Friday, July 30, 2010

A Day in the Life

When his daughter was not quite a year old, Herb made a video he called “A Day in the Life of Rosemary”. He started with footage of her waking up in the morning and caught ordinary moments throughout the day (eating breakfast, playing with her toys, climbing the stairs, etc.), and ended with tucking her back into her crib that night. Nothing unusual or spectacular, just ordinary happenings on an ordinary day. But it’s a tape he’s watched over and over during the past 17 years.
So today, we’re making “A Day in the Life of Ryan”, trying to capture all the wonderful little moments that we see every day. But naturally, he’s not quite having his usual day today. For example, nearly every morning he wakes up at 6:30 or 7 and sings and plays in his crib for half an hour or so before going back to sleep for another hour or two. So Herb had the video camera ready outside the nursery so he could sneak down the hall at Ryan’s first peep and capture those moments before he went back to sleep again. And at about 6:30, we heard a little peep and Herb immediately slipped down the hall to grab some footage. But the little stinker didn’t sing or play or even wake up! He just went right back to sleep! So we stayed in bed for a couple more hours and then when Ryan STILL didn’t wake up we got ourselves dressed and ready for when he finally did. At 9:15, he finally started to stir a bit, so Herb got some footage of him waking up and playing (a little), but none of his usual singing. Oh, well.
He did cooperate nicely at breakfast, doing his usual staring out the window or across the room while he absent-mindedly opened his mouth so I could stick in the spoon. He was quite distracted by the camera, though, so a lot of his staring across the room was really staring at the camera, but at least that was similar to his typical behavior.
He also cooperated by playing very happily with his toys in his playpen. He pulled himself up and made one of his toys play music by spinning its wheels and whacking the little animals so they would light up and roll balls around. He spent quite a bit of time rolling balls down the ramp of another toy, even chasing after the balls when they rolled into the corners of the playpen and behind other toys. He did a bit of cruising around the playpen wall and grinned rather charmingly (and proudly) at the camera when he finished.
He was somewhat less cooperative when he started climbing the stairs and I called Herb to get some footage. As soon as the camera (and Daddy) appeared, he was much more interested in that than in showing off his stair-climbing prowess. Eventually he was willing to at least stand up and hang off the banister, but it was obvious that stair-climbing was no longer at the top of his interest list. And of course, after hanging on the banister he managed to fall over and clock himself on a side table next to the stairs, so we managed to catch the “drama of the day” on film, as well.
Once he settled down from that little injury (although I suspect the insult to his pride was the larger problem), he was willing to have a bottle and snuggle with Mum for a bit. He was still pretty sniffly so I took him out to sit by the pool and get some fresh air, which always seems to calm him down. I think we may have caught some sweet (if not typical) footage of Mummy singing lullabies to the koala boy. Unfortunately, instead of falling asleep, he got his second wind and then wanted to march around the house again.
After a bit of marching, a bit of crawling, and a bit of ball rolling, he seemed sleepy again, so Daddy took him upstairs for a nap, which is where he is right now. Only he’s not napping, he’s standing against the bars of the crib, chewing the top rail and bouncing up and down. He’s not yelling, though, so I’m not complaining.
So the video we make may not be a typical “day in the life” after all. But then, how often do we really have something that could be called a typical day? Maybe the fact that it’s not a typical day makes it a typical day after all. Just one more of life’s delicious little ironies.

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fractals and Vectors

My sister and I have always been fascinated by physics. And between my college physics courses and her reading books by people like Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking, we can usually come up with a reasonably scientific explanation for most physical phenomena. But every once in a while we come across something that defies explanation (to us, anyway). And when that happens, we always have the same response: “It’s fractals and vectors!” Anything we describe as “fractals and vectors” is beyond our comprehension.

Ryan has been studying physics in his own baby way of late. He’s discovered that balls rolls down a ramp but blocks don’t. He’s discovered that balls and things with wheels can be rolled back and forth between people. And just this morning he discovered that if he throws one of his stacking rings at the floor hard enough, it bounces. He spent twenty minutes throwing rings at the floor and curiously watching them bounce. Sometimes they would bounce directly back at him. Sometimes they would bounce away from him. Sometimes they would land on their sides and roll a few inches or even a few feet. And each time, he would pick the ring up, study it intently for a moment, wave it in the air a few times, and then bounce it off the floor once again. His curiosity was mixed with puzzlement. I could imagine him wondering, “Why does it sometimes come back and sometimes roll away?” And they I could imagine him deciding, “Oh! It must be because of fractals and vectors!”

At this stage in his life, everything must seem like fractals and vectors to him. He can’t possibly understand yet that round things roll and square things don’t. He hasn’t made the connection that sometimes he slips on the floor because he’s wearing socks and sometimes he sticks because his feet are bare. He hasn’t figured out that gravity is what makes him fall on his bottom when he lets go of the furniture, or what makes his toys fall on the floor when he lets go of them. He doesn’t have any idea why grabbing onto a book that’s sitting on the couch doesn’t stop him from falling over but grabbing onto the couch itself does. So many things that are easily explainable by an adult are a complete mystery to him.

And yet, I can tell that he’s slowly putting the pieces of the puzzle together. He’s no longer surprised that blocks don’t roll down the slide, or that the ball bounces off the wall when he pushes it, or that when he drops his toys they fall to the floor. He doesn’t understand why quite yet, but he does understand that things behave in repetitive, predictable ways. And that’s the beginning of understanding why they do what they do. For now, it’s enough. It’s fractals and vectors!

