Saturday, September 29, 2007

I'm glad I didn't worry

It seems young Daniel picks up a new skill just as it occurs to us (OK, it occurs only to me) that he's not yet rolling over, crawling, babbling, cruising, walking, eating finger foods, getting teeth, gaining weight, et cetera. Good thing I don't worry because before I know it, he's mastered one skill and is on to the next and the next and the next.

In the past two weeks he's added some new syllables to his vocabulary. I was beginning to wonder if he'd be stuck on da da indefinitely. But he came out with Bob and has even said mama a few times. When he's working on new sounds, he often uses his fingers to manipulate his mouth into making the sounds. He definitely has the timing down, too: he says "Ha" whenever Jim or I walk into a room. And Jim swears Danny asked for his bottle (as in "Dada wa ma baba") and tried to say "bouncy jail" while he was on his way to confinement.

Oh, let me explain bouncy jail ... we're not sadistic parents, we just need to confine him at least once a day in a seat with a spring that hangs in the kitchen doorway. By late afternoon, we're both weary from redirecting him before he learns how to remove the electrical outlet covers or topples a tower of CDs onto himself and tired of saying "No," "don't eat that," "what's in your mouth?" "No, that's Bob's treat," "Leave the CDs, the stereo, the remote control, the phone alone," and "Why don't you play with your toys?" He bounces, I get dinner ready and Jim gets to read the paper. (Yes, I know it all sounds very Ward and June Cleaverish. Oh well. I guess I'm way too secure in my femininity and happy with my life to worry about whether my home resembles a 1950s sit com. Maybe another post brewing?)

That's the funny thing about parenthood. It often seems he'll never outgrow some of the more annoying stages like shrieking because his tongue won't make more melodious sounds or wanting to be carried around all day long or needing to nurse in the middle of the night. Then there are the days I wonder where the brakes are on this ride. He's too precious, he's growing up too fast, he's starting to look like a little boy already, he no longer sits still with me, he practically leaps from the arms he once couldn't get enough of. On the nights he skips the midnight nursing, I miss him. Snuggling his warm little body in my arms almost makes up for the sleep disturbance.

Who am I kidding? It totally makes up for broken sleep.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Emergency bathtime

It's been awhile since we've had to sound the poop alarm. But today has been particularly poopy day. Come to think of it, it's been a particularly poopy week.

After dinner, as Dan was playing, I heard the very loud, familiar sound of, well, my son loading his diaper. Not again, I thought. This was poopy diaper number four. Yep, you read that right. And the worst part was that he soiled one of the cheap diapers that often leak. So up the stairs I go, again. Jim took one look at me, holding Squirmy McSqirm under my arm like a football, and shouted "Poop" as he pointed out the brown trail on his leg.


I held him at arm's length as if he were toxic waste. Jim took him and ordered, "Go up and start the bath." So, in the bathroom, we're trying to remove his clothes and socks without spreading the vile bile. I never thought it would take two adults to change one poopy baby.

I considered calling the doctor to ask if three to four poops a day is normal. But, instead, I just called my best friend, the nurse, and asked her. As it turns out, according to Nurse Jen, he could be teething. Yet another thing no one tells you ... babies poop more when they're teething.

I hate poop.

Monday, September 24, 2007

You can't afford me

This weekend, I attempted a feat I'd rather not repeat. I worked four days instead of my usual three days and had to attend a workshop for church. In short, I was busier than I like to be.

Here's what happened by weekend's end:

My house was a mess - the toys didn't get put away, the kitchen didn't get cleaned and swept each night and there was clutter everywhere. I didn't have time to think through dinner plans, so my husband ate junk all weekend and by Sunday night, he had bought a jar of baby food for Dan (not that jar food is the end of the world, it's just not my first choice). This morning, I was exhausted. Dan and I got up around 7 a.m. and both went down for a two and a half hour nap at 10:00 a.m. Oh, and, most important, I missed my son. I missed his first word. He said it while he and Jim were taking a walk Saturday morning.

When I got back from the workshop Saturday morning, my son was so happy to see me. He reached up his arms, smiled and laughed. And that made me feel sad because I had two more nights of work before I could redevote my full attention to him.

The extra money will help, but, for me, the cost is too high. We waited too long for him to shortchange him and ourselves by overworking. I've looked into doing some freelance work lately but have concluded that my time is worth too much to even put a price tag on it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sleepless in September

The only "sleep" theory that makes any sense to us is my sister's notion that frequent night wakings usually precede the emergence of a new skill.

