Babies and Emotional Experimentation

I'm just going to
“I’m just going to put these glasses on my head backwards and stomp off. Take that!”

Brontë has made up some kind of kiss-and-run game where she sneaks up, kisses you, and runs away giggling. Then I kiss her back and run away in an apparent game of Love Tag. This may be the cutest thing that’s ever happened to me.

Having a toddler can regularly bring on emotional whiplash, though. Some days, they are total sweethearts who love you to pieces. Other times, they crush you with rejection. You think… I feed this kid, clean them up, wake up all hours of the night, clean up poop and vomit, buy toys, and get treated like this!?  

Don’t despair, it’s temporary and normal! Here are five common toddler behaviors that can occasionally crush your spirits:

1.  They shove you away.

Toddlers, like the rest of us, can be cranky when tired, hungry, or bored. They also get frustrated because they can’t do a lot things they want to do and have a limited ability to communicate. It’s probably a lot like you or I would feel in a foreign country, struggling with a transaction using a language and cultural customs we aren’t very familiar with.  Kids can also get overstimulated–there is just too much going on and they need some breathing space, but don’t know how to tell you.

2.  They play favorites.

Sometimes John gives Brontë a hug, and she pushes him away, screaming, “NO, I WANT MOMMY!” I can tell he is hurt, but since I am the one staying home with her, it’s natural that she is used to mommy providing a sense of comfort and security.

On the other hand, after a day of fighting with Brontë about why she shouldn’t paint the cat with her poop, John will come home and my previously angry toddler will light up and run squealing to her father with happy hugs and kisses. While it’s frustrating to have your spouse suddenly become Superman after you’ve been in the trenches for hours, it’s natural that your kid will be bitter after you stop them from doing whatever they wanted to do. You still have to stop them. It’s your job, and they will get over it.

3.  They give you the silent treatment.

For the longest time, whenever my husband and I would leave Brontë at her grandparents so we could have a date night, Brontë would give me the cold shoulder. We would come to pick her up and she wouldn’t seem happy to see us, wouldn’t hug me, and usually wouldn’t look at or answer me when I talked to her. She could keep this up for hours, even until the next day. I was hurt and wondered if I could ever take any time for myself without causing a fight.

Well, I can and you should. Parenting is hard work and every parent needs a break to prevent complete burnout. The child may feel rejected and abandoned, but it’s important for kids to learn that their parents can go away temporarily but will come back. Lately, I have been telling Brontë that we will come back later, and upon returning, I take her into a room where I tell her I missed her and we hug. She has started saying, “I missed you, mommy” and doesn’t feel the need to punish me anymore, since she is better able to express her feelings.

Somehow, John escapes her anger. I think it’s because he goes to work every day and she is used to that, but mommy is supposed to be available at all times.

4.  They don’t want to come home.

Occasionally, after spending some time at her grandparents’ house, Brontë will yell that she doesn’t want to come back home. She has even told us to “go away!” It breaks our hearts, of course… it’s tough to feel like you do all the heavy lifting of childcare just to be tossed aside.

But it’s also completely understandable. Grandparents are a novelty, since your child doesn’t see them as often as you, and they have a whole new environment full of different toys to play with. Grandparents spoil you rotten, hardly ever get mad at you, give you candy and ice cream between meals, and let you get away with all kinds of crap your parents won’t.

Staying with your grandparents is like being on vacation: all play, no responsibilities. A child will always love his parents, however, and in time, they do get homesick. When Brontë has been with her grandparents long enough, she always starts asking where mommy and daddy are. Eventually, she wants to come home again, rules and all.

Children are also taking their first steps into what it means to be a person. They want to bond, but also want to test out independence. They want help, but also want to figure things out themselves. They want to please you, but also want to prove that they have their own identities. Sometimes they just need to experiment with drawing you close then pushing you away. It can be confusing, but if you remain calm and remind yourself that this is all normal, they will feel more secure.

5.  They say “NO!” to absolutely everything.

There is a particularly frustrating stage of development, generally around age two, when children tend to scream, “NO!” at absolutely anything you put in front of them. They ask for water, you bring them water, and they scream “NO WATER!”

You want to watch “My Little Pony?” NO! You want some dinner? NO! You want some chocolate? NO NO NO!!!

It seems irrational and can drive you up a wall. From the child’s perspective, however, they are experimenting with boundaries. They came into this world utterly powerless: someone had to feed them, change them, lift them into bed. Their entire world is decided for them, from what they will be eating to where they will be sitting. They want to figure out what power, if any, they have over their world. The first power they figure out is the Power of Refusal, and they will use it again and again until the novelty wears off. Hang in there.

These behaviors, though frustrating, are universal. So keep calm, mom and dad, breathe, and know that this too shall pass.

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Toddlers and Crying Babies

“Wake me up when she’s five.”

Brontë has absolutely HAD it with her sister’s crying. We know how you feel, Brontë.

The calmness of newborn babies is a trick. They have just gone through the birth process and are completely exhausted (birth is hard work for the baby too), so they are quiet for the first night or so. You think you have an incredibly easy baby on your hands and are so relieved… until you bring them home. By then, they have recovered and are ready to spend the next couple months in a sporadic Power Scream that randomly sets off like a demonic alarm clock. There is no escape.

The one upside to having a screaming newborn is that she is providing her big sister Brontë with a whole new perspective.  Brontë is deep in the heart of the “terrible twos,” meaning that we have been dealing with regular tantrums. Now she is, for the first time, experiencing the other side of this hot mess.

Bridget screams and screams while Brontë covers her ears and rolls on the ground. We tell her, “Babies cry. That’s all Bridget knows how to say. You cried a lot too when you were a baby,” as Brontë eyes her little sister with a look that says, “THAT’S what I look like!? OMG!” She seems mortified, and is throwing fewer fits lately.

