Saturday, December 31, 2011

"'Wing, 'Wing, 'Wing"

As soon as I've noticed something amazingly, ridiculously hilarious and adorable that Ila does...she stops. For instance, she loves to peel the papery outer-layer off onions and garlic. (This in itself is not particularly adorable. It's funny until you find little bits of onion paper and little cloves of garlic all over the house.) So, garlic has become a favorite object and worthy of being called by a name, as opposed to the many objects that are still simply pointed at. The way Ila says “garlic” is quite adorable. “Gark,” rhyming with “park” with a full, hard k and a little guttural all around, like a bark. Next to “ock” for “sock” or “wing” for “swing” it was my favorite Ila word...but now it's sounding more like “garik.” I guess I should cheer her development, but I sort of want her to keep saying ridiculous things like “boo-ie” for booby (a favorite word and object) or “pi-coh” for pine cone. Or “pa-co-ine” for pop corn. So fun. On the other hand, a 10 year old who speaks like a 2 year old is not really so cute, but it's hard to remember that when Ila is babbling away in her half-speak.

She is babbling away now, though she is a bit reticent about talking around other people. It's interesting because she's not really that shy, except with language. But at home, she's saying more and more. In fact, we've gotten to the stage where she'll say a string of words, and I can only nod and smile because I understood maybe two things. She speaks with great zest and enthusiasm...just not with great pronunciation. What's interesting is that, in the last week or so, she says a bunch of words together...but not necessarily as a sentence, per se. She doesn't really have syntax yet. So, she might say, “pine cone ball slide boom uh oh” all in a row, but really they are just individual exclamations. I'm excited to get to the subject verb, simple sentence phase. Though, she does use the imperative. “Walk!” is a common command issued when she wants us to come look at something, take her outside, pick her up and take her somewhere. It's a sort of cover-all for her wants and needs.

Along with all her new language, her affection is probably the most fetching thing about her. I cannot express how much I love the little kisses she freely proffers in the mornings when she just wakes up. She also likes to lie in bed for a while, snuggling. She nestles in so that I’m spooning her...and it is indescribably lovely. Yesterday, she said, “Mommie,” to Kiyomi and then, when Kiyomi turned to her, Ila kissed her three times...just because she wanted to. So sweet. I get it, this baby thing. It's pretty amazing.

Then, there are the times that I want to ram my head against the wall because she won't go to sleep or she wants something we've just taken away, and she's hollering and head banging. Or, she is shrieking, “up-pee” (up, please) at the top of her lungs while my hands are completely full. Actually, to be fair, Ila doesn't really scream and wail too much...but she is starting to have real memories of objects around her. We used to just holler and point at some imaginary attraction in the distance so that we could slip an offending object out of her grasp. She would fall for it, maybe whimper a little but was easily distracted. Now, she knows. She wants whatever it was. She can guess with skill where we slipped it, and she'll employ all forms of bellowing and hollering to inform us that we should return it. And, if it's a food treat, she employs her oft used “moh” (with a raised tone at the end, like a question) for “more.”

She also seems to be developing a particularly slap-stick centered sense of humor. Yesterday, I made ridiculous faces while shaking my head around. Uproariously, apparently. This morning, while Kiyomi was dancing around with Ila, she pretended to run into the wall. Hilarious. And it was just as funny the sixth time. I imagine this is a totally normal stage of cognitive development...but it feels so unique and world-altering to see an actual sense of humor's like she's turning into a real human!

Monday, October 31, 2011


So, Ila says "mama" now. Well, actually, she shouts "mamam" or a sharp staccato "mam" from across the house. She hasn't really branched out in her use of the word - no sweet "mama" when we snuggle or even a whimpered "mama" when she cries. It's pretty much a demanding holler whenever she uses it, usually when she can't see me because I've walked out of the room to get a glass of water or answer the phone. It's sort of like the baby version of the pool game "Marco Polo," only she's always the searcher. I can't really reciprocate. If I call "Ila" she may or may not respond, depending on her mood and how engrossed she is in whatever she's doing. And she's not at the verbal stage where she responds to a call with words. She may physically appear if you call her, but probably not, especially if she is doing something she deeply enjoys like taking out all the cloth diapers and unfolding them, strewing them all over the room and house.

I'm not sure what scene I had pictured in first being called "mama" or "mommy." I suppose I assumed it would be used like a name, "Mama"...maybe with a soft little kiss on my cheek. Okay. No, I don't think I was silly enough to picture that. I just assumed it would be like, "Mama, up!" Or, "Mama, read!" But Ila is just barely starting to use the names of objects as terms to indicate what she wants, needs, can't find, etc. She still pretty much uses names as declarations. Book! Ball! Hat! There they are, she wants to say. Right there. Paper! Crayon! She's the town crier for inanimate objects around here.

This stage is actually a little frustrating for everyone, Ila included. When she wants something that she knows the word or sign for, she still often doesn't use it. I'll say, the voice of preschool teachers ringing in my head, "Can you use a word or a sign, Ila?" Of course she ignores this. Once I've figured out what she's probably wanting, I'll say, for instance, "Do you want to nurse? You can use your sign." She sometimes will then sign for it, but sometimes she continues to be frustrated, though she clearly wants to nurse. It's such a bizarre gap between having some words and knowing how to employ them. I have to admit, it's seems a little like a prison to me, having only 30 or so words and signs to communicate everything you want or need. I'm amazed she's not constantly throwing her blocks at the wall in rage. Fortunately, she is so fascinated by everything around her, absorbing so much new information, that she isn't usually caught up in frustration. It is amazing to watch her make connections. Everyday she says something new or does something new.

Lately, she's been really into putting diapers on her stuffed animals. She's always been freakishly obsessed with cloth. Wash cloths, blankets, towels. She also loves cloth diapers. She lays them on the ground, smooths them, picks them up, lays them down somewhere else. So, the other day, I put a diaper on one of her bears. Well. That was probably the most amazing thing she'd ever seen. She promptly took it off the bear and indicated that I should put it back on. We repeated this about 56 times, until I started to lose my mind and told Ila she should try it on her own. I went into the kitchen to make our lunch and left her to play with the bear and his diaper. Several minutes later she came to me and handed me the bear...whose leg was mysteriously wet. I had my suspicions, so I followed the little droplets of water all the way to the bathroom. She had taken off bear's diaper, like we do hers, put the little toilet seat reducer on the toilet and put bear on the potty. Or, rather, in the potty. I was torn between feeling a little sad about bear's new toilet bowl leg and the adorableness of Ila wanting to help her bear go to the potty.

We've started putting clothes and shoes on this bear along with diapers. She eats it up! And, she's really attached to this particular stuffed animal, which, before, she barely even looked at. It's so interesting how caring for an object (or person, I suppose) endears it to us. Sure, sometimes when that little person is awake for an hour in the middle of the night, it's not exactly endearing, but overall, it is sweet to feel that you can care for another person, you can offer help and kindness and love. And there are such moments of sweetness, even in the middle of the night. Often, when she wakes up, Ila will now stroke my side as she nurses or snuggles me. She is truly coming into her own, affection-wise. She likes to give kisses and cuddles in the mornings and this, fortunately, snaps me out of the zombie state I may have been in only moments before, still groggy and unrested from a less than ideal night.

Monday, September 19, 2011


My favorite new word of Ila's is definitely "mole." Not like the animal, like the little brown spots my skin is covered with. She's been fascinated by my moles for a number of months. It's particularly lovely when she tries to pinch and pull the few around my neck that are a bit raised. I get to say fun things like, "Ila please be gentle with Mama's moles." At any rate, she obviously absorbed that these spots are moles because the other day she kept poking me on my knee and saying, "Mo," as in "mo" (poke) "mo" (poke) "mo" (poke). I was bathing her, so I wasn't super focused on what she was saying until about the 8th poke. Then, I realized she was trying to tell me something. She was pointing out my moles.

Now, why, I would like to know, would she decide this is an important word to absorb and use when she seems completely and entirely uninterested in words that have much more practical applications like "eat" or "yes" or, even, "no"...or, the lovely "mama?" Sigh. I admit, it would be sweet if she actually called me mama. All in the fullness of time, I suppose. Realistically, she shakes her head for "no" and does her signing for "eat"...but there are so many other practical words that she hasn't adopted yet.

It is fascinating to observe which words she plucks out of the hundreds she hears each day to try out and repeat. Her earliest words, after "egg" and "Bob" (for a stuffed bobcat toy), were "ball," "hat," "hot" and "water." Technically they were "ba," "haa," "ha," and "wa." "Ball" and "water" are not surprising. She loves playing with both of these, so these word selections make sense easily. Why "hot," though? I wasn't even aware that I used that much with her. However, I suppose, when I'm holding something hot, I am very emphatic and clear about it. Maybe she picks up on this extra emphasis - the word seems important, so she makes special note of it.

