Who let the paper out of the bag?

I'm [finally] getting our taxes in order, which has set off a wave of organizing that may yet drown us in the carefully piled bags of paper I've been amassing since MZ's birth. So I'm cheating, directing you to Roasted Squid's post on Superpoop, now that I'm a true believer, and leaving you with this, my response to an invitation to join an Attachment Parenting group, which frankly gave me the back-to-birth-story days willies:

I am a huge fan of AP, it's our philosophy of first resort in parenting. I attribute my daughter's early language development to being worn (and perhaps I should blame her late crawling and walking on the same thing?). But I must say, I am personally against adherence to *any* philosophy that doesn't work for me and my family. I went into this adventure expecting to cosleep, with no set limits on weaning, etc. I have a baby who made it abundantly clear that she sleeps better on her own. She never really took a bottle, but self-weaned at 13 months. I was against (more afraid of) CIO, but got lucky with a baby who let us know when she was ready to go from nursing down to putting herself to sleep.

I am the first to admit that I have an "easy" baby, and I am not expert enough with just one child to say that it's because we practice AP (for the most part). I have nothing but empathy for parents of babies who finally go to CIO after months of waking every 2-3 hours to nurse, and have seen babies who are happier, by all external measures, once they're sleeping through the night, even when it took CIO to get there. I've also seen babies who started to thrive once they got formula, either supplemented or whole hog, so while I'm grateful that I could breastfeed, I am very impatient with the way women who can't breastfeed, or whose babies aren't thriving on breast milk alone, can be made to feel when they whip out a bottle over here in Berkeley West.

I am up for joining a group, but you might not want me there, because I'm more of a believer that you do what works for your baby, and less an adherent to any one philosophy. If Baby #2 has a totally different disposition, we'll follow that baby's lead, too, but ultimately will do what we need to to make sure s/he gets sleep, gets fed, etc.

And you can bet that whatever we do, it will be done with a whole lot of love and thoughtful consideration.


Exiting the Red Tent

... and not a moment too soon, it's been 90 days after all.

In other news, and probably something you've been expecting, MZ hollered the eff-word yesterday, over and over at the top of her lungs. Fortunately, her pronunciation is off, and only we would recognize it because she said it just after it came out of one of our mouths (I'm not telling, but it wasn't who you're thinking).

The warning flag is up, we are furiously scrubbing our mouths with soap and our brains for acceptable alternatives to the Casa Robmaliam vernacular. And we're thankful that the retention of a 14-month old appears to be about 5 minutes, because that wouldn't be considered cute at the playground.
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Fourteen Months: When you laugh, the world laughs with you

Dear Miriam,

You're fourteen months old and I'm wracking my brain to think of what's unique about this month. You're storming with new words, but that isn't new. You're cruising for real, but not walking, so where's the story there? But when I look back on the month, what stands out is how much laughing we do together. You're the happiest kid, you smile at people and laugh at anything silly, and join in infectiously whenever other people laugh. It's not dinner if we don't all collapse into giggles at some point.
I see you look for things that are funny and you let yourself go in gales.

You also want to join conversations, and you chime in with actual words, or with hyped up babbles that make us realize we really do have to watch our tone around you. Your mom and dad are animated people kiddo, but you're too young to be ranting.

So, new words? Clock, dog, bunny, duck, quack quack, wee! and the ever-popular thank you, which comes out dack oo, and which you say whenever you hand something to us. Since we say it whenever we take something you offer, you must have figured thank you is synonymous with take this, please. We're working on context, but we still love to hear it.

The striking thing about your word acquisition is how you use them. You can spot a ball or a cat anywhere on your horizon, I often flail to find what you're referring to, but there it is, something that is or resembles the object you've named. I don't think it has anything to do with your vision, I think that after months of having no words and not knowing exactly what anything is, you're eager to spot those things you can recognize and name.

Your default answer to anything that sounds like a question is a firm head nod No. And I think that's about power, too. With No, you can influence your environment so much more effectively than with a cry. You can refuse something -- even if you want it -- and more often than not we offer something else. You aren't milking the situation, you seem genuinely interested in this new dynamic.

As for walking, you're cruising now, and clearly enjoying it. You've walked through the gate between the kitchen and dining room several times now, and you also walked across the bridge at the rec center, holding on to both sides. And on Friday, you cheered Henry on with a loud Yay! when we all clapped as he took a few unsupported steps. You're a team player, MZ.

