On Parenting Advice

I have to admit that I don't get a lot of hardline parenting advice... which is a missed karmic payback opportunity in my opinion, since I am quite sure I've given out advice and opinions, hopefully mostly in my younger days, that were lacking in a certain, shall we say, flexibility in my thinking.

But I do hear a lot of hardline neo-parental advice among friends and especially on the internet, and I have been known to daydream clever responses to the people who might tell me to stop breastfeeding in public, or to pick my child up, or put her down, or burn her crib, or whatever.

Even on my best days I've never come up with anything this clever:
Thank You For All The Impassioned Emails Containing Parenting Advice. Now Be Quiet.

More firsts, some less desirable

Yesterday at breakfast MZ picked up a fork and went straight for her eye. She actually went for her mouth, but it was bigger than anything else she'd picked up and her coordination's not so great yet, and she was on her way to her eye when the expression on our waitress's face indicated that all was not well. I followed her eyes down to MZ in her father's lap. "Why didn't he give her the spoon?" I wondered stupidly as I snatched the fork away from her. Robert and I looked at each other and looked at the waitress and then down at MZ again. "She's never done that before," we babbled, manic with combined pride, fear and embarassment at our public lack of parenting skills.

She persisted in grabbing items from the table through the rest of the meal, or on knawing on the edge of the table, so that by the time we got to a BBQ that afternoon we knew to clear skewers, oyster forks and steak knives away from her grasp and to line the table with a burp cloth for her chewing pleasure.

She's also showing signs of her first cold. She's very mucus-y and sniffly and it turns out she absolutely HATES having her nose wiped. I'm getting pretty good with the snot bulb (what do you call that thing that seems like it could suck out her brain if I'm not careful?). She's sleeping a lot and not eating much and I have a call in to our pediatrician to determine if we should be doing anything else, and if we can get on a plane on Wednesday night as planned.

Poor kid, I can hear her sniffling through the monitor. She probably thought she had this breathing thing down.


Let sleeping babies lie

Other than the time we tried to spend a day away from the house, back when Robert had just returned to work and I thought spending the day near his office was less scary than driving down to run an errand on my own (the dreaded BabiesRUs) with MZ, we haven't had a lot of spectacular poop or spit up incidents. On that occasion, she peed all over the outfit his coworker had given us just before lunch with said coworker (so he never even saw it on) and ended the day pooping through her third change of clothes all over my blouse while I was breastfeeding in a conference room. And we still went out to dinner. I guess that day was pretty epic.

But there haven't been a lot of those, so today, when I was desperately trying to get out of the house to go to the supermarket, before a day jam-packed with events that should Start On Time, and she spit up all over herself and me (down my bra, oh joy), I couldn't really complain. Nor is it the best story ever. But for some reason it made me realize that there will be many more days like that in the future, where I just can't get anything done for one reason or another related to MZ, and I realize that as hard as the first few weeks were, she's pretty easy right now, and I ain't seen nothin' yet.


Five Months: MZ the Communicator

Miriam continues to be a happy, healthy baby with an attentive nature and loads of charm, and is even becoming a communicator. Her fifth month brought her first nights away from home, her first road trip, and her first time in a pool, which she handled with her typical intense awareness, and with new means of expressing herself. From her giggles that are as addictive as crack to the stern razzing she makes when it’s time to pay attention to her, to the wonderful edgy laugh she gives when she wants a change or a break, MZ is starting to voice her needs without cycling up. When she does that edgy laugh, I hear her saying, "I'm holding it together here, guys, but I need you to work with me." Gone are the days of silence or screaming, there’s now a continuum and she rarely cries herself purple. And she's giggling all the time. When something strikes her as funny, she’ll giggle happily for minutes at a time, completely engaged and engaging.

But nothing beats her morning smiles, which if anything have become wider and more ready. No matter how tired we are, those first smiles give us an incredible jolt of energy. She’s truly a benevolent dictator – when we start the day is MZ’s whim, but at least we can look forward to those smiles.

Since she learned to roll over, she has little patience for floor time. She may spend a few minutes playing with a rattle or Taggie toy, but rolling over has an irresistible pull, despite her absolute boredom with being on her belly. She still likes her bouncy chair, however, and has just begun to grab at the rattles and mirror that hang from the chair. We hope that with these new grabbing skills, she'll enjoy being on her back again.

