May 31, 2007

more news

Yesterday, Elliot first ate cheerios. I feel this is a real landmark, because how do you get through the toddler years without cheerios? Elliot ate a lot of them, and then ate too many at once and sort of choked, and then puked them all up on my friend Shayna's rug. So our first cheerios encounter wasn't I guess a complete success, but I think we're on the upward trail here.

(In passing, I had never realized until Shayna pointed it out to me why it is cheerios that are the first chewable food of so many babies: cheerios have holes. So babies can't choke on them! Even if they get stuck in a baby's throat, the baby can still breath. It is pure genius; I'd never realized.)

Anyway, the other first of the day is more romantic: it's Elliot's first Blue Moon. Since a luminous and large full moon shined on us the whole way to the hospital the night Elliot was born, we always think of the full moon as Elliot's moon--this will be his tenth. And my friend Kate just called to leave a message to say that she was thinking of us because it was a blue moon--I hadn't realized--and she wanted to wish him a happy first. So nice!

Happy first blue moon, Elliot. We're glad you are here, cheerio-puke and all.

May 30, 2007

Family Milestone

Friends: Elliot is now a fan. Of the Cubs, of course. My folks were in town for the weekend, and Mama got us all tickets to go to the game last night. It tells you something about our family that the only two full-price/new items my mother has gotten for Elliot are his "Mama said Vote for Obama" onesie and his Cubs sleeper. Around here, we like to start the process of indoctrination early.

I was a little wary of the game, and had conceeded ahead of time only to allowing Elliot to stay for the first couple of innings, which would have gotten him home only moderately past his bed time. But it was sort of sweet and hilarious to have him there. We all agreed that it was probably the single most stimulating experience of his life; actually, it was probably more stimulating than the rest of his life put together. So many faces! So many Big Noises! It was thrilling. So thrilling, in fact, that he completely zonked out in my mama's arms at about the top of the fourth. So we ended up staying most of the game...he was peaceful, and we were all kinda in to it, even though the cubs had their usually upsetting number of errors and bullpen issues. Ah, the cubs.

In other news, it was a really exciting weekend, movement-wise. I feel like he learned some new "going forward" technique every couple of hours or so. I mean, really: I went to run an errand on Sunday, and by the time I came back he'd perfected a whole new crab walk technique. So he was really making progress Sunday, but by Monday he'd gotten interested in a new strategy of "walking" on both hands and both feet, like a little Gollum, which was clearly both more advanced and less effective as a walking strategy. So we'll see where we go from here. Also, this morning when I went to fetch him from his crib (he slept awfully well, post cubs) he was sitting up in his crib. So, evidently he can do that now! Sit up from a lying position, that is. But I have yet to see him do it in person.

May 25, 2007

Forward Motion

Just a quick update, friends, to let you know that we're making some progress on the movement front--namely, we are now able to move forward. A little. Slowly.

Elliot isn't yet crawling, but he's figuring out these clever and peculiar little ways to get around. Before when he would push with his arms he would only go backwards. But now he can sort of pull himself along, or use his arms as sort of crutches while he swings his butt forwards. It's fascinating.

I was thinking about this after mom's group on Wednesday: all of our babies have such different styles of movement. Before having a baby I sort of thought that there was a natural progression from sitting to crawling to walking, but I'm realize more and more how individual and almost accidental these steps actually are. Each little babe has to reinvent the wheel, as it were, when it comes to their own personal means of transportation. There are no instructions for them to read.

It keeps reminding me of how sometimes in speech class in high school you have to give someone instructions how to do something simple, like make chocolate chip cookies, with the caveat being that your student can only do exactly what you tell them to do, and nothing more. So you have to spell it out for them. You can't just say "add the chocolate chips." You have to say, "move your hand to the spoon. open your fingers. put your fingers around the soon. close your fingers...." and so on.

