Manic Mondays

Henry and all his friendsWe like to take our toddler Henry to the Monday night City Band concerts in City Park. But I’d be lying if I said he peacefully enjoys the music.

While he listens, he also pokes his fingers in the irrigation control valve covers, smacks the metal light poles, points at ants and says, “ANT.” — and so on.

His favorite vantage is from atop the time capsule, which, to his balloon-crazed liking, has a hot air balloon on it. (Fun fact: There’s a picture from 1978 in that capsule of “balloon baby” Andrew Avon, Henry’s hot air balloon pilot uncle.)

We momentarily take Henry away from the crowd to look at Emily Thomson’s balloon mural in the LARAC window when he’s especially noisy.

It’s not really that he’s loud, though. He’s just a friendly guy.

I never know how much to hover. Rather than “helicopter parenting,” my tendency is to let him run and explore if he’s not in danger. But I struggle to gauge how much his friendliness creeps people out. Sometimes he’ll just walk up to someone and smile at them. I’m sure it’s disconcerting.

He generates a lot of sunny expressions from strangers, though. And I have friends who email begging for Henry pictures when they’re having a rough day.

Sometimes it feels like a public service to bring him around. It’s like walking around with a magic wand you can point at people to make them smile.

But not everyone’s into cute. Some people don’t like kids, or want to be left alone. So I fret. We don’t aim to annoy.

One recent Monday, Henry got away from us to sneak up on an unsuspecting audience member and delightedly stuck his water bottle in the cup holder of her folding chair. It was an adorable gesture. She smiled. We were relieved.

He then scanned the park, which was chock-full of folding chairs, each with a cup holder, and realized the magnitude of his discovery. We saw the light go on over his head and looked at each other.

Do we intervene? Are people just trying to relax and immerse themselves in the music? Or will he bring sunshine and rainbows to everyone in the park if we let him work his sweet magic?

During our hesitation, he hit at least seven chairs with his water bottle. Seven smiles. Two nice ladies recognized him from The Chronicle and called him by name.

Then another few cup-holders, and subsequent smiles. A couple let him pet their dogs.

We stopped him there, though, not wanting to push our luck.

Thank goodness you can still hear the band from over by that heaven-sent balloon mural.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on July 25, 2014.

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.

Where's baby? Look before you lock.

unnamed (2)My brain is like a cobwebby attic where I spend most of my time labeling boxes of things and putting them on shelves. That, or making sprawling lists of things to do or remember. Or just chasing rascally squirrels out with a broom. When I actually come outside, it’s tunnel vision onto Henry and keeping him safe, happy, loved and learning.

If you knock on the front door when I’m in the attic, I might have to ask you to repeat what you said while I was getting down the stairs.

I’ve actually gotten out of the shower and not remembered whether I actually washed my hair or just stood there getting wet for the requisite 10 minutes. Or I’ll drive directly home instead of stopping at the bank like I meant to.

Chalk it up to mom brain and too much worrying about organic labeling and screen time and daycare coordination, but I want to get serious for a second to talk about something pretty horrible, in hopes to raise awareness of this issue.

I’ve read more and more articles lately where otherwise wonderful parents accidentally leave their children in the backseat of the car, realizing their mistake too late. Often the story is about a stressed-out parent like me, distracted by minor changes in their normal routine.

The limbic system of the brain directs habits — the autopilot that kicks in when the pre-frontal cortex is tied up with something else. You drive to work instead of daycare, for example. I feel like this could happen to anyone. We’re all busy.

The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a campaign running from now through September called, “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock.” They report 44 “hot car deaths” in the United States in 2013; mostly preventable, senseless tragedies.

Here are some things they say you can do to protect your child:

  • Never intentionally leave a child alone in a car, even just for a few minutes with the windows rolled down. Young bodies heat up faster than an adult’s.
  • Habitually put your cell phone, purse or wallet on the floor of the backseat so you have to go back there to retrieve it before locking the door and leaving.
  • Seat the child behind the front passenger seat, rather than behind the driver’s seat, so they are more likely to catch your eye.
  • Never assume that somebody else in your party has taken the child out of their seat; make sure to do your own backseat check every time.
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat when it’s empty, and when you move it to buckle your child in, toss it in the passenger seat as a visual reminder.
  • Ask your daycare provider to call you promptly if your child isn’t dropped off as scheduled.
  • Teach your children that a car is not a place to play, and store keys out of reach.
  • Most importantly: Make a habit of always, always checking the back seat when you leave your car: “Look before you lock.”
Let’s all make sure we’re not busy evicting attic squirrels when it comes to making sure our kids are safe.
This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on June 19, 2014.

