13 months

13_months

a now, a few notes on Alma before another month slips away:

She still has eczema, especially around her ankles, patches of dinosaur skin that blister red and itch. It’s hard for me to know how much it bothers her. After moisturizing her skin (primarily I use compounds with coconut oil), I pull on socks and then booties, and tuck her pants into those. If I leave her skin bare, she itches it and scratches herself fiercely. But if the skin is covered, she doesn’t seem to notice it.

I miss seeing her bare legs and feet though. Clothes are a poor varnish for babies’ perfect bodies.

Because of the eczema and the potential of food allergies causing it, I’ve delayed weaning her. I’m happy to be nursing a bit longer than I did with the other two, though I think we’ll be done by the end of the month. I sense that she’s weaning herself, and feeling very cuddly as a result, often pulling herself onto my lap to sit, or crawling merrily behind me while I pace (as it must seem to her) the apartment.

She plays by herself the most of all three of them, often crawling into the girls’ room on her own and slowly destroying it. I lean into the doorway and find her settled on Joan’s pillow, her tongue-tap “ta, ta” as she tosses, one by one, a stack of cards over the edge of the bed. She turns to glance at me, grinning. We smile at each other for awhile and then go on with our duties.

She now gets frustrated when she isn’t given something she wants the moment she wants it–like being allowed to climb on the table and pinch cereal pillows out of the girls’ bowls, milk dripping down her arm. She sees my iphone as a possession which we share; she likes to coo at softly while holding it with both hands. Fortunately I have two other children so I know that the cellphone ownership-mimicry gradually fades and it is not an early indicator that you have developed a creepy tech-obsessed enfant terrible.

She is very happy when imitating a pretentious stage reader. She comes upon books left on the floor, and settles down cross legged to examine them. She grabs the edges of the pages and flips at random through the book for several minutes, never looking up, all the while running a loud, low-pitched tone, like an aged generator that happens to drool. She often does this while I’m reading aloud too, perching next to me and nearly over-droning my voice while I read to the girls. If she finds me reading to myself, she grabs the edge of the book and flips through it as if looking for a page number, slowly pulling it away from me. She thinks it is hilarious if I try to read aloud to her in my lap, giggling loudly and then demanding the book for herself.

The girls are extremely indulgent of her and hate to hear her cry. If Lux is sitting next to her in the car, she’ll drape her hair over Alma’s fingers to yank on, sing to her, dig through her backpack to find distractions. Lux’s teacher told me she is often raising her hand and asking “if babies can come” to any school event being announced. Joan will cry ALMA! and dart around the house looking for a toy to give her.

I do find myself often stalling on a request of Joan’s because Alma needs something, which I regret. I’d like to streamline my actions and the household revolutions more cleanly. Right now I’m often feeding one, cleaning up after the other, in endless cycle.

There’s no denying that a thirteen (to eighteen!) month old is a chaotic element for a household. You never know where they are or how they might be attempting to poison themselves. They require constant vigilance, and if I could find a robot to follow her around and undo her every action, that would be fantastic. That said, we are absolutely obsessed with her presence in our lives.

January 1, ladders and roe

lunchComing back to our 700sq feet home as a family of five after an expansive sunny vacation is like parachuting into a gray November day from a bright one in June. You’re happy to have your feet back on the ground, it feels familiar and cozy and yet…crowded. Certainly there is too much stuff, and look: we’ve brought more back with us! Why are the book shelves already full? one wonders with a stack of new books in-hand.

It’s a puzzle to find a spot for everything, and the trick is to take pleasure in the solving of it. 

Over Christmas, my sister-in-law Hannah got me into this book Super Nutrition for Babies. I’m really grateful because reading it has been a wake up call for habits in our house. I find that you begin parenting saying to yourself my children will never order off a kid’s menu, or I’ll never buy kraft mac & cheese by the dozen and then things just happen. It starts to feel normal to have bags of animal crackers, pretzels, bread, and frozen waffles filling half your cart, or you get demoralized when they don’t fall in love with your roasted root veggies with horseradish on first kiss.

In particular, I was often offering Alma the same easy finger food as Joan: tossing pasta and fruit on her tray while I prepared a vegetable, only to find her full once I offered it.

So, after highlighting half the book on my kindle, I plowed into this week in full pursuit of a protein diet for the whole family, slipping lots of hard boiled eggs in (“here, eat this egg while I make you a sandwich”), keeping a steady supply of baked sweet potatoes in the fridge, and offering cheese or cold chicken for snacks. I made my first very tiny batch of bone broth. I poked around our seafood section for salmon roe for Alma, and I realized they sell white anchovies, a very mild and tasty fish, preserved in oil and vinegar, that all three girls love. I had never noticed it! I pestered our butcher counter and learned they tuck (incredibly cheap) frozen lamb liver and heart in nearly hidden spot in the freezer aisle.

