The Under Toad

September 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

I just finished reading The World According to Garp by John Irving. Have you read it? I found it more difficult to get through than some of his other books (one of my favorites ever is A Widow for One Year). I found Garp a rather unsympathetic hero. But I would recommend the book, in the end, just because Irving is such an adept storyteller.

Irving writes a lot about parenting and the fear of losing a child. In this book, one of Garp’s two boys, Walt, is often warned about the undertow at his grandmother’s house by the sea. Later, Garp and his wife, Helen, realize that Walt thought all along that there was a toad under the water, waiting to eat him up. The under toad.

Eventually, the term becomes something Garp and Helen refer to when they feel foreboding. I think that’s wonderful. The best part of the book, in my opinion.

I have been feeling a lot of under toad lately. If you are awake at 3am, give me a ring. I’ll be up, thinking about brain aneurisms, drowning, car accidents, dog bites, etc. By 4am, I’ll be worrying that I’m actually manifesting this parade of horribles by thinking about them so much.

I had an illuminating conversation with my dear friend Kinnon yesterday afternoon about this very thing. (Interestingly, she’s also the person who recommended A Widow for One Year.) She told me about her brother’s friend, who was recently killed on a bicycle. I spend many hours worrying that Christopher will get knocked off his bicycle and run over. I told Kinnon about that fear, and also about the under toad who creeps up under my bed at night and stays too long. She said something really smart. To paraphrase: “Isn’t it nice that when we can’t reach our husbands, we think they’ve been in an accident instead of assuming they’re off having an affair?” And that’s true: I’m so glad my under toad is a safety monster, not an infidelity monster. That’s something to be grateful for.

We also talked about separating the dread from the reality. Just because I can invent things to worry about doesn’t mean they’re foreshadowing a tragedy. Sometimes, it’s just our minds, spinning and spinning and spinning. It doesn’t have to be more than that. And what’s the point of spinning for spinning’s sake?

So then I started to think:  maybe when I let myself get pulled down by that tug of dread I should to count my blessings instead of my fears. I could think in great detail about all of the wonderful things that my life entails, instead of imagining broken bones or hospital rooms. And hey, maybe I can manifest more good things. Or maybe not. But either way, I’ll probably get more sleep.

On Privacy

September 16, 2014 § 5 Comments

I don’t want to hit you with a snark attack here, but I have to say a few things about a blog that I discovered two weeks ago. Princess Burlap has changed my life. I found the blog through an ad on another site. It was promoted by a little brown panel with pastel cursive that read: “Autistic husband. Beffudled ovaries. A love story.” And I thought it was some wonderful wit making fun of women’s bloggery. Until I went there, and I realized… no.

The only thing I find more mind boggling than Princess Burlap is the mommy blog upon which her ad floated. I’m not sure why I was there, really, but I can picture myself now, bug-eyed and transfixed, thinking: how does this woman think it’s appropriate to turn her five babies into internet darlings? Is there nothing sacred?

And then I thought, Oh shit. 

Yes, yes, we can all agree that Max is way cuter than most e-babies, but still. Does the web need another doting mother? I know my blog isn’t garnering a million views a day, but even so, I feel compelled to scale back. Discretion is the theme: I don’t want my life to be a public life. I have purposely chosen a career where being public for public’s sake is not part of the game.

Also, I am going back to work in two weeks (!) and I will be working as a civil servant. Specifically, as a prosecutor in one of the busiest offices in New York. (Read: in a county with lots of crime.) The courthouse is a public space, where anyone can visit. And, when there’s a trial, people turn out. In droves. Anyone can follow a prosecutor home. At the end of the day, we ADAs are just people, walking out of the security gates, and away from the peace officers, and down into the subway. We are dispersed by these veins and arteries through the body of New York. I will not be protected when I leave work, and I want my family to be sheltered from the ancillary public aspect of what I do. I don’t want Max or Christopher to have living profiles online–at least not profiles perpetuated by me.

