Saturday, October 30, 2010

Life Is Precious

Thursday night, Herb and I came home to a phone message that his brother, Glen, who was in Toronto on business, had had a heart attack. We returned the call to find out that he had just passed away. Needless to say, we were stunned.

Glen was only 45 years old. He was in excellent shape – he had been an athlete his whole life. He had no prior health issues that we knew of. He was not the sort of person you expect to suddenly lose to a heart attack, or any other health problem.

He leaves a beautiful wife and two daughters, who all adored him. He leaves a brother and sister who always loved to reminisce about their childhood spats and pranks, but who all obviously loved each other dearly. He leaves two parents who could not have been prouder of their children and their accomplishments. He leaves countless aunts and uncles and cousins and in-laws and friends and colleagues who are mourning the loss of this vibrant, funny, intelligent, thoughtful, charming, wonderful man.

I consider myself blessed to have known him for the short few years that I did. I first met him when Herb and I had only been dating for a few weeks, at a football game. He was very gracious and made me feel welcome and included. And just a few weeks later, he invited us to spend Thanksgiving with his family, treating me as if I were part of the family. He had the gift of being elegant and cultured and incredibly intelligent but never making those around him feel out of place. He was the kind of man who brightened the world around him. He was a gracious host, a loving husband and father, a valued colleague, and a generous human being.

His death reminds me that life is precious. It makes me want to hold my son a little tighter, tell my husband I love him a little more often, call my mom a little more frequently, and work harder to be gracious, patient, and generous with those around me. It makes me value every second I have with those I love. It makes me aware of how precious and fleeting those seconds can be. I am grateful for all the seconds I shared with him.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Happiness Empty Apartment

This past weekend, my sister got married. She and her now-husband had found an apartment just before the wedding, so they haven’t had a chance to move any furniture in yet. This afternoon, Ryan and I took a field trip to see their new place. And Ryan discovered nirvana.

The living room and dining room are combined, so the main part of the first floor is one big carpeted room. Not only that, but it has lots and lots of electrical outlets, a low-hanging chandelier, a half-wall topped with banister rails, and windows that open with cranks that are at a reachable height for little fingers. Ryan couldn’t get enough of it. He played with the window crank at one end, then crawled at top speed all the way to the other end of the room, then sat and reached for the chandelier, then turned around and crawled back to the half-wall and stood on his tiptoes to reach the banister rails. After he’d done that a few times, he discovered the next bit of nirvana: the stairs.

Not only are the stairs carpeted, but they make several turns so it’s like crawling up a giant corkscrew. A giant corkscrew with several light switches at the bottom. And more banister rails. (That were just wide enough that he probably could get his head stuck between them. We did not explore that possibility, much to his chagrin.) He would have gone up and down those stairs for hours if we’d let him. But there was more: closets galore!

The biggest complaint about most apartments is not enough storage space. But this townhouse has closets and storage nooks all over. There’s a coat closet with swinging doors right inside the entryway. There’s a pantry with dozens of narrow shelves in the hall. There’s a Ryan-sized storage area under the stairs. There are drawers and cabinets all over the place in the kitchen and bathrooms. There are narrow linen closets tucked in here and there. Nearly everywhere Ryan turned, he found a door to open. And with nothing in them, no-one stopped him from opening them or sticking his head or hands in to explore them. So he tested them all, over and over again.

He discovered a number of places that were tantalizingly within reach, if he could only stand on his tiptoes or stretch high enough. He found that he could just barely touch the faucet and taps of the sink in the downstairs bathroom. He could reach almost all the doorknobs. He could peek onto shelves and into cupboards. He could even look out of the living room windows without needing a boost.

