Thursday, January 28, 2010

Yes Sir, That's My Baby

My husband has never been shy about showing me off, and I just love that about him! When we were first dating and he introduced me to his various family members, I was much less nervous than I might have been because he was so obviously proud to show me off. The first time he asked me to have lunch with him at work when we got back from our honeymoon, he marched me around the office with delight, cheerfully introducing his "beautiful wife!" to all his co-workers. Even when we're out to dinner seeing no-one but strangers, I feel like he's beaming at passers-by like, "Look at this beautiful woman on my arm!" It's a marvelous feeling to be cherished that way.

When I was pregnant with Ryan, not surprisingly, Herb had a new resurgence of pride. What man doesn't get a primal sense of accomplishment and feel the need to show off the physical evidence of his virility? And again, I was proud to be the trophy. I've never felt as sexy and feminine as I did when I was pregnant, which is pretty impressive considering that I was sick as a dog for 8 months. For a woman like me who has always had a boyish figure, having curves was a nice change, even if one of those curves was a big belly. So everywhere we went, Herb was again beaming at passers-by with a sense of pride.

But now that Ryan is here, we both love bathing in the attention that he gets. I love when we're at the mall and someone walks past the stroller then turns around to look at him and smiles or tells us how cute he is. I love when older ladies come over to coo and ask how old he is or what his name is. I love when fellow moms exclaim at his chubby cheeks or his sweet dimples. But I love most of all watching Herb's reaction to all this attention. He nearly busts his buttons with pride in his little boy. We brought Ryan to church when he was just two weeks old, and as several people were straining for a peek, when we reached our pew near the front, Herb turned and held up the car seat so everyone could see, and the whole congregation burst into applause. I don't think I've ever been more proud than I was at that moment.

And even now, at three months, a bit of the novelty has worn off but the pride is still there. Tonight Herb has invited us to drop in on a barbershop rehearsal he's attending. Partly it's to show off to us what he's doing, but mostly I think it's to show us off the his friends. So I already know what he'll be thinking when we walk in: "Yes sir, that's my baby!"

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Box Is Better

My blog entry from a few days ago about technology got me thinking back to the toys of my own childhood. The most technically advanced toys I had were my Lite-Brite and my Easy-Bake Oven, both of which ran off a single 30-watt lightbulb. They were pretty spiffy, but I don't remember them being my favorite toys. One of my favorites was a big play oven that my dad had made with some pressboard, white paint, and some knobs cannibalized from an old range. Another was a tall rag doll with elastic straps on his feet so you could attach him to your feet and dance with him (I suspect it's his fault that to this day I always want to lead). And there was always great excitement in the house when it was a rainy or snowy day and my mom made homemade play-dough. The oven didn't actually cook anything, the doll didn't talk or cry or wet himself, and the play-dough was just a lump until you made something out of it. In other words, the toys I loved most were toys that needed my imagination to come to life.

There's something to be said for cheap toys. How often have we joked about kids on Christmas who throw away the toy and play with the box? There's a very funny video of my stepdaughter at age 2-1/2 opening a large, beautifully wrapped Christmas present to find an elaborate train set. Her parents ooh and ahh excitedly over the trains, while she completely ignores them and proceeds to dive into the box, hiding under the packing peanuts and popping up with delight, over and over again. She was much more entertained making a game out of the box than playing with the train set.

Yesterday morning I began to suspect that Ryan will be the same way. He's been very chewy lately, gnawing on his own hand and munching contentedly on his burp cloths or any other fabric that comes near his mouth. I've tried offering him some of his fancy teething rings and toys, but he has no interest in them. And then yesterday morning he spent nearly an hour mouthing the zipper on his jacket, chasing it with his mouth, and happily chewing on it again. This is not a child who needs fancy toys and gadgets.

I suspect that most children are the same way, at least until they are given, and get used to being surrounded by, toys that do all the thinking and imagining for them. Why make up conversations with a doll when she already talks? Why create your own superhero with a towel for a cape when you have a complete costume that comes with the hero's backstory? Why make up silly songs when your toy provides its own music?

A box doesn't talk, or have a backstory, or know any songs. But because of that, it can become a spaceship, or a laboratory, or a kitchen, or a fort. You can change it from the heroes' lair to the villains' den in the blink of an eye. It can be an Indian tepee, a schoolhouse, and an igloo over the course of a single morning. It has no limits except your imagination!

I'm sure that at some point Ryan will want to spend all his time playing video games and watching DVDs and television (or whatever the new technological equivalents are by then). But I truly hope that before he reaches that stage, he spends a lot of time just playing with boxes.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Baby, I Can Cook

One of the biggest surprises I've found since I've been a stay-at-home mom is how much I enjoy cooking. I'd lived alone for most of my adult life, so I'd mostly just done quick single-serving meals, rarely from a recipe. I always enjoyed hostessing when I got to cook for larger groups, but I never really enjoyed cooking for one all that much. But now that I'm cooking for two (and someday three - or more!), I'm finding that I enjoy the challenge!

When we were first married, I stuck with tried and true recipes from my mom, or easy online recipes that promised to be "never fail". I was (and still am, actually) the queen of comfort food. My specialties were things like shepherd's pie, meatloaf, chicken casserole, and spaghetti and meatballs. But once I discovered that my husband not only ate but relished my cooking, I got brave and decided to branch out. I experimented with a few slightly more gourmet dishes. I tried making a simple lobster mac & cheese. I braved chicken marsala. I even did veal parmesan! And then I decided to get really crazy and, since my stepdaughter is a big fan of my sticky rice, I took a step into the world of risotto. Risotto sounds so elegant and fancy! The "cheftestants" always make it on Hell's Kitchen, so it must be gourmet. They also often screw it up, so it must also be difficult, right? Nope. I'm sure it IS difficult to make in 3 minutes, but when you're doing it from scratch in an hour, oddly enough it's not that hard. Really! It's time-consuming, but if you can measure a few ingredients and stir for 45 minutes or so without your arm falling off, then risotto is the dish for you. It's become my go-to "fancy dish" whenever I want to reward or impress my husband.