We’ve also noticed that while she’s mastering a new skill, the others drop away for a while. Now that she’s mastered rolling over, she’s starting to chatter again. But it’s been a while since we’ve seen a thumb sucked, more often it’s several fingers, sometimes of both hands. And she LOVES airplane and pony rides. Jiggle her on your knee and you're rewarded with smiles, fly her overhead and you get full-on grins and giggles. She holds her body extremely well, although there's always the risk of the drool fountain landing on your upturned face.

She's also showing some signs of teething, not just the bottomless drool fountain, but chewing rather than sucking on things, and at dinner the other night she leaned over to gnaw at a porcelain plate. We don't know if this is because everything goes in her mouth at this stage or because she's actually getting teeth, but this weekend we may finally go buy her a high chair in preparation for introducing solid foods.

Speaking of food, MZ is taking a bottle with regularity now. My work schedule has stabilized to three days/week, from 10-5, which means she's taking two bottles each day that I'm at work. She still tends to nurse every two hours (rather than three) on Wednesdays and Fridays, but I enjoy the chance to reconnect with her. And Robert enjoys beginning the day with her on weekends, he gets up with her and gives her a bottle while I sleep in a bit.

The work makes life a bit more harried, but it also gives Miriam wonderful time with Grandma Georgene, Grandpa and Aunt Sarah, and makes me truly appreciate my days with her. Through my moms group I get to spend time with other babies Miriam's age, and I know how lucky we are, both to have this time together and to have such an easy-going, healthy child. And although I sometimes worry about MZ's small size (just 12.8 pounds at her four-month check-up), I see that she is well within the normal range, and that truly, every baby develops at a different pace. MZ seems way ahead on the alertness/interactive front and the rest will come. And while we’re looking forward to what's ahead – solid food, crawling, even standing – right now Miriam Zsofia is delightful company and we wouldn’t change a thing.


She can smell fear, you know

... when Miriam has a bad bottle day, which still happens, we nod knowingly and tell each other, "She can smell fear, you know." MZ is getting large and in charge, and her need to be attended to is actually increasing, delightfully. Rarely is she satisfied to sit quietly anymore, instead, she wants to be part of the action. Whether she's sitting in a lap or breastfeeding, MZ tracks familiar voices now, turning her head to hear us and often chiming in with a gurgle or a coo.

Sunday, her first Fathers Day, was a special challenge. We drove to Davis to celebrate Jessica's graduation before driving to Walnut Creek -- a lot of hours in the car and the car:playtime ratio sucked well into the afternoon. She slept on the way to Davis, but on the way to Walnut Creek, she was extremely annoyed to be trapped in her carseat AGAIN. Sarah and I, fearing her wrath, sung maniacally for a good twenty minutes, every nursery rhyme we knew and many we don't. Jennifer suggested 199 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, but then quickly rescinded her request when the reality of it dawned on her. We were successful in keeping MZ from crying, though.


Stranger, Will Robinson! Stranger!

So let's just get it out here. Mixed with all that happiness at that confident smile was an enormous load of guilt. So what would she have done if it wasn't me holding her? Am I confusing her by leaving her with all these different people, even if most of them are family? Does she ever know WHO she's going to find when she looks up after a nap?

Today was the first time I left her alone with a non-family member, and as I drove to work, I wasn't sure if I was going to cry or vomit. I had to go in early to give a seminar, and there was no nervousnous left for public speaking, I was so consumed with the absolute giganticness of LEAVING MY BABY WITH A STRANGER!

She's not really a stranger (who do you think I am?), but could I really get hysterical about a young woman who clearly loves babies, lives in the neighborhood and actually took care of infant twins? Where's the fun in that?

Anyway, it went fine, and D. even tolerated my calling in the middle of the day to find out if she'd taken a bottle and if she napped and was she happy... and when I got home, Miriam was cheerfully rocking on her lap to the nursery rhyme CD we listen to every morning. As D. told me about their day (how many ounces of milk, the general health and productivity of her bowels), MZ giggled as though she was the headliner at Comedy Central, and I was so relieved, so profoundly relaxed for the first time that day, that it didn't occur to me to take it personally till later.


Hello, Sunshine

Today was my day off and in the afternoon I ran a few errands with MZ. She fell fast asleep in the sling, and when she woke up, she looked around like she wasn't sure where she was. When she looked as though she might cry, I spoke to her, and she looked up at me and smiled in recognition and with confidence, as if to say, "Oh, I'm with you. Everything's okay." I lack words to describe what that felt like, but suffice to say it was good.

So now it starts

Success! Oh wait, now what do I do?

