Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Baby, baby

In a box of dolls somewhere, there is a redheaded boy Cabbage Patch Kid that belonged to my sister. He was never her favorite -- that honor was reserved for Birthday Baby, the bald Cabbage Patch she received for her second birthday -- and so at some point he ended up packed up with my remaining dolls when I got ready to leave for college. I remembered the redheaded doll a few weeks ago and thought he'd be perfect for Nico. My sister gave the okay to hand him down, so I made a note to track him down as soon as I had a chance. I had convinced myself that the box of dolls had made its way into our attic, and climbed up there this evening to find it after Nico babbled happily at a photo of a baby in one of his books and it reminded me of the baby doll I'd meant to find for him. I didn't see the box (and am now hoping like hell that it didn't get misplaced in the course of several purges and moves since I last saw it), but I did rediscover a box of sentimental childhood stuff that I stuck up there when I was cleaning up the house pre-Nico.

And in that box was what must be my oldest surviving doll. It's a typical genderless baby doll but used to be dressed as a boy, blond and blue-eyed, made of soft rubber with fully rotating arm and leg joints so that he can be moved into many different poses, somehow more realistically floppy than I remember. He was supposed to be a drink and wet type of doll, but there was always something amiss with his works, and the water that went into his tiny pursed mouth never made it into his little cloth diaper. I loved him anyway. My mom bought him for me as a big sister gift. Memory is a faulty thing, especially when we're talking about a memory from 23 years ago. My instinct is to say he was my gift for when my sister came home, and that I remember Mom giving me the doll outside my preschool. But my sister was born in October of 1986 and didn't get placed for adoption until December, and I was in Kindergarten by then. It's a strange feeling when your personal mythology has holes in it, for certain.

Wherever it happened, whichever year, I have a very fuzzy but specific memory of Mom picking me up from school in her pale green Impala and pulling the doll out of the trunk, still in his big box with the crackly cellophane window. Was that this doll? It almost had to be. I rarely got "just because" gifts, and never anything so luxurious as a brand new baby doll, so that's probably why I remember it. I'm pretty sure he was my favorite. His white-blond hair used to lie straight and smooth against his scalp, but when my sister was a toddler, she latched onto this doll and dragged him around by his hair every day while I was at school. At some point, she also drew all over him with a red Sharpie, and there are still a few marks left. When I got him, I named him after my best friend at school, a boy. In a strange coincidence, that boy's name was the same as MB's middle name, which is also Nico's middle name.

After hesitating for only a moment, I pulled the doll out of the box in the attic and carried him down to Nico's room. Possibly he won't survive Nico's childhood, but he survived me and my sister, and leaving him in a dusty tub of old diaries and mementos seemed a bit of a waste. After a hasty baby-wipe bath, divested of the dusty baby shirt I dressed him in when I was in high school and felt bad about his long-lost original outfit, I set him on Nico's bookshelf. Nico gave the little naked baby a few glances and then moved on to something else, but it still felt right to pass the doll that welcomed my sister home on to my own child. Maybe he'll be Nico's favorite, too.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Nico & VBG's Excellent Adventures

Are we still saying staycation, or is that over? Either way, I had one. My mom had minor surgery and needed a break from Nico-sitting. I needed a break after my summer of somewhat unfun work stuff, so I took two weeks off to chill with the little guy while Mom recovered. It was fabulous to have so much time with him, often doing nothing but keeping each other company. He's at a great age (although I think so far, I've felt that way about all of his stages), independent enough to play alone with his toys for short periods but still interested in cuddling. I spend a lot of time looking at him these days, trying to memorize the way he is now, his eyes a hard-to-describe shade somewhere between blue and gray; his hair the exact rich burnished copper of a brand new penny, a hue impossible to capture in photographs; his lone tooth a barely-visible scallopy ridge, only seen in the widest of grins.

