Seventeen Months: Another country heard from

Dear MZ:

Why, yes, that is a backwards baseball cap. You put it there yourself. In the last month, your independence and sense of style seem to be going hand in hand. You walk, you dance, you practice running in place. You touch fabric and jewelry and declare them pretty. You love to wear my baseball caps – backwards – and try on my shoes. In fact, you regularly lug our shoes from one room to another. I don't know if this has anything to do with style, if you are selecting or rejecting our wardrobes, but it is adorable, especially when they’re your Dad’s Size 12s in either hand.

You are also gracious, yet insistent. When the manager at TJs gave you a balloon, you said thank you and added a wee as we wheeled off into the aisles, and you bowled over the impossibly Goth checker by thanking him every time he dropped a bag into our cart. You occasionally attempt You’re welcome, and when you really, really want something, we hear a Please, or MoreAgain, a fusion of More and Again that expresses your urgency perfectly. And today at the park, you picked up a colorful ball that belonged to another toddler, and I told you it was Not ours. Ours you said with conviction, thrusting it at me to hold while you explored the slide.

Now that you’re more mobile, you demonstrate that you know how to work a room: when we have people over, especially family, you go from one to the other, offering your cheek for kisses, your forehead for bumps, throwing your arms around knees before moving to the next conquest. While you’re still shy with your peers, I’m learning that the turtle wins the race. At the park, the children’s zoo, the playgroup, there is inevitably a toy that everyone wants, and you will not be among those who march up and take it. But frequently, in the mêlée that is a playground, you emerge with the toy after all, and are getting smart about not giving it up. You spent a good 20 minutes on this tractor after stepping nimbly in to capture it from squabbling sibs. And you’re more and more interested in other children, toddling up to say Hi or announcing Emmett or Henry at likely suspects.

Your verbal skills have catapulted you from the baby of the family to a voting member, albeit with some constraints. When I give you a choice between egg and cheese toast, turkey and tofu, you make your call. I no longer throw away sippies of milk, because you tell me when you want one and when you don’t. You ask for the park, and when you’re done, you say Home. And every morning you ask for coffee, every evening you ask for wine, with an optimism that confounds us but does little to lessen our resolve. Some day you’ll understand...

You still take in everything around you, sometimes to your detriment, it seems. While there've been no more night terrors, you show clear signs of overstimulation when we thrust you into too many new situations consecutively. I've learned that you will enjoy almost anything if we do just one major activity between naps and sleep, and as a result I enjoy our time together tremendously. I am learning to move more slowly, to take in more of each moment, to accept that life is not my To Do list, finally. You are continuing to teach me what is important rather than what is urgent. And while at first I was utterly exhausted by your energy and short attention span, I am now beguiled by your urge to move, and by your sometimes incomprehensible agenda as you arrange your world with utter seriousness.

Miriam, thank you for the laughter and warmth you bring into our lives. We love you more than we can say.

Your Mom
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Summer in the City

I have no idea how to dress myself for this weather, much less how to dress a child who might decide to switch back to crawling at any moment. Damn, it's hot here in SF, and you know it's hot when it's hot out at the Zoo.

But MZ kept her hat on and was utterly tickled by the prairie dogs, meer cats and the Mouse House in the Children's Zoo. We didn't go to the petting zoo, since R. made me promise he'd be there for her first face-to-face with a goat. And she still thinks the neighborhood dogs are way more entertaining than a rhino's butt (we've only ever seen him from the rear, what's that about?) or even a lion pacing his enclosure.

However, the choo choo? I need only to recall her smile as we rolled through the zoo on that
train to banish any doubts about my good fortune to be home with a toddler. Posted by Picasa


My Baby Left Me Walking

MZ is all about walking these days and it doesn't freak her out anymore. She's cautious, thankfully given where we live, and she doesn't walk straight into traffic but walk she does, and walking she tells whoever will listen.

