Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gimme a Head With...

I picked out a transitional object for Westley when he was two months old. The plan was perfect: he was too young to need it (or even really register that it was there), so by the time he did need it, he'd be good and attached to it. I bought a bunch of yards of cozy green fabric at the craft store, slept with it for a couple nights so it would be good and Mommy-stinky, and then cut it into baby-sized pieces and put some everywhere.

For a while, Westley's green blanket really seemed to help him. He'd put it over his eyes like a sleep shade and drop off for a nap. But that stopped months ago, and recently, it's become clear that he's really attached to something else.

My hair. He strokes it to go to sleep for naps and at night. And I'm not about to cut a bunch of it off and give it to him, 'cause...ew. And I like my hair on most days.

So...uh...now what? Try the green blanket again and put my hair up all the time? See if I can swap in a doll with long, silky hair? Resign myself to the fact that I'm totally screwed?

Help.

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Westley's Top Five: Baby Toys That Actually ARE Baby Toys

Today my parents brought the baskets of blocks and Brio train I played with as a child out of the garage and brought them upstairs for Westley. I promptly dumped out the Brio and got to work constructing a figure-8 of wooden track, complete with covered bridge and railroad switch. Westley crawled away to play with a spray bottle of water and pull a psychology journal off the coffee table. I figure he'll come around on the toy issue eventually (like, when he's old enough to actually understand the difference between a toy and, say, Grandad's work lamp), but right now, it's all about the non-toy toys. Even so, right now there are a few toys that have managed to hold Westley's interest for more than 60 seconds.

1. Learn-to-Play piano: This was one of those can't-really-afford-it-but-baby-looooovvvves-it sort of purchases. I made the mistake of sitting Westley down in front of one of these babies at our local kids' resale place, and he pounded on it and laughed for twenty minutes. Without stopping. I couldn't say no to that kind of glee. Now, he mostly uses it to pull up on, but I plunk out tunes on it and we sing silly songs, so it's proving to be a worthwhile purchase.

2. Jingle bell bracelet: This is nothing special. It's a piece of nylon webbing with a Velcro fastener and four large Christmas-y jingle bells attached to it. Somehow, that adds up to super mega baby fun! My mom loves the sound it makes, so it lives in her car. It makes car trips sound like we're being followed by Santa's sleigh. It hasn't lost its appeal yet...for MaMay and Westley, at least. I don't know what's so fascinating about four jingle bells, but I'm not a baby.

3. Ikea "Mula" roller thing: Blame my mother for this one, too. She was taken with it (something about the little faces on each of the pegs), and showed it to Westley. I can't really argue with wooden toys, except that we have wooden floors. The wood-on-wood push-toy-floor action is hard on the ears. It's a good thing Ikea sells area rugs.

4. Royal Jungle musical lion by Manhattan Toy: This was the first toy Westley really responded to. It was a baby gift from Rob's family. It plays "Talk to the Animals" and the first time I wound it up, Westley cried. At some point when I wasn't paying attention, the tide turned, and now "Dr. Doo-lion" is excellent distraction during especially long diaper changes.

5. Red Robot: A soft and cuddly robot friend with antennae to teethe on. What more could you want in a stuffed toy, really?

Honorable Mention: Massaging Action Teether. Not so much a toy as a solider in the War on Tooth Pain. Where was this when my wisdom teeth were coming in? I wouldn't have hesitated to whip one of these out of my purse and chomp on it. This baby is sweet!

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

LOLmomz

I wasn't laughing much right after Westley was born. But when I look back, I can see a lot of humor in those early days.

Newborns are actually pretty funny. They look reaonsably human, but as far as people go, they just don't work very well. They always look somewhat confused, like they made a wrong turn a ways back and weren't expecting to end up here. They can go from zero to miserable in the blink an eye. And their own bodies can betray them at every turn, flailing, gurgling and regurgitating without their permission.

Westley's arms distressed him almost immediately. He had to be swaddled at all times, lest he melt down over an unexpected self-slap in the face. He had to cry about pooping. The sound of our ultra-powerful, pet-hair-gobbling vacuum (which I'm sure can be heard a few houses away) soothed him to sleep. And when he slept, he was so deeply asleep that he had to be woken up to be fed...and then he'd suck a mouthful of milk and fall back asleep before swallowing, breathing peacefully with a stream of milky drool running down his cheek.

