Category Archives: E.- the second year

On emulating a whirling dervish

This post brought to you by the genius mothers on my online birth club who brought their sand/water tables inside and filled them with lentils and split peas. I am typing for as long as E. is happily occupied pouring said lentils and split peas from one side to the next and NOT on to the floor…

Far out, I am feeling out of control these days.

It started with six weeks of non-stop visitors. I am not kidding. I think I counted three nights in the whole six weeks where it was just Q. and I at home with E. (one week Q. was away for a family funeral, but I feel that also counted given it was far from our normal routine).

It was so lovely to see everyone. With one exception these were friends and family members whom we love and who no longer live nearby and we don’t get to see often enough. It was wonderful to catch up. And the one exception, my Mum, came into town specifically because she had promised to babysit E. while Q. and I went out to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our first date. (We went and saw Skyfall! We went for a huge long walk through our city on a beautiful November day! We ate at a great Thai restaurant! We stayed in a hotel!) And she went above and beyond the call of duty, coming down as promised even though one of her cats was very unwell and my stepfather had to stay behind to look after him, which meant she had to do the entire twelve hour round trip drive on her own.

So it was wonderful to see everyone, to catch up, to watch them interact with E. (E. loved having his aunties visiting. Loved them with the fire of a thousand suns.) But at the same time, it made things harder. Not from a day-to-day routine sort of thing, because Q. and I are a well-oiled machine and dinners were made, linens were washed, keys were provided without any issues. But from a work perspective it was a challenge because I couldn’t work in the evenings if our guests were around, and I probably didn’t work as much as I should have during the day if they were around too. Because, after all, I don’t get to see them all that often.

The end result (and I am worried that E. is getting bored of his table) is I am freaking out about the dissertation chapter I have told my supervisor will be done before Christmas (and really needs to be done by then if I am to keep to schedule).

I am freaking out about having to mark my tutorials’ mid-term exam starting Monday when I only JUST finished marking their essays.

I am freaking out about the major seminar paper I am presenting in early February.

I am freaking out about the organization still required for Cambridge, and get more so every time I get another answer to my ad on Gumtree that looks suspiciously like a scam. How does one find accommodation without being scammed when one is overseas?

I am mildly freaking out about Christmas and how I will get everything organized. I’m already realizing I won’t get cards done this year and probably won’t do the baking I had intended.

I am displacing all of my anxiety about the dissertation chapter onto Cambridge, which means I’m keeping myself up at night worrying that Q. and E. will die in a plane crash when they come to meet me (I’m going over about ten days ahead of them, which is also a tremendous source of anxiety right now).

Hence the blog silence. There is SO much I want to write about. All the new things E. is doing. How much fun we’re having at the early years drop-in programs. Thoughts about 2.0. Thoughts about body image. Thoughts about the poor Duchess of Cambridge and how ridiculous is it that the haters are out for her claiming she is just being stuck up needing help for hyperemisis gravidarum because “everyone gets morning sickness”, and how scary it must be to have to make public such a watched pregnancy when you’re nowhere near the twelve week mark yet. Thoughts on how I hate knowing so much about what can go wrong in a pregnancy that I can tell from two apparently innocuous comments that one of my favourite characters on my favourite television show is doomed (I will say no more for fear of spoilers).

Lots I want to say, but my work-life balance right now is heavily tilted to the work side when I’m not looking after E., which leaves little room for a creative outlet. I’m reading the blogs on my reader but am not so good with commenting right now.

I’m hoping a bit of sanity returns once I send this chapter off on the 21st (or no later than the 23rd so help me.)

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Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), E.- the second year, My addled brain, PhD, Second Thoughts

The eighteenth month

Dearest E.,

A year and a half! It’s hard to believe. One of the books I’ve been reading recently says that eighteen months is when many parents really start to feel they can see “the person emerging more clearly at eighteen months than at any succeeding age. Later on the child will have become. Right now he is becoming”. Those words left a strong impression on me, as it seems every day now your father and I comment on something new that you’re doing and tell each other with such joy and pride, “He’s such a little person now!”

Your Daddy and I were sure that you’ve had a huge growth spurt in the last couple of months, and we were right! We had your eighteen month well baby appointment this afternoon (hence why I’ve posted this letter a day late). You’re 35″ (97th percentile for height) and 23 lb 4 oz (25th percentile for weight). We were very excited to see that you’ve climbed up the weight percentiles, although I suppose given your height jumped up as well, you’re probably just as slender as you were at fifteen months. Your paediatrician agreed you’re meeting all of your developmental milestones, including screaming pretty much continuously through the entire appointment. I guess she was expecting this reaction, as she told me that’s why they have the parents fill out a checklist before they see them, as the paediatricians can no longer count on observing the child’s reactions and behaviour during the appointment.

This was another big month of consolidation. You grow ever steadier on your feet, and you can be surprisingly fast. More than once when we’ve been out somewhere I’ve had to drop what I was doing and make a mad dash to catch you before you headed out the door. You’ve started kicking your ball rather than just picking it up and throwing it. You’re also very interested in experimenting with your feet. You walk backwards, march in place, sway and wiggle to music, and you are desperate to be able to figure out how to jump. It started with you trying to imitate a character in Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go (your all-time favourite book this month) who was jumping on the roof of a truck. If we saying, “Jumping, jumping!” you get this huge grin on your face as you alternate bouncing your torso up and down while bending your knees with lifting one foot off the ground at a time.

You still love pushing your little red car around the neighbourhood, but you’ve also discovered the joys of pushing your stroller yourself. You can’t see where you’re going, and it takes all your effort to get it moving, but as long as I’m there to make sure you don’t steer off the sidewalk into oncoming traffic you will trundle along for quite a while. One memorable Saturday you pushed your stroller almost the entire way back from the farmers’ market. The weather turned right at the end of this month, which meant you weren’t quite as pleased with the prospect of afternoon walks. Until it got cold they had been your favourite activity, but the first day we went out when it was close to zero with a cold wind up you got out your car, pushed it two houses down the street, and then wanted to park it back in the shed and go inside again. I think snow is going to come as a bit of a shock!

You added a few new words and sounds to your repertoire this month. You now have a sound for a monkey (hee hee), a train (doo doo), and all vehicles (brrm brrm). You’ve got some new nouns (apple and moon), and a very important verb (g0), which you like to chant as you find Richard Scarry and cart it over to anyone whom you think likely to read it to you. You once, we’re fairly certain, said, “Dere’s Mummy”, but we haven’t heard anything like it since. You still sound rather a lot like an Ewok, as you chatter away in sentences that remain utterly incomprehensible. You love having everything identified, and you delight in finding matches, whether that’s showing me your bunny along with the picture of a bunny in your book, or by pointing to every wall in the living room. At the dinner table you love pointing to each person in turn, waiting for me to say, “I’m Mummy, that’s Daddy, and you’re E.” each time. I’ve been rotating your toys and you ended up terribly confused one day when I’d put away your stacking bugs and you couldn’t find the ladybug to match the picture of a ladybug in a book of animals. If asked you can point to your eyes, nose, mouth, teeth, ears, head, hair, hands, fingers, tummy, feet, and toes, as well as your shirt, pants, shoes and socks, and you love to then come over and point to (or touch) the corresponding item on your Mummy or Daddy. You know where to find your hat and mittens when we’re about to go outside, and you love the slippers I bought for you so much that if I forget to put them on after we get back in the house you’ll go and find them and bring them over to me.

At the start of this month we removed the tray from your high chair and pulled you up to the table to sit with us. This has had mixed success. I think you love being right in the middle of things, but you’re much less careful to keep your food on your plate, or on the table. If you decide you’re ‘all done’, we only have a moment to remove your plate before you toss it and its contents on to the ground. Perhaps you would have hit this phase no matter where you were sitting. In any case, we hope it’s a short one. You continue to be deeply suspicious of many foods you once loved, although you almost never turn down pasta, pancakes, cheese, bananas, goose sausage, yoghurt and puffs. On days when you eat almost no dinner we give you a big bowl of plain yoghurt, mostly so that we won’t worry about you getting hungry in the night. Otherwise you tend to just eat what we do.

