  You make "kh" noises, hoping someone will make them back at you to start a volley of throat-clearing. You watch someone leave the room, then bellow, "EHH!" at them until they answer with, "Hey!" To which you respond, "EHH!" and so forth.

And most recently, you've developed a new smile, which you bestow liberally upon us, as it causes us to laugh at you to no end.

Sweet baby, you are a delight and a miracle, a blessing and a joy. Even when I'm worn out from being up with you six or seven times a night, even when you're resisting bedtime just to play a little longer, even when you're giving me the silent treatment and a cold stare from your high chair because you REALLY don't want any more sweet potatoes, I have never loved life better than I do now, because I get to be your mommy. Sometimes, your dad and I just watch you as you play, your relatively big and beautifully round noggin balanced on your impossibly slim little neck, and we marvel at how perfect you are, how funny you've grown, how astoundingly much we love you.

I will ALWAYS share my Pop-Tarts with you.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Home, sweet home

When I met husband, he was a mid-twenty-something mechanical engineer, living in a one-bedroom apartment near his company's field office. Every room in that apartment opened off the living space -- there was not a single hallway. It was big enough for one, sure, but not what you'd call "roomy." That tiny apartment will always be beautiful to me in memory, because it's where we spent our time in the process of falling in love. Even now when I drive by the complex on the freeway, I smile.

Shortly after we met, husband was promoted and started a new job at his company's headquarters building downtown. He and his brother moved into a spacious three-bedroom apartment closer to the center of town. The apartment was a definite step up in terms of style and space, and his brother and I got along very well. And yet I mourned that tiny one-bedroom apartment I'd known and loved, and where I felt so safe. There in that little space, husband (who was still "boyfriend" at the time) and I were the lord and lady of the manor. We called all the shots from what to have for dinner to how late to hang out until I left for home, to what movie to rent on a Friday night. It was just the two of us, and I was terrified that his move would mean a loss of privacy for us. To complicate matters, when I first arrived at the new apartment to visit after work one day, husband's brother's girlfriend had already unpacked all the common areas and decorated with things I'd never seen before. It definitely didn't feel like "our" space, and I missed that sense of security and safety I'd come to depend on. 

It wasn't long before that apartment felt like my home away from home as well, though -- as I soon learned, wherever husband was always ended up feeling that way for me. He and his brother lived there for two years, and then husband decided to build a home in the suburbs. He graciously asked for and accepted my input on all aspects of the new house -- from floor plan to elevation, cabinets and countertops, paint and brick, tile and carpet. Whatever was picked was what we'd chosen together -- even though it wasn't my home, I wouldn't be living there, and I wasn't contributing a cent to the place. At the time it felt perfectly natural, and only now, looking back, can I fully appreciate how truly committed to one another we were, felt and acted. 

All the design decisions made and paperwork signed, construction began late in 2001. Early one morning before work, husband made the drive from his apartment to the lot of his future home, and in the wee hours he stood at the foundation of his home and tossed into the wet cement of his slab a time capsule. In the package were some pictures of the two of us and a letter we'd written the week before. 

I have a copy of it still. It's dated November 13, 2001. And I remember sitting at the dining room table, crying as I wrote it. Is it a silly letter? In some ways, yes ... but in ways I'm not ashamed of. Is it a dishonest letter? Not anymore, but it was at that point -- as you'll see, I wrote it as if husband and I were already married, which we would not be for another five long years. But we trusted so completely in that outcome, knew so surely that we were right for one another, that it seemed to make perfect sense to assume we'd be married and living together in one home at some point in the near future. 
This slab at [address] was poured on November 14, 2001. If you are reading this, know that once upon a time, two people lived in this home who loved each other very much. [Husband] and I have been together for exactly 26 months today, and are completely devoted to one another. Our love is a gift from God, and we are united in all aspects of our lives by His grace and His will. With His blessing, we know that our love will continue to illumine our lives, and will shine into the next world. Reader, know that once upon a time, two people fell in love deeply, completely. I know that [husband] is my heart, my soul, the answer to every prayer I have ever uttered. Thank God he feels the same way about me. 

We are two children of God, with one faith, one love, one purpose, one dream -- to live lives of kindness, joy, generosity and love. 

Wherever we are in this world or the next, know that we are rejoicing in God and in one another, always and equally.

** ** **

That's it. I don't know that anyone will ever find and read the original letter. I don't know if it even survived the process of the cement curing around it as the slab hardened. But it doesn't really matter if it did, because in my mind and in my heart, it's there. Husband carefully placed it in the corner of the house where the master bedroom would be, and so now as I get ready for bed, I think of that letter sometimes, quietly and forever declaring our connection to one another, literally making up the foundation of our days. 

Sometimes we talk about our next home, and what it will be like. There are things about this home that aren't perfect -- the air conditioning units outside are right by the master bedroom window and they're LOUD ... and all the ceramic tile we so carefully chose means that you can hear pretty much any noise in the house from any room -- and we know better now what we need in the physical layout of a home. But leaving this one will break my heart someday. This is the first place I ever lived away from my parents. This is where I was married -- right here in front of the hearth, with a few family members and close friends in attendance, smiling through tears at the culmination of years of patience and love and faith and hard, hard work together. This is where I spent my pregnancy with boy, where I had a home office I worked diligently from at a career I enjoyed and at which I had grown skilled, where I brought my son from the hospital. Someday soon (too, too soon), this is where boy will take his first steps, utter his first words. Maybe the Tooth Fairy will visit him here for the first time. I think of leaving this place and it's as if I am contemplating removing one of my limbs -- it's such a part of me, of us, of my little family. 

And yet, I know that wherever my favorite man and boy are, that will be my home, surely. I know that wherever we make our address, we will worship God there together, and He will protect us, and we will trust in that protection and feel grateful for His myriad blessings. So when someday comes, I'll be ready. 