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Puppetmaster

Now that Ryan is “cruising”, he wants to spend as much time as possible marching about with my (or Daddy’s) help. Which means that I spend several hours a day steering him around the basement. Now, we’ve been working on childproofing the basement as much as possible, but there are still some things he can find to get himself into trouble with: the serving dishes on the shelving unit, the drawers in my sewing table, the shelves of books and DVDs, and the pool chemicals in the corner. But the advantage to his needing to hang onto someone while he explores is that I have the power to steer him away from anything he shouldn’t be getting into. I am the Puppetmaster!

It’s kind of a funny feeling to be able to steer him around. He hasn’t completely mastered the art of “one foot in front of the other” so when I steer him in a particular direction, his feet often tangle up and face a completely different direction from the rest of his body. But he doesn’t really resist, and a little nudge in the direction I want him to go in is usually enough to get him heading that way. I’m not sure if he gives up or if he really doesn’t care where he’s going as long as he’s marching along. But it must feel funny to him to be moving along with no control over where he’s going!

I suspect this is a good analogy for a lot of his moving along in life – Daddy and I will do our best to steer him in a particular direction, and early on I’m sure that he will go along without much struggle or fuss. But I’m also sure that the older he gets the more he will want to control his own direction. Hopefully he’ll at least consider Mom and Dad’s nudges, and hopefully our early direction will still be in the back of his head, guiding him. Even if he isn’t willing to admit that our guidance had any influence on his decisions, I know it will. And even when he goes against that guidance (and he will), maybe he’ll remember it when the direction he chooses for himself turns out to be less than wise.

Mom and Dad can’t play the Puppetmaster forever, nor should we. Pinocchio eventually needs to lose his strings and become a little boy instead of a marionette. But if we play our cards right, our voices will always be a little Jiminy Cricket in his ear.

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Toys: Boys Vs. Girls

Boys play with trucks. Girls play with dolls. For many years, this was just how it was. Then came the 1970s, and all bets were off. Boys were encouraged to play house and dress-up. Girls were encouraged to play cops and robbers and trucks. But in my personal experience, girls and boys just play differently naturally. And there’s nothing wrong with that! There’s a reason that gender roles have evolved, and it’s because boys and girls are fundamentally different.

If I’d ever doubted that, I’d have had to change my tune after watching Ryan this morning. He discovered the Barbie stuff that’s been stashed away in the corner of the den since his sister was a little girl. A few months ago a friend of mine was visiting with her three daughters, and they discovered the same stuff. In an instant, Barbie’s house was set up for a party: food on the dining table, chairs set up in the living room, Barbie herself with primped hair, high heels, and a party dress. Her Jeep was parked sedately out of the way behind the house. When Ryan got at Barbie, however, she was completely ignored, her house was a mere backdrop, and the true star of the show was the Jeep. He pushed it back and forth, flipped it over to spin the wheels, and fiddled with the seatbelt straps. He eventually noticed Barbie again, but instead of fussing with her hair he used it as a handle to smack her against the Jeep, and instead of putting high heels on her dainty feet, he tried to chew on them.

Granted, some of this behavior is simply because he is younger than the girls. But I’m convinced that the majority of it is because he’s a boy. He likes using his strength to explore, by hitting and chewing and stepping on things. He has the manual dexterity to handle small objects but he’s much more interested in using that dexterity to figure out how things work, or to make noise with them. Simply put, he plays like a boy.

And Herb and I naturally play with him like a boy. We roughhouse with him, tossing him in the air, playfully (but gently) knocking him over, wrestling with him until he dissolves into helpless giggles. I’m sure if he were a girl we (or I, anyway) would be much more sedate in how we play. We’d still toss “her” in the air, but we’d be more gentle about it. Instead of making his stuffed animals growl and tickle him, I’d teach “her” to gently pat them. No doubt we’d spend less time taking things out of “her” hands so she wouldn’t hurt herself.

And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to treat girls and boys differently. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to treat two boys differently if they have different personalities and different likes and dislikes, so why would you treat a boy and a girl the same if they have different personalities and different likes and dislikes? I’m sure there are plenty of parents out there who disagree with me, and who will give their daughters trucks and their sons dolls. And that’s fine. But I won’t do that, because I know what my son does with dolls. He uses them to whack trucks.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

In Loco Parentis

In the summer, our church combines services with another nearby church, alternating locations each week. So yesterday we went to St. John’s and when we arrived we asked the usher if they had a staffed nursery. She brought us down a hallway to a nursery filled with toys and staffed by three grandmotherly ladies who were sitting at a low table enjoying muffins, munchkins, and iced coffee. They jumped up as soon as we walked in and were absolutely delighted by Ryan’s arrival. They immediately asked how old he was, if we had a bottle or a sippy cup for him, if he preferred to be held while he had his bottle, could he crawl or walk, was he comfortable with strangers, even if he could have a bit of munchkin as a snack. He, of course, was just as delighted to be cooed over by these lovely ladies, and was already busy with a toy so he hardly even noticed when we left.

Shortly before the service started, one of the ladies sat in the pew behind us and told us (sounding a bit disappointed) that Ryan was the only baby in the nursery so the other two ladies were watching him and she would be at the service. After the service, we went to pick him up, and he was happily sitting in the lap of one of the ladies, rocking in a rocking chair. He gave us a brilliant smile when he saw us, but was in no hurry to be hugged or picked up. He was obviously very contented where he was. The ladies assured us that he had been very well behaved and had kept very busy playing with the various toys, having his bottle, and keeping them entertained.

I am so thankful for people like this who are not only competent but delighted to watch over a stranger’s child. Of course, I love that Ryan’s grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins are always happy to take care of him, and even the occasional babysitter and the young woman who mans the nursery at our church. But they know our family and they know Ryan. For a complete stranger to be willing to give an hour (or more) of their time to keep a child safe and happy is truly a gift. And particularly someone who can immediately put parents at ease that their little one is in good hands. So to all the good folks out there who have ever manned a church nursery, and anyone else who has ever served in loco parentis, this parentis says “Thanks!”

