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The Power of a Loving Mother

20 Dec

Love Fest

I was pushing Seabass in his stroller on one of those crisp, sunny December mornings that Central California does so well when I suddenly felt a little hand on mine.  It was Seabass, reaching as far out of his seat as possible just to touch me.  I had been in a reverie, tripping on neon red maple tree leaves and the warmth of our neighbors’ smiles.  But the little pink hand got my attention.

I reached over and gave him my own hand, which he grasped and pulled to his face in a most gentle, loving motion.  He just wanted to enjoy my presence, and I would have walked halfway to China stooped over with my hand on his face if he’d asked.

The truth is, he did ask.  I nearly broke my back walking home with him clinging to me like that, and I’d do it again and again.

As I caressed his pudgy little angel face, the thought came to me that I love Seabass so much that I believe in him.  This seemed a little odd because my little guppie is only 19 months old – how much is there really to believe in at that age?  Do I believe in his ability to eat with a spoon like a big boy?  His ability to resist touching the space heater?  His eventual ability to potty in the toilet?  You get my point: It’s not like we’re talking graduation from Harvard or running a marathon here.

But it got me thinking about my own small achievements and the role my mom played in them. Just musing on this, I felt an intoxicating gratitude for her sacrifices to be available to me throughout childhood and beyond.  What might have happened to me without my mother’s love and belief in me?  I shudder to think.

Everyone in this world needs a cheerleader – someone to shout encouragement from the sidewalk and pass little cups of Gatorade as we trudge along in the race of life.  I’m humbled to be cheered on by my own mom and even more so to cheer my precious little one on, too.  Thank you, Mom, and thank you, Seabass.

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Raising kids in a party town.

2 Nov

I hope you had a wonderful Halloween. We certainly did. Our neighborhood held its first Trick or Treat Promenade and the response was overwhelming. Kids I’d never seen before came out of the woodwork of our community, all in the name of free candy. Jake and I had major warm fuzzies strolling down the street with our friends, watching our little ones say please and thank you at each door, and managing the neighborhood-wide sugar crash that inevitably followed. It was sort of like a Norman Rockwell painting-turned-Salvador Dali. Still, it was lovely.

Is it just me, or are kids these days wearing more sophisticated costumes? Sure, there were the standard bumble bees, fairies, monkeys, cowboys, etc. But I had some pretty intense moments on our front doorstep, passing out candy and innocently asking, “And who are you supposed to be?”

Kenneth from 30 Rock.” (9-year-old boy.)

DJ Redfoo from the band LMFAO.” (7 years old.)

The Spanish Inquisition from Monty Python.” (10-year-old girl.)

Whoa. What happened to the sheet with two holes cut out?

Coordinating the masses of trick-or-treaters

The biggest shock of the evening was the ‘hood’s constituency of college students. Not only did they participate, but they rocked it with the kids! For some reason, I assumed they’d be too drunk or high or busy having weird sex to pass out sweets to little kids.

Our neighborhood is a strange mix of equal parts older folks who have lived here for 30+ years, randy college kids, and young families. Basically, the old folks and young families all dislike the college students for passing out on our lawns, screaming “YOU GOTTA WANT IT!” repeatedly while playing quarters in their backyard at 4am, and leaving a trail of red Solo cups wherever they go – but the young families have a little more grace with them since college was only a few years ago, and we haven’t completely forgotten what it means to have a good time. (The memory, however, grows fainter and fainter.)

Jake attended the local university but I didn’t, so my patience with these monkeys is perhaps scarcer than his. Our back neighbors are my main aggravators. Twenty-four kids live in something like 14 square feet, and everything they do is audible at any point on our property. They are renowned throughout the neighborhood as Trouble, and most of the old folks call the Police Department whenever they so much as breathe funny. We’ve only done it once, and it was after they ignored repeated requests to turn their crappy music down in the middle of the night.

In this particular instance, I didn’t want to leave things awkwardly unresolved, so I bought a case of beer, saddled Seabass to my hip, and walked over to make nice. As soon as I stepped foot on their driveway the unmistakable aroma of pot hit me. But this wasn’t just an errant wisp of pot smoke; No, this house was pulsating with weed. I considered making a new entry in Seabass’ baby book: July 13, 2011. Baby’s first hot box!

