Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Those Horrible Parent Moments

Today I had one of those horrible parent moments – the kind when you think you must be the worst parent out there. The kind when you feel sorry for your child for ending up with you. Do you get these? What inspires them?

I had made plans with a friend to meet for coffee or a walk. We arranged to meet at a coffee shop. If the weather was bad, we’d go inside. If not, we’d take a stroll.

When we met, it was chilly, but not uncomfortable, so we decided to walk. We meandered into an unfamiliar neighborhood with curving streets. A little bit of snow began to swirl through the air. The amount quickly increased, until we felt like we were walking in a snow globe. We asked a passerby how to get back to the main street and she guided us.

As we headed in that direction, the wind picked up. It was now coming directly at us, blowing cold snow into our faces. Poor little River didn’t even have gloves on. His hands were bright red.

I joked to my friend how so many parents have super fancy strollers that wrap their offspring in a bubble, protecting them from all the elements.

“Now is the one time I could use one,” I said. Not only was I negligent in not putting mittens on River (I still can’t figure out how to get mittens to stay on his hands, so I generally don’t bother) but I was negligent in not getting a sufficiently weather-proof stroller.

“Then again,” I thought out loud. “How many of those parents are out walking with their babies in blizzards?”

“Not many,” my friend said, reassuring me that maybe the bubble wasn’t so practical after all.

River twitched about a bit, so I picked him up and carried him while my friend pushed the stroller. He’d occasionally blow raspberries of frustration as snow landed on his cheeks and eyes, but generally seemed willing to trust me. I felt awful, but there was nothing I could do but try to get us home as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, we had over a mile to go.

When we passed the same lady on the street again, who must have also been out for a stroll, thinking the weather would be OK, she offered to drive us wherever we were going. It was kind of her, but we didn’t want to bother her, so we continued on.

River is close to 30 pounds and I couldn’t carry him into the wind for long. After a while, I put him back in his seat. We put my friend’s mittens over his hands and I gave him the little remainder of a bottle I had with me. We walked at a trot as the harsh wind blew straight into our faces. I pulled down the top of the stroller as much as possible, but River’s jacket was still covered with snow.

Once the little bit of milk was gone, he lost it and began to cry. I felt horrible. A deep sense of inadequacy. A confirmation that I’m doing things wrong. An understanding of how large the responsibility of parenting is. A great pity for River. I tried to hurry.

When we got home, I rushed him inside and found that his pants were wet and had leaked – just one more chill for him in the stroller. I changed him and got him a bottle, then cradled him in my arms as I massaged his frozen hands and cold limbs. I wanted to provide him as much warmth and comfort and security as possible. I was more patient than usual. I would stay there as long as he needed me. I understand how Mark must have felt after River fell off the bed in his care. I related to how he let River fall asleep in his arms and remained there with River until he’d awaken and was back to himself.

I did eventually carry River up to his crib and tucked him under an extra blanket. He awoke a few hours later, having skipped lunch, but cheerful and inquisitive as always. He didn’t seem to remember what he’d gone through in the morning. If he did, he’d decided to move on with his life. I guess I should too.

(the photo is from a happier stroller ride - yesterday)

New Year's Quiz

I’m filling out this New Year’s Quiz, suggested on All and Sundry, cuz I think it sounds like a fun idea. Since River was born in December of 2007, 2008 was my first year of motherhood, full of lots of firsts.

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?
Breastfed. Picked a booger from someone’s nose. Ignored a pee or spit-up patch on my pants/shirt. Many other such things.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
With a three week old last New Year’s, I didn’t have time for resolutions. This year I will lose the rest of the baby weight (hopefully in the earlier parts of 2009), I will find a job, I will find a balance between motherhood, family, work and self.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes. One of my closest friends, who was also the maid of honor at my wedding. I think River inspired her to get pregnant again. I’m certain River inspired my sister-in-law, who is due January 5th.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
No, thank goodness.

5. What countries did you visit?
Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico – not bad with an infant in tow!

6. What would you like to have in 2009 that you lacked in 2008?
A job would be nice, though I had one for part of 2008.

7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
River’s first birthday

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I wrote a book. I kept River alive and healthy to his first birthday. I breastfed to 12 months.

9. What was your biggest failure?
This has been a pretty good year. I suppose I wasn’t as productive as I might have been.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A sprained butt muscle (no joke!) due to a rafting accident. But nothing too serious.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
The Fujitsu Lifebook u810. Beautiful little 1.5 pound computer.
12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
River’s. He has been a calm, delightful baby and we feel so lucky.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Too many to count – politicians, lenders and corrupt business people – as well as the President of Zimbabwe.
14. Where did most of your money go?
Rent, food, River and savings.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
River peeing in his potty. Guess I need some more sources of excitement.

16. What song will always remind you of 2008?
Duermete mi nino.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:a) happier or sadder?b) thinner or fatter?c) richer or poorer?
Happier, thinner and poorer.
18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
I wished I’d pumped more, especially during River’s first few weeks. But then again, maybe I don’t.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Worried. I wish I could live more in the present, though I’m trying and think I’m doing a bit better.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
With my parents and family.
21. Did you fall in love in 2008?
Yes, I fell in love with River and deepened my love for Mark. I also fall in love daily with all kinds of little things. Today it was with feather-shaped dry leaves on the side of the sidewalk.
22. What was your favorite TV program?
Reality junk like Biggest Loser. My husband gives me lots of crap for this. I also love the McNeil Lehrer News Hour.
23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Our first pediatrician, though hate is a strong word.
24. What was the best book you read?
The Shadow of the Wind or Sombra del Viento. Wow, wow, wow.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Not much time for this either. Arvo Part was a nice discovery, as was Rolando Villazon, Lang Lang, Hesperion XXI, Emma Shaplin, Christopher Parkening and Jordi Savall for more classical and Jose-Luis Orozco for Spanish lullabies, Uruguan Eduardo Darnauchans for Spanish folk and David Berkeley for folk.

