Saturday, March 28, 2009


I was sure happy to get my period this month. I thought we could have had a little surprise. When I returned from my trip, I told my husband I’d already ovulated. Then when I sat and counted the days more carefully, plus thought about the possibility that the international travel could have messed with the ovulation, I wondered if I might have screwed up.

I happened to have my annual gyn. exam the next day, so I could have asked for a morning after pill. I thought about it, but I didn’t. As much as I wouldn’t be eager to have another child now, I figured if it happened, it happened. We do plan on one eventually and while now wouldn’t be ideal, it wouldn’t be unworkable either.

One reason another child wouldn’t be ideal is that I’m trying to get back to work. Being pregnant while job hunting would definitely not help the search. Then, as I realize the job search might be tougher than I first thought, I start to think that maybe it would make sense to have a child now after all. As long as I’m unemployed, I might as well be productive in doing something. The fact that we already have a babysitter would make childcare arrangements easier and cheaper.

Despite all that, I would mostly be disappointed to be pregnant now because I’d still like to give River the individual attention I think he deserves (and that I enjoy giving him) for a while more. While a pregnancy now would make a two year gap, which I suppose is acceptable and plenty of people do it, I think River is still young. A 3-4 year gap would be ideal in my opinion. I’d like him to be potty trained and able to do some basic things for himself before a sibling appears. I’d like for him to be in preschool, to have a little bit of his own world, before we pull attention away towards another child. I’d like to be able to give the second child the attention that River has received, or close to it.

What would be most ironic about a pregnancy now is that my birth control (I’m going to try the Nuva ring) is sitting in the fridge, waiting until the Sunday after my period to be put into use. First I waited 11 months to get my period, then I wanted to see what my standard cycle post-birth was, then I took some time to look into options, delayed starting since there was no point in being on hormones while traveling, and planned to begin after my first period upon returning home. After all that, how ironic would it be for us to screw up just days beforehand?

Luckily, we didn’t. And I’m strangely glad that I didn’t ask for the morning after pill, so I won’t wonder whether maybe there would have been a little one.

I’ll be starting on the Nuva tomorrow. Has anyone used it? Any thoughts?

Since another child is not on our short-term horizon, I’m crossing my fingers that I can find some sort of halfway-meaningful employment by the summer.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Following a child

“This is how it happens sometimes. You will be following a child into a world that they will someday own. It’s a place you don’t understand and you go out of love, because they want to come here and you want to be with them. They will be able to go farther than you will, and par tof your job is to sense the moment just before you stop being helpful and to retreat gracefully so they can go on alone.

You will be stumbling along, trying to keep this child in sight, trying to be useful to them, and then something will happen. You fall in love with a skirt or a pair of shoes, and suddenly you understand that this is how your child feels all the time.”

I think this is a beautiful sentiment, excerpted from an essay by Mylisa Larsen in this month’s Brain, Child magazine. She expresses so well what makes the journey of following a child’s development so thrilling.

I’m so excited when River picks up something I love – appreciates the smell of a flower, the texture of a stick, the sound of the wind rustling the wind chimes. But I’m thrilled to to take in his excitement at things I wouldn’t normally notice, excitement so strong he’ll bounce in his stroller, wave his hands and pant. This can be caused by a passing truck, by balloons tied to a storefront ad, or children playing ball at recess.

In this way, I’m traveling to another world, I’m seeing what’s around me from a different perspective, I find his happiness and contentment contagious. I’m more satisfied with my own journey by being able to partially experience his.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The "Hey, I'm pissed" cry appears

We were pretty lucky when River was a babe in that he usually cried only for one reason – food. He cries, we gave him the breast or a bottle, most of the time he became happy.

Now all of a sudden he cries for many other reasons. Hey, you took “The Sex-Starved Marriage” book I pulled off the shelf at Barnes and Noble away from me! Hey, I wanted to spend more time putting things from the back of the toilet onto the toilet seat! Hey, I really don’t like wearing diapers and resent you forcing this on me! I’d rather play than nap, even if I’m tired! And of course, I want my bottle back. And I need that food I see you preparing right this instant.

For at least the first six months of River’s life, I subscribed to the baby cries for a reason camp. When River cried, I responded.