Undeterred, we knocked on the door and were met by two skinny guys high as kites. They were nice enough, gladly accepted our beer peace offering , and agreed to keep the blaring midnight Eminem sessions to a minimum.

That lasted about three months.

This past weekend, Eminem and Friends made another high-decibel appearance in the wee hours of the night. The next morning, I took the opportunity to remind the neighbor monkeys that they aren’t the only people who exist in the entire world. This time, I went alone.

A Seabass dressed as a giraffe!

We had been gardening that morning, so my shorts and shirt were covered in mud. My hair was nappy – perhaps even matted in places – and my armpits were on overdrive. Still, when the shirtless 21-year-old guy opened his door to find me standing there – NO EXAGGERATION – he put his arm up on the door jamb, eyed me head-to-toe, and said, “Well hello, hello.”

Really? Yes, really.

That arm came down pretty quick when he discovered that a) I’m his neighbor, b) I was pissed, and c) I was ready to stop playing the Nice Neighbor Game and get the cops involved again. By the time I was done with him, he all but dissolved into the floor.  Oooh, did that feel good.

Anyway, that’s why I’m shocked that the rest of the college kids in our neck of the woods were so great on Halloween.

One nearby house looks a lot like the one from Animal House, though I think these guys are probably rowdier than those in the movie. Apparently they’ve been visited by the Health Department a number of times for breeding rats or snakes or weasles or God-knows-what. But on Halloween, they were on the ball with creepy music, plenty of candy, and even guys yelling BOO! from behind trash cans. Another house full of college girls had jack-o-lanterns on the front doorstep as the girls waited with a giant bowl of candy for our little ones to trick or treat. It was awesome. I can’t wait for next year.

P.S. Here’s the official Halloween portrait as taken by Robyn Berry. I thought you might like to compare it to last year’s.

2011

2010

P.P.S. Seabass also made it into the paper! Well, the online version. Here’s the link – we’re the last photo.

UPDATE: We are alive.

28 Jun

I'd smile too if I didn't have a baby on a plane.

At the prompting of a concerned friend, I write this brief post to announce that Seabass and I have indeed made it to Idaho alive.  That is the good news.

You may remember a post from two weeks ago regarding the terror I felt in anticipation of flying with my 13-month-old Seabass.  It turns out I had every reason to fear flying with him: It’s bloody horrific.  Rant: Would you believe that TSA requires babies to remove their shoes during security screening?  He wears a size 5 shoe and they checked Seabass for explosives.  I mean COME ON.

For the first flight, we were seated next to a very nice young woman (a college student?) who read a magazine the whole time.  That is, she read a magazine when Seabass wasn’t yanking on it.  Or screaming.  Or disintegrating with rage when I wouldn’t let him tug the hair of the poor man sitting in front of us.

Yeah, that first flight was pretty much hell on wings.  When the stewardess asked for my drink order, I, like a rookie idiot, requested ginger ale for myself and apple juice for a thirsty Seabass.  Since he was sitting on my lap, I couldn’t pull the tray table down, so I had to hold the drinks in those clear plastic tumblers they hand out.  (note to self: deny the beverage service!)  Double-fisting the cups, I attempted to let Seabass drink from one cup while getting a sip or two out of my own.  Apple juice cascaded down the front of his shirt (note to self: work on cup-drinking) and then he pulled my ginger ale down all over both of our pants.  A whole cup.  The wet spot was perfectly positioned to look as though I’d peed my pants.  Our skin stuck together from the dried sugar.  Oh, oh, I’m starting to twitch just thinking about it.

Seabass wailed during the descent of the aircraft until I donned my nursing cover and let the little dude have a boob.  I was willing to do pretty much anything to relax him at that point. I also let him nurse during our 90-minute layover in Phoenix when he wasn’t running around the airport trying to grab everyone’s laptop, food, or SmartPhone.  (note to self: next time, bring the Ergo carrier!)

The second flight was easier than the first for a few reasons:

  1. It was later, so Seabass was pretty dazed
  2. We had an un-booked seat beside us, offering a little extra space
  3. Our seatmate was a lovely retired stewardess named Joan who took Seabass on her lap and rocked him while I tried to relax.  When I asked her if nursing the baby would offend her, she said, matter-of-factly, “Not at all.  Flop it out and let ‘er rip.”

