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.