This weekend, Dan came out with his first word. For a few weeks, he's been stringing together da da, but it's clear he doesn't associate it with Jim yet. Then, on Saturday, while Jim and Dan were out walking the dog, Dan began chanting "Bob, Bob, Bob." That's our dog's name and we said from the beginning that it would probably be his first word. Dog owners know that the dog's name is the most frequently spoken word in the house. Any commands regularly given to the dog are a close second. At least he knows who's important.

It does take some effort to say "Bob" since he has to primarly use his lips, not his tongue, to make the sound. If we chant the dog's name to him, he will look at us and bob his head for a few seconds before squeezing his lips together to release the sound, "Bob."

This may seem like minutiae to some of you, but I was an English major in college and I make my living as a word nerd. The acquisition of language, both physically and mentally, is fascinating. And to think, children learn this skill long before they ever enter a classroom. Amazing.

The photos are from a recent evening when Dan refused to sleep and quietly played on the family room floor for about 45 minutes.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Please, don't lie to me

I get the feeling that some mommies out there are lying about their child's sleep habits or at least hiding the truth. Maybe they just don't want to admit that their child doesn't always sleep through the night. They cling to the notion of control, because after all, good parents are in control of the situation, right? Good parents put their feet down. They wont' be manipulated by their children. Some mommies will say "My son usually sleeps 10 hours a night." Judging by what happens in my house, usually must mean one week out of every month.

When my son was about 2 months old, my mom told me about a woman whose 2 month old was sleeping seven hours in a row. At the time, I was really angry at the woman. And by angry, I mean, hunt her down and smack-her-face angry (Sleep deprivation can make me very nasty.) I actually thought she had won some victory that had yet to be won on my battlefield. Seven months later, I realize that her so-called sleep victory probably lasted a week or less. She spoke too soon, a rookie mistake, one I seem to make over and over. Yes, I'm cackling at the idea that she's probably having the same struggles I am now and kicking herself for thinking she'd conquered the sleep monster at 2 months.

I'm also done with the books. You know, the ones that say by the age of nine months your child should be taking two 1 to 2 hour naps a day and sleeping 10 hours a night. Most are written by male doctors whose wives did all the nighttime (and daytime) parenting. Apparently, it's like a tree falling in the forest: if they don't hear it, it must not have made a noise. Just because they slept through the night doesn't mean the baby did. And my favorite category: the books written by moms who have not had an infant in 20 years. It's been 20 years since they sat on the top step listening to their child scream for the 10 minutes that seem like an eternity. I would sell the books, but I don't want to subject any other naive parent to these works of fiction. Maybe they'd make good kindling for the fire this winter.

In my favorite magazine this month, in an article completely unrelated to parenting, a woman recounted her bedtime ritual:

"I pray that tonight is the night my nine month old sleeps through the night."

Amen, sister. Thanks for keeping it real.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

We call him the shriek

Dan is a Cheerios and goldfish cracker junkie. He likes to see how many fit in his mouth. So a few nights ago, I had to hide the goldfish crackers behind Jim's arm and ration them out. Dan craned his neck every which way to see and get at the hidden goldfish. He tried to pull Jim's arm away.

Clearly, he gets object permanence. We have entered age of the separation anxiety. And it's not just separation from Mommy that creates a panic. What's never mentioned in the books is that separation anxiety extends to anything the baby believes should remain in his realm.

Dan objects if Daddy, the dog or the cat walks away, if his toy rolls away, if he drops his sippy cup, if I take his sippy cup, if I take off his diaper, if I take off his clothes, if I take a leaf, rock, piece of bark, stick or clod of dirt from his mouth, if I take any of these objects before he gets them in his mouth.

So what happens next? Dan shrieks. In fact, we're just going to call him The Shriek.

Oh yes, we call him the shriek
Loudest thing on two feet
He's just as proud as he can be
Of his vocality

Dan shrieks when he's happy, too, and when he's just chattering or trying get our attention. He usually pairs shrieks with banging or shaking some other loud object. He's so loud that it hurts my ears and head, not to mention the toll its taking on my sanity. I may have to wear earplugs around the house. I think it's time to get the decibel meter out. Correct me if I'm wrong, but another Daoust child was recorded at 110 decibels.

*adapted from Ray Stevens, "The Streak"

Monday, September 17, 2007

One of those moms

As a newly pregnant or even a new mom, there was always this running mental commentary of things that my child wouldn't do and that I, as a mother, wouldn't do. On the top of my list: my kid would not be nursed all night and snacking would not be a pastime.

