Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Backfield in Motion

Yesterday morning, we took Ryan to the gym for his first “Tumble Tots” class. His big sister Rosemary won the honor (or possibly drew the short straw) of being his buddy for the class. And by “buddy”, I mean “wrangler”. I wouldn’t say that it didn’t go well, but I will say that it didn’t go as intended.

The group of kids began by sitting in a circle with their parents and listening to the instructor. Except Ryan, who refused to sit but ran wildly around the gym with Rosemary hot on his heels.

Then they moved on to an obstacle course, once again listening patiently to the instructor explain what to do on each piece of apparatus, and politely waiting for the child ahead of them to finish before taking their turn. Ryan continued to run wildly around the gym, occasionally pausing to cut in line and slide down a slide, throw a hula hoop, swing on a bar, or roll down a ramp before once again running wildly around the gym.

After that, the class moved to the trampoline, all sitting carefully on the edge while each child took a turn bouncing with the instructor. Except Ryan, who struggled in Rosemary’s arms yelling “STUCK!!!” until it was his turn.

The final apparatus was the pit full of foam blocks, which Ryan at last chose to participate in. He jumped in with both feet, nearly squishing several other children in the process, and proceeded to throw the foam blocks in the air with great relish. I suspect the only reason he wasn’t running around wildly is because it’s physically impossible to run around in the pit.

And at the very end of class, as the children were lining up and sitting quietly waiting to get their coloring paper and a stamp on their hand, Ryan was…running wildly around the gym with Rosemary chasing close behind.

Lest you think I’m exaggerating for comic effect, here’s an excerpt from class:

The wonderful instructor was totally unfazed and assured us that six weeks from now he’d be sitting nicely with the rest of the class and we’d hardly remember how wild he was. I’m not sure I believe her, but what I am sure of is that we’ll be making him run around the building 15 or 20 times before his next class…

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Brother Trucker

My son is fascinated with trucks. More accurately, my son is OBSESSED with trucks. He can’t say, “I love you” in any comprehensible way, but he can say the words, “backhoe”, “excavator”, “cement truck”, “bulldozer”, “dump truck”, “pickup truck”, “trash truck”, “police car” and “fire engine” perfectly clearly and can identify them all correctly. The first words out of his mouth this morning were “digger truck”. I’m pretty sure that qualifies as obsession.

Not that I didn’t see this coming. He’s a boy, to begin with. When he was only a few months old, my mother bought him a little wooden pickup truck because, as she very sensibly stated, “A boy needs a truck.” And as soon as he had enough control of his hands to grab that truck, he did. He spun its wheels endlessly. In fact, his fascination with wheels (and anything else that can spin, for that matter) was a blatant precursor to his fascination with trucks. I had to be careful whenever I brought him to a playground where there were other strollers parked, because he would march up to one of them, grab a wheel, and hoist the stroller (and occasionally its rather startled occupant) into the air so he could examine – and spin – the wheels. He loves grocery carts, industrial wheeled trashcans, and moving dollies. He’ll stop in the middle of a walk to admire the tires of any parked vehicles that we pass. So when he discovered the joy of trucks, it came as no surprise.

This love of trucks was cemented last week when there was a road construction crew working in front of our house. The city is putting in new water pipes, and after the crew had dug up the street and laid the new pipes, they brought in a backhoe, an excavator and a roller truck to repair the hole. I know that those are the exact trucks they used, because my son and I spent a good deal of time sitting at the side of the road watching, and he made friends with the overseer, who was very happy to point out what each truck was doing, and carefully said the name of each truck so my son could repeat it. The kid who says “yesh” instead of “yes” and “muck” instead of “milk” managed to get “backhoe” and “excavator” out properly on the first try. (Well, technically, he said “escavator”, but since so does every construction worker in Jersey, he gets a pass on that one.) He was absolutely in his glory watching the trucks dig and spread and smooth and tamp the dirt. Every time one of them clunked or groaned, he excitedly announced, “Noise!” Every time one of them backed up, he happily “beep beep beep”-ed right along with it. The day they moved on to the next block was very sad for him. I explained that they’d finished their work and were somewhere else, and he must have understood because he got up from his nap that day, pointed out the window and said sorrowfully, “No more digger truck. Truck all gone.”

