Wednesday, December 28, 2005

no pee on my floor, nossir!

Among the mysteries of becoming a family of four are the sticker books. Meant to be gifts for the big brother, these skinny books arrived from all sorts of people. There are truck sticker books, farm animal sticker books, God help us yes, Disney sticker books and a solitary ABC sticker book. Which takes us to the real issue at hand: reading.

A couple of weeks ago, my sister in law, normally a wonderful and sensitive person, called up to tell me that my neice, who is also typically rather wonderful, has begun to read. [Note: the neice in question is three months younger than my older son.] My son belongs to what his teachers call the 'trucks and train' set - if it's got wheels and velocity, he loves it. Otherwise, not so very much. So, you can just imagine the delicate shade of green that I tried not to turn as I listened to my sister in law's news.

Let's face it - there are two problems here. First, childhood these days is designed for parents as a set of milestones. At age X, skill Y should be achieved. A child who does not reach the milestones 'on track,' as it's called, is then subjected to a host of therapies in order to bring him/her back into line with what is percieved to be normal. Oh, joy. It is the rare parent who can resist the siren's call of these milestones, especially since in the chaos of child-rearing, the milestones offer a soothing, simple way to see whether or not your child will survive your parenting more or less intact. I spent months requiring reassurrance from my older child's teachers once he turned three and was not yet potty trained. On the one hand, I didn't want to force the issue, but on the other hand, well, was this late start okay? [Note: at 3.25 yrs he decided to toilet train on his own, and was completely trained in two weeks. I have a bottle of single malt scotch which I reserved for my use during this process, and it is still virgin.]

The second problem is that I am horribly competitive. I bury it deep, but from time to time the old streak resurfaces and I have an evil green moment. So there we were: two bookwormy mamas, a deep affectionate relationship, and she's telling me the preschooling equivalent of 'my kid slept through the night.' I was very very glad at that moment to be on the telephone, so that I could make sure that my (real) pleasure at her news would not be too badly overlaid by my silly jealousy. I soothed myself with the truth: different kids develop differently, and mine is just not interested in reading. It's kind of like potty training - when he's finally ready, it'll happen all at once, but if I force it, well, there will be some kind of metaphoric pee on the floor.

And so the sticker book. The past two days he's been carrying it around, trying to figure out which lowercase letter goes with which capital letter, which word in a set doesn't fit (bat/ball/wombat/butterfly), etcetera. I've been happy to see him buried in an activity that doesn't involve unscrewing lightbulbs, but I finally snapped to attention this afternoon, when we read a new book together.

I was reading it to him, and I paused to jiggle the baby on my knee. "Oh, no," he filled in helpfully. I looked at where his finger was pointing. Sure enough, the finger was on the word 'no.' I pointed to a harder word. 'What does that say?' He told me. I tried a harder one. We sounded it out together: 'heeeemmmm, heeeemmmoh, heeeeemmmmohf - ' 'Hemophilia!' he shouted. We grinned at each other in triumph. Then he pointed, 'what does that one say?'

Hm. Maybe it really is like potty training, after all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

All I want for Chistmas are some jeans that fit

Three and a half months after the baby was born, I had reached my moment of truth. It was time to get rid of all of those pants with the stretchy tummy panel. True, most of the maternity pants and skirts actually still fit, but that's not the point: there is pride at stake here. Line in the sand time. I loved being preggers because then nobody expected me to have a waist, my natural convex shape was admired, and I actually had clothes designed to fit me, with those neat little strings at the back. Sigh. Those were good days (barring the acid reflux, the swollen ankles, the five months of intense false labor - yup, it was swell. Literally.).

So I spent Christmas going through boxes. It was pack up or donate time, and I went to town. I sorted and packed the maternity clothes, I ejected the 'maybe they'll fit someday' clothes, I faced a life without a waist and accepted that this is the life I've been living all along. I looked at my somewhat barren closet, considered the throbbing vein on my partner's forehead when he reviewed our budget last week, and sighed. I do adore buying clothes: I always believe that this shirt/skirt/pants/sweater will fit better than the others, will make me look thinner/elegant/help me write the dissertation. As you can imagine, I have a lot of stuff that barely fits, that matches absolutely nothing else I own, and that I'm actually too timid to wear. But with two kids, a mortgage, car loans, tuition - okay, so maybe this week is not a good week to go shopping.

And then there it was: a pair of jeans, size (noneofyerbusiness), from the Gap before the Gap decided that anything that fits me shouldn't cover my undies. Heaven. I resisted the urge to throw out the other three pairs of jeans, none of which quite fit right, and danced around in my closer-to-perfect jeans. Hooray!

Next week: maybe a sweater to go with that?

(small) guys and dolls

Their names are Bindy and Blake. Blake has oh-so wide jeans, a jacket and a baseball cap (backwards, of course). Bindy has braided brown hair streaked a fire engine red, a sort of minidress and go-go boots. As of today, there are three items that my older son cannot live without. One is a hat that his grandmother made for him, and the other two are Bindy and Blake.

