Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Chubby Naked Babies!

There are really very few times in a person's life other than babyhood when being naked is acceptable. But babies are just so perfect, so innocent, and so unspoiled that being naked is perfectly natural. So of course, most people end up with a photo or two like this in their baby books:

There are also very few times in a person's life other than babyhood when being chubby - even VERY chubby - is considered adorable (and healthy!). Maybe the latter is the reason for the former. After all, who as an adult would want a pictorial documentation of rolls of fat around their tummy, creases where there aren't joints, knuckle dimples, and chin upon chin upon chin? But when the owner of all those chins is a baby, we think it's the cutest thing ever. Who doesn't want to pinch those chipmunk cheeks? Squeeze those mighty thighs? Tickle that jiggly belly? Kiss those pudgy toes? Baby chub is beautiful!

And the best part is that despite the way adult aesthetics have changed through the ages, baby chub has always been beautiful! The most beautiful women of the various ages have been depicted as curvaceous and voluptuous as during the Raphaelite era, tall and wasp-waisted as during the Edwardian age, flat-chested and boyish as during the Roaring Twenties, or anorexically thin yet big-busted as today.

But the most beautiful babies have always been round-faced and chubby-cheeked, with dimples and creases and chins abounding. So let’s hear it for beautiful, chubby, naked babies!

And of course we can't forget the cutest chubby naked baby of all!

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Better Living Through Chemistry

I’ve blogged before about the advantages of technology in raising a baby these days. But my generation also has the advantages of huge chemical and medical knowledge. The list of health and hygiene products that never existed when my parents were children – and even during my own childhood – is immense. And I don’t mean just the biggies like immunizations and antibiotics that save babies’ lives. I mean all those “minor” products that save parents’ sanity.

When my mother was a baby, the accepted remedy for teething pain was to rub whiskey on her gums. I very much doubt that my staunch Baptist grandmother ever did this. But there have been rumors of homemade elderberry wine that may have been put to medicinal use! When I was a baby, my mother kept a tiny vial of oil of cloves in the medicine cabinet to rub on my gums. I’ve smelled that stuff, and I admit that it may or may not have dulled the pain, but it certainly would have created a sensory distraction. But when Ryan seemed to be in pain from teething yesterday (I know, I know, I’ve been claiming he’s teething for two months now – but I’ll keep saying it and eventually I’ll be right), I had my own magic vial of infant Tylenol that numbed his pain and allowed him to finally get some much-needed (as much by me as by him) rest.

Another problem that I, fortunately, have not had to deal with is gas and colic. I have no idea how my grandmother dealt with it, but my mom’s best resource for me was to plop me in the car and drive around the neighborhood for hours, usually at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.

For my generation of moms, however, not only do we have the option of the late-night drive (with much safer and simpler car seats, to boot), but we have a cabinet full of products like Mylicon drops and infant Tagamet, Prilosec, Prevacid and Zantac to calm and soothe those tender tummies.

Cough or cold? Forget about sitting on the side of the tub with the shower running full blast to create a steam room. We have warm mist, cool mist, high mist, low mist, with medication, without medication humidifiers. We have twenty-seven brands of cough drops and cold liquids. We have products to loosen a cough, dry a cough, prevent a cough, prevent a cold, unstuff a nose, and stop a runny nose.

And even on the non-medicinal side of things, we have shampoos, skin creams, diaper rash creams, powders, body wash, and bubble bath. Hypoallergenic, organic, aromatherapy, vegan, non-animal-tested – whatever you want, you can find it out there.

Gone are the days of a single bottle of Johnson & Johnson No More Tears shampoo that served to wash everything. These days you can find a specialized product for every conceivable body part with every conceivable twist – moisturizing, drying, anti-itch, softening, and on and on.

So although it may be a little overwhelming to look at those store shelves full of thousands of products, I’m glad to have all those options. Because somewhere amidst those bottle and vials and jars and tubs is one item that will make my baby happy and contented. And when baby is happy, everybody is happy!

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Monday, March 29, 2010

The Circle of Life

Yesterday was the memorial service for Herb’s high school coach and mentor, Richard Sawyer. “Coachy”, as Herb fondly refers to him, taught at Herb’s alma mater, Thayer Academy, for nearly 50 years, and kept in contact with former students for years afterwards. I was fortunate to have met Coachy and his wife last October, when Herb and I paid them a brief visit on our way to Thayer’s Homecoming weekend. Sadly, Coachy’s health was failing and his memory was getting a bit foggy, but he still remembered coaching at Thayer and many of the students he mentored, including Herb. They enjoyed reminiscing about track meets, chatted about their mutual love of music, and just enjoyed each other’s company. His face lit up and I could imagine the faces his now-nearly-blind eyes were picturing as they chatted. It was a lovely picture of a teacher-student mentoring relationship turning into a friendship between adults.