I'm just glad it's not today.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Money matters

Before I left my consulting career to stay at home with boy, I was a little worried. I'd talked to a few women who said that they found being at home after becoming accustomed to lots of professional interaction to be on the stagnant side -- that they missed the constant challenges of work and clients, the stimulation of their colleagues, the constructive pressures of the fast track. I also wondered what it would be like to suddenly stop contributing financially to our marriage and family -- I'd been working and sharing in family expenses since I was seventeen, so the change in my role from breadwinner to at-home caregiver was one about which I fretted a bit. 

I knew what I DIDN'T want to happen. I didn't want to regret leaving my professional role. I didn't want to feel like less of a contributor to our family in any way. I didn't want to feel like I'd lost a voice in how we spent what we earned. And I didn't want to feel like I had to get purchases approved by husband.

As it turned out, we handled the change in finances the way we've handled everything else -- with lots of open and honest communication. We've agreed that for major purchases, we'll consult with each other, no matter who's doing the actual spending, and we've each been true to our word. Regular "maintenance" purchases don't require such scrutiny, and once a month we look over our expenses together to make sure we're on track and in line (husband is a big one for Microsoft Money, Excel spreadsheets and categorizing expenses -- it makes reporting really easy). One unexpected change that's come of me being a stay-at-home mom is that I've suddenly gotten in touch with my inner thrifty self. I was never the one of us who questioned expenses with, "Do we really need that?" or vetoed a suggestion to eat out, but now I find myself in the role of expense manager, and I like that I've found a new way to contribute positively to our finances -- by helping us continue to be smart about how we're spending what comes in. I'm proud of this new hat I'm wearing, and I take it seriously. I think we've drastically reduced our eating-out expenses since boy was born. We even take time, three or four times a year, to discuss upcoming expected purchases and prioritize them, like updating furniture in the office, acquiring a hutch for the dresser in the nursery, planning for Christmas gifts, etc. Sure, we'll splurge now and then (um, hello? I got a MacBook for my birthday), but largely we're making one income work out for us without our savings having to suffer for it -- an accomplishment I am happy to attribute to husband's careful planning and our shared commitment to me being with boy every day.

And my career? There are things about it I miss, like the amazingly talented people I worked with. I learned so much from working alongside all of them, and they weren't just smart, they were fun. Not having a regular chance to interact with them is a definite "minus", but the "plus"es of being at home with boy far outweigh it and the few others on that short list. One of my former colleagues said, "Being a stay at home mom is the toughest job you'll ever love," and she was absolutely right. And another wise coworker told me I'd never regret it, and I believe that's true. I certainly haven't so far. 

How could I possibly?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Why did I agree to post every day in November, again?

Last night was like most other nights. We put boy to bed, we ate something random that involved thawing and heating food out of the freezer that someone (or something) else had cooked at some previous date, we cleaned up the kitchen, we decompressed in front of the TV upstairs (or husband did, while I tooled around online). Out of nowhere, in the flickering light of the television, husband turned to me and said the sweetest thing I can remember hearing in a very long time.

"You know? Before I met you, when I used to imagine being married -- having a wife -- I never knew it could be THIS good."

Which, of course, made me cry. But it was the good kind.

He's right, though. I didn't know it could be this good, either. We laugh so much. We have each other in stitches almost every day. There are some couples or families we know who always say they worry what life will be like when one of them retires from work, because they're not used to being together and wonder if they will get on each other's nerves. I think that's totally normal and understandable ... but that's not who we are together. We're that annoying couple who can't find ENOUGH time to be together. 

There's so much about my life now that's better than I ever imagined. Sometimes the abundance of blessings I've been given scares me. I imagine God looking down and saying, "Whoa, that girl really made out like a bandit, didn't she? How did I let that happen?! Time to balance things out a bit." 

Just to make sure you don't get a toothache from all the sweetness in this post, I'll leave you with a smattering of gripes. It's been a while since I brought you ...

Things I hate (a list)
  • Having a cold. It's the first thing boy's ever shared with me. GREAT.
  • When you open a bag of chips and there's nothing but SHARDS. How'm I supposed to dip a sliver of tortilla chip into salsa without getting my fingers all onion-y? 
  • When you've just poured milk on cereal and then the phone rings, and it's a call you HAVE to take. Bye-bye, breakfast. 
  • People who say, "irregardless" and think they sound smart.
  • When the radio's on really softly in the car, and you start humming or singing along, and after a minute or so you finally turn it up, and you realize you were in the wrong key the entire time.
  • When you're talking to someone and they keep touching their nose, and you wonder if they're trying to tell you something about the state of YOUR nose or if they just have an itch. Sometimes I lose my train of thought entirely, trying to puzzle it out. 
  • Most commercials during a DVRd show.
  • The hype over the recent Twilight books and movie. I read the first one. It was ok. I'm probably the only female in America who will admit that it wasn't AMAZING.
  • Apps that make my iPhone crash.
  • When the cookies are gone.
  • Junk mail. How many coupons from Bed, Bath and Beyond can one person use?
And with that, I'm off to bed. Pass the NyQuil, please. 

Friday, November 21, 2008

Rinsed immediately in cold water, squash-splattered clothes will not stain. Apparently.

Boy has a cold. 

It's not his first one, but it's the one with the most intense symptoms so far. He spends his days alternating between happy playtime, and furious nose-rubbing accompanied by whines of discomfort and frustration. The face-rubbing usually results in a sticky sheen of nastiness coating his cheeks and eyebrows, and the only thing that pisses him off more than having a runny nose is having his runny nose wiped. For a while, I was trying to wipe up every little appearance of glistening moisture, until I realized that his little sniffer was getting red and sore. Now, I clean him up only when I hear him smacking his lips as if he's actually tasting the river of slime that pours down his upper lip. Then, or when he moves toward the upholstered furniture. (Call me crazy, but I prefer my sofa uncrusted.)

