Friday, June 30, 2006

Awards

When I was in grades two and three, I always resented the "Most Improved Student" award. Every year I would hatch a scheme to flub my subtraction questions and misspell all the words on my spelling tests throughout September and October so that I could nab the award and the coveted wooden plaque that went along with it. (I could never quite bring myself to carry out this daring plot; faced with the purple ink and freshly-dittoed smell of my tests, I found that I couldn’t disobey the urge to grab my thick red pencil and fill in all the right answers.) The meaning behind the award, needless to say, was entirely lost on me: what I wanted was that moment of hearing my name called at the last-day-of-school assembly. But even more, I wanted the plaque, a permanent wooden testament to my worth as a human being.

Once I entered the junior grades, my lust for awards continued. I laboured over my science fair projects (on popcorn, or ice cubes, or Ouija boards), knowing that if I qualified for the regional science fair, I would be guaranteed a medallion just for participating. Medallions were not quite as good as plaques in my hierarchy of awards, but they were several notches above the round black "winnettes" that one earned by signing up for house league volleyball or maintaining a perfect attendance record. Ribbons were also enticing, so despite my total avoidance of all team sports, I loved track and field day, driven mad with desire for those red and blue bits of fabric that were handed to the first- and second-place finishers in each event. No such glory was mine; the best I ever did was third in the 100-metre dash, a lowly white ribbon, occasionally accompanied by a purple ribbon acknowledging a sixth-place finish in the standing broad jump. Pinned to my shirt, these awards were sweetly satisfying, though I looked covetously upon the rows of red and blue adorning the real athletes’ chests.

The award of all awards, though, was the Academic Achievement plaque, and I was relentless in my pursuit. My best friend and I were the acknowledged rivals for this honour; Jenefer Jelly tried to horn in on the competition when she moved to our town in grade seven, but was ousted handily (yes, that’s her real name, though misspelled to avoid random Google searches). I was not so weak as to allow friendship to stand in the way of my wooden-plaque-collecting madness: if I noticed that my friend had been mistakenly given credit for a wrong answer on her Social Studies test, I marched right up to the teacher to inform. (Really, it’s a miracle that we’re still friends: I was an evil, evil little person.)

I say all this simply to explain that if somebody puts up a post saying, "Come on over to this blog, we’re giving out some awards!" I will come over, and I will nominate myself. Because I’ve got a drawer full of wooden plaques and a box full of cherished white and purple ribbons, but none of them are quite as pretty as this:



(Ain’t it purdy? Some things never change. Oh, and – congratulations to all you perfect posters. Enjoy the swag!)

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Five by Five

(This post has been brought to you by: the number five.)

In light of the response to my last post, I’ll begin by reporting the latest minutiae about the Bub. He has rediscovered his Baby Einstein flashcards, which include a colourful set of cards numbered 1 through 5. For the last three days, he has played exclusively with these cards, arranging them in order, counting the dots on each card, and reciting sayings like "Three’s company, three’s a crowd" (still working on the origin of that one – he didn’t learn it from me). When he takes an occasional break from the numbers, he has reverted to some of the repetitive play that was more characteristic of him six months ago, spending fifteen minutes at a time turning the pages of a single book, or dancing his Weebles around the coffee table (always the same three Weebles – if we try to sneak in the little blue chick it is thrust aside gently but firmly, as if to say "You are not part of the Dancing Weeble Club, little chick. Get thee hence!"). The good news is that his love of the numbers 1 through 5 has led, finally, to some bona fide questions. If one of the cards falls to the floor, he’ll look around and ask, "Where’s the number one?" occasionally even with eye contact and a rising inflection. So in honour of the Bub, here is my tribute to the number five.

5 Cute Sayings from the Bub
1) Specials K (the breakfast cereal, as in "Pour some Specials K, and some milk!")
2) ocker-docker (helicopter)
3) custin (for cousin: he doesn’t have a cousin, and is never likely to, but his aunt did buy him a little stuffed rabbit named "Cousin Ben," by way of making up for her reprehensible lack of procreation)
4) "Red means GO!" (this is not so much a misunderstanding on his part as a deliberate deception, an attempt to keep the car moving as much as possible)
5) his memory verse: we cue him by saying, "God’s love for us is…." and he responds in his best Tony-the-Tiger: "Gweat!"

5 Things in my Life I’ve Given Up to Make Room for More Blogging
1) Sudoku
2) reading novels
3) the Sunday crossword
4) interacting with my husband and children
5) paying attention when people are talking to me (I try, really I do, but sometimes it takes a few minutes to exit "compose" mode in my head)

5 Things I Was Afraid of When I was Six Years Old
1) quicksand
2) cracking my head open
3) being kidnapped
4) being forced to walk the plank
5) falling into a bottomless pit

5 Things That Do Not Meet Bub’s Standard of Perfection
1) the Percy magnet in his Thomas the Tank Engine magnet book (it has a very tiny indentation where the Pie was biting on it, so every time Bub handles it he passes it to me saying, "Wash off Percy!")
2) his #3 card from the Baby Einstein flashcard pack (slightly creased, also subject to Bub’s requests for me to "Wash off number three!")
3) board books that do not lie perfectly flat (no hope of washing off here – just screaming, the endless screaming)
4) the shade on his car window, that allows stray beams of sunlight to shine on his Leap Pad in an unacceptable manner
5) any song his mother might be singing which is not the same as the song he was thinking of in his head

5 Words/Phrases/Expressions that I Never Used Until I Started Blogging
1) "blogging"
2) "I heart you"
3) "I hear you" (as in, "I. so. hear. you.")
4) "people" (as in, "it’s not rocket science, people")
5) "I wish something bad would happen to me so I could blog about it" (I didn’t actually say this one out loud, but I caught myself thinking it before I came to my senses)

Oh, and Mother Bumper? I’m working on your meme, really I am – these are the random lists that came to mind whenever I tried to think of things that I hate.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The End of the Innocence

Anyone who has a blog knows about it: the giddy sensation of writing for an audience. An enormous part of the appeal of blogging is what it gives us: readers – and not just hypothetical ones of the "Reader, I married him" variety – real readers who can provide instant feedback, who are giving up precious moments of their free time, totally voluntarily, just to read our blogs. It’s an intoxicating form of flattery.

My blog audience functions in many ways as a concrete manifestation of the imaginary audience I’ve carried around for years, in those moments of detachment when I examine myself and my life from the point of view of the people I’ve admired, or been rejected by, in the past: Bobby B., the boy I liked off and on throughout elementary school; Carolyn J., the friend who dumped me in grade 11; Mrs. C., the English teacher whom I injudiciously tried to convert by means of some not-very-subtle argumentation in my "reflection journal"; Robin W., a popular artsy girl from my high school. I haven’t seen most of these people for years, though I’ve heard occasional reports from mutual acquaintances of where they are and what they’re doing. For the most part these reports confirm that the passage of time has erased the differences that seemed so crucial in high school: we’re all married and raising children, with the exception of Robin, who according to Google has become a lesbian cabaret dancer.

All of which is to say: I’ve never lived my life without some consciousness of an audience. But I’ve been especially aware, lately, of how much my blogging is shaped by the imagined personality, tastes, and interests of my audience. I realize that even among the handful of people who regularly read this blog, there are significant differences: not all of you are bloggers, not all of you comment, not all of you are from Toronto or California (one visitor, at least, is from Milner Ridge, Manitoba – hi!). Nevertheless, there is that Platonic form of Mommy-Blog Reader that exists in my mind, underlying (and possibly explaining) everything I write. So here, dear reader, are the rash assumptions I’ve been making about who you are:

  • You are in your thirties, married, with a baby between six months and two years old. You may be on a maternity leave, or taking a more permanent break from the workforce, or you might be mommy-tracking it in one way or another; whatever was true in the past, career is no longer the center of your world.
  • The adjustment to mommy-hood has not been an easy one. If you did not experience full-blown PPD, at the very least you found yourself shocked and traumatized by the round-the-clockness of parenting, by how desperately shallow your reserves of patience and sweetness turned out to be. If I mention that I am often tormented by the urge to run away from my baby, you’ll understand.
  • You may or may not be American (in most cases not, as SiteMeter informs me), but if you were, you would vote Democrat.
  • You believe in God, but you didn’t attend church last Sunday morning. The word "Christian" is not one you ordinarily perceive as a compliment.
  • You are a reader. If I write about a Jane Austen novel, I don’t need to attach a spoiler warning. You recognize the source of "Reader, I married him." (Or if you can’t immediately place it, at least it sounds familiar. Hint: the "him" is Mr. Rochester. No spoilers there either.)

Finally, most dauntingly –

  • You are cool. One might even go so far as to say you are crazy and hip.

It is in acknowledgement of that last item that I have replaced the lengthy blurb that once appeared at the top of this blog. I’m not convinced that there is much that is witty – much less crazy or hip – about my new tagline (though anything that makes me think of Donny Osmond is a good thing), but at least it has the advantage of brevity, and it alleviates my increasing level of embarrassment over the naivete of my original blog-description, which I will preserve here for posterity:

The boy formerly known as Bub is three feet tall with blond hair and blue eyes; his interests include blocks, puzzles, and wagon rides. Favourite movie: Baby MacDonald. Favourite author: Dr. Seuss. The Pie is a little bit newer to the world, and her primary field of study is human growth and development, with a special interest in big-brother-little-sister relations. In addition to being mother and chief entertainer of Bub and Pie, I am a fan of reality TV and an avid reader of mama blogs.