Magic ingredients

Dr_Bronners-soapsI get freaked out about branded products with chemicals and additives. I realize they’re formulated to do a good job, but I saw one too many articles on Facebook about potential carcinogens and rolled up my sleeves to make my own deodorant and toothpaste from baking soda once I was pregnant with Henry. No more pthalates and sodium laureth sulfate for this crunchy mama!

Here’s are my top 5 magic hippie-dippie multi-purpose ingredients, in case you want to follow my stinky lead:

5. Vinegar. I mix with water and wash the floors with it. Just kidding, I don’t wash my floors. But you could. Wash my floors, or yours, that is. Dilute and use on your hair as a detangler instead of conditioner. If you want to smell like potato salad. (Just kidding. The smell goes away when it dries. Mostly.) You can also mix with baking soda and unclog all that vinegary hair out of your drain, just like a science fair volcano.

4. Lavender & Tea Tree Essential Oils. Few drops of lavender in the tub (yours or baby’s) for some relaxing aromatherapy that’s good for the skin and helps with sleep. Both oils are good for eczema and dermatitis, dandruff and are antiseptic, which means you can use it for baby wipes, and for all that cleaning you’re doing. Mix with oil for a bug repellent.

3. Baking Soda. No, really, I did make deodorant. I lazied it up and just mixed with coconut oil, but it does work. You can use it as a scrub for sinks and showers, too — and your teeth, according to the internet, but I’ll tell you from experience that toothpaste is perhaps best left to the brand names.

2. Dr. Bronners Castile Soap. Use as baby shampoo, body wash for both child and mama, facial cleanser, or mix with water (one part soap, four parts water) to use in your foam soap dispenser. We also mix with water and a couple of drops of lavender & tea tree oil to spray on flannel squares and use as washable baby wipes. It’s less gross than it sounds.

1. Coconut Oil. Use as baby lotion, body lotion, face lotion, hand lotion, massage oil, healing ointment, cradle cap treatment, diaper cream and lip balm (not at the same time). Good healthy fats if you want to cook with it, too! The coconut oil is actually ideal for high heat cooking. You can also make vegan chocolate chip cookies with it, which is probably the best hippie-dippie thing I can think of.

Cory the perfect dad. Or: Why we can't have quinoa

Cory the perfect Dad and Henry the perfect kid“No, no, no, we don’t throw our food on the floor,” I find myself saying for the zillionth time, wagging my finger. I thought that when my toddler Henry mastered the fine art of cutlery he would stop flinging pasta all over the place, but I was sorely mistaken. Now it’s a dinner game. He flings, then he sassily wags his finger at us.

One of these days, it would be really nice if post-dinner cleanup didn’t involve muttering, bent over on hands and knees. I have to be honest, though. My wonderful husband Cory does most of the floor work. Except for when it’s quinoa for dinner.

Cory once left me over quinoa. “Why would you ever… The particles… I can’t…” he sputtered, before picking up Henry and leaving the house. I cleaned it up that time. We haven’t had quinoa since.

Another of our dinner games is called “Dump.” Here’s how you play.

1. Henry says, “Dump?”
2. He dumps his drink on his plate, laughing maniacally.
3. We take the drink away while he pretends to cry.
4. We wag our fingers and say, “No, no no. We don’t dump our drink.”

5. Henry wags his finger back at us and says, “Dink.”
6. We stifle giggles.

It’s hard to enforce rules when we find him just so hilarious. Perhaps its our own juvenile senses of humor, but when he sticks both fingers up his nose and hums, when burps when we tell him not to be rude, it’s basically impossible for us to keep straight faces.

We feign disapproval when he forces out a toot at the dinner table, but inevitably crack a smirk when he then puts his hand over his mouth like he’s shocked.

I’ll mock-angrily grab a fork out of his hand if he’s banging it on my grandmother’s heirloom dining table and push his high chair into the corner for a time out, but seconds later he’s bent in half trying to wipe his spaghetti hands on the wall, and I have to smile, if exasperatedly.

