Tuesday, December 15, 2009

18 Months

Ben had his 18-month check-up the other week. They weighed him on the big-kid stand-up scale, which made him a lot less angry than the baby one which requires getting stripped down and plonked into a cold metal bowl, but it also meant that they weighed him with his clothes and shoes and a (full) diaper on, so I think the weight percentile is probably off by a few points. He'd always been in the high nineties, and this time he was 99th! And 50% for height (which, because of the way they measure and toddler squirminess, isn't notably accurate), which taken together might be a cause for concern. But I limned a typical day's meals for the pediatrician, and she said don't change anything: he's eating completely appropriately.

But she was concerned about his not talking. She asked him a couple of things: to point to his toes and his nose, and where were the teddy bears on the wallpaper, which of course he had no trouble with, and I think she took me at my word that his receptive vocabulary is not just adequate but pretty impressive. She said she thinks that he's just not motivated to talk, and that it's time for us to try to motivate him. The idea is, he's not in day-care or vying with an older sibling for attention, and Andy and I are very attentive and very attuned to his needs, so we basically anticipate or are immediately able to understand whatever he wants, so he doesn't feel the need to learn to communicate better. And I think that's absolutely true, but I'm a little torn about whether I think it's necessary then to "motivate" him.

On the one hand, I think that if lack of motivation is the only issue, that's not a big enough issue to hassle the kid and risk his feeling pressured about language, since obviously he's going to figure it out sooner or later. On the other hand, I certainly plonked him on his feet, held his hands, and walked him around when he was working on walking, and how different is that kind of encouragement from getting in his face and enunciating CAR freakishly distinctly? The ped said to pretend we don't understand him to elicit words, and I just can't get on board with that. I don't like the deception; plus, that seems like a recipe for frustration and unhappiness. I can't believe there aren't effective ways to encourage speech without that kind of unkind pretense.

Maybe it's a minor distinction, but it seems significant to me. If he wants up on my lap, I ask him to say "up." I don't pretend that I don't know what he wants. As soon as he tries even a little to form the word, he gets what he wants. And we do a lot of work on words for things he loves, like CAR and TRUCK. He now says just the K and T sounds, and more or less interchangeably, but it's progress.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tree Edit

We had half a tree on a table last year, and I didn't want to do that again (in part because we found a better place for that table upstairs) -- I wanted a real tree. But a good 75% of our ornaments are glass, and I didn't see that working out with an 18-month-old and a heedless basset hound. We got the tree, and I put the lights on, and I thought about it.

Finally I decided on a combination of Target and triage. Target provided an armload of plastic balls that look just the hell like glass ones. Triage put all the precious fragile ones into careful storage and the ones that can take a topple or a wag or a being thwacked with a dump truck without being or causing hurt onto the tree.

And I felt one of those moments of Right Parental Compromise. Are plastic ornaments my favorite? No, they are not. Would I rather have the nested glass bells that were my dead father's favorite ornaments on my tree rather than in a box? Yes, very much. But what I wanted way more than a small carbon footprint or a meaningful memento was for Ben to enjoy Christmas, and for us all to enjoy the tree without its becoming a source of stress and worry. So he got to "help" hang the balls, and in the process learned (and appears to have successfully internalized) that once the ornaments are on the tree, they're only to look at and not touch.

And during the triage I also culled a bunch of ornaments from my Mom that, yes, do have pleasant associations because my memories of trimming the tree with Mom every year are among the best and brightest of my childhood -- but honestly, some of those ornaments are dead ugly, and some are just not my bag, and I realized as I was doing this big Christmas tree edit that I didn't actually have to hang them all. I didn't get rid of them, either. They're in a box of their own. Maybe someday I'll change my mind about their ugliness or their necessity.

The result of all this is I love our Christmas tree this year. It might be the best Christmas tree yet.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Still no words. But when you ask him, "Hey Ben, when are you going to learn to talk?" he puts on this sweet, half-whispery voice and says, "Da da da da da da da," like: I got yer talking right here, silly adult.

He's been climbing up stairs for months now, but he wasn't going down them, and I was getting tired of schlepping thirty pounds of him every time he needed a diaper change, so we did a little crash course (without any actual crashes, thank goodness) in knees-and-belly descent last week, and now he goes down faster than he goes up.

He went trick-or-treating for the first time this Halloween, which meant I went trick-or-treating for the first time in more than 20 years. He was kind of perplexed by the entire ordeal, but totally game, and he definitely approved of the candy part. His enthusiasm was underlined by the howling and grabby-pointing after the pumpkin bucket when I disappeared it.

He very much enjoys watching the Life of Mammals dvds and slideshows of various animal groups on Flickr, especially Wild Animals in Action, both of which I heartily recommend for toddler-adult entertainment. He likes to point out each and every critter and say "Dah!"

He's all about cars and trucks lately, and in fact just walked in here with a toy car in each hand and then took them both over to the stairs to push them around. Walking through a parking lot can include his pointing at every single car we pass and saying, "Dah!"

He is a huge fan of books, and would probably be content to do nothing but bring me one book after another to read until we ran out of books, and then he'd want to start over at the beginning. Granted, I'm not that familiar with other toddlers' reading habits, but he seems remarkably patient with wordy books (like, say, Ping or Ferdinand) and also remarkably gentle with paper (i.e., not board) books. He will often amuse himself for long periods of time just sitting on the floor and paging through books, sometimes da-da-da-ing to himself.

He recently learned how to dip french fries in ketchup, and now he dips whatever into whatever else at every opportunity.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blame the Sleep Deprivation

Parenting a toddler has its challenges, and I'm not minimizing them, but it is so much easier now than it was around this time last year. Around this time last year, I decided to take Ben on a road trip to visit friends in Philadelphia, DC, Charlottesville, DC again, and New Jersey. It was going to take nearly two weeks. In my mind, if I didn't embark on this insane journey with him, I would never go anywhere or see anyone again. At the time, he was sleeping three or four hours at a stretch and was a fairly typically mercurial four-month-old. We got as far as Philadelphia, and he woke up and needed to be nursed back down often enough overnight that I knew I'd never make it on that kind of crappy sleep, and it was much better to turn back while still mostly functional than press on and get farther from home before having to make the same decision.

And that was fine. I missed seeing the other people, but what mattered was that I'd made the attempt. But what's significant when I look back on it is that I'm sure I really didn't grasp that Ben would grow out of that sleep insanity, that in a year he'd be relatively easy to travel with, that even if I didn't take him on road trips as an infant, he'd eventually be ok with travel just by virtue of being a little kid instead of a baby. Not that travel with a little kid doesn't have its own issues.

What I'm getting at (not very cogently) is that it's kind of astounding how blind I was as the parent of a newborn to the notion that infancy would, you know, end. That no matter how crazy it was, it couldn't possibly go on forever. Part of it, I'm sure, was the lack of sleep. But part of it, too, was just the degree to which having a baby spins your head around. Everything is different and crazy and has new rules -- it's no wonder that it's so hard to see clearly what the new progression will be.

I remember saying on several occasions that I couldn't believe, having gone through this once, that anyone ever has a second child. Andy used to vow (only maybe 98% seriously) that Ben would be an only child. And you can blame the sleep deprivation for our inability to form memories back then, because now the horror is a lot fuzzier, but now the idea isn't so terrible.

I wonder how many second children are conceived soon after the first child starts sleeping through the night.

(I'm not trying to be coy or anything. We do plan to have another baby. I'm being a little goofy about not wanting to be vastly pregnant in the summer, though, so we're waiting a bit.)

Friday, October 23, 2009


It's happened a couple of times recently that an adult being playful with Ben teases him by holding out an object and then pulling it away when he reaches for it. And clearly, clearly this is not meant with any kind of mean-spiritedness. And yet, damn, what a nasty trick to play on a toddler. He's not in on the joke. The joke is on him. Little idiot, reaching for an object held out to him, ha ha ha.

I'm not sure what to say. To a friend, I feel pretty comfortable with a light-hearted, "Dude, that's a kind of a dick move, teasing a toddler." But what do I say to a stranger?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Happy to Vaccinate

Generally I'm all about agreeing to disagree when it comes to someone else's parenting choices. After all, what you choose to do to your kid usually begins and ends inside your house, and while I might have an opinion, it doesn't directly affect me and mine. But that's not the case with vaccination, and that's part of why there's such a bitter debate about it. Anti-vax people feel oppressed by regulations and pressured, sometimes bullied and terrified, by doctors. Pro-vax people feel betrayed by members of their communities whose refusal to vaccinate reduces the herd immunity and puts everybody -- even the vaccinated -- at risk.

