Tag Archives: parenting

Daddy mogul, baby critic

Daddy mogul
Originally uploaded by tzt.

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.

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Blood and guilt

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.

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Mommies gone wild

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…

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The tomato hat factor

Saucy hat
Originally uploaded by tzt.

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!”

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The big stink, part 2

The house continued to smell of lethal stink-marker when we returned from one night at my mother’s.

Being a musician, my stepbrother did nothing about the stench except sleep at his girlfriend’s house. But he called the next day to tell us that our neighbor to the south now had the smell too.

Because our landlord owns all three of these properties, we finally called him from my husband’s cell phone when we were out to dinner. He immediately called the fire department and the fire marshals managed to arrive and leave before we got home.

According to my stepbrother, they didn’t even bother to fully apply the brake on their vehicle as they gave him the news – this smell was expected because the city sewer line was being worked on a block away. The vapors weren’t flammable or dangerous, they told him, in fact, they were “harmless.” If we just poured water down our basement drains, maybe even ran water for a while, certainly opened several windows (conveniently in October, when the weather was cooling off and natural gas bills are higher than ever) the smell would go away.

We went in and turned on faucets and dumped big pots of water in the basement trap drain, but the vapors were still unbearable and headache-producing 20 minutes later, so we returned to my mother’s for the night. My husband called the fire department and told them he defied anyone to actually come into the house and leave still calling the fumes “harmless,” but all they did was apologize and say that we should have been warned.

The next day the place still stunk. We kept dumping water, running water, turning on fans despite the crisp fall air and calling various Columbus city departments to find out what exactly the name of the chemical they were using in the sewer was. We were bounced from the fire department to the city water and sewer department to some other department called “new construction,” who finally told us that it was styrene, and they would be using it about one more week. Everyone also apologized that we weren’t warned, but they hadn’t expected it to travel a block up to us. They added that we could keep a rag in the trap drain to help stop the smell.

Styrene didn’t sound exactly “harmless” to me, so I made further calls to a national center on toxic substances, saying I was concerned for myself and my 4 and a half month old baby. I received a call from a man the next morning telling me to call the health department because they should be able to measure the amount of styrene in the air. I could take the baby to the doctor to see if there was any neurological damage, but styrene comes and goes from the human body so quickly it would be hard to measure. He also just said to document everything that happened for possible future liability and then told me I should worry about Bird Flu instead.

I talked to the health department and they brought us a fax with facts on styrene while we were out at the zoo to escape the lingering smell.

It’s now been two weeks since the original experience, and we’ve mostly gotten the smell under control, but I’m nervous about what the effects of this really were. There were three days in which just checking out the place gave me a headache, and we’ve all had sniffles for days.

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The big stink, part 1

A week and a half ago, we woke up in the early hours of a Thursday morning with a strange and powerful stench wafting through the house. It wasn’t the rotten eggs smell they put into natural gas lines, or the nasty stink of sewer gas. The only thing I could compare it to was overpowering permanent marker, like the tip of a massive Scripto had been plunged over our house.

Our next door neighbor (who also happens to be my stepbrother and a musician) is reliably up at hours like 4 a.m. pretty much any night of the week. Dan went next door to see if he had the smell too. In the 10 minutes or so that he was gone, I had a panic attack as I imagined us spontaneously combusting. I grabbed the baby, his diaper bag and my purse and headed out the back door, leaving it open so our dogs and cat could escape as well.

Dan was visiting with a group of people at my stepbrother’s house. Basically, the entire closing-time crowd from a bar up the street had relocated to his living room, where the stench was nowhere to be found. People snuffed out cigarettes as I walked in with the baby and started doting on him immediately. Declan was full of sleepy smiles, so he attracted several drunken hippie chick satellites in a matter of minutes. He loves being the center of attention.

A couple of the guys went back over to our house to check things out and see if they could distinguish the smell. Mostly they said “huh, smells like permanent marker.” I called the gas company to ask questions. Not their department. They didn’t even have a suggestion about who to call. There was a chorus of hypotheses from the bar crowd: a dead raccoon under or around the house, some weird smell drifting up from the ravine, or the most popular; that the furnace had kicked back in after months of warm weather. Everyone agreed, including a tipsy electrician who was in attendance, that it was clearly not gas.

