I cry more than the babies in “Babies”

I just watched Babies. Finally! And I cried a lot. Did anyone else have that reaction?

Must be because I had severe anxiety from the moment Stella was born. Seeing sweet, simple moments from the four babies’ early months made me wish I’d been less insane and better able to enjoy Stella’s. Even in the more stimulating environments of Tokyo and San Francisco, I sensed more calm than I remember from those days. I loved her with fiery intensity immediately, but there wasn’t much time to be joyful. I was hyper-vigilant, exhausted after being awake for two days during her birth, and worried about everything even before her feeding problems began. I remember looking out the hospital window right before being sent home and all I saw was grayness, trash and hard corners. I distinctly remember thinking, “The city is so harsh. I don’t want to take Stella out there.” Sometimes I wonder if my stress played a role in creating the medical issues that damaged Stella’s intestinal tract while kicking my anxiety into the stratosphere.

As I devoured every moment of Babies, I felt a sense of longing and even a touch of grief. I just watched it, during Stella’s long afternoon nap, with a cup of chai green tea and a cozy, thick, fleece blanket on this chilly, rainy late summer day in Seattle. The exact same weather marked Stella’s first day on earth. I remember that Cody admitted to me that he found the rain sad, wishing for sunshine on her birthday. But later that day he broke the big news to his best friend, who pointed out to Cody that rain was perfect. It makes new life possible and helps it grow. I now realize Cody was struggling right along with me, though his friend’s words did wonders in that particular instance.

On THIS rainy late summer day two years later, I was able to just relax and watch a movie. Stella and I met up with a friend for lunch today, after a leisurely morning at home, during which she and I ate lamb and pita and I held a real conversation with another adult while she played. We’ll probably just take a walk in the rain when she wakes up. When Cody comes home, we’ll have dinner together. Maybe, just maybe, we’ve got a bit of that elusive peacefulness now. In between tantrums, of course.

Today’s menu: Waffling

Stella loves fruits and vegetables. The catch? She prefers the plastic kind.Am I the only mom who waffles more than IHOP? I have a feeling the answer is no, but I had to ask.

Because there are days when Stella and I are in a groove, the house is cluttered but not too messy, we have an deeeeelightful outing to Gymboree or the library, Stella sets a new smiling record, and I sink a flag triumphantly into the top of Good Mom Mountain. Then there are the days in which Stella wakes up at 4:30 a.m., eats nothing but cheese and carbs, we don’t leave the house, Stella’s whining reaches epic heights, and I feel like I’m putting FEMA’s Brownie to shame. “Hek of a job, Mommy. Hek of a job.” I get depressed, usually only very briefly but it doesn’t help the rally effort. (That’s when I turn to my sidekick, Coffee.)

Of course, Stella’s eating is an easy trigger for me. When I think back about what she ate today, I don’t feel great. (Why am I thinking back on it then? Great question! Also, ever notice how “not great” is always used as a huge understatement and rarely in a literal way?) My posture reveals that I feel “less than” today. I want to confront it right now to see if my guilt is even justified. I want to look this sinking feeling in the food-covered face. So, LET’S DO THIS…

She had cottage cheese for breakfast with maybe 4 ounces of OJ and a couple bites of wheat toast with the best apricot jam ever made on this planet. Then she had half a banana and water as a rather minimal snack considering the size of breakfast, the kind of snack you might enjoy if incarcerated. Followed by a large helping of my own mac n’ cheese (at least I use whole wheat pasta) and some canned-but-organic baked beans (“lots of iron” I tell myself every other second while she’s eating the sugary legumes) and whole milk. I diced some granny smith to go alongside, knowing full well it was pointless. (I think she had one piece the size of a pea.) She reluctantly had a small serving of oatmeal cooked in cider (with apple sauce and canned pumpkin or squash and milk mixed in after cooking) for the second snack. Then, as seems to be the trend, she didn’t really have a proper dinner because it wasn’t ready by the time she got hungry, so I just fed her many bits of leftover turkey, and a couple grapes as she ran around. (Stella will only eat grapes standing up, she will only spit them out while sitting in her highchair.) As always, we sat down as a family for supper, and I think she had half of a baked sweet potato fry, a few bites of toast (not even close to whole wheat) and more turkey, and milk.

Oh, just reading that, I feel like an idiot. I can see that it’s not a big deal. I can do better, sure. A consistent serving of vegetable would be ace. She’ll do zucchini and cauliflower if I sautee them in olive oil and throw some grated Parmesan on them. Sometimes, peas. If I roast them in just the right way with tomatoes while the planets are aligned with the sun, she’ll have a few pieces of soft carrot. She’ll eat broccoli if we pretend it’s only for us and not for her (I wish I were joking). I’ll work on it. Or maybe I won’t “work on it.” I’ll just try to cook up a batch at the beginning of the week, freeze/refrigerate servings, put them out with her meals and do very little working or worrying on or about it.

So the only other thing hanging over my head at the end of this somewhat “off” day is our activity–or lack thereof. I’m still so unsure about what Stella needs in terms of activities and outings and socialization at this age. I wish I could be more confident in regards to what we do or don’t do. I’m still a bit overly concerned about making sure she snacks and eats well at meals, and this prevents me from being more adventurous at times. I wind up feeling like a lazy ass, or that I’m dooming Stella to my legacy of social awkwardness. But again, I waffle. Sometimes I’m utterly convinced that a 15-month-old does not need expensive “lessons” or other structured programs and that we all need to chill the hell out. Then the next minute, I’m terrified that Stella is missing out or not getting what she needs.

I guess I have some questions: Is mothering confidence even achievable, realistically? How do you know that your toddler is really getting what they need, as they’re moody regardless of what we do? Stella is 15 months old and not in preschool yet–is she going to fail out of kindergarten?

