Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Rapidly Changing Life

This week marked yet another milestone in the life of Alice. On Sunday she took her first tentative steps. After cruising and walking behind push toys for months, she finally let go and stumbled the three steps from her dad to me. We cheered as if she had just won Olympic gold. Feeling the excitement, she shrieked and laughed, knowing that she she had just executed something very important. Walking is just another step in the parade of achievements reached in just a few shorts years of life. The amazing thing is how fast those milestones are flying at you as the parent of a young child. If you blink you might miss something.

The rate of change in a child is staggering. They go from lumps of baby to a walking, talking, interacting person in less than two years. Within that time frame, vast changes take place. It literally blows my mind. I have witnessed the evolution of my infant into a baby, that baby into a toddler. If I was still changing and learning as fast as the little lady, I would be doing advanced calculus, swinging on a trapeze, playing the accordion, and singing opera, all at the same time. At no other time in life are we accomplishing so much on so may fronts. If we did I think our brains may explode.

I find the most fascinating changes are happening in the talking arena. Alice has always been rather, er, noisy, but her ability to communicate has improved at an alarming rate. Every few days she picks up a new sound or word. In the last few months she has begun trying to repeat what she hears. She certainly doesn't nail it very often, but her ability to mirror the general sounds and or syllables surprises me every time. When she does get it right it is hilarious. I swear the other day she said, "c'mon mom." She tries very hard to say "I love you" and if I didn't know exactly what she was trying to repeat, it would be absolutely unrecognizable. But I do know, and every time it makes my heart grow a little more. For 15 months we have been saying it to her, and to hear even a vague approximation back is pretty much the most amazing thing ever. The funniest part of her learning to talk are her attempts at conversation. It is obvious that she knows what she is saying and she thinks we should know too. I love the look on her face when she tells us something. It is this intent stare and it is obvious she is waiting for a response back. I can only imagine the barrage of conversation that will stream forth once she really can talk. If she attacks conversating with the same gusto in which she lives the rest of her life, all I can say is to the rest of the world is prepare yourself and get some earplugs.

This week was also her highness's first foray into using a spoon and fork by herself. It was, in a word, messy. She has been trying to assist us for weeks, despite my numerous explanations that we could get the spoon to her mouth without her help. I finally had to retire applesauce from the menu because it was so frustrating for both parties. I would try to feed her and she would try to grab the spoon. The more I resisted the more she grabbed. This result was always the same- flying applesauce and her holding the ill gotten spoon down by her side where I could not easily get it. See where the frustration comes in? After I witnessed other kids younger than her using a spoon I decided it was time, no matter the mess. So, off came the shirt, out came the cute little fork and spoon set and into the world of "self feeding" we ventured. She's doing well, actually much better than I expected. It takes unmeasurable patience to watch a 15 month old attempt to spear a piece of food and then get it to their mouth. Also, the confusion about the difference between the two utensils adds unforeseen tedium. She spends half the meal trying to spear with her spoon and trying to shovel with her fork. It is actually pretty impressive the amount of applesauce that she can eat using a fork. Watching her little brain work is the most amazing part, not to mention entertaining. I can see the hamster running while she works to get the piece of hot dog to her wide open mouth. Eventually, she tires of working so hard for relatively little satisfaction, and Ripley ends up the big winner. Apparently it is still more fun to toss it to the dog and watch her scarf it down. As the self appointed president of the Alice fan club, I think she is doing pretty well. It is only the first meal of the rest of her life, and unless she decides to only eat finger foods, she will be getting lots of practice.

As she changes and grows, I must continue to remind myself that it is not about me, it is about her. I need to let her learn to do things independently now (even if it is only using a fork or taking a step) because she needs to have faith in herself and her abilities. Change is constant no matter the age or stage, but the changes happening now are providing the building blocks for everything else down the road.  So let the changes come, we are ready for them. Something tells me, they won't slow down for awhile yet.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Short term vs. long term parenting