You still love imitating what we do and helping us around the house. I’ve occasionally had to evict you from your chair next to me in the kitchen when you start scattering the ingredients for dinner with merry abandon, but most nights we cook together without incident, with you snagging pieces of red pepper and mushroom as I chop. You continue to adore sweeping. Your Daddy was away for a week this month, and while he was gone I decided to try to give the house a more thorough clean. The largest tantrum you’ve ever produced was sparked by this sentence: “No, E., we’re not going to wash any more baseboards right now. We’re going to go and make lunch.” After your nap we continued the spree of baseboard washing on the upper floor, and you had a wonderful time carrying the scrub brush around. You put your toys away each night and will often start to do so without being asked. You even park your little ride-on car between the couch and the bookshelf. We replaced your toy box with a set of storage cubes, which has proved to be a great success. You love being able to find everything easily and move toys from one shelf to the next; I love that I’m now able to rotate your toys to make sure you don’t get bored (although some toys, like your Megabloks tractor, never get put away because you’re so busy playing with them!).

You really love your Megabloks right now. You can create enormous towers if you have a parent to hold the base steady, and you love helping your Daddy build great edifices that use up every blok in the set. One of our houseguests brought you a set of castle blocks from Austria and they’ve quickly become another favourite. You still love books. We’ve started going to the library more frequently for music time and a drop in play group, and you love the books we borrow each week. You know that we keep them in a special place, and I’ll often find you trailing through the main floor holding Llama Llama Red Pajama. You’re becoming better and better at turning the pages in these picture books, although I’ve had to make repairs to a couple of your own that are subjected to extra enthusiasm (particularly Things that Go).

Our routine has been quite disrupted this month as we’ve had so many visitors- your Grandpa, your auntie, two friends- and there are even more visitors to come in the next couple of weeks: more grandparents, another auntie and an uncle, and another friend. You’ve definitely been a bit confused as to who all these people are and why they keep leaving and being replaced by someone different, but for the most part you’ve been content to just roll with the changes. You quickly figured out which visitors were most likely to play with you. You had a lovely time wrestling with Grandpa and reading with Auntie C.

It was very appropriate that Auntie C. came to stay with us, as she was staying with us at this time last year and came with us to your first Hallowe’en party. I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to do anything at Hallowe’en this year, as for weeks every time I showed you your costume you would just burst into tears, but on the day itself I was able to convince you to wear it. Auntie C. and I agreed that you were the world’s cutest shark. That afternoon we were all in the living room and I said to your auntie, “Oh I forgot to pick up a bucket for E. I should have looked for one of the pumpkin ones. He’ll need a bucket to go trick-or-treating.” You immediately dropped the book you had been perusing, went over to your toy shelf, emptied out your shape sorter and held up the bucket for my inspection. It was the perfect solution! The only problem was you then wanted to take the bucket and go outside right that moment, and we had to convince you to wait until it got dark. You seemed very confused about the whole thing when we first stuffed you in to your costume, but after I got you outside and we went to one of our neighbour’s houses, you got quite excited and started pointing at all the houses with lots of decorations and asking to go and see them. You ended up visiting about six houses, and once we got home you had a lovely time taking your loot out of your bucket and putting it back in again. Your favourite was the chocolate chip cookie baked by our neighbour- that didn’t last the night! Over the next couple of days you got to eat the Smarties, but your parents disposed of the rest.

I still marvel every day at how much I love spending my days with you, how interactive you’ve become, how much fun it is to watch you explore your world. The half-years often mark a time of disequilibrium, and we can see elements of that in you, but your naturally sunny disposition almost always wins out over the frustrations you experience. You bring such joy to our lives, and we love you very much.

love always,
Mummy

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Filed under E.- the second year, Letters to E.

Snapshots

Yesterday morning:

E. and I, in the kitchen, baking apple loaf. E. on his chair next to me at the counter, holding his wooden spoon, carefully smoothing out the top of the loaf once I had poured the batter into the pan, then dipping his spoon into the batter to see if it tasted as good as it looked.

Later that morning:

At the drop-in centre, during circle time. E. resolutely refusing to sit in the circle, overwhelmed by the twenty-seven (!) other children and their caregivers. Wriggling free of me, free of the leader, climbing up the staggered rows of seating at the back of the room until he could tuck himself in between two benches along the windows. There he sat, cuddling his bunny, watching intently and signing “more” every time a song ended.

Yesterday afternoon:

E. and I in the back yard, raking leaves. E. putting leaves carefully, deliberately into the bucket I’d set out for him and then pointing at it when he was ready for me to empty the bucket into the paper yard waste bag. E. throwing his blue ball around. E. struggling manfully to control the adult-sized rake. The fallen leaves, golden and bronze, dappling the lawn. Sun and shadow playing on his face.

Later that afternoon:

E. taking his little red car for a walk down the street in the late afternoon sunshine, an autumn day so warm and golden it makes me feel like purring as though I were a smugly contented cat. E. stopping in the shadow of the giant maple tree to select fallen leaves and line them up along the stone wall that borders our neighbour’s yard. This one bright scarlet, this one tinted with yellow. This one burnished orange, this one cut through with golden veins. E. chooses each one with deliberate thought, offers them to me for appraisal. When the breeze stirs it ruffles the hair on the back of his head and I reach out, each time, to touch him.

Last night:

E., heavy with approaching sleep, safe in my arms as we rock back and forth and I croon lullabies in his ear. His thumb in his mouth, his bunny tucked up to his chest, his head on my shoulder, his body and legs spilling down my chest and over my legs. His body is still at last, so busy during the day, a child of perpetual motion, and utterly empty now of tension. I sing the final verse and he gives a sigh and nuzzles closer to me.

This morning:

E. staggering into the kitchen repeating “Go, go, go”, struggling under the weight and size of Car and Trucks and Things that Go, opened and held precariously by the middle pages. Sitting on the couch pressed up against me, looking for Goldbug when I say, “I think he’s in the ambulance” and pointing with great satisfaction, saying, “Dere!”, when he locates him. Wriggling down from the couch to go and find his tractor to show me that it matches the tractor on another page.

And again:

E. and I, dancing to Great Big Sea, E. held in my arms as I two-step and twirl with abandon. A slower song begins and E. tucks his head in under my neck, burrows into my shoulder, and cuddles close, popping up only to sign “more” as each song fades out. It is so unlike him, to cuddle and snuggle during the day, that I find myself holding my breath, fearful that I might disturb him, disrupt this moment. I have a sudden flash of memory- of dancing in the kitchen with E. to Lullaby Baby U2 in the first weeks of his life, waiting for his father to come home from work. It is a struggle to keep the tears from falling as I realize how far I have come as a mother, and how much further E. will still grow away from me.

And again:

E., standing by the cupboards, weeping in outrage because I have told him we’re not going to clean any more baseboards now but are going to make lunch instead. Incensed that his compromise position of a spot of vacuuming was also rejected. Hot tears streak his cheeks. I start making lunch and he takes a deep breath, steadies himself, and then potters in to the kitchen to see if he might be able to undertake some quality control on the cheese before lunch is officially served.

This is a good life.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, E.- the second year

It takes a village…

E’s grandfather (my father) is staying with us this week. He’s in town to teach a course, but he came in a few days early so he could help Q. out with a couple of jobs around the house, and so he could spend some more time with E.

E. LOVES my father. I mean loves him with the fire of a thousand suns. Loves demanding that he read him stories (or the same story over and over and over again). Loves roughhousing with him and trying to flatten him like a pancake (given my father is 6’5″ and E. is maybe 34″ watching him attempt to pin down his Grandpa is hilarious). The look of glee on his face when he wakes up from his nap and sees that Grandpa is still in the living room?

Melts my heart.

And my goodness is it ever wonderful to have a willing grandparent around in the late afternoon to play with E. Making dinner? Takes SO much less time. Amount of fussing? Drops to virtually nil.