I read that after six months, when babies become more cognizant, they can start to manipulate. Somewhere in there is the point where the parent needs to set the rules and the boundaries. Somehow we floated through the second half of the year without any crises. He slept, he was personable, he ate, he pooped. All were happy.

But now he’s got opinions and he has definitely added wants to his needs. I feel the difference. Now we have to remember that we are the parents and we know what is best. I hear cries more often than I did before and they are usually complaint cries. I’ve had to learn to not always react to them. To let him move through his anger or disappointment himself – which generally doesn’t last more than a couple of seconds.

I feel confident that right now, we as the parents do know what is best for him, and what is best for us as a family unit. I also realize that someday, as he grows and turns into his own person, he will know more and more about what is right for him. At some moment, his self-knowledge will exceed our ability to determine what is best for him. I imagine that identifying that moment and letting him go will be one of the more challenging parts of having a young adult.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Late speech

At our 15-month checkup last week, our new doctor expressed concern about River’s lack of speech. He says mama and dada, but not necessarily directed at the person. And he babbles. While Mark has been anxious about it lately, I wasn’t too worried. He is growing up bilingual after all, and he’s a boy. And, admittedly, except for skill in eating vast quantities and varieties of food, he hasn’t been ahead of the curve in beginning any of the physical skills.

But the doctor was concerned. She said he should know at least 2-5 words by now. She wants to monitor him and see more progress by his next appointment. She said if he’s not speaking by age two, she’ll refer him to a speech therapist. She told me we need to show him objects, teach him the body parts, ask him questions, communicate with him.

“He won’t pick it up on his own,” she said.

We are horrible, delinquent parents, I thought. Here is the effect of all the walks I take while listening to my ipod instead of pointing out every thing we pass. Here is the effect of Mark watching movies instead of communicating with River.

I walked home with River truly concerned that he was somehow lacking, somehow behind, that we hadn’t done a good enough job or that perhaps he’s behind the curve. I worried what the implications of late speech are. I know that late speech is the leading indicator of autism and that is what worries me most (and would understandably worry a doctor). But River is very social, very comfortable around a wide variety of people and very affectionate. Luckily, I don’t think he’s showing signs of autism.

So if it’s now autism, what’s the big deal about a delay? I went online and started to look. I was happy to find this reassuring article from Parenting magazine. It was helpful to learn that:
• 25% of kids are late speakers. One in every four is going to be behind the curve.
• Of those who are late speakers, many of them end up becoming very intelligent and accomplished, such as Einstein. And some of these people didn’t speak until age 3 or 4. We’re at only 15 months right now.
• Most late speakers catch up by age 2.5, so two and a half is considered the best time for speech therapy. So there doesn’t seem to be much reason to worry until 2.5. We’re only halfway there. He has a lot of time left.
• One reason for late speech can be a child focusing all their energies and attention on another new skill, such as walking. Since River began walking (after a long period of cruising) only a week or so before the doctor’s appointment, I think this reason might well apply to him.

We’re all trying to talk to River a bit more, to ask him more questions, to expose him to more materials. I’ve started letting him watch a 20 minute DVD of songs in Spanish once per day, as a way to focus on certain words. He does seem to be making a bit more progress. I’m trying to not compare him so much with other kids. I have now heard, independently, from parents in two different countries (Israel and Canadians in Russia) the following statement:

“We’re so glad we had a boy first. Otherwise, we would have thought he was retarded.”

Their girls developed so much faster than their boys did. We do know of boys who are more verbal than River but we’re learning that comparisons don’t work very well.

Most of all, we’re going to relax and allow him to develop as his organism seems fit. I’m getting a bit tired of pressure to demonstrate abilities at this early age.

Did anyone else have late speaking babies? How did things turn out?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reminding ourselves that we could do it too

When I read a news piece several months ago about a father who forgot to drop his child off at daycare, leaving it to die in his car while he worked, it haunted me. How horrible to be responsible for the death of one’s own child. Even if it’s inadvertent. How in the world does the spouse cope? How does the parent go on? It seems such a silly way to go.

But still, even then, it scared me. It scared me because I thought my husband could do it. He occasionally forgets where he is going when he’s driving. It would be just as possible to forget a quiet, sleeping baby.

