Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fiona is 1

I'm sitting here after a long, snowbound weekend desperately thinking of something meaningful to write about our daughter's first birthday. Being the pregnant mother of two very active (and lately very poopy) children has made me mind-numbingly exhausted. But I'll give it a shot.

A year ago at this very hour we were settling in for the night with Fiona. We were about to find out just how different she was than her brother ... she actually slept through the night for the first four months of her life. And then all hell broke loose when we removed the princess from her throne (the car seat she had become accustomed to sleeping in). I spent the next five months up every two to five hours every night with a voracious nurser who was trying to suck enough calories from me to fuel her rapid physical development. Hmmm ... that wasn't a very meaningful sentiment, was it? Let's try that again ...

A year ago at this very hour (around 10 p.m.) we were settling down for the night at home as a family of four for the first time. Just 24 hours prior, I was in labor, about to deliver our child in our own home in a birth pool - a long-held dream of mine. I had just taken an herbal sleep aide, gone upstairs to my own bedroom to tuck my childhood security blanket under my chin and a warm rice sock around my back and take a rest. A few hours later, the midwives arrived with bags of gear that landed with a reassuring thud on our bedroom floor. The sounds of the pool filling up, the midwives whispering in the hallway, the ocean waves from my sound machine filling the bedroom, my classical piano music that I'd listened to during Danny's labor all created a relaxing atmosphere. Fiona was born in the most peaceful manner I could imagine. She emerged from the water silently, breathing easily and taking in her surroundings before uttering a sound. I had pushed for a mere seven minutes and she gently made her way into the world after a short, intense yet not terribly difficult labor.

In hindsight, her manner of arrival and first moments were a hint of her personality - mellow, yet fierce; observant, yet eager to participate; physically strong, yet not aggressive. For the first few weeks of her life, she was silent, rarely crying, always watching. She was three days old when my best friend stopped by with her two children. Fiona stayed wide awake in her swing silently watching the kids for 45 minutes. My mother called her the cloud of silence.

And then Fiona woke up. Jim noted early on that he could already tell she would want to do and get into everything. He was right. She consistently tracked two months ahead developmentally. We joke that since she arrived two weeks late, it's as if she came out a little older. She sat up at 4.5 months, crawled a week before she turned 6 months, could stand on her own by 8 months and started walking a day shy of 10 months. Now she totters around the house about as fast as Danny did at 15 months. She doesn't like to be left out and howls whenever she sees me giving Danny food or when Danny is doing crafts at a table she can't reach.

We celebrated her birthday this snowy weekend with a meal of her favorite foods ... ham, mac and cheese, green beans and cookies. Oh, yes, she knows about cookies. She even comprehends the pig Latin word for cookies (so our child is bilingual at age one!). After dinner, she gets a fig newton just like her brother and her Daddy. In fact, when she's finished with her meal, she stares down daddy. We call it the cookie stare - she glances at him, then at the shelf where the cookies are. The other day Jim found her climbing the pantry shelves. And she had her first bit of cake tonight. She ate it like such a little lady, didn't get a speck of it on her clothes.

Here are some photos from our weekend:

Fiona's First Birthday

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Poop, puke and tears

Warning: If you are squeamish or pregnant with your first child or have just had your first child, please, I'm begging you, don't read this post. I don't want to be responsible for you curling up in the fetal position and chanting in a corner.

The one thing no one ever tells you about becoming a parent is just how much your life will revolve around poop. The obsession begins the day they're born or, in my case, the minute they are born as my son actually pooped on me as soon as my husband placed him on my chest. We came home from the birth center three years ago with a baby and a handout that showed us just what our newborn son's poop should look like in his first few days. We were instructed to record the number of wet diapers and the number and appearance of each poopy diaper for the first several days. We dutifully complied and have a neat little record of his first poops.

Three years later, we're still paying attention daily (and it's no longer the novelty that it was in those first days).

When my poor husband returns from work, he gets the poop report. How many poops, where they landed, which one has pooped, which one hasn't. We ask each other, when was the last time this one or that pooped? did you see that last one? what the hell has that child been eating? You'll give the poops little nicknames like sweet poo-tato and raisin poop and, our personal least favorite, Nana poop (the phenomenon by which the child returns from Nana's house and has rather interesting and copious poop ... even if he ate essentially the same foods there as he did at home).

Whether it's safe to leave the house will depend on how long it's been since your child has pooped, especially in the midst of potty training. Of course, the minute you decide to chance it, thinking "Eh, what's the worst that can happen?", your child will poop en route, usually entailing an entire change of clothes and possibly a bath.