Let us take a moment to grieve. Because this minor tweaking of my blog represents a greater sea change, one I’ve noticed as I’ve worked my way through more than a few archives. The early posts are not polished and urbane; they lack topicality and irony; but what they so often have in spades is a refreshing innocence, a willingness to be boring, to be obsessive, to be utterly absorbed in minutiae, as so many of us are, so much of the time. I’m not sure I ever quite had that innocent period, but when I catch myself hesitating to post about how the Bub has taken to announcing "I feel happy" after he pushes his sister over and makes her cry, hesitating because I fear that the cute-yet-disturbing-kid-saying factor on my blog is getting too high, I know that I have it now less than ever.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Waiting

You know what it’s like. You’re reading a good book – Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, let’s say – a book that would hold you spellbound under ordinary circumstances, but you can’t focus your mind on the words. You turn the pages idly, and then realize that you haven’t absorbed the meaning of the last three paragraphs. You shift restlessly in your seat and try to make conversation with the man on your left. With the help of a few candles, a glass of red wine, and a plate of baked brie, you would have no difficulty sustaining a conversation with this man (he is your husband after all), but now both of you are at a loss for words. Because you’re waiting. Your plane is delayed, you’ve spent three hours in the airport lounge waiting for your flight to be called, and you’re desperately hoping you won’t have to find a hotel room after being bumped to the next flight early tomorrow morning.

That’s where I was this time last year. Not literally, of course – I was eight months pregnant, for heaven’s sake, and the airlines don’t let you fly that late in the pregnancy. No, I wasn’t sitting at Gate 18 twiddling my thumbs and tapping my foot tensely, watching the clock. I would have found such a plight to be a delightful change of pace from the constant, round-the-clock impatience of waiting for my baby to come.

It didn’t help that I was enormous, achy and miserable, mistaken by strangers for a woman ten days past her due date. But the root of the tension lay deeper, in my total lack of control over what was happening, and would soon happen, to my body. And so I tried to take charge. Every day I brewed a pot of red raspberry leaf tea, carefully squeezing the tea bags as I removed them to distill every last drop of herbal goodness before mixing in a spoonful of honey. What I didn’t drink in the morning I poured over ice in the afternoon, quaffing the iced tea to wash down the carefully measured drops of E-Z Birth, a homeopathic remedy which promised to cut the duration of labour in half. Finally, I gulped down borage oil capsules with my orange juice each morning, assured by my mother that borage oil provided an extra-powerful version of the active ingredient in evening primrose oil. None of these herbal and homoepathic remedies promised to jump-start labour (for that, I relied on regular applications of prostaglandins to the cervix, provided by a willing hubby once every two days). They promised instead to "tone the uterus," to "prepare the body" for labour and delivery – and they gave me a false but very necessary sense that I was actively doing something to hurry along a process that had rendered me utterly passive, a giant incubator, cowlike, chewing my cud until my body – or, according to one study, my baby’s body – gave the signal that the time had come.

I checked my BabyCenter birth club board every day and read birth story after birth story: C-sections, inductions, or just obligingly punctual little babies sliding out a couple of weeks early. Obsessively, I followed the castor oil threads, fascinated by stories of diarrhea and Braxton-Hicks contractions and even, in one case, actual labour. The hot June air was thick and humid, without a breath of wind, as if the summer days themselves were waiting with bated breath for something, anything, to happen. But on the days when it was cool enough, I walked, pushing Bub’s stroller up hills, watching myself for any sign of a burst of energy or a desire to do housework – that nesting urge that would indicate labour was imminent. (I came, eventually, to resent this supposed symptom, to feel that the universe was withholding my baby from me until my house was shiny and spotless. The nesting urge never came – or if it did, it did not produce any noticeable impact on my scummy kitchen floors and dusty bookshelves, the ones I hadn’t been able to bend down to scrub for several months.)

The sixth Harry Potter book was delivered to my door on a Saturday morning in July, the first day it went on sale. This, I decided, would keep me entertained until the baby came – I would reward myself with little portions of it now and then, dragging it out so that I would finish the final chapters just before it was time to haul myself into the car and head to the hospital. All morning that Saturday, I forced myself to put the book down each time I finished a chapter, only to pick it up again five minutes later. Finally I realized, at around 2 pm, that I wasn’t going to sleep that night until I found out what happened to Voldemort and Dumbledore and (my favourite) the broodingly ambiguous Professor Snape. Twelve hours later, I bid Harry farewell and sat there in the darkness. Still waiting for my baby.

(Happy eleven-month birthday, little Pie. The next one’s the big one!)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Rain Bub

I have worried about autism ever since my ultrasound showed that I was carrying a boy. At the time my knowledge of the subject was derived almost entirely from Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of the disorder in Rain Man and an article published in The Globe and Mail a few years ago suggesting that the epidemic of autism in Silicon Valley was a result of natural selection gone awry. Autism is especially prevalent, it seems, in families that have more than their share of engineers, accountants, and computer programmers – professions that involve lining up numbers in orderly columns. With a degree in computer science (and a math-teacher father), hubby fits the profile all too well. The article came with a handy multiple-choice quiz: Test your Autism Quotient! Needless to say, hubby’s score was well above average. Logic is the very air my husband breathes; he is rational in the best possible sense – rational enough to recognize that feelings are facts, and that there is nothing so irrational as the expectation that others’ emotions (okay, my emotions) line up precisely with his objective tally of events.

When Bub had his MMR vaccination, I watched him anxiously for side effects, and breathed a sigh of relief when he was still the same old Bub – no rocking or flapping, no screaming at loud noises, no withdrawal into silence or avoidance of eye contact. Sure, he was a bit quirky, but in ways I was proud of: at eighteen months of age, he could play independently for thirty minutes at a time, innocently absorbed in a single task, like lining up cars in careful rows on his Little People garage, or putting together wooden puzzles, casually sorting and replacing the pieces with lightning rapidity. His grandfather would tease him by mixing and matching his toys, taking the pentagon from his Tupperware shape-sorter and throwing it into his Fisher-Price shape-sorting snail, a move that always prompted Bub to snatch the offending toy and put it back in its proper place. When we took him on car rides, Bub would keep track of our route, squealing in dismay if we took a wrong turn; he knew the way to church, to grandma’s house, to playgroup, instantly aware of any deviation from our usual course.

My concerns began to re-emerge around Chrismastime; Bub had just turned two and his language delay was becoming more noticeable: he had a vocabulary of over 100 words (well within the normal range), but almost all of those words were nouns. He could recite his alphabet and identify every animal on his Baby Einstein World Animals DVD, but he couldn’t ask for food when he was hungry or say "All done" when he was full. "How does he communicate his desires?" the speech therapist asked when I called to set up an appointment. "Does he use words, or gestures, or does he pull you around by the hand?" Um, none of the above? For the most part, Bub’s desires were focused within the range of things he could do on his own – he might push his food away when he didn’t want any more, or scream in frustration when the flaps on his lift-the-flap book wouldn’t lie flat, but he did not instinctively turn to his parents for help in those situations – if he wanted something done, he tried his best to do it himself.



When you have a son with a language delay, what you discover is that everybody knows of a boy who didn’t talk until he was four. These boys all, without exception, grew up to be doctors. So that’s encouraging. But no one seems to know how to determine which slow-talker will catch up to his peers, and which one will end up with a diagnosis. The last time I wrote about this issue, I was feeling pretty optimistic. Bub has changed enormously over the last six months. Not so long ago, I estimated that 75% of what came out of his mouth was memorized fragments of storybooks and song lyrics. He would snuggle up in bed with me, first thing in the morning, and whisper, "and on that farm he had a cow," or "Five, four, three, two, one – Blast off!" He would interrupt his play to shout, "Put me down, said the fish, this is no fun at all! Put me down, said the fish, I do not wish to fall!" These days he still belts out song lyrics, increasingly tunefully, but he saves that for when he’s supposed to be sleeping (winding up with a long, extended final note: "And – the – smile was on the crocoDIIIIILE!"). When he’s up and around, by contrast, he issues orders like a field marshal, complete with prepositional phrases: "Mama, lie down under the table! Orange juice in a cup, please!" (Some of these instructions are based on his wants and needs; others are based on the pure love of power.)

And yet every step has been won with deliberate, conscious effort. We’ve taught him to point, for instance, with endless walks around the neighbourhood ("Look! A basketball hoop! A fire hydrant! A bicycle!"). Hesitantly, with an open hand, he gestures towards the things he sees – but he doesn’t point like the Pie does, enthusiastically, joyfully, as if her very life force were pulsing down her arm and through the tip of her index finger. The way his brain functions is fascinating (to me), but atypical. His process of language acquisition, for instance, is upside-down: first he learns to pronounce the words – studying the shape of sentences with scientific detachment, examining how the syllables feel in his mouth – and only then does he begin to discover what those words mean. Finally, when he has used the words himself in a variety of contexts, he begins to understand what they mean when he hears them from others: he had been ordering me to stand up and sit down for weeks before he began to realize that when I say "Come here!" or "Shut the door!" those words are (a) directed at him, (b) designed to elicit a response, and (c) useful clues he can use to determine what, exactly, I want him to do. (I know he’s got it when he responds to such instructions by looking me in the eye and replying, in an off-hand tone, "No.")

