Confident Mom Interview #3: Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids

Lenore Skenazy, Free-Range Crusader

Do you remember the media hubbub from a couple years back, when a woman labeled by some as “America’s Worst Mom” let her kid ride the NYC subway all by himself? I thought so.

I chatted with Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids one recent Sunday afternoon as she made chicken soup from scratch—and no. Sadly, I didn’t think to ask if the chicken was free-range.

On April 1, 2008, Lenore wrote a column for The New York Sun: “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Take The Subway Alone.” She never imagined that it would land her on just about every talk show under the sun. Ever since then, she’s been taking hits and garnering praise as the bold leader of the free-range parenting movement.

She’s painted as a renegade in the media, but the woman I got to know over the phone seemed more like your average, concerned mom, just doing her best to stay sane like the rest of us. The only difference? She thinks the anxiety parents face today is out of control, detrimental, and largely out of place. And she’s doing her best to fight fear with fact, as seen in her book, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.

Lenore certainly has some avid detractors. But to me, her message rings true.

The purpose and principles of free-range

I asked Lenore to quickly define the parenting style she’s helped champion, and the well-worn line rolled off her tongue. She called it “an old-fashioned approach to parenting that lets us give our kids the freedom we had.”

More explanation can be found on her website: “…we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school age children go outside, they need a security detail. Most of us grew up Free Range and lived to tell the tale. Our kids deserve no less.”

Her parenting approach, by the way, isn’t based on a hunch. Or nostalgia or laziness. It happens to be backed by a lot of research, which can be found throughout her book. Lenore points to the crime rate as a prime example. It’s much lower today across the board than in the 1970’s, yet kids have less freedom and parents more fear than ever.

Free-range, but not necessarily organic

Lenore has two boys, now 11 and 13 years old. I asked her if she was free-range from the start, when her first son was born. Her very honest answer surprised me.

“No, not at all!” She explained that while she’s an advocate for free-range parenting, she isn’t always able to put everything into practice. She recalled an incident from when her oldest son was one. He was in his car seat, with Lenore and her mother-in-law sitting by him, and her husband driving. “The boy was crying. My mother-in-law said to give him a bottle. I was like, ‘No! I can’t give him a bottle! What if the nipple lodges in his throat?’” She laughed, recalling how in that moment, she trusted all the baby books she’d read, rather than the common sense of her mother-in-law, who’d raised three kids.

Lenore acknowledged, “It’s hard to take a step back from the culture.” But there was something that came much more easily to her than it does to most people: “Trusting strangers more.” Lenore credits this trust to 20 years as a reporter in New York City. “I’m always talking to people in different neighborhoods from all different backgrounds. And everyone’s been great. I really do trust people… and I always felt like if you go into a Starbucks and you have to go to the bathroom, you can ask someone to watch your child.”

She realizes that this is radical stuff to many parents today. Because to so many of us, a stranger is “a predator until proven otherwise.” Luckily, according to Lenore, actual statistics don’t support this bummer of a belief.

What worries the anti-worry guru?

Based on what I’d read about Lenore, I knew there were a lot of things she didn’t worry about: her young son riding the subway alone, for starters. So I wondered, what does the free-range generalissimo worry about?

Lenore sighed, and the list began. “I’m worried right now that my sons aren’t reading enough.” She also worries about their level of communication or lack thereof—especially in regards to one of her sons in particular. “I asked him, ‘what’d you do on your camping trip?’ and he said, ‘Stuff.’”

She admitted, “I worry about their dependence on electronic amusement. Should they not be on the computer? Are they eating too much junk food? Are they nice to their friends? Do they have friends?”

Lenore paused and remarked, “The idea that I’m not a worrier cracks up me and my sister. We are such worriers.”

“I don’t come from pioneer woman, cavalier background,” Lenore continued. “I grew up with a stay-at-home mom.” Yet, she pointed out that her “child-focused” home environment never neared the “level of paranoia about the world that has been foisted on parents today.”

Keeping free-range kids safe

Lenore may be a legend among free-range parents, but she’s very concerned about safety. When her youngest son turned ten, he had a football-themed party. The sole item in the goody bag? A mouth guard.

Free-range parenting isn’t a free-for-all for kids. She explained that, of course, “You’re responsible for them. You teach them how to cross the street. You teach them to be where they say they’re going to be.”