So as we pulled into the parking lot at Thayer and I carried Ryan into the gym named for Coach Sawyer, I couldn’t help but wonder who his mentors might be in the years to come. Will he be an athlete taken under the wing of a coach who cares as much about him as a young man as as a competitor? Will he be a scholar, encouraged by a particular teacher to take his education further than a bachelor’s degree? Will he be an artist, or a musician, or a dancer whose passion is fueled by a teacher who feels the same passion for performing? I can only hope that he finds someone as caring and giving as Coachy. And I hope that he may be able, one day, to give as heartfelt a tribute to his mentor as Herb did to his.

And maybe someday he might even take a younger man under his wing and become the mentor who touches and guides another, in the ever-continuing circle of life.

Coach Richard V. Sawyer, 1916-2010

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Big Baby, Little World, or Of Banana Peels and Socks

The trouble with baby stuff, for a baby the size of Ryan, is that he tends to outgrow things physically long before he outgrows them developmentally. For example, he doesn’t fit into the infant car seat that we refer to as the “baby bucket” anymore. So we got a larger convertible car seat, which works just fine in the car. However, when we go grocery shopping and I need to use a shopping cart, I used to be able to pop the whole baby bucket into the cart, but the bigger car seat doesn’t work that way. We do have a “Floppy Seat”, which is a padded liner with a lap belt that goes into the “seat” in the front of the cart, but since Ryan can’t really sit up on his own yet, the name “Floppy Seat” takes on a whole new meaning. By the time most babies are too big for the little car seat, they’ve been sitting on their own for weeks or even months and are just fine with the Floppy Seat. But for Ryan, I need to stuff things on either side of him to prop him up or the poor things lists to the side and dangles uncomfortably by the seat belt.

Clothes also tend to be a problem. Five-month-old babies who weigh 27 pounds are just not proportioned the same way as 18-month-old toddlers at the same weight. Ryan’s 18- and even some 24-month pajamas squeeze his massive thighs like a pair of sausage casings, even though the feet are sticking out well past the end of his feet. Every pair of pants he has is rolled up several inches. And don’t even get me started on socks.
Too late, I’m started. Infant socks are designed for babies who don’t wear shoes, right? So they usually have nice little rubberized patterns or printing on the bottom so when baby is playing in his bouncy chair or practicing walking with Mommy or Daddy holding him, he doesn’t slip. But once you get to size 24-month socks, baby should be walking and therefore wearing shoes, so no more non-skid bottoms. Well, for a giant baby with giant feet who’s nowhere near walking yet, this can be a problem. When Ryan is in his Jumperoo with his big boy socks on, his feet skid this way and that like he’s slipping on banana peels! (You were wondering when I’d get to the banana peel part, weren’t you.)

And as amusing as that may be for Mommy and Daddy, eventually it gets frustrating for the little man. Not to mention that it doesn’t give him as much practice with his walking muscles as if his feet had grips. So we usually end up giving in and taking off his socks completely.

At least we know this is a problem he’ll outgrow eventually. Oh, the irony.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Soundtrack of My Life

I grew up in a musical family, always surrounded by every kind of music imaginable: classical, folk, Broadway, movie soundtracks, children's songs, and hymns. My dad listened to the Limelighters and the Kingston Trio, my mom listened to Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky, and they both listened to Rodgers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe. And the whole family sang in the car: Found a Peanut, Amazing Grace, The Beer Barrel Polka, The Oscar Meyer Weiner Song. So it's not surprising that I usually have some song or another running through my head, and often coming out of my mouth as well.

It would be an interesting study to try to analyze what triggers a particular song for me. Sometimes it's obvious, especially with theater songs - a word or phrase in conversation echoes some lyric and I break into that tune. For example, if Herb says, "The trouble with the world today is that politicians don't listen to each other," I would naturally break into a chorus of, "The trouble with the world today is plain to see: it's coffee in a cardboard cup!" Or, to use a more well-known example, if he said, "The weatherman said the sun is supposed to come out tomorrow," I'd break into a chorus of - well, you all know what chorus I'd break into.  
Sometimes it's obvious if you know what I was listening to earlier in the day. Bits of commercial jingles from a few hours ago often slip into my thoughts, or a song I heard on the radio. So when we see the guy up the street walking his Newfie and Herb remarks, "That dog is just GIANT!", I might break into "One eight hundred fifty-four giant, done right, done fast!", or if he asks if I know a certain phone number, I sing, "Eight six seven five three oh ni-ee-eye-ine!" Even a bit of news can put a song in my head - after hearing of the death of actor Robert Culp yesterday, I found myself singing, "Believe it or not, I'm walkin' on air, I never thought I could feel so free. Flyin' away on a wing and a prayer - who could it be? Believe it or not, it's just me!" (That's the theme from "The Greatest American Hero", for those of you who missed the 1980s.) But sometimes, I just don't have the faintest idea where the music comes from.

