Sunday, May 30, 2010

War and Remembrance

In honor of Memorial Day, here is a reposting of a blog entry I wrote in September 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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Friday, May 28, 2010

Family History

Tomorrow is the big Centennial Gala for Herb’s family’s dance studio. 100 years ago, his 16-year-old grandmother opened a dance studio in Boston. Little did she know that she would manage that studio for 44 years, and then her youngest daughter would manage it for another 44 years, and then her granddaughter would take over. Not only her children, but her grand-children, great-grandchildren, and even a few great-great-grandchildren would learn to dance there. Some of her students would go on to become professional dancers, others to teach dance and open studios of their own. It is a rich history and I hope that someday Ryan will want to learn about it.

Family history is an important part of every family. The stories we tell of our parents and grandparents when they were young, the tales of family vacations, the goofy things we did ourselves as children – these are all part of the tapestry that a family weaves over time. As Ryan grows up, no doubt we will tell him the story of my dad nailing a pancake to a tree, of his Uncle Glen jumping out of a moving car to retrieve a football, of Bammy knocking Pappy’s trombone off its stand the first time they met, of the mice in the suitcase when my parents went camping, his sister telling Daddy “Someone’s looking at me” on her first encounter with wildlife…and no doubt by the time he’s old enough to want to hear these stories, they’ll be even more to tell.

"Daddy, someone's looking at me..."

And I like to think that someday, he might tell his own children some of those stories. And they’ll tell their children. And so on, and so on…

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Some Days Are Like That...Even in Australia

One of my favorite children's books is called "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst. Alexander gets up one morning, and from the moment his feet hit the floor, he's having a bad day. No, not just a bad day, a Bad Day. No, not just a Bad Day, a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. His brothers get great toys in their breakfast cereal, but all Alexander gets is breakfast cereal. His brothers get cool new sneakers, but the only sneakers in Alexander's size are ugly. He gets gum in his hair and drops the sleeve of his sweater in the sink with the water running and his mother forgets to put dessert in his lunch box and his best friend tells him that he's now only his third best friend. It's such a bad day that he decides to move to Australia. But in the end, his mother reassures him that a bad day isn't the end of the world, because tomorrow is always a fresh new start. Besides, some days are like that, even in Australia.

Well, some days are like that, even when you have a perfect baby. Yesterday was one of those days when I was ready to consider moving to Australia. Periodically out of the blue, Ryan would just start screaming and wailing for no particular reason. I thought his teeth might still be bothering him, so I went to give him some Tylenol, but we were out. So I took him to the pharmacy, but they were also out, except for the kind for older kids that comes with a little cup instead of a dropper. Not real useful with a protesting 7-month-old. But I didn't have time to ask if there was any more out back, because I could tell that Ryan was on the verge of a complete meltdown. We made it out of the store but I drove all the way home with a screaming baby in the back of the car.

By the time we got home, the temperature on the porch was reading 118 degrees. (No, I am not exaggerating for literary effect. It really was 118 degrees on my porch. Yes, Fahrenheit.) And since it's only May and most people haven't got their air conditioners installed yet, the entire neighborhood had their windows open and got to listen to Ryan screaming for 45 minutes while I tried to get him to go down for his much-needed nap. (Much-needed for BOTH our sakes.)

He finally fell asleep in my arms, but every time I started to move, he would stir and whine a little bit, so I ended up lying on the couch for an hour with a 30-pound hot water bottle on my chest. (Did I mention that it was 118 degrees on the porch?) It was indeed a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

And when Ryan woke up, he didn't want to eat his dinner, and he didn't want to play with his toys, and he didn't want to sit in his exersaucer or his bouncy chair. He didn't know what he wanted, but whatever I was offering, that wasn't it. He was just having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

But fortunately, even though it may not seem that way, every day ends after 24 hours, even the most terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. So finally when Daddy gave him his bath and tucked him into bed, our terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day was over.

And I didn't even have to move to Australia.

