December 26, 2006


Bright-eyed, bundled

A couple of people have asked me what sort of camera we are using for all these baby pictures. I will sheepishly admit that I did get a new camera specifically for Elliot purposes. However, I am really a cheapskate about these things, as I will briefly describe.

We got a Nikon D50, which is the second-cheapest Nikon SLR (there is a new cheaper one called the D40 now). Body alone, no lens. The standard zoom lens they sell with these kinds of cameras is not bad, but not great.

Also, I already had a Nikon lens to use: a Nikkor 50mm lens (fixed, not a zoom lens) which, at about $90, is one of the cheaper lenses around. It's also among the sharpest. And it's great indoors, because it gathers a lot of light.

The name of the game in taking nice pictures, at least the ones I want to take, is natural light. To take natural light pictures, you have to be able to gather enough light to take a picture, without using the flash.

Zoom lenses are fun, of course, but there's this weird tradeoff -- zoom lenses only get to be zoom lenses by giving up something. That something is going to be either (a) light sensitivity or (b) mega $$$. (Or color quality, contrast, or sharpness.)

So by going with a simple non-zoom lens, we spent less than $500, and we get to take a lot of indoor natural-light pictures.

(I'm far from a photography buff, but I picked up some basics from this guy, and from, and from a class that I took.)


Baby Boom

In the first week of Elliot, my parents and I -- and then Sarah and I -- and then just me -- and then all of us -- etc. -- made pilgrimages to the new Target. It's a brand new two-story affair, clad in red brick and with a spotless parking lot *underneath* the building instead of sprawling all around it. An expensive asset for for the Target Corp., to be sure, and a sort of guilty-pleasure palace for the urban bo-hos (or is it bo-bos? -- whatever), the twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, the hipster-turned-breeders of far-north-side Chicago. Which is where we live. We used to have to go slum in the suburbs -- or grind it out through surface traffic all the way down to Clybourn Avenue -- if we wanted a good deal on a clever strand of lights, a medium-quality wine glass, or a cheap blue flower pot. But those days are at an end. We have our own big-box store just around the corner now, thank you very much.

Our Target has its big, spacious Starbucks mounted proudly out front, cantilevered right over Peterson Avenue. From this vantage, forty feet above the ground, the Starbucks provides a commanding view of an enormous cemetery -- hundred-year trees and swaths of veterans' graves -- across the street. Face that way, and the cemetery extends so far, and so broadly, you can't see beyond it. Turn around to face the other way now, and the consumer products extend so far and in such profusion, you can't see beyond them, either. In life as we are in death.

Every day of September last, we needed some item or other that we'd been unable to picture ourselves needing the previous September day. Often, we had never heard of, or conceived, the item itself. Imagination fails, somehow, in the face of the baby's proliferating demands. Then the necessity of a moment clarifies the mind. We do not know what he will require next. We simply know where to get it.

Mats to put under his bum on the changing table; an extra set of bottles; a pack of milk bags for the freezer; a little plastic cage to put bottle parts into so they can be run through the dishwasher; a four-pack of terrycloth bibs; a ten-pack of those fantastic terrycloth bibs. We bought a liquid vitamin supplement for him that the pediatrician recommended; but when we discovered that the vitamin bottle didn't come with its own dropper, we had to hoof it back over there for a dropper, because how much is .5 ml anyway? We bought baby wipes aplenty, an avalanche of wipes; but unless you want the baby wipes to dry out and wither on the vine (quelle horreur), you have got to have one of those airtight plastic boxes to dispense the wipes from. We realized that we had made it home with only the refill pack -- no box. Somebody run out and buy something that includes the box.

The uncanny part, though, the kink in this tale of abundance, is the story of the things I cannot get from Target, and the ones who did get them -- the others. The other parents. We see them at Target more than anywhere else (especially since the winter weather kicked in, and it's too cold to roam at the park for long).

We see them others in flared pants, ironic t-shirts, with a shaven head, or in a very long indie-rock plaid sweater (or is that a bathrobe?), or conservatively attired, or with cornrows, or with three children, or speaking Polish. There are many kinds, really, though it's the most odd to see the kinds that look the most like *us*, because how bizarre. Look what happened to them. Look what happened to us all. What a picture we make.

I see them in the diaper aisle, or sifting the kiddie clothes around the corner. I know the wall where the nursing tank tops are, and I know their cart will be there, unless they are blocking up the way down at the bottom of the laundry detergent section where the scentless baby soaps can be found. There are only about eight or nine little corners of the store, in fact, where the new-baby pilgrims genuflect as they make their new-baby rounds, and I have seen them in each one, at all hours. From among the vast grazing patterns of we Target-borne ruminants, you can bump into the same couple two or three times in a quarter of an hour. The moms, to a one, have D (for decaf) scrawled on the sides of their cups, because they know the score. In half an hour, they plan to be back home, nursing, and after that, maybe some rest.

And what is weird is that so many of the children of these parental others are *exactly* the age of my own child. That is, within a week or so. All through last September as I have said, we went to Target frequently, but this was as much out of its nearness as anything else, because in truth, Target's newborn supplies were eerily . . . depleted. A single lonely box of the little newborn-size Pampers Swaddlers remained . . . and yet all the other sizes were available. That box of freezer milk bags I mentioned? I think it wasn't actually there. I think I ended up making another stop at the grocery store to get it.

Odd as well is that this pattern went on, month after month, and is still in evidence. Pinpoint shortages, affecting only infants of a certain age. Last week I went to buy new, larger bottles to accomodate my boy's new, larger existence. I sought nipples also. It turns out that you have your newborn nipples (one hole), one-month nipples (two holes), three-month nipples (three holes), and so forth. But the others, the September parents, got there before me again, making it absolutely impossible to find the hoped-for three-month nipple. I checked every nipple. We had to make do with the one-monthers. It was either that, or get the six-month nipples, and risk drowning the child. That would be absurd.

It's no Shyamalan movie, but I must say that I continue to find the situation a little strange. What *happened* back in December 2005 within range of this particular -- at that time not yet completed -- Target store? (Besides the obvious.) Did they mix something magical into the concrete? Was it a coupon they sent? Were they broadcasting (Vast Quantities of Goods) subliminal (Not Costly In Dollars Or Cred) messages (Budding Bourgeois Householders Seize) to (Your) us (Chance)?

And so we find ourselves roaming the aisles, sipping coffee, gently bumping carts with our doppelgangers. Whatever they did to get us all here, whatever mysterious panic button pushed us all over the brink into this new cloudland, blinking under the bright lights of the big box -- it worked. They got us. So what are they planning to do with us?


December 18, 2006

The Travails of Fandom

Since becoming a mother, I have also become: a football fan. It's so weird. No one who knows me well knows what to make of this baffling new development. They all look at me like I imagine Anne Lammot's friends looked at her when she became a born-again Christian. Like her, I have found religion. What can I say? It's something to do on Sundays.

I have two explanations for this curious new interest. The first is more romantic, and it is this: the primal scenes of pregnancy and childbirth left me more sympathetic to ritualized expressions of animalistic behavior. The second, more logistical, is that it's just harder for me to leave the house these days, and so I take my drama where I can get it.*

Anyway, it's not like I've become a football expert or something: there are lots of basics I still don't fully understand. But I can say with some confidence that I think Reggie Bush is a better contender than Devin Hester for rookie of the year, and I'm genuinely interested in the outcome of tonights Colts/Bengals matchup. Who would have thought that the Bengals would be a serious threat?

So, the new football fan Sarah Mesle has something to say to the Chicago Bears. I would like to say: Jesus! Get it together! People, I am a new mother. I do not have the strength to watch you squander a 21 point lead over Tampa Bay. When you give up three unanswered touchdowns for no apparent reason, I start squawking, which upsets my infant child. Robbie Gould, when you miss a 37 yard field goal attempt, I become unwilling to ignore the fact that you prance around like an overgrown leprechan. You irritate me.



*A third possible reason is that I now read the NYT football coverage, which happily connects my normal interests to my new football interests by saying things like, "The Dallas defensive line was as inpenetrable as a symbolist poem." But I didn't really start reading the football coverage until after I started watching games, so I think the Times is more an enabling than a causal factor.

December 15, 2006

Cut every corner

My mom says that when you have a new baby, you have to cut corners. She said, you have to sing the song "Climb Every Mountain!" from The Sound of Music, except that you change the words to "Cut Every Corner!" So, we try to do that.

Here are some corners we have cut. I guess this is sort of like "tips," but a little different.