To complete this waffling cycle, I’ll end on a high note. Cody, Stella and I had a fabulous day on Friday at Seattle Center. We hit the Children’s Museum, then walked around the International Fountain, which Stella and I both love and could watch and listen to for hours. (The sky-high and dramatic waterworks are set to sync up with music in mesmerizing fashion.) While at The Children’s Museum, we watched Stella have a ball. Then it happened. In the kid-sized mock grocery store, she played in an amazingly collaborative way with a slightly older boy. OH MY GOD. They were an awesome team. Totally in tune. She unloaded plastic produce (totally eschewing cans and packaged goods, by the way) and handed it to this kid one by one so he could scan it. They were a MACHINE. The timing was amazing. Just as he was done scanning the last item, she was there with the next. He said, “Thank you!” (Stella’s favorite thing to say) every time. She smiled. This was more than mere parallel play and it went on for a very long time. We were ridiculously proud and impressed.

So, what am I worried about? Clearly, Stella is already more socially adept than me. And she’s obviously ready for part-time employment. She’s wonderful. I’m doing something right. Or maybe we parents think we’re more important than we really are. What a relief that would be. At the end of the caffeine-laced, near-veggie-less day, I just want her to be healthy and happy, without my going insane.

A rare moment of peace. Followed by an overwhelming desire to pee.



Boots for standing up in

Babies and toddlers are social magnets. Compliments zing through the air to make their way to you. Strangers swoon in your direction. Silly commentary slides along the sidewalk and lands at your feet. It warms my heart to see people react in an open and friendly way to Stella and all children for that matter.  That’s the way it should be.  Children, especially little ones, are still deciding just what this world is all about and gauging their place in it. A warm reception to this planet is what they need and deserve.

But that magnet sure is powerful. I’ve noticed that once in a long while, a baby’s magnetic magic can draw out the ugliness in some not-so-well-adjusted folks, the ones who perhaps were not warmly received here on earth themselves. So, not all of our run-ins with people on the street have been positive. Maybe it’s because we live in an urban area, where there are many people living very close together yet somehow with much distance separating them.

I’m still processing what happened, but while strolling Ballard this morning, we had a disturbing run-in with two men. I really don’t want to ever repeat what they said, which apparently seemed to them to be a harmless, hilarious joke.  It was too disturbing. Beyond inappropriate. Pretty much unfathomable to me or any parent.

Here’s what I’ll say about the interaction. They said something friendly to Stella. They seemed happy to see her. I said hello on behalf of Stella and myself, Stella stumbled, they reacted in a jovial manner, and I smiled and moved Stella along. They laughed a little too hard as we walked away.

Then, a block or two later, I processed their jovial response. And I got the joke. And it was not okay, not remotely okay. And I’d smiled at them as we parted. Did they think I was in on the joke? Oh god, no. No, no, no. I turned around. They were nowhere in sight. I made a quick, admittedly unfair judgement based on the way they were dressed that (at that non-commuting hour) they may have been headed for the bus stop. Two or three blocks later, I found them there. I confronted them. I confronted them because it was not right in any way. Because that kind of bullshit toward children can not be tolerated, and because I desperately, desperately needed to defend Stella (and me).

I don’t know that I’ve ever felt as confident heading into any other confrontation in my life. I was so calm, so lucid, so certain of what I needed to do. With Stella in my arms, I approached them and said, “Excuse me. Did you make an inappropriate joke about my daughter?” There was a brief but possibly telling pause. Or maybe they were in shock. They denied everything, and explained what they’d said. They made very sad expressions. I looked them both dead in the eye, I told them I’d heard the joke and heard their laughter. Again they tried to explain it. I took in their solemn faces and their responses. I so, so wanted to believe them, but upon reflection, my gut did not. There was nothing more I could do, and it didn’t really matter. I’d done what I had to do. I told them, “Okay, I hope not. I’m a protective mom and I needed to stand up for my daughter.” The more vocal of the two said, “That’s good.” We turned and left them there, waiting for their bus.

This had not been on my agenda, but I proceeded to walk into the boutique behind the bus stop, where I bought a pair of ass-kicking Frye boots for me, and some rain boots for Stella. Somehow, it seemed entirely appropriate.

Moving on.

The unnameable, rambling post about mommy blogging, growing up, and all that is sacred about parenting, with a special shout-out to Oprah, Heather Armstrong, and Stephanie Nielson. The end.

In our pre-Stella existence, with all our disposable income and endless free time, most of which was spent dining out, Cody and I faithfully attended Bumbershoot. My favorite performance by far was Public Enemy, though we saw a lot of big names along with some fabulous unknowns and rising stars. To us, the festival was not just about catching bands but also comedians like Patton Oswalt, who remains a favorite of ours. During one particular show, he spent quite a bit of time interacting and improvising with the audience. He saw that someone brandishing an inflatable sword and, of course, engaged him. The dude answered Patton’s question, then launched into some rambling tangent (similar to this blog post) about medieval history and how he has studied it for years, yada yada yada. Patton listened for a minute or two, clearly amused, and then perfectly delivered one of the best lines I’d heard in a long time, “Save it for your blog, man.”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t even really miss Bumbershoot. It got too crowded and annoying. Or maybe we got too old. Either way, we’re not hankering for the music festival experience. Not at all. Though, I hope to someday we’ll attend such events, as appropriate, with Stella when she’s old enough to get something out of it. These days, I’m home with Stella every day. I tackle  freelance writing projects during her naps and after she goes to bed. In the little spare time that I have, I don’t really know what to do with myself. So, usually, I waste it online. Brilliant, I know. I bet you wish you thought of that! Really though, I’m used to sitting at a computer for ten hours a day. That’s what I did at work for the ten years before Stella made her grand entrance into the world and our lives. So, I try to cut myself some slack and think of it as a process of breaking old habits. Slowly, I’m spending less and less time on the computer. And it feels good.

