Archives for the month of: April, 2011

It’s April 30th. After today, my daughter will have lived a full month for every month of the year. Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November…yes, she’s finished all of those. She will have lived through every holiday (except Leap Year, if you count that as a holiday). She is one year old.

We count our lives in years as we get older, but we still mark her time in months; you need only look at the tags on young children’s clothing to see that. 0 – 3 months. 3 – 6 months. 6 – 9 months. 9 – 12 months. 12 – 18 months. 18 – 24 months. Growing out of a size means that she’s growing as she should. (If only adult sizes worked that way!)

And she’s growing out of these firsts: first months, first foods, first steps, first hugs, first crawling, first tooth, first wave, first tie-dye – you know, all of the important things. There will be more, of course. First real walking, first sentence, first day of school (gasp!).

All of these firsts are fleeting, though: they pass and fall behind, with new things to come. When I get overly sentimental about all of it, I try to remember that the real first thing won’t pass. It won’t be left by the wayside like an outgrown teething ring or checked off on last year’s calendar. The real first is the love that I feel for her, and as much love as I have, I know that will never become a thing of the past.

All of those other firsts and the sentimentality I was feeling for those? I guess I should leave that up to the folks at Hallmark.

Advertisements

They tell you that time makes you forget.

As time has been ticking on, I’ve been thinking about how things were one year ago: how my first contraction started on a Tuesday night, how the next day we had a doctor’s appointment, how the contractions really became almost too much to bear well before the baby (then, of an unknown gender) was ready to leave the warmth and comfort of the womb. When we got to the hospital around 11 p.m. on Wednesday night (with me gripping the railing for support to wait through the wave of the contraction), I was only at three or four centimeters. For those not in the know, the baby isn’t ready to exit her first home until the opening reaches a perfect score: ten centimeters. I wasn’t even close, and the numbers didn’t change quickly.

It’s nearing midnight, and we’re about to move from April 21st to April 22nd. I can list further things that happened and the rough order of those events. Around 2 a.m., I’d progressed to maybe six centimeters. Precious little progress for how I felt at that point.  As my husband and I agree, we would have made terrible pioneers; under pain, I buckle. Our plans – our Bradley Method class plans – changed. Through the drugs, which I’d sworn I wouldn’t use, and the blood pressure scare and the pushing, however, I knew why I was there, knew why the pain was worth pushing through.

And it was. It was worth every second – worth many more seconds, in fact. Watching this sweet girl take her first step, seeing her throw an affectionate arm around the cat, thrilling at her first effort to blow a kiss, it’s like everyone says: I can’t imagine life without her. Well, actually, maybe I can. After all, I lived many years without knowing this is what motherhood – and this particular motherhood – was like. But I can’t imagine this particular life, this moment of my life, without her. I hope I never have to.

And that’s why you have to remember. Time doesn’t make you forget. It might push the painful moments further back, like the blurry background in a photograph: it’s there, but you don’t focus on it. You need it to complete the picture so the moment isn’t floating in space, unanchored and unreal.

You don’t forget, and you wouldn’t want to.

We longed for the day. We were saddened thinking about the day.

We coaxed, finger-walked, and held her using her armpits as a fingerhold.

We held out toys, waved objects, and tried to add allure by using sound makers and bright colors.

And the day finally came.

Thinking about the big milestones is much like thinking about the “miracle” of birth: you know that miracles need to be unusual, and given the numbers (4,131,019 in the U.S. alone in 2009), it’s not (“National”). Most of those children go on to walk. If everyone does it, how unusual can it be?

Sometimes, it’s the ordinary nature of something that makes it so special. We walk every day. We ambulate, we pad around; we dawdle, speed, and meander with little thought of how we do so. Watching a baby learn reminds us of our own accomplishment. Of course, we don’t think of that consciously in the moment, and that is what matters least, anyhow.

What matters is that, in that moment, the rest of the world doesn’t matter. My cheer went up as if my team had won the Super Bowl, and April 17th will always be an important day to me. My daughter took her first step, and I’m happy to call that a little bit of a miracle.