Between crawling and pulling up on every vertical surface he can reach, the time has come when he's pretty much into everything at every turn and any lapse in parental attention is an opportunity for mischief. One day I dozed off in the rocking chair in his room while he was playing with his toys on the floor, only to be awakened to the sound of him stripping the dust jacket violently from one of his nice hardback books. My book nerd heart in my throat, I dove to the rescue and subsequently removed all his non-board books to a high shelf for safekeeping. We are undeniably at the point where babyproofing has become a mandate rather than a good idea, no door left ajar, no laptop cord left untethered. I turned to my good friend Craigslist and obtained a plastic superyard for nearly half price that we can zig-zag across the living room to block off the entertainment center and keep dog and baby separate. It's certainly not the stuff of artfully-lit lifestyle-blog photos, but it does a damn fine job of shielding our stuff and our son from inevitable misfortune. And as an unforeseen bonus, my floors have never been cleaner, swept and Swiffered clear of clumps of dog hair and potential debris every day.

I booked a quite a few lunch dates during my time off and Nico was a champ about it, politely sitting in high chairs at various restaurants, eating bowls of oatmeal and fruit that I packed for him. Other than lunch dates -- which, let's be honest, are way more exciting for me than for him -- I wanted to take Nico on a few special outings during my second week off. Our swimming date with Julia and her son got canceled due to a cold that we didn't want to risk catching, but there was other fun to be had. On Wednesday, we went to the zoo with my dad. I tried to keep my expectations low since Nico doesn't even know any animals by name yet, but it actually went better than I'd hoped. Nico didn't really notice the animals in their enclosures until they moved, but luckily several of the large-ish denizens were extremely cooperative. He looked at howler monkeys, a tapir, and wolves. And while we couldn't get him to look at a gigantic giraffe that was right there in front of us, adorably stretching its neck in a vain attempt to eat some leaves that were too high even for it to graze upon, he found the thick cable fence in front of the giraffe's enclosure absolutely fascinating. Nico made it through the Amazon exhibit, part of the African exhibit, and about half of the children's forest before falling asleep and napping in his stroller for an hour while Dad and I checked out the rest of the zoo.

Zoo is serious business.

Well, maybe not that serious.

Our prize packet for completing the Summer Reading Program included a coupon for a free adult admission with paid adult admission to the children's museum. We used it on Friday to go for a visit and took my sister along. Nico did even better at the museum than he had at the zoo. We spent nearly two hours there, and he only fussed for a few minutes at the end when I put him back in his stroller to leave.

The museum is ridiculously cool, and I'm looking forward to taking him again. I think my sister had as much fun as Nico, especially when she used the stop motion camera exhibit to make a very detailed short film featuring Gumby being attacked and dragged off by an Allosaurus ("Gumby always creeped me out when I was a kid," she said by way of explanation.) We had the dinosaurs spell out hello to Nico using alphabet blocks, too, and I briefly considered making them spell out "Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal," but by that point Nico was getting restless in his stroller, so we moved on to the baby room, where he spent some time boosting his immune system.

We ended our trip in the splash room, which was definitely his favorite exhibit of all:

All in all, not a bad way to wrap up a stay-home vacation.

Reading:  Half Baked by Alexa Stevenson

Playing:  Dosage by Collective Soul

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The boy who lives on

A year ago today, my friend Eliza became a mother. Her son Gabriel was born and she held him in her arms. But Gabriel was born too soon. Due the same week -- maybe even the same day -- as Nico, he was born at only 20 weeks, too little, too early. There was no hope for a NICU miracle or a last-minute happy ending. There was a brief time to hold him and talk to him and tell him he was loved, and then he was gone.

That night, I lay in bed, 900 miles away, curled around the 20-week-old baby in my own belly, and I sobbed. For Eliza, for Gabriel, for the fragility of tiny lives. In the days and weeks after his birth and death, I was often at a loss. How could I offer comfort when I was a walking reminder of exactly what she had lost? How could I hope to console her in an embrace with only one pregnant belly between us instead of two? I hope that I was able to offer her words of love and encouragement. I hope I did not fail as a friend in those terrible early weeks and months.

