I was maddened, as I am every year, to see the stores decked out in full holiday regalia already. It wasn't even mid-November at the time. It wasn't so much the in-your-face commercialism, or the fact that retailers would like to see me and the rest of the world's shoppers skip Fall altogether and launch ourselves head-first into holiday shopping in October.
It was the fact that seeing the garland, the bows, the bells, and the sale signs everywhere I turned reminded me that the holidays are not the most wonderful time of the year for me because of this. It wasn't always this way. When I was a child, I couldn't wait for the holidays, and while the anticipation of ripping into presents was a part of my joy, it wasn't everything. Sharing the traditions of my family made me almost as happy as unwrapping my fourth Cabbage Patch Kid. And somehow, I've let the "Buy! Buy!" messages interrupting Survivor every 10 minutes kill the true meaning of the holidays for me in the last few years.
Then I stumbled across this post shortly after that trip to the mall. Tracey writes about her family's holiday traditions, and what makes this time of year special for her. And on Monday, Melissa did the same. So in the spirit of attempting to recapture what the holidays should represent, I've decided to make a concerted effort to establish some of the same traditions with Isabella that I experienced as a child. I don't want my negative energy about the holidays to rub off on her as she grows. I want to make the holidays as special for her as my mom did for my sister and me when we were young. And in the process, I hope to be a little less surly as the days tick down until Christmas.
On Thanksgiving morning, my mom would bake cinnamon rolls for my sister and me to eat while we watched the parade on tv. I continued this tradition once I moved out on my own, and this year, Isabella enjoyed her first cinnamon roll while staying glued to the tube, hoping for a glimpse of Elmo on the Sesame Street float.
Each year, beginning with the year of our births, my mom would give my sister and me an ornament that represented one of our hobbies or interests, or an event that occurred in our lives during the year that had just passed. I have a delicate china ballet slipper for the year I began dance lessons, a silver disco ball ornament for the year I returned from living in London, silver Docs in tow, and a bronze angel ornament she gave to me the year my grandfather died. Isabella received her first ornament, a small cream-colored bell, last year, and she'll receive another this year. I'm thinking a set of false teeth hanging on a string might be appropriate.
Baking is always a huge part of the holiday season in my family. My great aunt, she of the weekly Sunday dinners, bakes over 3,000 cookies each year. My mom would always bake my absolute-favorite candy cane cookies (which I attempted to replicate with less-than-perfect results two years ago), and I would eat them hand-over-fist. Isabella and I baked for the first time together last Christmas (for only being a mere 4 months old, she was quite adept at dough-rolling), and this year, we'll give it a go once again.
And I've decided that next year, I will extract from my great aunt the many cookie recipes she keeps in her head and put together a family cookbook.
On Christmas morning, my sister and I would pile our presents in front of us, and place my mom's in front of her. And then one-by-one, we would open them, as well as our practical stocking gifts, such as toothbrushes, emery boards, and bookmarks. I enjoyed the calm and unfrenzied pace of opening gifts this way, and while it may not always be possible to do things this way when Isabella is very young, I'm hoping to teach her as she grows to take things a little slower (advice I need to follow myself).
All is supposed to be calm this time of year, right? Please help me step off the hamster wheel by sharing some of your holiday traditions, so I may steal them and make them my own.
In the last month, the child has developed a voracious appetite. It seems as if she's eating her weight in cheese and apples and oatmeal every single day. She cannot get enough to eat, and I'm now wondering if she's harboring a tapeworm. And to think she started out her life dangling off the low end of the weight percentile charts. She's also started to feed herself with the spoon (left-handed), which is simultaneously wonderful and massively messy at the same time. She does best with foods that don't slide, such as oatmeal and mashed potatoes.
Her vocabulary is growing along with her belly. She's put her first two words together ("My Dada") and can identify things she's eating without being told what they are. Meanwhile, I'm pursuing a Master's in Toddler-ese Translation. It's amazing to me that I can understand her without a problem most of the time when she's really not pronouncing most of her words correctly yet.
In addition to training for a 5K by lapping the first floor of my house approximately 432 times a day, she will now take my hand and pull me in the direction she wants me to go.
She's obsessed with watching the "bebe" on my laptop. Anytime she meanders into my office, she asks to see the videos I've taken of her.
An interesting development on the bodily functions front this month. She will sometimes tell me when she's pooped by pointing down to her diaper and saying "poo poo." According to my grandmother (she of the "I've raised 5 children and 11 grandchildren, so I know a thing or two about..." fill in the blank with the child-rearing practice of choice here), this means she's going to be easy to potty train. The temptation to do it Right Now is huge, but I know Isabella is too young yet.