I've also gotten brave enough to occasionally dive into the world of cookbooks. I like that they have pictures. Sometimes that can be the deciding factor. Sometimes I look at a recipe and think it sounds great, but then look at the picture and realize it looks either too fussy or just plain nasty. And sometimes I look at a photo that looks delicious and realize I just skipped over the recipe and have to go back for a second look. Of course, the flip side of this is that if your result looks nothing like the picture, it's obvious you did something wrong. (That's why I hide the recipe book before Herb comes home.)

Naturally, I have had a few culinary disasters. Last night I tried a boneless pork chop recipe that was apparently designed for much thinner pork chops than I had. (Note to all chefs out there: Don't try to grill 1-1/2" thick pork chops. Trust me on this.) The result (which took 45 minutes longer than I anticipated) was edible but not especially enjoyable. Fortunately, I have a husband who was wise enough to say, "No, honey, they're fine" as he choked them down. Good thing I had also made risotto. Risotto covers a multitude of culinary sins.

I guess that's the secret: Perfect a side dish that's so good it can distract a diner from the worst culinary disaster and serve it every time you try out a new dish. At least then your guinea pigs will never go completely hungry...

Monday, January 25, 2010

Recharging Your Engines (in 30 Minutes or Less)

I've learned a lot of useful skills over the past three months since Ryan was born. One-handed typing, for instance. The art of the three-minute shower. Picking things up with my feet. Positioning a bottle with my teeth. Singing in my sleep (I think). But the most useful set of skills I've developed has to be the ways I've found to recharge my engines in less than 30 minutes.

Those readers who have children understand the 30-minute window. Naptime that lasts for several hours is reserved for crucial things like laundry, running errands (if the baby is a car-napper), and the occasional REAL nap. But it's during the shorter catnaps that you can snatch a few minutes for yourself without feeling guilty. I suspect every mom has her own list of things that refresh her and re-energize her to get through the rest of the day, but here are a few of the things I've discovered that work for me.

A 30-minute bubble bath. Incredibly hot water, an absurd amount of girly-scented bubble soap, a cushy neck pillow, the radio set to a classical station, and a paperback copy of Shakespeare, and I'm in heaven for half an hour. It doesn't matter that there are rubber duckies in all colors of the rainbow lined up on the side of the tub watching me. It doesn't matter that I'll have to rinse carefully so that Ryan doesn't get a mouthful of soapy-tasting boob the next time I feed him. It doesn't even matter that I know I may have to wait another week or more to finish the tale of Romeo or Viola or Petruchio. It just matters that for 30 minutes it's pretty much all about me and my comfort.

Another favorite is a big steaming mug of flavored coffee or herbal tea or cocoa with whipped cream and a piece of toast with cinnamon sugar sprinkled on it, enjoyed at the kitchen table watching the birds at the bird feeders. I even sometimes get my brain going by researching new birds with my electronic birdsong book or my faithful Peterson's Guide. The peace of nature warms my soul while my beverage of choice is warming my body all the way down to my toes.

Speaking of warmth, how about 30 minutes spent snuggled under a fluffy blanket just listening to music? (Okay, maybe catnapping a little, too. But mostly listening to music.) Grownup music, that is. Nothing with lyrics about holes in buckets or the bottom of the sea, or little old ladies eating bugs and livestock, or three little fishies/ducks/pigs/bears. Just music that soothes me the way the buckets and bugs and bears soothe Ryan.

And last but not least, I have to admit my favorite 30-minute guilty pleasure: cable TV reality shows. Not the cool competitive shows like Survivor or the Amazing Race or even Hell's Kitchen, but the really cheesy low-budget ones like Say Yes to the Dress, What Not to Wear, I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant, and Bridezillas. I suspect the reason I enjoy them so much is that they make me feel so well-adjusted, personable, and well-dressed. I never threw a temper tantrum while planning my wedding. I've never worn my mom's hand-me-down 1980s power suit to a job interview. I've never thought I had food poisoning and discovered in the emergency room that I was in labor with a baby I didn't know I was having. I may still be in my pajamas at 2 in the afternoon eating peanut butter toast as my first meal of the day, but I've still got it together more than these people.

So when Ryan goes down for a nap that I know is destined to be short-lived, I know what I need to do to fill that time and recharge myself for the rest of the day. And since he's falling asleep in my arms right now, I'd better wrap this up. I'm pretty sure I can find an episode of Tabatha's Salon Takeover on somewhere.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fathers and Sons

There's nothing quite so wonderful for a new mom as having a husband who is not only excited and actively involved with the baby (as most are), but who is also an experienced dad. In my case, my husband's experience is 17 years in the past, but like riding a bike, it comes back very quickly.

I'm not sure who adores whom more, whether it's Herb crushing on his son or Ryan crushing on his daddy. But it's obvious there's a mutual admiration society going on there.

Herb and his daughter have a very special relationship, and are probably closer than a lot of fathers and daughters are. After all, she lived with just him for 9 months out of the year for most of her life. And even before her parents were divorced, she got special time with him because her daycare was at his work so he could visit with her at lunch and got extra father-daughter time during his commute to and from work. Even aside from his devotion to her, spending that much time together creates a very close bond. But I think the combination of her growing up and not needing him in the same way that she used to and having a son instead of another daughter is making his bond with Ryan something special in its own way, too.