I should say up front that I am squarely, adamantly in the camp of the vaccinators. But I'm not without sympathy for the members of the other camp. I'm by nature a skeptic, and the healthcare industry deserves major skepticism. I am also, like many anti-vax-ers, a buyer of organic foods and eschewer of nasty chemicals. I treat colds with herb tea and bed rest. I clean with vinegar or baking soda. I don't love the idea of injecting my toddler with a passel of chemicals I can't spell -- it goes against a lot of my better instincts as a parent.

But here's the thing: there's a lot of good science on the side of vaccination, and opposing it is one flawed if not downright dirty study, a lot of anedote, and a lot of straight-up ignorance.

Most of the recent fear of vaccination comes from a study led by Andrew Wakefield and published in the British medical journal The Lancet in 1998. It purported to show a link between the MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccine and autism. The study followed only 12 children -- a head-scratchingly small sample size -- and made only modest claims of correlation in 8 of those children. But even though 10 of the 13 co-authors of the Lancet article formally withdrew their findings, even though the study has been thoroughly discredited, and most importantly, even though considerable subsequent research has been unable to find a link between the MMR vaccine and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), people are still freaked out about vaccination.

Part of the reason is that there's a lot of anecdotal evidence of correlation between vaccines and the onset of autism. What happens is a kid gets a shot, and the next day, or maybe an hour later, or maybe a week later, he begins showing the first symptoms of ASD. Now, it's completely understandable that the adults in this child's life draw a line between the jab and the symptom, but it's not necessarily scientifically significant. Correlation is not causation. Just because two things happen in temporal proximity doesn't mean that one is the result of the other. Kids get vaccinated at almost every preventive-care visit (every three months) for the first two years, and most autism is diagnosed during that same period. When you think about how many millions of kids are getting shots, it makes sense that hundreds of them -- not a significant percentage, but a big number -- happen to develop ASD symptoms within 48 hours of a vaccination.

And again, it's not like this perceived correlation hasn't been extensively studied. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently published a review paper (pdf) summarizing 29 studies that failed to find a link between the MMR shot and ASD and another 10 that failed to find a link between thimerosal (a preservative containing ethyl mercury) and ASD. "Failed to find" might sound like incompetence on the part of the researchers, so it's important to understand that it's usually impossible to prove a negative, so proving a negative is not the scientific standard. You will often hear from anti-vax activists that the MMR vaccine has never been proven not to cause autism, and that is strictly true, but neither has Tylenol. Neither have M&Ms. You can't prove something is safe, but on the other hand, harmful things are generally pretty easy to prove unsafe, especially when they're being given routinely to millions of people every year.

And you know what? Even if the evidence supported a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, I still might lean towards vaccinating. Autism can be heartbreaking, and I've already blogged about being afraid of it, but it doesn't kill 3 out of 1000 people who have it like measles does. It doesn't cause deafness, cataracts, and mental disability in 8 out of 10 infants of mothers who have it in early pregnancy like rubella does. Take a look at this pamphlet (pdf), from the AAP (based on Centers for Disease Control [CDC] publications) comparing the scientifically demonstrable risks of vaccines to the diseases they prevent. Choosing not to vaccinate isn't choosing to avoid risks: it's choosing to take different risks, and across the board, greater risks of mostly much more dire outcomes.

On one side of this debate is pretty much the entire medical, medical research, and public health community. On the other are a few physicians who are not scientists and a whole lot of passionate amateurs. The evidence on the pro-vaccine side is manifold, and it is backed up by established procedures of peer review and standards of scientific proof. The evidence on the anti-vaccine side is anecdotal and backed by nothing. The internet and cable news tend to present these two sides as more or less balanced: the internet because you can certainly find as many anti-vax sites as pro-, and the vast majority of the information, if presented with a bare minimum of layout competence, looks equally trustworthy on its face; cable news because it tends to bestow a level of expertise just by virtue of putting someone in front of the camera and slapping the title of "expert" on him whether he deserves it or not. Take a look at this clip from a Fox News segment on the H1N1 vaccine:

Dr. Holtorf, billed by the Fox anchor as an expert on infectious disease, claims no expertise on his own website in anything relating to vaccination or epidemiology. He is not a scientist or an expert on public health; he is a physician specializing in hormone replacement. He claims expertise in chronic infectious disease, like lupus, which is a far cry from expertise in epidemiology. In the clip, he says that thimerosal is "highly implicated" in causing ASD though the medical literature doesn't suggest any implication at all. He says it (presumably a single dose of the vaccine, though it's unclear) has 25,000 times the amount of mercury that would be considered toxic in food or water, which is simply not true: there are 25 micrograms of mercury in an H1N1 shot and 28 in a typical tuna sandwich. He says he's seen this vaccine "devastate" patients with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and implies that it would be similarly dangerous to pregnant women, but he doesn't specify the symptoms his patients suffered or how he determined causation or whether their reactions were life-threatening, as H1N1 certainly is to pregnant women. But if you saw this clip and were predisposed to distrust the federal government and the medical and scientific establishment, this jackass would have confirmed all your fears with the imprimatur of an established news source. And even had Fox followed this guest with an actual expert to refute the bogus claims, it would have looked like two experts who came to different conclusions, as if there's debatable evidence on both sides.

Anti-vax activists like to frame the debate in terms of personal choice: it's up to you to choose what's right for you child. And that's true. But I think you have a much higher standard of proof to meet when you choose not to vaccinate because you're not just choosing for yourself; you're choosing for your whole community. Some people, because of weakened or suppressed immune systems or certain allergies, cannot be immunized. And vaccines are not 100% effective. Those who can't be vaccinated and those who have been but happen not to be fully protected depend on herd immunity, the notion that, depending on a disease's virulence, once a certain percentage of the population has been inoculated, the lack of hosts acts as a kind of firebreak. If you don't vaccinate, you're putting kindling into the firebreak.

And this is why I have a lot of sympathy for the physicians who "pressure" their patients into getting vaccinated. Not only is it demonstrably in the patient's own best interest, it's in the best interest of all the doctor's other patients, too. Yes, it's unpleasant to have your convictions challenged, but do you really want a doctor who won't passionately advocate for what she thinks is best for your health and the health of your community, a doctor who won't challenge what she sees as your misconceptions or ignorance? Would you really prefer a doctor who doesn't read -- or worse, doesn't believe or can't understand -- the results of scientifically rigorous medical research? And if you're so sure that vaccines are the wrong choice that you're willing to bet your kid's health and the health of everybody in your community on it, you should be able to go toe-to-toe with the biggest bully in town to defend your conviction. Right?

American Academy of Pediatrics Immunization page

Centers for Disease Control vaccines page

Autism and Vaccination (2007)
Vaccines and Autism: a Deadly Manufactroversy (2009)
at Skeptic

As Flu Vaccine Arrives for the Season, Some Questions and Answers
An H1N1 primer in The New York Times

Andrew Wakefield and MMR - The Investigation

at the site of Brian Deer, the reporter who covered the story

A Pox on You: My son has cancer. He can't go into daycare because of unvaccinated children.
In Slate.

Monday, October 5, 2009

One Nap to Rule Them All

We've made the transition from two naps to one. It went on for a week or two: he'd go a couple of days with a totally normal (two-) nap schedule, and then we'd have a rough day where he'd fight the morning nap, or take the morning nap and then fight the afternoon nap and be Mighty Crabcake all day. And then right back to two naps the following day.

A few people advised me to keep pushing the morning nap back by half an hour every day until the afternoon nap turned into bedtime, and I'm sure that's sensible advice, but somehow it just didn't work out that way. On the days when he took a morning nap, he clearly needed it -- he'd be short-tempered and eye-rubby by 9:00, and even if I'd kept him up until 10:00 the previous day, I wasn't about to make either of us suffer for an hour on principle.

And then one day I realized that he would hit a kind of crabby period around 9:00 or 9:30, but if we pushed past it, he got a second wind and played on happily for another couple or few hours. And that was that: one nap at around 11:30 or noon. So far, he's still only sleeping for about an hour and a half, which was a fairly typical length of time for one of his two naps. I'm guessing he'll learn to stretch it eventually. Or not.

He's still sleeping 11 or 12 hours at night pretty reliably, and in fact we moved his bedtime up a bit since the transition to one nap, from 7:00 to 6:45, and he generally sleeps until around 6:30 in the morning. On the weekends, when nobody's up and moving earlier, he often sleeps until 7:00 or even 7:30 (bliss!).

I miss the big chunks of time to myself in the morning and afternoon. I'd got used to eating breakfast when he went down in the morning. I don't like to eat as early as he does (7:00 -- giving him breakfast is the first thing I do when I wake up and Andy goes to work), and he kind of flips out if I eat in front of him and don't share. I've started giving him a snack before he naps, around 10:30, and I generally hold out and eat with him then. And luckily he's really great about entertaining himself and not getting into trouble, so that even if I don't have as much solo time, I have plenty of opportunities to, say, read a book or write a blog post without his needing me every five minutes.

