Category: Life With Toddler

Christmas with my Pagan Family

It’s the gray end of a gray day, and I’ve been meaning to post something here. My mind is bouncing between Christmas and job, job and Christmas.

I have an interview tomorrow at a different company. The position here is taking longer to firm up than I’d anticipated, and this other possibility fell into my lap via a friend connection. It’s also in content marketing. I’d rather stay here, where I’m increasingly comfortable, but I’m annoyed by the wait for the contract to turn into a permanent role.

The good news is that I am slowly but surely coming to the realization that, for once in my life, my skill set is in demand. I do feel a sad distance between my present self and my past, more artsy self. I miss teaching, academia, being around other writers, and so on.

(The compensation, though.)

I’m finding it hard to get into the seasonal spirit. I usually love this time of year. The stress, though, is seeping in. Uno’s job is really busy right now, and she has a huge event coming up of which she is in charge. We have to get presents. Lots of family to juggle. Christmas cards – why are Christmas cards always such a calculus problem? We’re preparing to travel with the boys (!) the week after Xmas, and the whole trip is making me hyperventilate. Sort of. It’s to see the in-laws, and their rambunctious dogs, in their non-babyproofed house.

In the meantime, we are plotting some holiday cheer for the boys. Hoping to take Jaybird to a mini-Nutcracker performance, and maybe to some caroling. It’s hard to find activities that work for both a kindergartener and an unruly 17 month-old, I must say. Speaking of that, I’m not sure about the toddler + Christmas tree combination. Starling is on a climbing, grabbing, and running spree.

Jaybird is very excited this year, and that is a heartwarming antidote. Uno’s family was big into the Santa thing, and we are going with the facade. It’s weird for me, a bit, as my family didn’t put much effort into the whole shebang. We had tighter resources, and my mom has never been very sentimental. But I do like the pure delight that flashes on Jaybird’s face when we talk about Santa, Christmas, and so on. There are certain traditions I hold dear, like watching the 1981 animated film “The Snowman,” baking, and having an Advent calendar.

It’s odd, isn’t it, when you don’t have a religious tradition for the kids, and yet you’re doing up this Christian holiday? (With pagan roots, of course. I would love to make a family solstice tradition, but not really, because I don’t think I’d be able to take it seriously.) I was raised Catholic, and the Christmas season had a lot of ritual around it. I miss that. We had the Advent wreath with the tall candles, and each Sunday of Advent was important in a different way. Mom would turn off the lights and we’d sing and pray. Now – well, I feel false when I participate in things like that, but I would go to Mass just for the sensory experience. Maybe.

At any rate, I hope that we can instill a non-commercial sense of joy and reverence around the holiday. I wonder what that will look like, and how we’ll achieve it. This year, it’s more about presents and Santa. And cookies.

 

Our Feisty Little Bird at 16 Months

Our little chunk-a-monk is 16 months. These “month-a-versaries” seemed so important with Jaybird, and I often wrote updates to commemorate them, but as is the case with second children, Starling isn’t getting the same treatment.

Not that he cares! He’s busy. He has a packed schedule. Most days, his to-do list includes: climb the furniture, remove things from cabinets, put shoes on hands, grab cats’ tails, throw food on floor, follow his brother, attempt to get his brother’s Legos, cry when interfered with …

He’s really got quite the agenda. It amazes me, the way he never stops moving. There are peaceful moments, though, too. He loves books, and sitting in laps to be read to. Favorites include such scintillating titles as “Rough and Tough Cars and Trucks” and “Hello, Texas!” (why?), but also “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” “Mommy, Mama, and Me,” “Goodnight Moon,” “I Like it When,” “I Am a Bunny,” and on and on. I’m impressed by this early focus and interest.

