Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Daily laugh

I just came across this post and wanted to share in case you need another reason to smile today.

I am thankful for living through the time in which people looked so weird. I know it's hard to avoid, but I hope we can raise River without him looking at photos and asking "What in the world did you do to me?"

Bye bye formula

Today we will use our last remaining infant formula. We will not purchase any more, even though we’ve still got about two weeks left until River’s first birthday.

We’ve been preparing for this awhile. Somewhere around 10 months (maybe a little earlier), we began to use some cow’s milk instead of formula to make his morning oatmeal, rice or barley. In mid-October (at just over 10 months old) we neglected to bring enough formula while on a trip. So for a couple of days, we used half formula and half milk. That worked just fine.

So when we knew that our formula supply was running low, we decided we wouldn’t replenish it when it ran out. For a few weeks now we’ve been upping the percentile of cow’s milk in the milk to formula ratio until he’s been receiving bottles of 100% cow’s milk. He shows no reaction at all.

For my husband this was an easy decision. River is a perfectly healthy, happy and large and he’ll be just fine on cow’s milk. I felt intuitively that it was the right thing to do, but still had my doubts. Would we be bad parents for switching before the one year birthday? Would we deny him needed nutrients or brain development?

First I asked myself what was so special about the one-year birthday. Nothing that I could identify. I guessed that the medical establishment determined that the vast majority of babies by that age are at the developmental stage needed to switch to milk. Some will get there earlier of course and others later. With River in the 90th percentile growth-wise and a voracious wide-ranging eater, I think he’s already where the average baby would be on their first birthday.

Then I looked at the ingredients of the formula. Yes, there are vitamins and that’s good, especially since his iron was a bit low. But the main ingredient is either nonfat cow’s milk or corn syrup. If he’s getting dried cow’s milk in the formula, why can’t I give him fresh cow’s milk? And corn syrup? I know breastmilk is sweet and this is an attempt to make it similar as well as to provide calories. But really? At this age? He’s gotten it already in the formula we’ve given him to date, but I don’t think he needs any more.

Then, finally, was the fact he’s still getting a couple of breastfeeding sessions in per day so he’s got some “good stuff” to go along with the milk and the vitamins he gets from food.

I think this is just an example of how every parent needs to make choices that work best for their circumstances and particular child. However, even with a careful look at the options, it’s still easy to doubt oneself. I’ll try to lay off the self-doubt for a while and enjoy the ease (and the lower cost) of quickly filling a bottle from a gallon of milk. Hooray!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Return to Almost Normalcy

Woo hoo! I am no longer overweight! Since last Monday my BMI has been below 25. The health website I use defines normal weight as a BMI of 18.5-24.9 and overweight at 25-29.9.

This is still overweight for me. I remain 8 pounds above my normal pre-pregnancy weight and 18 pounds over what I weighed when I conceived. But hey, returning to no-longer-technically overweight status is a nice achievement. It’s been well over a year since I’ve been here.

The site also shows me that I’ve lost 15 pounds (yay!) since the 4th of July, when my mother-in-law gave me a great pedometer and the copy of The Step Diet Book. I haven’t been following the plan rigorously, especially in recent weeks, but I do try to keep the principles – regular activity and limited calories – in mind.

The Step Diet starts out with a two week baseline in which you go ahead with your typical diet and exercise levels in order to set a baseline, or starting point to improve from. Looking back at my records, I see my weight remaining pretty steady during those two weeks. Then, as I began to up my activity level and pay a little more attention to what I eat, a concave curve began to form.

I’ve figured out that for me, what works is getting 11,500 steps or an hour of other exercise/day and trying to keep calories in the 2,000 range (it was 2,4000 when I started and was breastfeeding more). I have a sweet tooth, so reining the calories can be a problem. But I think I’m doing much better than during the baseline, when upon keeping track of my food intake I saw I was consuming a solid 3,000 calories a day!

As of last Monday, I set myself a new challenge which should aid in weight loss. It is to stop being a hypocrite in terms of food. I try to keep River away from white carbohydrates and sweets and I try to keep the amount of processed foods he eats to a minimum. I’ve been a little more flexible lately. When we went out for pizza and they didn’t have a wheat crust option, I let him eat regular pizza. A little white pasta every so often won’t kill him either. My goal is just for him to develop a taste for the healthier versions before he’s regularly exposed to the less healthy versions.

My husband and I knew that we’d have to end our hypocrisy at some point. We both have problems controlling our sweets intake. I had hoped we’d change our habits together, that we could set a date to move ahead as a healthy family. It’s clear that River notices now when we have something and won’t let him have any. So I thought the time to begin should be soon.

