Sunday, September 30, 2007

Heart of Darkness--Take Two

So we've started the kitchen re-do. We are currently sans kitchen, we in a weird way, translates into sans house. I never realized how central a kitchen is to one's existence. At least when you have to take EVERYTHING out of the kitchen and throw it in whatever tiny little space is available in your lilliputian house. This is what our dining room looks like right now...

Notice the bohemoth of a refrigerator tucked ever so subtly in the corner. Um. Yeah. And if you've seen the fall Pottery Barn catalog, you already know that draping plastic tarps over every surface possible is indeed all the rage right now in home decor.

If that's not enough, this is our living room...
Watching TV through the aforementioned fashionable plastic draping presents it's own problems as well. And as it is a suffocation hazard and covering all of Ethan's toys, we are dealing with a bit of a toy-shortage. That's actually a bit of relief because there is no room for Ethan to play with his toys, anyway. Sigh.

Oh, and the kitchen? Enjoy...
Where the sink used to be, day #1

No cabinets, no fridge, no counters, no microwave...

I don't even know what this IS...

Where the sink used to be, day #2...

This is the ceiling where the contractor found, joy of joys, fire damage. Apparently we can add "cooking" to the list of things the former house-owners/amateur do-it-yourselfers suck at.

Where's my food? Where's the kitchen??!!

Oh, here it our backyard.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

National Gallery of Ethan...

Today we took advantage of the fact that we live in a big urban area and rather than lounging all day on the couch, we actually went to a museum. We met friends of ours in the city and checked out the Hopper exhibit at the National Gallery of Art. Very impressive, great representation of light, isolationist period, very deep. blah blah blah. Ethan had a far better time out in the open space of the mezzanine.

Please enjoy, a study in Ethan:

And then, after the whirligig of activity that is a sixteen-month old dancing around thousands of square feet of marble flooring, there was serious nappage to be had.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Toddler Class Dunce...

That would be me, not my son. This season we've signed up for three classes. One we've already taken, but he loves it so I figured, what the hell. I can sit through another 12 classes of singing the hello song & songs about paw-paw patches if Music Together makes him happy. The other two are brand new to us this week and I must say, while Ethan handled himself quite well, I was a complete bumbling idiot in both of them, and possibly *that* mother in one of them.

We started on Wednesday with our baby sign language class. It is signing through songs, so we sing things like "The wheels on the bus" and "itsy bitsy spider" using sign language. Which is good because, you know, Ethan someday might need to tell me that there's a spider crawling up my back or that the wipers on my car are broken. So these signs will be very helpful. The instructor is lovely, but she's one of those balls of energy that makes you think she peels off her human-suit at the end of the day and is really a hummingbird who has to suck nectar all night just to get through the next day. We heard all kinds of stories about her signing virtuoso children, stringing entire sentences together with signs at the tender age of 5 months. I tried very hard not to be a cynic and open my mind to the possibility that a baby could communicate entire thoughts before she could actually even roll over, but whatever.

We sang songs and I bumbled through the sings. Fortunately it takes awhile for the kids to pick up on the signs because if it was an immediate thing, my child's sense of language would be forever screwed up. I had "what" and "where" confused and "thank you and "happy" were interchangeable during the first hour of class. I'm really good with combining cognitive and motor skills--it's totally forte of mine. This is why I can't do aerobics classes; it takes way too long for my brain to tell my muscles what to do and I end up getting trampled by the skinny bitch next to me who's on her 5th grapevine while I'm trying to figure out how to do my first. one point during our class, I attempted to take a toy from Ethan because it was time to move on and I figured we had to put the toys from activity #1 away to move on to activity #2. And I got scolded. Yup. I was told, "We don't want to model grabbing as an acceptable behavior. Please don't grab the toy away from your child." Um. Okay. Please call Child Protective Services. I suck at parenting.

