Thursday, October 30, 2008

Happy Halloween!

He's going as a vegetable garden because it occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that his green Zutano cozie overalls look like grass, and we happen to have a set of baby vegetable toys to pin on. The only thing I had to buy was the pumpkin hat.

I resist store-bought costumes. It's not because I had a childhood full of perfect creations whipped up my mom on the sewing machine. She probably did at least once or twice, though she worked full-time, and certainly I remember my grandmother being pressed into service as a seamstress for a marvelous 18th century ("Martha Washington") dress that didn't get the exposure it deserved because it was one of those razor-blade-crazy, Halloween-is-canceled years. Mostly I remember Halloween costumes as more-elaborate dress-up. I was a gypsy more years than I can count because it meant wearing, like, six skirts layered and half my mom's costume jewelry, which was just about as great as a bagful of candy. Some years I left off the jewelry and added a shawl and kerchief and was a pioneer girl, which meant that I could carry one of my mom's good willow baskets over my arm -- I always liked when I could incorporate the candy receptacle believably into the costume. More important than the authenticity of the bag, though, was finding a way to make lots of layers essential, so that I didn't have to wear a jacket over my gypsy or pioneer or whatever else gear and thus ruin the whole thing.

If when Ben is older and can exert his own will about costumes, he wants to be a store-bought Spiderman or whatever, I'm not going to argue. Less work for mother, as my mother always used to say. But I'll be happy if, at least some years, Halloween means raiding all our closets and finding the fantastic in the familiar.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

48 Nicknames

The ones based on his name: Ben, Benjababy, Benjababyman, Benjamanius, deBenjamanius, Binyamin.

The ones based on animals of varying cuteness: Bunny, Bunny-Pie, Bunny-Bear, Baby-Bear, Monkey, Monkey-Baby, Baby-Monkey, Monkey-Dunk, Monkelly-Dunk, Monkey-Pie, Cheeky-Monkey, Kitten, Chicken, Fresh-Young-Chicken.

The ones based on his physical attributes: Cheeks, Cheeky, Cheeky-Cheeky, Baby-Butt.

The ones based on his age/status: Kid, Kiddo, Baby, Baby-Child, Baby-Face, Boy, Baby-Faced-Boy, The-Boy

The ones based on foods of varying deliciousness: Pumpkin, Pumpkin-Pie, Muffin, Pumpkin-Muffin, Dumpling, Apple-Dumpling, Honey, Honey-Bunch, Honey-Pie

The ones based on usual endearments: Sweetheart, Sweetie-Pie, Love, Little-Love

The one from before he was born (ret.): Spike

The one based on his father's inability to distinguish him from one of the dogs: Person-Hugo (as opposed to the dog, who has acquired "Dog-Ben")

When I write them all out, we sound like crazy people. In Andy's defense, at least 90% of these are mine exclusively.


I'm in the midst of figuring out how to outfit my kid for winter in upstate NY. Born the last day of May, Ben has spent his entire life barefoot, and I am just now figuring out that, for instance, socks only stay on a baby's feet with shoes to anchor them -- and that's if the baby in question plays ball.

Anyway, I've been looking at outerwear of various sorts a lot in the last couple of days, trying to guess what size the kid will be by the time he needs some kind of climber's bunting, and I've noticed that a surprisingly large proportion of baby cold-weather headgear comes with ears. Well, OK, I've noticed that all of Zutano's "cozie" hats come with ears, and so do L.L. Bean's fleece coveralls. They're even the same kind of ears.

I'm not immune to the appeal of babies with animals ears. One of the only items of clothing I bought before my son was born, long before he was even conceived, in fact, was a hat with bunny ears. I just find it a little strange for manufacturers to decide an entire design run of a fairly basic item needs -- or would sell better with -- ears.

Let me put it this way: why not tails?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Gulf States

It's a touchy subject for everybody, the gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

Is there anything more patronizing than "You couldn't understand"? I don't think I was actually ever told this by a parent back when I was childless, but that's probably because my only friend with children for years and years was far too thoughtful to say such things. And for what it's worth, I haven't had to bite my own tongue to keep from saying it to any of my childless friends, but that's probably because they're all too nice to criticize my parenting.