At mass, the toddlers and preschoolers are constantly snacking and sucking down bottles or on sippy cups. With childhood obesity being such a concern, I wondered (still do) if feeding children to keep them quiet or occupied was wise. I also hated the idea of having a child who won't sleep through the night with any consistency. But with a baby around, be prepared to throw consistency out the window.

So here's my confessional:

I give my child goldfish crackers or Cheerios to occupy him while I fix meals. But I will draw the line at eating snacks during mass. Anyhow, as any good Catholic would tell you, you're not suppose to eat one hour prior to taking the Eucharist.

My kid sometimes sleeps through the night. And I sometimes nurse him in the middle of the night just to shut him up, er, keep him happy. We're well on our way to having a one year old who doesn't sleep through the night. Horrors.

I guess I'm just one of those moms.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Keystone Docs

Danny had his 9-month check up this morning. The receptionist checked us in. While we waited, a child who got their after us was called. Later, I find out that Dan's chart had slid from the nurse's inbox so she didn't see it right away. Oh, okay.

Next stop, the scale. Naked, Danny weighs a whopping 16 pounds 7 ounces. I make the nurse weigh him again. Sixteen and a half pounds seems pretty light, especially since Jim keeps saying how much heavier Danny feels. The nurse records the weight on his chart, then notices something peculiar. The chart is pink, instead of blue. Apparently, for the past nine months, my doctor's office has been tracking his growth on a chart meant for girls. Great. So instead of being in the 50th percentile for weight, as we had thought all along, he's only in the 10th percentile. (For the uninitiated, this means that 90 percent of males his age are bigger than him.)

I'm not too worried about the weight. He's hitting developmental milestones, he's healthy, happy and eats like a horse. It's the inattention to detail that bugs me most. Yes, everyone makes mistakes. But these people's mistakes could literally kill someone.

Finally, at checkout, the receptionist asks, "Do you want to make his 15 month appointment?"

I say, "I should probably make his 1 year appointment first, don't you think?"

A friend warned that the receptionist at this particular office was a little bats. No kidding. My doctor's office thought my 9-month-old son was really a 12-month-old girl. Jim asked how thoroughly the doctor examines our son.

If I take a pain reliever ...

... will it make my son less of a pain?

I can rather quickly go from wanting to hold his warm sleepy body while inhaling his Ivory soap-scented skin to wanting to beat the wall and shout "shut up" at the top of my lungs. Oh, wait, I did yell "shut up" and beat the wall.

We're in the middle of one of his "bedtime is for sissies" weeks, I think. I've stopped trying to enumerate the nights in a row, the hours in a row, which weeks, which nights and so on that he sleeps. He's capable of sleeping through the night, but we always make excuses for him when he doesn't ... he's teething, his dinner didn't agree with him, maybe I had milk, maybe it's the full moon, the half moon, the crescent moon, the new moon, or maybe there's an ever so slight temperature variation in the house. Who knows? Tonight, he seemed to be testing different cries to see which frequency would bring him a warm body. I went to him twice, then I just had to let him cry. It was either that or I'd have to call in an exorcisist - for him and me.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A busy, busy boy

Before the pitter-patter of little feet comes the steady slap-slap-slap of wee hands on a mission. When the slap-slap-slap stops, I have about two minutes before one of two things happens: Dan shrieks from beneath a piece of furniture or because the wall won't move out of his way or he remains very quiet. Either way, I'm on my feet before he does any more damage to himself or whatever he's gotten into.

Dan's a very busy boy these days which means I'm a very busy mommy. The day typically starts with a plaintive cry from his crib followed by the only diaper change of the day that does not resemble a rodeo. Once fully awake, he tries to throw me off like a bull throws a cowboy. Next, it's downstairs where Dan performs his first feat of the day ... the dump and dart. He dumps out the toys, plays for about 10 seconds then heads for the nearest staircase before I've had a chance to put up the gates.