****************************

“National Vital Statistics System: Birth Data.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
6 Apr. 2011. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.

Newborns bleat and struggle to lift their heads, acting on instinct. As my daughter approaches the age of one, however, her awareness of the world grows daily – as does her memory. Instinct seems to play a supporting role to active learning.

For a long time, books weren’t safe with her. She’d flail, or her lack of coordination would get the better of her, and books with real pages soon became books-to-buy-again – or books to store on a higher shelf, for the now. Board books were the only safe way to go, but even then, a baby’s desire to chew got the better of her – and the better of a book – more than once. Time passed. When she learned to turn board book pages, we were thrilled. When she learned to turn thinner paper pages, we were ecstatic. When she started responding to books in other ways, well, how much stronger an emotion could we feel?

In But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton, I routinely hold out one hand then the other as the book nears its conclusion, showing the weighing of the hippopotamus’ options: “Should she stay? Should she go?” Today, my daughter held out both hands when we arrived on that page.

In Creature ABC by Andrew Zuckerman, when we get to the page with a bear, which holds its paw up as if in greeting, she holds her hand up in response, the motionless wave. When reading a favorite from my childhood, What Was That? by Geda Bradley Mathews, my husband pats the bed when the bears hear  “a bump, a thump, and a clump.” Our daughter does that, too – and it extends to other times when she hears it. In I Can Fly by Ruth Krauss, she thumps the bed when we get to the line, “Bump Bump Bump/I’m a camel with a hump.” She adapts, she learns, she applies her knowledge – and we watch in awe and wonder.

She’s learning so many things so fast, though – how to put a peg in a hole (a careful and precise skill), how to hug (two arms around my neck have never felt so warm and loving), how to reach higher bookshelves where we put books we hadn’t wanted her to touch (really? You have to have THOSE books?) – that there must not be room to keep everything. Or maybe she learns something, practices, and moves on. Two days later, she’s stopped waving at the bear. His wave is lonely, now, a bear eternally waving at a girl whose hand, instead of waving, quickly reaches to turn the page, racing against her mama’s hand.  Creature ABC, about which she’d cry if we put the book away after one or two or three readings, will now be shoved aside by a small, thick-fingered impatient hand around the letter M (for mandrill). In Kevin Henkes’ Old Bear, the bear awakens from hibernation. “He yawned.  He stretched.” She used to stretch, often when we got to the page, not the line, after we’d stretched at that line many times ourselves. Now, nothing. No fanfare, not even a reach. The camel with a hump might receive a half-hearted single thump on the bed – just when I got out our camera to document these small actions that both amuse and amaze us. Time waits for no videocamera.

As she outgrows the moments we want to savor, that we do savor, knowing that as soon as we notice and focus on these favorite motions, actions, and gestures, they’ll be replaced by new ones, so, too, does she outgrow behavior better left behind.

When playing with her hammer and peg set several weeks ago, a gift from a friend with two children of her own, my daughter simultaneously lifted her hand and flicked her wrist backward, initiating an unhappy meeting between the wooden hammer and her large, 90th-percentile baby head. As she had done in similar situations, she looked around, puzzled: who had done this to her? Why would someone hit her in the head? Why would someone want to hurt her? As her parents, why didn’t we keep violent strangers bearing hammers away from our most precious creation? Only after surveying her surroundings for the offending party did she burst into a heavy rain of tears.

She understands that thump, in various contexts, always means thump, but she doesn’t understand that a toy hammer to the head means hurt?

She’d begun biting, too. After her first six teeth came in, she took an exploratory nip or two but nothing too painful for her parents, with shoulders, noses, breasts, and chins merely in the line of slobber. Suddenly, however, the nips took on a feeling of purpose: with a surprised “ow!” I’d recoil, and she’d look up and smile. Even worse, she’d be nursing, look up at me stealthily, look down, and WOW! Babies’ teeth, fresh from their previous homes beneath the gumline and undulled by grinding away at solid foods, are sharp. They hurt. They hurt enough to start using the ASL symbol for hurt, which is holding out each index finger and repeatedly bumping the tips of those fingers together. I might have imagined using those same index fingers to poke and prod her in response, but I refrained.