Not entirely, though. Bridget has been diagnosed with jaundice which needs to be carefully monitored. Most mornings, after a long night of broken sleep, we are having to drag ourselves into the hospital lab for Bridget’s blood test. Everyone is tired, grumpy, and feels terrible about Bridget’s tiny foot being stabbed with a needle, again and again. We are hoping she gets better soon for the sake of her health as well as our collective sanity.

One morning, Brontë hits her limit and decides to test ours. We pile out of the car, holding Bridget, and Brontë decides she doesn’t want to go in today. We tell her she has to go in with us, but we will go home soon. “NO!” she yells (which most parents of two-year olds will recognize). C’mon Brontë, no one wants to be here… I feel my sleep-deprived eyes burning into my head as she winds up, shouting, “NONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONONO!”

Sigh. We gently try to persuade her to come with us, but her refusal gets louder and louder until she is literally screaming at the top of her lungs, taking a deep breath, and screaming again for as long as she can do it. This keeps up, getting more frantic by the second. What the hell do we do now? So much of parenting involves pretending you know exactly what you are doing. I’ve read so many articles about tantrums at this age, but still haven’t mastered it. Apparently, kids get frustrated, don’t know how to handle their emotions, want to communicate more than they know how to say…

Talking in a calm voice isn’t helping. We have told her to cut it out and have tried to reason with her to no avail, so we decide to go the completely-ignoring-her route until she stops, hoping that she will learn throwing fits will not get her attention or results. She has an amazing amount of endurance for a two-year-old, however. This quickly becomes a war of attrition, with Brontë rolling on the ground, kicking and screaming at the top of her lungs as her father and I stare off into the distance like nothing is happening.

I keep reading that kids have little attention span at this age and will be easily distracted, but our kid is special. Hopefully, her incredible endurance will have great practical applications in the future, but right now it’s an Epic Battle of Wills. Brontë is rolling around the dirty ground, kicking and screaming, her cries echoing across floors and floors of parking lot. Every passing motorist must think a child is being tortured somewhere in the garage. Parking garages have great acoustics, too… normally, she would be loud, but now she is SUPER MEGA INSANITY LOUD.

John and I are really embarrassed, but are amazed at at how supportive other parents become. One woman sticks her head out of her car as she drives past us, gives us a thumbs-up, and shouts, “Good job, mommy and daddy! Hang in there! Don’t give in!’ We smile back.

More supportive cars drive by, then a group of Indian women walks up to us and starts fawning over Bridget. “What a beautiful baby!” they say, asking us how old she is, when she was born, why she was here… We show off our baby and answer their questions. The hilarious part, however, is that a couple feet away, Brontë is still kicking, rolling, and screaming at the top of her lungs. There is absolutely NO way the Indian women could be missing it–we are having trouble talking over the noise–but they pretend she isn’t there, won’t even look in her direction, and continue focusing on Bridget. They clearly know what’s going on here and support our parenting efforts by paying attention to the well-behaved child while ignoring the fit-throwing one. We are amazed by their skill. They never briefly flick their eyes toward Brontë once, even though the noise is practically blowing their hair sideways. I hope they sensed our gratitude.

As exhausted as we were, we manage to hold out to the end of the tantrum, which lasted NEARLY TWO HOURS. We have to. If we can’t hold out now, we are going to completely lose control when Brontë is older, craftier, and more stubborn.

After her TWO HOUR FIT, Brontë stops, stands up, brushes herself off, and holds my hand. We walk into the hospital and go to the lab without further incident. The next several mornings, Brontë is pleasant, polite, and compliant. Whew.

Point to Team Parents, yay!

Bronte’s Baby Sister Is Born!

Napping baby.
Napping Bridget.

Bridget Julia, Bronte’s little sister, was born at 6:30 PM, 7 lbs 2 ounces, healthy and adorable. We are so happy!

She is a snuggler. Calmer than her big sister, even in the womb… Whereas Bronte would kick like a jackrabbit for hours on end, seemingly always in the same raw spot, Bridget would gently undulate on occasion to find a better position. Bronte spent the first few months of her life in a near-constant shriek, while Bridget, so far, inch-worms herself over to me to sleep in a warm pile until she leaves a baby-shaped sweat stain in the sheets.

It will be fascinating to see how her personality develops as she grows up and to watch her interactions with her sister. There is so much debate over the relative importance of nature vs. nurture in the development of personality… I’m sure that both of them play a large role, however, and that we aren’t complete “blank slates” at birth. Just comparing these two photos of my daughters, both taken when they were one day old, suggests an inherent natural temperament is already at work:

Which baby do you predict will get into more shenanigans?
Brontë, six hours old, wants to know what the hell you think you’re looking at. Which baby do you predict will get into more shenanigans?

For months, I have been explaining to Brontë that she has a new sister on the way (never being entirely sure how much she understands). I point to my belly, say there’s a baby in there, and that it will grow and grow and grow until one day I squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze out the baby and bring her home. Then Brontë will have a baby sister.

At first, Brontë tended to look at me as is I were on crack when I would explain this process, which I took as a good sign that she was picking up what I was putting down. I don’t yet want to go into the specifics of how the baby got there, but I’m figuring some story about a stork delivery isn’t going to fly after mom’s belly obviously just blew up, exploded, and left her bed-bound for a time.

I believe she eventually caught on. Whenever anyone would say “baby” or “sister,” Brontë would point to my belly knowingly. We explained that eventually she would be spending the night at grandpa and grandma’s house while I had the baby, then all four of us would go home together. She nodded, warily.

Brontë did stay with her grandparents for a couple nights while we were in the hospital, and they brought her to visit. She ran excitedly up to my hospital bed before stopping suddenly, eyeing the baby, and stomping away (you could almost faintly hear a record screech in the background). For the remainder if the visit, she refused to look at me and would not hug me before leaving. It was heartbreaking.

