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

Monday, January 31, 2005

I get my news from Dooce these days

Once upon a time, I placed articles in The New York Times. And when I wasn't placing articles in the Times, I was reading it slowly and leisurely with a big steaming cup of coffee beside me. Now (though I cringe to admit this in print), I'm just as likely to stumble upon a Times article of interest to me while reading Dooce as I am to discover it while actually reading the paper. And if this sounds like a "woe is me, parenting is so hard and I've given up my true self" tale, then I guess the author of last Sunday's story about Mommy blogs was right that people who blog about the experience of parenting are just narcissistic, self-absorbed folks in search of validation.

I'll give the author this -- by definition, the very act of blogging is the ultimate in narcissistic navel gazing, and there's some validity to the assertion that this is a generation accustomed to getting our fair share of attention. But those are generalizations about the entire categories of blogging and 30-somethings. Parenting blogs certainly don't have the market cornered on self absorption (just take a look at some teenagers' blogs to confirm this). So the only real difference I can see in the so-called Mommy blogs is that they're getting a lot of traffic and a lot of attention these days. And the point the author missed entirely when writing his story is the reason why they're so popular.

Unlike the Dooces of the world, I keep my blog primarily for myself. After doing little for myself during the first few years that I was a mother, I've found the exercise of writing regularly to be both cathartic and a reminder of who and what I used to be in my former life. I consider my blog entries to be the ultimate love letter to my children, who will be able to relive their childhoods some day through the words I've written here. More important on a personal level, as I mull over what my next steps toward resuming some kind of a career might be, resuming my love affair with the written word has felt like a baby step in the right direction. I've written many first drafts here of essays I dream of someday shopping around to parenting magazines and eZines. I've tried out some new styles and honed my voice a bit. But mainly, I've just embraced the discipline of writing regularly again, dipping my toe in the waters of what it would be like to do more than simply care for my children during any given day. Whether or not I actually decide to take the plunge and embark on a freelance career, this has been a fun chance to try it out a bit and a nice opportunity to step outside of my world, if only to look right back inside it again.

In the process, a few people have stumbled upon my blog -- less, certainly, than the 40,000 or so who read Dooce on a regular basis, but a few dozen more than I expected when I started out on this project. It's been surprisingly fun to have an audience, however small it might be, and I often find myself watching my stat counter and my comments section after I've posted an entry here to see how it will be received. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think any of the people who are reading what I write here are doing so because they're seriously interested in my children's accomplishments or the minutiae of my life. I suspect you're reading this right now for the same reason I read the dozen or so Mommy blogs (ugh -- that term again) on my favorites list -- because I appreciate good writing, both the thoughtful and the humorous, and I appreciate it even more when it addresses an issue that's important to me. Sometimes I find solidarity or a little piece of myself in someone else's blog. Other times, I just enjoy a good laugh or a good read.

And that, in a nutshell, is why I think parenting blogs have been so successful -- because the people who are writing them are good writers and because the topics they're writing about are universal. Being in our 30s when we decided to have children may mean we're more accustomed to professional accolades and prone to intense scrutiny of every action, as the article suggests. But it also means we were perhaps a little more established in our careers and our talents than earlier generations of parents. And those people who were good writers before they had children are still good writers now, even if the topics they're covering are a little more narrowly focused these days. Ultimately, that's why Mommy blogs are successful -- because they're good reads, plain and simple.

Much has been written about the community that people find online, about the way the Internet brings people together. As at-home parents, we get far fewer opportunities to stand around the water cooler than our peers who work in more professional settings, and blogging -- for both the readers and the writers -- is one way to share a laugh or a frustration or just to take a quick break during the day. But in the same way that people tend to avoid the water cooler when they see an annoying bore standing there holding court, no one would be reading Mommy blogs if they weren't good reads. Bottom line, 40,000 people read Dooce regularly (I know, I know, I've said this already. I'm just so astounded by that number). They read the site because Heather's a good writer, whether she's writing about the Mormon church, working in a dead end job or raising a baby. And perhaps a few of us also read it to find out what the Times is covering these days. When you're a parent, you learn to multitask.

Our growing family

When Evan was born, one of the coolest gifts we received was this book. The brother/sister team in this book even look like my kids -- Julia has dark pigtails and Evan has much lighter hair and a mischievous grin. The family is Jewish like ours and the age gap between the kids is about the same as our Julia and Evan.

They also have a baby sister named Clarissa.

For a year now, Paul's been talking about when we'll have our own Clarissa. It's become a running joke in our family -- I'll talk about being done with babies, Paul will remind me that we still need to have a Clarissa and I'll say that I don't care if she barks or purrs, but the only way he's getting a Clarissa is if she has 4 legs. It's all fun and everything, but I haven't been especially interested in the idea of a third child. And I sure as heck don't want one named Clarissa -- it's a lovely name and all, but it just aint my style.

This past week, Paul purchased a new laptop -- one with all of the bells and whistles he's been dreaming of. As he was setting it up the other night, he got to the point in the installation process where he had to name the new machine. He was about to give it our last name when I realized that this new computer was going to be his baby, and as such, there was really only one name we could give it.

So this post comes to you courtesy of our new baby, Clarissa. Betcha thought for a second there that I was pregnant again, eh? Perish the thought. At least now if it happens someday, the name Clarissa will already be taken and I won't be stuck with another Johnny name situation.

Friday, January 28, 2005

What kind of a preschooler would pick cabbage as a favorite food?