I’m very glad to be shifting habits around in the pantry and refrigerator. These types of things are always followed by a briefly higher grocery bill, packing the wrong snacks, and lots more mental work. I’m trying to take it slowly and not be disappointed when change doesn’t come about with brilliant success. For instance, several times this week Lux ate nothing out of her lunch but the raw veggies I sent–all of the proteins (chopped chicken, container of yogurt) didn’t appeal to her by the lunch hour. 

Upon reflection, nourishing this family is probably THE hardest job I do. I’m often amazed at how much time it takes to plan, prep, feed, and clean up. Other times I realize how important it is, and try to take up my pantrykeeper mantle boldly. 

joan_swing

A rope ladder for Christmas, technically for Joan, but enjoyed by all three girls. Most of Joan’s play is imagination-based, she could pack a covered wagon full of salvaged post-it notes and beaded necklaces before you could say “cholera”, so it’s nice to have simple (mess-free) toys that facilitate her adventures as well.

playground for the one and under set

toys

Two new moms friends have asked me about the delightful topic of toys. Sadly, no matter the toy, it’s only going to occupy them for a few minutes everyday, and only when they are feeling fresh after a rest, or after having been outside. With gusto: if you don’t want toys that make noise or take up space, absolutely don’t keep them in the house (but do eagerly place them within reach when at the library drop-in). 

Incidentally, if dear Matilda drops something from her chair or stroller, and you don’t give it back to her, you’ve introduced an intuitive sign-language for both of you to use from now on: Matilda doesn’t want it anymore, and dropping means it goes away. Easy.

Alma has a little tin of toys that we carry about and offer to her once or twice a day, alongside a few board books for chewing on. The tin is itself a nice toy because it rolls easily and makes a metallic thump if you hit it, or kick it against the wall, which she does. I put the tin out when she was six months and it will stay out until her first birthday and then I’ll hide it again, up with the sweaters and aging humidifier in my closet.

The tin contains a fondly amnesic graveyard of my toy hopes from when I first offered them to Lux: this will be the toy that she loves! A banana chew, a soft mouse, a wooden ring, a leather key chain, a wooden fish rattle. How the drily squeaky Sofia giraffe has made the cut these five years, I have no idea {leaves laptop to pick up Sofia and put it in a giveaway bag}.

In reality, movement is the only engaging challenge that they will throw themselves into, objects just can’t compete.

Here is the playground of the one and under set: reaching for things under the couch, tugging on a rope (that perhaps you’ve tied to the arm of a chair), steadily unpacking a paper shopping bag of objects like a spoon, a tupperware container, a plastic water bottle sealed with a little bit of water in it or maybe something that rattles, like dried chickpeas.

It does build an argument for living room playdates though, particularly in the winter! Build a rotation of friends to trade-off hosting each week, lay a couple blankets on the floor, prop a mirror in the corner, and all three or four babies will tackle your small assortment of toys with delight, then boredom, then the playdate will be over. Next week: new territory.

When Alma turns one I will ask for a wooden pull toy for her to pull around as she walks, it will be adorable and she will love it. As with everything BABY, if you are delighted by something, by all means, own it. Waldorf wooden toys, engaging stuffed animals, rainbow ring stacks, handmade wooden rings…there’s so much to love!

one day in August

Ashleigh Coleman, a Mississippi-based photographer, lover of old cameras and even older buildings, and mother of two visited Boston in August. We met up with our kids and sweated through a day of greenway fountain play and cold noodle salads from Bon Me. My girls and Ashleigh’s daughter Merrimac were having so much fun together, so after that we came back to our place for a bit. All three girls sprinted around on their strong legs, bug bites scabbed over from too many scratches, suntanned skin mixing with the dirt on their heels.

Ashleigh is Gwyneth-tall with long blond hair, tall enough to very nearly hide her six-month baby belly. She has many cameras but one of her favorites is one she inherited–a hasselblad 500c/m, an elegant black Swedish brick of a camera that she cradles naturally. (I love this photo of  it.) She frames the photo by looking down into the lens, almost as one might page through a magazine they aren’t planning on buying, arms extended, lightly flipping the dials and lens.

As we talked she took a few photos that I mentally tagged as doomed because the light seemed so dim in my room at the time. That was my iphone-training, obviously, because the hasselblad managed it perfectly.

