Henry Update, July 2015 Edition :)

I am always thinking that I ought to be “journaling” about Henry’s growing-up, and then when I actually finally sit down at a computer I never know exactly what to say! This is probably going to be a slightly boring and inane post unless you are just curious about what is going on in the life of my kidlet, but it is what it is.

Henry turned 2 this May but is tall enough, and has a look to him, that people tend to assume that he is 3. Since he’s still VERY two in his behavior and speech, that can make for some awkward “judgmental stranger” moments! It can be hard for me to remember that he’s really just a baby, sometimes — a long-legged, willful, faster-every-day baby. He’s in a bit of a snuggly phase right now, which is so nice. He loves to back up across the room and then run as fast as he can at Ryan or me, crashing into us with a huge smile and saying “Boom!” If we put on Sesame Street or one of hugglemonster chairhis other shows, he’ll often come sit in our lap to watch, if he’s not playing with something or sitting in his Hugglemonster chair. He loves the “finger spider” game and will take my hand and put it on him so that I’ll tickle him.

In the past couple of weeks, Henry’s imagination has blazed into life. I think it was triggered by me bringing home a lightly pre-loved Cookie Monster Count N Crunch toy. The only stuffed animals Henry had ever paid attention to were the ones who moved and sang/played music, and this one was his favorite Sesame Street character. You open his mouth and put in a plastic cookie, and Cookie Monster wiggles and says something in response. Henry LOVED it and soon progressed from feeding it the approved plastic cookies to sharing his own food — and drinks, yikes! — and ultimately anything he could get to fit in its mouth. Including my big hairclip that turned him into Cookie Cthulhu.

Cookie Monster

And from there, it just took off. Out of nowhere, he noticed his non-electronic stuffed animals. He danced with a plush Superman doll, had conversations with an oversized dinosaur, hugged his Hugglemonster — and went, almost overnight, from liking Scout because of all the different buttons and songs, to cuddling, toting around, and really being attached to Scout even when Scout wasn’t doing anything.

And then the LEGOs! (Technically Mega Blox or Duplo or whatever, I suppose.) Henry had always just thought they were excellent things to throw across the room. Then one day I turned my back for thirty seconds at my parents’ house, and when I turned around he had pulled out a bucket of blocks and built a tower. I didn’t know he even knew how to fit them together! Now he’s a budding LEGO maniac, and it’s so fun to watch him work with them. For a few days he would be utterly devastated when a tower fell down or broke — I’m talking full-on meltdown with enormous tears — but it wasn’t long before he was anticipating structural issues, holding a hand behind a wobbly bit to catch it before it fell, gently readjusting unstable bits until they caught their balance.

lego 1The entire time he plays with LEGOs, he has the most serious look on his face. He carefully picks out which block he wants next (his favorites are the 2x1s), adds it to the tower, steps back, examines his work, and then often circles the tower to check it out from every angle. He’ll get down on his hands and knees or even his stomach and look up at the tower from below. Then he’ll carefully pick another piece and do it again.

One time, his grandpa built a tower. We started to take it down later so Henry could have the blocks, and he pitched a fit — so we put it back the way it was, and he spent several minutes examining it as he built his own tower next to it, copying some elements… I am not going to say that Henry is going to grow up to be an engineer, because I was very block-oriented like this as a kid too and look how I turned out, but right now he is definitely being a junior engineer.

lego 2

Speaking of engineers, he’s very fond of Thomas the Tank Engine. Whenever he sees one of the engines he lights up and says, “It’s a Thomas!” His grandmommy has several of them from garage sales and whatnot, and he likes to line them up in neat little rows and, again, examine them. Woe be to anyone who disturbs those neat little rows, too! (The picture below is one of his earliest lines and is less fastidiously perfect than his current ones. I tried to turn the first Thomas around to match the others and he absolutely wailed.) Are all toddlers this OCD?

lining up thomas

Unfortunately, his current favorite game is to find a piece of furniture that he can get behind — say, a coffee table or a sofa in the middle of a room — and throw everything he can find over said object. I’ve given up at home, and by the time Ryan gets home from summer school the loveseat is generally completely covered with blocks, toy instruments, stuffed animals, sippie cups, my stuff, you name it. Nothing I’ve tried has put any brakes on this behavior, so I’m just waiting it out. Surely the novelty will wear off eventually, right?

Henry’s speech is much better but there are still some issues. He has a LOT of words and phrases but doesn’t use them to communicate needs, which is probably more frustrating for him than anyone else. He just loses his poo when he wants something, and we have to calm him down before we can get him to think logically about it, and the only way to calm him down is to give him the thing that he wants, so he never ends up actually asking for it. I’m not sure what to think or do about that. Speech therapy was frustrating and pretty useless for us, I think. We were going to completely cancel it but now I’m wondering if we should just request a different therapist? Ours seemed very knowledgeable but she was patronizing to us, rarely available due to medical issues, and never really interacted with Henry in any way that seemed to have any purpose. And the “homework” she gave us had zero impact on him — the progress he made just happened, and even when we reported all of the exciting bounds he’d made, she just poo-poohed them and said it wasn’t the right progress. Pretty disheartening. I really don’t think we got anything valuable from the process, and I sorta believe that everything is going to sort itself out at this point, but I WOULD like him to be able to tell me “eat” or “drink” BEFORE the meltdown.