1: Paper plates. Hells yeah.
2: Plastic cups, especially for smoothies, because nothing is more demoralizing than finding a cup coated in dried-up smoothy, and then having to wash it.
3: Only one-piece clothing for le bebe. He is le bebe; he doesn't need coordinated outfits.
4: Automatic Car Transmission. This pains us both a little in theory. But it's so nice.
5: We totally use disposable diapers, but I hardly perceive this as cutting a corner, because the idea of using cloth diapers seems more complicated than I can fathom.
6: Brandon is growing a beard.


December 14, 2006

Things are okay!

I was just having the small realization: we're okay here. When I think about how foggy and weird we were when Elliot was first born, I am amazed by our progress. I'm puttering around, filling the water bottle and otherwise preparing for nighttime feedings; Brandon is sitting on the couch with Elliot, reading to him from the NYT Magazine "Ideas" issue. Ada's dozing on the floor by their feet. The Christmas lights are on.

We're tired, and we don't have many remaining inner resources, and we certainly have not finished our christmas shopping. But hey! We're doing alright.


December 13, 2006

Elliot's Brain

Babies are smart, kinda. Not to refute the conclusions of the famed Onion study on baby intelligence, but really: they are more smart than we thought. Interesting studies keep popping up showing very young babies able to do things like, for example, tell the difference between two different quantities of items -- i.e. count. Babies can experience both jealousy and empathy--which means that at some level they understand self, other, competition, and suffering.

...Victoria's mother is settling her daughter into a high chair, where she is the latest subject in an ongoing experiment aimed at understanding the way babies think. Hart [the researcher] hands Cheryl [the mother] a children's book and instructs her to engross herself in its pages. "Just have a conversation with me about the book," Hart tells her. "The most important thing is, do not look at Victoria." As the two women chat, Victoria looks around the room, impassive and little bored.

After a few minutes, Hart leaves the room and returns cradling a lifelike baby doll. Dramatically, Hart places it in Cheryl's arms, and tells her to cuddle the doll while continuing to ignore Victoria. "That's OK, little baby," Cheryl coos, hugging and rocking the doll. Victoria is not bored anymore. At first, she cracks her best smile, showcasing a lone stubby tooth. When that doesn't work, she begins kicking. But her mom pays her no mind. That's when Victoria loses it. Soon she's beet red and crying so hard it looks like she might spit up. Hart rushes in. "OK, we're done," she says, and takes back the doll. Cheryl goes to comfort her daughter. "I've never seen her react like that to anything," she says. Over the last 10 months, Hart has repeated the scenario hundreds of times. It's the same in nearly every case: tiny babies, overwhelmed with jealousy. Even Hart was stunned to find that infants could experience an emotion, which, until recently, was thought to be way beyond their grasp.

-- Newsweek

Freud made observations and claims about babies' conception of presence and absence, famously formulated in his analysis of the fort/da game. (We play a lot of fort/da around here, not much peekaboo.) But it turns out that babies have "object permanence" much, much earlier than previously suspected. People figure these things out by putting babies in dark rooms in front of little "stages", showing them little shows, and watching their reactions.

Each baby sees a duck on a stage. [The researcher] covers the duck, moves it across the stage and lifts the cover. Sometimes the duck is there. Other times, the duck disappears beneath a trapdoor. When they see the duck has gone missing, the babies stare intently at the empty stage, searching for it. "At 2 1/2 months," she says, "they already have the idea that the object continues to exist."

Other cool research tidbits:

Until a baby is 3 months old, he can recognize a scrambled photograph of his mother just as quickly as a photo in which everything appears in the right place. [Older babies actually lose this ability.]

. . .

At the University of Minnesota, neuroscientist Charles Nelson (now of Harvard) wanted to test how discerning infants really are. He showed a group of 6-month-old babies a photo of a chimpanzee, and gave them time to stare at it until they lost interest. They were then shown another chimp. The babies perked up and stared at the new photo. The infants easily recognized each chimp as an individual—they were fascinated by each new face. Now unless you spend a good chunk of your day hanging around the local zoo, chances are you couldn't tell the difference between a roomful of chimps at a glance. As it turned out, neither could babies just a few months older. By 9 months, those kids had lost the ability to tell chimps apart; but at the same time, they had increased their powers of observation when it came to human faces.

. . .

Michael Goldstein, a psychologist at Cornell University, gathered two groups of 8-month-olds and decked them out in overalls rigged up with wireless microphones and transmitters. One group of mothers was told to react immediately when their babies cooed or babbled, giving them big smiles and loving pats. The other group of parents was also told to smile at their kids, but randomly, unconnected to the babies' sounds. It came as no surprise that the babies who received immediate feedback babbled more and advanced quicker than those who didn't. But what interested Goldstein was the way in which the parents, without realizing it, raised the "babble bar" with their kids. "The kinds of simple sounds that get parents' attention at 4 months don't get the same reaction at 8 months," he says. "That motivates babies to experiment with different sound combinations until they find new ones that get noticed."

. . .

Kuhl put American 9-month-olds in a room with Mandarin-speaking adults, who showed them toys while talking to them. After 12 sessions, the babies had learned to detect subtle Mandarin phonetic sounds that couldn't be heard by a separate group of babies who were exposed only to English. Kuhl then repeated the experiment, but this time played the identical Mandarin —lessons to babies on video- and audiotape. That group of babies failed to learn any Mandarin. Kuhl says that without the emotional connection, the babies considered the tape recording just another background noise, like a vacuum cleaner.

But of course, this survey of research wouldn't be complete without also mentioning some of the Onion's results.

Another test, in which the infants were placed on a mound of dirt outdoors during a torrential downpour, produced similarly bleak results.

"The chicken, dog and even worm babies that we submitted to the test as a control group all had enough sense to come in from the rain or, at least, seek shelter under a leafy clump of vegetation or outcropping of rock," test supervisor Thomas Howell said. "The human babies, on the other hand, could not grasp even this incredibly basic concept, instead merely lying on the ground and making gurgling noises."

According to Howell, almost 60 percent of the infants tested in this manner eventually drowned.

Some of the babies tested were actually so stupid that they choked to death on pieces of Micronaut space toys. Others, unable to use such primitive instruments as can openers and spoons due to insufficient motor skills, simply starved to death, despite being surrounded by cabinets full of nutritious, life-giving Gerber-brand baby-food products.

Babies, the study concluded, are also too stupid to do the following: avoid getting their heads trapped in automatic car windows; use ice to alleviate the pain of burn injuries resulting from touching an open flame; master the skills required for scuba diving; and use a safety ladder to reach a window to escape from a room filled with cyanide gas.

"As a mother of four, I find these results very disheartening," Bentley told reporters. "I can honestly say that the effort I have expended trying to raise my children into intelligent beings may have been entirely wasted--a fool's dream, if you will."


December 10, 2006

William James

In much-quoted-out-of-context phrase, William James (Henry's brother, a great figure in pragmatic philosophy as well as psychology, and a supervisor of some really bizarre undergraduate research by Gertrude Stein) has written of the "blooming, buzzing confusion" of being Elliot. His sense of infancy as a muddle -- and later on, Piaget went much further down that road -- is slowly falling by the wayside. More and more, we are discovering just how structured babies' minds are (take that, Lacan), and how early. I'll quote some of the research onto the blog sometime. But for now, here is James from that ol' 19th century. With the tools he had, he was good. And a good writer, too.

The law is that all things fuse that can fuse, and nothing separates except what must. What makes impressions separate we have to study in this chapter. Although they separate easier if they come in through distinct nerves, yet distinct nerves are not an unconditional ground of their discrimination, as we shall presently see. The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion; and to the very end of life, our location of all things in one space is due to the fact that the original extents or bignesses of all the sensations which came to our notice at once, coalesced together into one and the same space. There is no other reason than this why "the hand I touch and see coincides spatially with the hand I immediately feel."

We're now in the habit of asking Elliot, when he is querulous, what part of his Con-Fusion is causing him the trouble? Skin? Entrails? (Which end?) We haven't told him about Melanie Klein yet, because I think that would only confuse things further.



Now that our baby is a very mature three months old, we feel quite experienced. (Ha!) We have some tips to share. We welcome feedback on these tips, quite heartily.

1: Monitor the dangle angle! At all times. This is advice for parents of boys. We were warned to beware of stray urine streams during diaper changes, but not told that the wily male "dangle" can spray forth urine from a sealed diaper (for example, by going straight UPWARDS). To ward against this irritating circumstance, make sure that the dangle... dangles within the diaper. It needs to point down.

2: Just get the boppy, even if your body pillow does basically the same job. The boppy is tidier, and more portable. Also, Brandon says, you can refer to the boppy in the same pseduo-french accent in which Sacha Baron Cohen refers to "Ricky Bobby" in the movie Talledega Nights. This is not an incentive for me, but whatever.