26. What did you want and get?
A trip to Panama – time to be immersed in Spanish. Some basic spirituality.

27. What did you want and not get?
A slow cooker and a cast iron soup pot.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
This is a tough one because it’s been hard for me to pay attention for two hours chunks this year. That said, I liked The Italian, the Ganja Queen and the Devil’s Miner.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Slept in a bit, took baby swimming at a friend’s house, received an ice cream cake from hubby. Turned thirty-something.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Nothing really. Perhaps more family nearby. The market not crashing might have helped.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
Trying to get out of maternity clothes. And then trying to return to my previous size.

32. What kept you sane?

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Angelina Jolie. I’m a fan of adoption and multicultural families.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Hard to say. I continue to find the Iraq war a tragedy, as I have since the beginning. I am concerned about the lack of resources dedicated to Afghanistan. I’m worried about the lack of a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the protracted conflicts in Sudan, the Con Parenthood has made me increasingly concerned about issues of maternal and child health and work-life balance. I continue to be concerned about poverty, opportunity, gender, health and violence.

35. Who did you miss?
My grandfather.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
All of our babysitters – who are wonderful people. Naomi Wolf, who I met at a reading and who gave an inspiring speech.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
Relax. Your child is going to grow up just fine and you will be fine too.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
This is too difficult for me. Is there a song lyric that talks about starting with a lack of sleep and some big adjustments and eventually calming down and finding oneself quite satisfied?

What are your answers?

Monday, December 29, 2008

On a Roll

It’s time for me to accept now that River is definitely getting into everything. A couple of days ago a newly married friend looked at me and said she was surprised that I didn’t seem stressed or tired. She told me about her cousin, pregnant with her third, who is exhausted from watching her two kids, especially her 1.5 year old boy, who is into everything.

Initially, I’ve looked into his curiosity with support. I’m an explorer myself, I expect that he may be also. I tend to think that he has a certain knowledge of his boundaries. Even if he doesn’t, I know that going outside those bounds is how he learns.

But I’m now learning that along with learning, comes getting hurt. There was his fall off the bed last week. This morning he caught his fingers in the cupboard. Though I rescued him within seconds, I think he still felt substantial pain. After a walk, during which he stood up in his stroller for the first time, I brought him inside. Our babysitter, Grace, was already there. There were about 30 seconds during which River crawled on the floor and neither of us were watching him carefully.

When Grace came to him, she saw a little blood on his finger. I thought it was from the cabinet incident that morning. Then we both saw a fairly deep scratch on his nose, with blood emerging from it.

Mark closes off the dangers by putting gates at the kitchen entrance and the base of the stairs. I understand that we need to do that sometimes. However, we have a small place. With those two areas closed off, River has only two small rooms to move through. It’s a very limited space for a growing boy.

Mark thinks this acknowledgement means we need a bigger house. I think I need to figure out how to balance River’s need for exploration with my responsibility to keep him safe. I imagine this is something that many parents struggle with. How do you manage this?

I think I’ll also need to bring him to areas with more space – outdoors when the weather improves – to the library or the mall until then. Especially once he starts walking, he’s going to need some room to move.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Missing my River

Today Mark and I went snowmobiling with the family. We were away from home for ten hours while my mom watched River – her first full day babysitting solo.

By four-five hours away from home, I was thinking of River and missing him a bit. Two or three hours later, I was really missing him.

“You’ve only been gone eight hours,” my brother said when I mentioned that I looked forward to seeing him.

“She hasn’t been away from him for that long in a while,” Mark said.

I spent a day in New York a few months ago, though I was with River for a couple of hours before leaving, unlike this morning, when I left shortly after he awoke. Besides that, I really haven’t been away much since my nine-day absence this summer.

By the time we were heading home, I was starting to get nervous that we wouldn’t get there before he went to bed.

“I can see River written all over your forehead,” my 11-year-old niece said, accurately.

I recognized, even then, that my missing him is like anything else I crave. Yes, it was a little difficult. But I knew that if I had to be away that once I passed that difficult moment, things would get easier again before I began to feel pangs for him again. We may have more absences from each other in the future. But for now, I’m there every day and am glad.

We did get home, just as River was going to receive his evening bottle. He smiled and danced a little happy dance when he saw me. I was able to play with him a bit and then give him his bottle. As I lay with him in a dark room, feeding him his bottle, he smiled up at me as he reached the end. Then he cooed in delight.

Perhaps it was happiness at fullness, warmth and comfort. Or perhaps, as I like to imagine, it was happiness at being in my arms, at feeling the depth of my love for him. In any case, I was happy to be with him. To wrap my arms around him, to see his smile, to feel his velvety pudginess and hear his sweet, high-pitched laugh is enough to calm me until the morning.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The pain of baby's pain

Today River had his worst ever accident and I learned how incredibly painful it is for mom and dad, as well as for baby, when baby gets hurt.

Mark was watching River while I played Scrabble with my grandma. River loves to crawl up and down beds. He’ll crawl to the foot of the bed, squeal with joy, then turn around and crawl to the headboard. Mark brought him to the bedroom so that he could relax on the bed and River could entertain himself this way.

I heard a crash and a pained “Oh no!” from Mark. It sounded like a piece of furniture fell. I imagined River crushed. I drew in a sharp breath, then waited to release it. I hurried to the bedroom and saw Mark, still on the bed, holding River upright next to it. River screamed in heart-wrenching sobs of pain. This was real pain, not the kind that would be assuaged by showing him a ceiling fan.

I picked him up and heard enough to understand that he’d fallen backwards – from a high bed onto a hard wooden floor. Perhaps I need to learn to modify my emergency reactions, but I couldn’t bring myself to look for injuries. All I wanted to do was to comfort him, to hold him, and to make him feel safe. I held him and walked slowly around the house, making soothing noises in his ear. In the meantime, my heart was crying in pain as loudly as his sobs.