After nips and bites and “ow” and “no” and “that hurts Mommy,” I decided a new approach was in order. I tried the Dr.-Sears-recommended method of drawing baby close when biting: breathing and biting, in that context, are mutually exclusive. Babies choose to breathe. I also tried not reacting. My internal voice shouted “Yow!” but my external voice said, “…” If she pulled away, I put myself out of harm’s way, knowing that a nip, not nourishment, would soon follow.

And you know what? I didn’t get bitten today. Not once.

If we read her The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”, we could likewise practice the hand gesture from But Not the Hippopotamus, weighing each option in one hand, holding its heft as we decide for ourselves. With babies, though, this question is loaded: do we want them to stay where they are, sweet and curious and dependent? Do we want them to go ahead, sweet and curious and growing in independence, sometimes painfully so?

The answer, for me, is both. I want both the sweet innocence of her infanthood, when all she could do was melt into my arms, nurse at my breast, look at the books we chose for her, or rest in the crook of my husband’s arm under his adoring gaze, and the sweet exploration of impending toddler-hood, when she fills our arms with her early hugs and strikes out on her own, waving at book bears, pulling books onto herself, and looking in shock at the innocent bystanders who are not bearing weapons of any sort.

As she adds new activities to her list – walking will soon enough be one of them!  – and waves off others that had once been her favorites, I understand that she’s laying the foundation for the choices that everyone makes in life. We learn skills, we move on. We keep those things we like best close to us and let much of the rest go.  Is there a better way to keep them close than hugging? So far, her hugging hasn’t gone away, and I hope it stays that way. There’s nothing I like better.

 

The author’s note makes the premise of this picture book clear: “Every Friday, my son, Michael, and I have breakfast together at the corner diner. Since he turned three, this has been our special time together and our favorite day of the week. I hope that you, too, will start a little tradition like ours.” By the time the story is done, readers will wonder: what tradition should we start?

The language is simple, the words few. The book begins with “Friday is my favorite day,” and that’s about what the reader can expect from the following pages as well: the text doesn’t wow the reader with interesting vocabulary. No rhyme catches the ear and propels the story pell-mell to its breathless conclusion. It’s simple and straightforward and brief. You’d think that it would be a book to pass over.

But it’s not. Its simplicity is its charm.

Paired with the illustrations, the simple text dons a retro chic mantle. On the front cover (and throughout the story), the father wears a blue checked suit, and the same checked pattern adorns the back cover. Buildings are simple – solid colors with tone on tone bricks periodically breaking the solidity, much like the father’s suit, making for a simple yet engaging illustration of city life. While set in a big city, presumably New York City since that is where Yaccarino lives, the pages are populated by people from an earlier time, matching the tone set by the illustrations. A man looking like a milkman drives a truck; a hippie with a bongo drum and flip-flops walks by. People are friendly, with a winking doorman, a waving newspaper man, and waitress who knows them well enough to say, “See you next Friday!” This is a world you’d want to live in.

While the book tells of a father and son who carve out special time for themselves every Friday morning, the story is less about specifics (it never shows them eating breakfast) and more about a general feeling. The two walk together, taking in the people and the world around them. Others may be busy building buildings, opening shops, walking dogs, or hurrying on their way to work, but for this pair – our pair – their togetherness is what matters. Whether they’re ogling their own interests (a toy shop for the son, a sporting goods store for the father), mailing a letter, or observing life around them, the father-son relationship takes precedence over all. At various points throughout the story, they hold hands, and this is how the books hits its sense of sweetness: for a father and son, it’s enough to hold onto each other and this tradition.

Whether you are a father or mother, son or daughter, this book will hit a sweet spot, and its simplicity appeals to very young readers (my eleven-month-old has liked this book for months!) to older readers who value time with those important to them. Love underpins all of it, and the reader knows that the other six days of the week are filled with love, too.

******************************************************************************
Yaccarino, Dan. Every Friday. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2007. Print.