By the time Sue and Steven come home from their honeymoon, their bedroom will be furnished, at least, and I’m sure it won’t take much time for them to move their things into the rest of the apartment and make themselves a nice, cozy, furnished little nest. And I’m sure that the first time Ryan visits, he’ll find all kinds of things to explore and peek behind and crawl onto. But it will never be quite the same as that one magical afternoon when he was allowed to open every cabinet, flip every light switch, explore every staircase, and race around the room without being scolded or stopped. When you’re a toddler who’s all too used to being told, “Stop!” and “Don’t touch!” and “No!”, happiness truly is an empty apartment.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Frustration Raspberry

I’ll admit it: I’m a bad mother. I am guilty of laughing at my child’s grief. But my excuse is that I just can’t help it. And you’ll understand why when I explain his latest trick: the frustration raspberry.

Ryan is obviously both a bright and a strong-willed child, and intelligence and determination mixed with the limited abilities of a one-year-old can be a very frustrating combination. So when Ryan wants something that he can’t have, or that he can’t figure out how to get, he gets frustrated. And he demonstrates that frustration in different ways: sometimes he cries, sometimes he yells, sometimes he bangs things, but most often of late, he blows something I’ve dubbed the “frustration raspberry”. There are several variations of the raspberry, but it always includes a lot of noise and a lot of spit. And it is hilarious.

Picture it: a small, determined child attempting to climb out of his playpen, standing on top of toys to boost himself up, reaching up to Mummy or Daddy for assistance, bracing his feet against the wall, pulling himself up using the TV cabinet. Suddenly he realizes that all his efforts are futile, and he contorts his face into a pout and lets loose with a loud, wet raspberry. The poor kid is angry and puzzled and frustrated, and I’m laughing at him. But how can a parent not laugh at that?

Fortunately, I don’t think he’s yet aware enough to feel slighted by my laughter (although he is no doubt offended by my lack of assistance). I think I have some time to practice laughing silently at his predicaments, so by the time he is aware I will have mastered the art of the straight face. I imagine there will be many times in the future when I need to excuse myself to laugh in private, then compose myself and go console him or help him solve his difficulty. There will probably be times when I hold my laughter in until I can call or e-mail his father and share the story between my gales of laughter. There may even be times when both his father and I excuse ourselves to another room and then laugh ourselves silly.

But I suspect that the best of times will be many years from now, when we show Ryan himself some of his comico-tragic moments on tape and we can all share the laughter together.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Boneless Baby

We’ve all seen the phenomenon: A perfectly healthy, normal baby is picked up by a parent or other adult and suddenly, without warning, the child’s bones seem to, well, evaporate. The child’s body melts and slips through the parent’s hands like unset jello. There are no longer shoulders to hook one’s hands under. There is no ribcage to be clasped. There are no hipbones to grab onto, no tailbone to tuck an arm underneath. The child’s entire body becomes structureless and slides effortlessly to the floor, which is where the child prefers to be. Every child seems to discover this miraculous ability in his first year or two of life. And he learns very quickly to use it to his advantage.

Ryan is no exception. He has mastered the art of dissolving his own skeleton instantaneously in order to avoid being picked up or put down. It’s like his own little superpower. And he has even learned to improve upon it by adding his own twist: the back arch. He goes from being a melted puddle to hurling his head backwards, arching his back, and locking his legs. The combination of the two moves makes it nearly impossible to move him from where he is to somewhere he doesn’t want to be. There’s not much of a choice other than to wait him out. He’s heavy enough that lifting the puddle of dead weight is nearly impossible, and he’s strong enough that sudden arch can rocket him out of my arms. Plus, the unexpected transition from molten lump to heavy, stiff board is enough to lose any tenuous grip I might have had.

So far I’ve managed to avoid dropping him on his head when he pulls this maneuver, at least from any significant height. The trickiest variation is when he pulls it off while I’m carrying him up or down stairs. I’ve honed my reflexes to the point that I can kneel on the stairs and catch him in my lap (barely) before he hits the ground, but one of these days I’m sure I won’t be quite quick enough. Fortunately, he’s getting to the point now where he’s beginning to recognize that when he does certain things, he hurts himself and probably shouldn’t do that again. So I’m hoping that one (gentle) fall on his head will cure him of pulling this stunt, at least in dangerous places like on the stairs.