Blogging is also an online spare-time activity, but I’ve been reluctant to do it lately. Blogging started out as a way to celebrate and find humor in our parenting journey, and to share milestones and memories with family members, all of whom live so far away. Then Stella had her feeding issues and  the blog mainly became a form of therapy for me and a way of possibly helping others going through the same thing. And I enjoy writing. It’s my profession, and how I am best able to express myself.

Then I saw this National Post article by Christine Rosen, a scathing indictment of the mommy bloggers and so-called “hipster parents” of today.  Rosen claims that many parents today are hipsters, permanently stuck in adolescence. She observes that coolness and self are our top priorities rather than the needs and development of our children. Rosen blames this on the fact that we were the first generation to be bombarded as children by well-intentioned commentary about our uniqueness, how special we are. (Praise without actual achievement, she reminds us, has been shown to undermine self-esteem.) And so, today’s parents dedicate our lives to proving that point right. Our children are left by the wayside, merely pawns in our efforts to feel good about ourselves.

Now, I could hardly be called a hipster. Hey, I’ve only bought TWO (or five or six) things on Etsy.com. I drive a tan Ford Focus. I’ve never, ever been considered “cool” and working at an ad agency confirmed that beyond a shadow of a doubt (though I know am good at what I do). Sure, I’ve made attempts to be stylish–I even wear not-too-tight skinny jeans sometimes–but I’m pretty freaking mainstream in my Banana Republic cardigan. I “given up” Bumbershoot (though, as I said, very voluntarily) and many other activities from my pre-parenting days. Yet, I felt a sting when I read Rosen’s article and couldn’t help but feel it was at least partially directed at me and other moms who find mothering challenging, even painfully difficult at times, and aren’t afraid to say it.

After seeing, in that article and elsewhere, harsh attacks on the most famous mommy blogger (I know, I hate that term, too!), the bold and hilarious and honest Heather Armstrong of Dooce,  I began to feel more self-conscious about blogging. Even a sense of dread. I’d worried about posting our names and pictures online, because you just never know who’s looking. It’s scary. I wish I’d never posted my last name–a mistake made in the fog of new parenthood, I suppose. At times, I noted that I was writing more about my own feelings than Stella’s experiences. I was aware of this, but conflicted–maybe it was best not to share too much of Stella’s life with the world? Maybe I should stick more to my own stuff? With all of this swirling in my mind, I thought about taking the blog down, and did a bit of soul searching. Was there any truth in Rosen’s article? I had to investigate. And I realized something.

I was not a grown-up until Stella arrived. That much is true, Rosen. But I that’s about it.

This will sound familiar, perhaps. Three or four times a day, I get down on my hands and knees and clean up the five square feet of food debris that was left behind by Stella, as if a miniature pasta squall hit that area of the kitchen, and then I wipe down the high chair tray. Then the table in front of her chair, because the edible storm inevitably spills over. This act is one small example of the million little chores/rituals a parent comes to know. And I have to admit, that until recently, I really only thought of it as a drag. A pain in the ass that I would often put off for a little while. That’s not really true anymore. Something has shifted. And I think it had something to do with an episode of Oprah, the one featuring Stephanie of NieNie Dialogues.

Stephanie is a wonderfully positive, sweet, talented, and popular mommy blogger who, about a year ago, suffered severe burns on 80 percent of her body when the small plane her husband was co-piloting crashed. As viewers, we got a glimpse into her daily life, how she struggles with intense pain and can’t pick up and embrace her children, yet she continues to enjoy, relish, and appreciate the big and small tasks of motherhood. My revelation crystallized when Oprah said, to a mother who’d been feeling really resentful and bored by her role as a stay-at-home mom, that making lunch for your child, along with all the other duties of motherhood, is sacred work.

It hit me. I saw the frustration, complaining and, yes, boredom I’ve experienced over the last year in a new way. I’m evolving, slowly and, in my typical style, awkwardly. I am becoming a much less selfish person. I look back at some of my behavior from the days of Stella’s tube feeding, and I feel so sad. I was so worried about her, I couldn’t see straight. Mostly, my love for her and desire for her to be healthy and at her best drove my emotion and reactions. But I think there was a small part of me, I’m ashamed to say, that also saw it as an inconvenience and as a way in which Stella was “not right.” Man, I’m having a hard time holding myself together right now.  I think my panic was somewhat to blame on immaturity and impatience, and because I was unaccustomed to real sacrifice–certainly not the level of sacrifice that our situation demanded. I made the sacrifices. In fact, I went over the top. But I suppose I didn’t handle it very well at times. I’ve just begun to reassess that time in Stella’s life and my own, and there is still more to learn. It’s eye-opening, to say the least.

I saw meal time, until recently, mainly as a source of stress, instead of the privilege that it is. The fact is, I get to be with, eat with, and play with Stella every day, all day. Yes, I need a break now and then to re-charge. And some major financial sacrifice was made in order to achieve this arrangement. But we are *just* fortunate enough to make it work, mainly because before Stella’s birth, we paid down all our debt and saved most of a down payment for our first home (still renting at the moment). Many mothers have absolutely no choice about whether to stay home with their children. I had a choice. So I get to make all of her meals, clean up after her to make sure she lives in a safe, tidy and pleasant environment, read to her endlessly, and see her smile a hundred times a day. (Her smile is a heat source, I swear. We no longer need to use our fireplace.)

