Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Home for the Holidays? Bah Humbug!

Holiday travel is not for the faint of heart. Holiday travel with a child makes me want to send my regrets to those close to my heart. 

Before we even cross the airport threshold, I've questioned our holiday plans a few times. I'm squeezing one too many things into my rolly-bag, and I wonder how it's possible that a baby half my size can require twice the amount of stuff as me. In long-term parking, I consider the fact that it took an hour-and-a-half to get to the airport, yet we haven't even begun the journey. 

The security lines are extra long this time of year ('tis the season), which is lovely because, in case you forgot, I'm carrying a lot of extra stuff. Plus a baby the size of Santa's sack. Our fellow comrades in line are neither merry nor bright, because...well, because they're in line too. Homeland Security isn't bright and merry, because...well, because they're Homeland Security. 

Waiting at the gate, I have to supervise an overstimulated baby, who manages to find emergency exit doors, random buttons to push and her way into the crowd of people rushing to their gates. Travelers bop like moving targets; my toddler walks like a drunkard. It's a video game gone awry. 

Three hours later, we finally squeeze down the too small aisle to the thousandth row of the plane (in case you forgot: with stuff and baby). I feel some sense of relief when we are finally have all our paraphernalia situated, and I get the small consolation of resting my weary bones down on an unforgiving middle seat that's the width of one ass cheek. 

But, wait, travel still has not officially commenced!

I start to wonder if it's too late to turn back. Microwave popcorn and a glass of chardonnay starts to sound like a sufficient holiday feast to me. 

Sorry dear relatives. Popcorn might not be quintessentially Norman Rockwell, but neither is getting from here to eternity during the holiday rush. We'll plan our next trip over Arbor Day when things are a little less hectic. Maybe, we'll plant a tree instead of cutting one down!

Monday, November 26, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Claire liked Thanksgiving at her grandfather's house in Florida. She would run up and down the sidewalk in front of the house in the sun. "Moon! Moon! Moon!" she called out to the big sky, even though it was the middle of the day.

Then, a popping sound brought her to a dead stop. The quality of her voice changed. "Loud," she said tentatively, while her legs carried her backwards. "Pop…Pop…Pop, Pop," rang out in rapid fire. She raced to my side and cried, "Loud!" This time with more conviction. I tried soothing her, but she couldn't get used to the sound. Eventually, we went inside.

Claire was hearing a firing range about a mile away from our gated community. It seemed counterintuitive to say to her that everything was alright. After all, gunfire should be feared. But it was unsettling to see her so upset. There really wasn't any danger anyway. And I was angry that she couldn't continue to play. I wished that I could explain to her that it was ok to ignore the popping sound, like the rest of us do.

Just like I've learned to ignore that people fear their children dying everyday. The sound of the firing range began to feel real to me too. I tried to imagine what I would tell my daughter then. I pictured what a fear-filled life would look like. I envisioned my daughter's world shrinking to fit into a small, sheltered place. I thought of the unimaginable happening.

Oh, but I think too much; I went too far with the last bit. So I reminded myself that it was only a firing range, that we were free from harm behind gates and privilege.

I felt safer again. I felt thankful for our life.

But I had gone back to ignoring. And I felt ashamed of myself.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Separation Anxiety

The rare night when George and I go out alone often overflows with conversation about Claire. Funny how that happens. We say we need a break from her, when we really can't get enough.

It's usually warranted for us to start off an evening with a back and forth about our daughter. Upon our exit, Claire acts as if we are abandoning her to a slow, torturous death at the hands of an interloper, who is clearly more fit for the role of Medea than care of a defenseless, 18-month-old child.

Or at least, this is how Claire seems to see it. She almost sells me on this angle, too. Hence the need for conversation that helps me shake off the mommy guilt of separation from her:

"Claire's certainly got a flair for drama from me," George (my actor husband) says. "I could hear her crying a thousand yards away from the door."

"Did you see the look on her face?" I say. "I didn't know such a tiny mouth could open that wide."