The other day, Bub looked up from his Thomas magnets, which he was carefully placing on the railroad track, and asked, "How many birds do you want?" As I have discussed elsewhere, the Bub rarely asks questions, so I hazarded a response: "I would like, um, one bird?" He was unimpressed. "How many squirrels do you want? How many grapes do you want?" The following morning my day-care provider explained that she had been showing him Baby Einstein Numbers Nursery during diaper changes. Mystery solved. One of the bonus features shows a few items and asks, "How many [blank] do you see?" Bub has altered the phrase slightly, possibly because he so often hears the words "What do you want?" from his parents at mealtimes. He is fascinated by the construction of this phrase, substituting his own words to create new questions. "How many sisters do you want?" he asked last night, with a hint of mischief, and when I posed the question to him in return he replied, promptly, "Four." (When he asked how many brothers I wanted, I didn’t bother to turn the question back on him. I was too afraid of what I’d hear.) He doesn’t really understand these questions, but I hope that, having made the transition from the indicative to the imperative, he’s getting ready to make the leap into the interrogative.

I sometimes feel that the credit for his progress belongs largely to the Pie. Hers was the first name he ever used, long before "Mama" or "Daddy." (He uses those terms regularly now, but not always correctly. "Daddy, run away!" he’ll tell me, and when I don’t run off and hide, he’ll look up, palpably trying to remember, Which one are you again? Oh, yeah…right.) From his sister, he has learned the joys of interaction, the fun that can be had from chasing and being chased. He is still reluctant to join in at playgroups, preferring to find a toy and retire to a corner where he can play undisturbed. But at moms' group the other day, a couple of rowdy girls were horsing around, wearing foam chairs on their heads, and the Bub ran over, grinning from ear to ear, and darted in and out of the fray shouting, "Silly! Crazy!" I have no idea what we’ll be told when we take him to the screening clinic in September, but as I watched him laughing and playing – with other children! his age! – I had tears in my eyes.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Thomas the Propaganda Engine

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a series created by a man who uses "Rev." as a first name serves as a relentless inculcator of the Protestant work ethic. Bub has just discovered Thomas the Tank Engine, that adorable little blue train whose deepest desire is to be Really Useful. We bought the Track Stars DVD a few months ago, but Bub didn’t express any interest in it until this week, when he handed it to me ("There you go!") and settled in comfortably on my lap to watch Thomas deliver Farmer McColl’s eggs safely to the station, the corners of his little engine-mouth pointing downwards the whole way because the slow pace prevents him from working the hardest, making the most journeys, and becoming the most useful of all the Really Useful Engines. The story has a happy ending, though – even though Thomas’s overweening ambition results in a few broken eggs, he receives a figurative pat on the head from the Benevolent Dictator, Sir Topham Hatt (also known – I kid you not – as "the Fat Controller"), who gets to enjoy some scrambled eggs for his breakfast. Lesson learned: it is better to be plodding and useful within the sphere in which God has placed you than to seek success through vain ambition and self-conceit. Another lesson: the most important determinants of value are usefulness and hard work. (The DVD ends with an ad for Thomas’s new full-length special: The engines are quarrelling! Work is not getting done! What will happen to the Island of Sodor?)

For Bub, though, these messages, for now, are lost in the more fundamental excitement of narrative. We have been working with him lately using flash cards to help him recognize and label his emotions: Dad’s car pulls out of the driveway and I jump to shove a crying-face flashcard in his face: "Sad! It’s sad when Daddy goes to school!" This quite naturally enrages him, but it also works – he shoves the card away, but then sneaks a peek at it from the corner of his eye, his sobs ceasing abruptly as he whispers, "Sad." One reason Bub is interested in Thomas is the clarity of the emotions carved into the trains’ faces. (Hence Thomas’s official status as SpokesTrain for Autism Awareness Month: apparently autistic boys are fascinated by Thomas, to the point that there is a book on the use of Thomas the Tank Engine in autism therapy.) In Bub’s eyes, Thomas’s story is reduced down to the bare bones, which he encapsulates in his excited commentary: "Thomas sad!…Thomas sad!" If I wander off to the kitchen, he will come running in with this report, and then return to watch with an eagle eye until, finally, triumphantly, he can announce, "Thomas happy!"

There are few stories, I suppose, aside from Greek and Shakespearian tragedy, that do not follow this simple formula, which Bub is just now discovering for the first time. We could, for instance, create the Bub-version of Pride and Prejudice with little more than a few variations on "sad": "Lizzy embarrassed (by her awful mother) … Lizzy flattered (by Mr. Wickham) … Lizzy mortified (to realize that her allegations against Mr. Darcy are false and her refusal of his proposal perhaps not entirely judicious) … Lizzy worried (about Lydia’s elopement and the effect of the disgrace upon the whole Bennet family) … Lizzy sad (that Mr. Darcy no longer loves her) … Lizzy happy! (The End).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Sex Post

(Okay, so that's all my posts lately. But after this we're moving on. Tomorrow: a meditation on the cultural implications of Thomas the Train.)

My mom is a big advocate for abstinence. The way she tells it, unmarried people didn’t actually start having sex until the 1960s – she’s always outraged when she sees movies set before 1967 in which teenagers are having sex. "It wasn’t like that in my day!" she’ll insist, though she has admitted recently that perhaps she was the only one abstaining, and everyone else was just having sex without telling her. Abstinence is so important to her that she considers a good dose of body shame to be a healthy thing. She stopped short of deliberately teaching me to be so ashamed of my body that I’d be too scared to show it to a boy (aware, perhaps, of how badly that tactic can backfire into seeking sex as validation), but she considers it fortunate, in her case, that a few embarrassing nipple hairs worked better than a chastity belt.

It was easy for me to avoid having sex in high school, since No Boys Liked Me in those days. (Though it’s not entirely clear how the cause-and-effect operated: I’m pretty sure I was exuding a powerful Don’t Touch Me vibe, a skill I’m still able to exercise when the occasion demands it.) But I worry about the Pie, about how she’ll navigate the minefield of teenage sexuality. 'Cause I have a feeling she's going to be exceptionally pretty (her dark brown curls are just starting to come in), and she'll have an older brother, so she won't be as afraid to talk to boys as I was. A recent post at Another Mommy Moment elicited a number of saddening tales of teenage sexual activity: girls who put out for their boyfriends because they thought everybody else was doing it, or because they knew it was the only way to keep a boy interested, who are now women who don’t enjoy sex because they feel used, disrespected. How do I protect my daughter from those experiences? As everybody knows, preaching abstinence doesn’t produce abstinence – it just produces babies, because condoms are proof of pre-meditation. At best, the abstinence guilt-trip might make a girl postpone sex until she really wants it, until her body joins the chorus of social pressures urging her on. So she avoids the psychological trauma, but she has a baby at seventeen. Hmmm.

Yesterday, in a few parenthetical remarks in which I sounded remarkably like my mother, I expressed my nostalgia for the days of dating without sex. Blogging is all about finding common ground, and I’m aware that few people would recognize any common ground with that part of my post. Unless they have religious reasons for doing so, nobody is going to spend a lot of time dating without having sex. (Though I do feel that in real life, unlike books and movies, there is sometimes at least a brief interlude between the first expression of romantic interest and full penetration. At least a few minutes – possibly even days!) But I wonder what to teach my daughter, how to find a middle ground between the "sex is bad" guilt-trip and the unhelpfully ambiguous "wait until you’re ready." (I’m aware that I will also have to teach my son something about these matters, but that task is even more daunting, so I’m shoving it aside for the moment, to be revisited in about thirteen years.) I would like to teach her not to confuse sex with love, not to use sex as currency, in exchange for something else. Not just because I’m more like my mother than I admit, and I’m freaked out at the thought of either of my children having sex, ever (although I am both of those things). I want to find a way to instill these ideas because when I look at her chubby arms and legs and tummy, her graceful, skilful self, I think of the months I spent carrying that body within mine, of the hours I spent breastfeeding and nourishing those healthy limbs, and I recognize the value of her body. The sacredness. And I don’t want anyone touching her who doesn’t see that too.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Girls' Night

Last Wednesday night was girls’ night. We book these dates over two months in advance, scheduling around speech therapy, softball, and nightshifts for the nurses (over half the members of this particular group of friends). Often these girls’ nights involve some kind of payback in kind later on, when the husbands decide that a fair exchange for a simple evening off would be a whole day of testosterone-fueled madness (usually involving nachos, Risk, and head-to-head Playstation). I’ve known these girls since my mid-twenties. Together, we sorted ourselves out into couples, not without a few missteps along the way, a few strategic swaps and trades, with all the gossip and drama such negotiations demand. And then there was the season of weddings, two or three every summer, girls taking turns as bridesmaids in hand-sewn dresses for the frugal Dutch weddings and $300 strapless gowns for the rest (the guys, of course, always looking the same in their tuxes, except for one wedding where the garter-throwing turned into a car-crash/male strip-tease of the I-want-to-look-away-but-I-can’t variety). In the past five years, we have given birth to nine babies, suffered at least five miscarriages, bought three houses, and completed three degree programs. No one is rich – some of us are struggling to get by – and no one is divorced (yet). One way or another, we’re creating our families, our lives.