So with Elliot--he's kind of in this stage, except that he has to make up the instructions himself, and the whole idea of step one ("move your hand to...wherever you want it to go") is already a big accomplishment. Part of me thought he'd be crawling by now, since he's clearly been wanting to for weeks. But I guess the surprise is not that he's going so slowly. The surprise is that any of us every learn to get anywhere at all.

May 23, 2007

So this is summer.

To Summer

O thou who passest thro' our valleys in
Thy strength, curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat
That flames from their large nostrils! thou, O Summer,
Oft pitched'st here thy golden tent, and oft
Beneath our oaks hast slept, while we beheld
With joy thy ruddy limbs and flourishing hair.
Beneath our thickest shades we oft have heard
Thy voice, when noon upon his fervid car
Rode o'er the deep of heaven; beside our springs
Sit down, and in our mossy valleys, on
Some bank beside a river clear, throw thy
Silk draperies off, and rush into the stream:
Our valleys love the Summer in his pride.

Our bards are fam'd who strike the silver wire:
Our youth are bolder than the southern swains:
Our maidens fairer in the sprightly dance:
We lack not songs, nor instruments of joy,
Nor echoes sweet, nor waters clear as heaven,
Nor laurel wreaths against the sultry heat.
--Wm. Blake

May 22, 2007

Not such great heights

As an appropropriate addendum to B's post of Sunday: falling hurts. NOT (o, do not worry) that Elliot has gone and done something ridiciulous like falling off a porch.* But he did, the other day, fall from the great height of about eight inches which I would guess is about the distance from his nose to the ground when he is lurching around in his not-quite-yet-crawling way. All babies in this phase face-plant pretty often, and I think as a parent you just sort of have to make your peace with the sound of your baby's face hitting the floor, because it just happens all the time and if you don't let them try than they're never going to learn to crawl. My project lately has been to learn to try and stiffle my own gasp of horror every time Elliot falls--usually, if you don't respond, they don't either.

But anyway, really: Elliot was lurping around and he fell on his little face, and despite the short distance of the fall he managed to work up enough momentum that he actually gave himself a bloody nose. A bloody nose! On my baby.

Brandon and I spent the rest of the morning pretty much in recovery--patting each other on the back and sighing deeply. Elliot, I'm happy to say, didn't seem to really notice.

*My mama points out that I was a real pro at this whole falling business, and at least twice in my infancy didn't so much "fall" as "leap joyfully into the air" from the top step of a flight of stairs. To which I say: Oh, Mama. I am so sorry.

May 20, 2007


I remember a few years ago there was a news (read: tabloid) story about Michael Jackson dangling a child (his child?) out of a high window. I'm fuzzy on the details, partly because, who cares? If Michael Jackson is a little reckless in how he plays with his children, why spill ink to tell me this.

Now, we live on the top floor of a typical Chicago 3-story brick building. We have a back porch and a set of back stairs. Over the railing of our back porch -- maybe 30 feet down -- is concrete patio.

Sarah and I have both thought about what this means for the small person of Elliot. A lot. So vivid are these thoughts, actually, that by an unspoken rule we usually avoid taking Elliot down the the back stairs at all, because to even walk down those stairs while carrying him invokes the nonzero probability of tripping or slipping. And this, in turn, brings with it the terrible possibility of his body hurtling toward the concrete. It cannot be borne.

This vision actually extends its grip to the indoors. Whenever anyone holding my son moves toward our back door, to do some innocent thing like inspect a passing songbird, I want to grab them by the hem and say -- or I guess I sort of DO say -- something like "Hey, not sure if you were going to go out on the back patio or not, but if you were, and if you were taking Elliot with you, try to remember to stay really far away from the edge, OK. Or you know what? Maybe I'll just take him. Maybe I'll just go ahead and take him back now. Thanks!"

{Here I clasp Elliot to my bosom, and we flee.}

As I woke up this morning, I heard Sarah opening a window somewhere in the house. And, as opening windows do, it caused me to think about where the boy was, and if he was safe. And the Michael Jackson thing crossed my mind for some reason.

