Saturday, February 28, 2009


The delights of parenthood are manifold, but one is being told your kid is cute. Other people, I understand, don't necessarily like talking to strangers in the grocery store. I'm gregarious. I like random interactions with my fellow man. And when the interactions are baby-based effusive praise, I'm all over it like a cheap suit.

"Look at those cheeks," they'll say, or, "Oh my goodness, how cute," or "Hello, handsome!" (He is infrequently mistaken for a girl, despite my generally dressing him in gender-neutral rather than explicitly boyish clothes. He has a dark purple cabled sweater, though, which increases his odds of mistaken gender by about 31%.) Sometimes they stop to ask his age and talk to him a little. Unless he's in an unusually gleeful mood, he responds with a level stare until they stick around long enough to pass whatever test he's clearly running, because after a minute or two, he opens up his can of HUGE ADORABLE BABY SMILE. Then I have to peel them off or they'd follow us home.

A couple of the deli guys and one of the check-out girls at the smaller of our two grocerias know him by name now, as does the nice lady at the yarn store and one of the tellers at the bank inside the other grocery. I remember this phenomenon; it was the same when Lola was a puppy and we lived in Powelton Village and walked her around the neighborhood a lot. Babies -- even (or maybe especially) baby dogs -- are the best possible calling cards to introduce you to a community.

It's one of the things I'm cherishing about his babyhood because I know full well it won't last. Before I know it, he'll be three and catastrophically emptying shelves at the grocery and having a tantrum at the yarn store and asking the bank teller if her penis came in yet.

Friday, February 27, 2009


The first time it happened -- at least, the first time I remember it happening -- I was walking from Target back to the car with Ben in my arms. He was heavy enough (this kid got big fast, so he was probably still a newborn) that I could feel the strain in my arms, and a horrible thought arrived unbidden: what would it be like to have to to carry this baby on some kind of forced march? I didn't necessarily have a specific forced march in mind; the image was just vaguely war-torn and desperate, a bit sepia-toned and European, as opposed to vivid and African, for instance.

Then it started happening more often. Practically every time I was out in public with Ben and had to lug him for some uncomfortable distance rather than bang him in the stroller, I'd have the flash of fear and desperation, feeling suddenly, unaccountably, like a refugee. I made a conscious effort not to dwell on these images. They would arrive, I'd do my best to have the feeling and allow myself a moment to reflect: on the weirdness of this recurrent fantasy, on the depth of my new appreciation for what it must be like to suffer big hardships with a baby -- and then let it go.

I also tried, though I wasn't consciously aware of it, I don't think, to steer these fantasies away from their obvious destination. The recurrent thoughts of being a refugee were bad enough; I did not want to start thinking about the Holocaust. But eventually it happened. And what's worse is that we managed to move on, in these awful thoughts, from the forced march to the horrors that succeeded it, which are frankly too upsetting even to name.

I don't know what's bringing this on. I'm not obsessed; I don't have these thoughts even every day. But I do have them, and they are brutal, and I wish I knew why. The silly side of my psyche suggests a scarring former life, but my rational mind doesn't accept that, and my heart doesn't find it a satisfying enough explanation. I have to assume it will eventually stop. In the meantime, I do my best both to keep from dwelling on these thoughts and to honor the memories they represent by not banishing them as entirely foolish, either.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Solids II: Eclectic Goopygoo

Ben and I were about to take what turned out to be an overly-ambitious road trip (we called it quits after a couple of sleepless nights in Philadelphia), and I didn't want to start more complicated foods until we got back home. So he had nothing but rice cereal mixed with formula for about 10 days. I increased the cereal to formula ratio over that time, testing how solid I could make it and still have it be acceptable to him. He was ok with pretty solid goop pretty quickly.

So, where to go next? I felt kind of at sea about the next step. It seemed sensible to me to start with inherently mushy foods rather than non-mushy foods that would have to be further processed to be acceptable. So the first thing he got was sweet potato, simmered within an inch of its life and then mashed through a sieve. Big hit. Thumbs up for the sweet potato.

Next was avocado, mashed through the sieve raw (of course -- does one ever cook avocado?). Not so much of a hit, avocado. Foods of which he was skeptical were afterwards said to have gotten "avocado face." Then bananas. Then peas.

