Thursday, April 30, 2009

Walkin' the Dogs

Where have I been? worrying about swine flu, meeting with contractors, calling roofers, trying to decide on black-out blinds for the boy who likes 5:45 a.m., feeling tired, cleaning the kitchen, having the appraiser over, cleaning the entire house for the appraiser, dealing with bubs' new round of mama-separation-anxiety brought on by - i don't know - swine flu?

etc etc etc

But as a mea culpa for my silence so far this week (how did it get to be Thursday already anyway), I offer you a very cute picture of a very cute boy, walkin' his doggies. 

There are three of them in that compact bundle in his arms, Bernese Mountain dogs (purebred of course), one "old doggie" and two "fluffy doggies." Lately, Elan has been into making them into a family. Ironically, old doggie is the baby, and the fluffies are mama and dada doggie. It gets even more mind-bending when he says, "What happened to old doggie? Old doggie gonna turn into fuffy doggie." This always reminds me of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I haven't seen, or my MFA professor's book The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which represent the only version of reality I can think of in which old doggie has a chance of reinhabiting his former fluffy self.

But honestly, if he had the choice, I don't think he'd want to. Old doggie is the one Elan reaches for, the one whose ear he massages all night long, the one he searches for when he needs comfort or companionship or just someone to toss around and hear land with a satisfying stuffed-animal plop on the hard slate floor. What doggie in his right mind would give up that kind of love?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Easiest Pet Ever

Ladybugs. They're cute, non-threatening to a kid who's getting a little afraid of bees and spiders (I have no idea where he gets that from), and they eat up to 50 common garden pests a day! Plus, at $7.50 plus tax for 1,500, how can you go wrong?

We bought a container of little ladies at a local garden store. At first, bubs was not so interested. The ladybugs were fresh out of the refrigerator and in serious hibernation mode. But then we walked outside into the 80 degree heat and BOOM they were awake! They crawled over each other, making mounds out of their small speckled bodies, to reach the ventilation holes punched in the top of the container. Elan was fascinated. He held the container and stared raptly all the way home.

That night, before I put the ladies to bed in the fridge for the night, I held the container up to my ear and listened to the little pit-pat of 1,500 tiny bodies in motion. A sound like miniature raindrops.

Now if I can just keep them alive until we get around to releasing them in the garden...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A First Conversation

On the tire swing with his friend Torben --

Elan: Torben, look at all the babies! (nods head toward four babies stretched out together on a blanket in the shade)

Torben: Wow. That's a lot of babies.

E: One two three four. Four babies.

T: Four babies!

E: You want to go to Little Farm, Torben?

T: Yeah! Chickens.

E: Cows.

T: Pigs.

E: Woosters

T: Giraffes.

E: Elephants.

They both nod in understanding, like: I got ya, dude.

T: We're on the swing.

E: With Mama.

T: Elan!

E: Torben!

T: Rebaca!

Giggles. Shrieks of excitement.

Now I know it's probably just because I'm related to one of them, but this was so darn cute. It went on for a while, the conversation rambling here and there, touching on their various obsessions (Elan is way into babies suddenly; Torben loves animals). This was the first time I have heard Elan follow a train of thought with another kid his age. A conversation! I was on the tire swing with them, which was why I had such a good listening vantage, and I called Torben's mom Karina over to witness it. Thanks for the picture, Karina.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Charming in Bed

Lately Elan loves hanging out in Mama and Dada's bed. 
Something about not liking to sleep in his own...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Battle Lines

When I was pregnant with Elan, there was one question that most concerned the friends and family members who knew us best. It was usually delivered around 1 p.m. on a Sunday, after we arrived late for a get-together, still shaking off the effects of our weekend morning sleep-a-thon. They would look from one to the other of us, shake their heads, and say: "So, who's going to get up in the morning with the baby?"

