Terrible Two

photoMy son Henry turned two on August 22.

On the eve of his first birthday, I went through his tiny baby clothes and heaved profound guttural sobs over the loss of my little newborn son.

I remember him seeming so big compared to his first onesies, and how tragic I felt that I’d never get to hold my snorgly sweet-smelling wee little bundle of joy again.

I thought I’d have a similar experience this year for his birthday, but it must be that the bright light of what’s to come vanquishes the sadness about what’s gone.

For sure, there are moments like the maple syrup incident, the nightly meltdowns about going upstairs to bed, and the roadside pants-pooping. It’s not like parenting is for the weak of heart — or stomach.

There are the days where I’ve been yelled at, peed on, and am on my hands and knees picking rice off the floor while dinner-covered hands are still smearing everything in sight.

If I’m out and about with him and try to carry on a conversation with an adult at the same time, I’m fairly certain I don’t say anything intelligent because I’m trying to mentally stay one step ahead of him so he doesn’t hurt himself, hurt someone else, break something, make a mess, blow something up, and so on.

But all that means that he and I are interacting more than when he was just a drooling hip accessory, and the most notorious “incidents” are lifelong stories we’ll tell; juicy family lore in the making.

Besides, they’re balanced out by other moments.

Moments like him singing happy birthday, one of his favorite songs, to anyone he feels affectionate toward. Like how much he loved the “up high” Ferris Wheel at Magic Forest. Like how he takes his time and says “excuse me” on slides when older, bolder kids barrel past him.

The squinting, showing-the-teeth smile he discovered when Auntie Erika asked him to grin for a photo. Him kissing my parents’ dog Heidi on the nose and sharing his spaghetti with her.

Moments like him chasing ducks at Crandall Park, asking Daddy to play blocks with him, and walking his dolly down Morgan Avenue in a pink stroller. Him yelling “DarkStar!” (the name of his Uncle Andrew’s hot air balloon, which he loves dearly) at an empty blue sky, willing it to appear.

Moments like when he puts his head on my shoulder — albeit a tactic he knows to use when he doesn’t want me to put him down for bed, because I love head-on-the-shoulder so much I’ll just hold him that way forever.

While I do feel wistful about the first days I held my tiny little boy in my arms, I am inspired daily. It’s all I can do to outwit him, outrun him and stay up later than him. Motherhood is great fun, despite its challenges.

I can’t imagine an age less terrible than two.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle‘s Adirondack Family Magazine in Autumn 2014.
Click here to download “Terrible Two” as it ran in The Chronicle.

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Potty talk at my high school reunion

unnamed (1)Last month at my 15th high school reunion in Woodstock, Vermont, I had a chat with my class’s valedictorian. She’s nowhere to be found on Facebook, so this conversation was a genuine catch-up — that is to say, we didn’t have to pretend we had read articles that we shared, kept up on career ups and downs or enjoyed photos of each other’s kids.

She also doesn’t have a cell phone or Internet at home and only uses email at work. I can hardly imagine a life like that. She must be the best parent ever, able to focus on her child and separate work and family. Whatever.

On top of the other zillion triumphs she has over me, her two-year-old is completely potty-trained. She told me about a system called “3 Day Potty Training.”

Basically, when the time is right, you take a long weekend, pack the diapers away for good and just have your toddler go around bottomless, running to the potty as necessary and doing a touchdown dance after each “hit”. After about ten hits, the system should be locked in.

We haven’t had the luxury of a long weekend off to devote to this yet, nor stocked up on the necessary floor cleaners, but the concept stuck with me. My son Henry will be two in August, but he is exhibiting many of the readiness signs I’ve read about: Following verbal instructions, taking pride in accomplishments, demonstrating a desire for independence, and saying PSSS! when he’s going in his diaper — and also when playing with the garden hose in an indecent way.

He’ll hate me someday for telling you this, but here’s the big sign that he is ready: Every day after breakfast, he likes to stand in the same spot just on the far edge of his car table, and make #2. If I come in while he’s doing his thing, he’ll point and yell, “MOM! OUT!”

You may recall that this kid is nuts for hot air balloons. Our “hits” so far were accomplished by pretending the potty was a balloon and needed “fuel” to take off. After he goes, the full potty flies up, up, up and away!

I’d brag about it on Facebook, but my high school valedictorian wouldn’t even see it.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on July 17, 2014.
Click here to download “Potty talk at my high school reunion” as it ran in The Chronicle.

Word games with the kid

Eating 'dip dips'Does “AXYDLBAAXR = LONGFELLOW” mean anything to you? In a cryptogram puzzle, each letter stands for a different letter of the alphabet. I don’t like to brag, but I’ve been doing newspaper “Cryptoquotes” with my mom since I was a kid, and I’m a real whiz at them.