Westley was also a funny baby in how his presence made me feel. Raw and vulnerable, sure...but also ridiculously confused. Comically so. There were times when I honestly wasn't sure what he was doing in my house. I suddenly had a pet dude! I'd stare at him, silently asking, "Where did you come from, little man? How did you get here?" It was a joyful kind of crazy to constantly be reminding myself, "No, he's not an illusion. He's really my real baby." Rob and I looked at each other and said over and over, We made a baby, and laughed.

Because having a baby is funny stuff. It's huge and life-changing, and that part is serious business, but actually being with that new baby in those first days--really having the baby--is also beautifully, surrealy funny. If I had those brand-new baby days to do over again, I would laugh more. I would laugh at my tiny son, cooing after he sneezed as though to say, "Thank God that's out of my nose!" And at my husband, bringing me stale rolls with margarine and maple syrup in the middle of the night when I craved pancakes. And I would laugh at myself, trying desperately to make the mental shift to "mother" overnight and coming up short.

Those first days are the epitome of comedy in the oldest sense, with the baby as the happy ending to the story of pregnancy. But they're also the beginning of a fabulous, funny story about emotional gymnastics, improvisation, and fish out of water. And the sooner you let yourself laugh, the better.


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Much love to Rebecca and Kristen, two women who can always make me laugh.

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Breadcrumbs

At the end of the day, when it's dark and the house is all quiet and still, I can almost forget I have a baby. I enjoy being still, or walking through the house without having to bend or reach or say "Nonono!" while whisking a twenty-pound wiggle worm up off the floor and away from danger. But as I get ready for bed, all the little signs of Westley that I've missed or forgotten about during the day suddenly appear. I look around and see mother-life.
There's a stuffed giraffe with a jingle bell inside of it in the middle of my bathroom floor, while the bathmats (which have baby pee on them) are in the washer. Cleaning supplies under the sink have been replaced by a bottle of white vinegar with a sprayer nozzle screwed onto it. The breast pump bag is on the dining table, and there are sticks of breast milk and cubes of homemade baby food in the freezer. A toy piano blocks the remote control's view of the DVD player. Bottle of teething relief drops on the end table. Pacifier in my pillowcase.
He's sleeping peacefully in bed, sighing sweetly in his warm, safe corner of the house. But he's also everywhere, having left a trail of little markers all over the house. All over me. Black bean puree on my jeans, spit-up on my shoulder, and drool in my bangs. So I won't get lost.
As I close my eyes in the dark and the quiet, I think about him and sort of miss him, even though he's close by. And I can almost forget that he wasn't always in my life.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

C-Eight, H-Ten, N-Four, O-Two

I've started drinking a cup of coffee at breakfast every morning, and I don't like it. I don't do caffeine. I did caffeine in college, but that had more to do with its ready availability than anything else. I had a Nalgene bottle full of diet Coke and I wasn't afraid to whip it out in class and partake. At nine in the morning. But I did a lot of things in college that I'm not so proud of.

Now, I generally stay away from any and all things caffeinated. I don't cast any aspersions on those who fall into the "don't talk to me until I've had my coffee" camp; I just try not to do it that way. I resent being addicted. It angers me to realize that I need a substance to get going in the morning, or wind down at night. When the occasional glass of wine before bed became a glass every night, and then a bigger and bigger glass, I stopped buying wine. Maybe with all that elementary school-aged indoctrination, I internalized the "Just Say No" campaign a little too deeply. Maybe seeking chemical assistance goes against my desire to do everything myself. I don't know. But what started as a little "medicinal caffeine" at my mother's urging (I think she was tired of hearing me say I was wiped out before ten AM) has turned into a coffee habit. And I need to quit. If not for myself, for my son.

Westley has started to take an interest in the steaming mug that accompanies us during breakfast. Yesterday, after I took my last sip and set the mug down, Westley lunged for it. I held the mug for him to see, and immediately he put his face in it. This morning, he did the same thing, but also tipped the mug up towards himself, as though to drink out of it. He pulled away, smacked his lips and smiled. "Mmm!"

I couldn't believe it. "No, dude. Not 'mmm'." Coffee is bad-tasting before you learn to like it. At very least, it's supposed to be when you're a baby. But I guess my son's crazy taste buds have sealed the deal.