The two Bs were a Chanuka gift from his auntie Jo, and while I was initially surprised by her choice, in fact dolls for a little boy are a great idea. Dolls offer an obvious avenue for playacting some of the scenarios that he's trying to sort through, like having a sibling, the various emotional baggage of his medical issues, or perhaps the kid at school who doesn't speak English, but sure wants to roughhouse with him. Yup, dolls for a small boy are a great idea - although I'm not so sure about the go-go boots. But Bindy's first game in our house was a game of soccer, so I suppose the boots will be a Ginger Rodgers kind of thing (anything Blake can do....only in heels).

Today, after a frustrating morning of not getting out of the house to run a necessary seventeen errands including, thankyouverymuch picking up a new prescription for the oh-so ironic birth control pill,
[sidebar: when our baby decides to poop in novel directions, few of which involve the diaper, he really takes it to an art form. Today he managed to go through three outfits in as many hours. Each mini-explosion was timed perfectly to coincide with either the interview of a potential nanny for next year, mama's lunch, or her attempt to get out of the house and run an errand. Peeing on mama was simply a minor fillip on an already baroque morning.]
I finally escaped with the baby long enough to collect my older son and his two B-buddies. I was instructed to buckle in the Bs (why??!!!), which I did (why??!!!!!!!!?), and we all went off to find mama some sanity at Starbucks.

Now, if you have a cute kid and go to one of the more family friendly Starbucks in our area (translation: "family-friendly" = easy parking, less staring at the lactating woman), your kid will be an object of some interest. Mine is definitely a cute one, and he immediately struck up a conversation with a couple at a nearby table. He took them on a detailed tour of his new winter gear, and of course introduced them to the two Bs. I curled my hands around my latte and tried to remember how my shoulders felt when they weren't sitting up around my ears. The kid played with B&B, the baby slept, and the couple resumed their conversation with each other. Slowly, slowly my shoulders descended, and the fog lifted.

Bindy: Hey, Blake! Let's play a kissing game.
Blake: Okay.
(they press their faces together and rock slightly)
Blake: Let's go fight!
Bindy: Okay.
(they go under the table and appear to tussell, bumping the table from time to time.)

By now, the couple at the nearby table, the barrista and the cash register girl with no hair and many metal decorations are all watching. A woman reading a novel in Hebrew is studiously staring at the page. My shoulders creep up around my ears again. I force them down, resisting a slightly manic urge to giggle.

Me: honey, who do you know who plays kissing games?
Child: Sam and I like to play hugging games. And we play squshy-mushy, but then Judy says to stop.
(long pause)
Child: Bindy and Blake are married.
Me (relieved): really? How old are they?
Child: three and a half months.
Me: not, say, 30 and a half years?
Child (tone of withering scorn): No.

Now, I know that 'squshy-mushy' is his word for 'dogpile,' but the listeners do not. I also know that 3.5 months is his baby brother's age and that 'Sam' could be either a girl or a boy, and, and, and. I am, in fact, bursting with helpful information that could explain this interaction for our fascinated audience. So, now I have a few choices: I can comment loudly on the child's role as social analyst; quietly consider that the kid thinks my partner and I have a healthy sex life and argue a lot and whose role is 'Sam' playing if this is about me and ma man?; I could obsess about it (ooh, yes); I could try to publicly defuse the situation; I could acknowledge the audience; ignore the audience; laugh it off...

...or I could count my blessings. My kid is telling me what he sees, and hell, with a cup of good coffee in my hands, I guess I can just damned well shut up and listen. Thanks, Auntie Jo.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

And the principled shall inherit, well, bupkis

Okay, time to confess: I watch Project Runway. I turned on the TV one night, and there it was. I told TiVo to tape it, and now I'm hooked! There are a number of simply wonderful things about PR:

1. Heidi Klum is pregnant. After years of flipping past her in the Vicky's catalogs and glaring, there she is, round and glorious. Now, I was afraid that she'd have some petite, barely-there kind of tum, but she is definitely doing a full moon impression from the side, and I am a happy, happy woman. And to clarify: this is not a 'happy to see the thin woman go round' happy, which would be a slightly vengeful thing (not that I'm above that, mind you), but rather a pleasure at seeing a deeply pregnant woman out there in a very public way. Go, Heidi go. You gestate, girl. And where was that gorgeous maternity stuff three months ago? Damn.

2. the clothes really are kind of fun. I avoid runway fashion, because, well, let's face it: I am definitely not built like a model. Not just when I'm three months post-partum. But it's not just a matter of avoiding runway fashion just because I'm peevish over not being able to wear it - much of that sort of thing simply does not appeal to me. I will never want to wear a shirt cut down to there or a skirt cut up to here, no matter how nicely it fits. And I just don't get the McQueen shock value sort of style. Ugly is, well, ugly. Not haute. But the clothing being created by these young designers is often fun, flirty, and even though I'll never wear it or want to wear it, I appreciate much of what I see. Hey, you guys: want a design challenge? Try ME.

What I do not like, though, is that the show is being edited to highlight some of the uglier interpersonal exchanges. I mean, do I really need to see the Aussie designer threatening a Bobbit? Or the bitchier comments between the desirgners not once, but clipped and used to on the 'scenes from next week's show' segment? The show is geared to create a set of stressful situations, in which people persuaded of their own talent (i.e., prima donnas of some variety or another) try to fulfil their tasks. Mostly, the show manages to balance a bit of drama with interesting design, with the spice of human effort thrown in. Not bad. And the judges walk a nice line between critical and thoughtful, avoiding the truly nasty, rip 'em apart attitude of American Idol's Simon They-Pay-Me-to-Be-a-Jerk.

