Monday, February 21, 2011

Sloppy seconds.

I was talking to a friend the other day about breast feeding and the whole "breast is best" thing. While we agreed that breast milk is wonderfully amazing and nursing your baby can be pretty darn special, we also agreed that it can totally suck (no pun intended). If you hate it but do it anyway (because you don't want to fail at motherhood or you feel guilty or you don't want those judgy moms at the playground to look at you funny or Parent's magazine finally succeeded at scaring the bejezzus out of you or whatever...), is it still best for your baby? I mean, I'm sure the substance is good but what about the rest of it? If you hate-nurse your baby, what kind of bonding experience is that?

It's a little bit like dinner at our house. We know that sitting together at the table is what's "best" for our family so we try to do it as often as possible. But there's just no getting around it - family dinner kind of sucks.

We always start off optimistic. I set the table with cloth napkins, light our special dinner candle and turn on some music. I convince myself that even though Liam has hated pretty much every dinner since he was 15 months old, this one is going to be different. Because tonight there are choices! And new tastes he'll like! And condiments! No garlic or black pepper came within a five food radius of anything on his plate. THIS will be the meal that changes everything!

But then, before we even sit down, it's over. He whines about coming to the table and tells me he will not try anything new. I remind him about the rules - he has to have a good attitude and at least taste everything on his plate (how much he eats is up to him). Then he attempts to remind me of his rules (ahem) and I feel my patience slipping. Bill and I try not to focus on him while we eat our dinner and do our best to model good behavior - asking, "How was your day?" and trying to come up with interesting responses - but we can feel the energy slowly draining from our bodies. Watching Liam not eat dinner for the 1277th day in a row (I did the math and everything!) is sucking our will to live. Soon we're getting frustrated and slipping into old habits. "I don't care if you already had a taste. A taste is not dinner! Take some bites! Now! Seriously, Liam. TAKE A BITE!!!"

Surely that's not what the experts are pushing on families, right? Frustration, anger, threats, bribery, impatience, irritation...that can't be what's best for my family. It almost makes me feel good about the nights we end up letting Liam eat macaroni and cheese while we watch Wheel of Fortune together. At least we're happy!

It's not that we don't like hanging out together without Pat and Vanna. We do. We really do! It's just the picky eating thing is such a killer. If you haven't experienced it, it's...mind numbing. Like three times a day for the past four years I've sort of wanted to gouge my own eyes out. Liam's way better than he used to be (I swear he only ate oatmeal, bananas, apples, goldfish crackers and peanut butter for like an entire year) and he's come a million miles since turning four (he doesn't even gag when I make him try something new any more!), but he's still a pain in the ass date for dinner.

Every bite is a battle...even for meals he likes!

I think part of it is he's just picky (or selective or sensitive or whatever...), but part of it is totally our fault. We had NO IDEA what we were doing when we introduced him to food. We never let him get messy and after the initial baby food period ended (the only part that made sense to us), we just sort of froze. Our pediatrician told us to give him whatever we were eating but that seemed crazy. He barely had any teeth! He was just a baby! So we ignored him completely, stocked up on graham crackers and never looked back.

Pretty smart, huh? Of course I didn't know exactly how not smart it was until it was too late. Poor first born children...they're like adorable little guinea pigs who have to just wait around for their dumb ass parents to figure things out.

Liam was two when I started babysitting for a six month old who had just began to eat solids. One evening when her dad picked her up he said, "I just have to ask - how do you keep her clean all day? When we feed her at home she gets covered head to toe in baby food!" Initially I thought, "Gross! Why don't you just hold her arms out of the way while you quickly shove neat little spoonfuls into her mouth like I do?" But then, almost immediately, I was like, " that's how you feed a baby!" It sunk in even deeper as I watched her grow into a really great eater.

Not long after that I read an article (probably in that damn Parent's magazine) that described a one year old with his first birthday cake. He sits there looking at it for a while before reluctantly touching the frosting. He feels it on his hand, looks at it intently and then pounds it into the tray of his high chair. He gets more of the frosting in his hand, maybe a little of the cake too, and squishes it between his chubby fingers, watching it, feeling it, experiencing it. Maybe he mashes some of it into his hair or, let's be honest, his ear. At some point the dog definitely licks some off of his face. People love it. They take pictures and ooh and aah. It's his birthday - let him throw cake! No one seems concerned with whether any of the cake gets into his mouth or not. I mean, who's going to force a baby to eat cake? Eventually though, he'll probably taste it. He might even love it! Or not. But the point is not what he eats; it's that he's learning how to eat.