For her part, she has been a wonderful friend to me. When she had every right and reason to turn her face away, she instead celebrated my son's birth. When it would've been easy for the seed of bitterness to take root, she instead has expressed joy, again and again, for me and my boy.

After Gabriel's birth, whenever I thought of Eliza, I wished her peace. I didn't know yet about the fraught nature of the word, about the possible pain of it. I do still think of peace and hope for her, but more often when I think of her I think about grace. The grace she has shown me, the grace that carries her through even the darkest of days. I am not a religious person and this is neither the time nor the place for me to discuss God. But I think I have come to believe in grace.

I hope it's not creepy or conceited to say that sometimes I feel Gabe's presence. Sometimes I feel like I can almost see him out of the corner of my eye, playing and growing alongside Nico, as if I could catch a glimpse of him if I just turned quickly enough. He is in my heart, always. Even if something happens and someday Eliza and I drift apart, I will never forget him. He will always be both a tiny, perfect, fragile baby and a mysterious almost-there boy, growing and changing with the months and years.

Eliza has said before that sometimes just knowing people are thinking of Gabe is helpful, that knowing he is on someone else's mind is proof of life, evidence that it wasn't some surreal and awful dream, an acknowledgment that she is a mother, she had a son. I know most of you don't know her, but if you have a moment and could summon the courage to leave a comment on her blog today, I'm sure it would help. Even if all you say is "I thought of Gabriel today." If that's too much, feels too intrusive, then all I ask is this:  find a quiet moment today and say his name, just once. A shout or a whisper, it doesn't matter, just say Gabriel.

Today I do not wear black for mourning. Instead I wear green, the color of Gabriel's birthstone, the color of new growth, of life and hope. Today I do not sit in silence. Instead, I speak his name, aloud and on this page. Gabriel. Gabriel Ross. You lived. You live on. You are loved. We remember you, we celebrate you, we miss you.

Happy birthday, Gabriel.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Twinkle toes

Poor Indy, I barely write about him these days. I had hoped his standard of living wouldn't suffer too much after we brought the baby home, but some demotion was inevitable. I truly had the best intentions to continue with his daily walks after Nico was born, but then I had a C-section, and then the winter hung on and hung on, and then I started working 7 AM to 5 PM, and then we had a brutal sweltering summer. Things just haven't worked out in our favor. With luck, my sister will soon start coming over a few days a week to walk him, and surely the weather has to break soon. (right?)

There aren't really any cutesy baby and dog stories or photos to share yet, either. Indy did better with Nico when he was tiny. The bigger and louder he got, the more anxious Indy got, to the point where he would shake when Nico cried. And then Nico started army crawling and Indy nearly lost his shit. He was scared to death, and I suppose the baby did have this freaky lurchy inexorable zombie thing going on for a while. We've been vigilant about never leaving them together and about never letting the baby down to play on the floor without removing Indy from the area or at least sequestering him via baby gate or other form of blockade.

For his part, Indy does seem to be relaxing. He no longer shakes when the baby cries, though he does serve as a mobile baby monitor. If Nico starts to fuss while I'm in the shower at night, Indy materializes in the bathroom, nose inches from the shower door as he stares at me, willing me to get out and make the kid shut up. He'll stay even after MB has fetched Nico from his crib. Once I get out of the shower, he's inches from my knee the whole time I'm toweling off and brushing my teeth, unless I shoo him out of the room until I'm done. When we play with Nico in his bedroom, Indy will hang out in the hallway on the other side of the gate, sighing mournfully every now and then to remind us he's out there. We're taking it slow, giving them space, and hopefully in the long run it will pay off. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, poor ol' Indy has one more unpleasant surprise in store. Tomorrow, we're taking him to the vet to have his dewclaws removed. He was born with double dewclaws on his hind feet, which everyone tells us is extremely rare. The dogs that are born with dewclaws at all usually have them snipped when they're three days old, but Indy still had his when we adopted him around four months of age. At the time, the rescue group told us the shelter vet had told them it was best just to leave them alone, so that has been our method as well. But the older he gets, the less tolerant Indy is of having the dewclaws trimmed, and the longer they get, the more danger there is of them getting caught in his collar when he scratches. He's already had one incident where the outer dewclaw nail got caught in his collar while we were at the pet store with him, and we couldn't free him before the nail was broken. It's finally come to the point where he'll probably need tranquilizers each time we need to trim his dewclaws and we worry that he'll get hurt every time he goes over to play with my parents' dogs.