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Friday, July 23, 2010

The Parental Perspective

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been re-reading the Harry Potter books. For those of you who’ve lived under a rock for the past decade or so, this is a series of seven books that follow a young wizard from age 11 to age 18 as he fights dark wizardry. The main characters are his fellow students, but of course there are plenty of adult characters: the professors and staff at his school, his friends’ parents, his parents’ friends, and even the adult dark wizards. I began reading the series of books about ten years ago, when I was single and childless, and although I was much older than Harry and his friends, as I read about their exploits, I imagined myself in their shoes, recalling when I was that age and wondering how I would have behaved in a similar situation. But reading the books again now, I see the entire series with fresh eyes: the eyes of a mother.

The most traditionally motherly character in the book is Harry’s best friend Ron’s mum, Mrs. Weasley. Mrs. Weasley is a short, plump, sweetly fussy mum, the kind who spits in a handkerchief to wipe dust off her son’s nose, feeds anyone who’ll let her, is kind and welcoming to all her children’s friends, and turns into a snarling, protective mother bear when any of her children are threatened. She serves as a bit of comic relief early in the series, fussing about in that sweet but annoying way that moms do, going ballistic over what the children perceive as minor infractions, and getting embarrassingly emotional over their accomplishments (or the lack thereof). The reader is invited to like her but also to laugh at her a bit. But now that I have a child of my own, I don’t laugh at her at all. I can picture myself in her shoes, fretting about sending my child off into the wild and dangerous unknown of the world.

The professors, as well, were simply “stage fill”, as theater people term all the non-specific bodies in crowd scenes who don’t have notable personalities but who serve merely to take up space. But again, as I re-read the books from a parental perspective, I can see their desires to shape and mold young minds, I can sympathize with their frustrations at student inattention and thickheadedness, and I can understand their pride in seeing their students mature from timid children into self-assured young adults. No longer are they in the background, merely taking up space, but instead they all serve as crucial role models and instructors for their students.

I’m that much more impressed with the depth and detail of the books, since they are so complete and true-to-life when read from both perspectives. But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that – after all, the author is a mother, too.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

What DO I Do All Day?

My cousin Jenn recently sent me an interesting article about stay-at-home moms. Someone had written a letter to the author that went something like this: “I don’t have children, but I have a good friend who does. Ever since she had children, she claims to have no time to spend with me, even though she doesn’t have an actual job. I find it hard to believe that she can’t even spare a few minutes to call me on the phone every couple of days. I just can’t comprehend what she could possibly do all day. I mean, sure she does laundry and makes dinner and cleans the house, but so do I, on top of having a 9-5 job. So what exactly do stay-at-home-moms DO all day?”

The article made me wonder if any of my friends wonder what the heck I do all day. So I thought I’d give you all a little run-down of my typical day.

6:30am – Wake to the sound of child laughing, cooing, and rattling the bars of his crib. Stay half-awake waiting for inevitable loud thud followed by wail of distress.

7:30am – Realize no thud/wail combination has been forthcoming; tiptoe into nursery to confirm that child is still breathing. Realize he has fallen back to sleep. Go back to bed.

8:30am – More laughing and cooing, followed by loud wail as child realizes he’s starving to death. Haul heavy, squirming child out of crib. Wrestle on changing table to change diaper and outfit.

8:50am – Strap child into high chair; provide with spoon, pot lid, or other obnoxious noise-making instrument. Prepare child's breakfast. Feed child.

9:30am – Complete feeding of child; hose off child, high chair, self, and entire kitchen. Move child to basement for playtime. Place in playpen and start up stairs to prepare own breakfast.

9:33am – Return to playpen, confirm that child is wailing due to frustration rather than injury. Distract child with toy, head back to kitchen for breakfast.

9:34am, 9:36am, 9:39am, 9:42am, 9:47am – Repeat previous step.

10:00am – Finish own breakfast. Clean up kitchen. Return downstairs to entertain child. Remove child from playpen. Follow child around downstairs, cleaning up messes left in wake (restacking plastic dishes, restacking pile of juiceboxes, returning books and CDs to shelves, etc.) and preventing various assorted tragedies (closing drawers, pulling child away from sharp table edges, fans, lamp cords, electrical plugs, etc.).

11:00am – Start to heat microwaveable heating pad for back, which will no longer straighten completely after an hour of helping child “walk”. Notice the time; heat bottle for hungry child instead.

11:15am – Feed child bottle on couch, repeatedly moving remote control, books, pillows, one’s own hair, and other objects from child’s reach.

11:30am – Wrestling match to change diaper again. Place yawning but protesting child in crib. Observe on monitor.

12:00pm – Screeching ceases; child is asleep. Shower, dress, brush teeth. Blog. Have lunch. Start laundry/move laundry to dryer/fold laundry/start dishwasher/unload dishwasher.

2:00pm – Screeching resumes. Rescue child from crib. Feed child lunch. Hose off child, high chair, self, kitchen.

3:00pm – Wrestling match to change child’s diaper and food-drenched outfit. Place child in car. Realize that diaper bag is missing crucial components (e.g., diapers). Repack and return to car. Realize child is hungry again. Make bottle. Return to car. Go grocery shopping. For each item placed in cart by mother, remove two items knocked into cart by child. Retrieve shopping list from child’s mouth. Stop so child can be admired by passing shoppers. Retrieve shopping list from child’s mouth. Get in checkout lane. Retrieve shopping list from child’s mouth. Retrieve credit card from child’s mouth. Retrieve keys from child’s mouth. Return several packs of gum pilfered by child to shelf. Stop so child can be admired by bagger. Retrieve shopping list from child’s mouth. Leave store.