When my husband balked at naming a date, I decided to go ahead and end my own hypocrisy. I’m not forgoing sweets entirely. But I have set a rule for myself to not purchase anything to eat for myself that I won’t share with River. Nor will I eat things that I won’t allow him to have in front of him. I’m making exceptions for occasional diet sodas, diet Jello and low-fat frozen yogurt. Without those things, I really don’t think I could survive.

In the few days I’ve been implementing it, it’s first been driving me towards whatever sweets we have left in the house. I’m scarfing up the dark chocolate, the Laffy Taffy’s, the granola bars. Life will get harder when those are all gone and I’ll have to be more creative in finding healthy snacks. At the same time, it’s leading me towards healthier choices when I’m out. Yesterday I felt like pizza for lunch. But I wouldn’t give that to River. So I instead settled upon beef stroganoff with roasted vegetables.

Here’s hoping I’ll be nearer to my pre-pregnancy self soon. As someone who doesn’t do well with food deprivation, it’s taking me a while.

Do you have any secrets on how to take off the pounds or keep them off post-pregnancy?

Monday, November 24, 2008

The First Casualty

River has inflicted mortal damage on his first piece of household furniture – a floor lamp. It was placed attractively next to the armchair and recently, there wasn’t much he liked better than to reach out for it and pull it back and forth, marveling at his ability to make the lamp swing.

Daddy wouldn’t have allowed such behavior. When he saw River doing this, he urged me to stop him. I did so reluctantly. River’s face of enjoyment was so pure and so sincere that I hated to destroy it, even at the cost of the lamp.

I guess I didn’t really expect the lamp to be damaged. But it was. Tonight he reached out for it. Afterwards, the lamp, which had been tilting lately, could no longer stand upright. We had to toss it (though I posted it on freecycle first and it looks like someone wants it – yay freecycle!).

Who knew I would be such a softie? I certainly didn’t expect it.

My husband is also suggesting (with good reason I know) that I stop my morning ritual of handing River every toiletry item he points to on his shelf while he’s on the potty. Mark says it’s not good for him to get used to playing with medicine bottles, aspirin bottles or licking powder can tops. I know. But when he looks over that way, points with such enthusiasm he bounces, begins to huff in excitement and looks at me with wide eyes, sure I can fulfill his desire, how can I say no? I ask myself if it will cause serious harm to him or others. If not, I let him have it, touch it, explore it.

For now, he can’t open any of the bottles and I’m supervising him every moment he has them. When he gets to the point where he can open them, we’ll have to move them to a safer place. But for now, I don’t think his morning pleasure of touching every object on the shelf is so bad. In the last few days, we’ve added a new part onto the ritual where he hands each object back, one by one, and I put it back on the shelf. So he’s learning how to put things away, I tell myself. Then again, I am the one who let him break the lamp.

Looking for work

My mind has been a bit occupied in the past days by an interview I had today for a job. I am officially in the market for a job now and there is one place in particular where I think I might really like to work.

It amazes me how much difference a couple of months can make in my readiness to work. I had my last interview in August. That job was great in that it was located only two blocks from home and I knew the people were pretty flexible. I could pop home in the middle of the day or the babysitter could bring River over to me. But the 30% travel was extensive and I wasn’t willing to be away from River so much. Especially at the low pay offered. When they asked about my interest after the interview I said I was interested, but only if I could do it part-time (and with a higher salary). That didn’t work out.

In an ideal world, I’d still take a part-time job. But I’m at the point now where I want to do something interesting. I do want to travel some, especially now that our family budget doesn’t allow for frequent plane tickets. I’m also willing to work a bit more if it means that I’m continuing on with my career. I’m willing to accept full-time, though I’m looking for reasonable hours (no regular evenings or weekends) and I value vacation time more than a higher salary.

I am so grateful to my last employer for allowing me to work from home during my third trimester and giving me five months paid leave. As a result, it looks like I’ve been out of work just over six months, when really it’s been over a year since I’ve done anything of substance. So far, I don’t feel this small gap is affecting me in my job search. I’m hopeful I will be able to both spend my son’s first year with him and return to the workforce without much of a disadvantage.
It is my sincere hope that our society will move to a place where women (and men) return to work after childbirth at the time where they feel comfortable doing so, instead of when they feel pressured. Having a year of leave divided between parents as they see fit seems reasonable to me. Many countries offer much more.