Since River was born, I’ve also worried about my own ability to forget. It helps a lot that I’m not working, that we both have reasonable stress levels, that we don’t shuttle River around very often. But still, you never know.

This article is one of the best written and most powerful news pieces I have read in a while. Read it to remember your own fallibility, to not rush to judgment, to think about how to protect your own children before an inadvertent mistake causes such tragedy.

Ouch, my heart hurts

We’re in the process of transitioning from a bottle to a sippy cup and it’s not going well. The plan was to get rid of the bottles during the day, then to work on the evening. I hoped the day switch would take place while I was gone, but it didn’t.

I took away the day bottles (usually one, sometimes two, given at time of rest) cold turkey, replacing them with a sippy cup of milk.

The first day or two went OK. He didn’t seem to like the sippy cup much and he didn’t drink much of the milk. But he still rested (though a bit less than usual) and he didn’t protest.

In the past couple of days, he seems to have figured out what is going on and now he’s pissed. Yesterday he threw a fit and pointed at an empty bottle on the floor. I was about to cave and pour the milk from the sippy cup to the bottle. It was dirty though, so I didn’t.

Just now, he threw a massive fit – probably the worst I’ve seen, screaming and crying for well over a half hour. I tried to comfort him, to rock him, to potty him, to let him get up and play. No, he’s tired and he wants a bottle. Luckily, there are no more bottles within sight in his room.

Since nothing I did helped, I eventually gave up and put him back in his crib with his sippy and his animals. I came downstairs and put away all of the bottles out of sight.

My heart aches. It’s so painful to see him angry, to see him feel denied, especially when I know I could solve what is hurting him. I was tempted to give in today as well, but I thought about the big picture. He’s only going to get more angry and throw bigger fits the older he gets. It won’t get any easier, only harder. We missed our window of opportunity when he could have cared less what form he received his milk in. Now I feel I have to stay strong – let him be angry if he’s angry, let him reduce his milk consumption if he doesn’t want it from the sippy (the dr. says he should be reducing his milk intake anyway), let him sleep less and deal with the cranky result – but don’t give him a bottle except at night.

Or am I doing this all wrong? Any advice? Any ideas of how long this rough period will take? If we get through it, then how do we get rid of the night bottle with the least pain for all involved?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Is six a record?

Today is one of those days I’m exceptionally glad we are using elimination communication methods. Junior, back on a very high fiber diet now that I’m home, pooped SIX times today. I think that’s a record. Happily, we caught five of them. The only one we didn’t catch took place when I left him at the gym childcare for two hours. I can’t imagine cleaning up six such messes. One was bearable.

If anything these days, River is wanting to spend more time on the potty. When I try to take him off, he shakes his head no. Unless we’re in a hurry to get somewhere, I’ll let him stay on as long as he wants. Often, something ends up coming out after he refused to get up. In any case, I hope he’s learning to become comfortable with the bathroom.

He’s now showing a definite dislike for diapers. This afternoon I put him down for a nap in a diaper. He undid the Velcro, then peed. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I think he’d rather not pee into fabric against his skin.

We’re nowhere near diaper-free at this point, but we’re collecting a whole lot of goo in the Baby Bjorn little potty. I’m hopeful this means we might finish the potty training earlier than the current American average of 39 months for boys.

First Steps

Mark sent me a text message to let me know that River took his first steps this evening. Mark had gone grocery shopping and was putting away the groceries. Unsurprisingly, it was food that first motivated River to walk. He wanted to see what Mark was putting in the refrigerator, so he walked to the kitchen, even negotiating the bump that divides the kitchen from the adjoining room and walked to the refrigerator.

“I was cheering wildly for him,” Mark said. “But he didn’t seem to appreciate it.”

My Russian friend Marina said that River is probably scared of walking. She thinks he will only do it when he is focused on a particular goal (such as seeing what goodies dad has bought) and is not thinking of what he’s doing. If he actually realizes he’s walking, he becomes scared.

“It was a very random surprise,” Mark said. He just turned around and suddenly saw him walking.