4:30pm – Place child in kitchen. Remove groceries from car. Retrieve child from underneath kitchen table. Begin to unpack groceries. Retrieve child from underneath kitchen table. Finish unpacking groceries. Retrieve child from underneath kitchen table. Begin to prepare dinner. Begin to retrieve child from underneath kitchen table, think better of it, and continue preparing dinner.

5:30pm – Interrupt dinner preparation to feed child. Hose off child, high chair, self, kitchen.

6:00pm - Daddy arrives! Hand off child to Daddy. Collapse.

And that is what I do all day.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

All Around the Mulberry Bush

When I was little, I thought my cousins had the coolest house in the world because the first floor had a central staircase and you could walk all the way around it. Start in the kitchen, go down the hall into the living room, circle around past the coat closet into the dining room and then back into the kitchen again. Our house had a wall so although you could start at the front door, go into the living room then through the kitchen and down the hallway into my parents’ bedroom, then there was a wall that stopped you from making a complete circuit. I remember loving the circular floor plan, but I didn’t really remember why. Until Ryan discovered that our basement has the same floor plan.

Just this morning I was lamenting to my husband that we don’t have a good, big area where Ryan can just crawl to his heart’s content without running into an obstacle (like a wall). But when I brought him downstairs and let him crawl, he started making circles around the staircase. He’d start at the base of the stairs and crawl toward the laundry room (stopping along the way to hoist himself up on the Coleman cooler, which he then licked repeatedly), then finding the laundry room door closed he’d head down the hall towards the study, stopping to check out the dead computer case and the magnets on the soda fridge before rounding the corner (peeking in the bathroom on the way by), banging on the big radio as he headed for the den and pulling himself up again to creep between the sofa and the playpen, then carefully working his way across the sofa before plopping down at the base of the stairs and starting his rounds all over again. It’s great, because he never has to stop unless he wants to. He doesn’t come to any frustrating obstacles that force him to turn around and explore where he’s already been. And by the time he gets back to his starting place, it becomes new and interesting again! So he can explore for hours without getting bored.

I guess it’s one step up from a hamster wheel – the hamster keeps running and running and never has to stop, and is dumb enough to either not notice or not care that the scenery never changes. Ryan can make a full circuit of the floor before coming back to something he’s already seen, and that’s just long enough for him to either not notice or not care that he’s been there before.

So I’m glad that Ryan is smarter than a hamster. But I’m even gladder that in some ways, he’s not a LOT smarter than a hamster. He’s a lot cuter than a hamster, though – and hamsters are awfully cute.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Let Me Entertain Me

I love how self-sufficient Ryan is when it comes to entertaining himself. Being curious is a big help, because he can find something interesting about just about any random object or place. For example, today he and I went to Daddy’s office for lunch. Ryan shared some of Daddy’s watermelon, finished off a bottle, and then was a bit cranky since he was ready for a nap, so we gave him a plastic spoon to play with. He was fascinated by it. He held it in both hands and tugged at it for a few moments, then waved it above his head and examined it very intently, then put it in one hand and whacked various things with it. It kept him amused long enough for us to get out to the car and tuck him into his car seat, at which time he fell soundly asleep.

But he’s pretty good at entertaining himself anywhere. Last week we were at my sister-in-law’s pool, and he kept himself busy for a very long time just lying on the pool deck, examining the acorns and bits of leaves that drifted down. On our pool deck, he checks out the pebbles or stares at the tiki torches or watches the ripples in the water as they catch the light. When we go shopping, he often leans back and gazes up at the ceiling, engrossed in the overhead lights. Sitting in his car seat, he entertains himself by watching his own wiggling toes, or gnawing on whatever rag or toy is handy, or by merely sucking on his fingers and gazing out the window at the passing scenery.

I’d love to know what he’s thinking all these times. When he’s studying that plastic spoon, is he wondering what it’s for? What it tastes like? If it bends or stretches? Is he trying to figure out why it makes different noises when he hits it against different objects, or does he just enjoy the noise? Is he merely curious because he’s never seen a spoon quite like it before?

Whatever it is that entertains him about such things, I’m glad of it. Because wherever we end up, I can find something to keep him busy with, even if it’s just his own toes.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

My White Knight

Let me preface this blog with a warning: Schmoop Alert! Schlock Alert! Soppiness Alert! Treacle Alert! Gross, Slobbery Romanticism Alert! Okay, you’ve been warned. Read on at your own personal risk of drowning in gooey sentiment.

Yesterday, I went to see a production of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” put on by the Reagle Music Theater in Waltham, MA. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a dozen productions at this theater and I’ve performed in a number of them myself. But Music Man has a special place in my heart because it’s the first show I ever saw here. And when I saw it, I had no idea that within a few short years I’d be married to the show’s photographer, I’d be the aunt of the adorable pair of child dancers, and I’d be friends with both leads and the majority of the cast. So of course, I listened to every line and every lyric with a certain sentimentality.

