Thursday, September 29, 2005

Top ten list

Every baby book always has a list of “must-have” baby items, like the porta crib or the changing table pad, but there are always several essentials left off this list, and so I’d like to start my own list of “stuff you’d never see on such a list, but which is every bit as essential.”

1. A singing duck. Yes, you read that right. Not only do I not mind a toy that sings (in this case “singin’ in the rain”) but I treasure it, as it is the only thing that allows me to get clothing on my son. I lay him on the changing table; he cries. I grab the duck, start the song and sing along with it, and soon he’s laughing and no longer appears interested in reporting my arm-manipulating onesie-putting-on techniques to the human rights commission.
2. A short haircut. Sure, if you don’t have kids, you say you’ll never have “mommy hair.” We all did. But after dealing with hair-pulling and maintenance issues, most of us cave.
3. At least one dog or cat, preferably more than one in case the primary pet is not being cooperative and you need a spare.
4. Servants. Preferably a laundress and a dishwasher. And someone to clean up after pets (see #3).
5. An automatic coffee maker. Okay, we don’t actually have one of these, and the only thing I can think is…why not?
6. Ziploc baggies, all sizes. You need them for snacks, to pack out haz-mat diapers, changes of clothes, and storing keepsakes you really mean to do something with one day. They are the underlying theme behind what little organization in my house exists: somewhere, there is a baggie for everything (and everything in its baggie.)
7. Nicknames. Yes, these are the perfect passive-aggressive tools for chiding your infant’s behavior without hurting feelings. We call Davis “Mavis” when he’s being particularly grumpy, and this semantic exercise allows us to pretend that we simply have a high-maintenence guest and we only have to deal with him until Davis returns. Lest you think we are ganging up on my son, my husband as I also have similar names for each other. He’s “Ray” instead of Jay and in a moment of sparkling mediocrity, I came up with “Meff” for myself. If you want to complain, please direct all comments to Mefanie.
8. The numbers of local Chinese food, pizza and other takeout restaurants. Add “a driver” to # 4. Heck, also add “a gardener to tend the money tree” while you’re at it.
9. High-speed internet. Pictures, movies, blogging, emergency baby-item purchasing. Totally essential.
10. Girlfriends. Preferably ones that either have kids themselves or don’t mind your droning on about yours, but you gotta have girlfriends. At the risk of sounding like a chain letter or a sappy Hallmark card, I will say that girlfriend are your cheerleaders and confidants, and sometimes, if you have amazing friends like mine, they also bring you lunch. They let you complain about whatever annoying thing that happened to you today at the grocery store without once pointing out that there are people like the Katrina victims who would be happy to have a house to keep clean and a table to have to put food on, and when you tell them something awful you’ve done, they’ve always done something at least equally bad. They don’t think you’re a selfish slob because you watch TV instead of doing something wholesome like joining a book club or baking pies for the elderly, and they always have extra wipes/diapers/baby distractors/chocolate.

Okay, so the next post might be something along the lines of “crap they said you’d need for a baby and yet never used.” Please feel free to add to this present list or make suggestions for the next one in the comments section!

Monday, September 26, 2005


So my friend Beth and I are trying to get in shape because we've realized that our kids are nine and eight months respectively and it's time we stopped looking like we're, oh, four months pregnant (me more so than her). I have decried the abdominal wall parting-of-ways that is my tummy, and I can only say that things have not gotten tighter and sexier since that missive. I actually split a skirt a few weeks ago. Yup, I went to get in the car because it was my turn to go to church, and there I was in my favorite pre-pregnancy little black number with a cute silk shirt (which, okay, I grant you was straining under the pressure of The Breasts, but only a little). I was congratulating myself on getting into said skirt, with heels no less, when I flopped down in the driver's side seat of my car and heard *rrrrip.* At first I halfheartedly hoped it was the upholstery on my '95 Tercel finally giving out. Sadly, no--it was merely my butt, attempting to make a break for it. I was half afraid it would try to take the boobs with it, so I said nothing, just kinda limped back into the house holding my skirt together over my hot pink granny-panties.

Now I know that nothin' says sexy like a postpartum woman dragging back into the house holding her clothes together, but my husband, God bless him, said "Sweetie, you are a beautiful woman, and you'll be able to wear that skirt again someday." And then he kissed me on the top of my head before he said, "It just won't be today." True dat.

