A parent’s grace period

Like many parents today, I thought long and hard before making the decision to bring a child into this world.It’s funny to me that this is a rather new way of doing things. I think my mom’s generation was the last in which many woman were having children just because it was expected of them. You didn’t have to psychoanalyze yourself to figure out if you’d be a competent parent. You just had the babies and figured you’ d learn on the way.

Now, most of the parents I know go through a period of deep introspection as well as getting the college degrees, setting up viable careers and making sure the marriage is good and healthy before embarking on parenthood.

Even with my carefully laid plans there are still moments when I feel woefully ill-equipped to be a parent. So many of the things I want to teach Charlie so he’ll have a happy life, I’m struggling with myself. Things like how to organize and manage time, finish projects even when they become difficult, let things go when they don’t turn out the way I planned, deal with emotions in a healthy manner. The list goes on and on.

Luckily, there seems to be a grace period built in. The first year was all about keeping Charlie safe and healthy. I don’t think he had any idea that the kitchen was a mess most of his first year or that I constantly misplaced car keys, socks and shoes, sippy cups. Just about anything I needed for an outing required ten additional minutes of preparation. My real worry was that he would sense my stress and this would bend his little brain in ways I wouldn’t be able to repair later.

As it turned out, Charlie didn’t seem very sensitive to any of this. As long as he was fed and allowed to nap (which he was happy doing anywhere), he seemed completely unaffected by everything else.

I know this grace period is coming to a close. We’re more careful about what we say around him. I’m starting to put some kind of organizational system in place so he doesn’t grow up in the midst of chaos, and I’m trying to model good behavior by not getting so frustrated when I make a mistake or can’t find my car keys. It’s hard. And to be honest, I don’t think I’m going to be perfect by the time he’s two, which is when I imagine the grace period will be closed or nearly closed.

Then I figure I’ll just have to have faith that overall we’re giving Charlie a happy, healthy environment to grow up in and everything will turn out fine. Maybe that’s the most important lesson to teach Charlie anyway.

 

Teaching Charlie that life isn’t perfect

For my birthday I wanted to go to the beach with Dave and Charlie, one of the less crowded beaches in a state park, untarnished by condos and beach bars.I thought that for once I had everything pretty well planned. I had a beach bag packed from the last time we went to the beach and I planned to keep things simple, no fancy picnic and just the bare minimum of what we’d need to have a good time.

I had things under control until we were ten minutes away from heading out the door. I couldn’t find our beach pass. I looked everywhere and with each minute that went by without finding it, I became more and more miserable.

The self-belittling refrain began – the one that tells me how I’m a mess, how I’m never going to raise a happy, competent kid if my own life isn’t in order.  I try and try and it always ends up like this – me running around trying to find things at the last minute, stressed out and miserable.

I know that the solution to this problem is to put systems in place and stick with them and I’ll probably blog about that later, but this post is about the insidious danger of chronic perfectionism.

When I was a kid in elementary school, I compulsively checked my school bag in the morning at the house, in the car on the way to school, and then at school up until the homework assignment finally got turned in. I would check my bag it twenty or more times in a morning. Even so, I would occasionally forget things, and when I did, I was emotionally devastated.

I am on constant lookout for this behavior in Charlie, and if I see it I’ll head it off the best I can. I’m already a little worried about how quickly he gets frustrated when things don’t work for him. He’ll try some new mechanism such as buckling a belt and if it doesn’t do what he wants the first time, he reacts by screaming and throwing himself down on the ground to lie there flat with his red cheek pressed to the floor.

This is how I feel when I can’t find my car keys.

So what can I teach Charlie to make things easier for him, even while I’m still dealing with the same problems myself? First, that everything in life isn’t going to work immediately just how he wants it to and that his control over the world is limited.  Then I’ll teach him how to put systems in place to maintain the limited amount of control he has. As he learns more and refines his systems, he’ll have more control and get more satisfaction out of life.

Heh, I just had to giggle at the idea of a toddler refining his systems. I guess that could lead to problems of its own.

Luckily, there seems to be a grace period, time for me to get my act together before Charlie starts picking up all my bad habits. We got to the beach for my birthday (paying full admission price) and I was a real grouch the rest of the day. I have a lot of bad habits to work on. I hope Charlie can be patient.