Miriam started turning over this weekend, and now she does it obsessively, whenever we put her down on her back. She's making moves to crawl, at least she's up on her arms and wriggling her legs, but that's a way off still. We don't think it's occured to her to try turning the other way onto her back. So no more activity gym, no more floor time with Celeste the Sun. It's down, over, a few push ups, and then a very unhappy MZ demanding to be released from the horror of tummy time.

Ahh, the end of an era, the few weeks when I could get stuff done while Miriam played quietly on her back.


The Cherry Episode

This evening Miriam was fussy, which is unusual. We thought it might be gas as a result of an otherwise uneventful bottle feeding, and soothed her best we could. But at 9:30 tonight, well after she's usually zonked out, she awoke in tears, and it was so obvious she had a tummy ache that Robert and I nearly crumpled in sympathy. She was gassy and so unhappy, and then it hit me: cherries!

Cherries are my absolute favorite fruit, every year I buy enough to give myself a stomach ache at least a few times -- and it doesn't take much, cherries are potent stuff. But this year I've been careful, knowing from the Great Radish Incident that what I eat can effect MZ. Plus, truth be told, the season has been terrible and I haven't had time to visit the Farmers Markets.

But on Saturday, Robert and Tante Judy watched and waited as I combed the Alemany Market for Perfect Cherries. I found them, at literally the last stall in the market, three nearly-empty tubs of dark, sweet, juicy Bings, and I carefully culled a pound of the best. I didn't offer to share them, I took them home and washed them and dried them and nibbled them slowly, spacing my cherries over the course of 36 hours.

I wasn't careful enough, clearly, and her cries were enough to make me swear off my favorite fruit for the season. I felt like the vilest creature, to have inflicted such pain on this little person. I was practically renting my clothes as I watched Robert try to soothe her. It's immensely sobering to be able to affect another person so dramatically, and it's the aspect of motherhood I was least prepared for, this very immediate but fleeting cause-and-effect related to something as basic as eating. Yet The Cherry Episode stands as an object lesson in Motherhood, not just that my actions can and will impact MZ, but that something so unintentional can create such a ruckus.


Maybe she just wanted to be in charge

Sure we're friends...

And she's out


MZ in her current favorite pose


Four Months: Chattering Miriam

Mmmm, mice.

Miriam is: giggling, turning on her side, putting her hands together, chattering, taking bottles, refusing bottles (not entirely clear why), holding on to toys and burp clothes and her bib, making crawling moves during tummy time, and, as of last night, *chewing* on things.

No sign of teeth yet, and no fussing, but she's definitely gnawing on fingers and toys, and is absolutely fascinated by eating. Meanwhile, the bottle remains a mystery; some days she takes it, others no way. Is it old milk? Temperature? Gas? Regression linked to sucking her hands instead of her thumb? Personal preference? We all have theories, and they change by the day.

She's also done being swaddled. After MZ escaped her swaddle a few nights in a row in trying to get to her thumb, we started putting her down in sleep sacks *in her crib*. This change is waaay harder on us than on her, I get up at least once a night to check on her, but she doesn't seem to mind. In fact, she must enjoy the freedom: sometimes she's just as we left her, others she's crossways, with her feet up against her bumper. How can she move in circles without waking?

In the last few weeks, we've continued to expose Miriam to new experiences. We took her to an infant massage class with other babies in my neighborhood moms group -- she couldn't have cared less. As we administered a gentle massage, Miriam variously flirted with Henry, watched the sun shine through the trees out the window, and practiced turning over. It was a nice way to spend a morning, but I don't think we'll be signing up for the four-part advanced series.

We also took her swimming in Grandma Sharon's pool. We were far more nervous than she, but we learned she is not as slippery as we feared, and that she likes gazing at the water as much as she likes gazing up at trees. After about 10 minutes, we were all exhausted, but it was a good, tears-free start.

And for Memorial Day Weekend, we took her away for the first time, to the mountains above Calistoga. As we were packing, MZ played in her activity gym on the floor. She did everything she could to get our attention, squealing and chattering and smiling; whenever we looked over at her, she smiled as if she'd discovered light itself. It was so amazing to watch her work for our attention and smiles, after weeks of doing this with her.

She slept in her pack-n-play in our room; in a strange place for the first time, she still managed to sleep through the night. The days were probably harder, being awake in an unfamiliar environment seemed to exhaust her. Fortunately, we brought some familiar toys and her music, and made a point of giving her some quiet time in the afternoon. She let us know when she needed down time, or floor time, or to be held.

We wine-tasted our way home, and she made it clear at the third winery that she needed some play time, so we spread a blanket out on the carpet in the corner, and while everyone sipped wine, MZ had some back time. She wriggled and giggled, making our day.