Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Isn't It Ironic

Two and a half years ago, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After two major surgeries, she was able to stay at home while she underwent chemotherapy. Ironically, I was newly pregnant with my first child - her first grandchild – and as I visited her each day, we commiserated over nausea and lack of appetite, and took our afternoon naps together. The cancer responded to the chemo very quickly, and by the time my son was born, Mom came to the hospital, not as a patient, but as a proud new grandma meeting her new grandson for the first time.

She was healthy for over a year, and during that time celebrated both my sister’s wedding and my son’s first birthday. But not long after that, she began experiencing all too-familiar symptoms. The cancer had returned.

Once again, she began chemotherapy. And once again, I was newly pregnant. But instead of laughing about our shared nausea in Mom’s living room, we were grimly ignoring it in her hospital room. She was much sicker this time, and it was quickly apparent that the cancer was not responding to the chemotherapy this time around. So it was no surprise when her doctor asked for the family to join Mom at her appointment a few weeks ago. And it was no surprise when the conversation began with the awful words, “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do.”

Even though we all knew in our hearts that we had reached that point, hearing the words said out loud was both devastating and yet, somehow, a relief. The giant elephant in the room had finally been acknowledged. We all agreed that inpatient hospice care would be best for Mom, and the plans were set in motion to transfer her to a beautiful residential hospice facility near her hometown.

When the decision had been made that Mom would move to hospice, my husband gently suggested that we sign up for his company’s drop-in daycare program, so that when the time came that we needed to spend long days with Mom, we would have that resource available. We agreed we’d do a “test run” this week and signed him up for today. In yet another ironic twist, Mom was transferred into the hospice facility yesterday evening, so today, the day my son went to daycare for the first time, was my first visit to her there.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how ironically parallel the situations were: handing over both my mother and my child into the care of others for the first time in my life; entrusting them to strangers who would care for them in the short term when I could not; feeling guilt that I wasn’t taking care of them myself 100% of the time yet knowing that was an unfair demand; feeling both grief and relief at releasing them into hands other than my own. I shed a few tears as I kissed my son goodbye on his way to daycare, and I shed a few more as I kissed Mom goodbye in her new home. I didn’t want either of them to need to be there, but I’m glad there is a safe place for them to be when they need it.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

For all that we have a zillion photos of my son, every once in a while one jumps out that captures a particularly perfect moment. Last night we had dinner with my in-laws and Ryan had French fries with his meal. He looked so cute eating them that Daddy pulled out the camera, and Ryan immediately flashed a big grin:

Look at that happy face! What a beautiful image! I’m sure that this is destined to be one of my favorite photos of Ryan ever.

There have been a few other photos that have also captured a perfect moment. This one, from his first Christmas, will always be near the top of my list:

The way he’s so utterly absorbed in what Daddy is saying was so typical of him at that age. I was thrilled that I managed to capture this moment on film. (OK, not technically “on film”. But I have no idea what the digital equivalent is, so just go with me on this one.)

And as much as I love photos of Ryan with his daddy, my list of favorites certainly isn’t limited to those. Here’s another, more recent, favorite, this time of Ryan snuggling with his cousin Troy:

In fact, another of my all-time favorites is of Ryan with all his cousins:
The vague bewilderment on his face, combined with the lack of neck and the Michelin Man arms and thigh just tickle me to death. The Michelin Man phase actually spawned quite a few delicious favorites, including this one, with his two favorite things in the whole world, Rag and Duck:

And of course, the “favorites” list wouldn’t be complete without a photo of the whole immediate family and one of just me with the little monkey:

I look forward to all the other “perfect” moments that we’ll add to our scrapbook over the years. A picture is, after all, worth a thousand words.

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Friday, March 25, 2011

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

This morning I was puttering in the kitchen while Ryan was playing in the hallway when suddenly I felt a cool draft and heard a small voice chanting, “Ball! Ball! Ball!” Ryan had discovered how to open the front door and was eagerly pointing at the neighbor’s basketball hoop. The smell of the fresh spring air was as tempting to me as it was to him, so we both got our sneakers on, grabbed a ball, and went to explore the neighborhood.

