Lately, Declan has been swabbing up new words and concepts like a syntactic barnacle suckered onto a chubby unabridged dictionary. He began to request “more” of everything, from avocado and blueberries to images of nebulae and planets in the opening sequence of “Star Trek: Voyager” reruns well before Christmas. (To this day, if I don’t capture video of intergalactic travel on the DVR for multiple replay, there can be hell to pay.)
Then, suddenly, he could no longer restrain himself from singing along with the lullabies he’d made me repeat several times a day. He chimes in a word at the end of each phrase, adding new ones as they make sense to him. When his Giga (his name for my mother) gave him a book called “That’s dangerous!” for Christmas, he happily mastered the three-syllable word, sing-songing “Mommy, mommy, DAN-GER-OUS” as he sashayed through the house. Whenever my husband watches taped David Letterman shows during the day, Declan runs up to the screen during the “Great Moments in Presidential Speeches,” and chimes in along with FDR’s “fear” and points his finger determinedly while saying “ASK NOT…” along with JFK.
Now, I’m amazed by his sudden ability to recognize and name shapes and colors as well as several letters and numbers. Yesterday, he wiggled around the bathtub with a foam orange 4 displayed proudly on his belly, chanting “number 4, number four,” before sticking it up into the faucet, so that it looks like we’ll be taking Dali-esque baths filled with numbers and letters in the future:
Ever since I first found out that I was going to have a May baby, I dreamed of planting a vegetable garden every year around his or her birthday. It took me until my 30s to realize the rewards of eating homegrown food, let alone planting and nourishing anything, then watching it flourish.
In my pregnant daydreams, this child and I would play with plants in the dirt, then water and watch things grow together. On the languid evenings between late July and the early fall, we would happily eat our homegrown “birthday” tomatoes and cucumbers in celebration of his or her life and good food. I just had to keep my fingers crossed that this child would actually enjoy vegetables.
Now 14 months, Declan screams for bananas and berries in the grocery store aisles, so far mostly unaware of the sugary pleasures of things like chocolate and cookies. The other day he reached out his hand and cried as a bag of avocados rode past him on the conveyor belt in the checkout line, oblivious to a quart of ice cream. “Aha, you have one of those fruit and vegetable babies there, don’t you?” the woman bagging the groceries said.
Last night we stopped for sweet corn at Lynd’s Fruit Farm and walked past a table of tomatoes. Declan started to grab one, which would have caused an avalanche, so I redirected him to walk toward his father. There was another table of beefsteaks on the path, and before either of us could do anything about it, he had one in his hand and took a bite out of it like an apple. Customers and the owners all laughed as they watched him chow down as though his life depended on it, juice and seeds seeping down his chin.
Granted, a few more tastes of confections could change his tastes completely in the next couple of years, but so far, the gardening assistant of my daydreams lives on.
Happy earth day!
Things just get more amazing by the day around here. Declan’s cruising, babbling syllables that appear to mean something to him (including a few clear ones, like “dog” and “ball”) and picking up every speck of flotsam he can find on the floor to put in his mouth.
Right after he was born, there must have been dozens of friends and strangers alike who told me: “don’t worry, it will get easier!” The truth is, sleep deprivation notwithstanding, I basically felt that having an infant was a blast. It was the perfect excuse to live like a retiree – nesting into as complete a measure of domestic comfort as possible, napping at will, going on leisurely outings with the sling or the stroller, and shopping for needs that seemed trivial just to get out of the house.
And when I put my boy down, he’d just stay wherever I put him, smiling sweetly at me, content as long as we cooed at each other before he dropped off to sleep. Now he’s crawling like lightning, crying with frustration as he tries to lift things like this week’s favorite book – a collection of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes – onto beds or couches. We’re trying to teach him baby sign language for useful things like “food,” “milk,” “more,” “hurt” and “help,” but he either hasn’t grasped them yet, or we aren’t picking up on his cues.
This is the heartache of motherhood I’ve been dreading – trying to figure out how to help him through the frustration of knowing what he wants and not having the tools to fully express it.
Due to his father’s strange adventure on the Judge Judy show and a visit to my father’s house for Thanksgiving, Declan has made his way to Los Angeles and Manhattan at the grand old age of six months.
He’s wandered through the Getty Center, MOMA and even The Aldrich in Connecticut.
Suffice to say, he has an appreciation for minimalist and abstract painting that his father and I may never develop.
He shrieks with joy when he sees bright orange or yellow.