We talked to the vet, and we decided that having the toes removed entirely is what's best for Indy in the long run. I won't lie, though, I'm pretty bummed about it. I've always loved his extra toes. I know he'll still be special without them, but I do feel bad, like we're taking away his winged sandals or something. Ridiculous, yeah, but I never claimed to be sensible when it comes to the dog.

Dude, don't look so crushed!

Much better, thank you.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Full speed ahead

Nico ushered in seven months with style. From Friday the 6th until Monday the 9th, he mastered sitting up from just about any starting position, figured out proper hands-and-knees crawling, and started pulling up to his knees in his crib and at the baby gate.

I put him to bed Wednesday night, and instead of sleeping he figured out how to pull all the way up to his feet. The next day, my dad came over and helped me move Nico's mattress all the way down to the lowest setting. While we had it taken apart, it also made good sense to go ahead and move the crib into Nico's nursery. I'd been planning to move him during the last two weeks of August, but I guess I expected to have a few days to prepare myself first. I suppose it sounds silly, but I was kind of sad to have him move out. It was for the best, though, because he's been practicing standing up every chance he gets.

On Thursday at our nursing group meeting, he weighed in at 22 pounds, 1.2 ounces, and is officially too big for his baby carseat. On Saturday, he was chewing on my finger and I felt the corner of his first tooth poking out of his gum.

I have a friend who rather aptly pointed out that anything babies do is remarkable, considering they basically start out as barnacles. And it's true, really. All of this new stuff he's doing, he figured it out on his own. Sure, we give him the chance to practice and encourage him along the way, but he just merrily barrels along, ticking off milestones and getting into new kinds of mischief. A year ago we were about to find out that we were expecting a boy, and now he's crawling and babbling and eating oatmeal and learning to stand on his own two feet. It's a crazy world, man. Just crazy.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Things I never thought I'd say, number 1

"If you put that curtain in the poop, you'll be in big trouble."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Evilducky's super talented dad was kind enough to take some six-month photos of Nico on Sunday. He took about 200 frames, and there are dozens I love. When I showed this one to my friend Kate, she said, "Oh. My. Frog. You birthed a cartoon!" I think that about sums it up. He has several very cool new tricks, but I've stayed up too late already poking around in my google reader, so a real post will have to wait. Just looking at this picture makes me want to sneak upstairs to his crib to smoosh him. Must resist!

Reading:  Afterbirth:  stories you won't read in a parenting magazine

Playing:  Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons. Yes, still. It's amazing. I've listened to it every day for over a month.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

10 / 6

Ten years ago, I met him. Six years ago, I married him.

(And here's a fun meme I did last year that still applies. I think the only thing that's changed is who gets up earlier.)

Friday, August 06, 2010

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Pity, party of one

Most of the time, I'm okay with being a working mother. Of course I daydream about what it would be like to be able to stay home with Nico full time or even to have the opportunity to write and edit from home, but I have accepted that this is unlikely to ever be an option for my family. It helps that my job is usually rewarding and that I'm good at what I do. I am happy that my income should allow us to provide Nico with a stable childhood, a house of our own with a backyard he can play in, small luxuries like swimming lessons and trips to the zoo. I suspect being fulfilled intellectually as well as emotionally will help me to be a better mother in the long run. Most days it's pretty easy.