As if the downpour wasn't bad enough, I can hear the congestion rattling around in his sinuses when he breathes, a fact that must be distinctly uncomfortable for someone who doesn't yet have the coordination to blow his nose or clear his throat. When he nurses, I can make out the sound of a phlegm-coated epiglottis closing and opening as he swallows, and I find myself clearing my throat reflexively, hoping it'll inspire him to give it a try. (So far, no dice.)

One of the unfortunate side effects of all that drainage is, I assume, nausea -- if today's mealtime was any indication. Boy loves squash, and we were wrapping up a delicious serving of his favorite veggie when ... GACK. There it was -- the gag that says, "Um, that's about enough." Normally I stop there and all's good -- he gets a sip of water, and it's over. Just as I was reaching for the sippy cup, though, I heard another sound -- that particularly deep belch that precedes a laundry load in the making. And there it was -- three and a half ounces of pureed and now partially digested squash, on boy's bib, clothes, high chair, arm, leg, the tile floor, and my beige sweater. 

Where do you start, when there's a dazed baby staring at you coated in his own lunch? Which he'd already eaten? You want to clean up his face first, but he's waving a squash-colored arm at you and flapping it frantically as if to say, "eeeeeeuuuuuu, this is waaaaaaarm," so you attack the arm, but now he's rubbing his eyes and the squash on his bib has found its way into his hair. You're worried about the squash on the grout of the tile floor (will it stain?), you're wondering whether he got squash on the nylon high chair straps which your mother JUST cleaned when she visited (he did), and you're trying to remember how to detach the high chair seat cover and what the washing instructions are (undo the velcro tabs at each corner, and wash in cold, tumble dry low). 

So you dab, and you scoop, and you mop and you change and you add stain remover and you start a load in the washer. And you realize all of a sudden that though you have always been squeamish around vomit (you were the one who had to leave the room when even the Fear Factor commercial came on TV, and the one who always gets irritated when someone on MTV is hung over and getting sick on camera), you just managed to deal with three-and-a-half-ounces of spread-around regurgitated squash without once thinking it was gross. 

You, my friend, are officially a mother.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

There are six French words in this post.

When I was in high school, I participated several times in an event called Math Relay. (Are you getting a mental image of the nerd-tastic kid I was? Believe me, whatever you're thinking, it was actually worse.) Students were organized into teams. Each team had four levels: algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus. The relay started with a problem being handed to the algebra group. Once they'd solved their problem, they took their numerical answer and handed it to the geometry group, who would USE that answer in THEIR problem, and so on. The idea, clearly, was that the first team to get all the way through all levels of math correctly was the winner, but if you got the answer wrong at the end, you had to figure out which team had worked their problem incorrectly, and start over from there. 

(Adding to the nerdiness, Math Relay was an extracurricular event each year, which meant that if you wanted to participate, you had to get to school earlier than usual to do so. Are you getting this? I got up extra early, foregoing SLEEP, to do math I DIDN'T HAVE TO DO. Yes. My social life was bangin', let me tell you. Anyway, I digress.)

The point is that it wasn't the math so much that I liked about it. It was the tidiness of it all. ONE answer per level. And it had to be right, or the whole scheme was thrown off. 

In college, I tried my hand at a major that tidy: Accounting. No one benefitted from that experience. When I wised up, I changed majors and started taking more English classes at one time than was smart or reasonable. The joy! Reading as homework! I could do it while in bed! My bliss was tempered only by the fact that there was no longer just one neat, boxed answer to every question. Now, I had to deconstruct written materials, only to piece them together again in a new way. Now, I had to create a thesis and prove that it was founded. This was tougher, but it was still orderly -- take a stab at an idea, and if you can find enough supporting material to fill a 10-12 page paper, voila! Done. Neat enough for me.

Business school followed. More of the same, just with less interesting reading materials. A career in consulting resulted. The more experience I gained in consulting, the more I realized it, too, could be very tidy -- there were demographics to consider, target audiences to analyze, market research to conduct, test messages to float, results to compile, focus groups to lead. All that data! I spent my days tapping edges into place on stacks of papers, it was all so clean and squared. 

And then -- boy.

There is no order in being pregnant. One of the first things I said to husband after we saw two pink lines on the stick was, "I need BOOKS." I went out and bought all of them. I mean it. I bought so many that I have a whole section in my personal library now that I can call "procreation-related." And I knew that no one has a textbook pregnancy, that no one has a sitcom moment when their water breaks and hilarity ensues, etc. But I did expect my pregnancy to go SOMETHING like the books said. The only things that happened that were textbook were that my morning sickness eventually went away and I got bigger. That was it. Everything else was unique. Blow number one to my preference for order and neatness. Quel dommage!

There is also nothing orderly about labor and delivery. You know you can't predict how it will be, and you know you can't choose how you'll deliver, but you PREPARE for the labor and delivery you expect. We even wrote up a birth preference sheet detailing what we were shooting for, and the choices we'd made (for instance, not to offer me pain meds, that I'd ask for them if necessary; that we were hoping to avoid a surgical birth; etc.). Once boy was born, husband happened upon a copy of the sheet. After glancing over it, he said, "I think we might as well have physically opened up a window and thrown this out of it." Our birth was almost nothing like we'd hoped and planned for. C'est la vie.

And of course, motherhood and parenting is the antithesis of orderly or neat. Not only are the visceral details messy (I'm typing with at least two bodily fluids on my shoulder right now, neither of them mine), the emotional and psychological intricacies are astounding. How do you devote everything that you are to this incredibly demanding job without losing your sense of identity? How do you make sense of the fact that life as you knew it is over and gone, and then move forward to a new life you've never been able to truly envision? "It's all about balance," people say. "You figure out what parts of you you MUST preserve, and you honor and protect those parts in your new life, while you grow and change." Perfect. Wonderful. But HOW?