In our lives B.C., Mikhail and I were both committed night-people. And even more than that, we were committed not-morning people. If 2 a.m. was a time we regularly saw voluntarily, 6:30 a.m. was usually greeted with moans and curses directed towards whatever force see fit to awaken us at such an ungodly hour. We were the kinds of people who tended to roll in a little on the late side to work, but could still easily be going strong at 6 p.m. It's not that we couldn't get up in the morning. It's just that it left both of us feeling a little - well - ill.

When the question was put to us, we usually made light of it. "We're hoping for one of those night-person babies," we'd say, despite assurances from friends who knew such things that such babies were few and far between. I did have moments, during my pregnancy, of worry about the mornings and about lack of sleep in general. But given the general instability of our lives while I was pregnant, my mind tended to be occupied by more pressing matters like where we were going to live and if Mikhail was going to find a job before the baby was born.

Of course, a part of me knew that the way the Universe tends to work is to challenge you with the thing you are least well prepared for. According to this line of reason, I fully assumed that I was going to have a boy, because I was sure I had no clue about what to do with a boy. Similarly, or maybe because the powers-that-be just enjoy a good joke, I assumed our child would probably not be a great sleeper.

My sixth-sense was probably also rooted in a physical phenomena. Late in my first trimester of pregnancy, Elan's affection for 5 a.m. was already evidenced by the fact that I used to wake up around that time, wide-awake and hungry. Once I could actually feel him move, the hour before dawn was frequently his most active time of day. I would get up, have a snack, and pace around till he quieted. I was practicing early-morning baby soothing before I even had a baby out of the womb.

Oh, if I had known then the months of starting my day at 5 a.m. that were in store for me... I might have moved back to Peru and hired a full-time, live-in nanny who liked to get up in the morning. Hmmm... that still sounds like a pretty good idea.

The reality is that Elan is a marginal sleeper at best, occasionally dressed in the guise of a decent sleeper and frequently showing his true colors as a truly terrible sleeper. And even worse than his overall sleep performance, he is a morning person. Elan is the only person in our house who is cheerful at 6 a.m., even though the rest of us are usually awake at that hour too. This morning was a prime example. At 5:45 a.m., when we heard the first cry (he always wakes up crying and screaming, never peacefully like some children I hear legend of), we both rolled over. "It's still dark out," Mikhail whispered. "Ha-rung-rumph," I muttered angrily, while in my head I was screaming NOOOOOOOO. These days, I put up with 6:20 a.m., but any wake-up call before 6 a.m. that is not caused by illness or a foreign body in the diaper makes me irate. 

After torturing our neighbors - I mean - letting him cry - for fifteen minutes, Mikhail went in and retrieved Elan. The boys came back into the bedroom, where I gave Elan a stern talking-to before handing over his bottle. And then he proceeded to regale us with cheerfulness for the next hour, chatting and banging his doggie against our noses and kicking us in the nether regions as we both continued our denial state, drifting off when the other was getting the brunt of the toddler love.

Elan's sleep issues tend to range around these days. They are difficult to pin down because they change about every two weeks. Just when we think we've dealt with one problem (lack of naps, waking up in the night, waking up too early, not going to sleep on his own), another crops up to take its place. It's not that Elan can't, or doesn't, sleep. In fact, most nights in the last year, he has slept more or less through the night. It's that he doesn't like to sleep. He resists it, and he is stubborn and strong-willed and smart enough to constantly be figuring out new ways to resist.

Unfortunately Elan's sleep escapades don't only affect him. They have a huge effect on the functioning of our whole family, most notably me. Apply the saying when Mama ain't happy ain't nobody happy to our house, and it sounds more like: when Mama ain't rested, ain't nobody happy. Over the course of Elan's two years and four months, I have realized that my mechanisms for dealing with lack of sleep weren't as good as I thought pre-baby. I actually become quite a difficult and nasty person when I am chronically sleep-deprived, noticeably short on patience, energy and sense of humor - three of the integral ingredients to dealing with children, especially ones who are themselves over-tired.