"Kind of like the Greek tragedy mask," George says, while getting on his smart phone..."Was it like this?" he says.

"No, the sides of her mouth went in more. I don't know how she contorts her little face like that," I say.

"How about this?" George replies.

"Even more melodrama," I say. George counters with: "This?"

"That's it!" I say, as we both lean in over the phone and nod.

If we sound flip about our daughter's pain, it's because we know that she will look more akin to the comedy side of the mask, once she shakes it off:

Or maybe that's what we choose to believe, since we really do need a break.

Monday, November 19, 2012


What day is it?"
It's today," squeaked Piglet.
My favorite day," said Pooh.”
― A.A. Milne

Teaching a child how to give thanks is important. At 18 months, Claire's a bit young, though. We won't be volunteering together or making a gratitude tree any time soon.

Anyway, she's a walking lesson in living in the moment. She finds wonder in all things great and small without any lesson from me.

I'm the one who's grateful to see the world anew through her eyes.

She hands objects to me throughout the day, a twig, a pea that's rolled under her highchair, sometimes something she's pulled out of her nose. I'm not sure if the objects are significant to her in and of themselves. Or if they become valuable out of the joy of discovery. Maybe, it's because she's given each one to me. Whatever the reason, I ponder each treasure closely in my palm and say, "Thank you, Claire."

About a week ago, I gave her a piece of apple. She looked at me and said, "Thank you, Mama."

I hadn't expected to hear these words from her for the first time then. She's not yet 18 months old, yet I have the great honor of witnessing a nascent sense about giving and receiving growing inside of her.

She is more than I ever expected on this Thanksgiving holiday. And every day.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

"F" is for Friend

A guy I know keeps a glass jar on the top of his refrigerator marked “Potty Mouth”. Whenever he curses, he puts a dollar in it for charity. I need one too, or at least a precocious eight-year-old thinks I do:

“You just said a bad word,” George’s little cousin says to me (with the intent of an interrogator).

“Shit,” I think, replaying the dinner conversation in my head....“What’d I say?” I ask with trepidation.

“You said ‘stupid’,” Mary Louise says.

“Phew, ‘not as bad as I thought’,” I think.

“Well,” I didactically explain. “I didn’t call a person stupid; what I did was call something they did stupid and that really isn’t that bad.” 

(I remember learning that somewhere as a youngster, right? Back me up here, folks!)

Mary Louise listens patiently. But she isn’t buying my backpedaling. She gives me the blank stare of an eight-year-old. The look says “my world is and will continue to be black and white until I’m well beyond a teenager, so don’t waste your breath”.

I feel about two feet tall. And speaking of two feet tall, Claire is now in the full-blown mimicking stage. 

“Un, do, tree, foo”, she says, sounding like Buckwheat (only way cuter), and having no clue that she’s actually counting….Hence the thought of a jar that penalizes you. 

Mary Louise made me realize how much kids are actually listening -- even when you think they’re not. So instead of thinking about Claire using the potty, I'm worrying about my potty mouth. Of course, I want to be a good role model, which means I'm minding my P’s and Q’s. 

And F’s! That’s my favorite one…the F word. It’s versatile -- can be used in a number of ways, as different parts of speech. I often use it as a modifier, replacing words like ‘very’. 

So F and I are breaking up. He’s a bad influence. It’s going to be hard for me. If you’ve read my bio, you know I am a mom of a “certain age”. The F-word has been a companion for a f-ing…oh wait, I mean, very long time. 

The good news is that some charity will be the benefactor of my bad habit. Let me know your favorite one. I just might consider writing a check ahead of time…

Have a confession? Link up with Secret Mommy-hood Confession Saturday.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Heir Extensions

"Claire has a black eye!" I announce.

"What?" George says, trying to figure out what I'm talking about.

"See there…at the corner of her left eye…It's, like, all black and purplish," I trail off waiting for an explanation about how it got there.

"It wasn't there yesterday," George says, nonchalantly. "She probably ran into a corner of a door or something."

