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Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Letter to Mal On His First Birthday

Dear Mal:

You're special. I'm sure, by the time (if) you read this, you will surely know that to be true in various and sundry ways. However, right this moment, I'm referring to your actual birth.

Now, the birthing part itself wasn't anything much out of the ordinary, but... well, backing up a little bit: Most birth stories (that aren't induced or planned C-sections or emergencies) start with moms going into labor and then proceeding from there. Not you, though!

I went to the birthing center because they needed you born or they were going to take me to the hospital because you were three weeks past the estimated delivery date. I'd spent the day before there, too, trying all sorts of things to get you to vacate the premises. There was little reason to believe this day would be any different.

So it's almost like we scheduled your birth. The team said, "We'll hang out and hope he's born, or we're going to have to figure out why he's not coming."

I guess you didn't want to go to the hospital any more than I did, because it was kind of like magic. I went to the birthing center, not expecting much. Then when you decided it was time, it was time, and you were here within about an hour.

Thanks for that, by the way.

It was almost 13 years between your sister's birth and yours, but stuff came back. I hope you won't look back on your first year and remember it as the year of "Daphne never..." Come to think of it, you probably won't remember much, if anything, of your first year. So allow me to confess some of the things I've said and thought this year:

Daphne never wanted me to hold her.
Daphne never had a problem going to or staying with strangers.
Daphne didn't mind my being gone.
Daphne never thought of playing in the toilet water.
Daphne didn't just pull everything out of a drawer for sheer joy and then move on to the next thing.
Daphne didn't destroy books.
Daphne *did* eat dog food, but we were able to break her of that, which was good because I don't think our greyhound would have appreciated having to eat her food and drink her water off of the top of the clothes dryer like our cats are having to do because you, my darling, loved to splash around in their water, eat their food, and then get the water in their (very expensive) food, thus ruining it with mold when we discovered what had happened several days after the fact.

You get the point.

It's not that you were bad, or worse than your sister. It's just that, in many ways, as a baby, she was easier. But you owe her a debt of gratitude, because it was parenting her, my first child, that shaped the way I parent you. And I'm much better at it this time around.

You love her so much. In time, she'll realize what she has in you. But I wouldn't blame her for being resentful. Even if she doesn't remember how much more of a hard-ass I was with her (yes, when she was a baby), the fact is that I was. And I have regrets. So I'm determined that if I have regrets with you, they'll be different ones. And I dream of the day that you and Daphne will be great friends, making fun of me behind my back. I'll probably be too old to notice or be particularly hurt, and that will be awesome.

It's been a long year. It was a long first few weeks, and honestly, at two months, I couldn't believe that you were still sleeping with us. I felt like I'd go crazy if you didn't get into a routine and get into your own bed posthaste. But here it is, a year in, and you're still sleeping with us. You have some weird sleeping (not sleeping?) habits, like that you can't really stay asleep more than about an hour or two without having "help" getting back to sleep. That's with naps or overnight. So I'm actually glad you're still in our bed, because my having to get up that much would be crazy-making.

But it doesn't feel so urgent to "fix" anything about that anymore. It's you. It's who you are. And I love who you are, even if it's not exactly what I would have constructed if I could have put together the ideal infancy.

More to the point, the more difficult things about you have made me a better person. I had to choose to learn how to love you and deal with you the way you were, or to spend all of my time worn out and resentful and hopeless. I'm embarrassed to say how long I fought it, but once I realized that the fight wasn't good for anyone in this house, I've been so blessed to have it pointed out to me (by you, by strangers, by Facebook friends, and by my own laugh) how amazing you are.

You are amazing, son. Absolutely freaking brilliant. Stubborn. Curious. Desiring to interact and amuse. Strong. Opinionated. Percussive. Dramatic.

Dude, you're already talking! You say "Da-da" or "Dah" for your dad. You say "Da-dee" or "Da-naee" or just yell for your sister (because her room is at the end of the hall and she always has a fan on, so I'm afraid I call out to her and you've picked it up). You also say, "Kee-cah" or "Cah" for the cats. You say "Mama" when you cry, and sometimes you just holler, "Mom!" but I don't think you really call for me yet. You say "Ball" and you say "Beh-hum" when you want to nurse, for some reason. If you want a "Daphne never" positive comparison, your sister waited until she was almost two to start chatting.

You bark when you see or hear a dog. Or birds. Or a cat. Or fish. Or any animal, for that matter. Sometimes, you bark at your dad, and I think that means that you want to go see the ceramic ape he has in his office.

You understand so much. "Do you want to take a bath?" sends you walking to our bedroom. The other day, I asked, "Do you want me to wear you?" and you brought me the harness off of the back of your door. You respond to things like, "Can you go get the ball?" and even if you choose not to, you know what we mean. You also go get our shoes now as a way of telling us that you want to go outside.

My son, you have a favorite saucepan. You are always "cooking" or cleaning or pulling hair product out from under the bathroom cabinet and requesting that we use it with your "sss ssss sss" mimicry. You want me to put makeup on you. You're around me so much, you just want to do everything I do. In fact, I guess you think my new round drying brush looks a lot like the litter scoopers (in your defense, it does have a lot of holes in it) because one recent morning, you were leaned into the litter box, scooping around with the brush. It kind of worked. It took me quite a while to get the litter granules out.

You're not afraid of the dark at all. You'll walk around the house with the lights out just like it were daylight. I hope you'll always be confident at night, especially after all this time we've spent "creating positive sleep connections."

Tonight, you cried yourself to sleep for the first time I can remember. I wish I'd known what was wrong. It was almost like you were reliving that uncomfortable hour immediately after you were born. Just like that day, your dad and I held you, and we told you how much we loved you, and it's even more true note than it was then. It will only get truer and truer as you grow.