I know it is important for E. to learn that he can’t expect to be entertained every moment of every day, and he is generally very good at playing by himself when Q. and I have other things we need to do. And I’m getting better (and braver) at including E. in the tasks I need to do. I can vacuum the whole house with him in tow now as he is happy to just potter in and out of the various rooms, occasionally patting the vacuum or just giving it a general look of reverence. I can do much of the dinner preparations with E. standing on a chair next to me, supervising and snacking on any stray veggies that come his way. He helps me dump the dishwasher, painstakingly pulling out one dish or bowl at a time and handing them to me with enormous care and evident pride. We baked a zucchini bread together again this week, and E. didn’t try to take all of the dry ingredients out of the bowl like he did the last time. He did spend a bit of time spooning the wet ingredients into his (empty and clean) snack bowl, but when it was time to add the wet ingredients to the dry, he watched me carefully and then tipped his own bowl’s contents into the big mixing bowl.

But there are days when I feel most of the day required E. to amuse himself or to follow along behind me as we kept our household functioning. So it is lovely to have a few days where he can have an extra dose of one-on-one attention at a time of day when he almost never gets it.

And it is wonderful to watch my father play with my son.

****

I was skypeing with my sister the other day and she asked me what was E’s first word, because she and my other sister couldn’t remember when they were discussing it with each other.

“It was Daddy,” I said. “We eventually got Mama or Mummy too, but Daddy was first. You know how he says it- with that sing-song cadence: DA-dee!”

My sister nodded but she looked confused. And later, I realized the issue.

She doesn’t know how E says “Daddy”.

She moved out of the country just before E’s first birthday, long before he had any spoken words of his own.

My other sister, who moved out of the country when I was still in my first trimester, has been, because of visa issues, unable to come back to Canada for this entire year. She is hoping to get home for Christmas. She won’t have seen E. since last Christmas.

She never saw E. crawl (other than on skype and videos I’ve posted), and when she next sees him he’ll be running.

****

Q’s grandmother passed away on Monday. It was not unexpected, as she had been declining for some months, but the end came faster than anyone was really anticipating.

Friday Q. leaves to make the long flight down under. He’ll be gone for a week. Despite the pleas from E’s aunty, we felt it would be just too much to subject E. to that flight and everything that comes with a fifteen hour time difference, especially for such a short time.

She met E. when we were there in July. She had one of her most lucid days of the past few months when she saw him. She knew exactly who he was, and she could still assess what he was doing from her perspective as an early childhood educator.

He will never know her.

****

One of Q.’s sisters has been in the U.K. for close to two years now. She wasn’t back home when we visited in the summer.

She has never met E.

****

Having a child changes your perspective on your family. It changes how you view your own parents, and your relationship with them, but it also changes your perspective on your extended family, on your ancestors, on your place in the world. Or at least that’s what I’ve found. I find myself drawn to our family history, wanting to quiz my grandfather and my aunt (who are the respective keepers of the family lore on each side) about the stories I know, and the ones I don’t. Over the last year and a bit I’ve found myself choking back tears at the most unexpected moments, looking at my father and realizing that he once loved us and nurtured us as Q. loves our E., and imagining what it must have been like for him when my mother said she wanted a divorce and he saw us only on weekends, and sometimes even less than that when his career took him across provinces and overseas. I walked the floors with a sleepless infant and understood, at last, some of the things my mother said to me. I thought about the cruel words I hurled at both parents during my adolescence when I was still so angry about the destruction of my family, and in my undergraduate days when I knew everything, as only young adults can, and I regretted them.

The level of connection I feel to them now is astonishing. It is an ever-present weight, like the comforting pressure of a heavy blanket that you’ve draped over your legs on a chilly day.

I have always loved my parents, and I have always felt relatively close to them. But becoming a parent myself has changed things more than I could have possibly imagined.

I spent five years living overseas. During the years we lived in Q.’s home country, the time difference made it a challenge to stay in touch with my parents. I had to call on Saturday or Sunday mornings, and most weeks I had co-curricular commitments on Saturdays for the school where I taught. Sunday morning was a special time for Q. and I, and I was reluctant to let other obligations intrude on our delightful routine of croissants and newspapers and long walks, particularly not phone conversations with my parents who have never mastered the art (as Q.’s mother has) of a brief chat.

The result was one of my sisters telling me, “The parents both told me that they feel very disconnected from you. They don’t feel like they have much of a sense of your life.”

At the time it didn’t much matter.

When we moved back to Canada, Q. resumed phoning his mother on a weekly basis as he had done while overseas for graduate school. I admired his consistency even as I knew it would never work with my family, since I had two sets of parents who both tended to expect hour-long phone calls. Being back home made it much easier for me to reconnect with my family, especially with my sisters who both ended up in the same city as Q. and I. It was the first time in a decade all three of us had lived in the same place, and we really took advantage of it. They were a source of enormous support during the three years we waited for E.

I loved my family. I was close with my family. But I never really sat down and thought about this. It didn’t really matter all that much.

And then we had E.

And now it is physically painful for me to think about my sisters being on the other side of the continent, and Q.’s family being on the other side of the world, and my parents being far enough away that driving up just for a weekend isn’t really feasible.

No one tells you about this when you meet and fall in love with someone from another country. You know, rationally, that someone is always going to be in the wrong country. You understand that one partner’s family is always going to be on the other end of the phone, or the webcam, or the flight path, or at least you think you do.

And then you have a child, and suddenly these familial connections that did not even register before become all-consuming.

It kills me that E. will only see half of his family every couple of years (and it would be even more heartbreaking for me if we were still living in Q.’s home country and it was my family that was so far away).

It kills me that my youngest sister has only met E. three times, and that my other sister hasn’t seen him for six months after seeing him every week of his life.

It kills me that a trip to go and see my parents ends up costing at least $400 when car rentals and cat sitters and fuel prices are taken into account.

My parents raised us to be full of confidence, ready to take on the world. We were nurtured and loved and encouraged to seek out our dreams. We were taught to be strong, independent young women, to embrace opportunity when it came knocking.

I didn’t realize at the time how easy that would make it for us to end up so far apart.

My parents have always been full of pride as my sisters and I won scholarships and landed jobs that took us over oceans and across continents. They cheered us on.

Now I understand how their hearts must have broken a little bit each time we moved further and further away.

Sometimes we came home again, of course.

But not always, and never for long enough.

****

My dad made an off-hand comment the other night after E. had gone to bed and we were chatting about his grandfather, my great-grandfather, the family patriarch who came to Canada and changed his name, which is why I have a last name of three letters rather than three words.

“I was thinking,” he said, “that when your grandfather was the age that I am now, he had five grandchildren, all between the ages of seven and twelve.”

My father has one: seventeen-month-old E.

My grandfather was 22 when he had my Dad, who was the eldest. Dad was 26 when he had me (also the eldest). I was 31, nearly 32, when E. was born (although I had wanted so badly to have my first child before I turned thirty). Q. was 34. We are by no means the oldest first-time parents of our friends.

It occurred to me as I lay in bed that night, listening to Q.’s steady breathing as he slept, that if E. has his children as late as Q. and I did, or even later, we will be that much older again than my father when we become grandparents.

If the trend continues, it will be only a couple of generations before parents become grandparents at an age that used to be reserved for becoming a great-grandparent.

People are living longer…but not that much. Not so much to ensure that these older grandparents will be fit and active and able to play and cuddle and talk to and hug and advise and teach and love their grandchildren the way that I, the eldest child of two eldest children, was by my grandparents on both sides of my family.

And families are becoming smaller and smaller, so there will be fewer aunts and uncles, fewer cousins, to help make up for the earlier loss of grandparents.

They say it takes a village to raise a child.

The village is shrinking.

And that makes me terribly sad, in a way that I couldn’t have possibly imagined or even understood before I had E.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), E.- the second year, Family

The seventeenth month

Dearest E.,

This letter is a bit late since we were away over the weekend celebrating Thanksgiving at your grandparents’ houses. I have so much to be thankful for, and that really came home to me on Thanksgiving Monday when I looked at you and realized that you were suddenly seventeen months old! Next month you will be a year and a half! I keep finding myself flipping through your baby journal and comparing what you were doing at this time last year to what you are doing now. I still find it hard to believe that at this time last year you couldn’t even sit up on your own, and now you putter all around our house, completely at ease on your feet.