"Uh-huh," I say, half listening to him, half imagining my daughter running into a wall.

Thinking of my daughter hurting herself is horrifying by itself. Add to it the idea that no one was watching her closely enough to have witnessed what happened to her. Then I worry about how this disaster's going to reflect on ME.

"What's everyone going to think?" my mind races. "That bruise positively screams 'Mommie Dearest'. It might as well spell out the word 'ABUSE' in black and blue!" 

Just as quickly as I get myself worked up, I come to another realization.

"Wait, what's going on here? I'm more worried about myself than my daughter! 'Mommie Dearest' redux," I think. 

Now, I feel even worse. I imagine my daughter at the therapist's office circa 2040 talking about how she lived her childhood as an extension of her mother. Or worse, writing a tell-all book about it.

At this point…Claire has a black eye, I look like I don't take care of her, and an adult life on the couch awaits my daughter.  

"A triple crown day for me," I think. "Oh, wait. Reminder to self! It's not about ME…"

Monday, November 12, 2012

Victory over Sleep Deprivation

I have an announcement. I've waited a week to share it. I wanted to make sure it stuck first.


I want to shout from the mountaintops that the sandman cometh! I'm shamelessly giving myself credit for making it to the other side of midnight, since George is the only one giving me props for my long slog (Claire certainly didn't). I've been patient (most of the time) and we have persevered!

Another thing I want to shout is, "Sleep training, I told you so! Nah-nah-nu-nah-nah!" First, a qualifier, I have nothing against parents who sleep train. If this decision is right for your family or if it worked for you, great. I would never tell you what to do in your own household.

My target is sleep trainers. More specifically, the ones who sent the message to me that if I didn't get my daughter's sleep in order and pronto, I was doing irreparable damage to her in the form of lifelong sleep issues.

Their voices got into my head. I doubted myself and my decisions for my child. After all, they are called the "experts".

While I was sticking a pacifier back into my year-old child's mouth at 1AM, I was hearing the "experts" warn me that I would face an epic battle to pry said bink from her lips come kindergarten -- along with permanent orthodontic problems. (she gave it up at 14 months, by the way).

While I was rubbing my daughter's back deep in the night, the voices said I should be fostering independence in my child, because she needed to learn to put herself to sleep without my help (um…she did…at 17 months).

While I was breastfeeding her at 3AM, I was thinking about how my baby should be able to go seven hours without eating and of the plethora of advice about how to eliminate nighttime feedings.

It's not their fault the voices got into my head. I wish I had a better ability to believe in myself and have confidence in my decisions. I wish I could've trusted my baby's cues more. I wish there were more voices for me to look to for guidance.

There was one. It was Kelly's mom. Thank god for Kelly's mom.

I was sleep deprived and desperate, when the "experts" were telling me I was doing it all wrong (talk about adding insult to injury). That's when I turned to kellymom.com. I wrote a post about it awhile back. If you are struggling with baby sleep issues, I think it's worth a look. A lot of it still rings true to me today:

Kelly’s mom flat out says don’t believe the hype. Scare tactics are usually designed to sell product of some kind or another, and the product in this case is sleep advice that is targeted at sleep deprived parents not babies burning the midnight oil. In essence, parents are the ones with deep pockets; babies have no pockets at all.

I think she’s right. It’s easy to be swayed by slick websites and offers of professional help when you are near insanity, with a child glued to your boob and have come close to dissolving your marriage in the middle of the night on several occasions. You are willing to consider depriving your child of food. And the business of baby sleep is counting on this fact. 

Kelly’s mom didn’t have a solution to offer, but she provided evidenced-based information that explained the developmental reasons for this grueling sleep schedule. I still felt insane with a child glued to my boob, but I breathed a sigh of relief that our not so normal nighttime routine was normal. 

I don't have a lot advice for moms, because I don't want to give advice. But I do have one piece of advice: Be careful about listening to advice.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Opposites Attract

“Vee cole, vee cole,” Claire said repeatedly.