Luckily for him, we live in eastern Massachusetts, the Land of Perpetual Construction, so pretty much any time we get in the car we see some big construction equipment, either working or parked on the side of the road. And when we’re at home, he has a whole collection of books with pictures of trucks (thank you, cousin Henry!). Plus, Daddy showed him a YouTube video of some construction vehicles at work and now every time he sees a computer screen he begs, “Big truck? Dump truck? Digger truck?”

At some point, I’m sure he’ll grow out of this obsession. I just hope it’s before he gets his driver’s license and grows back into it.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

I Sing the Body Electric

I’ll admit it: I take my body for granted. I have for basically my entire adult life. It’s pretty middle of the road, looks-wise: slim but not especially spectacular. Not athletic, but not terribly out of shape. Not particularly healthy, but reliable. I’ve never been proud of it and I’ve never been ashamed of it. It’s just always been there.

When I developed rheumatoid arthritis at age 25, I resented my body a little. It ticked me off that it had let me down. But the flip side of a physical ailment is a recognition of how amazing the body is when it’s healthy. The intricacies and complexities of a system that thinks, moves, and heals itself is almost beyond comprehension. But what really made me recognize the amazing nature of my body was having a couple of babies.

There are two parts to that. First, going through the physical changes involved in carrying and giving birth to a child can’t help but make you aware of the miraculous nature of the human body. But second, watching that child explore his or her own body is a brand new revelation of how…well, cool the human body is.

At only 5 weeks old, Katie is already experimenting with and discovering what her body can do. Every waking moment, she is wiggling her feet, kicking them against anything close by, testing their strength and flexibility. She is constantly stretching out her arms, waving them in front of her face, grabbing at anything within reach. Her tongue is an endless source of curiosity. She pokes it out over and over, as if wondering, “What is this thing in my mouth and what am I supposed to do with it?” She turns her eyes toward bright lights, colors, and familiar voices. Her body is new to her and she is fascinated by it. As am I.

And at 22 months old, Ryan continues to be fascinated with his body. It’s no longer new to him, but the skills he’s learning every day are new and exciting. Just the other day, he discovered that he can reach up and hang from the supports of the treadmill with his feet in the air. He can turn a somersault. He loves the feeling of being dangled upside down, and of spinning around till he’s dizzy. He’s taken to experimenting with playground slides, going down feet first on his backside, then feet first lying on his tummy, then head first on his tummy, then head first on his back (Mummy does not encourage this position), then running down standing up (Mummy definitely does not encourage this position). He revels in identifying each body part: ears, nose, eyes, hair, head, chin, mouth, tongue, teeth, elbows, hands, fingers, knees, feet, toes, belly. He wiggles his fingers and toes for the sheer pleasure of it. He bonks his head on the wall just to experience what it feels like. He makes nonsense sounds with his mouth, blows raspberries (very WET raspberries), and tries to whistle. He is determined to figure out all the cool things he can do with his body.

Watching the two kids revel in their bodies reminds me that I should do the same. Being over forty and having had two babies in the past two years, one of whom was born only a few weeks ago, it is all too easy for me to rue the state of my body. My belly is soft and mushy and still bears the telltale dark line of pregnancy, my skin is blotchy, my fingers are beginning to show the ravages of arthritis, my lips have a few wrinkles around them, my chest is showing the signs of inevitable droopage, my hair is more grey than brown and is starting to sprout in places where it doesn’t belong. But my flabby belly is still a wonderful place to lay a sleeping baby. My mottled skin still delights in rubbing against a baby’s soft, downy hair. My gnarled fingers can still tickle a small belly. My wrinkled lips can still kiss away a hurt. My chest can still make a cozy pillow for a tired toddler. My hair…well, my hair has enough brown left that there will still be some to turn grey when my kids hit adolescence.