For some reason, God thought I'd be a good mom for you. I'm going to prove him right. I'm so glad you're my baby. Happy birthday, son.

Your mom

You're not scared of heights, either!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Continued Deschooling

On an unschooling board, sometime posted a question asking about roadblocks people had to overcome in deschooling their families to unschool.

One lady wrote: "I've been at this a lot of years, and am now helping my daughter unschool her kids, so it's been a long time since I've deschooled!

"But one thing I remember struggling with is that my kids wouldn't want to participate in activities I though they should want to participate in.  For example--homeschool events.  They just weren't interested.  And I'd be like, 'But if you'd just go, you'd enjoy it, I'm sure. There are nice kids there...'

"I'd pressure them big time to go, thinking if I could just get them there, they'd realize how fun it was, and sometimes they sort of enjoyed themselves, but it took a lot for me to accept that it's okay for very strong introverts to shun social activities.

"Even unschooling conferences--I would have gone to a lot more if my kids had enjoyed them. They didn't enjoy hotels and would constantly say, 'When are we going home?'

"I let go of math and reading lessons a lot quicker than I let go of society's expectations that all kids enjoy being social."

Oh my goodness, this rings so true to me! I respect my daughter's intuition to learn what she needs to know, but then assume I have better ways to meet her relational needs than she does. I'm learning not to force these things. Actually, I had an expensive lesson this summer.

I'd signed D up for that awesome programming day camp. This happened before I attended the unschooling conference, or I probably wouldn't have. Anyway, she wasn't thrilled but went with my promise that is never force her to do something like that again.

We were waiting for it to start when one of the counselors came over and asked her to join them in this ice breaker ball game. She teared up, looked at me and moouthed, "Why did you...?" Then she turned around, smiled, and joined. I felt like crap.

The next morning when we showed up, there was no sign of anyone anywhere. We walked around for half an hour and to make a long story short, we later learned that they'd only put signs and stationed people on the east side of the building, assuming everyone would be dropped off in a car. Since we'd walked, the west side was closer for us and we had no way of knowing where they were. Also, the building's main elevators were locked for the summer so you had to go through the leading office to get to the floor where they'd had classes.

I didn't make Daphne go back and ultimately talked them into refunding half of the program cost she to their lousy communication making it impossible for D to participate the second day. Still, I lost more than a couple hundred dollars. But I'm learning.

We're learning. And the individual ways we do that, and connect with people (or don't) are just fine.

"Two words never to say to your child"? Really? But it's *hard* (best whiny voice)

In all of the parenting stuff I've been reading lately, one thing that seems to come up over and over again is that you should never tell your kids "good job."


Although it seems positive on the surface, here's what I've gleaned.

1) It's meaningless.

2) It focuses on the outcome rather than the process.

3) It addicts them to adult (or external, later) praise.

What is/are the alternative(s)?

1) Be specific.

If your kid empties the dishwasher, instead of saying, "Good job!" maybe say, "When you help our family, it makes things so much easier on me, and I appreciate it!" "Thanks for putting your shoes on when I asked you to."

If they paint a picture, you might say, "You're really using your imagination!" or, "You used a lot of blue here. It makes me feel so cool when I look at it." Also, this is honest. Because, let's face it, some kids' make some freaking ugly pictures, so why give them false praise? Since "Good job" could mean anything from, "We could have that shown at the Louvre!" to "Well, bless your heart, you didn't poke your eye with the paint brush this time!" why not be specific so that your words actually mean something?

2) Again, with the "pretty picture" "good job," what if they worked on it for hours and hours (or even days), and it's really *not* objectively good? "You spent three whole days making this, and that is incredible to me!" They need to understand that the process is always important. It's the meaningful part. Someday, there might be a direct reward for effort (i.e. becoming an accomplished pianist, getting drafted into the WNBA, or becoming an astronaut), but honestly... most of our efforts have modest outcomes. That doesn't diminish the importance of getting there.

Other ideas: "That was hard work, but you didn't give up!" "I could tell you were really frustrated at one point, but you kept going." "You are sweating! Are you ready for some ice water?" "I was watching you, and I'd love for you to tell me more about..."

3) Unless your kid asks you, maybe don't always chime in with an affirmation? It's totally enough for the kid to do something and be proud of himself or herself. You want to raise a kid who'll become someone with an internal work ethic, right? So why not encourage that by not showering them with praise every time they do something.

And if they ask you, "Did you see that?" maybe say, "I did. Are you proud of yourself? You should be."

Okay, so that's what I've read. And it actually makes a lot of sense to me.

But here's the deal: I say (or want to say and catch myself and feel like an idiot) "Good job!" about fourteen hundred times per day. And judging by what I've overheard when congregated with other parents (like yesterday in free play at the gym), I'm not alone! Climb the ladder? "Good job!" Throw the balls back into the ball pit? "Good job!" Everything from using the grown-up potty to taking a drink out of the fountain.

In a broader sense, it's like "love." Love pizza. Love your grandma. Love rock and roll. It doesn't really mean anything. It's just a thing we say. Like awesome. Or all right. Or any of dozens of little catch phrases we spew because we are conditioned to say things, but not necessarily always to have our brains engaged.

So, what do you think? Do you have a little one (or two or three) around the house? Just try to be mindful and see how many times you catch yourself saying, "Good job!" pretty mindlessly throughout the day. What are your ideas for creative, specific, and encouraging alternatives?
Good job blowing out your diaper so you had to run around the nursing home with no pants!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Oooh, a new opinion!

