Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hurricane Ryan

Hurricane Gloria. Hurricane Bob. Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Earl. (OK, maybe not Hurricane Earl.) And now, Hurricane Ryan. All these hurricanes (except Earl, that is) left a large swath of destruction and devastation in their wake. Hurricane Ryan may have done it on a smaller scale, but he’s definitely done it. And he’s continuing to do it.

Our basement is a finished basement that consists of a large main room with a staircase coming down in the middle of it, and several small rooms off to the side. The basement has become Ryan’s main playroom. This week Herb took down the playpen and used it to barricade the stairs so Ryan has access to pretty much the entire main room of the basement. And he takes advantage of that access! He spends his time climbing up and then jumping on the couch, standing on the back of it and attempting to shimmy his way up the banister behind it. He commando crawls across the couch, knocking the pillows aside, and hurls himself onto the adjacent lounge chair, dislodging any random items that might be in his path. He crawls or lurches or marches over to the sliding glass doors and leaves wet, slimy mouth prints all over them, grabs a handful of napkins from the side table and (if I’m not fast enough) tosses them into the air so they cascade over the room like snowflakes. He fiddles with the birdseed tub and occasionally manages to get the top off, leaving handfuls of seeds strewn over the rug (again, if I’m not fast enough). He circles around the other side of the staircase and rips the magnets off the refrigerator, throwing them in the air. And then he comes to the piece de resistance: the shop vac.

I had no idea how many individual pieces a shop vac was composed of until Ryan took it upon himself to show me. First, he takes out each attachment from the little bucket attached to the end of the machine and bangs them on anything nearby, then strews them about. Then he removes the entire bucket, again banging it on anything nearby and then discarding it. He then proceeds to yank the hose out of the clamp on either side of the vac and drags the entire thing behind him like some monstrous pet. (I’m vaguely reminded of the poor dragged cat in the documentary, “Babies”. Apparently the vacuum is as resigned to its fate as the cat is.) This process leaves pretty much the entire rear hallway strewn with various objects.

And then he comes back around to the front of the room and starts the adventure all over again. I think the biggest attraction to leaving the wake of objects is that he’s discovered the fascination of throwing things into the air. He began by just waving objects around, then he dropped one and realized that it fell on the ground and stayed there. Then he discovered that if you throw it at the ground instead of merely dropping it, it will often bounce. And then, he discovered that if you throw it on the upswing instead of the downswing, it flies into the air and comes crashing to the ground with a satisfying THUD. So he very often makes his circle around the room by going from object to object and casually throwing each one in the air as he passes it. It’s much easier to do when there’s already a trail of toys around the room.

I used to follow him around as he played, carefully putting each item back into its place as soon as he moved on to something else. But then I realized that I was putting the same things back twenty times a day. Why not save myself the trouble and just wait till the end of the day to clear the path? He doesn’t notice the difference, and it certainly makes less work for me.

It’s very tempting to just leave everything out in the middle of the room all the time, and never put it back at all. After all, he’s just going to toss it around again tomorrow, right? But then again, I’ve already messed up both feet. If Daddy trips over Ryan’s stuff and ends up in a cast, we’ll all be sunk. Guess I’d better stick to cleaning up at least once a day after all.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Adventures in Babysitting

Between rehearsals for and performances of the 40s Show last week, Ryan went through quite the range of babysitters. Of course, all the grandparents stepped up to the plate, but with that many babysitting slots, we also ended up hiring several different people to watch him, either at our house or even at the theater. He stayed with Grandma one time, with Bammy one time, with Julie a couple of times, with Colleen one time, with Ashley one time, with Katie one time, and even a whole roomful of Rockettes one time. He was quite a trouper about it, but by the time the week was over, I think he was very happy to be with Mommy and Daddy again for a while.

We’re really fortunate that he is so easy-going and was delighted to have new people to play with. Each time we left him, he was happily marching around with the new sitter, showing off his walking skills and his toys and his vocal abilities. He never cried when we left or even seemed unsure of himself. And according to all the reports, he was sweet and well-behaved. I have no doubt that he was happy and well taken care of on each occasion.

Even at the cast party at the end of the run, he was perfectly happy to trot around from person to person, sharing Pappy’s chips, studiously examining Michael’s guitar, tasting Bammy’s necklace, tugging at Cathy’s hair, and snuggling in Julie’s lap with his bottle. But by the end of the evening, every once in a while he would look over to me or Herb and reach out with a plaintive look on his face – not unhappy, just ready to be back in a pair of more familiar arms.

It was actually the perfect balance of being contented with having someone else look after him for a while but at the end of the day still wanting to be with Mommy or Daddy. Sure, he loves his grandparents and his aunts and uncles and cousins, and he loves playing with anyone who’s willing to play with him, but when he’s tired or hungry or cranky or just plain running out of steam, it’s Mommy and Daddy who can make it all better. It makes me feel treasured that I have the “magical Mommy power” of being one of the two people he wants to be with more than anyone else. Being a parent really is magical.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It's "Break a Leg," Not "Break a Foot"

Sunday afternoon was the final performance of “Remembering the 40s” at Reagle Music Theatre. The show was going wonderfully; we were all in excellent voice, the orchestra sounded magnificent, the audience was enjoying themselves thoroughly, I was caught up in the moment – and then it happened. It was the scene where the women line up in the aisles as the men are onstage in their army uniforms, singing the plaintive song, “How Soon?”, and then we hear the announcement that the war is over. The women run onto the stage to be joyfully reunited with their men, and as I ran down the aisle I caught my heel and wrenched my foot sideways. I felt a crunching sensation in my foot and a jolt of pain, but the show must go on so I managed to get myself up the stairs and onto the stage to finish the next few songs. Once I made it backstage I allowed myself to hobble and I realized just how much pain I was in. Fortunately, it was nearly intermission so I put my foot up and hoped the pain would pass, but no such luck.

