Nineteen Months: The Imp Speaks

July 10, 2015 § 3 Comments

About two weeks ago I was holding Max down on the changing table, trying to make things right with his diaper.

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He was frustrated, definitely getting a little squirrely. And then he said, “Fuck.” Articulate and unmistakeable. And then he said it again, and again.

We’d just come off a weekend with lots of kids in the house. By kids I mean people between 27 and 31 years old. Max was the only ‘actual’ kid around, and I’m afraid there were no ‘grown ups’ present to make us mind our manners. And now we have a toddler who speaks like a frat boy. Scarier still, he seems to use the word when he’s frustrated. When we went back to the lake house last weekend, I noticed Max pointing at a birdie on the lawn, saying, “Fuck.” Someone must have played poorly at badminton. He gets it.

There’s only one word I’d like to use to describe the condition we’re in, but I’m trying to fix my habit.

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Back to the changing table: I did my best not to laugh. Max loves getting laughs, and egging him on would make the this an indelible part of the baby lexicon. Instead, I kept saying, “Duck?” and “Fork?” Hoping I could get him to transition to a smilier sounding word. Or maybe he meant to say “Rock?” That’s what I’ll tell scowling parents at the park, anyway.Image-1-4

And now I have preschool to keep me up at night. All of the coveted and competitive schools in our neighborhood do ‘interviews’ for their Pre-Pre K applicants. Max will have to play with other 2 year olds in front of a note-taking teacher. Max is a good sharer. He’s always friendly, always amused. He’s gentle. He should do well in such a setting. But now, if some toddler takes his bucket, he risks getting a thin envelope.

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Perhaps by September, Christopher and I (and our potty-mouthed friends) will have changed our ways. But when you work in finance and law enforcement, it’s hard: cussing is part of the vernacular. You would never hear a police officer tell you about a defendant throwing a gosh darned gun into the bushes. Let’s face it: curse words are fun to say and they’re easy to say. Easy enough for a just-verbal child.

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But enough with the expletives. Words are everything now, and we learned the hard way that Max is a sponge–apt to ring out at unexpected times. Just yesterday I was standing at the counter, slicing chicken, laughing and saying, “That’s right, cheeka, cheeka,” and then I realized that he actually meant something by it. Not just anything: he was pointing to my dinner. Now I understand how certain parents–who have previously struck me as mysterious and inexplicable–can decipher their children’s strange tongues. Active listening, engagement, encouragement. (Here are some words in Max speak: “shoosh” for juice, “gaga” for cracker,” “dough” for dog, “bot” for bottle and “peesh” for please.)

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Dutifully, I knelt on the floor and gave Max a piece of chicken. I praised him: “Yes! Max!! Chicken,” feeling proud. I never taught him the word, he just picked it up–like so many of his sayings. And then he stomped the meat into the ground because Max does not like chicken.

But, I thought, at least he didn’t say, “Fuck.” A word that, unfortunately, comes out clear as a bell.

Month 18

June 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

I forgot how much I like white nectarines.Image-1-1

The ones I’ve been buying are hardly local, but still…they remind me of the onslaught of summer. Max shares my stone fruit fandom. We eat them together at the breakfast table, slurping the juice from the fibrous meat, trying to hold onto increasingly skinless, increasingly slippery bulbs. When he likes a food, he generally tries to jam it into his mouth as rapidly as possible. Naked nectarines are wonderful to watch in this regard, because they just slide back out.

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On the finger food theme, Max ate his first rib over the weekend. He sat at the head of the picnic table like a miniature king, plucking and licking his meat. In the end, he ate a big buttered chunk of bread and a few bits of potato salad. Maybe half an ounce of pork went down the gullet. I’m not much of a pig eater myself, I wanted to tell  him, although I risked offending his father who spent 6 hours over the smoker. The bigger event, though, was watching Max participate in a family meal, holding his sippy cup in the air during a toast and laughing when we laughed, although I’m sure he was amused by a different joke.