My poor baby. How did I fail you enough to not protect you from this hurt? I’ll do whatever I need to do to help you feel better, to help you recover, to help you have faith in us again. Mark felt similar awful, though I was so wrapped up in River’s pain that it took me a few minutes to realize it. He walked with us, looking at River intently and asking me to give River to him, but I wouldn’t. River loves us both, but he’s had a bit of a preference for mommy lately. At a time like that, I wanted him to have whatever made him feel best, even if it made dad feel a bit worse.

Then, when Mark commented that River had blood in his mouth and I looked down enough to see a little bloody spittle running down the side of his mouth and red blood amidst his two front teeth, my heart broke just a bit further. He was really injured. The only times I’d seen his blood were when I clipped his fingernail a little too close in his first weeks, and when he’d been playing with the recyclables and cut his finger on a can. But he hadn’t even seemed to notice the second incident.

Still, I didn’t force his mouth open and inspect what was wrong there. I only felt panic and sadness to know that he was injured and I wanted only to calm him, thinking that we could deal with the injury a bit later. Eventually, he settled down a bit, and eventually, I allowed Mark to take him.

I knew that Mark probably felt a similar urge to make amends to River and I needed to allow him the space to do that. So I reluctantly went back to the Scrabble game with my grandma, where every whimper I heard sliced through me like a knife.

Once River had settled down, Mark asked me to prepare a bottle for him. I did so and River fell asleep in Mark’s arms. They sat there together for a while, then Mark put River in his crib and lay in a nearby bed beside him, unwilling to let him out of sight, unwilling to let anything happen to him again.

It turned out the blood was from River biting his tongue during the fall. Once River settled down, Mark touched his head in various places and it seemed all was OK there. When he got up from his nap he was back to being his energetic, happy, exploratory self.

But still, it was a horrible, awful experience to go through. I’m sure my heartrate was elevated for quite a while. It reminds me that even a big, strong baby like River is still fragile, that so much careful care can suddenly go down the tubes with a single accident.

I lean more on the let him explore and learn from the world than the overly cautious side. I’ve had at least two close calls with him almost falling backward (one off of a swimming pool ledge). Both times I managed to catch him with a quick grasp of his legs. Mark was less lucky this time, but it could be me next.

I think back to kids in my childhood who spoke of breaking their bones or needing stitches or other injuries and illnesses. I think of adults who recount those times from their youth. But only now, for the first time, can I understand what it’s like for the parents. I can understand the sheer panic my mom describes my dad experiencing when I fell over the side of a canoe as a toddler or when I fell through the space between a bench and its back. I can understand the panic I remember on my father’s face when my brother was choking and he quickly turned my brother upside down by the feet and pounded on his back. It’s a primal, carnal fear, a terror of so much love and so much investment lost in an instant, an acknowledgement of the child’s helplessness and a realization of the immense responsibility held by the adult.

In the same way that my love for River is deep and overwhelming and powerful beyond description, the way his hugs and his reaching out for me with a smile fill me with a radiant happiness that touches my core, seeing his pain has the opposite effect. Equally deep, equally overwhelming and powerful enough to jolt me to the core.

River's First Word

I think I’ve been hearing him say it for a while now, but in the past day or two, it’s been made official with others hearing and recognizing it as well.

River now says mama, with a clear indication that it’s me he wants.

“Congratulations,” Mark said, on me being his first word.

I suppose it’s nice and it definitely makes me feel good to see that he wants me, to know that I can comfort him and make him feel better. Those signs of affection are enough and I wouldn’t have minded if he said daddy first.

What excites me most is that he’s beginning to communicate. Soon, we’ll see the results of my experiment in bilingualism. I know other babies that are talking earlier and I have to remind myself that we can expect an average delay of two months because of him learning a second language.

His babbling has definitively taken on the sound of a foreign language lately and it’s clear he’s trying to communicate. I hear an Asian ring to many of his words – such as do-ying or digalits. I wonder if it comes from the Chinese babysitter he had during his first two months or whether that’s just how baby talk sounds. Mark thinks it sounds African, like Swahili, so maybe it’s just a matter of perspective.

Mama could be either English or Spanish, so it’s unclear where he’s headed in terms of embracing the two languages. I’m eager to hear him say his first word in Spanish and I’m curious to see what it will be. I wonder how many of his first words will be in English and how many in Spanish. I wonder how he’ll mix them, how he’ll distinguish between them, whether or not he’ll use them with the people who understand that language.

I wonder how he’ll accept it when he realizes I do speak English, just not to him. I wonder if he’ll appreciate learning a second language without really having to work at it or whether he’ll resent me and fight it.

For now, I’m trying to ensure that he has other people in his life who speak Spanish besides me (Mirena is also being raised bilingual and when she comes over, the language in the house is Spanish), especially since I’m not a native speaker. Grace also speaks to him only in Spanish. Right now, he’s probably hearing more hours per week of Spanish than he is of English. Since I know that will change as he gets older, I hope he can take advantage of it now.

At the same time, I’m thinking of taking him to Russia later this winter. We would probably stay with my friends there and be largely immersed in a Russian environment. I wonder how that would impact his language learning skills, if upon hearing those harsh, strange five-syllable words he might just throw up his hands and say, forget this, I think I’ll continue with the point and huff for a while longer. Luckily, mama would be understood, even in Russian.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Women Looking out for the Future

I’ve read quite a bit of academic research that concludes putting money into the hands of women is a good thing for children. This has been found to be the case in places as diverse as South Africa and the United States. The theory goes that men are more selfish – more likely to spend money on cigarettes, alcohol and other personal entertainment, while women are more likely to spend on clothing and education for their children, or in the U.S. on “treats” for their kids.

I didn’t really expect this to be the case in our family. Mark is a kind and very generous person. Though I’ve been changing in the past few years, I tend to be a penny pincher. Mark is much more willing to buy a $5-20 toy for River, when I’d rather pick up the same or a similar item used.

However, when we discussed the annual bonus Mark earned this year (he’s in an industry that hasn’t taken advantage of consumers and they are still getting their bonuses), we found ourselves in the more stereotypical gender roles. Mark’s preference was to split the income, so we could each do what we wanted with it.