Naturally, the second act has several large dance numbers that are staged in such a way that my absence would be noticeable and distracting, so I had no choice but to finish the show. Since I am an actress, I pasted a smile on my face and forced myself not to limp as I finished the show. But boy was I relieved when we took that final bow. And then it occurred to me that I had parked at the far end of the parking lot and I had to lug all my costumes and props back to the car. There was no way on earth I was going to make two trips, so I carefully draped everything over my arms and resolutely marched out of the theater.

When I looked across the parking lot, it was like a scene in a horror movie when the hero looks down a hallway and it suddenly seems to stretch out to be a mile long. My car could have been parked in China for the distance I felt like I had to walk. But Herb & I were hosting the cast party, so off I marched. I discovered that as long as I walked on the side of my foot, the pain was manageable. I must have looked like a complete idiot, with clothes piled up to my nose and a plastic shopping bag hanging off one arm and a giant pair of bolt cutters in my other hand, lurching along trying to avoid stepping on the belt that had slipped off the pile and was dangling perilously close to my feet. Several audience members stopped to tell me how much they had enjoyed the performance, and they very graciously avoided giving me funny looks. Finally I made it to my car and heaved everything into the trunk. Fortunately, the foot I hurt was my left foot so I had no trouble driving, and before I knew it I was home.

By the time I got home Herb had already begun setting out the food, so I joined in by putting out plates and cups and silverware and napkins and all those other little sundries. Of course, every time I thought of something else we needed it turned out to be in the pantry down in the basement, but between hanging onto the banister and hopping on my good foot, I got down the stairs without killing myself.

When the troops began arriving, I had Ryan in my arms, but between all his adoring fans in the cast and his adoring grandparents, it wasn’t long before he was being passed around and I could crash into a chair and relax for a moment. Eventually I even found myself an ice pack and sat back with a plate of goodies to just enjoy the company. It turned out to be a terrific party that ended with one of the guys in the cast picking up a guitar and leading a sing-along to lull Ryan to sleep. I brought him upstairs and tucked him in and after a few more songs, the troops all headed out. Herb took charge of most of the cleanup, and I went and soaked in a hot tub for a bit, then went to bed at around 10:00.

I woke up at about 9 the next morning and grimaced as I swung my legs over the edge of the bed and realized I still couldn’t put any weight on my foot. I’d been hoping that it was just a sprain and that it would be better after a good night’s sleep, but now I was recognizing more than a passing resemblance to the pain in my other foot from a few months ago that turned out to be a stress fracture. Being completely doctor-phobic, I was fully prepared to just let it heal on its own, but naturally my concerned husband insisted that I see a doctor. So I told him if he made the call I’d keep the appointment, but I wanted to at least wait one more day to see if it improved. Yeah, no such luck. This morning I still can’t put any weight on it. So he made the call. Unfortunately, the first appointment they had isn’t until the day after tomorrow, so I’ll just have to wait a few more days.

I’m pretty sure it’s broken, and I’m also pretty sure it’ll be fine in a few weeks. But I should just warn all my theater friends to be very careful the next time they tell me to “break a leg”. I just might take it a bit more literally than they intended!

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Remembering the 1940s

This weekend, Herb and I will be performing in the Reagle Music Theatre’s production of “Remembering the 1940s”. We did the show together two years ago, and as we rehearse, not only do the lyrics come back to my mind and the dances come back to my feet, the emotions also come back to my heart. I had intended on writing a new blog entry today reflecting on the show, but I don’t think I can put it any better than I did following the production two years ago. So today’s entry is a reprint of the entry I wrote back then. And if reading it makes you interested in experiencing the show yourself, please visit Reagle’s website at for tickets to any of this weekend’s performances, at 2pm and 7pm on Saturday, September 25th and at 2pm on Sunday, September 26th.

War and Remembrance (originally posted on September 28, 2008)

This weekend I performed in the Reagle Players' production of "Remembering the 40s". The show is a revue of 1940s era music, mixed with scenes and skits from that time period. The first act opens with a fun dance number with youngsters dancing and romancing, without a care in the world, and then we see a projection of a newspaper headline announcing of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and a voiceover of President Roosevelt solemnly intoning, "December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy." Suddenly the carefree young men are being drafted into the Army and sent overseas while the young women are on the homefront, raising money for the war effort and waiting for their men to come home. We see the troops bidding farewell to their loved ones, being entertained by the USO, and huddling miserably in camp, waiting patiently and hopefully for letters from home. We see the women working in the factories, patiently carrying on life at home. The act ends with their joyful reunion, and then Act 2 continues as a 1940s radio broadcast, complete with Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Burns and Allen, Abbott and Costello, and cheesy radio commercials ("Try Rrrrrrrrrrrexall Bismarex!!"), as well as the "Cavalcade Singers" performing patriotic and traditional numbers from the time, from "Sentimental Journey" to "In the Mood" to "Cuanto la Gusta" to "The Stage Door Canteen".

When we started rehearsing the show, I thought of it as a delightful time capsule; patriotic Irving Berlin songs that made me want to sit up straight or march in place, charming jazzy songs like "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" that made me want to jump up and dance. I understood that these fun, upbeat songs were the generation's way of keeping their chins up, of cheering up a dismal nation, of boosting the morale of people who were tired of war and just wanted their loved ones to come home safely. But until I was singing those songs in an auditorium full of men and women who had lived it, who had sat at home and wondered if they would ever see their father/brother/husband/boyfriend again, who had lived in cold, dusty, insect-infested war camps, who had taken refuge in foxholes and trenches amid enemy fire, I don't think I got the full impact of the show. I was re-enacting USO shows for men who'd seen the original. I was playing the part of a Rosie the riveter who was sitting in the audience right in front of me. These people were the very youngsters we'd seen spooning in the soda shop in the opening number - and the same youngsters whose lives had been shattered by Roosevelt's words. Suddenly the scenes we were portraying had a lot more significance.