Overall, I'm a happy viewer. But this past week the judges made a choice that just makes me sad. The challenge was to design lingerie, and the designers were divided into groups, under a leader's guidance. It was explicitly a test of vision and leadership, at the end of which the two weakest groups were asked to defend their design. One group, led by a self-centered but funky designer, Santino, had made a simply ugly set of designs. Let me underline this: UGLY. Someone take away that man's right to baste, please! The other group, led by a perfectionist designer, Daniel Franco, made a set of kind of blah designs. Sorry, buddy, but black lace tulle is really old fashioned. It's stiff, doesn't fall nicely, and oy vey, the sashes.


When asked about his designs, Santino ranted and told the judges to cut one of his teammates. Franco took responsibility for his group, and asked that the consequences fall on him, rather than his teammates. So let's break this down: ugly design, jerk of a team leader vs. boring designs and a leader who steps up. If the challenge is to design and lead, who would you cut? Well, they cut Franco, and I am pissed.

What strikes me is that at the end of the show, a screen flashed with lots of small print. Being a member of the TiVo Nation, I paused the show and read it. Apparently, the judges had to take the show's producers opinions into account when they made their decision between Santino and Franco. Which means someone probably told them to stick with Santino, because jackasses make for better TV. Even if they wear silly hats to hide their bald spots. (No, I'm not bitter.)

Oh, Heidi. You might be pregging beautifully, but you've forgotten the cardinal rule of preggo-dom. When someone like, say, a producer, tries to tell you what to do, you sit on them.

Friday, December 23, 2005

let sleeping babies...marinate?

A quick thought this morning:

if the baby you've been trying to get to sleep finally stretches, poops, and falls into a deep sleep - do you:

a. change his diaper, knowing that the baby will wake up

b. let the kid marinate in it for a while

c. feel guilty for a few minutes, then cave and change the diaper

Note: option a has the added benefit of TBR parenting (tired but righteous). Feel free to vote!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

tweaking the factor

Note: the treatment for hemophilia is an intravenous shot of clotting protein, or factor, into the blood. It needs to be done, typically, two or three times a week for prophylactic purposes (i.e., preventative care - not safe sex, you feelthy, feelthy person).

We've been dancing a delicate dance here for the past while, trying to balance the amount of factor our older son needs with the number of pokes that his veins can take. His body has a tough time accepting the factor as a friendly, if foreign substance, so he has a shorter life-span to each dose than most kids with hemophilia. So it's a dose every 48 hours, which means finding a vein every 48 hours, which any junkie could do - but not so easy on a 4 year old. So, in case you are wondering, I - yes, I - have the Best Kid in the World. Now, I'm willing to agree that your kids are really rather nice, but when you get right down to it, mine holds out his arms/hands/legs for nurses and even parents trying to find a vein, sits still even as we fail and try a second, third time, and hugs us when we are done. You're the best, he tells us, and thanks us. Does he understand the risks he runs withut the factor? Nope. He just trusts us grown-ups to do this unpleasant thing, and then he takes the time to express his appreciation. (Note: I did not teach him to do this. This is all the kid.) Damn, but on a day when you've really sweated over the poke, when you've seen veins blow or just disappear under the needle, being thanked by the kid will, well, it'll give you perspective. Because it's not about your frustration and guilt at not being able to find the vein quickly and easily - it's about the little boy sitting patiently and occasionally hollering advice. What a kid.

[Editor's note: no, I am not playing the gimp card here. I do play it from time to time, but not in this blog. And yes, the kid can be typically horrible from time to time, and no, I haven't yet found the 'off' switch. In fact, I'm fairly certain that most kids can be taught to sit still for uncomfortable procedures, once they become familiar with them. But that's not why he's the BKITW - he earns that for the hug and the compliment he hands out afterwards.

If only his veins had his resilience, but they don't. Poke 'em too often and they bruise, becoming fragile and unusable for days, even weeks. So you could indeed hit the vein at the magic, perfect angle that each vein has, but still not get the factor into him - and have caused a minor bleed into the bargain. Whee.

This week, the best nurse I know had to poke him four times to give him his dose. Afterwards, the kid happily slurped up pudding (food heals what ails ya, dontcha know) while I called the hematology team. So now we're tweaking the regimen, and shifting to three pokes a week, instead of every 48 hours. We'll have two different dosage sizes to go along with it, and we'll test the dickens out of the kid, to be sure that he'll be protected under this new regimen. Of course, my partner reminds me, the last time we reduced the number of doses he got, the kiddle had these bleeds in his knee...

And so we dance, giving more factor in fewer doses, less factor in more doses, back and forth until we're finally in step with the boy himself.

nice guys have broken windows

I am mama bear, hear me roar.

It's a pretty good mantra, and I've certainly terrorized baby interns with it in the ER. Shoo, little intern, my child is too complex for you and I am wise enough to know that you are but a peon. Shoo. And they do, as the nurses smile quietly to themselves. I've bullied my way into doctors' offices, shoved my opinion into medical policy, and generally been a maternal pain in the ass. And should I fail to have an impact? Well, then look out o medico, because I've got Grandpa Attending, hanging fire, in my back pocket. Tremble, ye masses, for I am mama.