Yup. I sing the body electric.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Who's Driving This Bus?

When I was pregnant with my son, my husband and I took a one-day “Childbirth Preparation” class. The instructor was an experienced labor and delivery nurse with children of her own, and her teaching combined her medical knowledge with good, old-fashioned common sense. One of the wisest things she told us was, “Go ahead and write up a ‘birth plan’. Put down on paper exactly how you’d like your birth experience to go. And then rip it up and throw it away, because you’re not the one who decides what happens. Your doctor isn’t even the one who decides what happens. Your baby is now calling the shots. Get used to it.”

And she was right. When you have a baby, the baby determines your schedule to a great extent: when you sleep, often when you eat, even when you talk. The baby’s sleeping? Keep your voice down. The baby’s hungry? Wake up and feed her. The baby’s fussing? Put down your fork and let your dinner get cold while you figure out what’s bothering her. Once the baby gets a bit older, you can ease her into some kind of an eating and sleeping schedule, but you still have no control over fussy times. And if your child needs a nap NOW, it’s going to happen whether it’s convenient for you or not. Once you’re a parent you are, quite simply, no longer driving the bus.

And that is why I am writing this blog at 6:30 in the morning, with one child eating his breakfast in the next room, having just put the other down to sleep upstairs a few minutes ago. I am sitting at my computer with the baby monitor on my left and a cup of coffee on my right, wondering if I can sneak in a shower before my son finishes his breakfast and yells to be freed from his high chair, and before my daughter decides this is a one-hour sleep break and not a four-hour sleep break and yells for my attention.

But I don’t mind that they’re driving the bus for now. With the two of them driving, who knows what fascinating avenues this bus might explore. So I’m just going to strap on my seat belt and enjoy the ride!

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Monday, September 12, 2011

First Child vs. Second Child

When my son was born, I think I filled in the information in his baby book the day I came home from the hospital. I dutifully looked up all the data for the “On The Day I Was Born” page – I googled the most popular song that day, the top news stories, the current world leaders of various countries, the hit television shows and movies. I wrote up bios for myself and my husband. I filled out the genealogy page with names and dates. And I carefully read through the “milestones” page nearly every day, so I wouldn’t miss my chance to record his first smile, his first trip to the zoo/the mall/church/his grandparents’ house, his first tooth, his first step, his first everything.

My daughter is over a month old and her baby book doesn’t even have her name in it. In fact, the only reason she HAS a baby book is that we got two at her brother’s baby shower.

I am a bad mother.

Actually, I’m really not. I am simply the mother of two instead of the mother of one. I honestly thought I understood what a difference that would be. Ha ha ha ha ha. It’s hard to write in a baby book when you’re holding a nursing baby to your breast while chasing a laughing toddler around the room shouting, “Spit out that penny! Spit it out! Now!”

But there are also benefits to having been through an older child’s infancy. You understand the crucial difference between the “I’m hungry/tired/wet” cries and the “I’m bored” cry, and you know which need to be attended to within two minutes and which can wait for ten or fifteen. I hadn’t realized how much I’d absorbed that idea until I was at a neighborhood yard sale over the weekend with my daughter in her stroller. She began fussing, so without even looking at her, I started rocking the stroller back and forth with my foot while I continued browsing. The mom running the sale laughed and commented, “This must not be your first.”