This realization led Mikhail and me into that most difficult terrain of parenting: sleep training. We started sleep training with Elan when he was five months old and had backslid from 3-4 hours of sleep at a time to waking every other hour in the night, wanting to nurse, cry, play, and generally do anything except sleep. Our method has generally been cry-it-out, gut-wrenching and necessary. What I never thought was that we'd have to do it over again and again and again and again and again. My guide through it all has been my dear friend Meg, mom of three good-sleepin' boys, who has put up with more teary, desperate phone calls than I ever imagined I was capable of making. And though I have given advice to a half-dozen other mamas on sleep training, looking at us would hardly inspire confidence in the method. I admit that I often sugar-coat our situation to moms who are starting to sleep-train their kids, and that is because I am keenly aware of how badly we would all sleep if we hadn't sleep-trained Elan. I imagine 11 p.m. serenades, 2 a.m. hoe-downs, and 5 a.m. picnics. 

The truth is that, in our household, sleep is a long-term battle, and for me, the single most difficult part of parenting Elan. There are times when peace reigns over the land. But I have given up thinking that it is ever for good. Inevitably, in a day or a week or (when things are really going well) a month, an incursion will happen. First it looks like a random event, perhaps precipitated by a blanket thrown off in the night or teething pain. We do not return fire. And then another incident. We scramble for a short-term plan. Then a bomb drops in the night. The battle lines are drawn. In the bleary morning, we contemplate the appropriate strategic response to dish out. Review the rules of engagement that have eventually led to truce in the past. Sometimes it escalates to full-out war, as in three nights ago when it took an hour of screaming before Elan finally collapsed into sleep.

More and more, we are attempting to reason with the adversary, appeal to the part of our dear and darling son who knows that he would be happier if he were not chronically over-tired. I'm perfectly willing to try bribery as well. I'll let you know if either strategy ever pans out. In the meantime, I'll be the one watching re-runs of Grey's Anatomy on my laptop at 8 p.m., headphones firmly lodged in my ears, volume turned up high, praying for peace to soon return to the land.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Friday Tastes Like Lemon

Elan seems to love the order of reciting lists. He started with the alphabet, then went on to numbers, which he's still completely obsessed with, and now he's added days of the week, which he's learning in nursery school during circle time.

Early Monday morning, just after he finished his ritual good-morning bottle snuggled in our bed, he turned to me and greeted me with a new affirmation. "Today is Tuesday."

"It's not Tuesday," I said. "Today is Monday."

"Today is Monday," he repeated, as he reached a hand out to touch my cheek. And then, very seriously, shaking his head: "We don't eat Monday."

This has continued all week. At least once a day, he offers up his version of what day of the week it is, waits for me to correct him, and then states solemnly: "We don't eat Thursday." Or "Wednesday." Or whatever day it happens to be. It cracks me up every time. All I can manage in response is mute agreement.

But it has started me thinking. If they were edible, what would a day taste like?

So here's my list. And yes, I do like all these foods.

Monday: lentils with fried onions. Strong and sturdy.
Tuesday: banana. Just plain banana.
Wednesday: meatballs and spaghetti. Fill-me-up comfort.
Thursday: Thai-style sauteed eggplant. Roasty exotica.
Friday: crisp little lemony cookies. Fresh, hopeful.
Saturday: flourless chocolate cake, with chocolate ganache, strawberries and fresh whipped cream. Pure decadence.
Sunday: homemade chicken noodle soup, with matzoh balls for good measure. A deep breath for the week ahead.

Try it. It's fun. And it just might help you answer that interminable question What's for dinner?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

On Discovering the Toddler's Favorite Pronoun

It used to be that bubs exclusively referred to himself in the second person. "You want to go outside," he'd whine, hanging on the door handle. "You excited!" when asked if he wanted to go to Baby Gym, the padded room populated with gymnastic mats, a ball pit, and a jumping house at our Y. "That's your doggie," he'd say, planting kisses on his stuffed dog's crusty fur. "That's not what you want!" he'd blubber when offered cheddar rather than string cheese.

It made sense. "You" was, after all, the pronoun we used to refer to him. And it was cute. Something to make his parents smile even during a major scream-fest. The experts would probably tsk-tsk me for this one, but I never corrected him. I have to admit I hoped he would hold onto the habit for a while, while knowing full well something that cute probably couldn't last with a child so linguistically inclined.