 

Charlie at 17 months: tantrums,talking,and general shenanigans

Charlie is quickly coming up on his 18th month. I haven’t written much lately because the changes have been so rapid, it’s been difficult to keep track, which is why I should be blogging more, not less. I know I’ll want to look back on the first few years and remember them in as much detail as possible.

At seventeen months, Charlie says: Daddy, what’s that, here you go, hey!, hello, down, and maybe an occasional “doggie.” None of these words are very clear, but he uses them consistently enough and in the right context for me to consider them actual words. His daddy’s a little more skeptical.

He will take my hand and lead me to where he wants me to be. He always seems to have an opinion on this and is very adamant. He’ll take me to a certain chair so I can watch him play. He’ll bring me to the bed so I can put him down for a nap. He’ll stuff me in the closet for no reason at all. I get a little giddy when he does this and am helpless at telling him “no”.

He washes himself in the bath. Quite well actually, getting in between the toes with a washcloth and everything. I’m very proud and see easier days ahead.

He finally seems to understand “no.” Until recently, “no” was a hilarious joke no matter how sternly or loudly it was put to him. Last night, he was doing one of his favorite things: emptying the dog’s water bowl all over the floor. Dave got his attention and firmly told him “no.” And Charlie listened. Good-naturedly, too. He sauntered away with a more subdued grin than usual and found something else to do. Amazing.

But the tantrums are increasing in strength and number. I still think it’s pretty funny, but that probably won’t last long. Last week, when I wouldn’t let him outside because of rain, he struggled out of my arms, planted his legs in a dramatic, wide stance, pumped his little fist up in the air, threw back his head and emitted a piercing shriek. A bloody war whoop  was what it was. I had to leave the room before he saw me cracking up.

So what else, what else? He likes to scribble on the dry erase board. He takes the book I’m reading and points to every single letter on the cover and asks me, “what’s that?” He cooks pretend dinner in his little kitchen and then sticks pasta between his toes. He loves little girls around the age of three and follows them around the bookstore. He picks one waitress when we eat out and flirts with her endlessly.

I know there’s so much more I’m forgetting and there will be even more next week. Now I know what people mean when they talk about time slipping away. I’m watching Charlie grow up before my eyes and it’s the most amazing thing but sometimes I want to grab hold and get him to slow down for a minute. But then again, I also can’t wait to hear him talk … really talk. I want to know what’s going on in his head. And then all the things we’ll teach him. Parenting is awesome.

 

Charlie drove a tractor

And backed up the tractor.

 

My dancing baby

I had to see it for myself to believe it. Dave has been telling me that Charlie dances. Really, honestly dances with head bops and footwork and occasion twirlies. I didn’t believe it. I saw him bop his head a few times to the Beastie Boys but I wouldn’t call it dancing. Dave said he just wouldn’t do it in front of me. Whatever.

Last Friday we went to the opening of an art show and took Charlie along. We were waking back to the car and the music coming from one of the side streets got louder and louder and that’s where Charlie was going. He pretty much dragged us to the Ragtime Grill where some jazz lady was belting out a Cherry Poppin Daddy song and Charlie parked himself in front of the speaker and boogied down.

I couldn’t stop laughing. It was the most unbelievable thing I’d ever seen. Too bad the lighting was so bad and we only had the video from our iPhones. There are seven brief seconds of hilarity below. Is this a case of “you had to be there?” Nah!

 

Breakfast of my little champion

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On a good day, a day when I get fifteen minutes to myself before anyone else is up, a day when I get to drink a whole cup of coffee, the breakfast I make my little boy looks like this. It doesn’t stay this way very long. The Cheerios are dumped on the floor, the banana is smushed gleefully in his fist (a new thing), the eggs are either devoured or fed to the dog. It’s strange. Sometimes, eggs are the best thing. Other times it’s like I’m trying to poison him.

I like presenting him with an organized plate, though, even if it only stays for a second. I like to think it’s our first move toward manners and civilization. It’s crazy to me when I think how I’m only in the second year of raising our baby. The first year is all about keeping him alive and comfortable. Now, it’s time to teach him things. A totally different job description.