Our house is oddly situated, in that our street is divided into two unconnected parts. The upper road is essentially a large driveway shared by three houses (including ours), and by cutting through our yard we can reach the lower road, which is a long cul-de-sac with a wide open circle at the end. Since it doesn’t connect to anything, there is no traffic other than the dozen or so residents, which makes it an ideal play area. An added bonus is that one of the neighbors has a basketball hoop set up facing the street that is welcome to be used by all. So Ryan naturally loves to play there.

On this outing, as usual, the first thing he wanted to do was to shoot some hoops. I was happy to rebound for him, particularly since his shots rarely go more than 3 feet or so away from the hoop. After shooting for a while, we threw, rolled, and kicked the ball back and forth. And then Ryan decided it was time to explore, so we trotted down the street to check some things out. The first thing he discovered was a whole lot of sticks on the ground. There were long, skinny, bendy twigs that wiggled when he shook them. There were big fat sticks that were good for whacking other sticks. There were several sticks that were almost broken in half, and Ryan was fascinated by breaking them completely and then trying to put them back together again.

When he tired of that game, we walked some more, and discovered a use for frost heaves (possibly the only use): tromping up and down on them! There were several sections of sidewalks with deep heaves, and Ryan explored climbing up and down, at first holding tightly to Mummy’s hand, but then gaining confidence and climbing up and down as nimbly as a little mountain goat.

Before he got a chance to tire of that game, he discovered another fun by-product of New England winters: sump pumps! Several of the neighbors have sump pump hoses running into the street, and the water table is apparently still high enough that they occasionally spit out some water. It makes for the perfect depth of puddles to splash in without needing galoshes, and Ryan took advantage of the wet sidewalks to stomp to his heart’s delight.

But wait, we discovered yet another fun winter by-product: sand piles. One of Ryan’s favorite play areas at the church nursery is the sand box, so it was no surprise that he quickly discovered a pile of sand next to the curb. He patted it with his hands, smoothing the surface and then poking it and running his finger through to make shapes and patterns. And then he began grabbing handfuls of it and watching it run through his fingers. He attempted to give me handfuls, and seemed quite puzzled that by the time he got it into my hand, there were only a few grains left. He then discovered that he could throw handfuls of it, and amused himself by watching it scatter in the wind. He even leaned over and tried to taste it, but I discouraged that quite quickly.

In between all these discoveries, we checked out a whole bunch of other fascinating things around the neighborhood: a chain link fence, a neighbor’s abandoned sidewalk chalk, a few beach balls, a fire hydrant, a manhole cover, a robin singing in a tree. He even found a piece of trash on the ground, picked it up, and before I could take it away from him, ran over to someone’s trash can that was left out from yesterday’s trash pick up, and carefully threw it away!

It’s easy to forget how many fascinating and new things there are in your own neighborhood until you take a look at it through a child’s eyes. Those frost heaves, that sump pump puddle and the unsightly pile of sand may remind us adults of the winter that’s just passed, but to a child, they are delightful playthings of spring!

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

There's a Double Meaning in That

My son doesn’t have much of a vocabulary yet. In fact, his total vocabulary consists of the following: “up”, “ball”, “bye-bye”, and “k” (which means “clock”). But for having only four words, he gets an awful lot of mileage out of them.

For one thing, each word has multiple meanings to him. “Up” means not only “up” as in going up stairs, but it also refers to the stairs themselves. I discovered this a few days ago when we were driving on a road in a hilly area where all the houses had stairs leading to them, and he eagerly pointed at each one and announced, “Up!” Similarly, “bye-bye” means not only “goodbye”, but is also used to indicate a door of any kind, whether or not anyone is leaving through it at the time.