He is, however, very good at telling me (or anyone else, or inanimate objects) “Stop it!” when something happens that he doesn’t like, or doesn’t happen that he would have liked. The other day he bopped his head on a table, turned to it, and admonished it to “Stop it!” That was pretty funny. Oh, and this morning he decided that Paisley was not a “dog” or a “doggy” but a “fuck.” What in the world. I promise we haven’t been using that word to describe our pets, even though they might deserve it!

I gotta say, I’m not worried about his intelligence — and related to the whole “not convinced he’ll be an engineer” thing, his musical intelligence blows me away. He knows the hand movements to “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree” and “Patty Cake,” as well as “I’m Bringing Home a Baby Bumblebee” (he knows all of the words to that one, too). He also knows the ABC song, and can identify all of the letters out of context, including on signs and stuff. He knows “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” AND recognizes that it has the same tune as the ABCs, sometimes mashing the two into one song. He knows “How Much is that Doggy in the Window” although he generally only does the barking part — in rhythm, and at a perfectly tuned fifth interval every time — and “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” There are others, too, that I’m forgetting right this moment. He likes to play the piano, and when he does there is a certain musicality to it that might almost be a little frightening. He doesn’t bang on it just to enjoy the noise; he picks out notes and moves up and down the keyboard, rarely dissonant, and when he plays more than one note and once they’re often at pleasant intervals. I’m not a string player so I have a hard time getting my mind around the idea that you can start kids on violin at 3 — will Henry possibly have the self-control to not destroy a violin when he’s 3??? — but I’m eager to see how his musical abilities develop as he gets bigger.

He’s, uh, very not good at staying still. So many kids his age stick right with their parents, and if he’s not physically restrained he’s GONE. He’s very energetic and investigative and playful, and any hallway or open space screams “racetrack” to him. It’s a little exhausting for his geriatric parents, and we’re working to improve this behavior, but it’s hard. Did I mention how willful he is? I don’t know what the best way to teach a semi-verbal kid about boundaries and prohibited activities is. I know a swat on the bottom might get a message through but we’ve not done that and I’d prefer not to. So it’s kind of a constant thing. I’m definitely learning that there are vastly different personality types in little toddlers. Some kids are clingers and some are runners. Some will follow the line of kids marching in a circle to the music, and some will sit in the middle of the circle until the music stops and then do their own dance. Some want to sit in your lap during storytime and some want to go take the book away from the librarian.

Ryan is teaching summer school for two months and I’m taking this opportunity to realize that I’m probably glad I’m not a SAHM because it is SERIOUSLY HARD WORK to take care of a 2-year-old all day by yourself! Wow! Part of the trouble, of course, is that it has been so hot (and I’ve been under the weather) that we’ve had to spend more time indoors than is probably strictly good for an energetic little boy. This may be related to the throwing-toys game — someone just needs to go outside and run some laps! And someone ELSE needs to come and follow him, because I can’t keep him up with the little munchkin! ūüôā

I can’t even begin to articulate how much respect I have for full-time parents who don’t work outside of the home, especially those who are well and truly on their own. I’ve got it pretty good; it’s only 2 months, I’ve got full contingents of grandparents and aunts/uncle on call, and my reinforcements come home every evening and weekend. Full-time parents are definitely superheroes!

He drove the boat quite a ways on Lucky Peak a few weeks ago. He’s a real waterbaby!

boating

It’s impossible to know where to stop so I guess I’ll just stop here for now. ūüôā

Advertisements

Posting Every Two Months Or So

How do mommybloggers do it? When do parents find time to write? I swear, every drop of my creative energy is poured into being totally interested in the Best Toddler Ever.

It’s been months since a real post. I don’t even know where to begin. I guess I’ll do a quick(ish) update on H’s talking.

We had to miss a speech therapy appointment due to a time conflict, and then our therapist is having surgery, so it’s been a while since she and H have met. Somewhere in there, I guess H just decided that he didn’t really need that stuff anymore, and started yakking. I mean, it’s not like he suddenly opened his mouth and started reciting Shakespeare, but sort of out of the blue he began connecting sounds and gestures to communication, and that was all she wrote. You could almost see it clicking as he figured out that the noises and movements people were making meant something, and that he could get things that he wanted if he did little things like taking our hands and leading us to the object of his desire.

It kind of seems like forever ago (early to mid March) that I was playing with him up in his room, and he turned to his wooden alphabet puzzle and shuffled through the pieces. Then he very deliberately found the Q, held it up, and said “Q!” I froze, shocked; he did it again, with about a third of the letters. How the heck did he learn his alphabet? This is NOT something we’d been trying to teach him! I guess it’s all of the toys and PBS shows… he does love Super Why… We played with this with him and discovered that if we sang the alphabet song and stopped at the natural breaks, he’d tell us the next letter. We never did get a great video, but his enthusiastic “Q!” and “thee-you-thee” (T-U-V) would melt your heart.

