Monday, February 28, 2011

Technology Is a Mom's Best Friend

This may not seem directly related to motherhood, but last night I watched the Academy Awards. If I didn’t have a small child, I might have been watching at a friend’s house, or we might have invited some friends to watch at our house. But rather than pay a babysitter (and also because my husband doesn’t actually care about awards shows), I sat in the basement at my computer with the TV on and discussed the show with friends across the world.

Yes, literally across the world. I posted comments on Facebook, where I exchanged remarks with friends down the street, across the country, over the border to the north, and across the Atlantic Ocean. I posted comments on a message board I frequent that has members not only all over North America, but in England, Australia, Switzerland, and other countries all over the world. Due to the magic of technology, they were all able to watch the show at the same time as I was watching it. It was like being part of an Oscar party made up of some of the funniest people on earth. (I’m thinking of nominating a few of them as hosts for next year’s awards show.)

We began the festivities even before the actual awards show, of course, with a critique of the red carpet: the gowns, the interviews, the interviewers…which actresses were aging gracefully (Annette Bening and Helen Mirren), who should fire her hairdresser (Scarlett Johannsen), which celebrities have the cutest moms (Anne Hathaway and Russell Brand, of all people), whose beard looked like a defunct beaver (Christian Bale), which young celebrities dressed most age-appropriately (Hailee Steinfeld – cute as a button!!), who was most in danger of a wardrobe malfunction (Mila Kunis and Jennifer Hudson), how disappointed we were that Helena Bonham Carter looked vaguely normal (and wore matching shoes), and what on earth Cate Blanchett must have done to piss off her stylist so badly.

And then we got into the comments on the show itself. The first question, of course, was what kind of drugs James Franco was on that made him so unable to look at the correct camera. And the second was, did Anne Hathaway really just make her first costume (and hairstyle) change only ten minutes into the ceremony and also how much does that dress WEIGH??? Over the course of the evening, we found ourselves explaining to each other who Banksy was (the joke still wasn’t funny after we understood), sharing the information that Trevor Reznor was in the rock group Nine Inch Nails, expressing astonishment that Christian Bale totally blanked on HIS OWN WIFE’S NAME, agreeing that not many of us could ever bring ourselves to watch the movie “127 Days”, and cheering on Colin Firth for giving the most humble and charming acceptance speech of the evening.

By the time the show was over, I felt like I had spent the evening with good friends who enjoyed sharing opinions and making each other laugh. And in fact, I had, even though many of those friends I have never even met. Such is the amazing power of technology.

As a stay-at-home mom, that technology keeps me connected to the world in a way I never could have been twenty or thirty years ago. I have a cell phone, Facebook, e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, and message boards to put me in contact with other human beings. My mom had…the phone. And if the friend she was calling was out shopping or in the backyard, she was out of luck. There was no voicemail, no answering machines. She just waited and called back later. If I call a friend and she’s out shopping or in the backyard, she has her cell phone with her anyway. And if she doesn’t answer for some bizarre reason, I can leave her a voice mail or send her a quick text. I can always connect to someone, somehow.

There are certainly times when technology can be annoying, when people constantly yapping on their cell phones or teenagers clicking away texting in the middle of a restaurant drives me absolutely bonkers. But for the most part, I appreciate how it keeps me in the loop. After all, without technology, how would I be writing this for you right now?

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

There's a Sub in My Tub

My first apartment after college was a bit shabby, but it had one amazing feature: an antique claw-footed bathtub. I loved that tub. I spent many an hour soaking in it, filling the bathroom with scented bubbles and classical music. My next two apartments, amazingly enough, also had fabulous claw-footed tubs. A long soak in a hot tub with a good book and a glass of wine became my favorite stress release. A bathroom with a nice bathtub was my haven.

When I married, that didn’t change. My husband used the smaller master bath, and I got the guest bathroom with the bathtub. The shelves were soon lined with boxes of bath salts, bottles of bubble bath, and tins of fizzing scented bath tablets. But shortly after Ryan was born, that all changed. My floral-scented haven began to smell instead of Johnson’s baby wash and talcum powder. The bottles and tins lining the tub gave way to an array of rubber duckies, plastic penguins, and a smiling blue octopus. If I managed to sneak in a soak in the tub, I did it under the watchful eyes of Elmo, who now adorned the tub faucet. And before I got in the tub, I had to evict two boats, a helicopter, and a submarine, along with their attendant pilots.