In music class today, we sang a song about food growing on a tree, and the teacher went around the room to ask each child what he or she liked to eat. We sang about an apple tree, a carrot tree and a cabbage tree before we got to Julia, and with each healthy choice selected by a child before us, I got more and more nervous.

Sure enough, Julia wanted to sing about a hot dog tree. And I have to say, I'm very proud of myself for just smiling and singing along and never once giving voice to the Mother's guilt inside of me screaming "really, she likes peas a lot too..."

Cabbage. Sheesh.

Slave to the schedule

Evan's been in a horrendous sleep pattern this week. He seems to be starting to drop his second nap (right on time at a year, but nonetheless disconcerting), but he's not 100% ready to completely let it go and neither of us can seem to figure out what his new schedule should look like. The result is continued sleeplessness, increasing crankiness and total hysteria (we both have the first two problems in this list, but the third is all mine).

I am a crazy person where my children's' sleep schedules are concerned. Completely contrary to my relaxed breastfeeding mama ways, I have always made sure that my children adhere to a rigid nap schedule. Our world revolves around their schedules -- we decline all invitations and avoid all activities that might interfere with my kids' ability to sleep in their beds at the exact same times every day. And sleep, they do... better, longer and more cheerfully than any of their friends, I might add. It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation -- I'm unclear whether I dictate sleep because they need it or they sleep because I dictate it, but it really doesn't matter. We're all happiest when we follow the schedule, so who cares whose idea it was in the first place?

I know from experience that it will take a few weeks for Evan to find his new groove and for our household to adjust to the shift. I know that I can't rush him in this process, nor can I completely control it (though I can provide some gentle nudging toward what I know will ultimately work best for him). I know that when the new schedule finally does evolve, it will actually be better for all of us, since we won't then have to work around a morning nap any more. I also know that I am going to be a complete psychotic wreck until this is over.

Part of my problem is lack of sleep, of course. As a result of Evan's disrupted daytime sleep schedule, he's suddenly waking up in the middle of the night again in search of food, companionship or just a good 2 hour cry. I'm never my best when I'm sleep deprived (is anyone?), but the wicked head cold I can't seem to shake is not really helping matters either, and I'm finding myself exhausted, short tempered and likely to jump off the handle if the slightest thing goes other than according to plan. And without our schedule, nothing is going according to plan this week.

The main issue here, though, if I'm being honest (any why blog if I'm not going to be honest?) is just my personality. I like things a certain way. I like to know what to expect and I like neat packages. I hate unexpected surprises and change. Hard to make things go this way with young kids, I grant you. But my best chance of keeping my household, cheerful, under control and running smoothly is the schedule. With my schedule, I am a calm, in control, cheerful, got-it-all-together Mommy. Without it, well, let's just say it's scary to discover how little stands between my Mary Poppins exterior and the demon that rages within.

I've always admired loosey goosey mothers for their ability to just go with the flow. I've long suspected I could never be that way, but my intensely negative reaction to this relatively innocuous developmental stage confirms it for me. I count my lucky stars that my children appear to be wired as rigidly as I am, and that they crave the same routines I do, or we'd never make things work around here. If I had erratic kids, I'm pretty sure I'd be back at work by now, sitting behind some desk creating elaborate schedules for my employees to follow while someone else figured out how to structure my kids' unpredictable days.

I don't feel like I have any right to complain about what's going on in my household right now, given how reliably my kids normally sleep, and I'm trying really hard to temporarily go with the flow as Evan works through this transition, since I know it can't last forever. But I can survive another week or two of this, max.

Do you think it would be inappropriate to give him a deadline?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but...

So that horrendous, larger than life, will-never-heal-by-Sunday black eye Evan got this morning? The one that was so large and horrifying I actually had to blog about it?

Yeah. Gone. In the time it took for him to take one very unsatisfyingly short afternoon nap.

Which do you think is greater -- the power of a baby to heal almost instantaneously or the power of a mother to grossly over-exaggerate? Draw your own conclusions...

So much for the birthday photos

Evan just slipped while cruising a big plastic toy and got his first black eye -- the largest, scariest looking one I've ever seen (though my myopic Mama-vision has probably overstated its' severity somewhat). He cried for a few minutes and then resumed playing without incident, but his eye continues to grow puffier and puffier with each passing minute, and it's clear to me that this one's going to be with us for a while.

First birthdays pictures of a baby with a big black eye. What a stereotypical boy-child experience. Guess it's not going to snow this weekend after all...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

File this one under "thoughts from a long day alone with 2 cranky children and an awful head cold"

At first, I was sitting on Julia's little Elmo potty ring out of pure laziness -- it seemed too much trouble to move it off the toilet when she was just going to need it again soon. But lately, I've really started to like having that nice warm, padded feeling under my tush.

Are those padded toilet seats everyone seemed to have in the 70s hopelessly out of fashion? Maybe I could start some kind of a retro trend...

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Employee of the Year

I know the moment I wake up that it is not going to be an especially good day. My throat is raw, my body sore and it is all I can do to get us all downstairs and fed when what I would really like to be doing is hibernating under my covers. As the hours progress, things get worse. By noon, I'm barely functioning, shepherding the kids through their daily routine with the minimal amount of effort possible. I feed them lunch, encourage some independent play and finally throw them into bed early for naps, collapsing on the couch as soon as they're down.