It's been almost ten months since boy was born, and I'm still struggling with the answers to those questions. There are things about my old life I miss -- the ease of it, the spontaneity I didn't even know I was practicing. I miss being out in the world after 7 p.m. I miss dancing. I miss really only ever having to worry about me -- what *I* wanted to eat, do, see, learn. And yet this new life is enchanting. I get to spend all day every day with the coolest, most amazing and most delightful kid I've ever met, watching the wheels turn in his tremendous mind, watching him piece things together for himself and apply learned skills to new situations. I get to see him experience things for the first time ever, things I take for granted -- ceiling fans, the first cold wind of winter on his ruddy cheeks, a taste of lemon on his lower lip. And it's like starting over again in all the good ways. 

Maybe I'm making it too complicated. I have the feeling that the choices we make aren't really conscious at all, but just what emerges when we start living our new lives. If I'm not dancing right now, it means I've chosen not to make dancing a priority, after all. So what does the life I'm living say my priorities are? 

I get up in the night every time boy cries, abandoning our past attempts to let him cry himself to sleep. To me, that means I'm trying not to let him feel unnecessary discomfort. 

I devote the whole of my days to his care, usually getting him dressed before me, feeding him before I eat, putting him to bed long before I go to sleep myself. I hope that means I'm making sure his needs are met (sometimes at the unnecessary expense of my own, some might say).

I take boy on walks even though I hate being outside. I feed him veggies I find distasteful, as long as he'll eat them. I don't drink Coke anymore because the caffeine affects his sleep.

On the whole, I hope all this means I'm putting boy first. And I can definitely live with that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Same planet, different worlds.

You know how people say, "Having a baby changes everything"? Well, it's true. Even your vocabulary changes. More accurately, the same words you USED to use now mean totally different things. 

date night:
  • pre-baby meaning: Going out to dinner and maybe a movie with your spouse, to return home in the wee hours after an enjoyable stretch of time away from home.
  • post-baby meaning: Eating macaroni and cheese with real silverware between baby-feedings in the evening. 
having a good day:
  • pre-baby meaning: Shopping for a wedding shower, then stopping at Starbucks before heading home.
  • post-baby meaning: Taking a shower, then stopping to brush your hair before it dries snarly.
  • pre-baby meaning: The systematic and careful removal of dead skin cells through the use of loofahs, scrubs and lotions to reveal a smooth, healthy, radiant glow.
  • post-baby meaning: Isn't that what toweling off is for?
sleeping in:
  • pre-baby meaning: Saturday and Sunday mornings with awakenings after 10 a.m.
  • post-baby meaning: Arising with the baby at 7:50 instead of 7:25.
  • pre-baby meaning: Sitting quietly, listening to music or reading a book, enjoying a serene environment.
  • post-baby meaning: Sitting down. Ever.
going to bed:
  • pre-baby meaning: The time of the evening when you get into your bed and SLEEP. For, like, six or seven hours straight.
  • post-baby meaning: The time of the evening when you first starting taking a series of two-hour naps until morning.
watching a movie:
  • pre-baby meaning: Going to a theater, selecting one of a variety of feature films to watch, purchasing concessions, viewing trailers, enjoying a two-hour show and then driving home.
  • post-baby meaning: What's a movie?
beauty regimen:
  • pre-baby meaning: The process of making yourself presentable for the day, involving showering, moisturizing, blow-drying, make-up, perfume and tailored clothing.
  • post-baby meaning: The process of making yourself presentable for the day, which may involve brushing your teeth. Hair brushing is optional.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pounds per square inch

Almost all the breastfeeding moms I know admit that within a surprisingly short period of time, they come to think of their formerly sexy bodily assets as little more than utilitarian tools for baby-feeding. As a result, you'll rarely find a group more comfortable talking about body parts than nursing mothers. But I understand that not all of you out there may be so sanguine. For the sake of this post, then, let us refer to the two pieces of equipment with which I feed boy as "Thelma" and "Louise." Agreed? We shall proceed.

You all already know, Internets, that boy has a thing about sleeping soundly. Meaning, he doesn't really do it. We're currently in the mode of getting up approximately every two hours for nursing during the night. I know for a fact he's not really starving each time -- he doesn't nurse like he means business, just wants to get in a snuggle and get back to sleep the best and most effective way he knows how. So for now, I'm trudging up and down the steps six or seven times a night. Not only is it not really fun, it makes for some groggy feeds in the wee hours. And that's why I wasn't sure that this really happened at first.

You should know this: To help keep boy in full-on "sleep" mode, I enter his room, lift him from his crib, walk to the rocking chair, nurse him, and then lower his sleeping self back into the crib -- ALL IN TOTAL DARKNESS. Advanced night vision is one of those many skills that a) no one tells you you NEED when you have a baby, and b) you develop in a hurry if you don't already have it. Even so, visibility is murky at best, especially when the streetlight on our corner is acting up (which it's been doing). 

A few nights ago, at one of those fuzzy am-I-really-awake-again feedings, I was helping boy wrap up his time with Thelma so I could shift him to Louise for round two. In the dark, I lifted him up, turned him the necessary 180 degrees, and got him settled again. As he started in for the second half of his midnight snack, I felt a pain emanating from Thelma's neighborhood. Since boy's been teething, this was not really a big deal, but it was sharper than it had been. Geez, I thought. This kid's picking NOW to start really biting me? He doesn't know how good he's got it or how tenuous his situation is here. Good Lord, that really smarts. I checked to make sure boy was comfortably settled, then reached over to Thelma to see if maybe she was bleeding or something. That's when I felt The Pincer Grip.

Apparently, just nursing at night wasn't enough for boy. He felt the need to keep a GRIP on Thelma when he slid over to Louise's bar stool for the remainder of his evening. With his TINY POINTY FINGERS. Very HARD, I might add. It was like trying to nurse a Dungeness crab. 

I disengaged his killer grip from Thelma, and quickly adjusted my clothing to ensure he wouldn't make a grab for her again. I'd heard of biting the hand that feeds you, but good grief -- pinching the nip? That's too much. 

