Friday, July 28, 2006


Last week was the one year anniversary of my nanny's first day with us. Surprisingly, Hallmark does not make a "Thanks for all the times you wiped my kid's ass" card for this type of occasion.

Twelve months ago, Muffin was still a non-mobile, (relatively) wee thing. I was playing the part of a woman going back to work. Although I went through all the motions, I felt sure I was going to wuss out at the last moment. Having a nanny in theory felt fine. Having a nanny in reality just felt too fancy, too middle-aged, too high-powered career woman.

We only interviewed three candidates; Sally won us over by teaching us how to use a rectal thermometer during her interview. She came a few times while I was still on maternity leave, and I went out for short jaunts alone to get used to the idea that someone else could take care of my little girl without breaking her. Sally and Muffin did just fine, and I even returned to fluffed pillows and an empty dishwasher. I began to picture myself back at work.

On my first day back at work, I left early and let my husband do the hand-over. It felt easier to pretend I was leaving her with her parent, not a nanny. And I didn't want raccoon eyes on my first day back. The Canuck took a photo of Sally holding Muffin and e-mailed it to me at work. It was actually a horribly uncute photo of Muffin, but still I got his point; she was cared for and everything would be ok. We were welcoming someone new and wonderful into her world.

A year later, I do the morning hand-off with no mascara issues. Muffin speed-crawls to the door to greet Sally each morning, and they chat and sing songs over chana Sally brings from home. Muffin has playdates at houses I've never been to. Moms and caregivers I don't know approach me on the playground to say hi to my daughter and she smiles with recognition. I can't help but feel left out sometimes, but I'm glad they have a busy, happy social life together.

Every time I complain about Sally, it smacks of It's just so hard to find good help these days attitude that I want to smack myself. Yet there are headaches. Oh, there are headaches. When Muffin has a grouchy day, Sally doesn't hesitate to point the finger at me. Just yesterday she told me that Muffin was tantrum-y all day because I had had a sitter the night before. She got into a shouting match with another caregiver in the building for reasons I still don't understand. She told me at Christmas that she expected a week's extra pay for a bonus. I was planning to give it to her anyway, but her asking for it made me squirm. Despite getting more paid vacation than I do, she nickel and dimes us for days off. She once called in sick because of cramps. There are days when she phones me at work to vent about tantrums or poop explosions, and I think, Mary Poppins would suck it up. But I try to remember that 10 hours a day with a toddler is very tough work, and if I were home, I'd have the Canuck on speed dial.

I know so much more than I did a year ago, and if I could go back and do it differently, I just might choose someone more zen and go-with-the-flow. But for better or for worse, Sally is ours now. When I came home last night, she met me at the elevator to tell me that Muffin had taken her first step. I think she was as thrilled as I was. Sally's far from perfect, but then neither am I. I do know she loves Muffin, and Muffin loves her. Our little symbiotic relationship hangs together, sometimes only by a thread, but hangs together nonetheless.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Common-Sense Party Planning

Note to self: When preparing food for a birthday BBQ, next time remember not to choose complicated recipes that you’ve never tried before and that you are going to have only a 2-hour nap window to prepare. And perhaps offering lamb, chicken and shrimp for 4 guests is a bit of overkill.

PS to self: If you must serve a signature cocktail (And god, really? Signature cocktail?), it might be wise to forget the one that calls for orgeat syrup and requires you to comb all of Park Slope’s coffee shops in order to find it.

PPS to self: When the baby goes down for a nap, don't be an idiot and decide you are very tired also and need a nap yourself instead of preparing for the BBQ.

PPPS to self: After bathing the baby, remember to diaper her quickly instead of letting her crawl around naked, even if you are trying to clear up some very stubborn diaper rash. She might use the opportunity to take a huge crap on the floor, squish it between her toes, and then pick it up and smear it all over the couch in her room 30 minutes before your guests are set to arrive.

PPPPS to self: Get rid of couch ASAP.

Who me?