The relationship between daddies and daughters is, I think, based on a bit of mystery on both sides. A daddy has never been a little girl playing dress-up and having tea parties, or a tween girl dealing with clothes and makeup and hair, or a teenage girl trying to understand boys and the world of dating. And a girl doesn't usually look at her father and think about growing up to be just like him. So there's a natural disconnect there that can never be completely bridged.

Fathers and sons, on the other hand, have a different kind of connection. A daddy looks at his little boy and relives his own childhood: wrestling, rough-housing, playing with trucks and dirt and worms and dead things. He knows what it's like to be a boy because he's been one. He went through the embarassment of a changing voice, being shorter than the girls, growing a caterpillar on his upper lip, the public hazards of hormones, and asking a girl for a date for the first time. He can identify. And a son can look at his dad and get a glimpse of his own future, whether it be athletic prowess or a receding hairline. He can see what he may grow into. Even in babyhood, there's a special bond between a man and the child who will carry on his family name.

So I love watching my husband and son together. I love that they already have a special routine together. Every night at around 9pm, Herb takes Ryan upstairs for "tubby time". Sometimes I join them, but for the most part, I leave them alone for their male bonding time. Ryan grew out of the baby bathtub very quickly, so now he gets to flail around in the big tub, making waves and getting squirted with his many tub toys. He loves when Daddy sprays his chest with the showerhead and lets the water spritz over his face - he sticks out his tongue and tastes it, or if it's too much, scrunches up his face in distaste. Daddy even encourages him to close his eyes and hold his breath while he sprays a little water on his face, to get him ready for dabbling in the pool next summer. But the best part of tubby time is the hair dryer afterwards! When bathtime is over, Herb wraps him in one of his towels (the duck, the elephant, the turtle, the monogram - the choices are almost endless) and brings him to the changing table to diaper him and dress him for bed.

But before he gets dressed, he gets dried all over with the hair dryer. He knows the drill by now so as soon as he hears the dryer he melts into a relaxed puddle. When Herb dries his hair and the warm air blows around his face, he closes his eyes blissfully and makes funny mouth puckers as he waves his chubby arms and legs in ecstasy. Once he's snuggled into a warm sleeper, Herb shuts off the lights, turns on the music, settles into the rocking chair, and gives him his last bottle of the day before tucking him in his crib.

I must admit, I'm a little jealous that I'm not the one tucking him in every night. But I know that I have him all to myself almost every day, and I don't begrudge Herb his special daddy time. After all, he is a very special daddy.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Sunrise, Sunset

With its poignant lyrics and haunting melody, the song "Sunrise, Sunset" from the musical "Fiddler on the Roof" is arguably one of the most moving songs ever written. No wonder it's played so often at weddings, usually to accompany the father-daughter or mother-son dance. "When did she get to be a beauty? When did he grow to be this tall? Wasn't it yesterday when they were small?" Time flies by so fast and children grow so quickly from infants to toddlers to youngsters to adults. Some of the wisest parenting advice I've gotten was from my mom, who got it from her mom: "Don't try to rush them into the next stage. Just enjoy each moment as it is."

This seems like simple enough advice at first, but I'm finding it more difficult than I expected. When Ryan began to focus on my face, I eagerly looked forward to his first smile. When he began to smile, I looked forward to his first giggle. When he giggled, I couldn't wait for him to belly-laugh. I have to consciously stop myself from thinking "I can't wait until he..." and enjoy what he's doing right now. Because what he's doing right now is amazing! Sure, it will be great when he can sit up by himself. But how much do I love watching his bobblehead attempts to gain control of his own head? How exciting is it to watch him follow Daddy with his eyes as he's propped up on our bed in the morning while we're getting dressed? What a wonderful feeling it is when he's on my shoulder, working hard to hold his head up and take in everything in the room, but then he drops his head and nuzzles into my neck, exhausted from the effort. Those sweet moments will be gone so quickly, I want to savor each one as it happens, not look past it in anticipation of the next stage.

I am so fortunate to live in an age of digital photography and cheap video cameras so we can record these fleeting moments and savor them again and again. It astonishes me how quickly I forgot how tiny Ryan was when we brought him home from the hospital - but I have dozens of photos of his first few days at home and a video of his birth to remind me. I will never forget seeing his first dimpled smile, but I can share that image with others because I have photos of that smile. I can even picture the day, a few years from now, when I show Ryan his baby book and all the photos of his earliest days.

But I won't think about that too much yet. I'm too busy enjoying the here and now.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Wonders of Technology

When I was pregnant with Ryan, one of the most daunting tasks I had to do was figuring out what equipment and supplies we needed to get ready for his arrival. Back when I was a baby, it was a much less complicated task: diapers and rubber pants (cloth was the only option), glass bottles with nipples (the only kind available), clunky molded plastic infant seat, and maybe a molded plastic bathtub. Now we have our choice of cloth or disposable diapers (6 kinds of each, with padding in different places and various kinds of miracle absorbency promises), BHA-free plastic bottles with the air vent nipple OR disposable drop-ins OR Dr. Brown's with the realistic angled nipple, a car seat that pops into place AND transforms into a carrier AND goes in the stroller three different ways AND fits into a grocery cart AND sits in an upside-down restaurant booster seat (how did I not know that trick?) AND rocks the baby to sleep (AND, I suspect, turns into a rocket ship or a nuclear submarine or a stealth fighter or something else that would make James Bond jealous, if only I knew which buttons to push), and a veritable zoo of cute bathtubs (whales and goldfish and zebras, oh my). So even when you know what stuff you need, you have to choose which "flavor" of stuff.