I'm officially off caffeine again.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Westley's Top Five: Baby Toys That Aren't Really Baby Toys

Actually, it turns out all the best baby toys aren't really baby toys. Everyone has heard of kids playing with the box the toy came in instead of the toy itself, but Westley's passion for "found object playthings" suggests that boxes are just the tip of the iceberg. He's fascinated by most everyday objects, especially those that can be found in a pocket or purse: wallet, keys, tube of lip balm. The following is the best of the best. As long as I keep these around, I can stay out of the toy department.

1. The Wii remote jacket. Rob spends a fair bit of time with the Wii remote, but prefers bareback gaming. He claims the silicone jacket makes it difficult to press the power button or change the batteries, and that he just doesn't like it. Of course, he wasn't about to throw it away, and decided to distract the baby with it one day. I thought he was crazy. "Why did you give him that?" But naturally Westley went nuts, squishing it and biting on it. It's lived in the diaper bag ever since.

2. Magazines. Smooth, shiny paper that makes an awesome sound when you crinkle it and can be torn into zillions of tiny pieces and strewn all over the living room? Awesome.

3. Kitchen utensils. My mom started Westley on these early, offering him reusable bag clips while she made dinner. He still has a favorite red clip, but he's moved on to silicone spatulas, whisks, and measuring spoons. Ladles are probably the biggest hit of all, as they're also excellent in the bath.

4. Produce. This is one I never would have guessed, and if you'd tried to warn me, I would have laughed at you. But fresh fruits and vegetables, it turns out, are super fun. I've been taking Westley to Yakima Fruit Market since he was eensy. A few months ago, I decided he was sturdy enough to sit in a shopping cart for our shopping trip and ditched the carrier. As I was pushing him along, pointing out produce, Westley lunged for the Walla Walla sweet onions. He managed to grab one the size of a small melon (witnessing his strength sometimes makes me question whether he could have been bitten by a radioactive ant), and promptly took a taste of the papery skin. He had onion breath for the rest of the day. Now, whenever we go to the fruit market, Westley practically demands an onion or an apple or a bell pepper to examine while we shop.

5. Cats. The cats want nothing to do with the baby. Occasionally, they try to walk on him like he's warm furniture or an extension of my lap, but mostly they just avoid him. And I think it only makes them more enticing. Westley would like nothing more than to pat, grasp, and pull at the cats for hours at a time. He's actually pretty gentle, having practiced on my parents' cats (who are much more tolerant than mine, and seem to understand that Westley is a "kitten"). He says "kee" for "kitty" when he sees them, but my girls aren't impressed at all. They'd rather keep their distance, thank you. I don't think they've figured out that Westley's getting faster all the time and will catch them. Oh, yes. He will.

Westley and Ursula: a LOLcat waiting to happen

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Monday, September 8, 2008

The Second Nine Months

Westley turned nine months old last Monday, and I've spent the week watching him and shaking my head. He's changing so dramatically and so quickly, I feel like I'm constantly behind, trying to catch up. This is the second half of our 18-month journey together.

Four Days Old
We take him out of the house for the first time. It's the icy middle of winter, and I desperately want him to wear a hat, but none of them fit. The hat I knit before he was born that looks like an eggplant and fits a grapefruit perfectly is way too big for the baby. A hat we received from a coworker is sized for a six-month-old at least. The only hat that comes close to fitting is the one that came with our birth kit. It's super-stretchy though, and keeps slipping up his forehead while he sleeps. I don't want to pull it down and disturb him.

We arrive at the pediatrician's office and are treated like royalty. Apparently, having a tiny newborn during cold and flu season means you're kept as far away from other patients as possible. The doctor asks how often he eats, pees, and poops, and how many hours a day he sleeps. I feel bad because I don't know. When we get home, Rob makes a Diaper Change Log (with Pee and Poop checkboxes) and posts it above the changing table, along with a pen on a string.