But today was not one of those days. Last year, I was told I would have to take on an additional project for the summer in order to save my job from budget cuts. Six months pregnant, with my husband's company in the middle of a buyout, what was I supposed to do? Now I'm trudging toward the final days of this project, something I don't particularly enjoy, and while I know, yeah, that's why they call it work, it's hard not to resent this thing I was more or less forced to take on and which doesn't really feel like time well-spent. I'm basically logging hours just to log them, babysitting equipment out in the field during evenings when I'd much rather be home with Nico. The final phase of the project requires me to commute an hour each way.

Tonight I got there, I sat around, I felt kind of stupid for just sitting there. Then I had to go pump, but the only place available is a family restroom in a busy building, so the whole time I was pumping, I could hear people out in the corridor coming in hoping to use that restroom and then being turned away. And yeah, I suppose I have as much right to use that restroom as anyone, but I hate to cause a fuss or to inconvenience other people and so I felt like an asshole the whole time, on top of the generally unpleasant experience of pumping in a bathroom perched on a folding chair, my pump bag carefully balanced on the edge of the sink, listening to strangers talking on the other side of the wall. After I pumped I went out and sat around some more, feeling cross and bored. Then, because my hourlong commute takes me through another time zone, I miscalculated when I needed to leave. Instead of arriving home just in time for Nico's bedtime, I arrived an hour late. Still, I was hopeful that I'd be able to rush in and whisk him upstairs to nurse him to sleep. But when I walked through the door, eleven hours after I dropped Nico off at my parents' house, MB was coming down the stairs to tell me that Nico had just fallen asleep after an hour and a half of resisting. No nursing, no cuddling, just my sweet little baby asleep in his crib while I stood over him, twisting my fingers together to quell the urge to scoop him up and bury my nose in his hair, trying to ignore the little achy knot that had built up behind my breastbone after hours of missing him.

By the light of day I know that I'm lucky. I'm lucky to still have a job in this terrible economy, let alone one I genuinely love most of the time. I'm lucky that I have the flexibility to spend a lot of time with my baby, and that when I do have to work I can leave him in the care of his doting grandparents. I am lucky to have a baby at all. But tonight, I don't feel lucky to be a working mom. Tonight it feels pretty shitty. Tonight I feel like I'm missing out.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Things my child has recently attempted to eat

my flipflop
the pediatrician's stethoscope
the crinkly paper on the pediatrician's exam table
the floor
his toes
my toes
my sleeve entire shirt
his bead maze
the camera
the edge of a restaurant table
the frame of his jumparoo
the base of his Exersaucer
his collection of vintage Little People and their vehicles
blankies in various states of cleanliness
the sheets on the bed
my laptop cord
the leg of our end table
the base of his outgrown bassinet, which is actually my bassinet from 1981

And yet, the other day when I gave him a Cheerio, he sat there with it stuck to his lip, his face crumpled in an expression of utter disgust. I truly wish I had a photograph, because it was remarkable how offended he was by this horrifying attempt to get him to eat something that was clearly both awful and potentially poisonous.

He had a relatively eventful weekend, with MB's mom coming up for a visit. She played with him for what probably added up to several hours, and he accompanied us to breakfast at Denny's on Sunday, a trip to Target, and a walk to the local donut shop this morning. He showed off his semi-crawling and his mad oatmeal-eating skills, and she attended bathtime. Other than during naptime, I don't think he spent a moment alone the entire weekend. It was nice for me, too, because I got to go to the bibliophile's birthday party on Saturday night and leave Nico home with MB and his mom. I stayed out until ELEVEN! Talking to ADULTS!

She left this morning, and Nico and I spent the day hanging out. Sometime during the afternoon, evilducky sent me a link to this maternity shirt and I started absentmindedly humming the hook to U Can't Touch This. Apparently, my baby finds cheesy early-90s rap hilarious. Then again, who doesn't?

(Related: The dimple! I die!)