On the utilitarian side of things, she added "up" (pronounced exactly right) shortly after the above words. She likes to use it semi-automatic style, "up up up up up up up up up up." Towards the end they're screeched if you're not complying quickly enough. Whenever Kiyomi or I walk into the kitchen, she is sure to race in and hit you with a volley of "up's." This room is, obviously the hub of lots of interesting activity, and she doesn't want to miss anything. These days, we have to stand her on a chair or step stool by the counter, give her her little apron, and let her "help." Helping pretty much means tasting everything, smearing food across the counter, or banging the mixing spoons around. It's pretty adorable if you just roll with it. If you are very attached to getting whatever it is done quickly, it's a little less cute.

She is so much more...capable. I suppose that's the right word. For instance, it feels like she understands the majority of what I'm saying. The other day, she was "helping" me make scones. I was cutting in cold butter to my flour mixture, and, after cutting off a few "tastes" of the butter for Ila, I asked her to put a few pieces of butter into the mixing bowl. Well, I'm positive she understood what I asked her to do, but she had a better plan. Why not "taste" these much larger pieces of butter as well? She did want to put the chunks of butter into the bowl...she just wanted to eat them more.

She's also much more physically dexterous. She can eat with a spoon, with a surprising degree of accuracy. She is running...actually, more like trotting, but it's way more coordinated than the bizarre trip-step hop she was trying out a couple months ago. She's able to put stacking rings onto their spindle. She can manipulate little things with her fingers. Just thing, a year ago, she was a little blob that could barely grasp a rattle when I forced it into her fingers. It's impressive how much kids learn and grow in the first couple years of life.

She just seems to know what she's doing more. She bit my nipple while I was nursing her and chatting with folks during our visit to the cottage. She hasn't done this many times, and I responded with my usual "no" and put her down routine. This is, of course, very upsetting for her. However, she came back a while later and signed to nurse. She starting nursing, and I looked down at her. She very gently made a biting face then shook her head, as if to say, "I may want to, but I would never do that horrible biting thing." Her little face was so earnest, I wanted to laugh. Sometimes it seems she's particularly cute and hilarious when she's experimenting and pushing the limits. I know that I ought not laugh at certain things, but it is difficult. Other times, have no problem not laughing. She dropped a stuffed toy in the toilet right after peeing in it...that was a moment I did not laugh. (While telling Kiyomi about it later, though, I did chuckle.)

She watches everything then experiments with weird gestures. She's got this fake smile she pops out and works on occasionally. Last month she was shrugging her shoulders in a prolonged cutesy way. Yesterday, she was shaking one hand spastically in the air as she'd seen me do when I was shaking water off my own hand. Today, she's putting her head down and slouching around like Quasimodo. Some things are clearly imitation. Others, I'm not certain where they came from.

She has added a few more words to her permanent repertoire in the last couple weeks, "book," "uh-oh," "bike," "Willa" (our friends' daughter's name), "apple", "banana" (pronounced, oddly, "meena") and "help." But I can see that it will be a while until she is truly talking. It's sort of charming that she's so sparsely verbal, though. It adds to the feeling that nothing is premeditated for Ila. Limited language, limited planning. There's something so unstudied and present about everything Ila does. She walks around the house, busy with a block or ball, then tosses that aside, walks to another room, barks like a dog in response to the neighbor's dogs, repeats a stray word I say, points to a succession of five things some with accompanying gestures or sounds, then wanders on again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Ila said her first word. Sure it was two weeks ago, Saturday the 23rd, and it's taken me an eon to find a minute to write this...but she said her first word!!! Egg, long aaaaaa, silent g. We are particularly fond of the face contortions that go along with this word.

Our friends were over for dinner, and Ila started saying "egg," with her own, charming pronunciation, of course. I was doubtful that she was actually saying "egg" at first, but our friend Jenny was sure. Ila kept repeating it, and Jenny was right. Egg it is. I was trying to get Kiyomi to bet with me about what her first word would be. She thought it would be something sweet and affectionate, like one of our cat's names. I thought it would be some object that she loved, like "keys,"her current favorite object in the world. Ila loves her toy eggs and actual eggs, so I think I kind of won that bet.

Other than that, she has added some more sounds, including a pretty adorable soft roar whenever she sees pictures of lions, tigers, bears, leopards, etc. In fact, she is really into repeating animal sounds. She's sort of meowed and barked, kind of quacked, done a little oinking and clucking, along with some serious fish gulping, cow mooing, and roaring. I find myself wondering if she's going to be autistic in the Temple Grandin style of autism, you know, really in touch with animals, seeing and thinking like them. This is, perhaps, a ridiculous worry, but it is what I think of each time she adds a new animal sound.

Right this moment, she is fake coughing and covering her mouth. Then, she looks at me expectantly. If I don't follow suit fast enough, she covers my mouth for me - with her hand - and fake coughs, with a look that's a little like, "Okay, Mama, this is easy. You can handle it." Technically this is Ila time, I should be playing with her. And she obviously feels this. But, I wanted to jot a quick note on her first word before I forget it all. See, she's dumping water onto the floor from her sippy cup. Hmm, now she's feeding me a blueberry she put in her mouth then took out to put into mine. Mmmm. Retribution? Or regular toddler antics?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pee and Poo and Lots of Shoes

Ila is an actual little person now. She walks around the house with a real sense of purpose, even if her mission seems to be nothing more than to pick up a sock from the bedroom, carry it to the dining room, back to the living room, before leaving it on the couch in order to knock over a stack of books. I sort of wish she could write a "to do" list. I'd like to see that list. She's obviously very busy because she walks around with her hands resting on her back, like she's surveying all the work to be done around her.

One important task is to find every shoe in the house, point to it, and say, "Ah ha ha ha" like The Count from Seasame Street. Kiyomi started this by saying, "One shoe, ah ah ha ha; two shoes, ah ha ha ha" whenever she removed Ila's shoes. Ila likes to actually bring me any of my shoes she finds, doing her impression of the number obsessed vampire all the while. I thank her, though I'm usually already wearing a pair of shoes. I feel like I should do something with the shoe as she looks up at me expectantly. How many times can you change shoes in a day, though?

Along with her shoe-spotting call, she still does her fish impression - popping her lips open and closed like a fish - and moos like a cow, well sort of like a cow, maybe a cow just learning to moo. Actually she moos for pretty much every animal. But, we're not picky around here. Who's to say giraffes don't moo? I don't know what giraffes sound like, may as well say they moo. She also has added a fairly reliable "no" head shake. She has been shaking her head when I say "not or "no" or "don't" for a while, as well as nodding when I say "hmmm-mm" or "yes." However, she recently started shaking her head in response to questions from me. As in, "Ila, let's go potty. Do you need to go potty?" She shakes her head.

Well, I say her head shaking is "fairly reliable" because yesterday, after putting her on the potty, asking her if she needed to pee, and taking her off because she shook her head, I got peed on. Yup, about 60 seconds after taking her off the toilet, before getting her into a new diaper, she just peed on me. Right down my stomach and leg. Warm pee, hmmmm.

Actually, she's been a little resistant to the toilet of late. We are not really potty training exactly; we've just been putting her on the toilet a number of times a day since she was about eight months old. She often goes on the toilet, and we don't try to pressure her or congratulate her or draw a lot of attention to it. We just read aloud, hang out, and she goes. It's been very mellow and pretty successful in introducing the potty and keeping her cued into her body.

She has, for many months, gone poop mostly on the toilet. But this week, she has not signed or wanted to go on the toilet. She seems to want to go in her diaper. Very interesting. I sort of think she is very distracted and excited by her increasing abilities to do she doesn't really want to take a break to go to the bathroom. Anyway, I just keep reminding myself it doesn't really matter that much, but I can feel the worrier in me trying to claw her way to the surface of my thoughts. "Maybe we're overwhelming her. Maybe she feels anxious. Maybe she is angry." I can't exactly trace the logic of these worries necessarily...

In addition to her "no" head shake, she added the milk sign, we call it the nursing sign, to her repertoire. This has become a favorite sign, especially when she's already nursing. While on one breast, she makes the gesture and points to the other breast. She wants access to both I guess. A few times she has popped off one, sat up, nursed for a second on the other before returning to the original. She'll do this a few times in a row. I laugh, but I feel like maybe I should be discouraging this?

In fact, I find myself wondering this about a lot of things lately. Should I tell her "no" when she climbs up onto the couch or the chair or the bed or basically anything climbable? (She's hit her climbing groove, I think.) Or, should I just try to show her, over and over and over, how to sit far away from the edge once she's climbed up? And, how to get down backwards and safely? And just try to always be there to spot her? Parenting certainly gets more complex as a child gets older.