Another piece of this, and the one that various mom blogs–or would-be mom blogs–have me considering, is that Max did not choose this. If Max wants me to work to propel him to Internet stardom someday, then he and I can have that discussion. (To that end, I will encourage him to find help in someone who at least maintains a facebook account.) I’ve been able to control how much I share about myself and my family in this space. But Max has not had that ability. Perhaps he’d make different choices about what to reveal, and what to withhold. The point is: who am I to say? If I have to ask myself that question, I probably ought to shut up.

The purpose of this blog was never to garner readership, although I am so happy and grateful that a few of you seem to come back. Instead I write here to hold myself accountable to memorializing this special time. So, I will keep writing it, but I will mark the posts with photos and personal stories as private. If you’d like to read those, please email me. I will figure out a way to share them.

With love and gratitude to all.

Month 9

September 4, 2014 § 4 Comments

This month has been so much fun in the land of Max. His growth and curiosity are so headlong, I have trouble keeping apace. 


The most exciting development is that we often have dinner as a family. (!) Max frequently has his solid food supper at 6:30 or 7, then sits in his chair while I make a meal for Christopher and myself. If schedules align, Christopher and I can sit down for a grown-up meal at 7:30, while Max has a little teething biscuit for ‘dessert.’ Then, I do the dishes and Christopher does the bath, and Max goes down at about 8pm. Naps have gotten pushed back, too. And now there are solidly two of them, usually at 9 or 10 am (3 hours from waking) and at 2 or 3pm.


Max is eating all and sundry. He’s had whole eggs, almond butter, olive oil, flax seeds and dates mixed in with his yogurts, fruits and vegetables. My strategy is mostly this: mix a packet of organic, pre-made baby food with either yogurt or baby rice cereal and then add in some fresh fruits if I have them–mostly mushed banana, peach or avocado. I always add a bit of fat, too, so that his meals tide him over. Max especially likes wheat germ toasted with butter and mixed with peaches and yogurt. I definitely stole a few bites from that bowl. 


I have noted that Max eats much more enthusiastically when he has little puffs to administer himself between spoon-feeding. So, he always has a little smattering of baby cereal on his tray, and he’s gotten very adept at moving them around with his pointer fingers and grabbing them between his pointer and his thumb. I often see him dropping them on the floor when Lupe lingers around (as she always does). I thought it might be purely accidental, until yesterday, when he put one of his baby puffs directly into my mouth. I saw him lifting it up towards me, so I opened wide, and in it went. You’ll understand the thrill of that moment if you’ve ever had a baby. If not, it must seem outlandishly trivial. 

The high chair has really been the hot seat of interaction, because he’s tethered to it and isn’t off exploring. Max slaps the tray when he wants more to eat, bounces up and down with excitement, and raises his arms to reach for you when you’re too far away. The reaching has also turned into an ambiguous wave, and I am hoping he’ll get there soon. I think my knees will buckle the first time he actually greets me by waving.


The rest of the time, Max is a wildly enthused explorer. I find him disassembling all manner of things around the house–boxes, humidifiers, stacks of books–and then putting most of the bits into his mouth. I let him, mostly, but I do draw the line at knocking over garbage cans and chewing on their contents or rims. He finds that irresistible. 

Also, Max is lifting and lowering himself successfully along many surfaces, and I love that he doesn’t seem afraid of falling in the least. It makes me realize that 1) he’s brave and 2) he’s been successfully protected. Someone swoops in to catch him before he falls almost every time. Still, there have been some tumbles, and that devastating ‘knock’ of his head against the floor or a wall, which I’ve realized, tends to make the fall sound worse than it is. 

Finally, a few details: Max no longer abides the changing table. He twists and turns like a pinned down wild animal, and often I have to wipe his butt while he stands on all fours on top of the dresser. He prefers to ride in his carriage standing up and turned around, which I let him do as long as someone can hold onto his t-shirt. He has nearly 5 teeth. He can climb up stairs and slide down slides. He’s a little kid, in the making. 

a visit with the grandparents

August 28, 2014 § 1 Comment

Christopher’s parents, Sam and Michael, visited us at the lake last weekend. It was wonderful–just the four of us and Max.