Of course, by then he’ll probably have discovered something else dangerous but entertaining. And I have no doubt that this is just the beginning. When he’s a teenager, I’ll probably look back fondly on the toddler years and wish all I had to deal with was the possibility of him cracking his head open falling down the stairs, and not the possibility of him cracking his head open while riding a skateboard, or a motorcycle, or whatever other crazy and dangerous motorized vehicle has been invented by then. It’s a good thing I already color my hair – I don’t think I want to know how much more grey he’ll be causing me over the years.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Snuggling to Sleep

Every once in a while, Ryan goes through a bout of insomnia, or at least restless, light sleep. He goes to bed at his usual time, but at around midnight he gets restless and whines or cries a bit. Most of the time he settles himself down fairly quickly, but every once in a while I have to go in and snuggle him for a few minutes to get him back to sleep. And last night was one of those nights.

When I went in, he was flopping around like he just couldn’t get comfortable, so I picked him up and sat in the rocking chair with him. He snuggled right up against my neck and clung to me tightly, as if to say, “Thank goodness you’re here. Now I can sleep.” He still wriggled a bit, trying his head on this side and then that, tucking his legs up under him and then stretching them out, but after a few minutes he settled in to a comfortable spot. He was still awake, but I could feel his body relaxing as he calmed down. I stroked his hair and his back, and sang to him very quietly until I could hear his breathing fall into a slow, rhythmic pattern and I felt him grow heavy on my shoulder as he fell back to sleep. I carefully put him back in his crib and tiptoed back into bed.

For the past few days, I’ve been a bit of a restless sleeper myself, since Herb was out of town visiting his daughter at college. I never sleep as well when he’s not there. So when I got back into bed, I was happy to snuggle up to him and as he sleepily stroked my back and I listened to his quiet breathing, it occurred to me that Ryan and I both prefer having a bit of company when we’re trying to sleep. I guess there’s something deeply, primally comforting about having someone you trust completely by your side when you sleep. The human body instinctively feels safety in numbers, especially when it’s vulnerable and sleeping. There’s someone else to sense danger, and to help protect you if attacked. There’s warmth to be shared when two bodies are close together. It’s natural to be more relaxed and secure when there’s someone sleeping beside you.

So as much as I want Ryan to be able to get to sleep (and get back to sleep) on his own, I can hardly complain if he needs me to snuggle him to sleep every now and then. After all, he apparently gets it from his mother.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010


This morning, I woke up to the sound of a small voice down the hall announcing hopefully, “Up? Up?” A couple of times over the past few days I had thought that Ryan might have said, “up”, but I wasn’t completely convinced that he was really saying it or that it was in the correct context until this morning. But there is now no doubt in my mind that he not only said it, but that he knows what it means.

A baby learning to talk is pretty amazing, when you think about it. The fact that they can make a connection between the sounds they hear and their context is really impressive. I do sometimes say the word “up” by itself to Ryan, but most of the time he hears it in the context of a sentence: “Do you want to get up?”, “Ryan is going up the stairs,” “Are you ready to get up?”, “Come up on the couch with Mummy.” And I apply it to many different objects and situations: I lift him up, he hops up on the couch, we slide the beads up the string, Daddy throws him up in the air, he climbs up the stairs, I pick up the book. It’s a fairly complex directional concept. And yet, he obviously knows that in the morning, I pick him “up”. In the morning, or after his nap, I ask him, “Are you ready to get up?”, or “Who’s up?” or I say, “Come on up,” as I pick him up. So he’s learned to associate the word “up” with waking up and getting up and being picked up. That’s amazing!

And although he doesn’t say many words yet (“up” is the list in its entirety), he understands quite a few. He knows who “Daddy” and “Mummy” and “Grammy” and “Bammy” and “Pappy” are, and will look at the correct person if we say their name. He’ll look at the right object if you say “bottle” or “ball” or “book”. I suspect he knows a few others, like “kitty” and “snack” and “stairs” and “tubby” and “juice”. So know that he’s broken through the barrier and said a word in the right context and gotten the desired response, I wonder how long it will be before he learns to say new words to express himself.