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No matter what, he knows he can get everybody to turn and clap when he says, “Peesh.” That’s baby for “Please.” Our favorite word yet, although I’m not sure why it took us so long to get him to say it. Frankly, it was SAM and Kate who finally taught him this politesse, two weekends ago on a visit to Washington. I had been perfectly lax in letting him shout, “More, more, more” whenever he wanted something. Now at least his demands are softened. Other words on the roster are “Apple,” “Book,” “Door,” “Dirty,” “Toes,” “Tree,” “Dog,” “Moo,” and a new favorite, “Abacus.” Apparently he got this from my mother, who puts medieval counting tools into his crib when I’m not home. Or so she claims. Anyway, he seems to find it interchangeable with other three syllable words. Anytime we read Babar, for example, he points at the elephants and says, “Abacus.” Image-1-3Image-1

We gave him a scooter. It came from our neighbors’ basement. It’s blue, and the wheels stick–thank God–so it goes about as slowly as a scooter could. It doesn’t matter much for now, because he won’t stand on it and kick. He either sits on it or straddles it. He’s not comfortable propelling himself yet, and when I try to show him how, he acts unimpressed then sits down as if to express his dominance over me and the vehicle.

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Is sitting on stuff an expression of control? I’ll have to look that up in a baby textbook, because he does it a lot. He sits on balls, rolling pins, (the kind you use for ligaments, not dough) books. He sits on us when we’re stretching on the floor. And he always seems to sit a little straighter when he’s on top of something, like a WWF wrestler who just came out on top. He’s a good lounger, too, as you can see from these pictures of a family trip to the Bahamas. What you don’t see is that each calm pose lasts about 7 seconds. On the plus side, nobody got burned! Parenting can really make a tanorexic turn responsible.

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Max’s sense of humor expands daily. Last night, as I was rocking him in the dark, his head heavy on my shoulder, he pushed out three crackling farts. I jumped they were so loud. Also, they reverberated strongly on my forearm, causing me some concern. But there was nothing to them. So I said, “Max! Poot poot,” and he said “Put put” and we both laughed. And I said it again, and he laughed harder. And then suddenly he was wide awake, and we were talking about farts and cracking up. Never in my life have I found  fart joke funny. A boy will change you, I guess.

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Oh, and he gave me the flowers pictured. Walked in from the lawn at grandma’s house and handed them to me, just like that, little heartbreaker.

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On Haircuts & 17 Months

April 29, 2015 § 3 Comments

Lesson 1: A good haircut makes all the difference. I got one last weekend. For the first time since September.

It looks swingy and exciting. I feel jaunty and confident. It’s the kind of thing that makes you walk into your boss’ office and say, “I quit.”

     Flowering NYC

Well, I tried, anyway. My boss, calm and patient, walked me down from the ledge. “What about part time?” She said. And I said, “I thought that wasn’t an option.” And she said, “That’s because you never asked me.”

Lesson 2: Don’t trust office innuendo.

So, I’ll be working a slightly revised schedule. It should give me more time. It should alleviate some stress. Other than the embarrassment I feel over the drama of my attempted exit, I’m over the moon. To work and live at the same time! One can dream, anyway. But you know I’ll let you know. And as Louise suggested, I’m giving it until September. On that note, thank you to all of my friends who commented or called to talk about my last post. It really cheered me up not to flounder all alone.

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Meanwhile, Max is attached to the back of Christopher’s bicycle, riding through Central Park. This is the first time they’ve gone off together on such a terrifying journey. Frankly, I’m writing now to distract myself about what’s happening out there: my tender tadpole at the mercy of the traffic signals.

New topic!

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How about his adorable haircut that makes him look not a day over 10 months? I swear it’s given him a dash of confidence too, because he’s started walking around like a tiny dictator, kicking his feet straight in front of him, chin up. The move is funny, but only because it’s new. In a parallel move, (this one won’t get obnoxious) Max gathers up his arms and makes little fists in preparation to sprint. This we call “the baby T-Rex.”

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Max has also developed the practice of going limp. How did he come up with this? I can’t believe it was sua sponte, but it must be, because kids his age don’t sit around sharing secrets on how to best their parents… right? Here’s how it goes: when the time comes to get back in the stroller and leave the park, Max loosens his limbs and goes totally limp. It becomes very difficult to pick him up. Not impossible, though, poor kid. So he cries, with great feeling.  And I laugh, which is a terrible reaction because I’m sure I’m teaching him to feel either diminished or rewarded or whatever. But I can’t help it–the wide-mouthed wails are so amusing, especially because as soon as I give Max a spoon, he’s transfixed and quiet. Here’s hoping that trick lasts.Image-1-2

Meanwhile, we all feel better with the blue skies and the flowering trees. It’s been breezy and cool, but bright. We drink our coffee and our milk together in the mornings, take long walks in the park before the day begins, and crinkle our noses dramatically to smell the bitter daffodils, which brighten the house in many places. I’ve just gone out to buy more. Now we have them by the bed, in the kitchen, in the bathroom and by Max’s crib. It’s spring everywhere.