Lenore stated her belief that, no matter how many people are placed on the sex offender registry, “It’s safest to teach your kids to say no to whatever creeps them out,” and to make sure they know that they can always tell you. Lenore emphasized that it’s absolutely crucial to say to them, “I won’t be mad at you.”

“It’s incredibly important to keep the line of communication open. That’s going to help them a lot more than telling them don’t talk to strangers and keeping them inside… Besides, most sexual predators are people they know.”

According to Lenore, the most important message to kids isn’t “Don’t talk to strangers,” but, “You’re allowed to say no and you should tell.”

The goal, she says, is to build confidence in kids. “The confidence to say no—to predators or bullies—comes from doing things in the real world and feeling pretty good about yourself.”

Nothing to fear but fear-mongering?

I’ve often wondered, in regards to myself and other parents I know, “Why we are so scared?” So I asked Lenore to explain the forces undermining parental confidence today, and why the free-range mentality doesn’t come naturally for most.

This is Lenore’s hot button issue, and I could tell by the way her voice changed—slightly higher and faster—when she responded. This is clearly an area she’s studied in-depth, and in her educated opinion, it boils down to “media saturation” and the “safety industrial complex.” Profit-driven messages are messing with our vulnerable parental minds.

The Law and Order phenomenon, she explained, sears graphic images and story-lines of victimization into our brains on a near-daily basis. Coincidentally, Law and Order went on the air in 1990, in the period when parental and general fear was soaring to new, paranoid heights. Our parents simply weren’t bombarded with terrifying and disturbing stories and imagery of sexual and physical violence in the way that we are today, which helps explain our more fearful, mistrusting mindsets.

Lenore said that when you follow the trail of fear, it leads directly to a giant dollar sign. “It all comes from the money to be made via advertising on TV or money made in selling products.” Parental fear is profit-driven, from TV ads to “class-action lawsuits about a drop of lead in Barbie’s eye.” Take a closer look at all the protective measures that at first seem instinctual, “and there is money behind it.”

Lenore highlighted a few products that may seem innocuous at first glance: knee pads, infrared baby monitors, and bath water thermometers. She noted that their very existence and widespread availability have heavy implications for parents. The message: You aren’t capable of keeping your kids safe without the help of products from more knowledgeable companies and experts. For that reason, it can be very hard to walk away from Babies ‘R Us feeling remotely confident as a parent, unless you spend a lot of money.

She explained that the knee pads imply that your baby isn’t safe even when doing a fundamental activity like crawling. The bath water thermometer suggests that “you’re about to scald your child.” The infrared monitor tells us, “At no time is your child is safe and sound.” Lenore pointed out that until recently, when your baby was asleep, you could take a break and “breathe a sigh of relief.” Parents today are afraid to let down their guard for even a minute, and it’s exhausting.

Lenore sees these products and their relentless proliferation and promotion as posing a fundamental question: “Don’t you care enough to save your child?” Of course, our instinct as parents is to say yes. And we spend a lot of money in order to do so. But no purchase is ever enough to take away the fear that has been planted.

My jaw dropped when Lenore told me about perhaps the worst fear-based money-maker she’s ever seen–an ad for a GPS device that’s also a 911 phone. In this short commercial, a kid is lured away from his bus stop by a remote control car. The next thing you see is the kid in the trunk of a strange man’s car, followed by a highly suggestive scene in a dark alley. If you watch closely enough at the end, when a SWAT team arrives to rescue the boy, you’ll notice that the stranger is pulling up his pants. I wish I were kidding. Honestly, I’d hoped Lenore was exaggerating. She wasn’t. See for yourself, but don’t say I didn’t warn you, and don’t take their misleading stat at face value:

Yikes. No wonder fear is so rampant, Lenore commented, despite the fact that crime is down, child abduction is rare, and that when abuse and kidnapping does happen, it’s usually at the hands of an acquaintance or estranged parent.

Lenore pointed out that whenever something does happen to a child, from a bump on the head to something more serious, parents are attacked or blamed to the fullest extent possible. She lamented, “We’re so afraid these days. Fate used to be part of the bargain. Now, anything that happens to the kid isn’t blamed on fate, it’s blamed on the parent. ‘Why did they let her eat that grape? How did they break their arm?’ It’s all traced back to negligence on parents. We’re blaming them because we’re scared and if we can distance ourselves from that parent’s disaster, it gives us a sense of control.”