As a performer, the best reward I can get is for members of the audience to tell me how much they enjoyed my performance, and I love being in the lobby as patrons are leaving, seeing their glowing faces and hearing their appreciative comments. But the comments after these performances were extra-special, as arthritic hands reached out to touch my arm and tiny women with white hair and sparkling eyes thanked me for reminding them of their youth, or stoop-shouldered men wearing hats or pins with military insignias wordlessly and solemnly nodded their thanks. I felt so inadequate as I thanked them for their service, for their sacrifice. All I did was get up on a stage and sing and dance. They are the heroes who gave their youth, their lives, for our country, so that my generation still has all the freedoms they prized so highly. I am honored and humbled to represent them in this show, and I hope that by being part of it, I am a little more aware of and grateful for the freedoms that I enjoy every day because of their bravery and sacrifice.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

There Is No Try

According to Yoda’s philosophy, I just spent several hours doing nothing. You remember that scene from one of the Star Wars movies when Luke was practicing using The Force and he whined to Yoda that he was trying, and Yoda responded with the immortal words, “Do or do not. There is no try.”? Well, I’m having one of those days when the starfighter is staying resolutely mired in the swamp. I was trying and trying, but there was no do.

The morning started off with such promise: Ryan woke up happy as a clam, ate his breakfast without too much flinging of food, he even played contentedly in his playpen while I took a shower. So when I packed him into the car, I had lovely visions of sipping my Dunkin Donuts iced coffee while pushing him down the sunny street in his stroller as we waited for the service station to change my oil and issue my new inspection sticker. Unfortunately, when I got to the service station it was so crowded that there wasn’t even a spot for me to park so I could go in and ask how long the wait would be.

Eh, minor setback. I also needed to go shopping for a gift for my sister (actually, “gifts” – not only is her birthday this weekend but she’s also getting married next month so there are shower and wedding presents on the list as well), so I figured I’d just head over to the mall. Ryan was getting sleepy in the backseat, so I was hoping that he’d hold out till I could get him strapped into the stroller and then he could snooze away while I shopped. Naturally, by the time I found a parking spot he was out cold. He only woke up a bit when I moved him from the car seat to the stroller, so I thought I was golden. Until he woke up 15 minutes later. Oh well, he likes riding the stroller around the mall, so that wasn’t too much of a problem. So I went to several different stores and couldn’t find a THING that I was looking for. Seriously, how can I be in a mall with literally hundreds of stores, looking for multiple (not particularly unusual) things, and not find a single thing that I’m looking for? It was absolutely crazy.

So after spending several hours checking out every store that I thought might possibly have what I needed, I gave up and headed home. Ryan started getting squawky as we neared the car, so I made up a bottle for him for the ride home. He managed to finish almost all of it before he threw it over the edge of his car seat. And since we were still 15 or 20 minutes from home, I hoped he’d fall back to sleep on the way. Ha! No such luck. He seemed to get his second wind and by the time we turned off the highway he was starting to squawk again, this time because he didn’t want to be strapped in any more. He was so squawky, in fact, that when I couldn’t find the bottle he’d flung away, I didn’t even stop to hunt for it, I just freed him from the prison that is his car seat (in his opinion, anyway) and brought him inside.

As soon as I’d changed his diaper, I put him in his crib, hoping against hope that he’d give in and finish his nap. He spent a few minutes yelling and an hour playing before he finally went to sleep, but at least he finally did.

I guess getting him to finish his nap counts as getting something done today. Too bad that’s the only thing I can count as getting done! I’m thinking that, given the day’s track record, I’d be wise to not try to do anything else today except take a nap myself. Yeah, I’m pretty certain that’s the best idea I’ve had all day.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Voices of Hope

Last night, I had the honor and privilege of performing at Boston’s historic Symphony Hall as part of a concert called Voices of Hope. VOH is a fundraising effort for cancer research in conjunction with the Expect Miracles Foundation and Mutual Funds Against Cancer. The first VOH concert was held last year, at a small venue in Winchester, with a cast of about 30 and an audience of about 150. This year, the concert moved to Symphony Hall, with a cast and crew of over 100 and an audience of around 1,000.

The core cast and production staff of VOH had been working for months selecting, orchestrating and choreographing numbers, rehearsing songs and dances, organizing the program order, writing and editing personal stories, and of course, fundraising, fundraising, fundraising. They held a yard sale with donated designer clothing. They made and sold jewelry. They recruited donations for a silent auction. They held fundraising sales. They sold tickets. They set up information booths in the lobby of every area performance that would let them in. They hung posters, passed out business cards, and talked up the cause and the concert at every opportunity. And all their hard work paid off. I don’t have the final fundraising tally, but the goal was $50,000 (double the amount raised last year), and if they haven’t reached it yet, hopefully they will within just a few weeks.

I’ll admit up front that I’m not a fundraising type person. I’m not comfortable asking for money, even for a good cause. And this is truly a good cause. So I’m grateful that there are so many others who are willing to speak up and speak out. And I’m grateful that I could participate in some small way by singing last night. After all, everyone can help this cause in their own way.

Some help by performing.

Some help by buying tickets and being in the audience.

Some help by creating publicity.