“What am I going to do with that money?” I asked. There was nothing I wanted for myself that cost that much. Mark suggested travel, but the thoughts of travel I have in the near future are either family or work related.

I wanted to use $2,000 of the bonus to fund a Coverdell savings IRA for River. We already have a 529, but I think it would be good to do the Coverdell. The main difference is that the Coverdell can be used for elementary and secondary school expenses. It can also be used for a computer for River’s studies. So we might as well put the money away now and let it grow tax-free to help cover those expenses when they come up.

I wanted to use another portion to put into my Roth IRA. And then I’ve been suggesting we start one of those childcare savings accounts, where money used for childcare expenses is not taxed. And of course, there is the down payment for a house we’ve been saving up, and which has shrunk a bit since River’s arrival.

So here we were, the male wanting personal expenses for fun, the female wanting long-term investments in education, childcare and retirement. I’m not sure we’ve reached an agreement yet, but I think we’re heading towards making the investments and me showing some “understanding” when Mark wants a big-ticket item, like the cable, smart phone or computer he has been mentioning frequently lately.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Yesterday was one of those Argh! days – the kind I had early on when I lacked sleep, the kind I had in the spring and summer when River didn’t nap and the kind I’d been happily without for a while as River was napping up to twice a day and able to happily amuse himself.

1. He is down to one nap, which is in the afternoon, when the babysitter is here.
2. He has been especially anxious, cranky and needy this week.
3. He is highly mobile now and able to get into everything, which means I have to be on increased guard for his safety and I’m constantly having to clean up after him.

A typical morning play time – River pulls all the groceries I bought the previous night out of the bag and scatters them on the kitchen floor. Then he gets into the garbage can and pulls things out piece by piece, smearing the mango skin on the floor after waving it around a bit. Next he opens a cabinet and pulls out all the baking goods, examining the bags of flour, sugar and corn starch in the process. Then he races up the stairs, heads to his toiletry shelf, and proceeds to pull each one of those items off of the shelf.

Today I handled it better because I asked Grace to come earlier and I knew my shift was limited. But she didn’t come until 1 yesterday and I was counting down the minutes to her arrival like I did during River’s first weeks. I spent too much time dealing with poop, pee, food, whines and pick-ups and I couldn’t handle any more. Please take him! I wanted to call out. I need a break.

I have great respect for the people who can take care of children all day. But yesterday reminded me that I’m not one of them. I’d go batty.

Even as I recognized I wasn’t enjoying it, I felt bad for feeling that way. Just after a disgusting poop or a tiring pick-up, he’d so something so incredibly cute (like imitating Mark in being a monster, raising his hands and growling as he leaned in the most baby-like menacing way he could into me) that I’d wonder how I could tire of being with this little creature.

In the evening, when Mirena’s mom, Carmen, came to pick her up, I told her about my frustration. I was happy to hear that she understood, doubly so now that she’s pregnant with her second and not feeling well.

“You’re lucky in that River is usually so calm,” she said. “But Mirena has always been a demanding baby. By the time David gets home, I pass her off to him and tell him she’s all his. I can’t deal with any more. David has more patience than I do.”

David is also struggling right now since he’s working on his doctorate as well as working part-time and putting in substantial baby-care hours, even more now that Carmen is pregnant again. “If I can read 10 pages while I’m watching her, I’m lucky,” he said. His tired face told me that he was at a similar point of feeling he’d had enough.

It made me feel better to hear someone else admit that even though they might love their baby to pieces, at times they need a break. For me, knowing I fully control at least a part of almost every day, knowing that there will be a period in which I can do something that doesn’t involve taking care of someone else, helps me immensely in getting through the times when the care seems overwhelming.

How do you get through the rough patches?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Anxiety Sets In

At River’s 9-month checkup, the doctor warned us that separation anxiety was going to set in. He said that River might still be willing to smile at him at the 12-month check-up, but we could expect him to be decidedly unfriendly towards the doctor at 15 months.

I acknowledged it was possible, but I held out hope that River would beat the odds. He’d barely shown any crankiness from teething, though many babies seem to suffer. He was as willing as anyone to be dropped into another person’s arms at a moment’s notice. If anything, I feared that he’d actually be just fine without me, that if anything happened to me, he wouldn’t really need me. Which of course, is a gift for his sake, but a bit of a bummer to a parent that likes to think of themselves as necessary.

His ease at being left continued on to 12 months. I have a friend who belongs to the same health club as I do and has a son who is one month younger than River. She can’t take advantage of the handy childcare facility there because her son won’t allow her to leave him. That really sucks, I thought to myself, and felt grateful that River allows me to put him down, then promptly occupies himself without paying any attention whatsoever to where I’ve gone. That was the case only two days ago. Even today, at his 12 month appointment, the doctor commented that River was unusually lacking in anxiety.

However, little signs of increased neediness have popped up. River likes to climb up my pant legs, like a little kitten, then will make signs indicating he wants to be picked up. Sometimes it’s clear he just wants to be in my arms, being held.

This morning, when I wanted to leave to go work at the library, he did this repeatedly. Every time I put him down, he’d go right into the climb pant leg, pick me up please routine. When he saw me put on my coat, he became agitated and whiny. Oh no, the separation anxiety is here, I thought.

Today was unusual in that our babysitter came in the morning instead of the typical afternoon. I don’t know whether or not that had anything to do with it. What I do know is that it’s painful to see River upset and know that I’m the cause of it.

I can recognize that it’s natural. I realize it will probably only last a moment. I regularly see Mirena throw a fit when her parents leave, only to settle down to happy play one minute later.

Still, it makes me sad and anxious to walk out of the house knowing that he’s upset. At a time when I’m thinking that the end of breastfeeding means I can start to work more and travel, at a time when I’m applying for jobs that could require me to be away from home for weeks at a time, it would be easier to know he’s calm in my absence as he used to me.

Mark took River to his 12-month checkup today and reported that the doctor said we could expect the separation anxiety to get worse in the near future.