The next day, I wasn't entirely sure I hadn't dreamed the whole thing. But when night fell, sure enough -- my crustacean was at it again. And now I find that if I don't play a most undignified game of cover-up as soon as I can after round one is over, I'm in danger of personal space invasion of the most painful order. 

And someday when he's sixteen, I'm telling his girlfriend all about it. In front of him. Maybe even with hand gestures. 

I bet he'll love that.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Under the wire

It's late, the baby's been up five time since 7 p.m., once for over an hour, and I still have to fold laundry. But lest you stress that there will be nothing to peruse ...

Here at WriteSoftly, we aim to please.

Check out these two posts from a hilarious guy I've never met. Jon Rahoi seems to me to be, from the look of his site, an amazingly interesting world traveler fluent in many languages. The upside of this? He's able to bring us Manglish (mangled English) from all over the world. 

Here, he's in Jordan.
And my all-time favorite -- from the Far East. (Be warned -- colorful language ensues.)

Back tomorrow!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A patchwork quilt of a post

If you keep up with our travel adventures and heard about our latest trial, you should know that the drive home was only slightly better than the drive out of town. We adjusted our plans and left for home at about 2:30 p.m., so it wasn't dark and boy wasn't worn out, two major factors (we surmise) from the debacle of our trip on the way out. This time around, boy slept for a wonderful, magical, sweet 35 minutes, and spent most of the balance of the car ride in tears. We were better equipped to deal with the crying this time, and handed him an entire assortment of strange playthings, one by one, to distract him, thus minimizing the shrieks as much as possible. At one point, he had played with and cast off the following:
  • An empty Cheetos bag
  • An Ozarka water bottle
  • My Hallmark Gold Crown card
  • A random piece of paper from the glove compartment, which I'm pretty sure was part of my car's original retail sticker
  • An unused, fresh diaper (hey, it bought us almost 20 minutes -- don't judge me)
When we finally got him home and into the house, he plopped down in his play area and crawled so eagerly to his toy box to play, his cheeks still tear-stained and wet from the car ride. And we realized that three-plus hours in the car is a lot to ask of a nine-and-a-half month old. Heck, *I* look forward to stopping to stretch my legs, and I'm not strapped into one position and facing the rear of the car. Poor kid. I think we'll be keeping road trips to a minimum at least until we can get him into a forward-facing car seat. 

*** *** ***

The LAST time we went to see my in-laws, we stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel, that safe haven of Americana and country crafts. I'd actually never been to one (good Lord, I'm pretty sure I just heard your collective gasp, Internets), so when we saw the sign up ahead, and simultaneously developed a craving for chicken-fried steak, we shrugged and figured, why not

Our meal was fine, nothing special really -- I had some kind of chicken salad/tuna salad combo, having resisted the Fried Brown Plate of Cardiac Doom -- but what remains in my mind is our stop to pay at the register on the way out. Lurking innocently near the cash register (and looking, I might add, a little worse for all the plastic surgery) was the face of none other than Kenny Rogers on some compilation album. 

Now, you may remember me saying some time ago that I knew all the words to "Coward of the County" and "The Gambler" as a kid. But it had been forever since I'd heard them. Husband's parents were also fans of Kenny Rogers in husband's youth, so we topped off our apple-pie of a restaurant experience with the purchase of Kenny Rogers' biggest chart-toppers, "plus three new tracks that are destined to become your favorites." (Not so much, really.) We trundled ourselves out to the car, broke into the plastic wrap on the CD (a CD!! Really! A physical, shiny CD! That was a throwback experience in and of itself in our new iTunes-centric world.) and popped that sucker in, ready to introduce boy to the magic country stylings of Mr. Kenny Rogers himself.

"Coward of the County" started up, and I jumped right into the song with gusto, chiming in with husband as we drove around. And you know what I realized? It freaking creeps me out that I knew the words to that violent, disturbing song at such a young age (I remember singing it as young as eight or nine years old). Have you ever really listened to the words of that song? So, Tommy's the coward of the county, his daddy died in prison (of COURSE) and told Tommy on his deathbed that he didn't have to fight to be a man. And Tommy never does, so he's never proven the county wrong. The stage is set.
There's someone for everyone,
And Tommy's love was Becky
In her arms, he didn't have to prove he was a man
One day while he was working
The Gatlin boys came callin'
They took turns at Becky ... and there was three of them.
Just like that -- in the space of one stanza, we've met Tommy's love, learned her name, and witnessed her attack. The fact that Kenny Rogers doesn't sing that last phrase, but speaks it in a quietly emphatic way makes it even more chilling. I'm completely serious when I say -- tongue is not in cheek here -- that stanza gives me goosebumps. And I sang this as a nine-year-old?!

And it doesn't end there. Tommy finds out what happened, and seeks out Becky's attackers.
The Gatlin boys all laughed at him when he walked into the barroom
One of them got up and met him halfway across the floor
When he turned around they said, "Hey look, old Yeller's leavin'!"
But you could have heard a pin drop when Tommy stopped and locked the door.
Twenty years of crawlin' was bottled up inside him
He wasn't holding nothing back -- he let 'em have it all
When Tommy left the barroom, not a Gatlin boy was standin'
He said, "This one's for Becky," as he watched the last one fall.
More goosebumps. And then we got into a long debate about whether or not Tommy had killed those dastardly Gatlin boys. I'd always assumed that he beat them up -- the song just says they weren't "standin' ", that he watched them fall. I figured they were knocked out cold. But husband claims Tommy killed them (which, if this were the case, the editor in me thinks the line should have been, "When Tommy left the barroom, not a Gatlin heart was beatin' " or "not a Gatlin boy was breathin' " maybe, or something similar). 

Anyway, the song's been haunting me ever since we bought that damn CD. I gotta admit, that Kenny Rogers sure knows how to get in your dome.

