Friday, December 26, 2008

Fluffy Fingers

The only thing more fun than making the kid laugh is discovering a new way to make the kid laugh. My latest find is nibbling on his fingers. It has to be with bare teeth -- lips or lips over teeth are not nearly so hilarious, apparently. And part of the fun for him seems to be his ability to control the action: he presents the fingers and gets to yank them away once they've been bitten. Uproarious.

Some other things that make him grin, giggle, or squeal:

1. Pinching his fat little thighs. Fingers and thumbs have to be on opposite sides of the femur, but at almost any location so long as they oppose.

2. Saying "peas" while drawing out the long e.

3. Making a noise like a suction cup being pulled off.

4. Rib and belly tickling, especially with long, anticipatory wiggly finger swoop-in. Referred to in our house as fluffy fingers.

5. Classic for a reason: This Little Piggy.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Trimming the Tree

What with the ice storm blackout last weekend and my general inclination to procrastinate, we didn't get the tree up until yesterday. We were being thoroughly buried under snow (Friday night and Saturday delivered about 18 inches, and then Sunday brought nearly a foot more), so Andy was out shoveling the driveway most of the afternoon while I unwrapped ornaments and hung them, with Ben overseeing from his throne on the dining room table.

Trimming the tree is always a little emotional for me -- at least for the last few years, since we've owned a house and had a tree and Christmas there, rather than doing all that at my mom's, and especially since Mom transferred custody of the family ornament collection to me. There's a lot of history in those ornaments, a lot of joy, and a lot of loss.

There are the ones that have always been my favorites: the blue horse and yellow elephant, vaguely North African in design; the plastic whirlygig that used to turn if you placed it over a bulb but no longer does because bulbs don't burn as hot as they used to; the disco ball. These are not the prettiest ornaments, and they wouldn't be my favorites now, but they were my favorites as a child, and so they still take pride of place.

There are the oblong painted mirrors from my grandmother's childhood. Victims of a basement flood the first year my mom and I lived in our new house after my dad died, these have had their painting mussed and mostly ruined, but they are far too precious to abandon for mere lack of design integrity. My grandmother was always surprised to see them when she came for Christmas; we never treasured the things she thought we would, or should. That we made a fuss over these things which must have been cheapo trinkets in their day mystified her. A pill to the very end, she died this summer at 96, my last surviving grandparent, the only great-grandparent Ben got to meet.

There are the doves. My parents the atheists, the peaceniks, had lifelike doves for the top of the tree. There were three of them, and they were refugees from a store they owned that went belly-up rather disastrously. Their store Christmas decoration was flocks of these doves hung at different altitudes from the ceiling. I don't know what happened to the three -- my guess is one dog or another -- but I bought some myself last year.

There are the velvet ovals with gold cord that I know came from the first Christmas of my parents' marriage. I imagine them young -- younger than I am now -- starting their lives together in New York City in 1968 in a four-floor walk-up. It's been longer now since my dad died than the length of their marriage, much longer.

There's the plain glass ball that my mother painted, painstakingly, with watercolor scenes of the house we lived in when I was a small child: the deck from outside, covered with snow; the fireplace with the Christmas tree beside it. It's another flood victim; the scenes are clearer in my memory than on the ornament.

There's the dalmatian and the bear, ornaments I bought Mom years ago, meant to represent our two dogs at the time, now long dead.

There are the nested crystal bells, three and five, that were my dad's favorite ornaments. He liked to supervise the trimming of the tree. Mom and I would unwrap, exclaim over new-remembered trinkets, and Dad would look up occasionally from his book, from the depths of his massive leather chair, and point to empty spots on the tree. He liked the Christmas albums with lots of brass. I liked the Muppets. I've come around to his preference, and I was listening to the Philadelphia Brass Ensemble -- we had it on vinyl back in the day -- on the iPod yesterday.

I don't think about him often. He's been dead since I was twelve. But this first Christmas of Ben's, trimming the tree, I thought about him a lot. I thought about how much he -- raised Jewish -- loved Christmas: the music, the tree, going to all the recitals, picking pretty things for Mom from the Metropolitan Museum store. I thought about how delighted he'd have been with his grandson, and how unfair it is that Ben is missing one of the people who would have been most in love with him.

And, for good measure, how unfair for Mom, and for me.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Physical Pleasure

One of the zillion or so things that would never have occurred to me about parenthood before I became a parent is how much physical pleasure my kid affords. I love squeezing his fat thighs and blowing raspberries on his belly. I love kissing and inhaling his sweet baby neck. I love the weight of him on my hip (for a while, anyway). I love the snuggly embrace of nursing him. I love the way his cheek smooshes with a smooch. I think my favorite is when I nurse him late at night and he falls asleep, and I rearrange him so that his head and elbows flop on my shoulder, and he weighs half again as much limp with sleep, and his cheek is warm from nursing, and he breathes close to my ear, and I feel half drunk with the pleasure of being close to him.

It used to drive me nuts when he was a newborn and people would tell me to cherish this time because it's all downhill from here. And I know full well it's not all downhill from here (I really look forward to, say, being able to converse with him), but I am consciously cherishing this physical closeness. He won't always be such a convenient armful. He won't always let me this close for as long as I want, as often as I want. There's a big part of this intimate physicality that can't but be fleeting -- it would be incredibly creepy if it weren't.