Lenore added, “Our litigious society makes it seem like everything that happens has cause or blame.” In other words, there are no accidents anymore. It’s always somebody’s fault.

“Everything is now seen in terms of cause and effect. If we turn our backs for a second, then we will be blamed.” As a result, we’re always looking for possible ways our kids could be hurt, and willing to spend money on products—previously non-existent or considered unnecessary—claiming to protect them.

It’s hard to be a confident, free-range parent today because our commercial culture is constantly feeding our fears.

Sheltered kids lack coping skills

Lenore explained that today, some college administrators refer to incoming freshman as tea cups, “because they’re so delicate.” Sure, they’re “beautiful and perfectly made” but take them out of their protected display case and they break. They don’t stand up to everyday wear and tear, because they’ve always been shielded.

Lenore noted that college students are using mental health services in record numbers. “More college kids are depressed now than during the Depression,” she said.

“The point is,” she continued, “self reliance doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere. Sometimes you have to figure out your own route home because you missed the bus and can’t get a hold of your mom.” Unfortunately, most kids are bailed out and don’t get the chance to build confidence by overcoming obstacles.

How to worry less? See adversity as opportunity

I asked Lenore what she’d say to a parent who wants to stop worrying, but can’t let go. She said that parents need to take the pressure off of themselves. When her best friend read her book, she told Lenore how much she appreciated “whole chapters telling you to relax.” The fact is, Lenore explained, “Not everything you do has a big impact on your child’s development.”

“It’s a big relief when you realize it’s not all up to you. Not every synapse is up to you to connect in the brain. Not every day has to be perfect. They’re going to fail and that’s probably good in the long run.”

Lenore believes that when adversity strikes, we as parents have the opportunity to say, “Okay this is the punch, and now we learn how to roll with it… Life isn’t going to be perfect. The sooner they realize it, the better they can handle it.”

As for a specific strategy to get nervous parents started, Lenore suggests leaving your cell phone home for a day, giving your child the opportunity to problem-solve on his or her own. (More concrete free-range parenting ideas can be found in the FAQ section at Free-Range Kids.)

It’s a wide, enriching world for free-range kids

I asked Lenore to think of an incident—something her kids said or did—that affirmed her free-range parenting style. I wondered if she’d seen behavior that let her know that the freedoms she’d given them were fruitful investments in their character.

She thought for a minute, and then perked up. She explained that her youngest son takes the subway to school and transfers in Manhattan. Along the way, her son has befriended, as Lenore put it, “the guy who gives out free newspapers.”

The man’s a fixture at her son’s stop. “The guy has been through some hard times,” Lenore said, adding that he’s likely been “homeless or incarcerated… and doesn’t want to see my son go the same route.” This man has not only become a friendly acquaintance of her son, he’s become interested in and invested in her son’s future.

In fact, this man wrote her son a letter, amounting to a pep talk on paper, urging him to stay the course in life. He also gave her son a book about John F. Kennedy, meant to inspire.

Lenore shared her feelings on the unusual relationship. “It made me proud that he [Lenore’s son] connected with another person, that the person is looking after him… and that the man feels good about it.” Lenore, the seasoned reporter, couldn’t help but add, “And it makes me happy that my son reads the newspaper.”

Lenore is delighted to see that her son is “not writing people off because they’re a different color or poor or hard up.” It’s just one of many lessons he’s free to learn.

All is not lost.

How can a mere misplaced item spark such rage?

This morning, I could not find:

  • My boots. The ones I wear all the time. Eventually found them in the front closet with the rest of our shoes. I’m pretty sure Cody put them away just to mess with me.
  • Stella’s right shoe. It was nowhere near the left one. Later discovered in a far, dark corner of the living room between our hutch and the wall. Of course.
  • The ERGO carrier. Turns out it was in the same place as always.Where it belongs. In the kitchen by the back door. Hadn’t used it in a couple weeks, and it hadn’t moved in that time.
  • My mind. Still looking.