As for eating, a high priority at Casa Robmaliam, you're doing great. This week, you ate what we were eating at several meals, and you're starting to enjoy biting into food rather than having everything cut up in a neat dice. I watched you as you realized what those front teeth were for, cracking your teddy crackers one after another. Since then you're willing to give biting a try, to the extent you're able with only four teeth.

The biggest news of the month is that you've basically weaned yourself. I've been holding on to the 1st-thing-in-the-morning session for as long as possible, it's just so easy and nice to pull you into bed and cuddle. But the last morning I nursed you, you tried to take my breast all over the bed with you, and I had to admit you were on to more portable modes of feeding. The next morning we offered you a straw sippy with milk and formula, the same concoction you've been taking at lunch and dinner, and you took it without a backward glance. Right now you're obsessed with holding my nipple as we cuddle in the morning, and throughout the rest of the day whenever I hold you. I don't have the heart to deny you that, not right now, so we'll work on that when I'm confident you're truly weaned. But I'm practicing don't offer, don't refuse, and you've only reached for me once, when we had technical problems with your straw cup. I miss you, but I'm also grateful that you made this so easy on us, and I know you're getting more milk now than you were getting from me, so I try to remember that this is a good transition for you.

You also added another country to your passport this month. We went to Victoria, BC for your cousin Rebecca's bat mitzvah, and you renewed our confidence in travel. You were a spectacular hit, with smiles for everyone and ohmygod do the 13-year old girls love the babies. You reached for them, they reached for you, and you actually complained when they'd bring you back to us. We stood around wondering what to do without you!

It's been a fabulous month, MZ. You make it easy.



What we're reading #2

The second in a series. There are a few new additions to MZ's favorites this month:

Goodnight Gorilla: I make up the words to go with this sparsely written bedtime story. MZ seems to like it either way, but it keeps me entertained.

Pajama Time!: Another Sandra Boynton book. R likes to read this to MZ, I don't. But it tops her list right now.

Signs for Bedtime: This one really surprises me, since MZ has shown so little interest in signing. But she loves this book well beyond Baby Faces, Signs for Mealtime, and other books with photos of babies and kids.

Dr Seuss ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book: This is an oversize board book, and she loves to manipulate it and have it read to her.

Hello World!: She's not as interested in the many ways to say hello yet, but she loves leafing through, looking at all the illustrations of kids' faces. And surprisingly, she hasn't damaged the pages of this traditional harbound book.

The Going to Bed Book: Sandra Boynton has another entry on the MZ hit parade. We all like this one (although Moo Baa LaLaLa remains my favorite), although I do think it's strange that they exercise in their pj's, I appreciate the reminder to brush her teeth before bed.

And a plug for your local independent bookseller: Booksense has a great database searchable by US zip code, with contact information. In most cases, if you email or call your local store with book information (ISBN is helpful, I use Amazon to get it), they will order it for you, and in my experience, most books are available within a week. Support your local book seller!



Yesterday was my birthday, always a fabulous opportunity to reflect. Two years ago we were wondering if we were ever going to get pregnant again, and just weeks later we did. Last year, MZ was with us, and on my birthday we took a long urban walk. In those days she could sleep peacefully in the Bjorn and we weren't always up against the 3 hour window between naps.

It was a beautiful day, and we took a roundabout path that included lunch in Noe Valley. When she woke up from her snooze, Robert propped MZ against him and she sat, on his lap, throughout our lunch. It was huge that she could sit with us, and we traded holding her so the other could watch her, she seemed so interactive from that angle. Those were the days when playing with MZ meant a few minutes of tummy time before she hollered to be flipped, and lots of silly songs and raspberries on her belly to get her to smile. Looking back, she was still so larval, yet we found her endlessly fascinating.

Tomorrow MZ will be 14 months old and I will post about where she is and what she's doing developmentally. Today I am indulging in memories: of how good it felt to hold her little bitty body, to nurse her, to watch her learn to hold herself up on her tummy, then turn over, sit and finally crawl. How magical was her first smile, how sweet the sound of her voice when she learned to coo, and oh! that first giggle!

Conventional wisdom tells us that appreciating subtlety takes maturity, that most will appreciate Spring in the Sierras before they see the richness of Spring in the Mojave; that it's easier to get Robert Johnson if you start with the Stones.

Then it's another count against intelligent design that our children start out as the most subtle of beings. Those who don't associate subtlety with a newborn must never have -- or forgotten what it's like -- to parent one. We were enthralled with her every move. The way she found my breast that first time I nursed her in the hospital was a miracle, her efforts to lift her head fresh out of the gate were Herculean, every moment of captured attention was a sign of clear genius.