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Baby Physics

You know how toast always seems to fall butter side down, despite the laws of physics which say that it should fall butter side up roughly half the time? Well, apparently that exception to the laws of physics also applies to dirty diapers, as I discovered this morning, much to my chagrin. But it got me thinking: what other laws of physics are violated by babies and their accoutrements on a regular basis? So I came up with a few rules of baby physics. Let me preface this list by saying I am NOT a physicist, but I did take some advanced physics in college. (I believe this falls into the category of “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”.) So my understanding of physics is relatively basic. For that reason, and because I’m assuming that most of my readers are also not physicists, I am categorizing my physics into just a few basic headings: the laws of thermodynamics, the speed of light/gravitational attraction, and conservation of mass and energy.

The Laws of Thermodynamics
The laws of physics that define and explain heat are pretty complicated, but the bottom line is that in a closed system, heat is neither created nor destroyed. In other words, if you snuggle a warm baby, your body should, under the laws of physics, absorb a limited amount of heat so that your temperature becomes equivalent to that of the baby. However, any mother will tell you that holding a warm (i.e., less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit) baby can cause one’s internal body temperature to reach approximately 130 degrees Fahrenheit. This is particularly true when the baby is sick or cranky and any effort to move or remove said baby will result in wakefulness and screaming.

The Speed of Light/Gravitational Attraction
Under Einstein’s theory of relativity, the laws of physics state that no object with mass can accelerate to precisely the speed of light. Babies, however, especially those that have recently learned to crawl or walk, are in fact able to move at the speed of light. And they do so as a result of gravitational attraction between themselves and any object or situation which could cause bodily injury or major property damage. Not only mothers, but I suspect also emergency room physicians, can attest to the truth of this rule.

Conservation of Mass and Energy
The Law of Conservation of Mass and Energy states that matter can be neither created nor destroyed (although it can transform between mass and energy). In other words, to increase the mass of an object, you must add mass (or energy), and to decrease its mass, you must remove mass (or energy). Similarly, if you add mass to an object, its mass increases by the amount of mass that was added, and if you remove mass from an object, its mass decreases by the amount of mass that was removed. However, any mother can tell you that babies violate this rule all the time. For example, if you try to pick up a baby who does not which to be picked up, said baby’s mass will spontaneously increase to approximately double its original mass. So when I try to pick Ryan up and he wants to stay on the floor, his 30-pound mass suddenly becomes 60 pounds.

The food:poop ratio also violates this law. The mass of food that goes into Ryan is much less than the mass of poop that comes out of him. And yet, his overall mass is still increasing. How can that be? Once again, the Law of Conservation of Mass has no bearing on babies. I won’t even attempt to get into the additional complication of all the energy that he burns off while still increasing in mass. Einstein and Newton combined couldn’t explain that one.

And the final violation of conservation of mass is the Diaper Bag Phenomenon. No matter how much or how little you try to pack into a diaper bag, the mass will always be just slightly greater than the capacity of said diaper bag. And if you move the contents into a larger diaper bag, they will expand so that bag is also slightly overfilled. A corollary to this rule is that no matter what item you remove from the bag, it will be the one item that you actually need on that trip.

Which makes me think, maybe instead of Einstein’s and Newton’s Laws of Physics, babies must be governed by Murphy’s Laws of Physics.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

It's Just a Phase (I Hope)

"Phase" seem to be a big buzzword in parenting circles. Is your child whiny? Don't worry, it's just a phase. Is he refusing to eat his vegetables? It's okay, it's just a phase. Does he say "NO!" to everything you say? It'll pass, it's just a phase. So I'm really hoping that Ryan's screeching is just a phase.

When it's the middle of the day, he's inside the house, and he's screeching with happiness, it's not a problem. In fact, I find it quite endearing. However, when it's in church, in the car, directly into my ear, or in the middle of the grocery store, it's somewhat less endearing. When it's a screech of frustration, or anger, or boredom, it's considerably less endearing. And although he's not old enough to have any concept of the word "no", I still find myself scolding him with a severe, "Ryan, NO!" when he screeches at an inopportune time.