And then he turned into a little myna bird (do you, I always thought that was spelled “mynah” until just now, but apparently not), copying back everything anyone said. It started with little things, and then whammo! Everything!

Out of nowhere — and really, no one coached him on this, it was bizarre — he started saying, “Be happy!” So of course we had to jump on that and teach him to say it in response to, “Don’t worry”… and then he started saying that, and that was adorable and silly. Kid can’t say mama and daddy but he knows Bobby McFerrin.

He also sings “choo choo!” at relevant points during “The Chatanooga Choo-Choo,” punctuates the rubber ducky song with appropriate “ba-do-ba-do” and “foh foh foh-de-oh”s, sings parts of “C is for Cookie,” and does a passable Ernie laugh.

On April 11 we were at the bookstore and he was running laps around the picture book section. I was tired and hoping I could get him to settle down for a few minutes, so I picked up a brightly-colored Wonder Woman ABCs board book and called him over. I’m thinking maybe he’ll consent to letting me hold him and read a few pages, but instead he grabs the book away from me, opens it to a random page, points to the large yellow T, and says, “T!” He flipped the pages and I kid you not read every single damn letter in that book. Not the little words, and I guess it’s not too startling that he could recognize letters in a book if he could recognize them in his puzzle, but I was blown away. Since then he’s picked out letters in EXIT signs, television shows, and t-shirts. I keep telling him that he needs to learn to brush his teeth and use a toilet before he has to learn to read, but he’s not interested in my opinion.

This week he’s figured out animal sounds. I guess it’s not that impressive, given his age, that we can bray and he’ll say “donkey,” or we whinny and he says “horse,” but it’s such a huge improvement that it feels to us like he just got his Mensa membership. As of this morning he has monkey, donkey, horse, pig, sheep, cow, dog, and cat. He knows eyes, ears, and nose. He says “uh oh” and “okay” and “oh no” and “hi” and “okay guys” and “kiss” and “bye bye”. Once he said “okay go bye-bye be happy” as we were walking to the car. He says “shoe — feet” and “step up/step down,” except it usually sounds like “sh*t” instead of “step,” but we’ll take it.

He seems so happy. I mean, he’s always loved it when he realizes he’s entertaining. He likes to make people smile and laugh and applaud, and he gets a lot of positive reinforcement when he speaks. If only he knew how happy it will make me the day he says “mama” instead of just knowing what it means!

Also, it might be good for him to learn a few other useful words. I mean, sure, “monkey” comes in pretty handy, but names and things like “milk” or “fix” would probably make his life easier. I know it is my fault that he doesn’t know my name; he’s never had to annoy me to get my attention, or call for me from across the house. I’m too attentive to him, but I don’t regret it. I just really like being in his presence. And I figure he’ll come up with something to call me eventually. ūüôā

Hair Raising

Tonight, my baby boy is getting sleepy and fighting a runny nose, and as a result running at about half speed — maybe slower. He’s just bleary, you know? I was¬†sitting in a chair and he was at my knee, so I picked him up for a snuggle. I expected him to grab my necklace — he’s a big fun of chain necklaces right now — but instead he kind of cocked his head, blinked at something just past my ear, and then reached up and touched my hair.

He ran his fingers through it, pulling them away from my head so that my hair strung out like coppery spiderwebs at Pippi Longstocking angles. As he moved the hair slipped from his fingers and he watched, enchanted, as it fall into new patterns. Then he reached for more, gently — oh so gently — tugging it different directions, feeling it run between his fingers, watching some strands fall quickly and others, charged with static, defy gravity.

Again, and again. Not hurting me, not even looking at¬†me, just mesmerized by the sensation of running his fingers through his mama’s hair.

It’s not an easy time with him right now. He is twenty months old and if, I’m being completely honest with myself, really doesn’t have any words at all. Sometimes he’ll say “num” for food, and he says “no” a lot — to the point where it has become meaningless, just another of his many unintelligible sound effects. He doesn’t follow directions. He doesn’t point or give kisses. He used to wave but that’s dropped off badly in the past couple of weeks. He doesn’t hug; he does a “grab you around the knees” if he wants to be picked up, and when you’ve just walked in to the house that can feel like a hug, but it isn’t. Unless we’re playing a chasey game, he doesn’t really play with us or interact with us, and gets frustrated with us if we try to make him.

He¬†can talk; the list of letter sounds and syllables that he regularly makes far exceeds those on the speech table for those commonly made by 2-year-olds. He¬†can point and wave and hug. He just…¬†doesn’t.

He climbs like a kid twice his age, plays with fairly complicated toys, dances to music, and has just triumphantly learned how to use a straw. He laughs and smiles and makes eye contact and is appropriately shy-and-then-flirty with strangers. He is the most beautiful little boy I’ve ever seen. When he plays piano — either reaching up to the real thing, or sitting down Schroeder-like at his Melissa & Doug upright — his noodling sounds increasingly deliberate and melodic.

