Monday, December 17, 2007

Snugly, huggly, mean and ugly

Rowan has bronchitis and I want drugs. Or a big huge mallet to put one or the both of us out of our misery.

The poor boy, really. After two weeks of minor coughing (I know, writing it down makes it sound like we’re entirely negligent parents, but, really, he coughed once after waking up. I thought it would resolve.), some nasty bacteria decided to set up camp in his lungs and fight the good fight. When I dropped him off at his babysitter’s in the morning, all seemed well. By the time I picked him up, his voice was froggy. The coughing woke him — and us — through the night. Our wonderful doctor agreed to squeeze him in the next day, and now he’s on amoxicillin and has a puffer, which he is not very good at using.

And he’s miserable. I guess I would be too (oh, wait — hey, I am!) if I coughed until I threw up on Friday night. (“There’s something all over the floor!” he told me when I went in to see what was wrong.)

Every interaction for the past 24 hours — a 24 hours, I should add, during which he helpfully decided to skip his daily nap — has been a battle. From getting dressed to eating to toileting to going to bed, all activities are epic and worthy of sustained resistance. Unless it’s watching Dora DVDs on the couch or throwing toys around, he’s not interested. Even when I think he might be cooperative, he manages not to be. It takes real skill. Witness the conversation I overheard between him and Rachel this morning:

“If I take olives in my lunch, I have to share them?”

“I’m not sure you’re taking olives in your lunch.”

“But if I take olives, I have to share them with Patrick?”

“I guess, if you take olives, you can share them with Patrick.”

“No. If I take olives, I have to share them. I don’t bring them I don’t want to share them.”

“That’s right, Rowan! That’s the rule. If you bring them you have to share them.”

A wail like an air raid siren: “But I don’t waaaaaaaaaaaant olives in my lunch!”

And so it goes. What got me through Sunday was knowing that on Monday we could ship him back to child care, assuming he was well enough to go. Admittedly, our standards for “well enough” are pretty low, though, given that if he stayed home with me another day I might just kill him.

I have to keep reminding myself that he’s not enjoying this either.

After forcing his clothes on his stiff, thrashing little limbs this morning, I finally got it together enough to pick him up and hold him close. “You’re having a rough time, aren’t you?” I asked him. “Do you want a cuddle on the couch for a little while?”

“Yes,” he said, proving that he still knew the word.

And so we cuddled on the couch and I sang him “It’s all right to cry” from the Free to Be You and Me album. Twice. He even giggled at the “down in the dumpy” part. And then he let me put on his coat and boots and mitts and hat and drive him over to someone else’s house for the day so that I could recover.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cradle cap, redux

So, have you noticed that I haven’t written about sleep yet? (I can see you all, my vast audience, nodding silently, “Yes, yes — we were wondering about that.”) It’s not because I haven’t tried. But sleep is a slippery subject these days. And each time I try to write about it, each time I think I have the story straight, each time I think I can sum it up in a tight little blog entry, the subject shifts and my mind blows out. Either I’m immediately blocked and must go check out Facebook, or I end up writing a five-page, single-spaced, typed essay. Seriously.

Maybe it’s because I’m tired.

But I think the real problem is that there is no tidy sleep story, no master narrative of sleep, at least not in this household. For the longest time, Isaac’s sleep story was wrapped up with Rowan’s, and went something like this: Rowan was a terrible sleeper. Rachel and I made many mistakes and did many things to encourage his terrible sleep. We would not make the same mistakes with Isaac, who would as a result sleep beautifully. Once upon a time and happily ever after and all that.

Isaac has not read this story.

Case in point: even as I write this, he is waking up from a too-short, mistimed nap, the result of an earlier, mistimed nap, the result of waking up at 5 a.m. and resettling around 6:30 this morning. After waking up at 3:48 a.m., 2:30 a.m., and 10:40 p.m. during the night. Which is on the slightly worse end of fairly typical for him moment.

