Wednesday, August 31, 2011

"Comparisons are odious"

Today, Violet was face-to-face with a penguin and, later in the afternoon, thousands of butterflies. We took her to the Aquarium and the Butterfly Conservatory in Niagara Falls. I had been to the Conservatory recently, but neither Linda nor I had been to the Aquarium in years. It’s over forty years old, but it appears much older. Most of the tanks are small, with little to no adornment, the dolphins are gone, and many of the displays are wordy and tired. You can tell the staff is trying to do the best with what it has, but walking past the dusty exhibits and the gift shop full of tchotchkes, you can feel the place struggling to stay attractive and relevant. The closer we came to the exit, the gloomier I felt, because I remember loving the Aquarium as a kid, and Linda did, too. When she was in grade school, her family was heavily involved with the Western New York Aquarium Society, and she told me about their many visits. When we walked through the entrance, she remembered walking through the same doors decades ago for the Society’s Christmas Party and another time, coming to see her uncle swimming with the resident dolphins. The times she spent there stayed with her, and it surprised me to hear her say an hour later, as we walked out the door, “We don’t need to go there again.” I pointed out that one of the reasons we find the state of the Aquarium so disheartening is because of the other aquariums we’ve been to – Monterey, Boston, New Orleans, Chicago; we’ve seen what an aquarium can be, so in our minds we’re comparing this one to those. It reminded me of a saying I heard somewhere: “Comparisons are odious” because comparing things inevitably diminishes one, if not both of the things being compared. As children, Linda and I both loved the Niagara Falls Aquarium because it was what we knew. We enjoyed what it had to offer. It’s a hard thing to do as you get older – enjoying something for its merits instead of focusing on what it lacks – so I made a decision. I’ll bring Violet back to the Aquarium in the Falls when she’s a little older, and whether it’s updated or not, I’ll keep my mouth shut and let her decide how she feels about it.

283 days old

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Walk in the Woods

I took Violet to Zoar Valley today. I’ve taken her on plenty of hikes before, with and without other people, but this was the first time I’ve taken her to a spot where the remoteness weighed on my mind the farther we hiked from the car. On the drive there, I imagined us blissfully hiking along the creek, playing in the waterfalls, sitting under the old trees. We did all those things, and I enjoyed every minute of it, but my mind insisted on imagining what might happen if I tripped over a log and bashed my head on a rock.

Some time ago, my cousin said that once she had children, she kept finding herself imagining all the horrible things other people might do to them. I do that – imagining what other people might do to Violet, but I imagine all the horrible things I might accidentally do to her, too. Maybe it’s for the best. I’m not going to let it prevent me from taking Violet to beautifully remote places, but it will make me slow down and step more carefully whenever she is with me.

282 days old

Monday, August 29, 2011

Stranger Danger

She looked at me first.

I pushed my cart into the checkout line at the grocery store and started to unload my items. In front of me was a cart with a baby sitting in it, facing me with an intense, unmoving stare. Her mother was on the other side of the cart, next to the cashier, placing the last of her groceries on the belt and getting ready to pay. Every time I turned to put another item on the belt, I couldn’t help but notice the baby’s gaze. She was hands-down adorable, and now, with my vast baby experience, I could make a reasonable guess at her age. Six months, I thought, just a few months younger than Violet. Each time I turned back, I gave the baby a smile, a goofy face or two. No reaction, just more staring. Then, after a minute or two of trading looks, her eyes started to crinkle around the edges, her bottom lip commenced sticking out, and I swiftly turned my full attention back to my groceries. She started to whine, a high-pitched, I’m-just-getting-going whine, and it seemed as if everyone in the store was looking in my direction. I felt uncomfortably warm. And then she started crying in earnest, and without even thinking, I almost – almost – moved to pick her up and comfort her. You’ve heard of alien hand syndrome? This was alien dad syndrome. For a fraction of a second, that baby’s cry was in control of me, commanding me to do what I could to stop the crying.

But the mom pulled the cart forward and scooted through the narrow gap between it and the candy rack, and she lifted the little girl out. I busied myself with my groceries, but I could out of the corner of my eye her looking askance at me, and if someone had asked me, I would have said that the comforting that followed was a bit drawn out and dramatic. I half expected her to ask the girl, loud enough for everyone around to hear, “Did the nasty man scare you?”