I'm reminded that when young children learn a new skill, they may leave others for a while. Her word acquisition has slowed down (although bathroom, good (referring to food)and cat water are new favorites), and she seems to forget or confuse her words these days. She'll say open for close, or just Again when she wants something, instead of saying agua or Read it.

Her gait is a wonder to behold. She's the spitting image of Grandpa Dave with her hunched shoulders, leading belly, stiff knees and skinny legs. If you didn't have the good fortune to meet Grandpa Dave, think
Fred Sanford or even Vito Spatafore. Posted by Picasa


Straus-shmaus, let's talk about the cherries

Well before I became a parent, a dear girlfriend once confessed that when there was just a little of some particularly good sweet in the house, she would eat it herself and give her son a handfull of chocolate chips. "He doesn't know the difference," she rationalized.

As someone with a picky palate and fierce cravings, I admired this attitude. Despite the Straus/Benoît obsession, I always planned to follow it myself. So now that cherries are finally looking good, I'm getting a chance to practice this philosophy in earnest.

For those who forget easily, we had a horribly rainy Spring. This did no favors to farmers, and apparently the California cherry crop was not spared. It's coming in late, small and spendy; $7 per pound for farmers market cherries is not unusual. To my mind, this is dear fruit indeed. But cherries are something I will happily eat till I have a stomach ache more than once each season. So a few times in recent weeks, I've carefully picked a pound of the darkest, plumpest Bings and brought them home to hoard. I dutifully slice MZ a bowl of organic grapes while I chow down on my luxurious cherries.

I've offered her cherries once or twice. She likes them fine. But as my friend opined, she really doesn't know the difference.


Them old walking blues

MZ is walking, she's walking up a storm. But it's messing with her head.

Friday night we went to early family services. This is a new service, grown out of the single-ish late services we enjoyed in our pre-MZ days. There's lots of singing, musical instruments and stories to bring it home to the younger audience, and the keg has been replaced by cheese sticks and Cheerios. MZ loved it, she spent the whole time roaming the room and dancing her little hip-waggling, knee bopping dance. I couldn't wait to blog on how heart-swelling it was to watch her, how happy she looked to be on her own across the room, how it felt to be connected in joy to a place we found in grief.

That night, less than two hours after she went to sleep, she woke up screaming. She was inconsolable for 20 minutes, didn't even want Puppy. She was able to tell us that nothing hurt, and as she calmed down she just said "Hug, hug, hug" over and over again. She didn't want to go back to her crib, she just wanted to lie prone on my body, and then spoon with me, so for the first time in a while we had a family bed.

She had a HUGE day on Friday, we fit in two activities before noon. On our way to a music circle I thought about heading home for lunch, but I really wanted to see the other moms I planned to meet there. I figured she'd get a good nap before services, which would be a moderately familiar environment.
She woke up after a not-quite-long-enough nap, but we pushed onward. She seemed genuinely proud of herself and happy all evening.

However, a little research makes me think her waking was an episode of night terrors, which can be attributed to periods of stress. So we took it easy over the weekend, trying to do mostly familiar, low-key activities. We figured Sunday was a shoe-in, a playgroup with her fellow Bernal tots. But lo, she was a delicate flower that morning. Anxious and easily frustrated, she spent a lot of time looking for me and asking for hugs. She kept up the walking, but it was clear that this new vantage point is not yet comfortable for her. She craves the freedom of a stroll down the hall, but isn't sure that's where she wants to be when she gets there. Less steady on her feet than the rest of her gang, she yields space and toys quickly to her more sure-footed peers.

While we were there, a friend and fellow parent asked what about our daughter we are most proud of. It was a good question, generating a pleasant buzz of conversation in the room, but we were a bit nonplussed. Her verbal skills seemed like the obvious answer, but neither of us take much credit for that. And when we talked about it later, we agreed that we don't feel a lot of ownership over MZ's development. She's funny and outgoing with adults, less sure with her peers. She's very deliberate, and a keen observer, she takes in everything and now that she's verbal, she's confirming that the wheels truly have been turning. Today when she asked for my water bottle, she surprised us by being able to drink out of it fairly well, although it had no spout and flowed more quickly than her sippies. When I commended her on being a big girl, she announced "Coffee" as though she were ready to go all the way. The child's no dummy, and I venture to guess she'll be quite a negotiator in the coming years.