I wouldn’t trade a thing. But what I wouldn’t give to sit down next to him and have him smile and say, “Hi mama.” What I wouldn’t give to have him point for something he wants instead of just angrily groping for it. What I wouldn’t give for him to want to communicate with me. My emotional strength is strained badly, between different facets of my life, and most days I’m not strong enough not to feel like I am failing at everything. I get a gold medal in loving my boy, but raising him? Teaching him? Failure.

We’ve had two evaluations with the Infant & Toddler program now. He’s qualified for speech therapy; he’s behind in three different types of speech, although the only one whose name I remember right now is reactive. Maybe adaptive? And… whatever they call it when you’re talking without prompting/reacting. We were supposed to have appointments every two weeks starting in the new year but we haven’t been contacted by our provider yet, and work has been so hard this month that we haven’t remembered to call until after their offices have closed for the day. And so it’s a cycle: Tell him good-bye, go to work and get caught up in the whirling maelstrom that is life in a middle school, get home, remember that something isn’t right, reach for the phone only to see the time, and then spend all evening irritated that I forgot to call (and that they fell down on their commitment to call themselves).

Except this¬†evening, I’m not¬†irritated. My baby is sitting in my lap, adjusting his seat for a better angle, facing me with a rapt look on his face. He’s got a fistful of hair in each hand and is gently, so gently, pulling them until I’ve got enormous wispy wings unfurled on each side of my face. He pulls the hair forward, curtaining my eyes. He grabs more hair before the first handful slips away and shakes his hand free of the resulting loose snarls.

From this angle, his face looks thinner, older. Every few minutes I catch a breathtaking glimpse of what he’ll look like when he’s old enough to be one of my students. He is breathing through his mouth because of the stuffy nose, and making soft little puffing sounds with his rosebud lips. His eyes are pink-rimmed but so bright. His nose, his chin — God, how I love that chin. I steal kisses from his cheeks when he turns his head to consider which lock of hair to seize next. He is mesmerized. I am bewitched. We could both sit here for hours.

I duck my head a little so that I’m in his line of sight, say his name, and am rewarded with a moment of distracted eye contact. He’s in the middle of playing with his new favorite toy, but he pauses to look at me with a look on his face that I crave like the cliched drowning man craves oxygen. It looks like love. It looks like he loves me.

Ninety Minutes of Parenthood: An Idyll

It is nine o’clock at night. I’d really love to be asleep or, lacking that, curling up with¬†my book in a hot bubble bath for a few minutes. But my husband, who is blessed with the responsibility of teaching 160 twelve-year-olds about Ancient Rome in the morning, is busy preparing an activity, and my eleven-month-old son is unhappy. He’s been a little fussy all day, but now that it is time for bed he’s weepy and can’t be distracted. He is fed, dry, warm, pajamaed, but still miserable. I’ve walked him, bounced him, nursed him, read to him, but still he cries.

I’m lying with him on my bed. The door to the master bathroom is open, and the light is on. My baby keeps pulling away from me to stare at or reach toward that glowing block of light. Sometimes when he’s in a foul mood he can be mollified by presenting him to Mirror Baby, so I pick him up and step toward the bathroom.

As we cross the threshold the tears stop. I can see in the mirror that his eyes are red and swollen, but now he’s grinning. The only problem is, he’s not looking at Mirror Baby. Instead, he’s looking past the mirror to the far end of the bathroom — at what, I’m not sure.

I bounce and talk to him for a few minutes, and when it seems that the storm has passed, take a step out of the bathroom. Instantly¬†he is sobbing again, tears flowing, writhing and reaching past me back into the bathroom. I’m mystified. I offer him music, milk — nothing. He is inconsolable.

So I step back into the bathroom. Peace descends. He smiles. And yet once again Mirror Baby is shunned in favor of… the bathtub?

I look at the tub, then at my blotchy-faced baby boy. He is smiling and babbling as he reaches with one arm toward the tub, his eyes darting between it and one of his bath toys that has fallen to the floor and been forgotten.

“It’s nine o’clock,” I tell him, in case he cares. “Do you really want a bath? This much?

And heaven forgive me, but I’m weighing my desire to make him happy with my lack of desire to set up a bath, get him ready, supervise and bathe him, and clean up afterward. Surely he doesn’t really mean it. Surely we could put this off until tomorrow after work, when I’m not so tired, when I still have my contacts in, when I’m not already dressed and ready for bed.

I try persuading¬†him. “You’re in your pajamas. We just changed your diaper. We’d have to redo all of it. And you hate being dried off. It’s cold in here, do you really want to get all wet?”

“Dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit-dit,” he replies, beaming and waving at the shower curtain.

So much for logic.

“Just so you know,” I tell him, “if you really want a bath, you’re going to have to wait in your bed until I get it ready. And you’re not going to like that.” To prove my point, I step out of the bathroom and toward his room. He immediately stretches himself out to his full length, locks every joint in his body, and wails until he can’t catch his breath. I steel myself and deposit my opinionated baby in his crib. He is red up to the edge of his mussed blond curls; even the wet whites of his eyes are bright pink. I can hear him bawling as I pull out the baby bath, set it up in the big tub, and begin running the water. I add some bubbles and his toys, get the temperature right, and set his despised towel on the toilet. Then I¬†take the precaution of removing my pajama pants and placing my own towel close at hand.

