Monday, January 25, 2010

This Is Why You're Depressed...Or Not

I am so...well...sick of thinking about my post-baby food sensitivities. But almost eight months after my doctor first prescribed a elimination diet, I still have questions. And symptoms.
When Westley asked for some muffins over the weekend (his word for muffins is "muh-tits," which might be the best toddlerism ever), Rob carefully adapted the recipe he was making to fit my dietary restrictions. The resulting almond-quinoa muffins (adapted from Veganomicon) were vegan (of course), gluten-free, soy-free, contained no refined sugar, and tasted delicious.

And they still made me sick.

My heart sank into my crampy, miserable stomach as I started to wonder whether my problem with baked goods wasn't the sugar or the gluten, but the refined-ness, the flour. Maybe not just gluten-containing flour, but any flour was unacceptable. Was I looking at a flourless--or, (help me, Mary) grainless--diet?

It seemed extreme, yes. But as I sat at Sunday brunch, staring at the second half of my "old world" cereal, which strongly resembled something I could make at home, I felt that familiar stomach sickness. I hate going out to eat, I thought.

I'm thoroughly convinced of the connection between food and depression; I desperately wish I could go back and give my 16-year-old self a gluten- and dairy-free diet instead of the medication that created more problems than it solved. But my new diet, which initially rescued me from postpartum depression, is starting to create a different kind of sadness.

Meal-planning and grocery shopping, which I used to truly enjoy, have become unpleasant chores. On the rare occasion that I find myself in a restaurant, I have to figure out what's "safe" to eat--as opposed to what I'd like to eat. And I fucking hate that when my sweet little son, who loves to share his food, offers me a bite of his toast, I have to say, "No, thank you, honey."

And then I add, "That's all for you." Because I refuse to tell him that the whole-wheat seed bread he's so enjoying will make Mommy sick.

But I'm starting to wonder if that one shared bite might be worth it.

.....................................

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Germophile

Westley was using/attempting to use/playing with the drinking fountain at the community center on Tuesday when a woman and her four girls came up behind us. I gently moved Westley aside, and one of the middle-sized girls stepped up to take a drink.

"Ah-ah!" Her mother pulled her back a little more forcefully than I thought necessary, and whipped out an empty water bottle. As the mom filled the bottle from the drinking fountain, she told the girls sweetly, "I don't want you drinking from that. It has...uh, there's germs."

Germs? Oh, right. Germs.

In one of my daily moments of complete parental insecurity I wonder if this perfect blonde woman with her perfect blonde children is quietly judging me for letting my son put his hands all over the germs on the community center drinking fountain. (Or is she referring to his germs, which he must have left behind so thoughtlessly?)

Then I realize that I don't give a fuck what she thinks of me and my germy son. Because germs are totally not a big deal to me.

I do not get the whole "germs" thing. I remember being a child and being totally baffled by the idea of germs. They made no sense. They were as incomprehensible as the idea that Jesus--this man who'd lived thousands of years ago and whom I'd never met--loved me. Germs seemed like mysterious adult-talk used to get children to behave. And while I generally trusted the adults in my life to tell me the truth, part of me didn't buy the "germ" thing.

I was also not easily grossed out as a child. I'm still not. I certainly understood "dirty," but only if I could see the dirt. The idea of "other people's germs" held no power over me whatsoever.

So I haven't mentioned germs to Westley. And not only do I not worry about them, I don't even think about them, honestly. I wash my hands (sometimes), and I don't let Westley play with anything that may have been in or near the litter box. But that's about it.

Admittedly, I get to avoid the whole germ issue, if I want to. I'm lucky that way. No one in my household has a compromised immune system. I also don't judge anyone for citing "germs" as a reason not to put that thing you found on the ground in your mouth. However, in the absence of serious disease, talking about germs with a two-year-old just seems like borrowing fear. Any information Westley might have osmosed about "germs" comes with the fictional backdrop of Yo Gabba Gabba. There, germs are "tiny, ugly" creatures that appear on food once it's dropped and sing in germ-an accents. And for now, I'm fine leaving it at that.