The most difficult part of it is that there's rarely any kind of warning. No buildup, no fussiness, no slowly increasing volume to give any kind of heads up as to what's coming. Nope, it's just a sudden SCREECH, from 0 to 11 on the dial in about half a second. If I knew he were getting fussy or frustrated, I'd try to head it off - I could distract him with a toy, or a bottle, or a tickle. But there's no chance for that. It simply happens out of the blue. I'm not quite sure if it suddenly occurs to him that he's unhappy, or if he's been mentally dealing with it for a few minutes and it suddenly overwhelms him. Maybe it's even that he's dealing with it in a different way and suddenly thinks to himself, "Hm, I bet I'll feel better if I just let it all out.  EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!"

I can't fault him for that. When I was in college, during finals week we had something called the "Ten O'Clock Scream". Every night at 10:00pm, we would all stick our heads out the windows of the dorms and do a primal scream at the top of our lungs. It was a great way to relieve stress. Scared the heck out of anyone around who hadn't been warned, but it definitely made us all feel better. So I can understand the primal release that Ryan must get from simply screaming.

But I still hope it's just a phase.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Spin Doctor

Ryan has always been fond of spinning things, but even more so now that he’s getting more deft with his hands. When he bounces in his bouncy chair, he often looks away from his hands as he spins the attached toys as if to say, “Yeah, I’m so cool I don’t even have to watch what I’m doing.” He spins the propeller back and forth and back and forth and back and forth, now slow, now fast, now in the same direction a bunch of times, and now back and forth again. When he gets tired of that, he uses his other hand to spin the plastic kangaroos on the other side. Back and forth and back and forth, over and over.

He has another toy with a wooden base and a series of intertwined wires with wooden beads on them. He spins the beads over and over, back and forth, now this stack and now that stack. Sometimes he watches them spin, and sometimes he casually looks the other way while he hands work their magic.

His Bammy and Pappy got a little bouncy car for him to play with at their house, and his favorite toy of the many that it has is a little play GPS with a spinning compass arrow. The first thing he discovered in that car was how to spin the arrow!

His newest spinning toy was a gift from Grammy: a little dump truck with its bright red wheels.
When he first got it, naturally he had to turn it over and over and carefully examine each part. But once he discovered it had wheels that he could spin, he was in his glory!

As you can see if you look closely at the picture above, Ryan has a new tooth. And although you can’t see it, he’s getting another one as well. Which means he’s been cranky and distraught for the past couple of days. But he often soothes himself by spinning a toy, even while he’s quietly whimpering or whining. When he gets upset and is obviously in pain, I’ll usually pick him up and snuggle him, and his usual reaction is to snuggle into my neck like a little koala bear, with one hand in his mouth – and the other reaching out to spin whatever toy is close at hand. In fact, he’ll often stretch out that free hand and flick his fingers in the air as if he’s imagining spinning something (or hinting that he’d like to be spinning something). So of course I, being a good mom (read: old softie) get him a toy he can spin to comfort himself. It gives a whole new meaning to the expression “Spin Doctor”, doesn’t it?

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Man with a Hammer

There’s an old saying that goes, “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Well, to a 6-month-old baby, everything looks like a drumstick. Ryan’s latest fascination is with noises, especially those he makes himself and particularly those that involve banging objects together. It’s nice if a toy rattles or jingles by itself, but if two such toys can be whacked together, all the better!

It began innocently enough when he discovered that slapping his hands against his bare legs made a good noise, and progressed on to banging on Mum’s legs (preferably when she was wearing jeans – denim is an excellent acoustic medium), then banging on the floor or table. But it really got exciting when instead of soft hands banging something it was two solid objects banging each other. Two blocks, two rings, a bottle and a bottle cap, a spoon and a cup, a truck and a ball – it didn’t really matter as long as they made noise when struck together!

On a deeper, developmental level, I’m sure he’s learning a lot about physics and object interaction and acoustics, but mostly I think he just enjoys whacking stuff together. Really, what’s not to love about that? So I’m thinking it’s time to invest in some toys that are a) virtually indestructible and b) limited in their decibel level no matter how hard they’re struck. Something in the Tupperware family should be good....

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Toes as Toys

I blogged a while back about Ryan discovering his hands and feet, but he’s only now starting to realize how much fun he can have with his feet. For one thing, he’s slimmed down (well, sprouted up) enough that he can actually reach them without help. In fact, every time he’s on the changing table now, he sticks his feet up in the air and grabs his toes. (Which is actually quite helpful to whoever’s changing his diaper.) And since he knows he can reach them, he gets frustrated when he’s in his car seat or stroller and the shoulder straps hold him back from reaching them.