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I smell a daffodil and think of one morning. The first morning of spring: standing on the stone steps outside my childhood home, seeing the huge patch of daffodils that lined the woods. There were so many that you could smell them all the way from the porch. But it wasn’t just daffodils I’d smell, it was dirt. I forget how much I love the smell of dirt until spring brings it back.

Meomay

April 14, 2015 § 4 Comments

It was a difficult winter and I’ve neglected to post. I’ve neglected many things. Like haircuts: I’ve had a single trim since I started work in September. I rarely food shop anymore. Instead I buy things piecemeal at the 24 hour bodega, or go late at night to the regular grocery store to avoid losing sacred weekend time. For all its fluorescence, a grocery store at 10 pm (only in NY) feels like a catacomb. But on the plus side, shopping now doubles as exercise. Same with walking 5 blocks from the office to court. I now consider making copies calisthenics.

…To say nothing of my friends. I try to write emails on the subway, but often I forget, or I just can’t think of anything worthwhile to say. My husband suffers a similar neglect. I am an introvert to begin with, so by the time the criminal justice system and the 16 month old are through with me, you can imagine how much I have left.

I do not have time to write anymore, or even to think, except while I am on the train. I scribble into a spiral notebook and do my contemplating on my hour commute in the morning, and then again at night. I should tell you, there are madman on the train, talking to themselves, shouting at the walls, twitching. There are musicians singing or playing and grating on my nerves (even the good ones). There are women cleaving their stilettos between the frangible bones of my feet. If I’m being honest, it doesn’t feel like the ideal space for creative, wholesome thinking.

You’ll forgive me this listicle of complaints, I hope. I only mean to say: working in this way isn’t working anymore. I love my job. Actually, it’s the first job I can say I’ve ever lovedIt’s exciting and multi-dimensional and fraught with tension and it keeps me from giving life to my own nonsensical preoccupations, which is a BIG FAT PLUS.

Except, it’s a scorched earth situation. The job extinguishes my peevish inner voice…and everything else.

I am a bookend mom. An hour in the morning, an hour at night. And even though I enjoy just about the most humane schedule a young lawyer could have, I have no room for the things that make me sing. There is no room for the world to resonate with me, or for me to resonate with the world.

Also, I’m just about the luckiest parent alive (although I may not be unique in feeling that way). Max enchants me. And the world does the same for him. Everything is magical: manholes, twigs, magnets, empty yogurt cups, naked lightbulbs. His laugh sounds like a bell. He is the purest person I’ve ever met, and he’s my son. Sometimes, when that thought hits me all at once, I feel like sitting down to catch my breath.

Meanwhile, he runs around, speaking some combination of English words and Max-isms, pointing at things and stating, with apparent authority: “Mama, Dada, meomay, miche.”

I’d be lying if it didn’t mean something to me when people call and say, “Counselor?” Or when a judge turns to me and says, “People?” To be the people is very appealing, as I’m sure you can imagine. I love the courtroom smells: ancient wooden benches, old tinging radiators, and everything coated in bleach. It’s pre-war New York, through and through. Part of me enjoys descending into the tubes and emerging in a different world–a different self.

But all of that entails a lot of forgetting–suspending one role in favor of another. And gradually, to my horror, and against my best efforts, one role takes over.

When I became a mom, I was stunned by what if felt like to live for another person. I’m sure for some parents, particularly those with fewer hours or greater capacity, parenting and working can balance each other out. But the way my game is set up, they don’t… at least not for me.

I am choosing: every day I descend into the subway and play role at the expense of another. I feel my mothering recede, I put it aside, and I don’t think about it until my short hour before Max sleeps. I feel myself becoming inured to the separation. It breaks my heart, that forgetting. I ask myself: am I doing what I ought to be doing if it hurts this much to think about?

Month 14 (and some)

February 13, 2015 § 4 Comments

I recently passed a tiny baby, slung over its mother’s shoulder . It had that stunned and vulnerable look and the unexpected combination of ruddiness and floppiness. Its eyes were puffed from top to bottom. The only sign of wakefulness was a tiny, shiny slit. It reminded me of how tender I used to feel about Max… that mothering ache.

Max is 1

I remember how I used to crane over Max asleep in his crib or stroller or on the couch or bed beside me, where he would inevitably fall asleep after just a few minutes of blinking. I would coax him up again, hoping to see a sliver of pupil and iris. But he would just go on purring, arming himself against a too bright world after months in the dark. It was sweet. And I loved him so much it hurt.