But when my child's well being isn't quite at stake, somehow I tend to crumple. Which is probably why we've had a broken window since October, when the neighbor's kid broke it. And which is why I haven't pestered the other neighbor about the tree that's scraping the siding off my house, or the service people who promised to fix the floors they scraped up. Sigh. Sometimes I almost feel as if the endless confrontation isn't worth it, and yet I look at what is fair: they scraped/broke/failed to trim it, so they should fix it, no? and I see that what is fair will only happen if I pester, bully, and generally threaten to become extremely unpleasant. But then again, I already knew that the world isn't fair, and that the meek, well, to misquote, it's a damned good thing that they get the kingdom of heaven, because they ain't getting nothin in this world other than footprints on their backs. Toro, toro!

My task for this week was to call the neighbor - one of them, at least, and I now hope to have an unbroken window by the New Year. At least I won't then have to wash my dishes in front of a glass symbol of my avoidance of conflict... On the other hand, if the window isn't fixed by then, I could always ask my dear, dear man to wash the dishes for me. (sucking up shamelessly here, I know)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Seeking the baby

Something I didn't expect with my second child was the uncertainty of parenting him. I find that I keep looking for labels: is his personality like his brother's? his face like his uncle's? his hair like my mother's? his sleeping habits? Labels are tremendously reassuring, but this need for certainty is getting in the way. What I want, as a parent, is to let the baby unfold himself, to relax into the process that he is taking, irrespective of his mother. Why can't I do that?

This past week I think I found a piece of the puzzle that explains this. It started off fairly innocuously - both boys had colds. The baby was really struggling with his, since a blocked nose on a nose-breather is a real pest, and he had post-nasal drip as well, which mean a sad little chorus of sneeze, sniff, and hacking choking cough. He'd look shocked and pathetic each time, as his little body convulsed with the coughing. Pathos aside, he was fine, and I simply humidified the house a bit. (Read: big pots of water boiling on the stove, with fistfuls of rosemary, thyme and mint to give them a nice smell. Yum.) On Thursday, his big brother was yanked home from school, and the two of them celebrated the experience by producing identical temperatures: 101 degrees. Two pairs of hot pink cheeks, two tired little bodies, one highly amused mama. But then giggles faded, and I didn't find it so funny.

This was a cold - heck, it was a matched set of colds - so why was I freaking out? I couldn't help but remember the case of RSV that my older son had picked up when he was almost two months old. Or the terrifying croup, in which the kid gasped and heaved for air. Granted, the baby is now over three months, which is apparently a big difference in terms of the immune system's workings, and furthermore the little person showed no signs of having his eternal cold morphing into either RSV or croup, another specialty of his big brother's. But my shoulders were hovering around my ears from tension.

I think that part of what happened here is that with each medical horror that befell my older son, I took a deep breath, made my peace with it and moved on. By focussing on the next challenge, the next medical curveball, I was able to persuade myself that I had laid the last demon to rest. But of course it's much, much easier to do that if you can be certain that you'll never meet the demon again.

That silly little cold awakened a pair of demons and shook me - hard. My baby is not his brother, and I don't know who he is yet, really, but I do try to trust him to show me. But the disadvantage to his not being a carbon copy of his sib is that he lacks the definitiveness of a diagnosis. A diagnosis of chronic illness can shake you to the core - it'll bring your world crashing down around your ears - but at least it puts a name to what you see. It defines part of your child, and your job is then to make sure it doesn't define the rest. But with that definition, however problematic, comes an element of certainty.

The fear that I feel, parenting my clotting second son, is one that I had forgotten. I had long since stopped trusting mama nature to provide my child with the tools he needs to survive - modern medicine does that for me. But perhaps I should re-learn that trust, for the baby's sake. It would just be simpler if he hadn't had what I swear was a minor allergic reaction today...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

philosophy in action (gifts part two)

Well, today was the big day: the birthday party. (Note: no, the kid's birthday is not today. It's not even this month. Which, incidentally, comes in handy for privacy purposes, which I do consider once in a very great while.)

About ten small childrens gathered, were given some explorer gear, and raced off, delightedly clutching safari hats, to get into some trouble. The played with mirrors, lights, ping-pong balls and sand, which they poured in their hats, on the carpet and each other. It was rather perfect. Then they watched a grownup freeze balloons with liquid nitrogen, and I'm sure I saw some of the little buggers taking notes. 'Don't try this at home,' my aunt Fanny. Eventually, we corralled them around a long table, fed them some food with nutritional pretentions, and encouraged them to sing happy birthday to the more-or -less birthday boy. Most ignored us, some deigned to participate, and the grown-ups dutifully filled in the chorus. The birthday boy promptly hid his face in his cupcake. And then they all went home.

It was grand. It was triumphant. And nobody brought any presents. Ha! I had successfully side-stepped the whole birthday gift sinkhole of greed. My son was rescued from the evils of consumerism. I was a proud mama as I gently chivvied him up the stairs for a nap. But of course pride goeth before a....yup. And I know you saw that coming when you read the title of the post.