Minor inconvenience? To most. For me, it resulted in clenched-fist fury! I could not see straight, which only made the hunt more difficult. I was so angry, because we’d already been awake for two and a half hours without doing anything semi-productive or quasi-enjoyable (productivity is  not how I measure a morning, trust me) aside from picking at breakfast. Where do those hours go? I remember reading Stella a few stories, which slowed down my post-breakfast clean-up efforts. Then I sort of just hung out with her on the couch in the office for a while, helping her do somersaults–she recently figured out how to climb up on the furniture and treats couches as gyms. At some point, I wet my hair and dried it about halfway so I didn’t look quite so nuts and disheveled. We brushed out teeth together. I rinsed off my face, which is close enough to washing it–I’m out of cleanser and moisturizer and resorted to using olive oil last night. From the permanent pile of clothes on top of my dresser, I unearthed yesterday’s jeans and deemed them clean enough to wear. I cobbled together an outfit for Stella that passed my minimum cuteness standards. I packed a makeshift diaper bag with the bare essentials. And that’s precisely when steam began pouring out of my ears as I tried to pinpoint the location of our footwear and ergonomically superior baby backpack. Of course, as I searched high and low for these items (ie looked in the same potential hiding spots over and over again expecting them to suddenly appear), Stella grabbed books, brought them to me, tugged on my pant leg, and cried. The entire time.

At one point during the morning’s madness, I actually stopped and listened to what I was saying to myself. I’m pretty sure I called myself an idiot about a dozen times, not to mention a frighteningly disorganized failure and lazy mom whose shoe-losing ways are no doubt eroding Stella’s potential and endangering her even foot development. And to make matters worse, I’m pretty sure that the stack of thank-you cards on the bookshelf, with names written on them but no addresses, looked at me and nodded in total agreement with these negative thoughts. Not only is my mental dialogue insane and uncool, it’s melodramatic.

I have phases where I get so down on myself so fast. Examples abound, but Facebook comes to mind. I want to quit Facebook, but can’t. I’ve noticed that the oh-so-sunny and wonderful virtual representations others create of themselves using pictures of their gorgeous new homes and perfectly happy children and new cars and other symbols of “success” lead me to feel crappy.  Don’t get me wrong, if we owned a lovely home, I’d be showing it off for sure, because due to the hard work and pride naturally involved. But status updates like, “Feeling so grateful for my life. Everything is wonderful!” kind of make me want to vomit, especially when posted every other day. I hope that these are genuine expressions by well-intentioned people, but come on! No, Facebook is not all bad. I do enjoy some fun banter with Facebook friends which helps me feel less isolated, but sometimes, I log off feeling “less than.” It sucks. I’m reminded of a brilliant quote along the lines of, “Don’t compare your inside to someone’s outside.” I try to keep that in mind, but it doesn’t help. I’m holding myself up to some high standards, and I’m not sure they’re even possible to meet.

Well, after a couple of emails to my husband, who has nothing better to do at work than help me find things that are right in front of me, I found all the “missing” stuff. Almost three hours after waking up, Stella and I headed downtown on a birthday mission for Cody. He turns 38 today. Happy Birthday, sweets! (I’ll report on the birthday festivities once they are complete, this weekend.) While he and Stella attend Waterbabies, I’ll be cooking a German feast for him, with ingredients sourced from Pike Place Market, to be followed by his favorite dessert in the world: Dahlia’s coconut cream pie. We won’t eat until just after 8:30, when Stella goes to bed. You know, so as to spend more than five minutes with a meal.

Our morning completely turned around once we were out and about. Funny how that happens. Stella clearly loves Pike Place Market, and being downtown with all the people, sights and sounds, and I love that about her. We had a fabulous time. The ladies at the bakery were fittingly sweet. We snacked on Dahlia’s sour cream vanilla bean coffee cake and sampled organic plum and pear. We stopped to listen to a piano man, and Stella particularly enjoyed (judging from all her bouncing) the old timey tunes by The Tallboys. One of the gospel singers that are stationed near the original Starbucks cheerfully called Stella “a bottle o’ joy” and pretty much made my day with his enthusiasm. Stella took a stroll down the less-busy Post Alley, where she tried on some boots and an old woman in a tall leopard-print hat stopped to chat with her. We watched and waited as someone spent about $500 on ingredients for an Oktoberfest dinner at Bavarian Meats Delicatessen. I was inspired but all I had left on my list was swiss cheese for spaetzle. On our way out of the Market, I grabbed some plums and pluots and Stella and I shared a smoothie in which every single ingredient was grown at a local farm. They use their own cider as a base and Stella and I agreed that it really worked.