I knew that having a child would turn my basement entertainment lounge into a playroom full of toys, but I didn’t expect to sacrifice my bathroom. It’s funny how taking on more adult responsibilities, like parenthood, often brings you back to your childhood, like tubby toys and baby shampoo. And I’ll admit, as much as I sometimes miss having my own personal bathtub haven, it can be kind of fun having Elmo to keep me company, or nudging a boat or two around with my toes while I’m soaking. They don’t seem to mind a few bubbles, and I no longer mind having a sub in my tub. Because when Ryan is old enough to stage naval battles in the tub, I’ll be ready!

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Monday, February 21, 2011

A Man's Reach Should Exceed His Grasp, or What's a Heaven For?

Ambition is a healthy thing. It’s good to strive for something that’s not quite attainable at the moment, to work your way towards a goal that’s slightly out of reach, to stretch beyond what you thought you could do. And I’m proud that Ryan has already set his sights above his current skill level.

Let me back up a bit and explain that Ryan’s favorite part of church on Sundays, although he does love playing in the nursery with the other little kids, is coffee hour after the service, when he gets to play basketball in the gym with the bigger kids. In fact, this morning as I brought him down from the nursery, I held his hand and started to walk him toward the snack table, but he pulled away and headed directly for the gym. There were no other kids there today, but he didn’t hesitate to head for the pews at the back of the room where the basketballs live. He pulled one out, toddled up underneath the nearest basket, looked up over his head straight at the basket…and blooped the ball directly in front of himself, about two and a half feet off the ground. But he had his sights set way up high!

Undaunted at his miss, he retrieved the ball, moved back under the basket, and tried again. He moved to another, slightly lower basket, and repeated the process several times. He tried grunting while he heaved the ball. He tried standing a bit further away, or a bit closer, or a bit off to the side. He tried an underhand toss and an overhand toss. But every single shot, he had his eyes firmly fixed on that basket, high overhead. Looking at his face, you could tell there was no doubt in his mind that he could get that ball through that hoop, just like Daddy and the bigger boys. So he just kept trying and trying without losing hope.

I hope that he continues to have such determination and persistence throughout his life. I hope he fixes his eyes on whatever prize he decides on and keeps working at it without losing hope when he doesn’t reach it at first. I hope he never doubts his own ability to reach any goal he sets for himself. And whenever that ball finally swishes through that basket, I’ll be right there cheering for him. Because I’ll never doubt his ability to reach those goals, either.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

If Only They Would Use Their Powers for Good

It never occurred to me before I had a child of my own that every skill a child develops, as wonderful and amazing as it is, can be used for ill as well as for good. A skill as simple and basic as learning to roll over can be hazardous on the changing table. Being able to walk means being able to crack one’s head open on the corner of a table. Being able to turn a doorknob means being able to get into all kinds of dangerous, forbidden places. Learning to talk means learning to talk back. And learning how to take off your own diaper means that your mother will have plenty of blackmail photographs for when you’re 13.

Yes, over the past few weeks Ryan has discovered how to take off his diaper, and has taken every opportunity to hone that skill. I often put him down for a nap with just a shirt and a diaper, and several days this week I went to get him up from his nap and found him wearing just a shirt. So it was not a great surprise today when I checked the baby monitor after he’d been in his crib for ten minutes or so, and I was treated to the sight of him sleeping soundly, in his usual posture of face buried in a blanket, clutching his rag, with his little bum sticking up in the air – covered in nothing but a thin sheen of Desitin.

Naturally, my immediate thought was to grab the camera. The image of my sleeping angel with his adorable naked bottom in the air is one I want to remember for years. But I hesitated, because what kind of mother keeps a photo like that around to embarrass her child in the years to come? My mother has a few photos of me that I’d rather had never seen the light of day. Do I really want my son to suffer the mortification that I do whenever I see those photos?

Who am I kidding? Of course I do.