But whenever he’s not strapped down, those toes are simply marvelous toys that are always within reach and can’t accidentally be dropped on the floor (or deliberately thrown there). They’re always wiggling right at the end of his feet, waiting patiently to be played with and tickled – by himself or someone else. It’s just as much fun either way!

I am continually impressed at how good he is at amusing himself with whatever happens to be at hand (or at foot). He’ll happily play with his toes, or my fingers, or a rag, or a ray of sunshine dancing across the floor, or his shadow on the wall, or an old remote control. He’ll chew on his toes, my fingers, his shirtsleeve, his pantleg, my sweater, a stuffed animal, or a spoon. He’ll make a drum out of his toes, my fingers, a wooden spoon, a Tupperware bowl, a teething ring, or his own thigh. He’ll stare in fascination at his toes, my fingers, an unlit lamp, a thermostat, a clock, or a speck on the wallpaper.

Oh, those toes – they’re so multipurpose!

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Excitement, Exuberance, and Exultation

Ryan is very a happy little guy in general, but lately he sometimes gets so happy that he can’t help but let it all out in a delighted drawn-out shriek that I can only explain as an absolute overflow of excitement, exuberance, and exultation. For example, last night he was happily bouncing in his bouncy chair while Herb and I were having dinner, and every once in a while, he’d start giggling, then stand up on his very tiptoes, stretch his arms open wide, and let out a long joyous screech that dissolved back into a delighted squeal at the end. I can’t describe it in any other way than as audible joy.

How wonderful to be so happy that you can’t help but let it out verbally! Think back to the happiest moments of your life – don’t they all include some kind of vocal outburst? A “woo-hoo” or “yippee” or “hallelujah”? An “Amen” or “hot damn” or “yahoo”? There’s something about a vocal expression of excitement that somehow completes that moment. It gives you an emotional release.

I guess the flip side is true, as well. Misery and anger and frustration are often best expressed in some kind of noisy outburst, whether it be a rebel yell or a primal scream or a Charlie Brown-esque “AARRRGGGHHHH!!!” Releasing your emotions, whether positive or negative, is a wonderfully cathartic part of the human experience. And it obviously isn’t strictly verbal, because Ryan has no concept of “verbal” yet. He just knows he has something inside him that needs to be released in sound form – and he releases it, with great gusto.

When you stop and think about it, it’s amazing how good non-verbal babies are at expressing their emotions audibly in a very understandable way. There’s no mistaking that joyous screech for unhappiness, and there’s no mistaking an unhappy wail for joy. Ryan makes different noises for discomfort, for pain, for hunger, for frustration, and for tiredness. He makes different noises for curiosity, for interest, for excitement, and for happiness. It’s a shame that most adults aren’t as clear about their emotions. It’d make life much easier sometimes if we let our emotions be as apparent as babies’. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go make myself some lunch. Yippee!!!!!
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Friday, May 14, 2010

Self-Sufficiency Is a Beautiful Thing

Ever since he was born, I’ve said that Ryan is a very easy baby. He’s rarely whiny or fussy, and on the rare occasions when he is, he’s fairly easily comforted (or at least distracted). He’s delighted when someone plays with him, but he’s generally quite content to play by himself, especially if someone else is nearby to keep him company. But the older he gets, the more I realize how self-sufficient he is when it comes to keeping himself entertained.

Most mornings when he wakes up, he doesn’t immediately cry for one of us to come get him. He happily plays with the toys in his crib, or his toes, or rays of sun that fall on him. He’ll spend fifteen minutes just staring at the ceiling in fascination.

Sometimes when I put him down for a nap, he doesn't fall asleep right away but is content to roll around and snuggle with his blankets for a while before he drifts off. Even when I'm playing with him on the floor of his room, most of the time he doesn't need me to interact with him to be happy, as long as he can reach his toys and his rag. He's just very self-sufficient when it comes to keeping himself busy.