I was at a shower this weekend, talking to other mothers of babies and toddlers, and few of Ben's age-mates in the group had bedtimes as early as his. I have to say, that kind of strikes fear into my heart. From the first weeks of sleep-training, the hours between Ben's bedtime and ours have been a gift. To watch TV, knit, do fiddly little projects with sharp tools on the coffee table. To relate to one another as adults. To give the poor dog a break. I know eventually Ben's bedtime will get later. And it'll be fine, we'll deal, it'll be the new normal, and I won't miss those hours as much as I think I will.

But please, not yet! Not soon!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Why Knit?

When we were in the Adirondacks last month with friends, four-year-old V. was not in any great hurry to interact with Andy and me. We spent all of Friday (except for the couple hours' drive) together, but it wasn't until late afternoon on Saturday that the breakthrough happened. Ben was napping, and I pulled out my knitting, and suddenly V. was practically in my lap, animatedly asking questions about history and technique. Score one for knitting.

My friend M. recently posited a theory (via his wife, my friend C., so if I'm missing a nuance or two, it's due to Telephone) that knitting is so popular because husbands and boyfriends are playing video games. I imagine his idea is that women want to be in the same room with their Katamari-rolling menfolk, rather than going to another room to watch TV (or banishing the men to the basement and using the living room TV) or read the Interwebs or a book. Or taking turns with the Katamari. I don't buy it. For one thing, I don't buy that so pervasive a fad has its roots in companion activity rather than some kind of itch that needs scratching in the breast of its adherents. Besides, it doesn't explain why knitting. Why not needlepoint? Why not any other of the blue million crafts you can do on your lap in the living room? The biggest reason it doesn't ring true for me, though, is that I hate when Andy wants to play a video game during my knitting hours. Video games are impossibly dull to listen to and only slightly less dull to watch, and knitting only takes up a fraction of my attention. I like watching TV while I'm knitting, especially if it's a show that doesn't rely too heavily on visual information. So it wouldn't surprise me if the enthusiasm for knitting is in some way connected to the uptick in good-to-excellent TV and the availability of whole seasons of same on dvd. But obviously there's more feeding the knitting beast than good TV.

I picked it up again myself because I wanted to knit for Ben -- I remembered enjoying knitting as a teenager, and remembered my mom's enthusiasm for knitting for littles because it takes up so much less time and wool. And if I'd stopped after the second or third project for Ben, or put the knitting away for even a week since I picked it up, that would be an adequate explanation for my interest. But I've knit almost as much for me as for him, and since I started last winter, I've hardly gone a day without knitting, and generally have at least two and as as many as five or six projects going at once. I read knitting blogs. I take photographs of my projects in progress and post them at Ravelry. I started plotting Christmas knitting in April, and am nearly done with my first Christmas present.

I enjoy the feeling of cozy domestic industry. I like that I can feel productive while sitting on my ass watching TV. And the things I produce are genuinely useful objects, performing the satisfying task of protecting me and my loved ones from the chill. You can't say the same for something like, say, scrapbooking or needlepoint, or for any of the other lap-top crafts I can think of.

There's a kind of gentility to knitting, bestowed in part by a venerated history: mother before mother before mother sitting by a fire clothing her kin, all the way back to the clever person who took a hard look at fishing nets and had a good idea. Crafting in general is popular, but most of what you can find at the Jo-Ann's or Michael's couldn't even sort of be described as genteel, and can't claim the thinnest patina of history. But knitting doesn't lose its appeal to the bedazzling masses by appealing to the be-Dansko-ed elite, or vice-versa. Sewing doesn't have the same appeal despite a similar history: you can't keep it in a basket and do it on the couch.

You might think, especially in this economy, that thrift plays a part in the enthusiasm: why buy a sweater when you can make one? Except in nearly every case, even if you don't count your time at all, knitting an object costs more than buying a similar one. If you buy really cheap yarn, sure, but there's something infinitely depressing about spending thirty hours knitting something that can't be nice because the raw materials were shitty. Good yarn is a pleasure to work on. Cheap yarn isn't. I'm knitting Christmas presents this year, and rather than saving money, I'm working hard not to end up spending a lot more than usual.

Friend C. went into her local yarn store this past week to inquire after mother-daughter beginner knitting classes, and reported to me later that she could practically feel the dollars being tugged out of her wallet by a new hobby: the tools, the materials, the books! (The other women bemoaning how much they'd already spent this month!) Score another for knitting.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Play Kitchen

Ben is a little young for the kind of pretend play that takes place in a play kitchen (they're usually aimed at three-year-olds), but he's a big fan of kitchen tools, knobs, and cabinets, and he spent nearly all the time we were at the Fs' in July bashing around their play kitchen. So we decided to get him one. Only, Andy being the buildy sort, we're making him one.

Yesterday was the first effort: plans made and tweaked, materials bought, construction started. Here's what it looks like so far:

I can't tell you how awesome it is to co-parent with somebody who's willing and able to build play furniture. It opens up so many possibilities. I looked at dozens of play kitchens online, and the only ones I could get enthusiastic about were the unbelievably expensive ones like this one, three hundred bucks for just the stove! Or this one, which at least you get stove and sink for your $250. There were others I could have been ok with, like this one or this one, but they all had something I objected to, however nitpicky: they looked ricketty, or had microwaves (where's the imaginative fun in pretending to reheat something?) or fake clocks (a particular peeve) or my favorite bugbear of design for littles: ungodly over-embellishment. This is a big toy that's going to be taking up visual and actual space in my house for the next two years or more -- a lot more if we have another kid -- so it mattered to me that it wasn't going to be something I learned to hate the sight of.

But Ben's kitchen is going to be great. Sturdy, in colors I don't hate. It's going to have a stove and a sink and cabinet, and if he uses it enough and wants one, we left room to add a fridge. We even had fun wandering around Lowe's yesterday, looking for bits and bobs to be repurposed. We scoffed at the package of replacement oven knobs ($20!), when little wooden discs would do just as well and look cuter, too. We plotted how to paint neat circles for burners using shelf paper and a compass (Andy being Andy, we have a compass). It's a great nexus of Andy's craftiness and mine.

This morning I searched "play kitchen" tags at Flickr, and wow. A lot of people like us are building play kitchens, and some of them are pretty fantastic. I mean, wow.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sleeping Through

It's been a while since I posted anything about sleep. (I still feel the hovering shadow of the jinx, but I'm going to post anyway.) Since April, in fact, and I realize now that I've gone looking for posts about sleep that I never provided any closure on the issue for my gentle readers, nor have I said anything about what went right after so much had gone wrong.

So I'd like to tell you all about how we got from several wake-ups a night in April to none lately, but the sad fact is, I really don't remember! I know (because I read my own blog) that we tried to night-wean in the spring, and I think it was partially successful, but there was some backsliding around colds and teething. When we were at Andy's parents' in early June, I was still nursing Ben back to sleep when he woke up at night. But somewhere between that trip and the next, we night-weaned in earnest, because I know I resettled Ben without nursing him while we were at C.'s house.

I started out talking about sleeping and somehow I'm talking about nursing, and I think I've hit on what happened to make this kid sleep through. I think weaning was what finally really did it. The less he was nursing, the better he slept. So long as we both knew I could pull out the big guns, comfort-wise, whenever he couldn't get himself back to sleep, he was more likely to hold out for the boob and not resettle on his own. I was incentivizing his wake-ups.

He still wakes up in the middle of the night sometimes, but it's unusual, and he always goes right back down either by himself or after a quick check and cuddle. It's pretty amazing to me, actually, how he's gone from being such a lousy sleeper to such a good one. And it only took an entire, miserably sleepless year!

The next hurdle is naptime. He's been great about taking consistent morning and afternoon naps for months and months now, but just this weekend it seems like he's resisting the morning nap and moving towards nap consolidation. In the short term, I think, this is going to mean that he gets one too-short nap in the late morning/early afternoon until his body gets used to the schedule and stretches the sleep a bit more. So, early bedtime for a while until we hammer out the details, probably.

I'm excited about moving to one nap. I like the idea of having two longer stretches of time with him to do stuff like errands and outings, and one longer stretch of time to myself to do stuff like write blog posts and make soap.


My mother said to me recently that I parent Ben as if he were a second child. I know she mostly meant it as a compliment, and I mostly took it as one. I'm not a worrier, and I'm lazy, and I'm in favor of as much hands-off parenting and child-led exploration and experimentation as is safe and feasible. The combination (in that order) means that I look for opportunities to let Ben do things for himself, especially when it means less work for me.