Girls’ night used to involve sitting around the hot tub, painting our toenails, and talking about sex. (About not having sex, that is, with all the strategies of postponement that involves. It’s a lost art, the not having sex. A whole generation is missing out on the experience, with all the rules, and breaking of rules, and kissing. Oh, the kissing ... and the gossip! Somehow, having sex doesn’t make for nearly as good conversation as trying not to.) These days, girls’ night involves drinking coffee, munching on spinach dip, and comparing anecdotes about our husbands and children. Like Baby Ethan, just turned two, who likes to spend ten minutes each night before bed, talking about sports. Or the husband who wants to buy a big-screen TV and the wife who agrees he can do it – with the life insurance money over her dead body. The conversation, though, is a bit of an afterthought. At the risk of confirming the parents-are-boring stereotype lamented recently by Scarbiedoll and Nine-pound Dictator, the highlight of our evening is the movie. We pick out a chick flick – The Family Stone, or Memoirs of a Geisha – a movie we can’t convince our spouses to see. This month, the film of choice was The Break-Up.

I am, I must admit, a big fan of the romantic comedy genre. If you check my Blogger profile, you’ll find the ultimate classic of the genre, When Harry Met Sally, along with a few of my personal favorites, like Sliding Doors and High Fidelity. I adore the quirky British and Australian takes on the genre (Strictly Ballroom, anyone?), but in a pinch I’ll take a straight-up-the-middle boy-meets-girl flick and swallow it whole, clichés and all. The one thing I demand is that the movie show me why these two people would want to be together (aside from the fact that the characters are played by the two highest-paid actors in the film).

By these standards, The Break-Up is a good movie: as I watched it, I believed that Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Aniston would be attracted to one another (in real life and on film), I believed that they would have big arguments and want to break up, and I believed that they should probably get back together again. (Some of my girls’ night companions were disappointed by the ambiguity of the ending, but I thought that the heavy-handed Chicago fire imagery solved that little puzzle. City destroyed by fire is rebuilt from the foundations, stronger than ever! It means they’ll get married. Sorry for any spoilers there – you didn’t really think they’d stay broken up, did you?)

One reason I enjoyed the movie so much is that it depicts a very specific kind of relationship that I have often encountered, both in real life and in the blogosphere. In Myers-Briggs terminology, it’s the SJ/SP relationship, the kind of relationship exemplified by the ant and the grasshopper: the ant works hard all year, busily storing up food for the winter, and the grasshopper lazes about in the sunshine, knowing that when the cold weather hits, he can always sweet-talk his way into the ant’s good graces. I’ve never been a huge fan of this particular arrangement, never been able to see where the advantage is for the ant. Oh yeah – the grasshopper brings his charm. He cracks jokes to while away those long winter nights, cooped up in the anthill with all that good food the ant has been storing up for the last six months.

In the film, Jennifer Aniston is the ant: she cleans the apartment, cooks the meal, plans outings to events Vince Vaughn will enjoy – and then finally dumps him because he doesn’t want to help her wash up the dishes. It’s a tribute to Vince Vaughn’s comic skills that I kept on liking him, even though he’s the kind of guy who drives me crazy in real life: he is friendly, and funny, and fundamentally selfish (before a bit of ninth-inning personal growth to preserve the happy ending). In the end, I don’t get the sense that Aniston’s character really needed him to change: she was happy enough to do the lion’s share of the work, and certainly to do all the planning and organization – what she wanted from him was just a tiny bit of appreciation, of acknowledgement for her efforts. The division of labour might not have been equitable, but her life was fuller with him in it.

So any ants and grasshoppers out there? Anyone willing to say, "My husband's personality is so fantastic, I'm willing to do all the housework"?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Blogger's Block

I’ve been suffering from a bit of blogger’s block today; it has been a whole 48 hours since I last posted, and the well has suddenly gone dry. In the month since I started this blog, I have struggled each day to choose which idea to pin down from the cloud of potential posts buzzing around my head: Expose the attachment parenting fraud! Reveal the story of the Bub’s conception! Complain about the shrieking/barfing/drooling/hair-pulling! (But no, it isn’t nice to complain about the husband.) In the place of all that buzz and chatter, all I’ve got now is an echoing silence. And I think I know why.

I am embarrassed.

Not about anything I’ve said in this blog – no, I’m embarrassed about a bunch of tiny, unrelated incidents that have cumulatively left me hiding, red-faced, behind the potted plant. For one thing, I unjustly accused my day-care provider of telling the Bub he was bad. Twice yesterday, I caught him misbehaving and heard him say what sounded for all the world like "Bad boy!" We have never used those words either to describe or rebuke him, so where did they come from? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that they didn’t come from Shannon, who is the kind of person who effusively thanks telemarketers for calling her house before wishing them a "really nice day." It’s possible that Bub simply invented the phrase for himself, having absorbed the idea that "bad" is the antonym of "good" and thus can be combined with "boy" in useful ways (as in, to tell his sister "Bad boy!" when she nabs his crayons). He is making progress in developing new word-combinations. This afternoon, for instance, while we were playing catch in the yard, he looked up at me with a happy smile and announced, "Booblblbl mama!"

"What did you say?"

He enunciated more clearly, looking me right in the eye. "Boooo-ti-ful mama!"

That moment was almost enough to wipe out my embarrassment from earlier that day. But not quite. My in-laws dropped in for a visit this afternoon, swinging by on their way home from the cottage on Lake Huron. They had some petunias they had offered to plant in our front garden, so my mother-in-law pulled up weeds while my father-in-law poured out the topsoil and planted the seedlings. Hubby and I didn’t lend very much assistance, probably because of how we didn’t know they were there. It was a lovely afternoon, perfect for leaving the front door open and letting the breeze waft in the screen door. The children were sleeping. Both of us were home – hubby ostensibly studying, I ostensibly marking papers. Suffice it to say we didn’t hear the van pull in, but hubby did notice his mother sitting on the front porch as he wandered into the bathroom to, uh, wash up while I dozed on the bed in a lovely - but, alas, abruptly dispelled - state of post-coital relaxation.

I may never look my mother-in-law in the eye again.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

My Dad

My dad will never read this post. He is in perfect health, mind you – but he still won’t read my blog. For one thing, he doesn’t own a computer. When I lived at home between my marriages, he occasionally borrowed my computer, and every so often he would holler for help. "Where’s the N?" he would ask in dismay, and I would point it out to him, over there on the right hand side, in the bottom row, with the letter worn off the key (from excessive pushing of control-N, back in the days when computer solitaire was my addiction, games of Canfield and Forty Thieves occupying the place now taken up by Sunshine Scribe and Girl’s Gone Child). My dad is old school; over four decades of professional life he has never needed to use a keyboard: documents were produced by dictation into a dictaphone, later to be rendered in perfect typescript by the "girl," a secretary who, more than likely, was well into her forties.

But internet access is not the only reason he will not read my blog. If he read it, his head might explode. My dad is an intelligent man, but I often wonder if he was hit on the head at birth, thus disabling the side of the brain that is responsible for analyzing human beings and their motives, for considering abstract topics or even, to be honest, any topic aside from the stock market, golf, and the importance of re-electing a Conservative government. This is not a political perspective I share, but our arguments on this subject are few – limited, I think, to one heated exchange carried out by proxy when my sister was talking to him on the phone in my kitchen: "Dad says you’re just voting NDP because you’re one of those socialist academics!" she reported. "Tell him that he’s just voting Conservative because he’s an old rich white guy!" I shot back.

My family’s paranoid avoidance of confrontation is difficult to explain when you consider that it is virtually impossible to insult my father. You can say outrageous things about him in his hearing (and, indeed, my mother often does), and he will (a) ignore you, or, if that fails, (b) deny everything (with a cheerful disregard for the plausibility of such denials). If both those strategies fail, he will grin broadly and blame somebody else (usually my mother).

My dad is not a tolerant man. His most sweeping condemnation for anything from drag queens to experimental films is to say that they are "weird" (an epithet he applies not only to such fare as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but also to risk-taking avant-garde films like Pirates of the Caribbean). And yet he has a fund of tolerance for his commie-daughter who shares so few of his values and whose choices might easily prompt another man’s scorn. He has never reproached me for pursuing so impractical a field of study that I am still, at 35 years of age, only barely able to support myself, even though my academic potential was such that he told me once, when I was 16 years old, that I should choose a career where there is no salary cap, no limit to my earning potential. He has never expected me to follow his savvy advice, never evinced the slightest disappointment at my choices.

Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve always assumed that it’s my mother I take after (taking for granted at the time that this was a direct result of those dimly remembered months spent hanging out in the womb). My mother and I look uncannily alike, and we enjoy the same books, spend hours discussing friends and husbands and relationships (we can do this when my dad is in or out of earshot; he couldn’t pay attention if he tried). But over the years I’ve realized more and more how much I am my father’s daughter. From him, I learned the practical usefulness of optimism, the kind of optimism that guarantees you the best parking space in the lot (you simply drive straight up to the door and the space is right there, missed by all the pessimists who took the first open spot they saw). From him I inherited my uncoolness, the wide-open enthusiasm that allows me to appreciate his excited description of the ultimate seafood buffet, or to cheer with abandon as the Edmonton Oilers kick some Carolina butt.

My father is a couch potato. But on a hot, humid day, if the Bub wants someone to push him in the swing that hangs from a tree in my back yard, my dad will jump up to do it. My father is always quick to pass the phone to my mother when I call. But if I have a good anecdote about the Pie’s latest milestone or the Bub’s latest antics, he hangs on my every word, punctuating the story with shouted reports to my mother. When I was a kid, my dad golfed every Saturday morning, even though I cried and begged him to stay home so we could watch cartoons together, as we had done every weekend through the winter months. My dad still golfs every Saturday morning – but when he’s done he often drops by the house and collapses against the doorframe in disappointment when I inform him that the children are sleeping; he has to be sternly warned not to go wake them up. Last year, when I was so often frightened by the Bub’s vacant stare, his lack of response to other people, his grandfather was the one person who could always coax a kiss and a hug out of him. And to this day, when my mom and dad arrive and I ask excitedly, "Who is it? Who’s here?" Bub will cry out, "It’s Grandpa and Grandpa!"