“How long did the doctor say it would last?” I just asked him.

“He didn’t say,” he said. “But I’d think late – years and years and years.”

Really? What have your experiences been with separation anxiety? When does it peak? When does it get better? Any tricks for handling it?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Crabby mom

I’m in a foul mood tonight. Cranky and negative for no apparent reason. Cranky enough that Mark offered to go buy me some dark chocolate, which I had expressed a craving for. That did seem to help.

I wonder if I might be PMS’ing, something I haven’t experienced in a while. Or I might be feeling blue because the breastfeeding is really reaching its end. I know I’ve written about this before. But it seems this might be the end end. There is still milk in both breasts, though River will only take the left, if that. I later discovered that the milk from the right breast now has a salty taste, so I can understand why he goes for the other.

In the past few days, he either sucks for a very short period of time, or he’ll see the breast and either turn his face away or shake his head no. Like “No mom, I’m over that now.”

OK, I’ll accept it. I really will. He’s 12 months old. He’ll be fine. I will probably have another child someday so it’s not the end of the breastfeeding experience. I will have extra freedom, like not necessarily having to get up for the morning feeding, not having to return before his bedtime feeding, not worrying about breastfeeding if I want to go out of town for a few days. Nevertheless, there’s always a certain sadness in being rejected. And a nostalgia for the special time we shared together and that he’s now moving beyond.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The new little musician

River has recently been demonstrating a clear interest in music. He’s gotten bored with his Leap Frog table, which fascinated him for a long time. He pretty much leaves it alone these days, except when he wants some music. Then he’ll touch a button that causes music to play, abandon the table and come over to me. But just before he gets to me, the music stops. So he returns to the table to push the button again and repeat the cycle. By the time he’d gone back and forth five or six times, it was clear he was just trying to get the music to play.

Yesterday a neat birthday present arrived from his grandparents – a six-sided ball with an activity on each side. One side has animals. You can push their bodies to hear the sounds they make. The other side has a keyboard. When you push the keys, you hear the notes. A few seconds after you stop pushing keys, a song will play.

River was pretty fascinated by this toy and last night, by the keyboard especially. He’d wait for the song to play, then shake his booty as he stood alongside the coffee table, or move his arm up and down to the beat.

“Look, it’s like he’s a conductor!” Mark exclaimed. “That’s amazing!”

I was impressed too, but I knew it probably wasn’t indicative of genius. I’d seen Mirena do a pretty good boogey before River did.

His appreciation for different music also seems to be increasing. Yesterday in the car, he was fussing on the way home, tired after a playdate. The Spanish songs I was playing weren’t doing anything for him. So I changed it to the funky beat of Regina Spektor. He quieted immediately and by the end of the first song, was asleep.

It’s fun to see him react to and appreciate stimuli beyond his parents or caregivers. He’s increasingly an independent part of the world and it’s exciting to see him take it in and experience it.

I’ve been trying to resist the music classes that so many parents in my community sign their babies up for. Up until now, I didn’t think he’d appreciate it much. And it’s not really in our budget at the moment. Now that he does appreciate music though, the classes start to become more tempting. I’d be glad to send him to the classes with Mark as quality daddy time. But if Mark does any classes, he wants to do Gymboree.

I guess for now I’ll try to expand the music I provide him with beyond the morning NPR and the children’s music I play in the car. I’ll try to teach him that music can continue for longer than a push of the button. But given that our CD player is broken and I usually carry my ipod with me, it might take more effort than is realistic in the near future.

One thing I think I can do a better job of is taking him to free concerts and musical events, at the library and in the community. We started yesterday by attending a jazz quartet playing at the library and listening to the high school choir sing carols on the street. Fun for us all.

The Cost of a River - Year One

I probably don’t want to see this number. I’ve learned that once you have a child, it no longer matters how much it costs to raise them. Love extends beyond rationality and he’s worth it no matter the price. Nevertheless, I am curious to see how much it has cost us to add River to our family. Even though we’ve been pretty frugal, on all but childcare and education spending, I’m sure it’s a large figure.

Here goes the calculation. I’m only counting money spent out of pocket (gifts and hand-me-downs are free) and I subtract any money received from reselling an item used.

Furniture $10
Equipment -$85
Baby transportation $220 (carseat, strollers and carriers)
Nutrition $1087 ($100 formula, $617 breastfeeding supplies; $320
food – interesting to see that breastfeeding is not as cheap as
many claim, especially when my time (hours beyond
counting) is taken into account)
Feeding supplies $57
Clothing $73
Toys $25
Safety $57.41
Childcare and medical: $15870
Swim lessons $150
Other $30
Potty care $423 (cloth diapers, wipes, 2 months of disposables plus
some disposables during travel)
Travel $420 (travel crib, passport and photos, travel fees)
Portraits $140
Mom clothing $800 (maternity clothes and clothes needed after birth
because pre-pregnancy clothes didn’t fit. This is
probably a low estimate)
Pre and post natal yoga $450
Pre-natal massage $500 (during third trimester)
Lost income $52,000

529 plan substantial chunk taken from our down payment savings for
a house – which has promptly gone down 30%.

Grand total: $20,277 in out of pocket expenses
+ $52,000 in lost income
+ education savings
=$72,277 plus education savings


Our strategy was to concentrate our resources into childcare (for the sake of our sanities) and education savings, minimizing all the rest as much as possible. We seem to have done that, with our two priority areas accounting for the bulk of the expense. Nevertheless, I can clearly see that adding a child to our family was a pretty tough financial pill to swallow. Luckily, he’s worth it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

If I Had to Do it Over Again - Products

I posted a version of this earlier. But now that we’ve reached the one year mark, this is my definitive list of what I valued and what I’d do without during the first year.

During pregnancy:

Months 0+:

  • Swaddle Mes (we used through 7 months)

  • A good swing – we loved the Fisher Price Papasan

  • Onesies

  • What to Expect the First Year

  • Sleepsacks

  • My Brest Friend (I’d borrow one or buy it used)

  • A baby carrier, but I’d purchase it AFTER the child is born to see which one is comfortable and which one the baby likes

  • Photo frame with hand or foot imprint

  • Lots of burp cloths

  • For travel, a stroller frame (such as the Graco SnugRide) that accepts a pop-in carseat is the lightest way to go.

