The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Monday, November 29, 2004

Things I'm thankful for

I sort of figure it's a given that I'm thankful for my terrific husband, our amazing kids and the life we lead together, but there are other things I'm thankful for, too -- things I'd be a little embarrassed to list off at the Thanksgiving table. They deserve to be mentioned somewhere, though, so in no particular order:

1. Viva paper towels
I realize they're ridiculously expensive, but so very worth the splurge... I will never wipe another little face with anything else. They're not bad on tushies in a pinch, either.

2. Music Together
The best day of the week for me, Julia AND Evan! This is the only program I know of that actually bridges the 2 year gap between my kids successfully. I have no idea why Music Together works, but every kid I know loves it. Anything that can entertain a 3 week old, a 3 month old and a 3 year old equally is something special in my book.

3. QuickZip Crib Sheets
30 seconds to change a crib sheet? And no wrestling matches with a corner? Why did it take me so long to find these? And when will they make them for my bed, too?

4. The Internet
There is no way on Earth I would have survived the last three years without my constant link to the outside world. Instant connection to my friends, vast access to news and information, shopping without a stroller... I truly think the Internet may be a more important tool for a stay at home mom than baby wipes.

5. Reality television
What better way to step outside of my terribly small world of nursery rhymes and diaper changes and remember what romance, adventure and professional backstabbing all felt like?

6. My friends
All friends, of course. But especially the true ones, who you can consult on the location of missing Mirena strings and poor nursing latch and call with the important Mommy Gut Check questions like "do you think he's too yellow?"

4. The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser
It's terribly stereotypical to be a housewife raving about a cleaning product -- and particularly ironic because I'm not one for domestic activities. But oh my God, have you seen what these things can do to crayon marks on a wall?

8. TiVo
I've saved the cost of the subscription and then some on the kiddie videos I haven't had to buy thanks to TiVo recordings of my kids' favorite shows. More importantly, not having to choose between rocking a child back to sleep and missing my favorite television shows (see #5) makes me a far more patient mom (almost embarrassingly so).

9. Mommy Writers
The women who aren't afraid to tell the truth about parenting. They make us laugh and cry with recognition, and they make us better moms just by knowing we're not alone. And on a personal level, they make me want to tell my stories, too... hence, this blog!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Keeping the (inter)faith

A year or so before we got engaged, Paul and I had the "big religion talk." We'd discussed religion before to one extent or another -- it's kind of hard to avoid when you're constantly traveling to one family for Passover and the other family for Easter, but this was the official conversation. We were on our way home from my parents' house, where Paul had come to join my family for dinner to break the Yom Kippur fast. The rabbi's sermon that day had been about interfaith families and their role in the Jewish community and I was thinking a lot about how to bridge the gap between the future I saw with Paul and the past I felt duty bound to honor as a Jew. I'm sure he knew this conversation was coming -- we'd been living together for a few months by then and it was no secret that we both expected to live happily ever after together. Neither of us were foolish enough to think that we could do this without first addressing the issue of our differing religious values, and as I described the sermon, it provided the starting point we'd needed for our own discussion.

By the time we arrived home, we'd agreed on some basic guidelines for a future family. I would raise our children Jewish, and Paul would support me from the sidelines. I would never ask him to come to temple except for Bar Mitzvahs and he would never complain about the cost of temple dues. We would show our children a world beyond Judaism -- there would be Christmas in our house because it's Paul's holiday and the kids wouldn't exclusively go to Jewish schools, Jewish camp, etc. If our children wanted to quit Hebrew School and not be Bar Mitzvahed, that was their choice, but once they'd signed up for a year of classes, they'd be committed until the following year -- no quitting mid-stream. It all felt very fair and equitable in a far-off fantasy kind of way.

That conversation took place over 7 years ago, and so far, we've done a reasonably good job of sticking to the rules. From our interfaith marriage ceremony to the annual blended Christmas/Chanukah celebration that we host for both sides of the family each year, we've worked hard at making this interfaith thing work. We've both bent the rules a few times... Evan didn't have a bris because it made Paul too uncomfortable and Julia attends a Jewish preschool because it was frankly the best educational option available to us. But for the most part, we've stuck doggedly to the plan, even when it's felt a little uncomfortable. I'm sure that hearing Julia identify as a Jew probably rubs Paul a little wrong, but I can't know for sure because he's kept his mouth firmly shut about it. And while the Christmas tree in our home and excitement over Santa's visit feel terribly awkward to me, I gamely do my very best to make Christmas every bit as special for my children as the Jewish holidays we celebrate together.