We know it’s important and that we are raising a future adult, but discipline just doesn’t come naturally to either of us, it seems. Cory’s attempts at seriousness are to leap from his chair, point at a carrot on the floor and, speaking with a deep tremor in his voice, bellow about the wrongdoing of food-flinging.

Naturally, that cracks me up, too. Because Cory-the-perfect-Dad is never genuinely enraged about anything. Except quinoa.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on May 8, 2014.
Click here to download “Cory the perfect dad” as it ran in The Chronicle.

Why the funky 'do?

unnamedIt’s 9:32 a.m. and in the rearview mirror on the way back from dropping Henry at daycare I’m eyeballing the tumbleweed on my head that is supposed to be a ponytail.

Can I swing a third day without a shower? Will my 11 a.m. client forgive my rat’s nest hairdo if I double up on deodorant? Can I avoid the public for the rest of the day?

Once upon a time, I was a person who practiced an average amount of personal hygiene.
I showered every morning, brushed my teeth, had a hair gel routine, polished nails, and deliberate outfits with matching accessories. That far away place and time was pre-kid.

When Henry was a baby, I’d put him in his crib while I showered alongside the baby monitor, poking my head out every six seconds to check on him and leaping out with sudsy locks if he cried.

When he could sit up, I’d prop him on the floor against his Boppy with some toys, right up until the day I found him fishing elbow-deep in the toilet.

He’s okay if he’s stuck in the Jumperoo, but you have to shower at the speed of a toddler’s attention span, which means there will be no shaving of the legs.

I’ve tried bringing him right in the shower with me. It’s okay until you’ve got a face full of lather and get banged on the toe with a toy boat and then he’s pulling himself up and you’re trying to sit him down and you both have soap in your eyes and are screaming and then you both get soap in your mouths because of the screaming.

So unless I’ve got calendar items that seem worth the hassle of figuring out how to shower and supervise a toddler at the same time, I just shower when Cory’s home in the morning, which, truth be told, is not every day.

I’ve developed advanced coiffure deception strategies, like sleeping with my hair piled on top of my head like a pineapple. I spritz it with water in the morning to assume the identity of a clean-showered person. I’m thinking about wigs.

To my appointments: If I look freshly scrubbed to you, I must think you’re very important. If I’m sporting the rat’s nest ponytail, it means I seek your sympathy in my plight and hope you won’t run screaming from our meeting due to my funky ‘do.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on May 8, 2014.
Click here to download “Why the funky ‘do” as it ran in The Chronicle.

Henry's top 10 favorite toys

Some of you out there might be headed to a baby shower or gearing up for a birthday party, and so I wanted to share with you Henry’s top 10 all time favorite toys. You’ll win some major kudos with the kid of your choice if you bring them one of these gems.

10. Cardboard Box. You guys know about this one. They’re good for peek-a-boo, and you can put things in them, too. Like the cat.

9. Ball. It could be the bright, bouncy kind you get out of a big tower at Target, the big globe at Crandall Public Library or an orange at the grocery store. If it’s round, it’s a ball.

8. Book. Sometimes when I’m doing the dishes or cooking dinner and have my back turned for a few seconds, I’ll realize that Henry’s being way too quiet, and I’ll dash from kitchen to living room imagining horrible, unspeakable tragedy — only to find him quietly flipping the pages of a book. Phew.

7. Dirt. Sandbox, playground, garden, side of the road… doesn’t matter. Dirt is dirty, which means it’s fun.

6. Measuring Cups. Especially fun in the tub. A few of ours are resigned to regular bath toy status. Henry also enjoys teapots to the point that we bought him his own one from SensibiliTeas. He’s just really into pouring.

5. Pots and Pans. Give the kid a couple of wooden spoons and he’s a regular Jon Fishman.

4. Broom. This works out for us both.

3. Toilet Paper. Run around with a long ribbon of it like a streamer, or drop individual squares and watch them float down to the ground. TP the living room! On second thought, actually, please don’t.

2. Baskets. Henry is obsessed with balloons. He’ll dump everything out of any given container and get in it while making a noise like the burner on a hot air balloon. So he is super helpful on laundry day.

1. Trash can lid. His all-time favorite. No matter what kind of discipline, psychological tricks or flat out yelling you might try to get him away from this thing, he’ll take every opportunity to open and close it at whim, and often takes it off to push it across the room. Henry loves the trash can lid like a brother.