281 days old

Sunday, August 28, 2011

It's Her Fault

We took Violet to a get-together last night – a friend’s fiftieth birthday party. It was a relatively small affair, a dozen or so people, but still, I was impressed at how well Violet got along with everyone. She cried only once, right after we arrived. Our friend’s beagle was standing up on my leg, eager to say hello. I was holding Violet and leaned over to pet him, and he delivered a few unexpected licks to her face before darting away. The crying was brief, less than ten seconds, and then she was over it, smiling, staring, and absorbing attention from every direction.  She was especially enamored with our friends’ nine year old niece, whose animated way of talking kept Violet’s eyes on her longer than anyone I’ve seen yet. On the drive home, Violet falling asleep in the back seat, I mentioned to Linda how satisfying it was to have other people compliment us on how well behaved our daughter was at the party. Linda gently pointed out that at this stage, we have very little to do with it.

280 days old

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is not used to this…

I learned today that, no matter how much it makes Violet laugh, my body does not appreciate it when I do handstands. It pays me back a few hours later.

279 days old

Friday, August 26, 2011


Wake up whenever you want. Have your meals prepared by someone else. Never wash a dish or clean up after yourself. Everyone around you constantly tries to entertain you. That’s the life. If there’s such a thing as reincarnation, I want to come back as a baby.

278 days old

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Too soon?

Violet spent 30 minutes crying and rolling around the crib before she finally went down for her nap. Then, she slept for two hours. That’s an unusually long time for her. She was obviously tired, so why the battle? I know the theories – she doesn’t want to miss anything, she’s too excited, etc. I figure she’s nine months old now. Nearly a toddler. It’s time to treat her as such. So, this morning over breakfast, I fed her some oatmeal with sweet potatoes and cinnamon (I put the cinnamon in to soften her up), and I explained that it would make more sense if she just went to sleep when we put her down, instead of all that fussing. “You wouldn’t get so sweaty,” I said, “All that crying and yelling leaves you as slick as the day you were born. And that standing up and sitting down business you do before finally going to sleep. It’s unnecessary. I thought that by now, you’d be used to the routine. I take you into the bedroom. The curtains are closed so it’s nice and dark. I tell you I love you. Hey! It’s time to sleep!” I told her this and more. I thought I made a convincing case. The whole time, she was making a good show of looking at me, but I don’t think she was really listening.

277 days old

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

You must remember this...

Today was the kind of day that makes me regret the approaching end of summer more than I usually do. It was one of those days that you expect to be like any other day, forgettable and full of routine, but instead it unfolds into a procession of marvelous events that are as unexpected as they are memorable. I had stayed up too late last night, well past an intelligent hour, and so, when Violet let us know that she was ready to be sprung from the crib, it felt much too early. Linda, wonderful Linda, picked Violet up and took her from the bedroom, closing the door to let me sleep a bit longer. When I finally did feel ready to get up, it was earlier than I expected, much of the morning still left, leaving me to enjoy the morning without the guilt of the late-riser. I was able to get a lot accomplished - bills paid, preparations for school, phone calls, emails, and when Violet woke up from her nap, I could devote the afternoon to her without any distracting thoughts. I buckled her into her car seat and drove to Beaver Meadow. We took a short hike, searching the meadow for monarch caterpillars and ending up at the Arboretum, a park-like section of the preserve with wide swaths of mowed grass, perfect for crawling. And Violet crawled. And played. And babbled more than I’ve heard her do in months. I listened to her make sounds that almost – almost – sounded like talking, and it made my chest tight to hear it. I watched her crawl after objects both near and far, some of them too far, I thought, to hold her attention on the way, but while she stopped now and then, apparently to rest, she always made it to her target - a flower, a leaf, the camera. I wanted to see how far she would go, so I picked up her jacket and walked it across the grass, maybe fifteen feet away, wondering if I was pushing her, testing her, when I should just be enjoying the moment, but my curiosity won out, and I sat down next to her jacket, calling her. And she came.

Later on, after dinner, Linda and I sat on the deck in the twilight, Violet in her highchair, discussing what it might be like to have a second child, and Violet started talking again. Her tongue stuck out and curled over her upper lip, and she softly chanted, “Bla, bla, bla,” or “la, la, la, la.” Linda said I should try to coax a “dada” out of her, and I tried, looking into Violet’s eyes and pointing to myself, saying “dada”. Her big, blue eyes stared back, returning some kind of recognition, and she did talk. It might have been “dada.” Or maybe not, but the sound of our daughter talking back left us both with smiles so big that they hurt and eyes so happy that they were wet.

276 days old

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Girl in the North Country

We crossed into Canada with Violet, her first trip out of the country. We learned two things before we crossed back into the United States. One, Linda loves IKEA even more than she did before. Are you familiar with the store? Think of a store that sells housewares and furniture. Now, imagine it bigger. Bigger. Imagine that most of the stuff is cheap, both in price and construction, but it’s not so cheaply made that you wouldn’t buy a shopping cart-full of it if you went. I’m still trying to figure out if I love the place or hate it, but Linda has always enjoyed going whenever we went to Canada. Now, she (me, too, I think) loves it even more because today we discovered that IKEA stores have a “baby care” room – a quiet room (with a door that locks!) containing a comfy chair for nursing, a changing table and diapers, as well as a private bathroom. It is a fortress of solitude in the middle of a crowded mass of frenzied shoppers. These are now the things I look for and appreciate out in the world.