Yesterday, when Ryan was so fussy, I was rocking him and singing every song that came into my head, trying to calm him. His favorites seem to be Papa's Gonna Buy You a Mockingbird, I'm a Little Teapot (although it must be sung in 3/4 time - and no, I have no idea why or how I even discovered that), and There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly (mostly for the "wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her" part, complete with wriggling, jiggling, and tickling). But when I've gone through those to no avail, I simply start singing whatever comes into my head. Yesterday, those three standbys were followed by The Itsy Bitsy Spider, There Were Three Little Ducks, and Old MacDonald (when I got to a verse about llamas, I knew it was time to move on - but believe me, Old MacDonald had QUITE the interesting farm yesterday!), all to no avail. But then, for no reason I can possibly fathom, I began humming the theme song to Mission: Impossible. Dum! Dum! Dah-dum! Dum! Dum! Dah-dum! Doo-doo daaaaahhhh, doo-doo daaaaahhh, doo-doo daaaaaahhhh, doo-doo! And it worked like a charm.
And come to think of it, considering how fussy Ryan had been all day long, that particular theme song was exceptionally appropriate. Jim Phelps might even have had to think twice about taking on a mission like that.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Would You Like Some Cheese With That Whine?

I really thought I wouldn't have to deal with whining until Ryan was able to talk. Ha! Rookie mistake. Since yesterday afternoon, he's been cantakerous and unhappy, and he's been expressing his displeasure by whining. Unlike a whining toddler, who can at least express what it is he's whining about ("No nap, Mommy! Nooooo naaaaaaaap!!!!"), all I get is a pathetic moan that sounds like it should be accompanied by a dramatic hand to the head and a collapse onto a fainting couch.

Ryan is the master of the pathetic moaning whine. He often uses it when he's overtired but doesn't want to go to sleep, and accompanies it with a dramatic clinging to me and a snurfling cry while wiping his face on my shoulder. He seems to prefer a rhythmic sound pattern: whine - snurfle - whine - snurfle - whine - snurfle . Occasionally, there are pauses in the rhythm for a few seconds, lulling me into a false sense of complacency, thinking that either he's asleep or, for some unknown reason, he's managed to calm himself. But those pauses are apparently only a chance for him to gather himself for a fresh onslaught, because the pauses are generally broken by kicking legs, flailing arms, and fresh wails.

The added problem of the flail is that when I'm not expecting it, since he's so heavy, I nearly drop him. In fact, when he flings his body away from me and pushes off my torso with those strong sumo wrestler legs, even when I am expecting it I can hardly hang onto him. If his logic circuits were a little more developed, I might be tempted to let him clock himself (GENTLY!!) once or twice, so he'd figure out that was a bad idea. But he's nowhere near ready to make that connection, so for now I just hold on for dear life every second. The added incentive to holding on is also that he's taken to clinging to handfuls of my hair (and snurfling into it, just lovely) so if he goes down he's taking a large portion of my scalp with him. No dope, this kid.

Right now, I feel bad because whatever it is that's bothering him (teething? upset tummy? some itch I don't know about?), I can't figure it out. So the whine hasn't become annoying yet, although if it goes on for a few more days I'm sure it could. But God has apparently built babies with unusual instincts for self-preservation, because the last time I went to check on him in his crib while he was whining, he turned and looked up at me with tears running down his face, and he broke into a huge beaming grin and darned if he didn't GIGGLE at me. How can a mother possibly be annoyed at a cute face like that??

So go ahead and pass me the cheese, please. It'll be just lovely accompanying this whine.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Oh, What a Feeling

Now that Ryan has gotten better control of his hands, his latest delight is in feeling everything. At first I thought he was just practicing grabbing anything he could reach, but he's begun to show a marked preference for anything soft, or nubby, or lumpy, or otherwise "interesting" feeling.

I first noticed this new interest when I was working at my computer with Ryan draped over my shoulder. He was getting ready for a nap and was just quietly looking around the room when I realized he was repeatedly stroking his hand against the rough nap of my chair. Later that day we were sitting on the couch after he had a bottle and he began patting the soft fleecy blanket on the back of the couch. Curious, I pushed the blanket aside to see if he would continue idly stroking the much smoother back of the couch, but he immediately reached back toward the fluffy blanket.