Finally, I dragged myself out of bed, took her hand, and went on a walk around the hospital. I didn’t want her to leave like this. She said nothing for several minutes. I explained that she has a new baby sister now, who would grow up to love her and play with her. I told her that she would come home soon and that mommy and daddy love her so much, forever and ever. She stopped, eyes tearing up, and hugged me with all her might. We walked back to the hospital room together and gave each other hugs and kisses before she left.

Soon, we will all be at home together, camped out around the clock, responding to the exhausting schedule of a newborn. one sibling rivalry is inevitable, I’m sure, but I hope we will be able to build the loving bonds strong enough to withstand these challenges.

Babies and Croissants; Extracting Chocolate and Cheese

Not eaten so much as mined.
Not eaten so much as mined.

This is a photo of my daughter’s breakfast remains. I gave her a chocolate croissant for a special treat, and she immediately dug a hole into its side and slurped the chocolate out, leaving behind its bready shell. After that, she put a fingertip dot of chocolate on each cheek, in what I can only imagine represents an attempt at toddler cosmetics, then cheerfully announced, “Done!”

It’s strange, because you wouldn’t think children would find bready croissant bits gastronomically unacceptable. Yet this is completely in line with many of her food habits. Confronted with pizza, she will quickly strip the melted cheese off every piece and assume the crusts are garnish. She will suck the chocolate off chocolate-covered raisins and spit the raisin pits on the floor. She is very talented at removing all traces of Shake-n-Bake from pork chops without ingesting any actual protein.

Maybe this is how we would all eat if we just didn’t give a crap. Toddlers, after all, know absolutely nothing about nutrition and don’t concern themselves with maintaining nice figures. They aren’t worried about wasting food, since they don’t pay for it and it always magically reappears. They don’t yet have enough foresight to worry if they will be hungry in a couple hours. So really, they are just following their natural appetites with consequence-free abandon in the random smorgasbord of life.

I guess I don’t entirely blame her. Truth be known, a sheer sense of obligation makes me eat the vegetables in honey-walnut prawn take-out dishes. All I really want is fried shrimp and candied walnuts.

Still, it’s hard for me to believe that the same kid who used to eat handfuls of toilet paper and sneak swigs of toothpaste is now rejecting pastries and pizza crust.

The 1970’s Crash Into My Daughter’s Forehead

IMAGE: MASHABLE, BOB AL-GREENE
IMAGE: MASHABLE, BOB AL-GREENE

You want to know how much energy a toddler has? I took my daughter to the park the other day, where she chased a chihuahua until it threw up. That’s right. My daughter Brontë broke a bouncing, happy dog by running it to the point of puking exhaustion.

Given that kind of lunatic energy, she needs to be regularly taken out and ran around before she starts chewing the couches. As she becomes increasingly pent up, her hands turn into little shaking fists and she slowly becomes more and more manic until she is running across the furniture and accidentally slamming into walls. Since I’m handicapped by being about to pop with her baby sister, I am regularly letting Brontë loose at local parks. My goal, each time, is for her to pass out in her carseat on the ride home. Seeing her comatose in the back seat makes me feel like a good parent who has done her job.

My daughter is a natural thrill-seeker. Since she could barely walk, she has run up to the biggest spiral slide on the playground and thrown herself down it while giggling maniacally. She will scramble up the nearest fence to get as high as she can before tumbling off, jumping up, and running back up the fence as though she didn’t just face-plant off of it five seconds earlier. As a first-time mom, this behavior was driving me insane. You are naturally very protective over your child, after all, and you come to learn that your child is not only very fragile, but has remarkably poor judgment.

You end up, as a parent, having to make a call between constantly rescuing your child or allowing them to suffer a scraped knee in order to learn that the ground is hard, so to speak… While you don’t want them to be really hurt, obviously, it’s probably not a good idea to be so protective that they never learn proper risk assessment. These days, I find myself quickly calculating the dangers of whatever Brontë is doing before deciding whether or not to stop her. If she does fall, I suppress the urge to freak out unless she starts crying (I figure she might be okay but will panic if her mom is scared). Usually, she just dusts herself off and goes back to having fun.

Brontë, so far, has only been significantly hurt once, when grandpa was babysitting her. My husband and I were returning from a date night to pick her up when my dad says, nonchalantly, “Oh yeah, she fell and cut her head.”

I glance over toward my daughter and see what appears to be A GOLF-BALL-SIZED CUT BETWEEN HER EYEBROWS. Seriously, it looks like a giant, sideways bloody eyeball.

Suppressing every urge to completely freak out (and throw up), I gently ask: “How did that happen, dad?”

‘I dunno,” he said, shrugging, “I think she tripped on the asphalt and smacked her face.”

“Mmm hmm. Maybe she, umm, needs to go to the hospital to get stitches?”

“Well, I didn’t have a carseat,” he says, as though that were a perfectly reasonable explanation.

“Okay,” I replied, “Well… if something like this happens in the future, please feel free to call John and I. We can always come get her.”

“Alrighty then,” he says, as John and I scoop Brontë up and whisk her off to the nearest Kaiser emergency room. The_Scream

At the Kaiser emergency room, the doctor uses a bunch of medical jargon to explain how he plans to push my daughter’s skin together and superglue it shut. Alrighty then. One of the nurses quips, “I guess her modeling career is over.”

Really now, what was the point of that statement? Was she shaming us for ruining our daughter’s virtual future modeling career, informing us that she would have a disfiguring line on her forehead, or just trying to be funny? Brontë screams in terror as she is held down to have her wound cleaned and glued shut, but is otherwise fine and seems to shake off the incident.