Side note: Self-consciousness is kicking in again. This entire post, especially what follows, may come across as cheesy. I know I have a tendency to do that but I can’t help it! I’m not looking for sympathy or anything like that, just expressing myself. God, look what the haters have done to even us unknown mommy bloggers. We can’t say anything without over-analyzing and second-guessing our feelings and writing.

Last week I began to say to myself, whenever I felt reluctant to do my big clean-up during Stella’s long mid-day nap, “This is sacred work.” I said it again and again, and it took root.  Bouncing her to sleep until our backs ached, inserting her NG tube, blogging about her adventures, the tough but ultimately necessary switch to formula, making her favorite pasta and beans, wiping smashed banana off her car seat, changing her poopy diapers… all the work I’ve done for Stella has been sacred. My life isn’t all about me, anymore, and frankly, it’s refreshing. Of course, there are still times when I think I’m going to go mad. I’m not a monk. (Stephanie, though Mormon, may secretly be one, however.) But I look back on all of these experiences with such fondness and from a whole new perspective. I am very lucky. I knew it all along. But now I really feel fullness of this truth.  And yes, I’ll save some of it for my blog.

3 reasons to smile

Stella’s Auntie Corinne (my youngest sister) and Uncle Colin (the duo also known as “C squared”) flew in from Boston for a few days, but now they are gone, and Stella and I are suffering from withdrawal.

Just before C and C’s arrival, Stella’s stranger anxiety went through the roof. As we entered the park a few days ago, we saw a couple approaching from the opposite entrance, all the way across the green expanse. Upon spotting them, Stella retreated to her hiding post behind my knee. She remained there until they passed, which took a while, and eyed them intently the whole time, eliciting a laugh from the two suspicious characters. In light of experiences like that, I was wondering how quickly she’d warm up to our house guests, whom she hadn’t seen since April. Well, five minutes after they arrived, she was doing stuff like this:

Kicking back with C squared

Kicking back with C squared

I think they share some kind of bond. It was a given that Stella would take to Corinne, having spent more time with her in the past. But I was impressed by how she fell in love with Colin. They really connected. But then again, come to think of it, these three have something in common. They are survivors.

At one point during the visit, Uncle Colin carried Stella up our steep front steps, of which there are many. This brought tears to my eyes. In fact, this was never supposed to happen. Colin is lucky to be alive. A couple years ago, he was in a devastating single-car accident. To keep him alive, they had to pump more blood into him than the human body actually holds. He was told he’d never walk again. His spine literally moved sideways within his body, and that was just one of many horrific injuries. From the blog that documented his incredible recovery:  “Colin has endured four very difficult surgeries: one to remove a portion of his lung torn from broken ribs and to stop internal bleeding, two back surgeries to repair the spinal cord and stabilize shattered vertebrae, and a fourth to mend three breaks in his right arm.”

During their visit, Corinne thought back about their natural defiance, their bold assumption that he would indeed walk again–their refusal to accept anything else. After waking up from the surgery on his spine, Colin was asked to move his toes. To everyone’s astonishment, he could. The doctor blew it off as spasms–he told them not to get their hopes up, that Colin would not walk. But C squared knew spasms could not explain this on-command movement. They KNEW he would walk again–in fact, they thought it was obvious. Corinne laughed on recalling it: “We were like, ‘he can move his toes!’ DUH! He’ll totally walk again, no problem!” In hindsight she realized that the leap from slight toe movement to walking again was Grand-Canyon-sized. But the important part of all this is that they had hope. Hope! Hope is huge. Hope is what makes us and keeps us human. Granted, it was a very, very long road. Colin worked his ass off. They fought insurance battles and had about a year’s worth of dark days, but they knew he’d get there. Against all odds, and with the support of the community that rallied around him, he did.

Oh, did I mention that Colin’s accident happened five weeks after their wedding? And a several years after a sleeping Corinne rolled out of her third-story dormitory window, cracking her skull and vertebrae, and shattering her arm? She sat in the gutter alongside the building until someone heard her moaning in pain. I remember the moment I got the news about Corinne’s accident and how I could not breathe. I remember flying to Boulder, Colorado to see her, and wishing with all my might that I could trade places with her yet being blown away with how strong she was during the recovery process. And I recall feeling similarly sucker-punched when I got the call about Colin, whose life was dangling by a shredded thread. Those are those frozen moments that stay with you–slaps in the face that keep you from sleeping on the job of life.

While not really comparable to the life-threatening injuries Colin and Corinne endured, Stella went through quite a bit in her first year, the lowlights being a scary feeding aversion, blood in her diaper, and The Tube. So when I saw Colin, Corinne and Stella all together, happy and healthy, I could not help but feel amazed, and overwhelmed with gratitude. Miracles do happen, and my family is proof of that. I could not be more proud.

"Just tell 'em we're survivors!" (I love these three people. And the movie "Cars.")

"Just tell 'em we're survivors!" (I love these three people and, I'll admit it, the movie "Cars.")

P.S. I’m also thankful that we had gorgeous, sunny weather for their visit. “C squared”, being bionic and all, have enough metal in their bodies to shame Wolverine. Their joints get uncomfortable as rainy weather approaches in the distance–nevermind when gloom settles in for days on end. It will surely descend soon, but Colin and Corinne left enough of their light to keep us going for a while.

P.P.S. Corinne and Colin helped Stella embrace her sippy cup. This is also a miracle. Trust me.

What would my mom and Kevin Garnett do?

I remember one day, having been home from college for a brief stint, my mother, who is a pretty wonderful kick-ass character, sensed that I was not doing so well. She drove me back to school, and as I reluctantly got out of the car, she suddenly put her hand on my arm and said, very seriously, “Don’t take crap from anybody.” I smiled all the way back to my dorm.