The belly button obsession continues. Every morning, I get her out of her crib, and we hang out in the glider rocker in her room for a bit. She immediately starts searching for her belly button. I unzip her sleeper so she can find it and poke at it, and then she starts lifting up my shirt to see mine. So we compare. And then we go about our day. Yeah. I'm as confused by that one as you are.
She's started what I think may be the early beginnings of pretend play. She likes feeding her sippy cup to her stuffed animals, and trying to put her binkie in their mouths as well. She also loves to tuck her animals under blankets, as if she's putting them to bed.
Isabella loves to shake her groove thing. She'll point to the stereo and say, "sss...sss" (music) and start dancing. Once music is playing, she's highly discriminating regarding which songs she will or will not dance to. I'll put on a CD and play track 1. If she doesn't like it, she'll say, "No," and we'll move to track 2, and so on. Once she's found one she likes, she smiles and immediately starts dancing.
And now, for a teeth update.
She still has none. At 15 months old.
I've decided to embrace the whole no teeth thing, instead of being all WTF? about it. I was able to nurse her for 13 months without being bitten. And when she tries to bite me now, it doesn't hurt. Also, I figure if the teeth never come in, I'm saving a fortune on the braces, retainers, and possible head gear all those other kids with teeth will need to have.
As you know, she's not too interested in sitting still (unless she's shoveling food hand over fist down her gullet), so this was a very low picture month. Here are a couple I did manage to take.
Last year at this time, Isabella was three months old. Her Thanksgiving Day consisted of sleeping intermittently, smiling beatifically, and nursing continuously. She was content to sit on laps. Overjoyed if someone dangled a toy in front of her face. Thrilled further still if someone read her a story or sang her a song. I have many adorable photos of her by herself, with me, with her dad, and with her various and sundry relative fan club. The day was well-documented for posterity's sake.
Here, she's trying to assess the probability of escaping, unseen, out the front door of her great-grandma's house by using her dad's legs as cover. Also, this view of her back? One I was looking at quite a lot yesterday.
And finally, here's the best photo of the two of us together on Thanksgiving. I'm ordering an 8x10 of this one for my desk.
I hope she doesn't ask me someday where all the photos from her toddler days are because so far, I got nothing.
I gripe about my relatives. I bitch about trying to find a balance between caring for my baby and building my freelance career. And of course, I bemoan my lack of personal time.
(In fact, it amazes me that I have any readers at all, what with all the whinging and whining I do here.)
It's hard for me to take that step back and realize that at the end of the day, I have a pretty damn nice life.
While my relatives are continually on me like Tom Cruise and Oprah's couch about how I should be dressing (If you're not covering her with a blanket, you should put her in a turtleneck, a onesie, and three pairs of socks underneath her pajamas before you put her to bed), feeding (My GOD-that piece of banana is way too big for her. She Is Going To Choke!), and entertaining (I hope you're going to stop taking her Outdoors now that's she's had two colds in a month) my daughter, they adore the ground she waddles on, and continually amaze me with their displays of generosity and love.
While my freelance career is getting off to a slow start because I have to spend what little quiet time I have writing on contract to pay the bills, I am truly lucky to have a working situation that allows me to stay home with my daughter and wear my slippers all day long.
And while "personal time" is now occupied by such tasks as laundry, cooking, and toy-cleanup, instead of reading, baking, and knitting, the reason for the switch is pretty damn cute, so I'll let her get away with it. For now.
I am so thankful to have a husband who is kind and patient and funny and loving, a daughter I adore, and a family who would drop everything with a moment's notice to help me should I need them.
I'm thankful for my cats who still seem to love me despite my rocking their worlds last August with the addition of a very noisy and exuberant human sibling.
I'm thankful for pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin muffins, especially when they're brought to me in bed.
I'm thankful for our wood-burning fireplace, and that the hubs can make a mean fire to warm us up on the many cold winter nights we have here in Upstate New York.
I'm thankful for my health (which I didn't always have), a car that runs, and my great aunt's weekly Sunday dinners, the leftovers from which keep us fed through Tuesday.
I'm also very thankful for Jake Gyllenhaal.
And I'm thankful for all of you who read this blog and share the details of your lives with me. Whether I know you in the real world or I've met you only in the virtual world, thank you for caring enough about me to spend some of your valuable time reading my ramblings. It means more to me than you know.