I find myself wondering, in particular, what her brain is capable of even learning. Obviously, a lot. The human brain, even at the age of one, is an amazing, amazing learning machine. Still, some concepts are just impossible at this point. To use the climbing example, I'm pretty sure that she does not learn from a fall. She climbs on the couch, bounces around unsafely, launches herself off the front first rather than using a safer method, falls, is upset...and she will do the same exact thing 5 minutes later. She is obviously not "learning from her mistakes" at this point. (Does anyone ever?) I think what she's learning is something else entirely. What that is is up for debate. Gross motor skills in the form of mad couch dismounts? Like, she'll do this over and over until she can stick it?

Whatever it is, she is certainly all about developing physical movement and coordination at this point. She has begun to dance standing up, she used to do the bouncing on her butt form of dancing. Now she spins, flaps her arms around, bounces, sways, and - my favorite - does a little backwards walk...maybe a baby moonwalking move? She knows the word "dance," too, and will sway or bounce when dancing is suggested. Very charming.

In reality, she's very into aping all kinds of things she sees us do. Carrying around a bag, putting things into it, patting her stuffed toys and making a "mmmm" lovey sound, hugging, kissing. It's so weird to think this little creature who loves to do what her mamas do will one day be an adolescent who needs to break away and run the opposite of what we do. So bizarre. I particularly love how she copies sounds we make. Let's say I'm frustrated with something and I heave an irritated sigh. She often copies the sighing sound, which makes it hard to continue to be so aggravated. She copies the sound of nose-blowing, coughing, grumbling, groaning. It's pretty hilarious. My personal favorite is when she copies us saying, "wow," like the in the video below. (Also, check out how she's rockin' an unbuttoned onesie without a diaper. Kind of the baby equivalent to a wife-beater, no?)

Two of my favorite new develops are her new desire for interaction with other little people and her cuddling. As soon she started to really walk around - for transportation rather than sport - she became more interested in the other small children she encountered. She's definitely graduating to the age of interaction and play with other little ones. It's exciting to watch. She is less grabby than I thought she would be. She used to grab other babies faces as her go to move. Now, she likes to give kisses and pats. It's all pretty adorable. As far as cuddling with us, it isn't really new for her, but she has just gotten to be sort of skilled at it. She loves to snuggle in the mornings, and this is probably one of my favorite things in the entire universe. Ever. Spooning her as she nestles into me. Kissing her; being kissed by her. It's so sweet and lovely, even if her kisses are still crazy, sloppy open-mouthed affairs.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Learning is fun...?

I'm in a “fresh start” mood. This has been brought on by some combination of coming home from a trip (this often puts me in this mood) and the book that I'm reading. It's The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball about the author's journey from life as a free lance journalist living in Manhattan to a wildly new existence on a run-down farm in northern New York state with a zealous, passionate farmer. She initially meets him for an interview but, within about a year, winds up engaged to him and working harder than she ever has to breathe life into this old farm with him. It's invigorating to read. I know myself well enough to not trust the little romantic voice in my head that says, as it probably does to most who read this type of book, “Yes! Become a farmer! Forget all these other trivial, unimportant things! Live on the land, of the land, with the land! Woo hoo!” (At this point, the theme song from Green Acres should be playing in your head.)

Farming is incredibly hard. Her description is not glamorous or rose-tinted. The first year seemed truly grueling. Still, this book inspires in me a feeling of courage, daring. I may not become a farmer, but I want to live a brave life! To do the things that most resonate with me but also terrify me. This feeling, as everyone who has ever made-then broken-an exciting New Year's resolution knows, is fleeting. Real change is slow-going and requires steady effort, though the effort may not be uniform. I do believe in sudden, inspired break-throughs, like deciding to leave everything behind and become a farmer. But, the real work is shifting your outlook and energy slowly, daily, actually doing the daily work of farming.

This is all a very long way to say that real change is dull and hard, which many have observed before me...and, yet, feels so true that each time I re-realize it, it does not even seem hackneyed. Perhaps I just love short cuts, which is to say I'm human. Or, I like the feeling of imagining sweeping, awe-inspiring changes to my life, which is also to say that I'm human...or at least one type of human. Still, maybe I can do it. Make whatever changes really matter, that is. There is a new pressure I feel in all this because I have a child. I would like to live, as I've said before, in a manner that is contented, confident and well-grounded. I would like to model equanimity, peace, and a deep connection to my life for Ila. I don't need to be happy all the time or certain of everything...I just don't want to surround her with restless, anxious energy.

So, now, I might think to myself, “What will I do today? What can I do today? What do I want to do today?” Think on the small scale. Not this: What am I doing with my time? I should be applying for grad school or maybe...should I write today? Will I write something today or just not do it as usual? Why don't I write more? I am so lazy. But that's negative. I should be positive. I will write. Soon. In fact, I should write every day for a block of time – during Ila's naps! Yes, during Ila's nap, I will write every single day. That is my plan. Whew! Now I feel direction. Maybe I will sit down and my a schedule for myself. Block out the writing time. Get ready to write. But not today. Today I don't have time to write. I need to make a year plan; no, a five year plan...

This morning, I was thinking this to myself, “What will I do today?” Then, some challenging energy in me upped the ante: I thought, maybe I will just do this each moment I notice myself planning, worrying, wondering, feeling pulled in different directions. I can say, “What will I do in this moment?” This is, for me, the extreme micro level. It seems insane and ridiculous on the one hand. An almost irresponsible letting go of planning, idea making. And, on the other hand, it is deeply freeing and appealing. If you spend your life as you spend each day...well, I guess this approach makes sense. It just runs counter to every habit in me.

One advantage I've found in having a child is that I am actually pulled back into the present moment pretty consistently. Last night, in the relative cool and dark of our bedroom, Ila lay next to me with her cheek on my breast, her legs sprawled over my thigh, her little body snuggled close. It was so sweet and lovely. I had been thinking the moment before, “God, I'm tired, but I need to get some things done tonight. When is she going to fall asleep?! Fall asleep already!” Fortunately, just as I felt an ugly resistance and anger rising in me, some wisdom in me that surprises me each time it surfaces, said, “But what about right now? Right now is so deeply pleasant. It won't always be like this. Enjoy it.” I relaxed and noticed how sweet and close she was.

While this is very touching and grounding, the flip side is that you really do have to cede much control over your time and life. (Or maybe just the illusion of control?) Anyway, the other advantage that goes along with being pulled into the present by a child is harder to appreciate. You also have ample opportunities to recognize how futile planning, organizing, analyzing, sense-making, pattern making can be. You have the opportunity to see this, embrace this truth, let go of trying to control, live in a more accepting, present manner. Or you can get angry about how little control you have and resist it. I volley back and forth between these two responses.

For instance, I did have a number of things I wanted to do last night, things I cannot do when Ila is awake. But, she was it took a while for her to fall asleep. By that time, I was pretty tired myself (9 PM; pretty pathetic, I know) and decided to just go to sleep. It was sweet to lie with her and enjoy her little being...but I also did have to give up getting anything else done. Does that matter much? Probably not, but in the moment choices like that are pretty difficult.

I just saw a couple friends in LA who have a brand new little baby. The exhaustion and bewilderment that go along with a newborn were palpable in their house. I immediately remembered vividly Ila's first couple months. Woah. That whole having a new baby thing was intense. What I found myself thinking about as I talked with these friends was how the first year, for me, was a series of realizations that I needed to let go and accept whatever was going on, however unpleasant it was. Most of the exercises in acceptance were around lack of sleep, particularly around accepting that Ila was not sleeping, not going to sleep, not even sleepy in the least although Kiyomi and I were both exhausted and it was 3 AM. But, there are other lessons too. The Lesson of Having Only Two Hands, two hands full of a baby and a thousand other things to do with your hands, like folding laundry or washing dishes or checking email. The Lesson of a Constantly Needy Baby that does not want to be put down even for a second, even for you to run to the toilet or make yourself a snack. Each of these is fun in its own way.

What was particularly upsetting about all of this for me was that I had to do it over and over. I want it to work this way: face something challenging - say, long periods of wakefulness at night - recognize the reality of the situation, relax into, accept it, see my resistance, give up resistance as much as I can. And be done with it. I shouldn't have to do that over and over, right? I already accepted that I'm not getting the sleep that I want. Why do I have to learn this lesson over and over? Why do I have to find a new level of resistance in myself every time, a new way that I have to let go! Sheesh. Who knew I had such a plodding, linear view of life – do something, check it off the list? This is, apparently, not at all what life is actually like.

