April 29, 2007

Losing the battle, and pondering the relationship of the battle to the war

So you know how we are at war with this country, Iraq, and even though we are bigger and stronger and more technologically developed and so on, we still cannot seem to...win? This perplexes people. Our fine president seems to have this "bigger and stronger=winning" attitude, and apparently seems also to think that the solution to the not-winning problem is a greater use of our bigger-and-stronger-ness .

Well. I just think this means that George wasn't very activily involved in parenting when his girls were infants. Because let me tell you: as the parent of an infant, I am forced to realize every day that being bigger and stronger...well, it's nice. But it only gets you so far.

Okay, so: what I am thinking about here is that one of the ongoing issues of parenting is how to use your strength (one could also say that this is an ongoing issue of being the last remaining global superpower, but I'm going to stop with the foreign policy analysis now). You want your child to do something that s/he does not want to do. What does it mean to make them do it? Can you, even?

Tonight Elliot would not eat his dinner. Would not. We tried every food. We tried distracting with every toy. We tried multiple eating positions. And he was sort of overtired and strung out and was just not going to eat. He just sat there, whining, but with his mouth closed. And we were like: open your mouth, child! He didn't. Basically, he won his own little war of resistance. No solid food went down that gullet, and there was just nothing we could do about it.

As discipline problems go, I realize this is pretty minor (it's not like it involves car keys or a bad boyfriend or something). But it's very interesting! Because...you know, we could maybe pry his mouth open, or force feed him or something maybe. We wanted him to do a physical thing--eat--and we are physically stronger and more adept. But it didn't matter. Given that we were not willing to hurt him, all of our grand adultness was useless in the face of his small infant will.

Our powers as adults can help us raise our children, but given that what we want is indeed to raise them rather than wring their little necks (usually), in fact it is our children's lack of power (to reason, to defend themselves) that often makes them the "winner" in our parenting wars. Since we are not going to hurt them, at some point they are just going to do what they want to do.*

Which, I guess, is old news to parents (if not to the pentagon).** There's some sort of balance between diplomacy and acquiescence and tough love, and you just have to get to know your child really well and...figure it out.

*Which actually, now that I think about it, gives me a new perpsective on how and why sometimes people do hurt their children. You have all these powers...and you really want to use them. It's so frustrating to have so many useless, useless tools, and I suspect that the drive to make your physical superiority useful is what makes parents do such awful things.

**I wonder how our iraq policy would change if we stopped talking about winning the war and started talking about "raising" iraq, in a parenting sense? If we just admit that we're not going to nuke them, because we really do want the best for them, and so we are just going to have to try a different parenting strategy now?

An Oration

Perhaps he is using that hair band to illustrate some point about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes or something. I don't rightly know.

A boy and his blocks*

*Blocks provided by the muy awesome neighbor, Kate R.

April 24, 2007

Infant Idol


Allright dog. Yo. Allright, yo, dog, check it out: I don't know, dog. I mean...I gotta keep it real, dog, and, it just wasn't working for me today. It was kinda whiny. I mean, from where I was sitting, it sounded like you just sat in the play pen and whined for, like, 5 minutes solid, like whining for cereal or something. But then you wouldn't eat the cereal! I don't know, dog, cuz you were clearly hungry. I don't know, dog. I mean, you got that big ol' voice there, but it just. . . there just wasn't any "yo" factor. Couple of pitch problems in the middle there . . . I don't know, Paula, what did you think?


You're just such a . . . such a beautiful baby. It's just fun to watch you, and each week, you know, you do something new, you bring something new to the show. You like being a baby, and that really shows. I think in other weeks you might have been . . . .a . . . .a better baby . . . .but really, I love babies.


Well I'm sorry, but that was completely ridiculous.

[Boos from gallery.]

No look! I'm sorry. Sorry! Excuse me! You're a nice guy, you're very small, the ladies like you, but from where we're sitting it just sounded like screaming! Complete screaming. And I couldn't understand the words at all. Couldn't understand a single word.

April 23, 2007

"our way to fall"

There's this blog I read sometimes--the author was trying to get pregnant the same time we were--and she had a post recently about something a friend and I had just been talking about: the odd process of falling in love with your baby.

Now, let me just put this out there, for the record: I had a truly amazing birth experience. It was everything I wanted, and everything that is supposed to promote mother-child bonding. I had no drugs. I pushed Elliot from my body into my own two waiting hands, and without anyone telling me to I pulled him immediately onto my chest and kept him there while he blinked and cried and was introduced to the world. It was very intense. And I felt many things, there, with my new baby on my chest: adrenaline and awe and power. But I wouldn't exactly say that an overflow of "love" was one of those things. More, a sense of...confusion. "This baby?" I thought, "This one is mine? This is my child?"