The early nap plan backfires, of course, and they're both up way too early, cranky from lack of sleep and bored with the prospect of an afternoon spent hanging around the house. They both want my attention and repeatedly request books, songs, games, the whole nine years. My throat is on fire. It hurts to talk, hurts to breathe even. My body feels like I am walking under water, pushing against heavy resistance with each move I try to make. By late afternoon, I've given up on even trying to make an effort and we're all curled up on the couch watching television, something we rarely do on a normal day. My eyelids are heavy and I'm afraid I'm going to fall asleep. Julia would be fine, but Evan's in a particularly unpredictable and innocently self-destructive stage and I fear for his safety if I happen to drift off. I struggle to stay awake.

Finally, at 5:30, I give in and call Paul. He usually works until about 6, then starts his hour to an hour and a half commute home, arriving sometime between 7 and 7:30. I can't make it that long. "Is there any way you can leave now?" I feel guilty even asking, despite the fact that I know his workday is essentially over anyway. He promises to leave right away, reminds me that the kids won't care if I throw an easy dinner at them rather than a well balanced one just this once, tells me to hang in there. I really must sound like shit.

He arrives home just after 7, delayed by a winter weather commute. I've fed both kids by then, shoveled a few bites into my own mouth and spent the rest of the time lying on the floor watching them play. When he walks in the door, I'm in the bathroom helping Julia to wipe while Evan precariously balances himself at the kiddie table and chairs set, orchestrating a tea party for one. I wash my hands, scoop Evan up and hand him to Paul. "Bring him to me at bedtime and I'll nurse him in bed," I mutter, kissing Paul hello on my way upstairs. "How are you feeling," Paul calls up after me. I'm pretty sure my lack of a response is all of the answer he needs.

I lie in bed, sucking on a throat lozenge, unable to move a muscle, listening to the sounds of my household below. The kids are delighted to see their dad and he's clearly going the extra mile for me. Everyone is happy and well cared for -- pajamas are put on cheerfully, teeth are brushed thoroughly and Julia comes to give me a good night kiss rather than the other way around. I'm unbelievably grateful to my husband -- there is no way I could have done any of this. I nurse Evan lying in my bed as Paul puts Julia to bed, then he comes to retrieve Evan. I drift immediately off into the deepest sleep, not even hearing Paul when he comes to bed later.

The next morning, Evan awakes at about 6:45 and Paul goes to retrieve him, putting him beside me in bed to nurse. Mercifully, Evan dozes off beside me when he's full (something that almost never happens these days) and we all sleep until 7:45, when I look at the clock and realize we all need to start moving if Julia's going to get to school on time. "What do you want me to do," Paul asks. I pause to take stock. My body is still sore, but I can move my limbs without agony. My throat still hurts, but there are embers resting there, not flames. "If you can drop Julia at school on your way to work, I can take it from there," I reply. I force myself out of bed and go to wake Julia, to change Evan, to help Julia get dressed, to feed us all.

In 3 years of motherhood, this is the closest I have ever come to taking a sick day. In all, I missed about 45 minutes of my daily routine and fudged probably another 4 hours or so. If I were this conscientious at a regular job, it would probably earn me Employee of the Year. When I want to return to the workforce some day and potential employers ask me how my years at home will benefit their organization, I'm going to cite this day. Unfortunately, only another mom would know enough to hire me on the spot.

Monday, January 24, 2005

This is probably only cute to me, but hell, it's my blog

We started our new semester of Music Together last Friday. There's a song in this songbook which we also did during the holiday music session that our whole family loves. It's about cold weather (a recurring theme on this blog lately... wonder why?) and the chorus is a series of "Aaa...cho" sneezes.

Julia loves to sing this song at home (never in class, of course) and now Evan has started to join in on the fun. Julia does the verses and then Evan chimes in with "Aaa... DO! Aaa... DO!" Just about the cutest thing I've ever heard, made particularly sweet because they're doing it together...

Saturday, January 22, 2005

I should have looked harder for another rhyme for "together"

Every year, I write a little rhyme for my kids' birthday party invitations. It's sort of a silly thing (when my mom saw the first one, she politely suggested I might want to consider going back to work), but now that I'm in the habit, I just keep doing it. This year's invite was no exception:

Julia's turning 3
And Evan's turning 1
We both hope that you'll join us
For some birthday party fun

We'll have a great time
Doing Music Together
So please cross your fingers
We don't get bad weather
(gotta love those winter birthdays!)

I knew I was probably tempting fate when I wrote it, but really, how many words rhyme with "together"? When people told me I was jinxing things, I laughed and said I didn't believe in jinxes.

You see where this is going, I'm sure. The party was scheduled for tomorrow and we are blanketed with snow right now, with 1-2 feet total accumulation expected and 50 mph winds on the way. The governor has just declared a state of emergency. And it's all my fault. My apologies to the entire population of the northeast for ruining your weekends. I'm just warning you now -- the party's been rescheduled for next Sunday, so you can probably expect another storm then.

I am now humbly awed by the power of the jinx.

Friday, January 21, 2005

I think we all need a break from this cold weather

Julia had a friend over yesterday and was trying to teach him a new game called Freeze n Go (which is played just the way you would expect based on the name). Every time she would yell "Freeze," though, instead of standing still, he would stop what he was doing and start rubbing his arms and pretending to shiver. It took us a few minutes, but we finally figured it out... he was FREEZING!

I'm still laughing...

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Winter birthdays

32 children were invited to a joint birthday party for Julia & Evan this weekend, and not a single one has declined. (So much for combining their parties to mitigate the chaos.)

1 Music Together teacher has been hired to keep them all entertained (I will nominate her for sainthood if she can do it).

3 kid-sized tables and a gazillion little chairs have been reserved for meal time.

8 pizzas have been ordered to nourish all those little bodies.

42 juice boxes and 24 little water bottles have been purchased to quench their thirst.