Starling is social, loud, and opinionated. He enjoys a hubbub. He has some stranger anxiety, but he warms up fairly easily, and likes to hand our visitors books with the expectation that they’ll scoop him up for a quick read. It’s fun to watch the way that he tracks faces, imitates tone, and makes himself heard. He babbles constantly; it sounds like a made-up-but-grammatically-consistent language that you’d hear in a fantasy movie. If you whisper, he’ll whisper back. He has some words that we can make out. These include “uh-oh,” “hi,” “mama,” and “kitty,” which sounds like “k-eee.” He likes to laugh, and make himself laugh, and he’s starting to give hugs and sloppy, open-mouth kisses. A favorite game is to steal the glasses off your face. Not really as fun for the adults, that one.

He’s feisty, too. All toddlers are working on autonomy. All toddlers protest when they don’t get their way. Starling, however, is extra-vocal in this regard. He screams and growls like some kind of crazed gremlin when he’s prevented from getting something or going somewhere. The other day, I shut the door to Jaybird’s room, thus preventing Starling from reaching the bounty of choking hazards inside. He collapsed in a sobbing heap, pressing his forehead to the floor. I tried to distract him with a wooden toy snake he likes; he took it from me and threw it, hard.

We’re making some attempts to night-wean him. If (when) he wakes up between 12 – 5, Uno goes in to offer comfort. He does not get milk. This enrages him. He was so loud about it last night that there was no hope of me getting any sleep, either. (She did manage to settle him. He does accept defeat, but it takes a while.) I felt guilty, but also determined, because it’s time. I need more sleep. We’ll get there.

Uno and I think that Starling is even more strong-willed than his brother. He’s a bit of a bruiser, too – tall, solid – and he doesn’t know his own strength. This combination makes him a little difficult to manage. He scratches, pinches, pulls, hits, grabs. Sigh. A lot of this comes out of frustration that he can’t do everything his brother can. He’s also very jealous of any attention that Jaybird gets. As soon as Jaybird is, say, sitting in one of our laps, Starling toddles headlong towards us and tries to wedge himself in.

They play together well, sometimes. Jaybird is generally attentive – if anything, hyper-vigilant about whatever Starling should or shouldn’t be doing. He likes to play chasing games with his brother, and they giggle hysterically together, which is heart-meltingly cute.

In general, I’d say that Starling is larger, louder, and more verbal than his brother was at this age. He’s … zesty. He’s also very happy, most of the time, and often content to toddle around exploring things and transporting items.

It’s interesting to see myself in him. He looks like my baby photos, and his brown eyes, so different than Jaybird’s, remind me of my sister’s. Perhaps his verbal tendencies are inherited – but I don’t want to ascribe too much to genetics. The world is so eager to do that.

At 16 months, Starling’s world is expanding. He understands more; he’s on the cusp of talking; he’s nearly running. I don’t get to witness these changes as much as I’d like. I miss him when I’m at work. I do enjoy the orderly, adult world of the office, and I’m not worried about Starling during the day. But by late afternoon, I start to get antsy about seeing him. I feel a deep tug. He’s quite delicious. I don’t think I’ve conveyed just how sweet, squishy, and funny he is. I don’t usually post photos, but take a gander at him in his Halloween costume this year, and you’ll see.

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Mama Day

Today was a Mama Day. Not a Professor Day, or a Writer Day, or a Wife Day, or a Daughter Day. It was a day full of my kiddos, and I am feeling it in a mostly pleasant, worn out-but-satisfied way. It’s good to remember that I don’t have to do ALL THE THINGS all the time – that I can focus on one aspect of my life and self and that can be plenty. I meant to grade papers. I meant to plan my upcoming workshop. I meant to do laundry. Welp, no. Instead I nursed Starling off and on all morning, between eating breakfast in small increments and doing minor, minor housework. I tickled him and squeezed his chubby limbs. I took both boys all the way to meet Uno for lunch. And then we went to the park and played for two hours. Jaybird got muddy and desperately tried to join in a game of freeze tag with Big Kids. It was heartbreakingly adorable. Amidst this, there were diaper changes, potty accidents (Jaybird…regression…), games of chase, and naps (Starling…in the carrier…). I managed to make dinner and roast the pumpkin seeds that Uno removed from the jack o’lantern she and Jaybird carved. I’m exhausted. But a good day.