But not until he's thirteen and really, really asking for it.
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

No-One Is Alone

Much to my husband’s chagrin, I am a great fan of Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim. One of my favorite Sondheim shows is “Into the Woods”, and one of my favorite songs from that show is “No-One Is Alone”. The song is sung by several characters who have lost loved ones – a father, a wife, parents, a beloved pet – and are feeling like no-one understands them. But they realize that no matter who you are or what you’re experiencing, someone else is the world is feeling the same way. In this vast universe, no-one is truly alone. And in the vast world of pregnant women, I am often reminded that I am not alone in either my woes or my excitement.

One of the benefits of technology is that even a stay-at-home mom like me can be in constant contact with the outside world. With Facebook, e-mail, and electronic message boards, I can always find a friend (or at least a compassionate stranger) who can sympathize with me, lend a listening ear, or offer some advice. If my morning sickness flares up, there’s always someone around to remind me that it won’t last forever, or to give me suggestions of how they dealt with it. And even more encouraging than that, there’s often a fellow sufferer to whom I can give some words of advice and experience, making me feel like at least my own suffering has helped to alleviate another’s.

There is a special connection between mothers-to-be, a certain kinship and camaraderie. We’re all in the same club, going through the same experiences, having the same doubts and the same fears. Even though every woman experiences pregnancy differently, there is a certain universality in carrying a child inside your body. It’s not something that can be completely understood by anyone except someone else who’s experienced it herself.

So whether I’m churning with eagerness to feel that first flutter of movement or churning with nausea from morning sickness that just won’t go away, I can always find someone who’s feeling the same churning. After all, in this universe, no-one is ever truly alone.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Mannerly Encounter

Last night my husband and I had dinner at a rather upscale restaurant. We had an early reservation so there were only a few other diners seated when we arrived. As we watched other parties being seated near us, we were both saddened at the number of young (and some not-to-young!) men who walked to their tables ahead of a female companion and plopped themselves in their seats without waiting for the lady to be seated first. But then a family arrived who gave us faith in the mannerliness of the next generation.

It was a mom and a dad accompanied by two boys, probably about 3rd and 5th grade. Both boys were wearing dark dress pants, immaculate, crisp, white dress shirts, neatly tied long, dark neckties, and dress shoes. As the host led them to their table, both boys politely stepped aside to let their mom go first, and then marched after her, the younger first, proudly carrying a large, cellophane-wrapped box of chocolates, and the older following, carefully carrying a large bouquet of red roses, with dad in the rear. I couldn't see their table, but I have no doubt that they waited to be seated until mom was seated. In a quiet room where young treble voices would have easily carried over the hum of low adult voices, I heard hardly a peep from either of the boys throughout dinner.

As we were leaving, I peeked over at their table and was not surprised to see both boys sitting with perfect posture, their napkins in their laps, and not a hint of chewing with their mouths open or talking with food in their mouths. I almost stopped to tell the parents how charming and well-behaved their boys were, but I didn't want to interrupt the Norman Rockwell moment.

It does give me hope that there will be at least a small contingent of the next generation with an understanding of good manners and proper etiquette. And it gives me hope that my own son’s immaculate manners (and they WILL be immaculate) will not be unique among his generation.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Pregnancy: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times

Pregnancy and I have a love-hate relationship: I love being pregnant, and being pregnant hates me. Seriously, being pregnant is something that I absolutely love in theory; in practice, however, my personal execution of it leaves something to be desired. I am one of those unfortunate women whose body simply does not deal well with carrying an extra passenger. As much as I anticipated and hoped and prayed every month that those two magic pink lines would once again appear on the pregnancy test, I knew this time that when they did I was in for a rough ride.

Morning sickness is definitely the worst of my woes when I’m pregnant. In fact, I once said to my husband that I was really lucky that I had very few unpleasant symptoms other than morning sickness. He, whose memory had not been clouded by the endorphins of giving birth, simply laughed. True, I never suffered from swollen ankles or headaches or sciatica or having to pee every fifteen minutes. But constant nausea for eight months was a pretty hefty price to pay to avoid those discomforts.