As I got out of bed to confirm with my own sleep-crusty eyes that Elliot was on firm ground, I realized two things:
  1. that there is an elemental connection between us. He is burrowed down into me. There's no part of me that can let him fall.

  2. if that really was Michael Jackson's own child dangling in the empty air, then Michael Jackson is far crazier than anyone had supposed

May 17, 2007

The Sea is Calm To-Night

Just now I am reading The Known World, by Edward P. Jones, and it is very interesting; historical fiction set in the antebellum south, about slavery. It's not your average book about slavery, but that's beyond my immediate point. My immediate point is that currently in both my work and play reading I have been thinking about life as a slave... a lot.

And in the midst of all this thinking (and this is a little meta, and I'm sorry about that--don't mean to be grandiose), tonight I was in the other room while Brandon was singing a makeshift version of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." Brandon's version was not actually about heaven and a chariot, but rather about how great it is to suck your own toes (which is indeed the kind of thing that, if your child does it joyfully enough and often enough, moves you to song). But somehow these lines, which I have heard and sung my whole life, clicked in my mind in a whole new way:

Well, if you get to heaven before I do
(Comin' for to carry me home)
Tell all of my friends that I'm comin' too
(comin' for to carry me home).

And I just felt so sad: so sad for all the people in the world, in the history of the world, whose lives were threatened at every moment by permanent separation. In the novel I'm reading, slaves are constantly having to say to each other, "well...I'll see you in the hereafter!" Because they are being separated by forces beyond their control, and they don't know when or if they will ever see each other again. And it struck me so powerfully that this is what this verse is about: how much heaven means to you, if it is the only place you can imagine where your friends and family will be together, and safe.

Mothers talk a lot about trying to savor every moment: about knowing that the time you can truly be intimate with your child is limited. And it is. Entropy works its sad magic on everything. Time and space conspire to break down not just every physical body, but also every family and every friendship. What to do on this darkling plain?

Matthew Arnold would, let us be true to one another. He's right. But tonight I'm also grateful that my sadness is mostly existential. The philosophical sadness that's in my life is very real, but it's real in a different way than the sadness that was in the hearts of the slaves who wrote "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." No one is coming to take my child away from me. What a lucky thing for me--really, what a rare thing in the larger scope of the world--to be a mother who knows that my baby is sleeping in his bed, and will still be there--safe--when I go scoop him up in the morning.

Babies Continue Booming!


In the last few weeks, Elliot's circle of acquaintance has grown by two. Bill and Reesa had a daughter, Isabel Yasmin, who no doubt will grow up speaking both arabic and hebrew and will, thus, save the world, if Bill and Reesa don't beat her to it themselves. Isabel was born in canada, and there in toronto she weighs 3195 Grams. Here in the states she weighs about seven pounds.

Also, Brandon's good college friend Sheree just had her son Jackson, AKA Action Jackson, who is indeed all action. At a mere three or so weeks, friends, he can already smile. He might even be able to roll over. If there were a newborn Olympics I would be signing him up.

Both of these newborns also have the tremendous advantage of actually looking really gorgeous and normal and expressive and not at all wrinkly and newbornish. Not that there's anything wrong with newborns, but you know what I mean.

So, welcome to the world, Isabel and Jackson! And to your parents: welcome to the other side.

May 15, 2007

Thank you very much, idealized vision of springtime maternal fertility

Yesterday, for real, I experienced that imagined idyllic moment when you hold your baby on your hip while watering your freshly-planted flowers and think to yourself, "Ah, here I am with my baby and my flowers! Just call me Mother Nature! Ah...spring."

Except that midway through the watering, Elliot reached down and pulled a snapdragon out by its roots, and while I yelled (i totally yelled) "no! NO!" at my (unfortunately still pre-verbal) child and tried to climb over the garbage bag on my porch to put down the watering can without dropping either my child or my watering can, Elliot began to whack the drippy muddy snapdragon roots against my white tank-top covered boob.