And yet. I feel the gulf opening, widening. There's the innocent suggestion we all go out to dinner. Yeah, unless you're talking about Cracker Barrel and an exit strategy, no, just no. There's the expression on their faces when I hit a certain level of detail about my son's sleep patterns. There's my sudden impatience, best unexpressed, that they get the hell on with it and have babies already (Chromosomal abnormalities! Difficulty conceiving! There's no good time! I need someone else to talk to about nipple pain!), as I now wish I had done five years earlier, knowing now what I blithely ignored then. There's my dread that I'm turning into one of those people who can only talk about parenthood (Did I blog any of my previous interests? I did not.), even though I'm perfectly aware that I still care a lot about important things like foreign policy and Top Chef.

The pleasant thing about the gulf, though, is that those of us on this side of it do cling together with new warmth and understanding. I never felt any particular solidarity with other childless adults, but I grin stupidly at other parents with babies at Target and wish them well from the bottom of my heart. There is a new depth and complexity in my relationship with Carrie, my best friend. We've been BFFs for more than half our lives, and I feel closer to her now than I ever have before.

I'm not afraid of losing the friends on the other side. The gulf is more of a crick; we can still reach across it for RPGs, for gossip, for family drama, for history, for bitching about Battlestar Galactica's absurdly long hiatuses. And I'm confident that the gulf will matter less when parenting isn't such a raw experience, when my kid spends more time in school than in my arms, when I've had a little more time to get used to the whole idea of being somebody's mom.

Plus, I hear a lot of talk lately from certain quarters about plans to ford the gulf. I promise to be patient. I just want you to know I'm waiting on the other side with a towel and dry clothes and lots and lots and lots to say about nipple pain.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Your Mama Wears Birkenstocks.

Whither Mommy? It's all Moms and Mamas these days, or so it seems. My own mother ("Mom," but "Mommy" back in the day) referred to me as "Mommy" to my son a bunch of times before I had to say something. I figured she'd catch on eventually that that's not the word I use for myself, but I found it grating enough that I couldn't wait.

I'm Mom. And for some reason that I can't pin down, being called "Mommy" really bugs. I mean, if Ben starts calling me "Mommy," I'm not about to correct him, and I imagine I'll think it's pretty cute, given the preponderance of evidence that I think nearly everything this child does is cute. But until then, I resist. And if I have to come up with a reason, the closest I can come is that it's infantilizing -- which I recognize is ridiculous, since my child is an actual infant. But it strikes me as icky, syrupy, like talking to your spouse in baby-talk.

But as "Mom," I think I'm in the minority, at least among mothers I know. Most of them are "Mama." It seems to be a phenomenon of the crunchy left, but maybe my sample is just skewed. The first person of my generation I noticed calling herself "Mama" was my friend Michele, who, tragically, isn't around to ask about it. I'd place her on the fringes of the range of crunchy, and probably leftish though not very political. I thought it was maybe a family tradition or a selected bit of quirkiness, like how she had her daughter call female family friends "Tante."

But then it started cropping up all over, this Mama thing. It didn't acquire a patina of ew for me until I started occasionally rubbernecking (via this thread at TPW) at the train wreck that is the Mothering Dot Com Forums. To be fair, most of what's there is perfectly sensible and well-in-the-range-of-normal discussion, but the outliers are a doozy. (Don't bother looking for the carnage if you're an outsider: the juicy threads are in folders to which only trusted users have access.) It's your basic crunchy parenting stuff (cloth diapering, breastfeeding, big love for Dr. Sears) with forays into the mildly icky (family cloth), the might-be-ok-if-not-practiced-by-idiots (unschooling), the science-averse (refusing to vaccinate), the disturbing (advice about how to keep CPS off your scent), and the truly terrifyingly stupid (UC VBAC). From the mildly crunchy to the wildly unhinged on this board, though, they nearly all call themselves "Mama." It's a kind of shibboleth of adherence to principles of crunchiness, and it's this connotation of the word that grates on me.