And no, I’m not sure why his toes are in the photo. Did I really let him stand on the breakfast table? That doesn’t sound like me.

 

Blueberries!

My dad and I have this thing where we try to find things we can eat growing wild in the woods. Did you know you can eat kudzu? And those nasty sticker vines – if you get the young shoots in the spring, you can sauté them in butter and they aren’t so different from asparagus. But right now it’s all about blueberries. They’re everywhere. About half the size of the ones in the store and slightly more tart (which I like) but they’re fun to pick and I get a great feeling of independence like if the zombie apocalypse happened right now, I’d be able to survive off blueberries alone.

Charlie loves them. I think he was getting sick of bananas. Now I just have to get used to the blue poop.

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Yeah, I remember last time you gave me blueberries. Came right out the other end.

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Got these out of the woods, you say…

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Whadya mean you only picked a handful. You were out there an hour!

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All gone.

 

Bread Day 1

I am gearing up to blogging again. It’s been busy, busy around here and I have so much to write about that I don’t know where to start. For now, baby steps. This is an article I wrote when this blog was in its earliest stages. Pre-Charlie stages. Enjoy!

 

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So this blog is about digging into life, seizing the reins, charging ahead, leaving no stone unturned, arrgh!  No half-assing allowed.

This may take awhile, a chronic procrastinator jumping into full-force mode overnight.  Lots of bad habits to break.

Take breadmaking.  I have scheduled a week of breadmaking edification for myself and you, my gentle readers.  The point – to get beyond following a recipe (I can do that just fine) and getting a real sense of how flour and water turn into a living dough and then delicious fresh-from-the-oven bread.  Timing, proportions, temperatures, humidity, all that stuff, and that’s not even getting into the living breathing part of the yeast which, to be honest, I know absolutely nothing about…   yet.

I started out pretty well.  I have Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for More Food: food x mixing + heat = baking.  Lovely book, lovely man.  And I purchased a coffee-table sized book called The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.  All I had to do was read the forward and I was sold.  “I realized that upon considering all the joyous moments of my existence on this earth, I am most content when making bread.”   (Oh, I relate, I relate!  Or at least I want to.)  She seemed immensely knowledgeable in a way that’s inspiring not daunting.  And there were pictures illustrating everything she said.  Sold!

So it all begins quite well on a Saturday morning, me with my coffee and coffee-table Bread Bible.  I read the forward again, yes I love this woman, then I’m in the middle of all the different “starters”, those bits of dough and yeast and water you stir up the day before to give “depth and complexity” to the bread.  That’s all fine, but there are so many of them, all with foreign names like “bigga” and “poolish” and “sponge.”  Well, sponge isn’t foreign but in this context it is.

So what do I do?  I skip straight to the bread recipe I really want to make – Wonder Bread.  Only ten times more delicious because it will be homemade.

It starts with a sponge. Easy enough.  12 oz. flour, 14.3 oz. water, 1.5 oz. honey, 2.4 grams of yeast.  What?  How is one supposed to measure that?  Turns out Beranbaum is a huge fan of weighing ingredients because that’s the only way to be consistent in the proportions and that’s the only way to wield even scant control over your dough.  I, however, don’t have a kitchen scale.  I come up with the brilliant idea of using my Wii Fit scale.  No good.  It measured the same pile of flour three very different ways, something to keep in mind when you’re weighing yourself on the thing.

So I succumbed and half-assed my first step, measuring ingredients out of horribly inaccurate measuring cups and spoons.  Oh, well, I say, this will be a practice loaf.

I turn out what I think is a pretty decent, if watery, sponge.

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Pop it in the fridge around noon and expect to begin bread baking sometime in tomorrow’s early a.m.

Oh, sigh.  Half-assing step number two.  Getting around to the baking.  I don’t get started until twoish in the afternoon the next day.  Sprinkle the rest of the flour on top of the sponge.  Was I supposed to do this last night? Oh, oops, and here it says letting your sponge ferment for over 24 hours can lead to off-tastes.  Ha, that ship’s sailed.

I let it sit a while later because I think I’m supposed to let the sponge bubble up through the layer of dry flour.  It doesn’t and I proceed as if it had.  Still not clear on this sponge thing, maybe I should have read the beginning of the book.