How have others negotiated the return to work after childbirth? If you left your job, how difficult did you find it to return to the workforce?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Getting closer to my previous self

I am now back in the world of menstruating women, just over 11 months after River’s birth. I was expecting this to come at some point in the near future. River has been eating solids since he was four months old and has received 2-3 bottles of formula a day since six months or so. I was also feeling rumblings of activity going on down there.

I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it’s nice to be moving more definitely beyond the new mother stage. I’m losing weight, I’m breastfeeding less, I’m menstruating again, I’m becoming closer to the person I was before becoming pregnant. On the other hand, there is a slight sorrow that River no longer needs the milk in the same way. Both he and I are moving beyond this stage. Of course, I’m glad for him to grow and develop, but it’s also sad to know the early baby days can never be retrieved.

I was waiting to go on birth control until I resumed my periods. One reason was due to breastfeeding (though I know there are options out there that are OK to use while breastfeeding). Another was that I was truly curious about how my body was going to respond. The entire experience of conception, pregnancy, childbirth and the past year has taught me so much about myself and my body. I wanted to see how in tune my body is with my mind – at what point it would allow me to conceive again.

The result is that it wouldn’t have let me have another child any earlier than 20 months after River’s birth. I think that is wonderful. Any less and I either wouldn’t have wanted it or would have found it very overwhelming.

When River was just a few months old, I had a dream in which I was pregnant again. In the dream, I was very distressed. My body wasn’t ready to take on that challenge again. I couldn’t deal with two infants at once. More than anything, and what made me decide in my dream that I needed to get an abortion, was that I didn’t want to deny River the one-on-one care and the breastmilk I thought he deserved during his first year.

Somewhere around ten months, I realized that even though I’d prefer a larger spacing between children, if I did somehow become pregnant, I would keep it. And voila, a few weeks later my body ovulates.

The cycle was short (3 days) and pretty uneventful, as it used to be. However, especially in the first day or so, I felt minor cramps or pains that suddenly brought back the feelings of childbirth. Though I never thought I’d get there, I’m now at the stage of thinking – yeah, that was pretty awful, but it’s a distant event now and River is so worth it and billions of women go through it. It’s hard to recreate the memories of exactly what it felt like (except the extreme pain in the last hour or two, which hasn’t yet faded). But these cramps brought back a faint reminder of the contractions and the memory that yeah, it really did hurt down there, and holy crap, I really passed a large head through my legs!

River is just a bundle of happiness and joy and being a parent right now feels easy and rewarding. I’d like to cut down our hours with our babysitter, but am hesitant to do so because I’m looking for a job and am guessing that as soon as we cut the hours, I’ll find a job and need her more. So we’re hanging on for now and swallowing the large expense.

His intellectual development took a giant leap a week or so again and he went from constant pointing to what really seems to be two-way communication. Now he points specifically at what he wants. And though his main word is dah, he uses it with emphasis and seriousness that make me think he really knows what he wants to communicate, he just doesn’t know the words for it yet.

Physically, he’s also taken a big leap, learning how to walk along a surface, and then to walk while pushing something in front of him. It seemed just recently that we wondered if he’d ever move with confidence. Now we feel like he could take his first independent steps any day now. It’s thrilling to watch.

And not to leave any development out, socially he’s also branching out further on his own. Yesterday I took him to story hour at the library. Up until yesterday, he always sat on my lap and either listened or looked around or ate or drank. This time he immediately squirmed out of my arms and began to crawl around. He didn’t bother anybody and I never had to go retrieve him. He didn’t return to me during the entire half hour. What surprised me the most was that he never even made eye contact with me. He didn’t need any assurance of my presence. I could have left and he wouldn’t have noticed or cared.

“Yes, he’s an independent boy,” Mark said, when I told him about it. Both Mark and I have strong independent streaks, so it’s not surprising that River would get some of that. But to see it so clearly at only 11 months is surprising. Along with his independence he has confidence and a sunny disposition, which I think will serve him well.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

No want that milky

I had an especially tough time breastfeeding River before bed this evening. Although Mark was on duty during the second half of the day and I could have gone somewhere else without household distractions, I stuck around to be available to breastfeed. Then, when the time comes, River says no.

He’s tired, he’s cranky, he’s ready for bed. But each time I offer him the breast, he extends his white, velvet arm straight out to the center of my chest. That is the milk rejection symbol. Worse was when he’d take a sip or two, then pull away crying and throw that arm out again.

Am I out of milk? I wondered. I suppose it’s possible. I’ve pretty much stopped pumping because I wasn’t getting anything. And I probably didn’t drink enough today. But the feeding this morning seemed to go OK.