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. It would embarrass us both if I said I love you, so I’ll leave it at this: I’m glad that you’re my children’s grandfather. They’re lucky – we’re all lucky – to have you.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Obligatory Google-Hit Post

I always love to see the quirky and salacious Google searches that lead people to all of your blogs. But so far, my hits have suggested that the subject matter of my blog is far too depressing:

  • sleep depravation miserable (I know the feeling.)
  • what the meaning of the blue lane in the pregnancy test? (I don’t know, but what the meaning of the fact that none of my googlers can spell?)
  • toddler bee phobia (Yikes.)
  • my toddler screams when I hug my husband (Now that’s just disturbing, and kind of sad.)
  • And this one is just plain sad: pregnancy miscarriage irrational
  • As is this one: article about POST PARTUM hemorrhage

But at last, today, I hit the jackpot. My blog is now the destination of choice for anyone wondering about…

  • newborn neck cheese. Hurray.

(Oh, and, uh, I never even knew there was a place called Gays, Illinois! But whoever visited my site from there yesterday – thanks for spending 5.59 minutes here!)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Then and Now (Or, The Circumstances Under Which I Would Become a Nun)

I’ve always wanted to get married. Back when I would attend uplifting youth services emphasizing the imminence of the Rapture, I always sent up a nervous little prayer, asking God to please postpone the Second Coming until after I got married (not without some guilt at my inexplicable lack of enthusiasm about the end of the world). And when I was in my twenties, I could never quite endorse that sage advice for the lovelorn and single to fill their lives with so many friends and hobbies that they would no longer need a man to be happy. As if a husband is karma’s reward for us when we stop wanting a husband (or, as Bridget Jones puts it, for developing "inner poise and authority and sense of self as woman of substance, complete without boyfriend, as best way to obtain boyfriend"). It’s naïve, I think, and more than a little absurd, to suppose that a necessary or even helpful preparation for marriage is the relinquishment of all desire to share one’s life with another person.

I never took for granted the idea that I would marry: it always seemed vaguely improbable that I would ever kiss a boy, much less marry him. And growing up in churches that inculcated the importance of being equally yoked, I was always faced with the spectre of the unmarried Christian woman: thirty-something, attractive, professional, and undeniably on the shelf while every fat balding widower was chased by hordes of eager hopefuls. (This phenomenon is the result of at least two intersecting trends: the predilection of church kids to marry young so they can have sex, and the tendency of women to be more faithful in their church attendance than men.) I’ve never quite been able to shake off the message that marriage represents success in the highly competitive field of Christian dating (though what I would really like to see is the tables turned in a new reality show: Christian Bachelorette, where one of those attractive professionals gets to weed out the undesirables week by week, and send packing those handsome single men with youth-pastor syndrome, who are so addicted to being pursued that they can never quite settle down and actually date anyone).

My point, anyway, is that I’ve always believed and assumed that being married is a Good Thing – not that every marriage is happy, of course, but that being married, in general, is better than not being married. I blame Jane Austen for this. Her heroines may be less brazen in their lust for matrimony than her villains, but their yearning is still palpable, and contagious. And if marriage is important to us now, when we have careers and financial independence and the sexual revolution, how much more so then? But lately I’ve had cause to rethink this stance, at least in relation to the nineteenth century. Because I’ve been thinking – really thinking – about the fact that women in those days could expect to be pregnant ten, or twelve, or twenty times in their lives.

I’ve considered before, of course, what life must have been like for women back then who had eight or ten surviving children. And I’m not sure it’s without its advantages. No Dr. Sears to tell you that your children aren’t attached. No Linda Hirshman telling you to go back to work and Danielle Crittenden telling you to stay home. Lots of support from sisters and mothers and aunts who actually know how to raise children, having raised ten of their own. And a house full of laughter, and fighting, and joy, and companionship.

But the pregnancies! You marry Mr. Darcy and then adopt separate bedrooms once you’ve popped out the heir and the spare. Or, like Fanny Price’s mother, you marry that sexy sailor and set up house in Brighton, only to spend the rest of your life either pregnant or breastfeeding or both. If you’re lucky, of course, you’ll survive those last few deliveries in your early forties and live to see the joys of widowhood, but there’s an equal chance that you won’t – that bearing and breastfeeding your children is all there is. Let’s assume the best-case scenario: good health, financial security, and a spacious Victorian home equipped with a nursery and nanny. And let’s cap the number of pregnancies at ten. Even so, that’s 90 months of nausea, exhaustion, back aches, incontinence, sleeplessness, and Braxton-Hicks. No wonder everybody considered women to be the weaker sex: those women never got to experience that rebound of health and energy that I’m enjoying right now, constantly amazed at my ability to walk and climb and jump, compared to last summer when all I could do was languish on the couch and watch my feet swell up.

When the Bub was born, it took me awhile to realize – to really believe – that this era of confinement and stress would someday come to an end. Hubby and I tried to fit in a birthday dinner that year, but since we couldn’t know ahead of time when Bub would be finished nursing we couldn’t make a reservation, and since we needed to be back home within three hours for his next feeding, we couldn’t wait for a table either. (I know, I know – I needed a pump. But I could never quite convince myself that I wanted to attach a machine to my sore, beleaguered breasts and start pumping them.) On that particular birthday, we exchanged the 45-minute line-up at the Keg for a quick snack at a little café, and I felt demented, trapped: "My life as I know it is over. I will never be able to go to a restaurant again." And of course that wasn’t true – eventually the Bub was weaned, and restaurants and movie nights began to make a few guest appearances in my life. The second time around was so much easier because I knew that this period of infancy was just a season, that it would be over all too soon, that normal life would resume (the new normal, anyway). But that’s exactly what did not happen to my great-great-grandmother: for her, the exhaustion of pregnancy, the demands of infancy were normal life. They were all she had.

So I’m rethinking my stance on marriage in the nineteenth century – and on nunneries. Because those nuns had a pretty sweet deal: a nice cozy cell, a few good female friends, a life devoted to prayer and meditation. Not a bad alternative, really.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Feeding of Babies and Toddlers: A Comparative Study

Having sung the praises of those oh-so-cute 10-month-old babies, I have to add: not so much fun to feed. As in, jab spoon at mouth while waving away baby’s frantic attempts to (a) capture spoon, (b) mash cereal all over hands, face, and hair, and (c) throw spoon to floor. Which has prompted me to consider the relative merits of breastfeeding a baby vs. wrestling a meal into a toddler.

Food Preparation: Advantage – Breastfeeding.

  • Preparation of breastmilk is quick and easy. In fact, you can pretty much let the autonomic nervous system take care of it and still wind up with 8-12 nutritionally balanced meals delivered to your baby each day. And flavour = yummy! (a bit like vanilla ice cream).
  • Preparation of toddler meals can be a bit more challenging. It’s best to follow a series of steps: (1) Distract hungry toddler with yogourt while you boil water and add macaroni. (2) Boil macaroni for 7 minutes while toddler screams hysterically, "Camoni cheese! Camoni cheese!" (3) Stir in powder, margarine, and milk. (4) Serve. Caution: warn toddler that macaroni and cheese is "Hot, very hot!" (5) Clean up macaroni and cheese from floor while toddler howls in pain, having jammed mouth full of giant handfuls of very hot macaroni. (Why, you ask, do you give the macaroni and cheese to the toddler while it’s still hot? Answer: see step #2.)

Food Delivery: Advantage – Toddler feeding.
  • Load up your toddler’s plate with a variety of nutritious snacks: chick peas, raisins, almonds, whole wheat crackers, sliced banana, and carrots. Be careful to arrange these foods so that none of them are touching. Hand to toddler, then retire to couch and consume bon bons.
  • Breastfeeding, on the other hand, can be time consuming (if you consider 8 hours/day to be a lot of time to spend feeding your child). Retire to couch with everything you need within arm’s reach: TV remote, portable phone, magazines … you’ll be here awhile.

Side Effects: Advantage – Toddler feeding.
  • Toddler feeding side effects include: boredom, irritability, difficulty eating an uninterrupted meal.
  • Breastfeeding side effects, on the other hand, include mastitis, thrush, blocked milk ducts, and cracked, bleeding nipples. And those are the temporary side effects. Permanent side effects = boobs that point downward.

Final Score: Toddler feeding: 2, Breastfeeding: 1.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Diary Dearest

It was the Easter Bunny who brought me my first diary. I was eleven years old (getting a bit too old for the Easter Bunny) and I opened up a side-table drawer to find the long-coveted object: The Judy Blume Diary. This was no ordinary diary – this was a diary for rebels, those who Refused to Be Confined within the limits of a standard-issue page-a-day journal. Instead, this version was divided up into months (oh, the dizzying freedom!) and illustrated with black and white photos captioned with quotations from Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and (my personal favourite) Deenie (how I thrilled to the romance of it when Buddy took Deenie to the movies and tried to feel her up!).