Of course, I eat dropped food all the time. (Sometimes I even give it to my kid.) Just last night I put my hands all over a grocery store shopping cart without using one of the store's provided antibacterial cart-wipes first. And I set my peeled tangerine down on a very public counter top in the food court area.

It's probably just a coincidence that I have a little bit of a sore throat and a stuffy nose today.

.....................................

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Squall of Duty

Today, for the first time in months, I drove with a screaming baby in the back seat. It's a half-hour drive from our new house to the community center we started visiting when Westley was just a crawler. Both on the way there and on the way home, my four-month-old passenger yelled her head off for about 20 out of the 30 minutes were on the road. Forty-something minutes of crying total.
I thought Westley would be distressed by the noise. After all, it was some serious crying. Like, "What the fuck is wrong with you, you crazy bitch?! Take me out of this car seat now! Waaaaaa!" But Westley just looked out the window and nodded along with the music, occasionally asking, "What's 'is song called, Mom-mee?"

A few minutes after registering Westley's nonchalance, I realized that there was nothing I could do to help--no amount of my driving one-handed while dislocating my right shoulder, trying to pop a pacifier into a tiny, screaming toothless mouth was going to soothe her--I just...gave up.

All right, I said to my elevated heart-rate, she's just going to have to cry.

And I felt suddenly, strangely okay with that idea.

It was an okay-ness that I'd never really experienced with respect to Westley's crying. When Westley would holler, I'd run through the possible causes--hungry, tired, sick, too cold, too hot, pissed off--and whether or not one of them popped out as the likely culprit, I'd feel guilty. Guilty for not nursing him right that minute. Guilty for not holding him. Guilty for being in the stupid fucking car in the first place (what business did I have taking a baby in the car anyway?). Guilty for having done whatever it was I'd done to make him cry so. Because clearly, as his mother, I was at fault. Clearly.

Some of that guilt--which is the only word that seems to fit with my overwhelming sense of "this is all my fault" when Westley would cry--was the voice of my depression. A practical joke from The Dirty Tricks Department of my mind. However, some of it, I'm sure, was just a nasty side-effect of being so physiologically connected to the crying party. When someone whose DNA closely resembles mine is upset, it's hard for me to avoid being upset, too.

Not being physiologically connected to the loudly miserable child allowed me to see some of that yelling for what it really is: a four-month-old's only way of expressing, "I hate this plan!" (And possibly also, "How dare you not be my mother?")

My hope is that, now that I've experienced this moment of perfect surrender to the Gods of Vehicular Sorrow (and everything turned out fine), I'll be able to apply the same attitude to someone a little closer to me, biologically speaking. As Westley gets increasingly vocal about his distaste for any rule, schedule or idea that comes from me, I'm hoping to take a page from my nannying book. If I've done everything I can, and he's still miserable, he may just have to be miserable for a little while. And that's okay.

Less physiology, more philosophy.

It's not personal, it's fussiness.
.....................................

Friday, January 15, 2010

One--Think, Two--Speak

Language is exploding out of my son. It's like he's been storing up ideas and he finally has the vocabulary to let them out. And his language evolves so quickly, that I often find I'm missing something much sooner than I expected.

He used to call himself "Est," which I loved. He called himself "Est" for a long time; "Est doot" [Westley do it] was a favorite phrase of mine, but it's disappeared. "I can doot," is the new norm, and even sometimes, "I do it myself." Plain as day. And he's started to say his name, "Wezzy." Which is just not as good as "Est" in my book.

***

He begins his day repeating stories and songs, and often ends it by recounting the day's events. Usually, it's wonderful. It means he can "read" a favorite book to himself (which helps him fall asleep--hallelujah). It's hard at the end of the day, when we've had a hard day, and maybe--just maybe--I've lost my temper and yelled at him.