And Ashleigh captured and preserved just a few things that already feel distant this September–a humid afternoon with the girls sharing art supplies and reading a book, Alma just a bit more baby than she is today.

preserved: Alma’s way of grabbing a hand. Not just mine, she’ll do it with almost anyone when she’s sleepy. I spend a lot of time in the evening sitting on the couch next to her bed, my arms through the bars, holding her hand as she settles into sleep.

preserved: Alma in her crib, with the mattress raised. There is something magnificent about a baby in a crib before they’re strong enough to pull themselves up. Like a cheery red cookbook on a shelf over the stove, ready to be plucked up and read on the couch.

Once they pull themselves up, you are obliged to rush in and drop the mattress down and mutter to yourself now she’ll be getting into everything I suppose. And then to get them out after a nap, you must lean down and pulley them up into your arms, a crane dutifully unloading a freight of shipping containers.

preserved: Joan’s barely-there curls. This weekend Joe gave her a courageous bang trim in the front and absent-mindedly trimmed just enough in the back for the curls to disappear. They’ll be back in a few weeks, but here they are too look at now too.

I love looking at these and I love that I get to share them with you here. Thank you Ashleigh! Ashleigh’s beauuutiful instagram account.

by the twentieth of August

note: I’ve simplified the comment form. it should be much easier to comment now–no need to log in. so sorry to you kind ones who’ve had troubles in the past.

In the morning one tiny ant bravely tugs a speck of bread off the table, in the afternoon there’s a carnival of them celebrating under the lavender planter, a feast of popcorn kernels and graham cracker sludge arranged around the edge like banners.

With three children about me now, the fun has accelerated. But so has everything else. Time is passing in a terrifying, groundless way. I have been given nothing but an accumulation of wonderful experiences and yet, I long for more. I long to exist inside of each day of the last five years at the same time.

Feeling cheated by the passing of time, I begin to feel cheated by everything. An experience not had. An afternoon that was not perfect. A recipe I haven’t made. A lake I’ve never swam in.

I am greedy for all of life’s pleasures; and it feels like I deserve them. I’m like a drunk bidding on eBay for the goods of carpe diem and all the auctions are ending tonight.

peach_crisp

It’s the baby Alma that’s rubbed off on me. “Babies are born hedonists” says the Happiness Scientist. The day was meant for pleasure. Skin is meant to be grazed. If we sit next to each other, she worms her way closer to me until our arms are brushing. There can never be too much stretching and grabbing. Nor too much napping. Nor staring into stranger’s faces, but only if they are pleasant or, we might say—handsome. Nor too much chewing on golden ripe slices of mango, with the peel attached. She is so certain that everything placed within in her field of vision is for her that she grabs at each new thing with authority. 

At night I try to organize files— I know I’m only going to stay awake for twenty minutes, why not do something purposeful and minute—and I click into a grainy near-dark video of my oldest playing peek-a-boo in Rome in front of the Pantheon. If the water was rippling in the right way, her face, at that age, would be a be a reflection of Alma’s. I feel that no time has past from then, and yet I finally got Lux to a dentist this week and she found cavities and examined me with a shocked expression that this was Lux’s first visit. From a certain tiny tooth’s perspective: five long years of decay!

Every year that has ever passed suddenly seems like too much. No more years, no more months, please. This must be women why become witches. Ever notice it’s always a woman who offers the chance to control time in those old fables? There was one I used to love—she gives out a glossy ball of string, it’s your lifetime wound up like a yo-yo. Tug it slightly and the moment will fly past, tug it more, and the year with a bad bully at school is over. No rewinding though, as our heroine soon learns.

I can’t seem to teach them enough, but then they mimic me and cry “look!” at every dropped leaf and I also wish they would be quiet. I want to read them books all day but I also wish they would stop banging the wall with their knees rhythmically while we do. They try. They forget. I wonder if I am as moody as they are; I think I might be.

We need no agenda, it seems just a shady tree would satisfy us all day. Then the next day, an agenda and lots to do. I rush them from pleasant spot to pleasant spot, feeling validated by the quick pace of our shoes on the sidewalk.

she’s going

Days and days of jungle humidity ninety-degrees here. Summery groceries: 1/ lemonade 2/ melon, tomatoes 3/ cold chicken, roasted in batches in the morning 4/ good cheese.

Unfairly to you my friend reader, I have gone from talking about homeschooling here to talking about the fact that big fish (Should I start using pseudonyms for the girls? They’re getting old for this, aren’t they.) is going to school.