So Beth and I went to the YMCA yesterday to try and get memberships, since they have babysitting and indoor pools and stuff, and it was all very nice, very clean and well-staffed. Now, please understand that I fully support the search for and use of high-quality child care for working parents and totally understand how important it is for some moms to get a workout every day. I don't think it's selfish--I think you have to take care of yourself if you're going to take care of your kid well, and I think if you're filled with self-loathing for feeling like you're a slug, it's harder to be nice to other people, especially young children who have no body image issues and who are not terribly sympathetic to yours. But I have to say, this tiny voice in my head kept screaming, "You're gonna leave your baby here?!" Now, in addition to my political feelings on this issue, I also know that on a developmental level for my child to be away from me and with other children for 45 minutes will do him more good than harm--he loves other kids and generally likes to be in the nursery at church. He doesn't even mind sharing his devoted "surrogate Grandmas" with other kids, so I know that he'd probably really dig hanging out with the other cool kids in the babysitting area for a little while. But yet this voice kept scolding me, like some kind of deranged Supernanny, about how I was abandoning my child and were less-cottage-cheesy thighs and clothes that fit really enough of a reward for tossing my poor vulnerable baby to the predatory toddlers of the Y daycare room?

How messed up is that? It wasn't even like I could have told you that I believed what the voice was telling me, only that it disturbed me so much that I put off joining the Y. I begged off, saying I was too poor (which is probably true, too), but really, I felt like I had to figure out where this was all coming from. Is my Mother's Intuition trumping my policitcal and academic beliefs? Is it merely rampant insecurity and egomania on my part (surely not, no!)? Have I gotten to a stage where making a commitment to anything not expressly family-centric riddles me with guilt? Is my cupcake-and-krimpet fetish subliminally undermining any attempt to get my snack cake monkey off my back? What gives here?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Cloth diaper contest

Okay, so we have to decide which “diapering system” we are going to use now. I want to go back to cloth—a few weeks in disposables have sickened me, and so I’m gearing up for another try. Please use the comments section to vote! I rate them on ease of washing (W), general cuteness (C) and price (P), but you can use whatever criteria you want: Likelihood that patterns will clash with clothing (CwC), Looks too girly (G) or Diaper is in UVA colors and we hate the Cavaliers (UVA SUX)

This is a Bumkins all-in-one. Not really a contender: it’s the most expensive dipe here, it takes a long time to dry and is not very absorbent—Davis wore one for a nap (and you know he doesn’t nap that long!) and the diaper was so saturated it got his onesie wet. Eew. But is is soo darn cute, I had to post a pic!! W=2 C=10 P=$$$

These are Little Lambs, among the cutest of the dipes we’ve bought. They’re reasonable and easy to wash, too. W=9 C=10 and P=$

This is a Kushies all-in-one, which means it’s like a disposable (absorbent inside and waterproof outside). It’s extremely cute and affordable but takes a VERY LONG TIME to dry. W=6 C=9 P=$

This is a Fuzzi Bunz diaper. It’s called a pocket diaper because (drum roll!) it’s a pocket of fleece on the inside and waterproof on the outside and you stick something absorbent in the pocket (a flat cloth diaper, a small towel, a maxipad, whatever) to soak up the pee through the fleece. The fleece keeps baby feeling dry. It’s nice because it doesn’t take forever to dry, since you wash the inner soaker thingy separately from the pocket. It rates W=9 C=8 and P=$$ (since it’s a bit more pricey but does hold its value well).

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Mammals have hair, right?

Well, Davis and I returned to my weekly women’s group meetings last week—we went all last winter and spring (such as it is in central PA) and it was wonderful to have adults to talk to who weren’t my husband, much as I adore him. So when things started back up after the summer hiatus, we decided to attend, which is to say that since the durn meeting takes place during morning naptime, we went after the nap and caught the last five minutes. Anyway, we got to be reacquainted with some of our favorite folks, one of whom is my friend Carmen’s son. His name is McLean and he is adorable—7 years old, smart as a whip, and so excessively polite that it sometimes makes me laugh out loud: “Um, excuse me, mom? I’m sorry for interrupting, but I wanted to let you know I won’t be interrupting you anymore.”