This month was a month of consolidation. Learning to walk last month was a huge milestone, and it’s been interesting to watch you experiment with your balance and your feet as your confidence increased. I can’t remember the last time you crawled anywhere, even when on uneven ground at the park. You’re not running yet, but you can move at a pretty good pace when you get going, and you’re becoming more adept at going down stairs standing up and holding on to the bannister (you still exclusively crawl up the stairs). Now that you’re walking with confidence I’ve been trying to stand back and let you do more things yourself. You can wriggle out of your stroller without any difficulty, although you still need a bit of assistance to get in. You love walking to and from our front door. You are so careful as you go up (or down) the stairs that lead to our front porch, and you love to stop and point out the flowers in our front garden. You can drink from a glass without spilling, although you do still need me to hold it for you, and you’re becoming quite adept at using a spoon. You do still prefer to eat with your hands 90% of the time, even if you’re eating yoghurt. You offer me your arms and legs when I’m getting you dressed in the morning, and you can pull your own shirts off over your head.

Quite early in the month you decided you didn’t want to sit in your little red car anymore when going for walks in the neighbourhood- you wanted to push it yourself! For a couple of weeks it seemed we spent nearly every afternoon out on our street with you pushing your car up and down the sidewalk, pointing out flowers and collecting leaves and rocks and sticks and giving them to me for safekeeping. You were very upset when the car had to be put away because it was time to come in to make dinner, or if we got the stroller out instead. You’re definitely a toddler now, and you’ve been known to throw the old tantrum. I don’t think they’re anything like the scale some of your baby friends are producing, because you really are still remarkably easy going, but you’ve perfected your limp noodle impression (or alternatively your rigid board) and more than once you’ve ended up lying on the floor weeping with frustration. The worst tantrum we’ve had yet occurred on a day when we were outside watching the steam rollers on our street. Eventually they drove off, and you looked at me and requested “more” steamrollers. When I failed to produce them, it was as though your heart was breaking. I hate hearing you cry, but I know that you are old enough now to start to understand that you can’t always get what you want, exactly at the moment you want it. It’s a delicate balance, but we’re figuring it out.

You have very clear ideas about how you want your day to unfold. It is so clear to me that you’re currently in a phase where you love order and routine and you want things to be kept EXACTLY AS THEY ALWAYS ARE. You like choosing your own bedtime stories at night and will even point out the order in which you want me to read them. You love putting your toys away before bathtime and will sometimes even do this before your nap without being asked. You are the biggest fan of the vacuum and the broom and the dustpan and brush, and almost every afternoon I’ll find you standing by the broom closet signing “more” and waiting hopefully for me to agree to sweep. I’ll start with the broom while you carry around the dustpan and brush and then we’ll switch. You’ve pretty much preferred sweeping or watching me vacuum to playing with any of your toys all month. Our house has never been this clean! You decide when you would like to have a snack, and on more than one occasion your Daddy and I have turned around from doing something else to discover that you’ve opened the door to the pantry and were carrying around the tupperware container of crackers (I think you would eat crackers all day long if we let you. Occasionally the day starts off with tears if you’ve asked for crackers for breakfast and we’ve said no).

You really love being included in daily tasks. You’ll carefully hand me plates and bowls one at a time from the dishwasher, you’ll carry your plate into the kitchen and put it on the counter if asked, you get your shoes out of the cupboard before a walk and put them away afterwards, and you absolutely adore standing on a chair next to me in the kitchen and helping me make dinner. We made zucchini bread one day and you needed no prompting to know what to do with the wooden spoon covered in batter! Although I have to pay more attention to what I’m doing if I have you right next to me (especially if I’m chopping vegetables), I love watching you concentrate fiercely while putting chopped veggies in the mixing bowl, making sure to try three or four along the way. You eat all sorts of things while we’re making dinner that you refuse time and time again if they appear on your plate when you’re at the table. A couple of times you’ve actually been too full to eat dinner as you were so busy beforehand helping me cook and munching on chickpeas and red pepper and kale.

We did a bit of travelling this month and that really showed that you are old enough now both to recognize that your routine has been altered and to be disrupted by the changes. You and I flew down to Virginia for a weekend to visit one of my friends and her family. I was so proud of how you behaved at the airport and on the plane. You loved looking out the window, both before we took off and while we were in the air. You were content to sit on my lap, read your stories, eat your snack, and listen to the songs I was singing. It was harder for you to cope while we were visiting. I think you found my friend’s children overwhelming; I kept finding you heading downstairs to the basement where you could play by yourself in peace and quiet. It was a similar story when we were away over Thanksgiving at the very end of the month. You were ok for the first little while at your Grannie’s house, but once we were at Grandpa’s and you’d been away from home for close to a week it became clear that you were finding it all to be a bit too much. You were so happy the first day we were back at home. You unpacked all of your toys and took all of your books off the shelves- it looked to me like you were excited to see them all again. You did so well in the car- we experimented with driving during your night and both times you were happy enough to be loaded into your carseat in your pjs. You chatted to yourself until the sun went down and then cuddled your bunny and put yourself right to sleep. It wasn’t a great sleep, as we could tell it was quite shallow, but you didn’t wake up until the drive was over both times, and then you went right back to sleep as soon as we put you in your crib. We’re very excited about this development, as it will mean we can spend more time visiting your grandparents since we won’t have to leave early in the day to get home before your bedtime.

One side effect of the trip down south was you became even more attached to your bunny blanket. At the beginning of the month you’d started wanting to hold on to her and cuddle her while I sang you your lullabies right before I put you in the crib at night, but it was still rare for her to come out of the crib unless we were driving somewhere. While in Virginia, however, she basically never left your side. Your favourite part of the whole visit was the birthday party out at a farm- you loved the tractors and the donkeys and especially the wagon ride, and your bunny was your constant companion. It was a similar story over Thanksgiving- you wanted to bring her with you when you came down for breakfast, and she never went back to the crib until naptime. At home you clearly feel that you don’t need to rely as heavily on her, although you do sometimes request that we go upstairs and get her partway through the day, and we’ve had the odd meal where she’s been sitting up at the table as well. Your Daddy and I both had very special stuffed animals when we were little, so we’re glad you’ve decided she’s a good friend.

Your receptive vocabulary continues to astonish us. You can listen to and understand quite complex instructions now. You’re starting to get the idea of imaginative play, and you’ll hold the phone up to your ear, or pretend to munch on the play food at your Grandpa’s house. This month you’ve been especially excited by clocks, ladybugs, butterflies, and spiders. You’ll point to every clock you see, and you’ll fetch books that you want me to read that I suspect you’ve chosen solely because they have pictures of various bugs in them. You picked up a few words this month. You’re not all that interested in nouns yet, as we’re fairly certain you can say “up”, “done” or “all done”, “there” and “more” plus one more that means “dump truck” or “cement mixer” and is the verbal match to the sign you invented (you still love trucks). We think you have quite a few more words that you’re using and we just haven’t figured them out yet, as you’ll occasionally interrupt your babble and jargoning to tell us something with great deliberation that is clearly a word. You’re also just as clearly annoyed when you realize that silly Mummy and Daddy have failed, yet again, to understand what you have told us. We promise we’ll try harder to figure it out.

You are such a delight right now, my darling son. One of my favourite parts of the day is watching you rush around the top floor of our house after your bath, stark naked and shrieking with glee. We put on cds and dance around the kitchen and it never fails to make your Daddy and I laugh to watch you boogie and bounce up and down. I love taking our daily walks around the neighbourhood and watching you explore. It made my heart melt when we were at your Grannie’s house and your favourite thing to do each day was go outside to help her fill the bird feeders and then pick flowers from her garden that you would bring to me, one at a time, with a huge smile on your face. I never thought parenting a toddler could be so much fun!

Love always
Mummy

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Filed under E.- the second year, Letters to E.