This past weekend, I took Julia to Tiny Tot Shabbat at the temple for the first time. It was a special Mommy/Julia outing, and she loved every second of it. So did I. Singing the songs of my youth and exposing Julia to the elements of my culture was surprisingly emotional for me and I found myself wondering why I'd waited so long to start to do these things with her. The answer is that it's simply hard to do alone. I had to crawl out of the warm bed I share with Paul early that morning, knowing that I was taking our daughter on an outing which neither interests nor appeals to her father. He listened cheerfully to her excited description of our outing when we returned home, but he truthfully didn't share any of our enthusiasm, nor would I have expected him to. I think we're both starting to realize that while our compromise sounded good in theory and can definitely work if we want it to, it's never going to be as easy as it sounds. We've only just begun on a long path of child rearing, and the uncomfortable differences between our personal philosophies are going to come up over and over and over again in the coming years.

As hard as this is turning out to be, though, I'm also slowly discovering an additional benefit to our situation that I never could have anticipated. Owning sole responsibility for my children's spiritual education forces me to question my own Jewish identity, clarify the real importance of religion in my life and identify the elements of Judaism that I truly feel strongly about sharing with Julia and Evan. I am aware of the value of what I'm passing down to my children much more acutely, I suspect, than if I simply raised Jewish children by rote with a Jewish partner. Singing Adon Olam with my daughter on Saturday nearly brought tears to my eyes because it felt like such a big deal to me. That would probably never have been the case if I just went to temple with a Jewish husband and our kids on a regular basis.

I can only hope that I'll continue to strike the right balance between passing my religious pride and identity along to my children and honoring the promises I've made to my husband. Even if, in the end, our children choose soccer over Hebrew School or decide to identify as atheists like their Dad, I think that this experience will still help to strengthen my own Judaism and my ties to my community. I hope Julia and Evan will be there beside me as I attend services in the coming years. But I realize now that I'll be going with or without them. And ironically, I might never have felt this way had I not married a man who isn't Jewish.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Now that I've written this, it will never happen again

Poop! Real, honest-to-God poop! In the potty where it belongs! With no fuss or hysteria! Not once, but twice!

It IS clear that I'm talking about Julia here and not me, right?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The bell curve

This week, Evan will be 9 1/2 months, which is the age that Julia was when she took her first steps. We watched the video of her first wobbly efforts at upright mobility this weekend, and it looked downright preposterous to see her walking unaided that young, particularly when we turned to look at Evan sitting happily on the floor where we'd left him. With the exception of a strange inchworm motion that involves lifting his tush as high in the air as possible (picture a cat stretching), then collapsing down a centimeter or two behind where he started, Evan's not really moving much just yet. He can turn in circles on his belly and he can sloooowly propel himself backwards using his arms (it's faster if I put him on the tile instead of the carpet, but the amount of dirt he sweeps up off my floor that way is too embarrassing), but for all intents and purposes, he's not crawling yet. He's also not getting into a sitting position on his own, pulling up or cruising. Essentially, he's a very cute lump. So to watch his sister, at exactly the same age, actually stand up and WALK somewhere, well, it was a strange juxtaposition.

All of the child development books have charts with bell curves that show when children should be expected to reach standard developmental milestones. There is no "right" age for the mastery of most skills, the experts tell us, but most kids seem to fall somewhere in the middle of a several-month range. As my pediatrician so nicely puts it, both Julia and Evan appear not to have read the manual. Neither of my kids ever seem to fall in that nice big arch in the middle where the vast majority of the population lies. Julia is nearly always at the very beginning and sweet Evan brings up the rear nearly every time. There are notable exceptions, of course -- at nearly 3, Julia still can't pedal a trike to save her life and Evan was sitting beautifully at 5 months. But for the most part, for everything from the arrival of teeth (Julia's started to come in at 4 months and Evan's are still MIA) to standing independently (8 months for Julia and no time soon for Evan), my kids neatly fall in those tiny little flat lines at either end that make the bell curve actually look like a bell.

I put Julia's baby book away months ago when it became clear that Evan's timeline would be so different than hers -- I knew it would be unfair to compare. But my kids' birthdays are only a few weeks apart, so even if I'm not actively trying to remember, the seasons still remind me -- I know that Julia was crawling in summer clothing, standing alone when we went to Nantucket in September, taking steps on Halloween, etc., etc. And while I know intellectually that Evan's still perfectly in the range of normal, it's hard not to keep wondering if he's doing OK when the difference in timing between Julia's beginning of the bell curve milestones and Evan's end of the curve accomplishments is so vast.