  • Fenugreek, alfalfa or other milk-producing herb

  • A breastpump

  • A baby bathtub

  • Household help

  • Car-I-Oke music CD

  • Easy Expressions hands free pumping bra (if breastfeeding and pumping)

  • I didn’t have this, but if I had it to do over, I’d get the Baby Bjorn bouncer. We tried it at a friend’s house and it was snug and comfortable, a rare place where we could set River down.

    Things I’d do without:
    · A boppy
    · A crib or bassinet or playpen – if you think you need one, it’s still a good idea to wait until after the birth to see what the baby will accept. Many babies only want the closeness of another human for the first weeks or months.
    · Lots of fancy clothes – onesies and sleepsacks are the mainstay
    · A fancy stroller
    · Fancy nursery d├ęcor – the baby isn’t going to take any notice; it’s only worth it if it makes the parents happy.

Months 3+:

  • An Ergo carrier – this is most useful at 6 months+, but it’s the best carrier I’ve come across and good for long-term use. It’s expensive though, so it would be a better deal to find one used.

  • A jumper – if your baby isn’t eager to stand, this could wait, but if s/he is, they will love this. We liked the Fisher Price Rainforest Jumper.

  • The swing remains very useful

  • Some type of bed. If you want to make life easier, probably a crib that you’ll use for the long term would be best.

  • BumGenius all-in-one cloth diapers – so easy even the dad accepts them.

    Things I’d do without:
    · An exersaucer – unless you can pick one up for free, as you often can on freecycle
    · Any type of travel crib or pen. Unless baby can roll over, a bed or carseat works just fine. If you are actually traveling though and expect to continue traveling, this crib is expensive, but amazing.
    · Any but a few basic toys – the whole world is a toy.
    · Toys, accessories for car or stroller. We just didn’t find them necessary.
    · The chairs that help baby sit – those are useful for about two weeks, if you’re lucky.
    · Rice paper liners for cloth diapers – they irritated Soren’s behind and are only useful until the poops become more solid.
    · Any of the breastpump cleaning supplies – microwave sterilizing kit, wipes, etc. Never used them.
    · A fancy bedtime routine. Maybe some kids need it, but others don’t. No need for parents to stress themselves out with thinking that baby needs a bath every day before bed or other rituals if a bottle and a bedtime song are enough.

Months 6+

  • A crib, if you don’t have one already

  • Motherease cloth diapers (for home use – you can tell right away when baby is wet. This is useful if you don’t want baby to get used to sitting in wetness). Also, the snap-diapers (such as Fuzzi-Bunz) are more useful once baby figures out how to pull apart the velco

  • Baby Bjorn little potty

  • A professional portrait – surprisingly worth it. Sears did a great job

  • Silicone ice cube trays and muffin pans for making baby food

  • A decent food processor or blender. This one has worked well for us.

  • An upright seat for the bathtub that keeps baby upright and contained, but allows to interact with water

  • Pedometer and The Step Diet book – time to make sure mom is moving enough and beginning to shed that weight. After 8 months of carrying around over 20 extra pounds, I dropped 15 within a few months of starting this.

  • The Baby Bjorn bibs. These are expensive, but worth it. They are the only ones I could find with a pocket and made from a solid enough plastic that the food actually falls into the pocket.

    Things I’d do without:

  • Foam for the floor while learning to crawl – the usefulness is also very limited and baby will learn to crawl in any case. We used ours a grand total of once.

  • Same thing with the playyard. Maybe it would be useful if you have a large amount of space and can fence the baby into a limited area. For us, it was pretty useless since it took up most of the living space. In any case, we had other places to put him if an adult needed to be away for a short period of time. When an adult was there, we didn’t have the need to pen him in.

  • Onesies - once the potty training begins, onesies are a pain to take off and get the baby on the pot. A few would be useful for special occasions. But for home, normal shirts work much better.

  • Shoes – we didn’t see any use for them before he could walk

  • Bulk quantities of baby food (unless you are planning to feed primarily jarred food). While the needs may seem large early on, River was completely off of all baby products by 12 months and was eating large portions of standard food before then. The time during which a baby needs purees and special baby foods is limited.

Months 9-12
At this age, our need for products is starting to go down dramatically. Clothes, a few used toys, a steady supply of good food and lots of hugs and attention seem to keep River happy. Books started to be appreciated at this age. Farm animal books are great, as are books with textures. A couple of things that have gone over very well are:

  • A push walker – The time period that this is useful, in the period just before walking, is very short. This is good item to get used.

  • The Leap Frog activity table has provided lots of fun. It’s also a good surface to pull up against. The activities on the table provide motivation to pull up

  • Balls, especially lightweight ones, are fun to roll back and forth.

  • Parents schoolbus – the bus is powered by pushing down on the driver. River enjoys taking the four student passengers in and out of the bus.

  • A pair of soft-soled leather shoes comes in handy once baby is pulling off his/her socks. These shoes are easy to slide on, babies seem to like them, and both the socks and shoes stay on. It also provides some warmth and protection, especially when baby is starting to spend more time on his/her feet. We found one pair to be sufficient, though I know parents who have various pair to match outfits. In fact, in the first year, this pair of shoes was the only one we ever used, except for a single dress-up occasion.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Things to be grateful for

River’s birthday seems like a big marker to me and is leading me to take a look back at this life-changing year. More than anything, I feel a great deal of gratitude.

I’m grateful for River’s presence in our lives.

I’m grateful for his health and sweet, easy demeanor

I’m grateful for how he has taken me out of the rut of adulthood and helped me to look at the world in a new, refreshed way

I’m grateful we’ve had to the resources so that I haven’t been forced back to a job before I was ready

I’m grateful that relations in our family of three are good. We are all happy. We all love each other.