And that is how all meals at this age should look.

When I read that I was floored. No wonder Liam didn't know how to eat - he was never given a chance to learn! We kept him neat and tidy, feeding him with a spoon what he couldn't easily feed himself. We never just stuck a bunch of food (rice, pasta, whatever) on his high chair tray and let him figure it out. Not once! And by the time we realized his eating habits were lacking, the window of opportunity to learn had long since closed.

Thank goodness for second babies! They benefit from all the trial-and-error the first borns had to endure plus countless bits of information that seeped into their parents brains over the years.

Needless to say, Finn's meals look nothing like Liam's. Instead of being focused on the bottom line (how many jars of baby food did he eat? do I have to change his outfit?), we're trying to let go and enjoy the experience.

Feeling is just as good as eating, no?

Also, he's a mess! I let him hold the spoon, the bowl, the waffle...whatever he wants.

If he wants to bang the bowl on the table and throw food all over the floor, I really try to encourage him (but, wow, do I miss my dog).

It's amazing to me that even though he doesn't have a single tooth, he can totally eat real food. He's successfully eaten avocados, sweet potatoes, berries, pancakes, rice, beans, enchiladas, pasta, name it! The only thing he doesn't seem to really enjoy is baby food. What a riot!

I am hopeful that all these messes will help Finn foster really healthy eating habits. As for Liam, I suppose he isn't doing that bad. He eats a pretty wide range of food now and will (reluctantly) taste anything I ask him to. But he doesn't really get hungry (like, ever) and eats slower than I could ever make you believe. For example - this morning he wanted to play "Cafe Mama" where I was the waitress and he was the customer (you know, unlike usual). So I made a menu, took his order, refilled his water glass, the whole business. He ordered some dry Life cereal, circle crackers, graham crackers and string cheese for his appetizer, cinnamon toast for his breakfast and chocolate pudding for dessert (maybe an a la carte menu was a bad idea...). Two hours later he was ready for his check. TWO HOURS! I'm not even exaggerating. He ate almost every bite that he ordered but it literally took him all morning (we had to stop to make the pudding, but still - it was instant!). Multiply that by three times a day and you can see why I am crossing my fingers that letting Finn play with his food will set us on a different trajectory. Oh please, oh please, oh please...

If not, at least he's enjoying the process!

What do you do with your picky eaters? I am about 99.9% sure I need to just LET GO and let Liam take over but it's tough. I'm pretty sure he'll starve to death if I don't remind him not to and I just can't have that on my conscious. Thoughts? Ideas? Spill it!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Valentine's Day craftastrophe.

Being a mom, specifically a stay-at-home-mom, is what I've wanted to be my entire life. As a child I can remember looking up in awe at some of the great mothers around me (like my friends' moms or my cousin or the women I babysat for...) not like, "I want a mom like that," but like, "I want to be a mom like that." Even when I was really little. I liked the idea of hanging out with kids and babies all the time, sure, but it was the crafty stuff I was really after. I mean, what other grown ups get to play with crayons and glue sticks as their job? (Besides children's book illustrators of course!)

So, naturally, when the holidays roll around I jump at the chance to engage myself my kids in a project we can make to wish the grandparents and aunts and uncles a happy whatever. But I'm starting to notice that just because I get really excited about stuff like this does not necessarily mean Liam is on board.

I think it's because, despite what I keep telling myself, he's just not that artsy. For whatever reason I had him pegged as this creative little guy, this...artist. And it's not that he's not creative - he totally is - but maybe just not in a visual arts kind of way.

This started to come into focus when I picked him up from Encore recently. All the kids were taking home paintings they had done of themselves performing on stage - I saw brightly colored paintings of kids playing instruments and dancing and performing with a circus - really incredible work. And then I saw Liam's painting:

Do you see what he did there? Painted a big splotch and said it was him on a green screen for special effects. Creative? Oh my goodness yes! (Not to mention hilarious!) But are you starting to see how making valentines together might not be his idea of fun?

At first I tried my usual approach - putting everything pink and red and Valentinesy out on the table like, "Ta da! Now all you need is your imagination!" - but that didn't work AT ALL. (Duh. What was I expecting? I big red glitter splotch titled, "Liam on a green screen wishing you a happy Valentine's day"?)