At the end of the day, I really do know that none of this developmental stuff is going to make an iota of difference. Even now, when I watch Julia's 3 year old friends play, it's hard to remember (and downright impossible to discern if you don't already know) who was running circles around whom 2 years ago. Evan's my last baby, and I'm not opposed to keeping him that way just a little while longer -- it's frankly easier to have a kid who stays where you put him and plays with his toys. But every time someone asks me if he's cruising yet, I feel a little apologetic when I say he's not even crawling. Every time I put him down next to another baby his age and watch the other child crawl circles around him, I feel the need to make excuses for his inactivity. Every time a younger baby reaches a milestone he's not yet close to accomplishing, I feel a little anxious about when he'll be doing those things, too. And even though I try so hard not to compare, every time I reminisce about his sister's first year, I find myself obsessively counting weeks, trying to figure out how those memories measure up to Evan's development. Evan's only human... he'll do what he's wired to do when he's ready to do it. But I'm only human, too, and as his mother, I'm going to worry until that happens.

Friday, November 12, 2004

A few "traditional" milestones

I know I'm supposed to be writing about the non-milestone stuff here, but this is the only real record I'm keeping of this stage of our lives at the moment (Julia's baby book was only filled in up to 6 months and Evan's doesn't even have his name in it yet). So I wanted to record a couple of quick "firsts" here for posterity, since we've had a few since November began:

1. Julia's drawings have suddenly gone from unrecognizable scribbles to real pictures. She's now drawing actual people, complete with eyes, noses, mouths, hair, ears, arms, hands, legs and feet. Of course, the arms and legs come out of the heads, but it's a start -- and so much more fun to hang of the fridge than those blobby masterpieces!

2. Evan's got an official first word -- Mama. Not just a steady stream of ma-ma-ma-ma-ma babble (though we get plenty of that, too), but a real, recognizable two-syllable "Mama" used appropriately to convey a single meaning (me!). I'm a little giddy about the fact that I get first billing this time around. Of course, the shine of my glory is tarnished by the situations in which he uses his new-found verbal power (namely, to summon me at 2 a.m., protest when I leave the room or torment a babysitter in my absence), but isn't that the way motherhood always works?

3. I'm kind of afraid to say this one out loud for fear of jinxing things, but we've finally turned the corner on the potty thing. Julia's been in big girl panties for 9 days now and hasn't had a single accident. The first two days were rough -- I had to wait until the point of no return and then literally hold and hug her on the potty until she went, but we had a kind of a breakthrough after we'd done that a few times and she realized nothing bad would happen. For the past week, I've had an enthusiastic participant in the process -- telling me when she needs to go, trying to go when I ask her to and staying dry throughout. I'm even sending her to school and taking her out around town in panties without fear! We're still a ways from done -- she still gets a diaper for naps and bedtime and she's still requesting a diaper for poops (we put on the diaper, she sits on the potty and goes and then the diaper comes right off), but we're making great progress. I'll take it. :)

We now return you to our regularly scheduled program of minutiae and musing...

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Every once in a while, you get a little reminder of how good you have it. Today was one of those days. I got an email this morning from my college roommate, announcing the birth of her new daughter. The baby was originally due on Evan's birthday -- 3 full months from now -- making her barely past the age of viability when she arrived. She's just over 2 pounds and so far, the doctors say she's doing surprisingly well. Appropriately enough, they've named her Hope.

At the moment I opened the email, Evan was smearing baby food all over himself and grinding Cheerios into a fine powder, Julia was refusing to eat breakfast for reasons that were entirely unclear to me and had turned her banana into a finger paint experiment, and my house looked like it had been ransacked by an army of buffalos rather than two small children who'd been up for less than 15 minutes. I'd turned to my computer as a way to disengage from the chaos, in the hopes that an email from a friend would take me away from my reality for a moment. Instead, Shari's email refocused my reality for me, and I turned back to my children, immensely grateful for all that I have.

I am acutely aware today of just how heavy Evan feels in my arms and just how light 2 pounds must feel. And all I keep thinking is that I hope that a year from now, Hope will be driving her mother as batty as my kids were driving me this morning before the news of her arrival made me stop and think.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Crazy breastfeeding Mama

I went to the drug store today to pick up Evan's new antibiotic. The first one he'd been prescribed wasn't doing squat and he was still running a high fever 48 hours after starting it, so they upped him to Augmentin and recommended that I also pick up acidophilus to protect his stomach since this is apparently serious stuff for such a little guy. The pharmacist helped me to locate what I needed and assured me it was easy to use. "Just put it in his formula," she told me. This would probably have been the time to thank her and pay for my purchases, but as usual I couldn't keep my mouth shut. "No such thing," I told her. "He's exclusively breastfed."