Ok, long story short, I knead the dough successfully in my KitchenAid mixer, brilliant, and then set it in a warmish area of the kitchen to let it rise.  Ok, that’s a lie.  I pop it in the oven with the light on because someone on a blog said it would speed things up.  Then I forget about it until nine that night.  Oh well, how off tasting can bread be?

I refrigerate the dough, nicely bubbled as it is, practically falling out of the bowl.  I will continue in the morning.  Nowhere have I read that you can pause breadmaking in the middle and pick it up the next day.  Nowhere have I read you can’t.

The next morning (up early) I let the dough rise once again, divide into loaves, rise yet again, and baked it.

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The results – two beautiful, aromatic, soft loaves with, I have to admit it, something amiss in the taste.  I slathered butter on and decided I didn’t care.  This was afterall my practice loaf.

Tomorrow I get into the good and gritty of breadmaking, I promise.  I will explain this sponge thing and even use a scale.  See ya then!

 

Life is back to normal, but really, what’s normal?

If I had known in October when I moved 200 miles away that my husband wouldn’t be joining us for another four months, I NEVER would have agreed to the move. The plan was for him to join us in a month, Christmas at the latest. As it turned out, exciting work developments kept him away much longer and I discovered that I am capable of keeping things running on my own. Imagine that.

And no that’s not sarcasm. I have always considered myself a less than steady type and certainly not be relied upon to care for a baby with no breaks for three weeks at a time. This is why I never dated anyone in the military.

But I did it. I didn’t break and in fact it was kind of fun. And now, just like after running a 15k race, I feel like I can do anything.

Which is good because my husband is finally home and we’re starting our own business.

So you know how there are all those sites out there encouraging people to quit their 9-to-5 jobs and pursue their dreams, most of which seem to revolve around a blog telling other people to quit their jobs and follow dreams in the very worst pyramid scheme ever?

Yes, well, we’re doing THAT. Not the last part about a motivational blog although if things are wildly successful I’ll be sure to blog loudly about everything.

But we ARE going it alone and all the excitement and anxiety that accompanies such a move will appear in this blog so stay tuned if you like that sort of thing.

Charlie is one year old! We made it and I’m officially retiring my SIDS worry.

His stats are:

21 pounds 8 oz.

29 3/4 inches.

He’s average height but he’s definitely slimmed down a bit. Must be all the running and, now, climbing.

If things work out the way I hope, Charlie will get to spend time with both Mommy and Daddy. And Mommy and Daddy will both get the satisfaction of fulfilling careers. Is this asking for too much?

We’ll find out.

 

In Canada co-sleeping isn’t a bad word

Charlie got to meet his cousin last week. Jeremy and Charlie are only two months apart and watching them interact was hugely entertaining. Jeremy at a year old is already a skilled walker and Charlie got a little jealous and decided to try it for himself. Yep, at 10 months Charlie is now careening around the living room with a huge grin on his face. No serious bumps yet, knock on wood (heh pun), but they’re probably coming. I’ve already caught him trying to climb up the bookshelves.

I spent a lot of time talking to Jeremy’s mum about our childbirth and postpartum experiences. They hail from Vancouver and things are a little different over there. Apparently she wasn’t bombarded by the Back to Sleep campaign. And actually felt a little guilty about not co-sleeping longer since many of their friends co-slept into toddlerhood with their kids.

Kind of nice to hear since I’ve been averting my eyes every time I see one of the anti-cosleeping billboards posted in my town.

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When I look back on the first few months after Charlie’s birth I remember how terribly stressful it was. Co-sleeping allowed me to get enough sleep to keep my sanity and care for Charlie. If I’d insisted on the back sleeping in the crib I’m pretty certain I would have succumbed to some form of postpartum depression.

Even though I knew I needed sleep, every time I gave in and let Charlie sleep in my bed I berated myself for putting my baby at risk. I figured the “experts” putting up the billboards might know more than I, a first time mom. In Vancouver mothers are told to not sleep with their babies if they’ve been drinking or using drugs. Enough said.

Here are some pics of the kids. This is such an awesome age.

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Photographs by David Barfield Photography.