The next day was a glorious sunny day, so we went for a stroll around the yard and we touched all the different textures I could think of. I gently rubbed his palm against the rough bark of a tree, I helped him to stroke one of the soft evergreen shrubs in front of the house, we very carefully grabbed the crisp, dry branches of the privacy hedge, we even stroked the warm, smooth side of my car. He seemed very interested in each one, occasionally grabbing hold and ending up with a handful of twigs or pine needles. He stared at each object with great intensity, as if trying to make a mental connection between how they looked and how they felt. Or perhaps he was just enjoying looking close up at things we often look at from far away inside the kitchen. But whatever the case, it's definitely true that he was intrigued by the variety of textures and feelings!
Every day he gains a bit more control of his hands - and, I suspect, his thoughts - so I look forward to each new discovery he makes about the world around him through his hands. He touches his toys with greater and greater interest, he examines them with his hands and his eyes and his mouth, he looks at them from various angles and watches what they do when he throws them or drops them or bops me (or himself) with them. I'm fascinated by his fascination. Oh, what a feeling is feeling!

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Generation After Generation

This past weekend we celebrated my grandmother's 80th birthday. It got me thinking how lucky Ryan is to have three of his four grandparents living, plus a great-grandmother, to boot. Herb's daughter recently lost her great-grandmother, at the age of 100. They had a very close relationship, and visited and spoke often, and Nettielee will be greatly missed by Rosemary and all of Nettielee's other great-grandchildren, as well as her grandchildren and children. What a wonderful blessing to have so many generations of family still connected.

Great-Grandma Nettielee's 100th birthday party, Rosemary at far right

Ryan with his great-grandmother, Auntie Lu, at her 80th birthday party

Life changes so fast that it's important to have a connection to the past. By the time Ryan is a teenager, no doubt there will be new technologies that I can't even comprehend that are a basic part of his life. He'll be comfortable with computers and gadgets in a way my mother can only dream of. And his great-grandmother will be there to remind him that in HER youth, not only were there no flat screen/plasma/3-D televisions, there wasn't even television. And when there was, it was in fuzzy black and white! She'll be able to tell him how exciting it was when their family bought their first car, or how she brought her lunch to school because there was no cafeteria, or how the milkman left the milk on the porch and when it froze the cream rose to the top. My mom will be able to tell him about working in a factory, and living on a dairy farm, and raising two kids with only one car - and only one bathroom! I can tell him about typing up school papers on a typewriter, or how exciting it was when we got our first microwave, or getting cable TV for the first time in my first apartment. Herb's parents can tell him about how they met in the USO, about performing with famous musicians and dancers, about taking the subway around the city for a nickel, about growing up in the city when you could ride your bike everywhere safely (even without a helmet).

When it's family telling these stories, history comes alive for children. Imagining your mom and dad as kids your age, imagining your grandparents growing up the same way you are - it's a wonderful experience for a child to picture him- or herself in the shoes of older generations. It gives him an appreciation for what he has, and hopefully an appreciation for how hard those who came before him worked to give him the advantages he and his generation have.

And someday, he'll be able to tell his children about how rough he had it growing up.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

The Field Marks of Motherhood

In the well-known birders' handbook, Peterson's "Field Guide to the Birds", the illustrations clearly point out each bird's "field marks" - that is, distinctive identifiers that indicate, beyond a doubt, the identity of that bird as a member of a particular species. For example, the black-capped chickadee's distinctive - you guessed it - black cap:
Or the ruby-throated hummingbird's - you guessed it again - ruby throat:

Recently, I have begun to discover that it's not just birds who have those distinctive markings that make them so easy to identify in the field. Mothers, particularly new mothers, have a few "tells" that are unmistakable. One that I find I frequently bear myself is the decided dual scents of spit-up and formula, often with a background bouquet of just the slightest whiff of wet diaper. I was in the laundry room recently, moving a load from the washer to the dryer, when I leaned over my left (spit-up-stained) shoulder and suddenly realized: I smell like a mom!

There are many other tells as well as simple aroma. The dark circles under the eyes from midnight feedings, the constant bouncing motion that continues even when someone else is holding the baby, the tendency to lick a finger to clean someone's face or un-muss their hair, the still-unbrushed teeth at 2pm, the reflexive outstretched arm when coming to a quick stop in a car...these are all field marks that clearly identify the species Materna Americana.

With most birds and with most animals as well, the field marks serve to identify prospective mates, or to recognize territorial competitors, but with human mothers, they serve a very different purpose. They allow us to seek out others of our kind who can assure us that we are not alone, to pass along hints that are part of the great oral tradition of motherhood ("psst, it won't kill him to give him a dose of Benadryl every now and then so you can get some sleep!"), and to just give us a chance to whisper to each other knowingly, "Courage, sister!"

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