They arrived on Friday evening to Christopher and I putting on the show of our lives to keep Max awake. I know–it’s never smart to push a bedtime, but it was only for 15 minutes. And the Murphys were slated to arrive at 4:30, but hit terrible traffic. For that, they deserved to see little man and his 4.5 teeth. Once Max retired, we went out for pub food: it was cool enough for pot pie.

We woke up to a cloudy Saturday, but I didn’t mind. Especially because Sam discovered Max making peeps in his crib and took him downstairs to play so that I could sleep until 7. Imagine the luxury. For about an hour, they hung on the rug with Max’s  bevy of kitchen utensils. He only ever wants to manhandle the ‘toys’ most used by us, so we’ve bought him his own spatula, measuring cups, colander and plastic spoons. We have not purchased him a knife set, and I try to chop things outside of his line of vision so that he doesn’t get too covetous.


We made several pots of coffee, took long walks, and lit up the fire pit on the dock. The sky was a bit ominous all day, full of those big, rolling clouds in various shades of grey. And there was a strong breeze, too: the undercurrent of autumn rolling in. The air didn’t yet have that crackling smell, and there were no crows or geese making the telltale sounds of the season-change, but there were hints of transition. Those of us who swam were disappointed that the water wasn’t warmer than the air, which is the best part of fall. Perhaps it wasn’t as cold outside as we thought.


On Saturday afternoon we took Max and the Murphys to my childhood home, which is a short drive away. We walked through the musty bedrooms and dark hallways and out to the overgrown garden out back. I showed them the quirks of my childhood: the empty rabbit hutches and the bookshelves crammed with antique tomes and incomplete Nancy Drew collections. Afterwards, we went to a nearby farm for tomatoes and corn and peaches. Max had never had a peach before last weekend. He was not disappointed, and ate them with every meal until we ran out.

For dinner on Saturday, Christopher made his favorite cedar plank salmon while Sam, Michael and I drank wine on the dock and watched the sky turn pink above the thick clouds. We had our dinner at the picnic bench on the porch, then went inside for Big Dipper ice cream, peanut butter cookies and Good Will Hunting.


I could tell that Sunday would be beautiful as soon as I woke up–the undersides of the leaves outside my window were a quiet pink, the color of the sky bouncing off the lake. The day was perfect. We took a hike in the woods by a river, while a dangling Max flailed his arms and legs with excitement.  We ate leftovers for lunch and several enormous cookies between us. We attempted to wield the Sunday Times on the dock, though the wind made it difficult. We took naps, swam, rode in the canoe and paddled on the paddle board. We ordered pizza for dinner and sat at the living room table, with candles all around us. It felt like a holiday.

I miss it already.

The Things We Say

August 19, 2014 § 5 Comments

Last week, Max and I went to an exhibit called The ABC’s of It: Why Children’s Books Matter at the main branch of the New York Public Library. We went with my friend Ana, and her baby Isabella. I loved seeing children’s books of yore, and how the art and the language of books have evolved. You can really see what a culture values through the fables it directs at children. I was especially struck by how books from the 1940s and 50s differentiated between girl behaviors and boy behaviors. I smiled, as I walked through the exhibit, and marveled at the subtle, quaint sexism of another era. 


After a while, the babies got restless and wanted to crawl. The floor at the library is cold and marble and walked on by a great many feet, so it didn’t seem fit for our purposes. Outside, it rained. We had to think of something else. 

So we took Max and Bella across the street to another branch of the library–one with a children’s section and carpeted floors. The kids had free reign over an entire aisle. Bella pulled books from the shelves and she zipped up to standing. Max army crawled his way to Ana’s purse and tried to empty its contents… into his mouth.

At some point, Max and Bella got into some baby roughhousing, and Bella pulled at Max’s hair. At first, he didn’t seem to mind, but eventually she made an overzealous grab, and he let out a loud cry, his lips wide and vibrating.


I comforted him for a while, but he wouldn’t stop wailing. So I said, “Be a man.” 

And then I wanted to go home and crawl into a dark corner and self-flagelate. I felt stunned: I’ve never said those words before, or even thought such a thing. It’s just not how I see the world. Men can cry, especially 8 month old men. What do I care? 