This Family Time column originally ran in the Glens Falls Chronicle on April 24, 2014.
Click here to download “10 toys proven and tested by Henry” as it ran in The Chronicle.

The tragedy bigger than anything

I wrote this on September 3 and emailed it to myself. I’m newly vegan, though I have slipped up here and there – I’m trying my best. This piece of writing has been sitting in my inbox for more than a week, just simmering. I guess I’m going to post it here so I can clean out my emails… Not quite sure how I feel about sharing it, but here we go.

***

Animal mommas love their babies. Source: http://www.mfablog.org/2012/05/honor-all-mothers-this-mothers-day.html

We are living in end times, my friends. And we did it to ourselves.

Whether or not you believe in God, you have to admit that it’s a crazy miracle that we’re here at all. That the elements bumped into each other in ways that created planets, and life on this planet, and all the species of plants and animals that live in perfect harmony. And us.

We don’t live in harmony. We destroy, conquer, eliminate. It’s all our fault.

Think about the story of the Garden of Eden and the Fall of Man. That’s when we decided to take agriculture and farming into our own hands. We were just another animal until the agricultural revolution, when we figured out how to manipulate nature for our own purposes.

But it wasn’t right of us to do so. We live so incredibly comfortably now. Think about when our ancestors had to hunt and gather just to survive. And then think about when everyone gardened and had farm animals just to survive. And then think about now, with your iPhone and microwave.

Every animal is somebody’s baby. Source: http://www.tonglen.oceandrop.org/Truth_Behind_Veal.htm

I like to say that the word God is not a descriptor of some bearded dude in the sky, but a word to describe nature, chance, the universe, the miracle that made us happen, the chaos and perfect math that is responsible for our existence on this planet. It is so improbable that life came to be. So so improbable. And here, in this moment in time, that miraculous crazy ridiculous improbability is true. And we are trashing it.

It’s a beautiful tragedy. It’s the saddest thing ever.

Sadder still is that we don’t even know we are doing it. We aren’t even aware of what we are doing!

We go to our jobs, pay our bills, check our email, drink our cares away. Who wants to hear about this shit? No-one. But we have a feeling underneath, a feeling that things aren’t right.

We are animals. We are animals just like any other animal. Who can really argue with that? We are the smartest animal and we caged up all the other animals so we could torture, kill and eat their dead bodies.

Are we the smartest animal, or are we the animal who’s a big fucking jerk ruining everything?

Think about the world without human beings on it. Everything lives in complete harmony. Sure, animals kill other animals, but not to the point of extinction. Animals kill what they need to survive and that’s all.

Source: http://www.organics.org/the-last-thing-youll-need-to-see-to-start-recycling/

The trees and plants make air for the animals to breathe and the animals make carbon dioxide for the trees and plants to breathe. The ocean is self-cleaning. Left alone, nature is perfect. It’s perfect for all involved.

We are fucking it up and we’re going to kill ourselves.

We have fucked up lots of things, causing extinction of many species and cutting down rainforest like crazy. But the worst thing of all is this climate change. It’s going to get us, and I’m willing to bet it will happen within our lifetime.

The momentum is too strong. Just buying recycled toilet paper and driving your Prius to the Farmer’s Market isn’t going to cut it. There are too many people who are living the wrong way. It’s too late.

I’m just glad that I was able to experience love and motherhood before we all shit the bed.

Nothing like a baby laugh

There’s nothing like a baby laugh to melt away the day’s stress.

Today was one hell of a day. Just non-stop juggling at work. I got home at 7:30 and was still working via text and email, during dinner; hardly a minute to look the kid in the eye and say, “How was your day?”

Finally I put down my phone and nuzzled, bounced and nibbled the little guy, though. It was cathartic. He’s my therapy. He’s wonderful. Laughing, and laughing. Cory saying, “That’s no way to calm him down before bed!” We played the “I love you… So so much… I love you… So so much… So so much SO SO MUCH SOSOMUCHSOSOMUCHSOSOMUCH!!!” that always gets him going. Baby laughs to the rescue. The day dissolved with squeals of joy.

And then a little cuddle time. I curled him up in a ball in my arms, smelled his coconut oil after-bath smell, kissed him on his wispy blonde hair and said, “Oh, Henry. I just really love you.”

He stuck his fingers in my nose, put a fistful of my hair in his mouth, and said “Burgle bah.”

(Which I think means, “I love you back.”)