Now it's time for breakfast. He gets bored after a few bites of cinnamon oatmeal with ground raisins and applesauce and plays hide and seek with the Cheerios or goldfish crackers in his high chair. Other fun games he plays throughout the day include:
  • Toy box boomerang: He dives head first into a large metal bowl full of his "kitchen toys," tipping it so the rim hits his forehead. He repeats this twice before I replace his toy bowl with a basket, which he again dives into. At least, the basket is little more hospitable.
  • Box pushing: A few boxes from recent purchases serve as mobility aids. A few months ago, I wanted to buy a piece of molded plastic with wheels to help him walk. Turns out, an old cardboard box works just as well and is probably much safer. He does well with it, but is still learning about immovable objects like the wall.
  • Bumper brains: He crawls underneath the furniture, usually the sideboard or a dining room chair. Trapped, he screams. He must be wondering why the ceiling suddenly got lower. He got himself in, why can't he get himself out?
And, of course, he helps himself to the all-day, all-you-can-eat kitchen floor buffet. Typical offerings included a raw oat with a string from a banana, a tuft of dog hair stuck to some cheese and three-day old Cheerios. I'm not sure how he finds these little morsels since the floor is swept at least once a day, sometimes more.

By day's end, I feel like I've had a workout - bending, lifting, chasing. It's too bad that any calories burned are offset by my daily reward of a bowl of ice cream once boy wonder goes to bed. Chocolate, of course. And, no, I don't feel guilty about it.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The existential physicist

Dan finds an orderly stack of any object quite offensive. Jim and I play with him, building towers with his soft blocks. As soon as we get one block on top of another, he smites the contemptible mound. Sometimes I can construct an entire tower before he strikes. The weird thing is that he's nearly expressionless when he strikes. It's a vacant, matter of fact glance, as if this is just another chore for him. Is he an anarchist? Does he not like order? Will his room always be messy? Will he one day operate a wrecking ball? Or does he just somehow know at the tender age of nine months that chaos is inevitable?

Jim's answer: Dan subscribes to the chaos theory of the universe. Everything is constantly deteriorating, he believes. He's trying to alert us to the futility of creating order in the universe.

That explains why books can't stay on shelves, CDs can't remain on the rack, pots and pans must be strewn about the floor and newspapers can't be stacked. Our son is a budding existential physicist.

The 2 percent rule

Feeding my family the best food possible is important to me. I'm an avid label reader. I know the ingredients and their purpose for every food item in my pantry. It's about nutrition, but also about quality and economics. Okay, admittedly, I'm a bit of a control freak. Nonetheless, cheap ingredients make nutritionally questionable foods. Why would I pay for, let alone ingest, a product whose main ingredients add up to water, three different kinds of sugar, some preservatives and little if any nutritional value?

A book called Nourishing Traditions is one I turn to once in a while for nutritional guidance. The book contains dire warnings on every unnatural, better-living-through-chemistry ingredient concocted in the past half century. I agree that most of these chemicals have no place in our food. I've banned certain substances from our diets -high fructose corn syrup, white flour, trans fats, food dyes and additives. However, if you follow the book's every suggestion you'd be eating nothing but backyard chickens and their eggs, churning your own butter, and using only glass, ceramic and cast iron cookware over an open flame to prepare food. And if you don't follow all the guidelines, well, then your kid will likely be diagnosed with cancer in his forties and it'll be all your fault.

To prevent either of those scenarios, I've found a nice middle ground. It's called the 2 percent rule. The first ingredient listed is the dominant one and so on. Then there are the ingredients that add up to less than 2 percent of the whole. If the ingredients up to the "Contains 2 percent or less" are natural and whole, it's acceptable. If not, it doesn't go on our table or in our bodies. And, of course, none of the banned substances are allowed, even in the 2 percent.

This way, Dan can snack on Cheerios, bread or goldfish crackers and I don't feel guilty. The way I see it, 2 percent of something won't kill you, today or 40 years from now.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Defending the castle

Jim and Danny often play in the living room in the afternoon. Danny usually knocks over Jim's towers as fast Jim builds them. Here Jim tries, and succeeds, in defending his creation. Apparently, Dan was sufficiently distracted by the spectacle.

Mr. Independence

Dan has been asserting his independence during mealtime lately. My usual routine has been to give him Cheerios or toast that he can eat himself while I fix his and my meal. But when it's time for the main course, he takes only a five or six bites from the spoon and then begins to protest. I thought maybe he was filling up on finger foods and water, so I switched the routine and offered the main course first. The results were the same.

Turns out, he just wants to feed himself. So tonight, for the first time in five months, Jim and I ate our dinner without having to take turns spooning food for Dan. I boiled some macaroni and mixed vegetables, drained them, mixed the reserved liquid with cheese and added it to the pasta and veggies. Voila ... veggie mac, a big mess and a happy baby. Dan fed himself the entire meal with his fingers, shoving his fist full of the morsels into the back of his mouth. Most of the food wound up in his mouth, not in the high chair, on the floor, in his hair or on his bib. And he didn't choke or gag once. Bravo, kid!