May 14, 2007

New Game!

Very hilarious!

It turns out that Mother's Day is a fantastic holiday!

Really, I had no idea. I always just sort of lumped it into a general hallmark-holiday category: something manufactured out of nothing to make people spend money, or feel guilty for not spending more money. But I was wrong! Mother's Day is really excellent!

Or at least, my mother's day was. It probably didn't hurt that it was a gorgeous spring day in Chicago, so everyone was feeling all chipper and friendly. But I was actually really moved by how many people--complete strangers, as well as family--who went out their way to be kind, and to wish me a happy day. I really felt as though my little world was acknowledging that something I was doing was both hard, and important. I was commenting on this to my downstairs neighbor who said, "of course! Mothering is a gift to the world!" And it sort of made me want to cry.

Not that mothering is the only thing that is a gift; that is important and hard. But still.

Also, yet another awesome downstairs neighbor pointed out to me that Mother's Day did not come out of nowhere; it came out of a particular impetus to channel the energy of mothers into political activism. You can read all about it on Wikipedia, but here is a tidbit from Julia Ward Howe's 1870 "Mother's Day Proclamation:"

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.

Say what you will about identity politics; I think that's sort of grand.

May 11, 2007

when lilacs first

This is a picture of Elliot's first lilac.*

I picked it yesterday while walking home from the babysitter. So amazing! A baby, with lilacs in bloom!

*Of course, you'll notice that I'm not providing you with a particularly oxytocin-inducing photo of, say, Elliot holding the lilac. That would be nice, but everytime I gave it to him he tried to eat it. Are lilacs edible?

May 10, 2007

Two Burning Questions

These are the questions that plague our household.

1: Do babies need to wear pants? Now that it's warm and all? 0r not just pants, any sort of leg covering. I mean, one obvious answer is a resounding "no," because pants are mostly decorative at this point. This is usually Brandon's answer. But my answer is more complicated because I have a nagging desire to protect his legs (they are so sweet and soft!) and also because I have the vague sense that it's go pantless all the time.

I surprise myself by having this response, because normally social propriety is not really a concern for me, so I think I'm going to have to ponder this one some more. I guess then we also have question

1a: Why does Sarah have the nagging sense that babies need pants?

2: What would we do if we were democratic strategists? This is a question we think about in the mornings, while listening to NPR. Being a little out of the policy wonk loop these days, we have very few good answers (Kate would be better at this game, probably). But even in our out-of-the-loopishness, we think: JEEZE. TIME FOR A NEW STRATEGY, STRATEGISTS! Brandon this morning proposed a bill that would require troops to come home for good after finishing tours, no extentions. The "protect military families" bill, or something. I'm also interested in the John Edwards proposal to resend the no-funding bill. I think that might be sort of an effective gesture: dems offered the compromise 1/2 funding bill, Bush refused to compromise, so we're going back to our initial proposal. I dunno. If we figure it out, we'll get back to you. Maybe we need a "No Troops Left Behind" act? Hmm.

May 09, 2007

Thinking Mama

So ya'll, it's almost mother's day. In light of the day, I am thinking of treating myself to a new interesting book about motherhood. Does anyone have anything good they'd recommend? I am less interested in the Jenny McCarthy-fun-to-read-on-a-plane variet of book, though I like that genre,* and more interested, just now, in something a little more thinky. Because I think motherhood is interesting, and I would like to think more about it.

There are lots of new (and newish) books out, by people like Rebecca Walker, and then there was that famous Linda Hirshman book last year...and I've been too busy to read them. Any thoughts out there?

In case anyone else is interested in new reading material this mother's day, here are some things I would pass on. Obviously, there is Anne Lammot's most excellent book, which Brandon and I quote to each other weekly. "Roots roots roots!" we say. Jenny M. "lent" me her copy of Catherine Newman's book a very long time ago, and she is not getting it back, though I would probably say that I like her (Catherine's) column in Wondertime as well or better.