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Dr. Feelgood

Every first-time parent should be so lucky as to have a pediatrician as soul-soothing as mine. I usually arrive at her office with a laundry list of unexplainable developments (Possible rash! Slight fever! Strange rocking! Not walking!) that are probably all indicators that I am falling down on the job and a sham mom. She has a wonderful way of making all the pieces fit together into a logical story whose happy ending is that Muffin is perfectly normal and on track. I walk out feeling in control, like this parenting stuff is no big whoop.

About a month ago I took Muffin into her office. When she went to check her ears, Muffin nodded no vigorously. The doctor seemed a bit taken aback that she could communicate so clearly (I neglected to mention how sometimes no actually means yes), but with some gentle coaxing she was able to take a look inside both ears.

During the appointment, I mentioned the bath troubles we were having. She assured me it was developmentally normal, that fear is part of putting together how the world works. Then she casually mentioned this was happening a little earlier than normal because Muffin is so smart.

A HA!! This explains so much. The tantrums? A clear indication she is brilliant. The obsession with licking the bottom of my shoes? Evidence of her giftedness. The constant nose-picking? Clearly one step closer to quadratic equations.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

You might think that an evening run would not rate as an occasion to wear a beret

But you would be wrong.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Growing Up

You think you are a good person, and then you get married. It’s impossible to be your best self every single day, and the cracks start to show. It becomes harder to let things go, and the history starts to pile up and haunt every argument. You stop finding fights about socks on the floor funny, even two days later. You abuse the notion of unconditional love, and you’re moodier, bitchier and pettier than you’d ever be to your friends. But he still loves you, because he took those vows and everything, and so it becomes even harder to stop letting it all hang out. How is it that the person you love the most gets the ugliest parts of you? You resolve to do better, to be better, because that’s what he deserves. But it’s more than you’ve ever had to be.

Then you become a mom. And now two lives rise and fall according to your moods. There’s this little person waiting to be shaped by you and the example you set. I noticed that the days I come home feeling rotten are my hardest, most tantrum-y days with Muffin. I’m sure she picks up on my vibe, that somehow she knows what I really want to do is sack on the couch and numb my mind with TV instead of playing with her.

Frustration is close to the surface too often. When it breaks through, I look to the people closest to me to assign blame. I figure out the silliest reasons to be mad. I’m remarkably petty. I don’t walk the walk of the person I’d like to be a lot of the time.

In the words of Jack Nicholson, Muffin and the Canuck make me want to be a better person. I need to be, because there's so much at stake. I hope I have it in me.

Monday, July 17, 2006

How old are you?

One (twice)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Sunrise, Sunset (already)

When Muffin was 7 months old, I let her fall off the bed. She was rolling well by then, but not that fast and usually not over and over. I was in the room with her, but I was distracted and running late, trying to get ready for a big night out with the Canuck. We had the overpriced babysitter lined up and everything. Digging through my underwear drawer frantically, I turned my back for too long and heard a horrible thump that I swear stopped my heart for a second.

In the end, she was fine. She had a bloody nose (I was sure it was her brain matter leaking out) and howled horribly for 20 minutes. She'd start to calm down, would see me sobbing, and then her waterworks would start again. But in the end, as I said, she was fine. I'm sure she doesn't even remember it.

But that was one of the worst nights of my life (which, perhaps, says a lot about the pretty lucky life I've lead). I felt so guilty that I wasn't watching her more closely. I was overwhelmed by panic that something would happen to her. All my new-parent fears about breaking her -- which were finally starting to fade away -- came back in a rush.

Now Muffin is 15 months old. The other day my neighbor R, who has a daughter a few months older than Muffin, was relating a story that involved her daughter standing on the couch. With R across the room. Standing, on a cushy, unstable surface several feet off the floor. With Mom too far away to catch her if she decided to take a nosedive. This was just a detail on the way to making an altogether unrelated point. But what I took away is that her daughter can be on the couch by herself without Mommy having a heart attack.

At the playground, I notice a difference between Muffin and the other kids. It's hard to compare, since she is so huge, but it appears that kids her age and even younger are going down the baby slide solo, ascending and descending stairs confidently, and of course walking. Muffin mainly sticks to the swings. The jungle gym gives me visions of broken arms and black eyes.