Almost immediately, at this early stage in my career as a diarist, I was confronted with the central dilemma of a recorded life: a diary is a place for secrets, yet these were in all-too-short supply in my limited routine of school, piano lessons, and Explorers (pseudo-Girl-Guide group at the United Church, precursor to the important-sounding C.G.I.T.: Canadian Girls in Training). I did my best to manufacture material, picking fights with my mother so that I could fill those lined pages with bitter invective, but it all rang a bit hollow (my mom was patient, sympathetic, and stubbornly unwilling to provide me with good fodder for my diary). I had to make do with what scandal I could dredge up – weekly charts linking up various girls in my class with members of the opposite sex, and of course the monthly "little raisins" tally, in which I ranked those girls by breast size (coming in, at that stage, a respectable fourth or fifth, a few spots behind Kelly, who hid behind three shirts at school each day to avoid the prying eyes of lustful pre-pubescent boys and nosy girls like me).

I continued to be a prolific diarist throughout high school, filling the pages of a succession of duotangs and spiral notebooks. I became skilled at choosing these, carefully avoiding those hardbound books that wouldn’t lie flat when I sprawled on my stomach across my bed and carefully recorded every word of my conversation with the Inaccessible, Desired Love-Object – and, of course, everything he was wearing, from his mullet to his red Converse hi-tops. (The term "mullet," like "Royal Potty," is a joke all by itself – it saves me the trouble of devising clever witticisms because the mere word, even apart from its context, will often trigger the urge to snicker. And yet I never actually heard the word "mullet" until long after the ’80s were a distant memory – in those days, we just called it really good hair.) I read through some of these old diaries while I was pregnant with the Pie, and rarely have I had a stranger sensation than when I closed the last of my high-school chronicles and found myself cross-legged on my green-and-white Ikea duvet, hugely pregnant and hearing the murmurs of a little Bub asleep in the next room. How did this happen? How did that morbidly introspective teenager wind up here?

There is a gap in the fossil record during the years of my first marriage. There was something profoundly silencing about that particular kind of unhappiness – no fights to record, no volcanic blow-ups or dramatic exits. But marital discord was only part of the problem; much of the difficulty lay in the geography, the architecture of being married. I had no room to hole up in after supper, pen pressed intently into the page. There was no space that was specifically mine in our one-bedroom apartment – only the pervasive privacy of being ignored. I would sit at my desk with my back to then-husband – who had himself retreated behind headphones and a computer game – and try to write, but I had no words to describe my uneasiness and bewilderment, the sense of being simultaneously abandoned and unbearably crowded.

By the time my diary-habit reasserted itself, I had (belatedly) entered the computer age. Gone were the duotangs with their Glue-Stick collages of magazine clippings; in their place was MSWord. By dint of much cutting and pasting, and examining of electronic evidence, I could put together a retrospective analysis of my failed marriage – when exactly things had gone wrong, how exactly those hidden affairs played themselves out on the surface.

The computer has continued to play host to my diaries since my babies have been born, encoding in binary their birth stories, their important stats (including, for far too long, the start and end time of every single nap the Bub took as well as the number and duration of his nighttime wakings). I have felt compelled, however, to print off hard copies. You know – just in case the computer age comes suddenly to an end, and amid the post-apocalyptic chaos and starvation I want to look up exactly how old the Pie was when she started eating rice cereal.

I am equally distrustful of the Internet as a repository of the stories and memories I want to preserve for posterity. One thing I love about blogging is the motivation it gives me to create a permanent record of things I might otherwise forget (as my parents, for instance, appear to have forgotten every useful fact about my childhood). But I always create my posts in Word before I paste them into my blog, not only because of Blogger’s evil predilection for crashing before I can save, but also so that I can print them off and keep them in my hope chest (the cedar chest I bought in my teens because that was the kind of thing that seemed romantic to me in those days), alongside all the other memories I keep there: the academic achievement plaques I busted my butt to win in elementary school, the clipped newspaper photos of Jordie Price (whose name I learned to spell in sign language when I was thirteen), the photograph of me with then-husband on the roller coaster in Las Vegas (one of the few keepsakes I didn’t stow in my parents’ basement). And my diaries – the written evidence of what I’ve done and who I’ve been. The proof that I was here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Passive Aggression, Thy Name is Toddler

In a wild burst of optimism, we have unearthed the Bub’s potty from the basement, where it has been languishing since we purchased it in an even wilder burst of optimism about a year ago, after Bub said the word "poo" for the first time. We’re not exactly toilet training yet – no Pull-Ups have been purchased – we’re just broaching the idea cautiously, getting everybody in the right potty-oriented frame of mind. (Now would be a good time to insert a bad pun about potty mouths, but, sadly for my blogging skills, hubby and I have squeaky-clean mouths; when pressed, we are likely to emit such nerd-isms as "frig" and "gosh," and "oh, dear!" There’s hope for me, though. My exposure to the blogosphere is sprucing up my vocabulary, and I have found myself writing comments that include the terms "hard-ass" and "ass-kicking" and even, on one occasion, "Bullshit." But not without a certain rise in blood pressure, a certain shame at such a palpable attempt to fit in.)

So the Royal Potty has made its appearance in our living room and has become an immediate source of contention. For those of you unfamiliar with this device, the Royal Potty rewards children every time they make a "contribution" by playing the Royal Fanfare. Those quotation marks, by the way, are drawn directly from the instruction manual, which copes with what is clearly a deep sense of embarrassment about its scatological subject-matter by liberally employing this form of punctuation: parents are reminded that there is no "magic" process that will instantly train your little one …Even if all the "signals" are there, your child may still not be ready for potty training. What they do not mention is how the "reward" provided by the Royal Fanfare also provides positive reinforcement each time the child sticks his "fingers" in the potty, or "pushes his sister" off the seat.

The Pie loves the Royal Potty. She climbs up, Bub pushes her down. Mommy intervenes, clasping the Pie to her heart (thereby rewarding her tears and running a grave risk of producing a daughter who is a certified sucky-baby). Bub laughs delightedly and pats his sister on the head. "Hello, Pie!" he exclaims fondly, and then adds, "Good boy!" (He actually does call his sister "Pie," in addition to using her real name, a habit we find delightful on occasions when he is not celebrating his success in making her cry.)

I am having problems in the area of discipline.

My original theory was that I would rely on positive alternatives and positive reinforcement. Instead of reprimands or time-outs, I would tell him, "Be nice to your sister," and then show him how to pat the Pie gently on the head. And he has learned his lesson well. I hear him rehearsing those words as he plays with his blocks, "Be nice…good boy!" What better way to receive praise and attention than to summon Mommy by mashing the baby’s head into the floor? And then, when baby is screaming hysterically, the stage is set for a beautiful display of brotherly love.

Sigh.

Faced with this evidence of the failure of my original disciplinary strategy, I am now resorting to various forms of negative reinforcement. I say "No!" loudly and emphatically, contorting my features into an angry expression, while Bub looks up, grinning widely. I put him on the stairs for a time-out, a procedure he occasionally objects to but more often finds scientifically interesting. I take the Pie out of the room and then listen to the Bub humming merrily under his breath as he enjoys unfettered access to his toys. As a disciplinarian I am, quite literally, laughable. (For more information on the Save the Adverb Society, please contact your local chapter.)

It was not always this way. For a long time, the Bub was preternaturally obedient. I did not expect a high degree of obedience from him; if I didn’t want him to touch something, I put it out of reach. If I didn’t want him running into the street, I buckled him into the stroller. But there were a few situations where it was necessary to say, "No," and this word always had an almost magical effect: Bub would stop what he was doing, cry briefly, and then never repeat the offense. My theory at the time was that his compliance arose not so much from obedience as from his strong desire to do things correctly. And then one day he caught on to my little game. He got a gleam in his eye and worked his way around the kitchen and the living room, methodically breaking every established rule: he opened up the garbage can and pulled something out of it; he turned on the TV; he started the dishwasher. You could almost see the light bulb floating above his head, and the little cartoon bubble saying, "Aha! I do know how to operate household appliances! I pity the fool who tries to stop me!" So now, when I hold him back, telling him "No pushing! No kicking!" he just struggles harder, trying to get in one last shove before I pull him away.

As yet, the Bub makes no attempt to conceal his misbehaviour. If I stumble upon him in mid-smackdown, there is no pretense of innocence, no subtle tap on the brakes as the police cruiser swings into view. Thus I’m all the more mystified by how often his violence is disguised as affection. The sweet little pat on the head gradually becomes a full-blown shove. He barrels his head into her tummy and she giggles and giggles, right up to the point where she tips over and he head-butts her into the floor. The thing is, the Bub loves his sister. When he hears her getting up from a nap, his face lights up and he rushes out to greet her. When we go for a walk, he runs up ahead and then circles back to her stroller, giving her Eskimo kisses with a huge, affectionate grin. I’m a bit frightened, I think, by the way love and violence are so closely linked, even when you’re only two.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Baby Cuteness Levels are Optimal

When Bub was nine months old, we had the opportunity to participate in a photo-shoot for a local baby-product company. This was a lot of fun, and at the end of it all we got a CD full of beautiful photos of Bub’s little bum resting sweetly on a white bedsheet – of Bub looking over his shoulder with a little smile on his face – of me changing Bub’s diaper, product held at such an angle that it would, if sprayed, disperse about six inches above his bum. We even have photos of Bub gazing delightedly at Fake-Dad Paulo, the stand-in dad model, since hubby (a) had to work that day and (b) had no pre-teen dreams to fulfill vicariously through his child.


Bub with Fake-Dad Paulo.
(Note that the photos taken of Bub and me in this pose feature a morose and bored-looking baby struggling to escape his mother’s arms.)