As we walked up the stairs, my small boy cluthcing his explorer bag, lovingly stamped with his very own name, he said to me, 'but where are my birthday presents?' Thinking fast, I pointed to the bag and said, 'there they are! Everybody got some.' He gave me the look that children use to indicate that their grownups are rather dim, and silently indicated that he had chosen to be tolerant of me. He then quietly went into his room and went to sleep, cuddling the bag.

I walked down the stairs, reflecting on that look. I realized two things: first, that looks like that are probably the reason that teenagers are so devastating to their parents. After all, a teenager can communicate whole, sarcastic paragraphs with a single shrug. They must spend years perfecting this skill, but clearly some competency can be achieved at a fairly young age.

Second, I realized that ultimately, I'm probably beat on this gift thing. Oh, yes, I'll spend a few more years trying a new approach, perhaps acknowledging the tradition but trying to revamp it somehow. Perhaps we'll try collecting books for underpriveleged kids next year, or toys for the kids at the local children's hospital. If you can't beat it, rework it, will be my motto. And if I'm very, very lucky, one of these reshapings will catch the kid's eye, and he'll get excited about it. More likely, to be honest, societal standards for behavior will win out here.

But for now, I'm still in there and swinging away.

and at 3 of the a.m. ....

One night this past week, a very tired father woke from a sound sleep to hear a complaining child. As he had so many times before, he gently gathered the small child into his arms, and began to walk towards the bed of the lactating mother. As he began to lower the child onto the bed, he began to realize that there was more leg to the kid than he remembered. And more arm. In fact, the entire child seemed bigger, somehow.

Slowly, slowly the fog lifted, and my partner came to understand that he was holding our older son, rather than the baby. He walked quietly back down the hall, and replaced the child in his bed. Meanwhile, the baby slept like a - well, you know.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

the politics of the gift

'Tis the season to buy, buy, buy. And to prepare a range of sufficiently enthusiastic responses as you recieve. Ah, the art of sounding appreciative but believable as you open that dreaded gift from Aunt Millie. Lately, I've very much been enjoying the Old Navy ads on the subject. I think I'll get my partner a flannel shirt, too....yum.

There are mountains of social and familial pressure that comes with this consumerist extravaganza, as if love = gift, and especially as if love = pricetag. As someone preparing to celebrate a child's birthday in this season, I am delightedly breaking with tradition. We are going to have a 'presence, not presents' party, with suggestions for organizations who could use donations, since note everybody can shake the gift-giving habit just 'cause their hostess says so. And yes, people feel uncomfortable, even slightly offended by this decision - as if I'm casting aspersions on them, and their celebratory habits. Well, okay. I can see that.

Admittedly, I have two ulterior motives. First, is that I can see just how easily my kid could become the 'hi, what did you bring me' kid, turning a day that should celebrate him and his relationships, his family, his friends, into a day marked by its potential for greed. (shudder) Second, though, is that I'm hoping to be part of a new trend, freeing friends from the gift-giving treadmill for kids' birthday parties. My kid has playdates with three other kids, goes to school with fourteen, and at, say fifteen bucks a pop, that's a lot of money going to let him show up at a party, wrapped box in hand. Ouch. Call me cheap, but while the first reason touches my philosophies of parenting, the second reason is happily trampling on our family budget.

But what it really comes down to is this: there is a lot of junk in this world, and there are fewer people who are near and dear to me. Need to give a gift? Give an experience: offer to pay for a gymnastics class, a swim class, a special trip to somewhere - and preferably, come along with them. Given my choice, I'd rather spend my time with my dear ones than plaster a happy look on my face for the scarf du jour. It is my hope to teach my sons to hold this value, though I do rather feel like I'm swimming upstream on this one. The gift of time, of love, of an experience that opens your eyes to possibilities - now that is a real present, no box needed. And it saves me time on trudging around to make all of those return/exchanges...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

what kind of baby?

My little ginger-nut has been with us for three months, which menas we are now deeply in the midst of the traditional set of debates:

1. who does he look like? (the hair skews this answer to the part of the family which has red-heads)


2. what kind of kid is he?
The answer to this depends, as always, on whom you ask. Is he a happy child? A serious child? Well, depends on the time of day, I'd say. But it also depends on the person. Our baby has a set of worried, serious expressions, and it is with these that he greets any new face or experience. As the person from whom he copied their expressions, I can hardly argue with his choices, but he adds to this cautious approach one, indecipherable formula: favoritism.

For some, our kid is briefly serious and then a happy, giggling, gurgling and dimpled little wonder. He'll chat with you, should you imitate his coos and grunts at him, and laugh at jokes known only to himself. For others, he is a suspicious and deeply worried infant, with nary a darling dimple in sight. A friend who is firmly in the former camp theorizes that the kid just prefers women to men, with a crucial exception being made for his brother, who is clearly his baby's favorite person.

I only wish the kid were so diplomatic. Were he able to delight and win over his grandmothers, his aunties and assorted female relatives, I could rely on any number of hands to hold him at family gathering - guaranteeing, mind you, our enthusiastic presence at any flimsy excuse for such events. But people are far more reluctant to hold a baby who doesn't charm their pants off, and ours seems rather selective.

