Things I Have Learned

So! Maggie can crawl. Not just the halting wiggles of two weeks ago. She’s like the speed skater of crawling now, just as I knew she one day would be. But despite knowing that academically, I don’t think I really internalized the consequences until today, when I learned the following in a rather rapid and harrowing sequence of unpleasantness:

1. Maggie can crawl into the bathroom faster than I can finish my business and is fascinated by the roach bait trap. (The BUGS are still a minor problem, as is my potty mouth. I need a cuss jar like my Nana had back in the day when we charged her $0.05 per swear. Or I can just get more creative with my epithets.)

2. Hawaii Poison Control needs brand names to make a determination, leading me into the kitchen.

3. Our IKEA dining table chairs are an ineffective barrier for children who need to be kept out of the kitchen because…

4. …They are light enough that a burly 9-month old can pull the chair down on top of her head while you’re looking for the box of roach baits.

5. You can’t hear Poison Control over a screaming baby-turned-air raid siren…

6. …But if you have one ready, frozen water-filled plastic teething rings are good for swelling lips and comforting the bruised and battered…

7. And once you have silence, then you will hear that roach bait doesn’t have any elements that are harmful to mammals…

8. Which still isn’t going to stop you from throwing them all away in a fit of paranoid pique.

Fin.

In the immortal words of Robin Williams from The Birdcage, “I’ve never had so much go so wrong so quickly!” I begged Tom to report me to child services, because I am so clearly unfit, but he laughed it off and said something about “normal bumps and bruises” which is a crock of roach bait because competent mothers don’t lose control of this stuff. Except when they do, and they do all the time.

Hardcore childproofing begins this weekend.

ETA: I just noticed my “Idiot at Life” tag is really getting a workout this month. I hereby declare February to be the Month of Personal Awesomeness.

Diaper (i)Pad

Wow, so many great comments from my Stroller Strides entry! I’m thrilled to have joined, even if my thighs are beyond deeply sore and actually screaming Puccini in their pain. Everyone is super-sweet and supportive. Hope you stuck around to read this–getting back to travel-ish issues today.

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Though it’s clear from its name* that Steve Jobs did not heed the opinion of any X chromosomes anywhere in his engineering or marketing departments (nor does he watch Mad TV), I’m rather jazzed about the iPad.

“Why?” says the peanut gallery. “You don’t have a job, plus you’re too busy chasing down a munchkin sprat to read. Also, you can’t multitask well on it, you can’t take photos with it, and you need a bag full of adapters and a monthly data plan to make it worthwhile for work projects, if you had any. And you don’t.” Well, peanuts, because I see everything through the lens of my own needs as a mother first, I’m here to tell you that the iPad is possibly one of the greatest inventions for hard-traveling parents to hit the market.

Do I want an iPad for myself? Ehhhh…meh. Now that I’ve spent some of today reading about it, not as much. My daughter is still really too young for me to commit to a book (or even a magazine) on a flight. Everything that I’d actually have time to do in an airport or airplane (email, music), I could accomplish with my existing devices. Penny saved, etc. (That said, throw a few memory card drive slots on the side of future iPads, particularly a built-in CF reader, and I will break ankles to get to the head of the line for one.) I’m a stay at home mom with an active child and the attention span of a…hey, Alec Baldwin’s pores are HUGE in HD…what was I saying? Ah, yes: I personally am not the iPad’s consumer target.

But tangentially, Maggie is. Oh yes. Yesssss. Let me ‘splain. Maggie has flown a lot already for a nine month old, and is going to add up to ten flights to her count in the next year. It’s only going to get harder to keep her happy on a plane. Tie that into the following bullets:

* The reported battery life works for up to six hours of video playback, which includes movies. Grab a $5 headphone jack splitter for dual headphones and bam, multi-child movie viewer with a sizeable screen.
* The full-color display on iPad, which will do justice to illustrations, is large enough to make the kids’ e-book publishing market more lucrative. There are some out there (I believe you can read them with an app on iPhone) but this can only mean more will follow.
* Most of the nifty games and apps for iPhone run on the iPad.
* It’s getting more and more ridiculous to take carry-on bags onto planes.

Conventional wisdom says to have a new toy or distraction at the ready per child per hour of your flight. By the time Maggie is going to need the heavy artillery on long flights/train rides, a next-generation iPad will be a smooth all-in-one device for as many children’s stories, $1 apps or games, and episodes of Handy-freakin’-Manny as I can store, and it’s gonna slip perfectly into the side pocket of my favorite storage tote. Yeah, we don’t allow TV or video at home but airplane law is above house law. Airplane law dictates that you gain a child’s silence and cooperation by any means necessary. Friends, the promise of enough silence to quell the dirty looks from other passengers and give Mama enough time to flip through Skymall is something I would gladly drop $500 on for the base model. If it turns out that I like it enough for my own purposes and they make some changes to the existing system, I’ll pick a 3G one up for me, but the existing system is perfect for what I need to meet Maggie’s travel needs.