Then later in the class, my brute-in-training of a son decided to rip a teddy bear out of another child's hand. While the instructor was trying to teach the crying child the sign for "sad", I jokingly asked what the sign was for "bully" so I could teach it to Ethan. People, you would have thought I asked permission to beat my child in front of the class. I was chastised with a very solemn, "We don't call names here," and given the I'm-very-disappointed-in-you look generally reserved for when your 13-year old is suspended for pulling the fire alarm or "pantsing" the geeky kid in gym class.

I kept my mouth shut and my hands to myself for the duration of the class, lest I slip up one more time and find myself in "mommy timeout". Hopefully my kid is a dynamo and makes a good impression, because I am so on this teacher's shit-list.

Today, we attended the class to end all classes. "Tiny Time", or baby gym. Fortunately we have this class with Carlin and Chloe from our playgroup. I think it's probably more fortunate for Carlin & me than it is for our kids, as they are still fairly oblivious to one another if there is absolutely anything else remotely interesting going on around them. After Carlin and I listened to the plethora of rules while trying to contain our roaming toddlers, the fun began. Our first station was "the pit".

Let me explain this thing to you. It is a deep chasm in the gym floor filled with foam blocks. When we slid into it, I fully intended to feel my feet hit the floor because that's a natural human expectation when one jumps, right? Well...they did not hit anything but more foam blocks. I have no idea where the floor in this pit actually was. I suspect that had we dug far enough, we would have found little Chinese toddlers and their mamas on the other side.

Navigating the pit presents one with all sorts of challenges, not the least of which is THERE IS NO FLOOR! I can only say it is felt like what I would imagine walking through quick sand would feel like---intense trudging and focusing all your energy on your leg muscles, willing them to carry you somewhere, anywhere close to the edge of this thing so you might be able to get out with your life. Oh, and you're carrying your child. Some moms were putting their kids down on/in the blocks and they'd sink a bit, but they seemed to like it. Ethan looked at me like, "What? Are you kidding me? If you put me down in this crap, you and I are finished."

So we worked our way over to one of the mat-slides, where Chloe was giggling her way down the slide and into the blocks. She looked like she was having fun, so I figured we'd give it a try, if we didn't suffocate on foam on our way over. The first time down, I was sure he was never going to speak to me again. But after a couple of swoops down into the blocks, it was clear this was going to be Ethan's favorite new place.

By the end of class, we were both exhausted; aside from the pit there was an obstacle course, a trampoline and bars, both parallel and unparallel.

It was the longest nap ever.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When you're the mom of a boy...

and the statistics say that something like 1 in 94 of them will end up with some form of autism, how the hell do you not just end up breathing into a paper bag all day long while your son spins the wheels on his trucks?

Seriously. I didn't even watch Jenny McCarthy on Oprah yesterday because I knew she was just going to blame the MMR vaccine for causing her son's autism and as a family who has chosen to vax on schedule, I can't take the potential for guilt and believe you me, I am highly strung about this particular issue enough as it is without watching a former playboy playmate tell me I've doomed my child. Like I need to have my body-image issues AND my parenting insecurities throttled all at once.

But I do spend perhaps an inordinate amount of time stressing out about what is or is not going on inside of my son's head and if it is what, in fact, should be going on. He doesn't always respond when I call his name, nor does he make eye contact all the time. Check. He will struggle to get out of an embrace. Check. He has, at 16 months, few words. Check. He is obsessed with the spinning wheels on every and all of his toy cars and trucks. Check. He tends to be a loner in social settings. Check.

Now, obviously I can explain these all away and/or counter them with examples of him doing the exact opposite of the warning signs as well. So, do I worry? Or do I not worry? When the statistics are what they are, I feel like I have to constantly be on my guard for the moment when it's reasonable to start worrying.

I am blessed and cursed with the world's most laid back pediatrician. In a way it's nice; he is always telling me how wonderful Ethan is and how it's fine that he's only 18lbs at 16 months and how it's fine that he only says 2-3 words right now and that it was totally cool that he wasn't walking at 15 months. I really, really, really want to believe him. After the pregnancy, the delivery and the early months of this little man's life, I really want to believe that we should be getting a free pass on misery and challenges for him down the line. His life should be charmed.