The first thing that happened: back in March, I called the appropriate public school number on the appropriate day and they muttered over the phone to me that we got into the school we hoped to, but had always assumed we wouldn’t. Several of our neighborhood friends did not get spots, so believe me when I say we really didn’t think it would happen.

Then we started engaging with the school: a five day, 8:15-3pm program (those hours! heart stop). The meet-the-parents events, the meet-the-principal, visit the playground, etc. Then Lux started counting the days until kindergarten, and began telling me, every morning, how many days remain.

It started to feel like a great experiment, if not a great idea.

Maybe because homeschooling has always been an assumption for me, it was an interesting twist to consider public kindergarten instead. Underneath my curiosity about the program there was the shift at home too. Lux has been home with me every day for the past five years; it feels like I’ve watched in near slow motion as she changed from a quiet being who wanted to be only with me and resented intrusions to a girl who loved activities and became drawn to big groups with leaders.

It’s exciting to think how much she might enjoy the structure of school.

I ordered $300 of crisp, warm, adorable navy and white uniform clothing for the year. With the discount that Land End’s seems to circulate every other week or so, it was actually $200, but I’m putting it in the books as $300. 

Like a farmer muttering “Lord willing” over his crops, I’m remain internally watchful of it not working. My friends have warned me that there will be at least four weeks of exhaustion and adjustment. I get that, and I’ve got plans for our post-school afternoon relax and destress sessions, namely: begin with cookies and end with yoga stretches.

But the changes I’m watching for, that I would view not just as difficulties but as deal-breakers are: 1/ whether she became a poor playmate/partner to her sisters at home. 2/ if she became less curious in engaging new ideas than she is now. 3/ whether she becomes a shell of herself for the time she is with us—tired out, cranky, a slumped pile of oreo crumbs and uncombed hair awaiting the next morning’s challenge to begin again.

And perhaps most inconceivable, to me—if it was November, and she was asking not to go to school the next day, every day that week, we would be done.

And yet, I remain expectant l for it to be totally delightful. I think she’s going to find a gang of friends immediately. I think she’s going to love seeing them every day. I think she will laugh a lot. I think she will run victory laps around the playground. I think she will fall in love with her teacher and come home quoting her. I will hear confusing retellings of once factual stories. She will eye me with a worried eyebrow when I mention morning errands that we did without her. She will discover interests that we’ve never even thought to suggest. She will smile benevolently at Joan and the pudgy chocolate chip cookies Joan will offer her from our morning. She will take on school spirit like a new cape to be buttoned around her neck. Alma will keel over with delight when Lux walks back in, as she does now, even though it’s only been five minutes.

When she goes in September, I imagine it feeling like turning off half the lights in the apartment, and then going on with our day.

I hate that when Lux asks about fall habits—will we go apple picking? Will we visit that farm again? I’m thinking mmm…probably not. Joan maybe, but you won’t. But: perhaps Joan’s current three-year-old moody emotional spiral might be buffered with more of my patience to go around? Perhaps Alma will have a real afternoon nap and Joan will enjoy a quiet time again?

And the school itself, Joe characterizes it like Sesame Street—solid and urban, but soft around the edges. Worn-in bricks, stately fence, 70s tile cafeteria, the tricycles lined up in the hallway ready to race out into the playground. Amazing teachers, devoted parents, incredible principal. Who wouldn’t want to help their daughter engage with their city on that level?

nearly every week

The way Lux blew off my requests for help, and yelled at me in the park that evening. Then, when I explained there would be no ipad during quiet time tomorrow as a consequence, she said “you’ll forget you said that.” The way she didn’t blink when I then told her she was going to bed early. Joan, wide-eyed in the face of her audacity, but huffing and nodding her own disapproval at my decrees. How Lux had declined to use the bathroom fifteen minutes earlier but now she had to go, thus we couldn’t stay out in the golden light any longer.

I was annoyed at myself for once again taking her at her word that she didn’t need to go, and now the result that I had to pick Alma up off the green grass where she’d been lolling in the soft evening light, the sun casting just enough shadow over the side of her face.

I texted Joe that they would absolutely both be in bed by 6:30. So there! I said to myself. It’s so sad, we’ve worked hard, and yet, here look: raised such terrors, I said to myself. Dramatic texts are a trademark release of mine. After we got home, I asked them to help me tidy the apartment, they refused and I said they were welcome to sit in their room then. Behind their door I heard the contented murmurs of duplo-construction and shared blocks. I relaxed at bit in the silence and felt–perhaps they hadn’t been that bad? Thinking of my text to Joe, I realized I had probably exaggerated my case. When exactly had it started to feel like too much? 5pm on the dot? Nearly all of it was an ivy of reactions tethered to their fatigue, a tiredness I had been fully aware of, a soft vine working slowly across our day.