Fair enough - so long as I stay on his good side, that is. Of course, I have a pair of not-so-secret weapons in my arsenal... (Note to self: delay weaning.)

I have an estate? Where?

Today my partner and I took an irrevocable step towards adulthood (no, two kids do not an adult make): we called an estate lawyer. It's time to formally agree on the fact that we are responsible for providing for two small people, and to consider that our absence could actually have an impact on them, since they are here because of us. (guilt, guilt, guilt)

One of the more politically tortured choices that a parent must make is choosing a guardian for their child. Like choosing a nanny, this is one of those pseudo-parent choices, where you look around your family to see who best resembles you in parenting style and in terms of their values. If you've always sworn that you will never parent like your mom or dad, then you are in luck: common wisdom is not to appoint the grandparents as guardians, under the assumption that they won't outlive you. So literally, your kids' parents will not be your own. (Parse that, ye grammatically feebleminded!)

The biggest mistake one can make at this point is to admit that you have ever considered the question of guardianship. If asked at family gatherings, I suggest you consider publicly declaring yourself to be too irresponsible to ever make a will, or perhaps too traumatized by the idea of your own death to consider it. If you can, fake a tear and make a quick exit, because this is one discussion that gets ugly and fast. To tell another person that you are not going to choose them is to insinuate that you consider them irresponsible, a poor parent, morally reprehensible, possessing b.o. and possibly a Carlton jersey. (Carn the 'Pies!)

So who do you choose? In our family there are few perfect choices, especially when you toss in the two big questions: religion and fear of needles. We have to choose, and there is no clear, right answer and much potential hurt. Or perhaps I overestimate, and assume that my family is as invested in this matter as I am. Maybe they are sitting around, a mental finger laid on their noses.

Who will love and nourish our children? Work with their various doctors, teachers to bring them happiness, challenges, let them unlock their potential? I have to accept that whomever it is will not be me, will lack my in depth understanding of my children, and will still serve them well. A tough idea for a control freak to swallow. But I suppose I could include an instruction manual with the will.

Yup, estate planning is a bit of a shock to the system. Pretty it up as you will, it is all based on the idea that someday my partner and I could die, and without even so much as an opportunity to say goodbye and bully our children one last time into doing what we want of them. Or perhaps this will is our parting shot, our last attempt at running part of their lives. (Heh. They will obey, if they want all that lovely money...note to self: get very large life insurance policy.)

As it happens, today I am ready to believe in my own mortality. Just before Thanksgiving, I lost a dear friend to cancer. She was about my age, had two small children - the similarity is less significant, however, than her death. She is gone, and the hole where she was is unfill-able. From time to time I am lucky enough to be able to set aside my awareness that an unthinkable thing has happened, and that a young, vital person is simply, horribly absent. But then I remember the box that held her at the funeral, and I feel the world stop around me and re-orient itself around that fact.

Such things should not, cannot happen. And yet they do. Visiting a friend today, I played with her little girl, she held my little baby, and we talked about the child that she lost, some years ago. Another box, this one with a baby blanket. Unthinkable. Awful. But oh so terribly true. Families who are not forced to embrace such losses are not the norm - we only wish they were. I begin to believe that they are, in fact, just plain lucky.

On days like today, my world seems uncertain and sometimes cruel. Where the f*** are my rosy glasses?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

marathon nursing nights

And on the 263rd day, God (and the Woman) didst bring forth a Baby. And God said to Woman, 'You are on Your Own with this One - I'm going to Bed.' And it was Good.
And Baby found the Breast, and it was Good. And Woman didst invest in bottled water stock options, for she didst Thirst.

Some nights, usually at about 3 am, I think of my uncle, running the marathon past the women of Wellesley, who cheer him on, offering kisses and water. I could do without the kissing, but a little cheering would be nice - and definitely some cold water or juice. Because there you are, and it's three am and you are up for the millionth time, nursing the baby who has decided that a stuffed nose means that he does not intend to sleep well, and therefore requires much comfort and warm liquids to soothe him. And, when one is giving away that much of one's personal liquid allotment, a dry throat is laughable compared to the Saharan experience that comes to occupy one's mouth, driving even the exhausted mother out of bed and to the bathroom sink. Over and over and over. Feed the baby, get a drink, pee. Return to bed, sleep for an hour or so, repeat process.

It is important that you understand that, in the normal course of things, I can barely wake up enough to help the baby latch on, curl around him and fall asleep while he's nursing, waking up hours later, when he's ready for round two. Or three. No biggie - I can do that on auto-pilot. But make it an hourly business and I'm thirsty, which means I have to wake up enough to find the bottle of water on my bedside table, remember how to open it, and then toss some water back. Major difference, major interruption to the pale imitation of sleep that I usually get. One sniffle equals one exhausted parent. A nice tidy one to one ratio, eh, jgfellow?

So if mine is not a maternal marathon, I don't know what is. But instead of the Wellesley girls, I have the silent, equally exhausted figure of the baby's father looming over me, as the poor dear has recently selected himself as the protector of my sleep, and insists on carrying the baby from bassinet to my bed and back again. Which means that for the past week, his sleep is as interrupted as mine. If the baby's cold goes on much longer, I'll have to relieve my man of his post, under the general premise that we need at least one functioning adult per household...not to mention that the silent, looming thing is just a little freaky in the dead of night.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

How I know that my family is over-educated

(overheard conversation)

father: what are you doing?
small child: academics.
father (thoughtfully): physics?
small child (withering stare): no, academics.

father decides not to limit the scope of the child's research, but limits funding on those endeavors that have the by-product of water outside the tub.

