Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Parenting: The December/January Issue

Oh, bliss. All our mail has been forwarded for the past two months to Connellsville, but finally, finally I’ve perused the new Parenting and am ready for this month’s commentary. Maybe it’s because I’m still just so very tired, but the abundance of you-go-girl-with-your-fab-mama-self tone and the excessive exclamation points annoyed me more than usual this time. Let’s get right down to it.

In “Picky-eater Pleasers,” we’re advised on how to handle taking a picky kid out to a holiday party. One piece of advice was to feed the kid before leaving the house and then not freak out if the kid eats only carbs or cookies at the party. But what would she eat, if she’s already eaten a meal? Another meal? Nonsense. But I’ll reserve my commentary for the final tip:

“Bring a food ‘present’ to the shindig to share. If your kid is super picky or if he has food allergies, bring a gift of his favorite dish. (Be sure to get him to wrap it up with a bow.) Give it to your host, then mention that your child would love to share it with everyone.”

COMMENTARY: I won’t get into food allergies, since to me that seems like a different thing altogether. But I imagine Lucia and myself in this situation, perhaps three years from now, perhaps four, wrapping up a casserole dish of mac and cheese or a platter of buttered toast or a large ceramic bowl of sliced grapes and bringing this “gift” to a party. I imagine the nudge-nudge tone of my voice as I “mention that [my] child would love to share it with everyone.” I imagine the faux-enthusiasm of the host’s voice as she makes exaggerated attempts to incorporate buttered toast into the party spread. Maybe because I’m just tired; but this all just makes me weary and annoyed. If Lucia will eat only buttered toast, then I shall bring her a personal baggie of buttered toast for her own enjoyment. I simply don’t see the need to inflict it on the larger world.

I always like articles about saving money, as I’m a big saver myself. But teaching my preschooler to be a “money whiz” isn’t something I’ve really considered, until I read “Raise a Money Whiz,” which suggests it’s never too early to teach kids about responsible spending. But this tip made me actually guffaw:

“The Talking ATM. Lesson: Money comes out because it’s gone in. To kids, a cash machine may seem an endless gusher of moolah. To give yours a more nuanced view, Heckman [a preschool education expert] suggests that you talk her through each visit. Say something like ‘I’m coming to get the money that I’ve saved. I worked to make it, and then put it in the bank to keep it safe, and now we’re going to get some out to buy what we need.’”

COMMENTARY: I imagined myself droning these words to Lucia and put myself to sleep. Snooooze. Snooooze. Please. Is this any way to talk to an antsy, energetic preschooler? I think a kid might be more interested in learning to say an outdated word like “moolah,” or some such trivia. Here—I’ll try it, in Parenting’s style: “Moolah is another word for money. We can also call it dough, bucks, and bread. These words are called slang, which is a usage of words in commonly accepted but nonstandard ways. Slang tends to be generational, temporary, timely, and colloquial. Also, when your father and I were gambling in Reno once before you were born we called quarters ‘skins,’ just because it made us laugh.”

And finally, Parenting’s end page, “Top Ten,” which is usually too ridiculous even for COMMENTARY. This month’s was a top-ten of names of board games, with descriptions that draw from readers’ apparent “real lives.” For example: “5. Risk. You have a kid. She has a skateboard. ‘Nuff said.” “8. Go Fish. Been there, done that after your toddler dropped your glasses in the toilet.” They were all silly things like that. But then there was number 7, which for some reason was quadruple the size of the other text on the page:

“7. Scrabble. You can’t make a word using only the letters Q, G, R, W, and X? Well, you lose, because your kindergartner can.”

COMMENTARY: This was worded so aggressively as to be offputting, and it’s just so strange. It’s the only one that actually riffs on the game as a game, not as a word—no one was actually playing Trivial Pursuit, Twister, or Go Fish, but in this one, the parent and child seem to be engaged in what appears to be a nontraditional game of Scrabble. “Well, you lose”? What? I had to read this several times before I realized it meant a kindergartner would put silly letters on the board to make a “word”—not that the kindergartner was smarter than the parent. It just seemed so…mean. Then again, I’m tired.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Cuteness Report

Since Lucia seems, today, to be much like her usual self, with the exception of some screaming when dressed in her winter coat and some nap-refusing, and, of course, some morning crankiness and spitting out of nicely offered food at a play date—oh. Scratch that. Since we’re heading to Connellsville tonight and my exhausted, weary body and soul sees a glimmer of sleeping-in, baby-free-outings, grandparent-backup days in the very near future, I will interrupt the regularly scheduled programming of fatigued posts to provide a brief cuteness report.