Is it time to stop breastfeeding? Maybe I should just let this go. But we’re still a few weeks shy of one year. Even though I know it’s ridiculous and I know he’ll be just fine, I’ll feel like I failed if I don’t try to get him to a year. We’re almost out of formula and we’ll be switching to cow’s milk after that, a few weeks before the recommended switch date. All the more reason to maintain at least some access to breastmilk as well as for the protection from illness he might need during the winter.

I’d try a few times, fail, then realize I can’t force him. So I’d let him sit up as he wanted to. First he was looking at the TV. After we turned that off, as well as the lights, he became fascinated with the standing lamp. He’d grab on to that and pull it back and forth, tilting the lamp from side to side. What a blast, he seemed to think. He even stopped crying in order to enjoy it. I held the top of the lamp to keep it from crashing to the floor.

I wished he knew that Mark wouldn’t have let him push the lamp from side to side. I think it’s important for him to explore his surroundings and I’ll let him go to the verge of hurting an object or himself before intervening. If he knew I was supporting his freedom would he still demand more freedom by rejecting breastfeeding? Probably.

Going upstairs to his dark room didn’t work. So I tried what has helped a bit in the past days – putting him in his crib and leaving him there for several minutes. It feels mean because he cries the whole time. But it gives him the chance to disengage from all of the interesting things surrounding him and refocus on what he needs – milk and sleep.

When I returned in a few minutes to try again, I feared another rejection. I wanted to tell him to hang on a minute while I googled breast rejection at 11 months to see if I could find some ideas of what to do. This time, thank goodness, it worked and he fell asleep at the breast. That wasn’t enough to keep him asleep when I transferred him to the crib, so he got the bottle then.

I’m OK with giving him the bottle after he’s breastfed. But I’m afraid that skipping the breastfeeding will further lower my already minimal milk supply. I know the feedings have reduced and will continue to reduce. But I’d like to hang on to the morning one as long as possible and the before-bottle bed one would probably be second to last.

Mark agreed that the problem was being distracted by the lamp (or the TV or the balloon or the pinwheel or whatever else he’d set his eyes on). But Mark also thinks this is a natural progression towards the end of breastfeeding. He seems to think it will be good when we are past this – less work for me, less concentration needed for River.

“But it’s an emotional thing,” I reminded him.

“For you, right?” he said. “Because River seems to be taking it just fine.”

I had read this, that usually the child is ready to move on from the breast before the mother is. It’s a horrible feeling to try to shove your boob into someone’s mouth when they don’t want it. So if he wants to let go, I’ll have to let him. But only after making sure I give it a good try.

For those readers who have breastfed, when did your babies begin to reject the breast? What made you realize it was time to quit?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A sesame allergy?

That was no fun. River just had his first allergic reaction. He was eating his dinner of seared tuna with sesame seeds and a tangerine and all seemed to be fine.

Our babysitter, Grace, then came to me and said he was itching himself. I went to him and his face was red and blotchy. He remained in a good mood, playing with a plastic cup, but periodically rubbed his eyes.

I called the pediatrician’s to be on the safe side. The nurse on duty said it was an allergic reaction and that I should go get some children’s benadryl as soon as possible to stop the reaction. She said we could try the food again when he’s a bit older to see if he’s grown out of it.

So I rode my bike to the local drugstore and got the medicine. I just thought how lucky it was that I happened to be at home. Our babysitter doesn’t know the pediatrician’s number and I’m not so good about carrying my cell phone with me. We’ve gotten lax since we haven’t had any problems. Even if she could call the pediatrician, I’m not sure she could describe what happened or understand the instructions well in English. So one benefit of this incident is that I’ll be more careful about having contact information easily available and my cell phone on hand.

I’m thinking it must have been the sesame seeds. He’s eaten various types of fish before. We’ve even given him raw tuna from our sushi. He spit it out, but it touched it tongue at least 2-3 times with no reaction. It was his first tangerine, but he’s been eating clementines like a madman, up to three per meal. While he’s had some other nuts, like pine nuts, walnuts and almonds, I don’t think he’s had sesame seeds before. The nurse said that neither tuna nor sesame seeds are common allergens. Though now that I’ve googled it, I see that sesame seeds may be a quite common allergen, the 9th most common worldwide according to this site.

I must admit I’m kind of bummed. He eats such a wide range of food, including some things that are pretty sophisticated for a baby (seared tuna with sesame seeds might be one example!) that I thought we were already pretty much past the potential allergy stage. I was hoping the allergy boat would pass us by. I really don’t want to be a parent who hovers over their child trying to protect them from an element in the world.