Is there anything cuter than a nine-month-old baby? I’m not convinced that I really excel at parenting a baby. I get bored too easily, I panic too often – I’m not, shall we say, at my best during this infancy stage. Toddlerhood is a big improvement, especially now that Bub is getting more verbal and interactive. Personality-wise, it only gets better and better. But in terms of pure CUTENESS, I think that 9- to 10-months old is the pinnacle.

Newborn babies are, of course, irresistible. But there is something just a bit generic about them. I sometimes scrutinize those very first delivery-room pictures for evidence that my children were not accidentally switched during one of those heel-prick blood-sugar tests. This is not a response to any perceived dissimilarity to my husband or me – it’s a wholly paranoid acknowledgement that one newborn baby looks very much like another. I’m not convinced that I would have noticed, in the midst of that sleep-deprived, post-labour-trauma fog, if a little swap had taken place. And to the extent that newborns do have distinguishing characteristics, these are typically not their most attractive features: the stork bites, the jaundiced skin, the shock of bushy hair, the smattering of baby acne across the cheeks, the extra-large, extra-pointy purple head.

After a few months, the cuteness factor increases significantly. But there are still drawbacks: goopy eyes from blocked tear ducts, drool, spit-up, neck cheese…and, when it comes to photos, there’s the whole background-and-pose problem. Professional photographers will prop up those two- and three-month-old babies on rolled-up towels and make it look like the baby can raise his head independently (rather than screaming blue murder at the mere mention of tummy time). The results are cute, but they don’t look anything like the actual baby. At home, there is a tendency to rely on the lying-on-a-blanket shot or the ubiquitous Ocean Wonders bouncy-seat shot (unless you are Her Bad Mother, in which case you are able to shoot amazing close-up shots of baby’s luminous eyes…but I’m talking about the rest of us here).

By nine months of age, though, the baby has reached optimal cuteness levels. Full of personality, but still with those roly-poly limbs and dimpled elbows. (Beyond that point, of course, you have the very-cute-if-you-overlook-that-purple-bruise, please-don't-call-CAS look as baby begins walking and, concomitantly, falling). While I was pregnant with the Pie, I bought a couple of wooden frames from Ikea, each of which holds three 5"x7" photos. I filled one immediately with three pictures of the Bub: two from his photo shoot and one from Sears Portrait Studio. The other frame has been sitting in a closet, waiting. As soon as the weather got warm enough for the Pie to wear her summer clothes – bare feet and chubby legs sticking out the bottom – we took her over to Sears for her matching portraits. No bum shots and no fake dad this time, worse luck, but one exuberant, bouncy baby who may never, ever be cuter than she is right now.



This display may give the impression that I am trying to pretend I have twins, but those frames full of yummy baby photos tell me another story. My family is complete.

(And on a slightly less chirpy note? You know what makes me sad? How EVERYBODY IS OUT HAVING FUN EXCEPT ME! I just checked my blogroll and there are no new postings. This clearly indicates that all of you have been having a much more exciting weekend than I have. Sigh. At least tomorrow is Monday - lots of good weekday posts up ahead.)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Picture Blogger Wouldn't Let Me Post

...the first seven times I tried.


...my sweet boy.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Finding Out

"We’re really hoping we’ll be able to find out the sex." I said it somewhat nervously at my very first appointment with the obstetrician – and it’s a good thing I did, because the doctor snatched back the ultrasound requisition he had just handed me and began filling out another one: "I’ll send you here, then, because they won’t tell you the sex here at the hospital."

This would be a good juncture at which to insert my usual rant against the condescending, paternalistic arrogance of clinics that choose to withhold such information from mothers-to-be. Do they really think we’re going to barf our way through the entire first trimester, only to abort a perfectly healthy 19-week-old fetus because it’s the wrong sex? Does it not seem just a little bit wrong to those poker-faced ultrasound technicians that they can casually glance at our babies and see the little thingy (or lack thereof) without sharing this information with those who are much more entitled to it on account of how they’re the ones who are getting up to pee five times a night for the sake of bringing these little ones into the world? But there’s an even better juncture coming up in just a bit, so you’ll have to wait for it.

When the time came to hobble into the ultrasound clinic, clutching my bladder in agony while the unsympathetic receptionist coolly remarked that if I was in pain, that meant I had consumed too much water (that is, about half the amount recommended on the requisition), I was a little taken aback at the décor. We were in the basement of an old office building, with orange-and-brown curtains on the tiny windows and cracking green linoleum on the floor. It wasn’t quite the shiny, sterile, up-to-date facility I had pictured: more like how I would imagine a 1970s-era illegal abortion clinic. And the tech looked the part: an aging hipster with a big head full of grey curls. He was palpably bored as he jotted down the measurements, yawning occasionally as he worked. Boredom is not a trait I always look for in a medical professional, but it’s a real asset in an ultrasound tech. There will be plenty of time later on for my children to develop entertaining individual quirks. At 20 weeks’ gestation, I want my unborn child to be as boring and generic as the next fetus. I was reassured by this man’s evident tedium that nothing was seriously wrong with my baby, but the big question still remained. "Can you tell what the sex is?" I asked timidly. I know the drill: they take all the important measurements, and when that’s done they bring in your spouse and turn the screen so you can see the heartbeat, and the pearl necklace of the spine, and those heartbreakingly sweet, endearing little toes. And then, if they can, they tell you the sex. I knew he wouldn’t say anything just yet – all I wanted to know now was whether or not he knew. The aging hipster gave me a withering look. "You can almost always tell if you really want to," he said.

Here, you see, is the better juncture for my rant. Because as many as half of my friends have returned from their ultrasounds disappointed that they were unable to learn the sex of the baby. The baby’s legs were crossed. The parts weren’t quite developed enough for the tech to be sure one way or the other. Lies, people. These are lies. It’s not that the techs can’t figure out the baby’s sex; rather, they have a policy not to divulge this information. But they can’t quite bring themselves to look a pregnant woman in the eye and say, "The sex of your baby – the one you conceived in a round of passionate and incautious make-up sex a few months ago, the one that kicks you in the ribs every night, the one that you will be pushing out of your privates in another 20 weeks or so – the sex of that baby is for me to know and for you to find out." Cowards and liars, these ultrasound techs. (Cowards and liars with a sadistic predilection for water torture.)

I realize, of course, that there are some people who don’t want to know the sex of their baby ahead of time. I support and understand that. (Though I am not equally supportive of those who find out the sex and then attempt to keep it a secret, forcing the rest of us to pretend we don’t realize it’s a boy when the mother pats her tummy and says absentmindedly, "Hello, little dude…or dudette.") Anyway. It’s always been clear that I would want to find out my baby’s sex as soon as possible. For one thing, I like information. I’m the one who wants to hear about the fight you had with your husband, or the problem you had with your hemorrhoids. I enjoy giving information too, especially to those who leap to cover their ears if I mention proudly that hubby and I have made it all the way through the box of 12 condoms we bought after the baby was born. But you know this about me already of course – I expect must of us bloggers are information junkies.

I was especially determined to find out the sex of my babies, though, because both times I was so, so hoping to have a girl. And when the aging hipster showed us the Bub’s little thingy (to borrow, again, a term from Blackadder II), I had a strange cascade of emotions. I wasn’t disappointed, exactly, but I was taken aback and kind of amazed. How, exactly, did a boy get in there? Inside me? I did, of course, attend health class when we covered this topic, and I’m aware of the origin of that pesky Y-chromosome, but it still seemed profoundly counter-intuitive that I could possibly give birth to a boy. I don’t have any brothers, no experience with boys, whom I regarded with a kind of awestruck admiration when I was a girl – they seemed desirable but mysterious, and I didn’t actually figure out how to talk to them until after I graduated from high school.

For the rest of my pregnancy, I wandered around malls and sidewalks, assessing the little boys with a watchful eye. What I saw was somewhat alarming: rambunctious ten-year-old boys hurling food at one another across the food court, sullen fifteen-year-old boys with pants hanging around their knees. I’m still not sure I can imagine myself parenting those boys – and to be honest, I think that when Bub is that age, he’ll be holed up in a library, conducting experiments with his chemistry set, trying to blow up the world like Janie in Harriet the Spy (a hobby that is perhaps less joke-worthy now than it was forty years ago). Or he’ll be gathered at tables with fellow nerds, rolling d20s and collecting miniature war-game figures. But back in those early days of little-boy research, I saw other things, too: a four-year-old holding his mom’s hand while he walked along, chatting brightly; a little fellow barreling down the sidewalk on his tricycle, looking up at his dad with his heart in his eyes.