2 cakes (1 Elmo for Evan, 1 Pooh for Julia, both per Julia's request) have been selected to maximize the sugar highs and provide optimal first birthday cake photos.

32 bell bracelets, 64 maracas and the contents of a pinata have been assembled for party favors.

Could the forecast be for anything OTHER than a Nor'easter?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

"Type" casting

I imagine by the time my kids reach high school, I'll be less enthused about spending time on things like parent/teacher conferences, but this morning was my first-ever conference for Julia, and as such, was something of a novelty for me. It was all of 15 minutes and really told me nothing I didn't already know (other than the fact that Julia's claims of peddling a trike were perhaps a bit exaggerated). Her teacher gushed a little bit about what a sweet, smart child Julia is and then showed me a developmental checklist of about a dozen social, emotional, cognitive and motor skills that they use to evaluate the 2-3 year old set. Julia got all "goods" (vs. "emerging skill" -- apparently, no 3 year old is "great" at anything), which I guess is the equivalent of getting all As on a report card. No surprises there. Her teacher continued, as she always does, to express surprise and delight at Julia's academic skills. But what I really wanted to talk about was how she's doing socially.

Despite the fact that she never shuts up at home, Julia's always been shy in a crowd. She hangs back a lot, waiting for an invitation to join in the fun, and she'll always let another kid have his way rather than risk a confrontation. It's earned her the reputation of being a nice kid, but it also means she gets walked all over a lot. For years, I've watched her at Mommy and Me classes and birthday parties, and it's always the same. She'll go running up to claim a handstamp or other trinket at the end of a class and often be the first one in line, but as the other kids crowd in, she slips back further and further until she ends up the last one to claim her prize every time. Without fail, I stand there on the sidelines quietly clenching my fists and muttering "get IN there" under my breath. She never does. She usually ends up with the balloon color she didn't want, the wrong flavor of popsicle or her second choice toy. It doesn't seem to faze her all that much at the time, though she'll often talk wistfully about the one that got away once we get home. But it makes me completely, totally and utterly nuts.

We're awfully different, my daughter and me. I'm as Type A as they come and she is every inch a Type B. I understand this intellectually -- there are different types of people and their approaches to the world are different and my daughter should deal with things the way she wants to, not the way I might deal with them. But emotionally, viscerally, it kills me to watch her stand back so much. It breaks my heart that she can't bring herself to join in the fun at playgroup unless another child expressly invites her to play, and the look of excitement on her face when she does get such an invitation crushes me even further. It kills me that she'll keep quiet about something that's upsetting her so as not to rock the boat. I hate that she seems to want things and yet can't bring herself to pursue them. I wish that I could find a way to help her to get into the mix more (I must have the only 3 year old on earth in need of aggressiveness training). But even if I don't fully understand it, I do know enough to know that pushing her to be pushy would just make her even more unhappy, so I stand back and cringe and do my damnedest not to intervene.

Knowing what I know about Julia's personality, I've been very curious about how she's been handling the group situation of her classroom, and that was what I really wanted to talk to her teacher about today. As I expected, she said Julia's engaging more in parallel play than anything else, but when it becomes necessary for her to interact with another child, she's respectful and appropriate (translation, I'm betting, is that she quietly hands over whatever the other kid wants without incident). She is asking the teachers for what she needs, though less so what she wants, and she will answer any direct question asked of her. Apparently, she's volunteered exactly one sentence in class all year without being asked first and it was so notably out of character for her that the teachers stopped and stared. Her teacher assured me that she's well within the range of socially normal within the classroom, and recommended that we might want to start doing some more play dates with classmates to try to get her more comfortable opening up with them. Overall, she seemed far less concerned about the whole thing than I am. I'm sure this is partially because a quiet, obedient child is an asset in the classroom, partially because she doesn't have the same emotional connection to my kid that I as a mother have and primarily because she herself is very much a Type B person. Type B people, I'm increasingly noticing, seem to understand my daughter in a way I never will.

Julia seems perfectly content with her role in the class, and the other kids do genuinely seem to like her (though it's no wonder if she's handing stuff over to them left and right). So I know in my heart that I need to leave well enough alone, schedule a few playdates if she wants and let her be the kind of person she wants to be. But the Type A in me doesn't do so well with the "leave well enough alone" approach, and I have the feeling that I have years and years of parent/teacher conferences where I beg the teachers to reassure me that my child is happy in my future.

When I was pregnant with Julia, I used to say that if she got one quality from either one of her parents, I hoped that it would be her Daddy's ability to think before speaking, which has always been in direct contrast with my talk-first-think-later approach. She got the trait I wanted for her, all right. And now I'm going to spend the rest of my life with my hands clenched at my sides as I watch her demonstrate it.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Tomorrow, we're going to watch Barney ALL day

Like most kids, I used to make lists when I was growing up of the terrible things that my parents did to me which I would never do to my own children. Limiting television viewing was always at the top of the list.

My brother and I were both well into grade school before we were allowed to watch anything other than public television. Until then, our viewing options were limited to PBS after 4 p.m., which basically meant Sesame Street, The Electric Company, Zoom and 321 Contact. To this day, we can both sing whole Electric Company segments verbatim and describe elaborate Bloodhound Gang plotlines, yet we're completely clueless about much of the popular culture shared by other children of the seventies -- Schoolhouse Rock and Smurf references are lost on us (it should be noted that I originally intended to give 3 examples here, but was unable to even THINK of another one, I was so out of the loop on this stuff).