After we pay a lot of money for superglue, my father calls to check how Brontë is doing. He seems worried and contrite. I reassure him that she will be fine, that she falls over all the time and that it could happen to anyone. He apologizes anyway.

I know my dad loves his granddaughter to pieces and would never intentionally let anything terrible happen to her. What we are dealing with here is not a case of supervisory neglect, but rather the clash between 1970’s parenting and parenting in the millennial age.

My parents came of age in the 1970’s, when parental norms were extremely different than they are now. Hell, even pregnancy standards weren’t the same: they were even stricter about not gaining too much weight, but you could totally smoke and drink. I’m not saying they encouraged smoking while pregnant, but that not smoking was more of an ideal, like eating five servings of fruits and vegetables, than an expectation.

When I think back to the way my cousins and I grew up, it blows my mind (and makes me feel a little old). There were no carseats. You didn’t even have to use your seatbelt. In fact, I remember my cousin and I climbing up into the back window of our grandparents’ gold Chevy Malibu and log-rolling onto the floorboards all the way to church. Riding in the back of a pick-up truck was no problem. It was just considered a good time.

Childhood in the 1970’s was largely unsupervised. We were allowed to wander down the street and through the neighborhood as long as we were back by dark. My cousin Vanessa and i used to play in my grandpa’s garage, packed with solvents and power tools, and we figured out how to oil our scooters and loosen the bolts to make them go REALLY FAST. We used to climb the neighbor’s fence and swim in their pool, alone. In fact, grandpa used to burn leaves in a big metal barrel and my cousin and I would run around the yard with FLAMING STICKS. No one thought to stop us–I mean, we were just kids literally playing with fire…

When my parents were going to college, we lived in subsidized housing, and I was allowed to wander around the neighborhood alone, knocking on random doors. I was about four years old. There were a lot of foreign students living in the neighborhood, so I made a lot of friends from all over the world. My parents would just go from house to house until they found me. One time, I was at the house of a student from Kenya who was showing me photos of African kids from his country playing games. Another time, I was hanging out with a Mexican family, coloring with their kids. It was a different world.

Parents are arrested these days for doing stuff that would totally fly in the 1970’s. Like these guys. Or these. Nowadays, people believe you should never allow your children any means to possibly hurt their bodies or self-esteem. We childproof doorhandles, drawers, and toilets. We pad the playground floor. We frown on yelling. We definitely believe children should be supervised at all times.

Given today’s mindset, it’s hard to believe my cousins and I made it through our childhoods without major injury, yet we did.  How did our attitudes about proper parenting change so drastically in thirty years, and is it a good thing? Was the world less dangerous in those days, so it wasn’t such a big deal to let your kids run around alone, or are we just too paranoid now? How many more kids were injured back then, and is it worth the loss of childhood freedoms and increased parental stress to be so much more careful?

Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s meant the occasional tetanus shot, but I also built some killer forts. Now, many parents fear social disapproval if they are not vigilant enough… I’ve had other moms question my use of cinnamon in baby food, for example, and encountered a torrent of raised eyebrows at my daughter’s scratched knee. We have the rise of what some are calling, “Helicopter Parenting,” the tendency of parents to hover over their child’s every move. Some experts have warned that these attitudes are harming our kids’ development of independence and coping skills: in short, that we are raising a nation of frightened wimps.

But how involved is over involved? I don’t want my toddler to run around the neighborhood unsupervised or play around power tools, yet feel that cushioning her every fall might not be the best way to prepare her for adulthood. Were we better off then or now? Is there a happy place in-between? What do you think?

Making Friends on the Playground; A Crash-Course on Social Cues

Who will be your companion on this ladybug ride of life?
Who will be your companion on this ladybug ride of life?

Humans are social creatures, and when you consider the crazy jungle from which we emerged, it’s easy to understand why…

No matter how many world-class athletes we churn out, our species is never going to get the gold medal for brute strength. Even a weak bear could wipe the floor with one of our heavyweight boxers. The scrawniest, most laughed-out-of-gym-class tiger could shred a clawless human in under five minutes. Our teeth are laughable. Our weak, mostly hairless, bodies aren’t even built to handle diverse weather conditions… One hurricane, snowstorm, or heatwave and we are goners.

No matter how many Ironman competitions we dream up, our strength truly comes in numbers. We put our collective heads together and figured out tools, weapons, shelter and fire. Our safety always depended upon being part of a larger group–being exiled in the olden days meant imminent death. This is undoubtedly why “fitting in” is so psychologically important to us, why we will jump on crazy fashion trends and scramble to figure out the latest slang (“See, I look your tribe and know what’s going on!”).

Anyone who regularly watches “Surviver” has figured out that winning is not about being the strongest, most athletic member. In fact, those guys are usually seen as threats and promptly voted off the island. The key to survival instead lies in being just fit enough to not be a major liability to your group while having the right social skills to make strategic alliances. Watch any season to see this theory play out. No wonder the desire to be liked, or at least respected, is so hardwired.

Social skills, however, are not easy to master. So many social qualities must be in proper balance: You need to be friendly, but not so friendly that you come off as needy or desperate (read: low status). You should be nice, but not so nice that you scream “DOORMAT.” You must be aggressive enough to make friends without coming on too strong. You want to be confident, but not cocky, unless you can pull off that cockiness well enough to look like an impressive Alpha (a high-stakes gamble).

The trickiness of social maneuvers never been more apparent to me than it has been lately, while watching my toddler confront the playground.

She is, literally, a baby in the jungle (gym). She hits the ground running, eager to not only tear up the playground equipment (toddlers have endless supplies of energy and will start chewing up the furniture if you don’t let them out) but also to make new friends. She sees other kids and her eyes light up like a Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. She wants desperately to bond with them, yet has no idea how to properly do it, and observing her attempts is painful.