“Fairly typical,” of course, changes constantly. Over the course of his five months, Isaac has slept in our bed, on top of a pillow, in a bassinet, in a single bed next to ours, and, mostly, in his own crib. He has napped beautifully and not at all. He has woken once in the night and six times. Just when I think I might lose it, he sleeps a solid five-hour chunk in the middle of the night and I wake hopeful. (Unless, of course, Rowan wakes up too, which he has taken to doing, given all the commotion around here, and Rachel or I go to sleep with him for a while.)

The fly in the ointment is that Theo learned to roll over. Normally, I applaud such developmental milestones, but he rolls over in the middle of the night, gets stuck like a turtle upended on its shell, and can’t get back. And so he yells. I spend lots of time these days coaching him on rolling the other way, but so far no dice. None of the baby books has a solution for this particular problem (and in my lower moments, I’ve debated Velcro or bungee cords). Until he learns how to roll back to his stomach, Rachel and I are pretty much in agreement that most forms of “sleep training” (also known as “crying it out”) would probably be, if not entirely useless, much more difficult to implement. In any case, he’s probably too young.

Which sucks. I mean, haven’t we done everything right? Haven’t we avoided all our previous “mistakes”? But no. The colossal mistake we are making, have made, is assuming that we have or ever did have control over the process. Sure, we can help facilitate our sons’ sleep to some extent. But even doing everything “right” doesn’t guarantee a baby that will sleep the night. Maybe Rowan would have been a terrible sleeper no matter what we did. We’ll never know. But wee Isaac, poor maligned second child (Rachel, a firstborn, thinks I overidentify with the baby of the family), could probably benefit from a clean slate in terms of sleep story. He’ll do it when he’s ready, maybe with some help from us. And until then we trudge back and forth at night, playing musical beds and soothing our children, and each other, to the best of our abilities.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Picky (or, The Real Reason We Had Children)

Continuing along with our theme of bodily functions...

Cold season is upon us, a season that brings great joy to Rachel, because it allows her to indulge in one of her favourite pastimes: picking the crap out of Rowan’s nose. She’s relentless to the point of obsession (and denial), ignoring the wailing and the flailing and shrieking and running away and screaming of “No!” as she pursues her crusty quarry. With the arrival of Isaac, her joy has doubled.

Although I occasionally remind her to give the children a break, mostly I look on bemusedly — partly because no child ever died from having his nose picked, or picked at, and partly because if I called her on it, then she would call me on my own obsessions. If Rachel’s on snot detail (and ear wax, can’t forget the ear wax — and, yes, it’s true, you could probably grow potatoes in Rowan’s ears), then I am all over the fingernails and haircuts.

Like any other self-respecting mother, I carry nail clippers in my pocket at all times. You would too, if a tiny baby scratched your nipples — and his own head — with his little razor-sharp claws. You would, if your three-year-old had jaggedy toenails and half-moons of black at the end of each finger. And nobody likes a mullet. Least of all me, apparently.

And then there was Isaac’s spectacular case of cradle cap, wherein his entire scalp was covered in a stinky layer of dead skin that looked like the Gobi Desert. I spent much of his early months oiling up his tiny head in order to soften the crust. Then, I picked off the flakes as he nursed serenely.

This urge to groom, to pick, it seems hardwired. Is it some parental instinct, as natural as chimps picking fleas off each other? Or maybe it’s the enforced intimacy of having and caring for children, biological or adopted, that hardwires us, makes us into parents instead of just innocent bystanders. Whatever the case, little satisfies me more than tucking short-nailed, clean-nosed, downy-scalped children into bed each night. Until a life is conferred upon me, I guess this is as good as it gets.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Accidental parents

Rowan’s swimming lesson last night was — much to his delight — in the sports complex’s baby pool. He prefers it because it’s shallow and warm, as opposed to the colder “big pool,” where he clings to me like a limpet.

The reason for the switch? You guessed it: an “accident” — of the solid variety — was spotted at the bottom of the big pool. From the fuss they made, it might as well have been a body. The pool was evacuated, floaty toys sprayed down, and all kinds of chemicals dumped into the water to “clean” it.