I would’t have said anything like that if Max were a girl. What would I have said? “Be a woman?” It’s a damn shame that our culture treats the genders differently in this respect. But I won’t get into that. All I’ll say is, I was mortified by how easily I slipped into the assumption that boys shouldn’t cry. And I was ashamed that I said as much–out loud!–to my son. 


As I walked home, I thought about a Huffington Post article by Lisa Bloom I read a while back. In it, Bloom talks about how often we engage in gendered speaking, especially to little girls. The article pointed out the common impulse to complement female kids on their hair and clothes. I’ve noticed this in myself, even though I purport not to make looks a headline. But still, I tell the little girls I meet: “I love your shoes!” Or, “You have such pretty hair.” Bloom suggests that we check this impulse (no matter how adorable the cowgirl boots or pigtails) and ask instead about what the child is currently reading, or what books she likes best. You’d think that would come naturally to a mom who brings her yet-illiterate baby to the library for playdates. But obviously, I have work to do.

I don’t want to be a person who reinforces certain tropes, especially not the ones that insist that girls look nice and boys act tough. And I have to be careful because, even at eight months, Max is a sponge. And we are both forming habits. 

Who knew that it can be so challenging to address infants and kids? Do you have any tips on how to talk to little people without resorting to discussions of looks or brawn? I’d love to know! 

Month 8

August 15, 2014 § 3 Comments

Max has officially graduated to big babyhood. When the light is just right, I see the shadow of a toddler behind him.

8 month 'baby'

He has 5 teeth, makes wordish gurgles, takes assisted walks and enjoys a robust sense of self. Sometimes I can see him trying out new poses or postures and actually getting a little scared–he looks at me with imploring eyes, like “Is this okay?” And, I’m like, “….No?”


Because I do not think it is okay for him to grab onto the coffee table and reach for whatever adult things are resting upon it and then eat those things. But at the same time, a very big part of me wants to applaud his inquisitive spirit. I mean, it is hard to stand. And he never gives up. And I love that about him.


I remember this experience from when I used to teach elementary school kids to garden: some of them engaged in ‘unacceptable’ behavior, (climbing trees; smearing mud on the mean girl; pulling carrots from the ground and eating them directly) but a big part of me wanted to say to these misfits “Go, kid, go,” because whatever mischief they were into was an obvious display of creativity and intelligence. There is a fine line between disciplining a child and allowing a child to explore his independence. But that job was bookended by hours (2-6pm) and those kids went home to other people. Now, I have to walk the line with my own little man–and this tension has come upon me sooner than expected. I didn’t realize that babies had so much agency. Or that they could get into so much trouble.


Max accomplishes most of his mischief by crawling. Currently, he has a sort of dual mobility system, which consists of dragging himself across the floor on his belly. But, sometimes he’ll get up on all fours and rock back and forth and take some ‘steps.’ The combined effect of these forms of movement is a baby with his puffy diaper butt up in the air, whisking himself around with rapidity that belies his goofy pose.


Yesterday, I sat at the kitchen table (centrally located) and read the newspaper. I must have read about a paragraph when I noticed that Max had disappeared. I went looking for him: behind the table, behind the cabinets, in front of the oven–he likes to gaze at himself in the reflection on the stove door. But he was nowhere. I might have searched for about 10 seconds, but it felt as though time had stopped.

Finally, I found Max hiding in a dark corner behind the front door, chewing the tassels of a rug with delight.  I have also found him in the bathroom, about to chew the rim of the garbage can; I have found him behind the big ottoman, holding himself in a standing position; I have found him emerging from under the bed. And always, he has this little look on his face: like, “Oh hey. Took you a minute.”


And I can tell that Max loves the attention he gets when he’s found. Really, I think, attention may be the thing he’s most after.

Nowhere is his extroversion more apparent than on the subway. He kicks at my sides with excitement as we descend the stairs. He has learned already that train cars = captive audiences. I make a few apologies to whoever is seated to my left or my right, but most people lean in. He extends his arms, glad-handing anyone close by. He’ll try to extricate himself from the carrier and into the arms of anyone who engages with him. Several times, I’ve seen him gently stroke a stranger’s face with the back of his hand. And I don’t know whether to say, “No, Max, no touching the strangers,” or whether to smile and let it happen. I want him to be open and curious and kind to all types of people. Then again, there will come a time when randomly face-stroking a stranger might be misinterpreted. I should prepare him for that.