But the song that really touched my heart was Marian’s song, “My White Knight”. Her mother is accusing her of setting her sights too high for any man to attain, and she sings this lovely number explaining to her mother what exactly she’s looking for:

Being in love used to be my fav'rite dream. Oh, yes.
I've been in love more than anybody else has, I guess.
My first love heroic'ly ran the streetcar. I tingled at ev'ry clang clang.
Next I fell for the principal
But, oh that teacher who sang "In the Gloamin'."
Knee-deep in love--what a lovely dream! And yet, somehow,
Me deep in love's only half of what I'm longing for now.
I still love my being in love with someone,
But tell me, why couldn't there be somebody being in love with me?
All I want is a plain man. All I want is a modest man.
A quiet man, a gentle man, a straightforward and honest man
To sit with me in a cottage somewhere in the state of Iowa...
And I would like him to be more interested in me than he's in himself
And more interested in us than in me...
And if occasionally he'd ponder
What makes Shakespeare and Beethoven great,
Him I could love 'til I die. Him I could love 'til I die!

As I listened to those lyrics, it struck me that not only were those words an excellent description of what I had always wanted in a husband, but that they were a description of exactly what I'd gotten. My white knight IS plain, modest, gentle, straightforward, and honest. He IS happy to sit with me, if not exactly in a cottage in Iowa, certainly in a Colonial in Massachusetts. There’s no doubt that he is more concerned with me than with himself, and I know he is more concerned with us than with me. We’ve been known to have conversations now and then about Shakespeare and Beethoven (and Mozart and Rodgers and Hammerstein and Sondheim) and what makes them great.

But the best part of the parallel is the last line – not only COULD I love him ‘til I die, I WILL love him ‘til I die. Yes, I will indeed!!

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Friday, July 16, 2010

I, Robot

This morning Herb was surfing YouTube and came across an amazing video of a prototype robot which moves in a very humanlike way and can even get up off the floor if it’s knocked over. We watched a series of videos of highly-advanced robots that can climb stairs, pick up objects, and walk around obstacles. And we were both astounded at the incredibly complicated technology it must entail.

And then I stopped to think about Ryan. While these brilliant engineers were welding together silicon and steel, designing and programming tiny computer chips, balancing and testing and tweaking their robots, he was learning exactly those same skills. In just a few short months, he has learned to pick up objects, to pull himself into a standing position, even to more around an object that’s in his way (well, sort of). And judging from his curious looks up the stairwell, he’s well on his way to mastering stair climbing. And yet, we don’t put that into the same category of astounding as we do the development of a robot that can do the same things.

When you think about all the skills that a human being develops in the first year of his life, it really is astounding. He learns to control his limbs, to propel himself around (by various means), to communicate through both speaking and listening. He learns to recognize people. He learns to feed himself. He learns to express his desires. He learns to control his emotions. He learns to understand the tone of voice and facial expressions of others. How many dozens of years has it taken for man to invent a robot who can do half of those things, half as well?

The human body – and even more, the human mind – is an amazing and astounding thing. We take it for granted all too often. But from now on, every time Ryan learns a new skill, I’ll be looking at it from a new perspective. And being amazed, yet again!

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Fast Forward

Every since I was first pregnant with Ryan, Herb and I often discussed the issues we might have to deal with over the years. And we wondered how things will have changed over the next 15 or 20 years, changes that we can’t even imagine now. When Herb’s daughter was born, there was no such thing as “text messaging” – yet that was a sticking point when she was a teenager. No high school student is without a laptop today, but they didn’t even exist when she was born. Facial and body piercings and tattoos were hardly imaginable on young people – and yet today they’re so common we hardly notice many of them.

Many of the television shows and movies that are popular would have been scandalous a dozen years ago. So what kinds of things will we be butting heads with Ryan over in the coming years?

Even clothing and hair styles will have changed radically. When I was born, my mother could never have imagined that 15 years later I would ask her what she thought of my dying a magenta streak in my hair (she somehow recalls this conversation as my wanting to dye all my hair magenta – but I swear I just wanted one little streak). She had no idea that my high school classmates would be sporting mohawks, long braided tails, and upright bangs laden with an entire bottle of Aquanet.

She’d have been stunned to think that jeans would be acceptable in school (I got to wear them maybe once a month, and NEVER on a day when I was working after school), and she would have just shaken her head had she imagined I’d wear my V-neck sweater backwards and no socks inside my boat shoes. Or that I’d own a pair of hot-pink nylon parachute pants. (Seriously. I’m so ashamed.)

And then there’s music. Oy, the music. My grandparents listened to Benny Goodman and hated my parents’ love of Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, and the Everly Brothers. My parents hated my love of Duran Duran and Billy Idol and Depeche Mode. My husband hates his daughter’s love of that modern rappy stuff she listens to. And I have no doubt that the music that Ryan is into during his high school years will make our skin crawl.

Oh well, no use worrying about it before we get there. But maybe I’ll give myself some advice from my own teen years, just to be on the safe side.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One Small Step for Baby, One Giant Leap for Babyproofing

I never realized until I had a baby of my own what exactly is entailed in babyproofing. There are actually two components to it. The first, and the one that most people think of when they hear the expression, is all those gadgets: outlet protectors, cabinet locks, baby gates, childproof doorknobs, etc. It’s all the physical stuff you have to install to keep the baby from getting into dangerous places. But the second, and the aspect that changes most over time, is behavioral changes. Not the baby’s behavior; the parents’.

When Ryan was a small infant and hadn’t even learned to roll over yet, I could safely put him down on the floor of the nursery to go answer the phone, or get a fresh pack of diapers, or get an outfit from the dresser, with no doubt that he would be exactly where I left him when I got back. The only danger there was the possibility of him being attacked by a dust rhino. Once he learned to roll over, I could still leave him for a moment to get the phone, I just needed to throw a blanket over the lamp cord and put my coffee cup on the side table instead of the floor before I left. He might try to eat a dust rhino, but that was the only worry. When he learned to crawl, I had to block the front of the crib so he couldn’t crawl underneath it (in pursuit of a dust rhino, of course) and get stuck, throw a blanket over the glider ottoman so he couldn’t get his fingers stuck in the mechanism, and unplug and move the hairdryer out of his reach. And now that he’s pulling himself up on things, if the phone rings, I have no choice but to grab him and bring him with me to get it, because by the time I got back he’d have pulled over the lamp, knocked the radio off the side table, and gotten his fingers stuck in the spring of the crib.