Right now, for instance, Ben is by himself in the living room, and I am in the office maybe 25 feet away. There are no closed doors between us, and I can hear him bashing around in his toy drawers, but I can't see him. I'm confident that if he came to any harm, I'd be able to intervene successfully. Part of my confidence comes from 15 months' knowledge of this particular kid. Part of it may well be misguided faith in the idea that if nothing terrible has happened yet, it probably won't.

I tend to notice my lax parenting style a lot more when I'm around people who don't live with toddlers. Other current parents of toddlers don't raise an eyebrow, which either means they're on board or are simply sensitive enough to criticism not to comment. Also, I don't know many other parents of toddlers. Parents of long-ago toddlers are most likely to draw my attention to my lack of concern, and I think it's in part because toddlers seem a lot more fragile to those not being persistently pummeled by them, not watching them face-plant and then get right up unconcerned not once but dozens of times a day. And I'm sure they seem particularly precious and vulnerable to people whose toddlers are long gone, turned into prickly adults who resent parenting advice.

It was too quiet in there, so I just checked on him. He moved from his toys to his books, and is now sitting on the floor paging through Moo Baa La-La-La.

I'm 99% confident that my style is the right one, and if I'm honest, I'd say I think it's not just the right one for me. I think more people should calm the hell down and stop letting fear rule their parenting choices. But it's easy for me to say, because I'm not a worrier. And while I'm glad I'm the kind of parent I am, if I really wanted to change, I'm not sure I'm capable of it.

Friday, August 28, 2009


We spent a few days this past week sharing a cabin in the Adirondacks with friends whose twins E. and V. are almost five. After they'd spent about a day with Ben, they cannily observed that he says "Ah-dah" a lot. Which there is no denying. By the end of the visit, E. was jokily starting conversations with Ben by say, "So ... ah-dah!" and we were all saying "ah-dah" when pointing or drawing attention or wishing to express delight. At one point, I said to V. and E. that probably the next time they saw Ben, they'd say "ah-dah" to him, and he wouldn't know why because he'd be talking by then and wouldn't remember when all he said was "ah-dah."

That paragraph was pretty repetitive with all those "ah-dah"s, huh? You got a little tired of hearing "ah-dah," didn't you? It's not as cute on the page as it is when pronounced by a fat-cheeked little sweetheart, but still. It is pretty much all he says, and I am getting a little impatient for Mama, say, or even some other gibberish.

He says "bahm," which is apparently the sound a cat makes. So it means cat.

He says "gahng," which is any clanging sound. He says it after he's made a big clanging sound.

He says "Tsssssss" when asked what sound a snake makes.

He says "ah ah" when asked what sound a monkey makes.

We met ducks at the cabin, so now he knows that "gock gock gock" is the sound a duck makes -- he would start quacking the instant he walked out the back of the cabin.

I've been hassling him.

"Say 'ma-ma-ma-ma,'" I say. His eyes get wide. He likes this game.

"Mamamamamama," he says. (Or sometimes, "Nananananana.")

"Yes!" I say. "'Ma-ma' is me! 'Ma-ma' is Mom! Say 'Ma-ma.'"


He gets the sound. He knows it's the M sound I'm asking for, and he likes to make the M sound and get a positive reaction. But he clearly hasn't made the leap yet from sound to word.

Which is kind of baffling, really, because his receptive language is pretty amazing. You only have to name an object he's interested in once or maybe twice for him to remember that word. Sometimes when I'm making his dinner, I ask him to go get his sippy cup and bring it to me, and he he does it. That's grasping two whole separate commands and remembering both of them long enough to complete both tasks (which of course also demonstrates a quite pleasant willingness to do what I ask). He can point out an impressive range of barnyard animals in his beloved farm book.

I'm not concerned about his lack of expressive language in the sense of being worried there's something wrong with him. I know that not talking at 15 months is still absolutely within the range of normal, especially for a kid who's an only and home with mom all day where he doesn't need to work very hard to get what he wants. I'm just impatient! "Ah-dah" is undeniably cute, but I'm tired of "ah-dah"!

Sunday, August 16, 2009


I know that it's hard for people who don't have animals, or who don't form deep family bonds with their animals, to understand the depth of grief somebody like me feels for somebody like Lola. And I feel a little silly talking about it, knowing that people who don't understand will be reading, assigning me into some category of the absurdly emotional or revoltingly self-indulgent or something.

I'm not in fact particularly emotional. I tend to react to most things pretty rationally. I'm not sentimental or maudlin or even much given to tears. If I'm self-indulgent, it's about catalogue shopping, not finding ways to make myself miserable. But I've cried for Lola every day since she died. And not just eyes-filling, tears-leaking crying, but embarrassing, out-loud sobbing. I literally cry for her, in the sense of calling her name out loud. It's not the kind of grieving I've ever done for anybody else, and I've lost people.

In part, I think, losing someone who was so much a part of the fabric of your daily life, someone you saw more times a day than you could count or were ever consciously aware of, makes you especially raw to the idea of death itself, the finality, the unbearable absence of someone who was so very present. And the fact that my relationship with her was so physical plays a part in that, too. Somehow the idea that I can't just reach out and touch her is especially hard to bear.

I wish so much that I believed I would see her again. I wish I believed in heaven, in a conscious afterlife of any kind for any of us, in which some eternal aspect of me could embrace some eternal aspect of her. I wish I believed that one day we could do whatever ghosts or angels do that's like scritching and wagging and kissing faces. But I don't. I don't believe it, and I can't make myself believe it.

The part of her that was her is gone, and gone forever. The part of her that was flesh is ashes. We picked them up today, in a plastic urn with her name on a slip of paper scotch-taped. "NGEFL," Andy and I said in unison, shaking our heads. So many things were Not Good Enough for Lola that we shortened the phrase to its initials long ago.

I can believe that there's a kind of ocean of souls from which we each come, to which we each return, and that it includes all of us, from the very simple to the very complex. This notion doesn't give me the kind of comfort that the hope of concrete, individual me someday being reunited with concrete, individual Lola would. But it's a kind of comfort, being able to hope that, bound together as I feel certain we are, we will someday, in some form, embrace again.

Friday, August 7, 2009


As I said before, I'd have been happy to go along nursing at night and morning pretty much indefinitely if that's what Ben wanted. But I've come to believe (based on not a whole lot of empirical evidence, so take it for what it's worth) that babies give you opportunities to cut back and finally end breastfeeding painlessly, and if you don't take these opportunities when they're presented, cutting back or stopping later presents much more of a problem. So though I was perfectly content to continue, I was also looking for signs from Ben that he was ok stopping.

A couple of weeks ago, he balked at the boob at bedtime -- first time ever. It might have been because (Bad Mommy) I'd had a margarita not too long before, though I've had beers before bedtime without putting him off. I really have no idea why he balked, but when he did, I gave him a sippy of cow's milk instead, and he seemed content with that, and we went on doing that, adjusting his bedtime ritual slightly around it.

We went on for another week or so nursing just in the morning. But the evening feed had always been the substantial one, and the morning one was more about giving me another ten minutes to laze in bed than about satisfying his hunger or need to connect or soothe. And that was weekdays -- on weekends, Andy takes him in the early morning so that I can sleep in, and Ben didn't usually nurse until much later, after breakfast. So this past weekend, I tried just skipping nursing on Saturday morning, and he didn't even notice. When Monday rolled around, we changed the morning ritual a bit so that Ben wasn't plonked in bed with me, but instead I came downstairs and joined him and Andy.

And so weaning went pretty much seamlessly. He's asked once or twice (he pokes me in the sternum), but hasn't put up the tiniest fuss when I say no, we don't do that anymore, and would you like a sippy of milk?

And it's been pretty much seamless for me, too. No physical problems, which I wouldn't really have expected, since we weaned so very gradually. And really no sadness, partly because losing Lola the same weekend meant that all my sadness capacity was full of grief and mourning.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Goodbye, Good Girl

It is with the profoundest sadness I have to report that our basset hound Lola died yesterday morning.

She'd been battling lymphoma -- and beating it back with aplomb, I might add -- since February of 2008. She relapsed this past spring and had been responding well to her second round of treatment, but something simply went wrong after her last dose on Tuesday. Yesterday I had her back at the vet, and by this morning it was clear that this was a system failure, that whether it had to do with the chemo or the timing was just a coincidence, she was, as Andy put it, scritching at the door. The last kindness we could perform for her was to let her out gracefully.