The multiple use of “ball” developed from his after-service playtime in the church gymnasium, which has several basketball hoops. Every time we pull into the church parking lot, he points and exclaims, “Ball!” which I assumed referred to the basketballs that he plays with there, but then I noticed that when we pulled into our own driveway, he pointed to the neighbors’ house across the road and announced, “Ball!” as well. I was confused, since I didn’t see any balls there – until I realized that they have a basketball hoop in their driveway. He confirmed this association when we were driving by a random house with a basketball hoop and he again announced, “Ball!”, and once again when the Sesame Street set featured a basketball hoop. So apparently “ball” now refers to “basketball hoop” as well as anything vaguely resembling an actual ball.

But the most flexible word in his vocabulary is most definitely “k”. “K” applies to any kind of clock or timepiece, from a grandfather clock to a wall clock to a clock on a church tower to a wristwatch. But it also applies to anything with any kind of a dial or face, and anything round with hashmarks on it. Hospitals and grocery stores are both rife with “k” things, by this definition. Hospitals have blood pressure monitors with round gauges and bright orange hands, oxygen tank pressure gauges, even stethoscopes with printing on the business end. Grocery stores have big round produce scales and small deli thermometers, all of which he helpfully calls my attention to with a proud “K!”.

I’m certain that he’ll be adding more words to his vocabulary very soon. Hopefully, “vroom!” will give way to “car”, “buh-dup-a-dup” will become the more recognizable “banana”, and the words we’ve been repeating over and over, like “Mama” and “Dadda” and “cup” and “help” will finally sink in. But until they do, at least he’s making good use of the words he has. And hopefully, his creative use of language will continue to expand even as his vocabulary does!

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Monday, March 14, 2011

A Boy and His Daddy

I love watching my son and my husband play together. When Daddy comes home after work, Ryan lights up like a Christmas tree. He gets so excited that he can’t even contain himself, and instead of running towards Daddy, he runs to the other side of the room, squealing, or he throws himself into Mommy’s arms and then peeks back at Daddy with a mile-wide grin. And he often follows the peeking by hurling himself out of Mommy’s arms and into Daddy’s. It a crazy love-fest between the two of them.

Ryan and I play together all the time, too, and he does love that, but there’s something different and very special about the way Daddy plays with him. The two of them play like…well, like boys. With Mommy, there are lots of hugs and kisses and naming different objects in the room and rolling balls back and forth. But with Daddy, there are chases and tickle fights and wrestling and knocking each other over and hurling balls directly at each other’s faces. There’s no fear of cracking one’s skull open or busting a lip against a table or breaking one’s nose running into a wall (well, no fear from the two of them – if Mommy is watching, that’s a whole different story). They play like boys. There’s no other way to describe it.

And they are so exactly alike. They giggle at the same things, they have the same grin, the same mannerisms, the same sparkly eyes looking for trouble. They are two peas in a pod.

And I couldn’t love either one of them more if I were twins.
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Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Quickening

The first time I heard the term “The Quickening”, I immediately thought of a gritty western movie. The kind with Clint Eastwood squinting into the dusty wind and spitting out witty lines past the toothpick clenched between his teeth. The kind with bad guys in black hats and good guys in white hats. The kind with a main street running through a ghost town and nothing but tumbleweeds blowing past. Fortunately, in baby-making terms, “quickening” is a much more exciting word. It actually means the first time the mother feels the baby move.

Naturally, this is one of the most exciting landmarks for any pregnancy, whether it’s a woman’s first or her tenth. It’s one of those sensations that gives you a thrill every time you experience it, like riding on a roller coaster. It doesn’t get old or less exciting. And it feels different every time, I suspect. With my first pregnancy, I was convinced that I’d never feel him moving. I had, of course, done all kinds of research on the internet (the font of all knowledge) and learned that quickening often happens around 17 weeks. So starting at 17 weeks, I spent hours concentrating on my belly, willing myself to feel that fluttery, bubbly sensation that all the article described. Nothing. It wasn’t until I was 21 week, I think, that I finally felt something that I was SURE wasn’t just a gas bubble or my insides rearranging themselves. It was definitely, undeniably, another human being moving around inside my body.

