Friday, February 29, 2008

These winter days


Although tomorrow will be the first day of March, it remains winter here. These winter days slip past in a blur, seeming to merge into one long, lazy afternoon. Time melts; sometimes noon finds my children still dressed in their PJs, and then I think that Bean-girl might as well take a nap in her PJs, so 3 pm and 4 pm roll around and find her sipping juice in monkey jammies. (I change her just before my husband comes home).

Somewhere--in a blog comment, I think--I read this thought on stay-at-home-momhood: The years are short, but the days are long. Exactly. The day seems comprised of endless loops of mundane tasks: empty the dishwasher, fill the dishwasher. Prepare breakfast/snack/
lunch/dinner, feed the kids, then clean it all up. The kids are held, played with, cajoled, bribed, bounced, and held some more.

At times I feel at my wit's end: irritated, stifled, my brain turning into tofu. I feel ready to implode from bored exhaustion, and the claustrophobia of this unending winter. And then the Bean-girl finds a long-forgotten book of nursery rhymes that I had bought for her when she was still a baby. She finds the book and brings it to me. I read, and we find ourselves both enchanted by the rhythms of Mother Goose, and the charming illustrations of Rosemary Wells. I had thought she wouldn't comprehend or like this book--who can make sense of the archaic rhymes? What the hell is a tuppenny loaf, and what kid knows what a sixpence is? But understanding doesn't matter; she's enchanted by the rhythms and rhymes themselves.

The baby crawls across the floor into my lap, and says clearly "mama."

These moments are like unexpected shafts of sunlight, punctuating the doldrum of the days.

****************************************************************************

Mommy! the Bean-girl cried out the other morning. Stop the baby from eating play-doh and getting sick! Take her away!

The irrepressible Baby Legume was crawling across the floor straight to the corner where Bean-girl sat with her containers of play-doh, multi-colored neon clumps spread out across the newspaper.

I took the baby away and placed her in the middle of the living room. Sure enough, she immediately started crawling back toward Bean-girl and the enticing play-doh.

Distraction doesn't work so well these days. Baby Legume is getting smarter, which means a longer memory and attention span. Which means she remembers the toy/food/thing she wanted, and she wants that, and is not distracted by the rattle you are waving in her face, no thank you. Please please please let me eat play-doh!

I think the poor Baby Legume now spends most of her days in a state of frustration. So much that she wants is not allowed! She can’t eat the play-doh, and she can’t eat the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that her sister is having for a snack. And she can’t tear and eat pages from sister’s library books. A shared story time with the Bean-girl is sheer torment for Baby Legume. Legume tries desperately to grab and tear the pages of her sister’s book, screaming as her attempts are thwarted. (Or not thwarted, as the case may be).

Where did she come from, this fierce, determined, determined child? Physical barriers are nothing to her. She climbs over the boppy pillow, squeezes around a corner under the table, plows right on and over the musical farmhouse toy as though it isn’t even there. This is my Terminator Baby, unstoppable.

She is nine months old now, as I write this. Where did the time go? Just this week she started babbling up a storm, to my great relief. She’d been so silent before, in such contrast to her older sister (who was babbling full force at 6 months). But now Legume has revealed herself to be a master of consonants. Ma ma ma. Da da da. Ka ka ka. I don’t think she can yet know the meaning of "mama" or "dada", but it’s still so sweet to hear her say those words.

The days are long but the years are short. They are growing and changing so much, my girls. Yesterday the afternoon seemed to stretch out interminably, forever. But the last nine months? A handful of seconds. A beat of the heart.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Growing babies

Bean-girl comes up daily with new nicknames for her little sister. They generally follow a food theme.
Baby Jello
Baby Snacks
Baby Cheese
Doughnuts
Bagels
Mouse
Wiggles
"Mouse" and "Wiggles" aren't foods, but see what I mean?

Bean-girl has been talking, too, of the time when she herself will grow a baby within her tummy.

When I get bigger, I will make a friend for Baby Legume! she proclaimed one day.
How will you make the friend? I asked, amused.
I'll grow it in my tummy, she answered. When I get bigger, I will grow a baby for Baby Legume to play with.