Thank goodness the little girl I babysit for will humor me.

So I dug a little deeper. I remembered a project one of my mom's friends had her kids make as gifts one year and used it as a jumping off point. We would make heart-shaped valentines with a picture of the boys on one side and a bunch of sweet words glued to the other. Liam would search through magazines for the words (a reading skill, not a crafty skill!) and cut them out with scissors (a fine motor skill!). And since he almost always likes using a glue stick, I thought his role in the project would be a win-win-win.

And it should have been. Really. There was nothing about it that wasn't right up his damn alley. But it was like PULLING TEETH to get him to play along.

First I had to bribe him to let me take pictures.

Always worth it.

Then I had to beg him again and again and again to stop noodling around and just HELP ME for godsake!

And then finally I just had to fire him and finish the stupid things myself.

Which is fine. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, forcing my kid to make paper hearts is just not a fight I need to have. Besides, I'm the one who wanted to make them, not him. There's no reason I can't just make crafts for my mom and dad because I want to. Right? Oh, whatever. I'll just let Liam take the credit.

(I just remembered I did this EXACT SAME THING on Mother's Day! When Bill's mom called to tell me how cute Liam's little thumb prints were on the note cards we made, I just went with it. Ha!)

My pinkie, Liam's thumb...whatever.

I had completely made peace with our valentine craftastrophe when I got an e-mail from Liam's teacher saying that since we missed school on Thursday because of the snow (like the 12th snow day this year - and, no, we have not had that much snow), we would be celebrating Valentine's day on Tuesday the 15th - SO PLEASE BRING CARDS FOR ALL THE KIDS. There was a brief, fleeting moment where I thought it would be adorable for Liam to bring homemade valentines to all of his friends at school. But then I realized that would mean I would have to make twelve more valentines or spend another two days pushing my child in a direction he did NOT want to go.

Forget that nonsense. We were going old school.

I mean, that's how I remember Valentine's day as a kid. And it was great! I'd pick out the cards I liked at the store and then choose who from my class got what card (like somehow the boys I liked would totally get that "I ch-ch-choose you" really meant "I love you for reals!"). Sometimes we'd buy a bag of conversation hearts or lifesaver lollipops and I'd stuff one into each teeny envelope. Nothing fancy. Certainly nothing homemade. But awesome enough that I still remember it today.

As it turns out, not much has changed.

Liam went with the holographic dinosaur cards and LOVED addressing them to all the kids at school. He was so thoughtful about it - I think Todd would like a carnivore the best but I wonder if I should choose a land carnivore or an underwater carnivore? - and never once needed a reminder to stay on task (a miracle these days). But what thrilled him the most was crossing the names off his list. Who woulda thought?

And when I picked him up from school this afternoon, the note from his teacher read, "Liam was SO excited about giving his valentines out. He told everyone all day, 'I made a card for you!' So cute!"

So there you go! Yet another reminder that it's the journey, not the destination, that counts. If I had forced Liam to make what I wanted him to make just for the sake of looking like the mom in my imagination, that would have missed the point entirely. It's not what you give, it's how you give it. And while Liam's valentines might look like they're from Kroger, I can assure you, they are totally from his heart.

To Liam: I love you for reals.

*I am not responsible for the term "craftastrophe" - my clever friend Heather came up with that. Unlike Liam, I don't like taking credit for other people's creativity...

Monday, February 7, 2011

A lifetime in half a year.

This week has been a killer. First Liam turned five, now my sweet baby Finn is six months old. That's half a year! I'm telling you - it's a lot for a mama to handle in one week. Not enough to justify me getting choked up at the bouncy place when a Sheryl Crow song came on the radio the other day (I'm TRYING to soak up my sons but they just keep growing!), but it's still pretty major.

Since I already signed up for a one month membership on the video making website for Liam's birthday, I figured I may as well go for it and make a half-birthday video for Finn. That and I feel like I've hardly shared any photos or stories about him yet and he's already SIX MONTHS OLD! It's not that he hasn't done anything notable (smiling, rolling over, eating food, laughing, making us laugh, filling our hearts with joy, completing our family...), but if I have to choose between hanging out with the little guy or writing about the little guy, I'm going to choose hanging out with him every single time. He's pretty fantastic...

Happy half-birthday my baby. Thank you for bringing mad amounts of laughter and joy into our home. We love you more and more each and every day.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

He's a handful.