Today, I've been feeling like death all day. Allergies have been the bane of my existence for the past three or four days, and today it all came to a literal head (mine). I was sitting in Mal's floor wishing that James worked at home so I could sleep (or for sweet, sweet death) when I realized that if I didn't get up and walk, I was going to pass out.

I asked Mal, "Do you want to go down to the mailbox with me?"

He immediately headed toward the door. I put on the harness, and we went outside. I let him walk out in case he wanted to try the stairs, but after kind of hanging around the next-door-neighbor's door for a few moments (probably to see if he could get the dog to bark), he held out his hands to me and I strapped him in.

We got downstairs and about twelve paces past the van when he started kicking and whining. Huh?

He'd never done that before, but I had an idea what he wanted. I turned back and went to the van. As soon as I'd turned, he stopped fussing. By the time I'd gotten to the van's back doors, he was giggling.

That boy wanted to ride in his stroller rather than my wearing him on the walk. And he "told" me, very succinctly, even without words.

All the way down to the mailbox and back, he was craning around, looking at everything. He tries to do that in the carrier but it makes me exhausted and he doesn't really have much range of motion. I guess we know what he prefers. Today, at least.

Love it when we can understand each other!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Thoughts from the straightaway at the end of the first lap...

This week, that there kiddo is going to be a year old. In thinking back and forward, I could imagine far-flung friends saying things like, "Wow! That was fast!" and "Time flies!"

But, you know what? For those of us in Team Dave's, this year has not so much flown as plodded on in the sopping sand wearing ankle weights attached to heavy iron balls. It's felt a lot more like a war zone than the pastel nursery of catalogues. In other words, it's been a tough one, guys.

This coming weekend, we're celebrating. Yes, it's technically Mal's birthday and so it seems like it's a party for him, but honestly... it's for us other three. We are celebrating having made it.

We survived a year of unexplainable and prolonged crying (mostly Mal; but sometimes Daphne, under cover of the shower; and often me, paired with incoherent rambling and a few choice swear words; I don't know that James has lost it at all this year, with the exception of being pretty sniffly when I was in the diciest part of labor... but it's been difficult for him, too.). We made it through meal after meal (hope springs eternal?) that ended abruptly because this little guy decided he didn't want to be in a restaurant. We managed to hold it together through exhaustion and impatience and differences of opinion and did I mention exhaustion yet?

I know some of you Nutty McFruitbats loooove infancy and miss it when your kids grow on. Man, I don't. I didn't with Daphne, and come to find out she was a super easy baby! I was ready for Mal to be born so we could get this first year knocked out, but I had no idea what I was in for.

A year ago, I never imagined that I'd be sleeping with my baby... Not even at first, but a full year in and no end in sight? Not this lady!

This time last year, I'd not imagined how difficult it would be trying to parent simultaneously a teenager and a baby. Their needs are so vastly divergent that it's often impossible to care for both at the same time, especially when the older can't be in the room when the younger is crying or has hiccups. So when the needs butt heads, guess who wins 8 out of ten times? Yeah, the one who might literally die otherwise. (I have made it a point to let him cry and help her out several times, including her Halloween costume last year. But he usually trumps because of that whole squeaky wheel thing.)

If you'd told me while I was "in waiting" that I'd not have been away from my child for more than one hour at this point, that my husband and I would have had a total of one dinner date (walking next door for 30 minutes to grab Taco Cabana) during this stretch, or that we could have tried at three different sittings on three different days this weekend to watch a movie all the way through and still not be done with it... I probably wouldn't have believed any of that.

Should you have bothered to warn me that, after twelve whole months, a baby of mine would not only not have slept through the night one time yet, but that he would wake up every single night for that same year at a minimum of six times and that it would always be me he wanted because my nursing was the only thing that would soothe him back to sleep... I would have had ideas about nipping that in the bud and would not have heard it.

Or that he'd still be crying when I took a shower and Dad wasn't distracting him, or when I was ready to make dinner but he wasn't, or when I was taking too long to fix my hair, or any of that... It would have been unbelievable to me. It was not within my realm of experience.

Just today, a friend posted that her husband had taken their daughter to his mom's for five hours so she could bake brownies and nap, and I almost had an attitude about it. Then I remembered, "Yeah, I had that kid, too! And then I had this one."

But we made it. And we're going to celebrate.

And, of course, it hasn't all been bad.

I mean, we wanted a baby. Well, two-thirds of us did. And we were blessed, at our advanced maternal and paternal ages to have conceived not once, but twice; and to have had one healthy, VERY thriving baby. We are grateful for that. But I, for one, am also grateful that this "get-to-know-you" year is almost over! Bigger and better things are ahead.

And here's the flip side of the hard stuff: Mal has made me rethink my parenting, and, actually, my personhood. Because of this child, I have had to develop my empathy in a deeper way than I have ever needed to before. I've literally studied and mindfully put into practice a kind of unconditional love and respect for both of my kids, actually. Daphne might not realize or appreciate it yet (or ever), but Mal has made me a better and more thoughtful parent to her.

It's clear that an extra measure of grace is going to be necessary in order to deal with this very feisty little boy. I'll be honest and tell you that I don't always rise to the occasion... but I'm trying as never before. These times of honing and rounding out the rough edges are never fun during the process, but I know I'm becoming a better person because of it, and I know that God gave me this boy for this (among other) reason(s).

Another huge boon in this very trying year has been that no major faults have been uncovered in my marriage. James and I have both been stressed, but we've been stressed together, and we've pulled together. We made a deal early in our marriage that we'd not pull the "I'm more tired/I work harder" crap on each other, and while we've both talked a lot about our weariness, our inability to get done things beyond the bare minimum for sustaining life and satisfying the health department at times, it's never in an "oh, yeah? well, I..." way. Team Dave's isn't just a name. We're truly a team. And having this not-easy baby has reinforced that, making it stronger.