Some truth to it all, after all.

E. and I went away for the weekend to visit one of my best friends who now lives in the U.S. She has two boys, about-to-be five (his birthday party was the weekend we were visiting) and about-to-be three. It was wonderful to see her. It was also an eye-opening experience.

I had a bit of a rant in my last post about being categorized as the Responsibility mother in the online mothering personalities quiz that I took. And I still stand by my complaints about it- I think the portrayal was quite rigid and didn’t leave enough room for the flexibility and spontaneity that I know I do possess.

But while I’m pretty good at being flexible and spontaneous when E. needs/wants to do something that doesn’t quite line up with what I’ve planned, this visit really drove home that I am NOT good at living in a less ordered household. My friend and her husband are far more fly by the seat of your pants type people than either Q. or I. This is not a criticism. Their household works well for them and suits their two boys and they are all happy and healthy. They have a routine and an order to their days- it just doesn’t have a lot in common with ours.

I found it exhausting. I don’t know if it was the noisy toys, or the exuberant boys, or the meal-time chaos, but I really struggled with keeping my own tension levels down.

And E? E. was basically a basket case. I think he is now old enough both to really recognize that he is not at home and not in his room and things are different and Daddy is not here AND to be really bothered by this. He is definitely entering the loving order and structure and routine and keeping things JUST AS THEY ALWAYS ARE phase of toddlerhood.

He is also, I’m becoming more and more aware, quite reserved and very sensitive. Where he once was the baby who thrived on new places and new people and exciting new things to look at, he’s now a toddler who cries if I put him down as soon as we get to a drop-in, one who needs to be held while he scopes out the situation, one who can be easily overwhelmed by too many new people being too noisy. The last couple of weeks I’ve made more of an effort to go out to drop-in playgroups and music times, and while E. usually warms up eventually and ends up having a nice time, it’s not immediate. The other week we were at a music drop-in and a whole bunch of nannies came in at once with their charges and E. burst into tears. He spent the first half of the session hiding behind me. By the end he was dancing to the music and throwing anyone who made eye contact his patented huge smiles, but he had started out decidedly unsure. This morning I ended up leaving the drop-in playgroup halfway through circle time because it was obviously just proving to be too much for him. I’m clearly not going to be spending a whole bunch of money on toddler art and music and gymnastics and swimming classes for the winter.

So my friend’s two boisterous boys, on top of a new environment, were just too much for him. He loved all the new toys, and he loved exploring the house, but I kept finding him going down the stairs to the basement (where we were sleeping) to play with the toys down there, by himself, in peace and quiet.

His sleep was hurt by it as well. It didn’t help that the many events of the weekend and our travelling schedule meant that he worked up a progressively larger sleep deficit as the weekend continued, as I’ve noticed before that overtired E. = unexpected night wakings. And it certainly didn’t help that he kept waking up with a dirty diaper, and that I was in the same room as him (he sleeps about a billion times better if he is in his own room). And he was struggling with the new crib- the first night when I put him down I had to go back in and take him out and lie with him on the air mattress for another half an hour or so until he was calm enough to be put back in the crib. He still shrieked at me when I left, but it was short-lived and it wasn’t the panicked “Where am I and where are you going, Mummy- DON’T LEAVE ME!” cry I had been getting. It was more of his usual pre-falling asleep grizzling where he complains that he’s not tired and he doesn’t want to miss anything.

The end result was while he took naps in the crib without any real issues, he spent most of the nights happily stretched out horizontally along the middle of my air mattress, cuddling his bunny, while I balanced on the extreme far right-hand edge. We got home last night and he promptly slept through the whole night without a peep in his own crib, while I dragged myself out of bed to go stand in line at 7 a.m. as today was the day registration opened for the nursery school we hope he’ll be attending next fall (I was first in line- hurrah! Totally worth getting up so early. See, there’s that Responsibility mother rearing her head again…).

During the day E. was basically glued to me, and his bunny lovey, which before now had only ever come out of the crib for him to cuddle with when we were in the car, suddenly became his constant companion. We went to a farm for the birthday party, and while E. LOVED seeing the donkeys, and LOVED the tractors, and was so happy to on a wagon ride I thought he would explode, his bunny never left his side. She’s been a near-constant companion since getting home as well. I’m going to have to master the art of getting him to put her down long enough so I can wash her occasionally.

We’re going away again this weekend for Thanksgiving and it will be interesting to see how he copes with semi-new environments and semi-new people, as he has been to my parents’ houses a few times now, most recently in June, and they’ve visited here quite frequently too.

Even if he was a slightly stressed out guest, he was a SUPERB traveller. He walked in the airports between gates, and stuck close to me when I asked him to stay nearby; he didn’t fuss when I had to carry him, or when we went through security; he ate his snacks; and he even coped with an extra long stay in the airport on the way home when our flight was delayed due to a mechanical problem (I personally will never complain about an plane being late if the reason it is late is they are FIXING the plane. I am all for flying in safe, non-problematic aircraft). Granted, the flights were NOTHING like our epic trip in July, being only a little bit over an hour, but he was still absolutely wonderful (with the exception of dumping his apple juice on my jeans on the homeward leg and throwing our pretzels all over the person next to us. Take away that two minute period and he was absolutely flawless).

He loved being in the airports and watching the planes. He loved being able to run around the departure lounges. He pointed out all the baggage carts to me, and all the planes at every gate.

And we had the best bit of karma. While we were waiting to get on our flight down to the U.S., he was standing at the window of the departure lounge, looking at our plane and waving his bunny around. He wasn’t making ANY noise. And this horrible man looked at him and then looked at his wife and said, loudly enough to make sure I would hear, “Well, I hope he’s at the other end of the plane.”

E., as I’ve already said, was flawless on that flight. Not one bit of fussing. Sat in my lap, read his books, ate his snack, and looked out the window (first time he’s shown an interest in what was visible- he was very keen on looking out during our descent both times). And we WERE at the other end of the plane because the flight attendant bumped us up to business class when we boarded, and horrible man was stuck somewhere in economy! Ha!

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Filed under Daily Life, E.- the second year, Friends, What were we thinking? (aka travelling with small children)

Growing into the job.

Sorry for the radio silence, readers. I’ve been buried under a dissertation chapter, but I got the draft finished on time (read: in time to meet my self-imposed deadline- must stop setting those) so things can ease a little now until later in the semester.

There have been about a billion posts I’ve wanted to write over the last couple of weeks, and I’ve just never had the time to sit down and put two thoughts together. Posts about how much fun E. is at the moment, even with the emergence of tantrums and ever-increasing daily frustrations we both experience when I put the vacuum away, or tell him he can’t have crackers for breakfast, or ask him to put away his toy car and come inside because it’s lunchtime. E. remains very even tempered and mild mannered, but he is definitely starting to realize that he can exert his own will, and his opinions about his day-to-day existence are becoming ever more set in stone. Then there are the usual posts about trying to balance motherhood and the PhD. Posts about parenting and how to get on the same page as one’s spouse and how to express to one’s spouse that tantrums are developmentally normal without making said spouse feel judged or criticized (actually I probably still need to write that one). Posts marvelling at all the things E. is doing right now that make him add up to be his own little person: he pushes his ride-on car everywhere and refuses to sit in it; he chooses his own bedtime stories and knows the order he wants you to read them; he’s starting to request particular foods for breakfast rather than just eating whatever it was we decided he might like. A post about how clean my house is now that all E. wants me to do is vacuum and/or sweep ALL.DAY.LONG, with hysterical weeping ensuing if I either put the vacuum or broom away or refuse to get them out in the first place. A post about cooking and baking with a toddler, complete with a picture of E. instinctively knowing that when one has wooden spoons covered in zucchini bread batter, the only thing to do is lick them.

I just haven’t had time to get to them. And in some ways I haven’t felt a real need to write them. This blog has been, for years now, my outlet, my place where I get out my fears and my anxieties, where I ask for support, where I look for answers to a problem. I noticed ages ago that I tend not to post very much when I’m happy, when I feel things are going well.

And right now? I am SO happy.