Sometimes, she runs up with both of her arms starched forward like Frankenstein and tries to tackle-hug the nearest kid. This usually results in frightening the other kid, who runs away screaming while my daughter looks stunned and saddened. After this approach failed enough times, she tried running up and shoving another kid in what I can only assume was a friendly attempt to wrestle, but which had much the same result as the intimidating hug: the other kid panicked and ran away screaming, leaving my daughter Brontë looking confused and disappointed.

Having established these unproductive extremes, Brontë tried a new approach: attempting to join in whatever the other kids were doing. Unfortunately, her method consisted of running at another kid and grabbing whatever toy was in the other kid’s hands. This made the other kid suspect larceny and run screaming after his or her toy, which made Brontë think they were having a fun game of keep-away and she would then race in circles, giggling, until suddenly she found herself being yelled at by mommy and the other kid’s parents. Poor thing…

Seeing this all play out, I try to ride the line between giving my child instruction and letting her figure it out as she goes along. I don’t want to micromanage her, yet it’s hard to watch your kid run into your arms, sobbing, because no one wants to play with her. It brings up your own, deeply buried memories of social rejection and confusion. You want to spare your kids that agony yet know it is inevitable in the crazy, complicated process of human interaction. I’m guessing the best route is coaching her on the sidelines, comforting her when she is hurt, and stepping in whenever the toddlers get violent.

The worst manifestation of Brontë’s awkward social attempts had to be her sand-in-the-eyes phase. During that phase, whenever we were at a playground with a sandbox, she would walk up to other kids, who were happily playing with shovels and buckets at making lumps of sand and whatever else kids think is a good time, work her way into the group, happily play along for a bit, then… invariably… pick up a fistful of sand and chuck it square into another kid’s face. She would beam as though she had just come up with the best joke ever while the other kid would scream at the top of his or her lungs because they had sand in their eyes, I would jump up and yell at Brontë to NEVER do that, while the other parents looked at me like I obviously let my kids torture puppies at home, apologize to the parents, make Brontë apologize to the other kid, and march her straight back to the car.

I have no idea what she was thinking with this move. It didn’t seem intentionally aggressive. Maybe she thought that since splashing water in a pool is fun, splashing sand in a sandbox should be even more fun. Maybe she just did it because she’s two and likes to see sand fly in the air.

Whatever her theory was, it was extremely difficult to talk her out of it. She kept trying her Awesome Sand Move every time we went to the park, apparently thinking THIS time she would run into a kid with the right sense of humor to appreciate its genius. All in all, she probably pulled it and lost her playground privileges about seven times before she finally cut it out. Maybe it would have been quicker if we believed in spanking, but we are still trying to hold out on that.

Over time, she has gotten better at approaching other children. She sidles up near them at an angle, watches their faces for signs of friendliness and approachability, and slowly reaches out in more appropriate social gestures (like, “I like your shirt”). Sometimes, she makes a friend. Sometimes, they push away from her but do it politely. Sometimes, other kids are just flat mean. So much depends, really, on the personality of whatever kid she is approaching. Some are shy, some are good-natured, and some… I’m just going to come out and say it… some kids are just jerks.

There, I said it. Sometimes Brontë will be walking along, smiling, and some other little brat will run up and kick her in the head before laughing hysterically as she cries. I always intervene in these cases, because someone just kicked my baby, and there are a range of parental responses. Sometimes the other kid’s parents are apologetic, sometimes they have an inexplicably bad attitude, but typically they are too busy punching away on their phones to be aware of what’s going on.  Maybe that’s why the kid is acting that way in the first place, I don’t know. I don’t know how much of bullying is innate and how much has a logical, environmental explanation. All I know is that at a tender age, some kids seem very sweet while others are already downright nasty.

When my daughter gets kicked out of nowhere, punched, or otherwise rejected, she is heartbroken and I am livid. She sobs, and looks up at me with confused eyes, eyes that seem to say, “Why did they do that? What did I do wrong?” I look down at her, give her a reassuring hug, and want to explain that, well, some people are just jerks.

Maybe it’s insecurity or misplaced anger, or maybe a bad temperament, but some people are just plain mean. They like to bully other people just because they can and love to inject a little crappiness into other people’s lives. I want to tell her, “Kid, you didn’t do anything wrong. That guy is just a dick, probably  the same dick that is going to flip you off from his car in twenty years. That catty little snatch that just laughed at your shirt will probably grow up to make passive -aggressive comments about whether  you if you really think you need another slice of pizza. I’d love to tell you the secret of being friends with everyone, but in my experience, some people are just going to be jerks and there’s nothing you can do but move on.”

But not everyone is like that, thank god. I have, pictured above and below, the evidence of one of Brontë’s recent social victories. She ran into this other little girl on the playground. They started giggling and running in circles around each other before holding hands and playing on the ladybug bouncer toy together. Maybe they bonded because they both have curly hair, or because they are about the same age, or because they both share the same bounding enthusiasm, I don’t know, but she played with this little girl for about two hours and you can see the beaming contentment on her face.

Ah… isn’t it great when people get along? Why can’t we always act like this?

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There’s nothing better than a shared journey on a beloved insect.

Daddies, Babies, and The March Toward Siblings

This family is tired.
This family is tired.

With advancing pregnancy, it’s getting harder and harder to do much of anything. Standing or walking too long makes my hips ache. Going over a bump while driving makes me feel kicked in the crotch, as does taking too hard a step. Spontaneous waves of mind-numbing fatigue, the kind that make you wonder what was in your drink, smack me facedown on an hourly basis.

As a result, I’m spending more and more time off my feet. The first time around, I was reading book upon books about childrearing, like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (which needs to be shot, by the way, or at least renamed “If You’re Not Suffering, You’re Wrong”).  I even read “Queen Bees and Wannabes” after finding out I was having a girl, hoping it would help me arm my girl against future mean girl schoolyard toughs.