I guess I'm a hoverer. One of those helicopter moms in training. And that's a big problem, because now Muffin is obsessed with climbing. She manuevers in and out of her big plastic car. She races up stairs on her hands and knees when she get the rare opportunity. With a boost, she lumbers onto the couch and loves flopping on the pillows. Nothing makes her prouder than sitting like a big girl on one of our dining room chairs. She even tries to climb on the coffee table but thank goodness she can't reach yet.

I've got to steel myself: she's probably going to fall again, because that's how you learn, by making mistakes. I'll be there to kiss her boo-boos and dry her tears. Who's going to dry mine?

Friday, July 14, 2006


Muffin is beginning to show a deeper understanding of the world. There’s something new almost every day, whether it’s a sound, a facial expression or sign that she understands much of what I’m saying or the way things work. I guess I better stop talking about selling her on eBay.

She’s beginning to recognize objects by qualities and transfer those qualities to other things to define them. She tries to comb her hair with the bottle brush. At the grocery store, anything round is “ball.” Squash and lemons are “nana,” since they are yellow like a banana. Anything vaguely electronic – remote, camera, can opener – she holds up to her ear like a phone.

One of our daily activities is to inventory her body parts. She shows me where her hair, nose, ears, mouth, toes, belly and knees are. Today she about knocked me out when I asked her to show me her eyes, and she batted her eyelashes furiously, like a silent movie starlet.

She’s known “no” for some time, although it’s still hit-or-miss if she’ll listen to it. But now she’s learned that she can say no by nodding her head, and that I understand and will usually respect her feelings. It’s actually exhilarating, having her convey her lack of desire by doing something other than fussing. The only problem is that she doesn't know "yes" yet, so she'll nod no when what she really means is yes. Sometimes no means no, sometimes no means yes, and sometimes Mommy's head hurts.

Also new: initiating peek-a-boo

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ode to my Baby Daddy

I have been giving the Canuck the gears lately because of his resistance to The Program. Evolved over the 15 months we have been taking care of Muffin, The Program's three guiding principles are thinking ahead to anticipate problems before they happen, tidying up as you go along, and doing as much as you can while Muffin's sleeping since she has a way of sucking up all the attention in the room when she's awake.

The Program's Section B: Travel specifies that packing should be done no later than the night before, and lists should be made and checked, so you don't wind up forgetting, say, the rubber piece that prevents the sippy cup from leaking all over the diaper bag, the party dress Muffin was going to wear to my dad's 60th birthday party, or her favorite pop-up book that can distract her from storming the cockpit during the 2-hour flight to Chicago.

The Program works. And sometimes I get a little Tom Cruise about it. And yet you, babe, remain glib. GLIB!

But, did I mention that the Canuck made the aforementioned flight with Muffin on his own? Because I was in Des Moines on business, he traveled with Muffin to Chicago so I would not have to fly back to New York only to turn around and fly back to the Midwest the next morning. He even suggested it. Anyone who's traveled alone with a toddler can tell you, not only are you a pack mule carrying a car seat, stroller, and diaper bag, along with the baby, you must be a one-man carnival of funny sounds and faces in order to keep the kid entertained.

I'm not one for giving dads extra credit for doing the down and dirty work of parenting. It's not "babysitting" when it's your own child, and dads shouldn't get any gold stars simply for changing diapers or making a bottle.

But the Canuck is an amazing dad, no matter whose standards you use. He’s the parent who will stroke Muffin's head endlessly when she’s having trouble sleeping. He’s got energy for the more physical aspects of parenting, he’s always up for the challenge of an outing, and he has a quiet confidence about his parenting skills that makes him far more consistent than I am. If I weren’t around, Muffin’s o-3 month clothes would still be in her drawers, there would be fewer vegetables in her diet, and her toys would grow roots into the floor. But without him, I’d be swallowed up by the chaos that comes with the toddler territory.