Another benefit to having had a child already is that you have an arsenal of tricks to use on a cranky baby. It took a couple of months of thinking of various way to soothe my son during his cranky times, but with my daughter, I had two or three months’ worth of tricks up my sleeve the day she came home. I already knew that “just any lullaby” wouldn’t work. My son’s preference was “Old McDonald”, which I didn’t figure out until he was 6 or 7 weeks old; after going through my full repertoire, I knew within a day or two that my daughter could be soothed only by “Moonshine Lullaby”. And I figured out right away that she shared her brother’s need to be held standing up, not sitting in a chair. That tidbit took several weeks with her brother.

But the ultimate benefit to having an older child is that you can look at that older child and realize that even though you had no idea what you were doing, he grew up to be a healthy, happy, well-adjusted toddler with no physical or emotional scars to speak of. So chances are pretty good that your little one will survive your incompetence just as nicely.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

A Perfect Day, or, One Hot Mama

Today is already a fantastic day, and it’s going to get even better. It actually began in the wee hours of the morning, at 1 am. Katie was wide awake until then, but at 1am, she fell sound asleep, and so did I. She slept until 4:15am, ate without any hysterical slurping or stopping to cry mid-nurse, burped quickly and completely, and promptly fell back to sleep so I was back in bed by 5am. She didn’t wake up again until 8:15am, at which time my wonderful husband (after offering to give her a bottle himself so I could sleep) brought her in to me so I could nurse her without getting out of bed. Once again, she ate, burped, and fell back to sleep immediately so she was done by 9am.

My husband planned to visit his parents in the morning and had offered to take both kids with him so I would have my morning free. Being in desperate need of a haircut, I took him up on that offer. I took a long, hot shower (I even shaved my legs for the first time in – well, I’d rather not admit how long), got dressed, and headed for the hairdresser. There was no line, so I got my new ‘do within a matter of minutes and headed off to breakfast.

Going out to breakfast is one of my very favorite treats. I love going with family or friends, but sometimes it’s a special treat to go alone, just me and my Kindle. I chatted with the waitress while I savored my steaming cup of coffee, thinking how nice it was that I didn’t have to drink it from a closeable travel mug and periodically rescue it from a curious two-year-old asking, “Hot?” and attempting to dump it out all over the couch. I dunked my fluffy pancakes in syrup without sticky fingers poking at my plate and a small voice piping up hopefully, “Bite?” I read my book on my Kindle without getting any “help” turning the pages or someone pushing my hand aside to reach the buttons. It was wonderful. (Let me just say here that I love and adore my son, but he can be a bit exhausting and I love him even more when I get a break from him now and then. And I’m sure he feels the same about me.)

After breakfast, I headed over to my beloved Dress Barn. Oh, Dress Barn, how I’ve missed you. I love Dress Barn clothes, but since they don’t carry a maternity line, I’ve been in withdrawal for nearly the past year. I’ve been away for so long that I got a discount for re-upping my store charge that I haven’t used in more than a year. And since I was getting a discount, it only made sense to pick up some jewelry to go with the dresses I bought, right? I found a beautiful, flattering dress for church and more casual wear, and then I hit the jackpot: the perfect post-maternity date dress.

This dress probably wasn’t intentionally designed for the post-partum figure, but it might as well have been. My years of watching Stacy and Clinton on “What Not To Wear” (sorry, sweetheart) have taught me many tricks of how to choose flattering clothes, and this dress hits all the right notes. Slimmest part of dress at slimmest part of my figure? Check. Hemline hitting right above the knee? Check. Silhouette skimming my body without being tight? Check. Little design pouf falling right over (and therefore camouflaging) my post-baby pooch? Check. Sufficient support for current generous endowment of the girls (Stacy’s term, not mine)? Check. Plus the added bonus of being a gorgeous, rich color that compliments my hair and brings out my eyes. Throw in a pair of great shoes and the perfect accessories and hubba hubba, I am one hot mama!

And the best part of the day will be going out for a romantic, child-free (see “loving my children” comment, above) dinner with my husband tonight - putting on my beautiful new dress and my beautiful new bling, topping it off by wearing makeup for the first time in a month, and maybe even a spritz of scent, and watching my husband beam with delight, not only because I look fantastic, but because he’ll be so pleased that I splurged on myself.