First-Ever Family Vacation

August 8, 2014 § 4 Comments

I am happy that we’re back from our first family vacation, because I think we might actually get some rest.

The Way to the Beach

On our way to the beach

A week-long vacation with just a Mom a Dad and a Baby is a big deal. All of the schedules and routines are gone and the great new world is eminently explorable. I have two things to say about our trip, both of which I have heard from other people: a day as a full-time parent is a day with the highest highs and the lowest lows. And every day (as a metaphor for childhood itself, I guess) is the longest shortest time.

6am Walking by the Foggy Shore

6am: walking by the foggy shore

Our week on Nantucket was equal parts fun and exhausting. With the exception of one evening, we had no babysitters (or grandparents) on board to help. Also, Max got a tooth. We spotted a tiny white spot on our first morning, a tiny death knell of sleep.


Out to Dinner

Out to dinner

And, all of a sudden, Max discovered his legs. He uses them to scoot with alarming rapidity across the floor and can lift himself to standing if there’s something to grab onto. If there isn’t, he’ll scoot until he finds a table or a foot stool of the appropriate height. If there’s nothing like that around, he’ll reach for your hands so you can help him up. When he stands, he sways and grins his 4 1/2-toothed grin like a drunken Elvis impersonator. His eyes shine with excitement all the time. Sometimes, he won’t go down until 9:30pm because he’s working on standing in his crib. He’s just not interested in rest. Unlike his parents.

The vacation has me asking this vexing question: why are people so sweet and sympathetic when you have a newborn? Is it just because you’re being initiated into the club of new parenthood? Because, frankly, I felt like our first family vacation was a dramatic hazing ritual.

Little Man, Big Hat

Little man, big hat

My newborn was a trifle of a thing compared to my 8 month old. Yeah, okay, Max didn’t sleep through the night when he was first born, but he doesn’t do that now, either. I’ll tell you what he did do, though: he lay around all day in his travel crib or his chair, basically immobile. It was an exciting thing if he opened his eyes. Sometimes he made a few peeps, but those could be addressed by feeding or changing. That was life for about 4 months. If my Max behaved so pacifically now, I’d take him to the ER.

Dad's Glasses

A perfect beach day for Max entails twisting out of a lap and swallowing fistfuls of sand, then pooping the dunes back out again. He delights in grabbing at cups, especially the ones that grown ups like best–those full of tequila or coffee. Max envies nothing more than a pair of glasses, which he’ll pull from your face and mouth and manhandle so that there are a hundred greasy prints on the lenses and threads of drool along the frames. If there is a thing of danger, it emits a small honing sound in Max’s vicinity. Knives, boxes of nails, sharp sea shells–they all send him a tiny signal, imperceptible to adults. If you are missing your ice pick, invite us over. Max will locate it for you.

A Highest High

You can tell we’re tourists by the onesie

Today, I offer my deepest admiration to parents who raise kids 100% by themselves–no baby sitters, no ‘breaks.’ It is a whole different ball game when you know you can take that 1 hour nap or put down your defenses and focus on something adult for a specified period…like going to ‘work.’ I fall on bended knee to the parents who do it without a partner–especially when there is more than one child involved. Where does that energy physically come from? Please tell me.

Max Waits for Dinner

Max waiting for dinner

So there was exhaustion and there were a few panic attacks (when did he start chewing on that old bandaid and where did he find it?) but there were also the highest highs: ingredients for meals collected at farm stands and fishmongers and prepared while Max drummed the floor with his wooden spoon; sandy bare feet out the car window; soft yellow light through Max’s John Bon Jovi hair, which fluttered gently behind him in his breezy car seat. The little man in a big man’s baseball hat on the beach. I especially love his tan and the pale crevices between his fat rolls. And, because we had no babysitter, we finally brought Max out to dinner with the grown ups. He was so proud to sit in that little chair and participate! And I was so proud to keep a hold of my margarita and my butter knife.


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