I’m grateful that I made it breastfeeding to 12 months. I now feel free to let it drop off and enjoy the new freedom

I’m grateful for the excellent help I’ve had, both from Mark and from our babysitters as well as friends and family

I’m grateful for the library, which offers wonderful programming for children from birth

I’m grateful for my pre-natal yoga classes, which put me in touch with like-minded moms expecting around the same time as me

I’m grateful that I’m recovering myself, physically and professionally

I’m grateful that we are living centrally and River and I can use a bicycle or stroller for most of our activities.

I’m grateful for the love I’ve received, from River, Mark, friends and family.

I’m grateful that I think I’ve done a better job at being a mother to River than I expected.

I’m grateful for the basis of a loving relationship that we’ve set.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Birthday letter to my baby

For the past seven months, I’ve been writing short letters to River at the end of each month. These are summaries of what I’ve seen in him during that month that I’m collecting to use in his baby book.

Here is the final letter from his first year:

Happy birthday my dear baby! Just one year ago you appeared in our lives. We wondered what you’d be like as a one year old – what you would look like, what your voice would sound like, what you would be capable of.

Here you are. You are a beautiful, loving, fun and happy little boy that brings so much joy into our lives. Each day you learn something new or develop a new skill. We love to see the world fresh through your eyes. Your enthusiasm is contagious. You like to start your mornings by pointing to the items on your medicine shelf. Mom hands you them one by one – your aspirin, brush, lotion, etc. and tells you what they are. You touch them briefly, play with them, then hand them back to mom, one by one, to be placed back on the shelf. You love your foil balloons, you are excited about the bus with students and a driver you received for your birthday. You enjoy being outside and will sit calmly during walks, even for two hours or more, checking out the scenery around you.

You and Mirena, who comes over twice a week, are now friends and play well together. You have a strong bond with Grace. You offer her a big smile each time she comes and she feels a similar bond with you.

You are comfortable moving now. You crawl quickly, you pull yourself up easily, you walk along surfaces, you crawl up the stairs, you love to walk with your push walker. We think you’ll be walking any day. Like all your other skills, we expect you to just wake up one morning and be on the move.

You seem to understand what we are saying these days. You are very good at indicating your wants with pointing and huffing, as well as shaking your head no. You respond to visual signals, such as a washcloth extended to wash your hands after meals, or hand extended to help you off the potty. You are now able to go potty and get yourself up when finishing, without tipping the potty. You hold out your hands when you want mommy to pick you up. Both mom and dad treasure your hugs more than anything.

You are starting to understand that are your own person. You get excited by the surprise of seeing your reflection in the oven and you seem to know that the people you see in the oven are the same people you are interacting with. You are more and more like a toddler, a little boy instead of a baby, each day.

We thank you for a wonderful year. You are our sweet child who we love so much. We can’t wait to see who you become in the next year.

Monday, December 8, 2008

One Birthday Down, Hopefully Many to Go

After a good week or so of thinking and two days of pretty non-stop cleaning and preparing, River’s first birthday party is over. I would say it was a success. We squeezed 10 adult and 7 young toddlers into our very limited space, the food was good and people seemed to have a good time.

I prepared one of River’s favorite dishes, borsht (and blended up a pureed batch for babies), together with a wonderful sweet potato salad and a fairly healthy carrot cake that turned out very well. We made pomegranate daiquiris for the adults, which was a nice treat.

Perhaps next year we’ll start the number of guests = number of years formula. But this year, since the party was more for the parents than for the kids, we ignored it. We did limit the guest list to people with small children though, so they all had something in common and seemed to enjoy talking together.

I don’t think we’ve had any real get-togethers at our place since River was born. I think we spent around $125 for the food, cocktails, non-alcoholic drinks, flowers, balloons and a few random supplies. We didn’t do much in the way of decorations, beside a foil balloon tied to River’s high chair and a couple of balloons taped to the wall. That worked out well because most of the babies were entranced by balloons, like River is. We could offer them a balloon to take home when they left, which several seemed to like.

I asked people not to bring gifts and instead, to bring a drink or side dish. That was helpful in making sure that everyone could find at least one thing they liked or were allowed to eat. Despite the request for no gifts (which I repeated twice), three people brought them anyway. Those people wanted River to open their gifts. I tried to do it off to the side, so that those who didn’t bring gifts wouldn’t feel bad.

I’ve heard that some people just ignore a “no gifts” request because they assume everyone else will bring gifts and then they will feel bad. As someone who requested “no gifts” I don’t think the people who brought nothing for River should feel bad at all. I’m glad they came. I’m glad they contributed something to eat. I’m glad we spent a nice time together. That’s it.

I didn’t feel like people should be spending their money to get River something when his needs are already met. Especially in these times, I think many people have more important things to spend their money on. I also didn’t want to encourage the baby consumption culture.

River’s reaction to his party was part pleased and part muted. When we brought him down from his nap, before the guests arrived, he was thrilled to see all of the balloons. He hadn’t slept as long during his nap as I’d hoped, so he wasn’t fully rested when the guests arrived. We put him in his highchair and filled the table with food for him. That kept him happy for a long time. He looked out at the noise and the commotion fairly dazed, but not requiring much attention. That left Mark and I free to visit with and serve our guests. We put a little birthday crown and bib we’d inherited on him when I brought out the cake. I gave him a piece to do with as he pleased. He picked off the frosting first, then ate the cake. He seemed to be pleased with his carrot cake, as did the guests, and it didn't make much of a mess, even eaten with fingers.

I don’t know whether it was the sugar from his first-ever piece of cake or the excitement, but he wouldn’t nap after the party and I had a surprisingly difficult time getting him down. At 8 p.m. he was still crawling around.

He was pretty much back into his normal routine today, though the balloons and the new toys seemed to make him happy. I’m sure the party has already faded into oblivion. But we now have a few photos to keep as mementos. Best of all, which I suppose is the whole purpose at this age, we all had a good time.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Cheap, Fun Baby Toy

I copied this idea from a friend who is much more diligent than I am in providing her child only with simple, natural toys. When she told me that she filled baby food jars with various types of beans I thought that sounded easy, even for non-crafty me.