Anyway, I will try to lap up the fun, tender, hilarious moments...or at least notice them as they are happening! Ila is in a particularly cute phase. She has begun to walk in earnest, as a means of transportation rather than an occasional recreational past time. It started about two weeks ago. She would let go of whatever furniture she was hanging on to and toddle a few feet, looking pretty exhilarated and puffing little excited breaths. Now, she is truly a walker. She gets more steady every day; she's looking less and less like a little shuffling Frankenstein baby, short arms out in front T-Rex style. It's almost unspeakably adorable to watch her teetering forward as fast as she can go, then pivoting recklessly around to come back to you, smiling and wrinkling up her nose. She also makes all kinds of wild vocalizations, everything from “wowwowwaaahwow” to “bababababa” to strange breathy sounds. What cute creatures one-year-olds are. That being said, she is also much more irritated when I take something away from her or when she wants something she is not supposed to have...she likes to employ a cry that varies in its authenticity to protest anything she doesn't like. All of this is extremely fascinating to watch. I'm curious to see her personality as it unfolds and develops.

One of the sweetest and always surprising treats are those times when she just cracks up. There's really no way to know why certain things are hilarious to her, and she's a very sophisticated audience – something will only make her laugh once. So, it's hard to replicate these moments or make her laugh this hard. Another little lesson in just enjoying these lovely moments without clinging to them? So, I guess it's best to simply observe and enjoy those times when she laughs and laughs.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Growing Up

"Mother's body is baby's natural habitat." I read that in a book on breastfeeding when I was pregnant, and I've thought of it a lot in the last year. When she was a tiny new baby it seemed very obviously true that I was the mother ship, and Ila was the dependent little satellite. Strangely, this phrase popped into my head even more as she got older. I'm more conscious of her connection to me as she navigates the world a teeny bit more on her own. This is sort of contradictory, but she seems even more connected to me now, though she was completely dependent on me before. Perhaps it is that she now chooses to check in with me, look at me, snuggle with me. I feel so physically connected to her, even now as she wants to explore more. According to Chinese medicine, a mother and child are energetically connected for the first three years. So, traditionally, if you needed to treat the child, you would look at the mother. This idea also feels sort of accurate to me. Ila is still nursing quite a lot, so, in many ways, we still are still literally physically connected. I don't know why this is surprising to me because it is pretty obvious, but I feel more and more connected with her. What I'm wondering is, will I feel this when she's an adult?

Seriously, I've been thinking about how odd it must be to have all these memories of your little baby - some of which are probably pretty vivid - when you are interacting with your adult child. It seems very uncanny. Sort of related to this, on Ila's birthday last week, I really was thinking about laboring with her. I wonder if I will often think of this on her birthday in years to come. It seems sort of cliche, doesn't it? Your birthday, mother regaling you with how hard her labor was, etc. etc. Well, maybe this is only because it was just a year ago, but it was pretty connected to all my thoughts around celebrating Ila's birthday.

So, Ila's birthday. Wow. She is now a one year old. It is hard to believe it has been a year - it has felt both longer and shorter than that. I guess mostly longer probably because I was actually awake for more of the last year than prior years. So it was actually longer. I found, though, that I've had a much stronger connection to the present moment this last year. It is nice to be reminded to stay in the present and focus on what is happening with Ila right in front of me...even if some of the time is exhausting and difficult! Most of the time I just marvel at how curious, adorable, and fascinating she is. These are the moments that time seems to go very quickly.

Lately, she is babbling constantly, including this morning at 4:30 AM. She's still not talking, but she is intent on communication. She uses her signs (check out "more" in the video below!), sometimes a little wildly, and clearly wants to be understood. Oh, and she does moo like a cow when she sees a pictures of them. She mimics sounds, gestures, faces. And clearly understands a great deal of what we say to her. I can't wait for her to use actual will be so wild. It's hard to imagine what her first real word will actually be. Cat? No? Cow? Maybe even mama?

Now that she is getting to be a real, live kid, I was perusing the "discipline" section of some of our parenting books. One comment struck me about modeling behavior for your child. This is obvious and not anything new for me, but I realized that the strongest way I communicate my expectations for Ila is, of course, how I behave. Duh, right? Well, it really struck me at that moment. I started thinking about how...sometimes I'm so impatient or I kind of throw a fit if I'm frustrated. I get fixated on small things. It's hard for me to let them go at times...and I want to blame someone else in my frustration...for whatever is wrong. In Buddhist terms, I'm all about aversion. I don't want to accept that things aren't the way I want them to be - whether that is getting a cold for the seventh time in seven months or finding a wet towel on the bed. Really, I don't even want to accept when I'm deeply irritated. I don't want to just notice the emotion, feel it, give it space without clinging to it, let go of it, without the expectation of feeling immediately better. I like to push it away. Blaming someone else is a great way to do this!

See? I'm all about aversion.

Anyway, it occurred to me that self-discipline is an important place to start when when disciplining anyone else. ("Discipline" sounds so negative to me, yet "self-discipline" sounds so positive. Interesting.) I definitely realized this as a teacher too...but my tendencies toward impatience, aversion, anger...well, they're pretty strong. So, for the last few weeks, I've been thinking about how I really should both accept who I am...and subtly change it. What a tricky balance, no? (This reminds me of yet another fabulous Lydia Davis short story, New Year's Resolution . Very short and hilarious. Read it!)

I guess what I realized is that I'd like to be a very true, conscious version of myself for Ila - and my - sake; that there are ways that I create extra suffering for myself (and those around me, I'm sure)...and that it would be good to work on this since, as a parent and a model for my child, I will have a lot more credibility if I am not simply avoiding difficult emotions, blaming other people, erupting in anger. We'll see how this goes.

Here's to not throwing tantrums, at least!

Friday, May 20, 2011

This Boo is Made for Walking


She actually did it last Saturday, but I sort of cheated. I was kind of spotting her from the back, and then I let go. She walked to the couch. I hollered and cheered. Then, she did it again for Kiyomi...after which she showed no interest in it for a week. Then, today, she did some shuttle runs between Kiyomi and I for the better part of 15 minutes. It was cute. We kept clapping and cheering. She kept going back and forth with a very pleased look on her face. It was cute. I still am not sure when she will really want to walk from one place to another...that is, without a squealing, excited adult at each end to encourage her.

In other news, I'm some kind of immunological cripple. This must be why I've had a cold every month for the last six months. Not constantly sick; just sick, better, sick again, better, over and over. Well, "over and over" for a total of six. That is too many over-and-over's.

I blame breastfeeding.

I love breastfeeding, but still Ila is sapping my life force via my mammary glands. Fortunately, this means that she has only gotten sick a couple times - thanks to my amazing life force. (If I'm not going to benefit from it, I guess I'm happy Ila is.) Unfortunately, Ila got it this time, and she's miserable.

So, it is particularly remarkable she wanted to totter back and forth on her little feet today for so long. While she did do this little bit of exercise, she has mostly wanted to cry and look like a little sad, wilted bean. Poor little babe. So, in the interest of one sick little walker, I am making this brief.

She walked! Woo-hoo!!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Yes and No

So, yesterday was our first Mother's Day. Ila and I woke up all snuggled together, then she nursed for a while, then snuggled and slept more. It was pretty heavenly. I can't believe she is almost one! I look forward to seeing her as a toddler, a little kid and a big kid, even a teenager, and beyond...but moments like yesterday morning really bring home how sweet it is to have a baby around, with their funny little faces, chubby hands and feet and all the speaking-in-tongues babbling.

It's nice to remember how adorable and fascinating she is right now because we are also having, concurrent with all this cuteness, a horrible time sleeping. Ugh. She has been up for over 3 hours in the middle of the night several times in the last week. At those moments, I look forward to the time that she is sleeping soundly through the night - fine, fast forward five years, I don't care! I don't care if I miss all kinds of amazing things, just give me some solid sleep! Then, she's a cuddly little darling in the morning...and I think, ah well. Who needs sleep?

She is so cute.

Seriously, I walk around all day long saying, "You are SO cute" and feeling it with my whole being, in an acute, almost painful sort of way. I'm worried about the time I have to stop remarking on her adorableness out loud. Something tells me that it is not good for a child to hear this as a constant refrain. This is unfortunate; however, I don't want to be one of those ridiculous parents that are too clingy and affectionate and gushy, whose children shake them off constantly with embarrassment, whose praise means nothing because it not really earned and so often repeated. I'm just going to enjoy this time that I can kiss her on the cheek and tell her she's lovely every five minutes. Hopefully I'll be able to break this habit...