But the most amazing thing to me was how everything has batteries. They all vibrate, or light up, or play music. We had a hard time finding a Pack N Play that didn't sing a lullaby and rock the baby to sleep for you. Or a bouncy chair that expected the baby to do the bouncing. At least with most of those things, you don't have to use the electronic gadgets. You can turn off the music on the Pack N Play and ignore the vibrate option on the bouncy seat. Most of the battery-operated stuff will still function without batteries. But so much of it seems to take away anything for the parent or child to do! To me, the whole point of a bouncy seat is to encourage baby to bounce; the point of mommy lingering by the crib while baby drifts off is for HER to sing a lullaby; the point of toys was to teach baby to manipulate them and make them work, not for them to wiggle and bounce and sing on their own.

Then there are the real hard-core technological wonders, many of which really do make life easier. My favorite of these is the video baby monitor. In my mom's day, the only "baby monitor" they had was an open door and attentive ears. When I was baby-sitting as a teenager, we had audio baby monitors so you could listen to the baby from the other side of the house. But for Ryan, we have a video monitor so I can not only hear but see him from the other side of the house, from out in the yard, or even from the neighbor's kitchen drinking coffee (not that I would do that, but I COULD). And because my husband is a brilliant geek, the video feed is tied in to the computer so Daddy can peek at Ryan from his work computer or even from his phone any time he wants! Whenever Ryan does something cute, I send Daddy a text message (yet more convenient technology) so he can take a look. So when Ryan takes his first step or says his first word, even if it happens while Daddy is at work, he won't have to miss that miraculous moment.

Another advantage of technology is that it really can save time, when used well. No more trying to calm a hungry baby for the 20 minutes it took to sterilize and prepare a bottle. No more hour at the end of every day rinsing all the dirty diapers that had been soaking in bleach all day long. No more running in to check the baby because the audio monitor has been TOO quiet. Even simpler technologies like antibacterial wipes and washing machines and dryers save us hours of time.

I guess when it comes right down to it, technology is a mixed blessing. For every mom who thinks she can't sing and lets a machine sing lullabies to her baby, there's a mom who can check in on her baby from her desk at work. For every baby who's rocked to sleep by an electronic massager instead of bouncing on someone's hip, there's a colicky baby whose mommy gets a break from walking and bouncing him 24/7. For every dad who moves the baby from car seat to bouncy seat to programmable playmat with hardly a cuddle, there's a dad who snuggles her in the Bjorn carrier all day long while doing other chores. Like most things in life, technology is what you make of it.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Nibbled to Death By Ducks

Motherhood, particularly stay-at-home motherhood, is not an easy job. Fun, yes. Rewarding, yes. Most exciting, challenging, and wonderful thing I've ever done, yes. Easy? Not so much. In fact, it's often like being nibbled to death by ducks.

There really isn't any one particular thing that I can point to that is incredibly difficult by itself. But there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of little things that accumulate and wear me down. Lack of sleep is probably the closest to a free-standing difficulty. But even that by itself isn't going to kill me, especially since Ryan's been sleeping through the night for over a week now (knock wood!). But on top of that lack of sleep, layer not showering some days, not brushing my teeth till noon, skipping meals, backaches from lifting the baby, sore nipples, having to keep my nails cut short (doesn't sound like a problem, but taking prenatal vitamins makes my nails grow like kudzu vines!), sore spots on my head from the baby learning to cling to hanks of hair, clothes that don't quite fit, interrupting making dinner to quiet/feed/rock the baby, interrupting dinner to quiet/feed/rock the baby, stiff arms from lifting the baby, laundry piles that never seem to shrink, empty bottles somehow wandering all over the house, never a burp cloth where I can reach it... No one thing in itself makes me crazy, but they all add up after a while.

Fortunately, on the flip side, there are also a lot of little things that I find help to un-crazy me. A long nap while the baby is sleeping (or if Daddy takes a late-night feeding), going out to dinner (with or without the little man), a long bubble bath, or a backrub before bed all refresh me and recharge my engines. A big smile from the little man gives me a surge of energy to make it through another day. Even just seeing his peaceful face when he's finally fallen asleep after an hour of rocking (me) and sobbing (him) (okay, sometimes me too), gives me the strength to keep going.

Because when it comes right down to it, there are so many things I love about being a mom. I love watching Ryan learn something new every day. I love seeing him gaze up at me with recognition. I love listening to his calm breathing when he sleeps. I love watching the funny expressions that flit across his face as he dozes off. I love the way he smells after a bath. I love rubbing my face against his whisper-soft hair. I love blowing raspberries on his belly to make him laugh. I love watching him snuggle with his daddy. I love dressing him up in cute outfits. I love rocking him to sleep and singing him lullabies. I love nuzzling noses with him. I love playing bicycle with his feet and patty-cake with his hands and head-shoulders-knees-and-toes with every other part of him. I love taking him shopping and watching him look around wide-eyed at all the unfamiliar sights and sounds. I love strangers telling me how beautiful he is. I love knowing he's mine, all mine.

So bring on the ducks. It's worth every little nibble!

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Saturday, January 16, 2010


I love massages. I love couples massages. I love prenatal massages. I love professional massages. I love amateur massages. I love massages. So one of the best gifts Herb has ever given me was a membership to a massage place. A few weeks before Ryan was born, he had taken me there for a couples/prenatal massage as an early birthday present, and it was just wonderful, so I knew I would love my first membership massage this morning.