I haven't the heart, of course, to point out that Baby Legume will no longer be a baby by this time.

This week we have been reading for bedtime a story of an elephant who becomes a big brother to triplets. Do you want any more babies? I asked the Bean-girl after reading this story, with mild trepidation.

She nodded. I would like two babies, she said.

Oh, honey, I said. I don't think mommy and daddy are going to have any more babies.

Bean-girl was unperturbed. I will grow the baby, she said. I'm going to grow it for you. When I get bigger I will make a baby and give it to you.
You know what? I told her. I think I would like that very much. I think that when you get much bigger, I would like it a lot if you had babies for me.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fried slime mold

I think mommyhood has fried my brain.

My short-term memory is blown to bits. My long-term memory may follow. I seem to live life in a state of perpetual distraction, standing in the living room looking for a pair of socks, or a form for preschool, or--wait, what am I looking for again? And didn't I leave it just right there? And oh, hey, there are some dirty dishrags right there, let's take it up to the laundry, and oh, the baby needs a diaper change, now why is the dryer standing open like that, and there's Bean-girl screeching again and the cat's out of food and wait, I was looking for something what the hell was I looking for???

This morning I was looking for paperwork for Bean-girl's first trip to a dentist in this city. And while I was frantically searching for this, the Bean-girl was sitting on the toilet crying out that she couldn't pee, she really couldn't, and the baby was crawling about half-dressed (because I'd just changed her diaper and then gotten distracted before I could finish dressing her). And as I was still searching, going slowly crazy because I knew I'd left it on the desk, I really did the half-dressed baby was scaling the makeshift barricade I'd built to keep her safely enclosed in the living room. And then Bean-girl started to screech from the bathroom for a lollipop.

And I could just feel my brain slowly melting in its skull.

My sister-in-law is the mother to triplet girls and an older boy. Although her children are now older, my husband continues to joke of his sister that raising triplets has "blown her attention span to bits." She is smart, capable, amazingly efficient. She is a terrific mother, and her children are wonderful human beings. I am in utter awe of her. But it's true that she does often seem . . . distracted in conversation, even with other adults. And she has a habit of repeating things over and over. The way you repeat things when you're talking to a child. Except that she continues to do this when speaking to my husband and I.

I fear that if I stay too long at home, I may lose all ability to communicate with the adult members of my species.

**********************************************************************

I'm aware that there is an argument for the other side. There are mothers and women who argue stridently that motherhood does NOT reduce us all to the cognitive state of slime molds. There are apparently published studies showing that mice who have given birth actually do better than other mice on some types of cognitive tests. There is even a book out there, called "How Motherhood Makes Us Smarter," which apparently argues that motherhood actually makes us smarter. I haven't read any of these.
Maybe, down the road, I'll find that I am indeed more flexible, better at multi-tasking, more socially skilled. Or maybe I'll find that I'm just more socially skilled with children?

Tonight I'll feel better about all this, I know. There's my infant now, peering up at me with large, wondering eyes. There's my pretty Bean-girl, calmly eating her snack. I have so many sweet, cute stories to tell about them.
But right now? That soft stuff squishing about in my brains? Slime mold, my friends. Slime mold.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bulletpoints

  • The GI-tract bug (rotavirus) appears to have run its course in the house.
  • A new respiratory bug is moving in.
  • Baby Legume's new found power of crawling appears to be accompanied by severe separation anxiety.

Monday, February 18, 2008

At least the dryer is fixed

Thank goodness the dryer was fixed last Friday. Because it has been working overtime ever since.


At some point in the night, too tired to play the "Let's-try-to-get-baby-to-sleep-in-her-own-crib" game, I usually bring Baby Legume into bed with my husband and I. On Friday night the co-sleeping went terribly wrong when she threw up what seemed like quarts of milk over everyone and everything. I changed the sheets, brought her back into bed . . . and she threw up again.