Then I saw it:  the parking ticket. We were ten minutes late. But to my surprise, fire did not shoot out of my eyes. I simply didn’t care. We lingered at the car, continuing to enjoy our smoothie. It dawned on me in that moment to appreciate how content Stella had been throughout our long-ish adventure. It was worth an extra $25.

This calls for a new Facebook status: “Wow, what a fabulous morning. Life is good and I’m truly blessed!” Gag me with the truth.

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.

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.

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.

Why I haven’t written in so long

You know Nervous Nelly and Debbie Downer. But have you met Anxious Amber?

I’ve found that anxiety is a worthy and conniving foe. We’ve battled it out for years and so far, it hasn’t defeated me. But, as is required for proper tension in any comic book or superhero flick, it does get the best of me temporarily and puts into question my ability to keep the upper hand. Perhaps the worst incident occurred during my senior year of high school (pretty much a living hell), when, after being verbally attacked by a fellow member of the softball team, I collapsed at the bottom of a stairwell and literally could not move my strangely numb, curled-up fern frond arms for a good hour. That has happened–without loss of arm function but with complete loss of my head–numerous times since Stella’s birth, most notably during her now legendary, but thankfully resolved, feeding aversion. This past Sunday, anxiety dealt me a huge blow and it took two days to catch my breath. In an extreme bout of panic and lingering postpartum depression I projectile vomited despair in every direction, not as actual puke but in the form of desperate phone calls and/or emails t0 Dooce (yes, I emailed a celebrity blogger who doesn’t know me from a speck of dust on her fancy “#26”-engraved computer monitor), a member of my PEPS group, my sister, my mom, and my therapist. At the time, I thought I was going to break. My recurring thought was, “I can’t do this anymore.”

What caused this latest attack? I have been pondering this question and, amazingly, reached a conclusion, which I rarely do, preferring instead to roll around in indecision and agonizing in-between-ness. First off, I don’t take care of myself. I drink less water than is required to keep a cactus alive, I stay up too late, and I eat about half as much as I should and most of what I do eat is chocolate and coffee. I rarely take the supplements that I invested $250 in, thereby dismissing the solid hour that I spent with an insightful nutritionist in order to come up with a way of out feeling so crappy.

That lack of self-care puts me on shaky ground. I’m not nearly as stable and healthy as I should be, and perhaps because I’m not on solid ground, I still worry about Stella too much. Or maybe because I worry about Stella so much, I don’t take care of myself. Either way, it has to stop. Afterall, Stella is thriving to such a fabulous degree that I cry when I think about it.

The thing is, I’m an incredibly determined and persistent person. This helped me get Stella off of her feeding tube–I mean, no other outcome besides “Stella, with no tube, eating happily on her own” was acceptable (I told her doctor this) and I literally would have cut off my arms off if helpful. But there’s a dark flip side. When I don’t have anything to worry about, I find something to worry about, damn it! I recently realized/admitted that when I don’t have anything tangible to obsess about, I swear, there is an uncomfortable void. So in my spare time, I’ll read a book or website that plants problematic mental seeds. Voila! Worry and a sick sense of order are restored. Stella had a small mark above her lip this weekend. I convinced myself that it was a cold sore that I caused by kissing her, and that I had doomed Stella to a life of humiliation due to constant cold sore outbreaks. The mark was gone on Monday, and was clearly not a cold sore at all. More likely a little nick from her razor-sharp finger nails which I don’t cut enough because Stella. Never. Stops. Moving. I don’t even get cold sores. Nope. But my worry was hungry, and I fed it.

I believe I am addicted to anxiety. I’m so used to it that I can’t function without it. Granted, I function poorly with it, and it’s really no way to live, but I simply don’t know how to live without it at this point. And that is what I need to work on and move past.

I find that it helps to have other people around. A healthy distraction, a necessary part of a balanced life. We don’t have family in the area, except for one fabulous cousin, so that doesn’t help matters. I have kept a possible move back east (I’m from the Boston area) on the table, and we continue to consider it, though the economy seems to get in the way. I know that moving wouldn’t solve my problems, but it might help create some much needed breathing room and comfort.