It looks as though I won’t need to give Stella this important lesson. Not any time soon, at least.

This is the child who decided she’d really rather not eat. At all. With each vehement refusal, I came to see just who I was dealing with. “No, thank you, mother. I’ve decided that eating is not in my best interest. Take your boob and shove it. The bottle can kiss my ass. Back off!” She was trying to tell me something and found a very effective way to get her message across. She would not back down. However frustrated and desperate I became, I respected her immensely.

She is a good eater and a toddler now. And she is starting to throw tantrums. Real tantrums. Formidable fits. She tosses herself with abandon. Cody calls them “trust falls,” and they’re not always done in times of anger or frustration, but she will throw her entire body on the ground, apparently expecting you to catch her, no matter where you happen to be at that moment. She will scream as if being physically attacked in the event that–God forbid–you don’t hand her that snack, piece of trash, or whatever it is that she wants immediately.

Frustration pose: Exhibit A

Rare photograph of Stella's frustration pose

For months, Stella would occasionally strike a very alarming pose. She balled up her fists tightly, stuck her arms straight out, made “crazy eyes” and clenched her jaw with all her might. This would last just for a couple of seconds, and then pass, leaving us bemused and mildly disturbed–she was obviously upset but we had no idea why. Many other parents had not witnessed such behavior in their babies. I now know that she did this because she wanted something but had absolutely no way of communicating to us the object of her desire. Stella has always known what she wants (and doesn’t want). This expression decreased in frequency when she began to point, a development that I savored because she would actually point to food she wanted to eat. It made me cry. I was so happy.

Anyway, last week, we went to the park. She would not let go of her beloved Snack Trap, so I let her walk around the playground with it. Now, my gut told me that this was a bad idea. She could fall and she might wind up with the handle in her eye. It might distract her and she may be more likely to run into something or someone. Or, it could set off World War III. Which it did.

A very friendly, smiley young lady, who had to be around 18 months of age, sauntered up to Stella in, as you’d expect, a very friendly, smiley fashion. She then gently, and I mean gently, reached for Stella’s snack trap. Stella took a step back. The girl then lunged for the goods, managing to stick a couple fingers into the cup’s opening–and as she did so, Stella yelled, clearly agitated. But she stayed put. The girl’s father and I tensed up slightly and moved closer to them, not sure how exactly to handle this but realizing that diplomatic intervention would likely be required.

He said something like, “That’s not yours, sweetie. You can’t take other people’s snacks.” She ignored that wise counsel, as warring factions often do, lured by the catnip-for-toddlers appeal of the Snack Trap, and lunged again. This time, Stella actually stepped toward the girl, and held her off with her free hand while screaming and violently waving the cup high over her head. It was so intense! And actually, rather impressive. It reminded me of basketball. A street game. And Stella was somehow a center, about to dunk on this girl’s head and then do something like this. The girl’s father smiled and said, “There  you go!” as if pleased that Stella had taken such decisive action.

This stand-off highlights for me that gray area that new parents struggle with. Should I have encouraged Stella to share? Stella is good at sharing. She spends most of her day handing things to people. But do I want other kids’ hands in her food? And aren’t we supposed to teach boundaries? These questions became more urgent a few days later, when a kiss-happy boy planted several smooches on Stella. The incident escalated to the point where his mouth was over Stella’s nose, and left it covered in saliva. Yeah. All I could think/say the whole time (nervously, with the pitch inching ever higher) was , “Um… um… um… um…” Stella didn’t react. At all. But I was sorta horrified. I expected the parent to reign the kid in, but that never happened. I understand not wanting to discourage such loving behavior, but isn’t there a limit?

This happens a lot. I guess it’s just part of being a toddler and enjoying that brief time in your life when you can walk up to total strangers and tongue them, rob them, share their food–all without saying a word, and it’s pretty much business as usual. Not cause for imprisonment or restraining orders.  We were at Seattle Children’s Hospital recently, waiting for Stella’s foll0w-up renal ultrasound a few weeks ago (it came back looking good, by the way–really more of a formality than anything). She was enjoying a snack in her stroller when a happy little boy came up and put his hands on Stella’s face. I wasn’t sure what to do. Oh they fool you with their glowing sweet faces and then BAM! Germ attack! I waited for his mother–standing right behind him–to intervene, but she did not. The kid then put his hand in Stella’s mouth, his fingers covered in her chewed up cracker. His mother did not do a thing. Again, we were at Children’s Hospital, a place were germs loom like deformed monsters! I did my best to brush it off because that mom looked like a depressed zombie. She was there for a reason… and it may’ve been a devastating one. I cut her some slack. What else was I going to do?

These days, Stella seems to know exactly where to draw the line, but I’m often not so sure. I want to heed my mother’s advice. I don’t want to permit misbehavior on Stella’s part, but she is too little to understand real discipline. I also don’t want either of us to take “crap” from anybody, but I don’t want to stifle Stella or instill mistrust and fear. I certainly don’t want my anxiety to rub off on her. It’s a balancing act. Balance isn’t exactly my strong suit but I’m working on it.

The next time Stella throws herself on the ground, I can, at the very least, admire her n0-holds-barred decisiveness. Her Kevin-Garnett-like intensity. It’s interesting. On the court, I was a guard, but it looks like Stella is more comfortable in the paint. Have I mentioned that she is now in the 90th percentile for height? I know, I know! Stop getting my hopes up about basketball! Tutus are ahead! Princesses, pixies and fairies. Oh my god–and pink fairy princesses in tutus sprinkling purple glitter pixie dust!

All I know for sure is that she’s got guts, that kid. And I love her all the more for it.