I’m fortunate that during this pregnancy I have the magic bullet of Zofran to offset the morning sickness somewhat. I say “offset” rather than “cure”, since it doesn’t completely alleviate the problem, as my time worshiping the porcelain god last night will attest. But at least it makes me functional enough to get out of bed in the morning, which was not the case for several weeks BZ (before Zofran).

Fatigue is also a pregnancy symptom that I think hits me harder than most. I’m sure the fact that I’m over 40 has a lot to do with that, plus the fact that I have a chronic disease which also causes fatigue and is triggered by stress. Pregnancy insomnia complicates the fatigue – although at least my insomnia seems to be limited to the first trimester. But again, I’m fortunate in that I don’t have an outside job to go to, and that Ryan is very content to keep himself entertained while I keep an eye on him from my perch on the couch. Not to mention that my wonderful husband steps in to do chores I just can’t manage, like grocery shopping and laundry and cooking. I’m not sure how I’d function if I had to get all those things done every day.

But the bottom line is that despite the physical frustrations and struggles of pregnancy, I just love waiting for each new milestone. I watch the mirror eagerly for the development of the baby bump; I lie awake at night wondering when I’ll feel those first tiny flutters; I mark off each week as it passes and look up what new developments the baby has reached this week. I see other babies at the grocery store and wonder if this baby will be a delicate, petite little girl or another big bruiser of a boy. I wonder if she’ll be a blonde or if he’ll be a brunette. I wonder if he’ll look like his daddy or if she’ll look like her mommy. Because I do truly love being pregnant, in theory AND in practice, and I think I’ll hate when it’s all over.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Is That a Loophole I See Before Me?

It seems to me that as soon as a child is old enough to understand the concept of rules, he also discovers the concept of loopholes. Who of us has never played the old trick of waving your arms within millimeters of a sibling’s face while announcing, “I’m not touching you!!!” Or responded to a mother’s command to “Stop punching your brother!” by kicking him instead? I have vivid recollections of my mother warning me as she tucked me in bed, at the age of 3 or so, that I was not to put my feet on the floor until she came to get me in the morning, and then as soon as she left the room, jumping around from bed to desk to toy shelf to lamp to rocking horse for an hour – all without touching my feet to the floor. And of course, when she came back to check out the source of the thuds, I protested innocently that my feet had never touched the floor, just as she said. We discover very young that as long as we obey the letter of the law, we can often disregard the spirit of the law with impunity.

I had assumed that the discovery of loopholes would not happen until the child reached a certain age and developed some degree of vocabulary. However, my son, at the ripe old age of 15 months and with a vocabulary that consists entirely of the words “up” and “bye-bye”, proved to me yesterday that he knows exactly what a loophole is, and he’s not afraid to use it.

His playroom in our basement is basically a large open room on one side of a staircase, with a hallway on the opposite side of the stairs off of which are doors to a closet, a bathroom, a study, and a laundry room. The laundry room door doesn’t latch properly, so although he has yet to master the art of turning a doorknob, he knows he can open that door simply by grabbing the knob and pushing. He also knows that he is not allowed in that room. But yesterday, the temptation to explore was just too strong, and as I sat on the couch on one side of the stairs, I heard the creak of the door swinging open on the other side, so I said sharply, “No!” and he immediately came running around to me with a grin, as if to say, “See? I didn’t go in!” We repeated this several times until I decided I needed to sit in the hallway and keep an eye on him. He walked up to the forbidden door, and with his eye fixed on mine, reached one hand up towards the doorknob. I immediately scolded, “No! No touching!” and he pulled back his hand and shook his head solemnly, “no no no no no”. He thought for a few seconds, then he very deliberately put his hands behind his back, sidled back up to the door…and nudged it open with his belly, all the while grinning in triumph. I made an attempt to scold him again, but since I was literally rolling on the floor and laughing so hard I could barely get the words out, I doubt that the scolding was very effective.

So I suppose that the lesson to be learned here is that I need to be very specific about the way I express the rules to him, and that I need to teach him to obey the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law. The other lesson, of course, is that my kid is already outsmarting me and I should be afraid for my future. Very afraid.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

It's a Girl! I Think. Maybe. Unless It's Not.