This comes in very handy when I'm making dinner, or trying to do housework, or working on some project. I can put him in his exersaucer and fold laundry in the next room and he's perfectly content to play with his toys, sing to himself, and look around the room. I can put him in his bouncy chair in the kitchen and unload the dishwasher, put away groceries, or make dinner without having to stop and entertain him. He's happy to just bounce away, occasionally stopping to gnaw on his rag or crunch his stuffed caterpillar or stare at his reflection.

Last night Herb and I were at a VFW hall we're using for a family function in a few weeks, and while we were checking dimensions and discussing the layout and the floor plan, Ryan was delighted to scoot across the hardwood floor (backwards, of course) and peer up at the underside of the table and chair. And of course, when Daddy plugged in one of the ficus trees that were wound with tiny white Christmas lights, Ryan was just in seventh heaven.

Having a self-sufficient child is such a blessing, and I need to remind myself of that every now and then. I'm afraid that sometimes I take it for granted, since he's just so easygoing. But the pleasant flip side is that on the rare occasion when he does need attention or a cuddle from Mum, it makes me feel extra-special.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Button, Button, Who's Got the Button?

Ryan’s latest fascination is anything that has buttons. He’s always been intrigued by Daddy’s phone, but now he reaches for the TV remote, the cordless telephone, my computer mouse…anything with buttons that can be pushed, he loves.

Considering the generation he was born into, this fascination is a good thing. By the time he’s an adult, probably 95% of the objects he interacts with day to day will be controlled by buttons. Already televisions, radios, phones, computers, DVRs, microwave ovens, dishwashers, cash registers, and bank machines are controlled by buttons. I suspect that before long that list will grow to include showers, sinks, washing machines, airplanes, and cars. Gone from memory will be things like rotary phones, television knobs, and radio dials.

But Ryan will be prepared, because he’s already practicing! He particularly loves buttons that make noise or light up. I have to keep the TV remote out of his reach or he’ll change the channel or mute the sound. Before long I’m sure I’ll have to keep my phone out of his reach as well or he’ll accidentally call Japan. The next time I go toy shopping I’ll have to look for some toy remotes or phones to keep him occupied so he doesn’t get into too much trouble with the real thing. Fortunately, I know they make such things. Already the play kitchens have microwaves and cordless phones instead of conventional ovens and corded phones. The grocery store playset comes with a scanner instead of an “old-fashioned” cash register. And the dashboard of the miniature car features a GPS and digital readouts instead of a map pocket and meters with needles.

My child is only 6 months old and already I’m obsolete! I guess the upside is that twenty years from now I can call him at college (if I can figure out how to use my holographic videophone) and ask him to program my VCR – er, DVR – er, whatever crazy gadget it’ll be by then. But I’m sure that whatever it is, it’ll have buttons. And Ryan will know just how to use it – after all, he’ll have been practicing with buttons for twenty years by then.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What's in a Name?

When I was pregnant with Ryan, Herb and I spent many months making lists of possible names. We debated the meanings, how each one sounded with our last name, any associations either of us had with that name, even what nicknames could be made from each one. We agreed on Ryan for a boy, but left ourselves the out that we’d make sure Ryan seemed to suit the baby before making it final. Fortunately, when Ryan was born, there was no doubt in either of our minds that he was, indeed, a Ryan.

And yet, we rarely call him by his name. I usually call him Pumpkin or Pumpkin Pie, or Little Man, or Sweetie Boy, or Buster Brown. His cousin Troy has dubbed him Ry-Guy. His father calls him Buddy or Buster or Bubba or occasionally You Big Load. My grandmother calls him Sweetheart.

I suppose it’s not surprising that we use pet names for him, especially considering that Herb and I rarely call each other by name. It’s always Sweetie or Hon or Sweetheart. My parents were the same way – I think the only time I ever heard my dad call my mom by her name was when he called for her and she didn’t hear him. Then it usually went something like this: “Hon. [pause, then a little louder] Honey? [another pause, then still louder] Mum! [brief pause, then at full volume] MAAAAAR-THAAAAAA!!!” Hee.