True enough. In the past few weeks, a new word has surfaced in my little guy's vocabulary, the toddler's favorite pronoun, and he has taken to it with gusto.

"That's mine!" he shouts now, his small body filled with the appropriate toddler rage. "That's mine computer," he says, as he performs a defensive block to keep me from accessing Mikhail's computer left open on the couch. "That's mine sunglasses," as he grabs the lenses off my head. And sometimes, in his mind justifiably so, "that's mine toy!" when a playmate goes for something he's occupied with. 

But the best use of the pronoun yet happened yesterday when Mikhail, his brother, and his sister took Elan to the park. When they got there, they had the playground to themselves. Elan was having a ball on the play structure when suddenly, an interloper arrived. A slightly older boy who cluelessly thought he had equal rights. The boy started up the ladder, following behind Elan, who had frozen in place with shock at the trespass. Elan placed one hand firmly on each handrail, puffed his narrow shoulders up with indignation, and bellowed:

"No! Mine! It's mine park!"

I can laugh because I wasn't there. Though I suspect, I might have giggled a little to myself even I had been Parent On Duty at the moment.

Later, once Mikhail had managed to de-arm the warhead, Elan rediscovered his manners. As park time came to an end, he looked at the boy's red car-themed Crocs and declared, "I like your shoes."

Ah, pronouns. How civilized they can be.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Family Portrait So-Cal Style

First: Bubs is taking a nap. Let us all breathe a sigh of relief.

Second: This picture was taken in southern California. Obviously.

Third: Elan's modeling his new Thomas the Train sunglasses that we bought on a special Target excursion, after he broke my (relatively) expensive sunglasses trying to cram them onto his adorable little face, and at the same time as we picked Mama up a new $14.99 don't-care-if-you-sit-on-them pair.

Happy Tuesday!

Monday, April 13, 2009


refi paperwork what's the rate today? goddamn is that cat pee again? workout at the gym. pay at the meter. lunch cancelled. roofer's here. shit the baby isn't napping. beautiful day for a stroller walk. why aren't you sleeping? lunch rescheduled two weeks out. playdate on. no off. no on again. roofer needs to talk. for forty minutes. see that dry rot? go to sleep. can't tell if it's cat pee. use the expensive cleaner and hope. how many points if the house reappraises for how much less than we bought it for? do you have time to talk? now he's screaming mad. bank balance and bills due and i need to make some money. old doggie can't come just fluffy doggie. roofer report in the email inbox. shit, the baby still isn't sleeping. not that he's a baby toddler. consulting calls i can do this. two a.m. nightmares of rattlesnakes and wayward policeman and. who turned up the heat? old doggie didn't get the toddler to nap today. why is it so hot in here? kick the covers off and dream of toddler in trouble and wake up with the birds singing secrets and a fresh start it all over again.

Friday, April 10, 2009

This Kind of Clever

Elan and I took an excursion to IKEA yesterday. The last time we did this, we were still suffering move-in-shock, I had a long list of products to research, it was raining, dark at 4:30, we got stuck in traffic, and he cried the entire drive. And that was before we even made it into the store.

This time proved that I have learned something about negotiating Life With Toddler. I had one thing to buy, I knew exactly what it was, and it was located in the kid's section. Elan was SO EXCITED!!! to go to IKEA. He played with all the toys and sat in all the chairs, for about five seconds each. His favorite thing was the hopscotch numbers printed on the floor of the main walkway. He liked to lay on them and writhe around in ecstasy. He got very upset when someone dared stand on those numbers, or push a cart over them. Thankfully it wasn't very crowded.

We made it downstairs to the Marketplace. I was angling for a quick exit, bypassing the complete overwhelm of stacks and stacks of things you might suddenly decide you must have, when Elan started shouting about wanting to go in the alligator. My powers of translation failed for the moment, and by the time I realized he was talking about the elevator, it was too late. Full-down toddler meltdown ensued. He thrashed around in my arms, kicking his long legs, threatening towers of glass bowls and Euro-style vases.