As the mother of a recently toilet trained (yeah! toilet training!) boy, all I could think was, “Thank God it wasn’t my kid.”

And then we practiced blowing bubbles and kicking and pencil floats and putting our faces in the water and jumping in. I finally made the executive decision to dunk Rowan , just get it over with. He shuddered, smiled, and then realized what I done and complained as the water ran down his eyes and snot streamed from his nose, to be washed away in the chlorinated water.

And it occurred to me — as it occurs to me every time we get in a pool — that we are all there under the tacit agreement that nobody will take too seriously the fact that we are floating in a cesspool of pee and snot and sweat and dirt. The collective denial makes it possible to get through — enjoy, in fact — swimming lessons. It’s only when something undeniably solid surfaces that we have to acknowledge it, deal with it. Otherwise, daily maintenance with filters and chlorine seems to do the trick.

Kind of like having kids (come on, you weren’t waiting for the heavy-handed metaphor?). We’re all floating in a poopy, drooly, snotty, sweat- and -pee soaked world out here, blowing bubbles, and doing our pencil floats, and swimming so that we don’t think —I mean, sink.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

How Rowan's mind works

I told Rowan we were having a party tonight — Rosh Hashanah dinner.

“Who’s coming to our house?” he asked. And then: “Will there be cake and ice cream?”

“Well,” I said, “there will be pie and ice cream.”


“And cake?”

“No, sweetheart, no cake. Just pie.”

“Just pie and ice cream.”

“That’s right.”


“Is the pie mixed in?”

“Mixed into the ice cream?”


“Sure, you can mix the pie into the ice cream.”


Monday, August 20, 2007

Stockholm syndrome

I read an interview a few months ago with Gregory Maguire, the guy who wrote Wicked (the retelling of The Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch’s point of view — now a smash Broadway musical). He and his partner have adopted three children, and are now, he said, basically held hostage by them. Their home lives revolve around making their imprisonment as pleasant as possible (a project, I’m sure, that’s made easier by the many millions of dollars Wicked has — deservedly — raked in for them).

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the hostage situation at our house. I know that in a previous life, even a previous life with one child, I did leave the house for more than an hour at a time by myself, and that the latter 15 minutes of that hour weren’t consumed by a growing sense of anxiety about the baby needing to breastfeed. I know that on all my previous anniversaries, even those with child, Rachel and I went out for dinner, as opposed to this year’s aborted lunch date that proved too ambitious for a carseat-averse six-week-old and his frazzled mothers. I remember walking with Rachel and Rowan to day care in the morning, accompanying them on outings, not staying home to sleep and feed the baby. I know I used to have several hours of calm between kid bedtime and adult bedtime. I know that I used to make plans with people that involved set times, not, “I’ll call you when we’re ready to leave the house” (i.e., when both children — and, I guess, adults — are awake, fed, changed, dressed, packed up, and not crying).

It’s just that I don’t remember those times very clearly right now.

I think about the hostage situation as I pad around our darkened basement, Isaac held close to my chest in the sling. It’s his preferred — nay, pretty much his only — method of going to sleep for naps and at night. We try to transfer him to the crib while he is, as the non-attachment parenting books recommend, “sleepy but not yet asleep.” Sometimes this works, but often it doesn’t, and he wakes and cries, and then we put him back in the sling and commence the whole walking around the basement thing again.

What I’m trying to do during these times is revel in them rather than rebel — especially in the moments in which my infant son sleeps snuggled against my chest. I remind myself that he is so small; that these unsettled, trusting basement walks are the merest sliver of his life and mine together. That this is the only summer of his infancy, that my freedom will return in time, and that I will likely look back and think, the way I so often do about situations that seem problematic at the time, “What was the big deal about that?”

“There’s no place like home,” said Glinda, Good Witch of the East. That’s true, but you’ll notice the ambivalence inherent in that statement. For the time being, I’m stuck at home a lot, waltzing and waiting with Isaac, following his dictates rather than my (admittedly conflicted) desires. And I’m trying — and sometimes, even often, succeeding — in seeing my captors as allies.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Where’s Isaac?