He Giveth, and He Taketh Away...

Children have the gift, however suspiciously viewed by their loving parents, of sending a parent on an emotional rollercoaster trip of mammoth proportions. We discovered this when our first child was born, again when we changed his first diaper, watched him refuse to breastfeed in any useful fashion, and of course when he was diagnosed with hemophilia. Whee. But what I have discovered this week is that two children means two rollercoaster rides. And I suspect that they occasionally hold meetings and plot strategy on this one, since this week my two boys sent me on opposite rides, on the same night.

(I love my sons, I love my sons, I love my sons. ...would girls do this?)

The very night that the baby decided to sleep for 6 hours (a miracle that he then declined to repeat - harrumph), his older brother reinvoked the specter of Mummy Past. Most mamas wear a number of hats. I, personally, am Chef, Book Doctor, Mama Fixit, Jack Of All Housework and Dr. Mum. I am also, occasionally, the Food Detective.

The Food Detective is the hat worn by most parents of children with food allergies, and it is the hat you wear while scrutinizing labels for hidden allergens, and translating 'casein' into 'milk,' or 'from vegetable source' into 'from something that grew but we won't say what,' or 'flavorings/spices' into 'it's proprietary and even if you call we probably won't be too forthcoming.' The Food Detective is the person who knows also what companies are good at labelling for when allergens are present in the plant, manufactured on the same line of machinery, etc. So, in my role as Food Detective I know that Trader Joes, for example, is great about labelling their dried fruit, while Tofutti does not label to warn about the present of nuts in their ice cream plant, or worse - the manufacturing of a peanut-flavored Tofutti cutie on the same machinery as the rest of the little ice cream bars. Nor will they put their refusal to label into writing, and yes, a kid has had a life-threatening (anaphylactic) reaction to Tofutti Cuties. And yes, that kid has a peanut allergy. As the Food Detective I know the trustworthy companies (any brownie mix manufacturer who labels for the possible presence of nuts) and the untrustworthy ones (a major cake mix company that doesn't). It is my job to navigate the grocery store and to come home with simple, safe foods that won't lead to an ambulance ride and a rather large needle in my kid's leg.

[Sidebar: yes, I know that I'm barely funny about this. In fact, I'm furious. Exactly how hard is it for companies like Tofutti to admit that yes, they package nuts in their ice cream plant? It's one line of print, and it could save lives. Wake up, people - what exactly is holding you back?]

Am I exaggerating? Oh, I wish. No added drama is needed for this post, alas. My older child is allergic to (hope you are sitting down) peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, poppy, pumpkin, zucchini, dairy, beef, lentils, chickpeas, green peas, mustard and two classes of antibiotics. He has had anaphylactic reactions that threatened to cut off his breathing three times, and a fourth one that actually had him turn blue. Not an experience I recommend. So, if you invite us to dinner I will usually try to figure out a way to politely talk you out of it, and perhaps ask you to come to us for a meal? Because that soup you made might be delicious, but do you know exactly what's in it? 'Bouillion' can be from any number of sources, you know... Luckily, our friends are wonderfully understanding, and some are even trained to feed us safely and oooh, but you should'a seen the allergy friendly bash my sister-in-law threw for Thanksgiving! Ever seen Thanksgiving without pumpkin and pecan pies? No worries - she pulled it off in grand style.

But back to the point. So, on that glorious night of sleep, my older child ate his leftover chicken crockpot dish with pleasure until he stopped, put his spoon down, and uttered the dreaded words, 'my throat feels funny.' My husband and I froze and then, carefully, carefully, I said in my most casual voice, 'Oh? Funny in what way?' I took a chug of soup, to show that I was not overly moved by the situation. 'It feels funny,' he repeated, and turned his face towards me for emphasis. On his face, under the assorted debris of small child dining, I saw red skin. 'Whoops,' I said, 'you've got some schmutz on your face. Here, I'll clean it off.' I wet a napkin and wiped off his mouth and chin, uncovering a series of small hives. My face was, I hope, expressionless. "Aaaah!' said the small boy, and raced upstairs to the toilet, where he noisily set the final seal on the coffin of our crockpot.

In the kitchen, the Food Detective went to work. Was it the chicken? Unlikely. The beer I'd dumped in? Nah. Same for the carrots and potatoes. The pinto beans and the butternut squash, however, are suspects, as they belong to two families already indicted in our Allergy Hall of Fame: legumes and gourds. After tossing out the soup, I trudged upstairs to email our allergist. We'll set up and appointment to test the kid and figure it out. And when you are already well past the shock of double digits, what's one more allergy on the list? I will miss the butternut, though, but maybe it'll prove to be the pinto beans instead. And at least later that night I was to recieve the gift of sleep...the boy giveth and the boy taketh away. Blessed be the boys.