When we got old enough, we'd go to friends' houses to watch Brady Bunch episodes and feast on what we were missing out on at home. Eventually, my mother relented to our ceaseless requests to expand our television horizons and granted us a half an hour per day each to watch what we wanted. When the TV Guide would arrive in the Sunday paper, we would both lunge for it and spend hours examining each day's grid and making our selections for the week. Eventually, we were also allowed to watch each other's half hour in addition to our own, enabling us to pool our resources and watch an hour-long show if we were willing to work together. These rules persisted pretty much until we left for college.

In general, I tend to think my parents did a pretty amazing job in raising us and there's really not that much I'd change, but I really don't think that they did us any favors with those TV rules. Yes, I learned to love reading in the hours I didn't spend in front of the television, but truthfully, I think that was hard wired in me and would have happened no matter what I was allowed to watch. If anything, I think all of the rules and restrictions made us more obsessed with television, as evidenced by the fact that my brother and I are both TV junkies as adults (I even went so far as to have a career in television, and my brother was never more jealous of me than when he came to visit me at work and saw that I had a TV in my own office which I got to watch all day long).

Old habits die hard, though, and 3 years into this mothering thing, I find my children watching far less television than their peers. Other than Sesame Street and Clifford the Big Red Dog, my children have no knowledge of the popular characters their friends adore and Julia's never watched a movie other than Finding Nemo. Some of this is because my kids are creatures of habit and haven't showed much of a desire to branch out beyond what they already know and love. But I have to admit, a lot of it is because I simply don't let them watch much television. The set goes on in the morning for about half an hour so that I can get a shower (I do have my priorities), and sometimes I'll let them watch something right before or after dinner if they need to wind down, but that's really it. The rest of the time, they know better than to even ask to watch TV.

I know that a lot of moms who limit their kids' television viewing speak proudly about how they fill the day with more enriching activities and pursuits. Unlike them, I'm a little sheepish about how rigid I've discovered myself to be about the TV thing. I really don't think my parents did the right thing by cutting us off from the television. And yet, they so ingrained that value into me that I can't seem to help myself from passing it along to my own children. (The irony of the fact that I am watching the Golden Globes as I type this entry is not lost on me, by the way... hypocrite that I am, regardless of what I teach my children during the day, you'll rarely find me any place other than in front of the TV after they're in bed.)

Unlike me, Paul grew up with a television always on and he tends to put it on more than I would on the weekends. I automatically turn it off when I enter a room, and this has definitely been a source of friction between us more than once. Today, he had the football game on when it was time for the kids to eat dinner and I decided not to battle with him over it, so I simply left it on. Julia had taken only one bite of food when she looked up, saw the TV on and said "Daddy, turn that TV off right now. You know we don't watch TV while we're eating!" At that moment, I realized that despite my best intentions, history has officially repeated itself. I don't know which horrifies me more -- the fact that I've done what I swore I'd never do to my children or the fact that Julia is most definitely going to do it to my grandchildren some day, too.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


The following conversation went on for over 5 minutes in the back seat of my car today (I've edited it for brevity, but I'm fairly confident not much was lost in translation):

Evan: Dada?
Julia: No, Evan, Dada's at work.
Evan: Dada!
Julia: Dada's at work, Evan.
Evan: Da! Da!
Julia: Dada's not here, Evan. He's at work.
Evan: Dada?
Julia: No, Evan, Dada's at work.
Evan: Dada!
Julia: Dada's not here, Evan. He's at work.
Evan: Da! Da!
Julia: He's working, Evan. He's not here.
Evan: Dada!
Julia: Dada's at work.
Evan: Dada!
Julia: Dada's at work.
Evan: Dada!
Julia: Dada's at work.
Evan: heh.
(long pause)
Evan: Dada?
Julia: No, Evan, Dada's at work.

Both children were giggling hysterically the whole time, clearly sharing a joke. It's a good thing that they enjoy each other's company so much, I decided while listening to them, because if this conversation is their idea of a good time, no one else is going to want to spend much time with them...

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Julia's year in review

Things That Julia Has Learned In The Past Year:
  1. All of her lowercase letters (she knew the capital ones already)
  2. The sounds each letter makes and how to use them to sound out words
  3. How to sight read approx. a dozen words written alone on a page -- dozens more with the aid of a picture or other visual clue
  4. How to write her name, I Love You and a number of other small words (she's still limited by the fact that she can only write about half the letters in the alphabet!)
  5. How to draw a recognizable person w/ facial features and limbs (no bodies yet, though!)
  6. Counting (well past 100) one-for-one with any object she can find
  7. Basic addition and subtraction (+/- 1 or 2 in her head, higher with manipulatives)
  8. The days of the week (though she still has the order a bit off), the order of the seasons and the times that she does most routine things (time itself is still a big fat mystery, though)
  9. The value of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters
  10. The location on the map of New Jersey, plus the states where she has family members (CA, AZ, FL, NY)
  11. How to use the potty rather than her diaper
  12. How to get herself dressed and undressed
  13. How to jump with 2 feet (still working on hopping)
  14. How to pedal a trike (this one's self reported -- I haven't actually seen it in practice yet)
  15. How to make banana bread

Things That Julia Has NOT Learned In The Past Year:

  1. How to compromise
  2. What the word "no" means

It all looks a lot more impressive before you get to the last part, doesn't it? Bright or not, the kid's still every inch a toddler...