Of course, I’m very sad to not have been there to see that. I’m doubly sad that because I took the camera and the videocamera with me, Mark had no way to record it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Almost heading home

Tomorrow I take the first steps in what will be my three-day journey homeward. I’ve been counting down the time until I go home pretty much since I arrived. It’s close to the last thing that comes to my mind each evening, it’s definitely the first thing I think about in the morning and I also count down several times during the day. As tomorrow has approached, my mood has begun to noticeably lift. Just heading towards my River raises my spirits. The act of reducing the distance between us seems as though it’s doing something positive.

My friends gathered for a goodbye this evening. We spent five pleasant hours eating, drinking and talking together.

“I have a feeling we won’t see each other again,” one of my friends said. I told her she was wrong, but in my heart, I recognize she might be right. Much as I might love this place and many of the people here, it’s unlikely I’ll have a compelling reason to come back. It’s now my family who calls me.

This trip has made me even more appreciative of my family than I was before. I realize that before I met Mark, something was definitely missing from my life. He fulfilled that missing piece. I also realize that having River has made me a kinder, gentler and more beautiful person. I am grateful for what they’ve brought to my life – love, security, closeness, trust and happiness – and also how they have affected the person I am.

Nevertheless, I feel a sadness at not being able to have it all – not being able to maintain close relationships with friends I love from various corners of the world at the same time that I try to establish a stable home with my family. I have to accept that I can’t have it all.

Almost daily, I look at the photos a mom-friend sent me of River affectionately playing with her son. That was a good two weeks ago though, before he started walking. I know he must be different now. But I haven’t had access to any videos, he doesn’t react to my voice when I try to talk to him by phone, so I’ve basically given up and resorted to looking at these photos and getting updates from Mark. The distance has grown. It’s gotten to where it’s sad, but not as painful, where it’s almost hard to visualize him.

“Do you think he will recognize you when you come back?” a friend here asked me.

“I try not to think about that,” I said. “Because the thought of him not recognizing me is too painful to contemplate.”

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Freezing time

I like this quote, from The Price of Frogtown by Rick Bragg, in which he describes how his wife interacts with her youngest son.

"She was happy with a gentle, helpless boy, because a boy like that would need her forever. 'That one will love you forever,' I told her, certain of that. Some boys just have Peter Pan in them. But sometimes there is a sadness in mommas so deep you are afraid to get close to it, lest you fall in. She had a door frame in her house in Memphis marked with her boys names, ages and their heights, year after year. She would have ripped it off the wall and broken it in two to stop time, to keep them all needing her forever and loving her the way little boys do."

When I first came across this, while listening to the audiobook, I jotted it down because it seemed true. Of course, I’d probably want to stop time too, I thought. But at the same time, the journey forward is so interesting that I’m happy to travel forward with River and see him gain more skills and confidence.

Now that I’m missing precious weeks though, I understand the sadness so deep one can be afraid to fall in. I wouldn’t want anyone to fall into the sadness I’m feeling now. It’s hard enough to cover it with the veneer of normalcy, to go about my daily activities. But the hole is deep and dark, without a clear bottom.

Counting down the days

It’s been a rough week for me. I was depressed and homesick before anything bad happened. Then I had a run-in with the Russian police over visa issues and the desire to go home only multiplied. I looked into changing my flights, but it would cost $450, when the tickets themselves cost just over $1,000. As much as I’d love to be home, even a few days earlier, Mark didn’t think it was worth that expense. So I’m sitting here and waiting the time out, counting down the hours and the days, waiting for the moment when I’ll be back with my family.

Perhaps it’s a good thing to not run at the first sign of fear. I’m having some good experiences now and I will be able to leave with more balanced impressions.

At the same time, I’m learning I really don’t want to be away from my family for extended periods. Short trips away are fine, and probably good for everyone. If I’m going to take extended trips, I better have a good reason. And I should really chose destinations that are more enjoyable than a cold, barren place in winter. Sun, warm weather and good food would probably help a lot.

I’m also learning to appreciate my quotidian life. I can’t wait to get back to the unexciting, but pleasant tasks of organizing get-togethers for moms, organizing morning walks, doing my work in the afternoons and running errands with River on weekends. I am lucky to have the luxury of safety, freedom and financial independence within with to operate. I will value that more in the future.

Friday, March 6, 2009

A baby to a toddler

This morning, when Mark told me that I left a baby and will be returning to a toddler, I asked him to not make me cry. And really, I was on the verge of tears. I had to collect myself in order to not start crying.