When I return to his room, he looks up at me with the face of the hopeful betrayed.

I smile. “Okay then. You wanted a bath; a bath it is.”

He reaches up, and I lift him from his bed. His delight is radiating off him until I stop at the foot of the bed to remove his pajamas and diaper, at which point he realizes that he has reached a new low, that nothing else in his life has ever been so cruel as this moment, that he is¬†this close to paradise¬†and being denied once again, and it takes me three times as long as it ought to undress him because he won’t bend his knees or stop howling.

Finally he’s naked, and I scoop him up and carry him into the bathroom as quickly as I can. The second my bare feet hit the tile, the crying stops. His face is streaked with tears, but it is the face of perfect joy. I kneel down next to the bathtub and he pulls away from me, trying — for all that he can’t yet stand or walk unsupported — to climb over the side of the tub to get in. “Hold your horses,” I scold, get a better grip on him, and lift him into the water.

He smiles, sighs, reaches down under the water¬†to assure himself that his new favorite toy (yes, that toy) is still where he left it, then digs through the bubbles until he finds his bath book. It’s about eight plastic pages long, each with a smiling¬†cartoon dinosaur doing various dinosaurish things, and is one of my son’s most treasured possessions. He recognizes somehow¬†that it is upside-down and rotates¬†it, then opens to the page with the pink pterodactyl. He leans back in the bubbles, turns a page, and coos happily. Like mother, like son: looks like I wasn’t the only one who wanted a bath and a book tonight.

After he finishes reading and I’ve scrubbed everything from the neck down, he switches the book for a cube-shaped squirt toy. This is another favorite. He submerges it between his legs, squishing it with both hands, then raises it just above the water level so that he can see where the hole is. He’ll turn the toy around and around until the hole is aligned correctly, then squirts himself in the belly with it over and over, repeating the process several times. While he is looking down, I take the opportunity to wash his hair. As I’m rinsing his hair, he looks up at the wrong moment and gets a cupful of water to the face. For a moment it looks like his enchantment with the bath has come to a rapid end, but I pat his eyes dry and he returns to his toys.

He’s all clean now, but there is still water in the tub, which means that bathtime isn’t over. His facial expression changes from glee to grim determination, and I scoot back as far as I can from the side of the tub as the Great Kicking begins. He kicks and kicks with a singleness of purpose that seems a little bizarre¬†on his sweet baby face. The sudsy water flies, first jumping just a few inches within the baby bath, and then leaping in great two-foot-tall tsunamis out of his bath, sloshing over the side of the big tub¬†and onto the linoleum. I keep one hand on his back (he’s really rocking now and would kick himself right over if I didn’t) while mopping up water with the other. My glasses are spotted with water; my hair is wet. Only experience and finely honed powers of anticipation keep my shirt from getting drenched, but it soon begins to feel a little damp, too.

Splash! Splash! Splash! The only thing that makes him pause is when he manages to splash himself in the face; he doesn’t like that, but it isn’t enough to dissuade him. When the water hits him between the eyes, he stops and glowers a bit at his feet, as if to tell them not to do that again, and then returns to the task at hand. The water level in the baby bath¬†drops rapidly. Almost no bubbles remain. One of his bath toys has been completely evicted, carried away in the wake¬†of a particularly enthusiastic kick. “Yeeeeeeee!” he yells at one point, telling the faucet who’s boss, his excited voice echoing off the tile and no doubt waking the neighbors.

I’m trying to dry off my glasses enough to see as¬†he splashes a big one right into my face. He laughs, amply avenged for the hair-rinsing incident.

Before long, he is victorious over the bath. The water is all but gone, kicked out of the baby bath and down the drain or into the bath mat. His skin is getting chilly and his hair is plastered down against his scalp, straight as a pin for the few minutes until it dries. I get his towel into position and apologize to him preemptively; he truly hates being toweled off. He is still smiling as I lift him out of the tub and into his towel, but I’ve no sooner wrapped it around him than he is looking me in the eyes, indignant, yelling.

“It’s hard to look suitably angry when you’re wrapped in a ducky towel,” I tell him, drying him off as quickly as possible. He complains at top volume as I re-diaper him, to the point that his daddy comes upstairs to see why I’m pulling off all the baby’s toenails. By some miracle of parental tag-teaming we get him back into his pajamas as he twists and turns. I forgo brushing his hair in favor of offering him some milk, figuring that crazy hair in the morning is a price we’re all happy to pay.

The milk does the trick. My exhausted boy snuggles into the crook of my arm and drinks his fill. I shift him out of my arms and onto the bed just long enough to set the bottle down, and he immediately rolls over onto his stomach and is fast asleep. When I carry him into his room at 10:30 and lay him down in his crib, he doesn’t stir and will sleep peacefully until morning.

Stands With a Fist

There is a lot of good literature and art out there, but I think the real test of how great something is is whether you don’t immediately love it, but find that it wriggles into your brain and takes on new life there, growing connections from it to other things in your mind and in doing so, illuminating them. By that measure, the best thing I’ve read/seen recently is this comic by a Canadian schoolteacher who anonymously web-publishes under the name Lunarbaboon:

"Dress" by Lunarbaboon

 

I don’t know if this cartoon is based on the artist’s real life, or was inspired by this news story, or whether it just came out of his imagination.