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Happy birthday, Julia

Dear Julia,

Once upon a time (you know by now that this is how all good stories begin), I wanted to be a mommy. I had to wait a long time for that to happen, though, and like you, I hate to wait. I waited for several years for your Daddy to decide that he was ready for marriage and parenthood. I waited for many months while we tried to conceive you. I waited for several more months for a medicine called Clomid to help things along. I waited for 9 long months of pregnancy, 56 unending hours of labor and 2 1/2 exhausting hours of pushing. And then, 3 years ago today, you came screaming into this world and my wait was finally over.

I remember those first few minutes that you were alive. The doctor laid you on my chest, slippery and screaming and I was so exhausted and elated and overwhelmed that it was all I could do to hold you in place. The nurse looked down at your face and said "oh my gosh, she looks just like you" and it was only then that I realized that I had no idea what you looked like yet. In fact, despite the fact that I already knew I loved you, I didn't actually know you at all.

I sure know you now.

I know that you can not be convinced to eat a single bite of a food not yet in your repertoire, yet you will lick virtually anything off of a beater. I know that you prefer to snuggle in bed for a while before you face the world in the morning. I know that you will drop anything at any time to have someone read you a book. I know that you say you like to brush your teeth but you really just like to eat the toothpaste. I know that you have an astounding capacity for learning, yet will not utter a word of what you know if you think you are being asked to perform. I know that you get really distracted when you need to go to the bathroom. I know that you automatically answer "I don't know" any time someone asks you a question, but you'll follow that up with the correct answer a few seconds later. I know that if you say you're tired, you really mean that you're bored. I know that you want to drink a whole cup of milk in the car after preschool before you start to tell me about your day. I know that you crave attention at home and anonymity everywhere else. And most of all, I know that you are secure in your world and that you never doubt your place in our family or our love for you.

A year ago, as you were turning 2, I wondered how dramatic the changes in you would be over the next year. You already knew how to walk and talk, so I figured that your growth would be more subtle, less immediately apparent. I know now that I was at least partially wrong. Physically, the changes may not have been so notable (sorry about that -- the klutziness came from my side of the family), but verbally they sure have. You were already speaking in full sentences a year ago, but now your grammar is nearly impeccable and you use big words, familiar expressions and colloquialisms as easily as I do. It's almost hard to forget that you're just turning 3 when you talk -- only your still-babyish voice and a few mispronounced letters give you away. (I love it when you mispronounce words because of the way you correct me if I guess what you're saying incorrectly. "This page is wight," you'll say to me and I'll guess several times what you mean. Right? White? "No, Mom," you'll answer. "WIGHT. It starts with an L. It's the opposite of dark.") Last year, I still communicated differently with you than I do with adults. Now I just talk. And you just respond. And let me tell you, it's really nice.

There have been so many other changes over the past year as well. You became a big sister and have consistently impressed and amazed me with the way you love and take care of your brother. It's been fun having you to share the joy of his "firsts" with -- you get as excited as I do when he learns a trivial new skill or tries something new for the first time. You started school and for the first time, you're a member of a community that doesn't include me. I have mixed feelings about this (it blew me away last week when I suggested we start working on learning to pedal your trike again and you casually replied that you'd been doing that for months at school), but mainly, I'm just intensely proud of how well you've acclimated and of how much your teacher and your peers seem to like you. You developed a real sense of humor and progressed from making me laugh with your innocent comments to making me laugh with well thought out puns and observations. You've also learned an astounding number of things and are on the verge of some pretty amazing discoveries about language, mathematics, geography and the way the world works. I have the feeling that you're going to be reading my birthday letter yourself come this time next year, and that both terrifies and thrills me. This time around, I know to expect dramatic changes and I'm excited to see how you grow in the coming year.

Three years ago today, just moments after you were born, your Grandma called my hospital room, eager for an update on the status of her first granchild's arrival. I was still full of emotion from the experience of meeting you that I answered the phone in tears. "What's wrong," Grandma asked immediately, fearing the worst. I could barely choke out my reply. "Mom? I'm a MOM!" I still tear up each and every time I think of that moment. Your birth fulfilled a lifelong dream for me. At that moment, it felt like the end of an incredibly long journey. Now I know that it was only the beginning.

Happy birthday, my sweet, wonderful daughter. Here's to another year of living happily ever after.

I can hardly wait.


Thursday, January 06, 2005

Career Counselor Barbie

I let Julia open her first Barbie doll yesterday. It was a Princess Barbie set, complete with Barbie and Kelly dolls, a castle that unlocks with a special key necklace and loads of teeny-tiny choke-my-son-if-I-turn-my-back-for-a-nanosecond accessories. A friend had given it to Julia for her second birthday and it had quickly been whisked away in the "open in the future" pile. Since I know we're about to get a new onslaught of birthday gifts, I figured we'd better finish clearing out last year's pile, much of which we just never got to, either by circumstance or (in this case) design. So I left the box with my babysitter, who is still cursing me for forcing her to unfasten the 700 little twisty ties that held Barbie and her accoutrement in place ("they STITCHED her HAIR to the BOX," she kept repeating when I returned home) and ran for my life.

Needless to say, Julia loves this new toy, which embodies everything that scares me about raising a girl in one sickeningly pink package. Needless to say, Evan is equally entranced. I told Julia that Barbie and her accessories would have to live in Julia's room where Evan could not get to them, and she agreed readily enough. But damned if she didn't insist on all going up there to play as soon as she got home from preschool today.

So there we were, Julia styling Barbie's hair into a fashionable ponytail and talking about how the new object of her affection was going to spend her day and me trying desperately to distract Evan with giant Elmo dolls and toys that make a lot of noise as he continually tried to steamroll right over to the barricade I was making with my body and help himself to a nice portion of choking hazard. I was only half listening as Julia told me Barbie had a bunch of errands to do and I asked what her plans were for the day. Her answer stopped me cold in my tracks.