So one of the reasons I adore McLean (and his siblings Moira and Seamus—Carmen and her husband have kind of a County Cork theme going) is that he loves Davis beyond reason. Here is this kid, who is already perfectly great by anyone’s standards, and he loves my baby. Can you ask for more? The first time we went out with McLean, we were at a restaurant, and he’s there, cooing to Davis and petting him and kissing him, and he looks up at me and quite authoritatively says, “You know, babies are my favorite animals.” Of course I giggled at the sheer cuteness of this proclamation, and he suddenly looked a little flustered, thinking he’d said something wrong, and qualified his statement by adding, “well, my favorite mammals, anyway.” Of course at this point I actually laughed out loud, told him how great he was and proceeded to refer to Davis (and, in fact, all children) as the mammal for the next few months. But I digress.

So anyway, about my women’s group meeting: It was great to see everyone, see how the kids had grown up: Helen, who is also 7 and is McLean’s best friend, got glasses and looks quite scholarly and bookish, Benjamin, who is 3½, potty-trained and has a very grown-up short haircut. While we’re on that subject, what’s the age cutoff for the long-haired hippie-kid look for toddlers, anyway? I mean for normal families…for Davis, it’s like two months from now as my husband is still dealing with a scarring experience he had as a tot wherein he was mistaken for a girl thanks to his Dorothy-Hamill haircut. He responds to trauma by becoming extremely proactive, which means Davis will start having his hair shaved off any day now. I have threatened to call him “sarge,” but it hasn’t gotten me anywhere. At least the head shaving would ameliorate Big D’s baby mohawk problem (for a deeper discussion of the baby mohawk issue, see Gina Grace’s musings on the matter at

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Good Eater

So, my kid is a good eater. At 8 months old, he’s 22 pounds of good appetite, and it shows. I think he has learned his gustatory gusto from yours truly—my husband’s approach to food is decidedly more utilitarian. This isn’t to say he doesn’t enjoy food—he does. He just doesn’t treat it with the same enthusiasm I do. My family just loves food. We aren’t gourmets or exclusive junk food junkies—we are equal-opportunity eaters. My husband’s people, not so much. My mother-in-law appears to hate food unless it can be slurped through a straw (iced tea, iced vanilla lattes and those horrific yogurt drinks), and I am fairly certain my sister in law has had long stretches of her life where she ate only tuna fish.

But Davis, like me, loves food. He’s crazy about oatmeal and fruit, tolerates most vegetables with a good attitude, and doesn’t even wince at the tofu I mix into stuff. He’s recently tried baby-food chicken and we may have found one food he doesn’t like. I can’t blame him; it smells like the canned chicken called “mixin’ chicken” which consists of whatever’s left over after the cans of chicken breast have been processed. Not appetizing to anyone—except the cat, which should tell you something.

So anyway, the other night, my milk ran out after the big fella’s going-to-bed feeding and my husband duly went in with a 7-oz. bottle for the oh-I-just-need-something-to-tide-me-over feeding at 10PM. We didn’t really think he’d have much—he’d just eaten and nursed 3 hours earlier, and sometimes he just sips, like he’s savoring a nightcap or something. Well, 20 minutes later, my husband came out and said, “Well, that kid might look like me,” and he looked me in the eye as he set down the empty bottle, “but he’s definitely one of your people.” I don’t know why, but this made me laugh and laugh.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Gotta love those developmental milestones

Crap. My child has discovered the benefits of mobility. I knew it would happen, just not so fast. I mean, just last week, we were Sitting and Looking and life was grand, but now we have seen the promise that mobility (currently in the form of Lurching) holds. He basically rolls everywhere, though, so at least it takes him forever to inch his way towards whatever infant health hazard has caught his interest. I mean, if I clear a pretty good perimeter around him, I can still go to the bathroom and not have to worry that he'll suffocate himself in my babywrap, eat the remote or drown in the cats' water bowl.