At the end of the anxiety-ridden, dehydrated, unshowered day, I have to ask myself, “Why?” Why don’t I take care of myself? The answer is probably very simple, and sad. Though I must say, most new moms go through this and in that way, I’m pretty normal. I realize that. But I think that in my case, it’s a bit extreme–the lack of self-regard and eating and whatnot. On some level, the simple truth is that I believe I am not worthy of care. I don’t deserve it. I’m awkward and “less-than” and disorganized and crazy and, for lack of a less cheese-tastic cliche of a term, unlovable. Yet, amazingly and immediately, when I look these hidden beliefs in the face, when I pull them into the light and dust them off, they start to fall apart pretty quickly. They’re old and worn out and need to be tossed out like the garbage they are (as do the entire contents of our basement). I am a really, really great mother. I care about Stella, and all babies and people, really, so much that sometimes it’s hard to bear. I am practically Gandhi! (Yes, I know I sound ridiculous but I do care a lot.) But if given the proper balance, that sensitivity is a powerful and good quality. I am a warrior and I can do any-f’ing-thing I want. I can help myself and others, with great success. I’ve proven it time and time again. Now it’s just time to pick myself up (again) and do it.

My deal with an adorable devil

As usual, I don’t know where to begin. Over the past two weeks, I have experienced the low of crying while lying sprawled on the floor with a string of snot connecting my nose to the carpet to the high of many truly perfect moments with a happy, big-bellied Stella smiling in the sun.

We went through two weeks of teething hell during which Stella ate a lot less than usual and lost a half a pound in one week. At first, I wasn’t worried at all, because I knew it was due to teething and I knew that her occupational therapist had said that Stella has no feeding issues anymore. I knew it would pass and that she would rebound. I was extremely proud of myself. But then she was throwing up and refusing some of her bottles. So,  in totally predictable fashion, just as I started to worry like a crazy person again, she ate way, way, way more than usual. And that is when we went to Minnesota and had an amazingly good time thanks to fabulous weather, a beautiful 18-acre estate, which seemed like a meticulously kept, expansive public garden/park with a house in the middle, Stella’s healthy appetite, and her adoring grandparents. Oh, and this is big: We stopped thickening Stella’s bottles yesterday, and so far, it’s going pretty well–though we may need to make an adjustment as the #3 nipple seems too slow, even with faster, unthickened formula. Stella doesn’t do “slow.”

So, it appears that Stella has made a deal with us. She’ll eat anything you put in front of her (provided she likes it–and she likes a lot of things), without complaint. Entire avocados. Pieces torn from our grilled steak, crusted from the spice rub. Full pieces of whole grain bread smeared with extra virgin olive oil. Yogurt blended with fresh mango. Millet/brown rice/lentil super porridge pureed with papaya, flax oil and brewer’s yeast. Savory baked tofu by the truckload.  However. She’ll throw over-the-top fits any other time she pleases. I was happy with this arrangement until I tried to change her diaper, at which point she screamed bloody murder and attempted to leap headfirst from the changing table.

Okay, I’m still happy with the arrangement. I’m just wondering how to deal with the emerging tantrums. Like the one she threw on the grass alongside the wading pool at Green Lake this afternoon. She hollered at the top of her lungs and wound up in a headstand position–pretty much dangling by her ankles, anyway–as I put on her diaper. Then we went home and had lunch, and she barked at me while pointing at the toast I was tearing up for her. Apparently, the service is too slow. I’ll work on that, Stella. A deal’s a deal.

*Overly dramatic sigh*

I should be blogging often as Stella is giving me tons of Grade A writing material. She took her first steps last week and is getting four new teeth (all at once). But I’m feeling pretty depressed lately, so every time I go to write, I quickly tire and say to myself, “Why bother?” It’s horrible to think that I don’t have the energy or enthusiasm to write about my precious Stella lately. It’s not for a lack of love, that’s for sure.

The truth is, I weaned myself off of my antidepressants about three months ago. Stella was better, eating happily and no longer tube fed, so I thought I was in the clear. Now I am thinking that it was premature to go off the meds. I am down in the dumps much of the time.

I don’t know exactly why I am feeling so sad, but I hope to rebound soon. Even with all of that heaviness on my shoulders, Stella makes me smile and laugh often. Not that she actually has to do anything to lift my spirits. The mere sight of her is a mood enhancer. Her cuteness forces me to say, at least a dozen times a day while hugging her tightly, “I love my munchkin!”