3: Keep a laundry hamper right next to the changing table, because no matter how closely you monitor the dangle angle, there will be accidents.

4: Put extra, still-folded, garbage bags in the trash can underneath the garbage bag currently in use. Because if you tie up a full garbage bag, that is quite enough of a job for one person, and who needs to go all the way to the cupboard for a new bag?

4: When warming up a bottle, don't put the bottle in a bowl of warm water. Put it in a pub glass of warm water. Brandon does most of the bottle warming around here, and he says this is much better; it keeps the bottle from falling over, which can happen especially if there's not much milk in the bottle.

5: When it comes to the much feared "nipple confusion," I say: don't believe the hype. This is a contentious claim, I know, but I really think it's a load of crap. I mean, I definitely had a HUGE fear of nipple confusion, and it would have prevented me from giving Elliot a bottle for a long time had Elliot not required one for health purposes. And giving bottles is so wonderful! It made me enjoy breast feeding so much more, to know that I could have a break from it when I needed to. And if you wait too long, sometimes they don't take a bottle, and that would be THE WORST THING I COULD IMAGINE, because then what would you do? Just never have a break for six months, I guess. And who needs it? Breastfeeding is nice, but it's not that nice. For me, I mean. Some people really love it, so that's different. But still I say: everyone deserves a break, or at least the option of a break.

6: The best middle-of-the-night-nursing-snack that I've found is the "Naked" brand super-protein drink. It is a beverage, and so easy to consume with one hand (which is all you have when you're up in the night holding a baby), but it also has a whopping 38 grams of protein. Until my mom introduced me to the protein shake, I spent a lot of nights standing next to the open fridge door, gnawing messily on whatever hunks of meat were available, and it was totally gross, and also the light always shined right in Elliot's eyes, making him fussy and thus harder to put back to sleep. So protein shake it is: it tastes a little weird, because 38 grams of protein were never meant to be delivered in liquid form, and it's over-priced, but it is worth it.

7. Okay, that's all for now. But I'm sure there will be more.


December 08, 2006

like milk into baby

So, I know this has been hinted at before...but I am just completely knocked out that all of Elliot--his eyelashes, his calf muscles, his ears--all of Elliot is made of milk. For real! I just give him milk, and he can make more of himself. Forget turning water into wine: this seems to me like a really amazing miracle.

That's really all I have to say about that. But l'll add as a PS that Elliot eating always reminds me of Bakhtin, in Rabelais and His World:
"Man's encounter with the world in the act of eating is joyful, triumphant; he triumphs over the world, devours it without being devoured himself. The limits of the world are erased..." (281).

Bakhtin writes about eating as the most profound symbol of our humanness: it's how we, quite literally, make ourselves as individuals, but it also is a constant reminder that we are dependent upon, and a part of, the larger world.

I think he's right, of course. But these days I really wish I could have seen the book he would have written if he had been a breastfeeding mother.


December 06, 2006

Graham: December 6

Elliot has acquired another significant cousin-by-affection: Graham, a Bostonian. He is over nine pounds, according to reports, a strapping healthy boy.

He was borne of Whitney early this morning, a little after his due date but one day earlier than I had bet on (I was going for Pearl Harbor Day). Congratulations, Whitney and Jen! We are glad glad glad.


December 04, 2006

Variously Alien

Okay, now I don't want to jinx anything, but in the spirit of celebrating small victories, let me tell you all a secret:

Elliot slept seven hours for two nights in a row.

This trend may not continue, but while it does: boy! We feel better. We are feeling much more human.

Which is a perfect segue into a point I'd like to explore. Elliot seems to me...not quite human yet. This occured to me on the flight back from Salt Lake, during which I was rereading a sci-fi novel that put forth a theory of "alienness." Here is the taxonomy that book puts forth:

1: Framlings: framlings are like you, but they're from a different place. You're not the same, but you can totally understand each other.
2: Ramen: people who are ramen are really different from you. But you can learn to communicate with them, so your differences can be negotiated.
3: Varelse: people who are varelse are so alien that you can't even communicate with them. You might believe that they are intelligent and have reasons for what they do, but you have no way to learn those reasons. Encounters with the varelse are likely to go poorly.

So, your average baby: what sort of alien is s/he? When Elliot coughs or sneezes, it just sounds like a cough or a sneeze. It seems perfectly reasonable and human. And I think: total framling. But his yammering is pretty ramen. And when he is stricken by intense and unexplainable fits of rage, he is completely varelse. Completely! One hundred percent alien.

Really, try negotiating with a screaming baby for even an instant. You might as well just get your phasers and light sabers and just start firing.


Postscript by blwh

A few minutes after Sarah posted the entry above, Elliot and I had the following recorded conversation. Or interview, if you will. But it ain't Charlie Rose. No, on Elliot's home planet, an interview is considered incomplete if the subject (or did he think he was interviewing me?) fails to put his own fist in his mouth, gyrate his half-naked body, chuckle maniacally at odd times, and share his bodily fluids with the people at home.

Now that I think about it, maybe Elliot's home planet is called "The Sex Pistols".

Interestingly, the framling/ramen/varelse taxonomy is this blog's second reference to Orson Scott Card science fiction novels. We're not actually that into science fiction -- not that we're not into science fiction -- but I guess it's been a year, a set of events, that's about the things science fiction is about, (a quick paste from wikipedia):
in which the narrative world differs from our own present or historical reality in at least one significant way. This difference may be technological, physical, historical, sociological, philosophical, metaphysical, etc, but not magical (see Fantasy). Exploring the consequences of such differences (asking "What if...?") is the traditional purpose of science fiction, but there are also many science-fiction works in which an exotically alien setting is superimposed upon what would not otherwise be a science-fiction tale.

November 30, 2006

In Which We All have Colds

So, we all have colds. Our house is a wash of wadded tissues and forgotten mugs of chamomile tea. Elliot is really doing the best of the three of us: he had a bit of a running nose last weekend, but that's over now. Periodically he coughs rather awfully, but it doesn't seem to both him much. Now that his nose isn't running I've stopped coming after him with mucus aspirator, and that's all he cares about. That mucus aspirator: he hates it.

But brandon and I, we are drooping. We're operating on low reserves anyway these days, and we're not doing very well at fighting off the viruses. And the sinus headache on top of the runny nose and the lack of sleep pretty much sucks. Oy. B and I agreed that it is sort of a shock to the system that we are both so sick and uncomfortable, and yet Elliot is still here. our lack of energy makes no difference to him! Nope! He's just as eager to hang out and eat and be taken care of as ever.

I mean, you know that going in, of course: you'll be a parent, and your infant will have needs that supercede your own need to crawl under a blanket feel sorry for yourself. But it's another one of those things that didn't evidently didn't really sink in, like the fact that babies really do eat 8-12 times a day, and really do poop all the time. I secretly believed I would never have to actually use a mucus aspirator, because how gross, right? But here we are.

knee deep in kleenex,

ps: the good news is that elliot has started to kick, awesomely! And he has some new toys designed for awesome kicking infants. He will sit and kick for minutes at a time! And while he does so, we blow our noses and pull the covers over our heads, which really does make you feel a lot better.

November 27, 2006

Elliot meets Juanna

Juanna and Elliot

About a week after great-grandad Wally passed from his world and beyond his ken, Elliot managed to meet his great-grandmother on the other side -- Launa's mother Juanna. 93 years old, she lives in Price, Utah, in her house there.

On Sarah's side of the tree, Elliot has three living great-grandparents. Norma, retired historian and lover of western movies, is Barb's mother. She lives in Lamoni, Iowa, where Sarah's parents also live. Both of Bob's parents -- Carl and Kay -- live in Independence, Missouri, about two hours south of Lamoni. Around Christmas, Elliot is going to meet all three of them for the first time.

Check our flickr site, where we've posted a passel of pictures from the last week, covering two continents, four generations, a funeral, and a major holiday.


November 25, 2006

Preliminary Update

We've been gone for oodles! What, with the transatlantic travel and the major holiday and all, we've just not been good correspondents; I'm not sure how we'll catch up on all the news of Elliot's adventures and developments.

We'll eventually fill in some details. Let me just start by saying: Elliot did not himself do the transatlantic travel. He was not allowed to go with Brandon to Grandad Wally's funeral. Why, you ask? Why was Elliot not allowed to take advantage of this chance to see the British relatives, gathered together? Well. Because Elliot, being not quite three months old, does not have a passport. So he can't go to England, no matter how little a threat he seems to pose to national security.* England has an open door immigration policy, but evidently it does not extend to undocumented infants! No, it doesn't.

SO. Brandon and the rest of the Harveys went to England, and Elliot and I stayed home. And friends, my three days at home as a single mom convinced me that I'm glad I don't usually have to be a single mom. It's a lot of work. It is very demoralizing to never have two hands free at once.