What a sense of freedom and power that must be, to suddenly discover that you can communicate with others by using words! When he wants to get up, he can tell me so by saying, “up”. When he wants to look at his book, he’ll be able to say “book”. When he wants to play with his ball, he’ll be able to ask for it by name. Even if his sippy cup isn’t nearby for him to point at, he’ll be able to tell me what he wants by saying the magic word, “juice”.

A whole new world is opening up for both of us – the wonderful world of words!

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

An Ode to Autumn

I love autumn in New England. I love the earthy smell in the air. I love the sound of leaves crunching underfoot. I love hearing the kids squeal as they get off the school bus. I love the crispness of the morning air. I love the glow of the afternoon sun. I even love the bittersweet feeling of packing up swimsuits, closing the pool, and tucking away shorts and sandals until next year.

I love that musty smell the first time the heat comes on in the morning. I love all the foods of autumn – the casseroles, the stews, the hearty meats and sauces. I love tucking my cold nose under the covers and letting my own breath warm it back up again. I love snuggling in blankets. I love wearing warm sweaters. I love drinking hot cocoa and tea and mulled cider at night and warming my hands on the mug. I love that first fire in the fireplace. I love the trace of frost on the windshield.

I love the potted mums that magically appear on doorsteps throughout the neighborhood. I love the fat pumpkins and the tall cornstalks and the witches and ghosts that herald the coming of Halloween. I love trading in my sandals for tall boots and my T-shirts for snuggly sweaters and my windbreaker for my wool coat. I love wrapping a scarf around my chin.

But most of all, I love the colors of autumn. I love the brightness of the leaves as green gives way to golden yellows, fiery oranges, and brilliant reds. I love watching gardens change from soft summer pastels into the rich, deep burgundies and purples and dark golds of autumn flowers. I love watching everyone’s wardrobe mellow from clear bright colors into more muted, deeper shades. I love the addition of bright yellow school buses into the visual cacophony that passes by my window.

I’m sure that in a few months I’ll be looking forward to the change from autumn into winter, with the first drifts of snow covering up the brown dead leaves, and the clean crisp smell of frost washing away the musty smell of stale autumn, and the brightness of a red cardinal standing out against the stark barrenness of the garden. But for now, I’m enjoying my beautiful autumn!

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

On Again, Off Again

Yesterday afternoon, Ryan mastered the light switch. He’s been curious about them for a while, and will often reach for one and poke it with the tip of his finger, but yesterday was the first time he managed to flip the switch at will – and recognize the results. The look of amazement on his face was priceless.

Unlike doorknobs (which he is also trying desperately to master), our house has very few light switches that are within his reach. There are a couple he can almost reach if he climbs on the back of the couch (which is highly discouraged), but there’s also one at the bottom of the basement stairs that he can reach if he stands on his tiptoes or stretches really hard. Or if Mummy lets him climb on her lap while she sits on the stairs (which is pretty common, since it’s the best way to stop him from climbing all the way up the stairs). And since that particular light switch is a double switch, it’s even more exciting!

The two lights that it controls are directly overhead and right behind him, so it definitely helps him make the connection between flipping the switch and seeing the light go on or off. We spent a long time this morning with him flipping the switch as I announced, “On!” or “Off!”, looking at the light that just went on or off, and then giggling. I love watching him delight in his “power” to make light. He would very solemnly look at the switch and deliberately flip it up, then throw his head back to see the light bulb that just went on and grin in amazement. Then he would look at me as if to say, “See what I just did?” And then he’d flip it down and do the same thing. Over and over and over again, on and off and on and off and on and off, light and dark and light and dark and light and dark.

I’m sure it’s not particularly good for either the light bulbs or the light switches, but I’d be happy to rewire half the house just to see Ryan’s fascinated expression. It’s not just the bulb that lights up, it’s also that adorable little face. And, I suspect, the adoring big face that’s watching.