There’s a new game at our house: “Where’s Isaac?” It goes like this:

“Where’s Isaac?” Rowan will ask, usually when the baby is in my lap, nursing.

“I don’t know,” I’ll say. “Is Isaac at the market?”

“No,” Rowan will say. “Is Isaac upstairs?”

“Is Isaac at the park?”

“Is Isaac in the fridge?”

“Is Isaac at the store?”

“Is Isaac on the fan?” (This one of Rowan’s always cracks me up, as I imagine the sleepy lump of the baby whirling around, one-handed, on the ceiling fan above our heads. Yee-ha!)

This goes on for awhile, with increasing hilarity, until Rowan eventually says, “Is Isaac on your lap?” At which point, I exclaim, “There he is!” and Rowan says, “He’s drinking milk. From your breast.”

So, at some point, our two-and-a-half-year-old mastered the concept of irony. He gets the difference between what is said and what is meant, or (I’m playing fast and loose with literary and other terms here, but what the hell) what is and what we say is, and why that’s sometimes funny. And I am somewhat in awe — and thrilled — that he gets this already.

And that difference — the difference between what is and what we say is — sums up a lot of what parenting is about for me the second time around. You could call it perspective. When Rowan was born, and through much of his infancy, everything seems so much bigger than it was, so much more important, so much scarier. If we didn’t sleep now, we weren’t ever going to sleep. If he cried, it was disaster. If we made one mistake, handled him at all incorrectly, we’d ruin the baby for ever more. (“Where’s Rowan?” “In therapy.”)

And with Isaac, it feels as though what is and what we say is going on seem a little bit closer to each other. If Isaac cries, he’s crying, period. And while we don’t enjoy it, we do our best to comfort him and get on with things. If we’re tired, or awakened, it’s more or less simply that, and eventually we’ll all get some sleep.

So, where is Isaac? Isaac is here, now — all 11 pounds and counting of him — and not in some imaginary land of worry and disaster. Isaac is adorable. Isaac is starting to smile, prefers to be held rather than put down, is losing his hair, and sometimes sleeps three hours at a stretch. It’s tiring, definitely, and often challenging, but here, ironically, is a better place than there.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Heart-shaped family

There is so much more to tell — the birth, for example — that it’s overwhelming. So I’m giving you a paragraph:

The morning after Isaac’s first full night, a mostly wakeful affair, as they have been. Rowan woke up earlier than usual, about 5:45 a.m. Rachel, bless her, tried to steer him downstairs so that I could sleep, but he wanted to come in to see me and baby Isaac, curled up like an apostrophe next to me. Rowan, enormous, piled in next to his brother, and Rachel next to him. And we lay there for awhile, two parents with our two sons between us, awash in exhaustion and sweetness. I stretched my toes towards Rachel’s, she her toes toward mine, and they met at the bottom of the bed, the tip of a heart.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


We’ve reached a key parenting milestone: the last baby tooth. Last week I managed to get a glimpse inside Rowan’s laughing mouth and saw it: the top, left, two-year-old molar, half emerged. I thought he’d been little grumpy.

When he was eight months old and cutting his first tooth, waking screaming, inconsolable in the night, I remember my own panic and despair, at the thought of this helplessness multiplied by 20 teeth. According to my calculations, he’d never not be teething, never not be this unpredictable, screaming, drooling bundle with bright red cheeks. I’m pretty sure that’s when we became big advocates of the Children’s Advil, with interim doses of Tempra. And gin.

And, like pretty much everything else I’ve despaired over thus far with parenting, the teeth arrived more or less just fine. Some were cause for wakeful nights, multiple nursing sessions in the rocker. Some popped out like popcorn, two and three at a time, with barely a cranky moment to show for the effort. “Hey,” one of the other of us would say, “I think he’s got another one.” As he transitioned from the grab-everything-and-stick-it-in-my-mouth baby stage to the toddler who refused to open his mouth when we asked, it became a guessing game. “Can you tell?” “Nope, can’t see a thing.”