Developmentally this is an exciting time. She's not saying any words, and I have been really looking forward to I've been a bit disappointed. Actually, it's more that I've been wondering what I'm doing wrong - am I not talking to her enough or not in the best, most speech inducing way? And, she wasn't doing any signs - which we've been consistently using with her for months. So, naturally, this reinforced my certainty that she is either a) never going to be able to communicate OR b) crippled by my obvious ineptitude in instructing various forms of speech. Fortunately for all of us, she started signing this last week! Woo-hoo! She started with "all done" and "eat." These were shortly followed by "potty." Mostly, she signs this back at us in response to our signs or questions.

Since she was signing with some reliability, I decided to teach her to sign for "book" because she loves to be read to so much. This sign is easy; you open your two hands like a book. She picked it up right away...and it is the most bizarre of her signs. She's turned it into this exaggerated shrug with some head thrusting, usually accompanied by a bizarre smile/grimace. This is the sign that she does most frequently without any prompting. Actually, it's probably tied with "eat." An eater and a reader. I can live with that. I am curious to see when she starts using "potty" of her own volition. She goes on it when we put her on, but it will be very exciting when she starts actually indicating when she needs to go herself!

Beyond signing, she's making all kinds of little connections. The other day she had a shirt with a sheep on it. When we got to a page in a book we were reading with a sheep, she looked down at her shirt and pointed to the sheep. What was so exciting about this is that I've never mentioned that this creature on her shirt is a sheep. Also, the book we were reading does not mention the sheep by name; it's just one of the little animals cavorting in a barnyard. I thought this was pretty amazing. Upon reflecting on this, I think Kiyomi has called it the animal on her shirt a sheep, but still, I was pretty impressed.

Similarly, she is definitely making the connection between shaking the head meaning "no" and nodding meaning "yes." I didn't even realize I nodded my head much for yes, but I must because the other day when I was saying, "hmm-mm" as a yes, she started nodding. Funny. As far as shaking her head, she's been doing that for a while, but not really as a sign for no. She used to just enjoy shaking her head back and forth; I think because it felt good? But recently she has connected it to the word no, which is not a word she likes to hear, incidentally. When I say it, her face gets all scrunched up and she starts crying. Sometimes really crying, not like just a fake sob or two, like someone kicked her in the shin crying.

For example, the other day, she was standing at my knees while I sat on the couch. We were looking at a book or a toy and she leaned over and started to bite my knee, sort of idly. She's getting some new teeth, so she enjoys chomping down on most everything. I said, "No, Ila, please don't bite my knee." Well, she shook her head, "no," as I said no, then the waterworks started. I didn't even say it in an angry or upset manner, and I was already adding, "You can kiss my knee or pat my knee." (Which, if you really want to bite someone, I'm not sure kissing and patting afford the same pleasure, but I like to give options.) Anyway, she was sad for a moment, but we were still playing so the sadness was forgotten. After a minute or two she leaned over and gave my knee a lick - I think that's her version of a kiss. I said "thank you" and "oh, how nice - you gave mama's knee a kiss" and a few minutes later she did it again.

This whole incident was pretty interesting. It's sort of settling this notion I have that "no" doesn't always work that well. We're not big users of the word "no" - though when she consciously bites or kicks and it hurts, I pretty instinctively say no. The main "no" arena has been around throwing food on the ground. We've been trying to offer the option to put the food on the table or give it to us if she doesn't want it. We've said, "no, Ila don't throw the food on the floor." And that pretty much crushes her little spirit entirely. Then, she just throws food on the ground and shakes her head "no" while doing it. Nice.

Now, I'm not someone who thinks you should never use the word no. Also, I know that tears don't indicate being truly, deeply wounded. But, she has such a visceral reaction to the word no, I've decided that maybe just giving her the better options in whatever situation over and over and reinforcing and recognizing the desired behavior is probably more effective than using such a charged word with much frequency. I know, probably a gajillion developmental psychologists are rolling their eyes at the banality of my realization, but I'm living it, baby. And as my yogi tea recently informed me, "Wisdom becomes knowledge when it is personal experience."

Anyway, all these little gestures seem sort of small when I write them out, but when most of your child's life has been spent as a little grub that can't talk or indicate or express connections in anyway, it's pretty surprising when these sorts of thing start happening. She's growing up into a real, live, actual little person! Pretty remarkable.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Ila stood on her own! She loves to toddle around clutching tightly to two hands or the furniture - she prefers hands as her exploration is not restricted to furnitured areas. Today, I let go of her hands for a moment - she can lean back on my legs - and she just kept standing there! No swaying, no reaching for anything. Just standing! Then, twice after this, she chose to take her hands off her balancing object - a chair and a table. She had this thrilled, sort of shocked look on her face with just a dash of fear, exciting fear, mind you. Wow! I can sort of glimpse her walking in my imagination. I know she'll walk on a purely theoretical level, but today it seemed like a real possibility!

What a day! It has been a very sweet day (among other things, Ila took a freakisly long nap). This morning she started rustling around and obviously wanted to nurse at about 6 o'clock. I got us all snuggled up and positioned...and Ila proceeded to latch on and nurse for about 20 seconds, then pulled off and put her pacifier in her mouth for about 5 seconds, then back to the breast for 20 seconds, then back to the pacifier...back and forth for about 10 minutes. She did this all in a closed-eye, semi-conscious daze, like she was getting stoned off all the snuggle-y, sucking action. I, however, was wide awake after 30 rounds of this and decided to plop her pacifier in and pull her up onto my chest. She settled into a light sleep for another half an hour, sprawled across my body. It was so absolutely lovely and blissful that I didn't even mind how much I really wanted to still be sleeping.

Later, after the standing action, I put Ila down for her second nap. Today is my brother's birthday, and I was thinking about him as she fell asleep. I have a lot of guilt about not being a kind big sister when we were growing up. Sometimes I think this has something to do with my parents; sometimes it seems like it's just about me. Specifically, I always wonder how I could have been a better sister - maybe it's something my mother did, or something my father didn't do, or something flawed about me that made me stingy and ungenerous with my brother. But, I am always looking back thinking my sibling behavior was problematic and wondering how it went wrong. I think about this because, if Ila has a sibling, I'd like the two of them to love each other without these feelings of guilt.

Well, it just occurred to me today - after three decades as a sister - that maybe I'm looking at it all wrong. Maybe nobody did anything wrong, maybe I was a pretty normal big sister, but there is something in me that always wants to rake myself over the coals for past behavior and choices. It's such a revolution to think that, in fact, this isn't about who I was as a kid but about who I am today: I am someone who wants to fix things, even long ago things that were (and still are) totally out of my control, someone with a strong tendency to be a bit too critical of myself. Also, a bit of a rigid perfectionist. Now, instead of thinking about ways I can make Ila a perfect older sibling (it has now become clear that was what I was doing), I will focus on trying to help her be kind to herself. Maybe then she will be okay with who she is, what she needs, and we may just foster a love of her own little self that can overflow into kindness and compassion for any other little beings she shares a home with. There's a thought.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Infant Achievements

There is certainly a stereotype that parents, even of little grub-like infants, are immensely, and perhaps irrationally, proud of their children's accomplishments. Like the parent that is proud of their baby's poops or burps or slobbery faces. So, there is this stereotype, but are these parents real? I find that all of Ila's goofy baby behaviors are entrancing and lovely to me...but I don't feel proud exactly. I don't feel that Ila is prodigiously talented in any way at this point. I think she seems pretty normal - she hasn't really done anything early. She may even do somethings late.

I don't particularly care, but, occasionally, when I comment that she will possibly be a late walker or a late talker, some people try to put me at ease, to supposedly assuage my worries that my child will not be fine. This, naturally, irritates me. I have loathed fellow humans for little more than a stray comment to me to "calm down" when I'm detailing some neurosis or worry of mine (usually I'm doing this in an obviously comedic way). When confronted with these people, I first silently mark their names down in my mental Little Black Book of Things Never to be Forgiven, then tell myself it's just that I speak with great feeling and clarity...and some poor fools mistake that for actual hysteria. One woman who I cannot find it in my heart to like told me that I'm "too much in my head" after hearing my birth story. If I was a different person, I may have punched her. Of course I'm too much in my head! That is a private struggle for me to diffuse publicly with amusing anecdotes. I do not want any Ms. Obvious Observation's patronizing comments.

So, apparently, I have a hang up about this sort of thing. (Okay, fine, it's all part of some control issue of mine. And my dislike of these people is really about me and my insecurities, blah blah blah.) Needless to say, I don't take these unasked for assurances about Ila with anything resembling grace. But it does lead me to wonder if this whole idea that parents are so intensely invested in their infant's "accomplishments" is a bit blown out of proportion. Or maybe it's not pride, maybe we - parents - are just floored by the amazing, though ordinary, process of watching a new little being develop. It is pretty remarkable to be part of.