Around this time, he started really grabbing for the spoon, with which he was surprisingly dextrous for a six-month-old, but still resulted in a lot of mess. I experimented with sweet potatoes: I cooked the bejesus out of them, but didn't strain them. I'd already cut them into small cubes to freeze them (so that I could cook only what I wanted for a given meal), so I just cut the bigger cubes into smaller cubes, and tried giving them to him whole. They were extremely soft, so I didn't think they were a choking hazard, but I did expect him to struggle a little. Nope. It took him some time to get used to the sensation, but he was an immediate fan. I put one cube at a time into his mouth -- no fuss, no muss.

This opened the door to other mushy pieces of fruit and veg. I stopped mashing peas. I introduced granny-cooked green beans, microwaved blueberries, waterlogged broccoli, all in tiny pieces, from my fingers to his lips.

At this point, about a month into solids, he started getting three meals a day. Breakfast was cereal and a fruit, lunch cereal and a veg, and dinner cereal and a fruit and a veg. Each serving of cereal was about a tablespoon dry. Each fruit or veg was maybe a quarter of a cup. Some things I still mashed or stewed and gooed, but anything that could be fed in chunks was fed in chunks. We switched from rice cereal to baby oatmeal, and then to multigrain. He tried peaches, pears, carrots, corn, mangoes, apples. Plain, whole-milk yoghurt. Little strips of whole wheat bread (still a huge favorite -- he squeals when I take the baggie of bread pieces out of the fridge).

Sometime around seven and a half months, he started really lunging for the cups and plates of food I had until that point somewhat successfully kept hidden during mealtimes. He was ready to feed himself, thankyouverymuchMOM. Up to that point, I'd been feeding him in his Lionheart chair (like a Bumbo) on the kitchen counter, sitting directly in front of him. If he was going to start feeding himself, that set-up wasn't going to work.

I hauled a dining room chair into the kitchen and attached his booster seat. I figured I'd still be handing him most of the food, but he'd have small piles on his tray to play with. And heck, we have dogs who'd be delighted to clean up the windfalls. And sure, it took him a while to get the hang of delivering food to his mouth himself, but really, he got pretty damned good pretty damned fast. He already had a raking grasp at that point, and he quickly developed a sort of modified pincer, where he grabs pieces between his thumb and side of his bent index finger. It wasn't a a couple of weeks before I realized I wasn't feeding him at all anymore, except the few things he still got on a spoon (cottage cheese, stewed fruit, yoghurt).

At nearly nine months, he's eating dreary-ohs, zucchini with olive oil and herbs, several kinds of cheese, crackers, chicken, egg yolks, pineapple, oranges. At each meal, he generally gets two kinds of grains, two or three fruits or veg, one or two dairy or proteins, and a sippy cup of water, which he manages very well himself.

Last week, he and I ate lunch out with friends at an Indian restaurant, and he tried tandoori chicken and naan. Big smile for the tandoor.

Still no dice on avocado, though.

(Edit: I should have made it clear that he's been breastfeeding enthusiastically throughout.)

Solids: Part I

As I've said before, I really do believe that Ben would've been a good eater unless we seriously screwed up, and I can't take responsibility for doing anything particularly right -- just nothing particularly wrong. But since he is such an enthusiastic eater, and this is an area of success, it seems like I might be holding useful information that it's silly not to share. So.

The pediatrician gave me the green-light to start solids after his four-month check-up, which seemed nutso early to me, and against conventional wisdom. I took it as a green-light to start reading about how people approach introducing solids. My friend J. recommended Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense by Ellyn Satter, and her method and message resonated with me. Basically, she says the most important thing is to pay attention to your child and let him lead -- don't force anything, and don't hurry him, and try to make eating a pleasurable experience for everybody.

I knew I wanted to avoid jar baby food. Not that it's some kind of horrible poison, but I'm home and have the time, and it seemed sensible to give him as many whole foods as I was able. But apart from a general consensus about introducing foods well-strained and one at a time, I found very little agreement among experts about which particular foods to start when. Even the conventional wisdom about delaying the introduction of potential allergens turned out not to be supported by the research, according to two review papers another friend sent me (ESPGHAN Committee in Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: "Complementary Feeding," and Greer et al. in Pediatrics: "Effects of Early Nutritional Interventions on the Development of Atopic Disease in Infants and Children") -- which doesn't, it should be noted, mean that the research disproved the theory, but that it didn't support the theory.