But then I worry---was the terbutaline I took to stop contractions really safe? It made me feel like a heroin addict; what might it have done to him? What about the insulin I took for my gestational diabetes or all the pain meds and antibiotics I took in the first few months of breastfeeding him? I was told they were all safe, but were they? And all the vaccines running through his little body, over and over again at such a young age. And dear god, where were those toys made?? (*Cue Sarah breathing into brown paper bag right about now*)

I am tempted to uproot us, relocate to the top of a mountain in Vermont somewhere, grow all our own food, make all of our own toys and clothing, and never contact the outside world again to avoid any and everything that might lead him to harm or developmental challenges. But alas, Husband and I are addicted to modern conveniences like the internet and Starbucks. And on most days, I do not feel like this. He gives me no real cause for worry; I know I'm being neurotic. But there are some days when I just need a brown paper bag in every room of the house---just in case.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Mama Bear Takes a Bite...

Remember what I said the other day about my sweet little petty-thief of a son being a bully? Yeah, scratch that. Today we had a brush with THE bully.

After a little stylish trim at the kids-themed hair salon in our local mall, I decided to take Ethan upstairs to the play-area. It is a soft-matted floor with a bunch of "Alice in Wonderland"-like climbable figures and a big tree house in the middle, complete with stairs made of tree stumps and a slide. I don't think the material this stuff is made of has ever been used for anything else in the history of the world (and I'm sure it was painted in China). It is hard, but pliable. It holds the weight of pre-schoolers, but it's got this bizarre give to it. It's like plastic with lycra.

So Ethan and I kicked off our shoes (we weren't raised in a barn, people; there's a no-shoe policy in the play area), and headed in. It was like stepping into a tornado, with semi-trucks and cows flying everywhere, if the semi-trucks and cows were frolicking, screaming toddlers. Normally I take Ethan to the play area before the mall opens and it's just us and two or three bleary-eyed moms watching their rambunctious toddlers twirling like dervishes in all that space.

Today I kept close to him because, well, did you not see my last post? And while I was keeping close, I couldn't help but notice this group of boys between the ages of 3 and 4, running rampant, oblivious to the other kiddos around them. Oblivious, that is, until one of the little punks noticed Ethan, doing his Frankenstein walk towards the big tree. In his next pass around the tree, the kid ran right into Ethan. It knocked him over, but it wasn't a huge deal; there were no tears and honestly, Ethan did more damage to himself falling off the couch yesterday. And maybe, just maybe the kid didn't do it intentionally.

BUT, it kept happening. At least two more times he managed to be involved in a high-speed chase near Ethan and each time I saw him lock eyes on Ethan and run right into him, pushing him to the floor. Each time, I looked around for whoever was responsible for this child who I was starting to hate. No one was watching him. No one, apparently, except me. Each time he did his little bulldozer routine on my child, I picked Ethan up and moved him to another part of the room and another weird lycra-plastic woodland animal. Each time I heard myself saying in my head, "Don't parent someone else's child. Don't parent someone else's child."

That is until Ethan decided he wanted to climb the tree-house steps, crawl through the tree, and slide down the slide on the other side. Turns out, punk extraordinaire was already inside the tree, waiting to slide down. Ethan made his valiant climb up the stairs painted to look like tree stumps stacked on top of eachother and found himself face to face with the little shit. He stood up and waited his turn (I think he'd already forgotten that this was the kid who kept pushing him to the ground).

The creep saw Ethan, turned around, swung his legs back to face us and then proceeded to KICK MY CHILD IN THE FACE. Oh yeah, that's what I said. He was trying to kick Ethan off the steps so he didn't have to share the slide. Ethan looked at me with the big crocodile tears and the pouting lip and let out a wail of indignation and "ouch". OH MY GOD. There is something that happens to a mother when she sees someone intentionally try to inflict pain on her offspring. I can only describe it as "Mama Bear". What I wanted to do was swat that child across the face with my big old paw. But being a human instead of a grizzly, I simply threw my "Don't parent someone else's child," mantra in the garbage and said in my meanest, sternest voice, "Hey! We don't kick!" and gave him my witchiest look.