Three is a magic number

Three years ago today, Cody was very, very brave.

Three years ago today, Cody did something that was very, very brave.

Today is our 3rd anniversary. Cody and I have been married for three years, but together for seven and a half. Though, the last year alone feels more like a decade in some ways. Cody gave me the most thoughtful card with several sentences written inside that made my eyes well up (!), and, from Nordstrom, a pretty necklace with black crystal beads. He thought about getting the clear crystal version, but figured black would be better for the fall and winter. He is right. I’m impressed.

We three celebrated three years tonight at a low-end but decent pizza joint. That may not seem very romantic. But in a way, it was.  We were happy and content, just being together. Until Cody derailed my plan to get ice cream at Molly Moon’s afterward! Big mistake, Cody. Huge. But we recovered quickly.

At dinner, Stella ate more food in one sitting than we’ve ever seen: beans, pasta, cottage cheese, olives, shredded mozzarella, grapes, three giant wedges of watermelon, bread. Oh. My. God. It was AWESOME. What a fabulous anniversary gift. I think we both got a little teary eyed. We were in awe, reminded of how lucky we are to have the tube so very far behind us. Our union has created this beautiful, vibrant girl who is thriving. It’s beyond words, really.

This weekend, Cody and I will venture out together for a fancy-ish meal and hopefully a movie. And ice cream will be eaten. And old memories will be rehashed. And I’ll wear my new necklace. And we’ll get to be Amber and Cody for a while, not Mama and Dada.

Cody, I feel so fortunate to have found you. Whenever I miss my family and start cursing about being here in Seattle, so far away, I have to catch myself. Seattle is a magical place! I came here ten years ago basically on my own, with all my possessions packed into my 1990 Jetta, and stepped into the unknown. I was adrift. Throughout my life but especially after moving here, I experienced terrible loneliness and I wasn’t sure why I’d come here or what I was doing or if I’d ever find “my place.” It’s all clear now. I was growing and learning on my own, yes, but more than that–the move to Seattle, all my mistakes and fears and, heh, therapy–it all led me to you, a Minnesota boy sweet and strong enough to put up with me. Truly. (I mean, you just came in here as I was writing this and I snapped at you because I was annoyed and wanted to finish this post and didn’t want you to see it yet.)

You are as smart as they come, but humble, yet, I love that when you don’t know something, well, you’ll somehow form a super-authoritative, convincing and detailed opinion on the spot based on what little information is available. You don’t have a greedy or selfish bone in your body. You are one hell of a point guard (really amazing actually), and a self-made player like me (you may be the only person who knows what I mean when I say that), and this is huge, not only because we got to know each other on the court but because I just couldn’t be with someone who sucks at basketball. You’re incredibly cute, though I’m still trying to convince you of that. Oh boy are you an amazing dad–you nurture Stella and shower her with love and pay very, very close attention to her and appreciate all the little big things she does. Every girl on this planet should be so lucky. What I know for sure is that this world be an above-and-beyond better place if all fathers were like you. I’m lucky to have you as my best friend, and my husband. Honestly, without you, I’d still be lost. I love you very much.

Cow’s milk and other assorted beverages

"Where the HELL is my brie???"

"Where the HELL is my brie???"

I have somehow neglected to mention that Stella is now enjoying dairy. Holy cow! Yep, it appears that Stella has outgrown her cow’s milk protein intolerance. Or, who knows, maybe she never had it and something else in my milk was bothering her–like toxic waste. Toxic waste from my boobs. We may never know. I’m just thrilled that she can enjoy cheese!

We successfully weaned Stella off of Elecare and onto Nestle Good Start with Natural Cultures (it’s stage 2, for nine- to 24-month-olds, which just means it has more calcium, phosphorus and iron). This is a standard though supposedly gentle cow’s milk based formula, and probiotics are included so we no longer have to add them to each bottle. We now get twice as much formula for half as much money. No exaggeration whatsoever. Hello savings account, we’ve missed you! After a while on this stuff, we’ll try cow’s milk, a cost-effective transition that will allow us to retire in style at the age of 50.

That said, we need to figure out next steps re: Stella and beverages. She is currently (still) enjoying three bottles a day and takes only a couple of ounces of water at best from a sippy cup in-between. She uses these easy-to-grip shorties or, less often, these taller straw cups–both are The First Years’ “Take and Toss” and cost just $3.49 for several (and no, they don’t know I exist and have not paid me to mention them to you and my other reader). My theory is that it’s just too boring. She prefers to sip from our fancy un-capped glasses, especially if we are drinking fizzy water or citrus or other adventurous (by one-year-old standards) juices.  (Put it in a sippy cup and it’s suddenly repulsive–I tried!) Actually, she prefers to dunk her hand into our glasses, until her arm is submerged up to her elbow, then bring her hand back up to the surface and splash around as if enjoying a flavored, appendage-only bath. She’s been using a straw for a couple months now. I’m always amazed at how, after sipping icy-cold something-or-other from the straw with a very concerned and pained expression, she stops, recovers, then quickly gestures (points) for more. I can’t help but blame it on Cody and his genetic predisposition toward compulsive enjoyment of  “new and exciting” beverages–anything that just landed on the shelves, anything with “Extreme” in the name, any ridiculous and frightening combination of flavors. He sees these products as dares, and he’s always IN. See? Stella views our beverages the same way.

Last night, during our weekly trip to PCC, Cody bought a single can of Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer. While clearly named by a copywriter after me own heart, Cody’s ruthless palette immediately declared, “not watermelon-ny enough,” and moved on. Whenever he uses our car (we are one-car martyrs), a can of some never-before-seen concoction typically involving mango is left behind. Labels fall into two categories: 1) starburst-covered design tragedies sporting titles like Extreme Lemon Ginger Caffeine Explosion (100% Unnatural!) and Lavender Pomegranate Infused Ginger Ale with a Kick of Narcotic Wasabi and 2) ultra-minimalist, too-chic designs touting gems like Dry Cucumber or Simply Kumquat.