The other thing we learned was that sometimes a guard at the border crossing will make you lower the back window so he can get a look into the back seat, and sometimes, the sudden appearance of their stern face peering into that window will cause the baby in the back seat to start crying. And sometimes, this will noticeably upset the border guard, making him hastily wrap things up and send you on your way.

275 days old

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The World at Her Feet

On the way back from the Adirondacks yesterday, we stopped to climb a small mountain. The hike was short, through a lush forest of maple and birch. The curls of papery bark on the birch trunks fascinated Violet, and she would have spent all day running her fingers over the flaky plates on the maples. But the top of the mountain was her favorite. Despite the brief ascent, the view was stunning, forests and lakes massing at our feet in every direction. The view was not what interested Violet, however. It was the gritty sand and pebbles, collected in the small depressions of the peak’s bedrock. She sat between my legs, picking up handfuls, intent as any scientist in her examinations. Hands close to her face, she held them in one palm while touching them with the fingers of her other hand. She picked them up and dropped them repeatedly, turning them over in her fingers again and again. Another family was on the peak, and we chatted with them briefly. The daughter watched Violet and said, smiling, “She’s got the whole world to look at up here, but she wants to look at what’s right at her feet.”

273 days old

Saturday, August 20, 2011


I’m usually kind to animals. Today, for example, a wasp was in our bedroom, and I captured it in a tissue and put it out the window. I plan on making sure that Violet does not find bugs “icky” but rather the fascinating creatures that they are. All that went out the window when we stopped to rest while on a hike yesterday. I never wanted to kill anything so badly as I wanted to kill the mosquito that landed on Violet’s face.

272 days old

Friday, August 19, 2011

Hold the Crab

Diaper changing time is now more difficult. Violet does not like to be on her back for more than a few moments, and like any other animal, once she starts struggling to right herself, she’s difficult to contain. Another habit of hers is to immediately start exploring her nether regions once the diaper is opened, which can be especially unpleasant when there is poop involved. Linda was smart enough to figure out that by giving Violet a toy as soon as we lay her onto the changing mat, the rolling over and the searching fingers are less of a problem. She reminded me of this when I was changing Violet this afternoon, struggling to keep her on her back and clean her up after a particularly messy deposit. “Just give her the pink crab,” Linda said. Nearby was the squishy plastic crustacean that Violet loves to gnaw on. Its blank round eyes looked up at me as if to say, “Duh.” I picked it up and offered it to her. Her eyes widened ever so slightly, she reached for it, took it from my hand, and shoved it between her legs, right into the diaper’s contents.

271 days old

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Making a Mountain Out of Peek-A-Boo

We are in the Adirondacks with Violet. A friend invited us up to stay with her for a few days, and Violet has been a wonderful traveling companion. She did, however, chose today to startle the father in me. She caught me off guard, unprepared for what has happened in the past 24 hours: another new tooth has appeared, she's started playing peek-a-boo, and this afternoon around 3 PM while we ate lunch at a tiny table in the window of Nori's in Saranac Lake, she spontaneously started waving in response to our friend waving at her. New teeth, crawling, laughing, sleeping through the night, all of those milestones are wonderful and memorable. Good stuff, but there's something immensely pleasing about her playing peek-a-boo and waving, about her making a decision to have an interaction with a specific person. The look in her eye, the desire to do this new thing over and over again - it was like watching a mountain range form in the matter of a moment.

270 days old

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened as We Left on Our Road Trip...

Today, we took Violet on her first road trip. Good GOD, there's a lot to pack when you're taking a baby somewhere for more than a few hours.

But this post is about before we actually started driving to our destination. Before that, we had to stop at a friend's house. I'm watching her cat while she's away, and I wanted to check on the cat one more time, since we would be gone for three days. We were running behind schedule, so Linda planned to breastfeed Violet in the front seat of the car while I checked on the cat.

My friend also has someone else mowing her lawn and filling her bird feeders for her, and this man happened to be there when we pulled in. I've run into him before; an older, quiet, extremely friendly and unassuming fellow. Every time I've seen him, he's wearing overalls and a beat up baseball cap, and he gives me a big grin and a wave. For some reason, I've never found out his name. Sometimes, we exchange a few pleasantries, sometimes not. Today, we didn't. I waved as I went in to the house, and he waved back from the garage, where it looked like he was getting ready to mow.