While I have much in my life that leaves me feeling so blessed this time of year, I also realize that there are many for whom the holidays are not occasions for reflection and celebration. There are those who are estranged from family. There are those without jobs, without incomes to feed their loved ones. There are those with holes in their hearts as they wait for their chance to become parents. I think it's important to respect the feelings of those who want to opt out of the holidays altogether, simply because they need to.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
There were no mice. There were no men. There was, however, an appointment to have professional photos taken for holiday cards and gifts that went very, very awry.
Being the Type A girl that I am, the holidays often send me into fits of panic over the numerous gifts I have to buy, cards I have to send, desserts I want to bake, functions I need to attend. etc. So as soon as the calendar flipped to November, I called to make an appointment to have Isabella's photos taken both for our holiday cards, and to give as Christmas presents. Last year, I created our card myself from a photo we took of Isabella in front of a Christmas scene the hubs created using a red blanket and our stockings, but since we wanted updated professional photos of her (we first had them taken when she was 7 months old) we decided to use these photos as our holiday cards too.
I spent all last week worried that she would end up with a black eye or a face full of scratches for her photos because toddlers? Not the most graceful group. But Saturday morning rolled around and she was black-and-blue- and red mark-free. We were in business!
She had a great morning. Ate a great lunch. Took a great and rare two-hour nap, and got up in a great mood. I put her in her dress and sweater, we loaded her into the car, and smiles and laughter were in abundance. My dear sweet daughter didn't even fuss too much when we strapped her into her stroller (normally something that would send her into a frothy-mouthed fit of fury) to take her into the mall.
We waited our turn in the packed reception area, and when it was Isabella's turn, we set our little bundle of joy on the table in front of the Christmas background. I stayed by her side in case she decided to jump off the table, and the hubs positioned himself near the camera so he could make her smile and we could beat a fast exit out of the chaotic photo studio. The photographer went behind the camera, ready to start snapping
the precious darling went all Pouty McGrumpyPants, and was decidedly not ready to cooperate.
We spent 20 minutes in that studio trying to get my stone-faced and scowling daughter to crack even the hint of a smile for the camera with absolutely no luck whatsoever. She spent the entire time with furrowed brows and an expression on her face that looked as if she had just been told that General Foods had stopped production on Cheerios.
Yours truly made a complete and utter fool of herself. I sang her favorite songs from library storytime, which always make her smile and clap, at a fevered-pitch. I made raspberries noises. I did Peek-A-Boo. I even sang the child Happy Birthday, as this song, too, usually makes her laugh and dance. For a split-second, I almost considered pulling up my sweater and flashing her my belly button, as she's constantly begging me to do, before I rejected the idea on fears of an arrest for indecent exposure (the room was filled with small children, after all).
I put on this display in front of an entire waiting room full of parents and their children who no doubt were having a hearty laugh at my expense.
Nothing worked. Isabella didn't even respond when I told her she was looking at 5 years of Botox and chemical peels to rid her of the lines in her forehead that were forming right this very minute!
The photographer called it a day, and while the hubs took the child, who was now all Sunshine and Happiness, for a walk, I went to look at the photos.
They were Not. Good.
She is scowling or frowning or looks hysterical in all but one of them. And the expression on her face in that one looks like she was caught mid-sneeze.
We left without buying a single photo.
To tell the truth, I was slightly annoyed at the photographer. Isabella was in no mood to have her photos taken, which is understandable. Kids are unpredictable.
But the photographer only took about 12 shots total. I know nothing about photography or the rules under which this Large and National Department Store that rhymes with Lenny's runs its portrait studio, but there were several moments during the shoot when Isabella's face wasn't contorted into a puckered mess and she wasn't snapping any pictures at all. Why not continually snap picture after picture in the hopes of getting one or two good ones? Even if she wasn't smiling, I would have liked a serious shot of her.
We have another appointment tomorrow to try again.
May the force be with us.
*The second try netted results no better than the first. This time, though, I had the added pleasure of having the power-tripping manager of the photo studio taking Isabella's pictures and informing me that no, I could not stand behind the camera to try and make Isabella smile, despite the fact that the hubs was allowed to do this very thing with a different photographer during the first attempt. There was one photo that was decent enough to use for a Christmas card, and that's all I bought. Viva la digital camera.
I love me too! But my psychiatrist says that supplementing my diet of chicken and cheese with the occasional green leafy vegetable and laying off the booze are better self-affirmation tools than wearing a t-shirt with this message on it.
This one's a little hard to read, given the glitter (shudder), but it says "Girls Are Just Better." I'm not exactly sure what to make of this shirt's message. "Better than" what? Rabid dogs? Wheels of smelly cheese? What? Please tell me. I must know.