This shared tendency will certainly complicate trips to the grocery store with Stella, and soon. While other kids demand candy, Stella will likely throw a fit over some imported sparkling juice with floral essence. For now, we linger in the chill air of the dairy case.

Stella Enters Single Digits

Stella turned one on Monday. I should probably say something really profound and eloquent and heartfelt but all I keep thinking to myself is “HOLY SHITBALLS!” Over and over and over.

The birthday girl.

The birthday girl.

Okay, I’ll say that after 12 mind-blowing months, it feels like heaven to see her thriving, running, throwing, walking, laughing, smiling, waving, chowing, bye-bye-ing and doing everything she is “supposed to” and more, especially after all we went through with her feeding issues and the entity referred to as The Tube. Perhaps I appreciate this milestone more–who knows, maybe a lot more–than I otherwise would have. There were days when I didn’t know if she’d grow again. I couldn’t see a way out for us–no light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, it wasn’t a tunnel. It was a deep hole and we were stuck in what seemed like mud but it was too dark to really know. There were nights when terror had me by the throat and I literally had trouble breathing because I loved her so much and that feeding tube was hell and totally unacceptable and the tyrannical, suffocating thought, “WHY WON’T SHE JUST EAT?” robbed me of my own appetite and mental stability (what little I had to begin with). The really sad part, I suppose, is that I know there were stretches of time during which worry over her unwillingness to eat, and knowledge of the pain she was in initially, and the resulting lack of weight gain robbed me of much of the enjoyment of some her early little triumphs–the ones that are actually incredibly huge–and anxiety sometimes prevented me from savoring that fleeting, precious time in her life. That’s what gets to me as I look back.

But now, here we are at one year old. We made it! We kicked some ass. Holy crap. We moved MOUNTAINS, we hit the three-pointer at the buzzer, we saved the world! (Our little corner of it, anyway.) I could not be more proud of her. And you know what? I’m proud of me too. I love where we are now. She is such a happy and active child and so strong and vibrant and resilient. She glows! Everyone sees it. I am tempted to quote Jack Nicholsen here, which seems inappropriate and perfect: “You make me want to be a better man.” Because she has inspired me to let go of what doesn’t matter and to cherish what does. Heck, if she is this awesome (and she really, really is–like when she spots her Cookie Monster doll across the room and lowers her voice several octaves and talks in scruffy baby talk all the way over to him), I must be pretty great. So, to be better, I don’t really have to do much at all, except be kinder and gentler toward myself. That’s the example I want to set for Stella.

Just after proving that guacamole has a calming effect.

Just after proving that guacamole has a calming effect.

We threw a very small, delightful and heartfelt party on Sunday (yes, it’s true, a party can be heartfelt). My parents were visiting from Boston, which made it all the more fun. I think we were all shocked when Stella refused to eat her cupcake. Wouldn’t even touch it. We got her to lick the candle, an attempt to help her enjoy some of the Trophy Cupcake frosting magic, but it must’ve been too sweet for her, because she reacted as if she’d been force-fed a heaping dollop of Vegemite. (I reacted the same way, when, during a soiree I attended amid my study abroad experience in Melbourne, I loaded up a cracker with what I thought was Nutella. Let’s just say that I’ve never been more wrong about anything in my life.) Total disgust. However, she eagerly ate my mom’s super fantastic guacamole, and had some flaky crust from one of the three types of quiche (crab, broccoli, and bacon-loaded Lorraine–all were superb).

She looked as adorable as ever, but, not at all used to wearing a floofy dress, she tried to undress herself constantly. Also not accustomed to so many people (and all were adults save for one toddler) crammed into our small abode, she got a bit clingy. I have to say I enjoyed that, because she’s usually far too busy sprinting around or doing headstands on the coffee table (trying to, anyway) to be held. Oh my, she WAILED when we sang “Happy Birthday.” It was funny, and got a big laugh (which probably didn’t help matters!) but I really felt for her. Actually, I set her up. I know full well that when you sing to her on your own, she’ll not only be mesmerized, but she’ll often sing along, or more likely try to one up you with her angelic singing voice when you’re done. But don’t you DARE sing with anyone else! Not even one other person! It is absolutely *terrifying* to this otherwise fearless girl. Cody and I learned this a few months ago. I was singing some old Cookie Monster song (that Cody taught me) while feeding Stella, when Cody chimed in. She looked at me with an expression of total horror, then looked at Cody, and back at me. And then, the tears and hysterics began. Sometimes we forget about this and absentmindedly join in if the other is singing and holy cow does our self esteem take a hit when she gives us the biggest and most terrified thumbs down you can imagine.

Cody made a bound hardcover photo album recapping Stella’s first year of life, as a surprise for me. It arrived yesterday, and it’s fabulous. I just love it. (Thank you very much, Cody!) Somewhere toward the middle, there’s a photograph from Christmas day. She’s on her tummy, wearing her green candy cane (striped) PJ’s, with her fists restly cutely under her chin. Her expression is priceless. She is clearly thrilled and her grin could not be any wider, but there is an undeniably devilish glint to her smile. She’s up to something. The tube is there with its horrible, all-too-temporary tape job, but at first, I didn’t even see it. All I saw was her beautiful face. And as I realized this, I was struck with how far we’ve come.