My friend Michelle has a beautiful quotation on her blog from the poet Rumi, about how when you meet someone you love it feels like you've always known them. The Whitman poem "To a Stranger," which was read at our wedding, works along similar lines. Recognition, I think is very important to love: it's why we love people more the more we know them (this is sort of what Katie talks about in the blog post I mentioned). And when Elliot was first born...I just didn't really recognize him. He didn't really even look like himself, let alone like Brandon or I, and neither did he look like some platonic "my baby" vision I might have had in my mind. He was a small, red, crying thing. I wanted to take care of him, in the way that of course you want to take care of something fragile and new, but I didn't have a wash of love, or a sense of immediate kinship.

What I did have, and I feel lucky in this, is a strong sense of faith. I had a lot of faith that I would come to recognize this little mystery baby I'd pulled to my chest, and that as that process of recognition happened, I would love him deeply and truly and in a way that would make him know that in everything he did he "moved through realms of love," as ee cummings wrote.

I had this faith because I myself am deeply loved by my family, and because I know that love grows, through the experience of care and because of the commitment of time. And I knew I was willing to give those things, wholeheartedly, and from the beginning. It's only now that I can look back at the blur of those first few weeks, when a couple of things went wrong and when we were very exhausted, and see that in my complete zeal to do what was best for Elliot even if it killed me--I was already loving him, even though I didn't feel that in a completely emotional way at the time. I remember one late night in that blur, saying weepily to brandon, "I think I'm really starting to love him." But I was already loving him, just in a visceral, drag yourself out of bed kind of way. In the kind of way that made my body know, without my mind being told, to pull him onto my chest, because he belonged there.

Anyway, this seems worth saying to me because there's a lot of pressure on new parents--new mothers, particularly--to have sort of formulated emotional experiences, and I think it's good to have a lot of people share their experiences so that we all know there are many roads of mothering, but most of them travel to a place we can recognize as a loving relationship. So this is my story. It's made me realize that maybe I'm just not a "love at first sight" kind of girl...but I'm a very loving girl, all the same. I love Elliot so much. I just go around thinking about it--how great he is, and how much I love him--all the time.

Relatedly, last night I was singing to Elliot the song from The King and I, "Getting to know you," which ever since Elliot was born has seemed like a great song about parenting. Last night I was feeling sort of down and tired, and really hoping that I had it in me to do a good job at this whole parenting thing. And a line really jumped out at me from the song:

Getting to know you
Getting to know all about you
Getting to like you
Getting to hope you like me!

And boy: I realized that I really hope Elliot likes me. I'm sure he will--that's not my point, really--but isn't it funny? one of intense emotional parts of parenting I hadn't really anticipated was this strong sense of wanting my love to be, to some measure, returned. I wouldn't want Elliot to love me the way I love him; that's not his job. But still, I just...really am getting to hope he likes me, as the song says, "Day by day."

April 18, 2007

"Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command"

It is funny, I find, to be on the other side of that Bob Dylan lyric. Like most people, I so strongly identify with being part of the youth, part of the now, part of the future. One of the oddest things about being a parent is feeling that I've shifted to the other side of some continental divide. Especially since I live in the land of perpetual youth known as graduate school, I spend most of my time with the sense that my life is still before me, with the major decisions yet unmade. And that's true, in some important ways; it's not like i'm old and dried, here, with my half-done dissertation and my ponytail. But still: Elliot has a future that is not mine . It is very literally beyond my command; I won't be around for it all.

I think one of the most important challenges of parenting will be to learn to be glad about this. I think that I am doing okay so far (and it helps here that I have good role models in both my parents and my parents-in-law). It's a hard thing to balance living in the now with your kid--really loving who they are--with also being excited that they are giving that self up all the time, to be a new and different person.

It's so easy to get attached to what you can't keep. In a lot of women's writing, watching your child grow up is sort of equated with a weird fall from Eden: it's like there was this perfect moment when your child was first put in your arms, and everything else is a lesser bond, a sadder state of affairs. And this is a dangerous emotional road to follow, because if you follow it too long you can end up, as my mother-in-law once said, with a thirty year old "still sucking at your hind-teat." Which...well. You can't argue with that.

Still: even my early encounters with a growing child make me realize that growth often feels like loss. I'm sure this only gets harder.