You'll become a poop chemist, crafting their diet to get the desired output at the correct frequency and it'll take years to get the right mix. In desperation, you will begin explaining the digestive system to your toddler in hopes that the extra knowledge will fascinate him enough to spur cooperation. (He is interested and can explain to you at least half of the digestive process before insisting that his food goes into his toes.) You will describe foods to him based on whether they help or hurt the poopy - apples and broccoli, good; too much cheese, bad, very, very bad.

You'll become an expert at translating body language and even actual language. For instance, we've learned recently that "I'm tired" coming from our  3 year old really means that he has to poop but is holding us hostage, I mean, holding it in. And for the past three weeks, Thursday has been our day around here. In fact, I think that I'll just rename the fifth day of the week Poopday.

I spent most of today coaxing poop from a little boy who has decided that holding it in for almost a week (seriously people, A WEEK) is the way to go. (and, yes, I know that in 10 years he will be mortified that there is a semi-permanent record of his poop drama on the Internet .... but you know what? after what this kid has put me through the past few months, I somehow feel justified.) Today brought four marathon poop sessions, one bout of puking (me) and a whole lot of tears (me again). And the situation was complicated by a one-year-old absolutely hell bent on unraveling the toilet paper and getting her hands in the toilet. So, I sat on the floor in the bathroom much of today trying to shield the baby from the toilet and keep the pooper on task, reading book after book and wondering if other mothers have the same issues or if I was just making this unnecessarily difficult by insisting that he use the toilet. All the while I taunted God to "please, oh, please do make this more unpleasant and difficult because you haven't quite outdone yourself yet. Really." Something about being six months pregnant, exhausted and having an entire day revolve around poop just sent me completely over the edge.

From now on, I'm just going to have to just suit up on Poopday with rubber gloves, a nose plug and a ball cap emblazoned with the words Poop Coach. Here's to the day when I won't have to pay attention to anyone else's bodily functions.

So, um, when does that day come, people? Do tell.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A personality all her own

It finally happened. Our heavy weight infant, who is two weeks away from her first birthday, took a swing at her brother. His offense? He took a toy from her. We've been warning him for months.

"You better be nice to her. she's going to be bigger than you," we'd say to blank stares from Danny. She is only six pounds lighter and a few inches shorter than him. We knew she'd soon wise up and start fighting back. And, frankly, I'm not going to deter her much at first.

That said, she does adore her big brother. Today she stood on the back porch, glancing first out at the big backyard and then back at her brother. She whimpered and then loudly called his name, "Nanny." She wanted him to come with her. (I know, it makes me all teary-eyed, too.)

Fiona is almost one and coming into her own little personality. She plays games with us, my favorite being the after-nap amusement of squatting below the crib rail and then popping back up, laughing all the while. That silly goose honestly thinks I can't see her through the crib rails! We get big, toothy grins, shrieks of delight and very loud howls of discontentment as she tries mightily to make herself heard and understood. Last night, she threw her sippy cup at me and howled because I hid the telephone that she so desperately wanted to get her hands on.

Needless to say, she's got a lot of, um, attitude.

Mealtime has been frustrating for Fiona lately, too. She seemed to be eating less, fussing more and throwing her food onto the floor. She's been pointing at the table while we eat. At first, I assumed she just wanted what was on the table. It turns out that she just wanted to actually sit at the table with us instead of in her high chair pushed away from the table. Once in a while, I go back and read blog posts from when Danny was her age to help jog my memory. (I'm so glad that I write these things down. Lord knows I can't even remember to brush my teeth daily let alone what my son was like two years ago.) Turns out, he was the same way. He wanted to eat at the table with us from a plate, just like us. I've resorted to taping a plastic place mat to the table for her to eat off since she seems intent on dumping anything that's not bolted or taped down. I give it a week before she starts trying to peel the packing tape off the table.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The gingerbread boy

Run, run, as fast as you can/You can't catch me, I'm the gingerbread man

 Having a three year old who is not in preschool is almost a novelty. Currently only one other family among our circle of friends does not have their 3 year old in preschool. We're still on the fence about even sending him, especially since there may not be any actual school in his future. I just have a hard time justifying the expense and trauma of preschool when we'll probably end up homeschooling the kids. But he is on the waiting list for a few preschools and it may just come down to whether we want to pay for something that he may not enjoy and may have a hard time adjusting to. (I often take the path of least resistance, sometimes out of laziness, but mostly out a deep sense that some things are just not worth fighting.)