Now, for you poor souls unfamiliar with massage, it can be a little disconcerting at times, especially your first experience. First off, you're generally naked (or close to it), which makes you feel a little vulnerable to begin with. Then, you're laying on a table in a dark, empty room, which is also a bit of an odd, exposed feeling. Next, a complete stranger comes in and touches you all over. On paper, it all looks very weird and unappealing. Particularly when you add in all the bizarre contortion and unfamiliar noises your body may experience during the procedure. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

This morning, I walked into the spa and was told by a very apologetic receptionist that one of the therapists had called in sick so they had rescheduled me with a different therapist. Not a problem; I'm not a regular and I didn't even know the therapist originally assigned to me. The receptionist told me I would be seeing Nyoki (name has been changed, mainly to protect me from any kind of lawsuit if someone who knows her reads this), and he was sure she would be an excellent fit for me. I heard the name Nyoki and pictured a tiny Japanese woman who weighed about 80 pounds and might end my massage by walking on my back. I imagined she would have a delicate touch and would have to throw her entire body weight behind her stretches to loosen my neck and hands. Ah, it would be lovely and relaxing. I closed my eyes for a moment, picturing the scene (and possibly dozing for a second. Did I mention it was an 8am appointment? That was all they had. THAT is how much I love massages.), then I heard a voice at my elbow. It was Nyoki.

She was not quite as I had envisioned. She was, in fact, both Japanese and female, but that was where the similarities ended. If there had been a Japanese woman on the 1986 East German Olympic swim team, she would have looked like Nyoki. She was about my height but outweighed me by a good 40 pounds, most of it in her shoulders. She had a mannish buzz cut and multiple piercings. I was a little relieved when she smiled, but I was still a bit intimidated as I followed her meekly into the massage room. She was surprisingly soft-spoken as she asked me a few pre-massage questions: How much pressure did I prefer? Did I have any areas she should focus on or avoid? Did I have any objections to stretching? What was the purpose of my visit today? By the time she finished the brief consultation I was relaxed and comfortable. She left me to disrobe and slip under the soft sheets on the warm table.

When she returned, she began the massage by working on my neck. As soon as she touched me she commented on how tight my neck was. I murmured some kind of response before snapping to attention as she dug her fingers into the muscles of my neck. I was amazed at the strength of her hands even as I imagined her ability to pop my head off my neck like a Barbie doll. But after those first few seconds of alarm, I could feel the muscle fibers at the base of my neck unkinking and untwisting. A few short moments of pain were followed by a warm, melting sensation as those strong fingers manipulated the taut muscles of my neck. I wasn't even alarmed when she took my head in both her hands and began to twist it. She might be about to snap my neck, I thought, but what a wonderfully calm and soothing way to die!

Once she had turned my head and neck into jelly (in a good way), she moved down to my feet. She carefully uncovered one leg from the knee down and tucked the warm sheet back around me like a cocoon. She took a moment to put some pleasant-smelling lotion on her hands and gently rubbed my foot for a few seconds before taking a tight grip on my heel and pulling my foot away from the rest of my body. The sensation was much more enjoyable than the hideous popping sounds that came from my ankle. She murmured the single word, "Wow", before reassuring me that such noises were perfectly normal. I may have grunted some kind of response; mostly I was wondering how many inches taller I was going to be after the session, between the neck stretching and now the ankle popping. I was even a bit disappointed when the other ankle yielded only a quiet little pop or two.

After the stretching came the contortions. My arms were as relaxed as cooked spaghetti by this time, but I was still astounded at how easily she bent them into pretzels across my body. If I could do that myself, I would never again have an itch I couldn't reach! I think I could have licked my own elbow in one of the positions she put me in. And the contortions continued when she had me roll over onto my stomach. Very casually she swung my arm down by my side, then continued to swing it straight up in the air over my head. I recalled my college anatomy course and tried to figure out how she could do that without dislocating my shoulder. Apparently massage is not governed by the laws of either physics or physiology. She increased the pressure until I was about to cry uncle (you're allowed to do that in massage) but then released it and with that release came a rush of endorphins or something that was like muscular Valium.

On it went for the full 50 minutes. She would manipulate some body part in a way that felt incredibly unnatural or even uncomfortable, but after a moment the sense of relaxation would come flooding in and suddenly it was the most natural thing in the world. When the session was over, I reluctantly got off the warm table and put my clothes back on, but I still felt like I was floating along in a little herbal-scented cloud of peace and tranquility. I stood taller, I walked more gracefully, I had a transcendent look on my face (or possibly a goofy, drunken grin; without a mirror it's hard to tell the difference).

So once again, my wonderful husband has hit the jackpot in the gift-giving department. Not only did I receive 50 minutes of physical soothing of my taut muscles, but I also received a full day of mental and emotional calm and relaxation. Hmm, I might just need to try that foot thing on him tonight! On second thought, it might be more of a gift to NOT try it.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

The Built-in Baby Gym

Before Ryan was born, I had some concerns as to how I would take off the pregnancy weight after he was born. I was fortunate that 8-1/2 months of morning sickness kept my weight gain down to 21 pounds (believe me, after 8-1/2 months I NEEDED that silver lining), and since nearly 10 of that was baby, I didn't have a lot to lose. But at 40 years old, even those few pounds can be tough to shed. And being the opposite of a gym rat, I didn't see myself signing up for yoga or Pilates or spinning classes. I knew deep in my heart of hearts that I probably wouldn't be especially faithful about taking the baby out for walks in the snowy weather or even using the treadmill. But what I didn't realize was what a built-in home gym a baby (especially my big ol' sack of potatoes) can be.