*** *** *** *** ***

Hey, final random thought -- I'm getting better as a photographer. And clearly, my favorite subjects? Husband and boy.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

187 miles

Q. How long does it take to drive 187 miles with a SCUH-REAMING baby in the backseat the entire time?
A. Can you please shove this pencil into my eye? It would be faster.

The last time we drove out of town to visit my in-laws, we did the drive at night. We left at boy's bedtime and he was fantastic, snoozing almost the whole way, waking up as we pulled into their neighborhood to giggle and charm them, then going sweetly back to sleep. So we thought, a mere eight weeks later, that that strategy would work again this weekend.

We could not have been more wrong. Seriously. We were so very, intensely, painfully wrong.

At 7:25 on Friday night, we loaded boy and all his various trappings into the car, and set out for our drive. At 7:45, he started crying after almost dozing off. We dutifully pulled over, I nursed him a bit to calm him down, and then we got him rebuckled in and set out again, this time with me sitting in the backseat so I could entertain or comfort him if necessary. The waterworks began anew. Husband and I sang, talked, pleaded, peekaboo'd, made silly faces and noises at and generally did everything in our power to soothe boy. He was having none of it.

With an hour to go, we stopped again and pulled a sweaty, angry boy out of the car seat. We changed his diaper, gave him a fresh set of clothes and got him grinning and happy once more. The microsecond that his seat belt buckles came up around his arms, the ear-piercing shrieks started up yet again. Knowing that he was just generally pissed off and very tired, and not wet, hungry, in pain or sick, we decided to push through the last hour no matter how much he cried. What else could we do? Taking him out of the seat wasn't an option. Not only would it have been illegal, it would have been unsafe as hell. 

Here's a sampling of what was going through my mind from 9:55 to 10:50 p.m. CST on Friday night:
Please fall asleep, poor kid, you've been up since 3 p.m. today. How are you not sleeping?! How can you cry so loud for so long? What time is it? Geez, only 9:58. Maybe we should just camp here in the car. Sleep here tonight and drive the rest of the way in the morning. So what if we're between tiny towns and there are no lights and semi trucks are roaring by? It can't be THAT dangerous. Holy crap, that scream was loud. I think he's going hoarse. I wonder how husband's taking this. His knuckles on the steering wheel look so white that they're transparent. I'm pretty sure I can make out his bones and cartilage. And his lips are compressed so tightly that I can't make out the outline of his mouth at all. Hmm, better not talk to him right now. Not that he could hear me. What time is it? 10:01, Lord have mercy on all of us. I'm pretty sure I can feel new wrinkles developing on my face this instant. Whoops, gotta un-dig my fingernails from my palm, I guess that's why my hands were aching. Maybe we can just move in with the in-laws and never have to make the drive home again. There's really nothing at the house I HAVE to have -- I've got husband, the baby, my iPhone and my MacBook. That wedding photo album was really heavy anyway, and besides, I remember what I looked like. And it's not like I was ever going to wear the wedding dress again, we could just sell it with the house. Whattimeisitnow? TEN OH EIGHT OHMYGOD.
It was not the best road trip we've ever had.

By the time we pulled into my parents-in-laws' driveway and I hopped into the backseat to liberate my I-am-so-over-all-of-this son from his personal hell, I was shocked to find that not only had he cried himself into a sweaty frenzy again and was dripping and soaked, he'd also worked himself up so much that he was trembling in fury and exhaustion. I have never felt so bad for him, ever. We plucked him up, held him tight to us and tried to calm him down. It took about 10 minutes before he was even calm enough to look anyone in the face, and even longer to make him smile (which is not like him at all -- he's a sunny kid, usually), but eventually we cleaned him up, settled him in bed with us and got him to fall asleep. 

And by then, I was so overtaxed that I was awake from 3-4:30 a.m., tense. Thank God for the iPhone and Sol Free Solitaire.

We're hoping he weathers the drive back home more smoothly. We're definitely not leaving at bedtime again. 

That's apparently ONE method he's outgrown. Got it, boy -- we read you on that one.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Things you take for granted before you have a baby:
  • Sleep. Uninterrupted sleep. Carefree sleep. Glorious, sexy, enchanting sleep. 
  • Taking a shower without fail every day, rather than when it is no longer an option NOT to. 
  • The simplicity of a road trip free from breaks for nursing, diaper changes, car seat liberation and the purchase of anything crinkly that will keep him happy because KID I SWEAR IT'S JUST TWENTY MORE MINUTES.
  • Your parents. Your poor, tired, self-sacrificing, worry-ridden parents, for whom you feel a new and lasting bond.
  • Sleeping through thunderstorms.
  • Shaving your legs whenever you feel like it, rather than when the friction of your hairy legs on the sheets in bed starts small household fires.
  • Finishing a meal while your food's still even a little bit warm.
  • Finishing a meal without bending at the waist eighty-seven times to pick up a dropped toy.
  • Walking through your living room without fear of stepping on a block in the dark.
  • Leaving the house to go to the grocery store without diapers, wipes, toys, a seat cover for the shopping cart, a Baby Bjorn carrier, a car seat, an infant, and a list that contains things like, "something that will occupy him in the tub."
Things that make it all worth it:

Everything about this guy.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Nonverbal communication

A peek into boy's stream of consciousness during mealtime.

Hm, what's it gonna be today? The trouble with not being able to talk is you can never make a meal request. Pleasenotpeaches, pleasenotpeaches, pleasenotpeaches ... YES, bananas. I can handle that. Mmm, these are good. They're so good that I feel like buzzing my lips. Think I'll do it ... now. Direct hit! Bananas on mom's glasses. Gah, I've gotten so good at that it's not even fun anymore.