Then she kept throwing up the next morning. Interspersed with diarrhea. We were already catching up with the laundry load after days when the dryer had been out of commission. My husband estimates that he did 8 loads on Saturday. I changed my clothes 4 times. At one point, having peeled off baby-poo stained pants, I panicked that I had nothing to wear. "Don't worry," my husband said. "I'm on top of it. Laundry is now at a steady state." Steady state--clean laundry exiting the dryer at exactly the same rate as dirty laundry enters the cycle.


But throughout it all, Baby Legume was happy and smiley. She played and crawled as fiercely as ever. She did take an incredible 4-hour afternoon nap, but aside from that and the scary amounts of fluid expelled. . . she seemed pretty good.


My husband, however, is not.

My husband now has what the Baby Legume had. . . but worse.

The poor man really does look like death (barely) warmed over. His face is the color of chalk. He is lying in bed with the covers over his head, uttering the most pathetic little moans. At least his trips to the bathroom have slowed down, and he's hydrated himself with his homemade molasses-oral-rehydration fluid (made while his loving wife was at the grocery store, forgetting to buy the Gatorade she had promised). Husband is a pediatric infectious disease specialist (yes, that really is his title) and he's diagnosed both the Legume and himself with rotavirus. Baby Legume was actually vaccinated against rotavirus, which probably explains why she had a relatively easy time of it, and now seems completely back to normal. But there is no rotavirus vaccine for adults, and Husband is still sick. He canceled work today, which he has not done in the ten years that I have known him.


I am impressed that his body could keep expelling liquids, long after it seemed that it should have stopped.


Bean-girl is okay, and was packed off to preschool, away from the sick-house. I'm feeling okay, and hope I'll stay so, as I am an absolute baby at even the sniffles. The laundry machine is currently sanitizing all contaminated sheets, blankets, clothes--anything the Husband touched. We're in plague-containment mode here.


Since the baby made him sick in the first place, she's now cuddled against him in the bed, safely immune. Here's hoping the whole family is okay soon.



"Who, me?"
The disease vector

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Thank you!



Arduous, the Happy Scientist, and Sciencemama were all kind enough to give me this Excellent Blog award! I am honored to be nominated by these three women who are not only all Excellent Bloggers, but wonderful people as well.
This blog award is speeding through my local corner of the women-in-science blogosphere, and has already swept up many of my favorite science bloggers--in addition to Sciencemama and the Happy Scientist, it's already been passed on to Wayfarer Scientista, VWXYnot? and more.

So I'm going to turn in a different direction, and pass it on to some non-scientist bloggers.


The Musing Mommy--for her musings and stories of raising Baby Girl in the rural Midwest


Ophelia Rising--for her lovely meditations on motherhood and more (and recipes to boot!)


Life as I Know It--funny, poignant, and true!


MetroDad--this guy is just frigging hilarious.


Notes to Self--beautiful words and pictures.


And finally. . . Mind the Gap, by Jennifer Rohn.


Well, Mind the Gap is actually a science/scientist blog, but doesn't seem that well-known in my corner of the blogosophere. I think it's because she blogs on Nature Network, and draws her readership from other registered users of that site. You don't need to be registered, though, to read her posts. Jennifer Rohn has a unique story... after a successful career in scientific publishing, she has elected to go back into academic research. Starting all over again. As a postdoctoral scientist. Is she crazy? Foolhardy? Brave? Heck, she even blogs under her own name! Whatever you might think, her posts are certainly worth reading, and beautifully crafted. Like this one. In fact, several of her posts are being featured in this year's Open Lab Anthology of the best science blog writing of 2007.

Okay, gotta mind the baby. And oh, what the last few days have been like here. . . .







Friday, February 15, 2008

If the baby spoke in haikus

Friday Haiku

If the baby spoke in haikus

Yummy newspaper.
Balled-up tissues: perfect for
shredding and chewing.

Sister's craft project
deserves a bite. Kitty's ears
are delectable.

Arbitrary mom
feeds me some foods but takes all
the good stuff away.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Best Friends Forever, or What's going on there, anyway?



The Bean-girl has a friend.

I'm not using that term lightly, the way parents often do of their young childrens' classmates or acquaintances. You know how we say it--little Sophie and Ethan are in the same playgroup and sometimes exchange blocks so they're friends. No, I mean that Bean-girl has a real friend, someone she seeks out, someone whose company absolutely makes her day.