Still, I find - happily - that I feel all I really care about is that Ila is healthy and seems to be growing along her own little curve. I mean, I am subject to fits of guilt that I am doing something wrong, but I am not particularly invested in thinking Ila is particularly great or speedy in acquiring some new skill. In other words, I sometimes worry that I will handicap her from regular development, but I don't really think much about whether she is very advanced developmentally.

I hear a lot of discussion of children doing this or that early. People do seem to care about this. Or maybe I just focus in on it because I am surprised to discover that I don't care. Let's be honest, I am worried that I will be one of those pusher parents who needs their child to be gifted, brilliant, amazing. I hope I'm not. I've developed an allergy to these parents after being a teacher. I want to encourage, but I don't want to suffocate my child with the need to fulfill some weird expectations of mine. Or maybe I'm just sort of feeling self-congratulatory that I - thus far - don't feel that I have too much ego involvement in her "achievements." We'll see what happens when she starts school; maybe I'll become a real honor-parent menace.

Right now, I'm content just picking up on the little glimmers of Ila's personality shining through, just the ordinary miracles of having a little baby around. She is, for instance, turning into a very affectionate little girl. She has started leaning in when she wants you to kiss her on the lips and then doing some bizarre almost-smacking, open mouth sort of smooch. Very cute and a bit wet. She loves to snuggle at night, which means that she bulldozes her little body into mine. Always mine; not Kiyomi's. I'm sort of excited for the time she starts spreading that insomnia-inducing love around.

Also, she seems to be a cautious little kid. When she loses her balance while cruising around the edges of the furniture, she looks alarmed and sometimes whimpers a bit, looking back at me for reassurance. Some kids seem to be pretty indifferent to getting a bit knocked about in their pursuit of movement. She's actually getting better at falling onto her butt while tottering around the furniture, a skill that she definitely has had to work on. I am watching curiously to see if she is walking in the next month. It could happen, but who knows? And, fortunately, I am not worried either way, so please don't tell me to calm down.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


I am surprised at the whole new world of guilt that being a mother opens. I expected some guilt, I guess. If she falls down or hurts herself, I expected to feel in some way responsible. Even such vague feelings of guilt seemed as worries that I will screw up my child, etc. seemed possible. But, I didn't think I would have this constant, subterranean sense that I am just not being present enough, just not being...selfless enough. Really. I feel catholic. And like I totally absorbed crazy expectations of women around parenting that are...well, crazy. These expectations are, on a conscious, rational level, highly problematic. Yet, I find myself thinking that I need to sacrifice more. I catch myself thinking that I'm just not lavishing enough attention, focus or interaction on Ila.

For instance, I feel like I should be talking to her more - in "developmentally appropriate" ways, you know, like asking lots of questions, leaving a little wait time even though there's about .01% chance she's going to answer me any time soon. I feel like I should be more actively trying to stimulate her, educate and enrich her world in ways a baby would appreciate.

I'm not sure why my mind has glommed onto talking more to Ila, but this is where some of my worry goes, especially since around now is when some babies say their first word. Ila has "ma-ma-ma-ed" quite a bit, but it generally seems not to correspond to me, the Mama in question. Other than that, she's not particularly talkative. In fact, in the last week, she's stopped even making random syllable sounds as much as she was recently. This is totally fine, says my rational mind. My bizarre guilty mama brain says, Maybe you should talk to her more; maybe she just doesn't get enough encouragement from you. The guilty mind seems to win out. Fortunately yesterday my rational brain found something to bolster its fairly weak argument. Movement! Ila is so focused on movement that she doesn't have the attention to put toward vocalizing lately.

As soon as I thought this yesterday, she also started babbling more. Or, she had been babbling the same amount, and I am just a paranoid worrier making up scenarios to create turmoil in my mind that are not based on actual, objective fact? That's fairly likely. Last night, in particular, she was mimicking sounds. We were at some friends' house - they have a little girl who is almost 2 - and we were all saying the word "eyeball." Why? Because someone said it and then the little girl repeated it. For some reason, it's pretty funny when a little kid says "eyeball," so we all were saying eyeball. Then, Ila said "ay-ba" right in time for her turn in the eyeball action. We all stopped, surprised. Our friend said, "Ah! Her first word! Eyeball. Write it down!" Hmmm. Eyeball? Really?

For me, all of this points to the necessity of not be isolated with my baby. It's too easy to get trapped in some netherworld of irrational guilt. Friends, family members, sane, non-sleep deprived folks help remind me that some of my expectations of myself are ridiculous. This is good to remember because, though Ila isn't saying words (other than eyeball, of course), she is doing all kinds of fun, new things, and it's good to not miss them because I'm focused on what I'm not doing for her. She started waving this week, for example. This baffled me because I never wave bye-bye (that is also a source of some guilty, "Ah! I should be instilling good bye-bye waving skills in my child!"). Well, I guess Kiyomi and Ila wave bye bye to the poops in the potty and Ila has branched out from "bye bye, poop" waving to "bye bye, people" waving. Pretty cool.

Other than that, she also experiments with random noises and behaviors, as babies are wont to do. These are some of the strangest and funniest parts of having a baby. Where does she get these ideas? Who knows...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


On Sunday, we had a bunch of families over, several of whom were in our birth classes. We've been getting together regularly, and various smaller groups of us also meet up for walks or going to the park, etc. This is, hands down, one the most important pieces of advice I have to give to new moms. Don't isolate yourself.

A friend just sent me a newspaper article yesterday about having a baby and finding yourself suddenly in the barren, lonely landscape of the 1950s middle class, white gender divide. It is truly a shocker for current day women to suddenly find their universe shrunk to the size that this tiny, dependent, not terribly interesting little baby occupies - everything else seems to vanish. And, the woman writing the article explains, compared to other advances women in Western countries have made, domestic tasks, especially those surrounding child rearing, are still startlingly unequal. This reminded me of a book I read a number of years ago, Wifework, which was great in the sense that is was fascinating...and horrible in the sense that it was pretty depressing look at what marriage and motherhood really mean for women...

On a societal level, this problem is complicated...and overwhelming. That doesn't mean, of course, that we should ignore it, but, I have to think - some of the time - on a more individual level. Like how am I, this person, right here, right now, living in a country with no mandated paid maternity/paternity leave, without adequately funded childcare options, going to negotiate motherhood in a way that is, overall, positive? Well, creating a community is crucial to this. I know I'm not the first to say this, but the nuclear family sucks. Maybe it takes a village to raise a child partially because the parents go crazy on their own? So, I say to all considering motherhood - think of it as an opportunity to grow your community and connect with others. It's still hard but so much better. I love so many, many mothers I have met this year. They have, undoubtedly, helped me continue to feel connected, positive and human.

On Sunday, I captured a little video of Ila with two girls who were born on the same day as her last year. A couple from our birth group had their daughter at the birth center the same night...and it's something very sweet to share. Though, at 4 AM when I could hear new little baby Charlotte crying, I felt quite jealous that it wasn't my baby that had finally come...and that I had more labor to get through. The other couple, who we know through the university, was giving birth at the hospital I had to transfer to because my placenta didn't deliver. Small world. Anyway, here the girls are...sort of sharing the little interactive table...

I am also lucky to have my mother around - lucky also to like having my mother around! Anyway, she is a bit crazy about Ila. I'm not sure how she would put it, in her more guarded way, but she totally loves playing with Ila and enjoying her new talents, like dancing and clapping.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Judgy Judge Judge Crawly Crawl Crawl

Recently, I was getting to be a bit smug about the whole sleeping thing. Ila was still waking up a couple times a night, but she was back asleep so quickly. And, she's in bed with me, so it's not that big a deal. Roll over, nurse, go back to sleep. Okay, I was beyond smug. I was really starting to become very retroactively judgmental about my early days with Ila. The sleep issue was the worst between 3 and 6 months for us...and I started looking back and thinking maybe it was me; maybe she has always been a fairly decent sleeper - you know, I was all uptight, tightly wound, not accepting this new world of sleep and failing to move through the whole experience without resistance. It was me.

Then last week happened: No; the earlier struggles with sleep were not because of me. It was Ila. She was going through a crappy sleeping phase. Moreover, I haven't grown and become all zen and accepting. Nope. Things just got better. I know this because last week she woke and stayed awake for an hour and cried and woke and stayed awake for two hours and nursed five times in a night and cried and stayed awake. And guess what? I was not all accepting and mature. I was pretty damn grumpy about the whole thing.

What I want to know is why I feel the need to look back and edit or judge or make sense of what happened in the past in some way that is totally dependent on my current experience. Change is just so hard to wrap my head around. It is, I suppose, not unique to me. It is a deeply human impulse to try and create a narrative that is stable. Even constructing a narrative is ultimately sort of questionable vis-a-vis reality...which is not really a narrative at all.