I remembered that morning unexpectedly seeing Lux flit by my door at 6am, nearly two hours before she’s usually up, already in a princess dress with a crown on her head. She was playing some game that involved secrecy and light steps, and I was only awake because Alma had woken up. Then Lux woke Joan up to join her, an hour or so before Joan would have woken up on her own. Soon I saw them both flitting by, Joan blurry and barely tracking what was going on, but devoted to the imaginary heist, dazed as she was. 

I had left Alma on the bed next to Joe and went for a run in the perfectly cool morning air. The world for thirty minutes was cheerful running music and a steady chain of joggers keeping lines on the sidewalk along the river. I came back certain that the thing to do was for all of us to head straight outside. But it was two hours before we got out, between feeding Alma and doing the breakfast dishes, after they opened a package of saltines with their scissors, cheerfully munching and chatting like old friends at the golf club lunchroom, absentmindedly scattering half the contents in the form of crumbs on the floor—a ready picnic for the ants I’ve been trying to keep at bay.

Finally we got outside before lunch. Then everything was so beautiful and finally sunny after a week of rain, the park grass seemed cleaner and greener than ever—the gazebo, the coffee shop, the merry-go-round, the playground, everything beckoned—that we stayed out too long, deep into nap time.

On the walk home Joan sat down on the corner of an intersection and mumbled to the bricks that she couldn’t walk anymore. I smiled sympathetically and shrugged my shoulders at her, what I could I do? I couldn’t carry her. I sensed a message in the glances of the people skirting our scene: how’s she gonna handle this? She’s carrying a baby and now the little one is sitting on the ground. Naturally it did no good for me to repeat aloud that this was why I had said we shouldn’t go to the playground after all. Nonetheless I too murmured it to the bricks, and the girls looked at me, mystified at my evoking a conversation from an hour ago—nearly ancient history! If I had known that going in—why had I let it happen? Why hadn’t I insisted we head home when I knew the time was right? Because it was so beautiful out, Lux was begging to go, and I loved the idea of the girls running and climbing for just a few more minutes. Finally Joan hopped up and started walking again,and we made it back.

a photo an hour

morning7am Alma is up after waking at 11pm last night and 3am this morning. I bring her to the kitchen so she doesn’t wake Joe up, and make tea, one lump sugar, for myself. It’s already snowing, and looking up from our windows, the flakes look enormous.

7:15 Joan appears, sleepy, cuddly, and anxious for cereal. Once we sit down together, she doesn’t eat and just wants to talk. Joe finishes her bowl after she abandons it twenty minutes later.

8:30 Lux wakes up like a languorous lion in the afternoon sun. For the millionth time I note to myself that this time next year, she’ll already be in school. For better and for worse, I think.

8:45 Joe leaves for work. He’s taking the train instead of biking because of the snow.

9:40 We read several Richard Scarry stories on the couch while I nurse Alma. There is a brief standstill when Joan refuses to trade the middle seat when it is Lux’s turn to hold the book. Pondering her sullen mood I remember neither of them have eaten breakfast yet. We decamp to the kitchen for them to eat together.

beach_scene
 11 While I’m doing the breakfast dishes, an elaborate beach scene has been set-up involving at least twenty items from their room. Fortunately other areas of the living room are still clear. I put Alma on the floor to listen to their storytelling.

I begin making Ina’s Weeknight Bolognese for dinner.

doctor12 I was thinking about offering lunch but the girls are still completely engaged in their game. Beach has turned into doctor. I pick up Alma and wrap her up for her nap.These days I never expect her to sleep more than 30 minutes, but at least she always wakes up refreshed.

pasta

12:10 I remember the simmering pasta sauce and check it. Smells so good I want to eat it immediately. Thank you God for sending Ina Garten to this earth.

art_room

12:20 They’ve moved the doctor’s office into the art room. So now it is silent in the kitchen, which is a nice treat. Walking past with a pile of clothes to put away, I hear them sing “blah blah black sheep.” Lux leads the song and Joan repeats everything she says, a half note behind her.

I’m all for art projects but as far as today’s room-tidy-tally the living room is super messy, their room looks like a elephant went through and knocked everything to the floor, and the art room will definitely be trashed. But I’ve still got my room and the kitchen!

