Put me back together.

Ouch.

"Stella! No, use two hands! Gentle! Ah, crap. Just hand them to me."

Cody, Stella and I were all over at Cooper’s house the other day while his parents enjoyed a date night, an event that Cooper (Stella’s best bud and play-date companion)  refers to as an “update,” which really makes sense if you think about two parents going out and spending time together away from their one-year-old. Music is almost always playing while Stella and Co0per are together, because they love to dance (which looks a look like jogging–actually, sprinting–in place) during play dates and within five minutes of arrival one or the other starts in with, “Music? Musiiiiiiiic?” So, we’re intermittently bopping to the music and sending miniature skateboards down ramps when this irresistibly sweet, poppier-than-pop song by Meaghan Smith comes on. The chorus innocently asks, “What’s the use in fixing what’ll only break again?”  And good lord did it hit the proverbial nail on the head. Pesky tears invaded my eyes and a boulder lodged in my throat and I just danced toward the corner until it passed.

As you now know, Stella got her glasses on Friday. We were in the optical shop for an adjustment today, Monday. Already. At first, on Friday morning, I thought she was taking to them amazingly well. She wore them for a long stretch on the playground, briefly removed them and asked me to put them back on while in the car, and she wore them all through lunch. But now I’m realizing that her initial interest can be chalked up to sheer novelty. The more she realizes they’re sticking around, the less wants to do with them. Usually, she’ll wear them for two to five minutes before ripping them off with one hand, stretching the frames in a way that looks like nails on a chalkboard sound. It’s excruciating to see her twist and throw them. But it’s not just that. It’s tough because it’s such a battle, actually more of a war with many, many battles taking place and well-thought out strategies and tactics required for victory. It’s stressful and exhausting to see her tear them off, and then my brain starts whizzing, as in, “Okay, how long can I give her before I put them back on? How long before her eyes are in danger of crossing? What will I distract her with this time–a book? No, we’ve gone though all her favorites already. Stickers! I’ll try the stickers.  What if she doesn’t let me put them on–for the fourth time in a row during these last few minutes? Should I put them in the case for a while or is that like giving up? Wait–have I eaten yet today? When does Stella need to eat? Maybe she’ll wear them if I give her some chocolate chip.” Cue the screaming.

Like a well-programmed mombot with super human strength and endurance (but not really), I automatically bend over backwards to repair a fragile something that is forever poised to break. The glasses. But also something in me (and maybe Stella, too?). When Stella got over her feeding aversion, no longer required a feeding tube and learned to enjoy eating, I thought we were clear. We were going to be okay from then on. But it wasn’t true. That’s impossible, and every parent on earth faces the same perilous reality. There’s always another challenge, frustration, or heartbreak around the corner. Thank god they’re so damn cute and resilient. And for every soul-searing ER visit and agonizingly difficult hurdle that you somehow muster the strength to clear, there’s–oh, where to begin–thousands of laughs that lift you up so, so high, dozens and dozens of triumphs that affirm you, your child, and life itself, and about seven hundred smiley, silly dances. Not a bad bargain at all, even if the song makes me cry.

She’s worth it a million times over.

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.

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.