Some help by donating. If you, my reader, are interested in making a donation towards cancer research, you can donate $10 by simply texting the word “miracles” to 85944 on your cell phone. If you’re interested in learning more about this organization, or about other ways you can help support this important cause, please see the VOH website at

Oh yeah – there’s one more really good reason to support this cause. That would be so our children, and our children’s children, will never have to lose sleep worrying that cancer will take away someone that they love. And that’s the best reason of all.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Let's Be Candid

I’ll admit it: We take a ton of pictures of Ryan. Sometimes we take them while he’s doing something interesting, sometimes we set him up and try to get him to look at the camera, but no matter what we do, they’re always “candid” photos. He has no concept of a camera, so he’ll never smile patiently while waiting for the shutter to click, as adults do. If he’s smiling, he’s smiling, and if he’s not, he’s not, and there’s not much that anyone can do about it. But the wonderful thing about that fact is that each and every picture of him catches a genuine, honest, unguarded moment.

One of my favorite examples of candid photos is a strip of photos we took in a photo booth at Herb’s work’s 50th anniversary party. You sit in the booth and press a button, and the automated camera counts down and takes a photo, then counts down again and takes another, then another and another. The result may not be flattering, but it is indeed a snapshot of the subjects in the truest sense.

You can see Ryan progress from “What’s going on?” to “Who’s that in the monitor?” to “Ooh, there are lights up there!” to “OK, I’m done now [escape squirm].”. It absolutely captures the minutes we spent in the booth.

I love how the camera captures his true personality. It isn’t always smiles and paying attention. It’s often squirming, or distracted, or even pouty or crying. Sometimes it’s delight, sometimes it’s puzzlement, sometimes it’s curiosity. Sometimes it’s frustration, sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s exhaustion. And as he grows up and learns to mask those emotions – especially in front of the camera – we’ll miss seeing those candid moments. So I’m glad we’re capturing them all: the good, the bad, and the ugly.







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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Be Gentle

Most babies hear the phrase, “Be gentle!” fairly often. It’s usually directed at older siblings or other small children who are less than delicate about interacting with a small baby. With Ryan, however, I’m usually telling HIM to be gentle. He’s such a big strong kid that when he swats at something (like my face), he can do a lot more damage than the average baby.

His size definitely has an effect on how I interact with him. I love to roughhouse and wrestle with him, but I need to be careful because when he stomps on my stomach with his full weight, it HURTS! I have bruises all over my legs from him digging his toes into me while trying to scramble up the “Mommy mountain”. When I have him in my arms and he pushes away from me, my arms are practically wrenched out of their sockets with the effort to stop him from escaping. And I haven’t been able to toss him in the air since – well, ever.

Fortunately, his daddy is big and strong and tough enough to roughhouse with him properly. In fact, it’s probably easier for Herb to deal with a big baby because he hardly has to hold himself back. Just this afternoon Ryan was crawling around on the bed while Herb was putting on his running shoes, and as Ryan snuck behind him Herb threw himself back and pinned Ryan to the bed. If he were more of a delicate flower, we’d have to be a lot more careful playing that kind of game with him. But since he’s virtually unbreakable, we don’t need to be concerned with being gentle.

It will be interesting to see how his size affects both his and our behavior as he gets older. No doubt, when he starts playing more with other kids, there will be plenty of “Be gentle”s aimed at him. No doubt we will need to remind him often that he’s bigger and stronger than the other kids and that he needs to be gentle with them. When he reaches the toy-stealing stage, we’ll definitely have our work cut out making sure he doesn’t beat up any kids who try to take his toys – and making sure he doesn’t claim every toy he wants just by using brute force!

But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, I’ll settle for making sure he doesn’t send me to the emergency room. At least, not too often.

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Monday, September 13, 2010

It Doesn't Change a Thing, But Even So...

This morning, my husband and I went to the lawyer’s office and finalized refinancing our house. As part of the refi, we added my name to both the mortgage and the deed. And after signing our names and initials all over a stack of paperwork the size of a small Buick, I am officially a homeowner!

In almost every practical sense, nothing has changed. I don’t personally write a check for the mortgage payment every month. I don’t have any more (or less) say in any changes we want to make to the house. I don’t suddenly have different responsibilities for the upkeep of the house. But there’s something satisfying in knowing that, legally, I now own a home.

Owning a home seems like such a very adult thing to me. I grew up in a town where almost everyone lived in a house, rather than an apartment. Being a homeowner was just assumed: if you were an adult, particularly if you were married or had a family, you owned a house. It was part of a natural progression from childhood to adulthood: you go to college, you get a job, you buy a car, you get married, you buy a house, you have kids. There’s nothing innately immature about skipping any of those steps, but to me, those steps WERE the path to adulthood. So I went to college. I bought a car. I got a job. And then I stalled out on the getting married/buying a house/having kids thing. I thought a lot about buying a house, but somehow in my mind owning a house was too closely linked to getting married that I had a hard time thinking about doing one when I wasn’t planning to do the other. I even told myself it would be silly to buy a house because I’d just sell it when I got married and needed a bigger house. And then when I got married, he already had a house.

And this house has been my house in a very real sense, ever since we got married. One of our first projects right after we got back from our honeymoon was to completely redecorate our bedroom. I picked out the paint, we chose the furniture and the carpet together, and we did all the work ourselves, side by side. It was no less our house than it was our bedroom, even if his was the only name on the deed.

When I was pregnant, we worked together to design the nursery. Once again, we worked as a team to choose colors for paint and carpet, and to hang the chair rail. The room, and the house, were mine as surely as the baby I was carrying was mine.