"Mom-mee came inna door. Said, 'Stop it, Wezzey!'"

At first I think, Oh, fuck. He remembers that. And then I mentally scold myself. I remember it; why shouldn't he? It was only a few hours ago. And it sucked pretty hard.

"That's right," I tell him. "And it was not okay for me to yell at you like that."

He looks up at me with enormous, thoughtful blue eyes. "No," he says.

***

Instruments are a frequent topic of conversation. Westley loves to make lists, and instruments are perfect for this; he can name well over a dozen instruments by sight and sound, and he also has quite an instrument collection. He is desperately in love with music, so every time we see a kazoo or toy drum at resale, it's hard to resist. Westley would love to own some real instruments, but in the meantime, the slide whistle is a trombone, the flutophone plays the role of clarinet. He often takes roll, presumably to make sure he doesn't leave any of them out of whatever secret composition he's working on:
"I get my...my...my...my...crash cymbs!"

"Okay, monkey. We'll get your crash cymbals. I think they're in the playroom."

"Get my crash cymbs! And my trump [trumpet]! And my trombone, and my flute, and my carolnet [clarinet], and my pran-pran [piano], and my tee-tog [guitar], and my drums!"
He's a little one-man band, if only in his mind.

***

I was so, so glad when he stopped saying "girl" as "gwuh." That one drove me absolutely crazy; it was fingernails-on-chalkboard annoying for some reason. But I'm not supposed to say that.

As his mother, I'm supposed to think his idiosyncratic language is awesome and adorable. And for the most part, I do. I would bathe in its cuteness if I could! "Instruments" comes out "imps," which I love. "All finched" for "all finished" is great (it makes me think of sweet little birds). He expresses love by telling you that you and he are "best friends," and that kicks my ass with its adorableness.

But "gwuh" can fuck right off.

***

Westley: I hit Dada witta crash cymbs!

Rob: Why would would want to hit Daddy with crash cymbals?

Westley: I'm twooo!

.....................................

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Oh $#!* Moment

The first time I held Westley, I knew that he was the only thing that would ever be able to really scare me would be my child. Life could deal me a nerve-wracking hand, but he would do the things that would make me feel truly paralyzed with deep, heart-stopping dread: the oh shit moment.
Westley has given me a couple of true oh shit moments since his birth: the day he tumbled into my parents' coffee table and cutting his forehead dangerously close to his eye comes to mind. But I'd never experienced a full-body sinking feeling like I did a few nights ago, when, while sitting quietly in the living room after putting Westley down in his crib, I heard his bedroom door rattle open.

Westley ran down the hall in his footy pajamas and into the living room, stopping to do a little happy-dance in the middle of the rug. Rob and I gaped at our son, and then at each other. I felt my chest tighten. He's wide-awake...and out of his bed.

Westley can climb out of his crib.

(Oh, shit. Oh shitshitshit-motherfuckingshit-fuckfuck-shit.)

This was not an oh shit moment I was expecting to have. Falls? Of course. Repeating words I didn't especially want him to say? That I'd considered. But a two-year-old who is tall enough and strong enough to climb out of his crib unassisted? I'm completely unprepared to deal with this and freaked out.

Of course, there's nothing we can do to keep him in his crib that doesn't involve chicken wire or strapping him down. The already-difficult nighttime routine hasn't been the same since he discovered this new "trick." And I'm at the end of my rope.

Never gonna sleep again / Gifted climber won't be "cribbin'"

Last night, Westley must have climbed out of his crib ten times--at least!--and each time I put him back without discussion apart from a gentle, "No. It's time to sleep, Westley." I tucked him in and left. I held him and rocked him. I stayed and pretended to sleep on the floor next to him. I sang to him. And each time, after I left, he climbed out of his bed.