Assuming the benadryl does its job and he recovers without problem, this probably won’t change our habits too much. I won’t go out of the way to feed him tuna or tangerines. But if the opportunity presents itself and I have benadryl handy, I probably will give him a bite so that we can definitely narrow it down to sesame seeds.

Assuming it is sesame seeds, I guess we’ll hold off on those for a while (luckily, we don’t use them all that much) and try to reintroduce them again when he’s a bit older.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Souvenirs from birth

I’m currently reading the book, Eat, Pray, Love. Today, in the love part, I came across this information on an interesting Balinese birth practice.

The Balinese believe that each person is accompanied by four invisible brothers at birth. These brothers come into the world with us and protect us throughout our lives. They are represented by the placenta, amniotic fluid, umbilical cord and the yellow waxy substance that protects a baby’s skin.

When a baby is born, the Balinese parents collect as many of these items as they can. They put them in a coconut shell and bury them by the front door. This coconut shell marks the holy resting place of the unborn brothers. The spot, like a shrine, is forever tended to. The four brothers represent four virtues – intelligence, friendship, strength and poetry. When a person dies, the four spirit brothers collect the soul and bring it to heaven.

I think this is beautiful. It reminds me of the practice I came across in Vietnam, where parents bury the placenta in the backyard. This marks a person’s place of origin and gives them somewhere to come back to throughout their lives.

I had very much wanted to copy this Vietnamese tradition and as strange as my husband thought it was, I wanted to bury River’s placenta in our backyard. We’re renting and won’t be here forever. But I wanted a part of him to remain at his place of origin. I wanted him to know that he’ll forever have a link to that place.

Most unfortunately, our hospital would not allow me to take my own placenta from the hospital. I think this is completely ridiculous given that it’s my body part. When I looked online, I saw that women who sue over this generally tend to win. But I didn’t look into it in a timely enough manner to be able to fight the hospital to get my placenta back.

Should we have another child at some point, this is something I’d discuss with the hospital administration as soon as we’ve chosen a place to give birth. And should they decline to allow me my placenta, I will fight it next time.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The new freedom

I recently found out about a biking group in my area. Yesterday, they hosted one of the easier level rides and I decided to attend.

My husband switched baby-care shifts with me, taking River for the morning instead of the afternoon. And off I went.

One thing I really appreciated was that, although I normally breastfeed River in the morning, pumping was not an issue at all. I didn’t breastfeed him for several hours, I didn’t pump and I didn’t feel the slightest discomfort. Of course I don’t want to lose my supply. But it’s very freeing to be able to change my plans, to do what I not, and to not have to worry about something being attached to my boobs.

Anyway, the ride was great. I drove to a park about 15 minutes from our house, then we rode 10 miles to another small park, then back. It amazes me to ride through fields, past ancient decrepit houses and past a group of farmers hanging with a sheriff in a driveway. It feels like rural Iowa, but is so close to home. One of the funniest sites was an ancient house with more holes in the roof than covered spaces. It had wooden planks across the window and the faded beams looked like they had survived centuries. A plank across the front door read “Not for rent.”

The ride pretty much pooped me out for the day. But it felt great. I could certainly go 20 miles on my own but I wouldn’t have done it in two hours. It was nice to be part of a group and to have that pressure, enough to make me move faster than I would otherwise but not so much to be annoying or painful.

There have been periods in my life where I went for a full-day hike or bike ride once per week and that always seemed to be good for me. It helped to make up for missed workouts or excess treats during the week. It’s too bad the weather will soon be turning ugly (we did get rained on during the last 10 minutes of the ride), because I’m up for participating regularly. Hopefully I’ll get in at least one more ride next weekend.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A wave of love

In the past couple of days, I’ve been thinking about how strong is the love that I feel for River. I wonder whether nature intends it to be this way – building up my love so strong at 10/11 months so that I’ll still love him no matter how difficult or annoying his toddler stage, no matter how many people look away in irritation.

I went to a meeting last night. A woman brought her toddler, age 2 or so. All through the meeting the facilitator was making gestures toward the toddler and the mother was making comments. I’m sure she thought these comments were important and relevant – such as how her daughter lives on pizza. She was a stranger to me, so I really didn’t care what kind of food she ate. But her mother thought we’d all be interested. And I suppose that’s a sign of the same type of immense, consuming love

It’s surprising for me to feel this much love. I didn’t connect with him at all in-utero, and didn’t even refer to him (it) as anything more human than a fetus until I got a 3-D ultrasound at 25 weeks or so. I was never one to hug my belly. I thought of him as a person only in the abstract. If anything, I worried I wouldn’t love him enough.