The second time around, my ultrasound experience was different: my bladder was optimally full (just a tad uncomfortable from holding approximately one quarter of the recommended amount of water), and I was prepared for anything: still longing for a daughter but also thrilled to potentially give the Bub a brother, little baby Wes (and oh! there’s a little pang in my heart as I write those words for the little baby boy I didn’t have!). And when I found out I was having a girl, I was excited enough to wear a pink Old Navy t-shirt throughout the rest of my pregnancy that said "make mine a girl." But in the meantime, I had discovered something: I’m glad, so glad, to be the mother of a boy. Not because of any particular traits that boys supposedly monopolize, but because of a new space that has opened up in my heart. Because when I see a little boy these days, I feel an almost painful contraction of the heart, of the body, for those sweet little men-to-be with their open faces and their appalling vulnerability. It’s a privilege and a responsibility to be entrusted with one of these fragile souls in a world that exerts so much pressure on them to close up and hide. And it’s so often little boys who show up in those awful stories I try not to read in the newspaper, little boys beaten up by their stepfathers, starved by their grandmothers. When my children reach puberty (most likely within hours of one another on that awful day when the Pie is 12 and starts menstruating, and the Bub is 14 and starts slouching around morosely with pimples all over his face), I suspect I will feel most anxious and protective about my daughter as she enters into the terrifying world of mean girls and predatory boys. But for now it’s little boys in whom I see so much need of protection … for their trusting tousled heads, their innocent hearts.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Archive Archaeologist

Before the computer age began, I used to love wandering around the library stacks, breathing in the homey, musty smell of old books and coming across treasures in thick, durable library bindings – books like Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, or out-of-print wartime stories by D.E. Stevenson, or those strange old romances by Mary Westmacott (the nom de plume under which Agatha Christie wrote six semi-autobiographical novels about mothers and daughters and adulterous husbands). These days, I order my library books online and pick them up at the desk, whipping out my library card hastily before the Bub finishes his stack of Cheerios and starts wriggling his way out of the double stroller. But I’m still a treasure-hunter at heart; I’ve just transferred my perambulations into cyberspace.

Not long after I began blogging, I started to feel sorry for those poor, lonely posts at the beginning of my blog. You know the ones: heartfelt introductions to my children and their cute, winning ways, and nary a comment to be found. And so I started collecting blogs for my blogroll, and each time I would wander around the archives a bit, looking for those beautifully worded inaugural posts – the ones you put through six or seven drafts before you got brave enough to post them. The ones that introduce who you are, how much you love your children, why you’re drawn to this crazy blogging world. And I found them.

I found, for instance, some hilariously funny reflections from Mommy off the Record on the ironic contrast between the rhetoric of mothering and the reality. (That post, by the way, is good example of a particular genre of early posts: those that provide the back story behind the blog’s name. If you wonder, for instance, what’s up with "Chicken and Cheese," look here, or if you’re curious about what Emily means by "Didn’t Think I’d Turn Out this Way," try reading this.)

I enjoyed the Continuing Chronicles of the Incredible Swaddle-Escaping WonderBaby, though I was content to lurk in those pre-blog days, too intimidated by Her Badness’s verbal brilliance to join the ranks of those agreeable Lilliputians.

Just today, I found a whole month’s worth of early, thought-provoking posts from Jaelithe on such subjects as Sesame Street (it ain’t what it used to be), the forces that prevent mothers from running the world (worse luck), and the eating habits of one very fascinating little boy (bring on the Breyers!).

I never know whether the creators will find the comments I leave on these old, old posts, but I feel good about commenting anyway. Because these well-crafted posts are full of wit and wisdom and really interesting information about who these bloggers are and why they’re writing in the first place. They carry a whiff of hope and excitement from someone who is just sticking a daring toe into the blogging pool. They deserve to be read, and sometimes they just look like they could use a little cyber-hug, a friendly comment to keep them company.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Two Top Ten Lists

There sure are lots of moms out there in the blogosphere who are considering the merits of having a second child. (I won’t name any names, but hello HBM, Metro Mama, and Christina!!!) Personally, I’m in favour of the second baby. (Though not, I must confess, equally in favour of the second pregnancy: one's uterus balloons out to third-trimester levels within minutes of the positive test, and that’s the fun part. The not fun part involves, among other things, the words "rectal bleeding.") Since I have already avowed my shameless predilection for distributing unwanted advice, I thought I’d pass along some advice I wrote up awhile ago for a friend who was expecting her second.

Top 10 Best Things about Having Baby #2

10) You already know how to work all the gear.
Even if you have to buy a double stroller, you’re still a seasoned pro at the twist-and-fold manoeuver. (This, I might add, was a major trauma for me the first time around. Amid the more general sense of parental incompetence was my conviction that I would never learn how to buckle a carseat AND collapse a Pack ‘n’ Play.)

9) Justification for all the money you spent on baby gear the first time around.
And since you don’t have to lay out as much cash this time for a crib and change table, you can indulge yourself with a few of the luxury items you denied yourself before (that cute Baby Gap outfit, a swaddling blanket, a Bumbo seat …).

8) Fewer panic attacks.
When the baby cries, you may not like it, but you don’t sink into that icy cold pit of despair.

7) Watching your children interact.
Or so I’m told. No, seriously, even Bub reaches a new level of cuteness on those occasions when he deigns to notice the presence of his baby sister. (I wrote this in January. Since then, he has started noticing his sister a lot. Noticing in the sense of pushing her over, shoving her away, leaning in her face with a maniacal grin, and reaching across the back seat to hold hands on car rides.)

6) Maternity leave = more time to spend with your toddler during exciting formative stages.

5) Husband too busy/tired to bother you for sex.
This item comes to you courtesy of Hubby.

4) You have already made most of your parenting decisions.
No more agonizing over breast vs. bottle, cloth vs. disposable, pacifier vs.
thumb, Ferber vs. cosleeping, etc. 75% less guilt and self-doubt!!

3) Feeling like a family.
You may have less room in the back seat, but there’s something about that car full of kids (plural!) that really makes you feel like a family.

2) Less monotony.
When you can’t stand to say "ba ba ba BOO BOO BOO BOO!" one more time while waving colourful toys in baby’s face, you have a lively, interesting toddler to hang around with (and when you swear you’ll scream if that toddler says, "Mummy doing?" one more time, you have a blessedly mute infant to cuddle and hold).

1) Toddler entertainment – it’s better than Baby Einstein.
Just put the baby in a bouncy seat and face it in the direction of your toddler – she’ll take it from there while you put your feet up, drink a cup of tea, and read a magazine. Well, sometimes, anyway.

While the above list was meant to be encouraging and to back up my oft-repeated assertion that the second baby is SO MUCH easier than the first, it occurred to me that this list might make it seem as if there are mythical mothers who adjust to the arrival of the second baby with no difficulty at all. Hence, my second top-ten list.

Top 10 Most Difficult Things about Having Baby #2 (and why they’re not as bad as you think they’ll be…)

10) Not being able to give your full attention to your toddler.
One-on-one time with your 2-year-old is a lot harder to come by once the baby arrives – but you also enjoy it more when it happens (hanging out with a toddler is an amazingly relaxing break after caring for an infant 24-7).

9) No free time.
Actually, this one is as bad as you think it’s going to be – for the first few months at least. Once the baby starts going to bed early, you’ll get back some free time in the evenings – and those first few months really do fly by. (When Bub was a baby, it was as if time had stopped moving altogether. I was stuck in a vortex of spit-up, sleep-deprivation, and shock, and in this state there is no past, there is no future, there is only rage. Second time around, though, I’m a walking book of clichés. Can you believe how much she’s grown? Where did the time go? What happened to my little baby?)

8) House taken over by toys and baby gear.
Again with the "this too shall pass": you won’t have room to move during that critical period when the swing and the exersaucer are both in play, alongside the Little People garage and the Mega Bloks. But before you know it, the baby will be crawling and you'll have to clear a path.

7) Toddler accidentally harming the baby.
I was really worried about this for nothing – Bub usually ignores the baby and is careful not to step on her, even if she’s lying on the floor directly in his path. But if your child leans more toward the smother-the-baby-with-love side of things, you might want to put up a playard or bassinet someplace handy where you can put the baby down when you need to answer the phone or use the washroom.

6) Not being able to sleep while the baby sleeps.
It’s true that it’s impossible to sleep while the baby sleeps when you have a toddler to look after. On the other hand, I always found that sleeping while the baby sleeps was a myth anyway, even the first time around – you can do it, but only if you’re willing to forgo meals and showers. (Meals and showers also tend to go by the wayside when you have two to look after – try to take baths in the evening and stock lots of ready-to-serve, hand-held foods.)

5) Getting out of the house.
Leaving the house with an infant and a toddler, while annoying, is not impossible. The infant carseat with the cuddly bag is your friend. Use it.

4) Nursing the baby while the toddler screams for attention.
If your baby nurses quickly, it may be possible to take him to another room to nurse. If not, I’ve been told that it’s helpful to keep a stack of books handy to read with your toddler while the baby nurses. (Not an issue I had to deal with. The one big upside of the madly spraying overactive letdown was that it took the Pie approximately ten seconds to gulp down several litres of breastmilk.)

3) Jealousy.
There’s no escaping it – toddlers do get jealous of the new baby. Included in the category of completely normal behaviour are the following: hitting or throwing things at the baby, calling the baby "bad," regressions in toilet training, wanting to return to the crib or high chair, crying and/or shoving when you pay attention to the baby. On the other hand, these behaviours are usually balanced by a completely enchanting affection toward the baby, and they seem to crop up mostly at points of transition: when you first get home from the hospital, when the baby first starts playing with toys, etc.

2) The children waking each other up.
Initially, you’ll probably be concerned about the baby waking your toddler up in the night, and later on, you’ll be trying to keep your toddler from waking the baby up from his naps. While wake-ups may happen occasionally, most children learn pretty quickly how to tune one another out.

1) Both children crying at the same time.
Sometimes both children will need you at once. If this happens, go back and forth from one to the other, calming each one as the other one screams. Repeat as needed until all three of you are crying. (Fortunately, this happens much less often than you think it will. And you’re tougher the second time around. You can take it.)

Has this convinced you? To have a second baby, that is (it may have convinced you to stock up on enough condoms to last a very long time, or – what the hell – just go right ahead and schedule the vasectomy). But really, go ahead and start trying. ‘Cause I can’t wait to hear all those birth stories.