But I know the nickname phase will only last for so long. By the time he’s in school and able to write his own name, he’ll want it everywhere and on everything. Ryan’s room, Ryan’s books, Ryan’s pencilbox, soon giving way to Ryan’s laptop and Ryan’s cell phone. Then of course, Ryan’s car (with vanity plate “RYNSCR”), Ryan’s apartment, Ryan’s desk at work. That’s when the name we picked will become truly important – when it has a professional reputation associated with it. And that’s why we also considered how each name would look on a brass plaque on an office door, on the back of an athletic jersey, or in lights on a movie marquee. Because you never know what that name will come to mean, 30 or 40 years down the road.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Laughter, the Best Medicine

Ryan has reached the stage where it takes almost nothing to make him laugh. In fact, he often looks at some random object in the room (a lamp, a bookcase, the stove) and then spontaneously breaks into giggles. Sometimes he’ll giggle for a moment, stop and look at whatever it is for a few more seconds, and then break into gales of laughter again. If he’s looking at my feet and I wiggle my toes, he guffaws. If he’s looking at my face and I smile or say “Boo!” he laughs uproariously. If he’s lying on the floor and kicks his feet loudly against the floor, he snickers. If I toss a rag over his face, he pulls it off and chuckles. And if he’s on his back and I grab his feet and pull them over his head, he cracks up like there’s never been anything quite as funny in all of history. And any kind of motion sends him into giggle fits, whether it’s Daddy tossing him up in the air like a rag doll, Mommy rolling him back and forth in her arms, or swinging on a swing.

He’s pretty much always been a laugher. He learned to laugh early, and once he figured it out it was a trick he pulled out all the time. He loves being tickled and teased and poked. He loves hearing (and making) goofy noises. He laughs at his toys, his shadow, his reflection, and the ceiling. It really doesn’t take much to tickle his funny bone.

And his laughter makes everyone who hears it happy. Who can listen to a laughing baby without joining in on the laughter – particularly if what’s making the baby laugh is something as random as a chandelier or a spot on the carpet? As I’m writing this, he’s lying on the floor behind me, playing with a fluffy blanket and quietly chuckling to himself. His laughter – even his very happiness – is infectious. I can’t help but feel in a better mood listening to him laugh. His joy makes me forget all my woes. It makes me want to join in and find something amusing in all the boring, ordinary things in my world.

So whenever I’m in a bad mood, all I need to do to cheer myself up is wiggle my toes or stick out my tongue or blow a raspberry, and Ryan and I will both start laughing and forget all our worries. Because laughter really is the best medicine.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Why I Love Being a Mom

Yesterday was my first Mother’s Day as a mother, and it was just wonderful. It reminded me how much I love being a mom. There are so many fabulous things about parenthood (and motherhood especially) that I never really understood until I became a parent myself.

There’s nothing else in the world like seeing a baby turn to you and light up with a smile.

Not because you’re bringing him a toy or a bottle, not because he needs a diaper change, not because he’s bored and wants someone to play with, but just because you’re his mom and he loves you. Nothing in life compares to that feeling.

There’s nothing else in the world that feels as peaceful as having a small, warm body snuggling close to you.
Having another human being feel so completely safe and secure in your arms that he relaxes every fiber of his body, content in the knowledge that nothing bad will happen to him while he’s in mommy’s arms. It’s an awesome feeling in the most literal sense of the word.

There’s nothing like watching your baby learn new skills and new ideas.
Seeing a baby grow and learn each day as he studies the world and makes connections and develops an undertanding of things as basic as distance and gravity and hand-eye coordination gives you a new appreciation for the complexity of the human body and brain.

There’s nothing like standing in the dark listening to the calm, relaxed breathing of a peacefully sleeping baby.
(Especially if there was weeping and wailing and screaming prior to the peaceful sleep.) Looking at the quiet perfection of a human being who was created inside your own body is unlike any other experience in life.

And best of all, there’s nothing like imagining the person that this baby will grow up to be, and knowing that everything you do will have a hand in forming that person. It’s a weighty responsibility, but also an incredibly exciting one. After all, this is a child who could become a doctor or researcher who cures a disease, a writer or poet whose words bring comfort, a dancer or actor who entertains people, the CEO of a company whose product or actions affect millions around the world, even the president of the United States. And most importantly, he might someday become a father, raising children of his own – and modeling his parenting after yours. Now there’s a weighty responsibility.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

The Joys of Toys

As Ryan gains more control of his hands and is more able to manipulate the things around him, the more interested he is in his toys. He has a fantastic collection of toys, and he loves exploring and examining each of them.