I spent maybe 10 minutes in the house, filling food and water bowls, cleaning litter boxes. When I came out, Linda still had Violet in the front seat with her, a bemused smile on her face. I opened the car door, and Linda nodded at the driver's seat. I looked down, and there was a pile of cucumbers. Apparently, while I was in the house and Linda was feeding Violet, the man had come over, and knocked on the driver's side door. He smiled and waved a hello. Linda gave him a hesitant wave back, fumbling to cover up. He raised up a finger, as if telling her to hold on, and disappeared. He reappeared a few seconds later, opened the door, and deposited the veggies on the driver's seat. Linda, still not quite sure what was happening, stammered,"Thank you," and he was gone. Linda doesn't know if he realized what was going on, but the cucumbers were beautiful.

269 days old

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Be Prepared

I went in to school yesterday. It was time to start getting my classroom ready for the approaching school year. As a teacher, I'm extrememly lucky to have two months off during the summer, so I try not to complain (except to Linda) about having to go back to work. Truthfully, there is something exciting about starting a new year, not unlike the excitement of stuffing your new school supplies into your backpack as a child. But I will miss my long days with Violet. For the first time, as I walk out my door on that first day, I will be more concerned with what I'm leaving at home than what is waiting for me at school.

268 days old

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Seat for One - Part 2

What got me thinking about this was going to see Bob Dylan perform last week, but more precisely, it was the fact that I couldn’t get anyone to go with me. I asked a number of friends, and some of them were even free that night. Not one wanted to go. I wasn’t surprised. Up until a few years ago, I had no interest in Bob Dylan, either. I remember reading that he won an Academy Award in 2000 for his song “Things Have Changed”, and I distinctly recall asking a friend, “Who still cares about Bob Dylan?” Even then, some small part of me felt it was foolish to ask such a question. Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows my love for music, and growing up, exploring and listening to the music of the past few decades, I had heard of Dylan numerous times. He was cited as an influence, often spoken of in reverential tones, by many of the artists I listened to, but the few songs of his I had heard didn’t move me in any special way. As a metal-loving teenager, I thought the original version of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door couldn’t hold a candle to the Guns n’ Roses version. (Also, in my defense, a good portion of Dylan’s output during my teenage years was some of his least memorable material.)

Then, a few years ago, I was in a record store, an unused gift card in my pocket, and I found myself standing in front of the Bob Dylan section. For some reason, I decided to buy the first album – his self-titled debut from 1962, released eleven years before I was even born. I figured I wouldn’t like it, but I felt like it was time for me to see what all the fuss was about, and starting at the beginning made sense. When I took my purchase up to the counter, the woman at the next cash register – a woman of about 60 who looked to be an aging hippie - glanced at what I was buying and exclaimed, “Oh! That’s my favorite Dylan album!” I wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or not. “Oh,” I said. “Great.” Listening to it in the car on the way home, I wasn’t blown away. Dylan’s first album is mostly folk standards, and I knew next to nothing about folk standards. So, as a piece of entertainment, the album didn’t move me, but my interest was piqued. The songs sounded weathered and old, and they carried a certain amount of weight and power. How did these songs lead into his later work? How did he go from the person who interpreted the songs of others to one of the greatest songwriters of the twentieth century? I decided to find out. I ended up working my way through his catalog, one album at a time, reading about Dylan’s career along the way. His rise to prominence in the mid-60s, turning his back on the folk movement and ticking his fans off by going electric, his motorcycle crash and retreat from public eye, his return to popularity in the 70s, his strange “born again” religious phase in the 80s, and his recent return to critical favor. All of these specifics, however, weren’t as interesting as seeing how his influence grew and spread over the decades. I would listen to songs I’d heard dozens of times from other artists and realize for the first time that they were covers of Dylan tunes. Lines from movies, snippets of lyrics, songs referenced in novels were suddenly made meaningful because I now understood that they pointed to Bob Dylan. I didn’t like everything I heard. Not nearly, but I was dazzled by a lot of it. More importantly, I started to appreciate why certain Dylan songs, even ones I didn’t like, were important, and why others, even ones that I loved, were not.

Which brings me to the point of all this. It doesn’t really have anything to do with Bob Dylan. I don’t expect Violet to love Bob Dylan (but I hope she will). Nor do I expect her to love Hamlet (but I hope she will). What I do hope is that she’ll be open to the idea that writing, art, music – any form of creativity – comes at us on many levels, can be appreciated on many levels, but it is not all created equal. Some is lasting, while some is of the moment (and there’s a universe of work in between). Great works that have stood the test of time are worth getting to know, but so are the lesser, if they speak to her on some level. Above all, I want her to find those works of art that speak to her, that give her chills, that are good enough to form the foundation of memories for her, even if no one else she knows shares her appreciation, the rest of the world be damned. Even if it means going to a concert all by herself, sitting in the darkened theater, smiling and nodding her head to the music, glad that she came.