We didn’t have baby jars though, nor beans. Mirena still eats food from a baby jar, so I set those aside the last time she visited instead of throwing them away. Instead of beans, I put rice in one and swirly pasta in another.

River loves them! He’s been shaking them, playing with them, rolling them and banging them since the moment I handed them over. I think he likes that he’s able to make sounds with them, as well as to control the movement of the jars. He was so enthusiastic that he held one in each hand even as he crawled, which made for pretty awkward movement.

So this is my suggestion for low cost, fun baby entertainment. When we do have dried beans in the house I’ll add a few more to the collection. Any suggestions out there for similarly low-cost and low-effort entertainment?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

No more formula regrets

Somehow I missed this story – probably eating too much turkey. Those doubts about switching early from formula to cow’s milk – they are gone.

Looking for the perfect oatmeal

I’m on an oatmeal kick at the moment. River has now moved beyond baby food and I decided that oatmeal would be a good breakfast that we could eat together. It’s inexpensive and healthy. While the kinds I have now take 20-30 minutes to make, our mornings these days aren’t hurried, so the time isn’t a problem.

I started out with Bob’s Red Mill five-grain oatmeal. I cooked it with raisins and poured whole milk on top (yummy!). River got his portion and I had mine (with a little sugar sprinkled on top). There was enough left to put aside a portion for River for the next day, meaning I only had to cook it every other day. I was pretty happy with this.

Then I ran out of Bob’s, so I moved on to my Shoprite organic steel-cut oats. I was hoping this would go over well because I’m guessing it's cheaper. River was distinctly less enthusiastic though. Instead of downing the whole portion at breakfast, as he had been doing, he munched on it over all three meals before it was gone. Perhaps it's the crunchier texture of the steel cut.

So, I could go back to Bob’s Red Mill, or I could try something else. Do any other oatmeal fans have suggestions?

Addendum: after writing this, we continued on with the Shoprite oats. After the first rejection, River accepted them just fine. At $1.60/pound, so far they are a pretty good choice.

Thoughts are with a premie

There is a woman on an internet parenting group I’m part of who recent gave birth to a premature baby. He was only three pounds at birth. He’s since had strep B exposure, possible meningitis, a blood transfusion and is now hemorrhaging from the brain and lungs.

My thoughts are with this baby and his family as he fights for his life. As I plan for River’s first birthday, I feel sad that they must live hour to hour. It reminds me to give thanks for River’s health. There is nothing more valuable than that.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The first year approaches its end

River’s first birthday is fast approaching and it’s time for me to accept that he truly is almost a year old. That doesn’t seem like it should be such a difficult task, but I find myself contemplating it with wonder.

When he was born, one year seemed so far away. I knew he’d grow so much, learn so much and develop profoundly in that time. And here it is – what I see in front of me is just about what my one-year birthday boy will be like.

This past weekend we visited a friend and her two-week old baby. Seeing a newborn only reinforced the vast changes that have taken place in the past twelve months. That little baby’s wrists couldn’t have been much more than an inch in circumference. He glanced around but was still so fragile and new. He relied completely on his mother and father, who gave him the security and love he needed.

River in contrast is strong and solid, has rolls of baby fat, has an incredible ability to search out food, and will establish eye contact and throw his complete trust onto whoever is nearby, making people want to help him. We left him with relatives for the entire day on Saturday and he had a blast, seemingly not even noticing our absence.

“I think that if River was somehow abandoned, he’d find a way to survive,” Mark’s mother commented this weekend. “He’d find food and an animal would probably adopt him.” I’ve always known that River didn’t need me in particular, that he’d be perfectly happy with anyone who showered him with love. It makes me sad to know that I’m not indispensable, but also proud to see his adaptability, which continues to increase with time.

River now eats the same things I do. He moves with confidence and enthusiasm. He went up and down stairs independently for the first time today. He’s on the verge of walking and we expect it any day now. He understands what I’m saying and is able to respond to some questions and requests. He’s able to make his desires clear. He’s just about 27 pounds and is a hunk of soft baby flesh as smooth and white as marble. He can hug me repeatedly within a matter of minutes, falling into me with a laugh and making me feel better than almost anything else I could imagine. He has made me a better person – more patient, more empathetic, more focused on spirituality, community and doing small things to help others, more capable of love than I ever imagined.

We’re hosting his birthday party this coming Sunday, so it’s time to start planning a bit. We don’t have family nearby, so we’ve invited our friends with small children and requested no gifts. I plan to make one of River’s favorite dishes, borscht, and a carrot cake.

I’d like River to be able to see photos from the party and to know that we acknowledged his first birthday. At the same time, I recognize that the party is mostly for us, that the anniversary of his first birth marks a great milestone for us and we want to celebrate it. I wanted to treat it as an informal gathering of friends, one which I’ve been meaning to host for a while but haven’t gotten around to it. I would provide some food, drinks and cake; my friends would each bring a side dish. We picked up a few toys for free from freecycle that we’ll give River as his gifts and we’ll buy him a helium balloon. It wouldn’t be fancy, nor would it cost a lot.

But as I thought about the balloon that I know would make him so happy, I thought about maybe getting a balloon for each baby or child in attendance. I’ve always thought gift bags were a silly idea and an added expense for a parent trying to host a child’s birthday party. But here I was actually wanting to give gifts to the babies who come. I think I appreciated their coming to share River’s special day. I wanted them to be as happy as I am that River is in our lives.

I knocked that idea out of my mind. I’m not going to spend $4-7 a piece on babies. But I started to understand where the urge to spend comes from. I’m trying hard to control it now while he’s young and doesn’t care.

Several times a day now, I look at him and try to take in – this is my almost-one year old. The face that is now looking more like a little boy’s than a baby’s is growing up. I hope this will be just the first of many birthdays, each bringing a rich collection of changes and experiences.