Many of the parents I know resisted the notion of beginning with rice cereal, possibly because it seems so awfully unappetizing, and apart from the iron, isn't terrifically nutritious, either. The iron is important, though. Babies start to get iron-deficiency anemia around six months, and they need to get iron from solids (or from iron-fortified formula), and fortified baby cereal is a good source. Plus, it's not like babies have refined palates. Starting with something wicked bland made sense to me, so that's what we did.

At around five months, I decided to give it a go. I mixed baby rice cereal with some formula we still had around, and presented the kid with a nice, thin gruel. I expected resistance, and I was ready to back the hell off immediately and try again in another few weeks. Instead his eyes lit up, and he polished off the tiny portion I'd made and shrieked for more.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Third Man

I'm looking for a nanny slash sitter to come in once a week for a few hours and spell me, and to be on tap for the odd evening out to the movies.

If we still lived in Philadelphia, I doubt I'd be looking to hire someone. I have enough friends there with odd work schedules and big baby love that if I needed someone to watch the kid for a couple of hours so I could go to the dentist or get a haircut or just go and have coffee alone and read an entire article in The Atlantic Monthly like a grown-up, I think I could always rustle up that kind of help among people Ben was already familiar with. But we don't really know anyone here. Not like that. Not known-you-for-fifteen-years-and-you-owe-me-cause-of-that-time type folks. Which blows, I have to say.

I know other mothers of youngsters here, and though at least one uses professional (rather than family/neighbor/friend) in-home childcare, I didn't ask them for recommendations or references. It's not that I don't trust their judgment -- it's that on this particular subject, I don't really trust anyone's but my own.

I read a book recently which was given to me by friend C. and which I recommend: Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane) by Gavin De Becker. It's not the sort of thing I'd probably have picked up if C. hadn't given it to me, because I resist all material aimed at parents that appears to ramp up paranoia and make every safety molehill into a mountain. But I read this book, and I'm glad I did, because I actually found it very sensible and empowering. His basic thesis is that you should trust your instincts about people who creep you out, because your lizard brain is much better at making those kinds of judgments than your rational brain, which tends to talk you out of those creeped-out feelings.

Anyway, one of the chapters is devoted to picking childcare providers, and one of the things he says that really resonated with me is that you shouldn't trust other people's recommendations because they have too much invested in believing that the people who care for their children are above reproach, even when -- or especially when -- they're not. He says to do your own research, ask your own questions (he provides several very smart ones), and do your own follow-up.

So I advertised on craigslist, and am currently sorting through responses and making appointments for interviews. With luck, by this time next week, there will be a third adult in Ben's life on a regular basis, one we all like and trust.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Screw Socks and Shoes

Baby shoes are cute. I mean, all baby stuff is little, but shoes look like real-people shoes only wee, and somehow that means that baby shoes are, like, the cutest baby things of all. But they're a total waste of time. Socks, too.

Ok, maybe you have one of those babies who keeps very still and doesn't beat her feet against whatever her feet happen to be near, and so maybe your baby's socks and shoes stay on. Mine never did. And since Ben was a newborn in summer, it didn't matter, anyway. There is no earthly reason to put anything on a baby's feet except to keep them warm.

I had lots of socks and shoes, though. People buying baby presents love to buy socks and shoes. (Did I mention the cuteness?) And I loved getting them. Wee moccasins! Wee faux sneakers! Wee socks that look like wee sneakers! And I tried each and every pair, all of which either couldn't even be crammed onto his feet in the first place or fell off almost immediately.

Except the sock-mock, favored by all of Ben's household gods. Hanna Andersson makes them. Circo made wicked cute stripey ones last fall, but I haven't seen them since. I came across some other brand at a kids' boutique in Albany, but I can't remember the name.

He's gone all through the winter with nothing on his feet at home, and socko-mockos everywhere else. And people often exclaim over the cuteness of them -- and they are cute, the stripey ones especially, but the kelly green Hanna ones ain't too shabby -- and I always wonder at their never having seen them before. What do other people put on their babies' feet, when nothing else worked even a little for my kid?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hello, Receptive Language!

I'd like to say I was on the look-out for it, checking carefully at least every week, but really I just happened to notice, and he's probably been doing it for ages. I say, "Where's Lola?" and he looks right at her. (Lola is one of our two dogs.) Where's Dad? Where's Hugo? (the other dog) Where's Mom? He knows. He looks right at us, every time.