The pinacle of my single-mom adventuring, for sure, was last Monday when I had to take Elliot on his first airplane ride all by myself. Me and Elliot and twenty-three burp rags, braving the thick of holiday travel at O'Hare airport! It was very thrilling, especially since in the 45 minutes before we had to leave for the airport Elliot urped on himself, and I am not exagerating, EIGHT TIMES. He urped on me, on the couch, and on his diaper. He urped in the bathwater and he urped immediately upon being taken out of the bathwater. He urped everywhere, and also he peed all over the changing table on which, yes, he had also urped. But fortunately Peter came over to take me to the airport and save me by holding Elliot so I could at least clean the urp off myself before bolting for the door.

Anyway, mentioning Peter-the-rescuer leads me to say that really, I didn't have such an awful time as a single mom because all these great people came to help me out. Sarah and Ed and Matt came to entertain on Friday**, and Kati and Kelley came on Saturday to spend the night and watch the dvd'd first season of Felicity and DO MY LAUNDRY, and then obviously Peter came on Monday to take me to the airport and Ken picked me up at the airport and then Jenny and Jason bought me dinner in Salt Lake. And that is not even counting the folks (kate, katy) who offered to entertain in chicago and the nice people in the airport who helped Elliot and I get through security.

Obviously, then, there is much to be thankful for around here: anytime you find yourself referring to the "nice people" employed at O'Hare, you know the world is looking out for you. But I haven't yet told you the reason I am MOST THANKFUL OF ALL! Here it is, as a teaser for the rest of our thanksgiving update: on Thursday, following a delicious turkey dinner, Elliot slept for seven hours.


It was so miraculous I can't properly convey my feelings on the subject. So let's just say that we here in the Mesle/Harvey household are full to brimming of holiday cheer, and promise to write more soon.



*Jason thinks maybe we could have taken him afterall, with just a birth certificate? Does anyone know about this? Regardless, we're applying for the passport anyway just for future emergencies. The instructions say that Elliot has to get an official passport photo taken that must be sure to "include the baby's face." Okay.

**Brandon actually was still here that night, but S/E/M didn't know he would be here when they offered to come over, so they still get full single-mom-sitting credit.

November 14, 2006

Two month appointment results

Folks were asking about Elliot's two month appointment with the pediatrician. He weighed in on November 6th at 10 lb, 6 oz, which means he's still gaining more than an ounce a day -- almost an ounce and a half. I reckon we give him perhaps thirty ounces of milk a day (which amounts to a gallon every few days), so he incorporates about five percent of that into his own body. Consider -- he turns a twentieth part of his food into himself. A parlor game of ours is for me to point out some enlarged or altered part of his anatomy, and for Sarah to make the rejoinder that what I'm pointing to is, in fact, "made of milk". All that new hair he is growing? Made of milk. Scratchy fingernails that need to be cut again? Made of milk.

It kind of knocks me out (and seems to gross other people out) to try to think about what an ounce and half of baby's body actually looks like, and how much living *stuff* that is to create in 24 hours flat. Every 24 hours. That's a lot of petri dishes growing a lot of cells.

He has moved from the 10th percentile of weight up to the 22nd percentile, which impressed the doc because among other things it means (gather round, math people) that he has moved up one whole standard deviation. He is mounting a frontal assault on the south face of the bell curve.

I think he's about 22" long. And he is beginning to outgrow a few of his favorite newborn (0-3 month) clothes.

His eyelashes are darker and longer, long enough that they have begun to curve around and outwards.

The skin on his skull is thicker and more flesh-colored, less translucent, hiding more of the tracery of the veins on his head.

He can hold his head up and look around for almost as long as he wants, though eventually it will topple over, either because he gets worn out or because he gets ambitious and loses control.

He sleeps 3-5 hours at a stretch in the night. But we haven't developed a set bedtime. Sometimes we're all in by 9:30, sometimes it's 11.

After losing the birth hair from the top of his head, and having a stubbly scalp for a couple of weeks, he grew back a new crop of downy hair. It spirals around a point just to the left front of the middle of his head -- like a cartoon baby. It's getting long enough -- almost -- to be able to get messed up, or have bed-head.


November 13, 2006

Walter James Edward Harvey, b. 1912, d. 2006

Today my Grandad -- Peter's father -- is dead. He did not meet Elliot face to face, and they will never meet face to face. But among the gifts of Wally to Elliot, from across the ocean, can be found these four letters -- E, J, W, H -- and these two names -- Walter Harvey.


November 07, 2006

My Wish for Elliot's Two-Month Birthday...

...clearly, is for sweeping democratic gains in congress. In fact, I first crystallized my desire to have a baby immediately following the 2004 election when it became apparent to me that one of my social duties was to raise up new progressive voters. That's what the 2004 election taught me: that the intellectual left needs to procreate!

Of course, now that I have my proto-voter, I am for the most part too tired and distracted to think much about politics. And it's hard here in Illinois because the major races (governor, cook county board pres) are saddled with uninspiring candidates on both sides.

Still, this morning Brandon and I are exchanging intense glances, fitfully checking headlines, both of us hoping that today our country turns at least a small corner back towards the left. Elliot deserves at least a democratic house, eh? Surely that is a not too greedy a birthday wish.



ps: I have to confess what a party-line girl I am. Elliot has a lot of clothes with elephants on them, because I like elephants and because evidently elephants are the new fashion in boys clothing (that is, if you don't want footballs and trucks). But while I was up in the night nursing I was really really wishing that Elliot had some donkey infantwear for today. Surely they make such things? If anyone knows where to get some, let me know. And we are definitely in the market for "Barack in 08" onesies! Oh yes we are.

Update: that was easy!

Political Onesy

November 06, 2006

2 months old

It's been eight weeks already, and Elliot's moon -- the full moon that was up on the morning he was born -- has come and gone twice. This is what he looked like then, and what he looks like now, in the same outfit.

He was very small!

He is much less small!

New Noises

Elliot responds! More and more often.

He also, to answer a comment, does enjoy his tummy time. If he's in the right mood, he'll struggle with the burden of being facedown, completely uncoordinated, and larval for as long as ten minutes. He seems to really get sort of a kick out of it, treating it as a solemn project. (A project to do what exactly, it's not clear. But one day we'll find out.)

November 02, 2006

What Not to Do

What Not To Do

Sarah: "I have to say I am a little scared of plastic bags. But really, this fails to trigger my scaredness in any meaningful way. it looks like someone holding a theater mask in front of their face. And I'm certainly not scared of crawling babies in space helmets."

October 30, 2006

Fortunate Son

In a surprise shift in musical preference, Brandon has all of a sudden gotten really fond of Creedence Clearwater Revival. Since I am generally the classic rock fan in the family, I don't look at this as a bad thing exactly. I like CCR and all, sure. But even I probably wouldn't put them on while cooking

Anyway, Brandon has decided that not only does he himself like CCR, but Elliot does too. Elliot, he claims, will regularly smile during the choruses of songs! He will! He likes it!

"Dude, he likes the Creedence," Brandon says of his child, and turns up the volume.



blwh: It's the unvarnished truth. We sometimes put his bouncer on the kitchen table, so we can look at him face to face while we grab a bite to eat. Our kitchen radio is also on the kitchen table, putting him in the ideal listening position. He smiled twice the other night during two separate choruses of "Proud Mary", and once during a chorus of "Bad Moon Rising", which immediately followed. We have more to say about his development into humanity and out of catatonia -- his growth into a SMILING THING -- but that's for another post.

My family is doing awesome things for the public good

Note: this message has to do with Elliot in only a tangential way

Can I just take a minute to brag on my friend and relative Sara Shipley Hiles? She is a free-lance journalist and just got a big story published in Mother Jones magazine. Mother Jones! People! Politics! Other Passions! I love this magazine, and it thrills me to my very bones to be related to a contributor.

Anyway, you should all go read it! In this election season it's good to read about people trying to make a difference, and also about how much work there still is to be done.

link to article on Mother Jones site


October 26, 2006

Other things we like

-- We haven't tried the Bobby (Boppy? Bøppii?), the crescent-shaped pillow TH mentioned as a comment on an earlier post, but we do have something really similar we're attached to, which is the long snaking body pillow Sarah bought to help her sleep posture while she was pregnant. It's called the Snoogle and I think it cost fifty bucks (which is sort of a lot, I think, unless you use it constantly for half a year, in which case it's an amazing bargain.) Now she just folds the Snoogle in half, puts it on her lap, and it works out very well. Also, he's getting a bit bigger, so he's getting a little easier for her to hold while nursing. For a while there she thought she might be getting carpal tunnel in her wrists.