This one I'm actually tempted to keep. The looks I would no doubt receive from passers-by after dressing Isabella in this and then plunking her in her stroller or a shopping cart for an hour or two could quite possibly entertain me for hours.
Grandma also bought Isabella an Elmo doll. What you see are the flashing red eyeballs of said doll. I'm getting a distinctly Zoltar Speaks vibe from this, and if Isabella comes down the stairs this morning looking like Tom Hanks, Grandma is taking Elmo back to the store, stat.
Obviously, I needed to scrap my plans to attend a meeting of this group because to say that I would not fit in is putting it mildly.
So when another friend invited me to attend a different moms group, I was sceptical. However, a quick perusal of the moms group's website, a chapter of a national organization, put me at ease. This sentence, in particular, sealed the deal for me:
"We support all aspects of a mother's identity. It can be easy to forget with all of the errands and soccer practice and diapers that we are also the people we were before we became mothers. Sure She was a little different- (ok, lets face it- A LOT different) but She is still there. She is still a lawyer, an engineer, a graphic designer, a master Scrabble player, or a Yoga goddess. Now more than ever She needs some attention."
So last night, we attended our first meeting as visitors. And I was very happy to find the women honest and down-to-earth. Among others in attendance, there was an insurance actuary who works from home, a recent transplant from Boston and another from the UK, and a chief resident who specializes in family medicine at the hospital where I had Isabella, and who coincidentally has the same last name as my fertility doctor. Luckily I refrained from telling her, "Hey, your husband got me pregnant," long enough for her to inform me that she and he were not related.
The topic of this month's meeting was holiday traditions, and it was really interesting to hear about what other families do for the holidays. For example, the British woman described in detail how she makes the traditional Christmas pudding and Christmas cake. Did you know that both of these desserts are made two months in advance, and then stored in a closet or other cool and dark place until Christmas day? The mysterious and not-altogether-clear-to-me combination of boiling and feeding the pudding and cake brandy for two months produces an apparently delicious end result.
I really enjoyed this meeting. We talked about our kids, but the mentions were brief, and related to the topic of the meeting. It was great to be in the company of a mix of women where the discussions didn't center around teething and temper tantrums and nap schedules.
And best of all, unlike the library or the playgroups or the classes I attend with Isabella, I actually remember the names of the women who attended this meeting, instead of only their children's names, which is an unfortunate flaw I repeatedly demonstrate (Hi.... Zach's mom. How are you?).
I hope to go to another meeting, and then I may consider joining. I need all the adult interaction I can get.
The author of "No Kid..." is French, and moved to Brussels because of what she calls the "baby mania" that has overtaken France. Apparently, French women are encouraged to crank out as many children as possible (France has the highest fertility rate in all of Europe) and are given generous perks from the government, including 16 weeks of fully paid work leave, monthly cash payments for having more than two children, and a 50% tax break on nannies.
But the author views these perks as subversive practices that hurt instead of help women by keeping them out of the work force, damaging their financial futures, and trapping them within their homes.
Okay, I'm actually with her so far. It's a fact that women who take years off from employment to stay home raising their children do pay the so-called "mommy tax" of 1 million dollars of lost lifetime income. And if French women are actually encouraged by the government to bear more and more children, the likelihood of them returning to the workforce and resurrecting the career they left years ago before they reach retirement age is probably pretty small.
In addition to the financial blows motherhood often throws, she also seems to agree with the writer of the "motherhood is boring" article in that the drudgery of caring for children destroys a woman's body, her relationship with her partner, and her sense of self.
In many ways, I think she's right. Having multiple children does take its toll on women's bodies, kids certainly have the potential to damage a relationship that's not on solid ground to begin with, and if you don't have a firm sense of who you are as a person and what you stand for and believe in before having kids, the "mommy" role can swallow you, and any semblance of the person you were before disappears.
But here's where my understanding of her argument ends.The author says that keeping your child amused and happy will "fast become one of your most hated jobs," that raising children "is war" and that mothers "are on the losing side."
She says, "Children are born to disappoint you...because we dream about wonderful children, but there are no wonderful children... they dream of things you don't even imagine, things that are pointless for you but not for them. So of course they have to disappoint you. Most children are difficult."
She says that she had children to end her feelings of loneliness, but realized too late that her kids only created a new form of loneliness, that motherhood made her feel "trapped in something that you are unable to end...that it will last you 15 or 20 years and you cannot escape. It is not like a job, which you can change. Or a country."
And of her own children, she says, "They live in their own world and I live in mine" (huh? They're 13 and 10), and that if she does have grandchildren she doesn't want to look after them too often.