A new favorite book is Duck & Goose: A Book of Opposites. One spread shows Duck being happy, while Goose is sad, with a tear on his cheek. Whenever we get to this page and I say in a mournful voice that Goose is sad, Lucia does her cuddle-cuddle-cuddle motion. I am very taken with this: not only does she understand what sad means, she also understands that cuddling Goose is what will make him feel better. I did not prompt her to do this. Genius, clearly.

Lucia is walking more and more and now often seeks out my hand to hold. Together, hand in hand, we walk around the apartment. She’s quite tall, so I don’t even have to stoop, and it really does feel like we’re just out for a stroll. Today she carried her electronic trumpet in one hand—when you press a red button, it plays a few bars of Beethoven’s Fifth. She’d press it, we’d walk. Whenever the song stopped, she’d stop walking, release my hand, press the button again, and then resume walking once the music started playing. Over. And Over. And Over.

Lucia’s animal-feeding is getting more elaborate. She will now take a piece of food and feed it to several stuffed animals at various spots around the room before eating the food herself.

Lucia now enjoys not just dropping but also throwing things out of her crib. Sometimes when I go in to try to settle her I find her pacifier and stuffed animals hurled the whole way across the room.

I am so tired I have actual bags under my lower eyelids, and my head hurts in that weird, exhausted, non-headachy way that just gets worse the more coffee I drink. Six hours thirty-nine minutes until we set out for PA.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Letter to Lucia: 14 Months

Little One,

As you can see, I am several days late with this month’s letter. This is your fault, though not in an intentional spirit. You’ve followed old habits and acquired a cold after our long flight, and you also seem to be teething—you’ve been gnawing and drooling and screaming and crying and not napping well and not falling asleep well and basically not given me even one millisecond’s rest for one entire week. I am falling over with exhaustion and frustration. Only late this afternoon did the regular Lucia seem to reappear, with dancing and snapping and giggling. Perhaps the worst is over. (And surely it is, since I have to get through just Monday now and then we’re on our way to two weeks of grandparent backup. I am literally counting the minutes.)

But, a quick recap of the month nonetheless. Walking, of course—more consistently now, especially yesterday and today, when you’ve often opted to walk instead of crawl to your objective. And more words—besides “bump,” you’re saying “ball,” and yesterday you added a new one: “boom.” Ever since you were a newborn, I’ve said “Boom!” whenever we knock over a tower of any kind, or sit down from a standing position, or basically do anything else involving a sudden movement. Now you say it too. You don’t quite get the “m” at the end yet, but it’s definitely “boom.” We knocked over about twenty block towers this afternoon and every single time you said “Boom!”

You passed your weigh-in on Wednesday—you are 18.1 pounds; as suspected, nothing was wrong with you that a Month of Fat couldn't cure—and, that taken care of, are now refusing to eat. I am so frustrated by this—day #4 of the food refusal—that I won’t even write about it here. You’re not starving, of course—and today you ate much better. Hopefully it’s all just related to the cold and the teething.

This will be a short letter this month, dear one. Perhaps you heard talk of a potential sibling and have reacted with both guns blazing. Nicely played, oh firstborn. Nicely played.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Baby Godzilla

Rolling around on the floor giggling! Feeding her stuffed animals! Dancing to the music of her push toy! Lucia was very calculating in her explosion of cuteness over the past few weeks. Let me ingratiate myself, she thought, before turning into an absolute monster.

Upon our arrival in New York, which followed the Worst Flight Ever—well, let me spend a moment on the flight. Five hours of screaming, crying, and writhing, with intermittent bouts of more screaming, crying, and writhing. No nap, though it was naptime. We were the parents about whom people whisper disgustedly, Can’t they control their child? We were trying, believe me. But even with her very own seat, even with an entire grocery store’s worth of snacks, even with an arsenal of toys, Lucia would neither nap, nor snack, nor play. She just wanted to scream.

Now, back home, she has turned into a baby Godzilla, descending on the city with roars and stomps, gobbling skyscrapers and sending terrified pedestrians fleeing as she wreaks her path of destruction. But the skyscrapers are our apartment, and the terrified pedestrians are what remains of my sanity. She is a jetlagged, teething terror.