267 days old

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Seat for One - Part 1

My friend teaches English at a local community college. A few weeks ago, we went on a camping trip and shared a long car ride. On the way, the conversation made its way to the books he requires his students to read. His classes cover a wide range of fiction, everything from children’s literature to the classics to contemporary literature, and when he mentioned some of the modern works he teaches, I asked if he discusses the Twilight series. “My students are usually offended when I tell them that it’s not a well written book,” he said. “I try to make the point that just because they love a book, that doesn’t make it great literature and that it’s okay to like it anyway.” This brought to mind a story Stephen King shared in his book, On Writing. The library was where he found most of the books he read as a child, and upon returning home from each visit, he would present his choices to his mother, who would proclaim most of them “trash”, but some would be judged more worthwhile, and these she would refer to as “good trash.” My friend also described his attempts to show his students that just because they don’t like a certain work, that doesn’t mean it’s “stupid”. Just because Hamlet, for example, is not on your top ten list of great works of fiction, it is still worthwhile to be aware of what makes it an enduring piece of literature, to appreciate why it’s still performed, written about, and discussed even though Shakespeare’s been moldering under Holy Trinity Church for centuries. What does any of this have to do with Violet? I’ll tell you tomorrow.

266 days old

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Splendor in the Grass

I sat with Violet on our lawn today. I wanted to give her the chance to crawl unfettered, without obstacles or walls or stairs, but she just wanted to sit, to clutch at the grass, sometimes letting it slide through her fingers and sometimes ripping it out in clumps. It was cute when she pushed a few fistfuls in my direction. It was cute when she slapped her legs in excitement. But the best part was that every few minutes, she would drop the grass, look at me, and pitch forward, burying her face in my chest. It would only last a few seconds; a moment later, she sat back up and returned to exploring the grass, but it seemed like the beginning of something.

265 days old

Friday, August 12, 2011

You Might Feel Some "Pressure"

As Violet's first tooth emerges, Linda grows apprehensive about Violet biting her during feeding time. "It's as if someone has put a fish down your pants," she said, "and then they tell you, 'It's going to bite you . At some point. Try not to overreact. Now go about your business.'"

264 days old

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I think I see a...

Look closely. Upper gum. Right hand side. Looks like a tooth to me!

263 days old

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Once and Future Reader

When Linda was pregnant, I had visions of reading to Violet. She was going to sit in my lap, her luminous eyes filled with rapt attention, shifting her gaze back and forth between my face and the page. I would finish the book and close the cover, and her small, chubby fingers would reach, gently tapping the book, signaling me to read it again. “All right, honey,” I would chuckle, giving in. “That’s ten times, but I’ll read it once more.” In reality, reading a book to Violet while she’s in my lap is like trying to read to a frightened cat. Every muscle in her body strains to shoot her off of my lap, and the book is nothing more than leverage. This struggle has gone on for many weeks, but recently, I noticed how content she is sitting and strapped into her chair. While we prep dinner or go about other household chores, Violet sits and gums her toys, bangs them together, shouts, and has an all around good time. So, now when I want to read to her, and I try to do it every day, I make the proper preparations. I sit her in her chair and fasten the slender green straps around her shoulders, buckling her in place. I might choose two books, three if I’m feeling optimistic. Usually by the second or third page of the first one, she’s reaching frantically for the pages, like an angry gorilla, straining to reach the taunting children just out of reach. Sometimes, if I pitch my voice high or low enough, or the colors on the page catch her off guard, she grows quiet, hands still, and she looks at me, listening. There’s no telling how long this will last, but it reminds me of the first time I was upright on a bicycle. I knew another fall was coming and coming soon, but those few moments of success, the wind blowing in my face and pedals turning beneath my feet, were glorious. I also knew that in order to stretch those good moments out, I would have to keep at it. Falling and falling until the upright moments outnumbered the ones on the ground. So, I keep reading to Violet, looking forward to the day when she can sit on my lap, turning the pages, shifting her gaze back and forth between my face and the book. When I finish, she will tap the cover, signaling me to read it again.
261 days old

Monday, August 8, 2011

Now, for my next trick, I will jinx our current run of good luck...

Last week, I wrote a post about putting Violet to bed, about how I broke one of our cardinal rules of bedtime by going in and picking her up to comfort her. I received several comments from readers about that post, and every one of them assured me that I made the right decision. Several went on to share their personal philosophies on bedtime and none of them is a believer in the “cry it out” method. A friend even sent along a link from Dr. Sears – a pediatrician and author of numerous books on baby/child rearing (Linda and I relied heavily on his vaccine book when deciding which shots to give Violet) – about the 31 dos and don’ts of bedtime.