12:30 I put on water for hard boiled eggs for the girls and find a leftover burrito in the fridge. I sit on one of the girl’s chairs since my chair is still part of the beach scene in the living room and page through a New Yorker. I used to read this magazine cover to cover but now I just pick one or two articles to keep up with each week.

Alma

12:40 Call to the girls and ask if they’re ready for lunch. “I’m still finishing my monster.”

If I could take a selfie right now, it would be me leaning against the doorway frame of our room, listening to Alma grunt and settle, trying to decide if she’s going to fall back asleep or is up for good.

1pm Hop online and look at my sister’s beautiful recipe for tabbouleh. I want to make it for my friend this Friday. Frown. Why did she sub in quinoa for bulgur?? I’m definitely not doing that.

But I will take this tip about adding sliced almonds.

Hunt for Lux’s ballet stuff in her room. Find some half eaten jelly beans. Possibly this is why “the kitchen mouse” as we call him has been seen headed to their room lately. I discretely bundled up a bunch of things to throw away as I walk out, hiding them behind my leg as I walk past the art room. I set all her ballet stuff by the door.

lunch

1:15 I finally tell the girls they have to stop playing and come eat. The hardboiled eggs are perfectly done, nine minute eggs, but of course neither of the are eating “the yellow parts” these days and miss the beauty of that. Fortunately I am eating them!

I make a cup of tea so I have something to keep me seated with them while they eat. Too often I hop around the kitchen when they’re eating, which doesn’t make for good conversation or time together.

outside
 1:30 Take a photo out the window and begin to get ready to leave with gusto. Strew the girls’ coats and boots in front of the door so they understand what’s expected and don’t try to pull out their “cozy” coats that are useless at keeping them warm.
1:45 Wake up Alma and nurse her. Pull on her wool sweater, socks, booties, and hat. I put on my ergo and clip on the winter-weather cover that my friend Lisa gave me. It’s fleece lined and will keep her toasty without a bulky jacket.
2pm Take the elevator downstairs and make it outside as scheduled!
outdoor_cover
 2:01 Take first steps down the sidewalk and realize Lux forgot her backpack containing her ballet shoes, and somewhat mysteriously, a stuffed turtle. Walk back to the lobby and send Lux up to get the backpack. Joan demands to stay in the alley by herself, which is fine with me.
2:10 Ten minutes later. Joan? I call out. I see a sliver of her hat tip through the doorway into the garden. “Everything ok?” I call. The sliver barely nods, then disappears again. I guess everyone is enjoying their alone time right now.
2:15 Fifteen minutes after she first went up, Lux reappears. “I realized I had to go to the bathroom!” Count myself lucky I wasn’t there for the removal and reapplication of her coat, snow pants, leotard, tights, and undies.
walking
2:40 As expected, eating snow and stomping snow is really slowing us down. But the snow is so darn beautiful! I decide that even if we miss class, it was worth it for the long walk alone.

waiting_for_the_train3pm As expected, the trains are delayed. Lots of people are waiting when we arrive, and we have to wait for ten minutes. Even more people are waiting now. When we get on, two people give up their seats for the girls and both girls immediately start to whine about not being able to see out the window from those seats. Given the twenty adults currently standing, I attempted to silence them with my eyes and mentally add train manners to the list of manners we are currently working on.

3:08 We get off the train. As we wait for the line of Able and Capable Adults to climb the stairs first, I briefly lecture them on the etiquette of train thanking and gratefulness. A guy waiting to go up the stairs says “y’all are the cutest thing I’ve seen all day.” “Yeah,” mumbles the grad student behind him. Thanks, man!

3:15 Three grand staircases later, we are on time for class. Confetti should fall from the ceiling to celebrate this accomplishment, but instead Lux gives us hugs and kisses and Joan and I just walk downstairs.

3:30 Downstairs in the dance hall lobby. Joan laments for the 6th time since Christmas that there are no free fortune cookies downstairs anymore. “Why no treats here today?” I remind her this was a Christmas thing.

3:45 Joan and I walk to the library nearby. I talk with my friend Melissa who is also waiting for her daughter’s class. Her sweet daughter Verity attempts to share a book with Joan. I look over to see Joan respond by sprawling on the floor like a dead spider, staring at the ceiling. Melissa and I continue to enjoy our conversation about kindergarten and upcoming 5k races. Fifteen minutes of adult conversation adds a lot to my day.

walking

4:30 Waiting for the crosswalk after the train home, the cars are roaring through the slush. The girls seem to often choose these moments to ask me elaborate questions, all while facing forward. It is impossible for me to hear them. I respond like myself in sixty years, yelling “What? What? You have to look at me for me to hear you!!”