After an hour or so, the smell had abated a bit, so we went back home, lit some incense and went back to bed.

The next day, Dan found that a water pipe that had been shut off during a summer plumbing job was also connected to our heater (we have steam heat). He felt certain that this was the source of the smell – the heater trying to run without enough water. He got the water back on and one of the radiators started leaking. He tried to shut it off and it wouldn’t budge. He called the landlord and they decided to shut the heater off until someone could come on Monday. The smell wasn’t so bad, as long as we stayed upstairs.

But on Sunday night, the house was thick with the smell again – it was unbearable, no matter where you went. I called my mother and asked to stay at her house, and while I was gathering things for our overnight stay, my stepbrother called to say the stench was now in his house too. He was going to stay at his girlfriend’s house, but he would make some calls to see what else he could find out.

To be continued…

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Blessings & bites

It was an auspcious weekend for Declan, who was blessed twice in the presence of the Heart Shrine Relics. He smiled through the first and slept through the second as people around us meditated upon and prayed for loving-kindness and compassion. If the worst of all of my fears about the direction of this country came true, this would be one form of peace activism no one could control.

Meanwhile, peace through laughter is is main modus operandi. While fist-chomping was once the primary signal for “I’m hungry,” there’s now rarely a moment when my baby isn’t drooling all over his fingers, gagging himself, sucking his thumb or grabbing things to shove in his mouth (a skill that seemed to develop overnight). It’s beginning to look a lot like teething around here.

The new signal for hunger is grabbing mommy’s hair and pulling himself forward to suck on mommy’s face, punctuated by brief spurts of maniachal laughter.

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In a funk

Declan’s been having yet another little growth spurt this week, demanding food pretty much constantly. The bigger he gets, the harder it is to breastfeed while typing. At nearly 15 weeks, he’s almost doubled his birth weight. (And yes, this is one of those facts that’s really only meaningful to fellow moms and doctors.)

All things seemed strangely equal at mom and baby yoga yesterday. Whatever each woman’s political ideology, everyone was excited when one of the babies rolled over by himself for the first time during the class.

Afterwards, on my way to lunch, there was a car accident right in front of me. It happened while I was sitting at a stoplight. One car just slammed into the side of the other, but neither driver was hurt. What are cars made of these days? I was maybe 25 feet from the collision, and it barely made a sound.

And I can’t stop watching the coverage of New Orleans. When things didn’t seem quite so awful late Monday, I thought about how resilient the city seemed to be when I spent time there a few years ago, and how willing it’s always been to cope with dark times by embracing them. But this is just sickening and tragic – there are no words.

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Antithetical Asanas

I always thought that post-college life was like a second adolescence because, for the first time, you no longer have a ready-made social environment. For some people, the workplace becomes the primary source of new friendships, but it seems that jobs so rarely reflect a person’s passions or conscience. And since I’ve spent more than half of my career as a freelance writer, working out of the house, that hasn’t really been an option for me anyway.

After many years where I’ve taken trips to bookstore caf├ęs during the day just to have some human contact, I thought one of the fringe benefits of having a baby would be the opportunity to meet other new moms. To some degree, that seems to be true, and it’s particularly exciting that there are now so many others in their 30s.

But then I went out to lunch with some women from a mom and baby yoga class the other day and was reminded how different mothers can be. One of the moms in the group mentioned that she had quit her job at one of those fake pregnancy crisis centers when her baby was born. It’s one thing to be pro-life, another to work in a place that purposefully deceives and emotionally manipulates young women. I sat there quietly and nodding dumbly, wondering how she might react if she knew that I started doing pro-choice work when I was about 16 years old. I even had a work-study job as a student organizer for reproductive rights in college.

Maybe I did visibly shudder at her revelation, which could be why she then explained that she was an abstinence educator. I was raised by a woman who was once the president of a Planned Parenthood chapter, so this didn’t strike me as a particularly more ethical line of work.

Did I miss an opportunity for dialogue and learning by keeping my mouth shut, or did I manage to duck a confrontation?

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