And then, of course, there's Mal himself. For every gray hair and clenched jaw his presence has caused, there is even more laughter and amazement and love beyond measure. The other day, I was sitting in his room and he wanted to nurse. It was really "too early" (these days, it's practically all we do again), but he asked so nicely. Then I just sat there and watched him, saying, "I love you so much" and crying like a stupid baby. But I do love him. So much.

As Mal matures, he's getting better at articulating his needs. As we continue to spend time together, I'm getting better at reading those needs he can't express. The road is getting smoother, and we are better together, and so this weekend's celebration is really about all of those things.

But mostly, yeah, that the first year is over, that we made it, that we learned a lot, and that, as far as I'm concerned, it only gets better from here on out.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Hijacked by my own thoughts...

I started a blog post yesterday about loneliness and not feeling like I'd found "my" people and whatnot, and in mentally reviewing stuff (because I often start posts then have to go about life and finish the posts up later), I realized that really wasn't where I was going with any of it, and I came to a conclusion about my son, even though it's not what I thought I was thinking about. Does that make sense? No? Welcome to my husband's world.

During the past twenty-four hours, I've felt almost giddy with hope and excitement about the future. I don't know whether it's the decision I made or the fact that I always get a little bit loopy when fall weather arrives and I can open the windows and reconnect with the world. Whatever, I'm feeling good.

Last week, I had a couple of experiences that led me to feeling as described above; I don't really belong anywhere. Like, I met some awesome people, and had a few interesting opportunities, and at the end of the day, each time, I was just left thinking, "I'm a weird-o, and I don't know if we can get past *fill-in-the-blank* to make a relationship work well here."


You know where I DO fit in?

My family.

I get why Daphne likes being home so much. It's pretty awesome (when her little brother isn't crying or whining). And it's not judgy and we're not touchy about things and we don't try to push stuff on each other.

I'm really trying to tell this story without too many specifics, but it's difficult to explain this way.

Let me give a couple of specifics:

First, I went to MOPS for the first time last week. Mal lasted an hour in Moppets, which was great for him. When I went to pick him up, he was standing in the floor alone crying. My guess is that the childcare workers tried to soothe him, realized that they couldn't, and moved on to other babies after they'd texted me. Heck, I leave him crying in the floor quite often. He cries a lot. So I ain't even mad about that.

But after I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that I'll go back next week and as long as he's cool with being left in childcare again, great. If not, though... I'm going to bag it until after Christmas and try again.

"At some point, he's going to have to learn how to get along without you..." Okay, but that time is not now. How grateful am I that this is a "want to" rather than a "have to"?

Then, I received a letter in the mail about a class for Mal's age (roughly; it's actually up to age three) that said something to the effect of "young children need structure to learn." This is diametrically opposed to my personal educational paradigm, which is that, to learn, kids (and especially very young kids) need to play.

That letter happened to come later in the day after I'd talked to a woman who was very concerned about getting her not-yet-two-year-old child into a school that "emphasizes math and science." I'd just mentioned the Waldorf School, where the curriculum is pretty much play until the kids are in third grade.

Well, this weekend, I attempted that class to see how Mal would do. Of course, he could not sit still for one minute, much less the seven or eight minutes of the instruction. And everyone was so nice, telling me it's fine, and he'll get used to it, and not to worry... But the thing is, I'm not embarrassed or afraid that he won't be able to cut it. I actually don't believe in it. I don't think that he should. I'm not willing to work on it until he can do it. Not at this stage in his life.

Speaking of which, I need to write a very kind woman an email and explain that so she'll know why we're not back the next time.

Anyway, all of this ruffling of my proverbial feathers has made me realize how much of an educational anarchist I probably am, and how I don't like people infringing on my kid's freedom to learn how and what he wants. Which made me see that I'm probably going to be keeping him home, too...

One of the reasons I wanted to move to Oak Hill was that we'd be close to the Waldorf School. I think it's a wonderful program. But more and more I am remembering the freedom we had when Daphne was younger: freedom to travel, or to have all-day adventures (in mystery shopping, often, listening to audio books in the car), or to stay home and do whatever we wanted. I want that same thing for Mal. Especially here in Austin instead of the uber-suburbs, there will be so much to choose from.

So... I'm still tired. I still feel like I don't "fit in" anywhere since I really can't get out and do stuff that excludes this very clingy little boy. And yet, more and more, I'm finding that I think right here by my side is where he's supposed to be.

It'll be interesting to see how this all pans out.

Passed out after charming all of the ladies at the nursing home.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha Ha...

I'm not saying that parenting a baby is tedious or that I'm losing my mind or anything, but the other day, I was in Mal's room playing with his blocks and said, "That's interesting" out loud. When James asked me what, I realized that it wasn't actually interesting, but that I was spending way too much time in my baby's room.


If you talk to me and I'm boring, here's why. This is what I do all day.

This is a set of stacking blocks that Mal has. I got them for like $6 at a second-hand store months before he was born, not knowing how much I'd end up playing with them. Can you tell he teeths on them? Especially the top ones?

Anyway, this is how they're "supposed" to go. Sometimes I stack them upside down just because it looks impossible and fun and I love that. But then I try to find other patterns or ways to stack, or try just to be completely random. Or make the stacks look of uniform size, which you can do pretty well by alternating big and small pieces. But I digress.

Here's sort of rainbow order... I usually pull the red one off of the bottom of the disc pile and put it on top. Didn't do it this time, and now it's going to bother me. This is the worst blog ever.

