Saturday, September 28, 2013

Clara Meets A Cactus

Clara spends every day exploring the world around her.  She is bold and brave and gives me heart palpitations when she tries to climb up the crumbling cement stairs in the courtyard of my building. She has a very fuzzy sense of depth perception and seems to think walking off the edge of the slide works as well as sitting on her butt and going down.  It's all terrifying - but through it all I am trying to limit what I actually say no to.  For example - I say "No" when Clara reaches up and tries to fiddle with the oven burners.  I explain about it being hot and that she will get burned but I do not allow her to play with the oven knobs.  That's a firm "no."

I don't mind if she chews on sticks or leaves in the park but I do take away unfamiliar berries, small rocks, and pieces of garbage which she seems to want to chew on with equal enthusiasm.  I watch her carefully while she explores her environs.  I let her lead the way...unless she is leading us off the edge of a cliff or into the street.

Sometimes this relaxed parenting style bites me in the ass.  Take the other day.  I was showing Clara the herbs in our co-op's garden.  Anyone who lives in the building can take a few clippings of mint, rosemary, basil, oregano, or thyme to cook with.  I was bruising the leaves so Clara could smell the different herbs.  And then Clara's attention was inexplicably diverted to the one plant I didn't want her to touch - a cactus.  She squeezed past three pots and a dangling prism I hoped in vain would distract her to get to the dumpy looking cactus.  

ME: "Clara - don't touch that it will hurt - "

I should have saved my breath.  She reached down and snapped off a plump piece of cactus and held it out to me.

ME: "Clara - give that to me."

CLARA: "Hee..."

ME: "No really...give it to me"

CLARA"  "Hee hee..."

Laughing, she squeezed past the pots and toddled away, cactus in hand.  Luckily she quickly dropped the cactus in favor of a more interesting, much more squishy rotting tomato she found.

I wiped off her smelly tomato hands and picked her up.  She seemed unhurt and happy. The Cactus gods were smiling down on us.This was great.  Or so it seemed until I put Clara down and discovered a bunch of almost invisible cactus thorns up and down my arm.  The upside was almost all of the barbs seemed to have transferred themselves to my skin.  The downside - cactus barbs hurt and looking closely at Clara's hands I saw she still had some in her.

I carried her upstairs to our bathroom and proceeded to get the barbs out of her hand with  tweezers.  Tears pouring down her face, Clara looked like a bereft Hummell Doll. She was very mad at me, though she recovered quickly. 

I am torn between giving Clara the freedom to explore and trying to protect her.  Has she learned not to touch thorny plants?  Probably not. What have I learned?  Get to the cactus first.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hi...My name is...

Gerald and I have been subscribing to the theory that if you talk to your child a lot, then she will be verbal.  Or more verbal.  I don't know.  But it has seemed to work.  So far, Clara has learned to say: Bubble, Up, A-Cup, Bye Bye, Hi, Woof Woof, Quack Quack, Yes, Mama, and Dada.

I have to credit Gerald with the Mama and Dada part.  Anytime Clara said "Dada," Gerald would respond with:  "Yes. I'm Dada.  That's Mama. And you're Clara."  I take all the credit for Woof Woof and Quack Quack.

Yesterday while I was at work, something amazing happened.  Gerald was sitting in the chair in Clara's room as she played.  Gerald said: Yes, I'm Dada and you're Clara."  And Clara looked over at him and said: "Clara."  And then proceeded to respond to the question: "What's your name?" with "Clara" quite a few more times.

When I got home that night I asked her:  "Is your name Clara?" and she said: "Clara."

I wonder how long she's been thinking about saying her own name.  It's as if I can see her brain synapses firing and building the neural pathway that means: My name is Clara." along with the ones that mean: "One foot in front of the other is walking." and "This is how to drink from a cup."

Every day with a child is a revelation.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


I have always been a morning person.  I hate rushing out the door.  Pre-baby, I would get up an hour and a half before I had to leave for work so I could sip coffee, read a book, get ready at a human pace. I am also wide-awake and cheery in the morning.  In college I woke up five days a week at 4:15am to row crew and then worked in the theater department all night.  It was great. 

It comes as no surprise that Clara is a morning person too.  She happily chirps in her bed in the morning (usually sometime between 5:30 and 6) as the dawn light streaks into her room and smiles at me when I walk into the room.  I wonder if her chirps are her discussing my impending arrival with the elephant, seahorse, and Yankee Bear that inhabit her crib. 

In the past week she has added something to the routine.  Now when I walk in I am greeted with a happy, smiling baby who says: "Hiiiiii!" to me in her tiny, piping voice. It made me laugh out loud the first time she did it.  It seemed so adult.  And it takes the sting out of the fact that, though I am a self-proclaimed morning person, having only one or two mornings where I have slept past 6 am in the past 14 months can wear a little thin.  But my reward is a beautiful little girl who can't contain how glad she is to see her Mama. What more could I ask for?

Monday, September 09, 2013

No, Mom - I don't need your help.

Clara is 14 months.  She is a steady walker and very coordinated.  But she is still only 14 months.

A few days ago I put her on a bouncer-car thing in our toddler playground.  I showed her how to hold on and rocked it back and forth.  She like it but seemed worried and wanted to get off.

Today, she walked right over to it.

Me: "Clara, would you like to try this?"

Clara: "Esh."

I picked her up.  She immediately grabbed the handles.  I began to rock her back and forth and she yelled loudly and batted my hands away. I let go to see what would happen.  Would she fall?  Would she get scared?

Nope.  She grabbed on and rocked herself wildly back and forth, laughing her head off.  I even had time to snap a picture.  Look how her feet don't even come close to reaching the footrests.