For me, one of the lessons of parenthood has been the beauty of the small moment. I've learned to watch for and appreciate subtle signs and changes, to cherish the place we're in and revel in incremental accomplishments.

And here she is, this mobile little person who talks and even teases us, offering items then pulling them away with a wicked smile and an assertive head nod "No." She has volition and the skills beyond crying to make her needs and opinions known. It's all happening so fast and we're looking forward to the changes ahead, but this is my ultimate indulgence: a moment to press pause and reflect over the joys of the past year. Happy birthday indeed.


A post from the trenches

Leslie Morgan Steiner, you are part of the problem. You just couldn’t resist that jab at the end, exposing yourself, for all your innocent questions, as one of the catty women who create the tension between SAHMS and working moms.

I’ve been thinking about the Mommy Wars since I found out I was pregnant the first time. I’ve written posts in my head since before I knew what blogging was. But the current dialogue is so insipid, so shallow, so lacking in any real analysis of the circumstances beyond the authors’ predictable diagnosis of the inherent cattiness of women, that it’s time to rant.

Maybe I haven’t been a mom long enough to have felt the tension, for the rage and resentment to calcify. The women I interact with all share the naked pain in our struggle: to work or not to work, to feel expert and successful whichever we choose, or have thrust upon us by circumstances. We sympathize with each other, knowing that the perfect balance is almost impossible to find, and that we don’t really, can’t totally understand what the other is going through.

(As far as I know) I don’t know a single woman who doesn’t want both, who wouldn’t love a challenging part-time gig that isn’t really 35+ hours for no benefits, or the wrong benefits, that really allows us to participate in a full day or two of weekday parenting plus an engaging and validating career. [And let's be real, the Mommy Wars are about those women who have the luxury of choosing a career over a job in the first place. The so-called war is as economically myopic as the former yuppies who coined the term.]

But for those of us fortunate to have established a career, the devil is in the details between the rewarding 50+ hour week and the often-numbing boredom of being at home with a child. Between the career track that can’t be interrupted (there are still industries and circumstances where a few years off can make an impossible difference in future opportunity) and the desire to see that first step, hear that first word. Between the gritty reality of paying the mortgage or not.

But most of us can’t will the perfect part-time gig that the women writing about the Mommy Wars seem able to achieve. Our modern economy doesn’t work that way.

And who ever said we were leaving the workforce, we SAHM’s? For many of us, this is a couple-year break, a negotiation with ourselves, and our partners, about how long makes sense, for our babies, for us and our professional and personal development, for us as a family. For us, it’s a giant leap of faith that in at least one way, the American job market is more flexible, that our break won’t force us to start over at Level 1, as many of our moms and aunts and cousins had to.

So what in Ms. Morgan Steiner’s article infuriated me enough to finally compose this rant?

"...in spite of the fact that I've crafted a pretty ideal work/family situation, at times I'm still envious of the trust stay-at-home moms seem to have in their husbands and in life, a breezy Carol Brady confidence that they will always be taken care of."

The woman’s a journalist, did she actually talk to any SAHM’s before she wrote this piece? Does she really believe that we don’t worry about this at least a billion times a week, usually in the middle of the night? And where does she see this breezy Carol Brady confidence? In our perfectly coifed hair, crumbs are the perfect product? In our cutting-edge fashions, raspberry stains are the new Prada? In the bags beneath our eyes that could hold diapering supplies? Because our kids wake at night, too, and since we’ve given up our jobs, we no longer have the luxury of the corner wash-and-fold, the nightly take-out.

This was my biggest concern by far when I thought about staying home with MZ. For almost a decade, R. and I have been partners, running alternating positions on the same turf. I have supported us while he followed a dream to start a company, he supported me while I struggled to find a job post-travel. But mostly we have both been 50+ hours/week professionals, driven to achieve in our respective fields, classic
DINKs who enjoyed skiing and travel and wine in our down time. Suddenly, all the pressure was going to be on R. He would have less flexibility than in the past, because there was no longer the two-income cushion we had enjoyed. I hated that and I still do. And I worry about the what-ifs. All the time.

I also worry about the effect of staying home on my psyche. I had worked long enough to develop expertise that was validated and rewarded nearly every day. Now I wonder what I’m an expert in. Certainly not parenting. I’d have to do this several more times to be an expert and that’s not in the cards for a variety of reasons. Right now I’m dithering through my days, certain I’m doing a fabulous job every time MZ utters a new word or takes a new challenge, convinced I’m f*king her up every time she screams incoherently on the changing table while I pin her down in an effort to diaper her, every time I hear another parent or caregiver turn every moment into a learning moment. I am so not at an expert at this.