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Black and White

Ryan, as I expect is true for most small children, has very few gray areas. Everything for him is black and white. He’s either wide awake or sound asleep. He’s either delightedly happy or utterly miserable. He’s either completely famished or full to the gills. He’s either full of energy or totally exhausted. He generally has very little transition between extremes of any kind.

I suppose the simplicity of both his needs and his comprehension is the main cause of those strict boundaries. He doesn’t recognize the growing feeling of slight hunger, only the pangs of a completely empty stomach. He doesn’t want to miss anything that’s happening around him, so he pushes himself to the full extent of his energy before his body gives in to sleep all at once. He’s happy when he gets what he wants and he’s miserable when he doesn’t, and he’s unaware of any middle ground.

Fortunately, the proportions of the extremes are generally exactly as they should be. He’s happy almost all the time, and his unhappiness is usually quickly and easily remedied. The misery of an empty stomach is relieved by the first taste of a snack. He sleeps the sleep of the truly and thoroughly exhausted and wakes up refreshed and full of energy.

Sometimes, when I watch him, I wish I had such simple needs and that my needs were so simply fulfilled. I’m rarely as totally miserable as he is when he’s miserable (although I’m certainly mildly unhappy more often than he is), but neither is my happiness as complete as his. I don’t think I’d mind those short bursts of utter misery if in exchange I got the hours and hours of ecstatic joy that he enjoys. On the rare occasions when I push myself to the brink physically and emotionally, when I collapse into sleep it is the same deep, refreshing sleep that he gets every night.

Like most things in life, it’s a trade-off between black and white and shades of gray. And the older he gets, the more gray he’ll discover. And there is a certain beauty in the complexity of all those shades of gray.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Don't Fence Me In

The weather this weekend was some of the most perfect early fall weather I’ve ever experienced. Sunny and warm, but with a hint of a crisp breeze. Herb and Ryan and I spent Saturday at my alma mater, Gordon College, which is in Wenham, Massachusetts. The campus has grown considerably since I was a student, but it’s still beautiful. My favorite part of the day was going on a nature hike through the woods around one of the large ponds on campus. We had Ryan in the jogging stroller so he could get a good look at everything and everyone. He loved being out in the fresh air, listening to the birds, watching the breeze blow through the trees, and smelling the scent of fall in the air. And so did I!

But I think Ryan’s favorite part of the day was after the walk, when we went out to the soccer field and let him walk and crawl around unfettered. We don’t have a very big yard (or very big rooms), so he doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to just take off and crawl as far as he wants without running into some obstacle.

But on the huge quad – which fortunately, wasn’t especially crowded – he could take off and just keep going without us having to stop him. And he took advantage of it! He crawled after other babies, and bigger kids, and dogs. He found a longboard (a kind of extra-long skateboard) that a student had laid down while he chatted with friends and happily examined it and spun the wheels. He watched the girls’ soccer team play. He explored other strollers, and feet, and grass and leaves and sticks. It was a kind of freedom that he’d never experienced before, and he reveled in it!

He’s at the age where he encounters a lot of frustrations – either because I won’t let him do something that he wants to, or because he can’t figure out quite how to do something that he wants to. To when he has the chance to explore without boundaries (and therefore, without frustrations), I want to give it to him. There are so many times that I have to say no for his own safety, so I love finding a place where I don’t have to say no, and I don’t have to rein in his curiosity, and I don’t have to frustrate him by stopping him mid-exploration.

And it was a great day for all of us to not be fenced in.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

It Was 20 Years Ago Today

Tomorrow is my 20th college reunion. I can’t quite figure out how that happened, because I’m pretty certain that it’s only been about 6 months since I graduated from college. But then I think about everything that’s happened in those “6 months”, and I guess maybe it really has been 20 years.