So even though our level of physical babyproofing hasn’t changed, my behavior certainly has. Gone are the days when I could sit on the couch with a cup of coffee and a sewing project, flipping through the TV channels. Back when Ryan was only crawling, I could leave a drink in the cupholder of the easy chair, I could toss the remote on the couch, and I could leave a pair of scissors on a side table without any fear of Ryan getting at them. But his perspective and therefore his level of interest changed from three inches off the ground to three FEET off the ground when he learned to pull himself up and stand up. So anything on the couch is fair game.

It adds a certain level of complication to anything I do with him in the room. This morning he was happily playing with a toy on the floor, so I decided to sit on the couch where I could keep an eye on him and stick labels onto some CDs I’d burned. Well, no sooner had I settled in with my pile of labels, my pile of CDs, my pile of envelopes, and my “CD Stomper”, but Mr. Curious had to come over and see what I was doing. And naturally, all my “toys” were much more interesting than his toys. I managed to maneuver myself so my legs were against the side of his playpen, blocking his access to the side of the couch with all my stuff on it, but he was determined and practically clawed his way up into my lap in order to get at it. I finally had to give up, put my things away, and wait until his naptime to finish my project.

So the term “babyproofing” is much more of an ongoing process than the one-time event I had imagined it to be. I’m also wondering if anyone has invented a cupholder that you can stick to a wall about 5 feet up off the floor. Yeah, five feet ought to buy me another couple of months…

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Who Am I, Anyway?

There’s a poignant line from a song in the musical “A Chorus Line” in which the characters ask themselves, “Who am I, anyway? Am I my resume?” I think that line has been echoed by countless people through the ages, as they try to define themselves. Am I my job? Does what I do (or what I’ve done) define who I am? Since my current occupation is “stay at home mom”, it’s definitely a question that I struggle with.

Before I was married, I defined myself by what I did as a profession and what I did as an avocation. I was a technical project coordinator and a musical theater performer. It’s what I did, it’s who I was, and it’s where I got my validation and satisfaction. I was a valued employee and a valued cast member, and that made me feel good about myself. And when I got married, I layered being Herb’s wife on top of that. I work hard at being a good wife and a good partner, and Herb appreciates that.

But when I got laid off, I lost one of those layers. I didn’t have a paycheck or a performance review to make me feel like I was accomplishing something. And then I got pregnant with Ryan, and there was definitely a feeling of accomplishment there! But when he was born and I got into the cycle of early motherhood where it seemed like all I ever got done was feeding the baby, changing the baby, and putting the baby (and occasionally, myself) to bed, I lost that feeling of accomplishment.

Being a mom is an amazing and wonderful thing. But it’s all too easy to feel like you’re not really DOING anything. Which is kind of silly, because you’re molding an entire human being! You’re helping him learn about the world around him, keeping him safe as he explores, encouraging him to develop new skills. But that work has a definite tendency to take over everything else. I spend less time alone with my husband, because we’re both spending time with Ryan. I spend less time doing things for my husband, because I’m wrapped up in taking care of Ryan. My musical theater career has fallen by the wayside, because I would need to find someone to watch Ryan while I’m at rehearsals and performances, plus I’d need to find time to learn my lines, songs, blocking, and choreography - not easy to do with a busy baby in my lap! Even my time with friends is curtailed because it’s just not the same when I’m hauling a baby around with me, not to mention that my “free” time is now during the day instead of evenings and late nights.

So sometimes I need a bit of a reality check to remind myself that what I do is worthwhile. What I do is admirable. What I do is HARD. What I do is part – but not all – of who I am. But I think it’s still one of the very best parts.

Hi, my name is Sandy and I’m a MOM!

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Monday, July 12, 2010

The Life of the Party

Every year some dear friends of ours host a fabulous Bastille Day party. That’s right, Bastille Day. Don’t you go to a Bastille Day party every year? OK, so you probably don’t. Very few people do. Apparently this party began a number of years ago when the host had a new co-worker who was French, and in an attempt to make him feel at home, they decided to throw a Bastille Day party. It was a big hit, so even though the co-worker left shortly thereafter, they decided to continue the tradition, and over the years it has grown into quite the event. There’s great music, tons of food, lots of fun people, and of course, a guillotine in the front yard. And Marie Antoinette herself is always in attendance.

(Before and after, of course)

This was Ryan’s first Bastille Day party (on the outside, anyway), and many of the guests hadn’t met him yet – although, as many people commented, they all felt like they’d known him forever because of all the photos we post on Facebook and in my blog. Fortunately, Ryan is still in his very social phase and was happy to be passed around from person to person, checking out this person’s jewelry or that person’s beverage or another person’s sunglasses or napkin or plastic dinosaur or Batman action figure.

He “helped” Daddy and Uncle Ed (aka “Dog Boy” and “Burger Boy”) man the grills.

He spent quite a bit of time playing with new buddy Ephraim (who is a year older, about an inch taller, and 5 pounds lighter), who was a good enough sport to share the above-mentioned dinosaur and Batman, and Ryan was happy to share his stacking rings and jingle ball.

He got serenaded by an impromptu bowl-and-spoon band, and later tried out his own mad drum skillz on a conveniently placed lawn chair.