Know what he did? He smirked at me. It was a hesitant smirk, like he wasn't sure he should do it or not, but it was there. And I had no idea what. to. do. So I just kept staring at him with my mean-mommy face. And he stared. And I stared. And then....he cried. Oops. Not a ton, but his bottom lip did the whole quivering thing and there were some tears. I asked, "Are you going down the slide or not?" And he went. I didn't see him again. Nor did I ever see any sign of a parent, guardian, nanny, or any other life form responsible for that child.

Once I got over being totally irate that the little punk had kicked my child, I had to feel badly for him. No one was watching him. For all I know, his mom had dropped him off in the play area and gone to Nordstroms to shop. How must it feel to be that little and be alone? Of course he was acting out at my kid. I was right next to him, helping him up when he fell and clapping when he figured out how to climb up onto the oversized pile of plastic books. I probably shouldn't have barked at him like I did, nor should have stared him down 'til he cried, but you know what? You don't mess with Mama Bear.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Mother of the Year Award, right here!

Oh yeah, it's a good feeling my friends to know that you are, at any given moment as bad, or worse, of a mother than say, Britney Spears or Joan Crawford.

Earlier this week I took the newly-walking ball of energy otherwise known as Ethan to Barnes & Noble's children's section. Usually I plop him down by the board books, he pulls every book off the shelf, points to a couple pictures of dogs or trucks and then proceeds to crawl a few feet before feasting his eyes and hands on another shelf of neatly organized books to decimate.

It's a very different scene when the little one has full ambulatory use of his legs. The second mommy unlatches the stroller straps, the Great Walking One springs into action with the leaping stroller dismount, characterized by a full-body stiffening and sliding out of the arm straps onto the floor. He follows this graceful stroller exit with a bound to his feet, takes a deep breath and then does his best Frankenstein imitation over to the musical books or the ones shaped like trucks, complete with moving wheels.

But this does not last. No, because now that his legs take him where he wants to go, and his hands are free AT THE SAME TIME, he has new ground to cover, new messes to make, and as of yet unexplored layers of his personality to reveal. Why did no one warn me? Oh wait. Was that what all the, "Wait till he starts walking!!" jibber-jabber has been about. Ah, I see.

So, exhibit A for the "bad mommy jury" (that would be you, internet), I lost him. I turned my head for a minute to help a little girl who wanted a Thomas the Train book that was on a shelf she couldn't reach. When I turned around, the stinker was nowhere to be seen.

At first, I assumed, please, he's right around the corner. No need to fret. I'm not "that" mom; "that" being a choice between the neglectful horrible mother who lets her child be abducted in the children's section of Barnes and Noble OR the mother who freaks out at every tiny blip of risk-taking and is hyper-cautious to the point of sheltering her child into being a fearful, clingy thing at her side forever. Take your pick, neither of them are the type of mom I want to be.

But he's not right around the corner. The only thing that is right around the corner is more books, an empty bench and a 4 year old, picking his nose. Um. Okay. Maybe around the next corner?

And so, I had my first brush with Britney-hood as I scampered with increasing intensity through the children's section, looking for the little man. All bookshelves in that part of the store should be a maximum of 2 feet high and the ceiling should be made of MIRRORS, people!!!

About five seconds before I needed a brown paper bag to breathe into, I heard his "zeeee!?" noise, which I know is an indication that he has spied something fascinating and is pointing to it and making his way towards it. The fear that was throbbing down to my toes started to abate and as I followed his repeating "zeeeee!?"'s and finally turned the right corner, I got there just in time to witness him ripping a shiny blue fabric car out of the hands of a sweet little girl. And of course there was the subsequent tears from said sweet little girl. And me, trying to pry the car out of Ethan's strong grasp so I could return it to the wronged party. And then she was happy and Ethan....well, you know. You've seen the pouty-pants pictures.