And over the weekend, R’s cousin asked me what I was doing, when I plan to go back to work. His opinion was abundantly clear when he shared that he told his wife to go back to work weeks after their daughter was born, because she was becoming boring. On the one hand I think he never gave her a chance to find herself as a full-time mom, on the other I recognize my own social awkwardness in scenarios that used to be standard, and wonder if this lack of sophistication is perceived or actual, and how long it will last. Do not under pain of death answer that question.

I chose to stay at home, for a variety of complicated reasons. And once I got used to it, once I stopped trying to manage R. every time he was in the house, and stopped needing to put every freakin’ activity on a To Do list, from showers to naps 1, 2 and 3, so that I would feel I’d accomplished something that day, I found I enjoy it. I can’t see myself doing this for ever, heck, MZ won’t want me here 24/7 for ever, and she will benefit from a more structured environment with other kids, and from seeing me go to work, but right now, when I am there to see it the first time she pulls herself up on the bridge at the rec center and walks real steps, I wouldn’t trade this for the world.

And I have faith that when it’s time to return to work, someone will take me. That I took it for the team when I worked those 50+ hours, and will take it for the team again when I come back a step or two lower although a little less flexible about my hours, but still smart, professional, an asset. And a noncombatant in the Mommy Wars, because who would that help, anyway?


Help! I've been meme'd!

I met Big Pugawug just weeks after MZ was born. We both joined Bernal Parents at about the same time, and a little cabin feverish after a few weeks at home with an infant, we both posted looking to get together with other moms. Bernal Teeny Babies was born, and since then we've enjoyed amazing times and deepening friendships with a collection of the coolest parents and most beautiful babies. And then she tagged me. But I'd still go to Thailand with her (and the rest of the Pugawugs and Roasted Squid and her gang, too)...

Four jobs I've had:

Prepcook for a European-trained chef. There was a lot of yelling (I wasn’t good), but as with many painful experiences, I learned a ton.
Field campaign director, where I learned the meaning of “you need to get out more,” when someone urged me to tell my boss to run for President because “everyone I know would vote for him!”

ED for a land trust in a burgeoning wine region.
Director of Strategic Alliances at a startup that managed to amass an amazing collection of people in the midst of the boom -- the company may not exist anymore, but the friendships do.

Four movies I can watch over and over:
Quiz Show
Lawrence of Arabia
Princess Bride
Big Night

Four places I've lived:
-Swimmers’ House, which was basically a frat for the swim team. I came home one day to find the landlord’s son had turned my closet into a pot farm.
-A partially refurbished Victorian that had a Winchester Mystery House electrical system. The owner had been turning my floor into an editing studio when she decided to become a doctor, there were electrical outlets everywhere but few of them worked, and some of them flamed if used.
-A cooperative house where we were known to decide on new roommates based on their reaction to the movie Blue Velvet.
-A very tiny studio when R and I first became serious. It probably wasn't as sweet and cozy in reality as it remains in our memories.

Four places I've been on vacation:
The Andes
The Yucatan Peninsula

Four websites I visit daily:
Chowhound’s Home Cooking Board
Go Fug Yourself
Overheard in New York

Four of my favorite foods:
Goats milk cheese (with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, preferably)

Acme olive bread (can I have a perfectly poached egg to go with?)
Blue Bottle Coffee’s Three Africans blend (coffee is too a food)

Chewy brownies (alas, no site, as the search is constant and mostly futile)

Four places I'd rather be:
Sipping coconut juice by the pool at the now-defunct BKK Intercontinental
Slipping in and out of the steam hut and cool pools at Lao Pako

Hiking in Marin
At Holly Park with MZ and R.

Four bloggers I'm tagging:
Kaitlyn’s Mom
Sofia’s Dad
Shanghai Beckfords


Pipe and a pancake?

A friend told me that by the time a baby is 15 months, she should have about 25 words at her command. MZ is well on her way. She piped up with agua a few days ago (which we used from the start because it's easier than water), and over the weekend she started saying hat.

Her dad's been laid low with the wisdom teeth thing, and has been curled up in bed with a hat on. He wore it pulled down over his eyes, and evidently MZ liked the look, because she's been taking his hat from his head and wearing it the same way. Yesterday, she crawled into our room and up to R's bed table, mumbling hat, hat, hat. She grabbed it and put it on her head, slouched over one eye. Later, while we were out and about, she had her hoody pulled down over her eyes and I moved it up. She looked right at me and pulled it down again. Damn it feels good to be a gansta.