But right now, I feel like everything we see is a window into her personality, which we don't quite know yet. We're taking copious notes to learn how to support her, to learn how to reinforce her strengths and enable her to love herself as much as we love her.

It's a little daunting to realize that she may be more shy than either of us, and more intense. R. and I talk about how we'll parent her, how we outgoing, opinionated people will learn to give her time and space for her thoughts to be heard, for her to make her own decisions. It would be easiest to push her into the ring, but who would that serve?

In a few short weeks, we've already backed off the ever-ready hug-on-demand. If we're just hanging out, it's hers for the asking, and ask she does, when anxious or happy. But if it's a clear bid for attention, we'll let her know she has to wait a minute, or that she can come to us, or that she's doing fine on her own. And she seems to get it (or she's just below the temper tantrum milestone). But in these challenging moments of transition, we hope that keeping the hugs coming will give her the confidence to take the next step on her own.


Speaking of Puppy Gone Missing

Seeing the picture of Puppy on the blog has given me pause everytime I've looked at it. It started off as general trepidation, and gradually emerged as a full-blown fear: what if someone -- the wrong someone -- read this blog and saw Puppy and went on eBay and got one (like I did for Backup Puppies #1 and #2) and used it to tempt my beloved daughter? Would she really resist that someone, particularly at this age when she's too young for talk of Stranger Danger and will say Hi to anyone, whether they're looking her way or not?

Unlikely, but it could happen. Seemed like the wrong chance to take, so instead you now have a pic of Clifford, a character from PBS to whom we've not yet been introduced. But you get the idea.

Isn't she worth it?

Attracted to the local, artisan, high-culture and low-sugar benefits of Saint Benoît yogurt, I've been buying it for MZ, along with Hodo Soy Beanery's tofu omelette and Prather's no-nitrate free-range beef hotdogs. These are all good sources of protein, given that's the one food group she disdains, but they're also pretty spendy. The yogurt, which comes in lovely little ceramic tubs (aesthetics are everything, really), seems rather excessively dear for a toddler. We've been going round on whether we should really buy this for her or return to the Straus Organic yogurt, which is also local, plus it's organic. But objectively, it's not as tasty, and don't we want to encourage discriminating tastes in our daughter? And given the opportunity, don't we want to support a local, sustainable small business?

The thing is, I have this idea in my head that the Saint Benoît yogurt is somehow better for her. So last night, as she polished off the last container, I asked R. what he thought, should I buy more or go back to the Straus? And he replied, "Will it make her smarter? Will it make her more social? Put her at the top of the class?"

He was joking, of course, but there it was, my secret fear in almost any decision I make, all day long. Should I go to the gym or take MZ to playgroup? Should I get the plastic-lined mattress pad or a pricey, unwieldy battened organic cotton one? Should I buy organic, hormone free cheesesticks or Stella Mozzarella? Get home to nap her on time or run one more errand? Feed her (more) crackers or make a whole-grain pilaf? Run the sippy cups through the dishwasher? All wooden toys? Home-made diaper wipes? A second rinse cycle? Go back to work? I could go on and on...

When I take a step back, I know that none of these decisions is that urgent, and that it may be other decisions I make much more blithely that cause real harm. But in the moment, it can be paralyzing. I've never had such total responsibility for another human being, plus a baby challenges my environmental and consumer behavior like nothing else.

And let's face it, I'm a results-driven Type A who's used to fairly rapid validation that I've made the right decision. Parenthood is so not like that. Parenthood is trial and error, and doing the best you can, and hoping that a ready hug makes up for the other stuff. From a distance I know that.

But the inner dialogue, full of doubts, second-guesses and indecision, damn, sometimes it can take all day. Posted by Picasa