Similarly, the idea of "progress" for babies is totally problematic. I mean, Ila does a lot of experimenting in movement, vocalizing, eating, sleeping...that don't necessarily lead to anything. I guess in general she is progressing in development overall, but it's not a clear step-by-step process. It's full of weird behaviors that she does for a day or three...and then drops. Also, she's just suddenly do things without any prior "practice." I think this is why a lot of folks get so irritated by the milestones.

For example, ;last week, she was crossing her first two fingers on each hand constantly. Now she is done with that. Instead, this week, she claps her hands and throws her hands up over her head like a gymnast triumphantly completing her routine. She loves it if you do it as well. Then, she'll do the whole thing over again. Actually, this week, she's generally into mimicry. This was supposed to start a long time ago according to the milestones, but, as noted earlier, that pretty much means nothing. She will mimic syllables (especially "ma ma ma ma," which I particularly like to encourage), clapping, and her Victory Arms gesture. But who knows? She may stop all this tomorrow and never do it again. Looking for a real clear progression is totally absurd (...which is probably a life lesson from all this that I should try to apply to the rest of my experiences, but we'll see how far that goes).

In regards to the fallacy of "progress," Ila can crawl...but she doesn't really want to. She scoots on her butt a little or tries to stand up and climb on things rather than hang out on her hands and knees. Now, she could just never really crawl as a means of getting around or all this scrabbling and clambering around could lead to crawling. It's very fascinating how unpredictable and individual all this development is.

I had been thinking this was all proto-crawling and that she couldn't actually crawl yet. Eventually, this little crawling-like movements would lead - Ta Da! - to "real" crawling. Well, then I happened to leave her pacifier on one end of the bed and set her down on the other. Suddenly, she was crawling. She can do a lot when properly motivated, apparently. Still she has no interest in crawling out in the world. She may never really like to crawl. Who can say?

At any rate, this is a really exciting period. She loves to pick up toys, figure them out, toss 'em down, scoot around, stand up, do her bouncy little dance to songs she likes, babble and screech, play hide and seek or "chase the mama," get thrown up in the air dangerously close to the ceiling, read, eat books, eat paper in general, eat in general. She's pretty fabulous.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Eat, Poop, Read

Ila has become a book aficionado in the last several weeks. Okay, admittedly, she's loved books for a while but mostly as a chew toys. Now she's actually into the stories and pictures and turning the pages and hearing the animal sounds and petting the furry patches on the "Touch & Feel" books... In other words, books have gone from a digestive delight to a more cerebral one. Okay, she'll still nibble a corner if you let her. Paper products of all kinds are a favorite snack of hers, after all. It was amazing to watch this transformation. One day, she was still a squiggly little bundle with absolutely no interest in what you were doing while you tried to read her night time stories...then, all of a sudden, she was laughing and screeching and cooing at the pictures. It's sort of alarming how completely babies can change, seemingly overnight.

Another bizarrely fast adaptation our little one made recently is pooping and peeing on a potty. We've been just putting her on the toilet with a cute "toilet seat reducer" four or five times a day - and, surprisingly, she often goes to the bathroom there. I know a number of parents who are really into the whole "elimination communication"/diaper free baby business. I was intrigued by it but had about as much motivation to try it with Ila as I had to, say, jump out of airplane when she was a newborn. Some folks do it that young, apparently with success. I was too exhausted and totally bewildered to add anything like that to the mix. Still, I thought about trying it as she got older, but I really hadn't gotten around to it. Then, at the end of January, our diaper service went out of business and, to be perfectly honest, the thought of dealing with lots of poopy cloth diapers and a gray water system provided the needed motivation. She pooped on the potty the second time I set her on it. Crazy. She still pees and poops occasionally in her diaper, but she goes a lot on the toilet. And she just started did it - bam! I find it a little strange that she would get it so instantly, but I guess babies are more cued into these things than I give them credit for...

Along these follow-the-lead-of-the-baby ridiculous hippie-style parenting lines, we've been doing this "baby-led weaning" strategy for introducing solid foods. Contrary to what the name of this method would lead you to believe, this approach has little to do with weaning. Right at the start, the authors of the book (called Baby Led Weaning) explain that if you take this route, your child really should be able to breast feed on demand for as long as they need to, probably well into their second year of life, at least. I understand why they chose this name - you introduce solids and get your baby off the breast all in their time - baby-led! But I think the choice to put "weaning" in the title of a method that has no real weaning goal is odd. Okay, I guess there's a weaning method, but it's not really an objective in any concrete way.

Maybe the name puts me off because, at this point, I don't really care about weaning. Really, I sometimes think I could do the whole crazy breast feed until the baby is like five. If you are lucky enough to not have to pump and you're past the first month of nipple torture, breast feeding is pretty darn awesome. Even in the middle of the night I sort of love it. I roll over and she latches on. It's awesome choreography. Or, we're like the mother-ship and the little satellite ship coming to dock. Really, that's what I think about at 2 AM. Almost every night. Why? Maybe I watched Star Wars or The Next Generation too much as a young person.

Anyway, the main idea of baby-led weaning, however stupidly named, is that you introduce solids that your baby can hold onto, manipulate, and feed to themselves, instead of spoon-feeding them only purees. We do still feed soft and gooey foods to her with a spoon, but she loves to be in charge of her own food. It's fairly interesting and has gone pretty well. She gags occasionally, and I have fleeting fears of her choking. This often happens when she's eating a totally mushy, non-choke-causing food like yams. Though nerve-wracking, I guess that's all pretty normal for the beginning of eating. Whenever anything more than a pea-sized amount of food - say hummus - gets into her mouth, she'll often gag. I guess this is a reflex to keep babies from choking, but it also makes for a lovely meal time sound track.

Despite the gagging, she was totally fascinated by food from the beginning, but, in the last two weeks, she seems to actually want to eat, not just taste and play with food. Like with the books, it's like a switch has been flipped. Before, food was interesting; now it appetizing. Her little pincer grip - the ability to grab with index and thumb - has markedly improved recently, too. This makes the whole eating thing a little more engaging and workable for her as well! She's still wildly clumsy with food - and sometimes when she's worked so hard to get the bit of food in her little fingers and then drops it right as she's trying to put it in her moth, I feel so sorry for her. Really, I almost start crying a little. Needless to say, she doesn't care at all. In fact, it seems kind of fun for her as she works on her hand coordination. All I can think of, though, is serious accident victims learning to feed themselves again in some grueling physical therapy situation.

Other than our more routine daily adventures, we did have a real life International Traveling Adventure. Actually, there wasn't too much adventure in our venture...just long traveling days to Belize for our dear friends' lovely wedding. Ila's interest in books was a blessing on our flights. Although Kiyomi and I got a little tired of reading Where Does Maisy Live? after the hundredth time. Still, Ila was, all in all, a real traveling champ during her first international trip. She loved the water, the sand - especially eating the sand - all the new people, pineapple and riding on Kiyomi's back on a bike. Yeah, this was the dare-devilry of our trip. There wasn't a baby bike helmet to be had on the island, apparently. We felt a bit guilty, but it was so fun to be able to ride with her. I rationalized it by telling myself there aren't any cars on the island and not even any pavement - just packed sand. Plus, everybody else was doing it!

Well, it all worked out without incident, fortunately. It was so lovely just to hang out - the three of us - without any work to do. Just eating, riding around the island, going to the beach, seeing our friends, putting Ila on the potty now and then, reading Maisy books over and over. I'm not quite sure why I'm not always on vacation.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sucking Face

Ila does a lot of weird stuff with her mouth. The two oddest at the moment sound pretty tawdry: blowing on my nipple and sucking on my face. Right now she's really into opening her mouth just a bit and blowing out air through the small parting of her lips. This was interesting to me just as a new skill in her repertoire. However, she now stops nursing but stays on the breast, just detaching her bottom lip a little...and she blows. This is even more skillful, I guess. Perhaps a new developmental milestone?

The much more graphic penchant she has is to give me big, slobbery open-mouthed kisses. When she's getting hungry, and I am holding her, she leans toward my face with an open mouth and latches on wherever her mouth lands. My jaw, my eyelid, my cheek, my nose. Then, she gets going slobbering and sucking. I'm lucky to avoid a hickey. As she comes at me, like a baby vampire, she has this amazing look of purpose. I'm not entirely sure what this is about. I'm assuming she's hungry. But maybe not?

The funny thing about her Baby-acula routine is that it's weirdly touching to me. It strikes some primal chord. She gets hungry and just wants to attach to me somehow; get her herself hooked up to the chuck wagon. And this is...somehow very sweet to me, like she wants to fuse her little being to me with that part of herself that she is most in touch with - her mouth. It's the port to her little soul.