Alma is over being in the carrier but it’s still going to take us 30 minutes to walk. Oh well.

girls
5:10 Home. I realize my feet are freezing from the walk. Joan is so, so proud that she isn’t cold. I had no idea she noticed that she is usually cold, but Lux and I are not. Today, she wins. I take the pan of sauce out of the fridge and put it on the stove. I add a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
quiet_time
5:30 The girls angle for what we call “quiet time together,” something that sometimes happens on days when Joan doesn’t nap, which means they both get ipads for 30 minutes (usually just Lux gets an ipad for 30 minutes while Joan naps). I settle onto the couch with dear Alma who has been so patient and is so hungry, and give them the thumbs up.
alma
6:15 Joe gets home, hooray! Bolognese is heated up. Pasta noodles are boiled. There is a box of white wine in the fridge. Dinner!
dinner

6:30 The girls eat almost nothing but talk animatedly to Joe about their day. It’s clear the after-dance snack of Milano cookies on the train has filled them up. Or maybe I just over filled their bowls? They both opt to eat a few carrots, Joe and I excuse them and enjoy our dinner. Alma sits in her little blue bouncy chair on the floor, smiling whenever someone looks at her. Or maybe she’s often smiling, but we just aren’t looking. The only time she cries is when she’s tired, hungry, or in a quiet room by herself.

7pm Joe motivates teeth brushing and pajamas to be followed by reading in their room. They are deep into the Chronicles of Narnia’s The Silver Chair, which is one of the ones I didn’t read as a kid. I disappear into our room with Alma to nurse her, swaddle her, and then I fall onto our bed listening to her fall asleep.

Note: I always enjoyed reading these types of posts back when I had just one baby and wondered what the future looked like. It feels strange now, almost misleading, to pick a day and write it up, because every day really feels so different. This was a day when I woke up feeling rested because I went to bed early, and the girls got along wonderfully, but the next day–Tuesday–they wanted to be in the same room with me the whole day, and I barely had a moment to myself!

Paternity Leave

The truth is I fantasized about Joe’s leave for weeks beforehand. The more my knees buckled under pregnancy, the more I dreamed of the Prince Charming arriving by white chariot/stroller. Was there any situation that wouldn’t be readily fixed by the addition of two handsome hands? I doubted it. All I had to do was have the baby, and paradise would arrive.

In the very last weeks before the baby came, I found myself deeply done with my current children. I’m not sure if that’s part of the rapid hormonal heart-shuffle before a new baby arrives but the way room in my heart was made for a new child was this: I became very satisfied with the extent that I had raised my current children, and I was ready to pass them on to better hands. Anyone’s hands, really, so long as they were open. Had a boarding school for preK called at that point, I probably would have sent them. “They love carrots,” I would have scribbled on the submission form as I cheerfully waved goodbye for a month, or six.

After Alma was born, of course, my true feelings re-appeared and I was overwhelmed with pride at how amazing and incredible they two were. Was it too much to say they were the best humans to ever exist? my addled brain wondered. No, it was not.

In a bizarre, nearly other-worldly, turn of events, Joe was able to take eight weeks of paternity leave from his job after Alma was born. It was the longest amount of time Joan and Lux had ever had with him in their lives. It happened as a result of Alma’s birth, but really it was a way for us to parent in a way we hadn’t before, and a window of time to regain our balance after the disruption of a new baby.

It absolutely flew by for all of us.

As I look back over it, a few thoughts occur to me about what we learned/loved/lost…

learned: stop the interrupting starfish

Have you heard the joke about the interrupting starfish? Ideally no, because the gist of the joke of is being interrupted. It’s a hardy-har-har refresher on how annoying that is. On paternity leave Joe and I realized we were raising a fledgling stock of interrupting starfish, and frequently we weren’t even bothering to correct them. We would look at each other over their heads, one of us biting our lip mid-story, and shrug. Most of our weekly conversation seemed to happen over dinner, at which point I was too tired to deliberately pause the interrupters, and anyway, my ear seemed more tuned to their pleas than Joe’s voice.

On his leave, because we were together so much more and noticed that the interrupting had become a serious and troubling habit, we got our game back. “Dad is telling me a story.” “Shhh I’m listening to Dad.” “Dad was talking.”

They still interrupt, but now they’re accustomed to us stopping them immediately, and there’s no eyes-wide-brimming-with-insulted-tears. Just finished conversations.

learned: the home office doesn’t work

Oh the home office. Long have I fantasized about the perfect life, with Joe somehow working at home, and interacting with the girls all day. It seemed so plausible and perfect. Then Joe actually did try to work at home and it drove us both crazy. I really couldn’t stand the sight of him typing away at the computer, headphones in place, as noisy chaos built around me. “Go ahead darling, get some work done.” Five minutes later…”Hello?! I could use some help here!”