I'm not even convinced that preschool is absolutely necessary for my child's well-being. Lots of kids are just fine without it. I'm also not the kind of mom to insist on something that my child is clearly not comfortable with. That doesn't mean that we make all our decisions based on his whims (because that would just be nuts). We do tune in to and respect his feelings, let him move and adjust to things at his own pace and back off when he seems overwhelmed.

This morning, however, I took Danny to a nearby preschool that was having an open house. I was not expecting much. I'd actually never seen a working preschool and was as interested to see what went on there as I was to see his reaction. He was not impressed. In fact, he was scared. I felt him clam up immediately. The small, but cheerful classrooms lined a hallway that surrounded a beautiful little courtyard which, in the end, delighted him more than anything else we saw.

The kids all seemed to be having a good time. In one classroom, while most kids sat in a circle, one little girl was off by herself painting at an easel. I thought, "Well, at least they accommodate somewhat rebellious children. Danny may fit in here."

But, they'd have to catch him first. More than a few times, I had to chase him down and gently bring him back to the hallway where I was talking with one of the teachers. When I asked him later about our little outing and he had this to say:

"I not want them to catch me."

Right. He's very perceptive, that kid. And while his instincts are spot on and his reflexes are quick, I'm also hoping that my little gingerbread boy is smart enough to outwit, not just outrun, the foxes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Oh me, oh mine (oh crap)

Fiona has consistently tracked about two months ahead developmentally. We joke that since she arrived two weeks late, it's as if she came out a little older. She sat up at 4.5 months, crawled a week before she turned 6 months, could stand on her own by 8 months and started walking a day shy of 10 months. This afternoon, she sped ahead an entire year. She uttered the dreaded M word, a word that didn't pass through Danny's lips until he was nearly 2 years old (but he now utters at least 25 times a day, usually in her direction).

This afternoon, Fiona sat in her high chair scarfing down the appetizer course of her dinner (between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. this girl eats almost nonstop, going from snack to dinner to smoothie to nursing to bed). Jim was washing out the sippy cups we use for the kids' evening banana and yogurt smoothies. She watched silently as Jim washed Danny's cup first. As soon as he picked up her cup, she yelled "Mine."

Wonder where she learned that one? Very soon, our household will sound like this clip from Finding Nemo.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I love you, now leave me alone (PLEASE!)

Danny sat at his little table in front of the alphabet poster one night last week while dinner simmered on the stove. All was surprisingly calm that evening as Jim had taken Fiona the Ferocious out of my hair for a while. I had hit a stopping place and came over to sit with him. He studied the the alphabet poster and began pointing to letters, making their sound and identifying the photo next to each.

"E. Eh. Egg," he said, nodding his head at me.

"Do you know what other letters are in that word?" I asked.

He thought about it for a second and said the word again. His eyes searched the poster and lit up as he pointed to the letter G. "Gas station," he cried excitedly. (There's a gas pump next to the letter G.)

I like him in moments like these ... a lot. There aren't nearly enough moments like this with him lately. And that makes me sad, especially when I think about what's ahead for him in April when we welcome our new (last?) baby.

Quite honestly, it's taken me a few days to finish this post. I never feel like writing much about the kids and life in general when things are rough going around here. And, yes, I just broke my kind of, sort of New Year's resolution to be honest about what's going on - the good, the bad, and the boogery (there've been lots of boogers around here lately. Some even wound up on the back of my shirt the other day ... don't ask me how!).

Most days it feels like all I do is feed kids and facilitate naps and potty breaks and change diapers and keep them from hurting themselves or each other. No time to sit and play purposefully with either one of them alone. Since Fiona no longer naps in the morning, Danny doesn't get a break from his sister who is interested in EVERYTHING he does. If he wants a break from her, I baby-gate him in the dining room with toys and games but can't leave Fiona alone (seriously, this child can clear a countertop in no time). He gets little to no alone time with me anymore. And it seems to be taking a toll on him. He wants to be picked up, carried down the stairs, sit on my lap. I can't always comply between Fiona's needs and the fact that I'm six months pregnant.

The other side of this, of course, is that sometimes I don't like my children. It's a scary admission to make. But when you think about it, who can really say they like kids all the time, especially their own? Kids are messy, whiny, self-centered, extremely moody, greedy, schizophrenic little trolls a good bit of the time no matter how sweet and sensitive and loving you are as a parent. They have feelings that they can't control or even identify. They have needs that they can't even articulate sometimes. If you met an adult with these characteristics, you'd assume that they were mentally ill and probably avoid them at all costs.