When I graduated from college in May 1990, I had a job lined up, a tiny hatchback with 80,000 miles on it, and not much else. I knew that the job wasn’t something I wanted to do forever, but it was a job in my field with a paycheck I could live on (barely), so I figured it was a place to start. I soon found an apartment and a roommate and started out on my “grownup” life. After 6 months, my boss announced that she was moving to Iowa and taking my job with her – although I was welcome to come with her. I declined and began job-hunting again. But at least this time I was already employed within a network, so I was able to find a new job within just a few weeks – a job I ended up staying with for nearly 8 years.

During those 8 years, I lost my roommate and found an apartment of my own. I got involved in church and theater and vocal groups and handbell choirs. I went on a tour of England. I grew out my hair. And I got sick of living and working in the city.

So I took a deep breath, moved to a different apartment, got a different job, and found a different theater group. I bought a new car. I won a couple of theater awards. I colored my hair. And then I cut it again. And then I grew it out again. I performed in a professional musical in Boston and I joined a cabaret troupe. I eventually moved again, this time with another roommate. And then, everything changed.

I decided that I really wanted to be married, and that it wasn’t going to happen unless I did something about it. So I took another deep breath and signed up on an internet dating site. I met a couple of really nice guys, and a couple of whackos. My ego took a few blows and got a few boosts. And then one day I saw the profile of a guy who mentioned both church and theater, and I dropped him a little note. Little did I know that that one little note would change both of our lives.

To make a long story short, we met, we fell in love, we got married, and we had a baby. One short sentence that summarizes three of the most amazingly wonderful years of my life. I suspect that many of my friends from college have a similar story on a very different timeline. In some ways, I wish I could have skipped some of the boring parts of my history and jumped into the last few years sooner. But it was those intervening years that made both me and Herb the people we were when we met, and the people we are now. So I don’t regret a moment of those intervening years. They brought me to the happiness I have now, and that happiness is worth every moment of waiting over the years.

I just hope that all my classmates I run into tomorrow aren’t too jealous of me!

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Vox Humana

I wish I’d had the tape recorder or a video camera by my bed this morning when Ryan woke up, because his morning vocal pyrotechnics get funnier and more elaborate every day. He seems to use the morning as his time to experiment with his voice. The sounds often begin with a quiet humming, then move on to a succession of vowels, ending with a series of exclamations: Eee! Gug! Oof! HaaaAAAaaah! Generally followed by his staccato “Bert laugh”. Then some more humming which is often suddenly muffled when I imagine he sticks a rag (or a teddy bear, or the corner of his blanket, or whatever else might be handy) into his mouth.

My favorite part of listening to the whole process is picturing what he’s doing. The exclamations are often accompanied by the clunk of the side of the crib being jiggled, so I suspect he’s standing up and bouncing while he does those. The quieter humming at the beginning and end generally includes some soft squeaking so I think he’s probably lying down, rolling around on his back with his feet in the air. When I come in to wake him up, I sometimes catch him in the act – he’s usually concentrating on listening to himself so intently that I can watch him for several minutes before he notices me in the doorway.

I’m especially curious to hear how his morning “chatter” will evolve as he learns to talk. Will I hear him having conversations with himself? Will he repeat new words that he’s learned? Or will this continue to be a time to merely experiment with the different sounds that he can make, regardless of language or meaning? I suppose that at some point in time he’ll recognize that others are (or could be) listening in, and he’ll keep it to himself. But until he reaches that point, I’m going to thoroughly enjoy listening to him discover his own voice.

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wouldn't You Like to Know What's Goin' on in My Mind?

Sometimes I wish I could read Ryan’s mind and figure out what on earth he’s thinking. Last night at dinner, he kept looking back and forth from me, to Herb, to me, to Herb, and then giggling. What exactly did he find so funny? And then after supper, he was crawling around in the living room, and he would go a few feet one way, then stop and sit up and giggle, then turn around and crawl back and stop and sit up and giggle, and then turn around and do it all over again, back and forth and back and forth. He obviously found it amusing, but I’d love to know why.