What I do know, though, is that I love it, because I love that dad’s love for his son, but more importantly because I understand why he is clenching his fist in the last panel. Not because he’s angry at the taunting boys, or because he’s embarrassed — but because he’s ashamed of the first four panels.

I’ve never been really great at the whole “friend” thing. That may be an understatement. I was way too bossy as a child, and am too hermit-like as an adult. And in the middle, as a teenager and young adult? I was entertaining. I was smart and full of energy, and I loved my friends, and loved making them laugh — and as anyone knows, the easiest jokes are those made at someone else’s expense. So I poked and teased at my friends. Everyone had a great time. After all, the things I teased my friends about were patently ridiculous, right? So it was harmless, as harmless as someone teasing me about having green hair or being a great athlete.

My very best friend got the worst of it. Stupid jokes and pranks. Things that were calculated to make him blush because he did it so beautifully. Things that goofed on his masculinity. Things that I thought he found funny, too, until a few years passed and it turned out that none of it had been funny, because I had been hitting far too close to home and — completely obliviously, but still inexcusably — adding to a chorus of bullying that he suffered from people who weren’t his friends. I realized that while I had thought of him as my best friend, I had been¬†his worst friend.

The thing is, when he wasn’t around, I was his staunchest defender. For example, I remember vividly a day in a senior class when I overheard some boys I didn’t even know making fun of him, and I made a big scene. But what good is someone who has your back while they’re stabbing you in the front?

So yeah. It has probably been ten years since I last pulled any of that crap on my friend, but I’m still haunted by it. I’ve apologized, and he’s told me that it’s okay, but something like a fist clenches inside me whenever something reminds me of the “hilarious” things I said or did back when I was a dumb adolescent attention-seeker. I work in secondary schools, so trust me — something reminds me a¬†lot. It’s a vastly different world now than when I was in secondary school; even teaching in very conservative areas, I’ve had many openly gay and bisexual students. Still, I regularly see and hear things that make me cringe — and more often than not, it’s a “friend” (or worse, a teacher) instead of a bully who does it.

Depending on what study you believe, between 4-10% of Americans are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. I taught for five years with 120-200 students each year, which means that I’ve been an important adult in the life of between 32 and 80 LGBT teenagers (not including whatever ambiguous relationship I now have as a middle school librarian). And even though things are better for young LGBT people now, compared to when I was growing up, it certainly isn’t easy. Hell, is middle school easy for anyone? Tack on doubts or fears about sexual orientation, and you’re talking about a hellish few years.

Now, wearing a skirt isn’t exactly going to be an earth-shaking gesture for me. There’s precious little on a visual level that a female educator can do that compares to a dad in a dress. But every day I feel like I’m readying myself to put on that metaphorical skirt.¬†I work in a field and in a part of the country where you don’t exactly feel at ease about acknowledging the existence of non-hetero orientation around kids, much less starting up a GSA, but I try to do what I can to be an actual friend for the kiddos I work with when they need one. I can’t afford to lose my job (and it’s dreadful to think that’s even a possibility, but any of my friends who work in public education know it is) but I’d like to think that if called upon, I’d be standing on the right side of the line. I know I’ve tried to be there on the smaller occasions when the occasion presented itself. Little things. Quietly ordering and distributing rainbow armbands. Doing presentations on literature with LGBTQ protagonists and putting those titles on the shelves of my classroom library… working towards getting them on the shelves of a school library… gently working to shift the perspective of colleagues who have seen the world move too fast for them to keep up. Smiling and “loving on” the kids who may not know it yet but who are pulling a strong 5-6 on the Kinsey scale. Thinking once, twice, three times before making that joke or that remark. Moving quickly and firmly to correct students when they are less thoughtful.

A lot can change in a decade or so. You get older, often taller, usually wider, and sometimes — if you’re lucky enough to have your eyes pried open — wiser. Although, now that I say “wiser,” I hate that word in this context. After all, it was being a wise-ass that causes me my shame.

Instead, I am reminded of my favorite moment in my favorite movie:

For years, I was smart. I recommend pleasant. I recommend being kind, open-hearted, loving. I recommend thinking about how your words or actions might be hurting someone you love before you inflict them, rather than years later. And yes; you may quote me.

 

Enjoy It Now!

If I fuss, I’m not fussing at you. Unless I am, in which case, you might deserve it. But I fuss because I love. Or because I’m hungry and hormonal. One of those things.

I’m eager to join the Sorority of Motherhood, but a great deal about it mystifies me.¬†Among the many things I wish I understood: Why do parents want to make expectant parents believe that parenthood is so awful?

I’m not talking about people who didn’t want kids, either. I’m talking about people who wanted and love their children. People who are happy for you when they find out you’re going to have one of your own.

People who are delighted to point out that YOUR LIFE IS OVER! Mwa ha ha!

Let me give you some examples.

Me: “We go to movies at the dollar theater about once a week.”