Goggling

That time has passed. Not just the newborn-ness, but also the feeling of pained love. Because now Max is a person not a manifestation of innocence. He doesn’t exist while emotion or need ebbs in and out of him. He makes things happen, charging ahead. He hides in closets, pulling all of our clothes from the hangars.He grabs the wand of my mascara with his fist just when I’m about to swipe. He tries to get on top of Lupe and ride her around the house. The love I have today tends more towards amusement (if always exhaustion).

Goggling s'more

I am stuck in that tricky place of wanting to encourage Max’s intrepidness and curiosity while also wanting to discourage undue rebellion. But where is the line? I think I’ve found the eternal parental question.

Inside & Outside

Because I know this list will change as early as tomorrow afternoon, I’m writing down the things that I love watching him do at 14 months (+ a few days).

  1. I ask: “Max how old are you?” and he points an index finger at the sky. He also does it when I ask “Cuantos anos tienes?” It’s his best party trick.
  2. He runs. And now, he can even do it in shoes (!) We bought him some real clunkers and he’s finally able to pick up his feet high enough to step without catching the rubber and falling down. For a while I felt like we were living with  Agador Spartacus.
  3. He’s expanded his vocabulary to include “Crackers,” “Dog,” “Bottle” and “Dirty.” And I’m like, that’s enough to get you through most frat parties.
  4. He shares. I didn’t make an exaggerated effort to teach him this, but he always offers up his gnawed chunks of bagel and bread or pieces of toys. His favorite thing to give are shreds of animals that were once the characters in pop up books.  Now when we turn the pages, up come stumps.
  5. He sputters while I feed him yogurt or soup or other ‘mush’ foods so that everything dribbles down his chin and gathers at the collar of his shirt. Somehow it all manages to slide down just behind the bib.
  6. He walks around without a shirt (because I’ve learned to feed him topless) while rubbing his gut or pinching one–or both–of his nipples.
  7. He downward dogs.
  8. He responds when I say, “Arriba arriba” by raising the roof with his palms.
  9. He wags his finger anytime he hears, “No.” I anticipate this moving quickly from cute to obnoxious.
  10. He points to various items around the house when we call them out. He first started this with musical ornaments my mom hung in an effort to turn him into a prodigy. If we say “French horn” or “Tuba” in rapid succession, he’ll tell the two apart… so he is about 28 years and 2 months ahead of me there.
  11. He walks around to the other side of a door and closees it while you’re on your way to him. Then he’ll start moaning because, of course, he’s not tall enough to reach the knob and open it up again. And it’s not really Max’s thing to be alone in a room.

Sunday Morning News

My favorite part of this age is how amusing he finds the world. And he’s got this smokey, barrel-bellied laugh that makes us all laugh with him. There’s nothing funnier to Max than when we crack up, so we’re basically in a constantly escalating competition to be most jolly. That is, when Christopher and I aren’t busy hanging our clothes back up.

More Weekend AMs

Month 13

January 5, 2015 § 2 Comments

It just gets better. We got lucky: happiness is Max’s default mode. He expresses it most often now by scrunching up his nose and grinning. If you don’t make a commensurate expression, he’ll wait for it, face frozen. I’ve heard this referred to as first child syndrome.

Winterized

                              Winterized

But if he gets a glut of attention, he gives it back… to everybody–especially old ladies in surrounding church pews. One of these, Barbara, recently took us aside to say she always goes to the 5:45pm mass and would we please try to go then as well, just so she could see his scrunchy smile?

The Scrunch & Lunch

                   The Scrunch & Lunch

Max in church is a delight and a liability. This morning (alas, Barbara, the 5:45 falls squarely during his dinner and is the mass of last resort) he pulled off his sock, slid off my lap and started running down the aisle towards the alter. Before the service had started a (curmudgeonly) couple moved up several pews to get away from Max’s noisemaking. It was hard to ignore this crusty pair giving us the hairy eyeball as Max careened towards the host, which had recently been brought up and was teetering in holy hands as it was lifted to the air. I caught Max just in time, but we were definitely getting more attention than the priest. As I picked him up and brought him back down the aisle, he raised his arms to the sky and squealed a blessing to all the congregants.

Full of the Holy Ghost

Full of the Holy Ghost

As I mentioned, he’s running. In the last two weeks he went from wobbling to sprinting, although he still moves along with his arms straight out in front of him like Lurch. Christopher calls him “Frankenbaby.”