He's also learning--slowly--to use the famed pinscher grasp (and yes, I realize that if you are not a mom or child development expert, what I just wrote might as well be written in hieroglyphics for all the significance it will likely hold for you. It's the index finger and thumb pinch-grip.). He has only managed to use it a couple of times on his pinscher-grasp-approved Gerber fruit puffs (sing it with me: they melt in your mouth and stick to your hand)--mostly what happens is that he gets the puff in his palm, holds his pinky and ring fingers out of the way, and after several fake-outs, manages to get it in his mouth. However, if he finds, say, some kitty litter grit on the floor, the pinscher grasp appears out of nowhere. *sigh*

Well, now I just have to figure out what the Mommy Developmental Milestones are. The ability to spend more than an hour in my house without checking to see if my child is still breathing? The ability to change a diaper without the help of a half-nelson? Please post your thoughts...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Keep on marchin'

Disclaimer: If you want to see the movie March of the Penguins, do not read this post. I’m almost certainly going to spoil it for you, so if you want to see this movie, seriously, stop reading NOW!

Okay, so my husband and I went out on our September date (we seem to be able to get out for dates once a month these days) last night. We had some lovely faux-Mexican food (Well, I had wings. What’s the point of eating Mexican food if you’re off dairy? Enchiladas, quesedillas and the like are nothing more than vehicles for ingesting sour cream, right?). Then we went to see March of the Penguins—a much-lauded French-directed film about cute birds and, we thought, a nice follow-up to Winged Migration, which we really liked. Now, please don’t take this next statement as my being super-nationalist or anything, but I hate the freaking French when it comes to movies. For some reason, the French seem to think that movies are to represent reality and to do so must include explicit—and, if I may say so, gratuitous—scenes of suffering. Let me say for the record that I so do not need reality when I go to the movies. When you tell me I’m gonna get to see a cute movie about penguins, I’d better see cute penguins acting goofy and that’s IT! If one has to meet its untimely end, it better be the grouchy penguin no one liked who was always making life difficult by eroding the penguin babies’ self-esteem. I want to see zero penguins getting eaten by leopard seals and albatrosses (albatrossi?). I do not want to watch pristine penguin eggs cracking and adorable fuzzy chicks freezing to death, and I’d better see absolutely NO penguin mother wailing the loss of her dead chick. This movie was unbearable. It was like watching Hurricane Katrina footage of penguins. At one point, I was crying so hard I thought I would have to leave the theater lest the other patrons ask for their hormonal-nursing-mother-in-the-audience discount. It got to the point that whenever Morgan Freeman (the narrator) would say something about how hard the winter is in Antarctica and what the penguins must do to survive, either my husband or I would whisper, “And now you will see what happens to those penguins who don’t listen.”

I think thing that made me so uncomfortable about the movie is how keenly it encapsulated the experience of parenthood for me. From the moment in May 2004 when I saw that pink line on a stick I’d just peed on, anxiety has been, as Eloise might say, my ‘mostly companion.’ (My friend Lauren explains this much more eloquently in her July 4 post on her daughter’s website here: I worried all through pregnancy—was the baby okay, would I be a good mom, would he be happy or end up on Dr. Phil talking about how we didn’t seem to like him. I felt like I barely enjoyed his newbornhood, so worried as I was with pooping, weight gain, sleeping, etc. I felt like the few times I did relax and enjoy myself and this sweet fella, some new worry took the opportunity to get its foot in the door. It almost got to the point where I didn’t want to love him too much because he might be snatched away from me. I know this sounds ridiculous—it is ridiculous—and yet I sometimes couldn’t stop: I’d hear about someone else’s baby being taken away from them by SIDs or their mate being stolen by an accident or whatever and I’d find it hard to even breathe, wondering why it happened to them and not me.

That’s the undercurrent swirling just under the surface of March of the Penguins: even as one is sucked in by the waddling, the funny trumpeting, the furry chicks roly-polying around, it takes about two seconds before WHAMMO! And one of these beautiful creatures dies. It seems so arbitrary; it seems pointless to even try to help your baby make it to the water where it can swim and feed and frolic, because it’ll just be lunch for some horrid predator.