The ironic part is that, despite my touchy-feely vegan ways, I’m a “cry it out” guy. It just feels right to me that by now, a baby should be able to fall asleep independently. Now, hold off on the “Dear idiot…” comments. I’m not saying that there aren’t certain nights and certain situations that call for some soothing, nor do I think that a newborn should be tucking themselves in, but after 256 days, Violet knows what bedtime is about, and some nights, she doesn’t feel like going to bed. So, she cries. Those are the nights when “crying it out” feels like the right call.

But I couldn’t help wondering if I was being too hard on out little girl. Would crying it out scar her. Dr. Sears says it could possibly lead to trust issues. So, I called our pediatrician. Because Linda and I love our pediatrician. Seriously. I don’t know what either or both of us did in a previous life to deserve finding her, but somehow, we did. She’s a mom. She is compassionate and respectful of our views, but she’s also not afraid to give us a conflicting opinion. She’s someone who, upon meeting her and talking to her for a few minutes, you wouldn’t hesitate to ask, “Hey, could you watch my kids? I have to go to Spain for a week?”

I explained where we were at – that bedtime was not a huge issue, but we had concerns. That is one thing I should point out. It’s not as though Violet was crying for hours at bedtime, but we were still relying on the dustbuster on some nights to get her to finally settle down after ten to twenty minutes of crying, and the fact that she had started standing up in the crib, seemingly unable to get herself back down, was worrisome.

“By this age, she should be able to self soothe.” So, that meant crying it out. “How long is too long to let her cry?” I had to ask.

“There is no too long.” She suggested going in one time to soothe without picking up. “After about three nights, the bedtime routine should be set.”

Ever since that conversation with our doctor, however, Violet has gone down relatively easy each and every night. I don’t know how or why, but we haven’t had to let her cry it out. She’ll whimper and whine for a few minutes, maybe even cry a little. Once or twice we’ve gone in to lay her back down and rub her back, remind her that we love her, and then boom – she’s out.

I’m not sure what we're doing, but I hope we keep doing it.

260 days old

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Please Do Squeeze the Baby

What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked by a stranger? Mine happened last night. Linda and I were at a restaurant, standing by the bar and looking over the menu, when a woman on a nearby stool asked if she could squeeze Violet’s thigh. Anyone who has had a baby or who has spent any amount of time around infants can appreciate why we understood exactly what she meant and why we didn’t find her request creepy in the least. I’m surprised more people don’t ask us.

259 days old

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Waiting for the first pearly white...

Even though she doesn't have any teeth yet, I practiced brushing teeth with Violet today. The squeeky sound of the trainer on her gums set my teeth on edge, but she seemed to enjoy almost every minute of it.

258 days old

Friday, August 5, 2011

"A Mother's Prayer for Its Child" by Tina Fey

First, Lord: No tattoos. May neither Chinese symbol for truth nor Winnie-the-Pooh holding the FSU logo stain her tender haunches.

May she be Beautiful but not Damaged, for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty.

When the crystal meth is offered, may she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half. And stick with beer.

Guide her, protect her when crossing the street, stepping onto boats, swimming in the ocean, swimming in pools, walking near pools, standing on the subway platform, crossing 86th Street, stepping off of boats, using mall restrooms, getting on and off escalators, driving on country roads while arguing, leaning on large windows, walking in parking lots, riding Ferris wheels, roller-coasters, log flumes, or anything called “Hell Drop,” “Tower of Torture,” or “The Death Spiral Rock ‘N Zero G Roll featuring Aerosmith,” and standing on any kind of balcony ever, anywhere, at any age.

Lead her away from Acting but not all the way to Finance. Something where she can make her own hours but still feel intellectually fulfilled and get outside sometimes…and not have to wear high heels. What would that be, Lord? Architecture? Midwifery? Golf course design? I’m asking You, because if I knew, I’d be doing it, damnit.

May she play the drums to the fiery rhythm of her own heart with the sinewy strength of her own arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.

Grant her a rough patch from twelve to seventeen. Let her draw horses and be interested in Barbies for much too long, For childhood is short – a Tiger Flower blooming Magenta for one day – And adulthood is long and dry-humping in cars will wait.

O Lord, break the Internet forever, that she may be spared the misspelled invective of her peers. And the online marketing campaign for Rape Hostel V: Girls Just Wanna Get Stabbed.

And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister,
Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends,
For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.

And should she choose to be a Mother one day, be my eyes, Lord, that I may see her, lying on a blanket on the floor at 4:50 A.M., all-at-once exhausted, bored, and in love with the little creature whose poop is leaking up its back. “My mother did this for me once,” she will realize as she cleans feces off her baby’s neck. “My mother did this for me.” And the delayed gratitude will wash over her as it does each generation and she will make a Mental Note to call me. And she will forget. But I’ll know, because I peeped it with Your God eyes.