It was so wonderful to disembark the plane and to see my beautiful mom awaiting us at the baggage claim.  And it’s been POSITIVELY HEAVENLY to be cooked for, cleaned-up after, and pampered the way Seabass and I have been at Oma and Oompa’s house.  So I’m happy to report that being here is worth the pain it took to arrive.

By the by, the little “I’m sorry” goodie bags for my seatmates went over extremely well.  Comments included:

“Well, this is a first.”

“What a lovely gesture.”

“Oh, this isn’t necessary!”

and, my personal favorite,

“Can I have another Kit Kat?”

This mama likes a walking baby.

7 Jun

New Mom: My baby just started standing up on his own!  I can’t wait for him to take his first steps.

Crusty Veteran Mom: Take it from me, girl: You do *not* want him to start walking.  When mine started taking his first steps, I pushed him down repeatedly because I didn’t want to have to chase after him all the time.  That’s what happens when you’ve had a few kids – you know what’s coming so you prolong their immobility for as long as possible.

First course: Dirt. Second course: Camera.

This is the conversation I had about fifteen bajillion trillion times before Seabass started teetering on two legs a couple months ago. To be honest, I always found it pretty annoying to be told I didn’t want a walking child.  The truth is, I wanted it more than anything.

You see, we always knew Seabass would be an early walker – not because he’s so advanced or anything, but because he utterly detested crawling.  All he ever wanted was to be upright and into everything.  But since he couldn’t, Jake and I were forced either to

1. listen to his painful, skin-crawling whine whenever he couldn’t get something he wanted, or
2. break our own backs getting it for him.

Everything’s different now.  If Seabass wants something, he gets it.  If that something is a toy, book, or Cheerio, hooray!  If it’s a broken Pacifico bottle, knife, or can of Ajax, boo!  So we have eliminated all “boo”-type implements at his level.

But there are some things that simply can’t be removed, such as DIRT.  Dirt belongs, by its very nature, at ground level.  And Seabass is a true dirt connoisseur.  How often does he partake of it?  Oh, I’d say at least every day now.  I know that seriously bugs some of you.  But a) I’m too tired to hover, and b) if it doesn’t kill him, it will only make him stronger.

And at this rate, this kid is going to be really, really strong.

Vivo El Seabass!

24 May

For Seabass’ first birthday party, I had not intended to go over-the-top.  I mean, he’s only ONE, right?  Right.  And yet…

Lately, I’d been thinking that a Mexican wrestling theme would be appropriate for our little one-year-old Seabass.  Maybe it’s because he’s not so little – he’s actually quite a tank.  Or maybe it’s just because I love any excuse for wearing a luchador mask.  Hm.

Anyway, I started with a 1st birthday party invitation, specifically inviting anyone who had spent time babysitting Seabass during his first year.  (And there were many.)  Then I got cracking on the luchador masks.

From there, I planned a menu featuring our neighbor Sally’s unbelievably good guacamole, soft tortillas, carnitas and black beans with shredded red cabbage, carrots, radishes, tomatoes and cilantro for color.  Plenty of Mexican beer and a simple white wine punch accompanied the meal.

I put a lot of thought into the cake because there were a few key factors to consider:

  1. Whenever I’ve seen a 1-year-old child receive their first cake and frosting, they don’t seem all that interested.
  2. We want to hold off on giving Seabass refined sugar for as long as we possibly can.
  3. But we still wanted to get that classic 1st birthday photo where the kid has cake smashed into his hair, eyelashes, ears, and nose.

The solution?  Strawberry shortcake.  I made the butter cake with 1/4 of the sugar and substituted apple sauce, while the strawberries were tossed in a tablespoon of no-added-sugar strawberry jam and topped with fresh sugar-free whipped cream.  How did Seabass enjoy his first taste of cake?

Nuff said.

Someone else enjoyed the cake, too.  Can you guess who?

Murphy the Mooch.

Yeah, the symbiotic relationship between Seabass and Murphy hit a new peak this weekend at the birthday party.  Murph was everywhere the baby was, with a laser-point focus on anything that resembled food.  As evidence, witness this pair of photos.  Notice a difference?

The whole pinata thing was new territory for me.  And geez, it’s terrifying to watch kids swing a baseball bat.  I remember my own parents holding me back as a child from diving into the torrential downpour of candy just beyond the small child swinging a metal bat.  And now I’m holding my own child back from being brutally mauled in exchange for sugar.  Whoa.

Pinata whacking.