-- Boudreaux's Butt Paste: it says what it does, it does what it says. It's like A&D Ointment but more folksy (Dr. Boudreaux invented it himself, or that's the lore) and we agree with its claims to smell "pleasant".

October 22, 2006

Spitting up more

For those readers bored of our accounts of infant nursing, i.e. milk input and its travails, here is quick note for you on the opposite process: milk output. Emesis. Getting things backwards. Inserting slot B into tab A.

The boy doth vomit. [Middle English vomiten, from Latin vomitāre, frequentative of vomere.] And the frequency and volume of vomere has increased. Last night, for instance, we were bedding down quite nicely, Elliot having eaten with satisfaction some while before, but not yet inclined to sleep. So I laid him on the bed on his back, in between my pillow and Sarah's pillow, and I put my face close to his, and I began to whisper white noise in his ear. (I like to think that the warm breath of a big warm thing like a Dad is a sleepymaking spell that it is now vested in me to cast.) My awake child was looking around curiously with big, alert eyes. It's interesting to note that Elliot can move his head in concert with his eyes now--that is, he can deliberately crane his neck at the same time at he turns his gaze, and in the same direction, and in this way he can look at the things he wants to look at, rather than being purely surprised by whatever floats by. Progress.

I turned out the lamp, to give him somewhat less to be curious about. And I laid my face next to his face, and again made the whispering noises that Walter Harvey, my grandad, used to use to soothe me when I was a lively infant, at night, in a pitch-black bathroom, pacing bath and forth--the English version of a sensory deprivation chamber.

Anyway, it was then that Elliot turned his own eyes--I could see them mooning back and forth in the darkened bedroom--on me, and then opened his mouth to jabber something or other, and it must have been the darkness that slowed my reflexes, because it was then that he puked ounces of milk full in my face, with no warning. He didn't even seem perturbed by it. It was effortless for him.*

To be fair to Sarah (and selfish to my own self), by working outside the home at this time in Elliot's life, I buy myself hours and hours per day when the likelihood that the people around me are going to vomit on my face is astronomically low. And what a comfort that is. Sarah, by contrast, is never more than 2 hours from a person who might--who will--spray her with anything they've got on hand, biologically speaking. (For some reason it puts me in mind of that line from The Wild One (1953). Q: "Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?" A:"What've you got?")


* TJ asked me on the phone tonight: "Was it funny?". Actually, I thought it was surreal, so I had to ask Sarah. Sarah says that it was kinda funny. But maybe it wasn't really that funny, because it's just what happens. It's who we are. It's not funny per se to be a tailor or a shoeshine boy or a skydiver, if that is your role--though it's funny to fail at those roles, or to misunderstand them. (Except in the case of the skydiver.) It is our role now to be the ones putting the milk in and dodging it when it comes back out.

October 19, 2006

Various and Sundry

Yesterday, while at the lactation clinic, I was holding a diapered Elliot on my lap. Fifteen minutes later, I realized that there were little smears of poo all over my pants--which was irritating, because a) gross, and b) this is why we buy the expensive diapers, so this doesn't happen. But there wasn't anything to do about it, besides carry on and get weighed, and then hurry home and change pronto. Except that after hurrying home I was hungry and Elliot was starving, so we both ate, and then I unloaded the dishwasher, and several hours later I realized that i was still wearing the poo-pants. This, friends, is something to consider if you are thinking about becoming a parent: you too might be so tired that you forget that there is poo on your pants.

Did we tell you that Elliot outgrew a shirt? He did. One of the little white kimono shirts that was all that would fit him when he was new will now not stay down over his pot belly. Also, he can wear a couple of 3-6 month outfits, but not all of them.

Still, though, he's so little that when you hold him on your lap you can completely wrap around him. It is incredibly sweet. Now that I'm reassured he's growing, I'm also getting nostalgic for his infancy. He's so tidy and reasonable now. I can hardly believe he will ever turn into one of those crazy monster six month olds.

My folks were here this weekend, and Brandon and I took advantage of the free-babysitting opportunity to sneak out for a date--we went to a matinee. It was the first time I'd been away from Elliot for more than an hour, and I was pretty fretful the whole time. I'm still not sure if I was more worried about being away from him, or having to go back to him once the movie was over. Part of me definitely wanted to make a run for the border while I had the chance. It was the first time I really encountered how big and strange motherhood is. Babies are so small, but when you are with them all the time they really occupy your whole field of vision.


Julia wants to know how he got his name

Why is he the little plum? Brandon named him this, when first we learned of his new in-utero existence. I asked Brandon how he came up with it, and all Brandon said was, "I just say awesome things sometimes."* So there you go.

Personally, I think it stuck because we needed a good gender-neutral way to speak about "it," and neither of us were very fond of the more common "little peanut." I like peanuts, but they are kinda static. They are just waiting around. Plums, on the other hand, are luminous and shiny and growing. They ripen. And doesn't it seem sort of grand, to be able to make a bright little fruit? It was a nice way to think about being pregnant.

*Prior to conception, Brandon had once suggested that our offspring should be named "Jinxy McTwatstretcher,"** which is catchy too, but you can see why it didn't take.

**I just asked B if he thought it was inappropriate to mention this name here and he snorted and said, "I'm funny." Then he sang a little song: "I think I'm you think I'm funnnnnyyy? Probably..." to the tune of "Crazy", the current pop song by Gnarls Barkley. (To hear this song instanter, link to the iTunes Music Store here -- blwh)


October 18, 2006

Dude, he's so big

Indeed! Elliot was weighed this morning at 8 lbs. 12 oz. THAT IS SO BIG! IT IS ALMOST NINE POUNDS! It's crazy talk; I can hardly believe it. His little fingers even look like much bigger little fingers.

What's even better is that he totally ate 3 oz in 25 minutes, which is just what he is supposed to be doing, and which made both myself and the lactation consultant do a little start with glee. She said, "You are done with bottles." She said, "You graduate." She said, "I'm so happy for you both." And then she pointed us out to others as people who "about killed themselves, but look how it worked." That's right, we are rolemodels of the lactation clinic.

October 15, 2006

Elliot's maiden video: bathtime with Baba

note: you will need adobe flash to watch this video.

Titles of Poems Walt Whitman might have written, had he actually raised a child rather than just writing about them

"Out of the cradle, endlessly pooping (just after having a diaper change, dammit)"
"Out of the cradle, endlessly kicking my mother's engorged breast at 3 am"
"Out of the cradle, endlessly puking into my own hat."


October 11, 2006

Adrienne Rich Sniffed My Baby!

That about says it all: Adrienne Rich sniffed my baby. She requested to sniff my baby. She did!

Elliot and I met her today at a reception for her prior to a reading at Northwestern. There'd been a Q & A with students that I'd been invited to, but I didn't quite want to bring Elliot (he would have distracted me, if not everybody else). So Elliot and I just showed up for food.

So, we were at the reception. I'd thrust Sir Elliot into the welcoming arms of one of my girlfriends and was shoveling food into my mouth--delicious baklava. The crowd had thinned down, and Elliot began to rumble so he was handed back to me just as he made a noise loud enough to draw attention to himself. Adrienne Rich, small and elegant and elderly, was holding court in a chair on the other side of the room. She perked up and said--Oh! A Baby!

So, friends, we went over to introduce ourselves. I introduced Elliot to ADRIENNE RICH. She praised him, and I offered to let her hold him. She said she couldn't because her hands were too weak; she made a small eloquent gesture to indicate their arthritis. "But," she said, "I would love to sniff him. I love the smell of baby's heads...." And I held Elliot out like an offering, and she beathed him in. She squeezed his toes. She smiled. "Ah, yes," she said.

As my friend Joanne said, it was like being blessed by the pope.

And I agree. But how much better to receive a blessing from a small and gentle and steadfast woman, a radical lesbian feminist poet. It was so sweet to have that kind of benediction for my little boychild son.



In A Classroom
by Adrienne Rich

Talking of poetry, hauling the books
arm-full to the table where the heads
bend or gaze upward, listening, reading aloud,
talking of consonants, elision,
caught in the how, oblivious of why:
I look in your face, Jude,
neither frowning nor nodding,
opaque in the slant of dust-motes over the table:
a presence like a stone, if a stone were thinking
What I cannot say, is me. For that I came.

New Yorker article about childbirth

Short tour of some of the interesting history: Caesarean sections (illegal for most of history, and probably not used on Julius Caesar); forceps; the trend from home to hospital birth; Apgar scores.