As I could have predicted, all six people in the store at the time turned to look at me as if I had just announced that I had a giant nipple growing out of the top of my head. "He doesn't get any formula at all?" she asked. "Nope, just me," I replied cheerfully. "It's no problem... I'll just put it in his cereal or something." But she couldn't leave well enough alone. "Maybe you could, you know..." she fumbled for the word. "Pump? And then give it in a bottle?" This from a medical professional. "I could," I replied. "But he's sick and I think he needs the comfort of nursing right now. Is there any harm in just putting it in cereal?" She mumbled something about how she guessed that would be OK and escaped to the back, no doubt to look up Evan's birth date and figure out how old this child I was denying formula to was and whether she should put a call in to social services. Every person in the store watched me pay and leave. Even with all that society knows today about the benefits of breastmilk, I still felt like a social oddity for trying to give my baby the very best start I can.

I am a crazy breastfeeding Mama. Neither of my children have ever tasted formula, a fact of which I am immensely proud. While I try to be discreet and am always conscious of the comfort level of others in the room, I will whip out a tit anywhere to nourish my baby if need be. I never meant to be this way. Before Julia was born, I sat and studied the how-to breastfeeding materials they handed out in our prenatal classes in a state of utter confusion and more than a little dread. I promised myself I'd try, since I knew that was what was best for my baby, but I also said I wouldn't make myself crazy. I figured if I made it 3 months, I'd be pleased. If not, I wouldn't beat myself up over it.

Then Julia was born and couldn't figure out how to latch on and in a fit of postpartum hysteria, I became convinced that I couldn't be a good mother unless I breastfed my baby. Two mind numbingly exhausting weeks full of lactation consultants, nipple shields, pumping, bottle feeding expressed milk and panicky weight checks later, something clicked in and Julia started to nurse. With that first full toe-curling tug on my nipple, I knew I was in it for the long haul. This had been the first challenge my daughter and I had mastered together, and I was going to savor our victory for as long as I could.

I weaned Julia at 14 months, secure in the knowledge that I had done the best I could for her and comforted by the fact that someday I'd have another baby to nurse. When Evan came along, I promised myself again that I'd take each day as it came and if the challenges of parenting 2 made formula a necessity, I wouldn't hesitate to use it. I'm happy to say that the need has never presented itself. As Evan's first birthday approaches and I start to think about when to wean him, the idea of never nursing a baby again is too sad to contemplate. Lately, I've been half heartedly joking that maybe I'll just nurse this one indefinitely. Even the people I'm closest to, who have always supported my decision to breastfeed, look carefully at me after I say this and say "you ARE kidding, right?"

I have dozens and dozens of friends with young children, the vast majority of whom nursed their children. But I can count on one hand the ones who did so past 3-6 months. The same strangers who smiled tenderly at me when I found a quiet corner to nurse my newborn look at me as if I'm a little crazy when I give Evan a quick snack these days. Even my own pediatrician's office, when I called with concern over Evan's constipation issues at 5 months, was horrified to discover that I was exclusively breastfeeding. "But why aren't you FEEDING him," the nurse asked me when I said he hadn't started solids yet. "I AM feeding him," I replied. "I'm feeding him nature's perfect food. If he can't get that out of his system, what's going to happen with strained peas?" There was a pause and then "Well, if you're not going to feed him, then I'm not sure what to tell you."

For all of the progress we've made with the "breast is best" campaign, something's not getting through. The physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, for both mother and baby, are clear and undisputed and yet those of us who choose to reap those benefits for the long haul are still looked at a little funny for doing so, even by the same medical professionals who urge us to consider nursing in the first place. I'm not so militant about my breastfeeding beliefs that I condemn those who use formula -- I respect every mother's right to make the best feeding decisions for her own children and I recognize that there are many reasons why what I choose might not be right for others. But it irks me that people still look at me as crazy for what I consider to be one of my proudest accomplishments as a mother. And I confess, that's why I continue to announce, loudly and to the world, that my baby drinks from my breast -- because I'm proud of what I'm doing and I want the world to know it.