Naturally, after such a long day of socializing and playing, he needed a snack and a nap. And yes, both took place in the middle of the loud, chaotic party. Proof positive that when he finally gives in to the power of the nap, he can do it absolutely anywhere.

Mom took advantage of the nap for a photo op or two of her own.

All in all, it was a wonderful day full of making new friends, catching up with old ones, and just generally enjoying ourselves. We’re already looking forward to next year’s party!

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Friday, July 9, 2010

My Son, Tarzan

I knew it would happen eventually. A couple of days ago, when I caught him pulling himself up on a chair, I knew it would happen soon. But I didn’t expect it would happen today. We had just gone grocery shopping and Ryan seemed to be running out of steam a bit, so as soon as we got home I popped him in his crib with the fan on him in the hope that he’d take a nap before our company arrived this afternoon. I unloaded the groceries from the car then headed upstairs to the nursery to see how he was doing. As I walked in the door, I saw him kneeling against the side of the crib, and as I watched, he pulled himself up to his full height (head and shoulders over the side rail, even with the mattress in its lowest position) and let out a long, loud, Tarzan-worthy yell. And then gave me the biggest, proudest grin I’d ever seen.

It’s true: my son has turned into Tarzan. Only a few days ago he was safely earthbound, and now he’s climbing up everything that’s not nailed down. He’ll pull himself up on the side of the playpen, the side of the crib, the edge of our bed, the couch, the ottoman, a kitchen chair, a deck chair, the leg of any unsuspecting bysitter. If he can grab onto it, he’s hauling himself up on it. And of course, the triumphant yell merely completes the Tarzan image.

I’m not sure if Edgar Rice Burroughs described Tarzan’s yell in particular detail in his books, but whether or not he did, I have to think that Ron Ely (or whoever may have played an earlier version of Lord Greystoke) based the famous sound of his movie yell on the proud yodel of a baby who had just mastered standing on his own. It’s a sound that is proud and triumphant, a call for attention – and also a call for help. Ryan’s yell is certainly a call for anyone in listening range to come and admire and praise his accomplishment – but with an undertone of calling for help. Getting up is still easier than getting down, and although he generally thuds down onto his well-padded backside without too much anxiety or pain, he seems to prefer some assistance in cushioning his fall.

I have no doubt, however, that the need for assistance will disappear as quickly as the ability to pull himself up appeared. In just a few days I will probably be wishing that he’d yell when he stands up, or even that he’d fall back on his backside – because in a few days, he’ll probably have also figured out how to get himself up and over all those fences and rails and pieces of furniture that he’s currently scaling.

Anyone have a few dozen extra sofa cushions I could borrow for a couple of months??

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Paradox of the Mobile Baby

As Ryan is getting the hang of crawling and as he learns to pull himself up on things and stand up on his own, I am looking forward with both delight and trepidation to his “mobile months”.

I am delighted that with his mobility comes a much greater ability to amuse himself. Now that he can get to toys that he wants and doesn’t get himself stuck sitting on his own feet, he can happily entertain himself for hours without needing me hovering over him to get him playthings or rescue him from himself. He’ll sit in front of his ball tower and contentedly roll ball after ball down the ramp, or sit in front of the TV cabinet tugging determinedly at the knobs (which Daddy has tied together so the doors won’t open) trying to get inside, or fwap at his big inflatable ball and giggle at the vibrations. He’ll spin the wheels of his truck for a while, then crawl over to his beads and chew on them for a bit, then scoot over to one of his beloved spitrags and lie on the floor chewing on that and kicking his feet up in the air. Or he’ll kneel in front of the playpen wall and laboriously pull himself up with both hands, then let go with one hand and swing back and forth like a gate until he falls on his backside – then he’ll start the process all over again.

But the trepidation part comes when I realize that despite the fact that he no longer needs me to keep him entertained all the time, he does need me to protect him from himself now! When he’s in the Pack & Play or the playpen, the worst he can do to himself is pinch his finger with a toy or fall over and kosh his noggin. But in the living room, or the nursery, or the yard, I can’t take my eyes off him for a second or he’ll be unplugging a lamp, strangling himself with an extension cord, knocking over a chair, or a hundred other unimaginable accidents. Even with the best babyproofing in the world, a big, strong, curious baby like Ryan will find trouble to get into anywhere. We can put outlet protectors on every socket and wind power cords onto little plastic reels, but Ryan is strong enough to knock over nearly any piece of furniture in the house and take those power cords with it. He’s fascinated by anything electronic with lights and buttons so the computer CPUs, the air conditioners, an unattended digital camera or phone or remote control, all such toys are subject to search and seizure by the little man. And any door or cabinet or secret cupboard must and WILL be opened and explored.

And such curiosity is to be encouraged – as long as it can be done safely. Which is why I will have to keep careful watch on him every waking moment. He may not need me as a playmate right now, but he certainly needs me as a security guard!

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Ryan has been on the verge of crawling “properly” for weeks now. He could roll, he could inchworm, he could commando crawl, he could go backwards on his hands and knees, he could even lurch forward one “real” crawl at a time. But no true, up on hands and knees, moving across the room at a steady rate, crawl. Herb joked several times that if we just put him in a room with a baby who could crawl, he’d figure it out in a heartbeat. After all, he had all the steps, he just hadn’t put them together in the right order yet.