She was a stubborn, grouchy, opinionated, loving, wonderful dog. When she was a youngster and loved playing fetch, she knew all her toys by name, and would get the one you asked for out of her toy box and bring it to you. When we brought her to Andy's folks' in Wisconsin, she used to lure their dogs outside with a toy and then double back by a different door to steal their marrow bones. The people at the dog hotel she stayed in in Philadelphia were convinced she was a famous retired showdog, and a junkie outside the 7-11 at the corner of 34th and Powelton once called her a symphony.

She had long, beautiful ears and a heart-shaped spot on her right front stump. She sang with soul and gusto. She was about as lovely and graceful and dignified as a basset hound can be. She would have turned nine in August.

She was our girl, and we loved her very much.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Tech Help

Hey, Readers:

I know some of you are savvy web-machen types, and I need help. I like this layout fine, but the style of the title really bugs me, and I have no idea how to change it in the stylesheet. I'm all over old-school HTML, so it's not like I'm completely clueless, but I open the code and I have NO IDEA what I'm looking at.

Need make blog pretty -- I can haz help plz?

Solo-Parent Road Trip

We're just back from a whirlwind trip to Charlottesville for C's triplets' first birthday, with overnight visits in DC and Philadelphia on either end. The "we" in this case is me and Ben, no Andy, and solo-parent road-tripping was surprisingly easy. And by "easy," of course I mean "I didn't even cry once."

The thing that makes it doable is that the kid will sleep in his travel crib in strange places. For a while, that was not the case, and every trip out of town meant each night stacked up the sleeplessness. Now that he sleeps -- and I sleep -- all things are possible.

Another thing that makes it doable is understanding and helpful friends who don't roll their eyes at our arrival with armloads of gear and crap, who make room and help carry and let their schedules work around us a little. You expect it to some degree from other people with babies (or whose kids were babies in recent memory), but it's a wonderful gift from the unbabied.

What makes it fun is that he's a pretty gregarious and outgoing little dude. He genuinely enjoys interacting with people, making faces and getting reactions, so that he's both happy and the source of happiness in others. Rest stops on the Jersey Turnpike, for instance, are not generally a highlight of anybody's travel, but when you walk in hand-in-hand with a grinning toddler who likes to wave his fat little arm at everybody, it can be something of a treat.

I wish I were one of those people who could travel with a toddler and one overnight bag, but I'm just not, and I've made my peace with it.

- clothing and bathroom stuff bag
- diaper bag
- bag of toys
- bag of food, snacks, sippies, plates, and bibs*
- heavy-as-hell bag of travel crib
- Ikea plastic-canvas bag of booster seat and tray
- bag of dvd player and dvds
- stroller

And, sure, I could consolidate some of those bags, but what does it get me to put the toys in the food bag except hassle when I want to carry one and not the other? As it is, I had to shuffle a bunch of stuff to take just the minimal food and diaper gear when we took public transportation into Center City for dinner, since I wasn't about to lug the kid, the stroller, my handbag, and two other large bags up and down subway stairs.

Anyway. Doing this stuff on my own is mostly fine. I'm just organized enough, and just patient enough (though the experimental, let's-push-Mom's-buttons-'cause-I'm-bored shrieking on the Beltway did make me lose my mind briefly), and I like driving, and I like my kid. But it does give me profound respect for single parents of tiny people. Other people can give you help and respite, but not like a co-parent can. I had a wonderful time (and so did Ben), but it sure is nice to be back here where I don't have to change all the diapers.

* I realized after posting that actually I had another food bag, too: a cooler bag with fridge stuff in it. I also had a bag of knitting, but I can hardly blame that on Ben.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day!

Exuberant patriotic joy to the tune of a Sousa march to all!

Saturday, June 27, 2009


He got his first hard-soled shoes this week -- before I'd only ever had him in Robeez -- and he walks so deliberately in his new sandals. Stomp, stomp, stomp, lifting higher with the right foot than the left, partly delighted and partly perplexed by the new sensation.

It's not that he never noticed the stairs, but they hadn't been much of a draw before we got back from Wisconsin. Now he's all about the climbing. Andy and I make lots of Everest jokes about summiting without supplemental pants.

For some reason I can't fathom, he often prefers to drink with the sippy spout on the far side of the cup.

He likes to be upside down. The phrase "upside down" was one of the first things we noticed he understood, because if you said it, he'd throw his head back, waiting for you to make the rest of his body follow. He does this a lot.

He's started to give kisses. Really romantic kisses, where he basically opens his mouth, sticks his tongue out a bit, and leans in. They're a bit anticlimactic: he basically just presses his slightly open mouth on you for a second. Still, wow, so sweet. He also bumps foreheads and rubs noses.


I'm not particularly sentimental, and I haven't been a big Michael Jackson fan since I was eleven, so I keep being surprised to find myself tearing up at the coverage of his death. I'm also surprised to find myself getting angry at the people who (mostly on Facebook) proclaim their indifference or even happiness at the news.

You don't have to know a dozen things about Michael Jackson's life to know that he was both profoundly talented and profoundly broken. You don't have to like the music to acknowledge the genius. You don't have to like the man to acknowledge the tragedy. And I think that because he became known to us as a child, because childhood -- the theft of it, the lack of it, the search for it -- was always a part of his ever-creepier persona, the tragedy is bigger and uglier.

I've been writing and rewriting a paragraph about how I feel complicit in the tragedy, how we as consumers of pop culture fueled the success and in doing so fueled the machine that ground him into little bits. And that's not the whole story, of course. But it's part of what makes me sad.

My friend M. used to teach undergraduates, and back when the first season of American Idol was on, she and her class were chatting about it, and she said that Justin Guarini reminded her of Michael Jackson, and they all looked at her like she had six heads. The only Michael Jackson these kids knew was the bandaged freakshow, the alleged abuser, the joke. So I'm glad, in all the media coverage, to see so many images from the time before. He was young and handsome and debonair! He had charisma and precision and grace! Despite the horrors of his life, he had joy.

Anyway, here's my favorite Michael Jackson song. I defy you to hear the opening bars and not want to get up and dance.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More Toys

It was December when I last blogged a list of Ben's favorite toys, and the kid wasn't yet crawling, and probably unsurprisingly to parents of toddlers, the first two items on the December list make it onto the June list, too. We've gone from one big cloth box of toys to a whole TROFAST (I love Ikea) cabinet, with at least half the toys in storage so that A) there's some kind of limit to the mess, and B) toys can be NEW! all over again in a month's time.

Here are the evergreens, the greatest hits:

1. Leap Frog Learn & Groove Musical Table. Ben loves this thing, and for an electronic noise-maker, it's pretty amazingly non-irritating. My advice: put the talk mode in Spanish so it's less distracting when you're trying to read a book.

2. Ikea nesting and stacking cups and stacking rings. He's nearly able to stack now, which increases the play value, but you'd be amazed at how much he loves playing with these even without being able to manipulate them the way they're intended to be manipulated.

3. Animals from Playmobil 123 (from the farm set and the tractor set) and Schleich (I've bought him mother-baby pairs of elephants, cows, and pandas). The cows from both are the biggest hits. At left he's cruising the sofa with a Playmobil cow in hand.

4. Hammer balls from Plan. I love Plan Toys. Good, solid stuff, well made by a ecologically and economically responsible company. Ben, of course, doesn't care about that, and I have to confess I'm surprised by how much fun he clearly has with this toy, which I would have thought was of limited interest (he got it as a gift). He will hammer the balls through and then retrieve them and replace them to hammer again.

5. Playskool gear toy. Another one I'm surprised by the duration of his interest in. At first, he just liked pulling the gears off and chewing on them. Then he worked out how to push the button and make them turn. He clearly finds the thing fascinating and challenging, and the music is really not bad at all.

Here, on the other hand, are the things I wish he'd like, but he remains steadfastly uninterested in:

1. Push walkers. We have a super-cute one from Ikea and a plastic hippo-shaped one borrowed from a friend, and not only is he not interested, he gets annoyed if you put him down too close to one. Ok, no pressure, kid!

2. Blocks. We have at this point hundreds of very nice, very expensive wood blocks. Andy and I like them very much, and when we get down on the floor and make exciting block structures, Ben does enjoy destroying them, but that's really the limit of his interest. He has very recently figured out that he can stack one block on another, though, so it could be that blocks are on their way in.

3. A baby doll. I bought him this one for his birthday, and he gave it a good poke in the nose and proceeded to other things. His cousin, six months older, loved the baby doll and carried it around giving it hugs and kisses, so I have good hope that Ben will develop regard for his baby eventually.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

All Together Now

Until last night, Ben ate in his highchair in the kitchen, and I basically gave him one thing at a time as I made it, and Andy and I ate dinner after we put Ben to bed. But lately we'd been wondering whether a slightly later bedtime might result in a slightly later wake-up time (5:30 AM = so not fun for all), though the idea of losing even half an hour of our precious grown-up time in the evening was painful to contemplate. (We'd been putting Ben down between 6:30 and 7, and going to bed ourselves around 9:30 or 10.) But then it occurred to me that Ben is ready -- way past ready, in fact -- to join us at the table for dinner, and that we could solve all our problems by having dinner earlier, all together. (So that while we put Ben down later, we don't then have to spend any time making dinner for ourselves, so we have about the same amount of leisure time.)