Here, I tried to get uniform colors all the way across. As you can see, there are only 2 light blues and 2 reds. However, there are four dark blues, greens, and yellows. And three purples and oranges. I wonder why they went with 4 yellows, when this is such a ugly yellow it would have been prettier to do orange or even my favorite: purple. But, as you can see, I think about it way too much. This is what my life has become.

Also, if one piece is missing, I can tell you by looking at the rest which one is gone. Sad, sad times.

Color blocks. I have to have the red "toppers," and this bothers me.

Mal has another toy that is similar, and right now, I have it "random with as much off-track as possible." So, basically, it's a hot mess.

This toy is actually superior to the first one because the sticky-up parts can fold down. On the first toy, the sticky-up rods don't move, and many were the times that I worried my wobbly infant was going to impale himself. I don't think he ever did, or if he did, it obviously wasn't too traumatic for us. But I like the train's design better.

Unfortunately, I also liked to twist the posts around and watch them unwind, and I ended up breaking one off. So, yeah. I broke my kid's toy. I don't think he's cared yet.

Next, we have a linear alphabet Noah's ark puzzle that my friend Jana gave me. She had the pieces in a shoe box, and I put them in this Wilton's candy Christmas tin.

May I be honest and tell you I have spent more than two months trying to figure out how to get all of the animal pieces on the bottom of the tin (not having to stack or pile them)? Well, a couple of days ago, I finally got a combination that worked, and while I was trying to take this picture, Mal took out the giraffe and I almost had a heart attack getting him back in so I could get this shot.

This probably looks pretty easy, but figuring it out... well, wasn't. Maybe I'm just not spatially inclined. But here's my next challenge: I KNOW in my heart of hearts that there's room for the ark, too. I want them all on the floor of this tin. I don't know why. It's just that this is what my existence has become, and I'm leaning into it, friends.

Wish me luck! Or pray for me. Whatever.

See these books? I've memorized all of them. If we're ever waiting in line for something and you'd like an oral interpretation, hit me up. I have a lot of material here. (Yeah, Mal teeths on these, too, even though we've tried not to let him.)

Another thing: Since we moved and Mal has carpet instead of wood flooring, I've been working on places to put his top. Obviously, we can put it on books, but sometimes it spins off. It will spin on the floor, but just not as long.

One thing that I've found works is these oatmeal tin lids. It holds the top in place until it starts to slow down, then it falls off about the time it'd have stopped on a hard floor, anyway.

But the other day, I got super excited because I figured out that I could do this. And, yes, "super excited." At the moment, I seriously was. And this makes me pity myself just a bit.

Is it a spyglass or a top stand? It's BOTH!

That's blurry, but it was difficult for D to focus on a moving object with my picky camera. Plus, I'm sure she wondered what the heck was going on with her mom that I kept asking her to try it "one more time." I mean, what is wrong with her mom?!


Next step: See what kind of repertoire I can build up on this thing.

It's a little tricky because there are no sharps or flats; it's just the straight scale, with a few extra notes on either end.

Oh, did you also know that you can make the sound come out by sucking on the keys with them open? It might make you pass out, but that's possible. Also, James and I had a "contest" (I suggested it) to see who could make this thing work with their mouth furthest away from the blow hole. I won, or I wouldn't have suggested it, of course.

And last week, James and I spent a good hour tossing/rolling a ball back and forth while Mal did other things.

So, please. Someone. Help me.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

He's Getting It!

A few cute things have happened recently, things that let me know Mal is catching on to more and more by way of language.

To start, I've learned not to promise him something he wants until I'm ready to give it to him. In other words, I can't say, "We'll go outside after we eat," because all he hears is "outside" and he's ready to go!

Speaking of which, the other day, I said it was time for us to go, and he brought me his shoes! He hates wearing shoes, and if we're just going somewhere in the car, then getting out at a house or place where he can sit in a cart (in this case, we were going to my sister's), I don't make him wear shoes. But I let him, because... he volunteered! He's also brought me my shoes when I've said it was time to get in the car, and even though they weren't the shoes I'd planned to wear, nor did they match what I was wearing, I did use those shoes, of course.

Yesterday he made me laugh. We'd been playing in his room, and I said (not expecting a response; I talk to him a lot, because, you know, I'm around him most of the time, and because you're supposed to do that), "I want to make some cookies. Do you want me to wear you while I do that?" Dang it if he didn't walk over to his door, go around back, and take the harness off of his doorknob, and hand it to me. I seriously had no idea he understood "wearing" and did not expect him to do much of anything but reach for me if I stood up.

We've had a couple of times where he's "obeyed" (read; he felt like doing something I asked him to do) by handing me my phone when he'd started chewing on it, or sitting down on the diaper changer because he was dirty. I try to make a REALLY big deal out of that, because I would like for him to repeat it often. :)

He has two new things: "Mmmm," and "blahhh."

I guess I taught him "blahh" but I didn't mean to. I must say it a lot, like: "Don't reach into the litter box! That's cat poop and it's dirty. Blahhh." The other day, we were outside and he was trying to eat one of the wild, very seeded, already mostly eaten by a bird grapes that was on our patio. I said, "Mal, I'll go get you people grapes; those are bird grapes. Don't eat them." He said, "Blahhh." It cracked me up! Since then, any time I say something is dirty or shake my head like something's disgusting, he says, "Blahh."

Then if he's eating something he likes (or drinking water), he'll say, "Mmmm!" When we were at the tax office waiting for our number to be called, he found four-day-old French fries in a plastic baggy in my purse. He wanted to eat them, and was walking around the waiting area holding up one sad old fry at a time, going, "Mmmm!" to everyone.