Hey, wait, she didn't give me anything to bang on my tray while I eat. Time to boycott. I'll just lean way over and stare at the floor without letting her get to my mouth for a few seconds. ... Gotta be patient. This maneuver requires some stamina. Staring at the floor, staring at the floor ... Score. A whisk AND a sealed plastic container. Oooh, I like how they sound when I hit 'em together. I wonder how this whisk tastes ... hmmm, kinda like bananas. Whoops, left a little something on the whisk. Right in the middle of all the wires, where the dishwasher won't get it ... I oughtta be able to taste that again next time, good.

Ok, she put something else on my tray, what is this? Oh, those little crunchy puff things. Bland, but I like how they get really soggy when I gum 'em. Time to tuck 'em away for later -- let's see, I'll just put one here, under the highchair seat cushion. She'll never find it here. And then I'll hold these six until they get good and sticky in my fingers, then, time to scratch my head! I like it when my hair smells like strawberry apple puffs. Nothing like taking your breakfast with you, kinda like one for the road.

Geez, these bananas are thick and sludge-y. Where's my sippy cup? Do we really have to go through this every time I want a drink of cold water, woman? Fine, if you won't have it ready, I'll have to do the whole gagging rigamarole to get it from you. Ready? GACK. I love how fast she hops up. GACK. Oooh, look at her run. GAAAAACK. FINALLY. Thank you. Aaaah, much better.

Alright, I've had about enough of this stuff. Will whining get you to stop offering it to me? Apparently not. How about arching my back and pushing against the seat back? No? Time to bring out the big guns. Ok, gotta wait for the spoon to come toward me ... then SWIPE to get it on my hands (check), and now the finale -- the eye and nose rub! Aaaaaand it's everywhere! 

And just like that, mealtime's over. Who needs to talk when you can get so much to go your way without a single word?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Loser shuffles.

As you've heard me mention before, boy isn't the best sleeper you've ever met. It takes a lot of work to get him to sleep, and to keep him sleeping throughout the night. It has since day one -- it's just the way he's put together. Most nights after we get him in bed, then, we have to stick close to home (at least, my upper chest does), so it's a pretty standard routine we have of dinner, showers, a DVRd episode of The Office, maybe, and bed, with blogging or bill-paying thrown in when necessary. 

I was expecting the same tonight, but my husband (who always seems to know just how to make me happy -- he has a knack for it) interrupted me at dinner to say, "Hey, after we eat tonight, let's sit on the floor in the living room and play cards."

I paused. And raised my eyebrows. "Wha ... ? Why?"

He shrugged. "I dunno. I guess I figure we stare at computers enough as it is. Let's do something fun."

And the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea.

So we wrapped up our dinner and headed for the family room. I dug out a couple decks of cards (standard playing cards, plus a deck of Uno cards just in case things got really crazy) and we plopped down to play. 

When two people have a baby, they tend to act like grown-ups most of the time. They work and earn money, they commute to and from offices, they change the baby's diapers and make sure there's plenty of baby food in the pantry. They do things like review their taxes and reorganize the linen closet and give away clothes to goodwill. We'd been doing the grown-up thing for a while now, and just the act of shuffling the cards made me almost giddy with a sense of freedom and liberation. You can't have playing cards around a baby. He'll eat them or tear them or lose one or something. So just breaking them out of the game closet made me feel like I'd boarded a plane to Vegas and was embarking on a weekend of sin and vice. 

I really need to get out more, I know.

Anyway, we got organized and set everything up to play a game called Speed. Most of you have probably played it -- you each start with a stack of cards, and the object is to be the first player to have played all your cards onto the two active piles that are accessible to both players. It's a quick game (duh, it's called SPEED) and you have to be on your toes to play it well. 

Aaaaaaand I slayed him. Over and over. Aaaaaaand it was great. The more rounds we played, the more intense we got, and the more ridiculously gleeful my gloating became when I'd win again. One of the many things I love about my husband is that he lets me gloat when I win (largely because it's rare -- he's a pretty sharp cookie, that man of mine) and I GLOATED. So very much gloating there was, and I did all of it.

We played eight or nine games of Speed and two or three games of Uno before the baby woke up for the first time, and I think he only won once. Maybe he let me win, I don't know. But it turns out that a little heated friendly competition was just what I needed. I had a blast. (Thank you, sweetheart.)

I wonder if I still have that old Connect Four set somewhere. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The co-sleeping chronicles

Every night, we put boy to bed after a bath, books and prayers. He sleeps in his crib until about 3 or 4 in the morning, when I usually have drawn the line at his sixth or so awakening, and bring him to bed with us. (On a typical night after a 7 p.m. bedtime, he awakens at 7:20, 9, 11, 1 a.m., 3 and 4:30. That's when I give up.) As you'll soon see, sharing a king-sized bed with a nine-month-old can be an adventure. 

** ** ** ** **

The other night, I had just settled boy into bed with us and was nursing him back to sleep when my husband started to snore lightly. It wasn't overly loud, but because the baby wasn't all the way in la-la land yet, I wanted to keep things as quiet as possible. So I snuck my foot over toward my husband's foot, and wiggled my toe against the back of his leg (he was turned away from me).

The snoring stopped. 

But only for a moment.

When it resumed again, I did the same thing -- stroked my toe down the back of husband's calf. Once again, silence descended on the bedroom. I breathed an inaudible sigh of relief.

Until the snoring started once more. 

When my toe connected with his leg the third time, my husband turned his head, and mumbled, "Is that you or him?"

"It's me," I hissed. "What do you think he'd be doing down under the covers around our ankles?"

"I dunno," husband replied. "That was why I asked. I didn't know whether to be worried or not."

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **
Last weekend, my husband said he had a dream that he was sitting in a crowded restaurant, and someone kept backing their chair up into his back. When he woke up, he realized boy was curled up against his spine, crowding him toward the edge of the bed. That kid's a total bed-hog.