Wait a minute, that’ll be the second-best part of the day. The very best part of the day will be when I come home, kick off my fancy high heels, and slip into my children’s rooms to give their angelic sleeping faces a good-night kiss before giving my husband a good-night kiss and slipping into bed myself. THAT will be the very best part of the day.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fuzzy Baby Heads

God knew what he was doing when He designed babies. Babies are very demanding. They require an awful lot of time and attention. They can be very loud. They extrude noxious substances from various orifices, often all at the same time. He needed to provide them with some endearing traits in order to make us, their parents, not want to abandon them at birth. So He gave them big eyes, and cute round faces, soft skin, and sweet rosebud lips. But perhaps best of all, He gave them Fuzzy Baby Heads.

My son Ryan had really good Fuzzy Baby Head as a newborn. In fact, Daddy would sometimes blow-dry his hair to give it its full, fuzzy-headed, Muppet glory:
Katie has even higher quality Fuzzy Baby Head, since she was also born with a good deal of hair, and at one month of age, it is already fairly long. But not only is Katie’s hair a bit finer than Ryan’s, she also has the advantage of having inherited the Riesen cowlicks, which means that even without blow-drying, she has several patches of hair that stick out and create a natural, endearing fuzziness:

And just in case that weren’t enough, she has very strong legs and likes to “swim” up the chest of whoever is holding her and nuzzle her Fuzzy Baby Head directly under the chin of her holder. And since when she’s fussy, she’s an even stronger swimmer, she has a built-in countermeasure for how upsetting it is to hold a fussy baby, because the best solution for the stress of holding a fussy baby is a good solid dose of Fuzzy Baby Head.

As the mother of an extremely high-energy almost-two-year-old and a one-month-old who still has her days and nights reversed, I am often sleep-deprived and somewhat stressed out. But I am saved from losing my mind, every single day, by a few doses of Fuzzy Baby Head. No matter how exhausted and stressed out I am, rubbing my face against that soft, sweet-smelling Fuzzy Baby Head relaxes me. It’s as if the fuzziness is a magnet for stress, so touching the fuzzy draws all the tension out of my system the way a magnet draws away iron filings.

I am convinced that if someone could figure out a way to package the magic of Fuzzy Baby Head, it could become a vessel for world peace. After all, who can resist Fuzzy Baby Head? I bet that even Adolf Hitler and Genghis Khan snuggled a Fuzzy Baby Head or two in their lives. And probably if they had snuggled a few more, the course of world history would have been somewhat different.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I hear a Fuzzy Baby Head calling my name. That call, unfortunately, is currently in the form of an unhappy, screaming baby. But it’s okay, because as long as the screaming is coming out of a Fuzzy Baby Head, we’ll both be fine.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

28 Days Later

Four weeks ago today, I got up in the morning certain that by the end of the day I would go from being a “mother of one” to being a “mother of two”.
Four weeks ago today, my husband and I got out of bed, packed a bag, dropped off our son at his grandparents’, and went to the hospital where I was scheduled to be induced. When we arrived, the doctor told us that everyone and his brother (or, more accurately, “everyone and her sister”) had gone into labor and there was no bed for me, so they did a quick “non-stress test” to confirm that our baby wasn’t in any kind of distress (and also that I was having strong and regular – although still unfelt – contractions), and then sent us home, telling us to call at 2pm, hoping they’d have room for me at around 3pm.
Four weeks ago today, we spent the day with Herb’s daughter and our son, checking out various playgrounds and enjoying our last few hours as a family of four. At 2pm, we called the hospital and were told to come back at around 5pm, so we spent a few more hours relaxing at Bammy and Pappy’s house before we headed off to try, once again, to convince this baby to make an appearance.
Four weeks ago today, my husband and I kissed the kids goodbye and headed back to the hospital. At 5:30, they turned on the Pitocin. At 8:45, with little additional progress, the medical team hooked me up to an epidural, broke my water, and cranked up the Pitocin. Finally, I could feel the contractions, although they were still painless. At 9:45, the contractions finally became painful – I was thankful for the pain, and also for the epidural.