Feeding Westley is torture. He won't latch on. He just opens his mouth and shakes his head, looking for the nipple. "It's there," I coach him, squeezing my breast into an awkward sandwich-shape. "You got it, baby." But when he latches on, he pops back off almost immediately--and wails. Eventually--finally--my mother figures out to push up on his chin when he's in position, closing his mouth in a proper latch. She holds her finger under his chin for several minutes while he gets the hang of suck-swallow-breathe. My husband brings me pillows for my arms, legs, and back. He checks my wrists to make sure they're not crunched into right angles. I didn't know it took a village to nurse a baby.

I can't believe how sore I am. I feel stupid and helpless, carrying a little inflatable donut pillow around the house with me. I also ache all over and sweat like crazy at night, and all of the blood vessels under my eyes are broken. Labor was like running a marathon while being sick with the flu. But I'm also emotionally sore. I feel broken-hearted, and I can't explain why. I don't really believe that Westley came out of me, or that he was ever inside of me. Holding him fills me with calm and confusion and dread. He's so completely fragile and yet so sturdy. He has bones, for fuck's sake! There is no way I could have had any part in making something so beautiful and complex. I'm pretty sure God is going to show up at the door and demand him back. Any minute now...

One Month Old
Mom brings Westley to me in the middle of the night. After his last feeding, she takes him and rocks him, dozing with him in her arms until he wails for milk. Then she brings him to me and keeps me company while I nurse him, bleary-eyed in the dark, feeling a little like a crazy person. Part of me honestly thinks that this is what my life will be for the rest of my life. Part of me is certain that there will come a time when I miss this: sitting in the silent living room with my sleep-deprived mother, feeding a tiny hungry creature.

We have awesomely effective blackout shades on the living room window, but I leave them open all night. When I stumble out of bed, light from the neighbors' security lamps pours in, protecting me like a nightlight.

Westley looks like an owl in the dark, with wide dark eyes. He seems so wise and so confused at the same time. I make a conscious effort to tell him what I'm going to do, even though it feels strange to talk to him. I try to imagine what it would be like to live with creatures fifteen times my size, whose language I didn't speak and who I could only assume had my best interests at heart. I'm surprised Westley is so calm, all things considered. I think he's braver than I am.

Two Months Old
One of my most cherished friends comes to visit and I never want her to leave. She blends seamlessly into my scattered routine. We sit on the couch and watch TV together while Westley eats. I'm finally over my obsession with babies-getting-born shows, so we watch What Not To Wear.

Our adventures are mundane at this point. The grocery store is a big hit. Westley sleeps in the ring sling like a perfect angel. I love having the weight of him on my body. It makes shopping a much slower process, but I'm so glad to be out with him. I used to notice mothers with their babies and smile at them. Now I'm one of those mothers. I don't notice people smiling. Westley is all I can see.

He sleeps through restaurant meals. I drape a napkin over him and try not to spill anything. I'm on high-alert, ready to bolt to the car the minute he starts to seem upset, but it never happens. I come home with sore muscles from tensing my legs under the table.

Three Months Old
I debate long and hard with myself over what to put on The Sign. I finally settle on the very vague "Please Do Not Disturb," print it off so it looks somewhat official, and post it on the conference room door with double-stick tape. I've double- and triple-checked the schedule for that day and the room is supposed to be free for the next hour. But there's no lock. I position myself so that my back is to the door.

Leaving my baby at home is hard, but it's nothing compared to pumping. Pumping at work is awful. It's both mildly painful and a huge logistical pain. I want to cry when I see that I've only managed to express eight ounces of milk in two sessions, knowing that Westley is at home drinking twelve ounces. It's backwards and wrong to have to try to get a machine to suck milk out of my tits so I can be away from my son doing a job I kind of hate.

"Look at you!" the Account Executive says cheerfully when she sees me at the sink with my pump parts. "I remember that. I couldn't do it." Her girls are teenagers, but from her tone, you'd think it was yesterday. She smiles. "Good for you."

Yeah, good for me, but I don't know how much longer I can manage. I never really envisioned myself as a stay-at-home mother. My goal was to have a professional identity in addition to being a mother and a wife. But the job I'm doing now is not the job I was promised when I returned from maternity leave. It's not my employer's fault that the client changed her mind, but no one let me know that things had changed. My favorite coworkers have already moved on to new jobs with more stable companies.

This is not the professional identity I wanted. I think I have to quit.

Four Months Old
How is it possible that everything in my life is the same and completely different at the same time?