Finally, I surrendered. I put him in his crib, tucked him in, and sat down in the chair next to his bed. Rob sat on the floor with the kitty. I rooted myself to the chair, determined to sit there all night if I had to. I sang every song I could think of that was even vaguely lullaby-like. Somehow I settled into singing protest songs from the '60s, the only music I heard as a child.

Westley had been quiet and still for a while before Rob and I told him again that we loved him, wished him sweet dreams, and left the room. In the kitchen, we strained to hear: cries of "Mom-mee, mom-mee," the thump of his feet hitting the floor, his little hands fiddling with the doorknob.

The house was silent. Rob took a bottle of pinot and two glasses to the living room.

We sank into the couch...two and a half hours after first telling our son good-night.

Since Westley discovered that he can get out of his crib, bedtime has been a nightmare. Last night was the apotheosis of oh shit. I did everything I know how to do. I somehow managed to stay calm, but nothing I tried seemed to help my little boy. And I'm already feeling waves of oh shit thinking about bedtime tonight. All I can do is tie a knot in the end of my rope and hang on.

.....................................

Monday, January 11, 2010

Working, Girl

In my birthday post, I mentioned a job. Or, rather, an "almost-job." It's nothing that I've written about before, but I've been doing it for almost a month now, and it looks like it's going to work out.
Of course, it's not an "it." It's a she.

Ta-da!

When I found out that my friend Amanda and her husband were expecting a baby, I asked all the nosy questions people ask their pregnant friends (even though they've been pregnant themselves and should know better), and among them was, "What are you going to do about childcare?"

Enter the "job."
Beautiful Kaylee, 4 months old.

I always have to put the word "job" in quotation marks in my head, because it's nothing like any job I've ever had. Or rather, it bears a striking resemblance to the work I do all the time, but don't get paid for. And since she's my friends' baby (and an incredibly easygoing one at that), it feels doubly weird to put the "job" label on it.

Don't get me wrong: nannying four days a week while also caring for Westley full-time, is work. Hard work, with the occasional moment of hair-pulling-out stress. Like when one child wakes up just as the other is going down for nap. Awesome. And today, I experienced my first full-blown two-for-one meltdown, complete with tears and shrieks that go to eleven. Miraculously, I managed not to lose it, but I'm going to say it right now: I do not know how mothers of two or (holy Mary mother of God) more children maintain even a shred of their sanity!

(They don't, do they?)

Still, it's a pretty great arrangement. I get to help out a lovely couple by snuggling with their lovely daughter, while also breathing a little bit easier when I sit down to pay the utilities bills. And--because I'm sure you're wondering--I'm getting a preview of (possible) coming attractions.

I could totally steal her. She's got my eyes.

I would be a big, fat medium-sized liar if I said that a big part of this nannying gig isn't about giving myself a two-kid trial run. It's totally about that. I was dying to find out how Westley and I would do with a baby around. I was really hoping that nannying would pull me strongly into the either the "yay, baby #2!" camp or the "one is enough" camp.

It turns out that it's pulled me strongly...into both categories. Westley and I are mostly okay, most of the time when Kaylee is with us, but it's unbelievably easier when it's 'The Mommy and Westley Show' (or, for that matter, 'The Noelle and Kaylee Hour'). Westley is very pro-Kaylee as long as she doesn't try to touch him or his toys. He likes to show her his toys, however, and enjoys telling her how "a big boy" does things like eat a snack or get his diaper changed. It's wonderful to see him try with all his might to share his knowledge with her. Of course, he also likes to wait until I'm giving Kaylee a bottle to act out. Today he sacrificed two pacifiers to the heater-vent gods.

Having Kaylee around during the day makes me really want to have another baby, and so thankful that I don't have another baby. Because having two is totally doable! Except that she's not waking me up at night to nurse, and I'm not trying to fit back into my old pants. Early in the morning and late at night--when having a child can seem like a terrible idea, regardless of how many you have and how much you love them--it's still all Westley, all the time. But I'm still a little sad to say good-bye to her in the evenings.