And yet, having that piece of paper that says to everyone else that the house is mine takes it one step further. It’s like the difference between the day before your wedding and the day after: it’s the same commitment, it’s the same love, it’s the same devotion – but having formally and legally proclaimed it to all the world makes it just a little more special somehow.

As the song says, it doesn’t change a thing, but even so…it IS nice to know.

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Go to Sleepy, Little Baby

For the most part, Ryan has always been a good sleeper. He slept through the night at 10 weeks and never looked back. He goes to bed at 8 or 8:30pm and doesn’t yell for us to come get him until 8:30 or 9am. (He does wake up considerably earlier, but he’s usually happy to play in his crib and sometimes even goes back to sleep for a while.) But every now and then he has a restless night, and last night was one of those nights.

He went to bed at his usual time, playing in the tub then falling asleep as soon as he finished his bottle. I was watching his crib on the monitor and he was completely out cold when Herb tucked him in. So I was very surprised a few hours later when I checked on him as I was getting ready for bed, and I found him restlessly rolling around the crib (although apparently still asleep). I tucked the blanket around him again and rubbed his back for a bit until he relaxed, but after I’d been in bed for a little while I heard him talking to himself, and then he started crying. I let him be for a while, since he’s usually good about calming himself down and going back to sleep on his own, but when he seemed to be getting more worked up instead of quieter, I went to check on him.

As soon as I came in the room, he stood up and reached out for me. I saw that he’d kicked off his blankets again and his legs felt a little cool, so I settled him in my lap and wrapped the warm blanket around him. I offered him the bottle I’d brought, but he wasn’t particularly interested. He was very content to just snuggle in my lap and rock. That’s kind of unusual, because most of the time when he has trouble sleeping and I go in, he just wants to get up and play! I thought that maybe he’d had a bad dream and would fall right back asleep. So I snuggled him close, sang him a few lullabies, and laid my cheek against his soft head. He got very quiet and relaxed, and I thought he might have fallen back to sleep so I peeked at his face and was surprised to see a pair of very wide-awake eyes gazing back at me! So I kept on rocking and singing, and soon a warm little hand was patting mine and another warm little hand was reaching up to pat my hair. He began humming quietly to himself, which is usually a sign that he’s drifting off, and I figured that in a few more minutes he’d be out cold again.

No such luck. Instead of slowly drifting to sleep, he seemed to be slowly coming back to life. The soft patting on my hand became a playful smacking, the patting of my hair became a teasing tug, and the humming became a mischievous chortle. Before I knew it, the calm bundle in my lap was squirming around, trying to climb over the back of the chair, reach over to the closet doors, and clamber down to the floor. I frustrated all those intentions by standing up and swaying, and I turned on the lullaby CD. I started to lay him in the crib, even though he was still awake, and not surprisingly I got an immediate bawl of protest. But I tucked in his fleecy blankets, gave him a few of his rags to cuddle, and rubbed his back while I sang along with the CD.

And then I used those sneaky moves that have been used by mothers immemorial. I kept singing and stayed next to the crib, but I stopped rubbing his back. Then I stopped singing, but I stayed next to the crib. And finally, I slipped silently out the door. He was still awake, but drowsy enough that he didn’t notice when I left. I slid back under the covers of my own bed without even taking off my bathrobe, figuring I’d probably be up again shortly. But no more wails were forthcoming, and eventually I relaxed and drifted back to sleep myself.

I figured that with that big “sleep gap”, he might sleep a little later this morning. Ha! Not a chance. He was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed bright and early, and didn’t even go down for a nap as early as he sometimes does. So I guess his insomnia was a lot tougher on Mom than it was on him. But I’m not complaining. Any time I get to sit and snuggle with my little boy is time well spent.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

"He's a Helluva Boy"

I love overhearing comments about Ryan (especially positive ones). So yesterday, when two of our outings were to Herb’s work and out to dinner, where there are lots of folks who don’t know I’m Ryan’s mom if I’m not with him, there were plenty of opportunities for such overheard remarks.

Herb’s company, Teradyne, is celebrating its 50th anniversary, so they had a big party yesterday complete with a barbecue in the parking lot under a giant circus tent and lots of midway-style games. A number of Herb’s co-workers had brought their little ones (there’s been a rash of babies there recently), so Ryan and I went over to join in the fun. One of Herb’s co-worker’s brought her 8-week-old twins, who each weigh about 10 pounds. I had to laugh, recalling that Ryan was hardly ever that tiny on the outside. Even Ryan’s buddy Emma, who’s only a few weeks younger than he is, looks like a tiny peanut next to him. It was funny to hear all the comments from other parents who were amazed at his size. And the other thing about him that everyone noticed and commented on was his goofy “Bert” laugh. He loves people, so when he’s in a crowd he chortles even more often than usual, and it tends to be his machine-gun-style “heh-heh-heh-heh” laugh that sounds just like Bert from Sesame Street. And every time he laughed that way, someone else laughed at how funny and endearing it is. Naturally, I think it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard, but I admit that I’m completely, 100% biased, so it’s nice to hear from other people that it is, in fact, uproariously funny.