There are times when he’s studying some object and I know exactly what his thought process is. For example, when he plays with the vacuum cleaner, he pushes it on its side and looks at the wheels for a moment, then reaches out and turns them. He’s obviously figuring out how they move and which way they move. And then he tugs at various parts of it, obviously figuring out what’s attached and what’s not. He’s analyzing how the machine is made and how it works. Sometimes he’ll push different objects (like a ball and a block) down a ramp and anything that doesn’t slide, he picks up and turns over and over in his hand. He understands that some things slide and some things don’t, and he’s trying to figure out how they’re different and what makes that particular object not slide. Those brain processes are obvious and understandable. But the things that make him laugh are often incomprehensible to me.

Laughter is such an unpredictable thing anyway, but with a baby, it’s even less predictable. I remember reading somewhere about why humans find something funny, and it has to do with incongruity and unexpectedness. But to a baby who is just figuring out the world, almost everything seems incongruous or unexpected, and therefore funny! So I guess that’s the simplest explanation of most of Ryan’s laughter. He crawls from one side of the room to the other and suddenly he sees things from a different perspective – unexpected and therefore funny! He looks at the expression on Daddy’s face and it’s not quite the same as the one on Mommy’s face – unexpected and therefore funny! He makes noises with his mouth and when he unthinkingly changes its shape, the sound changes – unexpected and therefore funny!

I’m glad that he finds entertainment and amusement in so many things that I find commonplace. I might even be a little jealous at how much pleasure he gets out of life for no particular reason that I can see. But instead, I think I’ll just try to share in his wonder and amazement at the unexpectedness – and also the humor – of the world around me.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Family Dinner

One of Ryan’s latest developments (other than walking) is that he’s eating a lot more table food. Instead of a jar of baby food, I can now give him a slice of cheese, some yogurt, a chunk of apple or banana, a spoonful of mashed potatoes, a wedge of bagel, or a piece of carrot. I love being able to share my own lunch with him – he gets a wedge of my grilled cheese sandwich, or a spoonful of my cereal, or a bite of taco meat, or a mouthful of lasagna. It gives me a whole new use for leftovers!

I’m especially happy that this happened now that we’re getting into the cooler weather season, because this is when my cooking really shines. I love cold-weather comfort food. Shepherd’s pie, lasagna, chicken-rice casserole, homemade macaroni and cheese, soups and stews…these are the things I love to cook. And these are the things that are easiest to share with a little one! Ryan loves pasta in any form, and any dish with kid-sized chunks of meat and vegetables is great for him to feed himself. So all my oven-baked favorites are just perfect. And thanks to the magic of the microwave, I can warm up a spoonful or two of my last night’s dinner for his today’s lunch.

But I think the very best part of Ryan being able to share our dinner is that it makes it so much easier to have family meals with all three of us. Until recently, I would usually feed Ryan earlier and then while Herb was putting him to bed, I’d make a late supper for us. It’s always lovely when the two of us can share a quiet dinner together, but I grew up with the whole family eating together nearly every night and I’ve looked forward to being able to do that with my little family.

Last night was a wonderful example. I gave Ryan some cheese and a handful of Kix to snack on while Herb and I ate our salads. But after that, we all got some steak and macaroni and cheese. Of course, Ryan got just a little chunk of meat, which he tasted once or twice and seemed unimpressed by, but once I cooled off some macaroni and put it in front of him, he was much more interested in eating. It also makes it so much easier for me to eat my own dinner now that he can feed himself finger foods. There are still a lot of things I need to feed him, or at least help with, but being able to plop a few things in front of him and let him take care of himself is hugely liberating. And I think he thinks so, too!

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Walk This Way

It’s official: Ryan can walk. Life as I know it is now over. He’s been on the verge for several weeks now, lurching from object to object, taking a step or two unaided before unceremoniously plopping down on the floor, careening wildly between pieces of furniture. But we managed to capture a solid 6 or 7 steps on video the other day.