I realized a week or so ago that I was a good mum to E. as a newborn. Even with all the anxiety and the worry and the reading of parenting books, I think I managed to stay above minimum standard. E. grew and thrived. I was an even better mum in the second half of his first year- more relaxed, more willing to follow E., better able to draw what was useful from the parenting books I was still reading and discard what was not.

What I realized a week or so ago was that I don’t think I was all that suited to parenting an infant, and I definitely wasn’t suited to parenting a newborn.

But a toddler?

I’m just coming into my own.

I don’t know if it’s a result of the newfound confidence in my own parenting I developed after E’s first birthday, or if it’s more from E’s own developmental leaps that have made him such an amazing and interesting little person, but I am LOVING being E’s mum right now.

Scratch that. I have always loved being E’s mum. I just haven’t always loved the act of mothering. I haven’t always loved the jobs. I haven’t always loved what being E’s mum has required of me.

But right now, I love it all. Every single bit of the package.

Maybe I’m still high from getting enough sleep every night (which has literally changed my life), or I’ve been given a new burst of energy from E’s amazing naps (now that he takes only one nap he sleeps for longer during the day than he ever has in his life. Go figure.) but frustrations and issues and wonky developmental leaps that would have sent me into a tailspin in the first year now barely register. E. wakes up two nights in a row in the middle of the night and won’t go back down for two hours? Whatever. It’ll pass. E. only takes a 90 minute nap and is fussy and whiny and on a short fuse for the rest of the afternoon? Tomorrow’s another day. E.’s still not saying anything other than “Dadee” and “mama”, much to my MIL’s chagrin? Ah well. He’s on his own developmental arc and there’s so clearly nothing wrong with him I can’t bring myself to get worked up about it. E. is lying on the floor weeping hysterically because I suggested we go upstairs for a diaper change? Whoops- guess I didn’t give him a clear enough transition. We’ll read a couple more stories and then see if he’s ready.

I can’t stop thinking that I am unbelievably privileged to watch this little person develop, right before my eyes. It’s hard some days to pass him over to Q. so I can get some work done on the dissertation.

When E. is hard work, when he’s arching his back and screaming or lying on the floor weeping, I can usually tell what the problem is, and if it is something that could be easily fixed, or whether he will have to learn to manage his frustration. The crying doesn’t bother me anywhere near how it used to when he was little. If I can’t figure out what the problem is, I can keep asking him questions and making suggestions until I finally say the right thing. And E. himself is becoming very adept at explaining what he wants. The other day we went to a drop-in. E. had a meltdown on the front steps because I wanted to take the stroller and not his ride-on car, because I knew he wouldn’t ride in the car but would insist on pushing it, which would mean we would get three houses down the street rather than to the drop-in. Eventually he calmed down, we got out the stroller, and off we went. At the drop-in I was reading E. a book and there was a picture of a car in it. E. started pointing at the car, signing more, and walking to the door to get his fleece. I finally asked him, “Do you want to go home and push your car around?” and got a hugely enthusiastic yes (or E’s version thereof). We stayed for circle time, then we went home, and he pushed his car around for another hour or so. It was a great morning.

I can see my role now, my place as guardian of this little spirit, my responsibility to nurture it and protect it and yet also give it the freedom it needs and demands and longs for so that it can grow.

I can see E. making sense of his world ALL.DAY.LONG. It is mind-blowing. We go for a walk down our street with E. pushing his little red car in front of him, and me wandering casually at his side to make sure he doesn’t suddenly pop off the sidewalk into traffic (as he is wont to do), and he’ll stop and pick up leaves and rocks and sticks and hand them to me for safe keeping, and then he’ll abandon his car and trundle off down the sidewalk as fast as he can go, and I just watch him and the love that I feel in those moments is overpowering.

A few weeks ago I did an online quiz to determine my “mothering style” (a quiz loosely based around the Myers-Briggs personality tests). I came back as Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging, or the type they classified as the “Responsibility” mother. Here’s what the website had to say about her:

  • The ISTJ mother has a highly developed sense of responsibility: for work, home, family … particularly her children. Whether she’s overseeing daily baths or insisting on a 10 p.m. curfew, her efforts are largely focused on providing her children with order and routine. She wants them, regardless of age, to be able to count on her and the structure she provides.
  • In carrying out her commitment to her responsibilities, the ISTJ mother is organized, industrious, and detail-oriented. Because her focus is the day-to-day realities of life, her children are likely to feel secure and well provided for.
  • The ISTJ mother also sets a good example and provides her children with practical guidance on being a productive, responsible individual. Still, with all her seriousness, she may delight family members with her quick wit and observations about the details of life.

I’m not going to lie. When I first read this, I was horrified. Yes, I love my to-do lists, and yes, our household works best with a routine that Q. and I work hard to protect, but the sort of person they were describing in their analysis was NOT the way I wanted to mother. There was no room in that description for flexibility, for silliness, for imagination, for seeing the individual in the child, for following the child.

Six months ago that quiz would have sent me into a tailspin. I would have been heartbroken at the result and would probably have started searching for parenting books that would promise to infuse a bit of spontaneity into my relationship with E.

After I’d digested the results, however, I was able to see how I ended up with the label that I did. The quiz would ask whether something described me well, somewhat, or not at all.  I tended to mainly choose somewhat, unless it was something I felt very strongly about. And because I know I do well with instituting routines, and because routines are important in our household, those questions tended to be ones where I chose “well” with confidence. There were other questions where I felt I wasn’t sure I could choose “well” yet, as I didn’t feel I’d had enough time with E. to choose one way or another. The end result must have been that my parenting was skewed towards the Responsibility mother.

I’m not saying the results were totally inaccurate. Anyone who has read this blog would know that in a lot of ways the Responsibility mother does reflect the way I parent. But it doesn’t tell the whole story, not by a long shot. There’s no room in that description for the Mum who sweeps the main floor over and over again because it makes her son smile, or the Mum who sets her son up on a chair so he can help her with dinner or with the baking even though that inevitably slows down the process and makes a mess. The Responsibility mother doesn’t have the imagination I know I do. The Responsibility mother, I feel, would struggle with handing over responsibility for eating to E., something which I’ve mastered most days (even when all he wants to eat is carbohydrates). Most of all, the Responsibility mother doesn’t seem to have room in her highly organized day for her child’s own ideas.

Maintaining order and a routine is important to me. We’re not the sort of household that would do well flying by the seat of our pants, especially not with Q. and I trading off with E’s care. We’ve struggled a bit with balancing our need for order with E’s own needs, especially in the early months, but I think we’ve figured it out. Yes, we do try to protect E’s naps and bedtime, but that’s because he responds really well to this- the few times he’s had a really late bedtime we have paid for it with night wakings, early risings, and general misery all round. And now that he’s down to one nap, it’s simply not negotiable- I won’t go out to a playdate when I know he would normally be napping. So it does matter.

But it’s not the focus of my parenting. The focus of my parenting is E.

And that, I think, is how it should be.

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Filed under Butter scraped over too much bread (a.k.a. modern motherhood), E.- the second year

Wouldn’t you know…

Most of my mum friends took baby sign language classes. I, resolutely, did not. I thought they were a waste of money. I got the book out of the library (this does not surprise you at all, does it?), and then scanned all the pages with the signs on them into a PDF file for future reference.

“E. doesn’t need to have a billion signs,” I said to anyone who was listening. “We’ll try and teach him some really useful ones, but that’ll be it. I’m not going to be one of these overachieving, secretly terribly anxious, competitive middle-class mums who brags that her kid has fifty signs including the one for ‘crocodile’. When is he going to need a sign for crocodile? It’s not like we live near the zoo.”

And so we did. We taught E. only a few signs, the ones we thought would be most useful.

But here’s the thing- E. has been inventing his own signs, like the one he uses for ‘tired/nap/sleep’.

At fifteen months, E. signs ‘more’, ‘all done’, ‘milk’, ‘water’, ‘diaper change’, ‘tired/nap/sleep’ and… ‘crocodile’.