I also happen to operate at the genius level when it comes to Mad Gab, the game where you have to figure out what popular phrase sounds like a group of random words. For example, “Up Racked Hick Gulch Oak” is “A Practical Joke.” But again, I don’t like to brag. P.S. I’m also awesome at Boggle. P.P.S. I bet you just read the Mad Gab sample out loud to yourself.

So my word game knack has translated well into deciphering the developing language skills of my toddler, Henry. My husband Cory (a worthy Scrabble opponent himself) and I have put our brains to the test to figure out what in the world Henry is talking about.

We know that his pet letters are “B” and “D” — often subbed in for difficult letters. So “Bock” could mean walk or rock. We have to use context to figure the rest out. Is he pointing to where his stroller is kept? Oh dear lord, I hope he hasn’t just eaten a rock.

He’ll also make up his own associations. We now know that “high bush” means he wants to swing. (His grandparents Bobby and DeeDee have a swing that bonks into a shrub if you go up too high. Henry loves it.)

We thought maybe “Dape” meant diaper — but we put the pieces of the puzzle together, remembering that we heard him call his daycare friend Gigi “DeeDee” (the same name he calls Grandma Avon! Perhaps there’s more to that). So we then conclude that D’s are G’s and realize he was saying “Grape.” Which makes sense, because he would NEVER ask for more diaper.

If you took Mad Libs and crossed it with charades, that’s what it would be like to have a conversation with Henry. He’ll run into the room and announce, “This!” and you have to fill in the blanks based on what he’s pointing at, and the words he can say, and what you know about his experiences with those things.

We’re rewarded with an ear-to-ear grin when we get it right, and it’s quite the prize to bring him “More Dape” or take him for a “Bock” once we’ve figured it out.

We do have a few stumpers, though: “Obby Dobby” and “Bunties.” Any ideas?

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on July 3, 2014.

31

Tomorrow I turn 31.

I just feel so tired lately. It could be because I haven’t been eating right. It’s hard to find time, and I’ve been picky lately. Skipping meals. It’s no good, because then I just feel drained, like I ran out of gas. Henry deserves better. I wish I had more energy. A good night’s sleep wouldn’t hurt, either. He’s teething and has these early-morning terrors where he just inconsolably screams. I know we could be better about what they call “sleep hygiene,” not caving to his wishes, but anyway, he’s still nursing a few times a night and lately he’s waking up early, too. It takes a lot out of me. I’m pooped.

And that, I guess, is kind of just where I am at 31. If I had the brainspace to zoom out and look at the big picture, I think I’d be happy. But not only in family life, but also in my work life it has felt like I’ll just never catch up to this moving train. There’s always more to do than I have time for. There’s no such thing as doing something fast. Any time I try, it’s mediocre work and needs to be re-done. It seems like I’ll never get in front of this thing and have a minute to evaluate, fine-tune, revamp, organize. It’s just always a race to get it done. I feel all over the place with it. I could use an extra workday just to line things up.

But I guess if I look at things as if I were someone else, I’m all right with my life. It’s busy and I’m exhausted, but I like who I am in the community. I like my friends. I like my family. I’m proud of the things I’ve accomplished. I feel like I’m doing pretty well for the age I am. 31 doesn’t seem like much of a big deal in that way.

I’m feeling really bummed about tomorrow, though. We’re having a party next weekend so I probably won’t see any family this weekend, and Cory has to work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and so I’m solo with Henry. The logical side of my brain knows that it doesn’t mean I’m unloved, being on my own for the day. It’s just how it worked out. That’s sweet, in a way, to spend the day with my boy. But it’s a lot of work, too. He’s a busy guy, always on the go.

And I’m just so tired.

Parenting is just a bunch of letting go

Kid Henry
Kid Henry

Tonight Henry fell asleep in my arms, nursing before bed in the rocking chair in his bedroom. There’s nothing unusual about that. It happens most every night. But tonight.

Tonight I looked down at my sleeping baby in my arms and realized how big he was. His body’s bigger than my torso, now. His baby hands are kid hands. His baby butt’s a kid butt. Kid legs. Kid face. He’s not my little newborn Henry Austin-Avon any more. He’s crossing the baby line into kidville.

I’ve been so busy counting milestones, looking into the future. Excited that he’s sitting up. Excited that he can play on his own. Excited that he can hold my hands, stand up and walk across a room. Excited that he can put a carrot in his own mouth and eat it. That’s a good thing, probably.

Because the sadness, pain and loss in looking backward is almost unbearable.