Our other outing of the day that brought lots of comments was a trip to The Chateau restaurant. The thing that I love most about the Chateau is that the waitresses are almost all a little older than at most places, and they’re all incredibly friendly and motherly. (I half expect to get scolded if I don’t finish my vegetables.) So naturally, within 30 seconds of walking in, every waitress in the room knew Ryan’s name and dropped by to say hello to him. And of course, in between courses, Daddy marched Ryan around to say hello to them again, as well as to greet all the other patrons, especially those with other small children. I love watching the two of them during this routine. And not only watching their interactions with the patrons, but hearing each table’s comments after they move on. But the best comment of all came from a guy sitting at the table behind us. He was a heavyset man with a gruff smoker’s voice and a thick New England accent, and looked like he’d be right at home in the cast of one of the Godfather movies. Now, that might make him sound a bit scary and intimidating, but let me add that he came in with a tiny, frail, elderly woman who was apparently his mother, and he very gently, carefully, and graciously escorted her to the table and settled her in, so I knew already that there was a heart of gold deep down. So as Ryan stopped at their table and flirted shamelessly with both the ladies and grinned charmingly at the gentleman, all three of them admired him and enjoyed chatting with him. But the crowning glory came after they’d moved on to the next table, when the gentleman summed up the visit by saying knowingly, “He’s a helluva boy.”

What a perfect comment! He is indeed a helluva boy. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Mom Diet

When people hear the word “diet”, they generally think of a weight-loss diet. But the word diet simply means “a particular selection of food”. For example, a vegetarian diet includes no meat or animal products, a high-fiber diet is high in fiber, etc. I’ve always eaten a reasonably healthy diet, probably kind of skimpy on fruits and vegetables, but with a good balance of lean protein, complex carbohydrates, and low-fat dairy products. When I became pregnant with Ryan, my diet consisted almost entirely of grilled chicken, Ensure, and cinnamon Altoids. But it’s changed even more radically since he’s been eating more table foods, and eating at the table. I’ve declared my new eating habits the “Mom Diet”.

When he began eating baby food once or twice a day instead of just having a bottle, I found myself either skipping breakfast or having it quite a bit later in the day. Feeding him just took too much attention and concentration to feed myself at the same time, and once he was finished he was never content to sit and wait while I ate my breakfast. So if I did have breakfast at breakfast time, it was often a piece of toast (or half a piece of toast, depending on how energetic he was that morning) or a few bites of a granola bar and a couple of sips of coffee. When his naps began to fall consistently around lunchtime, I was very good at having a sandwich or a bowl of soup for lunch before he woke up and wanted his own lunch. But when his schedule changed so that he was getting up just when I was ready for lunch, my lunch menu turned into a glass of milk and a piece of deli turkey, or occasionally a flour tortilla with a handful of cheese melted onto it. Often I didn’t even get that lunch until 2 or 3 o’clock, but that actually worked out well because Herb and I soon gave up on having dinner when Ryan did and waited to eat until after he was in bed, which resulted in dinner at 8:30 or 9pm. But at least then we all got a real dinner, complete with meat, vegetables, and bread. So that was generally my nutrition for the day.

But now that I’m trying to get Ryan to eat more table food than baby food, I find myself making meals out of his leftovers more and more often. My breakfast is now the Cheerios that I pick up off the floor as he tosses them down (don’t be too grossed out: I wash the kitchen floor frequently, I stick to the 5-second rule, and I avoid the damp O’s) or the majority of the piece of toast that he’s eaten the crust of. I just bought a tub of vanilla yogurt that I’ll mix with fruits to go with his lunch, and I’m sure I’ll end up eating whatever he doesn’t finish. I’ll pack a handful of few animal crackers or Cheezits for an afternoon snack when we’re out shopping and I’ll eat the rest of the baggie when he loses interest (just so they don’t get stale, of course). And if I’m making something for supper that he can share, like mashed potatoes or squash, I’ll put an extra serving on my plate which of course he won’t finish but I will. So essentially, the “Mom Diet” is actually the “Leftovers Diet”.

And you can see that such a diet will never be confusing with a weight-loss diet. In fact, it’s likely to be a weight-gain diet if I don’t watch out. With only a few minutes to prepare and eat breakfast or lunch, it’s very tempting to just grab a pop-tart or a granola bar or a buttered roll or a handful of tortilla chips. With my hopeful outlook, I’ll always put a larger portion of food on my plate than Ryan will eat, plus it won’t occur to me to take a smaller portion for myself.

Fortunately, he’s still enough of a bag of rocks that toting him around burns off quite a few calories, and once he starts walking on his own I have no doubt I’ll be running around more often than I am now. So for the moment, my energy intake is still balanced by my energy output. I just need to remember that the “Mom Diet” is only successful when it’s used as a very temporary measure. But then, by the time Ryan is a teenager, it’ll probably be all I can do to grab enough calories to barely sustain life before he’s eaten everything else in the house.

Eh, it’s all good. (And I'm not just saying that because today's lunch consisted of some chocolate ice cream that Ryan and I shared.)

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Weird Marriage Laws and How I've Flouted Them (Or Not)

I found a very funny article on MSN’s “glo” website entitled “10 Obscure Marriage Laws”. It lists a series of odd laws regarding matrimony that are still on the books in various states. I found it amusing that I’ve even violated a few of them myself. Here’s the list, so you can decide if you could get thrown in the clink on a technicality.

1. Montana: Marriage By Proxy
There are still four states which allow marriage by proxy, but Montana is the only one that allows double marriage by proxy – in other words, neither the bride NOR the groom has to show up. Granted, both single and double proxy rules are limited to members of the U.S. military (remember Richie and Mary Beth’s wedding on “Happy Days”?), but still, you’d think that one of them might like to be their for the big day.

Verdict: Herb and I both showed up for our wedding, so I’m definitely not guilty.

2. Arkansas: Age Limits

The law was actually corrected in 2008, but prior to that anyone under the age of 18 could get married with parental consent. Yes, “anyone”, which meant that technically infants could get hitched if their parents were crazy enough to sign off on it.

Verdict: I was pushing 40 when I got married, so this is another not guilty for me

3. Delaware: Prank Weddings

Reasonable legal reason for applying for an annulment can include such things as marrying “under duress” or “without capacity to consent”, but Delaware also offers the option, “because of a jest or dare”. It makes me wonder what situation made lawmakers think such a rule was necessary. (Britney Spears, maybe?) With friends like that, who needs enemies?