It’s not as though this transformation is news to me. I already thought River had become a young toddler before I left. But still, the changes he’s undergone in just the last few weeks have been rapid. I’m afraid he will seem different when I return and that I will regret not being there to see him progress to his newest self. Let’s face it, I already regret not being there.

Mark said that River hasn’t walked again since he did so on the evening of March 4th. He was going to have him try while he was talking to me, but I asked him not to. I’d rather he not become an expert walker by next weekend. I’d like to be able to see his progression.

I would still like to get home sooner, I’d like to see him and wrap my arms around him. But with time, he’s becoming more distant. I know he’s there, I think about him and love him and I speak to him on the phone, but he doesn’t recognize my voice on the phone. We don’t have any way to connect, so all we can do is live apart as we have to for the moment. It’s sad, but it does become strangely more bearable with time.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

An evening with Russian friends and children

I spent an evening with two of my good friends and their children. Between the two of them, they have five kids, ages 3 months to 11. I was surprised that none of their children go to bed until the adults do. My friend Marina desperately wants her kids to go to bed earlier, so that she can have some time adult time, but she hasn’t had any luck.

“I end up yelling in the evening,” she said, “Because I’m just tired and need some time to myself.”

I told her about the tactics I’d seen Supernanny use and she said she would try returning the children to bed without speaking to them.

My friend Nadya, who is a single mother, is using a tactic I thought was interesting in raising her two boys, ages 11 and 4. She believes that the ages 18-24 are especially difficult for boys and thinks that her younger son will need a strong male role model at that time. So she puts her older son, Bair, in first place and tells her younger son that he has to obey his brother.

“He used to get very frustrated by that,” she said. “But now he’s used to it.”

My parents tried to ensure equity and fairness between my brother and I, as do most parents I know. But it seems like American parents also spend a lot of time negotiating or at least listening to quarrels among their children. I wonder whether a hard and fast rule like Nadya’s would reduce the amount of time spent negotiating fights between kids. I wonder whether it would help the younger siblings to have a role model and whether this would be worth whatever sense of unfairness they might feel.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


I have been in a funk all morning. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I just want to lie or stare into space and think about River, Mark, home. I have the song in my head, “I wanna go home.” I do. I’m not happy here. I like my family and my home and I feel lucky to have them.

I think I’m depressed. I’m able to deal when I’m at an event or speaking with someone. But as soon as it’s over, I feel a heavy weight and sadness. It’s difficult to think of anything beyond my desire to want to go home. I repeatedly count down to the date I’ll arrive and look forward to it as a magic day.

I contacted the airlines to find out the options for changing my ticket. I feel like I’m not fully engaging with people here, that I’m not fully present, that I’m just thinking of my baby and wanting to go see him.

I keep my computer clock set at the time at home, so I can try to imagine what River is up to. I feel left out by not knowing what is happening in River’s life. Mark says not to worry about them and to enjoy my time and freedom. Unfortunately, it’s just not happening. I think it might be better if I was somewhere tropical. I think that living alone in an isolated place doesn’t help. I think that not having a TV definitely plays a factor. I feel I’m just moving on the fringes. I’m not comfortable and what I’m getting here isn’t enough to make up for what I’m missing at home.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Eyes of a Mother

I’m missing my little River so much right now. It looks like a week, or just over that, is really all I want to be away from him at a time. When I look at the photos of him another mother sent me, I see such beauty. I see only good things, as though he radiates golden light. I have the eyes of his mother.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Phone call from a distance

Mark called this morning with River and Mark’s parents there. I spoke to River, though they said he didn’t seem to recognize my voice. It’s so hard to hear the little sounds of his presence but to not be able to reach out and touch him.

Grandma says it’s clear both Mark and River miss me, but that River is reaching out for his dad, which is good to hear. She says he is standing and even playing ball while standing, but not taking steps yet. I want to say, wait, hold off for two more weeks please. I want to be there with you baby for your big moment.

I’m glad that it’s already March. I’m already in the month in which I’ll be reunited with him. I want to lie on our bed with him, to have him run across from side to side, giggling and exploring, climbing over me, occasionally pausing to lie down next to me or to hug me. I’ll just have to trust that each day will pass and soon enough he’ll be back in my arms.