Jaybird and I had so much fun. He was easy and companionable, chattering at me from the backseat and inviting me to play in his room. This is all it takes: me relaxing into the day, letting it flow, not worrying about my to-do list. Paying attention to him. No screen time, too. (He’s easier on days without it.) Starling, meanwhile, is pretty darn content as long as he can nurse when he wants to. Do not withhold the milk! That is the cardinal rule with him. Well, that and he needs to sleep enough. Kid is a cat napper extraordinaire – doesn’t stay with it, or in it, very long at any one time. Nonetheless, he’s easy. He’s asleep right now, having crashed hard at 6:30 p.m. A pretty good bedtime, I’d say.

Tomorrow I teach, and it’s a whole different self, but today: Mama. Even five years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine this kind of day, how tiring but fulfilling it can be, alternately mundane and joyful. It’s funny to try and think back to that person, before Mama-hood. She seems so far away. She is, I suppose. She is.

Happy Things: A Reminder

This is an attempt to distract myself from this sloooowly dragging TWW and to cheer myself up, because I am convinced that it didn’t work this time, and also because I am (as usual) feeling a bit nervous and not totally ready for my reading tomorrow. So! A list. I used to make long lists in my spiral-bound notebooks when I was a teenager, with pencil and big round handwriting. They were often angsty but I was also a fan of lists like these. Of happy things.

1. My wonderful wife gave me a free pass to come hang out at a coffeeshop for 1.5 hours before my acupuncture appointment and so here I am. Blissful. I also have a grilled cheese sandwich in hand.

2. Every day after school, Jaybird stands frozen on the top step until I take his bag, lunch and coat, then pick him up and kiss him. After that he wiggles down and says, “I want to play construction site!” Every day.

3. The coworker who sits right next to me has become a real friend. She is the kind of person with whom I can laugh and have honest conversations and share chocolate.

4. My team is moving early to our new building, which is perched on the waterfront in a rather happening spot.

5. I have a new haircut that is fabulous and fabulously short.

6. My silly brother-in-law who lives in our study.

7. My kind, zany artist mother-in-law who lives down the street.

8. Our little slice of the city.

9. Old friends who live close enough to easily share early weeknight dinners and exchange tales of toddler parenting.

10. Uno’s new job: the transition might be rocky, but the position is perfect for her and affords a lot of flexibility.

11. Being invited to read tomorrow. I have slowly gathered a writing community. It’s still gathering, but it’s a lot stronger than it was a year ago.

12. The treasured writing community that lives all over the country but to whom I manage to feel close thanks to Facebook.

13. Jaybird’s “nose kisses.”

14. My sweet, nutty mom, who is only a ferry ride away.

15. Our fence, which makes me feel so safe when Jaybird is playing outside.

16. Two incomes.

17. Making pie, anticipating holiday baking season, wherein I will play Christmas carols and get flour all over my clothes to my heart’s content.

18. The new pope. Yes, I know, but I kind of love him. Cradle Catholic here. No longer Mass-attending, obv., but I do pay attention to the goings-on of the mothership Church. My little brother is a priest, and I’m hoping that the new pope influences him for the better.

19. Grocery shopping with Jaybird. We have an endless conversation through the aisles.

20. Public transportation.

21. That website Brain Pickings that offers up such affirming, thought-provoking nuggets of creative-life wisdom in the midst of my Office Life.

22. Getting to be a trainer at work. Taps into the teaching vein. The guy I’m training lately reminds me so much of former English 101 students. He seems genuinely thrilled every time I compliment something he wrote.

23. Waking up before the sun. It’s early but I feel so productive.

24. Hot, hot tea on cold, cold days.

25. Sleep.

26. Jaybird sleeping through the night every night. It still feels like a miracle!

27. Knowing that our families will be so thrilled with news of a new baby, whenever that comes.

28. Notebooks and pens.

29. The Colbert Report before bed.

30. No longer worrying (much) about being cool, or fitting in, or thinking that people are having fun without me and I’m not invited. Who has time?