Bean-girl's friend is a beautiful little girl at preschool, a charming cherub with big blue eyes, sunlight hair, and an exuberant personality. When I come to the classroom with Baby Legume in tow, little "Lisa" runs up to coo at the baby and tell me that she, too, is going to have a baby soon. (Actually, it's her mother who is going to have the baby, but we'll just let this slide). She is going to have a baby brother that she will call either "Curly" or "Bubbles," and can she please come over to our house to play? (Soon, I tell her. As soon as I and her mother can arrange it).

Bean-girl and Lisa are Best Friends Forever. They are joined at the hip. They love each other.

Lately, for some mysterious reason, Bean-girl has been balking at attending school. This is the same girl who loved her school the very first day she went, who used to run off happily to paint and do crafts. Now many nights she tells us that she doesn't want to go to school the next day. She would rather stay home with Mommy.

But you can do crafts and paint! we say.
She shakes her head.

But Lisa will be there!

I don't know if Lisa will be there, she points out. She has reason for this concern--Bean-girl goes to school on Monday and Wednesday, but Lisa goes on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.


If it is a Monday and Lisa will be there, all is fine. You can play in the Jungle Room with Lisa! I say, and all sullen resistance evaporates from my daugher's face. Yippee! her entire expression shouts, and she hastens to pull on her clothes for the day.

If Lisa is there, she told me at the kitchen table one day, I don't need to be with Mommy.

(Oh, sweetness with just the slightest pang.)

When we ask Bean-girl about her friends at school, she insists that Lisa is her only friend. As for the other kids that I have seen her playing with? Sometimes they are nice and sometimes they are mean, she says. Only Lisa is her friend.

Interestingly, Lisa has the same idea. A few weeks ago Lisa and the Bean-girl got together for a playdate at Lisa's house. Lisa's mother told me that Lisa, too, insists that all the kids at school are "mean." Except, of course, for my daughter.

What is going on here? As far as I have been able to tell, there is no Lord-of-the-Flies situation in the classroom. When I drop by, the children all seem well-behaved (usually) and perfectly pleasant. I have seen Bean-girl (and Lisa, too, incidentally) interacting and playing with these other children. But they both insist that the other kids are often mean and not their friends.

What about Ally? I ask. And Maddy and Isabelle? Isn't Michael your friend?

Bean-girl shakes her head. And she does not like Michael. A sweet red-haired boy who is often standing next to her at the craft table, who showed her the hermit crabs in the crab tank during the first week of preschool, and who often runs up to me to chatter about his day.

Lisa doesn't like ANY of the boys. Come to think of it, Bean-girl does not appear to like any of the boys, either. Geez, I didn't know that cooties appeared so soon.

The social scene at preschool is obviously complex beyond my understanding. And while I do worry about the social scene ahead, and wonder what is going on (although I really think it's not much of anything) ... it is also so sweet to see my daughter with her first real friend.

********************************

Lisa and Bean-girl both have a shared love for the Disney cartoon series "Little Einsteins." On Monday (completely by coincidence, I swear) they both showed up wearing Little Einstein shirts. Bean-girl's teacher told me that she and the girls had decided that Lisa was "Annie"--the blonde, blue-eyed little girl in the series. And Bean-girl was "June"--the long-lashed Asian ballerina.

My little long-lashed Chinese-American girl and her blond friend. Perfect.




That's Bean-girl/June on the left, and Lisa/Annie on the right.
Oh, and any moms out there with older kids and insight into the preschool social scene?

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A nice day


This past week I've had unwritten blog posts accumulating in my head, piling up and knocking against one another. But then, when I get a spare moment to write . . . I sit at the keyboard and nothing comes out. Just gibberish. And then the baby wakes up, or the Bean-girl starts yelling for me, and with an (inward) sigh I leave the keyboard, my thoughts unsaid.

T.S. Eliot wrote that "April is the cruelest month," but I respectfully beg to differ. February is cruel, these unrelenting gray days, so far removed from both the cheer of Christmas/New Year's and from the warmth of spring. Valentine's, that manufactured Hallmark holiday, doesn't cut it, my friends. Here in my Midwestern city we are caught in a cycle of freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw. The potholes in the road could swallow a child. Blank white or slate gray seem to be the only colors of the sky.