Incidentally, once you arrive at your destination, you have the stories, pictures, or videos you need to maintain bedtime routines. If you’re traveling single parent-style, you can throw videos of your partner on there reading favorite stories for the kiddo. And if you have a kid with anxiety issues, a few photos of home cycling through when iPad is in the digital frame mode could be enormously comforting. Not that you couldn’t do that with an iPod Touch or an iPhone, but the larger screen is so much more attractive for those purposes and frankly, when I get an iPhone I’m not sharing.

I would love it if any homeschoolers could weigh in with how the iPad can help them do lessons on the road, because my God, a reader plus some net capability? There is enormous potential here for so many parental needs.

Yeah, the iPad was designed for road warriors and business travelers. But I am going to predict now that this is going to really take off with parents who do a lot of travel with their children, if only because it means Mama can have her iPhone back.

*I would have named it iScreen and done an ad campaign revolving around the slogan “I scream, you scream, we all scream for iScreen.” Dorky? Perhaps. But also potentially awesome. You’re missing an important voice, Steve! Call me!

I Like Ike

Perhaps it was my mommy Spidey Sense a-tingling or maybe it was waking up to the wee chubby hand repeatedly hammer-fisting my good eye, but as I lay in bed receiving a judicious beatdown from a screaming baby I got the sense that today might not be a good one.

My policy is that if Maggie wakes up between 6-7am I’ll take her into bed with me. A little cuddle time usually equals another hour of sleep for us both. Maggie was not having it and physically launched herself at my chest, grabbing at what there was to be had and nearly chewing my arm off as I tried to maneuver her into a new position. She then flung herself backwards and screamed and stamped her feet while I tried to get us both into a comfortable spot. I goggled at her in confusion (really, before Mommy’s Wakeup Juice?) but tried to accommodate while whispering the words I repeat a thousand times a day: “Touch gently, please. Touch gently. GENTLE HANDS OWOWOWOW LET GO!”

Around 9am the drool and fresh red weals left on my arms and legs from her biting indicated that she may need something to relieve the teething pain, so out came the infant ibuprofen. Breakfast passed without incident, and she was down for a nap at 10:15. By 10:45, she was awake and crying. That’s roughly an hour shorter than her nap really needs to be for Optimal Maggie Freshness.

About twenty minutes ago after half an hour of trying to claw my face off, an hour of sobbing while bundled in the Moby wrap, and her razors drawing blood while trying to nurse her for comfort I decided Nap #2 was in order. She’s sleeping now. Since I wouldn’t dream of canceling on my hairdresser (my split ends have split ends) we’ll see how she does at 2:30 when we go for the appointment. I’m hoping to get her to rest until 1:30 or so.

Guys, I look like I live with Ike Turner. I’m covered with bruises from grabby pinchy fingers, bite marks, and long raw scratches. Maggie doesn’t mean to hurt, she really doesn’t know her own strength (there I go enabling my abuser) but it’s going to be a while before my patient modeling of “gentle hands” really kicks in. In the meantime I look like a punching bag and she stares at me with the wild Manson lamps of total teething insanity.

I rarely do this, but I might leave her with Tom tonight and sit at the bar at Just Tacos by myself, eat a huge burrito and have a Dos Equiis in silence.

Strolling

Recently I decided for Maggie’s sake and my own that she needed a mother who could socialize. By nature, I’m an observer and it is hard for me to make friends because I feel awkward insinuating myself into a conversation. Since most of my friends here have day jobs, there has been many an afternoon where I flood Tom under a torrent of useless info (most of which has been gleaned from Facebook) before he can so much as change out of his work pants. Not to mention the little sprout has no other sproutlettes in her life to drool on; they’re all a few years older.

In my pursuit of free/cheap diversions, I’ve hit a varied mix. Mom and Baby Yoga was great: weekly, sliding pay scale, good workout, other babies. Then it went from weekly to monthly. La Leche League has been hit/miss. The second meeting was fun, I plan to go again, but the first meeting discussed breastfeeding support and difficulty. While I have nothing but compassion for women having trouble breastfeeding, being in a room full of lactating and weeping estrogen inspires in me an intense desire to be elsewhere. A lot of my closest friends have been male and my best girlfriends have always been the sort who would sooner funnel a beer than order a Cosmo. I’m not great at making friends with dudes but I’m way better than with women; alas, what I need are MommyFriends.