Four weeks ago today, at 10:08pm, the doctor examined me and announced that I was fully dilated and effaced, and on the next contraction I could try pushing and we’d see how things went. As the next contraction approached, I braced myself and began to push, as the doctor and the nurse chanted in unison: “Push! PushpushpushstopSTOPSTOP!!!” I would have been scared by the urgency of their voices except that they were both laughing as they told me to stop. Apparently, the baby and I were more ready than they were. The nurse turned on the baby warmer as she headed for the door to call in the rest of the team, and the doctor retrieved the delivery cart from the corner of the room and removed its sterile drape. About a minute later, everything (and everyone) was in place and as the next contraction approached, I once again braced myself. I don’t remember hearing the instructions from the doctor or the nurse, I was simply aware of my husband by my side, and knowing it was time to take a deep breath, drop my head to my chest, and get this reluctant baby to join the world! I pushed through two contractions, and on the third, the doctor said, “OK, look down here!” I remember wondering what on earth I was supposed to see, and then I saw the doctor lifting this beautiful, long, perfect baby into the air and hearing voices announce, “It’s a girl!” and “10:12pm”. Hands placed her on my chest and as her first cries filled the air, everyone in the room laughed and told us how beautiful she was.

Four weeks ago today, I saw my beautiful baby girl for the first time. I touched her downy hair, I counted each perfect miniature finger, I marveled at the impossible tininess of her wee toenails. I gazed into her face and examined every feature. She looked very much like her brother, which is to say that she looked very much like her father. As I took in the nearly-invisible brows and lashes, the tiny purple veins in her eyelids, the pore-less perfection of her skin, she struggled to lift her head, then opened her eyes and looked toward me in that vaguely cross-eyed, unfocused newborn fashion. I whispered to her, “I’m your mum, and I will always take care of you.” For a moment, I thought of my own mum, and tears filled my eyes as I wished she were here to see her beautiful granddaughter. But then I felt my husband’s warm hand on my shoulder as he gently caressed our new daughter with his other hand and whispered to me how beautiful she was and how proud he was of me.

For a few moments, the three of us stayed still, simply taking each other in and appreciating the wonder that is the miracle of birth. All too soon the nurses took her back to weigh her and clean her up. But in just a few more moments they had brought her back, swaddled in a warm blanket and wearing that silly little pink-and-blue-striped hat that is the hallmark of all newborn babies. I guided her to my breast and she immediately clamped on, making me laugh with pleasure and relief. Apparently I wouldn’t be going through the same difficulties I had with feeding her brother.
Once again, I marveled at her tiny perfection. I reveled in the impossible softness of her pale chestnut hair, the pert upturn of her nose, her curly rosebud lips, the way her ears faded from pink at their tops to pure alabaster at her earlobes.
Can it really be true that all those things happened four weeks ago? It seems like just yesterday, and yet it also seems like she has been a part of our family forever. Our daily routine feels like it has always been this way. Haven’t I always eaten my meals with one hand while jiggling a persnickety baby with the other? Haven’t my nights always consisted of sleeping for two hours, then feeding and rocking a wide-awake baby for another two? Haven’t I always spent half of my time with either a baby or a breast pump attached to me? And haven’t I spent my whole life loving this child, loving this amazing, wonderful, perfect little family?
Maybe it’s only been this wonderful and perfect for the past four weeks, but I have no doubt that it will stay this wonderful and perfect for the next four, and the next four, and the next four. Even when it doesn’t quite feel perfect, it still is. After all, how could it possibly ever be better than our perfect full house?

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