"Oh, you know. She's going to get her toenails painted and stuff."

I was paying full attention now. This was dangerous ground we were about to tread on. "Maybe she should go to work instead," I answered carefully. Julia laughed. "Girls don't work," she answered me in the voice she uses when she knows I'm teasing her. "Only boys work."

It was at this moment that I knew I'd done irrevocable harm to my daughter when I decided to be a stay-at-home mom.

"Many, many women work, Julia," I replied quickly. "You know lots of them. "Grandma works, you know. And Dr. Singer. And your teachers. Mommy used to work, too, before I took some time off to be home with you and Evan. I've told you before about how I used to work for the TV company. And I'll go back someday when you're older..." I was babbling now. "I think Barbie needs to go to work, Julia."

Julia lifted Barbie's dress so that I could see her feet. I noticed that they were bare and halfheartedly began a search for her shoes before Evan choked on one of them. "But mom, look," she said, "her toenails don't have any polish on them."

"No one will notice as long as she keeps her shoes on," I answered, shoving pink plastic stilletos onto Barbie's permanently arched feet as fast as I could. "Now come on. What kind of work do you think Barbie should do?"

"I guess she'll be a teacher," Julia answered with a little sigh, looking longingly at the feet which were apparently going to have to remain au natural as long as she was playing with her suddenly crazy mother. "And she'll go to work over here, on my bookshelf..."

Julia resumed her play and I resumed my attempts to entertain Evan, all the while wondering how much work it would take to get my resume into shape and where I could find reliable childcare right away. Realistically, I know I'm not going any place any time soon, though. I made the commitment to have children knowing that I wanted to be the one to do the full time work of raising them, at least during these early years. I love being home with my kids and I'm not going back to work just to show my daughter that women do indeed have a role in the workforce.

So how then do I reinforce the notion that Julia can grow up to do anything she wants when all she sees around her are me and women like me who are putting our years of high-priced education and workplace experience to work cutting out construction paper butterflies, preparing grilled cheese sandwiches and wiping snotty noses? The best thing I can think of to do (since the exposure to female professionals I'd been so carefully cultivating these past 3 years has obviously failed to make the impact I'd hoped for) is to role play every conceivable career opportunity when I'm playing with Julia until her options become more clear to her. I have the feeling Barbie's about to become my new best friend. I wonder if they make a pepto bismol pink briefcase accessory to match those silly stilletos.

Keeping up with the junior Joneses

At Evan's 6 month appointment, he wasn't yet doing a number of the things on the 6 month developmental checklist. He could sit independently and stand holding onto something, but he still couldn't roll over or pass a toy from hand to hand. I was a little concerned, and couldn't shake the feeling that something about the way he was using his arms and upper body just didn't seem right. "Let's give him some more time," my pediatrician suggested. "He's doing a few things, like the standing, early. So let's wait and see."

Sure enough, by Evan's 9 month appointment, he had learned to roll (though he still only did it sporadically) and was much more proficient with his hands. But I had a new list of worries. He didn't pull up, didn't cruise, didn't crawl, didn't get into a sitting position on his own. Basically, he just sat there, the same as he had three months earlier. "Let's give him some more time," my pediatrician said. I agreed again because I trust my pediatrician implicitly, but this time I wanted a deadline. I didn't want to bring a sitting lump into his 1 year appointment. "I don't care about the crawling. But if he's not pulling up and getting into a sitting position on his own by 11 months, I want you to call me," she answered. "But don't worry... I don't expect to hear from you." I smiled and thanked her. And then I went home and worried, mentally ticking of the days until Evan would turn 11 months.

At 10 months, there was still little change in Evan's accomplishments (he could pull up if I placed him in exactly the right spot, but that was about it) and I was fighting to quell a constant urge to lunge for the phone and demand an immediate evaluation. By 10 month, 1 week, he was still just sitting there and I was literally sitting on my hands. At 10 1/2 months, he started to inch forward. At 10 months 3 weeks, he figured out how to get into a sitting position. We promptly dropped the crib mattress and not a day too soon -- the next day, I found him standing in his crib. That same week, he started pulling up and trying to let go and stand on his own. A day or two later, he suddenly wanted to walk everywhere while holding onto my hands or pushing a toy. And yesterday, on the very day he hit 11 months, he crawled over to the Lego table, pulled himself up and as I watched in horror, he cruised along the table, transferred himself to a doll highchair, went from there to Julia's play kitchen (have I mentioned before how overrun this room is with toys?) and proceeded to pull a huge box of Melissa & Doug wooden produce over on top of his head. Definitely not a lump any more, though he sure had one on his forehead after that little move.

So I was feeling pretty fabulous about all of this, and singing the praises of Dr. Singer, who knows my kids so perfectly. Finally, I thought, my baby boy was where he was supposed to be developmentally. I basked in that glow for exactly 6 hours. Then the latest BabyCenter "Your Baby This Week" email newsletter arrived in my inbox (why do I continue to read these things?). And would you believe they expect him to be doing things like squatting down to retrieve objects and then standing back up already???