It doesn’t help that I am drowning in freelance work. Or that my Christmas shopping has barely begun. Right now I am typing this as Lucia writhes in the Ergo and smears teething biscuit all over my neck. Anyone considering having a baby should take a look at me now. Anyone considering having a second baby should, perhaps, take a look in a large mirror and imagine just for a second doing this with two. Whew, that decision was easy!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Goodbye, California (Again)

We’re going home! We actually have return tickets, for Saturday. It has been a truly lovely, fun seven weeks, but we are ready to go, even if it means returning to frigid temperatures. I’m not quite sure how we’re going to survive this, our first real winter in five years. But I have a new winter coat, hat, mittens, and Nanouk of the North fur booties for Lucia, so we’re going in prepared.

Things we’ve loved about Mountain View: the Eagle Park playground, the public library, the Mother Goose & More program at the library, walking down Castro Street, the smore’s bars at Le Boulanger, shopping at Trader Joe’s, driving to Target, going to Paper Source, watching Lucia stand at the window to wave goodbye to Andrew’s colleagues catching the shuttle to work (even on days when Andrew’s not among them), playing outside pretty much every day for a little while, exploring all the beautiful fallen fall leaves, buying far too many books at the library book sale, seeing the Clarks, seeing Julie and Alison from Auburn, soaking in the hot tub at night. And, of course, Lucia started to walk here and said her first word here, weaned here, started sleeping through the night here (12-plus hours!). I worry the magic of the sleeping will disappear once we’re back in Brooklyn; I hope it doesn’t.

But all Lucia’s toys and books await, and I just can’t get back to a normal kitchen fast enough. I might make something elaborate and time-consuming next week just because I can—something involving, oh, a double boiler, a Dutch oven, an immersion blender, a stand mixer, and an array of spices.

We have a flight to get through. But then we will be home, in Christmassy New York, in winter. Goodbye once again, California. But I have a feeling we’ll be seeing you again.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Cuteness Report

Lucia is walking. Never more than eight or ten steps at a time—and usually fewer—but when she gets it in her head that she wants to practice, she goes for it. She stands up—rising slowly from Downward Dog into a balanced stand—and then toddles forward in a Frankenstein walk, grinning all the while. She’ll walk to me now if I sit on the floor with my arms held out, and she’ll walk with her own arms held out, walking faster when she reaches me and then nearly jumping into a hug. It is too, too cute.

But not as cute as her dancing. When the nose of her lion push-toy is pushed, tinny electronic songs play—which, being a baby, Lucia loves. She will push her lion, but when the music stops, she stops too, eases slowly to the front of the lion, pushes the nose, and then walks back to the handle. Instead of pushing it again, though, for several moments she’ll dance to the music—bending her little knees in an attempt at rhythm and snapping the fingers of one hand. Well, she can’t actually snap. But she moves her fingers in an attempt at snapping. For some reason Andrew and I both always snap when we do silly dances for her, and so now she does it too. She will dance for a minute or so and then keep pushing the lion.

Andrew thinks this is the cutest thing she’s done yet, but I myself think her motion for “cuddling” is the cutest. I’ve mentioned it before—she draws both arms into her chest tightly and quickly wiggles back and forth as though hugging a teddy bear. She does it now when she sees one of her stuffed animal friends. But today, we were taking a break from our morning walk to have some Cheerios and some walking practice in front of the library, and when she finally got back into her stroller, we saw a squirrel. There are lots of squirrels there, and she is captivated by them. This squirrel, however, not only stared at us but began walking closer and closer and closer until it was just about five feet away. Lucia was craning forward in her stroller, amazed. “Look at him!” I said. “He’s so cute!” At these words, Lucia looked at the squirrel and did the cuddling motion. That, to me, is pretty much the essence of cute.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Our Little Reader

Anyone who knows Lucia knows she loves books. Reading books is her number-one favorite activity. Indulge me for a moment as I brag about her amazingly long attention span, her rapt fascination with words and pictures, her absolute absorption in turning pages. This week I watched from the kitchen while she played by herself for twenty minutes—a good portion of which she spent standing at the couch with a pile of books in front of her, selecting one after the other and paging through them.

We’ve become regulars at the library across the street, and Lucia charmed a librarian yesterday, who walked past as Lucia was turning pages of a book while sitting by my feet. When we went to the library this morning for the Mother Goose and More song and story time, that same librarian greeted Lucia by saying, “And here’s our little reader!” This mama’s heart swelled with pride. Yes, she is a little reader. She is indeed.

Lucia sat or stood with her eyes trained on the librarian throughout the program—she was just completely transfixed as the librarian led us in songs and read books. She smiled at the bouncing-baby songs and clutched or shook her egg shakers the whole time. It’s just hilarious to me to compare her happiness and comfort in a situation like this with her disinterest, hesitation, and clinginess during the gym classes we tried.