Ah, those were the days of scary first time parenting. The second time around, I’m filling endless hours dealing with a crazy banshee toddler, hoping she doesn’t figure out that I can’t bend over, and contemplating how we’re going to pull off this newborn + toddler thing.

John is being a saint. He helping me with laundry and tying my shoes now, because of the aforementioned bending-over issues. If I inadvertently drop something, it’s dead to me now.  I can’t pick up all the messes Brontë leaves anymore, so clutter is piling up our floors and I try to see around my feet to avoid tripping on it as I waddle back and forth until John comes home and pushes it all aside like one of those ice-smoothing machines at ice skating rinks. He is doing most of the cooking now, after a hard day’s work, which means we are all eating a lot of spaghetti and pizza (but I’m hardly complaining!). I think Brontë wishes her dad always cooked.

All you single moms out there? I don’t know how you do it. I don’t know what I would do without my husband to help out, whether it’s putting dinner on the table, or taking a nighttime feeding shift so I can get a couple hours more sleep, or just being there to hold my hand when I’ve had a rough day. Partly, he is a great daddy and a wonderful husband who is excited to have another baby and wants to help out the best he can. Partly, he figured out after the first pregnancy that I am way too hormonal and scary to argue with when pregnant and right now it’s best for him to just agree with me , offer me food, and back out of the room slowly without baring any teeth…

We are having another girl, yay! That means cute little sisters and bunkbeds and well-attended tea parties. Having a boy would have been cool too, of course, because then I would have one of each. John seems happy to be getting girls. I think it’s because he put his own parents through twenty shades of hell growing up and is afraid of having to parent a little version of himself. On the other hand, he doesn’t know what it’s like to grow up as a girl; he has the Hallmark cute version running through his head while I’m suddenly panicking about how to protect them from catty schoolmates (girls can be MEAN!), body-image nightmares, and push-up bras marketed to 10-year-olds.

Now that we are getting so close to the new baby’s arrival, my husband and I are strategizing about how to best handle it with Brontë. We were both only children, so we had a Hallmark fantasy about how cool it would be to have a brother or sister growing up (complete with holding hands, pinkie-swears, and unshakeable loyalty). From people who ACTUALLY had siblings, however, we have heard all kinds of horror stories about sibling rivalry, feelings of abandonment and replacement, and are trying to figure out how to minimize conflict. Brontë is used to loads of attention and will be, though sheer circumstance, not getting the standard amount very soon.

The first thing we have done is move Brontë into her own room. Our pediatrician stressed the importance of doing this at six months, but we ignored that, since Brontë loves to sleep in a crib in our room. We set up a new room for her and talked all about her new “big girl” bed, and John slept on a mattress in her room for a couple weeks to ease her into the change. We wanted to do this before the baby was here because we didn’t want her to associate being moved out with the new baby coming in. So far, this is working out…

I have also explained to Brontë that there will be a new baby. She is growing in my belly, I told her, and my belly is getting bigger and bigger as the baby gets bigger and one day I will squeeze her out and bring her home. I think she gets it, since she points at my belly whenever she hears about babies. I told Brontë that she is getting a baby sister that she can teach things to and be friends with. I explained that the baby would cry a lot, because that’s what babies do, but she would grow up and play with her in time. Brontë seems concerned sometimes, but often excited about the prospect.

Many times while growing up, my mother talked about how traumatic it was when her little sister was born. She was sent to stay with her grandparents for a couple weeks when the new baby arrived, and felt “pushed out” by a new rival. Bearing this in mind, John and I have been scratching our heads about how to handle that newborn stage, when the baby is up all hours of the night and I am recovering from childbirth. We decided that Brontë feeling “replaced” was a bigger concern than her getting enough sleep, and are planning to move a mattress into our room and all sleep in the same room, so she feels included.

Brontë might have wonky sleep for a while and John and I might be more exhausted, but feeling replaced left such a lasting impression on my own mother that I think it’s best to stay communal, despite the difficulties. She will stay with my parents while we are in the hospital, but come home as soon as we do. I’m picturing a lot of take-out food, cartoons and round-the-clock naps.

We are crossing our fingers and hoping for the best…

My Cousin Finds a Hilarious Way to Be Obscenely Decent

My cousin likes to knit, and since I’m about to have a baby and plan to breastfeed, she sent me a picture of this pattern:

What an awesome way to, umm, not offend anyone.
What an awesome way to, umm, not offend anyone.

So, with all the debates about breastfeeding and public decency going around, someone thought of a way to simultaneously cover it up more yet make it appear more obscene. You gotta admire the creativity. My favorite part is the variations for different skin tones, to make sure mommas can be properly color matched.

I’m the kind of mom that looks for privacy when I breastfeed (I really appreciate nice lactation rooms). Failing that, I throw a scarf up over my baby’s head so no one can see anything (I support mothers who don’t, however, because some babies won’t put up with scarves and just yank them off).  That being said, I obviously do not have the guts to rock something like this, but think it’s hilarious, just the same.

Lessons Learned from Kitten-Rearing

Pile of aunts and nieces
Pile of aunts and nieces

Growing up, my family kept a lot of dogs and cats. Our pets, especially the kitties, would have litters and litters of babies, year after year. This wouldn’t really fly these days, since we are constantly reminded of the duty to spay and neuter, but my folks were just a couple generations away from farmers who viewed the animal breeding cycle as part and parcel of the natural world.