Never again will I have to hold his floppy head to my breast to teach him to nurse. Never again will I cup his tiny little body close to mine to calm him, hoping he remembers the sound of my heartbeat. Never again will I have a six-month-old Henry. Or a five-month-old, four-month-old, three-month-old, two-month-old, one-month-old, three-weeks-old, two-days-old, newborn baby Henry.

Feeding himself.
Feeding himself.

The thought’s occurred to me before that it’s okay that time’s passing, because I want to have another baby. That I’ll be able to do it again; to hold my own little newborn baby, to be the only one to calm them down, to be so close.

But I realized tonight that it won’t be the same. I’ll have a two- or three-year-old son running around as a distraction. I’ll be worn out. And it won’t be Henry. It won’t be the first time; like watching a movie the second time or reading a book the second time. The surprises don’t hit you the same way.

I worry that I’ve missed it. I was on my phone, or talking to someone, and I missed it. Henry will never be seven months, two weeks and five days old again. That was just for today, and I was working, Facebooking, sending a press release, designing a postcard, chatting, hanging laundry, driving, in a meeting. I missed it. I missed him today.

Sleeping on Daddy.
Sleeping on Daddy.

Every day is letting go. Every day he is further from me. No longer a part of me. When he doesn’t want to breastfeed any more, our bond will just be a token. I won’t need a babysitter to bring him to me every two hours. We could go our lifetimes apart and he would probably be okay. Someone else can comfort him, after that’s gone.

It breaks my heart. Seriously makes me well up with tears to think about.

From birth, parenting is just a bunch of letting go. First he’s no longer a part of me. Then as he can hold his own head up, feed himself, eat food other than my milk, no longer needs to be carried around. Parents of teenagers, I don’t envy you.

I’m starting to realize why everyone glows at you when you’re pregnant or carrying a newborn.

It’s the best. It’s all ahead of you.

A fleeting moment.
A fleeting moment.

It’s the very very best. The closest. The part where your child needs you the most. The road into the unknown stretches out ahead, all sunshine and blank canvas.

My baby is growing up. He’s still so new, but no longer a newborn. This is so painful. I miss my newborn Henry so badly. It hurts, makes my chest cave in, to think that I will never hold my newborn Henry again.

He doesn’t exist.

My newborn Henry doesn’t exist any more.

I can’t think of anything more awful than that. I mourn for my son. He’s gone; the little curled frog legs, the long wispy brown hair, the twitchy breathing and high-pitched sleep squeaks. I wish I took more video. But it’s just not the same.

I console myself knowing that newborn Henry has grown into infant Henry, and infant Henry is the most beautiful, bright, happy, funny boy in the history of children. He’s amazing. He’s perfect. He’s a shining star, radiating joy and love.

And when he doesn’t exist any more, I’ll have toddler Henry to keep me busy. And then little boy Henry, and older boy Henry, preteen Henry, teen Henry, young adult Henry, adult Henry and beyond — all wonderful people I look forward to meeting.

… If I can just try to let go of his past selves.

What to feed the kid

Henry doing baby-led weaning with some steamed local organic sweet potato
Henry doing baby-led weaning with some steamed local organic sweet potato

Man, my head is spinning about what to do with food. For six months we’ve had it pretty easy with breastfeeding, and now starting solid foods is boggling my mind. Like an issue of Women’s World where you’re told to eat cranberries for your bladder and eat chocolate for happiness and eat blueberries to live longer and eat flax seed for your brain…

You start off like, oh sure, I could eat more cranberries. I could get them and eat them every day, I guess. I want to be healthy. And then by the end of four pages, you’re just like, wow, I need to eat one of everything in the entire grocery store to be healthy. Which isn’t possible or true, of course.

So yeah, feeding Henry. We have our own dietary choices in place, already.

  • We are vegetarian and inching more and more toward wanting to stick to a vegan diet.
  • We’re not always awesome about it, and are far from exclusive on it, but I would like to be as much of a localvore as possible. Given the choice between paying more for something made or grown locally, I’ll usually pick the local thing.
  • Same goes for organics – not everything we eat is organic or GMO-free, but we lean that way.
  • I try to buy foods with as few different ingredients and additives as possible, especially random stuff like dyes and corn starch and chemical-sounding names, and definitely steer clear of the obviously awful stuff like high fructose corn syrup (of course there are exceptions, but they’re conscious choices when we do make the exception). I also try to avoid stuff that’s super processed. For example, I’d rather just buy a butternut squash than buy a prepackaged squash soup.
  • Also, I am bugged by food with lots of packaging.
  • AND I don’t have a TON of time to make stuff from scratch, so while I will soak dried beans and do other stuff like that, it’s not always super convenient.