The fact is that we don't really share pleasurable physicality with other people apart from sexual partners. I guess people who play certain sports do. I can't really think of other occasions for adults to be appropriately, non-sexually physical with one another, though, except for hugging -- and hugging, nice as it can be, just doesn't hold a candle to snoozling a sleepy six-month-old. I'm sure there are cultures in which some kind of collegial physical pleasure is common, and the lack of it suddenly seems like a sad emptiness in ours.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Toys in Babeland

"Playing" with toys at Ben's age (six months) is still largely a matter of his acquiring a target and working to bring said target to his mouth and gum it, with maybe a little passing the object from hand to hand and examining it a little. But some objects are clearly preferable to others -- these are the ones he will retrieve from the box most often.

1. Ikea nesting/stacking cups. He doesn't stack or nest them, but the cups themselves are of great interest. At $2.49, without question the best value of any toy so far.

2. Ikea stacking rings. Again, he doesn't stack them, but the discs themselves are favorites for handling and gumming.

3. Measuring cups and spoons. I took them off the rings they came on (which looked like they might pinch little fingers or lips) and put them onto those ubiquitous plastic links, so he can work at separating a spoon from its cousins.

4. Baby cups. The dented sterling baby cup that was mine and a plastic one with two handles. Good for gumming, bashing, and throwing, especially the silver one, which makes a much better noise.

5. This thing (Haba Pipapo) and another precious European wooden toy from Oompa that I can't find now -- it's a rattle shaped more or less like a lean mushroom, with a natural stem and a red cap, and four different colored beads on top and bells inside. It's such a hit that we keep it on the changing table to occupy him.

6. Classic for a reason: baby keys.

Honorable Mention: Dad's favorite toy is the Skwish by Manhattan Baby.

Extra credit: How many of these toys have been replaced because Hugo has eaten them?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Phase vs Pattern

Ben's been having another bout of bad sleeping. He goes down fine -- like a ton of bricks, actually -- at his normal bedtime, and generally sleeps soundly or resettles himself easily until around 10:00, bedtime for the rest of the household. Then I nurse him again and either he falls asleep while nursing or I put him down drowsy, and, again, he has no trouble getting to sleep. But he's up again an hour or two hours later and repeats the hour- or two-hour-interval wake-ups for the rest of the night most nights.

The last time he went through a bout of this, about a month ago, we tried to Ferber through it, leaving him to cry for increasing intervals to remind him how to settle himself. In theory, anyway. In practice, he just wound himself up into hysteria, and even if he wore himself out and fell asleep for a while, he'd be up again in no time, hysterical again. This time, we decided to treat it as a phase and not a pattern, and comfort him through it with nursing instead of teach him through it with Ferbering. It feels like the right thing to do. My suspicion is that what's behind the sleep troubles is his working overtime on sitting up and crawling.

This phase vs pattern debate is a great way to make yourself feel like a shitty parent. If it's a phase and you make the kid suffer to learn something irrelevant, you're a big jerk. If it's a pattern and you coddle the kid into an unhealthy habit, you're a big jerk. And you can't possibly know until the damage is done. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Whisper Connect, We Hardly Knew Ye

I can't remember why I picked this particular baby monitor for the shower registry. Probably my friend S. had recommended it in her long, annotated baby gear list (inherited from a friend of hers). It wouldn't have occurred to me then, or even until this week, that there was much difference between baby monitors, or which features would matter to me.

Until I dropped the receiver until last week, and it stopped working.

It was an Evenflo WhisperConnect Two-Way 900MHz. Not Sensa. Not Pro. And they don't make it anymore. And nothing else has all the features I came to require. Oh, why didn't I cherish this monitor? Why didn't I protect it and keep it safe in all its specialness? I was wrong, so wrong.

It had great sound quality. Sure, it got staticky sometimes, but don't we all? But you could hear everything in Ben's room with perfect clarity: the softest little pre-waking whimper, the mylar crinkling in one of his crib toys, the ping of the steam heat in the pipes. Several other monitor models boast that they filter all non-voice noise. Why would you want that? I want to hear if he's rolling around or playing with toys.

It had a rechargeable battery. And, ok, the sound was crappier when the receiver was plugged in, but leaving it on for hours on end was just an inconvenience and didn't require three new triple-As every time.

It had a dozen or so lights, not the five that seem to be standard, which, combined with its senitivity, meant that with the volume turned way down (when we're watching tv, for instance), the slightest peep registered a light or two, and grabbed out attention. The replacement monitor's first light only hits with a pretty solid cry.

It only had two channels, but that was plenty. More channels just means more confusion if you accidentally hit the channel button while the kid is sleeping. It had a walkie-talkie function, which we almost never used, but I bet Ben would have enjoyed playing with it in a couple of years.

I can't begin to understand why Evenflo would have changed the design of this monitor, given its Amazon ratings, which were head and shoulders above all others at a comparable price. They added some stupid pet motion detector ("Sensa"), and the ratings for the new model are significantly lower.

I've been shopping (online) for a better replacement for a couple of days now, and my success has been such that I'm now considering finding an electronics repair shop -- if they exist anymore, that is -- and paying someone the cost of a replacement to fix it.

And then I'll take ever such good care of it! I'll never drop it again! I promise!

Edited to Add: "Two-Way." Key descriptive title phrase I left out. And the difference is apparently more than just whether or not it has the walkie-talkie function. The two-way monitor got significantly better reviews than the same model without two-way -- which probably means it wasn't the same model at all.