Verdict: No one twisted my arm to marry Herb, I was stone-cold sober at the time, and I certainly didn’t marry him because of a jest or dare, so I’m three for three on the not guilty.

4. Kentucky: Four-Time Remarriage

I know of several people who’ve divorced and then re-married the same person. (Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton come to mind.) I can even conceive of a couple divorcing and re-marrying twice. But FOUR TIMES? That seems a little ridiculous. Apparently the Kentucky legislature agreed, because they made it illegal to remarry the same man four times.

Verdict: I have no intention of divorcing Herb once, but if I did I’d remarry him in the same breath. But it wouldn’t happen four times, so yet another not guilty

5. Mississippi: Manly Husband

The city of Truro, Mississippi, requires a man to prove himself manly by hunting and killing either six blackbirds or three crows before he can be legally married.

Verdict: Although his manliness has never been in doubt in my mind, to my knowledge Herb has never killed a single bird, so I guess we get a guilty verdict on this one.

6. Massachusetts: Hotel Nudity

Salem, Massachusetts, has a law on the books prohibiting married couples from sleeping in the nude in a rented room. I’m not sure whether this is somehow based on the Salem witch hysteria or if some lawmaker is a bit of a germophobe.

Verdict: Uh, let’s just say I’m pleading nolo contendere on this one.

7. South Carolina: Fake Proposal

This is one of the most difficult laws to prove of the entire list. It prohibits a man over age 16 from proposing marriage without meaning it. Apparently the law was intended to prevent a man from seducing a woman by promising to “make an honest woman of her” without any intention of doing so.

Verdict: Anyone who’s seen our proposal video will have no doubt that Herb meant it, Not guilty!

8. Kansas: Poor Treatment of Your Mother-in-Law

Mother-in-law jokes have abounded ever since there have been mothers-in-law. But in Witchita, Kansas, there’s a law on the books that mistreating your mother-in-law cannot be used as grounds for divorce. Somehow I suspect that any man who treats his mother-in-law that poorly will exhibit plenty of other reasons for divorce.

Verdict: Herb and I each have awesome mothers-in-law who each raised us to respect our families, so we get another clear not guilty verdict.

9. Connecticut: Kissing on Sunday

In Hartford, Connecticut it’s illegal to kiss your wife on the Lord’s Day.

Verdict: I kiss Herb good morning every day, and Sunday is not exception. We’ve even been known to kiss each other in church. Big fat guilty!

10. Louisiana: Psychic Officiants

There are plenty of classes of people who can legally perform marriage ceremonies: pastors, priests, judges, justices of the peace, ship’s captains, even ordinary folks who get a one-day license. But in New Orleans, it’s illegal for a palm reader, fortune teller, or mystic to officiate at a wedding. I guess anyone who might be able to see your future could suddenly have a very uncomfortable change-of-heart mid-ceremony.

Verdict: To my knowledge, Pastor Boylan doesn’t have second sight, so we get one final not guilty.

The bottom line is that as long as we stay out of Hartford on Sundays and never rent a room in Salem, we’ll be safe from prosecution. I think I can manage that.

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

Labor Day was first celebrated in the United States on Tuesday, September 15, 1882, in New York City, and included a parade of tens of thousands of workers carrying signs and banners, then a picnic, and ended with a grand fireworks display. (Rumor has it that the celebration also included “an abundance of cigars and Lager beer kegs…mounted in every conceivable place.”) It was organized by the Central Labor Union. In 1885 and 1886, it became a municipal holiday in various cities, and in 1887 it became a state holiday in Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. By 1894, 23 other states also honored the holiday and President Grover Cleveland declared it a National Holiday that year. Cleveland and Congress were eager to appease the public following the death of more than a dozen workers during riots resulting from a Pullman Car employee strike and corresponding boycott of Pullman by the American Railroad Union. The holiday is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers and serves as a tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.

Union Square, NYC, Labor Day Parade, 1882

The first proposal of the holiday suggested a street parade demonstrating the “strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations”, followed by a festival for the workers and their families. Over the years, the holiday has evolved from a celebration of the working class into a general end-of-summer fling involving family barbeques and beachgoing.

The first American Labor Day holiday was likely inspired by our neighbors to the north. Canada began celebrating Labor Day in 1872, with a parade in support of a strike against the current 58-hour workweek. Twenty-four union leaders who organized the event were subsequently arrested under anti-union laws. Many European countries celebrate a similar holiday (International Workers Day) on May 1st; the United States organizers likely avoided that date in order to avoid any connection with the originally Communist-based holiday.
A modern Communist Labor Day celebration

Today, most people associate Labor Day with the end of summer and the start of the school year more than anything to do with actual labor. For many years, it has been considered the end of the summer fashion season and brought with it a prohibition on wearing white. The origin of the “no white” rule may be based in the tradition of the upper class wearing white, lightweight summer clothing at their luxurious summer homes, as opposed to the darker work clothes of those unfortunates for whom summer was not so leisurely.

A typical summer outfit for the wealthy of that time

Given the current economic climate in the U.S., I suspect that many Americans who have never spent any time on Labor Day seriously thinking about labor or their working conditions (other than to be thankful for a day off) may be spending this year’s holiday being very thankful for a job and a steady paycheck. I know I am feeling very thankful that my job, although it lacks a paycheck, is the most rewarding and satisfying labor I’ve ever done.