I used to have a picture in my mind of who I might spend my life with, what he might look like, what qualities he might have. Often it was Pacey from Dawson’s Creek. Now the picture is this: My gangly husband folded awkwardly into our small tub, his legs curled around Muffin, rinsing her hair carefully so she doesn’t get water in her eyes. I couldn’t ask for much more.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Back to Reality

We spent a long weekend up north observing Canada Day (Did you know Canadian Budweiser is totally better than American Bud – true story!) and having a grand time at my mother-in-law's lake house.

Muffin is the only grandchild on that side and as a result, she gets treated like a celebrity by the entire family. You know those riders where stars insist on ridiculous perks like chocolate fountains and bouquets of while lillies? I don't know who Muffin has working for her, but at Grandma's house she has a kiddie pool, a play tent, a castle with moat, a real live dog, a constant stream of gifts, unlimited bubbles, strawberry ice cream, cookies for breakfast and the attention of everyone in the room at almost all times. At Grandma's house, she's happy (and she knows it), piggies are always going to market, and every thing she does, including breathing, merits applause.

We left Monday morning. Monday evening found us eating dinner at a depressing Cracker Barrel somewhere in Pennsylvania. She looked at me like, God, Mom, this is so not ice cream as I fed her a dinner of cooked carrots and yogurt. Scanning the room desperately looking for someone to notice her, she did adorable things but got nothing except the same old muted validation from Mom and Dad. Didn't anyone know who she was??

Finally, she just started applauding for herself.

How many days until Canadian Thanksgiving?

First ice cream cone ever!

Yay for Muffin! Again!

This little piggie went to Canada...

It's exhausting being the life of the party.

To see more photos from Canada Day, click here.

The Terrible Ones

I’m reminded of a nursery rhyme my mother used to tell me:

Once there was a little girl with a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
And when she was good, she was very very good
But when she was bad, she was horrid

Where did my sweet little girl go? She’s still there, mostly, but the lag of language skills behind the desire to grab that serrated knife/that crystal bowl/that sensitive skin under my arm NOW NOW NOW has turned my angel into the occasional holy terror. She arches her back, throw herself on the ground (with no regard for what she might smack her head on), drums her feet on the floor and screams so loudly I wonder if my neighbors will call DCFS.

As is so often the case, I am caught having no idea what a Grown-Up Parent Person should do in these situations. I’ve read a few books – ok, ok, maybe just the relevant passages – on the topic, but every one I open offers me a different philosophy. I’ve also been pumping every parent I know for the magic technique that will diffuse this bomb but get answers like, every child is different so you have to figure out what works for you. That’s code for: I don’t know either.

My lack of a plan makes for some mixed messages. Recently, Muffin was incensed because I would not let her pull all of the condiments out of the refrigerator door. As the wailing began, I carried her over to some books and sat down on the floor to try the Distraction Technique. She was not to be fooled into silly book-reading when there were hot sauce bottles waiting to be licked and thrown, so the back arching began. I caught her head just before it hit the ground and then commenced with the Empathy Technique. I told her that I understood she was frustrated and that I just wanted to keep her safe. She swatted my hand away and increased the volume. Next up: The Ignoring It Technique. I went into my bedroom (which is about 5 feet away) and tried to compose myself. She was still crying, and her sobs were starting to sound more hurt than petulant. I was starting to get a lump in my throat myself.

After about a minute, I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed her blanket and scooped her up. She instantly buried her head in my neck and started rubbing her face with the satin edge. The tears stopped. I swayed back and forth and kissed her forehead as she struggled to catch her breath. This tantrum was blessedly over, but I still had no idea how I was going to cope with the next one.

So I’m taking a poll. What should I do the next time she melts down?

A. Close the door and drink wine in the bathroom until it's over.
B. Just give her what she wants. A little hot sauce in the eye and then she’ll learn.
C. Hand her off to the Canuck. I birthed her (did I mention the emergency C-section?), so it's only fair that he discipline her.
D. Sell her on eBay. She’s super-cute; I bet I could get a good price.
E. Take a deep breath, keep her from getting a concussion, and just try to do the best I can.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Update: Operation Happy Bath

Well, it took several baths with Mom or Dad, a lot of bubbles and approximately 1,574 wind-ups of the swimming frog bath toy, but I'm proud to say mission accomplished. She even says "bath" now.