Yesterday, I'd made chocolate chip cookies, and he wanted to try one. I was holding him and broke off a piece for him. As he ate it, I said, "Blahh! Chocolate chip cookies! Blahhh!" but he said, "Mmmm!" So I know he's not just copying me.

He is also getting how to put lids back onto things, which is new. He is experimenting with things like putting my shoe in his favorite saucepan or putting a small stuffed animal in our clothes hamper. It's definitely an improvement over dropping things into the cats' litter boxes.

Oh! I don't use spray-in conditioner or dry shampoo very often, but I must use them enough that it means something to Mal. He'll pull canisters out from under our bathroom sink, hand them to me, and say, "Ssss, sss, ssss," mimicking the spray sound. He's started doing that with the glass cleaner, too. (I let him play with it; it's nontoxic, but I do close it before handing it over.)

It's fun to see him latching onto things and interacting more "conversationally" in the world now. As we close out this first year, I have to say: I'm glad it's almost over. It might not be too popular a sentiment, but this is my least favorite year of parenting. I'm ready to get to know my child better! He's pretty amazing.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Thinking About "Identity"

Last night while James was sleeping and I was trying to install the Amazon app that would let me install another Amazon app (I know!) so I could watch a video on my phone, I thought, "I'd love to be able to finish a full conversation with that man." Which led me on to visions of going out somewhere alone and actually, you know, talking. And THAT led me to thinking about a few things that parents and specifically moms are told very often on several fronts, and while I get that the people who say these things are well-meaning, I think it actually puts *more* pressure on families, and I don't think they're actually necessary.

What are they?

1) One thing I hear all of the time is that moms, new moms especially, need to be careful not to "lose our identity." In other words, we can't put all of our eggs in this "motherhood" basket or else we become tedious to our spouses and to those around us. Maybe we'll even end up resenting our children and realizing when they're gone that we don't know who we are.

Well, here's the deal: When you become a mom, that changes your identity. Literally, the person you were when you went into labor is gone. You become a new person with that first kid: You become a mom. You weren't before. There's nothing you can do to change that. Your identity is different. It just is.

That doesn't mean the change is a bad thing, though. I mean, let's get real: our identity goes through changes with many seasons of our lives. The person I used to be would slide down the space between the escalators that went downstairs to the Boston Store at Central Mall in Fort Smith, Arkansas, on my first date with someone because I reasoned that if the guy acted embarrassed or like he didn't know me, he probably wasn't the person for me. It was my tradition. It was a thing. It's not now. Does that mean I'm not as fun or spunky as I used to be? No. I think it means I'm more mature, and I figured out better ways of vetting potential mates (no comments from the peanut gallery, readers; I picked well this time!).

Understand this: I hate hate HATE those "mothering is a 24-hour job with no breaks and we should get paid $14M a year" martyr woe-is-me crapfests that people claiming to value motherhood throw about. And I'm not saying that being a mother is more important than not being a mother. What I'm saying is that when you become a mother (however that happens: by birth, adoption, default, whatever), you just are a mother. It IS your identity. It is your normal. Why would you want to be so careful to preserve an older version of you? Why not continue to evolve?

What if the season in which you painted for hours at a time and sold those paintings to art lovers has passed? Does that make you less valuable? Does it means you've not taken care of yourself? Does it mean you've become boring? I hope not. Because, especially at first, it's very difficult to undertake any artistic endeavors when you have a child.

It'd be like asking a person treading water in the middle of the ocean after a shipwreck, "Yeah, I mean, I know you're dog-paddling, but what else do you do? You know, before the ship sank, what were your passions?"

Um, did I just compare parenting to a shipwreck? That's not hugely flattering, is it?

I think my point is that there are certainly days when being a mom feels like putting out fires, bailing water, or just trying to keep your breathe holes above the surface. When someone points out, "Remember how you used to love baking those braided challah loaves?" it just feels like an impossible task, and makes the parent struggling to get through the hours until bed time feel like they're failing.

I'm here to tell you: You're not. Whatever your day looks like, whether you have any time for reading or combing your hair or planning your next grocery trip or writing the great American novel or not, you're doing fine. You're doing well. You're not boring. You're not a sad, domesticated version of the old you. You're the new you. This is the new you, and it's an adventure, isn't it?

2) And its partner; You have to take time for yourself. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of others.

What does "take care of yourself" look like? Because I hear things about taking twenty minutes to be alone with your thoughts, or going out for a girls' lunch without the kids, or getting your hair done... And, honestly, sometimes, it's just not possible. Sometimes, sitting here in the dark while my child sleeps (because he still can't stay asleep for more than an hour when I'm not around), clicking at my keyboard, wishing I had a headboard because my back is killing me, and putting some of my thoughts out of my head is the closest thing to "me" time I get - and I have to be willing to drop it at any point because the child might wake up and need help getting back to sleep. Sometimes, I get less than that.

That is my reality, it's been my reality for almost a year, I'm not insane, my family is not insane, we've all eaten and loved each other and fought and pitched in and been a pretty normal family during this whole season of my not being able to "refill my cup" so to speak.

We moms are told that we have to make ourselves a priority, but, seriously, you're not going to prioritize yourself over your infant (or toddler or special needs child, etc.) who has a genuine need. If you have a "need" (for a little peace and quiet, to eat a sandwich, for an hour "off") at the same time your child has a genuine need (scared, hungry, hurt), you're not going to say, "Well, I'm sorry you're hungry but mommy is going to watch Monk and pretend you don't exist or else I'll be stressed and then you won't be happy because I'm not happy and I can't serve you well if I'm on 'e'." (I know; Monk's not on TV anymore; it's been a while since I've watched.)