She follows Moki roaring Meow at him, and when he bolts from her apparent insanity, she continues to crawl around the room meow-ing. Is she playing cat? Is she actually old enough to imitate? How did she become such a little person so quickly? I suppose it's just a step away from repeating words, but it's hard to believe that we as parents (and pets, apparently) are truly modeling behaviour already. She was just a little larvae a few months ago, and now she's crawling around imitating our words and actions. It's both exciting and humbling, and like any parent, there are some traits I just don't want her to get from me.

I'm happy to find that although she may be cautious and deliberate, she's not chicken like her mom. Yes, I mountain bike and ski, but I've never fully embraced "speed is your friend." I am a hiker on a bike, I have almost no adrenaline addiction whatsoever. Not MZ. She's becoming a speed demon, she has no fear, whether on the slide at the park or in her walker wagon-cum-go-cart. She craves speed, the faster she goes, the wider her smile.

Now I must keep from squelching that with my own caution. As a parent, I must hang back and let her fly, hiding my wringing hands behind my back while yelling, "Go girl go!" as loud as I can. It's only going to get scarier from here.


On stillbirth, and loss

This article appeared in the SF Chronicle today. R. sent it to me, and as I read it, memories came flooding back, as well as thoughts of the too-many families we know who have suffered the same sort of loss.

The experience of losing a baby in later pregnancy is almost unhinging in its sureality. First you're visibly pregnant and planning, and then there's nothing. There's the tremendous loss, and the awkwardness of social interactions, and the grappling with the actual experience of giving birth. In the days and weeks after the birth, visual, visceral memories would flood back at odd times, the way images of my one really bad car accident sometimes fly into my head while I'm driving.

I remember how good it felt to hear our babies' names, how I told the same story over and over again. My therapist told me that this was part of the process of integrating the experience back into my life. When I grappled with my anger, my unwillingness to believe that there could be any reason for such a loss, the senselessness of it, and later, tried to understand how anything good could come out of such heartbreak (it's confusing that some good things do, and this in itself can induce guilt), she helped me understand that loss makes us different from what we were before, and the key is to integrate new emotions, learnings, insights and beliefs into our life going forward. As a process-oriented person, this phraseology really helped me.

Suzanne Pullen's article made me realize that knowing what happened with our boys removed at least one area of suffering from our experience. My heart broke the day we saw Ximena on the ultrasound and had to accept that he would not -- could not -- be born alive. And it was unspeakable agony when their birth could not be held off, and it was too soon for Avi to survive. But there was no mystery, no "sometimes these things just happen" to try to accept in a society where we seem to understand the causation of every aspect of our lives, where we can look up almost anything on the internet.

This article is so important because this truly is uncharted territory. We made, are still making it up as we go along: how to say goodbye, how to mourn, how to remember. And on the occasion when someone posts to a list that their friend has suffered a preterm loss, and they want to know how to support them, I drag out my old email, make some changes and send it on, hoping that our experience will at least provide some comfort to someone else. That there was no reason for our loss, but that at least we can be useful.

What did we do right? We named our boys, and held them. We sought the comfort of community and the support of trained experts. We continue to honor their memory with the rituals that mean the most to us.

What would I do differently, besides the very obvious? Have a service for them, to make it very clear to ourselves and others that this is a grieving process, not something to be gotten over or forgotten. Our secular culture doesn't offer much support for grief, especially the quasi-private kind, and this loss is difficult because it's so rarely talked about. But it is something very much worth understanding, because in the last few years I've learned that it's not as rare as one might think.


Words you'd rather not hear upon leaving an ultrasound... and a new way to blow through time

"The toilet's right there, it looked like your bladder was a little full."

Uh, yeah. I'm outside the exam room now, in public. But thanks!

Anyway, the miscarriage is not yet over. No, really, we're on day 68. But things are looking good! Only a few weeks now! Before I might actually stop bleeding! And yes those exclamation points are meant to imply hysteria.

But I'm not complaining, because my wisdom teeth didn't become impacted over the course of the week, and so mine were not pulled out this morning, and so I am not dizzy with pain and chipmunk cheeks. But R. is...

And MZ has another cough, so all in all, Casa Robmaliam has not been in a blogging frame of mind. But I took a few spare minutes to start up another blog (because I'm so good with this one). I hope that by announcing it, I'm not dooming it to being a three-post wonder. But this one revolves around food, so perhaps I will have some stick-to-itiveness over there. Check it out, it's called pickyfingers...