So… Basically, we do okay, indulging here and there, of course. We are far from perfect. But when it comes to Henry, we can’t just assume that he’s getting everything he needs. He’s growing, just starting out and his diet is really important. So then in addition to the guidelines we already have in place for ourselves, there are additional parameters.

  • We like the idea of baby-led weaning. Which is not “weaning” as we know it, but rather the British use of the word, which means adding foods rather than taking milk away. So baby-led eating.
  • I really think I want to raise Henry as vegan. More and more I’ve been aware of the practices involved with producing dairy and eggs (especially as a dairy-producing creature myself) and I’m really disgusted. While I phase out that stuff from my own diet, I don’t want to be introducing it to him.
  • For his introductory foods, I want them to be simple, one-ingredient things like a single veggie, etc.
  • Also needs to be easy to digest, not causing him discomfort with gas (like beans might, for example).
  • Also needs to be easy to gum since he doesn’t have teeth or know how to chew.
  • Also can’t be an allergen.
  • Also needs to be palatable and tasty to him, which right now means sweet-ish because breast milk is sweet.
  • But not too sweet like fruit because then apparently he won’t like to eat anything but sweets and will be a victim of the horrible childhood obesity epidemic.
  • Apparently he needs to start getting iron elsewhere, starting now because he’s 6 months old.
  • And right now he gets enough protein from breast milk, but after he is done nursing (we have time to figure this one out, thank goodness), we need to make sure he’s getting all the amino acids he needs.
  • And rice cereal has arsenic in it, I guess. Plus is processed.

I want to do the right thing, and my crunchy mama guts say there’s a way to make it all work, but this is a hard puzzle to navigate, with my child’s health at stake in every which way. My eyes are crossing.

I know that nobody’s perfect. My own diet isn’t perfect. I have ideals, but I don’t stick to them ultra-strictly. I’m glad that at least I’m aware when I make a choice that isn’t ideal. But Henry’s a clean slate. We have a chance to do everything right because we haven’t fed him anything but sweet potato (and accidentally salt clay). I know we’re going to screw him up in all kinds of ways through the years, but with the blank canvas ahead of us, I just want to start it off right. It’s so tricky to know what to do.

What did you feed your kid as their first food?

Chasing the train

Parenting feels like a train I just can’t catch. The familiar scene where the hero races up on his horse and stre-e-e-etches out for the railing on the caboose to grab hold and triumphantly board the train. It’s going so fast, cacti whooshing by in the background scenery, hearts pounding, blood rushing, the horse’s hooves pounding as its mane whips in the wind and its muscles strain to go faster, then even faster – but that moment of triumph and relief where you hop on and can breathe for a split-second before saving the day just never comes for me.

Chasing the train

That second I think I’m finally up to speed and am reaching for the train, it speeds up again and eludes my outstretched fingers, again and again. Times I try to swerve and head it off at the pass, it takes a different direction, or just races by before I can grab hold. It’s impossible to stay ahead of, and impossible to catch. I just keep running.

But, you know… I get tired.

Henry will be six months old on Friday.

Suddenly he can sit up on his own, kind of. We should probably start to give him foods to try. He can wriggle around and end up feet away from where you put him down. He reaches for things he wants and grunts and pouts if he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t want to cuddle as often as he wants to stand. He picks things up off the floor. I haven’t seen it for sure yet myself, but babysitters swear he’s mimicking their sounds and facial expressions. He’s getting a tooth. He’s just so much more alert.

I feel like I missed something. Maybe I had my nose glued to my iPhone or sometime during my workday while he was with a sitter, he grew right up. It feels like I’ve missed weeks of development. Months, even. He’s not the same baby I knew.

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Sitting up already

I mean, he is. He smiles when he catches your eye. He loves getting his neck gobbled or legs nibbled (I’ve decided to call it “monstering”). He holds onto my necklaces or my ponytail. He tickles my side while he’s nursing. But there’s something new every day. I was shocked when I went to carefully prop him up in a sitting position on Saturday and he held it for so much longer than I expected. When did he learn that? Where was I? Have I been ignoring him?

He’s growing and learning so quickly. He’s a new baby every day. Before I know it, he’ll be a boy and not a baby. And then a man and not a boy. The train’s going faster and faster and faster. I’m never gonna catch this thing.

While I thought I was doing a good job of cherishing the moment, instead it passed me by. He’s so big already. Not a floppy baby any more. I’m not ready for this.

Not that it matters. The train rushes on.

And here we go. I thought he was down for a nap, but he’s up and noisy. Still haven’t caught my breath.

…But I’ve gotta keep running.