Giving a mom one more thing she *must* do to be a "good mom" (even if it's just painting her nails for her own sake!) is just piling more stuff on top of someone who might feel buried as it is.

3) Couples should have "date nights" at least once a week to connect on an emotional level. It doesn't have to be a night out! You can wait until the kids are asleep and just spend an hour or two relating in a way that doesn't revolve around being parents. You need to keep that spark alive.

I'm pretty sure our great-great grandparents would either laugh or roll their eyes at the above idea. Again, I get where Focus on the Family and literally every other Christian family ministry and secular family support programs are coming from. It seems to make sense, right? Gotta keep that romance going.

But do we?

My husband was telling me about an article he'd read about how it's only been in the last 100 years or so that people have had the luxury of marrying for love rather than out of necessity. He said that lead him down a mental rabbit trail of "what does that do for divorce rates?" Now, yes, there are definitely things like women's rights and other issues at play, but I think we in the United States, especially, are way too romantic about what we think a "good" marriage should look like.

I think a good marriage works. In a good marriage, the couple is happy and they work together and they want to be married to each other. Do couples in tribal families take time away from their offspring to "connect on an emotional level"? Or are they too busy about the work of living their lives to be bothered by nonsense?

I was listening to a radio broadcast the other day in which a couple said that when they had their date nights, it was off-limits to talk about the kids. Why? Are they in denial during their date? They pretend they're not parents? Why have kids if you need to "forget" about them for a few hours each week? And especially because this was a Christian broadcast, where in the Bible are we told to interact with our spouse in a way that eliminates our entire family? (Literally the only time "forgetting" a kid is talked about, I believe, is the Psalm - I think - where it says that a nursing mom is more likely to forget her baby than God is to forget his children... and that's said for effect.)

This is almost a punishment to the primary caregiver, whether that's the mom or the dad. "Okay, we're going to go out together, but you are not allowed to talk about the thing that you do 18 hours a day." Would we tell the other spouse not to talk about his/her work?

Why, to be a good couple, do we have to deny the very thing that our good coupling has produced?

To clarify, I'm also not a "child-focused" family person. Like, our babies aren't running our household. There are times it feels that way, but ultimately, we're the grown-ups and it's our responsibility to make wise choices. We don't do anything and everything the kids want. So I'm not talking about vowing never to leave the kids alone or never having conversations about other things. I just think it's idiotic to ban *any* subject when you're out on a date with someone you love.

In closing, I'm sorry if this sounds jaded or bitter or that I'm "ovaryacting." (Thanks, Joy!) It's just... Right now, I'm mostly a mom. That's what I do. I don't have time to write - magazine articles, radio dramas, church skits, short films, commercials, novels. I have a high-needs kid who cries if I stand up too long - in the kitchen, especially. So there's no fancy baking or cake-decorating like I used to do. If my husband were to lose interest in me because I'm so immersed in my maternity, that would suck. Especially since this here kiddo was his idea!

Sometimes, we have to settle into the seasons of our lives gracefully instead of fighting them.

I can count on one hand the times I've left Mal in his 11+ months: 1) At church (maximum of 40 minutes; average 10-15 minutes), 2) Napping on the couch while my sister "watched" him and James and I went next door to Taco Cabana for dinner, 3) At the Nuthaus with my husband while I picked up Daphne's birthday cake, 4) At the Nuthaus with my parents and husband while I refilled a popcorn tin, and 5) At Vogelfutter with my parents and husband while I got my hair trimmed.

By the time Daphne was Mal's age, she had spent countless hours at my parents' house while her dad and I went to meetings and dinners and on dates. She spent 8 hours every day of two weeks with my mom while we trained for Boys Town. She hung out with multiple "babysitters" in the form of other house parents ("teaching couples") while we attended further BT training. She spent 6 hours in the church nursery on weekends when I sang. She had even spent the night with my parents while I went to California to catch a Rockapella concert. I had the luxury of more "me" time and more date time when Daphne was a baby, and guess what? I was still stressed out as a mom most of the time, and, spoiler alert, her dad and I are divorced.

I kind of dig my identity. I don't feel like the fact that I've had a 4-year break from perfecting my fondant-rolling technique is tragic, especially since that's been because I've had amazing adventures like living in an RV with my awesome daughter for two and a half years, then living in downtown Austin in a space without enough cabinet room for rolling, and now trying to raise an awesome human being when I'm super ancient and it's really really hard and challenging and, man, I'm going to be prouder of him later than I would be of fondant. Unless it was the really perfectly-thin, perfectly-uniform covering that always alluded me. No, no. I think I'll still be prouder of him.

These are all seasons. I've had seasons of theater, and then not, and then again, and then not, and then AGAIN. I've written, and I've been too tired or sad or busy to write. I've not biked, then I've been obsessed with biking, and now I just bike to the mailbox and back on occasion. Whatever season you're in, can we all just agree that it's enough, and that we don't "need" to do more to make it more enriching or well-rounded or whatever? Please?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Today, so far

I have a blog in the pipes (meaning: intention; hopefully it will get done) about a couple of cool things we've found in our "neighborhood" or immediate vicinity this week. However, today happened, and I had to share my day.

6:30 AM - Mal wakes up. It's still dark. We go out on the patio for a while to welcome the cloudy day, then come in to get breakfast ready for James.