Anyway, just reflecting here...there's lots to say. Also let me pass along my two mantras which (along with the hind-teat comment) are what I am thus far trying to keep in mind as I ponder all this. First, my Grams, who is a saint on earth, is always so joyful about parenting. I was talking to her recently--she's 89--and she says that for her watching her kids grow was more exciting all the time. "Even still!" she says. "Even now!"

Second, there is a wonderful Sweet Honey in the Rock lullabye, the lyrics of which I just learned are from Kahil Gilbran's The Prophet (so...okay, I liked them better when I thought they were written by a wise old woman, but whatever). They help me remember that Elliot's growth is not really about me, at all, however poignantly I might feel it. It's about his right to his own freedom, and that is a good and happy thing.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts.
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams.


Elliot has teeth. Two of them! Kindof. I hadn't noticed them, but this morning Elliot was chewing on Brandon's finger and Brandon said, "....um...hey...can you...feel his mouth?" And I did, and confirmed that there are two emergent teeth, which are just barely through the gums. You can even see them, if you work really hard to watch while Elliot periodically opens wide his mouth.

This is exciting, because its exciting to have a new sign of his awesome growingness. And it's also exciting because it explains the runny nose he's had the last couple of days, and his comparative grumpiness. But also I will confess to being a little put out. His sweet toothless grins! I shall miss them.

Lately I have had the sense of Elliot "peaking," as Catherine Newman wrote of her baby--of Elliot being at the peak of a particular phase of his infant life. He's been sturdy and friendly and safe. And it seems that is true, that he has been at a peak, and that now we're over the crest of the hill and ready to embark on the next higher mountain, where there is crawling and biting and all sorts of new adventures. Mostly I'm excited. But a little nervous, and a little sad, too.

April 13, 2007

Manual Dexterity

His motor skills are improving. He also knows when he's being laughed at.

Come and have a bathe!

April 12, 2007

Here's what's fun!

Here's what's fun: google image searches. They are FASCINATING. For instance! If you do a google image search for the word "mother," you will find two images, on the first page of search results, for Mother Teresa.

But you will get three images of Angelina Jolie, though oddly, all of those images are of Angelina with her own mother, and none of them are of Angelina looking hott with a newly-adopted third-world child, which is how I myself like to imagine Angelina Jolie.

Anyway, you may have noticed that motherhood makes women a little crazy? If someone asked me why, I would tell them to do this google image search. WE ARE CRAZY BECAUSE WE CANNOT LIVE UP TO MOTHER TERESA! OR ANGELINA JOLIE! FOR CRAP'S SAKE!

PS: it is also interesting, and upsetting, and NOT WORK APPROPRIATE, to do a google image search for "housewife." Oy vey.

April 11, 2007

Velveteen Rabbit Redux

. . . B here . . . the Velveteen Rabbit quote makes me remember how disturbing this story was to me as a child, and I realize now perhaps why that is (while at the same time adults seemed to quite like it).

Clearly, the story makes you unable to ignore how the beloved toy is slowly coming apart, more or less voluntarily sacrificing itself for the love of this boy. This is, by itself, fairly hard to take. But as this quote makes so clear, what's even harder to think about is how this rabbit, in its devotion, is actually a proxy for a loving parent. The story asks you to think about the boy from that perspective: through the eyes of his parent.

To read a story from the perspective of a dying protagonist is to entertain the idea of yourself dying -- always a wrench. To read a story in which a parent dies is to think about your own parents dying. The Velveteen Rabbit story combines both of these into one perspective.

S: [sarah weighs in: let's do this conversationally!] so then, the story describes the way in which parenthood/realness are both "about" death; about the inevitability of mortality. Having children puts you in the stage of life that is closer to the reality of death.

Of course, in the novel (if I remember, it's been a long time) the rabbit is explicitly *not* the parents, who DO NOT stay with the sick child, and who are the ones who burn the bunny.]

B: Right, the rabbit is not literally the parent -- the boy has parents. But, as so often in these kinds of stories (cf. Harry Potter, Rudyard Kipling, the Dark is Rising, Weetzie Bat, and just about everything else), the literal parents are absent, unfeeling, or otherwise not worth worrying about for purposes of what's important to the story. Basically, they serve as formal placeholders, while the engine of feeling that actually drives the plot (even if those feelings are, essentially, parental feelings) is located somewhere else. That just seems to be something about how child-stories function, don't you think? They are allergic to literal parent/child relationships.**

P.S. The Rabbit doesn't get burned. His fate is stranger than that, and just as tragic but in a different way:
While awaiting the bonfire in which the Velveteen Rabbit will be burned, the Rabbit cries a real tear. This tear brings forth the Nursery Magic Fairy. The Rabbit thinks he was real before, but the fairy tells him he was only real to the boy. She flies him to the woods, where he realizes that he is a real rabbit at last and runs to join the other rabbits in the wild.