There’s a paradox here. Ask most research physicians how a profession can advance, and they will talk about the model of “evidence-based medicine”—the idea that nothing ought to be introduced into practice unless it has been properly tested and proved effective by research centers, preferably through a double-blind, randomized controlled trial. But, in a 1978 ranking of medical specialties according to their use of hard evidence from randomized clinical trials, obstetrics came in last. Obstetricians did few randomized trials, and when they did they ignored the results. Careful studies have found that fetal heart monitors provide no added benefit over having nurses simply listen to the baby’s heart rate hourly. In fact, their use seems to increase unnecessary Cesarean sections, because slight abnormalities in the tracings make everyone nervous about waiting for vaginal delivery. Nonetheless, they are used in nearly all hospital deliveries. Forceps have virtually disappeared from the delivery wards, even though several studies have compared forceps delivery to Cesarean section and found no advantage for Cesarean section. (A few found that mothers actually did better with forceps.)

October 10, 2006

Deemed Useful

Notes for the benefit of future breeders. First in a series?

1. Little blankets, often called receiving blankets (not the larger blankets discussed earlier) are insanely handy. But only if they're absorbent flannel, which grabs spit-up milk. The slick satiny blankets let that stuff run right off onto your pants. Baby puke still smells like puke.

2. Observation: newborn baby doesn't like being laid down to have his diaper changed. It's disempowering. It makes his face red. Thus: putting newborns babies in things that involve pant legs is counterproductive. Pant legs are for walking; newborns don't walk. (Some baby clothes have pockets. Babies don't keep things in their pockets!) The system of elaborate snaps that's needed to furnish the illusion that your baby is about to amble off for a bipedal stroll in the park just about triples the time required to access that key item -- the diaper -- thus tripling a key quantity -- the baby's rage. Baby gowns are way, way faster. (Just as it says in the books, we change the diaper 10 to 15 times a day.) The onesy, despite our fond hopes, doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense at this age. It leaves their legs totally exposed, and so their feet turn blue. Rage builds, face turns red, etc., etc. So you just end up wrapping them in another layer (see item #1, receiving blankets), and then you might as well have put them in a gown in the first place.

3. Swaddling seems to work. You bind their little arms, and they can't gesticulate with them like they'd like to, so they give up and settle down. Sometimes.

4. Having a laundry machine on the same floor as all the mess is about the best thing ever. The yuppies are dead-on about this one.


No Blankies!

My off-handed remark about the restriction of blankies in contemporary baby-rearing has resulting in a bevy of comments and emails. But, friends, I do not lie: blankies are not currently kosher among the medical community . It is a great tragedy.

from the CDC website:

*Dress your infant in a sleeper or warm pajama instead of covering infant with a blanket.
* If you choose to cover your infant, ALWAYS make sure the blanket stays at or lower than the infant’s waist.
*NEVER place your infant on a sofa, couch, pillow, or waterbed.
*NEVER place your infant to sleep or to nap with any pillows, stuffed toys, bumper pads, comforters, quilts, or sheepskin.

It's a SIDS issue; there are also lots of warnings against having your baby sleep anywhere "soft." God forbid the baby have any comfortable sleep environment! Comfort=death trap, evidentally

But, never fear! Our baby gets lots of blankie time, just mostly during the day. And yes, ms AE: the elephant blankie especially is a great comfort. To me, as well as to Sir Elliot. New moms can have all the blankies they want. Lord knows I need them.


October 09, 2006


At the pediatrician's office today, Elliot weighed in at 8.15 oz. Said weight gain was pronounced "phenomenal" by the pediatrician, and he is not a man who is given to superlatives. So we are feeling pleased with ourselves around here! Yes we are.

The benefits of this weight gain are definitely showing, and not just in E's double chin. First and foremost, now that he is over 8 lbs he has the official go ahead to begin traveling in his baby bjorn. I am extremely pleased about this, as pushing a stroller makes me feel weirder than any other part of parenting thus far. As if this weren't enough, Elliot is definitely much more able to make eye contact. Also, a couple of times now when ready to eat, he's quelled his hunger by actually getting a fist into his mouth and fitfully sucking on it.* Clearly, he is exceedingly dextrous.

The next excitement for the week is that it is going to get cold; it might even snow. And if my primary new mother anxieties circle around milkmilkmilk, my secondary new mother anxieties circle around coldcoldcold. Because how do you know if a baby is cold? And what do you do about it if he is? I'm constantly adding or removing layers, and getting caught outside without a thick enough blanket, and dithering about what he should sleep in since babies aren't supposed to have blankets now and are those fleecy sleepsacks really warm enough? One hopes so.

The good news is that Elliot is pretty great. The feeding thing has been more or less miserable, and the cold thing I'm sure will be a nagging concern forever. But he's so nice and sweet spirited and attentive.

Just now he is waking and starting to rumble a bit. He sends his hellos.


*Julia, I know you will read this, and I must say for at least your sake that Elliot's fist-sucking always reminds me of Mary Rowlandson's puritan-era captivity narrative and her description of "slabbering" over a horse hoof when she has nothing else to eat.

October 06, 2006

Sarah's Day, Overheard

"I went to the store, and then I fed Elliot, then I got ready to cook the quiche, then I fed Elliot, and then I cooked the quiche, and then I fed Elliot, and then I delivered the quiche. And then I fed Elliot."

In other news, Elliot is going bald. He's losing his baby birth-hair in a way that suspiciously resembles male pattern baldness. It doesn't show up in the pictures, but it makes him look like an old man.


October 05, 2006

Birthday Address to Potential Parents

From an email to friends

Elliot is four weeks old! Huzzah!

Birthday message to you, if you have the childers in your future: steel yourself. Become hard like obsidian, and flexible like a reed. Empty your mind. Pay your bills. Clean your toilet. Lay up stores of frozen fruit, yogurt, and forms of protein (more so than when pregnant). Because you know what? At four weeks, our lives are still completely obliterated! I have to think carefully about how to schedule the viewing of a one-hour show on DVD! Someone emailed me to invite me to hear her perform music tonight, and I laughed out loud at my inbox! O yes.

I don't really like how people say, "O, you're expecting a baby? How exciting and/or fun. Don't expect any sleep, heh heh!" Whatever, jerk. Maybe my baby will sleep fine, OK? Maybe I can afford a Brazilian wet nurse. Shows what you know. It really reminds me of people who call out to you when you're walking your dog, "Hey, who's walking who?" ("Heh heh.") It's a sort of mild, standardized, ritualized schadenfreude that also has the advantage of giving semi-strangers something to say. And I'm OK with that in the abstract. It's always hard to know what to say.

But how I rage against the idea that the fix is in, and these comments (both of them) are actually dead on. And: how I love my sleep. (You know this.) How I protect its special curves and proportions against all encroachment. And how long, yes, how long it has been since I did not face the day with a baby hangover. Even on the nights when, thanks to grandparents, I do get 8 hours, I still wake up tired. Elliot drags my precious sleep to the altar like Isaac, but there is no angel to stop his hand. There is no angel!

And this doesn't begin, of course, to cover how Sarah must feel, but she'll have to speak to that herself. I wouldn't know how to begin.

Make no plans! No plans. You know how Daniel Burnham said, "Make no small plans"? Let me second that sentiment with my own candidate for Bartlett's: Making No Freaking Plans. None!

We finally got cable for the first time in our lives, which has been an amusing luxury. Meerkat Manor is awesome. Meerkats are a balm. Their little faces. Also, their use of scent-marking has given me new theories about how Ada behaves.

I also bought a used Tivo through craigslist, and that has been REALLY nice. The ability to pause the TV when the baby pukes on the dog is better than having the TV itself.

That's all I had to say.

October 04, 2006

Elliot the Gourmand

Here's the thing about Elliot: he's not a big eater. At least, he wasn't initially. What this has meant so far is a lot of extra work on our part.

We alluded to this previously, but here's the full story. When Elliot and Sarah first got started as a nursing pair, we were most concerned to make sure that Elliot was getting a good "latch". Fortunately, this was so. He seemed capable of creating some good suction and getting milk.

What we didn't realize until about a week after we came home from the hospital, and started having him weighed at the pediatrician, was that he was not gaining weight. (Interesting fact for baby novices: babies actually lose weight after they are born, and do not come back up to their birth weight until 10-14 days later.) The pediatrician didn't seem too worried yet, for the record. But this is the part of the story where we called the lactation consultant anyway. A lactation consultant is a kind of person we now regard extremely highly around here, because she was able to suss out very quickly that there was a clear problem. Despite his good latch, Elliot was getting only about an ounce of milk in 45 minutes of nursing, where he should have been getting about two ounces. (For you type A people out there who like to schedule things (AE, I'm looking at you), newborns eat 10-12 times a day, spaced regularly through each 24-hour period and yes, it takes 45 minutes or more. Do the math.) Elliot was not a strong sucker.