And now, we’re done. Just like we’re done worrying about whether we’ll ever sleep again (until, that is, this babe in utero is born; I keep telling myself that we’ll have more perspective this time around), read a novel again, see a movie again, feel well rested. Just like we’ll be done diapers, kindergarten, high school. (The gin was for us, just in case you were worried.)

Now that Rowan has 20 teeth, big kid that he is, he wants to use them. Fortunately, most of the time he wants to talk about using them, although we’ve both been nipped now, and some of the furniture is suffering. Yesterday morning, it was my turn to sleep in (another luxury that will disappear for a while once we have two), and as I lay in bed I could hear bits of conversation between Rowan Rachel downstairs:

“I want to bite Mommy.”

“No, no biting Mommy.”

“I bite other Mommy.”

“No Rowan, no biting other Mommy. Just kissing, not biting.” Pause. “Oh, thank you for my kiss. What a nice kiss. No biting couch.”

Later that evening, we were having one of those “Rowan is going to be a big brother” conversations. Currently, he thinks he’s going to have a sister, and her name is going to be Jack.

“When you’re a big brother,” Rachel asked him, “what are you going to do with the baby?”

We went through some of the options: big brothers play with the baby, read to the baby, pat the baby gently on the head, sing to the baby, show the baby trains.

“Bite the baby?” asked Rowan.

Our current anti-biting strategy is to sit him down firmly on his butt and tell him, “No biting!” before walking away. I’ll get back to you on whether it works. This, too, will pass. Until then, pass the Tempra.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


It takes several days and two mothers to cut Rowan’s hair. I begin the process in the bathtub, slicking down his hair with a wet washcloth and baby comb while he plays with Styrofoam Dora letters — “Oh! This one S!” he says. “For Tico!” “Yes,” I say, “Tico is a squirrel.”

The trick is not to let him know he’s getting a haircut, to hide the scissors quickly behind my back whenever he turns around. The trick is also, of course, not to draw blood while at the same time making it look as though a reasonable adult with a steady hand — and not, say, another two-year-old — gave him a trim. We’ve learned the secret of cutting up, not across, but that doesn’t work so well for getting things straight at the nape of his neck, the backs of his ears. Mostly, I cut relatively blind. “Well,” I say to Rachel, later that night in bed, “he has a lot less hair now.” We’ll see in the morning, when it dries, if there are any overly egregious bald spots or wavy lines.

I am mostly concerned with cutting before Rowan develops a full-on mullet, before the hair grows so thick at the sides of his head that he begins to resemble a football — what I now term wide head. Rachel is more concerned about his bangs growing over his eyes, so she takes over the next day while Rowan circles the coffee table with his toy trains. She manages several passes with the scissors before he runs away. And now we can see his eyes and his forehead again. His head is once again suitably, sweetly narrowed. I’m struck, as I always am whenever we give him a trim, of both how tiny and how grown up he is. The back of his neck is a bit of a hash: we’ll need to find a way to even up the hairline, get rid of the fine down — monkey hair, I call it — beneath it. A razor? Do we dare?

A little while ago, I was pondering a blog entry called “The day before you get a haircut”: when you’re so excited to finally get to your stylist, only to look in the mirror and realize that your hair looks fantastic and you don’t want to get it cut. With the new baby due in six weeks, Rowan suddenly became even sweeter, sunnier, more fun, and I found myself wishing we had more time with him alone before forever altering the dynamic.

Fortunately, however, things seem to have shifted. Our sunny toddler has become recently, rabidly passionate about most decisions: putting on a hat, sunscreen, his shoes, going inside. As I sat on the sidewalk yesterday, holding him in my lap while pinning down his arms so that Rachel could wrestle his (carefully chosen, 100% organic cotton) hat on his wailing head (only to have him rip it off repeatedly, yelling “No no no no no no no no no!”), I got a close-up view of the back of his sweaty, sunburned, messy little neck. We’ll need to fix it up one of these days.