Ah. Fabulous. Not only do I let my child run about in public places unattended, I am also raising a thieving bully. Brilliant. Think Britney has room in her busy schedule for a new BFF because I am so there.

Friday, September 14, 2007

When Bad Things Happen to Good People...

...or,"when you try to leave your 16 month old overnight with your parents and all hell breaks lose".

Yeah. Last week, Husband, Ethan and I traveled down to South Carolina to the fresh air and quiet of golf-course livin'. We shacked up with my parents and let the good times roll. Ethan walks now like he invented it, so he was all over the place and developed an immediate almost obsessive love for my father. There was much peek-a-boo & the handing over of imaginary items as well as the over-the-shoulder "pay attention; I'm about to do something adorable" glances as Ethan insisted on leaving fingerprint art all over their sliding glass doors and learned how to get onto his ride-on dump truck. It was deliciously peaceful.

We were in South Carolina to attend the wedding of friends and the night before the wedding we took Ethan with us to a big old southern BBQ on the beach with all our friends, hosted by the bride and groom. There is little I love in this world more than the cool, end of summer breeze gliding through the grass of the dunes and the feeling of cold soft sand on my feet as the sun sets on the beach. Seriously. We're talking major "happy place" imagery (although for the longest time my "happy place" was a random pond in Golden Gate Park in SF because as I sat there one day on a solo vacation several years ago, a little quiet turtle hoisted himself out of the pond and sat contemplatively on the rock next to me--perfection)

Anyway, back to the BBQ. Ethan amused himself by flirting with EVERYONE and at the end of the evening was happy to park himself in the mei tai until it was time to drive home. It was absolutely lovely to sit and chat with friends and begin to feel re-integrated into our social world with Ethan.

BUT, the night of the wedding, Husband and I had been planning a bit of alone time. We had reserved a room at a hotel near the wedding and planned on crashing there after much dancing and drinking with our friends. A night alone in a bed for full-time co-sleepers is a huge deal. And not just because you could actually have sex. In a bed. At night. But because---all that space! And the fluffy pillows! And the comfy duvet! And there is the sex, too. But I digress...

Much as I fretted, Grammy & Grampy were confident in their ability to appease the beast. My mother even prepared herself for her first foray into the liberal hippy world of co-sleeping (for which I am eternally grateful). The night of the BBQ, my mother, Ethan and I slept in my parents' bed so that Ethan could get a feel for it and my mom could get used to the unique nighttime squirminess of a toddler which is one part endearing and one part aggravating as hell. It went well. My confidence grew. Silly, silly girl.

I made lists. Lists of things he likes. Lists of what times to do what. Lists of routines. Lists of where things could be found (um--in Ethan's travel bag). I fretted. I hemmed and I hawed like they were Olympic sports.

And then we left. Very nonchalantly as though we were simply going into the next room, we skulked out of the house and didn't look back. I was so preoccupied with making my escape that I forgot Husband's suit. In the closet. 70 miles from the wedding.

And we didn't realize it until we got out of the car, 90 minutes later and I said, "don't forget your suit" as Husband hoisted our suitcase out of the car. Um. Shit.

So our choices were: A.) Husband drives, an hour and a half back to my parents house and misses the ceremony, leaving me to track down someone, anyone who can drive me to the wedding; B.) Husband wears jeans and t-shirt to the wedding (the horror!!); or, C.) We beg the receptionist at the Hampton Inn to tell us where we can buy a pair of pants.

Apparently you can buy a pair of men's pants at Dillards in under 10 minutes. It was the fastest shopping trip of my life, but it left us with just enough time to get back to the hotel, shower and gussy up for the festivities. Ethan who??!! Too busy to wonder if he had spontaneously combusted on my parents.

We did call once; after being away for almost 5 hours, right before the wedding I could no longer contain myself. Like when I'm jogging and I set my eye on something in the distance and say "I only have to jog to that mailbox, then I can walk", I told myself, "If you can make it until right before the wedding, you can call." And I did. He was fine. Fussing for a snack, but in one piece and my father assured me that all was well.