But the opposite has occurred and it feels to me like a wave. I hope it will be a warm, soft wave that will wash around him like a whirlpool and make him feel safe, comfortable and happy. But sometimes it’s so intense, I want to hug him with such power and smother him in kisses, that I worry it’s a tidal wave, in danger of crashing over him.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

goodbye dear Jumperoo

We have now parted with another of our most favorite baby items – the Fisher Price Rainforest Jumperoo. Way back in March River cautiously entered it for the first time. We had to place books under his feet so he’d have something to touch. By April he could reach the floor himself and was bouncing with enthusiasm. From that point, we moved the setting up once and then again. Last week he took his last jump before the jumperoo moved on to a new home. He was still enjoying it.

In the months he had this, he had so much fun. I was able to shower or do other short tasks while knowing he was safe and entertained. It’s been a good seven months Mr. Jumperoo. We’ll miss you.

First use of the Jumperoo

Seven months later, his last use:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The magic balloon

This morning I took River on a walk. I’ve been slacking off a bit lately on our daily walks, so I decided to make up for it by doing an extra long one, almost two hours long.

We were about an hour into it. River was starting to fuss and I was wondering whether I needed to take the shorter way home. Then, up ahead, I saw the most magical thing – a blue foil balloon attached to a gate.

OK, it wasn’t the most magical thing. The leaves floating on the slow-moving water were great, as were the orange, red and yellow leaf carpets, the sweet smell of fresh leaves and dying plants and the bare, vulnerable branches. But as I mentioned yesterday, River is a big, big fan of balloons. For him, not much can beat a balloon.

The people who frequent this path seem to be an honest bunch. At the entrance, someone had rigged a branch into the crevice of a bench and from it, hung a keychain someone had dropped. I figured it might be the same case with the balloon. It was attached to the gate in plain sight so that its owner could retrieve it. But how could someone rescue a lost balloon that floats? Perhaps someone was done with it and left it on purpose.

Maybe I’m making too much of this, because at the time I saw it, I was listening to the Pray part of Eat, Pray, Love in which the author recounts her experience of transcendentalism. Just as I heard her recount how she found acceptance, bliss and peace, this magical blue foil balloon, in the shape of a star, appears out of nowhere. It was as though River’s nirvana had suddenly appeared in a burst of beautiful blue.

Figuring that even if it was lost, the owner was not likely to go through the woods to recover it, I decided that we could give it a new home. I tied it to the stroller. River grasped onto the string with both hands and fell asleep. When he awoke, he seemed contented to know the balloon was right there. All day today, he has been staring up the balloon, pulling the balloon’s string, touching the balloon, looking at his reflection in the balloon. He looks at it with wide, open, curious, trusting and infinitely happy eyes. I’ve never seen him so motivated to try to stand without support as when the balloon floats up to the ceiling and the string dangles tantalizingly above his head. It has made his day and will brighten his week. Heck, he’s still pointing at balloons we’ve had hanging on our wall since our first babysitter left in February. If this one lasts anywhere near as long, it will brighten his year.

For now, I also look up at the bright blue shiny star on our ceiling as a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ouch, my voice hurts

River has been pointing for a few weeks now. It started out as him pointing at the things that caught his attention. Usually that would be balloons, paintings, lights and our red and gold Chinese calendar.

Then he started to point at things he wanted. When he first pointed at the grapes and cheese I was eating as a sign that he wanted some too, I was psyched. We’re communicating!

Now he’s pointing as a way to learn vocabulary. At least that’s what I think, even though he doesn’t speak. Because he points at EVERYTHING. He points until I tell him what it is. And he focuses very intently on the object while I say the word.

This is cool, I tell myself. He’s going to learn words. He’s going to be able to speak.

It has gotten a bit tiresome lately though to say the same words over and over again. I speak to him in Spanish and the word for balloons is globo. Globo. Si globos. Un globo violeto. Un globo rojo. Un globo amarillo. Un globo verde. Globo, globo, globo. I can’t tell you how many times in a day I say this word. I say calendario (calendar), puerta (door), luz (light) and lampara (lamp) nearly as often.

This evening was both the most exciting and the most challenging though. I took him for a walk after dark. We walked along the main street in town. As we went, he pointed at the stoplight, the cars, and every single building we passed.

That’s a bank, a store, an office, a cafĂ©, a restaurant, another bank, a church.

Then, he pointed at every shop’s window. I decided to humor him and we paused in front of one window.