Today was Rutabaga’s first ultrasound. Since I’m 13-1/2 weeks, there was quite a lot to see. Since I’m also 42 years old, today’s ultrasound was an “early screening assessment” to check for the likelihood of chromosomal abnormalities or other birth defects. So although they do take a look at the development of some of the major organs like the heart, brain, and spinal cord, and the placement and development of the placenta, the main point of the exam is to take a bunch of measurements of various body parts. Well, the main point for the doctors, that it. The main point for the parents is to get some cool photos to show off to all their friends.

(Come on, people. With an opening line like, “Today was Rutabaga’s first ultrasound,” you KNEW there would be pictures.)

So when the tech started looking around, she pointed out the heart beating, the face peering out at us, the wriggling little hands and feet. Rutabaga seemed to be posing for us as s/he looked up for a perfect profile shot, then turned to the side for a front view, then obligingly waved his/her arms around and kicked up his/her little feet. The tech got several good photos for us. But then she started trying to take measurements, and suddenly Rutabaga was not so cooperative.

The tech did quite a bit of poking and prodding of my belly, trying this angle and that, trying to nudge the little rascal into a better position. She tried tilting the table so my feet were up in the air and my head was hanging down – woo, head rush! (I could suddenly understand the attraction of gravity tables. I felt like I grew two inches just lying there.) She had me roll over on my side while she poked and prodded some more, and then had me roll back. Eventually, between her efforts and the efforts of the adorably pregnant doctor who came in afterwards (who admitted with a sheepish laugh that she did ultrasounds on herself on a regular basis), they managed to get some good measurements and determine that Rutabaga is perfectly healthy and well-developed.

But it got me to thinking: What more female behavior is there than to preen for the camera but refuse to have any measurements taken? Really, for a fetus that’s the equivalent of hopping on a scale. What woman wants to do that publicly?

So I am that much more convinced that Rutabaga is a girl. (You know, unless she’s not.)

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Toy

A few nights ago the three of us went out to dinner. Ryan was generally very well behaved, but the service was a bit slow and at a certain point he started to get a bit restless. He wasn’t interested in anything more to eat, and I hadn’t brought any toys with us, so I gave him an empty single-serving plastic milk bottle and a crayon to play with. He was fascinated. He must have spent more than 20 minutes taking the top off the bottle, peering inside, dropping the crayon in, peering inside again, then dumping the crayon out on the table. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The most interesting thing was how intent he was on what he was doing. Sometimes when he plays it’s just random banging on things, enjoying the sounds he’s making but not really paying all that much attention. But he was very deliberately examining the bottle, figuring out that the crayon had to be turned the long way to fit inside the neck, discovering that he had to twist the cap to make it come off, and figuring out what angle he had to tip the bottle at to make the crayon slide out again. I could practically see the wheels turning inside his head. Earlier in the evening he had been paying attention to the other patrons, the servers walking by, and the ceiling fans overhead, but once he started playing with his milk bottle, he could have been the only person in an empty room for all the attention he paid to his surroundings.

I’ve said many times that he is really the master of finding amusement in whatever happens to be around him, and that night was simply further proof of that. He has fun exploring his toys, discovering what their various buttons do, how they come apart and go back together, and what you can do with them. But give him a simple milk bottle, or a box, or a square of paper towel, and he’ll examine it just as carefully. A box can be a hat, or a propeller, or a sled. Paper towels can be scrunched up, or torn apart, or used as a blanket. (Or eaten, but I try to discourage that.)

His favorite toy this week is not a true toy but a little brass bowl with a snug-fitting lid that he discovered on a storage rack. He discovered that not only does the lid fit nicely on top of the bowl, but since it has a little lip, the bowl will sit snugly on top of the lid as well. The set makes wonderful resonant cymbals when he clashes the two pieces together, or when he clashes either piece against some other object. Both the lid and the bowl spin nicely, and land with a resounding crash when he spins them on the top of the wooden toybox. If he turns the lid upside down on top of the bowl, it slides around with a lovely metallic swish.

Educational toys are all well and good, but I think sometimes he can learn more about physics and geometry and spatial relations by simply playing with trash. And the best thing about that is that we’ll always have an endless supply of it!

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