The subsequent spring, the boy sees the Rabbit hopping in the wild and thinks he looks like his old Velveteen Rabbit, but he never knows that it actually was.(wikipedia)

The rabbit is not killed, but transmuted into a different plane of existence, a different kind of story. He is still "alive", but alive in the way "real" rabbits are: they don't talk to us, let alone love us. They are not our toys. Having to realize this -- having the story lead us on a path back to the actual world in which animals are alien to us -- is one more reason never to tell this story to children!. ;-)

** One exception I can think of: Danny the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl

Quotation from a book I really didn't like as a child but which, taken out of context, seems pretty right on

"When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real. It doesn't happen all at once. You become. It takes a long time. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby."

Margery Williams
The Velveteen Rabbit

April 10, 2007

Doing much better!

Many of you have been so sweet, asking about Ada, who happily is doing muchbetter.

As you can see she is now home, sleeping peacably on the couch. She lost three pounds over the weekend, and had to have a big patch on one paw shaved so they could insert the IV (this looks completely tragic but doesn't seem to hurt), but other than that seems pretty normal. She is hungry and happy to see us, and spent all last night curled up as close as she could get to Brandon. It seems she is glad to be home.

April 09, 2007

Can I tell you how much I love this photo?

King of the high chair!

He looks so joyful and so ridiculous, like a muppet. Like Fozzie the Bear.

Grown-up Town

Well, friends: we live in grown-up town, now. When it's Saturday night and you've just finished putting to sleep your seven-month old and then cleaned up some diarrhea left on the bathroom floor by your dog, and when all you want to do is go to sleep because it's 9 o'clock already, dammit, which (in your grown-up mind) is pretty much bedtime and then you have to make the call about whether or not to take your dog to the emergency clinic because she's just started to vomit something that may or may not be blood, and when no one swoops in to help you clean up the poo or to make the food you promised to take to Easter brunch the next morning: well, then you live in grown-up town.

We've been here a while, really. Not much new. And it's not like we're pioneers, or something: we have a lot of friends who are long-time residents of grown-up town. Compared to them, we are novices: compared to a lot of people, our little trials might not seem to be in the grown-up town zipcode. But our weekend seemed pretty grown-up town to us. This morning, having moved Ada from the emergency vet to the regular vet and gotten Elliot dropped off at daycare, we were like: whew! We are the grown ups! The ones who take care of the creatures! That's us, there, doing the jobs.

April 08, 2007

Rough Weekend

The parental units are tired and worn. Ada is sick -- some gross GI thing that has nasty stuff coming out both ends-- two trips to the pet hospital this weekend. She'll be okay, but will also be there all night tonight, on an IV. Elliot slept right through a miserable Saturday night vigil and is swinging like a champ.

It was especially nice that he let us all take a nap sunday afternoon: very sweet. MUCH needed.

(Note from Sarah: kudos to Mark, who came over Saturday afternoon to babysit so B and I could do something fun. Our something fun was that we: napped.)

April 05, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mimi!

We would just like to take a moment to wish a Happy Birthday to Elliot's Mimi, Barbara. We love you, Mama/Mimi! Thank you for being so good to us, all the time.

a thousand smooches,
sarah, brandon, elliot, and ada


This video shows Elliot's
  • affection for this afghan that was knitted by his Grams. It comes in for lots of whacking, tugging, and gnawing.
  • incipient sense of balance -- he's unsteady, he's precarious, his roundy head is simply too big for the delicate machinery of his neckparts . . . but sometimes he'll surprise by staying aloft for ages
  • role as a keen social observer -- keen enough, anyway, to be confused here. At the time, I think I was moseying around getting dressed, going in and out of the room looking for my shoes. Sarah was standing there filming him, but ignoring the fact that I was clearly up to something interesting. That seems to bother him -- he's not quite sure what to pay attention to. His eyes cut back and forth between us.
  • dry wit -- he sums it all up at the end

Emma Explains it all

Emma, my six-year-old cousin, has a lot of clarity. This is her assessment of Elliot's situation.

(note for the faint-hearted: it looks like Elliot is going to keel over, but I promise we catch him every time).