Tina Fey
From her book, Bossypants

257 days old

Thursday, August 4, 2011

That's my girl

This is my 365th post. One year has evaporated since I started typing here. I went back and read my first post, and I was reminded of my plan to outlaw toys with batteries in our house. I was firm in my belief that Violet would only play with toys that required her to supply the imagination, the constructive energy to make them go. Now, our floor and elevated flat surfaces are littered with toys that light up, make noise, and talk. I gave in somewhere along the way, but I take some comfort in the fact that currently, Violet’s favorite toy is the round, green plastic lid from a Tupperware container.

256 days old

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Pretty Pass

Never, in all my imaginings of what life with a baby would be like, did I picture having this plastic monstrosity in our living room:

And I am surprised to realize that I don't mind it nearly as much as I thought I would.

 255 days old

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Little Things - Part 2

“Did you steal that?”

The question impressed, shocked, and scared me, all at the same time, and the fear was amplified by the knowing look in my stepmom’s eyes. It never occurred to me that she would’ve recognized the bottle as one from the country store, but from the moment I walked into the kitchen and presented it to her with an innocent and excited, “Look what I found in the woods!” the situation was off the course I had charted in my head, and it went directly into the ditch. I can’t tell you to this day if she did recognize it, if she had seen me steal it and waited for me to come clean, or if she just somehow suspected something was up and decided to bluff a confession out of me.

Whatever the case was, I tried to offer a few whimpering claims of innocence. “No, look. It’s muddy.” I pointed meekly to the dirt smeared on the glass, while inside, a voice screamed, “My God, she knows!”

It all ended with her driving me back to the store and me confessing to someone in charge. I do remember the person I spoke to being exceptionally angry and threatening to do something along the lines of calling the police. Even at my young age, I remember thinking, “Geez, guy, it’s only a little bottle. Aren’t you overreacting?” but mostly I remembered being terrified, ashamed, and in tears. I just stood there, eyes down, repeating how sorry I was, taking my lumps.

The real tough part, though, came at home, when my parents told me that I would be grounded for the rest of the summer, and to accentuate just how seriously they were taking my actions – to drive the final nail into my summer’s coffin – the grounding would be inside. No basketball in the driveway. No playing in the yard. I couldn’t even go outside to stare forlornly down the driveway and wish I was down the street, out in the neighborhood, where I knew my friends were having the time of their lives. I would have to do my staring from my bedroom window.

Some might consider the punishment harsh, but as I said, I had a problem with stealing, and that summer inside let me know that my issue was a big deal. It didn’t cure me of the problem, at least not right away, but it helped set me on the path of eventually overcoming it.

The most important past was that they followed through on the punishment. It must have been hard. Me stuck inside for the eight weeks of July and August was a punishment for them, too, and I’m sure I was exquisitely pathetic in my requests for early release. But they didn’t falter. I remember thinking that they were cruel, that the punishment did not fit the crime. Stealing a crummy little bottle did not merit the execution of my entire summer, but eventually, not that summer but sometime later, I figured out that it didn’t matter what I stole. What mattered was that I stole something at all.

And I’ve tried to carry their example into adulthood, especially when it comes to discipline in the classroom. I avoid vague threats like, “Keep doing that and you’ll be sorry,” instead using specific consequences. “Keep doing that and you’ll sit out of playtime for five minutes.” And I do my best to follow through, to be kind but firm, to stick to my word even if their sad faces are breaking my heart because I know giving in is what they want from me but it’s not what they need.

And now I have to do it at home, too. Violet isn’t yet at an age where follow through and discipline are a major concerns, but I try to maintain some follow through when it comes to routine. I know she can understand cause-and-effect, that if we come right away when she cries upon being put to sleep that she’ll keep doing it. So when we put her to bed, we close the door and let her cry, because we know that although she wants to stay up and for us to be close, she needs her sleep and she needs to learn how to self-soothe. Linda and I sit on the couch and look at each other, waiting for the other one to say, “Has it been long enough? Should we go in and settle her down?” We usually set a time limit of ten minutes, after which we bring the dustbuster into the bedroom, allowing the white noise as a small crutch towards sleep. It usually works, and I go through the rest of the night feeling like I’ve followed through on my commitment to giving Violet some indpenednce in falling asleep.

But the other night, she just would not go to sleep. Ten minutes of tears came and went, and the dustbuster just gave her something to cry over. I knew Linda wanted to go in and calm her down, but I was against it. Then, Linda went to the bathroom and I was left on the couch alone listening to Violet’s cries escalate to that scary sort of shrieking, choking sob level, and suddenly, follow through didn’t seem so important. I went into the bedroom. Violet sat in the crib, holding onto the bars, her blue eyes red-rimmed and wet, looking at me with all the want an eight month old can muster, and I picked her up. I faced her out, pulled her onto my chest, and leaned back into the pillows on our bed. She gave a few shuddery sighs and went quiet, and within seconds, she was asleep, her eyes still red, but now relaxed and closed.