Anyway, I am sure I sound like a weirdo here, but something in my resonates with this bizarre baby kiss. Something in my very core responds to it. It's not unlike my desire to give her kisses all the time, which is what I do instead of gobbling her up. And I almost mean that literally; I sometimes want to...just absorb her. Freaky, I know. I suppose the mouth is deeply connected to the way that we attach ourselves in love and affection to others. So, I guess I'll take these wacky little kisses while I can get them.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Phases & Faces

Anne Lamott, in her lovely and funny book about her journal from her son's first year, documents the tender and sweet pats her son gave her breast while nursing at some point after he was several months old. This was a new developmental milestone: Hurray, baby can pat! Baby shows love for mama, or, at least, affection for The Boob, that favorite part of mama. In fact, this is a developmental note on many charts, "baby pats mother's breast." This particular milestone is probably not that important, but it lodged in my brain; I've thought of it a lot, especially in those early painful weeks of breastfeeding. It helped to think my breasts, currently enduring nipple torture, would - soon! - be favored with something sweeter and kinder, little pats from their biggest fan, Ila. It was exciting just to think of Ila doing anything. This was New Ila, the tiny larval being who didn't show affection or even much sustained interest in anything. Imagine her reaching out, consciously, with determination, to fondly pat me. That's a pretty sweet little idea.

This is what really happened. Ila started, recently, pulling off my breast mid-nursing, to a position about 4 inches from me to stare down my nipple as if it were a riddle she couldn't figure out, or a taken-for-granted, inanimate, everyday object suddenly gifted with speech or even magical powers. She was riveted, absolutely curious and fascinated. Then, instead of the affectionate pat I'd been expecting, she reached out her hand and grabbed my nipple and tried her hardest to pull it off. Hmmm. I think I'll take the pat. Though she does the nipple stare down frequently, fortunately she doesn't often try to take it with her as a souvenir. This doesn't really feel like an awesome new developmental step, to be honest.

Although, I haven't consulted developmental charts much in recent months, some steps really stick with me. Odd ones, too. For instance, I can't remember anything about when Ila may say her first word according to the charts, but I know that she's supposed to be clapping soon. Which is strangely important to me. Why? I'm not sure, but I find myself thinking when I see other babies her age clap, "Oh my god, maybe there's something wrong with her. Why isn't she clapping?! Maybe she's autistic." Now, the link between autism and clapping isn't well understood, or event existent, but it where my brain goes. She's not smiling much; maybe she's autistic! She's not crawling; maybe she's autistic and developmentally delayed. These worries are not really founded in anything reasonable; nor do I think they are linked to consulting charts and comparing Ila to them. No, it's just old fashioned fear; I must worry about something apparently. Usually it's autism.

Fortunately, for my neurotic, autism-obsessed mind, she has been really opening up to the world lately. She makes a much wider array of faces, noises, smiles. She has this weird almost fake smile. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a smile or just something she's trying with her face. It's sort of a grimacy, teeth-gnashing smile. This is when she is in fact gnashing her teeth. Because, yes, she is grinding her teeth, apparently something normal for some babies at certain stages. This is another developmental step I think I could have skipped.

She's also becoming adept at not-really-wronged cries. When you take something from her hands, she has a special cry. She used to sort of squawk, a hollered mixture of startled surprise and displeasure. Now she does this longer, fake cry thing, like something is really wrong. I suppose, from her perspective, something is wrong to her - she doesn't have what she wants. Now, I suppose, the job of parenting is determining the best way to sort out how you deal with the different wants a child has...which all makes me think that, while having an infant is difficult in it's own way - namely, physical exhaustion and sleeplessness - kids certainly get trickier, taking more sophisticated tools to deal with.

Oh well. I don't really have enough energy to get too worried about anything that remote right now - is this the bright side of sleep deprivation? Plus, that baby is so damn cute.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Singing the Song of Ila

I planned to write something different, something NOT about sleep...then, Ila decided to wake up at 9:30 PM and stay awake until 1 AM. So, here I am, talking about sleep again. It gets...what? Old, I guess. I feel that I'm becoming quite dull - I just talk about her sleep - how little there is, how broken up it is, how I feel about it, how I feel without sleep... There's so much else going on, so many other things to say, right? Maybe not.

This focus on sleep is not unique. I have decided that when people say that having a baby is difficult, it is mostly because, with an infant around, they are missing one of these:
1. sleep
2. free time
3. the illusion of control
The thing is, I will finally "adjust" to whatever broken up semblance of a good night's sleep I'm getting...then, Ila will do something new and exhausting, like this. I think that is probably what life with an infant is like - always changing. Therefore, having an infant is like having infinite opportunities for Personal Growth. Which is about as fun as it sounds.

This weekend, I was thinking about the fact that I'm very aware of how quickly Ila is changing - how much more big and grown up she is now that she babbles, sits up, holds her head up, grabs I've kind of forgotten what she was like as a tiny baby. This makes me a little sad; not that I want to go back...or that I think having a baby is the best part of having children. I hope to enjoy most of my time with her (I'll see how those teens years go) - ideally, I will love all the periods, at least in some way. No, it's not that I want her to stay a baby forever; it's just that watching her move through her baby life so fast, makes me realize that all of the times - all of life, really - goes so fast.

Okay, here we are again, at another of my favorite topics: the Indianapolis 500: Race to Death. Death, endings, death, endings. I'm sorry if you're sick of hearing about it...all I can say is, I'm sick of it too. Apparently, astrologically, I've got a lot going on with Death. I guess it's a very charged topic for my life. So, it's a fertile soil for me to...blah blah blah. I can't even pretend to finish that sentence. Fertile my foot.

Back to life, for the time being.

Other than throwing the occasional sleep curve ball, Ila's generally pretty happy and calm. She is not particularly interested in getting places too fast. A couple babies her age, from her birth group, are already crawling. Not Ila. She's also not really rolling much. She's pretty content to move at her own, unique pace - which is, for the time being, a slow one.

She is, however, busy with other things. She's really waking up to the world of smiling social interactions. She's started getting very excited when she knows she's going for a walk or getting a bath. In fact, even when Kiyomi just takes off her diaper and clothes to carry her naked to the bathroom, she gets all smiley and happy. Then, she tries to dive into the water as soon as she sees it. It's pretty adorable, especially with all her crazy, different-stages-of-growth little teeth. She looks a little hill-billyish when she really grins.

She's been a very pensive and intensely observant little being so far in her life - a little stingy with the smiles and laughs, to be honest. However, she's really coming out of her shell. She used to always do this thing where, if you weren't looking at her, she'd stare and stare at you. Then, when you looked at her, she'd look away. She's looking away a little less and even smiling. I'm so fascinated by this; it seems so different than either Kiyomi or me. I wonder if she will be shy or reserved...or just a little quiet? Or, totally the opposite. Who knows what any of this means?

Speaking of predicting her future, my lovely yoga teacher did an astrological reading for Ila today. Among other things, she has a lot of female energy, focus on women, etc. in her chart. And, kind of a lack of manly energy. That's amusing. Maybe, at some point we should have a male friend be her "big brother." I'm not sure what we would ask of him - to take her fishing? Is fishing something men do more than women? Will it offer the manly energy she needs? Could we just have a mannish woman show her how to fish?

I guess Ila's also supposed to be a career powerhouse. That's also fascinating. I haven't really thought a lot about this in relation to Ila. I guess I have thought that I hope she finds something she loves to do...but, very generally. It is kind of exciting - in a really sort of icky, egocentric way - to imagine her being powerful and successful in her chosen profession. Hmmm, I should probably not get too caught up in that. If I do something ridiculous, like become a crazy stage mom taking my kid to all kinds of gross talent searches or commercial auditions, please kick me in the shin. Really hard. Then maybe slap me, just for good measure.

I suppose on the most basic level, I hope that Ila is happy. I mean, lately - after reading several books on happiness - I am not sure that's necessarily the point of life. What is the point of life? I'm not sure. I guess, "be happy" has been a fairly standard answer of mine. But, when I think about it, I guess I really want to be fulfilled more than simply happy. Those two things overlap...but not always, not at 2 AM when Ila wants to nurse for the fifth time. Then, I think, I am working toward being fulfilled - that is, I am doing the work of having a child, which is something that make me feel connected, competent, engaged, human in a really embodied, powerful way - but I'm not necessarily happy about it at that moment.

In keeping with this, I've been reminding myself, at frustrating moments, that to be present with her is the best gift I can give her right now. Even if it is taking inordinately long for her to fall asleep and she keeps waking up or she wants to be held all day long regardless of all the things I think I need to get done, just moving through those hours calmly and without resistance is an amazingly powerful and simple - though sometimes challenging - way to nurture my little one.