Stella, happy, happy birthday! You are a wonder to behold. We feel so lucky, so incredibly thankful to have you in our lives. I love you so much I would stand on my head all day long just to prove it to you, or even eat a whole tub of Vegemite. May your second year be as triumphant as your first, and even more joyful! We can’t wait to see what you do next.

Let the games begin!

Having a ball. The belle of the ball. Insert other, non-offensive ball metaphors here.

Having a ball. The belle of the ball.

Stella’s father (Cody) and I met playing basketball. He was one of two men on our team, and ours was the only team in the league with women. Yep, it was a men’s league and we bitches crashed the party. They were GUYS, and even though most of us played some college ball (granted, division three) and most of them probably rocked JV in high school, they naturally assumed we were a joke and–holy shitballs–were they wrong. We won the league championship and I put that accomplishment right up there with Stella’s 32-hour unmedicated birth, and while we’re at it I have to throw in my leading the Bay State League in scoring my senior year in high school–I still  don’t know how that happened. It doesn’t make sense at all, except that I filled in any lack of social life with constant shooting practice at the outdoor court at Weston High School, usually surrounded by very impressed ten-year-old boys and their parents. And that was all the male attention I needed, thank you very much.

I can admit that, while Stella has not yet entered single digits, I’ve been trying to deny my desire for her to enjoy (okay, fall head-over-heels-in-love with) basketball. I’m trying to keep it at bay or at least on a simmer, but it’s like buying a bag of Kettle Chips the size of a suitcase, because it’s a much better deal than the individual serving bag, and besides, it’ll last you a couple weeks because you will only eat a handful a day with lunch, and then an hour later the bag is completely empty, not even crumbs are left, and your cube smells like salt-and-vinegar burps, CODY. I can’t help it. I love basketball. It was at or near the center of my world all the way from middle school through my early 20’s. When, in middle school, my friends were developing obsessions with NKOTB and attending Marky Mark concerts, I was cultivating an unhealthy attachment to the Boston Celtics, watching their games instead of doing homework and plastering my walls with posters of Larry Bird, and then Reggie Lewis.

I’m trying hard not to label Stella. But for the love of all things sporty, she sure seems like an athlete to me. The toy that makes her eyes most sparkly and bright is a ball (followed closely by books: STUDENT ATHLETE, anyone?). It is green with blue polka dots and very bouncy and by far her favorite *thing*, and she’s been playing catch–no, really, I mean throwing the ball to you and waiting for you to roll it back and throwing it to you again and so on–for a good five months now. She’s strong as an ox, lean and muscular and solid. She’s fast. She loves the water, and will actually try to swim if you let her. She thinks the shallow end of the wading pool is crap, preferring to (attempt to) take rafts and beach balls away from the rambunctious eight-year-old boys in the deep(er) end. Splash her in the face–she’ll laugh and splash you right back. She never, ever stops moving–in fact, she’s been very squirmy since birth, by six weeks could hold her head up for long periods of time as she was desperate to look around and find someone to yell at because boy, did her little cow’s-milk-protein-intolerant tummy hurt with the pound of cheese I ignorantly ate at every meal. (Yep, I’m even proud of her neck strength.) She was never content to sit around, which is exactly what have I wanted to do since I became pregnant and especially after giving birth.

Her walk is really more of an easy yet brisk jog. She runs up and down the hill at the park and if during her ascent she falls, she’ll steady herself and then use the grass to pull herself back up and continue with dogged determination. During descents, I usually offer my hand (she accepts when on very uneven surfaces like giant boulders or flowing lava) because the sight of her running down an steep-ish incline is nerve-wracking. But she doesn’t take my hand, and she doesn’t fall. So I let her go and I savor the sight (really more of a blur) before me. Lately, she’s been trying to stand on her head, or so it seems, and winds up in a downward dog position, hanging out upside down and peering back through her legs with a sly smile. I expect she’ll have mastered the somersault by Monday and if not, we’ll be hitting the gym to work on her core strength, and probably do some suicides in which case Stella may need to take it easy while I get back in shape.

We are at the stage where she is now a very good mimic, an eager and quick learner. We have so much fun. In recent weeks, she’s been putting the phone to her ear and if I hand her a brush or comb, she’ll move it across the back of her head, because let’s face it, the front pretty much styles itself. Yesterday morning, I taught her how to kick, and she hasn’t stopped since. The video below is from yesterday afternoon. At first her dribbling seemed like a fluke, but she’s done it about a dozen times since then, and I can’t help but be completely dazzled. I’m her mom and that is my job and it comes very naturally to me, as it should. This video, below, co-starring PaPa (Cody’s dad), may be very ho-hum to you but it warms me up and makes my heart grow at least another centimeter in diameter. Until yesterday, she’d walk up to the ball, then pick it up and throw it. She never let it touch her foot. But now she is purposefully kicking it along and it’s just about the best thing I’ve ever seen. And tomorrow, she’ll do something else for the first time and it will be a new best-thing-I’ve-ever-seen. Every parent knows exactly what I mean.

Stella relishes every adventure, “big” and small–from trips to see the seaplanes and kites at Gasworks Park and tours among the elephants and giraffes at the zoo, to forays to the fridge to examine bottles and jars and visits to the dust bunnies in the bedroom closet. She expresses her joy with ecstatic physical outbursts. Bouncing and arm flailing and squealing and rolling with total exploding exuberance. She’s my happy little athlete. Yes, yes, I know. That’s a label. And it’s very possible that she’ll one day eschew soccer balls for fluffy pink tutus, and that’s okay. (Though, let’s face it, passing over a basketball for a soccer ball is pretty much the equivalent–KIDDING, sort of.) Really, I’m just following her lead. Trying to keep up and shaking my head in amazement, with gratitude and Stella’s goose-poop-covered shoe smacking me in the face.