A whole hand full of fingers. Count 'em:



We've had five whole years of loving and teaching and nurturing and laughing and growing and learning and holding close and letting go. Wow.

I'm stunned by the person Liam's growing into and the person he's always been. Just this week I've found myself stopped in my tracks twice by this incredible kid I get to call my son. First he brought home a note from his teacher that read, "When two friends were bickering Liam said, 'Have you heard the expression, If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all?'" (Oh my gosh, it's working! Whatever it is I do day in and day out is actually working!!) And then this morning, before he opened his birthday presents (a big kid bike with training wheels, a game he has since dismissed for "having attitude", a few Magic Treehouse chapter books, and a bag of pretzel M&Ms - the M&Ms were the clear favorite), he climbed in bed with us to watch a show (we were still sleeping). After a bit, he hopped down to grab a chair from his room. When I asked him what he was doing he said, "I was hoping I could have a muffin but I didn't want to get your bed all crumby." When he asked for a Snuggie to help keep his arms warm, my heart just about exploded.

And with that, I give you a year in the life...

Happy birthday, Liam! I love you, buddy.

(Music: Sweet Disposition by Temper Trap)

(For a bit more birthday magic, click here.)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The C word.

This is a post I started over a month ago over FOUR months ago. Back when my crying baby wouldn't give me more than a few moments at a time to do any one thing. The reason I decided to go back and finish it now is because I'm sure I'm not the only one who's gone through a tough transition with a new baby and, well, misery loves company. So enjoy! And hang in there - it totally gets better.

Two months old.
How did we get here and why am I in this hand basket?

This story is a little tricky for me to tell. For one, I try to stay fairly glass half-full around here and most of this is a lot more, "Glass? What glass?! I just had a BABY for God's sake - get off my freakin' back about the glass!!
" It also involves
complaining about my child which is kind of awkward for a mother. It feels like telling yo mama jokes about your own mama. No matter how funny it is, that just ain't right.

But I'm sleep deprived and can't be held responsible for bad decision-making so...

"Yo baby's so fussy he's straight up got colic, yo!"

Yeah, I said it. The dreaded c-word. COLIC.

When Finny was about 5 or 6 weeks old, we were stumbling around the used bookstore zombie-style, waiting for Liam to pick out a few "new" books (he is especially into the Berenstain Bears and Dr. Seuss at the moment) when I looked up and found myself face-to-face with one of my old favorites, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. I have bought and read this book several times, happily passing it on to friends at the first sight of a yawn or mention of a fussy baby. It's like the holy bible for sleep, a subject I had previously considered myself an expert on. But ever since sweet baby Finn came into the world, any of my supposed expertise had disappeared entirely. The baby wasn't sleeping well, I wasn't sleeping well, shoot even Liam wasn't sleeping well (why go to sleep when you have all these great books you can read to yourself?).
Our sleep situation was definitely in need of a little divine intervention so I brought home another copy of the bible and started in on
a re-read.

As soon as I started the book, I recognized our situation. Everything I read sounded like my son! Alright, not everything. Some bits didn't sound AT ALL like Finn: "Some babies develop regular sleep/wake rhythms quite early, say at about six to eight weeks. These babies tend to be very mild, cry very little, and sleep for long periods of time. Consider yourself blessed if you are one of these lucky parents." (That was baby Liam to a T - probably why I thought I was such an expert!) What was resonating with me now were things like, "Do you spend a total of more than three hours a day soothing your baby to prevent crying? Do you do this more than three days a week? Have you been doing this for more than three weeks?" (Yes, yes and YES!) "Then your baby has colic." (Damn.) Also, "The extremely fussy/colicky baby appears to have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep even at only several days of age." (Cue me walking into the nursery at the hospital to get Finny after the pediatricians had rounds and finding him screaming, SCREAMING!, like someone had just ripped off his toenails.) And, "Twenty percent of babies have extreme fussiness/colic, and the parents of these babies are unlucky. These babies require a lot of parental soothing. They tend not to be self-soothing, and they often appear intense, agitated, and have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep." (Yep, that's us! Well, except for the unlucky part. I mean, really. How rude!)

The more I read, the more freaked out I became. There was something about seeing it spelled out in black and white that really hit home for me. Until I saw it in writing, I don't think I had any idea how difficult our situation had been. I was clearly exhausted and overwhelmed but almost to such a degree that I couldn't really see what was going on. When all of your energy and focus goes to keeping your head above water, you don't even notice that you're drowning. Once you realize what's really going on, that's when the panic sets in.