The simplest exercise is simply lifting baby from his crib. This is a rare occasion when laziness actually worked in my favor. Since I can't be bothered to lower the side rail of the crib, getting the baby out of the crib begins a gentle stretching of the muscles in the torso and upper arms, serving as a form of warm-up exercise. The actual lifting of the baby works on the biceps, and if the baby is especially wriggly or has rolled or squirmed into an awkward position, may also strengthen the trapezius, deltoid, and abdominal muscles.

Once baby is awake, the "free-form carry" exercises not only various weight-bearing muscles throughout the arms and shoulders, but has the added benefit of encouraging flexibility of the neck in dodging the inevitable sudden head-butt and hones the reflexes for foiling the occasional Full Body Launch Squirm. The FBLS also results in increased wrist strength, as the child's full weight is generally being thrust against the parent's hands during this escape maneuver.

Should the baby doze off while being held, parental laziness can again be beneficial, as many exercises can be performed in a recumbent position with the baby sleeping on the parent's chest or tummy. A child weighing 15 or more pounds will, as any parent of such a child will attest, provide a great deal of resistance to the parent drawing a deep breath, and will therefore tighten and tone the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. A semi-recumbent position (i.e., sitting upright in a chair but with horrifically bad posture so as to angle the child) allows for both breathing resistance and development of shoulder and underarm muscles, as the baby will inevitably slide down the body and will need to be repositioned. This motion is often done in a slow, controlled manner to avoid disturbing the child and bringing the exercise session to a premature (and loud) end, thus increasing both endurance and flexibility.

My personal favorite built-in baby gym exercise is the Dead Lift/Squat. While this manuever can be done without equipment, it is done most safely using a baby carrier or sling to center the child's weight.  Once the baby is secure in the carrier, proceed to a room, such as the kitchen, nursery, or laundry room, where needed items are stored at various heights. Alternating between stretching up on tiptoe, which tones the calf muscles, and squatting low. which attacks the glutes and quads, gives a balanced workout ala circuit training, with the side benefit of doing chores such as dinner prep and laundry folding.

Who needs a gym when you've got a 20-pound baby? He's way better motivation that a personal trainer, and best of all he works for milk and kisses. What's not to love about that?

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sing, Sing a Song

I've always been surrounded by music. I could sing as soon as I could talk, maybe sooner. I have in my head a repertoire of music ranging from high opera (believe me, you don't want to hear me sing that) to the lowest of doggerel (come to think of it, you probably don't want to hear me sing that, either). I have so much of it in my head that I don't even know what's in there. Every now and then I break into some random ditty and then think, hm, didn't know I knew that song. And over the past few months since Ryan's been on the scene, my brain has dredged up more silly children's songs than I ever knew that I knew.

There are, of course, the classic lullabies: Hushabye Baby, All the Pretty Little Horses, Hush Little Baby (although I'm still not sure whether the looking glass is "brass" or "crass", not that either one makes an awful lot of sense). There are a few less well-known lullabies that require me to make up a few missing lyrics, like All Through the Night: "Sleep my child and peace attend thee, all through the night. Guardian angels God shall send thee, all through the night. Something something something something, God to earth is now descending. Childhood's dreams are never-ending, all through the night." I know the first two lines are right, I haven't the faintest idea what the middle part is, and I made up the last line just so it rhymes at the end. So far, Ryan hasn't seemed to mind my edits.

A much more fun category is all those repeated, building verse-on-verse songs, like There's a Hole in My Bucket, There's a Hole at the Bottom of the Sea, There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Spider (Ryan's favorite, mostly because of the "that wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her" part), and One Elephant Went Out to Play. The latter is especially useful because there's no limit to the number of verses you can sing. It's like 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, only in reverse and somewhat less annoying. As long as you can count, you can keep adding elephants. My record so far is about twenty, but I can picture going up to at least 50 in the future.

Then we have the plain old silly songs, like Hickory Dickory Dock, Chim-Chiminny, and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The nice thing about most of those is they're so nonsensical that no-one even notices if you make up some words because you can't remember the real ones, or create a few extra verses on the fly. Seriously, if someone doesn't balk at the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, are they really going to question your lyrics?

All the songs I've mentioned so far are songs that I learned and loved as a child. But I have a confession: I have another whole stash of children's songs that I picked up in my adulthood, not by babysitting, but by the guilty pleasure of having listened to a children's radio program called the Playground for the past few years. It features wonderful songs like I Am a Pizza, What Kind of Cat Are You?, and the Day the Moose Got Loose. (And less wonderful ones like the Hamster Dance and the incredibly annoying Pokemon theme song, but we'll ignore those for now.) Kids today have the benefit of not only classic children's performers like Raffi, Wayne from Maine, Laurie Berkner, the Wiggles, and Lois, Bram and Sharon, but many performers who don't sing specifically for little ones but whose music is endlessly entertaining for them anyway, like Weird Al Yankovic and his classic song, The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota. And endless a cappella groups with unforgettable hits like Liposuction and My Underwear Kept Ridin' Up My Rear (I don't plan on introducing that one to Ryan any time soon, but I'm sure he'll discover it somehow anyway). If you're creative and keep your ears open, there are endless songs all around that are a delight to sing to a child.

And speaking of singing to a child, I'd better wrap this up. There's a certain young man upstairs who's looking forward to hearing about a little duck with a feather on his back.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

It's All In the Timing; or, It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

Having a young child, I am discovering the great importance of "The Window of Opportunity". The Window applies at a number of levels, from long-distance planning ("Traveling is most manageable from 4 months to a year"), to the shortest of short-term goals ("He stopped wiggling; tape the diaper NOW!"), and everything in between.