 

More pinata whacking.

 

Watching the pinata exhibition. Note the unbridled fear in spectators' eyes.

 It was terrific to see so many of Seabass’ friends and supporters out on Saturday afternoon. 

Seabass' gang of babies playing with...a Negro Modelo box. Huh.

Seabass was in rare form that day.  In short, he was an absolute gem – like someone had lit him up from the inside to shine.  The party was just his style: raucous, noisy, and bustling, with lots of friends and lots of food.  So many people mentioned to me how happy he looked, which made it all worth it.  He did lap after lap after lap around the yard, saying hi to everyone and making sure they were having a good time.  He was such a good host.  In fact, he even helped clean up afterward.


I will forever remember how happy our little guy was that day.  I will go to my grave remembering his happy little giant face.

Vivo El Seabass!

Back With A Vengeance. Part 1. THE HOUSE.

25 Apr

So.  What’s up?  Uh-huh.  Uh-huh.  Uh-huh.  Great!  Okay, now it’s my turn.

For me, the past month has been a whirlwind tour of the many different ways in which one might go nuts: Moving, family-hosting, baby nap-changing/teething/walking (!), the re-appearance of depression, and a new, 800-square foot house.  It’s all in there!  Were I a stronger, more balanced individual, I might call it edifying – even educational.  But seeing as I am who I am, I just call it insane.  In an effort to make up for lost time and bring y’all up to speed, this week, I will break down the many different ways my month has been a challenge.  Lucky you!

Part 1.  THE HOUSE. 

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I know.  This is a blog about the highs and lows of parenting – NOT houses.  But so many of you have shown an interest in what our little place is like that it seemed appropriate.  If not, boo hoo and come back tomorrow.

The first time I ever laid eyes on our new house was during a drive-by with our realtor. 

“Nah,” I said.  “Keep driving.”

The next time I saw our new house was after Jake and I realized we weren’t going to be able to do much better in the town of our dreams.  At the time, it was a rental house for two college boys, and it was a mess: nasty stained carpet, a freakish red wall that called hell to mind, a toilet encrusted with pee, and a kitchen more aptly called a “kitchenette.” 

But the bones of the house were good, and there were aspects that appealed to us very much: a spacious, beautiful backyard traversed by a creek, lots of windows in every room, and hardwood floors under the carpet.  “This might be it,” we whimpered.

As escrow came to a close, neither of us was terribly excited about moving in.  It was going to be a lot of work over a very short period of time to get the house even marginally comfortable.  But March 31st arrived, and we began the intense process of deciding how we wanted to live for the next several years.

The kitchen – unanimously the most challenging room in the house – would have to wait to be remodeled.  Our savings evaporated the moment escrow closed, so we would only be able to take care of the cheapest, most cosmetic aspects of moving in.  We started with painting the rustic wood-plank ceiling white to lighten the living room, dining area and kitchen.  We tried painting it with brushes at first, but it looked horrible.  Then we tried using a roller, but it didn’t get into the grooves.  So then we decided to go with a paint sprayer – in theory, a very good idea.  In practice, a nightmare.

Jake went through five – count ’em, FIVE – sprayers over the course of three days. 

  1. Borrowed from work, was broken.  Returned.
  2. Bought on Craigslist, was too weak.  Returned.
  3. Rented from equipment company, was defective.  Returned.
  4. Rented from same equipment company, was brand new but refused to suck paint.  Returned.
  5. Rented from same equipment company, worked.  Mostly.  Returned and was still asked to pay rental fees.  Refused.

This is the point at which I was sure Jake would lose his mind, but he never did.  I could learn a lot from observing the way Jake handles conflict.

Anyway, with the ceiling now painted, we moved on to painting the walls.  I’d seen a color in a magazine ages ago that I always thought looked nice.  Thank goodness I bought a sample and tried it out first before painting the entire house.  It was a gray that read cold and sterile – and sometimes, purple.  Not cool.  Thankfully, my nice friend April is an interior designer and knows her stuff.  She came over with her Benjamin Moore book and recommended the most incredible color: Manchester Tan.  It is so rich and beautiful, and has a different effect in every room depending on the time of day.  After the first day of painting, I called April.

“Manchester Tan makes me want to weep every time I look at it.  It’s gorgeous.”

“Jaime,” she said, “the goal was to make you weep.  I’m so happy you like it.”