I called Bill at work and said, "Um...I think Finn has colic."


"Oh, um. Really?" I guess I was hoping he would tell me I was wrong. That maybe I was just tired and overreacting. That this whole miserable crying thing was just a fluke and soon enough Finny would be sleeping through the night and smiling during the day. But Bill was already two steps ahead of me. He said he had done some research and was going to pick up probiotics on his way home and make an appointment with a local chiropractor who specialized in infants and children. I started to protest - Dr. Weissbluth says those things are a waste of time and money! - but I was too tired to make a good argument. Plus, I had already exhausted every trick I knew and nothing I was reading or re-reading in the book seemed to be working. I was desperate. Bill could have suggested letting the baby spend the night in the car and I would have said okay.

(I should also probably mention that this conversation took place three days before we were meant to hop on a plane and fly to Reno to see family. It's one thing to spend all day and night with a screaming baby in the privacy of your own home. But on a plane? Filled with baby-hating strangers? All day? Desperate was an understatement.)

So we started Finn on probiotics and took him to the chiropractor.

The chiropractic visit was so gentle Finn probably would have slept right through it if he was the kind of baby who knew how to sleep. The doctor mostly did massage and taught me what to do for him at home (massage his tummy in clockwise half-circles to aid digestion, massage his low back near the descending colon, do some frog leg stretches and twists to loosen up his spine...). His main concern (aside from the tight spots in his neck and back which he was confident would respond really quickly to what we were doing) was his bowel function. Even though Finn was a totally breast-fed baby he was only pooping about once a week. And his gas...well, I've never met a baby who could clear a room like that. Not only did it smell bad, it HURT. We could feel his little tummy rumbling as
we rocked him to sleep (like a thousand times a night) and every so often (usually right about the time we thought we could finally lay him in his crib and sneak out), he'd wake with a jolt and start screaming. It SUCKED. And no amount of swaddling, shushing, rocking, nursing, white noise or regular bedtime routine seemed to help.

But the chiropractor and probiotics did! By the time we got on the plane we were amazed at how much happier our baby was. Without exaggeration, the flights out to Reno were AWESOME. Finn nursed and slept and hung out and didn't cry AT ALL. Bill and I didn't want to jinx anything but we couldn't help looking at each other every once in a while like, "What the hell?" and "I know!" We knew how bad it could have been and were so totally over-the-moon grateful that it wasn't.

The 10 days visiting with family went pretty well, too. I mean, considering I had a colicky two month old and a four year old mostly all to myself and we slept somewhere new every couple of days (so stupid). There was a lot of screaming (like the entire five hours we left Finn with Bill's parents and sister so we could go to a wedding), not nearly enough sleep (the logistics of sharing a bed with two children with different sleep patterns is completely beyond me) but enough quality time with family to (almost) make up for it.

Hanging with my sister at Lake Tahoe -
worth every sleepless moment.

When we got back to Nashville, we still had our work cut out for us. But it was so much better than it had been before that I almost enjoyed nursing Finn in the middle of the night and soothing him to sleep all evening (almost...). Where I used to feel hopeless (if anything), now I felt like I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. And it was getting brighter by the minute!

Most exciting though was how much better Finn felt physically. Where as before all we could see was how uncomfortable he was, now we could actually see him. And he was incredible! He wasn't the intense little sour puss we brought home from the hospital. That's just how uncomfortable he was. Colic is fussy; Finn is nothing but sweet. He's laid back, happy, curious, and totally content most of the time.

Four month check up -
four shots, two ear happy boy.

As soon as he hit four months old, all signs of colic were gone (just like Dr. Weissbluth said!). Finn soothes himself to sleep in his crib, never ever cries in the car (even when I pluck him out of his crib and stick him in his car seat in the middle of a nap), plays with his brother for long periods of time, hangs out in the exersaucer or on his play mat or in the Bumbo or, really, any place we stick him.

He's still not on any sort of a schedule, the last time he pooped was five days ago and depending on the night he still sometimes wakes up to nurse (once, twice, who's counting...). But who cares? He's a happy, healthy, growing boy. And while I'm sure I'm doing it all wrong according to the books, his sweet smile tells me that whatever we're doing is working out just fine.

Five months and counting...