She is my baby. Andrew may have played a part in creating her…but she is my baby through and through. Give us a pile of books, lock us in the library, promise we won’t have to perform any athletic activity on demand—this version of bliss must have been passed from mama to baby in utero.

A note on Mother Goose and More. If I could select one part of Mountain View and take it with me back to Brooklyn, it would be this. It is just a wonderfully fun half hour, free, and packed to the gills with babies. The librarian who leads it is so engaging, fun, intelligent, and book-loving that each time we see her I’m certain I, too, should be a children’s librarian. And the crowd is purely Mountain View, from all over the world. Anyway, there is a babies and books program at the Brooklyn library, which we’ll have to try. (Though it has its own purely New York quality, too—you have to go early and get a ticket to get in.)

The picture with this post is from today. I bought her a new (used) book. She held it the whole way home.

Hard Living

We’ve made our mark on this corporate apartment. Marks on windows, marks on walls, marks on carpet, marks on tables, marks on pretty much every surface that has the potential of coming into contact with babyhands. Though they provided us with a two-bedroom apartment for our unexpectedly lengthy stay here, this apartment is normally set up for a roommate situation. Each bedroom is marked as the “red” room or the “blue” room, and Andrew and I have keys on lanyards corresponding to each color. This is not an apartment where a lot of real-life living goes on. It’s a place where engineers from around the world crash for a month or two while they work on projects here in Mountain View, with roommates cycling in and out.

We, however, have lived here. And any living done with a baby around is hard living. The furnishings here are not what you’d call built for the ages, and the kitchen provisions are far from our top-quality things back home. They are, in fact, quite cheap, and when you have a baby, when you’re cooking three times a day, cheap wears quickly. We’ve used the spatula so much that a strip of plastic came off the edge this morning. The frying pan seems gray with use. Surely the five dishes in the cupboard haven’t ever seen this much rotation.

Our weekly housekeeper has been doing a spectacular job—sticky baby handprints are, for a blessed few minutes, absent from the coffee table. But the housekeeper doesn’t see the hidden sticky handprints—in places she surely isn’t used to looking when she does her cleaning of these executive apartments. There are sticky handprints on the window where Lucia stands, hands pressed against glass, to smile and wave goodbye to Andrew when he catches the shuttle to work every morning. There are sticky handprints on the front and sides of the faux leather armchair where Lucia cruises in between bites during meals. There is banana stickiness ground into the carpet and couch. There are sticky handprints on the cupboard doors where she stands and cruises underfoot while I’m doing things in the kitchen.

I honestly don’t know how this apartment will ever recover.

We have used everything in this apartment to its fullest capabilities and have done quite well; we’ve cooked meatloaf, quesadillas, mac and cheese, chicken piccata, meatballs, and lots more. Terrible knives and one tiny cutting board have become our life. It’s easy to get sucked into corporate-apartment land and forget about what a real home is like. When we went to the Clarks’ for Thanksgiving, though, we were reminded—a beautifully set table outside in a beautiful backyard, a full feast of food in an abundance of bowls and platters, a house full of toys, not just a tiny corner. Lucia was in heaven. I don’t think I picked her up once all afternoon. She just played and played and played, by herself and with the other kids, thrilled (as we were) to be among friends and the things of real life.

Lucia has lived thirteen months on this earth; nearly four of those months have been in corporate apartments. Does she remember her crib, with her pink-bird sheets? Does she remember all the toys—the legions of toys—that once occupied her days?

We’re ready to go home. Soon, soon, I hope…

Thursday, December 02, 2010

First Word

Lucia’s been saying “mama” and “dada” consistently now, with “duck” and “ball” as occasional semi-words. But yesterday she said her official first non-parental word. That word is “bump.”

Lucia’s favorite book these days is Fall Colors by Rita Walsh. It is an adorable book about fall leaves and the fun that can be had with them. One page shows children raking leaves and says, “Rake the leaves into a pile, / You’re sure to see lots of smiles. / Spin and tumble, dive and jump, / Then leap off an oak tree stump. / Land in the leaves with a BUMP!”

Every time I read this to her, which is going on, oh, five hundred times now, I say “bump” with an excited expression. Yesterday, when I turned to that page and got to “bump,” she turned her little face up to me and said very clearly, “Bump!” Then she kept saying it: “Bump! Bump! Bump!” She said it with a good amount of gusto, putting extra emphasis on the “p.” It is definitely “bump.” She likes saying it so much that when we turned to that page this morning, when she was fussy and sleepy, she grabbed her pacifier out of her mouth eagerly, right in time to say “Bump!” It is extremely, extremely cute.