Food allergies in the news:

Friday, December 09, 2005

I am not my brother

One of the wiser things that our little baby did is to decide to have red hair. Before he was born, neither his father nor I could imagine a child other than the one we have - a dark haired, fiery, sweet kid, with a small army of over-educated doctors. We even prepared to have a child with identical diagnoses, and I went to the hospital with big signs that said 'don't perforate or medicate this child!' We hung them on his little plastic bucket thing, and glared at any medical personnel who came too close. So when I finally ejected the child (after 2.25 hour of pushing, thankyouverymuch), we both sat and stared at his crop of red hair. It was like a banner, saying, HEY, DIMWAD, I AM MYSELF. NOT THIS OTHER KID YOU KEEP TALKING ABOUT! Stupid with exhaustion, it has taken us months to figure this out. I keep staring at the hair, the invisible eyebrows and eyelashes, thinking that it should have some meaning for me, but what? What??

I think the kid feels the need to keep giving us reminders as to his position on this matter, which is good, since we're pretty befuddled right now and appreciate having things explained to us slowly and carefully, perferably with small words. So, from time to time his father and I will put the child down and then stare, mildly astonished that he is willing to stay in his swing/in his carseat/on his changing pad, and has not begun roaring in fury over not being held in parental arms. He does not offer loud, irritable commentary on the temperature of his diaper wipes. He actually seems intrigued by the silly things dangling from his hand-me-down gymini. He does not view car rides as an opportunity to screech. And, most of all, he seems to agree with me in regards to sleeping.

Aside from food, sleep is, of course, the great bugbear of early parenting. Everybody has an opinion about it, everybody's done research and is happy to instruct you, including people who do not have children of their own. And don't be fooled: anyone who says, well, I'm not saying this will work for you, but we tried... even this kind, gentle approach deserves a poopy diaper in the face. Because when you are deep in sleeping hell, you are too tired to read the books and no amount of kindly, well meant advice will haul you out unless it comes with a babysitter, but you might consider thanking the well-meaning for offering you a punching bag. My suggestion to anyone who has a good sleeper is NEVER MENTION IT. Count your blessings in private. Of course, I was so excited about our baby's philosophy on sleep that, once he issued his position paper on the matter I grabbed the phone and called my sister in law. She, being a loving human being refrained from reaching into the phone, grabbing my epiglottis and yanking a few times. Which is serious restraint since, as a mother herself, she's bound to be a little testy on the subject.

How to Deal With the New Parent: hold the baby and let them sleep. No, really. I'd forgo any number of cute little outfits in favor of this gift. Lack of sleep colors everything else in your life, and you can spend your days walking around foggily aware that something fun might be happening, but you are to tired to figure out what it is. Offer me a vacation, and you'd better mean a night of uninterrupted sleep, because otherwise I'll spend time blearily staring at beautiful vistas while wondering exactly how wrong is it, really, for a nursing mother to mainline caffeine. Before I had children, I held firm on 9.5 hours of sleep per night, and it was a beautiful thing. Ha.

Unlike his brother, who for years has firmly believed that sleeping should be done in stretches of 2 hours and 45 minutes, max, this little person is prepared to experiment with SIX hour stretches - one per night, anyway. I'm in shock - and a little in pain, since my body was completely prepared to feed the kid at least three or four times last night, and I woke up wearing melons where my grapefruits used to be. Ouch. But what a wonderful pain.

Nope, he isn't his brother, and we're all deeply grateful. Although, I should point out that for a kid who aims to carve out his own path, his numbers are against him - he and his brother both were born at 10:17 on the clock...and that red hair may yet go dark. But for now, it's a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, A Blogging We Will Go

So. One boy is calling for a facecloth, a rubber ducky and fiddlers three, while the other, smaller boy stares at his father, astonished by the idea that he was first dunked, then scrubbed, then returned to his original state of being, if somewhat cleaner than before. While the baby contemplates the oddities of his life, here we go. Blogging.

When my older son was born, I sent out monthly emails as to his progress. I described babyhood marvels like his proficiency at spit bubbles, his ability to gurgle in two, no three! different consonants. Oddly enough, I feel the urge to offer this loving chronicle to my second child. For the parentally uninitiated, I suggest you stop reading now, and consider a nice Danielle Steel novel - it'll kill off roughly as many brain cells as my discussion of the baby's poops, their color, consistency and frequency over the past twelve hours. (Heh. Don't tempt me - I could actually do it.)

Here's what I won't do on this blog: discuss American politics, sports, economics, third world debt (although that is really worrying). I will talk about parenting, walking the fine line between being a mom and the myth that I have a life outside of that, chronic illness and whatever bugs me today. I am lucky enough to parent two kids, and one of them has hemophilia. One and possibly both has food and drug allergies. Both are perfect, in their medically complex, don't-you-ever-underestimate-me kind of way. And I'll talk a lot about that, especially when they've driven me up a raving wall, and I'm trying to remind myself that I actually love them. I may make similar persuasive arguments about any other member of my family from time to time, but I won't publish those here, since those buggers can actually *read*.

Last but not least, there will be a bit about being a woman in the age of 'our mothers lied about being able to have it all,' and trying to find my feet while having one foot in the world of extreme parenting and another tentatively placed in 'I am woman, see me educate.'

But first, I must rescue the tiny philosopher from his father.