There have been many times in life motherhood where I have approached the entire subject as an anthropologist approaches a tribe. Example: today was my first day at Stroller Strides, which is awesomely affordable and perfect for what I want (socialization, a bit of fresh air, other babies to play with). The first thing I noticed was the pervasive presence of B.O.B. Most of the hardcore exercisers had one, some of them were doubles. I hope they didn’t think I was gawking at their stroller choice; I was simply trying to figure out how, were I to get one, I would ever fit it in my car. I’m pretty sure they’re wider than the Fit. Further research indicates that they make a model specifically for Stroller Strides that comes with the elastic bands and a water bottle. Since Maggie is primarily worn on my body, our umbrella stroller doesn’t have so much as a cup holder.

The only drawback of Stroller Strides is the whole public exercise thing, and I’m sure the Japanese baseball players were getting a kick out of the phalanx of jogging strollers chugging along. But I desperately need to get into shape; Maggie also deserves a mom who’s well-socialized and energetic. So after a morning with the new tribe, I decided to get a membership.

Let’s be honest: it will be a cold day in hell before I get a jogging stroller because seriously, where would I put it? It’s the dinner table or a jogging stroller, and I like to eat off a table like a real person instead of off my lap like a freshman eating Easy Mac. But joining full-time can only help my cause, and there are tons of benefits. If it weren’t for the 8:45 start time, which breaks my “no commitments before 11am, because that’s Mommy’s Sleepy Time” rule, it would be completely perfect. It meets three times a week at a location less than five miles away, and there’s another location available so I could go all five days a week if I wanted (I don’t, but I could).

In short, I’ll be exercising and socializing regularly with ladies. I am pretty sure this is what is meant by “Growing As A Person.”

Imperfect

There are a ton of smug people on the internet. They like to say things like “I would NEVER” and then follow it up with some piece of wisdom that makes average people feel bad. It’s not that what they say is wrong or inherently bad; often there’s a kernel of useful information if you’re willing to crawl through the cloud of smug. But good information often goes to waste if it’s brought to the public by someone unlikable–someone full of The Smug. Being a humorless pill about lifestyle choices is generally a bad call when trying to win converts.

In trying to live a more green life and blogging about it, I sometimes worry that I sound like one of The Smug. It’s hard to explain why I do something without coming off as judgmental of those who do things differently. So here’s the scoop: I’m not perfect (clearly). Our house is not a bastion of ecological living, even though we try really hard. But there are a lot of places that we cut corners or fall down, and here they are in handy list form along with the reasons why I do not plan to convert.

1. We use a lot of canned goods. They are sold in bulk at Costco, we are a single income family living on a government wage. We are secure, better off than most by virtue of living free of credit card debt, but we are not rich and we live in Hawaii with its astronomical cost of living. Also, Tom makes a fabulous pasta sauce from the canned stuff at Costco. When we can afford better, we’ll buy better.

2. I wear daily disposable contact lenses. Could I wear glasses every day instead? Not realistically. I was born with a condition called optic nerve hypoplasia, which varies per person but in my case means I can’t see at all out of my left eye. Statistically, I consider myself pretty lucky that I wasn’t born completely blind in both eyes, but I have little peripheral vision and wearing glasses limits my existing peripheral vision to an unsafe degree (couldn’t drive, for example). The one eye means that a) I am not a candidate for LASIK, and b) I shouldn’t wear monthly or weekly disposables because of the intensive cleaning routine. Daily disposables eliminate the chance of bacteria or fungus getting onto the lens or case and into my eye. An infection could cost me my sight. So, I recycle the blister packs that the contacts are packaged in, but I won’t ever use anything else.

3. Body products. We use method and Burt’s Bees Baby Bee products for Maggie. Us? Bulk shampoo and conditioner from Costco, 365 or Target brand body wash, .99 cent a can Barbasol shave cream. Cost is a factor, sure, but…eh. I like bulk, what can I say? I did convert to organic shave cream and it’s pretty much a life changer, but I haven’t encountered any natural shampoos that really work with my hair. And while I have experimented with straight razor shaving, I haven’t given up on my Mach 3 cartridges.

4. I store Maggie’s applesauce in glass jars and heat her food in glass bowls, but I Gladware-it up to store frozen items.

I’ll add more as I think of them, but where do you cut corners? It’s okay, we all do. Everyone’s just trying to do their best, you know? That just means different things for different people.