Next came the floor, which was a labor of love for Jake, who has never refinished anything before.  We stained it a dark walnut color – which is absolutely gorgeous, but doesn’t hide dirt, baby-flung food, or dog fur – and slapped on a satin finish coat.  It had to cure for about a week, which meant we were eating our meals in beach chairs from the kitchen for a while. 

And speaking of the kitchen, yes it’s miniscule, but it’s liveable…for now.  We have plans to knock down some walls and create more storage in a year or so.  For the time being, though, we’ve installed a pot rack and crammed all of our utensils into one of the THREE drawers at our disposal. 

 

My mom and dad are in town right now, and they’ve been enormously helpful at deciding on furniture and decor placement.  I chose the Emma curtain from World Market for its vintage charm.  Someone told me they look like the drapes that Maria turns into the Von Trapp childrens’ clothes in The Sound of Music.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but I like that they evoke a reaction!  My style tends toward the 50s and 60s, so it’s not much of a surprise. 

My favorite room so far is the dining room.  (The chandelier came with the house, to my utter delight.)  I also love Seabass’ room but haven’t been able to get a shot of it yet because he’s always napping in it when I have a spare moment to shoot.

We are settled, comfortable, and enjoying our new place very much.  Thanks for your interest. 

Now I have to get back to baby-proofing all these new cabinets.  Excuse me.

Controversy Wednesday: BABY TALK

15 Dec

How am I supposed to resist this cuteness? I ask you.

About a month ago, I was walking Seabass around the neighborhood in his stroller when he busted out with his standard “get-me-out-of-this-thing-I’m-bored” cry.    You know the one.

But on this particular occasion, in the middle of an especially baleful howl, Seabass started to giggle, even as the tears rolled down his cheeks.  I looked down.  “Are you…are you laughing?” I asked, bewildered at my child’s remarkable ability to swing from agony to ecstasy in the blink of an eye.  And indeed, he was laughing.  I couldn’t figure out what was so funny until I realized a dog was barking down the block.  He was laughing at the dog barking.  From then on, whenever Seabass heard so much as a “woof” from across town, a little smile lit up his giant face.

I bring this up because I recently discovered that I could woof and have the same effect on him.  So now I bark whenever Seabass is fussy, whether he’s on the changing table, playing in the bath, or in the stroller for a walk.  In public.  This makes for a very strange sight, as you may well imagine. 

Jake, I’m pretty sure, does not approve.  He thinks I’m stooping too low – in other words, acting like a lunatic – to keep the baby happy.  In fact, in our blissful, adult-speech pre-Seabass days, Jake insisted that when we had children, we would never use baby talk to communicate.  “None of this ‘poopoo’ and ‘peepee’ nonsense,” he declared.  “It will only be ‘feces’ and ‘urine.’  I can’t stand all that oogly-boogly baby talk.  Who’s with me?!?”

Little did he know he was directing these edicts toward the most oogly-boogly baby-talking weirdo on the face of our planet.  I simply cannot resist.  When I talk to Seabass, every noun is followed by a suffix of -ies, as in “shoes-ies,” “kiss-ies,” and “blanket-sies.”  It’s totally obnoxious, I know, but I really can’t help it.  Seabass’ cuteness draws this behavior out of me, and the cuter he becomes, the less power I have to control myself.

Fortunately, science backs me up.  According to the infallible wisdom-trove that is Wikipedia, a number of reputable researchers believe that “baby talk contributes to mental development, as it helps teach the child the basic function and structure of language.”  In fact, there are even scientific names – and acronyms! – for baby talk, including  infant-directed speech (IDS) and child-directed speech (CDS).  (There is also something called pet-directed speech [PDS], which, unfortunately for Murphy, doesn’t get used too much around here anymore.)

Okay, so all of this is really fascinating.  However, what I really want to know is whether I get to talk about farting and butts as much as I do when Seabass is old enough to understand what I’m saying.  Because I LOVE talking about farting and butts.  LOVE might not even be a strong enough word for the extremity of emotion I feel.  The same stupid fart joke can be told 200 times and I’ll still be giggling because you said fart.  And you know what?  I’ll stop laughing when it’s no longer funny.  That’s just how I roll.

But enough outta me.  Does baby talk pour out of you or does it make you bristle?  And for you parents further down the road, do you refrain from talking about poo and butts, or do you let it all hang out around your kids?