Language acquisition is an unbelievably huge accomplishment. It knocks me out that he's busily learning -- not just all the names of all the things, but the largely arbitrary and unutterably complicated structure on which we hang all those names, grammar. And it's not like he's taking a sabbatical from his immersion classes in Fine and Gross Motor Skills. No wonder he's so sleepy and crabby -- baby work is hard.

It's just the first wee step, this clear sign that he knows the names of his most important people. But suddenly I'm so much more aware that there's someone listening when I talk. I haven't stopped cursing or anything like that, but I am consciously trying to pepper my conversation with lots of names and labels and plenty of pointing.

Where's the spoon? Where's the car? Where's the sky?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Inside Dog Jail

Before Ben was even sitting up on his own, one of my biggest worries about a future milestone was how we were going to deal with the keeping the dogs out of his business while he was learning to crawl. The dogs, Hugo especially, are big Ben fans, and tended to, whenever opportunity presented itself, kiss him pretty much unceasingly. Luckily, Ben mostly didn't object to this, and as unsqueamish people and proponents of pets beefing up babies' immune systems, we didn't object, either.

But that was when Ben was mostly in our arms, able to be instantly swooped away from overwhelming dog interference at the first sign of his discomfort. I didn't want to jail the baby, so I figured we'd be facing months of jailing the dogs -- in the kitchen, behind gates, banished and unhappy, looking on and unable to participate.

What happened instead was this. We got a big plastic hinged gate and set it up in a play-pen shape with Ben's playmat and rugs for cushion, and lots of baby toys. The dogs would sit and gaze longingly at him, so that we got to calling inside the gate "outside dog jail" -- "dog jail" being, of course, the whole rest of the house. When the boy was first sitting up, he did some sitting in there, and a good bit of falling over. But he moved quickly from first being able to sit to being able to sit quite firmly and reliably, so that I wasn't as concerned that random canine incursions would knock him over and frighten him. So he started doing a lot of sitting inside dog jail, too (thus transforming it, of course, into something other than dog jail), and once that started, I came to learn through experience that while the dogs, especially Hugo, were eager to get up in his grill, they also love a lap on the sofa, and they'll mostly leave him alone so long as I'm willing to provide them with a warm body to curl up next to.

Now Ben is crawling and pulling up on furniture and even beginning to cruise, and contrary to my worries, the dogs didn't get in the way of his attaining these skills at all. But now that he's mobile, he's beginning to get into their business, up in their grills, and that's a whole new set of challenges and concerns.

The point of all of this is that it illustrates something I'm coming to understand about parenting. What you see as a challenge from the starting line tends to turn out not to be nearly so challenging, in part because once you've identified it, you've already started to solve it; and no sooner is the finish line in sight but you see that it's really the start of a whole new race.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dear Readers

I love Site Meter. I doubt you'll find my visitor data nearly so fascinating as I do, but I want to share some of it anyway.

Most of you are in the northeast US, which makes sense, because many of you are my real-life friends and family, and that's where I've always lived. But I have regular readers in Tennessee, Louisiana, California, Canada, Australia, the UK, and Slovakia, too. About a fifth of you have ISPs who don't share location data with Site Meter -- you could be anywhere, people of mystery!

The vast majority of you first arrived here having followed links from TPW, ISL (a private forum), or Facebook. A very small minority came from a Google search. Another small minority came from links in emails. And a growing number of you now arrive from "unknown," which I gather means either that your ISP is cagey or you've bookmarked me.

I get an average of nine visits per day, and the average visit lasts two minutes and 28 seconds. A significant number of visits show up as having lasted zero seconds, though, which I imagine is some kind of data glitch, so I'm guessing the real average is a bit longer. I've had 779 visits since the site went live in October.

Some of you leave via links, mostly to blogs on my "Mommish" list, which is great, because I love them all, and I'm delighted to provide them with traffic. Phantom Scribbler recently added me to her blogroll, for which I'm grateful -- I look forward to seeing folks arrive from there. If there are other parenting blogs you read and love, consider leaving a comment to recommend them.

Many of you I know I know (Hi, Carrie! Hi, Emily! Hi, Mom!). Some of you I believe I know (Hi, Diva! Hi, Zia! Right?). Most of you are question marks about whom I might make educated guesses, but really have no idea (Who's my faithful reader in Yorklyn, Delaware?). But I'm happy to see each and every one of you. Thanks for reading!