We did NOT teach him a sign for crocodile. But he claps his hands together in a snapping motion whenever he sees one. And it turns out quite a few of his books have crocodiles in them.

Who knew?

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Filed under Baby Olympics, E.- the second year

Personality plus

I’ve mentioned a few times on here that E. is, by nature, a really happy baby/toddler. That he loves going new places and meeting new people. That he takes new things in his stride.

E’s relatives often say the same thing over and over again to Q. and I: “You’ve done so well with him.”

They are trying, I know, to give us a compliment, to praise our parenting skills, to express approval of the fine young lad we are raising.

But I always find it a curious comment. Because, really, E. is too young yet for his behaviour to be all that heavily influenced by what we tell him to do/not to do. He still throws his food on the floor whenever he feels like it, even though we have spent months asking him not to do this.

I feel like we’re being praised because E. is a happy little guy.

And I just don’t think we can take credit for that.

Yes, he knows he is loved, and he has secure emotional attachments to us, and he is confident that his needs will be met.

But ultimately, E. is just a happy, laid-back baby.

I always feel sorry for my friends who have more intense/high needs babies when people praise us for this wonderful job we’ve apparently done to produce a son who just smiles all day long.

I have friends with babies who are cranky. Babies who are fussy. Babies who don’t handle changes to their routine, who can’t cope with strangers, who can’t miss a nap without losing the plot entirely.

Those babies are also equally loved, equally secure in their attachments to their parents, equally confident that their needs will be met.

It’s not their parents’ fault that those babies are not as happy-go-lucky, not as adaptable as E. Their babies just have a different temperament. Their parents aren’t doing anything wrong.

So when Q. and I get praised for producing such a happy guy, I always feel a bit uncomfortable. We’ve done a lot of things to make him happy, but ultimately, we got lucky.

Thinking about E’s temperament while we were away made me want to write a post about his personality, because there is just so much of it these days, and I know he’ll continue to grow and change. I don’t for a moment think he’ll necessarily keep all of these traits as he gets older, and I’m determined not to be one of those parents who labels a child as “outgoing” or “dramatic” and then finds the label becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I would like a record to remind me, later, of what he is like now.

The first thing that always pops into my mind when I think about E. is how happy he is. This kid almost never.stops.smiling. Huge smiles when he sees me or his Daddy. Big toothy grins when he’s accomplished a particular task he’s set himself. Self-satisfied little smirks when he thinks he’s getting away with something. Cheeky grins when he’s being naughty (and knows it). When he isn’t smiling, it’s generally pretty easy to improve his mood. He has always responded incredibly well to being picked up and cuddled- it’s been a very rare occasion when that in itself hasn’t been enough to stop his crying almost immediately. Even when he’s overtired, or ill, or frustrated, or overwhelmed, he will often still manage to hold things together and stay his normal cheerful self. He does this hilarious thing at the moment where when he gets frustrated he’ll start to make this weird half-crying, half-crowing noise that makes him sound like a rooster, and then when he solves the problem he makes the most self-satisfied little sound, smiles to himself and then just goes about his business like nothing amiss has ever happened.

He remains an extrovert. When he was really little he just couldn’t get enough of going to new places and meeting new people. His idea of heaven was a trip on the subway or the streetcar. I swear he would set himself goals of just how many people he could charm between stops. He can be a bit more hesitant now, especially if he’s just woken up and found himself in a new place, or if people have suddenly arrived and want to play with him in a loud, boisterous manner (my father is the main offender here). But he still really enjoys going to new places- he just gets so obviously bored if we stay at home for too long. He’s fascinated by older kids, but will interact a lot with kids his own age as well, which I think is probably because he’s spent so much time with his baby friends. And, of course, he still loves the cats. He really really loves the cats, and even though he is getting so much better about trying to pat them rather than grab their fur, they still head for the hills if he crawls up behind them unexpectedly.

He’s pretty flexible and adaptable, but only to a point. He coped incredibly well with the trip down under, and all the travelling around we did while visiting. I think at one point we’d put him down in four different houses within the space of four days, and he went to sleep without a struggle each time. He can manage to miss the occasional nap without his world collapsing, although now that he’s down to one, I wouldn’t want to see him go more than a day without a proper nap. At the same time, he loves his routines and absolutely thrives on them. From the time that he was three weeks old he understood that nighttime was for sleeping, and while it took thirteen months to get him sleeping through the night, he almost never refused to go back to sleep after he’d been fed. He wasn’t an all-night-baby-dance-party sort of baby. Now he knows when it should be mealtime, he tells us that it’s time for his nap, and he loses the plot completely if you deviate from the bedtime routine. One afternoon he was so exhausted that as soon as he was in the crib he started sucking his thumb and cuddling his bunny, so I didn’t pick him back up to do the lullaby I normally do before his naps. After about a minute of listening to him scream his head off in outrage, I went back upstairs, picked him up, sang to him for about a minute, put him back down in the crib and left, and he promptly went straight to sleep and didn’t make a sound for two hours. Lesson learned.

He is quite the stoic. It still makes me shake my head that it took us MONTHS to realize that he couldn’t tolerate dairy and soy. Even when his gut was bleeding as a result he was still a happy, cheerful baby 90% of the time. I’ve noticed this with teeth as well. He’s obviously uncomfortable when teething, and we do tend to give him one round of Ad.vil before bed, but that seems to be all he needs to sleep through the night with very few random wakings, and during the day he’s usually fine to be unmedicated. He takes all manner of knocks and bumps in his stride- it’s much harder for his father and me to keep from gasping and rushing to see if he’s been hurt.

He is incredibly deliberate and precise in what he does. He’s always been like that- I remember my Mum commenting on it when he was barely able to grasp things, and it just became even more obvious once he started eating solid food. He is so careful, so delicate with his hands. You can see him thinking all the time about what he’s going to do next and how he’s going to go about doing it. He likes to have things just so, like how he’ll line up his ducks on the rim of the bath and make sure they’re all facing him, or how when he’s stacking his Mega.bloks he’ll pull off two or three double blocks if he finds another quadruple one that will fit on the ones he’s used as a base. Even though he’s incredibly busy (my Dad’s summary of E. ever since about Christmas has always been, “I can’t believe how much he eats! I can’t believe how much he smiles! I can’t believe how he never stops moving!”), his movements always seem to have a purpose behind them. He never seemed to start crawling somewhere just for the sake of it- there was always a destination in mind, and this has stayed true now that he’s started walking.

He’s not a chatterbox. He says quite a lot and definitely now tries to tell us something from time to time (unfortunately I haven’t brushed up on my Ewok lately so I can’t quite make out what he’s trying so hard to get across), but he’s not like some of the other babies I’ve met who seem to be babbling constantly. He’ll play for quite a long time by himself just making the occasional ‘ooh’ when he feels he’s done something of note. At the same time, he doesn’t miss a thing. It became a bit of a running joke between Q. and I that whenever I came back from a walk with E. when he was little Q. would ask how many people had commented on how alert E. was for whatever age he happened to be at the time. It was literally probably the first thing people said to me 90% of the time after they asked how old he was for about the first six months. I remember my sister not really understanding it, and then she came back from a trip to the mall and said that all the other babies looked a bit zoned out and she finally understood why everyone said what they did about E. Even in his first couple of weeks in the world, he just seemed so aware, so attentive. He never had that funny lack of focus that babies seem to have for the first two months where their eyes always look a bit off center. He just stared straight into your soul.

He has a great sense of humour, but he’s never been one of those babies who laughs all the time. It’s a struggle to get big belly laughs out of him (Q. is much better at this than I am- I think Daddies are somehow inherently more amusing than Mummies), and even giggles can be hard to come by. It’s not that he’s dour or grumpy, or even that serious, given he’s usually got a smile on his face even while resolutely refusing to give up a giggle. When he does something that he knows is funny he’ll often just sit there and smile and look pleased with himself while his father and I fall about laughing. The one exception I can think of was when he fooled my Dad into thinking he wanted to be picked up, but then he hid his face in my lap before repeating the request to be picked up again. He did this over and over, and the laughter just kept building. He is quite ticklish, and he does love his Daddy’s crazy noises and faces.