With this pregnancy, even though most second-time moms recognize movement earlier, I was fully prepared to not feel anything until closer to 20 or 21 weeks. When I had my first ultrasound and the technician mentioned that my placenta was anterior, I immediately flashed back to my internet research and recalled that an anterior placenta can delay quickening for some time, since the placenta “blocks” the baby’s movement. So a few days ago, at only 18 weeks, I was delighted to feel those first little flutters.

“Flutters” is probably not the right word, though. With my first pregnancy, the first sensations I felt were definitely similar to having butterflies in your stomach or feeling a gas bubble shifting. It was light and delicate (in great contrast to the giant baby who later emerged). The sensation from this second baby already felt more like a kick, or a pushing against my abdomen wall. I could picture the tiny being inside me stretching out like we had seen on the ultrasounds, exploring the extent of this dark cavern that s/he is confined in.

It reminds me once again, that every pregnancy, and every child, is different. This baby could be a chunky blond like my son, or a delicate, petite, dark-haired peanut. S/he might be as nervous and tightly-wound as he is laid-back, or they might share that trait. This baby might be talking in full sentences at 10 months, or s/he could be another point-and-grunter, like big brother. But it doesn’t matter in the least. I just can’t wait to meet my little Rutabaga!

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Running on Empty

I am convinced that small children have absolutely no sense of their own energy reserves. An adult will realize that he or she is getting tired and will either slow down or take a short break to recharge. A small child, however, will keep going at top speed until he or she literally drops from exhaustion. So either they have no awareness that they’re running out of steam, or they’re simply in denial and assume they can go on forever (there are times when I’ve thought they might be right about that, I will admit).

It’s particularly funny when my son starts to run out of steam and refuses to slow down, because he gets all kind of weak-kneed and uncoordinated. He’ll be running around the house and will suddenly collapse mid-stride, landing in a puddle on the floor. Depending on how close he is to an empty tank, he’ll either laugh uproariously at himself (just starting to lose energy) or he’ll look puzzled and after a moment’s consideration, puddle up in frustration (nothing but fumes). And even then, it doesn’t seem to register that he should rest for a moment, because he just picks himself up and keeps running.

I should be thankful for this trait, because not only is it an endless source of amusement for me to watch, but it also means that when he goes to bed, he generally has nothing left to fight sleep with and goes right down without a fuss. As I’ve said before, he only has two speeds: on and off. And when he’s on, he’s on with all cylinders, pedal to the floor, not saving anything in reserve. And when he’s off, he’s out cold, not even fumes left in the tank. It’s not a bad way to be, in my opinion.

And although this on/off trait is true of many children, I find myself hoping that it’s also part of his general nature, and that he’ll continue to throw himself fully into whatever he does, not stopping until he has nothing left to give. My husband often says about himself that he likes to work hard and to play hard, and I admire that about his nature, so I hope my son has inherited that same determination and tenacity.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Oh, What a Tangled Web

Ryan has always been very contented to play in his playpen by himself for quite a while when Mommy and Daddy are working on something in the next room. So last night when we were on a Skype conference call, we tucked him into the playpen with a bunch of toys and let him entertain himself while we worked. About 45 minutes later, we wrapped up our call, complimented each other on how quiet and well-behaved Ryan had been (which should have been our first clue), and went into the living room, where we were greeted by a little boy standing in a cardboard box, grinning at us – and totally wrapped up in various colors of thread stretching from around his belly to his various toys, over the side of the playpen and back. He was essentially in the middle of a rainbow-colored spider web.

My sewing table happens to be right next to the playpen, and the drawer that’s closest to the playpen is full of spools of thread. Ryan apparently discovered that he could reach over to that drawer and helped himself to about 30 spools of thread, which he then rolled around the floor, dropped through his toys, and wound around himself. He even had a large, colorful tangle the size of a small gerbil dangling from his backside like a festive little tail.