I am amazed how independent she is becoming.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Birth Stories

I was incredible moved when I read this blog post written by the very talented Libby Emmons. (click here to read)  It wasn't about her playwriting - it was her birth story and her struggles  with her expectations of herself as a mother and the reality of being a mother.

I have organized a semi-weekly meetup in Fort Tryon park for new parents and their babies.  It's great for the children to interact and I think it's even greater that the new moms and dads get to talk with other people that are going through the same thing.  I have heard a lot of birth stories - some wonderful, some harrowing, some with a bit of both - but all of them share the fear of the unknown and how quickly we have to learn to adapt to these new, tiny lives we have been trusted with.

I think it's incredibly important to share your birth story and your experiences as a parent.  There are too many voices that scream: "If you don't do THIS you are a terrible parent." Instead, I like the women and men who say: "This is what happened to me - maybe something I did will work for you." Maybe it will.  

I went into labor at 11 am on.  Gerald and I were staying with his parents in their one bedroom apartment because the closing on our new apartment had been delayed until the week prior.  Gerald was getting ready to go into work.  We ate a nice breakfast and I said: Hmmm.  My back is really sore."  10 minutes later my back was really sore again.

Our slightly ridiculous but pretty much informative birthing class had told us to expect laboring at home for most of the day before going to the hospital.  They also said the contractions would start gently and be about an hour apart.  Mine quickly left the "uncomfortable" stage and progressed to the pretty intensely painful stage.  They were ten minutes apart for about 40 minutes.  Then they were six minutes apart.

At this point Gerald had called out of work and we decided to call our OB/GYN.  I talked to her and explained that the contractions seemed to be very intense and six minutes apart.  She thought we were probably wrong but should go to the hospital if we felt strongly about it.  The worst that would happen would be that the hospital would send us home.

Gerald started zooming around the apartment looking for what to bring but it was all already packed in a suitcase so he was just zooming around to blow off some steam.  I wasn't sure about leaving for the hospital - I didn't want to make the trip to be sent home again.  Contractions were 5 minutes apart.  A friend called to offer me free tickets to a performance of Nice Work If You Can Get It on Broadway that night.  I said: "Well, I don't think I can go.  I'm pretty sure I'm in labor."  Another friend called to catch up - and I finally ended the conversation with: "I think I need to go to the hospital now - I'm in labor."

I waddled to a cab with Gerald, hissing in pain.  In the cab ride over my contractions started getting extremely painful and were now 4 minutes apart.

We got to the hospital and went to Triage.  They whisked me inside and when Gerald tried to come with me they told him he had to wait outside for a few minutes.  They got me into a curtained section and I promptly threw up into a sink and all over the floor.  Gerald came in a few minutes later and they checked my cervix - 6 centimeters dilated.  I was taken up to labor and delivery.

At this point it had been about 2 hours.  For the next 4 hours my contractions were incredibly intense and 2 minutes apart.  I couldn't get comfortable and the pain was becoming unbearable.  I was naked except for that ridiculous hospital robe - all my sweaty lady parts flapping in the wind.  I was embarrassed for about  thirty seconds and then just gave up.  I was exhausted.  I was so sure I didn't want an epidural.  But the Doctor thought I would labor through the night.  If it was going to be this hard for that long I knew I couldn't do it.  

I sat still for the epidural for a half an hour.  The intern or resident mis-threaded it and someone senior had to come in and do it.  Blessed, blessed relief.  

A few minutes later the OB/GYN came in.  She told me my labor had slowed (it hadn't, the belly monitor had fallen off unbeknownst to both of us), and though she thought I would labor for another 10 or 12 hours she was going to check me out.

She looked inside and said:  Forget what I just said.  You're going to give birth in the next fifteen minutes.  Would you like to know what color her hair is?"  

10 sets of pushes, an episiotomy, and a slight poop accident later, Clara was born - lying on my chest while we waited for the placenta to stop pulsating before cutting the cord.  I wish I had known I was that close to giving birth, or that they had checked me out before giving me the epidural.  I would not have gotten it had I known I was that close. 

It took five days for my milk to come in.  Angry night nurses yelled at me that I was doing it wrong as I tried to breast feed every two hours.  When we took Clara home when she was three days old she spent the entire night crying.  Nothing was coming out of my breasts.

At our first doctor's visit the next day Gerald and I were jittery with fatigue and worry.  The pediatrician said: "She's hungry.  Why don't we give her a bottle? "  And we did and our little girl stopped crying and promptly fell asleep.  We gave her formula until my milk came it two days later and then I was in full on breastfeeding mode.

All those feelings they describe in books of your breasts feeling full enough to burst never happened to me.  Those pads you put in our bra to sop up milk leaks collected dust in the linen closet.  I seemed to be making enough for Clara but that was it.  I couldn't ever pump enough out for a bottle.  When I went back to work part time when she was three months old I couldn't pump more than a couple of ounces at work.  We had to supplement.  I met a lot of mom's who were exclusively breastfeeding and not using bottles.  They crowed: "My child has never even seen a bottle" or urged me to only breast feed with vague fears: "breast milk is the only way to go or their development will lag." They were very critical and it worried me.  What choice did I have?  What was the point in making me feel bad?

I had the intention of breastfeeding Clara for a year.  But one day, at nine and a half months - Clara walked away from my boobs. Well...she crawled.  She refused to breastfeed.  She was done.   It didn't matter that I wanted to breastfeed for another two months.  She was good to go.  "Bottle, please, Mama."

Every child is different and we all have become experts in our own children.  I have used quite a few tips proffered by other parents.  Some have worked: (a bowl of pacifiers by the bed so you don't have to hunt for the one that ended up under the bed in the middle of the night) and some haven't.  (Endless recommendations for sippy cups have all been rejected by Clara who would prefer to drink from a grown up cup at all of 13 months."

We need to do more of this for each other.  I want to hear your story.