So we did it last night for the first time, and the dinner part, at least, was a success. It was a bit of a scramble getting everything ready together, even though I was only making frozen pizzas and a Greek salad. But Ben hasn't warmed up to salad, and needed more than French-bread pizza to eat, so I made a standard Ben dinner while Andy finished the salad and wrangled the boy-o and fed the dogs, and we managed to sit down to a relatively civilized dinner, all three of us. It was very nice.

Sleeping, oy, no such luck. I don't know whether it was even related to the change in schedule, but the kid had a really tough night with several wake-ups, none that he went down easily after. He did sleep about half an hour later, though, but what with all the wackiness overnight, I don't consider it good data. So we'll see.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Unsolicited Advice: Crack a Book!

People are funny about parenting books. Even among people I'd generally consider fairly book-friendly if not book-obsessed, there's often an attitude of disdain and dismissiveness about taking parenting advice from a book. Of course, the disdain appears most prominently when the book advice disagrees with the disdainer's. But even when it's not a case of competing expertise, there's a common sense that parenting is just isn't the sort of thing that experts can help with.

And I understand and even to some extent even agree. Parenting books can only talk in generalizations and averages, and when your child lies outside the catchment of the generalization, the advice isn't much use, and can be demoralizing. I remember reading (it was Ferber or Weissbluth, I can't remember which) that there's no such thing as a kid who's just naturally a bad sleeper -- there are only kids who haven't been shown how to sleep well. Which I read, not surprisingly, as a blistering indictment of my parenting. Not helpful. And now that I have more confidence as a parent, I can say with assurance that that's nonsense, that while I'm sure any baby's sleep can be improved in various ways, there absolutely are sleep-resistant kids, and mine is absolutely one of them. So I support taking expert advice with a grain of salt, and I certainly support skepticism of any advice that undermines you or seems not to jibe at all with your own observation.


What I don't understand and can't support is not reading the books at all. I can't count the number of times a parenting book introduced me to a concept that had never crossed my mind, or offered a tactic or solution or small but crucial course correction that I found helpful. Even just reinforced something I'd done at first instinctively, or backed up a decision I made thoughtfully but absent expertise.

I think we sometimes have this notion that parenting ought to come naturally. And to some extent, it does. I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of times I've done something without thinking it through, without making a conscious decision about it, and had it turn out very well, turn out in some cases to be exactly the thing the experts say you should do. But just because it's possible, even common, to stumble blindly into doing the right thing doesn't mean we shouldn't be aiming for conscious and conscientious parenting. I've observed too many parents whose instincts are flat-out crappy to have any real faith in instinct. And though I often get great advice and the benefit of other people's experience by talking to friends, there's no way for casual conversation to cover parenting topics as broadly or thoroughly as a book can.

Or, more accurately, as a whole bookshelf can. Because you can't just read one book, or a few books. Because the experts disagree, and you may disagree with the experts. If you only read Dr. Sears because you're all about AP, there's a lot of helpful information you'll never get, a lot of dissenting opinions that may suprise you by ringing true. Sometimes the books that challenge your cherished notions of parenting are the most helpful because they're the ones that make you think hardest about why you make the decisions you do.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Dear Readers, would you do me a favor? If I don't know you -- personally or through an online forum -- and you're a regular reader of this blog, would you drop me a line and let me know how you found it? I'd be most grateful.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Dog, Dad, That, This -- Cracker!

Walking is unmistakable. Either you can put one foot in front of the other, not hold on to anything, and propel yourself, or you can't. Ben did it for the first time last weekend, and despite much celebration on all our parts, seems to have lost enthusiasm for bipedality (a not-uncommon reaction to first steps, apparently) and regained considerable gusto for crawling. Which is fine.

But talking is such a judgment call. I had him at the pediatrician for his one-year physical, and she asked if he has any words, and I said No because we don't think he does, really, but who knows? He says "dah" about a lot of things, and it's entirely possible that one or two or six uses of "dah" are actual words. Certainly he never uses another sound or syllable for Dog, or for Dad. He says "diss" in a way that suggests "this" to me, to go along with another use of "dah" for "that." Sometimes he says stuff that sounds an awful lot like "cacka" when he's very excited about getting a cracker (which is pretty much any time he's about to get a cracker -- kid likes crackers), but he doesn't do it consistently (sometimes he just says "dah! dah! dah!"), and he won't do it when prompted.

He has considerable receptive language, and he certainly communicates his desires very well by pointing and "dah"-ing. When asked, he can point to such varied and useful items as his toes, his mouth, his hair, Mom's belly, a dog, a ceiling fan, a window, peas, pineapple, and probably a couple dozen other quotidian things. When I've told him not to bug sleeping Lola, he points to her and shakes his head sagely.

Do I sound like I'm making excuses? Early expressive language is a marker of intelligence. I was an early talker. But really, it's not that. I'm not concerned that this child will be a dullard. It's just that I talk to him all day, every day, and I'm so eager for another voice to join in and make it a conversation. And it's such a huge and crucial part of personhood, and watching him become a person is an addictive delight.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Comfortable Faces

In the house I think of as "the house I grew up in" (even though I lived in four different houses from infancy to college, and this one no longer than the others), one wall of the family room was covered in photographs. They were arranged in three not-quite-separate columns: on the left was my dad's family, on the right was my mom's, and in the middle was the three of us.

I loved that wall of photographs. I loved that I knew the names of all the people and how they were related to me. I loved that visitors always seemed interested and wanted to know who was who. There was something essentially comforting about that mass of images, and I've been wanting to recreate it in my own house for years.

I've asked my mom for photos, and she's brought sheaves on various visits. When we were in Wisconsin last week, Andy's mom covered the dining room table in boxes and albums, and we sorted through them all evening, picking ones to take home with us -- not to keep, but to scan and return. We've already framed and hung a few of my family; now we can do the same for Andy's. And we scanned a bunch of my family, too, and posted dozens of each on my Flickr site and sent links to relatives. I hope everyone enjoys them, and I really hope that they feel moved to cough up some photos of their own which can also be scanned and returned.

I've picked the dining room as our family gallery. The walls don't lend themselves to the three-column approach; also, I prefer a more scattered look. But there's lots of space to fill, and I look forward to picking and grouping, framing and hanging. I don't suffer the delusion that Ben will share all my interests and pleasures, so it won't surprise (or, I hope, disappoint) me if he isn't eager to memorize all the names and faces, if he doesn't find them the comfort I always did. But there's a (silly? superstitious?) part of me that feels that the people in those pictures want to watch over us, want to get a look at my kid growing up, and that I somehow wouldn't be doing right by my ancestors if I didn't festoon the place with their faces.

(Andy's paternal grandparents Etta and Bernard, my mother Betsy in my grandmother Helen's arms with my aunt Sylvia, Andy's uncle Bob and mother Kath, my aunts Nina and Elaine with my dad Stanley)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nurse More?

Ben was an enthusiastic on-demand nurser from the get-go, and that worked for me just fine, especially early on when he desperately needed comfort, and nursing was the most effective comfort I could give. At around nine months, though, it occurred to me that I wasn't 100% happy with on-demand nursing anymore. I'm not sure that I can give a particular reason or list of reasons that would logically outweigh whatever reasons someone else might give for continuing. I have reasons, and I will list them, but I think more than anything it just felt to me that he didn't really need it any longer, and I didn't really like it any longer, and that feeling was more of a motivation than any of the reasons I'm about to give.

So here are some of the reasons:

I'm not entirely comfortable with the conflation of eating and comfort past a certain age. I'm sure plenty of people comfort-nurse well into toddlerhood without creating bad eating habits, but there's something about it that bothers me. I didn't want a toddler who fell down and then needed to nurse to regain his composure.

I've never much liked nursing in public. I don't think I'm excessively modest, and I certainly got over my initial squeamishness about it very quickly, but Ben happens to enjoy the eat-a-little-talk-a-little method of breastfeeding, which is mildly irritating at home, but creates a lot of nipple-management issues at, say, the mall.

He's a very good eater of solids, and he's a chunky little dude. I am in no way concerned that he's getting too little good nutrition. In fact, he eats way better than I do, and I believe he gets better nutrients from his plate than at my breast.