So as I tossed and turned last night, I wondered about this. Why take this parenthood journey if all it is is an exercise in constant stress and mind-f*cking? Is that what it’s supposed to be about? I don’t have any answers, but I’m starting to see some light on the horizon. It’s starting to dawn on me that parenthood is certainly fraught with its share of anxiety, but that’s not what it’s supposed to teach us—it’s supposed to teach us to face those fears, tell them to piss off and love way too hard and way too much in spite of ourselves. Parenthood makes you love wildly, beyond logic and reason. You know it’s crazy, to be so caught up and in love and invested in another person, and you do it anyway. You can’t help it. You somehow have to accept that this feeling you now have transcends mortality and that you will find some way to carry on if, God forbid, this person’s physical form no longer plays with your hair or sticks its fingers up your nose. And you do this, not just for yourself, but for the mamas whose chicks never made it to the water, because to try to push your gift away doesn’t honor those mothers in the least. You refuse to mock their loss by trying to love any less, and you hope that the tent of your heart is wide enough for even the saddest to find solace.

Like I said, I don’t have any real answers. It still makes my heart hurt to think about the penguin movie. But I am grateful now to be dragged back into the reality I sought to escape such a short time ago, because reality doesn’t wait for you to feel better or soothe yourself out of your neuroses—it demands that you be present and ready to roll: there are diapers to be changed, new foods to try, and stories to read. So I dive back into this reality, and I tell myself I’ll enjoy it more, relish it more thoroughly, even—and especially—in the too-early morning when I reach into that crib and lift my vulnerable little heart out of it and step back to beam at the wonder of it.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Confessions of a Half-Stepper

So yeah. I have a reputation for being somewhat, ah, strident—not to mention generous—with my opinions. And naturally, as with everything else from my previous life that I clung to, motherhood has found a way to kick my refusal to give in and my general unwaveringness in the butt. I mentioned in my ideology post that where the two big parenting theories are concerned, I am a closeted bi. I’m a little of this and a little of that, and I was careful to try and avoid any rash statements in this area even before Davis came along. In other areas, however, I was happy to proclaim my ideologies: No, my child will not wear disposable diapers. He will never be offered even one ounce of formula. I will carry/wear my child in a sling/baby carrier, not a stroller. Now, before you explain why you just had to do disposable diapers or use formula, let me say in my defense that I didn’t care if anyone else adhered to these ideologies, they were just these statements I made for myself and had every intention of adhering to.

And I was promptly slapped by reality. This is not to say that within 2 weeks I was contributing to the sharp increase in profits reaped by Huggies and Good Start, but I did have to inch back from my more militant missives.

First, I discovered how much less laundry one has to do when using disposable diapers. And the lure of less laundry, especially of the stinky, labor-intensive kind, sang its siren song. But I resisted…except for vacations, outings and Davis’s brief stays in our church nursery. Like I said: I’m a half-stepper. Then my child decided that every diaper change was an Olympic decathlon—complete with high hurdles, the long jump and upper-body twisting that could only be likened to discus-throwing—and trying to put a flat diaper AND a waterproof cover on him became an event on the Amazing Race. Again, those damn mini-enviro-disasters began to whisper to me: “Come on. You recycle everything else! You re-use water bottles until you’re mostly drinking plastic fumes! Your husband composts! Think of all the water you’ll save with us! You don’t even save any money using cloth diapers!” So far I have been able to resist and continue in my role as half-stepper extraordinaire, but it hasn’t been easy.  

And the sling? Well, when he was a newborn, my child hated, as I’ve said elsewhere, all things slinglike—nothing snug around the head, thanks. So we used the Baby Bjorn, whose praises I have sung. But when Davis was 6 months old, we had to stop using the Bjorn—at 20+ lbs., the indentations from the straps started to look oddly permanent and I started to sound like someone’s grandmother, complaining of “the sciatica.” So we’ve tried the sling again. It has its days. Davis certainly prefers it to the stroller most of the time. Problem is, he usually squirms or attempts to excavate my nose whenever he’s in it, which, you will not be surprised to discover, is a little distracting while one is grocery shopping. Attemping to find out the amount of fiber in the store brand wheat bread is a task not made easier by a pair of tiny hands attempting to rip off one’s ears or delicate, very tender neck skin. And if I can get him to chill out and enjoy the non-Mommy scenery, it seems to never fail that during the endless adjustments I have to make to the sling, my clothing decides to ride up, sag down or become generally disarranged. I was attempting to wear him at a party yesterday and so much of my belly and cleavage were hanging out that I might as well have been wearing pasties for all the coverage my t-shirt was able to offer. So again, I half-step: a few minutes in the stroller, a few minutes in the sling. One outing with no stroller, one outing where the sling has a time-out in the car. And so it goes.