I've learned to delay meals, chores, and phone calls so they coincide with nap time. This isn't as easy as you might think, though, as Ryan has recently become the master of the Fake Out. The Fake Out is especially effective for important phone calls, as they are generally the most difficult to stop in the middle of to tend to a crying child. This morning, for example, I needed to make a call and I knew I would be on hold for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. So this was my dilemma: Do I make the call before Ryan starts his usual nap, risking the I-changed-my-schedule-I'm-not-napping-now Fake Out, in the hope he'll still be sleeping if it takes an hour? Or do I risk the 5-minute-snooze Fake Out and call as soon as he closes his eyes? Would it be better to wait until he's been solidly snoozing for 10 or 15 minutes and therefore safely out of the 5-minute Fake Out Zone and risk him waking up mid-call? It's kind of like playing roulette: so many options on the table and only one is a winner, which means the house almost always wins (and by "the house", I mean "not me"). So naturally Ryan was calm and quiet for the entire 30 minutes I was on hold and even for the first 5 minutes of the phone call, but then burst into loud wails at a rather inopportune moment. Whoops. The house wins again.

Meals are almost as bad. Not only do you need to schedule eating time, but preparation time as well. Admittedly, the preparation part isn't always an issue, since some kinds of meal preparation actually count as playtime. Making a salad, for example, creates endless amusement for a small child in a front pack. No sharp knives or open flames are involved, only lots of walking around the kitchen finding ingredients, including things on high shelves and in low cabinets, which means lots of mommy stretching up on tippy-toe and then stooping to squat. Fun, fun, fun, do it again, mommy! But any kind of cooking that involves actual, you know, cooking, that can be a problem. I have long enough arms that I occasionally dare to cook over a low flame, standing as far from the stove as possible, turning sideways, extending my arm until it's about a millimeter short of dislocating my shoulder, and holding a long-handled spoon with my fingertips. (I'd like to see Rachel Ray try THAT.) But anything that needs to go in the oven, that's just not happening unless the Little Man is either happily in his bouncy chair on the far side of the kitchen or napping upstairs. And if he's happy and/or napping during prep time, guess what that means for actual eating time. Yup, fussy city.

And don't think that finding a set mealtime that coincides with naptime will help. Herb works flexible hours so our dinnertime varies by as much as 3 hours from night to night, but some kind of baby radar wakes Ryan up as soon as we sit down to eat no matter what time it is. We had a dinner party a few weeks ago and Herb actually had to take my plate and cut up my meat so I could eat one-handed while I held the boy. In fact, we've gotten in the habit of starting dinner together, then when Ryan inevitably needs to be held, I take him, and when Herb finishes eating he takes him and I finish eating. We're both getting pretty good at the one-handed eating thing, I must admit. I can even do it left-handed, as long as the food isn't too messy (mashed potatoes is good; mashed potatoes with gravy poses some difficulty). Somehow when your options are either eating oddly and creatively or possibly never eating again, you learn to manage.

Even with eating at odd hours, fitting in showers or laundry at 3pm (or 3am, for that matter), and making phone calls only when there's active snoring coming from the nursery, I wouldn't trade it for the world. Having a baby in my life right now is definitely the best of times.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

That's Not Silence, It's the Sound of Angels Singing

Last night my Little Man was so pooped that we put him to bed early - he was out cold by 10:30 (he usually goes down closer to midnight). We stayed up taking down the Christmas tree (I think I could have made another whole tree from the needles I swept up afterwards) and as I plopped into bed a little after midnight, I wondered if I might as well just stay up, since I was sure he'd be waking me up in a matter of minutes. And sure enough, at about 12:45 I heard a few seconds of fussing. I laid in bed waiting for the fussing to turn into a full-fledged wail, but he quieted himself down and I drifted off to sleep again. When I woke up again, it was still quiet, so I rolled over to see what time it was: 5:45!! I thought to myself, good heavens, I must have been so exhausted that I slept through his cries and Daddy got up and fed him. But then I started having typical new mom (read: insane and panicky) thoughts and considered getting up to check on him. I convinced myself that they were just that, insane thoughts, and he was fine - I convinced myself for about 15 minutes, that is. At 6 I couldn't stand it any more and I tiptoed in to listen to him breathing. And I noticed that he was sleeping on his tummy, which is how Daddy had put him down at 10:30. Before I get a spate of angry e-mails quoting the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the "Back to Sleep" campaign, let me say that we generally do put him down on his back. But there are times when he just won't go to sleep on his back, and since he's strong as an ox and can lift himself up and turn his head when he's on his tummy, every once in a while we do put him down that way. But I don't think we've ever put him on his tummy for two sleep sessions in a row, which is how I knew that he had, in fact, been sleeping for an uninterrupted stretch of nearly 8 hours! Alleluia!

I am not so naive as to assume that this is a new habit and not a fluky one-time occurrence that won't happen again until kindergarten. But the fact that it happened once means it is possible, and therefore it WILL happen again at some point, even if it isn't tonight. There is a light at the end of the tunnel!

But now comes a new dilemma: when Daddy got up at 8 and realized he hadn't gotten his usual early morning bonding time, he gave me the saddest puppy-dog face I'd ever seen on him. So when Ryan is consistently sleeping through the night, will we start racing each other for the early-morning snuggle time? I suppose that's better than the stereotypical midnight "It's your turn to feed him" "No, it's YOUR turn to feed him" argument. (Which we've never had, by the way, although there have been a few "I'll get him" "No, I'll get him" debates, which Daddy generally wins, mainly because he has the side of the bed closest to the door. But I digress.) And I guess it's only fair that Daddy wins that one most of the time, since I get to have him all day long while Daddy is off to work. In fact, going 8 hours last night without snuggling him, even though I was sleeping for most of that time, made me realize how much Daddy must miss him during the day!