I close the door and look at my one-child life and I think, I so want another one! It wouldn't be that hard.

And then I remember again that the thing making it seem "not that hard" for both me and Westley is giving Kaylee back to her mommy at the end of the day...

But not before I eat her up.

Nom nom nom.

(One sure doesn't feel like enough.)
.....................................

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Self-Portrait at 27

When I look at my face in the mirror this evening, after dinner, I see "tired." I look at the girl-woman looking back at me, her mascara flaking off under her lower lashes, her chronically-chapped lips, and think, She looks tired.
It's not an unwelcome thought. I used to look at my face and immediately see "fat," or "ugly," or "unlovable," or "unhappy." I don't do that any more (except on the occasional day when I do). "Tired," though not entirely positive, is refreshing in a way. And yet, I immediately flash to that line from The Birdcage, exquisitely delivered by Nathan Lane: "'You look tired' means 'you look old,' and 'you look rested' means 'you've had collagen'."

To give myself the benefit of the doubt, I have good reason to look tired. My sleeps-like-a-log son has suddenly decided to start sleeping like a baby: that is to say, waking up every few hours, crying. I'm still not entirely recovered from my pregnancy (vitamin deficiencies can take a long time to be resolved, it turns out). The move, the holidays, and a new almost-job have all taken their toll...

Or, I could just be getting old.

I'm 27, which, as Rob likes to point out, is 90% of 30.

* * *

Me: Why does 27 seem so much older than 26? The jump from 25 to 26 was a lot smaller.

Rob: [says nothing, busy pretending to be Batman in Arkham Asylum]

Me: Do you have this at all?

Rob: Well, it's your late twenties. It's your early-late twenties. Twenty-six is your late-mid-twenties.

Me: [making the putting-on-mascara face as I do mental math, trying to remember how this works] Wait, so what's twenty, then?

Rob: Twenty. We can only cover nine.

Me: Huh.

Rob: Don't you remember this? We worked out this whole system based on Hedwig.

[Rob is referring to a moment in Hedwig and the Angry Inch where Hedwig begins a story by recalling, "One day in the late mid-eighties, I was in my early late-twenties."]

Me: Oh, I remember it. I'm just trying to remember how it works.

Rob: You're going from your late mid-twenties, to your early-late twenties. Much older.

* * *
"The Scoring Twenties"

Twenty.
Early-early twenties (21).
Mid-early twenties (22).
Late-early twenties (23).
Early-mid-twenties (24).
Mid-mid-twenties (25).
Late-mid-twenties (26).
Early-late twenties (27).
Mid-late twenties (28).
Late-late twenties (29).
Thirty.

(Rinse...repeat...)
* * *

I find it much too easy to fantasize about what I would be doing if I were far away from here (maybe because I find it much too easy to fantasize, period). Where would I be if I didn't have a child? Weren't married? Had actually gone on to study video art or film theory or any of the esoterica that consumed me during my mid-late teens through mid-early twenties?

I have no fucking idea. And while I like to explore the fantasy, lately I have trouble convincing myself that another reality would be better than this one.

Last year on my birthday, I was terribly depressed and fighting hard against continuing to feel depressed. Nothing good happened today, I wrote, hurting so much at having to force smiles and laughs for the sake of my little boy.

Today was a little short on good, too. Westley acted out a lot, experimenting with aggression, trying on "naughty" for size, getting scolded several times and earning himself a good, old-fashioned time-out. It was a "no nap" day. Westley fell in the backyard while I was selfishly staring into space. Rob was sick. And I had to go to the dentist.

And somehow, it was still a truly happy birthday. Because this year, the smiles aren't forced.

The birthday card I received from my mother was one of the nicest, simplest ones I've seen. The inside reads, "You already have the birthday--this wishes you the happy."

I'm finding my happy again. I'm not even having to look very far for it. And I can't imagine a better birthday present than that.