Otherwise, it's a perfectly cromulent word. It seems of a piece with "Mommy," though not nearly so treacly, in its embrace of the infantile: "ma-ma," after all, is among every baby's first words. Mommies grow up to be Moms, though, which I suspect Mamas do not. "Mama" suggests something vaguely European, which may be part of its appeal: both babyish and strangely sophisticated. Nobody would accuse Mommy of belonging to the cosmopolitan Old World.

Some part of the adoption of "Mama" is the rejection of "Mom," of course, which used to be -- and still is in lots of places -- the gold standard. So what's wrong with "Mom"? Too mainstream? Too attached to apple pie in that oft-cited American twosome? For what it's worth, Dad doesn't seem to have been replaced. Dad is still Dad.

I find amusing the Baby Boomer Grandmother's agonizing search for a term for herself other than "Grandma." She's no "Grandma"! She's too hip, too rockin', too full of vim and verve and zest and other things that mean life and contain unusual letters. She's Nana or Oma or the word for grandmother in other various languages. (I shamed my own mother with this argument into accepting "Grandma," and I think she's ok with it.) But I wonder whether it isn't the same forces at work on BBG's daughter: "Mom" is simply not awesome enough to contain her.

Kate Quinn vs. Carter's

I got two Kate Quinn baby bodysuits at my shower, and they were absolutely my favorite of the first batch of clothes Ben wore. I ordered him a couple of outfits recently, and of all the clothes in his still-too-big drawer (most of which, at this point, I picked out myself), they're the ones I'm most eager for him to grow into. The colors are lovely, the cotton soft and sturdy, and best of all, there's nothing cutesy or over-embellished: just solid colors, some with contrast piping.

Why doesn't a company like Carter's follow this lead? I've been very pleased with the quality (softness, sturdiness) of Carter's footie pyjamas, for instance, but it's a matter picking the least objectionable cartoon creature appliqué with the least objectionable caption ("Daddy's Lil So-and-So," etc.), and while I'm sure Carter's has done the market research necessary to determine that a significant majority of their customer base wuvs da widdle dinosaws, could they please, please consider throwing a bone to the rest of us? Surely even fans of the appliqués might also like just a nice, plain -- or go crazy: stripy! -- footie pyjama, too.

Because, hell, while I'm a huge fan of Kate Quinn and absolutely support the use of organic fibers, at $19 a pop, I just can't talk myself into many long-sleeved kimono bodysuits, no matter how much I adore them. I sent the link to Kate Quinn to my mother and mother-in-law, hoping to direct some of their considerable generosity in this happy direction, but I'm not holding out a lot of hope. After all, it feels more satisfying to get five items for your fifty bucks than to get two, whether gift or not.

Edit: Target's Circo brand does actually have very nice unembellished footie pyjamas in various stripes and prints. Sadly, their biggest size is 9 mo., which Ben is already outgrowing.

Further edit: I had no idea Carter's was heading into what looks like a major consumer product safety brouhaha over its tagless tags, which are apparently giving a small number of babies reactions ranging from contact dermatitis to severe chemical burns. Thanks, Kathy, for alerting me to the news.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hope and Promise

From the time Ben was a few weeks old, he has found the outdoors pleasurable and soothing. Sometimes when he's particularly fussy and refuses to be content with me sitting anywhere else, he's completely at peace if I sit on the stoop with him. I don't know if it's the air or the sense of space or the clouds and trees or some other thing I haven't thought of.

Recently it's become chilly enough that heading outdoors isn't as simple or quick as it was a month ago, but we've found that he likes to look at the bird feeder through the window every bit as much, and finds it just as soothing. It helps that the feeder is only about six feet from the window, so the birds (and squirrels and chipmunks) are large as life. He'll stare at the little woodland scene for twenty or thirty minutes at a stretch, completely content, utterly absorbed.

Some day he'll be happily successful as a wildlife biologist or painter of trees or bird handler to the stars, and he'll roll his eyes when I trot out this blog post and say, "See? I knew it all along!" It's fun to play "What Will the Kid Be?" because the possibilities are limitless, and it's a wonderful meditation of hope and promise.

The obverse of that notion is something I had never thought about before having a child. Everybody you've ever known, everybody you've ever heard of, was once a baby. Somebody burped Julia Child. Alan Greenspan was somebody's precious little muffin. Keith Richards stopped somebody's heart with gummy baby smiles.