A fellow mommy recently introduced me to the theory of short term parenting vs. long term parenting. Basically it means doing the easy thing now that may cause issues in the future vs. doing the hard thing now that will make things easier in the future. My goal is to do mostly long term parenting, but it is way harder than it sounds. As parents we must pick our battles and focus on what we find important. It is different for everyone. What matters to me may not matter as much to another mom, and that is okay. I care about Alice becoming the most well adjusted person she can be, while allowing her to be herself at the same time. Therefore, the things I choose to long term parent on are things that I think will go far in helping Alice to navigate the tough patches while being the best person she can be.
I spend a great deal of time saying "no m'am." We are talking about a zillion times a day. The easy thing to do would be to just let Alice do what she wants, but I don't want to the do the easy thing, I want to do the right thing. Therefore, I let her know when she is doing something that is unacceptable in decent society. Normal folks don't screech in public, they don't rip leaves off potted plants, and they don't go through stranger's purses. Yes, I know. She is a baby and doesn't know any better. But I am of the opinion that if I give her boundries now, she will be a better, more polite person for it later. Teaching her what is expected of her now will make her a more adjusted young person. Because this is my first kid I have no idea if this will work, but it makes the most sense to me.
Lady Baby has started emphasizing her demanding grunts and pointing with hitting. I do not like hitting. She is not being mean, she does not hate me, she is not comitting elder abuse. She is simply trying to get her point across. However, I do not believe anyone needs to express their emotions through smackage. The third most uttered phrase in my current life is "no hitting." (First is "good job" and second is the forementioned "no m'am.") I don't hit a sales person when I am asking them to grab a different size for me and I don't think A should hit me when she is asking for more goldfish. Life lesson: hitting does not get you want you want any faster or easier. Unfortunately she also hits when she is excited, to get your attention, in greeting, and when she is playing. Not cool Alice, not cool. When she hits her friends I get very embarrassed. I know, its not like I taught her this. We don't practice a slap in the face along with waving and blowing kisses. But being the mommy is being the one who guides her through the maze of early expression. I don't want hitting in the repertoire, so we constantly practice 'gentle'. Not her strong suite. The baby hulk understands it, but rarely can contain her emotions in order to put it into practice for more than 5 seconds. Long term parenting is what will keep me saying "no hitting" until I want to smack myself in the face.  
Right now her highness does not love the going to bed process. She protests being left in her crib, quite sure she's missing lots of secret fun. Despite repeatedly explaining to her that she is actually not missing anything except for DVR'd Grey's Anatomy, she still complains with loud gasping sobs and the saddest "Mama" you have ever heard. When all of this protesting began I started rocking her and holding her until she was asleep. Two words: big mistake. It was a vicious cycle. The more I did it, the more avidly she refused to get in her crib awake and the more I knew I was doing the wrong thing. I was at a loss because for the first 10 months of her life she was a great sleeper who self soothed and now she was performing a screaming, guttural opera everynight at 8pm. Hence the rocking (and occasional crying on my part). Over Christmas we were at the inlaws, where I had no rocking chair and had to pace around for hours while holding 21 lbs of crying baby. I reached my breaking point and was done being manipulated by a 1 year old. I plunked her down in the pack n play, sat down on the floor and let her cry. I sat beside her and what do you know, she cried for about 10 minutes then laid down and went to sleep. It was like someone had handed me a gift. The gift of drama free evenings. Holy crap, all it takes is me hanging out while she settles down. Since then this is what we have done when she is getting a new tooth or feeling yucky, or when we are somewhere that is not home. For the most part, she is back to putting herself to sleep. At first I was short term parenting, rocking her because it worked and was easy.  I knew that I could be creating a monster, but exhaustion and frustration took over and I didn't care. If it was not for dumb luck and fatigue I would not have been freed from bedtime jail. It did help me realize that my gut feeling telling me I was doing the wrong thing for our family was something that I should have listened to. We all benefitted from breaking the bedtime cycle, Alice most of all because she relearned to self soothe.
My main short term parenting issue is food. Alice has recently been carb loading every meal. I am starting to think she secretly runs ironmans.  Until about 2 months ago she would eat about 90% of what was put in front of her. Now, she has flipflopped and eats 10%. The other 90% gets thrown on the floor. It drives me crazy, because all I want is for her to get a full belly. I know I should care that she is not getting enough fruits and veggies, but not so much. In the grand scheme of important things, it falls somewhere between concern that she watches Tori and Dean with me (low) and keeping clothes on in public no matter the age (high).  I feel like I am really getting it done if she eats 2 items from the fruit/veg level of the pyramid. She was a good eater before and she will be again at some point. For now I will continue to offer her the nutritious stuff and then give her yet another cereal bar while I watch the dog eat the apples off the floor.
We all struggle daily with the short term vs the long term. It is exhausting trying to do the right thing while there are so many different opinions and so much judgement. So I say, go with the gut. Long term parent on the things that are most important to you and short term on things that don't matter as much. Life is all about picking your battles, and parenting is war. And just like in war, trust your instincts and break out the big guns when you have to.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Raising the Gregarious Child


(of a person) Fond of company; sociable.