Five Months Old
I can't remember the last time we had to wake Westley up to feed him, but we still sing the song we wrote so that we wouldn't have to cry about gently jiggling a tiny baby. It sort-of-but-not-really goes to the tune of "Wake Up Little Susie."

Wake up, little Westley, wake up
Wake up, little Westley, wake up
You know it's time for food, 'cause you are in the mood
I'm shakin' you to waken you 'cause you're my little dude
Wake up, little Westley
Wake up, little Westley
It's time to eat food

It's fun to sing to him, especially the silly songs we come up with on the spur of the moment. He seems to love music, and Rob and I started putting his name into whatever song pops into our heads. "West" rhymes with lots of good stuff ("Nobody does it half as good as you/Baby, you're my West"), and it's pretty easy to fit "Westley O" somewhere into a line.

He has a hundred nicknames, but I almost always call him "Westley O," like he's a First Lady.

Six Months Old
You and I have a Mutual Admiration Society going. You smile at me all the time, everywhere, like I'm the coolest person you know. Like you're surprised to see me in the supermarket. I snuggle you and kiss you and nuzzle you and nibble your sides saying, "Corn on the cob! Yum-yum-yumyumyum!"

I'll probably say it again next month, but this is my favorite age.

Seven Months Old
Westley and I ride the bus to a mom's group, which turns out to be a terrible idea. The group part, that is. I'm the youngest mother and Westley is the oldest baby. The women want to talk about issues that should really be discussed with therapists, and Westley wants to crawl all over their tiny, squalling infants. The group leader wants us to sit quietly and "meditate" at the opening and closing of every group session. Um, not so much.

The bus-riding part is awesome, however. Westley watches everything with giant eyes, and flirts tentatively with the elderly woman next to us on the way there. On the way home, the middle-aged Jamacaian woman sitting next to me asks me how old Westley is. Then she asks, "Breastfeeding or bottle?" I'm caught off-guard and hear myself answering her while I'm wondering what kind of question that is from a stranger.

"I'm breastfeeding him."

She doesn't say anything after that, and I don't continue the conversation. But I wonder, does she think I shouldn't be breastfeeding him? Is she polling all of the mothers of babies she sees, conducting an informal survey? I wonder what strange thing she would have asked me if she'd been on the bus route I rode while I was pregnant.

Eight Months Old
My son is speaking to me. It's like a miracle is taking place in my living room.

I can see the wheels turning inside his head as he figures it out. This is how you communicate. His babble goes up and down, with the highs and lows of real sentences. I listen hard, trying to pick words out of the strings of sing-song vowels and consonants. I try to find the words I know he recognizes.

Mommy, Daddy, milk. More, up, kitty, gentle. Glasses, hi, no. MaMay, Granddad, nap, night. Bye-bye.

So far, everything is "ma." It's his go-to sound, and he uses it to mean Mommy and everything he needs. He cries "mamamama" when he wants me to hold him, when he wants to nurse, when he's bored and fed up with being in the car seat, when he's tired and feeling like crap.

He never says "mama" when he's happy. Instead, he flashes his sparkly eyes and laughs with his mouth wide open. With each laugh, I love him even more than I did a minute ago.

Nine Months Old
You are nine months old, and napping sweetly in your crib. You sleep so well now that you're spending each day tiring yourself out. If you could, you would spend every waking minute moving, playing, exploring. At your nine-month check-up, I told your doctor that you were doing the commando slither, but not crawling yet. You crawled that same afternoon, because you're sneaky like that. My sweet punky-pie, my little man.

The best times are just watching you enjoy your world and figure it out. You love breezes, ceiling fans, the sound of the creek rushing through the backyard, splashing water in the bath, any and all music. You know how to pet the kitties gently, but you yank my hair out by the handfuls. Friendly strangers in the grocery store make you crumple and cry, so I squat low and push you in the shopping cart fast, making race car noises.

Thank you for being so patient with me. You forgive me when I mess up, and are always delighted to tell me when I get it right. Having you by my side, on my hip makes me less self-conscious. I sing more often because of you. Old sights, sounds and smells are fun and cool and interesting and "Wow!" I can't imagine where I would be without you. You are my monkey, my elf, the little king who totally saved my life. It breaks my heart how much I love you, Bunk. You're growing so strong and fast. I hope I can keep growing with you.

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