We immediately got a hospital-grade breast pump and began a regimen of nursing + bottle of 1 oz. expressed milk. The bottle, and all its little bits, and the cleaning of those bits, and the storing and measuring of the milk, etc. etc., adds some overhead to the whole process, and expressing milk also takes a lot of Sarah's time. And this had to happen for every . . . . feeding . . . . day and night. So that's when being Elliot's parents actually got hard.

One other thing about Elliot is that he tends to fall asleep amazingly quickly -- some would say instantly -- on getting a mouthful of milk from Sarah. One drop and he's out. This makes feeding him an incredibly frustrating exercise at times. Depending on the time of day, the phase of the moon, and other mysteries, Elliot may have to be awakened many times to get through one nursing session. (Babies quickly acclimate to your basic Guantanamo Bay wake-up tactics (bright lights, loud noises, soles of feet paddled, etc. -- we don't go beyond that because hey, we're the good guys, right?)), but they are deeply, constitutionally averse to being put down alone on a hard floor. They almost always come to their senses to protest if you put them on the floor. So that, of course, is just what you have to do to get Elliot to eat some more. Nurse, sleep, floor, repeat.

BUT. He did gain three ounces of weight in two days, as we previously chortled over in these pages. That was the start. Then he gained some more weight. This message today is to say that he is now 7 pounds 12 ounces. So from 6 lb 6 to 7 lb 14 in two weeks and two days, or 24 oz in 16 days. That is a lot, people. My Sarah is tired. And there is more news, which is that he saw a lactation consultant today, was weighed, and was seen to get 1.5 ounces of milk in about 25 minutes. It seems like the foie gras treatment is making him a more alert and strong little creature. Thus, he is now more wakeful, for longer periods of time, for more of the feedings of the day, huge swaths of sucking, which makes Sarah's quality of life go way up.

Now that he can eat better we can even begin scaling back the foie gras campaign. A little less pumping and one less bottle a day. After a few days, we can reevaluate, and maybe drop another bottle, and so on. And that's how we do it.


September 29, 2006

Someone posted this--someone I don't actually know--under one of the pictures of Elliot on flickr.

In that book which is my memory,
on the first page of the chapter
that is the day when I first met you,
appear the words,
"Here begins a new life."

-- Dante Alighieri, La Vita Nuova

afternoon tea


September 25, 2006

Weight Gain 4000

Elliot is now over 7 pounds. He gained 10 ounces this week.

The doctor said, "Are you feeding him quarters?"


Comfort Measures

In the Huichol tribe of Mexico, there's a tradition that "laboring mothers tie a string around their partners' testicles, yanking enthusiastically as each contraction peaks."

-- from Birth: The Surprising History of How We Are Born

September 24, 2006

Call us!

Hey there,

We wanted to just wave our arms, real big and enthusiastic like home-schooled kids do, and say: hello! We've been bad about returning phone calls and email -- in fact, it's phone bankruptcy at this point. We're going to have to wipe the slate clean, ask the forgiveness of our creditors, and start over. We like you, we're just a little groggy, that's all. And we can't find the phone unless it rings. We're ready to talk about stuff, even non-milk-related stuff. Come on and just . . . . phone moi, as Harry sings to Sally. Or is it her answering machine?

-sem and blwh

September 19, 2006

smoothie recipe

This is our working recipe at the moment.

1 cup Stonyfield farm whole milk yogurt (has 3g fiber)
half package of soft tofu (protein, iron, and completely undetectable)
1 or 2 tbsp wheat germ (fiber & iron, but can be bitter in large amounts)
1 or 2 bananas (2 makes it sweeter)
mess of berries from the freezer (Costco!)
in emergencies: half and half or ice cream ad libitum

If I have a slice of lemon or lime around, i'll squeeze it in to brighten up the berries.

This is a work in progress. Ideas and suggestions will be keenly scrutinized.

Also: does anyone have a recipe for a smoothie that involves peanut butter? We are huge fans of peanut butter and unsure how to make edible smoothies out of it.

Update -- faster:

Cup of plain yogurt (I've started making it myself -- it's really easy!)
A good, trusted egg (or two)
A heaping cereal bowl full of frozen berries, microwaved for 60-90 seconds

on Elliot's feet

from Operating Instructions, by Anne Lamott:

Sam is unbelievably pretty, with long, thin, Christlike feet. I told my friend Carpenter this and he said, "It's an often-difficult world out there, and it's good to have long, grippy feet."


September 18, 2006

got milk?

Operation Bulk the Plum is in day two of its execution. We are doing double-shift feedings, to try to fill him out pronto. Report from the field: since commencing ops, Elliot has already gained THREE (3) ounces in TWO (2) days. These are medically certified numbers -- Mom's thumb was not on the scale. Now, if my calculations are correct (tap tap tap), if we keep this up, he'll weigh as much as I do in four and a half years. Not bad! Not bad at all.

Needless to say, the regimen leaves Sarah a little depleted. Neighbors like to exclaim over "how trim [she] look[s]" so soon after the arrival of the baby. Sarah favors these types of comments with a wan smile, usually while rifling through the contents of the visitor's purse and other belongings, seeking any items with high caloric density, such as, oh, I don't know, a stick of butter. If she comes up with something viable, she underhands it to me, and I alley-oop it into the blender and turn it into a nutritious smoothie. My job is a simple one, really: run the blender; don't drop the butter; answer the phone. If people call and ask (bless them) "What should I bring over?", shout "CALORIES" and then say "thank you".

Kelly and Rachel, Bob and Barb, Peter and Launa, Katie C, Kara: Thank you.


September 12, 2006

Note on Photos

About the photos that we've posted over on my page at

I wanted to make a few small clarifications:

  • The flickr page removes the need for us to "send" photos to anyone. The photos are stored on flickr indefinitely. Anyone can see them, from any computer, forever.
  • If you would like to see a photo at a larger size, click the photo.
  • Want to see the picture even larger? Look in the right hand column of the page for the words "See different sizes". Click that.
  • If you want to save a photo to, say, make a print of it, go for the "original size" photo (quite large). That is the real, original photograph file. It is now on your computer. You just want to save that off, and take it to the drugstore.
  • As you may already know, to save a picture from a web page, you just right-click on it. There will be some kind of "save" option there.


September 11, 2006

Elliot's name, variously

"Riding their shaggy ponies of Norse extraction, dressed in an assortment of helmets and homemade armor, the Elliotts and their counterparts brought sword and musket to bear against their enemies with neither rest nor mercy. Even when England and Scotland were officially at peace, the raids continued."


-- Of English origin. Anglicization of Elijah or Eli. (The boy's name Elijah is of Hebrew origin, and its meaning is "the Lord is my God." From Eliyahu. Biblical: Elijah, one of the foremost prophets of Israel). Surname first used as a given name in modern Scotland. Elliott has 5 variant forms: Eliot, Eliott, Elliot, Elyot and Elyott.

-- Diminutive form of Elias

-- from, Elliot as a last name, entry from Dictionary of American Family Names:
1. English: from a Middle English personal name, Elyat, Elyt. This represents at least two Old English personal names which have fallen together: the male name A{dh}elgeat (composed of the elements a{dh}el ‘noble’ + Geat, a tribal name; see Jocelyn), and the female personal name A{dh}elg¯{dh} (composed of the elements a{dh}el ‘noble’ + g¯{dh} ‘battle’). The Middle English name seems also to have absorbed various other personal names of Old English or Continental Germanic origin, as for example Old English Ælfweald (see Ellwood).
2. English: from a pet form of Ellis.
3. Scottish: Anglicized form of the originally distinct Gaelic surname Elloch, Eloth, a topographic name from Gaelic eileach ‘dam’, ‘mound’, ‘bank’. Compare Eliot.

Scotland's Opinion
Eliott the surname is thought to derive from an Anglo-Saxon forename Elewald which means 'the elf ruler', although the name could also be a diminutive of the name Elias. After the Norman conquest the name occurs as a forename in the form Heliot. Earliest records of the surname include a William Elyot mentioned in the Assize Rolls for Somorset in 1257 and a William Eliot mentioned in the Subsidy Rolls for Sussex in 1327. It is thought that these south country Eliots have a surname which derived from Elias and that the Elliott families of the north were descended from an Elewald who lived in Cumberland in the year 1279. Until the fifteenth century the Elliott surname of the Anglo-Scottish border still occasionally occured in the form Elwald or Elwold. Spellings were inconsistent and other forms including Elwuad, Elwat, Elwood, Eluat, Eluott, Elioat and Elwand are recorded. Even today there are at least seventy derivatives of the surname including four different spellings of the basic name which are Eliot, Eliott, Eliot and Elliott. The last spelling is said to be frowned upon by the Scottish border Eliotts where according to an old rhyme:

The double L and single T
Descend from Minto and Wolflee,
The double T and single L
Mark the old race in Stobs that dwell,
The single L and single T
The Eliots of St Germains be,
But double T and double LL
Who they are nobody can tell.