Like stacking her new blocks, I had piled up nearly eight months worth of bedtime follow through, and with one swipe of her arm, she had knocked it down. I know one night’s behavior doesn’t make a habit, but having her fall asleep on my chest like that, of seeing how my presence made her feel all better, that’s going to be hard to pass up the next time she’s crying at bedtime. I can listen to her scream and cry, knowing that it’s what she needs, or I could go in the bedroom and delight in giving her what she wants. It’s the ice cream equivalent of baby behaviors - no good for either of us, but so very, very enjoyable.

254 days old

Monday, August 1, 2011

Little Things - Part 1

It’s easy to forget the simple joy of stacking up blocks and knocking them down. I found it again playing with Violet and her new set. They’re newfangled blocks, colored brightly, oversized, and rubberized, easy for Violet to grab and chew on. I stacked them up and she knocked them down. Over and over. She is still unsure of this game, looking at me every time she knocks them over. Maybe she’s checking to see if she’s in trouble, or maybe she’s trying to tell me to stop building the blocks up when she so obviously prefers them all down.

I’m sure there’s many more things about being a kid that I’ve forgotten about, things that Violet will help me remember. Sitting there playing with the blocks, I recalled how as I child I had a mad love for small things. Small cars, small figures. Tiny things were cool. They still are apparently because toy stores are still jammed with miniature versions of this and that. And thinking about my love of small things reminded me of how that affinity got me into trouble, because when I was small, I also had a problem with taking things. By that I mean stealing, and once, at a country store my parents used to take me and my brothers to on Sundays, I stole a miniature bottle. It was a tiny version of a gallon jug made of brown, beer-bottle glass, topped with the tiniest cork I’d ever seen. I imagined filling it with water or iced tea and carrying it in my pocket whenever I went exploring with my friends into the woods, and at the moment when they were complaining of being thirsty, I would take out my little bottle and slake my thirst, leaving all of them jealous, wishing they had a bottle like mine. I’d fill it with pop and sneak it into the movies, or I’d use it to bring home sand from the beach. The fact that it held only about an ounce of fluid did not even occur to me. My second grade mind churned out more uses for the bottle than I could picture. But my parents had told me on entering the store that I wouldn’t be getting anything, and I didn’t have any money. Friday’s allowance of three dollars was long gone. So, I listened to the more sinister of the two voices whispering in my head, and I slipped the bottle into the pocket of my cut-offs.

This being 1980, my cut offs were tight, so the bottle left a bulge larger than any bulge should be in the shorts of a seven year old. I spent the rest of the time in the store leaning slightly forward and standing behind displays, feigning interest in country crafts of all sorts. I even remember asking my dad about an Amish doll, pretending that I wanted it despite the fact that the blank face totally freaked me out. How I made it through the car ride home without one of my brothers noticing my shorts or the guilty look on my face, I don’t recall. When our station wagon pulled into the garage, I jumped out and bolted around the back of the house, fished out my bottle, wriggled off the cork with shaking fingers, and filled it from the hose. I ran down the path into the woods, all the way down to the creek. I wanted to work up a sweat. It was early July, school was out, and I had the coolest bottle in the world clutched in my hand. Those things outweighed the guilt in my gut and allowed me to run as fast as a kid can run at the beginning of summer. When my sneakers hit the water, I was puffing. I pulled off the cork and tilted the bottle back. The opening was so tiny, I had to shake it to get the water out, but I did not care. Even now, years later, I can remember what it felt like to be a kid, to picture something in my head, and then to make that thing come true. So what if a few details didn’t match up? It did not matter.

I played around in the creek for a while. Filling the bottle up with creek water and dumping it out, again and again. I tried to fit some minnows inside, but they were too big. Soon, the urge appeared to show off my bottle. Yes, it was cool playing with it by myself, but I wanted others to see me playing with it, to know that it was mine. And although I should have known better, even at seven, I got it in my head to show the bottle to my parents. Maybe it was my guilty conscience extracting revenge or taking the long way around to get me to come clean, but for some reason, I decided that I wanted my parents to see it. But how to I explain how I got it? Easy. I would tell them I found it, and to cement the ruse, I took some wet mud from the edge of the creek and slathered it all over the bottle. I jammed it inside with a stick. Then, I cleaned it up just a bit, trying to make it look as if the bottle had been underground for ages and had only recently been unearthed. I thought it looked pretty good.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you what happened when I showed it to them…

253 days old