Other Parent:

You mean, you USED TO go to movies!

Okay, so obviously, I am about to hit a stage in my life when my evening entertainment options are going to be sharply curtailed. No impromptu nights at the ballet for me for a few years! But will having a baby really mean that I can’t join the other parents-of-babies in the back row of the DOLLAR THEATER once a week or so? I mean, it’s a buck. If I have to go out into the lobby, so be it. Oh, and it’s not as if I don’t have family and friends in town — not to mention a growing network of teenagers and young adults — who couldn’t watch Pablo for a couple of hours.¬†

Here’s another one:

Me: “I have a really busy weekend: class all day Saturday, and two different performances.”

Other Parent:

Ha! You don't even know what a busy weekend looks like yet!

You’re right. I’ve never had a busy weekend before. Quick, someone call early 2000s me and let me know how easy I’ve got it. Yes, of¬†course I know that my life is going to get busier and busier as Pablo grows up, joins activities, and gains siblings. Heaven help me if he decides he wants to do soccer or ballet or something; I don’t think those parents ever see the insides of their homes. But given the wee tyke’s genetic makeup, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if those busy weekends consist of long trips to the library and occasional mathalons… which, trust me, will seem downright relaxing compared to this past weekend or to just about any weekend I ever had throughout college.

A standard theme:

Me: “I found a cute shirt on sale the other day.”

Other Parent:

You'll never buy clothes for yourself again -- enjoy it now!

Dude. I shop at Ross, thrift stores, and clearance racks. Yeah, I’m a little bit enamored of the Tiny Clothes Section, and I know he’ll grow out of every thing the minute I put it on him. But somehow I don’t think I’ll magically lose the ability to clothe myself just because I’m a mom… and even if I do put my clothing-purchasing energies into kiddy clothes,¬†that’s okay because I’m still enjoying myself. Right?

Here’s a recent favorite:

Me: “I’m enjoying the fact that I just got my car washed and vacuumed.”

Other Parent:

Your car will never be clean again!!!

Okay, so, really? I’m not a neat freak (as my mom reads this, she is probably laughing out loud) and I’ve never really prioritized having a spotless car. Heck, I’m one of those teachers who basically lives out of her car during the school year. Yesterday, as a gift/payment for some help I gave Ryan with his student council stuff (hey, I’m not above being bribed) I got my car washed and lightly detailed. It’s the first time that it’s been really clean since we bought it, and you know how much time it took? Half an hour. Do I know that kids stain upholstery and stuff Cheerios and pacifiers in places that you didn’t even know your car had? Of course I do! But do¬†you know how many ooooold homework assignments, flattened granola bars, lost (unopened) cans of Coke, and forgotten thrift store book purchases you can find between the seat cushions on a car that has NEVER had a child in it? Because I do. And besides, just because there’s a car seat back there doesn’t mean that anyone is going to tell me:

you shall not wash your car

I guess it’s just kind of getting to the point where I feel like people really want to make sure I know that

being a parent sucks

which is weird, because I know none of them actually believe that. Quite the opposite, actually. So maybe they’re just trying to tell me that

being a parent is hard and different

Nevertheless, it’s kind of off-putting. I’d been warned to expect horror stories about childbirth (which I don’t mind, actually, but which I haven’t really encountered) but not really about the onslaught of ENJOY IT NOW comments.

The thing is… I’m 32 years old, which I guess isn’t very old, but I’ve been married for almost nine years and have wanted to have a baby for several of those. We put it off for reasons of finances/job stability/insurance. Then, when we felt like our life situation had caught up with our desire to expand our family, we began trying — and had no luck. We went to doctors, did invasive tests, took medicine that made me very ill, injected hormones into my stomach, had to make split-second decisions about risky interventions. We spent surreptitious moments investigating the costs and logistics of adoption. We watched, sick at heart, while people we knew got pregnant with babies they didn’t want and, in some cases, didn’t have. We fought back feelings of bitterness and jealousy when we wanted to be congratulatory and happy for friends. We rode the neverending roller coaster of hope, results, and despair. Then we got pregnant, and then we had a miscarriage. And it was horrible. And then we got pregnant again, and this time it stuck.

God in heaven, we are ready for a little bit of stinky, fussy, time-consuming inconvenience in our lives. We are ready to not just be Ryan-and-Kate. We are ready to stop falling through the crack between “young singles” and “married with kids”; we’re ready to be able to put up family photos and to not be thoughtlessly scolded by students and relatives who want to know if we aren’t getting a little old to have not had any kids yet. We are ready for milk stains, soggy Cheerios, dirty diapers, soccer practices, ballet recitals, all-night barfing marathons, Chuck E Cheese…

Will I go on Facebook and exclaim at how different — how hard — how busy — my new life is? Almost certainly.

Will I complain sometimes? Probably — especially if there’s vomit involved. Or poop-painting. That’s gonna be “fun”.

But I wanted this. I want this.

So bring on the interrupted and skipped movies, busy weekends, outdated wardrobes, and dirty cars. I am more than ready.

My life isn’t over. My life — the life where I get to grow old surrounded by my children and grandchildren, the life where I get to do the one thing that seems truly important to me — is just beginning.