Last week I went with a friend and our girls to see a puppet show at the library. I spent 42 of the 45 minutes apologizing as my child crawled through a maze of adults and kids sitting on little cushions, enjoying the Tale of Peter Rabbit. It would have been fine if she would have only been meandering around, but she was on a mission to meet and greet as many people as possible, stealing snacks and going through a few purses along the way. It was exhausting and frustrating (and in retrospect very funny). Despite how many moms said, "oh, she's fine" it was still embarrassing. At one point she had her hand in a little boy's snack trap, helping herself to his goldfish, and then the next second she was rifling through another mom's diaper bag and pulling out a sippy cup. I am sure she was excited to wash down her pilfered snack with a little ill-gotten milk. I felt terrible after she treated a tiny infant (we are talking maybe 6 weeks old) to a wild ride of forceful rocking in his car seat. I am sure his mom was thankful she had taken the few extra seconds to click him in, otherwise he would have been catapulted out. During the 7 seconds Alice was still I glanced jealousy at the other kids, all sitting still and watching the show or playing quietly in their mom's laps. Then she was off again, leaving a tired mommy in her wake. The other mom I was with leaned over and asked me, "what did you do to make Alice so comfortable in public, so confident?" It got me to thinking about her personality and if it is our doing that she is so outgoing, or did she come preprogrammed with the gene that causes her to mix it up so easily. I can only guess that it is mostly just Alice being Alice, with an extra bonus from the environment we have created for her.

I think we all are born with certain personality traits that are unchangeable and innate. I am a talker. My parents claim that I started at my first sentence and never stopped. Fortunately I come from a long line of talkers on both sides, so my family enforced this trait with good communication and lively discussions.
I think Alice came out of the womb with the ability and desire to socialize. I think by taking her everywhere with us and also by getting her into preschool and music class, we fed her natural desire to enjoy the company of others. The little lady thrives on being around people. When we through a store she talks to every person who goes by her and if they don't respond to her effervescent smiles and chattering, she is not pleased. She then turns up the volume in an effort to get them to look her way. When they do finally look at her (and they almost always do), she gives them a big toothy grin and offers them a bite of whatever slobber covered snack she is working on (yes, I bribe her to sit in the cart and not act like a wild animal caught in a trap). The child uses every opportunity possible to get others attention and entertain them with her various tricks. Many a stranger has been the recipient of one of her highness's blown kisses or a wave. At restaurants she can hardly eat for wanting to watch what is going on at the other tables. If she has her back to the restaurant, she spends half the meal attempting to turn around in her seat to make sure she is not missing anything.  She demands attentions from others and is truly pleased when she gets it. It makes me a little nervous for what she will be like when she actually has words to get people's attention. Yikes.

Don't get me wrong, she has a little stranger anxiety, and she is very attached to us. She occasionally hides her face or turns away when someone talks to her, but I think that is a coy move to get them begging. She does not love when we leave, and there is some crying, but usually nothing too terrible. Once she gets comfortable (which normally takes approximately 13 seconds) she is off crawling around, checking things out. She treats music class as her 30 minutes of free expression and I am pretty sure she thinks we are all there in a circle to watch her wiggle around and clap. Her teachers at preschool tell me even though she is the only crawler in the class, she is not afraid to get in the midst and play with all the kids. Sweet lady is always interested in other kids and what they are they doing, whether we are in our house with friends over or in a park and there are people she has never seen before. She watches them with a  look on her face that I can only describe as, "I think those are my friends over there."

The little bit of the social baby I think we can take credit for is the part that has evolved from rolling with the punches with mom and dad. We take her everywhere and have basically forced her to be in new situations ever since she was born. We decided before she even arrived that we would continue to enjoy our life, going and doing, the only thing that would change was that we would have a baby in tow. We have kept that vow, within reason. Of course as ignorant almost-parents, we had no concept of naps, feedings, and baby crap that must be hauled around. But I think on the whole we have done a great job of keeping our vow to not become shut-ins once she arrived in our life. Before she was one she had been to countless restaurants, two music festivals, hiking, and on lots of vacations and weekends away. I am proud that she is versatile and I hope she stays that way. I can count on one hand the times that I think she was truly over stimulated as a baby, because she is just not that kind of kid. (However, the over stimulation excuse works wonders to get out of anything with a new baby. Just a little free advice for you all.)

I can only imagine as Alice gets older, she will continue on her quest to befriend every person in the free world. I also can only assume at some point in the not so distant future we will have the first of many conversations about what exactly a stranger is and why it is not a good idea to get too close. Despite my worry that she will wander away with anyone who smiles at her, I am proud that she has an independent streak and is not afraid to go and explore the world around her. I like that she is a people person, because I feel like it will make her life a little easier. Even though it is keeping me busy now, and probably for the foreseeable future, I think her desire to be on the move and seeing everyone and everything around her is a quality that will serve her well for many years to come. I just have to remind myself of that the next time I have to apologize to a mom at story time when I accidentally step on her hand while trying to prevent my child from stealing another kid's cookie.

about 9 mos old at Music on the Moutain


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