The Augmentin seems to have done the trick and the acidophilus worked just fine in cereal. Evan fell asleep on my breast tonight fever-free for the first time in 5 days. We may still have a ways to go toward an enlightened society where breastfeeding is concerned, but I guess the medical enlightenment behind antibiotics is all that we truly need to raise healthy kids. I'm nonetheless grateful to be able to provide both for my children. Augmentin may have made my baby well today. But I'm counting on my milk to keep him that way.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Serenity now

Evan's got strep and 104 degree fever-induced misery, Julia is back in panties and has clawed herself bloody to keep her pee pee from escaping her body and I haven't slept in a week. My mom pretty much summed it all up yesterday when she told me "I'm so glad it's you and not me dealing with all of this right now... I couldn't go through all of that again for anything." Thanks, Mom.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Mellow Yellow

I handed Evan to my friend Mike for a second this weekend and in that typical way men have of blurting out what they're thinking without regard for how it will be perceived, Mike immediately said "boy, he's yellow." I assured him that Evan was not in fact turning colors, but had just finished a jar of carrots, which tend to stain his face for a little while after he eats them. But then Mike's wife Caroline chimed in to agree that (in the typical way women have of *not* saying what they're thinking if it might be viewed as offensive) she'd noticed that Evan's whole body looked yellow earlier but hadn't wanted to mention it. Sure enough, the more I look at my child, the yellower he looks to me. In fact, for the past two days, I've looked at him quite a bit. And despite not having had carrots since that night, he is still decidedly yellow.

I think as far as potential Mommy Freak Outs go, I'm really taking this one very calmly. It took me until this morning to even look up pediatric jaundice and its causes on the Internet and truthfully, I skimmed most of the info I found. I'm still reasonably confident that he's simply got too much Beta Carrotene in his system and it's turned his skin a bit orange (OK, orangey-yellow). So I cut carrots out of his diet and I'll bring it up to his pediatrician at Evan's 9 month appointment on Friday. All very calm and low key. But I know myself. By the time Friday morning's appointment rolls around, there's a pretty decent chance I'm going to have whipped myself into a frenzy, learned everything there is to know about how the body produces bilirubin and fully investigated liver transplant options just in case we need one at some point down the road.

What is it about being a parent that brings out this nuttiness in me? I'm known among my group of friends as the person to ask about pretty much any parenting topic -- odds are good I'll have the full scoop on anything from weaning to selecting the right preschool to rare childhood illnesses, even if I've never needed the information for my own kids. It helps that I'm well read and parenting topics interest me, I suppose. But in truth, the reason I know so much about so many things is that it takes almost nothing to send me completely off the deep end into a tailspin of panic over some innocuous symptom or imagined cause of my children's suffering. I'll hear a funny sounding cough or spot an odd looking mole and the Mama Bear in me instantly takes over as I jump into crisis mode, seeking out every piece of information out there on the topic as if my knowledge can protect my children from impending doom. What my friends view (I hope) as knowedgable competency is truly just a thinly veiled form of hysteria.

The Internet is a dangerous tool in such situations. You can find worst case scenarios in no time at all online, and I have a morbid fascination with such information. Give me any random childhood symptom or situation and an half an hour with a computer, and I can tell you all of the drastic ways it can end badly. Give me another 45 minutes and I'll also be able to tell you where the experts weigh in on the issue and 4 things you can try to ensure such a fate does not happen to you. For the day or week or whatever it is that I am obsessed with the topic, I will investigate every nook and cranny of it. As a result of such research, I can now authoritatively tell you the steps one must take to potty train (not that those methods guaranteed to work for every child on Earth made a lick of difference when dealing with Julia), the ways to advocate for a developmentally delayed child (unnecessary, as it turns out, because Evan was actually just a little late to roll over) and how to treat a child with Thalessemia (though in the end it was determined that Julia simply had slightly low iron levels).

Proactive parenting or just plain looniness? I'm not sure. But if you need information on parenting, from the mundane to the bizarre, I'm your woman. I think I'm probably pretty qualified to write one of those parenting magazine advice columns at this point, though I doubt that a resume that simply says "paranoid mom of 2 who tends to over react and researches zealously" will be landing me a job any time soon. I'm fairly certain I wasn't like this in my pre-Mommy days (though let's face it, I remember nearly nothing of my pre-Mommy days -- no doubt a defense mechanism on my part). But nearly 3 years into the game (4 1/2 if you count the time spent researching fertility and pregnancy), I've accepted that this is simply how I'm going to parent. This must-know-it-all, research driven approach will no doubt cause my children to hate me at some point. But hell, that was going to happen anyway, considering the fact that I condemned one of them to a life in diapers and turned the other one yellow.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Things I did not expect my child to learn from watching Sesame Street

Quote from Julia, completely out of the blue, while watching two men on Sesame Street:

"I like that one better. He has a better looking face."

When asked if being better looking makes someone more likeable:

"Well, he's got a nicer shirt on, too..."

Man, it starts young.