And it made no sense to the girls. They couldn’t tell when he was working, and when he was open to being recruited for a game or going outside.

We quickly realized it was far better for him to be out of the space for a couple hours. And me handling the situation myself, chaotic as it was. I stopped day dreaming about home offices, and started appreciating all he got done while he was away. Then he came home, and I got to take a break.

loved: it’s just as blissful to coparent as you’ve imagined 

That said, when Joe was home with me, not trying to work, but home with me for more than just a weekend, it was wonderful. It felt like we had kids and we were dating again. We took shifts with the girls. They did adventures outdoors. I napped with Alma. We made lunch together. I said things like “I can’t help with that because I have no free hands, but Dad can!” We lounged over our coffee cups. We did errands with just one or two children at our heels. We got deep into conversations and cheerfully shushed the girls when they tried to stomp in. Yes, it was bliss.

loved: kids, they’re fun

What Joe experienced can be summed up as: kids, they’re fun. Joe got to experience the humor and joy of discussing the exact same topic from different perspectives for five days in a row. He got to catch spiders and bring them outside. Go for a walk and stomp on snow piles. Go to a museum, then go to a candy store on the way back. He got to memorize constellations and read good books aloud. The girls become less mysterious: he understood what they meant when they used their strange monosyllabic giggle language. He understood why they had an unexpected meltdown at 5pm, because he saw them sprinting back-and-forth at 11am, and having vehement disagreements at 2pm.

They become less stressful: they all three got to wake up late, leave late, and stay late because they were having fun, and none of that mattered because no one was trying to get anywhere anyway.

lost: and yet, even with all that help many things still went wrong… 

There were some nights when I become convinced that Lux and Joan had eaten nothing but candy and cookies for the last week. I tried to recall the last green thing they had eaten, and failed. Lux went to ballet class without her hair in a bun and she was the only lonely kid whose parents forgot it was Parent Watch week. I missed my six week postpartum check-up. I told my pediatrician I ordered a Vitamin D supplement for Alma and that was a lie. I still haven’t ordered it. Even though we were both on-duty all day, we often collapsed on the couch after bedtime just the same. The capitalist in me frowned at the fact that with twice the labor working at the same job, we ended up with double the exhaustion. “Bedtime” actually just means they are in their room with the door closed–still chatting, still playing, not tucked in whatsoever.

 

 

What to Pack for the Baby

infant_vacation

This is just a silly easy post to write! But it’s still useful to keep a list around.

What we packed for Alma for her six-week-old vacation: 

a sun hat (mostly useless, poolside umbrellas were a must)

a swim diaper (ended up keeping her out of the sun/water altogether)

two blankets (one warm, one light)

diapers (forgot wipes and bought them there instead)

single-use packets of formula, a bottle, two pacifiers

a warm sweater

two carriers, one nice, one form (see below for detail)

a scarf to drape for nursing privacy or block the sun or for warmth

fun summery clothing inherited from her sisters!

infant_vacation

I like to use a form carrier, like the becco or ergo, in airports. You can leave it on through security and my girls often napped in it right up until we sat down on the plane. They ask you to take it off before takeoff.

And I like to use a sakura bloom silk sling, especially in restaurants or going to events, or generally when I’m not trying to lift children/grocery bags/walk long distances.

Alma’s hotel sleep style:infant_vacation

Mostly she slept like this on our bed because I found the condo crib too deep to be useful–all that bending over and reaching! She is the first baby of mine who likes swaddles, this is my make-shift way of swaddling her. A week after taking this photo, I realized I could simply tie the aden + anais blanket and skip the binder clip altogether. At a second hotel I didn’t even ask for a crib, and used a couch cushion as her bed.

Flying with Alma, I remembered how delightful it is to fly with a baby that age, compared to say, a nine month old. They just curl up, nurse, and keep you company. Of course I had my corner seat to nurse in, with Joe and Joan as my bolsters (Lux was across the aisle, with strangers). I have nursed from a middle seat, with strangers on both sides, it is doable but it’s awfully nice to have a row with your people, if available.infant_vacation

No matter what seat you are in, bring one of those airline pillows that don’t actually do anything for adults; the ones you can buy in any airport gift shop. They work so well for infants. It is my favorite thing to rest her head on that instead of my balanced elbow or propped arm.