“That’s a woman,” I said to him in Spanish, pointing to the mannequin (I don’t know how to say mannequin, guess I need to look it up). “She’s wearing pants, shoes, a shirt, a vest, a jacket and a scarf. And there is another woman wearing a suit and a necklace.”

He looked intently as I pointed to each object. Then his little finger immediately targeted the next display. “That’s a man,” I said. “He’s wearing …..”

You get my point. We did this for a shoe shop, a toy shop, a dance equipment shop, several clothing shops, an antique shop, jewelry shops. I was happy to reach the end of the shops, my voice tired, our slow pace meaning I wasn’t getting the exercise I’d hoped for.

We turned around to head back home. I thought he’d be satisfied since I’d pointed out just about every single thing we passed. However, the little finger just wouldn’t rest and he pointed at the same displays again. From the back of the stroller, all I could see above the hood was his little left hand, glowing white in the darkness, pointing with determination and interest, like he was shooting a gun.

OK, that’s enough for one night, I thought to myself. I’m not going to go over every display again. I’m going to keep walking. But I feared crushing his curiousity and enthusiasm. So I assented to pointing out the larger things we passed – stoplight, cars, building, office, church, man, woman.

While it can get tiresome, and even a bit stressful, it is good for me in several ways. One, I realize I need to start carrying a Spanish dictionary. How do you say stained-glass window? Or mannequin? Or corn husks? Or tulle? Up until now, I’ve gotten by with my mistakes without him noticing. I watch old videos and I can hear my own mistakes, making me cringe. The room I have to make mistakes is now tightening. It’s good for me to have pressure to keep up or even improve my Spanish.

Two, he makes me notice the smallest details, which bring the world to life. In order to describe for him the window display at the dance supply shop, I had to pay attention to the beautiful green and pink ballet outfit, with the delicate pink satin slippers and the display of elegant penguins in tuxes and small cubes of ice. I might have noticed the tutu without him, but I wouldn’t have seen the penguins or the ice cubes in such detail. I saw the various lamps that caught his attention – the one like a chandelier, one with balls of crystal hanging from it, another a bulb within a Japanese-style woven ball.

So yes, my voice is tired. I was happy to spend much of the evening after his bedtime in silence. But as I teach him what each object is called, he calls my attention to their existence and their beauty.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Is he breathing?

“Did you hear any sounds of breathing last time you went upstairs?” I just asked my husband.

“No,” he said. “But I didn’t really check.”

River is almost 11 months old and I still worry he could suddenly expire. Especially at times like this, when he sleeps an unusually long time.

I had trouble getting him to take a nap today, though he was evidently tired. After 1.3 bottles and breastfeeding and 45 minutes of play time in between attempts, I finally got him down and he slept a whole three hours. Later in the afternoon, it was again clear he was tired. He has a new sign in which he puts his head face down upon his arms on the floor and cries. This attempt only took one bottle and no extra steps and he’s now been asleep over four hours. It’s 8:50 p.m., or 9:50 p.m. pre-daylight savings time. That means, if I wanted to go the whole evening without breastfeeding and if we wanted to risk what we’d find in his pants should we wait until morning, he would probably sleep through the night. That, or wake up at 2 a.m. or so for dinner.

I wonder if the time change has an effect. I always notice the time change (hating the dark, as I do now and loving the light in the spring as though a veil has been lifted from my eyes). But I’m learning that it’s a whole different thing for kids, who operate on internal clocks that don’t necessarily correlate, at least right away, to the time everyone else says it is.

Or maybe it’s teething. River’s been handling the teething pretty well. No major incidents other than some occasionally fussiness that we treated with a little Tylenol. But this morning, when he was lying across my lap, I thought I saw something white in the top gums. I pulled back his lip and saw four, yes FOUR, teeth halfway in. How can he have all four top center teeth come in at once? And how did they get so far with no one noticing them? I feel bad now, both for him getting that far without us noticing or sympathizing with him. And for the fact that he’s going to look a bit funny with four upper teeth and two lowers.

In any case, he’s asleep and I should just relax and enjoy the evening. Instead, I worry whether or not he’s still breathing, even though I knew there is little basis in my fears. I worry what kind of shitbomb can explode in 15 hours. I worry about the fact that breastfeeding is slowly and surely tapering off as River seems to be losing patience for it in favor of examining his world and pointing at it with index fingers extended from both fists. Missing a feeding tonight will only hasten that process. So, I will enjoy the quiet for now. But before I go to bed, I’ll probably awaken him for a diaper change, a feeding and an assurance for me that he’s OK. Hoping that afterwards, he’ll return to sleep.

