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.