Translation: "Feet cold".

My poor little baby had cold feet for the first time in her life. Actually, I think it was her first experience with cold in general. It isn't hyperbole to say that it took me an hour to warm them up, rubbing each tiny foot over and over again in my hands. I don't know who was more traumatized, her or me. Actually, I take that back it was me.

You see my husband, George, had taken her for an impromptu THREE hour trip to the zoo in FORTY degree weather wearing ONLY canvas sneakers!

I was mortified. I considered being mad along with mortified, but I’m trying to be more philosophical since having a kid. I can definitely cut him some slack this time too. First of all, how great is it that Claire and her papa went to the zoo together? And, really, George doesn't mean to be reckless. He’s barely used to being married, let alone having a child. There's a learning curve to fatherhood, just like anything else.

Same goes for motherhood. While I'm a stickler for schedules and routines, George would probably say I'm an old stick in the mud. He puts up with my neurotic need to make sure she eats on time, always has a nap at the appointed hour and that she's never, ever cold.

In other words, that Claire has a boring mommy, who doesn't know the meaning of the word "spontaneous" and never does anything fun with her daughter.

I'm the yin to George's yang, the traditional to his untraditional. We compliment each other nicely. So Claire can go on adventures and explore with her papa, and then come home to the warmth and security of her mama.

(In the future, I will just have to be more careful that I supervise how my child is clothed more closely.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Learning to Walk and Other Life Lessons

I barely remember a time when Claire didn’t walk. It’s been a mere two months, but the transformation could not be more enduring.  Sure, children start out with the struggle of the learning curve, but once they reach a milestone, they never look back. 

While Claire was learning to walk, I was learning about life. It was my first lesson in letting go. I wanted to help. I could hold her hand and cheer her on, but I couldn’t stop her from falling. I couldn’t show her how to find her equilibrium. I couldn’t take a step for her.

She had to discover how to stand on her own two feet and move through the world. Literally and metaphorically, isn’t this experience what we want most for our children? Why is it so hard to do?

Claire took it all in stride. She would find a tentative center and lurch forward. Her feet didn’t yet know how to keep up with her head and upper half of her body. She would stumble back down to the floor. Over and over again.

I was impatient.

Yet, falling was time well spent for Claire. She developed elegant ways to catch herself on the way down, crashing on her belly and looking up at me with a giggle. “How smart!” I thought. “She needs to know how to fall right, before she can walk.”

I started to feel in awe of her grace. I started to feel joy being in her presence and watching. I began to wonder about my own need to be right and to have things just so.

When do we begin to see our efforts as failure when what we really need is more practice? When do we replace the ability to make fools of ourselves with feelings of shame and embarrassment? When do we stop having fun in the moment and worry only about the end result?

Claire has no self-doubt. She shows complete faith in the process. She isn’t concerned about when the goal will be achieved.

The best self-help gurus preach about this stuff all the time.  They’ve got nothing on my daughter Claire.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Life of the Party

I dared throw a party one time in high school, while my mom and step dad were out of town. It wasn’t my best decision ever. I spent the whole time sober, watching drunken people do stupid things.

The other night, Elmo landed on the floor in a way that suggested he'd had one too many.
I realized that inebriated teenagers and toddlers have much in common. 

Like living with a toddler, I witnessed lots of stumbling and falling down the night of that party. I cringed each time a heavy and/or breakable object was pitched in the air. The floor became a garbage can strewn with random debris. And people couldn’t seem to keep their voices down.

I felt like the “no” police spoiling all the fun. I repeated myself a lot. I expended way too much energy waiting for disaster to happen.

After the festivities were over, I was the sole person left to clean up the mess.

Thankfully, Claire hasn’t burned her bangs off trying to light a cigarette on the stove like Angie Shivle did that night.  Plus, I was this close to throwing everyone out. Things can get chaotic around chez Demas, but my love for my daughter always keeps me from cracking.

Most importantly, having Claire is my best decision ever.

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