Baby's First Halloween

We made it through River’s first Halloween pretty successfully I think. At 5:15 we made a short loop around our block to say hi to the neighbors. At 6 my Pakistani friend Hina came over with her 3-year-old son Nasir. It was Nasir’s first time trick-or treating. He wore a beautiful golden Pakistani shirt with loose white pants and carried an Elmo trick or treat basket. River was a Winnie the Pooh.

We walked over to the Nobel Prize winner’s house, where River got a Reese’s peanut butter cup. I separated it from the rest of the candy, as though I could do something special with it. We did take a picture of him at the door with this man, who was dressed up as the famous person who used to inhabit his house. I guess I can take a picture of River with the peanut butter cup and later tell him who it came from.

It was so much fun watching Nasir trick or treat. At the beginning, he couldn’t even say trick or treat. When he came to our house, he disregarded my offers of candy in his excitement to say hi to the baby. It didn’t take him long to learn though the magic that “trick-or-treat” could bring. He was soon running so fast toward the houses and up to the front porches that he fell at least twice. But he had a great time and so did his mom, who thanked me for urging them to join us.

They have been having a very rough time because they have been forced to be separated from Hina’s husband (and Nasir’s father). Both Hina and her husband were Fulbright scholars. Her husband did an MBA and Hina is working on her Ph.D., both at Ivy League universities. Fulbright rules require recipients to return to their home countries for two years after finishing their degree. The purpose is to offer their skills to their home country. Which is all well and fine. Unless you have a wife who is not done with her degree yet. You think they might offer him an extension and let him stay with his wife and young son until she finishes her degree. Nope. He was forced to go back and the family is separated by thousands of miles. These are brilliant people who want to return to Pakistan. They are integrated into American life, speak perfect English, can be wonderful ambassadors between the two countries. And then the program that is supposed to help relations pays no attention to a family’s desire to be together. I digress, but I think it’s really sad and made the Halloween fun all the more special for this little boy who has just lost his father.

One of many interesting features of my town is that there are multi-million dollar houses located just blocks from what is locally referred to as “the ghetto” or “the barrio.” This area is not bad as far as ghettos or barrios go, but it is the poorest area of town. We were having dinner there, so on the way, we stopped at a couple of multi-million dollar houses just for the fun of approaching places we normally don’t come near. The residents of the street we walked down did a great job on decorations. One house offered us small cups of merlot. Most of them gave out the same snickers, Reese’s peanut butter cups and Milky Ways as everyone else. They had hordes of kids coming by, some of whom were pretty grabby.

We continued walking to the barrio, where we had pizza with Hina. Nasir had passed out from the excitement and slept in his stroller all through dinner. River remained intrigued. He liking holding his plastic pumpkin.

We had a 15-20 minute walk home and that was tough for River, since it was way past his bedtime and (bad parents) we’d lost his bottle on the walk. But he’d held up well until then and seemed to have fun. We got some nice pictures – his first trick or treating, him at the door with a famous guy, pictures with our friends and other fun shots. When we got home he sat on the potty and pulled his loot out of the pumpkin one piece at a time. We won’t be letting him eat it, but I was glad he got the enjoyment of emptying it!

All the walking ending up being good for the parents. I counted 15,000 steps on my pedometer. Hopefully that will neutralize some of the negative effects of the weekend candy consumption.

I’m pretty excited to be back in the Halloween swing of things after a 20 year or so absence. I realize it will be an important holiday for us for at least the next 10-15 years. And I’m cool with that. I think it’s a fun celebration and I look forward to our family actively participating.

Need one more reason to vote?

How about a free coffee? Visit Starbucks after voting and get a free tall brewed coffee.

I wonder if they’d be willing to substitute a tea.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Kiddie Halloween parade

On Thursday afternoon our town’s art’s council organized a kiddie Halloween parade. Tons of kids, dressed in their costumes congregated along with their parents in the center of town. The fire department let kids try sitting in a truck. A band played upbeat music. People milled around, looking at all the darling costumes.

The police closed off the streets and the participants filled the streets, parading two blocks to another area where another band played and they were treated to Rice Krispie bars, animal crackers and juice boxes. It was such a nice event and so much fun for kids of all ages.

I’m not sure whether or not we’ll be here next year. This is a perfect place to raise River – a small, safe, well educated community, with excellent public services and great public schools within walking distance of home. It’s not the best place for me to continue my career. So I’m looking into potential jobs elsewhere. But I attend an event like this Halloween parade and I wonder why I even think of leaving.