Hm, sleep vs. baby snuggling. I guess I'll have to think of that as a win-win situation.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Location, location, location

That's the mantra for real estate: "Location, location, location." Exactly the same house in different places will bring wildly varying interest levels and prices. Nothing else matters as much as where you are. Today, I discovered how that mantra applies to mothering.

Let me backtrack for a moment to explain one of the huge disparities between my husband and me when it comes to parenting: he's the toughie and I'm the marshmallow. At least, that's the case in terms of our tolerance for hearing Ryan cry. Herb will hear an unhappy yell, glance at the video monitor, and think, "He just finished a bottle, I just changed his diaper, he's just crabby because he wants to play instead of going to sleep. He's fine, he'll cry himself to sleep in 10 minutes." When I hear it, I think, "Did he just spit up? Is a clothing tag poking him? Is he still hungry? Even if it's nothing, he'll be happier if I go snuggle him. He just needs his Mummy." And I rush right up to the nursery and scoop him up.

At a certain level, I know he's fine, and I know it won't hurt him to cry for a few minutes for no particular reason. I even know that at some point it will be good for him to learn to comfort himself. But at only ten weeks old, I just can't stand hearing him wail when I know that my simply picking him up will comfort him and calm him down.

So what does this have to do with location, you ask? Excellent question! And here's the answer: For all that it breaks my heart and upsets me to hear Ryan crying when I'm not there, it hardly fazes me at all when he wails in my arms. I suppose it's because when I'm right there, I can plainly see that he's fine and that he's just crying because he's overtired, or overstimulated, or just crabby on general principles (his nose he gets from his father; the crabby he gets from his mother). And also because I'm actively doing something to fix whatever's bothering him. The attempted fix may consist of singing, bouncing, walking, or simply snuggling with him, but I'm doing SOMETHING other than just ignoring his distress. It doesn't even bother me when what I'm doing has absolutely no effect, but it soothes my need to DO.

And it's all simply because of where I am. Because whenever I'm with my sweet baby boy, everything in the world is pretty much OK.

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Welcome to my new blog site!

Although I've been a regular blogger for two years now, I've been blogging at two or three different locations. But I'm hoping to settle in for good here at Blogger! So "thank you" to those of you who followed me from elsewhere, and "welcome" to those of you who are new to my blog.

For the sake of any newbies, let me introduce myself. My name is Sandy, I live in the Boston area, I'm 41 years old, and I have a gorgeous 10-week old son and a gorgeous 47-year old husband, both of whom I adore. I was laid off from my job of 11 years as a technical project coordinator for an environmental engineering firm a year ago and am currently a stay at home mom. (The pay sucks but the benefits package ROCKS!) I also blog for the website (look for me as "An Older Bride"), and you can check out my past personal blog at I've been married for less than 2 years so I'm still technically a newlywed by some definitions, but I intend on staying a newlywed forever by my own definition. I'm often accused of being a bit of a Pollyanna, but I believe that optimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy, so I'll be keeping my rose-colored glasses on, thank you very much. You can decide for yourself whether I'm delusional or whether I'm actually married to the most wonderful man in the world. Or possibly both. I do have the ultimate goal of writing for a living at some point, whether it's by finally getting my book published (with hopefully more books to follow) or by getting a paid blog or newspaper or magazine gig. So your comments and input are very much welcomed as I hone my craft!

So, now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, let the blogging commence! Since this blog is intended to focus primarily on motherhood, let me explain how motherhood is affecting me right at this moment. I am typing this with one hand because there is a soundly sleeping barnacle baby attached to my chest, who is being propped up with my other hand. It is also 1:30 in the afternoon and I am still in my bathrobe, having yet to shower, brush my teeth, or eat lunch. This is a pretty typical day. No doubt all the moms reading this are nodding and smiling. Slovenliness and sleep deprivation are pretty much universal to new moms. I'm actually luckier than many, since my little one is remarkably unfussy (Pollyanna again - but it's really true) and since we are supplementing breastfeeding with bottle feeding and my wonderful husband takes the 6am feeding so I get 5 to 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. But every morning I marvel at moms who do this AND have a full-time job outside the home. I don't think I could manage to get myself and the boy up and dressed by 8 every morning, even if all I had to do was drive around the block and come back home. (Which isn't totally far-fetched; hubby and I actually considered getting me a paper route.) So getting ready and also being able to have coherent conversations with other adults about topics other than poop and the absurd sizing system for baby clothes? Not gonna happen.

I can't even imagine doing a lot of things that many other stay at home moms do, like new moms groups and baby yoga and going to the gym. Luckily, since my baby weighs 20 pounds at 10 weeks, he's kind of a built in home gym. Getting up from the couch while holding him is great for the glutes; when I have him in the front pack and I need something from the lower cabinet, it's better than doing squats; lifting him in the car seat will give me biceps worthy of Madonna. And he's much more fun as a training partner than even the hottest personal trainer could be. I might be a little motivated by a trainer yelling at me to "feel the burn" or "just do three more reps", but when Ryan grins at me when I swing his car seat like a carnival ride, THAT will make me do rep after rep without even counting. THAT is motivation.

Well, Barnacle Boy is stirring, so I'll wrap up this entry. I hope that you check back soon! Please share this link with anyone else you think might enjoy it, and feel free to post or link it to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Digg, other blogs, or anywhere else you can think of!

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