Mal has this new thing where he makes the sound that the coffee grinder makes because I guess he wants me to use it. But I didn't need to this morning, and he was upset. I handed him the grinder and he played happily with it until he wanted food, so I poured us a bowl of cereal,

We went back on the patio to eat (milk + cereal + my baby = almost guaranteed mess) but he kept wanting to put his hands into the cereal since he usually eats that cereal dry. So I brought him back in, put him in the kitchen floor, and handed him a bowl of the puffs. He not only dumped them into the floor, he started crunching them with his feet. I asked him not to, put the cereal back into the bowl, and held on to it for him while he took a few.

My son has an "interesting" habit right now: He will put something in his mouth, maybe chew it a time or two, and then be done with it. Especially if it's bigger than small-bite-size. I'm having to chop his grapes up because even though he CAN do it with his teeth, he'll often bite it, end up with one piece he wants to swallow, and just put the rest in the floor. He did that a few times, and as I was getting ready to put the lid on the bowl so he couldn't get any more until he finished what he had, he spilled them AGAIN and started smashing them with his feet AGAIN.

I moved him to the living room so I could sweep and mop (sticky floors my bare feet do not love).

Finally, we got James off to work, and we played in Mal's room. We have been reading every single board book he owns twice every day for a while now. We usually read "Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb" about 12 times per day, thrice to half a dozen times per sitting. He loves it.

Mal actually ended up going to sleep at 10, which is super early. He's been taking his one - and often only - nap at around 1 lately. But I was glad. He was so tired, he needed it!

When he woke up, I invited him on an "adventure" and we went to The Home Depot for sand. He's been playing in his sandbox for over a week with no sand, and he doesn't care. I knew he'd love the improvement.

They have car carts at Home Depot, so that was good times. We got 150 pounds of sand (and no one offered to help us out to our car; just myself and a baby... thanks for the great customer service!), and then went across the street to Chick-fil-A.

Okay, you may have issues with the now-deceased owner's social views, but CFA knows what they're doing with their core customer base. This might have been around for a while, but I'd never seen it before... probably because I didn't need it until recently. But they have the little cups (like that they put the small carrot raisin salad in) at the end of the counter, and they're full of Cheerios. There's a sign that says something like "If your kids are too small to 'Eat mor chickn,' enjoy these with our compliments."

Also, they have books in their kids' meals, but if you have a kid under 3, they have board books! So Mal got a book in addition to his food, and my meal was free (thanks to my cowlendar card).

Then we went into the playground. Mal looked around for a while, then got brave.

After a bit of that, we came back home. I asked Daphne if she'd mind watching Mal so I could bring the three 50-pound bags of sand up to the apartment.

When I'd pulled in, there was a landscaping truck and trailer taking up the 7 or 8 closest spaces to my apartment, so I had to park about half a block away. When I went to get the sand, I decided to pull up very close, unload the sand, then move the car back. "Jerk," I thought, as I realized the truck was running and the landscaping guy was just sitting in there taking his break.

I moved my van, opened the back, unloaded the sand to the grass, then started to close the back door, but decided to lock it first, since it locks separately from the front doors and when I moved back to my parking space, my back doors would be in the bushes so I couldn't go back and do it manually.

Then I went around to move the van and... IT WAS LOCKED. Engine running, parked diagonally and blocking one of the paid covered parking spaces, and also blocking the sidewalk entrance. Ugh.

Just so you know, when I have my car running and Mal is in it, I always open one of the windows about 4 inches, so I can reach in if I happen to do something like this. Or, if my electronics system just messes up (which it does, and has, but usually this just involves the doors NOT locking, though once, the side door just randomly locked).

Anyway, I think I actually slapped my head with both hands like they do in cartoons when they realize they've done something stupid.

I grabbed a bag of sand to take it upstairs and was thinking quickly: James was 30 miles away at work. I could call the office and ask them if any of the maintenance guys could get into an old van. After all, wasn't it their fault because one of their contractors had stinking parked in such a way that their own tenants couldn't use their parking spots?!

Just as I came into the apartment, I remembered: Because my darling daughter has her own speed, and sometimes Mal has last-minute emergencies, I had made copies of our house key, apartment key, AND van key for her to keep, in case she ever needed them. Thank God!

She went and got me her key, and I was on my way downstairs when I saw the two remaining bags of sand at the bottom of the stairs. I walked down and the landscaping guy was standing there. "Thanks!' I said. He asked, "You're upstairs?" I told him I was, and that sweet feller walked the two other bags up to my doorstep while I moved my van back into the parking space further away.

Just think: If that "jerk" hadn't parked where he did, I'd have had to carry three times more sand upstairs than I did!

Apparently wanting to experience stuff with his feet has broad applications. He was trying alternately to scoop sand out onto the patio or put his feet up over the side of the sandbox. I gave him a little help...

After he'd played for a good long while, he was ready to get out. He wanted to come inside, but he was super sandy. So I pulled off his clothes, including his diaper. He still wanted to come in, but went right back out to "sweep" the patio. I thought, "What a great compromise! He likes to be naked, I want to get my security deposit back - so no peeing on the carpet."

He Swiffered in the nude for a few minutes, then, sure enough, peed while sitting on the concrete. Just like with the cereal and sand, he immediately started rubbing his feet in the puddle. Then I remembered my idea I'd implemented the other day with great success: A pan full of water!

I filled up his favorite sauce pan and a bonus cup with water. The bonus cup got dumped on the puddle immediately, and then Mal played in the water for another ten or fifteen minutes.

I have one picture I wish I could share, but the internets don't take kindly to adorbs naked baby pictures, so I won't. He just had an awesome time and was in a great mood when we came inside.

Later, though... Well, I ended up taking a hot and sweaty walk to the mailbox just so he'd go to sleep. Which he did. And my husband should be almost home now, so... It's time for a 4-day weekend!