And so I proceeded to enjoy the wedding and the open bar. And the dance floor. For about three hours. And then, Husband decided to absent-mindedly check his cell phone which he'd put on the table and set to "vibrate". Six missed calls. All from my parents' number. Six messages. Each with an intensifying sense of "you must come home now; the child's head is spinning and he's spitting up pea soup" urgency.

He lasted until bedtime, apparently. Then he realized Mommy & Daddy were not there. And then he went all screamy and weepy and stiff and sweaty and shaky. For. Two. Hours.

Husband and I bolted from the wedding (it was okay; I'd already danced to Prince and Abba--what more could I ask for?) and proceeded to go back to the hotel, check out (that was the single most expensive shower I've ever taken) and then drive 70 miles back to our hyperventilating scream-pot and his frazzled babysitters.

When we arrived, he was passed out on my mother, his wet hair stuck to his sweaty little head, complete with meltdown-induced heat rash all over his face and neck. Super. My parents looked like they hadn't dared to breathe since he konked out because Dear God, Don't Wake The Beast!!!

But wake he did, when he heard our voices and he let us know that he was not pleased with us. I don't remember tons of details of this part because, oh yeah, I was drunk. All in all, a banner evening.

He slept well with us that night, I think, so relieved that we were back that he melted back into slumber shortly after we arrived and did some serious grovelling/cuddling, whatever you want to call it. I feared that the next morning he would see my parents differently and be afraid of them. He was definitely out of sorts and clingy and remained heat-rashy for days, but his crankiness was directed at Husband and me, not at his grandparents, which was a huge relief for me.

So I guess perhaps Ethan will be a bit older before we try to leave him overnight with anyone else. Say, high school?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

It's all fun and games until...

someone whacks a baby in the face with a ball.

Yeah, I know it's supposed to be "until someone loses an eye," but those the frat-days version of that saying. Now that there are babies in our lives, we can apparently lose eyes left and right as long as no one is throwing balls near the baby's head!!

Husband, E and I attended a fabulous Labor Day pool party yesterday. It was, according to the evite "family friendly" and many of our friends did in fact bring their kids. It is hard to describe the idyllic nature of the party--there were hot dogs and burgers, with toasted buns, beer and sodas chilling in an ice-packed bucket, and chaise lounges draped with towels, begging to be sun-bathed in. And of course, the vast majority of our favorite people were there.

It was wonderful. During the first year of Ethan's life, we were often sort of, well, not invited to fun gatherings because our baby was so teeny and most people didn't know what to do with us. I didn't take offense and damn, I was too tired to do anything, anyway. Now it's so nice to fit back into the world we knew before, as a family.

You get the idea; the smell of charcoal, the chirping of happy birds, the laughter of people in the pool, playing catch with over-sized, water-logged hackey sacks, Ethan and I in the pool floating along in our mother/son floaty thing. Good times. Until...

SPLAT!!!!! From my left I see one of those water-bloated balls make contact with my baby's face, at full speed. It was like watching a fight scene in a movie in close-up, slow-motion, when the protagonist takes a fist to the temple--except there was no blood and sweat, just chlorinated pool water splattering everywhere.

And then the pouty lip, the red mark on the side of the face and the delayed crying (to put it mildly) that pierced all the happy noise with indignant protest. I don't know who felt worse, Ethan, me or our friend, Mark, who threw the ball.

It was my first opportunity to figure out how to respond when something like that happens. The mama-bear in me really wanted to pitch a fit and tell the men to be more careful and what the hell, there are kids in the pool, blah blah blah. But as Ethan's eye wasn't hanging from the socket or swelling shut and Mark looked almost as upset as Ethan, I did a lot of "It's okay. You didn't mean it. No big deal. He's fine," while rocking and shushing the screaming child.

Of course, he was fine. Moments later, he was back in the pool giggling at Aunt Karen's pool version of peek-a-boo. Good times.