And then, there was formula. Exclusive breastfeeding was kind of my last holdout: I bought a jar of formula just to psych myself up: when I was too tired to pump, I’d take a look at that green jar, just mocking me, and I’d grind it out, like Rocky running the steps, tireless in my efforts to keep The Jar at bay.

Then I apparently contracted some nasty snot-producing thing and didn’t sleep for about a week, and while my milk didn’t exactly quit, it did decide to really reduce its working hours, citing something like stopping to smell the roses, avoiding burnout, etc. So we went through all supplies of frozen breastmilk in a matter of days and then had another several days of having to nurse every two hours—which of course led to no sleeping and seemed to exacerbate the supply problem. I called my mom, my friends, the lactation consultant, drank enough fluids to water the Sahara, tried taking fenugreek, and nothing seemed to help. So I had to crack the jar, give up the final front, and accept that one or two formula feedings are just going to have to happen. It seems unfair, since I really don’t want to use formula and there are plenty of other people who are OK with using it, but hey, at least it makes it easier to say that the one thing I am not a half-stepper on is ….the fact that I’m a half-stepper!!

But here’s the thing: motherhood is sadly lacking in black-or-white situations, at least for me. Like, there wasn’t a time when I said, “shoo, I’m sick of night wakings; let daddy get up and give Heavy D some formula.” My acquiescence on the formula front was seeing him sleep for 6-8 hours straight because he finally got enough to eat and didn’t have to wake every 2 hours to get the calories he needed. Likewise, not using the sling or cloth diapers is rarely a simple effect of my own sheer selfishness: it’s a constellation of different and competing needs. I guess that’s what life as a mother is like: learning to be flexible but strong at the same time. (Kind of like yoga but with more flab.) Perhaps I can become a militant half-stepper?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Dangerous games

The person who said kids like the box better than the gift itself got it mostly right. I think it would be more accurate, however, to say that the kid likes eating the styrofoam peanuts (sort of an “exhibit A” for “easy to choke on”), chewing on the strapping tape and wrapping himself/herself in the bits of string more than the gift. Basically, the more dangerous and seemingly inappropriate the item is, the bigger battle I’m going to have taking it away from my child.

Our first inkling that this was true was when Davis and his dad were driving somewhere and my husband suddenly heard chewing sounds coming from the back. A quick glance in the babyview mirror (one of the things I swore I’d never get and now cannot live without) told dad that the plastic Spongebob Squarepants window-shade clingy-thing was now providing quite the feast for our boy. Spongebob’s rescue was greeted by much howling and protestation, because naturally, suffocation hazards are what babies like best.

His current favorite toy in this department is a measuring tape I bought at the dollar store while I was pregnant to record the annexation of my abdominal region. It’s a disk about an inch thick and maybe two or three inches across with a flabby length of measuring tape that clicks out and is retracted by a button. I think he first encountered it when I was making it click for him-he grabbed it and they’ve been best friends ever since. This thing is like the anti-toy, seriously. Okay, it’s probably too big for him to choke on, but it does have both the automatic strangulation device (the measuring tape) and the mechanical whip action (the retractor button).

Well, I say it’s his favorite toy. It may have been demoted today, as he spied my belt lying on the bed and went for it like a grad student after free pizza. He gazed at it in wonder, and I could only imagine what he was thinking: “Ooo, its tail can activate my gag reflex when I chew on it! And its shiny buckle has a sharp piece that’s perfect for stabbing myself! Oh, and if you twist it just so, it would fit around my neck!”

Okay, actually, he was probably thinking something much more Fab Five, like “What do you mean, no belts with jammies? Um, people, I’ll quote Steel Magnolias: ‘The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize!’ And yes, black is still in--brown is so NOT ‘the black of the 21st century.’ You don’t agree? Well, tell that to most of Manhattan. Well, yes, this thing could use a few more rhinestones. Baby needs some bling, mama!” I think my husband’s contention is that he was thinking “Whoa…chewy. And ooo, shiny. And…chewy,” but then he takes all that stuff about babies having no short-term memory waaaay too seriously.