Yet as parents we have very close, complicated relationships with our children ... I get weary. We all do. Loving tolerance has its limits (and that limit coincides with the time my husband gets home from work!). If I can be honest about that, somehow there is little to no guilt or shame about those feelings anymore. It just makes me human and hopefully my kids will learn that perfection is not required or even expected. It helps no one, least of all our children, when we can't admit honestly that sometimes, while we love our children dearly, we don't always have loving feelings toward them. Sometimes we yell or say rather harsh things (like: "Oh dear God, can you please stop whining and following me from room to room??" Hey, I said please, didn't I?) and, yes, we sometimes wish that they would leave us alone just long enough for us to breathe and regroup and brush our teeth and maybe take a shower. And then, when we come back (as we must ... I think not coming back constitutes child abandonment, right?), we can enjoy those moments, however fleeting, when we see clearly the emergence of something resembling a human being.

Danny update

Danny may be starting to realize just what another baby means. He's been wanting a lot more attention lately and been able to verbalize it ("Mommy, come in here."). He's also been lethargic and defiant lately - like for the past two and a half months. We suspected that, at this point, it was a behavioral issue, but we wanted to rule out a physiscal illness before we puzzled out a new strategy. So late last week, I finally took Danny back to the doctor. We went in November for blood work (which was normal, thank God), in December for a routine checkup and then last week for a long discussion about what could be going on. It's definitely not normal for this particular child to be lounging around. A neighbor once commented that he literally bounced off walls. But sometimes all it really takes to get some clarity is talking to a doctor, or anyone, you trust. We discussed the possibility of seasonal affective disorder given when the symptoms began. And he suggested that we could talk to the staff child psychologist (who, of course, is trained to blame the mother for any and all mental defects). But a few days after the appointment, we began to connect the dots ... he says that he's tired when he doesn't want to do what he's told, when he has to poop and when he's bored.  Case in point ... he said that he was tired during story time but was ecstatic 10 seconds later (didn't I just say kids are schizophrenic?) when the library lady whipped out the bubbles.

Whew ... that was a close one. Maybe my kids won't be in therapy by the time they're 5 after all!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

What's going on

Here's a quick and dirty update for far-flung family and friends:

The cupboard under the stairs: My husband was home from work between Christmas and New Year's. He spent the time transforming the space under our stairs into a completely wired closet that now holds a chest freezer set upon a platform with built in drawers. We bought the freezer off Craigs List for $80 and spent probably $100 on the construction supplies, most of which was covered by some gift cards he got at work. The door, which locks to keep out the kiddies, looks like it should have been there all along. In addition to storage of bulk pantry items, we'll also use as a time out nook bad little children (kidding, really, I am). I am so proud that my husband wired the closet himself (without burning down the house or electrocuting himself). Pictures soon, I promise.

Potty training ... again: I have decided that I am powerless over potty training and that my life was becoming unmanageable. I put the boy back in diapers because I just couldn't handle the whole process without severe irritation. But it backfired when I just started getting really irritated every time I changed his diaper. So now my life has also become wet and smelly ... again. Let me explain:

About the middle of his week off, my husband decided to just put Danny in underpants and let him, uh, soil himself. I was not convinced at first. This sounded like an awful lot of extra work (ie laundry, undressing and dressing a soggy tot) for me, I mean, us. But he's responsible for cleaning himself up so big boy pants it is ... for now. On the second day, we accidentally left him in training pants for his nap. He woke soaked and miserable, screamed for about 10 minutes while he was cleaning himself up. Jim looked up the stairs, smiling, as I wearily listened to this shriek fest.

"See, he's upset. We're not," he says. Good point, I conceded. Since that day, amazingly, I've been  able to just let go of the process (with the help of very absorbent training underwear and rubber pants to prevent a dozen soaked pants a day).

We're trying a mix of tactics to elicit drama-free potty visits, including the use of a warning and buzzer system. I set the timer and tell him that when it goes off it's time to go potty. He's been good about it. Today, the oven timer went off for dinner and he ran through the kitchen yelling, "Potty time." It's a start.

Fiona, Fiona, oh dear Fiona:  She's walking at full speed now, tottering after Danny and me and Jim, calling our names. In addition to all of our names, including the dog's, she says "done" and "hey." Nothing is safe. She climbs baby gates. She climbs stairs. She gets into the tub on her own. She can pull things off the table and countertops. She pulls plug covers from electrical outlets. Consequently, Jim has replaced the most popular outlets with the child safety feature built in. Fiona is much more work at this age than Danny was. Danny was quick and fearless and easily distracted, but she's quick and calculating and determined (read: SMART). What's interesting is that she mastered balance before she learned to walk so she doesn't fall as much as Danny did. At the end of the month, she starts at Parents Morning Out which will give me about 10 weeks of Friday morning free time before round three starts in late April. Speaking of which ...