In a dream last night, there was no milk left in my breasts, only blood. In the netherworld of REM sleep, I remember feeling surprised and frustrated rather than mortified. I tried to convince myself that maybe there was a good reason for this biological change. Maybe the blood would protect my son from new, volatile viruses or cure his runny nose.
Instead, the nursing just became painful and Declan looked distressed and unhappy. I felt angry that my body was betraying me. The last thing I remember was carrying my crying baby, asking strangers for advice.
This is the precipice every mother I know has told me about at one point or another. Just when you feel like you’ve mastered the challenges of one stage, the next one comes creeping along and the ground crumbles out from beneath you.
Mostly, I’ve gotten pretty good at embracing the falls and having the faith that I will figure out how to keep from belly flopping. But every day I see this essence of goodness in a boy who is becoming more and more himself at lightening speed.
Then I worry about the emotional wounds I’m bound to inflict because I am an imperfect human. Like the times I’ll get angry at his father that he won’t forget, while he wonders at the depth of my feelings. Or the times that I have no answers to hard questions and he begins to feel his first sense of fear and aloneness.
Some say worry is useless and destructive, but if you check my DNA, I am preceded by at least two generations of worrying women. Sure, the rational side of me knows that I can’t control what happens to my son, and that overprotection isn’t going to help him find his way in the world any more than being a militaristic and controlling parent would be.
But at it’s best, I think worry can be a bit of a motivator. It challenges me to look for new means to handle things and be a better mom. It’s the anxiety that I need to extract like a painful molar.
My husband owns a live music nightclub.
I feel pretty comfortable bringing my baby to its quieter acoustic shows. There’s a smoking ban in Columbus, so the air is clear, and Declan loves music. We have places where we can escape if the crowd seems too overwhelming.
But there is one peril I hadn’t anticipated: the drunken mommy factor.
At two recent shows – first, David Lindley and second, Jimmie Dale Gilmore – moms with the night off had already hit the tipsy point when they spotted us. In the first case, a woman I know who is a mom to two elementary school-aged kids started talking to Declan and instantly making him smile. I didn’t realize until after I’d agreed to let her hold him and released him into her arms that her balance wasn’t quite all it should be. Another friend and I kind of put our palms out and buttressed her in case she teetered too much, until I could extract my baby safely back into his sling.
On Saturday, my brother-in-law and nephew came to the Jimmie Dale show, as anxious to see Declan as the music. I handed him off to his Uncle Rob directly. Shortly thereafter, a woman started screaming “OH MY GOD, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL BABY! IS THIS DAN’S BABY? OH MY GOD!” and before I knew it, my son was again in the arms of an intoxicated mommy who clearly hadn’t held a baby in far too long. While Rob sort of ran after her to prevent a disaster, another woman ran up to me to tell me it was clear that it was clear that Declan had “a certain spark that draws people to him.”
For the sake of our son’s safety (as well as the peace and goodwill of his patrons), Dan came to the rescue. He practically had to pry Declan away from his captor and her friend, who was obnoxiously smushing her nose into his cheek. We stuffed him back into his sling and hung out at the sound board (off-limits to the general public) for a few minutes.
No sooner were we back with Declan’s uncle and cousin than old drunko had returned, forcing us into hiding again.
I guess I’m going to have to stay in hiding until May if I want to keep my baby protected from Bird Flu…
Believe it or not, this is Declan’s great grandfather’s Casio keyboard.
He loves to play it.
My grandfather was prone to try and learn to do new things right up until he died, at 89, in 1999.
As Declan becomes more and more animated, more prone to smiling and showing off all of his newfound skills, I feel more and more like a 35-year-old puff of smoke that simply transports him from place to place. I’ve only recently been able to fit back into my pre-baby clothes, so mommy-induced invisibility has been a sort of convenient body camouflage.
But put him in something extra-terrestrially cute like this tomato hat, knitted for him by a friend, and even his father disappears from the world at large. With the cold weather just swinging in, he’s been wearing it out a lot lately, and it prompts total strangers to start talking to him directly, as though he’s trolling around town all alone.
The other night, we were out at a bland restaurant Downtown and decided to get ice cream afterwards. As we walked across a public square, a group of people spilled out of another restaurant and started to crow: “look at the baby with the tomato head! Omygosh what a cute baby!”
I turned around with Declan in my arms so that they could see him properly. The most excited person in the bunch was a tall, muscular blond guy who yelled excitedly: “Hi little baby! I love your tomato hat, baby! You are such a cute baby!”
Declan is generous with his smiles, so he gave the man one as we started to move on.
“He smiled at me! Thanks baby!”
A rare and undestructive variety.
He is five months old today.