.....................................

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Storyteller

This morning, Westley climbed in bed with me, snuggled in, and started telling me the story of Mrs. Lovewright and Purrless Her Cat. He recited the first few pages, almost word-for-word, pronouncing the words he knows perfectly, filling the sentences in with appropriately cadenced, believable-sounding nonsense words.

Just like I used to sing when I was little, I thought. Belt out the words you know, make up the ones you don't.

And then it hit me: He knows the whole story. He has the book memorized!

When Westley discovered that books were good for something other than teething on, he fell in love. Big time. Now he's almost always up for books, whether they're simple picture books or more complicated stories, like Mrs. Lovewright. He's always asking Rob or me (usually Rob) to "wee books" with him. Dinner conversation frequently revolves around the storybook or two that occupy the table along with plates and forks. We read pages between bites.

A remarkable portion of Westley's spoken vocabulary comes from the books we read to him. Often he'll say something ("caterwauled," "alphabet", "holy Toledo!") and I'll have to stop for a moment and wonder where he heard that. And then I'll realize--of course!--it's from a book.

Fortunately, he hasn't picked up anything objectionable or too annoying. But I know that time is coming. Especially since he's started committing whole books to memory, and there are some words (even in his current crop of storybooks) that I'd rather he not say on a regular basis. Westley's Mrs. Lovewright recitation this morning was a potent reminder that he really is listening to everything.

I feel simultaneously amazed by and protective of Westley's little mind, expanding to contain all of these words and stories and ideas. I want to ensure that the stories he hears are good ones, filled with worthwhile morals and cool words. After all, I have things memorized that I wish I could get rid of: disturbing images from movies, mean remarks, commercial jingles. Most of that mental debris comprises things I encountered as a child, and it would be so satisfying to forget it once and for all, and make space for something better. A funny story about a lonely woman and her cat, for instance, where the message is, "Accept people for who they are."

I want to go through the books and weed out anything that's not really excellent. And I also want to dust off my mental library, peek through its contents, and recycle the things I don't agree with any more. After all, Westley is making space inside himself to hold all of the stories I tell him--whether or not they come from books.

.....................................

Monday, January 4, 2010

Home, Sweet

I find myself very tempted to refer to this current house as "our first home," even though it's not at all. It's the fourth place Rob and I have lived as a couple, and the second place we've owned. It's not really the "first" of anything. What it is is the most permanent-feeling place we've ever lived.
Rob and I bought a house about six months after we got married, and sold it when Westley was about four months old. Westley never lived there, except as a fetus living inside of me. We moved out of that house and into our much-maligned (by me, on this blog) basement apartment just a few weeks before Westley was born.

There was nothing wrong with the apartment, really. Sure, we didn't own it, but it was a good space for a couple with a new baby. There was even a tiny nursery: a former laundry room, drywalled, painted, and hardwood-floored out of utilitarianism and into coziness. The floors were heated. It was cool in the summer and warm in the winter. And the kitchen was the nicest I have ever cooked in.

(I really miss the kitchen, actually.)

Hello, Kitchen Gnomes!

But even though Westley was born in the apartment, I never felt really connected to it. And while it's too soon to feel like I have a connection to the new house (I still stutter when trying to relate the address), it seems to fit better. The house isn't much bigger than the apartment was, but it still feels as though we can grow into this space, instead of worrying about growing out of it.

Clothes drying, cat eating, routine settling...

Christmas sealed the deal. As we cleaned and straightened, cooking and arranging in preparation to host two small gatherings, I had the strange sense that the house was becoming part of our family. I wanted to do nice things for it, so it would be comfortable. Happy.

Continuing the accidental Christmas tradition of taking pictures of the cat(s) with the presents.

This house is the first place we've lived and wanted to stay. Because suddenly we're in a home where I can imagine our little family being happy for a long, long time.

Home, Sweethearts
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