My 3-yr old Bean-girl is in training for law school. With her, the meaning of every word must be finely parsed; she is on the lookout for the tiniest of loopholes, the finest of technicalities. I know: I'm the parent, I shouldn't be negotiating with a 3-yr old. She is a master negotiator, I must say. Whoever said that 3-yr olds are not logical has not met my daughter. It's true that she does appears frequently illogical, but at other times her reasoning steamrolls both my husband and I.

She is also a control-freak (does that go along with her lawyerly tendencies?) A typical day sounds like this:

I want to turn on the lights!
I want to be the one to close the door!
No, I want to give Baby Legume the toy! (after I've handed the baby a toy).

And her new favorite: Don't talk! (when, for whatever inscrutable reason, she wishes me not to talk to her, not to talk to her father, not to talk to anyone or open my mouth at all.)


Today as we prepared for a family outing to the bookstore, the scene went like this:

Bean-girl: I want to pick the car we take!
Me : Well, the strollers are all in my car. So I think we should take Mommy's car.
Bean-girl: I want to pick the car we take!
Me : Okay, pick the car (hoping she will pick mine).
Bean-girl: Daddy's!
Daddy: No, we'll take Mommy's car today.
Bean-girl: WAAAAAAAHHHH!

Dad picks her up and starts to strap her in her car seat.

Bean-girl: (tears wetting her face) WIPE MY EYES!!

Dad goes to get a tissue for her.

Bean-girl: No, I want MOMMY to do it! Mommy WIPE MY EYES!!

I grab a tissue and go to her. My husband briefly closes his eyes and sighs.

And I think at him: I've been dealing with this all week.

***********************************************************


We had a great day, actually. A day that I really needed. Finally, for what seemed the first time in weeks, my husband did not have to go into work this weekend. We lounged about at home until 10 am, then went out to brunch. We went to the most charming little cafe, attached to a small gallery featuring the work of local artists. The waitstaff at the cafe cooed at our girls, and brought the Bean-girl a cool picture book to browse through while we waited for our meal. We had an excellent meal (eggs Benedict for my husband, scrambled eggs and sausage on a croissant for me, pancake for Bean-girl, and homemade vanilla yogurt for the Baby Legume). We browsed through the attached art gallery, and walked back to our car through the hip, granola-crunchy neighborhood. On the way we stopped in at a children's store, where I promptly fell in love with the knit dolls and precious organic-made-from-reclaimed-cotton baby shirts. Indulgent parents that we are, both Bean-girl and Baby Legume got one of those shirts.

My husband wanted to go to a bookstore to find the children's book that Bean-girl had played with at breakfast . . . but she fell asleep in the car. So we went home for her nap. A bit of quiet time for us (quiet play with the Legume); then out to the bookstore again (and the aforementioned Bean-girl tantrum), followed by dinner at a laid-back Mexican restaurant.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. We found new restaurants and shops today. We explored, and spent time together out as a family. It reminded me of weekends in our old city, when we had only the Bean-girl, and we would sometimes spend weekends together browsing the local bookstore and trendy shops of our pedestrian-friendly downtown.

It was a lovely day. . . I just feel/felt a bit melancholy tonight as I sit at this keyboard. Too many thoughts circling in my head, too much fretting over an unknowable future. Too much looking backwards, obsessively analyzing mistakes and missteps that cannot be retaken. I think too much, on these gray February days. I wish I could turn off that part of my brain that will not be content.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Overheard

Frequently overheard in our household these days:

Me (to Bean-girl): I could just eat you up! I'm going to eat you up!

Bean-girl: No! You can't! I'm not food!

Me: Oh. Well, can I eat up Baby Legume?

Bean-girl: No, she's not food!

And here's my entry for Haiku Friday tonight. Seems like a lot of babies are not sleeping well these days . . .


Baby Legume at Bed-time

The shrieks tonight made
me wonder if we should seek
an exorcism.