Even so, I probably would have continued on-demand nursing if he had put up any kind of fight about moving to a schedule, let alone eliminating feedings from the schedule. He didn't. I realized that he was usually nursing before and after every sleep, plus once overnight, so the first thing I did was experiment with no nursing before naps, which he didn't even seem to notice: no trouble at all. At first he did ask to nurse occasionally (he pokes at my sternum), but didn't appear fazed at my refusing and offering some kind of redirect. So he was now nursing at an early wake-up (around 4:00 or 5:00), again when Andy left for work and handed him over to me (7:00), after each nap (around 10:00 and 2:30), and at bedtime (6:30), and that went on for a couple of months. (I wasn't a total hard-ass about it, either -- if he was sick or having a very hard time with something and wanted to nurse, I let him.)

So last week we were in Wisconsin at Andy's parents', and it occurred to me that with all the distraction and excitement, Ben might not even miss one of the post-nap nursings, so I skipped it and gave him a snack of crackers and milk instead. No problem. (It should be mentioned that this kid is a huge fan of crackers.) So no more nursing after the morning nap, check. And the day before yesterday, I did the same for the afternoon nap, and again, he didn't seem fazed in the slightest.

Now I'm perfectly happy to go on nursing in the morning and at bedtime for as long as he shows the slightest interest. But he threw me a bit of a curveball yesterday: suddenly his enthusiasm for his second morning nursing (the 7:00 one when Andy brings him to me in bed) seemed drastically reduced! He was way more interested in clambering around on the pillows and beating on the wall behind the headboard. I heard the slightest plaintive note in my voice when he squirmed away for the third or fourth time and I asked, "Nurse more, kiddo? Nurse more?"

Monday, June 8, 2009

Road Trip

We spent Ben's first birthday with Andy's folks in Wisconsin, which means that we spent four very long days (12 hours, give or take) on the road with a 12-month-old. And it went about as well as four 12-hour days in the car with a 12-month-old could possibly go, I must say.

On the advice of friends, we bought a portable dvd player and a dohickey to hang it from the front seats, and when it came time to pull out the big guns, I have never been so glad to kiss goodbye my formerly strong opinion that videos in cars are one of the things wrong with Kids Today. Without the magic trance-inducer, we'd have to have added another day to the trip each way, without a doubt. (Our dvds, in case you were dying to know, were They Might Be Giants' ABCs and 123s, and Yo Gabba Gabba.)

The other sine qua non of the trip was stopping for actual meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's tough to abandon a driving lifetime of honed road-trip tactics (the drive-through, the you-pee-while-I-get-gas, the lap snacks rather than meals), and it's really tough to feel that hour or hour and a half tick by, knowing that every minute is another minute you're going to be stuck in the car at the other end. But babies aren't roadtrippers, and the kid needed to stretch his baby legs and look at the crap on the walls of the Cracker Barrel instead of the back of a headrest for a while. And I do recommend Cracker Barrel. The vegetables are awful, but the rest of the menu is very tasty and very inexpensive. I can't think of another chain that's as ubiquitous and reliable without being also terrible or overpriced.

The real lesson of the trip, though, is don't take a baby on an eleven-hundred-mile road trip if you can possibly avoid it. Plane travel has its pitfalls and problems -- the expense springs to mind, along with the hell of being the one responsible for the crying baby making everyone else unhappy -- but I think it still might beat four 12-hour days in the car. Best of all, of course, is when it's their turn to come to you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dogs! Dogs! Dogs!

Ben has enjoyed paging through his big photo books (especially this one and this one) for a while now, but it's mostly been clear that his pleasure has had more to do with the hinge-motion of the pages than observing the pictures. But recently he's made the mental leap and is able to recognize that the images correspond to real-world objects and creatures.

At least, if they're dogs.

We have two basset hounds, Lola and Hugo, and as I mentioned here, I first noticed he'd acquired some receptive language when I named the dogs and he looked at them. He likes them both very much, and the feelings are decidedly mutual. So it's no surprise that they continue to open developmental doors for him.

This latest started with the basset hound calendar in the kitchen, which was the first image Ben got excited about, first grinning and then pointing and grinning, wanting to be taken closer so that he could smack at the image, possibly making sure there wasn't really a doggy behind it somewhere. Then he and I were paging through one of his picture books, and he pointed at a photo of a dog: "Dah!" This dog wasn't a basset hound. And then he pointed at a bear and a wolf and a cougar. So, ok, we haven't exactly narrowed down what a dog is, but bears and cougars aren't that far off, and wolves are just dogs whose ancestors -- rather shortsightedly -- resisted the appeal of human garbage heaps. Which of course makes me think about how I know a wolf from a bear from a dog, how infinitely complicated those distinctions are, what a miracle it is that my not-quite-year-old can do it, how essential this kind of detailed visual sorting must be to human evolutionary success.

And then the thing that really knocked me out: he pointed out the doggy in an illustrated book. And not a photorealistic illustration, rather a stylized one (in Dav Pilkey's The Paperboy). This dog isn't a basset hound, either, but it is a low-rider and a bit of a fatty, so similar. Still, how does the kid know? What markers of dogness do his real dogs share with this painting? In the time before photography, did it take longer for babies to recognize images? Do photographs create a kind of visual bridge between the real and the imagined?

When her first child was around Ben's age, my friend C. asked me for photos of Lola, who was a puppy at the time. (I believe I sent her prints -- decent images were probably too big to email eight years ago, and there was no such thing as Flickr.) She was making a doggy picture book for her son. I loved the idea, and loved that she wanted to include Lola. Last week, I made one for Ben, with photos of our dogs, dogs we know, and lots of dogs from the Dogs! Dogs! Dogs! pool at Flickr. (Scotch photo laminating sheets are awesome.)

He loves it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


There was a vase of daisies on the counter this morning with a note attached: "Happy Mother's Day" in block letters, and beneath some scratches in crayon that could only have been the very first artistic product of my pride and joy.

We ate lunch at the Cracker Barrel, my favorite kid-friendly chain place (two words: hashbrown casserole), along with half the population of the Capital District and their moms. Ben had his first buttermilk biscuits and first grilled-cheese sandwich, both big hits. I grinned (probably inappropriately) at a couple of hugely pregnant women who reminded me of me this time last year.

Andy elected to skip the Lowe's because I find it tedious, and instead we did pleasurable-to-me errands including a leisurely wander through a nice nursery with iced coffees. And yesterday -- part of the Mothers' Day extravaganza, though it was more or less a coincidence -- I got a haircut and highlights and a brow wax and went bra shopping and ate lunch with a book.

And for dinner we ate Five Guys take-out, one of my favorite meals, and not just because I don't have to cook it or even go get it.

It was a very nice weekend. Maybe I like Mothers' Day after all.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Martyrs' Day

I've never liked Valentine's Day. When I was single, it just made me feel conspicuous and lonely. When I was first dating somebody, it was awkward. In an established relationship, it feels canned and corny to do something romantic on one prescribed day. It makes me feel that the relationship is empty if romantic gestures have to be prescribed, if expressions of passion and tenderness are things to avoid shirking rather than extemporaneous outlets of genuine feeling. I'm not sure yet if I feel the same about Mothers' Day. I have a feeling that I will, though, since it's kind of the same deal: being told I'm loved and appreciated because today is the day for it just makes me feel unloved and taken for granted.

I was talking to friends the other day, and one woman expressed outrage at an acquaintance's husband's failure to thank his wife properly (by celebrating Mothers' Day properly) for raising his children, giving up her career to stay home with them, and so forth. It took me aback. I stay home with my kid, but it wouldn't occur to me to feel martyred about it. For one thing, I didn't give up anything meaningful to do it. But if I'd been invested in a career, I would have made a choice about working or not working that was mine to make, and I'd have owned it. More than that, I see my ability to stay home with Ben as a luxury provided by Andy. Not only do I not think he should be especially grateful to me for staying home, I think I should be grateful to him. And most importantly, I never want Ben to think that parenting him the way I chose to was anything other than what I wanted.

Which is not to say that being the at-home parent of a baby or toddler isn't full of drudgery and mostly thankless. It is. When Andy performs particularly well at his job, it's because he overcame an interesting challenge, and he gets praise from people whose opinions he respects. When I perform particularly well at mine, it's because I overcame Ben's crabbiness and got the grocery shopping done and dinner on the table, and nobody but me tends to notice.

So if there's a part of Mothers' Day I might actually cherish, it's being told in all seriousness by someone whose opinion I respect that what I do matters, and that I'm good at it. And even so, if I only hear it once a year, it's just going to piss me off.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


On Saturday, I knew we'd be eating lunch out, so I brought along Ben's sippy cup, a bib, and a bag of dreary-ohs and fruit bits. It's not that I fear for his nutrition if he goes a meal without oaty Os and freeze-dried fruit; it's that the time between sitting down and getting served is easier on everybody if Ben has dozens of little foodlets to pick up and put into his mouth.