He especially loves to be chased. Is this hardwired into the humanoid? It must be, because we did nothing to teach him the game. I can imagine the thrill he gets when one or both of us is coming at him growling, “I”m gonna get you.” He howls with excitement and then burrows his face into whatever pair of shins arrives first. Often, the chase is percipitated by Max grabbing something, pretending to pass it, then snatching it back just before the handover is complete. And then, he runs.

I think Max’s walking has made things easier on Lupe, too. She spent some time at Grandma’s house in Connecticut because she was terrorizing the nanny and everybody who came through the door. She also barked sharply at Max a few times when he surprised her by sitting on her tail, which was odd because she also took to licking him with so much enthusiasm that his whole head would be wet. Her behavior worried us a lot: we had her hearing checked and her eyes checked and the vet suggested that she might simply be confused about her place in this new dynamic. Fair enough–she’s been with Christopher and I since 2007 and has had the run of the place. Then comes a peeping, hooting creature about whom she feels both protective and jealous, plus working parents and a new nanny. Happily, she seems much calmer since her return on Friday. Perhaps Max’s two-leggedness helps her understand that he is a person, not a large creeping squeak toy.

Lounging with Pop

Lounging with Pop

In a tie for my two favorite new affectations are: 1) Max saying, “Mom, mom mom,” every time he wants to eat or sleep or take a bath and 2) Max shoving the crown of his head into everything and everybody to express his affection. A few weeks ago Mom went with him to music class and reported that he did this loving headbutt to a peer, wrapping his arms around her, kissing her face and shoving his head into her chest. If I’d have been there I would have surely felt jealous of Celine, my 12 month old competition. I might have whispered in his ear, as soon as she started shaking her maraca, “Sure, she’s cute, but who’s going to go home and smear Desitin you-know-where?

Bits & Pieces

December 18, 2014 § 3 Comments

It’s been a month of firsts. The only one I can say for sure happened on December 2nd, and that was the birthday–and the birthday cupcake.

The First Cupcake

The First Cupcake

It was a tiny little thing, which I bought from the local bakery the morning of. It was too small for the “1” candle I bought months ago, in anticipation of Max’s birthday. Anyway, I remember clearly his first dessert. But otherwise, I’ve found firsts elusive.

On the biggest developmental front, we’ve got steps and we’ve got words. But they’ve evolved so smoothly that I can’t recall the first of either. Max’s first steps were hardly the Chariots of Fire event I envisioned. It was more like, pet pet, plop. Or even just one pet and a plop. And so many of those first steps were camouflaged by Max holding onto the side of the couch and perhaps–for a second–letting go as momentum carried him forward. I can say, though, that on December 17th, he really took off, as if he woke up that morning and decided, “I’m going to walk across the room.”

The Loot

Max & the Loot

And I wonder with the words, too. At what point does baby babble, which has always been a muddle of consonants and vowels, become speech? It has for us recently (I think), as we’ve noticed Max pointing at Christopher and saying “Dadadada,” or reaching for me and saying, “Mumomumoma,” or looking at the pup and saying, “Do.”  And surely those are word-ish expressions, though I can’t say with any confidence which one came first–and not just because I am a diplomatic wife.

I have to work against the impulse to hoard these experiences. I wanted to be there for the first steps–back when I thought Max would one day recognize the power of his legs and suddenly launch himself up and away. I wanted to be there for the first thing he decided to articulate, although I suppose it’s been evident for a while that his mumbles are meaningful to him, whether or not I get the point. I would be a liar if I said I knew the moment when his language merged with my own.

Baby Goof

Birthday Face

Frankly, it’s a relief. Its so liberating to know that these milestones unfold, rather than springing out, unexpectedly. You don’t have to be on high alert that you’ll miss something. Milestones are reached in bits and pieces, au fur et a mesure. 

Still, the milestones accrue. I’d say the first steps happened just a week or two before his birthday (these were tiny, hesitant moves–often, I didn’t know what I was looking at until they evolved into something else) and now, a few weeks later, Max can wobble, arms up to the sky, from one room to the next, like a miniature drunk.

Max & the B-day Wolf

Max & the Wolf

As for the words: I’ve been told he points at pictures of us when we’re gone and says, “mama” and “dada.” I’d like to believe that’s true, although I’m acutely aware that babysitters and grandmas like to make working parents feel special upon their return home. Still, he does it when we’re with him, so I shouldn’t be so skeptical. Frankly, it’s hard to doubt or worry about anything when your child reaches for you and says your name, as if it could go on forever: “Mamamamama.”

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