So, I need to devise a plan for feeling better. If only laziness and Facebook weren’t getting in the way…

Nine months

Stella's a little shy in the pool--at first.

Stella's a little shy in the pool--at first.

So, Stella has been outside the womb for just about as long as she was in it. This seems like a big milestone to me and my uterus.

Stells (that’s not a typo–it’s one of our nicknames for her) celebrated her nine-month birthday on Sunday. The occasion was marked with a Waterbabies class (with a stop at Bellevue’s Downtown Park beforehand), and a walk to Gasworks Park. The next day, we went in to Dr. N’s office for her nine-month check-up. Ah, yes. Time for those dreaded percentiles.

Cody and I let out a sigh of relief and our shoulders dropped about six inches upon seeing the number on the scale: 19 pounds, 2 ounces. We knew that if she wound up at 19 pounds or so, she’d be at or above the 50th percentile for weight. I know, I know. It doesn’t even matter. One look at Stella tells you how happy and healthy she is. But we’ve got a nasty, lingering case of feeding aversion/tube-induced PTSD  and are grateful for any extra reassurance.

After the measurements were taken, the doctor came in, shook our hands and started tapping away on his touchscreen. He’d plugged in Stella’s stats in order to show us her growth curves, charted electronically.

“Look at this beautiful curve, ” he said, highlighting the fact that Stella’s weight was right between the 50th and 75th percentiles, just as it had been at her six-month check-up. He continued, with a bit of sing-songy positivity in his voice (which I loved), “And this curve looks great…” We saw that, for length/height, she was in the 75th percentile, just like last time. We were flying high.

Then, pointing to a dot, adrift above the highest percentile curve, he noted, “And this is how smart your baby is.” He was kidding, of course, but her head size was clearly “off the charts,” as they say. Last time, it’d been on the highest curve. Her head circumference has risen by a few percentiles between each check-up apparently. It’s not uncommon, really, and not a concern. Unless it keeps going, of course. In which case learning to walk will be a lot more challenging.

In short, Stella is thriving. Her doctor told us to feed her solids three times a day (I’d limited it to two, fearing that she might not take enough from the bottle otherwise), and to stop tracking how much formula she takes outside of that. He also suggested changing her formula to the normal 20-calorie-per-ounce concentration, which we have done. At one point, in the wake of all this, I stuttered, worriedly, with what I’m sure was a look of concern and confusion, “Um, so, like, h-how much f-formula does she NEED now?” The doctor kindly told us that we’d worried enough, and that we could stop now. Worry had become like air to us. So we are pretty much adapting to life on a new planet.

He also pointed out that, in a way, we are allowing Stella to wean herself off of the Ranitidine by not upping the dose as she grows. It reminded me of the progress she’s made int hese last three months. She’d been on two reflux medications until a couple months ago. We’ve lowered the amount of Simply Thick we put in her bottles, with the goal of soon weaning her off of that, too. She is back to the “normal” caloric density for formula–just like I’d predicted (boldy, it felt at the time) in her early tube-free days.

And that brings me to my point. So often, these days, when I look at Stella’s impossibly beautiful, beaming face, I can’t help but cry. Especially when she laughs. I remember, somewhere in the dark, dark days of December, bawling at most commercials. Our situation and those post-partum hormones were brutal–even bland Sleep Country USA ads opened deep, previously forgotten psychic wounds, apparently. But there was something especially gripping about the “Peace on Earth” spot for Pampers. Those soft, gorgeous baby faces! Those cherubic, chubby cheeks! Yes, those cheeks. Those cheeks, free from evidence of medical intervention. Those perfect baby lips, moving as if the baby is nursing in her dreams. They tormented me. Because to Stella, eating was a nightmare, not a dream, and our view of her angel face was obscured by two kinds of tape and a long yellow tube. Those babies were chubby and sleeping in a sprawled out fashion–not being force-fed while sleeping swaddled and strapped into a giant foam wedge. That commercial just seemed cruel to me at the time.

I go into her room and look at Stella every night before I go to sleep–despite that fact that by doing so I risk letting our super creaky floor wake her up. I have to do it. How could I miss out on the most beautiful sight imaginable? It is a triumph, a joy and a reminder to be grateful. I just watched the Pampers commercial again. And I have to say, Stella would fit right in with that bunch of sleeping angels–those arrogant bastards.