I used to bring all his food: overcooked organic veggies and strips of whole-wheat bread, shredded cheese, a banana. And I don't look back on those meals out and think I was a chump to do it -- he was new to solids, and I think it was appropriate to introduce each food carefully, prepare it minimally. But now he's a sturdy little nearly-eleven-month-old Big Fan of Food, and I'm not going to let a little breading scare me.

So we order off the kids' menu now. Chicken fingers and steamed broccoli. I cut it all up into wee pieces and set a few pieces at a time in front of him. The server invariably asks if we want a plate, and I'm sure the sight of a baby eating right off the table is unsettling, but he can handle the germs, and he'd just knock a plate onto the floor.

We didn't plan to eat out again today, but it worked out that way. I didn't have a bib or the snacks, but I did have his sippy cup, and I made a mental note to keep one in my purse from now on -- it's really the only brought-from-home lunch item that we'd miss. He ate his deep-fried, mostly-breading, far-too-salty chicken and steamed-but-drenched-in-saturated-fats-and-salt broccoli, and would I want him to eat like that all the time? No way. But once in a while, no big deal. And it's great to be able to eat lunch at a restaurant on the spur of the moment.

These are not fancy or sophisticated places, of course. Yesterday was Pizzeria Uno at the mall, and today was the Ruby Tuesday across from the Lowe's. His restaurant experiences include Cracker Barrel, Panera, Five Guys (where there isn't, sadly, anything I'm willing to give him -- yet), and a cafe in Albany called Peaches. I want him to be the kind of kid who's used to eating out, who can transition easily to nicer places -- and dinner -- once he's past the chucking-stuff-on-the-floor phase, and it seems to me that the way to get there is through a lot of "family" restaurants with fried food and patience.

We tip generously, at least 30%, to make up for the mess.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


A typical day:

4:00 Ben awake and crying; I nurse him, and he goes back down.
6:00 Andy, Ben, and the hounds awake. Andy gets dressed, changes Ben's diaper, puts him in his high-chair, feeds himself and the dogs.
7:00 Andy brings Ben to me in bed. Ben nurses and squirms around. I get up, get dressed, bring Ben downstairs and give him breakfast. We listen to Morning Edition.
7:45 I eat breakfast in front of the computer while Ben hangs out in his doorway jumper.
8:00 Ben loses patience with the jumper; we go into the living room, and he plays with toys and explores his environment while I go back and forth between participating and reading a book. Usually there's a diaper change and a change from PJs into clothes during this time.
9:00 Ben gets fussy, demands to nurse, falls asleep (or gets drowsy); I put him down for his nap. I play on the computer or watch TV and knit or do laundry or some combination.
10:00 (give or take half an hour either way) Ben wakes up. We might go out and run an errand or make an appointment* now. If we're home for the morning, we go downstairs and repeat 8:00's activities. He will usually ask to nurse at some point.
11:30 (give or take, depending on when the nap ended) I give Ben lunch in his high-chair in the kitchen. I make myself something small and quick or else eat some portion of what I'm making for him. We listen to This American Life podcasts (the afternoon programs on WAMC are mind-numbing).
12:30 (give or take, etc.) If there are afternoon errands or appointments, now is when we'd set out. If not, Ben goes back into the doorway jumper and I go back to the interwebs. There's usually a diaper change around now.
1:00 Back to the living room for more toys and exploration. If it's a nice day, we might go into the front yard or out to the park.
2:00 Ben gets grumpy and asks to nurse, falls asleep or gets drowsy, and I put him down for his afternoon nap. I proceed with laundry, tidying, reading, TV, knitting, etc.
3:00 Ben wakes up, gets a diaper change. This is another opportunity to head out for errands or outings. (I like to grocery shop late in the afternoon so that we get back around the time Andy gets home, and he can help put the groceries away.) I usually read him some books as long as his patience for that holds out. He nurses and maybe also gets a bit of an afternoon snack like dreary-ohs or a few bites of my Nutrigrain bar. We play toys, or he does while I read.
4:30 I give him dinner. We listen to All Things Considered.
5:15 Andy comes home round abut the time Ben finishes eating. He changes clothes and grabs some kind of snack.
5:30 Andy and Ben hang out in the living room playing toys, or maybe Andy plays the banjo and Ben smacks it. I feed the dogs, do dinner prep if there is any, and then play on the computer for a while, usually watching something on Hulu while I knit. I might drink a beer.
6:30 Andy takes Ben up and changes him for bed. I go up after a few minutes. Ben nurses, and Andy and Hugo sit on the floor while I go through the bedtime litany of listing all the people and doggies who love Ben (starting with Mom and Dad and Lola and Hugo, going through friends and family and their doggies if any, ending with the babysitter).
6:45 Ben goes to sleep. Andy might go for a quick bike ride, or help me get dinner going, or keep me company while I get dinner going.
7:30 (give or take, depending on how time-consuming dinner is) We eat while watching TV, usually two episodes of Jeopardy on the TiVo.
8:30 I make myself tea and some kind of sweet, feed the cats and scoop their litter, and return to the TV. Andy might be working on some carpentry/IT/other fiddly project while we watch. I am generally knitting.
9:30 We pack it in. We rouse the houndies, who resist, and make them go out before bed. There's some tidying of the kitchen and setting up for the morning.
10:30 Andy is asleep by now; I'm watching TV in bed and knitting.
11:00 I go to sleep.

* Errands and appointments, e.g. Take Lola to the vet for chemo/recheck/CBC, take Ben to the pediatrician, hit Target for diapers, go the H&M mall and check out H&M baby clothes, go to the L.L. Bean mall and check out dowdy clothes for me, meet up with the moms and take a walk somewhere, hit the post office, take a passel of outgrowns to the consignment store, hit the yarn store, hit Barnes & Noble, hit Petsmart, get groceries at the Price Chopper, the Hannaford, the Co-op. Usually more than one destination per outing.

I'm not sure why I thought this rated a blog post. Mostly I sort of wanted to record it for my own future interest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Toys There Should Be

1. A deck of sturdy, circular plastic cards, each about the size of an adult's palm, with photographs of everyday objects or African animals or body parts or other things you find in, say, Priddy books. If you must make them "educational," the reverse of each could have the word, or the initial of the word.

2. Board books made of sturdy plastic or wood, so that gnawing youngsters don't A) destroy them and B) end up with little pieces of semi-dissolved paper in their mouths.

3. A toy with one very easy to operate switch that turns a light on and off. Bonus if the switch is actually shaped like a real light switch.

4. Boxes with hinged lids and different kinds of closing mechanisms, all slightly challenging, in which parents can stow different assortments of interesting gummable and handleable objects.

If any of these things do exist, please tell me where to buy them.

Friday, April 10, 2009

And Still More about Sleep

So here's where we are with the sleep thing.

It was going swimmingly there for a while. The kid would go down and stay down with a few little bleats of protest punctuating the silence but not turning into full-on screaming hysteria. I was pushing his overnight feed later and later every night, and mostly he was sleeping well past those appointed hours.

And then the teeth. Two more on top, one a little ahead of the other. Tooth A (which is really Tooth E, but whatevs) didn't seem to cause him that much distress. In the past,t he worst pain appeared to happen before the tooth showed itself, and Tooth A erupted without my noticing any difference in his demeanor. But Tooth B, oh my heck. Tooth B was apparently a real byatch, because out of nowhere, his sleep went to hell again. Up every few hours, couldn't be redirected back to sleep, lots of yelling which eventually resulted in my buckling and nursing him, poor little guy.

The day after the third night of this was really bad. I was exhausted. He was a crabtastic crabtacular jumbo lump of crab meat. I was short-tempered. He was short-tempered. The morning began with him biting my nipple and me yelling at him and bursting into tears. The worst part (though I have to say, having your nipple bitten by sharp little fresh baby teeth is pretty bad, and it's hard to name a worse part of any day) was feeling defeated -- not only did it seem like we'd lost the sleep battle it had appeared we'd won, but there was now one less tool in the box, night-weaning having come to naught.

Of course, I hadn't really focused on the teething yet, so all of this seemed like random, unexplainable failure to sleep. Once I realized what was going on and started dosing him with ibuprofen at bedtime, things went a lot more smoothly. I was open to giving him a break and nursing him down when he was having a hard time -- this being a phase requiring mercy rather than a pattern requiring squelching.

But Tooth B is nearly out now, and his daytime mood suggests that he's not suffering anymore, so no more ibuprofen, and no more comfort nursing. I had a plugged duct this morning, so I may do a dream feed before I turn in just in case, but we're going cold turkey till dawn.