Well, we had that opportunity to have him in a room with a crawling baby this past weekend at Cannon Mountain. We took the aerial tram to the peak, then had our picnic lunch in the little cafeteria there. And while we were finishing our lunch and waiting for the next tram back down the mountain, we met another family with a couple of little ones. The little girl, Lily, was 2-1/2 and weighed 5 pounds less than Ryan. The little boy, Russell, was 13 months old and about half Ryan’s size (height AND weight). Ryan was fascinated by both of them. He and Russell sat on the floor and stared at each other for a few moments, Ryan with his slack-jawed, furrowed brow expression, and Russell with a binky in his mouth and his big dark eyes wide, both taking in the situation. After a moment or two, they both reached out and pawed at each other a bit, then Russell apparently got bored, leaned over, and crawled right over Ryan’s foot to the other side of the room at about a million miles an hour. Ryan just stared after him, as if to say, “How does he DO that??” He watched both older kids zooming around the room from his seated position, flapping his arms and craning his neck with excitement and interest. We wondered just how much he was taking in.

Yesterday, we found out. It was so hot that we played in the pool for quite a while in the afternoon, and when we got out I left Ryan in his damp swimsuit, thinking he’d stay cooler that way. But I didn’t want to bring him inside still that damp, so I laid out a big towel on the pool deck, plopped myself in a chair between him and the pool, and plunked him on the towel with a few toys. He sat there, looking at the toys for a minute or two, then very determinedly and deliberately pulled himself up on his hands and knees, crawled the whole length of the towel towards me without stopping, and proceeded to grab on to the side of my chair, haul himself up into a kneeling position, and try to pull his knees up to get his feet underneath him! Astonished, I gave him a bit of a boost and he proudly grabbed the arm of the chair, swaying drunkenly but very much standing on his own two feet!

Naturally, I immediately made him do it again, just to be sure I wasn’t seeing things. And immediately after THAT, I set up the video monitor and e-mailed Herb to come check out Ryan’s new tricks! Of course once the camera was on he was much more interested in other things, but when Daddy came home he did crawl across the bedroom floor and pull himself up on the side of the bed.

This is a very exciting development! But of course, it comes with a price. This morning I dropped his crib mattress down to the lowest position – since he’s so tall, if he tries to pull himself up on the side of the crib with the mattress in its previous position, he’d go right over the side! Even with the mattress dropped all the way down, it won’t be long before he can climb out of the crib, I expect. And this lightning fast crawling means I can’t take my eyes off him for a second. No more leaving him on the nursery floor for 15 seconds to grab the phone in the other room, no more leaving him downstairs while I take a bathroom break, no more letting him explore the kitchen floor while I make dinner. I suspect that the Pack & Play and the free-standing playpen will start to get a lot more use all of a sudden!

Not to mention, I’ll be doing a lot more racing to reach something forbidden before he does, pulling him down off chairs and couches and bookcases, picking him up from under toys and cushions and other random objects that he’ll manage to pull down on himself. Good thing my biceps are already in pretty good shape – they’ll need to be!

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Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A-Camping We Did Go

For the last 5 days, Herb and Ryan and I went camping and hiking in New Hampshire. As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up camping, so the idea of sleeping in a tent and not having a shower for a few days was not especially daunting. But doing it with an 8-month-old baby changes the experience a bit!

First of all, you have to pack a lot more stuff. Last year when Herb and I did this trip, we managed in one car – stuffed to the gills, yes, but just one car. This year, we took two cars and they were both, well, not exactly stuffed to the gills, but let’s just say it’s a good thing we didn’t need to save room for another passenger. We needed a bigger tent for the three of us, plus we needed to bring the Pack & Play for Ryan to sleep (and hang out) in, his high chair so we could feed him (he’s very wiggly), the big frame pack so he could come hiking with us, plus the usual day-to-day needs: diapers, diaper rash cream, baby wipes, changing pad, formula and bottles, baby food (and spoons and bibs), crib sheets and blankets, baby first aid, toys, spit rags, and of course plenty of changes of clothes. And, being New England, those changes of clothes needed to include appropriate attire for temperatures anywhere from 40 to 100 degrees. (And we did, in fact, cover that whole range in those 5 days!)

Also, your entire schedule of activities needs to be somewhat different. To begin with, you need to figure out where to put the baby while you’re putting up the tent. Letting him play on a blanket on a clear spot on the site often leads to trouble:
Why stay on the blanket when there's so much dirt to explore (and eat)?

Hmmm, wonder what this leaf tastes like?

At least once the tent is up, you can put up the Pack & Play and have somewhere to put him for a nap.

It's a 7-man tent, which means it's just about the right size for two adults and a baby.

Although he is able to nap just about wherever he happens to be.

But don’t let that picture fool you. Ryan loved hiking in Daddy’s backpack! We took several family hikes, hiking from our campground up to the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tram (and then riding the tram up to the peak!) and back, and then hiking the Flume Gorge.

We passed several pairs of rock climbers headed for this rock face, but we never did see anyone actually climbing it.

One of the many huge glacially-deposited boulders along the Flume Gorge.

The lovely Flume Gorge is a lush, cool paradise.

In between those trips, the menfolk did a hike of their own up to the AMC hut at Lonesome Lake. I saw them off as far as the trailhead then walked back to camp and got some R&R while they did some outdoorsy male bonding.

Bye-bye boys, have fun stormin' da castle!

Looks like Ryan wants to dip his toes in the lake!

Checking out the AMC Hut.

But I think the most fun of the whole vacation was in the evenings, when Daddy would build a fire, then light the Dutch chimney to get the coals ready for the hibachi, then he’d make steak, or burgers, or whatever treat we were having that night. Ryan was fascinated by the thick curls of smoke billowing from the Dutch chimney.
Ryan and Mummy both got a kick out of the Dutch chimney.

He loved having his own dinner by the fire.

Yes, that is a glass of wine next to me. “Roughing it” can mean not washing your hair or shaving your legs for a week, but it doesn’t mean you have to live like a savage!

In the end, I think it’s fair to say that we were all very happy campers this week!

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