But to drag this back to my original point (and yes, there was one--it will be on the quiz later), babies love dangerous stuff, probably because they have very little sense of loss and fear. How did I get from that place (where, presumably, we all started out) to thinking, “ I can’t give him a teething biscuit because he doesn’t meet each of the five developmental criteria listed on the box?” I’m learning to love that Davis can find joy and interest in some things many of the rest of us find disgusting and/or dangerous, and I’m trying to make my job more about helping him be safe without killing his curiosity or his thrill-seeking nature. So I let him enjoy his Measuring Tape--just so long as he has proper adult supervision. Not sure I’ll give in on the black leather belt, though--I need the slimming effect of black way more than he does.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The kindness of strangers

Maybe people were always this amazing and nice, but I never saw it until I had a child and could truly appreciate every single little thing people do for me. Kinda like sleep. I loved sleeping B.D. (before Davis) but now I know what a gift it is for my husband to allow me to sleep an hour later in the morning. Maybe it’s having a child that inspires other people to take care of you--I don’t know. All I know is that random people have been doing the nicest things for us since Davis came along.

Like today. I opened an anonymous letter postmarked Pittsburgh, PA to find a $100 gift card to Wal-Mart inside. What? I am a woman who swears in traffic, occasionally even in front of her child. How did I come to deserve this gift? Back in May, I got a similar one for Mother’s day: just a sweet short note in handwriting I don’t recognize, saying happy Mother’s day and a huge gift card to my favorite grocery store. What gives?

And then there are the intangible, non-monetary kindnesses, which make me well up when I think of them. Some of them are small--the woman at Wal-Mart who offered to put my cart away as soon as I’d loaded my son in the car, the friend who brought us a salad so we wouldn’t have to worry about lunch, the slouching, narrow-eyed, too-cool-for-school college kid who made a face at Davis just to make him laugh. Others seem bigger, or at least more unexpected: I remember going down to our laundry room, panicked because our neighbor, with whom we share the washer and dryer, was trying to do laundry and I knew a load of diapers was still sitting in the dryer. Except it wasn’t there. My salty old confirmed-bachelor neighbor had folded every single thing and stacked it neatly on top of the dryer. I ask you!

And say what you will about organized religion; the people at my church have taken us on as a family. Literally. I feel like their project, only with less of a Jerry’s kids kind of vibe. One woman called me and told me God had told her when she woke up that morning that we needed a night out and she was to babysit. Not being ones to stand in the way of the commandings of the Lord, we accepted. Another church member invited Davis to “a party at her house” and politely explained that we were not invited--we were to do something on our own, as this party was for babies only. Never mind that my son was the only baby there…

My church family has been spoiling us since I got pregnant, though--there were baby showers and heartbreakingly sweet gifts, like a sampler that took months to complete or the book of inspirational quotes on parenting that the whole church helped put together. And there of course was the whole spate of nice deeds that folks did right after Davis was born--friends visited us at the hospital, the women at my husband’s church made food and arrived en force to stock our freezer, and people brought gifts by at all hours of the day. A friend even loaned us cloth diapers to try out and made two slings for me to haul around my bouncing baby boy.

But there is something about having a baby who’s no longer a newborn--say five, six or seven months--that makes the friend who randomly brings Chinese food over or the person who offers free babysitting “so you can do something that’s not work” incredibly touching and nice. It's like finding your long-lost favorite lipstick in last year's winter coat. Yes, every time I think this being-a-mother thing is too much for me, it’s like God reaches out through my fellow human beings and gives me a noodge, as if to say “Lighten up, kid. I’ve been doing this mothering gig longer than you have. I’ve gotcha covered.”

I’ve been thinking so much about these random kindnesses especially in light of the Katrina aftermath in New Orleans. With so much craziness, greed and desperation going on there, it’s easy to think that’s what our fellow humans are all about. But then I think of these fingers of light that have been piercing the clouds in my own life lo, these many months, and I know that the flood of good deeds and kindness and love that’s pouring South right now will make even these raging floodwaters look like a kiddie pool.