Two

The night before we sat and waited for the nurse to check vitals. It was a stone gray day in January, with trace flurries. We turned all the unnecessary lights off and played Radiohead music in the light. Your father slept; your mother waited. We turned on CNN and watched the news on Heath Ledger. A finished life coming before a new one.

Catherin and I went to Denny’s in the early hours. We didn’t sleep. We bought your mom a rocket sippy cup for her ice chips. We went back to the house and promised to return at seven. We showered and tried to sleep. At 5am I walked the streets of suburban Portland alone while Catherin slept, breathing frost and ice and with each foggy exhale sent positive energy to you and your parents.

I wore roaming gnome pajamas to the hospital to make her laugh. She didn’t notice.

At the hospital I took a picture of the sunrise over the street. It was pink and gray, an austere sunrise giving off brittle warmth. We saw them briefly before your mom sent us to the waiting room where we drank flat Diet Sprite from the guest comfort station. Your grandmother came with your uncles; we waited in the hallway.

Time passed. Hours. We were loopy from the sodas and we listened to the moans, amplified by the oxygen mask. Nick and I stood by the door of the room and nurses scolded us. We worried. We heard nurses talking about dipping heart rates and c-sections. We worried more.

Then we heard it–a soft, small cry. I looked to Nick for confirmation and he gave a thumbs up. It changed the mood, it changed everything.

You changed everything.


Happy birthday, Owen. Auntie loves you.

Dairy Air

I was perusing my blogs this morning, a favorite pastime while Maggie dutifully empties the toy box, inspects the contents, turns it over, and scoots into it backward. I can usually make it through about half my Google Reader list before Maggie bleats to be removed from her tiny toy prison. Today I read one of my favorites, The Everywhereist, who writes the sort of travel blog I once aspired to before I ran out of time, money, and sanity. You only need two of the three to write a travel blog, but not having any is a difficult obstacle.

Today’s post, The Inherent Sexism of Airport Security, really struck home for me, especially this line:

“While I can’t really figure out TSAs motivations, I will say this: if dudes lactated, there is no way that the TSA would dare try to throw away breast milk. Seriously, imagine walking up to some 300-pound bruiser of a man and telling him that you were going to toss out his child’s food, food that he himself had made with his own body. You’d spend the next three days pulling your own teeth out of your ass.”

The first five months of Maggie’s life was spent training her for a huge trip for my sister’s wedding in September. We got her to both love and look forward to sleeping against our bodies in a sling. We nursed in all manner of positions so it would be easier on the plane to Boston. We went to the Big Island for a long weekend to serve as a practice airport run. We practiced packing our bags to make security clearance a breeze. And in preparation for commitments that would prohibit nursing–the all-day bachelorette party, an actual movie date with my husband, holy shit, the ceremony and reception that I would be both in and photographing–I pumped like a madwoman. No babysitters for those first five months; I had to stockpile my bottles. I never quite got the knack of pumping so it was hard for me, even though my supply has always hovered between “abundant” and “Can we just send you to Africa for a month to feed this village?” By the time we were to fly from Honolulu to Boston, I had amassed about 30oz in small bottles in a wee cooler to take with us.

Then I panicked. The word from the official website was that the TSA rules allowed frozen breastmilk, though I may have to get ice from the food court and flight attendants after clearing security. From other moms and anecdotal stories…it was a crapshoot. It seemed it would be left totally to the discretion of the agent, agents who do not have a reputation for compassion or understanding. It seemed highly possible that I could lose my precious supply. Maggie had never had formula after that one bottle in the hospital; I stayed home with her, she had reflux, so why spend the money on trying formula that her belly wouldn’t accept? The idea of giving her sensitive, refluxy belly a new liquid in a new environment during the happiest day of her aunt’s life seemed like a disaster in the making.

Thus I went to the airport prepared. I printed the TSA guidelines to bring along, I went to our pediatrician and had her write a note on letterhead declaring the medical necessity of our milk. It turned out to be nothing–I had my sheaf of paper ready to go, all our other baby-related liquids neatly packaged and labeled in my Ziploc, and the woman smiled at me, scanned the liquid, and passed us through. She even said “Hi” to the baby. No fuss, no stress. I don’t want to make the statement that because she was a female agent she understood more than a male agent would; I know many men who value the nutritional benefits of breastmilk, and have encountered many women TSA agents who have a chip on their shoulder trying to seem as tough as their male colleagues in a viciously stressful and complicated job. But it could easily have gone the other way.