To their credit, my folks always either found homes for the puppies and kittens or kept them around. Constant exposure to baby animals was a Wonderland palace of lollipops and unicorns in my childhood. I learned how to help an animal in labor, how to rescue kittens in distress (with, say, umbilical cords wrapped around their necks) and watched momma cats raise kittens, again and again. I played with baby kittens and puppies for hours upon hours upon weeks…

Watching momma cats work their magic gave me an interesting perspective on childrearing that I have been applying to my own baby (for better or worse). It was a given that I would breastfeed, for example, since that’s just what momma animals DO. It doesn’t seem awkward when you have been watching it since childhood, and my farmer great grandparents always declared breastfeeding “the way it should be” in contrast to my grandmother and mother, who had babies in the 50’s and 70’s, respectively, when formula-feeding was advertised as the responsible way to go.

It also led to some interesting behavior in the delivery room. Fresh from the hormone-drenching lake of delivery, I felt attuned to the natural rhythms of life… the nurses, however, must have thought I’d gone feral. In the recovery room, I built a pillow fort around the bed in which I stayed naked, with my baby, under the covers for days. As much as the nurses wanted me to bundle the newborn up and put her in the plastic tray for the night, I was far too deep in a sea of instinctive hormones for that nonsense.

One of the nurses would passive-aggressively crank the thermostat up every time I growled at her, refusing to dress my daughter up (as though our sweaty pile wasn’t warm enough). A different nurse approved, however, saying she didn’t understand why moms bother to get dressed at all instead of bundling up with their babies as I was doing. I also received high marks from the granola lactation consultant they brought in.

The lactation consultant was a hippie from Nevada City with swinging turquoise  earrings and long silver hair. She was upbeat, full of energy, and untroubled by my naked swaddling. She was like a frank-but-chipper hippie fairy godmother, and thought nothing of grabbing my boobies for a full inspection, declaring them “good breastfeeding boobs” due to my lack of inverted nipples (I was a little taken aback but reminded myself that she deals with boobs all day long).

She gave me great tips on breastfeeding and showed me how to “hand-express.” She seemed rather suspicious of pumping machines, consistent with her overall crunchy approach, though I have to disagree with her on this point. In case any prospective breastfeeding mothers are on the fence, you can hand-express in a pinch, but I believe that manual expressing on a regular basis will leave your boobies feeling like they’ve gone through a meat-grinder.

Another quick tip for new moms: because of Obama’s healthcare reforms, you are entitled to a free breast pumping machine. It isn’t the best version on the market, but they are pricy and I definitely recommend having one around.

There’s something about having a baby that reminds you how despite all of civilization’s progress–the cubicles, the cars, the smartphones–we are all still cave men on the biological level. In many ways, I am no different than a momma cat with her kitten (though thankfully, one of the exceptions is my ability to obtain baby wipes).

One valuable lesson I learned from raising hordes of kittens is the more you pet and hold a kitten the tamer it will be. And so, I hold and kiss and snuggle and carry around my daughter all the time, every day, convinced she will be a more secure, happy kid after getting so much human contact. I think Attachment Parenting folks are spot on about the contact thing (though I question their recommendation to let children co-sleep for years, just because parents do eventually need a break).

The other day in Momma-Baby exercise class, I was getting strange looks for raspberry-ing my daughter’s belly. I guess there is a range of how much contact is considered “normal” and I am on one extreme end. On the other, there is a mom who slathers her hands in antibacterial slime before and after she touches her infant, every time. Her son farted one day in class and she turned beet red, saying “I’m so sorry, I’m mortified!” I know she means well, but have to wonder whether her concern about germs isn’t more damaging than helpful. I wonder if her son is going to grow up deathly afraid of gas or touching anything, or if he will bounce to the opposite extreme, farting in rebellious protest (Freud coined the term “anal retentive,” which caught on in popular usage, but I think it’s a shame that his counter-term, the “anal explosive,” seems to have been forgotten) .

Germs appear inevitable to me. You don’t want to expose your child to ebola, obviously, but germs are absolutely everywhere and a little exposure is probably good for growing immune systems. The baby is going to crawl in the floor, chew on everything he or she finds… antibacterial hand wash feels like a losing battle under the circumstances.

Pictured above is some of my extended family piling up with Brontë and her new cousin, born a few months before her. I love photos like this–just a big, sweaty, happy family.

Pregnancy Pancake Anxiety

Whatever we do, these must not be compromised.
Whatever we do, these must not be compromised.



John: I’ve been eating bacon all day, and we are almost out of pancake batter.

Me: We have three boxes in the cupboards. We are not almost out.

John: That’s what people say right before they run out of pancake batter.

This is an exciting time for John. I am pregnant again, which means all our typical food rules have been suspended. I won’t diet while pregnant, believing it’s best to follow my body’s appetites, and my pregnant body tends to be ravenously hungry. John starts cooking more and more as I get more tired and uncomfortable, and I no longer hassle him about how healthy the meals should be. He rubs his hands together in gleeful anticipation of the pancake extravaganza that awaits us.

Normally, there is a lot of tension about our different approaches to food. When John first made me dinner, while we were dating, I was absolutely blown away. He made a grilled filet mignon, wrapped in bacon, with this amazing gorgonzola butter sauce poured on top. “I have found the holy grail!” I thought, “the holy trinity of boyfriend qualities: he’s cute, he’s funny, and he can cook!’

His awesome steak, bacon, and butter meal had also calmed down my nervousness about his thinness. Many women love thin men, but I’ve always liked guys with a little bit of belly on them. I think it’s because, deep in my evolutionary DNA, I’m afraid that a thin guy is ill, depressed, or a bad hunter. Maybe because I come from a long line of farmers, a belly tells me my potential mate has a healthy appetite, can provide food, and will make it through the winter. A little belly makes a good investment.

Given my fears, John’s steak, butter, and bacon feast was reassuring. I love to eat, though I have to watch my weight, so having a boyfriend that eats nothing but egg whites and protein shakes is my idea of Hell. If  he tries to wake me up at 4:30 AM to go for a jog, I’m running for the hills and never looking back.

“I love that you can cook and like good food,” I told him. “You’re thin, so I was worried you’re one of those guys that never eats.”