He is curious and adventurous without being a daredevil, which is quite a nice combination in that he’s still not scaling the couch or the bookshelves, but if we go to the park he’ll trundle off and explore. He is, blessedly, not particularly stubborn and remains very willing to accept redirection or a distraction if he’s doing something we’d like him to stop. We’ve yet to experience anything even remotely resembling a tantrum. He’s independent, in that he can often play for half an hour or more by himself while we make dinner, but at the same time he really loves spending time with us, and if we’re in the kitchen and he’s reorganizing his books in the living room he’ll often pop back around the corner just to touch base. There are points in the day when he really wants you to just sit right next to him while he does his own thing. He’s affectionate and loving- he gives huge, open-mouthed kisses- but not particularly cuddly- he’s got too much else to do. It’s funny to think that for the first three months or so we basically never put him down except to sleep at night. When he had his first bad fever, he was so sad and lethargic and miserable that all he wanted to do was lie on our chests, and both Q. and I admitted to each other that although we felt terrible that he was so unwell, secretly we were relishing all the baby cuddles.

I was watching him tonight after dinner as he pushed his little car around the couch in the living room and I thought my heart would explode with the strength of my love for him.

He is becoming his own little person.

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Filed under Blink and you'll miss it, E.- the second year, Emotions

Keeping quiet

The other half of E’s family totally fell in love with him while we were visiting.

“Oh he’s just beautiful!” was usually the first thing they said upon meeting him. And then E., bless him, would give them this huge smile, which only inspired even more adoration.

My son, he’s a bit of a ham (did I mention that he sometimes smiles for the camera on cue?).

I am wildly biased, of course, but I do think that E. is a very good looking little boy, and was a very good looking baby. I had many, many strangers stop me on the street to tell me how gorgeous he was when we were out walking. “I think so too, but then I’m biased,” was my usual response. Many of them would then tell me how given they were total strangers and hadn’t needed to stop, I should take that as definitive proof that E. was indeed a gorgeous baby.

So I wasn’t really surprised when we were visiting one of Q’s aunties that she immediately started exclaiming how gorgeous E. was, meaning not just his physical features, but also his temperament, and his general health and well being.

“He’s so healthy and happy,” she said. “He’s so clever.” And then she followed it up with this: “Not like those poor babies you read about all the time these days, the IVF ones.”

Talk about what I was not expecting to hear.

“I’m sorry?” I managed to sputter.

“Bad blood, that’s what [Q’s father] would have said, eh?” said Q.’s mother, E’s adoring Granny. “Bad blood.”

“I don’t think needing to use IVF suggests that there is something wrong with your children,” I said, but the conversation had changed direction and I didn’t push it.

But I thought about it. In the wee hours that night, when I couldn’t sleep because I was so upset by what they had said, I thought about it. And I wondered what they would say if they knew that their E., who, according to them, is so “happy”, so “healthy”, so “clever”, so “gorgeous”, “such a wonderful mix of the two of you”, is an IVF baby. I wonder if they’d still think he was the result of bad blood.

Q’s family doesn’t know anything about the struggle we went through to get our E. Q. felt very strongly that he didn’t want to tell his mother when we first started trying, and once we moved into heavy-duty ART, Q. didn’t want to say anything because he wasn’t entirely sure that his family, who are all quite Catholic, would actually approve.

My parents and sisters knew from the get-go that we were trying, and while I never actually said to my parents that we ended up using IVF, I’m pretty sure they’ve drawn that conclusion. And I know from a few things that some of my aunts have said that it did get out to the wider family that we were trying, and that we had a lot of trouble. One of my aunts had trouble conceiving her first child, so I felt quite comfortable telling her that E. was an IVF baby when she asked.

I don’t have a problem with telling people that E. was an IVF baby. If friends ask us if we’re thinking about a second, I usually say that we would love another baby but that we waited a long time for E. so we don’t know if we’ll be able to be so lucky again. Most don’t ask anything more. The ones who do, I gladly answer their questions.

I don’t feel infertility is shameful. I don’t feel our three-year struggle to have E. was my fault, even though it was my body who failed us. I’m not embarrassed that we needed help- I have, as it turned out, no less than three medical conditions that make getting and staying pregnant more difficult. I don’t subscribe to the idea that ART is somehow going against nature, that my being unable to conceive without a whole lot of doctors and drugs meant that it was God’s will that Q. and I be childless. To me, that makes about as much sense as saying that we should have let two of my very close friends die in childbirth because performing a c-section went against nature, and because their bodies were built in such a way that their babies couldn’t come out safely without help meant that it was God’s will that they get pregnant but never hold their children.

Nonsense.

Q. and I haven’t talked a lot yet about what we’ll say to E. about how he was conceived. I would like him to know that he was an IVF baby, when it makes sense to tell him, because I’m sure it will come out eventually from somewhere in my family, and I don’t want him to think that there is anything wrong with how he was created. I think Q. would rather not say anything. I think he feels it doesn’t really matter how E. was conceived- what matters now is E. is here.

Given my family knows, I can’t see how Q’s family won’t learn eventually that E. is the product of IVF. Even though they are on the other side of the world, there is enough contact between the two sides that I’m sure something will come out at some point. Q’s mother did comment during my pregnancy on how many ultrasounds we were getting. “Is that normal?” she asked Q. “No,” said Q. “The place where Turia is does a lot more monitoring than is normal.” She didn’t ask more questions. Maybe she has an inkling.

The other point in the visit where I found myself keeping quiet was when the discussion of schools came up. Q. comes from a country where it is basically seen as a form of neglect to leave your child in the public school system if you are middle class. Everyone who can afford it (and even some of those who can’t) sends their children to private schools. So it is a source of some contention between us when we talk about where E. will go to school, given I am a product of the public school system and have strong ideological ideas about taking E. and putting him in a private school.

Currently, Q. and I have the following compromise agreed upon:
– our local elementary school (literally right around the corner) offers French Immersion from kindergarten onwards. Q. feels this is an acceptable option (assuming E. will be suited for it), but the school only goes up to grade six
– we’re both agreed that the high school that our elementary school is a feeder school for is totally unacceptable. It’s not safe. I think if E stays in French immersion he goes to a different school, but we haven’t investigated this yet
– I’ve said if Q. wants to research private schools in our city, he can go ahead and do this, but I’m not sending E. to a boys’ school. If we decide private school makes the most sense for E’s high school  years, it has to be co-ed. Q. mainly wants to research to see if he has to put E’s name down for a school, as the school where Q. went basically required boys to have their names down from birth to be guaranteed a spot by year seven. I agree that it makes sense to leave all our options open, and we don’t want to discover eleven or twelve years hence that we needed to have put E’s name on a list before he was old enough for preschool.

We were discussing all of this when we were visiting Q’s family, and one of his aunties asked about Catholic schools (Q. and his sisters and his cousins all went to Catholic schools). “Yes,” said Q., “there are Catholic schools, some public, some private, just like here.”

He didn’t elaborate and his family didn’t ask any further questions, so we didn’t have to engage with the other big issue:

E. won’t be going to a Catholic school. E. isn’t baptized into any faith, and he will be baptized as a Catholic over my dead body.

Back when we first talked about having babies, we agreed that Q’s family was more Catholic than my family was Anglican, but that some members of each family would be very upset if E. was baptized in the other faith, so we’ve just left it for now, and E. can choose to be baptized when he’s older, if he so decides.

The deal breaker for me, though, and the reason why I will not, under any circumstances, agree to have E. baptized as a Catholic, is that when Robert G. Edwards was given the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2010, for the development of IVF, a Vatican official spoke out against the award. Church teaching opposes IVF because it separates conception from intercourse between husband and wife.

I cannot, will not, baptize E. into a faith that speaks against the way he was conceived.

I’m certain that one day Q’s family will ask why E. isn’t baptized and will wonder if he’s going to be a Catholic. If they do ask, I won’t lie.

But until then, I’m keeping quiet.

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Filed under A matter of faith, E.- the second year, Family