Once Herb and I stopped laughing, it took us several minutes and a pair of scissors to free him from his bonds. He wasn’t at all bothered by them; in fact, he seemed to think it was kind of fun to put this arm through that loop and that leg through this loop. The whole scene actually reminded me of a birthday party my mom threw for me when I was maybe 7 or 8, when she took skeins of crochet cotton and made a giant spider web in the living room. Each guest took an end of the skein and followed it to a goodie bag at the end. We all loved it as much as Ryan did!

As soon as I shared this story, I was reminded by my mom friends that silence from the next room is usually a sign of impending disaster – or at least a sign that little hands are getting into something that they shouldn’t be. At least it wasn’t my makeup drawer, or a craft bin with paints and markers. Although no doubt, someday it will be…

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

The OCD Stage

I’m pretty sure this is a stage that all children go through, but I think my son is temporarily OCD. He spent 45 minutes last night marching back and forth between his toy box and a shelf on the other side of the room, carefully piling up a large stack of rubber letter tiles. This is not an unusual occurrence in recent weeks. He loves to move objects from one place to another, or to take a series of objects and present them, rather ceremoniously, to someone in the room. Yesterday morning, we picked Daddy up from the dentist’s office and had to wait in the waiting room for a few minutes, and he very carefully moved the entire magazine collection from one end of the office to the other, one magazine at a time.

I assume this is a developmental stage in which the child is learning to understand order and the way things belong in a certain place. We’ve been practicing putting his blocks back into their box when he’s done, and putting his toys back into the toy box at the end of the day, so he’s definitely learning that certain things belong in certain places. But his focus and dedication to putting things in a certain place that he has spontaneously decided they belong is absolutely hilarious to me.

And to continue the theme of temporary OCD, one of his other recent habits is picking up minute (and occasionally invisible) pieces of lint or dirt from the floor and either deliberately throwing them into the trash can or very solemnly handing them to me. Considering that he’s generally the one who threw said pieces of lint or dirt on the floor in the first place, I find it particularly amusing that he suddenly seems so personally offended at finding them there.

Fortunately, I have no concern that this is a precursor of actual OCD, since when he’s not all wrapped up in putting things in a particular order or place, he revels in throwing things all over the room and is not at all uncomfortable in the middle of the mess he just made. In fact, he often sits in the middle of the chaos of toys and wriggles and giggles, delighted at the loud noise and mess. Yeah, I’m pretty sure he’s just a healthy, normal kid. But I think I’ll still miss this stage a little bit when it’s gone.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Let's Pretend

Ryan has a toy with four Sesame Street characters on it: Oscar in his trash can, Elmo in a big toy block, Ernie in his bathtub (with Rubber Ducky, of course), and Cookie Monster in a cookie jar. Each one pops up and sings his signature song (“I Love Trash”, “That’s Elmo’s Song”, “Rubber Ducky”, and “C Is For Cookie”, respectively), when Ryan turns a crank or flips a switch or pushes a button or slides a lever. He’s been able to push the Elmo button for a while, and he’s just learning to turn the crank for Oscar and manage the switch and the lever for the other two. Fortunately for himself, he’s discovered that he doesn’t have to master the intricacies of the mechanisms, because he’s strong enough to manually pry open each character – brute force does occasionally win out over delicate manipulation. But he completely astonished me yesterday when he pried open Cookie Monster, then announced, “Mmmmm!!!”, pretended to pull out the cookie in Cookie Monster’s hand, pantomimed putting it into his mouth, said, “Mmmmm!” again, and then repeated the process, handing ME the imaginary cookie. Wow, he understands pretending!

On the surface, pretending doesn’t seem all that complicated. You’re just doing what you would normally do, only some of the things you’re using aren’t really there. But if you stop and think about it, it’s a pretty “out there” concept. Children’s thinking tends to be very concrete – when they’re very small, they can’t even understand that something still exists when they can’t see it. It’s a major developmental milestone when you hide a toy under a blanket and the child knows to look under the blanket for it. So to me, it’s an even more major milestone when a child not only understands that something is there when they can’t see it, but that they can act like they can see it when it isn’t there.