I used to love getting those silly BabyCenter emails when Julia was a baby. She was always so far ahead that they would be talking about skills she'd mastered weeks or months before, and as a first time Mommy, I could read them and gloat about how advanced she was (I realize that this admission doesn't paint all that flattering a picture of me, but so be it). But with Evan, they just make me tense. Each child at his own rate... I know, I know. He always catches up. Even so, I think it's time to unsubscribe to BabyCenter. I don't need the pressure. I now have a whole new list of questions and concerns to raise when we see Dr. Singer again next month. I have no doubt that once again, she'll tell me to give him more time. I have no doubt that I'll worry incessantly as I do so. And I also have no doubt (well, OK, almost none) that in the end, she'll be right again.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Glad to have a friend like you

I received the most thoughtful gift today. My friend Gina sent me a small book she'd created herself, filled with quotes about friendship. She explained inside that it represented how she sees our friendship -- inspirational, humorous and sometimes just silly. She'd clearly spent hours on it, and I was so incredibly touched by the thought that went into that little book. Gina's been a great friend to me for the past few years. Yet, we've never actually met in person.

Gina is an online friend, a 21st century pen pal of sorts. I met her through the ParentsPlace "CyberSister" program, which matches pregnant women with women who had a child a year earlier. Despite never being very active on ParentsPlace, I've always loved to lurk there, and I had requested and received my own CyberSister when I was expecting Julia. Veronica was a fabulous support system to me -- particularly in the early days of nursing, when her experience, advice and support were invaluable to me. So I came back a year later and volunteered to return the favor, and they gave me Gina. I remember the first email Gina sent me... it was so funny, so full of life and so "real" that I left Julia's bathtub filling for too long while I read it and nearly flooded my bathroom. Since that first email, I've sent and received countless more, many of which have moved me to laugh and a few of which have moved me to tears as well. Technically, I suppose my role as her CyberSister should have ended when her daughter Elizabeth was born, but we just never stopped writing. Elizabeth turned 2 this week, and her little sister is only a few months younger than Evan. I've seen Gina through 2 pregnancies and 2 years of motherhood now, and she's seen me through a pregnancy of my own and countless issues along the way. Her emails are always warm and supportive and they are always real. She knows the stories of my life, but doesn't have her own relationships with the people I know, so she's always on my side. And she's a safe sounding board, since I know she'll never be able to tell anyone in my life anything that I've said about them!

Gina's not my only online friend. When I was first trying to conceive, I discovered the world of online communities and spent hours lurking on conception discussion boards. I learned to obsess about my fertility through those boards, but I also figured out that something was wrong through the information I gathered there. Eventually, I got drawn in and met my first real online friend... a woman named Steph who was having similar fertility problems. She encouraged me to talk to my doctor about Clomid without waiting the requisite year, and I'll forever be grateful for that advice. Her Clomid daughter was born just a month before my Clomid daughter, and we still keep in touch regularly as well. I love watching Michelle grown up in the photos Steph sends me, and it particularly amuses me to see her enjoying all of the same games and toys that Julia likes.

I'm not much of a message board poster there days. I lurk on age-appropriate boards for my kids when I find the time and occasionally throw in my 2 cents or post a question when I have a second. The one place I like to visit when I have a free minute is the Grads board for the community that helped me so much when I was trying to conceive. I remember all of the stories of what those women went through to start their families, and I love to check in and see what they're up to now that they're all moms. I know several of them read my blog (Hi Gretchen! Hi Lisa! Hi Piper! Are there more of you here?), and I read some of theirs as well. Yesterday, I popped in to answer a nursing bra question and a woman whose name I hadn't seen in years confessed that she's been reading this blog, too and that we seem to be living parallel lives (Hi Kristy!). She mentioned that she could have personally written about 50% of my entries, and I'm dying to know which ones. :) I think it's so neat how the Internet brings together people with common interests and life stages. I find it so cool that we can use this medium to keep track of each other's lives. And I love knowing that there are people out there reading this blog or a message board post of mine who can identify with what I'm going through and draw comfort from our shared experiences even if we never actually meet.

Motherhood's such a funny thing. In some ways, it's entirely isolating -- we're all locked in our own homes with our own children much of the time, myopically unable to look far beyond those small creatures whom we find so all encompassing, yet whom others give only a passing thought. At the same time, becoming a mom opens the door for entry into the Mommy Club, that special community of women who share knowing glances and shared remembrances, regardless of whether they raised their children 50 years ago or are first starting out today. The key to keeping a sense of humor and a modicum of sanity through these early years seems to be finding a way to connect with that Mommy Club, and for that, I can think of no better tool than the Internet. I am blessed with many real life friends to share this motherhood journey with, and I wouldn't trade those friendships for anything. But I consider my online friendships to be equally necessary to my personal well being, and I'm grateful for all of them. Gina, I don't have the talent to create anything like the book you made me. But I want you to know that I value you and your friendship all the same. Ditto for the rest of you. Thanks for caring enough to read what I write here. And please, keep letting me know you've stopped by.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Please join me in welcoming Evan's SECOND tooth

Number of times Julia's teeth arrived in pairs, less than a week apart:
Every single time

Number of times it occurred to me during last night's 3 hour screamfest that this might be the reason Evan was distressed:
Not a one

Number of times I medicated Evan to alleviate the pain of his second tooth coming in:
Does the guilt dose of Tylenol I gave this morning after I discovered the tooth count?

This is starting to get embarrassing.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Please join me in welcoming Evan's first tooth

Approximate date I started blaming all of Evan's crankiness and general discontent on teething:
June 1, 2004

Actual date Evan's first tooth broke through:
December 30, 2004

Number of times I gave Evan Tylenol or Motrin because I was sure this had to be it and the tooth would be appearing at any moment:

Number of times I gave Evan Tylenol or Motrin when the tooth was actually causing him pain:

Aren't you impressed at how much better I am at this parenting thing the second time around?