Monday, September 03, 2007

A slippery slope

Laws are very blunt objects. Using them to bludgeon people into certain behaviors puts society on a slippery slope. And at the bottom of the slope is a loss of our freedoms, even the freedom to make bad decisions.

A presidential candidate this past weekend asserted that everybody should have medical coverage. Good, good. He goes on, "[The coverage] requires that everybody get preventive care." We're getting a little further down the slope here, but I'm still listening. And here's the kicker:

"If you are going to be in the system, you can't choose not to go to the doctor for 20 years. You have to go in and be checked and make sure that you are OK."

A couple of assumptions here scare me. One, doctors don't make you healthy. Healthy habits keep a person healthy. You will never hear me use the word "health" to refer to the medical establishment. They treat you when you're sick. Staying healthy is your responsibility. Two, the candidate assumes that I even want to be part of the "system." He says everyone should be covered and that the coverage should require preventive care. So, who's going to enforce that? Is the government going to have access to my medical history and tell me when I need to visit a doctor? I wonder what the "Keep your laws off my body" crowd has to say about this one.

I often say that something about the delivery of medical care in this country has got to change in my lifetime. And it's easy too look at the current system and feel that government is the only solution to this problem. Notice I said "feel," not "think."

Because if you think it through, it's a very bad idea to turn over the delivery of medical care to the government. When government pays, they will have a say in your personal life. And here's what is at the bottom of that slippery slope:

Conservatives in Britain are proposing that patients who refuse to change their unhealthy lifestyles should not be treated by the country's nationalized health system. Certain treatments should be denied to patients who refuse to co-operate with health professionals and live healthier lifestyles, they say.

And those who do improve their general health would receive "Health Miles" cards. Points earned could then be used to pay for health-related products such as gym membership and fresh vegetables. Read more here.

Are you comfortable with that? I'm not.

And just for fun, here is a funny (and scary) example of what our future might hold.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

From the chronicles of customer no-service

... or just plain dumb service.

The scene: At Starbuck's, once again, where I now have to ask for a decaf coffee with two lids because the coffee jerks can't understand why I don't want stinky ink on my lid.

Me (as coffee jerk hands me a hot cup of coffee): Can I get a sleeve for my coffee?

Coffee jerk: There's some on the bar.

She must think these sleeves are just for show. Maybe she thinks its a little dress for the coffee cup. So, I carried the hot cup of coffee with my bare hand to get a cardboard sleeve to prevent me from further burning my hand. I just didn't have the energy to explain to her why I needed the sleeve in the first place.

Maybe she went to one of those schools that made Adequate Yearly Progress. They should make these kids wear AYP buttons so we know exactly what we're dealing with and can lower our expectations accordingly.

The bachelor's trash can has retired

You wouldn't think that the purchase of a new trash can at a steal of deal would be much to write about. Yet here you are about to read my neurotic ramblings about how a wonderful new addition to my kitchen has really put me in a good mood and signaled the end of an era.

For probably a year now, Jim and I have been stalking a stainless steel trash can for our kitchen. Jim's a chef, so he's in love with stainless steel, and well, over the years, the look has finally grown on me, too. We'd see these trash cans advertised for $60 (are you kidding me?), then lower, $40 (maybe, but still too high), then finally, we saw one advertised for $29.99 in a Labor Day circular. A 30-liter stainless steel step can with a bonus 3-liter step can. We also had a 20 percent off coupon for that store. Woohoo! Now, we have an attractive new trash can that we paid $25 for and I can use the 3-liter can to hold kitchen scraps for my compost pile instead of using old coffee cans or plastic vegetable bags.

How long have we had this ugly white trash can? Jim had it in his kitchen when we started dating eight years ago. We had to put this white plastic trash can in the pantry and close the door because a.) it was ugly and b.) it would get very dirty and c.) Bob would have a party with the contents of the trash if we didn't.

The whole experience is pretty indicative of how we operate around here. Even purchases as seemingly insignificant as a trash can are very carefully thought out. We stalk our purchases and go visit them from time to time. And when we do purchase something new, the old is not automatically discarded. The old white trash can is now in the family room where it will hold our recyclables.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Weeding, Jimmy style

I was preparing the garden for fall planting this afternoon. It was just too hot to go out for more than 10 minutes at a time over the past two months so, in my super fertile soil, this weed thrived. I asked for Jim's help to remove Tyrannosaurus weed.