31. New, fancy oven mitts.

32. Finishing a book. Starting a book. Reading in bed with the lamp on low.

33. Folding Jaybird’s clothes. They’re so adorable and small in the laundry pile.

34. The Paris Review interviews with women writers.

35. The smell of the Puget Sound when I catch it outside my office on certain windy mornings. It reminds me of childhood so powerfully.

36. A glass of good red wine.

37. This blog! Started on a whim four (??) years ago, abandoned and rekindled by turns, somehow still going.

38. Other bloggers I’ve “met” through this endeavor, whose lives I follow, whose children I watch grow up, if from afar.

39. Everything else I could never list because there are so many, many, many things.

It IS a good life. It is everything I need and much more, and I am grateful and peaceful and warm as I write about it. It’s ready for a new little one, but it’s okay if that little one wants to wait, because we will keep on being ready.

In With The New

So much to say, so little time, so I’m just going to go for a little bullet recap. And hope that I’m more articulate later.

Jaybird

  • Is in preschool! After some separation anxiety, he has taken to it like a champ. He constantly recites the names of his friends there and has magically acquired the ability to pick up after himself. I love his snazzy trick for putting on his backpack by flipping it over his head. Kid is charming and quite independent. I’m always trying to sneak in cuddles and kisses, but he likes to tell me he’s too busy.
  • Is not really potty-trained, but we’re trying. He’s in undies almost always (or naked, his preferred outfit) and some days are fantastically dry, others full of accidents. At least it’s summer and he’s usually game to pee on a tree.
  • Has two speeds: fast and crash. Last month he had to get stitches after jumping on the bed went awry. And then he fell off the step a week later and busted it open AGAIN. His moms are quite nervous now about tumbles.
  • Is almost weaned. Uno has no more milk as of recently. He still likes to check daily. “Mommy, I’m just going to check,” he’ll say. He still wants it to go to sleep and to wake up, even without the milk itself, and Uno is patiently letting him slowly adjust to not having it. It’s resulted in a spike of Mommy clinginess. We’re both tired of hearing “Mommy Mommy Mommy” all the time. I’m mostly, pretty much, not taking it personally, but I’ll admit I look forward to the day when he requests me for something. Uno says that he does sometimes when I’m not around and I believe her. But I think I might need video.
  • No longer naps. He’s done. It has freed up our evenings, given that he sleeps about 7:30 – 7:30 each night, and it has cured him of night wakings. Oh, lord, how I love it. Sometimes we feel guilty, though, when he gets fussy and droopy around 4 or 5 pm and we keep him awake (knowing he could probably use a nap). Also, evenings are a little rushed: dinner-bath-bed has to happen in short order.

Moms

  • We are two working women, now! Being financially solvent is definitely a relief. Uno’s job is emotionally draining, and sometimes we discuss her looking for a new one. Being a counselor for traumatized kids / families – you can imagine that some days are hard and hard to leave at work.
  • My job, on the other hand, requires almost no emotional investment. It’s a) low stress and b) full of twentysomethings who prefer pinging me via chat rather than talking to me even when we are TWO DESKS AWAY from each other (but are clever, fun and make me laugh). I still look around on occasion and can’t believe this is my life. It’s so different than adjuncting. I can’t even begin. There is a margarita machine in the break room. There is a break room. There is a 401K. It’s pretty soulless, though. I mean, it is. I am not using my powers for good. (It’s ad copy, did I say that?)
  • We continue to help take care of Uno’s grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s. It is a lot of work, but very necessary. Uno has her power of attorney and is the one shouldering most of the planning, calling, finances, legal issues and so on. I worry about her and compassion fatigue, given this and her job.
  • That said, our summer has been full of good friends and beach time, berry picking and visiting. We have been careful with our time, trying to do things that nurture our family, and I’m proud of us for that.
  • Our garden is thriving like never before, just chock full of zucchini and tomatoes and beans and flowers, and it feels like a lovely corollary to our lives.
  • Oh, and I AM GETTING AN ESSAY PUBLISHED IN SALON. It’s a short memoir piece. I can’t believe it, am pretty excited, pretty nervous, grateful, in shock. I’ve had other publications but never so public, so visible.
  • Finally, baby #2 is still very much on our minds, but we put the process on hold until next month or September. I found out that I can have 16 – yes, 16 – weeks of paid leave, but I have to be at this job a calendar year before I qualify. Hence the waiting. It was hard to wait after just one try, but after the first cycle came and went I realized I was relieved, too. Juggling the new job and new childcare configurations and everything else is a balancing act, one that we’re getting better at, but I think TTC would have tipped the scales too much this particular month and last. I’m hopeful that when we start again, my body and I will be more relaxed.