One of his favorite toys ever since he was tiny has been a stuffed duck. At first, he loved the duck because its beak and feet and tail were all very chewable. But as time went by, he enjoyed chewing on its textured plastic teething rings, and now he gets a thrill from crinkling the various flaps, carefully turning it around to look at the different colors and patterns all over it, and shaking it around to make it rattle. He has a similar stuffed bug and a “Very Hungry Caterpillar” whose interest has also grown over time as he’s discovered their various squeakers, textures, and graspable bits.

Sounds and textures are both features of his latest favorite toys. My sister gave him a set of soft fabric blocks that he loves playing with. They have soft jingle bells in them so they make noise when he shakes them, or throws them on the floor, or hits something (usually Mummy) with them. And each side is a different color and a different texture (some are corduroy, some are satin, some are velveteen), so he is fascinated by turning them in his hands and examining each side (with both his hands and his eyes). Also, many of them have crinkly fabric inside so when he grabs them by the corners they make a nice crunching sound.

And then he has a whole collection of stacking blocks. They have either a square or a round outside with a retracting tube inside with a face on it, so when you stack one on a base the face pops up. Several of the bases are shaped like fish and have a soft rattle when you shake them, but Ryan’s favorite is “Squeaky Snail”. Squeaky Snail is in the shape of a snail (bet you didn’t see that coming) and he squeaks (or that either) when you stack another block on top of him. Ryan loves it when I make Squeaky hop up his tummy and onto the top of his head, squeaking at every hop. Sometimes I make Squeaky sneak up behind him and squeak in his ear. Ryan is getting better and better at grabbing the blocks (the open tube makes them easier to grab than other blocks) and he loves when he grabs Squeaky and is rewarded with a loud squeak. Plus, Squeaky has the advantage of having a plastic head that is apparently the perfect shape and size to act as both a handle and a chew toy. So what's not to love?

Some of the toys that Ryan’s just discovering aren’t especially intended to make noise, but he still loves whatever noises he manages to make with them. For example, he has a frame with long, multicolored intersecting wires with different colored and shaped beads on them. He has fun moving the beads around, but what he seems to enjoy most of all is the clacking of the beads when they all settle into place, or when I slide them to the end and they clack into a pile all at once.

Even his feet are a fun noisy toy! Just yesterday he was lying on his tummy looking at his toys and I started drumming on his back. When I stopped, he immediately pounded out a tattoo of his own with his feet drumming on the floor. When he paused for a moment, I drummed on his back again, and when I stopped, he kicked the floor again, obviously loving the sound he was making.

I love watching him discover new toys, and new and different ways to play with his familiar toys. I can’t to see what he comes up with to amuse himself with next!!

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Morning People

I’m not much of a morning person. I never have been. Well, possibly when I was six and there were cartoons on Saturday morning at 5am, but I’d consider that the exception that proves the rule. The reality is that I take some time to move from fully asleep to fully awake and vice versa. And when I do get up, there are several minutes of grogginess to wade through before I’m either coherent or happy.

Ryan, however, is definitely a morning person. He may wake up from naps a bit cranky or disoriented, but he very rarely wakes up in the morning without a smile on his face. Herb and I are getting very used to listening to his happy morning babbling for half an hour or so before he starts making “I’m bored, come get me” noises. If I tiptoe in to peek at him then, he’s happily looking around his crib, playing with his toys and stuffed animals, or simply enjoying listening to his own cooing and laughing. Even after he gets tired of that and fusses for someone to come get him, he greets us with a big grin. He’s just plain cheerful in the morning.

He’s always been pretty laid-back and un-fussy, but at this stage it’s really becoming personality as much as temperament. I hope that he keeps his sunny outlook as he gets older, particular his happy morning attitude. A cheerful, positive outlook on life makes life’s difficulties much easier to take. A natural attitude of looking for the silver lining will get him far in life, and keep him from being easily discouraged. Besides, it makes it much easier for me to be cheerful in the morning when I wake up to that adorable grin!

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