For the record, I don't think this women is the devil incarnate. I get many parts of her argument. I can relate to her missing her former life. I miss mine all the time. I understand why she calls mommy talk "mind-numbingly boring" because as much as I enjoy talking about Isabella and what she's up to, I relish the political arguments I have with my very Republican relatives over the Sunday dinner table. And I sympathize with her struggles as a working mom who every day has to come home from work and start her second shift. I'm still searching for the right balance between my career and raising my daughter.
But seriously? My. God. Does this woman receive no joy at all from her children? From the unconditional love they give her? From watching them grow into independent and intelligent little people? From the affection she presumably gets each night when she tucks them in? From reliving her childhood memories through their eyes?
Motherhood is undeniably hard. It requires self-sacrifice. It requires patience. It requires an enormous amount of time and energy. And it often requires a strong stomach because children, and especially small babies, are often awash in bodily fluids, especially when they're ill. It is life-changing, and those changes aren't always for the better.
But amidst the exhaustion, the craziness, and the daily muck, there are wonderful, incredible and fulfilling moments that you experience each and every day.
So is "No Kid..." a satirical tongue-in-cheek jab at the glorification of motherhood so prevalent in most Western societies? Maybe. But this woman is a mother with children. Children to whom she has actually given a copy of a book that does little to hide the fact that she thinks they were "big mistakes," (her words), that she regrets having them, and that she seems to not even like them, let alone love them, very much at all.
If ever there was an argument to stop the vilification of those who choose not to have children, this woman is it.
Unfortunately, Isabella treats any containment apparatus (stroller, shopping cart, etc.) as if it were a medieval torture device, so shopping and walks with her are pretty much out, unless I'm having a particularly masochistic kind of day. But we are all about the playgroups, the library, the children's museum, and any other place she can roam around free and unfettered.
Toddlers are a funny group. They don't yet play together, and they orbit around eachother like tiny moons around a planet. Most of them seem completely oblivious that there are indeed other beings in their midst, unless, of course, there's some spectacular toy they all covet, or someone steals a sippy cup. Then, of course, all hell breaks loose.
It's the way moms deal with these dust-ups that's become a topic of interest for me.
On two separate occasions last week, Isabella was knocked down by an older child. And while each mom rushed over to grab and remove her son (both children were boys) and each mom reprimanded her kid, neither mom apologized to me, or made her son apologize to Isabella.
The first knock-down happened at a YMCA's indoor soft play area. My friend and her son (who has the temperament and manners of a boy at least twice his three years) invited us to go swimming in the Y's pool (they're members). Isabella and I both love the water, so we jumped at the chance, and after swimming, we took the kids to the play room. I was taking off my shoes (required by the playroom's rules), and Isabella was standing not two feet from me. I was lifting off a shoe, when I heard her scream, and turned around to see her flat on her back on the soft mat, with a boy of about 2 and a half on top of her. His mom pulled him off, and told him to "be careful when he hugs little babies," and that was it. She didn't say a word to me, or to Isabella.
A similar situation happened at the children's museum during the Halloween party. Isabella was in an enclosed area clearly marked for "First Walkers." It was filled with toys for babies, and it had a little maze for toddlers to meander through. Isabella and her two friends were having a great time in the maze, until an older boy of about three started running through it. He ran right into Isabella, knocking her off her feet and flat on her back. More screaming ensued. And again, the boy was reprimanded ("You need to be careful around the baby. She's just learning to walk."), but his mom said nothing to me.
I was really surprised that neither mom apologized. Now obviously, I don't blame the kids at all. Neither one ran down Isabella on purpose. But I do know that had the situation been reversed, and Isabella had tackled a smaller baby, I would have apologized to his or her mother, and if Isabella was old enough, I would have made her apologize to the child she knocked over, even if she didn't quite understand that she had done something wrong.
Am I crazy for expecting an apology when I wasn't the one harmed? If your kid knocked down or hurt a smaller child, would you apologize to the child's mom, or deal only with your child?
For this edition of Fashion Fright Friday, the camera is turned on my daughter.
Allow me to set the scene for you. It is Halloween morning, usually a frightfully scary day to be sure, but it wasn't for us. Isabella was a duck, hardly a creature that strikes fear in the hearts of little children and those with weak constitutions. I had taken her outside to shoot some footage of her in her costume before we went off to a Halloween party here.
And other than my crumbling and ancient front steps, original to my 1925 house, and one swift kick away from disintegrating into a pile of bricks, there is nothing initially scary about our Halloween morning.
Until it appears.
What you're about to see is actual footage of an event that took place in front of my house. The footage was not altered or doctored in any way. Those who were non-believers before, well. I think you'll believe me now.