“No, my friends used to say I always ordered the left side of the menu,” he said. “I just have the kind of metabolism where I eat and eat and can never put on any weight. People don’t understand how hard it is. It’s so hard to have to eat and eat all the time and stay thin,” he continued, as I felt my relief creep into irritation.

“You might want to keep that little problem to yourself. Especially around people who are dieting,” I said gently, managing not to punch him in the face as he stared back, blinking in bewilderment.

It turns out that the steak meal with butter was not so much John’s idea of a special dinner as how he figured anyone should eat if they bothered to cook at all. The list of things John likes to eat is rather limited. It consists of: cheese, steak, bacon, butter, pasta, and bread. Anything else is a dangerous Trojan horse lurking on his plate.

It further turns out that John likes to eat the same thing all the time, whereas I have to endlessly experiment or I get very bored with my food. John’s steak dinner was not so much a representation of his typical cooking abilities as him exhausting his cooking repertoire to impress his date (which worked). There are a handful of things that John can cook very well, like steak, bacon, tacos and blueberry pancakes, but he had spent the last five years eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk for dinner.

I am not making that up. The man ate a freakin’ PB& J sandwich for dinner for five years, broken up with the occasional thawed-out pizza or corn dog.

Our eating habits are polar opposites. When we order Mexican or Chinese food, John always wants a burrito or sweet & sour pork. I look at the menu and ask him to add, say, a pork dish with black bean sauce and he  looks at me like I just suggested we ride motorcycles blindfolded.  He also thought he was allergic to cilantro, because one time, after drinking a bunch of tequila and eating a bunch of Mexican food, he threw up.

“Umm,” I gently suggested, “Maybe the tequila was responsible for that. Maybe you’re unfairly blaming the cilantro.” He glared at me for poking substantial holes in his airtight anti-cilantro defense.

There were endless arguments concerning What to Eat for Dinner. I explained to him that if I eat bacon and butter all day, I will get very fat, so I have to find tasty recipes with a good deal of produce involved. He blinked at me, saying, “Well, that’s all I can cook.”

“Alright, I’ll cook if you go to the grocery store,” I would offer. He took me up on it, but blanched at the sight of my grocery lists: “What the hell is ARUGULA?”

We fell into a dating pattern of me cooking and him going to the grocery store. He would text me: “Had to ask for help three times because I don’t know what half the crap on your list is.” I would make sautéed leek pasta and he would stare at it suspiciously, like I had just served him fried monkey hand. I would stomp away yelling “I CAN’T EAT MACARONI AND CHEESE EVERY NIGHT! YOU’RE GOING TO GET COLON CANCER!”, mad that I had just wasted a nice dinner on a man who clearly preferred Hot Pockets.  He would mutter something under his breath about “champagne tastes” in response.

Eventually, we fell into a comfortable equilibrium of steak tacos interspersed with tofu stir-fries, but once I was pregnant, I found that I tended to throw up anything that wasn’t a cheeseburger or otherwise carb-heavy. All bets were off, and John was in hog heaven.

I remember clearly the moment when John picked up on the new dynamic. Normally, I leave a little food on my plate after meals. It’s part of my effort to stop eating when I’m full instead of feeling like I have to clean my plate, and John likes to eat whatever I leave. Well, one night when I was newly pregnant, John reaches over to grab a few sweet potato fries off my dinner plate, and before I can even process what was happening, I scream, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING!? LEAVE MY FOOD ALONE!” John jumped back a full three feet in shock, his eyes as wide as saucers, as I look over to see my own fist gripping a fork in the air, suddenly realizing that I was ABOUT TO STAB MY HUSBAND’S HAND WITH A FORK TO PROTECT MY FOOD.

Lord, pregnancy hormones are insane… I had gone feral and was about to fight with improvised weapons for a couple of sweet potato fries. Reminds me of that part in Walden where Thoreau is going on about how great it is to be a vegetarian right before grabbing a woodchuck and devouring it raw. Sometimes, the beast within will not be denied.

John was understandably frightened by this sudden change in his wife’s behavior. He never tried grabbing my food again, but also quickly deduced the upside of my new ravenous attitude. He started making bacon with blueberry pancakes (and real maple syrup mixed with melted butter) for breakfast and an endless supply of steak and pasta for dinner. We both piled on weight, but he couldn’t care less. He had broken out of food jail and was eating everything in sight.

He found, finally, that his metabolism was failing to pick up the slack. He was gaining weight on par with me and started calling his belly his “food baby.” He would look down at it and pat it affectionally, to the point where I was starting to suspect womb envy. When I was around eight months pregnant, he put a cup of coffee on his gut and marveled at how he could now use it as a shelf. I must admit I found this somewhat comforting. It would have been really aggravating if he were getting skinnier and skinnier as I outgrew all my clothes.

Unfortunately for him, after I had the baby, breastfeeding seemed to melt off all my added weight whereas he wasn’t ready to give up melted butter steaks. He would stare down at his belly, disapprovingly, and say, ” I really need to do something about this pregnancy weight.”

I resumed exercising and watching portion sizes. Dinners became healthier again and he shed some pounds. It was tough for him to let go of the Butter Glory days, however, so when I found out I was pregnant again, his eyes lit up like a kid let loose in a chocolate factory. That very night, he planned a celebratory meal of steak, artichokes and gorgonzola butter.

He won’t teach me how to make gorgonzola butter, by the way. I know it involves cream cheese, toasted pine nuts, and butter, but he is convinced that I married him to ensure continued access to gorgonzola butter, so he guards his recipe like the password to an elaborate code that keeps the family intact.

That’s fine, because I know we will be having a lot of gorgonzola butter in the coming months. And pancakes. John has plans, and he wants to be very, very sure we don’t run out of pancake batter.