And here is some more from the "shaggy ponies" author cited above:

"Some have speculated that Elwald came from Eld-wealh, which means in Anglo-Saxon "Old Welshman" - or "Old Foreigner". A Brythonic Celt would seem a foreigner to a Saxon. But so might a Sarmatian. In fact, there are place names in Ribchester, Lancashire, where the Sarmatians are known to have settled, that are derived from the word "wealh", and are thought to refer to the original Romanized inhabitants. Another derivation of Elliott is Elget - or "Old Gete". Getae and Getes were terms used in antiquity for eastern barbarian tribes like, respectively, the Thracians and Dacians, who served in large numbers at Birdoswald Fort, and the Indo-Iranians. Even if one cedes Eld-wealh and Elget to Roman auxiliaries, other Elliotts could still be Welshman, as some say the name comes from "Heliat", which is Welsh for "huntsman" or "pursuer".

"Finally, the Elliott name could have arisen independently in many different families from the name "Elias", which means "The Lord is God". Unrelated English parents could have given the diminutive of "Elias" - "Elyat" or "Elyt" - to their sons. When those sons grew to manhood, they may have passed their Christian name as a surname on to their children. "Eloth" itself could refer to "Elath", the name of a port city on the Red Sea that appears in the Bible. In this form, too, the name Elliott could have arisen in families that had nothing in common beyond a shared religion."

The China Connection
Not quite sure what this might actually mean, but here is a series of symbols purporting to be the "Chinese name for Elliot" ( and also a "transliteration into Mandarin" ( Thank you, Internet.

September 09, 2006

in sum

He was born September 7, 2006, at 6:39 am, in Oak Park, Illinois.
6 lbs 8 oz, 19 1/2 inches
Blue eyes, some short dark hair.

And he is doing GREAT.

Jeffrey is a name from Sarah's family; Walter is from Brandon's. Elliot is his own name.

Here is a brief synopsis of his hasty entrance into the world:

11:00 pm, Sept. 6: Brandon and Sarah go to bed, both pretty tuckered out. (Sarah had written "exhausted" here, but Brandon objects, wanting to save that word for special occasions. Like, oh, I don't know, TODAY.) They lie in bed re-reading all their "The Stages of Labor" materials from childbirth class. They agree they are both much too tired to go into labor, a long, long process akin to a marathon, something you want to go into refreshed. Brandon is coming down with a cold, and puts in a formal request: "I'm getting sick. Please don't give birth to my child tonight." Sarah says this seems like a reasonable request. But aha: Brandon has forgotten to check with the person in charge.

12:13 am: Sarah wakes up having contractions; not too bad. Flops around and winces for a while. Moves to couch so as to not wake up Brandon.

4:00 am: Sarah wakes up Brandon, who gets her into a warm bath. Judging from the noises produced there, he figures out two things: it's probably not false labor, and it's probably time to seek professional help. He calls Gail, the midwife, who says sure, let's all go to the hospital. He gathers the baggage.

5:00: Everybody except Ada leaves for hospital. Ada complains.

5:10: We stop at McDonald's because Sarah wants a vanilla milkshake. The milkshake machine, tragically, is broken, which gives Sarah a contraction. She has a large Sprite instead.

5:45 Arrive at hospital.

5:55: Sarah, on gurney, says "I can feel the head!" Now it's the nurses who are making the noises.

6:39 am: Elliot is born! Sarah catches him herself and flops him up on her chest. He is perfect.

To hear more about our adventures (ie: having a contraction in the alley in front of some strange man, Brandon's awesome hospital packing skills, the full moon that lit the way to the hospital, Sarah kicking the labor nurse, and the exciting details of the pushing itself) you should call us, or just come over (call first). It's a good time for a party; there are lots of grandparents around. Barb says that a ratio of 6 adults to one infant is about right.

Love from:
Brandon, Sarah, Elliot, Ada (with reservations), and all the rest of the family,

September 06, 2006

Overheard on Loyola Beach

dog owner/cross-dresser: "When are you due, girl?"

s.e.m.:  "Today."

dog owner/cross-dresser:  "Walk it on down, honey.  Walk it on down."

September 05, 2006

Place your bets

So, last weekend I was most excellently feted by all my Chicago girlfriends, who showered me with delicious foods and books and good wishes and all sorts of things. I cannot say enough how perfect the whole day was. One of its happy side effects was that Ms Kati Phillips took it upon herself to coordinate a birth-day "pool"--because what's a shower good for, if it's not a little gambling? Gambling goes great with quiche and cupcakes.

For posterity, I place the ladeez' bets here:

Sept. 4, 1 a.m., Girl -- Kate
Sept. 5, 2:37 a.m., Girl -- Kara
Sept. 8, 5:44 a.m., Boy -- Cassandra
Sept. 8, 9:31 a.m., Boy -- Liz
Sept. 8, 2:30 p.m., Girl -- Deana
Sept. 9, 3 a.m., Girl -- Sarah B.
Sept. 9, 4 p.m., Girl -- Anna
Sept. 9, 9:09 p.m., Boy -- Katy
Sept. 12, 12 a.m., Boy -- Kati P.
Sept. 13, 12:21 p.m., Boy -- Catherine
Sept. 13, 1:13 p.m., Boy -- Kasey

After the fact, Brandon's father Peter also wanted to weigh in: He bets Sept. 10, 7:19 AM, Girl.

My basic thought is that having your own ego (and, in the case of the original betters, your hard-earned dollars) invested in an event will make you think about it more--and thus, I encourage any and all to stake a claim to a date, time and gender! Because doing so might make you think more about me! And that is what I am all about these days: being the center of attention. Being attended to makes the swollen fingers and toes soooo much easier to tolerate.


August 22, 2006

Starting a blog for the little plum

Hi! We're starting this webpage where we can post pictures and news about our new friend, someone whose name and gender we don't know yet, someone we generally refer to as the Plum or the Little Plum.

Wanting to give our family, extended family, overextended family, friends, and Best Beloveds NEWS about how Sarah's pregnancy is going, we have sent out occasional emails to everybody. Or rather, we tried to send emails to everybody, but we only sent them to some people, because it's hard to send email to "everybody". (It takes real grit to send an email to every single person in your address book, and after you've done it, you don't feel quite right with the world. You ask yourself: have I spammed?)

SO. We're circumventing all of that. We don't want to spam anyone, we just want to deliver the goods to the people who are interested in the goods. And we are inspired by the example of Mark & Abbey's successful travelogue from South America.

The address of this page is

-s.e.m and b.l.w.h.


August 18


Update, good news. We were, as you might know, concerned over the last few weeks that the baby was still breech. In the U.S., doctors (and even midwives) won't even try to deliver a breech baby; they simply schedule a c-section at 39 weeks. Obviously, this was not our ideal choice. So as we entered the last few weeks of the pregnancy, we were increasingly anxious for the little plum to hurry up and turn over.

Sarah faithfully went through a regimen of (a) chiropractice sessions designed to help stubborn plums turn (b) a bizarre acupressure/aromatherapy technique know as "moxibustion" (c) a fair amount of swimming and wading and sloshing around (d) dangling from things (e.g. the side of the bed, or soft chairs.) She did not, as some sources suggested, hang the pictures upside down on our walls, or put a radio down her pants and encourage the baby to "go toward the sound". The flashlight technique (designed along similar lines) was RIGHT OUT.

Then, last Friday night, she (and in some measure, I) was up much of the night with extreme back pain and vomiting. The pain went away; we had a good weekend. Celebrating my birthday early, we went sailing on Lake Michigan for the first time, and had a nice dinner with a bunch of good friends, including TJ, who came in from out of town.

Today: midwife appointment. After some poking and prodding, and some mutterings about how "not sure there was a . . . .limb . . . there before" and "well, that's certainly round" and "well, if that's that, then what's this?", it was concluded that the baby had -- indeed -- turned HEAD DOWN. (As in the excellent novel "Ender's Game", "The other team's gate is DOWN.") Success!

So was the night of back pain related to the baby moving into a new position? It seems possible. Sarah had had another chiropractice session that same day. She had also swum and waded and sloshed around in a bouncy fashion (I know, because I was there). But we'll never know for sure; maybe the baby just turned on its own because it is SMART. In any case, now that the passenger seems to be heading for the exit, everyone think downward thoughts. In a few weeks, we'll get to see the results!