Thing 3: The pregnancy is going well so far. On my last midwife visit, on Christmas Eve no less, the baby's heart rate was 144 beats per minute and I was measuring right on schedule. I've finally started gaining weight ... um, 12 pounds in 6 weeks. (I blame the holidays.) But that still puts me only 8 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight. This baby moves around more than Fiona did, but not nearly as much as Danny. The neat thing is that this one moves around when the kids or Jim talks to him/her. And Danny has felt the baby move and sometimes tells the baby not to kick me.

So that's the news from the Meehan monkey house. Stay tuned for photos of the closet ... I'll post some soon.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Happy New Year, honestly

Ah, the holidays are finally over. I'm not one to rue the passing of time, at least not these days. I rather enjoy it, often even savor it, especially when it gets us past such pesky periods as the seasonal joy manufactured by a consumer culture that desecrates all that is sacred. No need to adjust your perception. I've been a bit grinchy this year and have been looking forward to getting back to our usual routine.

Today we nestled back in. Monday is library day and drive by the fire department day and stalk the trash man day - you know, all the things that just delight 3 year old boys and barely one-year-old little girls tolerate. It may sound boring to some, but these days I enjoy routine more than chaos. I suppose there's something between those two extremes. However, living between those extremes is a goal but not yet a strong point for me.

There was a time, though, when I unknowingly preferred chaos to normalcy. It was about a year after I stopped drinking when I realized this. See, I had just started a new job, was dating a wonderful man who is now my husband and was sharing a lovely house with a friend. Happy with two out of three, I promptly decided that the job was just all wrong. It had to be. I'd been there all of two months and I could just feel it. (Incidentally, I stayed there for three years, now consider it one of the best jobs I'd ever had and wish I'd appreciated it more at the time. Shows what I know.) I began to doubt my entire career path and life and just wanted everything to be different and better RIGHT AWAY. I applied for every job that I was remotely qualified for. I even looked into getting my teaching certification and going into the classroom. And to further exacerbate my flight from living in the moment, I had just set up a 401K and the financial adviser wanted me to give a rough estimate of how long my savings needed to last me in retirement. In other words, I was being asked to estimate just when I thought I might die. Everything was wonderful, yet I was miserable and certain that something was wrong, even if I couldn't put my finger on it.

Someone suggested to me then that perhaps my unfamiliarity with normalcy was causing my uneasiness. "It's called serenity, honey. You'll get used to it," she said.

"Um, when exactly?" I wanted to know.

The answer? Right about the time you hit 10 years of sobriety.

The irony here is that the chaos of a household with two small children is my normal, my sanctuary, my place in the world where I feel like I'm doing the most good at this moment. I am content with what my life has become even on my worst days - those days when I feel utterly powerless over when and for how long my children sleep, whether they eat what I serve or anything else, how much of that food and drink winds up on the floor (GRRR) or where one of them decides to, um, deposit his bodily waste (which more and more of late has been in parent-approved waste receptacles). I don't always accept these matters as gracefully as I imagine other mothers do, but at least these days I'm not wishing to be somewhere else, doing something else. Unless we're talking about sleep ... because I'm always fantasizing about more sleep. I want to be some sort of hibernating animal in my next life.

I do apologize for the long lapse in posting here, probably my longest in quite some time. I could blame the holidays or say that, between my pregnancy and the two children, I spend most of my time in either the kitchen or the bathroom. The kitchen and the bathroom thing is actually closer to the truth ... seriously!

And it's certainly not due to a lack of subject matter. Believe me, it's been, um, interesting here. (I'll fill you in later.) It's due to a lack of subject matter that I think will portray me and my household in the most positive light possible while entertaining, enlightening and inspiring you, my dear readers (all 10 of you anyway).

That last admission was brought to you by my one and only, sort of, kind of New Year's resolution: BE MORE HONEST ABOUT MY FEELINGS. That means you may be hearing from me here on those days when I'm wondering why God thinks I'm capable of raising these children or when I truly believe God is mocking me for all those years I wished in vain to conceive these children or when I wish my children would leave me alone for just five friggin' minutes so I can pee in peace or brush my teeth or get the contact lens unstuck from my eyelid or when I'm considering selling them to gypsies in exchange for just a few more hours of sleep.

And the companion to that resolve, I'm sure, will be to not hurt anyone else's feelings or scare the hell out of innocent bystanders while I'm at it.