** ** ** ** ** ** ** ** **

All the same, though, we love being able to wake up with him, especially on weekend mornings. The boy is just sunny in the mornings, and is such a joy. He and I usually wake up together as he fidgets and squirms, then he rolls over to see his daddy. That's when he makes a beeline for his dad's head and shoulders, climbing them to peer over into daddy's face, and maybe give his ear a good yank while he blurts, "Er? Eh!" until he's acknowledged. The other day, when I was trying to get him to settle down for a nap, I was pretending to be asleep, hoping that it would inspire him to close his eyes, too. I was rudely interrupted in my guise, though, when he crawled up to my face and jammed his thumb into my eyeball, trying to pry it open.

Yup. That's my boy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

For two solid weeks ...

... after boy was first born, this is what ran through my mind constantly. Day and night, without ceasing.
  • Something bad will happen if I sleep. I need to be with the new baby every second.
  • What if someone breaks into the house while I'm in the shower and kidnaps the baby?
  • What if the baby stops breathing in the night and I never know it till it's way too late?
  • What if something happens to me and the baby never knows his own mother?
  • What if something happens to husband? How will I do this alone?
  • What if I'm driving and have a wreck and the baby's thrown from the vehicle?
  • What if the baby chokes while he's feeding?
  • Am I producing enough milk for this baby? Is he starving and I don't even know it? What kind of mother am I?
  • He spits up a lot. Does he have pyloric stenosis and he'll die because I'm too dumb to call the doctor?
  • What if he cries uncontrollably? What do I do? If I can't help him calm down, I must be the worst mother ever.
  • What if he cries uncontrollably while we're out in public, or with extended family? What will they think of me? 
  • He wakes up when we put him down. So we hold him while he sleeps. Are we ruining him for life?
  • Am I playing with him enough? Too much? Am I talking to him enough? Too much? Do I change him often enough, or too often? Is he wearing enough layers, or too many? 
Postpartum depression is real, and no amount of telling yourself to snap out of it will make it go away. Some of my concerns were the usual new mommy stuff, sure, but the inability to eat anything, the crushing self-doubt and the terrifying weight of relentless anxiety that were a part of those two weeks are classic symptoms of postpartum depression. I was taking scrupulous care of this precious new baby, attending to his every physical need, but I was too stricken with fear to enjoy him. I did a good job of hiding it when people visited, but my mother and my husband witnessed so many bouts of tearful misery that I knew I had to talk to my doctor.

With my mother's gentle urging, I broached the subject of my anxiety at my two-week post-operative check-up, and promptly started crying right in the examination room. My doctor was amazingly supportive, applauded me for owning up to how I was feeling, and assured me that there was something that could be done about it. She prescribed Prozac at the lowest possible dose, and I left the office that day feeling hopeful for the first time in what seemed like forever.

Within three days, I started to feel like I could smile again. I mean, really smile, like my old self. At first, the sensation of the expression on my face felt so foreign to me that my first urge was to suppress it. A week into my treatment, my tears were occasional, and they were ones of relief and gratitude for feeling human again, and being free from the excessive terror that my life had become. I was still anxious, sure -- but it was anxiety I could deal with, in quantities and in forms that felt normal and sane. And when I carried a swaddled boy around the house, I buried my face in his perfect self to giggle and tickle him, not to dry the flood of tears that had been a constant part of his first two weeks.

About a month ago, I realized that I was starting to feel down again. Little hiccups in our day -- a missed nap, a spell of fussiness -- not only made boy exasperated, but they completely undid me. Once again, I was finding myself crying on my husband's shoulder at night, too overwhelmed to even express what was wrong. I didn't know, in any case. I just knew I was scared, tired, and felt like a failure at the most important job I'd ever held. My mom and I did some research and we learned that Prozac can sometimes lose its effectiveness over time at a constant dose, almost like your body gets used to it. I called my doctor, and she agreed that my symptoms were classic symptoms of breakthrough anxiety due to drug tolerance. So we tweaked my dosage. I took the first new dose relieved to have done the right thing.

Only it didn't feel like the right thing, right away. In fact, for the first week after the dosage change, I felt worse than ever. I felt so down that getting through each day was a challenge, and I welcomed husband home from work at night not just because I was glad to see him, but because I was relieved to be free from the fear that came with being boy's only caregiver during the day. The old "what ifs" were back, and they'd brought friends. 

A follow-up call to my doctor yielded the knowledge that sometimes increases in my particular medication could have the side effect of (wait for it) increased anxiety, at least until the body regulated the way the medication was metabolized. Great, I thought. I'm taking this medicine to help me feel less scared and the side effect I'm noticing the most right now is that it's making me terrified. Perfect. That week felt like years. I wanted so badly to be there for boy the way he deserved, and I knew how good I could feel. I just wanted to be me again. 

Thank God it only lasted a week. As if by magic, my real self has surfaced again, and boy and I spend our days laughing and playing. And I know now what the warning signs are for tolerance, so hopefully if it happens again, I'll know what to do, and can act sooner to get help.

Do I like taking a medication every day to help me feel like myself? I absolutely do not. I was never a big proponent of medication in any way, shape or form -- I was always notorious in my family for never taking vitamins on time or finishing doses of antibiotics. But I know, too, that I couldn't wish away what was happening to me, couldn't try really hard and make it just get better. Because I gave that a shot, and it didn't work. And it doesn't mean I don't love my son, and it doesn't mean I'm not cut out to be a good mother. It means that for the time being, my brain needs a hand regulating its chemistry. If I were diabetic, I'd take medication for that. If I had a thyroid condition, I'd stay on the requisite meds without a second thought. Why should this condition be any different?

There's, sadly, a stigma associated with postpartum depression, and I've been debating posting this particular post for a long time. Because I am better about caring what everyone thinks of me, but that doesn't mean I've completely kicked my old habits. What finally gave me the push I needed was the thought that maybe there are women out there who feel a little bit like I did, and who think they're the only ones. You're not. Maybe there are men out there who wonder what happened to their wives when the baby was born. She's still there, and she still loves you

Maybe this will help someone. I hope so. If your baby's anything like mine, you deserve to be enjoying him.