“What Is Labor Day?”, Oskar Stevens in Other,
“The History of Labor Day”, U.S. Department of Labor,
“The Origin and History of Labor Day”, Elizabeth Walling, Associated Content,
“Labor Day”,
“Labor Day History: 11 Facts You Need to Know”, Nate Hindman & Craig Kanally, The Huffington Post,

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Stormy Weather

As a life-long New Englander, I’ve lived through my share of storms. The Blizzard of ’78, Hurricane Gloria, “The Perfect Storm”, the April Fool’s Day Storm, the 2008 ice storm, Hurricane Bob, even the flooding of this past spring…I survived them all. I’ve lost my car under a snowbank, I’ve been without power for a week, I’ve had no phone for a day or two, my employer has sent me home or told me not to come to work. I’ve learned to keep warm by a fireplace, to read by candlelight, to feed myself without a stove or microwave, and to keep up with the latest news by way of a battery-powered (or hand cranked!) transistor radio. I’ve learned to keep a stockpile of food, water, and batteries on hand at all times. And so have most of my friends and neighbors. So why is there always a last-minute stampede at the grocery store every single time we have a storm warning?

I suppose it’s because we New Englanders pride ourselves on being able to endure anything. And it would be pretty tough enduring a power outage if you had no batteries for your flashlights. Or being snowed in and not having any milk or bread. Or having no water and running out of bottled water. But seriously, it’s a brush with a hurricane. Do we really expect a week-long power outage? Do people honestly not have any batteries in the house? Are people genuinely convinced that the world will come to an end if there’s no milk in the fridge for 18 hours? And if it comes to that, do we really think that milk we just stormed the grocery store to get will keep unrefrigerated for 18 hours anyway?

I think the truth is that we enjoy our hardships. I’ll admit, I’ve bragged about living through the Blizzard of ’78. Yeah, the snow was halfway up the windows. Yeah, we (and by “we”, I mean “my dad”) had to shovel the front steps every half hour so the door didn’t get jammed shut with snow. Yeah, there was no school for a week because the buses couldn’t get through. Yeah, we had no power for a few days so we ate hotdogs from the freezer that we cooked over the fire in the fireplace every night. So every time a storm comes along, I think New Englanders secretly hope it’s one for the record books, and we prepare for the worst in the hope that it really is the worst – or at least, bad enough to brag to our kids about how we managed to endure Hurricane Earl back in September of 2010.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Universality of Babies

Last night we watched the movie, “Babies”. The film is a fascinating – and almost entirely wordless – documentary following four babies from different parts of the world through their first year or so of life.

The opening of the film shows a close-up of a heavily pregnant mother in Namibia grinding berries to make a kind of red dye that she uses to paint her belly. We see a seconds-old baby, still connected to her mother by her umbilical cord, in a modern hospital in Tokyo. We see an hours-old baby in San Francisco, hooked up to tubes and monitors in another modern hospital. And we see a days-old baby being tightly swaddled in blankets and tucked in his mother’s arms as she climbs onto the back of a motorbike, apparently for the trip back to her home in Mongolia.

As the movie progresses, each group of scenes seems to have a kind of a theme: how the babies eat, how the babies interact with their siblings and parents and pets, the various environmental dangers that the babies face. Some groups of scenes are remarkably similar, and some are literally worlds apart. We see each baby being fed by its parents – in three cases, being nursed by a mother, and in the fourth, being given a bottle by a father. The details may be different – the Namibian mother, for example, nurses her baby while sitting in the dirt, leaning over him to grind grain, while a second, slightly older baby nurses at her other breast, while the Japanese mother reclines comfortably in her bed as she nurses – but the essentials are universal. Even the sibling interactions are hilariously similar. The Mongolian baby sits in the middle of a yurt draped with colorful woven rugs and wails periodically as his older brother flicks him in the face with a scrap of cloth. The Namibian baby sits on the ground and periodically wails as his older brother pushes him away. One of the funniest sequences in the entire film is a series of scenes involving very patient and long-suffering family cats. We see one of the babies looking on as his brother pulls on a leash around the neck of a large (and recumbent) cat, the cat limply allowing itself to be dragged with an expression on its face that would certainly be an eyeroll, if cats could roll their eyes. We see another baby sitting with a similarly patient cat on his lap, roughly grabbing at the cat’s fur and ear as the cat simply lies there, apparently resigned to its fate. And in an especially hysterical transition, we then cut to one more cat, carefully sitting out of reach of a baby and watching it warily.

Even the scenes that show how different the babies’ upbringings are have a core of universality, though. We see the Namibian baby calmly playing in the dirt as a herd of cattle wanders around him, the solid, powerful hooves looking no less dangerous than the heavy, wicked horns. The Mongolian child lies on a rug-draped couch as a large rooster with huge, dagger-like spurs casually hops up and saunters past. The American child careens across a playground on a little car, plowing through a crowded sidewalk and face-planting magnificently in a large sandbox. The dangers may vary from place to place, but there are dangers in every environment, no matter how primitive or how progressive.

But aside from the anthropological fascination I found with the film, I was also fascinated with how much of Ryan I saw in each baby. From the funny little newborn facial expressions, to the wide-eyed curiosity, to the babbling and mouth sounds, to random objects going directly into the mouth, to the jelly-legged attempts to stand up, there was a sense of familiarity in every scene and with every child. The soft cooing and singing of the mothers as they rocked sleepy babies made me smile as I thought of myself doing the same thing. Even the tightening in my chest as I saw each baby in danger of being hurt was recognizable as a sensation felt by every parent in a similar situation.

Ryan is not exactly like any other baby that ever has or ever will be on this earth, but there are some things about his life that have been experienced by every other baby that ever has or ever will be on this earth. It’s a wonderful blend of uniqueness and commonality.

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