Pumping is hard work. It is uncomfortable. It is clinical. It inspires some of us to moo mournfully at the machine while we wait to fill up a bottle. I hate it. I can’t imagine the despair I would have felt if the agent had taken my stockpile away or the depth of my humiliation if my baby’s food that I worked so hard to produce, my baby’s food that was an extension of my own body, was thrown away like so much garbage.

So to my moo-cow sisters out there, good luck to you. Print the guidelines, get a note from the pediatrician just in case. I hope you don’t have to use it; you probably won’t. But do it just in case. And to the TSA–I’m a model flyer. My husband is too, and we’re going to do everything we can to make your jobs easier. But in the process of doing your job, don’t make my job harder.

Odds ‘n Ends

Things Maggie Enjoys:

  • Taking apart her Try-Angle toy and putting it back together again and investigating how things are put together.
  • The rich and mysterious world of shape-sorting toys and stacking rings.
  • Twisting the head backwards on her purple Brontosaurus.
  • Delicately taking a single block off the top of a tower, then smashing the rest to smithereens with her other hand.
  • Swimming with her foam floaty suit.
  • Walking while holding my hand or the couch.
  • Cheerios (a.k.a. Maggie Crack).
  • Feeding herself.
  • Afternoon naps with her favorite blankie.
  • Holding on to a chair for several minutes and enjoying the view from a standing viewpoint.

Things Maggie Does NOT Enjoy:

  • Conventional crawling. Rolling/scooting/lunging is more fun.
  • Pesky gravitational forces thwarting her attempts to stand by herself.
  • When I won’t let her climb up my face.
  • When the Cheerios are gone.
  • Getting back into the car seat after a short errand.
  • When the stroller or person holding her is stationary.
  • New teeth.
  • Her new lowered co-sleeper that she can’t climb out of.

Things Maggie Can’t Do But It’s Probably Because I Am Lazy And Haven’t Taught Her

  • Clapping.
  • Drinking from cups, sippy cups, or bottles.
  • Hack the treasury for mama. It’s cute if a baby does it, right? Then I don’t have to give the money back if it’s CUTE. :-D

Chomp

I’ve got to lighten it up in here a bit, and so, teeth. Ohhhh the teeth.

Even before Maggie was born, I recognized a pattern. Hurry up, stop, wait, hurryhurryhurry. This was true of my massive false labor at 36 weeks and 6 days, which even had the doctors convinced I was going to deliver that night. I didn’t go on to actually deliver until weeks later, well after my due date and even then she had to be induced. But once we were going, my labor went from nonexistent to done in five hours. Same with rolling over. Sitting up. Creeping, and now pulling up to standing and climbing. She starts showing signs of a new activity younger than most babies, ahead of the curve. Then we stall out for several weeks, the so-called chronological milestones get passed, I get pitying looks when people ask “Is she doing [X]?” and I reply “No,” then all of a sudden she’s doing whatever it is like she’s been doing it perfectly her whole life. I can almost hear her thinking “Take that, suckers.”

Maggie just needs to gear up and be ready in her own time to do something. I try to respect that and I NEVER apologize to anyone’s pity-faces if she isn’t doing something her peers are doing, because it’s never that she *can’t.* It’s just that she isn’t quite ready to commit yet. That’s cool. I respect commitment phobia.

And so it has been with her teeth. Oh, friends, what a hellish four weeks it has been for my little girl. You see, all of her teeth have decided to descend AT ONCE, much like the old “Crocodile Dentist” game where you push down the teeth until you get the “sore tooth” and the jaws snap together. Maggie’s mouth is playing out the game’s reset feature where all the teeth pop up at once.

She makes that face, too.

Since December 15, she has cut five teeth and is working on a sixth. Six teeth in four weeks. I tremble to think about how soon her molars are going to come. She cut two little bottom teeth in mid-October, which were adorable and tiny, but now she’s got a mouth full of Chicklets. Vicious, sharp Chicklets with no regard for anyone’s feelings that keep popping up like unholy Whack-a-moles that you CAN’T WHACK.

Maggie remains as cheery as possible, but even her deliciously happy and laid-back demeanor can’t handle the onslaught of stalactites and stalagmites breaking through her poor tender gums. Worse, nursing is now a nightmare as she thrashes and twists and grinds her teeth, and my girl is a lot of wonderful things but good with a cup is not one of them so I’m still her only source of liquids. So I’ve been layering on the lanolin, reading all the LLL books and trying to get us both into a position that will yield happy nursing for us both without the sensation that I’m feeding my Kitchenaid meat grinder.

But man, you should see her rip through a mini-pepper or a slice of mango. It’s like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park.