I mean, of course, right? I didn't think Mr. Beitman, principal of my middle school, burst from his father's head full-grown or stepped ashore wave-kissed from a clamshell. But it's about as easy to imagine him arriving as a Greek goddess as to imagine him as the very embodiment of hope and promise, let alone with smoochable toes.

Downhill from Here.

Now that Benjamin is in his Ergo or his umbrella stroller when we're out, now that he looks (apart from the absence of teeth) like an eight- or nine-month-old, strangers seem generally content to bless us or remark upon the cuteness of his cheeks. But when he was in his baby bucket stroller, one of the things people said to us most often was, "Enjoy this! It's all downhill from here."

It was really hard not to slap them.

For one thing, we were so sleep-deprived and frantic that it was a miracle we appeared in public at all. The idea that this hazy, half-drunken state of barely functional uprightness represented the apex of parenting joy was so thoroughly disheartening that a few times I came this close to bursting into tears. In more rational moments, I chalked up the substance of their comments to amnesia or inexperience: they either didn't remember what six weeks was like, or they'd had those babies who slept.

But what kind of asshole picks, among all the things in the universe to say to new parents, that they will never enjoy their child as much again? Even if it were true! It's as if upon hearing that you were heading off to college, people invariably told you that orientation was great, but classes and dorm life and research and independence? Garbage. What do you say in response? Um, thanks for the heads-up? I was often tempted to condole them on their sad, unhappy relationships with their children. You'd think that was presumptuous, but it's kind compared to telling someone she's facing a lifetime of misery.

I wish they could say what they really mean. Not "It's all downhill from here," but "He'll never be this tiny little creature again." Time only goes forward. Even if time moves you from sleeplessness and agonizing incompetence to something considerably more rested and happy and secure (which, thank heavens, it does), there's a kind of tragedy in not being able to visit, even for a moment, a stage of your child's life that will never come again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Advice #1: It's Just a Phase.

I am 35, and yet, astoundingly, I have only one close friend in my age cohort with children. Carrie got married right out of college, and had kids when I was still closing bars and bouncing checks. Her children are smart and happy and pleasant to be around, and so it's not just because I love her that I seek her advice on parenting.

She gave me lots of great advice during the hellish and wonderful (but hellish) first three month's of Ben's life, most of which I immediately forgot because of the sleep deprivation. At some point I floated the bazillionth theory about why the boy was having another episode of horribly short sleep stretches, and she said, basically, "It may be that. But one of the things I've learned as a parent is that a lot of the time, it's just a phase, and it's not something you can explain or solve." She went on to encourage me to keep attempting to explain and solve, because at least it's good practice, but not to feel that every problem has a solution, nor that failure on my part to find it is, well, a failure on my part.

What a relief.

We Ferberized Ben about a month ago, and for the most part, it's been an astounding success. But last week, we hit a new snag. He would wake up sometime between 2:00 and 4:00 AM and be absolutely unable to go back to sleep for an hour and a half. One by one, we eliminated all the theories and solutions: it was not because he had a cold, because he'd had his four-month vaccinations, because I'd started doing a dream feed at 10:00, because the room was too cold or too hot, or because he was hungry. We changed the timing of naps, the timing of bedtime, the timing of the dream feed. We turned on (or did not turn on) the plinky-plink-music aquarium toy to keep him company while we attempted to steal back fifteen minutes of sleep. No matter what we did or didn't do, the kid woke up sometime between 2:00 and 4:00 and couldn't get back to sleep for an hour and a half.

Last night we ran out of stuff to try. We made up our minds: we were just going to have to power through it, however long it took, doing the best we could.

The kid woke up once at 1:00 AM to nurse and then slept through to morning (albeit a very early morning) -- our very first night of only one wake-up.

It's a Blog!

Very soon after my son was born I found myself with lots of opinions and advice, and too few people in my real life upon which to bestow this bounty. I am clearly not alone in this feeling; there are a lot of mom blogs. There may well be more mom blogs than people who read mom blogs.

By nature I am not a bloggish writer. I tend to obsess and edit and re-edit and go on at great length over-explaining and giving too many examples. Maybe the blog form will teach me a thing or two about letting go and being terse.