The most thoughtful book I read while pregnant was Great with Child by Debra Rienstra, not to be confused with the also-good Great with Child by Beth Ann Fennelly. Rienstra writes particularly from an intellectual and theological position--her book is not one I would have probably come across on my own, but my old friend Sarah lent me her copy and truly I think it is a really valuable meditation on motherhood--on how it is hard, and why it is meaningful. Her answers are more religious than mine would be, but her way of posing questions, and of mixing memoir with argument, is very compelling.

All this begs the question of whether, as mothers, we actually have time to read. Which is a good one. But if Linda Hirshman argues (again, I haven't read her book yet) that as mothers we deserve to remain independent as workers, I would argue that as mothers we also deserve to be independent as thinkers and readers. We have to like ourselves (still be ourselves)at the end of all of this, after all.

May 08, 2007

Happy Two-Thirds

We didn't mention that yesterday Elliot turned eight months! He is now two-thirds years old. By happenstance I dressed him in a little shirt and pants which were, separately, gifts, and which, together, made him look like he was about ready to go to college. Shockingly adult, or at least very very boylike. When really he is still my sweet bebe! At least, he's the bebe for another tiny while; I think soon we might have to 'fess up and admit that he is a toddler. Are they babies until they can take a step? I don't rightly know. Elliot still can't really crawl, so I think he falls into baby category for at least for a few more days.

However, there were a couple of developmental milestones we should mention. First, yesterday Elliot was sitting in his crib and pulled himself into a standing position. I'm not even kidding. He charmed our hearts by accomplishing this act because of an intense desire to reach..the bookshelf. For real! He wanted those books.

Second, less charmingly, he now seems cognizant of and interested in his own urping. We posted a video a couple of weeks ago of him playing and urping and playing, seemingly not aware at all that a large puddle of urp had sprung from his mouth. But now when he urps he looks sort of surprised, and if he has made a little puddle on his leg or the floor, he will sort of poke at it.

Okay, but enough with that.

We were all sitting in bed this morning, and Brandon spontaneously started reciting for Elliot a poem which seems perfect for our day, which is beautiful and springlike, and for Elliot's small two-thirds milestones, and so I will put it here. I am very excited that it is Elliot's first spring!

33. "Loveliest of Trees"

LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

May 07, 2007

Did I tell you I had a sort of break-through revelation?

I just realized recently that parenting has at least one thing in common with some other organizing jobs in my life--like dissertating, say, or cleaning the bathroom. What all these things have in common is that they are jobs that can become HUGE AND DAUNTING if you let them. They will take all the mental and emotional and logistical energy you can throw at them. But the flip side of that is that if you stop worrying and just start doing it, already, it's really not so bad.

Which is not to say that hanging out with Elliot is like scrubbing a toilet, per se, or like dissertating either, really. But just that it's easy to get in this mode of "it's not worth doing unless you're doing it perfectly," which is ridiculous, because if you just take off the hairshirt and put down whatever it is you use to flagellate yourself (the diaper bag; your copy of PMLA) there's not really that much to worry about. You just do the best you can.

crap, that video's not working.

don't worry: it's not you, it's us. we're working on it.

May 06, 2007

Post-bath, pre-bed

Elliot and I discuss his evening and his desire for sleep.

May 04, 2007

That's our (other) boy

“I take away,” Obama answered in a rush of words, “the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away ... the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from na├»ve idealism to bitter realism.”

Quoted in David Brooks's 4/26 NYT column: Obama: Gospel and Verse

May 03, 2007

May 02, 2007

Two things


Today after latching Elliot in his car seat in the back seat I sat down behind the wheel. At the exact moment when I slammed my door shut--the instant the metal crunched in to place--Elliot screamed. Screamed. Death monkey and beyond. A sound of pure agony. And I was, for a second, sure that his small hand had somehow managed to find its way from the back seat into my door, and that (I can barely say it) I'd mangled his small infant fingers. Don't even think about it--it's too awful.