Mommy Wars Boot Camp

supermomI reckon I always knew that moms were opinionated about How Things Should Be Done in regards to child-rearing. And I’m from the Internet; I know perfectly well that there is nothing more opinionated than someone standing on a digital soapbox, hidden behind a veil of pseudonymic¬†anonymity. Even still, I guess I was unprepared on some level for what the Mommy Wars were really like — and I daresay, I’m still enough of a greenhorn that I am really only aware of the tip of the iceberg.

Everyone has an opinion. Everyone is doing it the right way. And everyone assumes that you are ready and eager to be proselytized. Women who would froth at the mouth in irritation if a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness knocked at the door salivate at the opportunity to push their own Doctrine of Appropriate Parenting on their friends, relatives, and people they once went to high school with but now only know through a dormant Facebook connection.

No sooner did I go public with news of our pregnancy than it began. Now, my friends generally know that I’m the sort of person who informs myself about the issues and who doesn’t need to be told what to think, so I didn’t get a¬†ton of unsolicited advice from people I personally knew. The thing is, if you read anything about pregnancy and parenting (especially online) you’ll quickly discover that nothing is neutral. Even the most benign-looking mommyblogs are really written in such a way that you walk away feeling chastised (or affirmed!) after reading.

And really — who would have thought that people would care so much about the sort of diaper you strap to your kid’s bum? Who would believe that store-bought baby food would inspire such heated emotions, or that one’s chosen location for labor and delivery could call down condemnation? Vaccinations! Sleeping arrangements! Nursery decorations!

Circumcision, of course, is a big one. The minute it became known that my baby had a penis, I began getting unwanted advice and pressure about what I should do about it. (In this category I will forgive my student, C, who was so amusingly disappointed that it wasn’t a girl that he told me, “Maybe it will fall off! I¬†know it’s a girl!”)

And don’t even get me started on breastfeeding. HOLY MAMMARIES is that a hot topic! Some of the remarks I’ve read on this subject have literally taken my breath away; it seems that nothing pushes more mommy buttons than the source of a baby’s nourishment. I’ve sensed disdain on the other subjects, but when you read about womens’ opinions on breastfeeding, there is — shockingly frequently — hate clearly written on the page. Astonishing. (I think my favorite diatribe so far attacked people who claimed to have satisfactorily survived being fed formula and said that any text that even acknowledged the existence of formula and bottles was engaging in a subliminal campaign to subvert the breastfeeding culture. Did someone page Mel Gibson?)

And on a certain level, I guess I get it. Intelligent, worldly, well-informed people often adopt causes and become very passionate about them. They feel that they are improving, even saving, the world. These women are warriors, evangelists, superheroes fighting against the evils of powdered formula or the nefarious scheme of the epidural-free delivery. (And yes; lest you think I’m just complaining about Granola Moms, the same sort of thing is coming from all sides of pretty much every debate.)

As an intelligent, worldly, well-informed person myself, I have my own opinions about how I want to give birth to and raise this baby. Am I going to share them all here? Nope. (Ladies and gentlemen, what my husband and I decide to do or not do with our son’s foreskin is none of your business.) Are you likely to figure some of them through casual mentions of things like feeding, etc.? Of course. But I’d like to think that I’ll be able to keep from trying to change¬†your mind, or make you feel in some way inferior if your opinions and choices differ from mine. I’d like to think that I will practice what I preach: every baby, every family, is different, and you should do what works for you and yours.

And yet.

I can feel it.

In the past few weeks, in one-on-one conversations and online, I’ve caught myself getting a little hot under the collar over other women’s pregnancy/delivery/childraising decisions. Something stirs inside me and I want to¬†educate them, I want to tell them why they are¬†wrong to think as they do. Worse, I feel a wall coming up between myself and that person — the “How can we even be friends if you believe that?” wall that is all-to0-familar to many of us during political season.

(Maybe that’s the thing I’m trying to get to here… maybe parenting is a never-ending political campaign, and in today’s culture of “I can say anything I want however I’d like because I am ONLINE and that is MY RIGHT,” maybe things have just gotten ugly.)

It’s ridiculous! I’m doing the very thing that I dislike! What in the world?

If I’m being honest with myself, I think that the primary thing I’ve started to feel is defensiveness. I still, ultimately, don’t care whether Friend A has an epidural or Friend B uses bottles or Friend C sews her own cloth diapers and drinks placenta smoothies while doing naked baby pilates in her front yard. Maybe I just don’t want them to disapprove of me.¬†And isn’t that a stupidly normal sort of thing to wish? Ah, the pangs of caring what other people think… so dumb. So self-defeating. Such a waste of time and mental energy!

So I write this, both as a reminder to myself and a preemptive apology to you. I may not understand why you would choose to do such-and-such, and I may even think you are quite wrong. (There are, if I’m truthful, a few parenting issues that I think do have a universally right and wrong answer.) But I will do my level best not to preach, proselytize, patronize, or… er… something that starts with “p” that means condemn. And if I do — I’m sorry. The Mommy Wars… they change a person. ūüôā