What’s especially amazing to me about Ryan making this huge cognitive leap is that I haven’t done a lot of pretending with him yet. He does occasionally offer me food, and if it’s something I don’t eat (like oranges or cantaloupe, yuck), I’ll pretend to take a bite. But I don’t generally pantomime things for him. When I’m helping him put his coat on, I don’t act out putting the coat on, I simply hold up a sleeve and push his hand toward the opening and let him do the rest. If I want him to put his blocks back in their box, I don’t pretend to put a block in, I actually take a block and put it in, then take it out again and give it to him, saying, “YOU do it.” But even without my example, he’s figured out the magic of “pretend”. Wow. That’s pretty amazing. Not bad for a kid whose entire vocabulary consists of “bye-bye” and “up”.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Hidden Wit of Sesame Street

I came into the world at around the same time that Sesame Street did, so it is definitely one of the television shows I remember most strongly from my childhood. I remember Big Bird and Oscar and Grover and Telly and Herry Monster and the Count and Snuffelufagus and Gordon and Maria and Luis and Susan and Bob and Mr. Hooper. There was no Elmo or Zoe or Abby or Prairie Dawn or Murray and his little lamb. There was no Chris or Alan or Leela or Mr. Noodle. There were plenty of celebrity guest appearances, and that has certainly not changed. I suspect there were spoofs of current adult TV shows as well, but I didn’t notice them back then. But then, there are a lot of things I notice and appreciate now that I didn’t back then.

The TV show spoofs are brilliant in that they are educational for kids but absolutely hilarious for adults. For example, the other day they spoofed the HBO series, “True Blood” in a sketch called “True Mud”. A broody-looking muppet with dark hair flopping over his eyes slinks into a diner and tells the blond waitress he wants some “True Mud”. The other diners gasp and wonder aloud if he’s a…Grouch. Because only a Grouch would want true mud. Sookie (the waitress) defends him and brings him a baked potato. He pushes it away and she realizes it’s not true mud, it’s a “true spud”. A cow wanders in and offers him some of her “true cud”; a farmer gives him a broken watch, calling it a “true dud”; finally, Sookie brings out a bathtub and announces that she mixed together some dirt and water and made him a whole bunch of true mud. He jumps in, followed by Sookie and the cow. Kids love the repeated rhymes, not to mention the image of a fully clothed man – er, muppet – jumping into a tub full of mud with a cow. But adults can laugh at the sketch on a whole different level. I won’t even get into the levels of adult hilarity in a spoof like “Dancing with Triangles”, complete with muppet versions of Tom, Carrie-Ann, Len, and Bruno.

Similarly, the celebrities who appear on the show are just ordinary people to the kids. Only an adult who recognizes Ryan Reynolds as People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive 2010 can appreciate the humor of seeing him wearing a large blue letter A costume and declaring in his best announcer/superhero voice that words that begin with the letter A can answer any question and solve any problem. Likewise, to kids, Savion Glover is just some guy teaching the words “forward” and “backward” by dancing back and forth; to adults he’s an amazing tap dancer who could probably also teach the kids “wall” and “ceiling” by dancing on those, too. Little cameos by people like Jennifer Garner teaching the word “galoshes” or Alton Brown explaining that a recipe is a list of the steps of how to make something or Yo-Yo Ma demonstrating how to play the cello are fun for kids but appreciated in a completely different way by those of us who know who they are.

It’s no surprise that Sesame Street has earned dozens of Emmy Awards over the years. It’s a brilliantly creative show that kids can enjoy as well as learn from, and parents can enjoy watching with their kids. And now that I’m a parent, I can understand even more why parents find it so enjoyable! It’s even worth putting up with an overdose of Elmo.

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