I took a deep breath and decided to try something different, a strategy I had read about before bubs hit the terrible 2s and had recently been reminded of. I set him down on the floor, got down beside him, and said, "It is so frustrating when Mama doesn't understand what you want. I know you are so frustrated. Go ahead and roll around and shout. I am frustrated for you." I said this in a kind of frustration-empathy tone of voice, a little low in the throat and growly, like I really got the full force of his bubsy rage.

He looked at me, his eyes widened in surprise, not sure if this was a trick.

"Try kicking your feet," I suggested. "That's good when you're mad and frustrated and Mama doesn't give you what you want."

He kicked his feet. His frog rainboots squeaked on the linoleum. He let out a few more shouts, a bit half-hearted.

Then he lay there, looking up at the exposed duct work on the ceiling. I did not look around at the people passing us. I didn't want to read their thoughts on their faces. I just looked at him. He was peaceful, and I thought about how my mother-in-law says that children find it literally grounding to lay on the floor. Such direct experience of the law of gravity seemed to have a calming effect.

I thought about telling him we could go on the elevator, but decided it was best not to bring it up again. After a minute, I suggested that we go on home to see Dada. I picked him up and jogged him out of the store, which he found quite amusing.

On our way out, I did slow long enough to notice two IKEA products that I had never seen before: high chairs and changing tables that fold flat when you're not using them, a la luggage racks in hotels. They're not the most beautiful pieces of furniture, but living in a small house, I appreciate this kind of clever.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Sniff Therapy

On my walk today, there was a street that smelled like wet pepper. A huge pepperwood towered over the block. Some kind of cherry-like trees bent over the sidewalk dripping their lacy white blossoms onto my head. Across the street was a gangly bush wild with orange flowers of a nearly neon hue. I walked slowly down that street, bathed in the scent of sweet wet blooms. 

A good antidote to the stink of cat pee that greets me everytime I open the door to our carport. The cats have launched a new offensive. Someone appears to be getting a little too used to the heat-and-motion sensor-triggered ultrasonic noise emitting CatStop that we had to install back in October. We do not have a cat. We only have other peoples' cats, and I have to say that, while I haven't been a big fan of cats since mine tried to kill my father, the repeated markings of Elan's stroller and my beautiful new washing machine have brought my feelings for the furry creatures of the neighborhood to a new low.

I'm going to save the rest of this rant for when I have more time and energy, as I'm still only partially unpacked from our trip. For now, I'm going to think about lacy blooms and wet pepper. But do not be fooled, cats of North Berkeley. You have not won.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Just Yesterday

I have been remiss. I thought I would keep up the blog while in San Diego, but I ended up using Elan's naptime to do the sorts of things I normally don't get to, like a haircut. It was a great trip, and Elan got to bask in the glory of being the only child with up to 5 (!) adults at a time. Lucky kid.

Now we're back to reality. The list of "to dos" is long, very long; the suitcases are spilling masses of clothing across every inch of floor space; the kitchen is crowded with dishes; nursery school is closed for spring break for the week (sigh); and Elan's stuck with just plain old Mama. Plain old tired Mama, I should say. Somehow I ended up wearing myself out more over our week away than I manage to in an average week at home. 

And so, on this rainy northern California day, here's some southern California beach glory.

Elan loves the water. If you take this child to the beach, you better be ready to get wet, no matter the temperature (water or air). He was in heaven when we found these pools left by the retreating tide. For once, he could go in (almost) by himself, and I stripped him down so he could get fully soaked.

Yes, he was cold, in that chilly April breeze, but he didn't let that ruin the fun.

He still managed to give Mama plenty of saucy toddler looks, even though she did a brilliant job balancing cell phone, camera, towel, and hand-holding (if I do say so myself).

I swear someone's stretching my child. In our week+ away, it seemed like his arms and legs just lennnnnnngthened. Like another six inches. Mikhail says this is what it looks like when you add height to the gene pool.