I think that all that had really happened was that he'd dropped his cold teething ring over the side of his carseat and was mad. Or maybe he was just enjoying making noise. Anyway, he was completely fine, and I'm happy to say that I think my heart has now, several hours later, left the roof of my mouth where it had lodged in my instant of panic and is now back in my chest, and might even be beating normally again.

His sweet fingers.


It's a full moon. Elliot's moon, we call it, since it was shining so luminously the night he was born. Tonight I'd been rushing around doing jobs and worrying about tomorrow, but Brandon made me stop and look at it through our kitchen window, over the rooftops and the dried flowers on the sill. I think this is Elliot's ninth full moon? He won't see it, because he is sleeping peaceably in his bedroom, curtains drawn. But there are some slender clouds stretched around it, and the sky is still a little blue in a deep, dark, restful way.

Real Quick

We're running around this morning, but I just had to say: I feel like Elliot's grown up a ton in the last few days. He has started scooting backwards, to maddening effect, since what he really wants is to go forward. He wants to go forward with a new and intense sort of zeal. He's so friendly and alert and flirty. He can concentrate for longer. He's so nice.

May 01, 2007

I mash Elliot's banana each morning. It takes longer and longer.

When it is mashed, I then mix the banana into his wee rice/oatmeal cereal -- his gruel, basically -- to make sure that he likes it. It makes it a little sweeter for him. Everybody admits that babies come equipped with a sweeth tooth.

Apparently mashed banana is an extremely common first food in many cultures. This is pleasing to think about. It's nice to stand in one's echt-20th-century steel and glass kitchen -- dishing exact amounts of calibrated whatnot out of a hermetically sealed Gerber food-pod -- and think that there is a little continuity left between ourselves and history, ourselves and the rest of the world. (That's one of the most comforting things to me about food in general, actually.)

We've been starting the day with banana porridge for a month or two now, and we have our routine. It happens seven days a week, at the same time each day. (Can I say again: this level of regimentation is a little incredible for unstructured people like Sarah & I. Even swim team practice when I was 15 was only 5 days a week.)

(In fact, the way that life is so structured makes me feel like I'm living in MY parent's house again -- like I'm the child. Each morning, there is the absolutely familiar set of kitchen sounds, the rustling of spoons, the heating tea kettle, the same kind of food being made as yesterday. The uncanny difference is that now, the familiar presence who stirs up all the noises and who makes that food . . . is not my Dad. It is me.)

Breakfast increases in size. It's confusing -- obvious, but confusing, like a Moebius strip -- how a tip of a banana, which used to be enough, has morphed into damn near half a banana. One or two tablespoons of wee gruel mixins has turned into five. Maybe six. In fact, starting this week, I gave up on the tablespoon measure entirely, and switched to the quarter-cup measure. And this has all taken place in the space of what feels like only weeks.

I mash the banana with my hands -- mostly because I can't think of a better way to do it. It gets tedious, now that there's so much banana to do. It occasionally crosses my mind, as I am chasing banana slivers around my thumb with banana-slickened finger pads, trying to smash them into yet finer goo, that this is not the most hygienic way to mash his banana. (Nor the quickest, probably. I'm just not sure what the alternatives are. How do YOU mash a banana?)

But Elliot needs to be friends with bacteria, too. They outnumber him. I learned in the Bill Bryson book, the "History of Nearly Everything"**, that there are ten times as many bacteria in our own bodies as cells. "They" are about 100 quadrillion strong (whereas the "us" in us numbers about 10 quadrillion). They would outweigh us, except that they're so small.

Hygiene has its place and all. But I mash the banana with my own hands.

** This book is such great brain candy. Everyone should read it. No really: everyone should read it. It is FUN. Trust me. It is also un-put-downable. I'm really not crazy about all of Bill Bryson's writing, but the tone he's struck in this book is disarmingly genial. I sort of miss it now that I've finished reading it.