Don’t Go, Don’t Go

Dropped the boy off at preschool this morning and he clung to me like a koala bear. I’m talking legs and arms in a vise-like grip. I tried putting him down, and he kept wailing, “Mama, up. Mama, uuuuuppppp. Mama! UP!” I tried saying, “look, it’s your friend ___! Will you show me how you can sit in circle time?” Etcetera. No dice. “I don’t want to,” he repeated, pressing himself against my legs. The assistant caught my eyes with an expression that said, “I’m sympathetic, but best if you go now,” and as it had been five minutes of up-and-down and clinging I decided I should just head out. “Bye honey! You’re going to have fun!” I said, as he melted into a heap on the floor and screamed for me.

Oh, god. I can’t do this. No, I can. But damn. It’s awful. The director called me later to report that Jaybird is doing fine after five minutes of “emotion.” It’s normal, she assured me. She also gently admonished reminded me to leave quickly and show lots of confidence in him, the school, and his routine. I mean, I thought I left pretty fast. But maybe I did let him hug on me longer than necessary. And maybe I did pick him up and stroke his head in a way that showed him I was sad, too. And maybe I did let him snuggle and wake up slowly rather than rush to get to school, which meant we arrived 30 minutes late…

So shoot me.

This is new for all of us. We have managed to avoid daycare, school, or really, much regular childcare until now. We have patchworked care together via our mothers, a part-time babysitting share, and flexibility in our own schedules. We’re fortunate that Uno has a 35-hour week, and fortunate that she essentially sets her own hours with clients, and triply fortunate that our mothers live close by (my MIL is 0.4 miles away, in fact). I’ve also been part-timing it. The HUGE benefit: Jaybird has had tons of personal attention and been with family for most of his life. Also, we’ve saved money. The downside: we’ve had to juggle lots of different players in our childcare landscape, and sometimes scramble for coverage at the last minute, causing much stress. I half-joke that I have “childcare PTSD” – anxiety that Uno doesn’t relate to, as she’s so confident we’ve given him the best situation – but I do believe that we have made it work admirably. Hardest has been managing our mothers and their schedules / lack of stamina / health issues.

So now, here we are. He’s started half-day preschool, M-F, and the first few days were great. “He’s so eager to learn,” his teachers enthused. “Such a self-starter.” (That one made me crack up. I can only imagine that means he is singularly focused on doing what he wants to do, and doing things himSELF. That would be our bean). It’s a very sweet Montessori with gentle-voiced staff. Uno dropped him off on his first day and I picked him up, and when I introduced myself to the lead teacher as Jaybird’s mom she said, “oh! Okay. I thought someone else was his mom.” I said, “I’m his other mom.” (Pause. Blank stare.) “He has two moms,” I added, helpfully. Then she was so nice and apologetic about it, it was almost comical.

I start work next week. Gulp. Because of our schedules, we will just need care for three half-days after school, and that will be covered by our mothers and our babysitter. It’s a good set-up that will shift again in the fall, but that’s another story.

Neither of us, at the end of day, wants to be a stay-at-home mom. We like our work and want to nurture our professional ambitions. That said, I understand so well the pathos underlying “the mommy wars” now. All the talk about “work-life balance”? I relate on a visceral level. And this is with one kid! What will it be like with TWO?