My favorite part of the video is watching the expression on his face transform from a victorious grin into a round-mouthed “uh-oh” face as he starts to list to his left. He’s been determinedly and deliberately working on his walking skill, and he is truly proud of his accomplishment (and not just because Mummy & Daddy cheer like a couple of whackaloons every time he takes a few steps). He grins and chortles and hoots with excitement every time he gets from one place to the other on his own two feet. After all, self-propulsion is a pretty big deal!

Being able to walk represents a huge leap in terms of his independence and freedom. If he doesn’t have to hang onto my hands as he explores, he gets to decide where to go instead of allowing himself to be steered away from all kinds of interesting places. He doesn’t have to wait for me to have my hands free to trot across the room. He might even get to spend less time strapped into a stroller once he gets a bit steadier on his feet. He has his hands free to feel and pat and grab and explore the world around him.

And as exciting as that is for both of us, I can’t help but feel a tiny pang that he doesn’t need me quite as much any more. Learning to walk on his own is just the first of many little steps towards independence for him. Today, it’s walking on his own, but soon it will be getting on the school bus by himself, driving a car on his own, getting an apartment away from home. But then, that’s the whole point of being a mom: teaching him how to not need me. So as bittersweet as these moments of independence are, they’re also signs that I’m doing my job right. And I know that if I continue doing my job right, he won’t always need to have me around – but he’ll always want to have me around.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

"Some Like It Hot", or, "They Just Don't Make 'Em Like That Any More"

Yesterday, Tony Curtis passed away at the age of 85. He co-starred in one of my favorite movies of all time, “Some Like It Hot”, alongside Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, and Joe E. Brown. In my humble opinion, “Hot” is to this day one of the funniest movies ever made.

For those of you who have been living under a rock, or who for some other reason have never seen this marvelous film, here’s a brief summary: In the middle of prohibition, two jazz musicians accidentally witness the Valentine’s Day Massacre and hide out from the mob’s retribution by joining an all-girl orchestra – in drag, of course. One of them (Tony Curtis) falls for a fellow member of the orchestra (Marilyn Monroe) and masquerades as a millionaire in order to woo her, while the other (Jack Lemmon) is wooed by an actual millionaire (Joe E. Brown). The mob eventually gets wise to the musicians’ ruse and the boys are forced to flee the orchestra, breaking the hearts of both the girl and the millionaire. Of course, in the end, all is resolved and everyone manages to live happily ever after.

Both Curtis and Lemmon throw themselves into their female roles and are absolutely hilarious in their attempts to learn to walk and talk like girls. I will confess that as reasonably attractive as Jack Lemmon is as a man, he’s one of the ugliest women I’ve ever seen. Tony Curtis, however, despite his heavier, more masculine features, actually makes a very attractive woman, with his thick dark lashes and kewpie-doll lips. And I’m not generally a huge Marilyn Monroe fan, but in this movie she is absolutely charming and hits just the perfect notes of wide-eyed innocence and sweetness.

There’s nothing particularly unpredictable about this movie; the plot itself isn’t exceptional; the music is fun but not spectacular; the writing is clever but not unusually so. So what is it that’s so endearing about this movie? To me, I think it’s just one of those times when the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The characters are all so sincere and so well-meaning that you can’t help but root for them, despite their imperfections. Monroe is a bit of a dingbat, Curtis is something of a cad, Lemmon is often petulant and whiny. And yet, the audience can’t help but hope that somehow they’ll all get their acts together so everything will come out right in the end. And we all cheer when it does.

If this movie were made today, I think it wouldn’t be nearly as successful. For one thing, it would be in color. The costumes worn by the band members would be much more of a focus. The men’s disguises would probably be designed such that even the audience would be confused as to whether they were men in drag or really women. The music would be so sweetened and auto-tuned that it would sound like a production video rather than a live, somewhat second-rate, band. The whole focus on the delightful characters would be lost among the bells and whistles and glitter and post-production tweaks. The cheesiness and simplicity is half the fun of this film. And sadly, I think that many of today’s moviemakers have lost the art of simplicity.

Fortunately, we’ll always have “Some Like It Hot”. Thank you, Mr. Curtis, for this wonderful part of your legacy!

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