Friday, November 7, 2008

Faster than a speeding race car

I'm sure all six of my readers have been wondering where I've been. The answer is long and boring, so I'll just say this: Life is moving a bit fast for me these days, and I'm still digging myself out from underneath the mountain of responsibilities that unfortunately come before this creative outlet.

But don't forget about me. I'll be back in a couple weeks with some observations from my time away and hopefully a clever phrase or two. Until then, I'll leave you with a little eye candy from the spookiest holiday of the year.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

A San Francisco Sunday

I have always considered football a lovely way to spend a Sunday. From playing two-hand touch with the Nerf and a gaggle of neighborhood kids in my youth to flopping on the couch for a classic pigskin rivalry on national TV in adulthood, I have been a lifelong football fan. As a kid, it was a good way to blow off some steam, have fun, and prove that every girl doesn't necessarily throw like a girl. As an adult, it has shown me time and again how hard work, commitment, and determination pay off in the long run. And it continually reminds me that people who make costly errors in the first half can go on to execute game-winning plays in the second-half simply by persevering and learning from their mistakes. Football has always given me a precious combination of entertainment, relaxation, and inspiration. And last Sunday was one of my best.

I have been a 49ers fan all my life. I was only 9 when Joe Montana and Dwight Clark connected for The Catch in the 1982 Championship game, and I fondly remember running into the street banging pots and pans with my brothers when the 49ers won the Super Bowl that year. But while many San Francisco fans still hold Joe Montana as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game, I have always been a Steve Young fan.

I can't even remember quite how I developed this initial interest. Perhaps I was partial to the underdog. Or maybe I found the combination of accurate passing and ugly-but-effective scrambling exciting. Or quite possibly I was compelled by the gritty determination of an athlete struggling to fill a legend's shoes and make his own way. But from the time Steve Young was officially named Montana's backup and throughout the rest of his football career, I have been a constant supporter. And the fact that he is such an intelligent, articulate, and generous man with clear convictions and a profound sense of what's truly important in his everyday life has only deepened my admiration and respect for him.

Last Sunday, the 49ers retired Young's number in a halftime ceremony at Candlestick Park. And while I have never attended a regular-season game, I was there — in the second row up from the field in the end zone to honor him in person. Now I am not typically a celebrity admirer. I have never logged onto Perez Hilton. I don't put fan posters on my wall. I don't chase down musicians or athletes or actors on the street and beg for an autograph. And I don't generally spend any time thinking about people I have never actually met. But because I have always had such a deep respect for the example Young set not only as a football player but also as a citizen, I wanted to experience his number-retirement ceremony first-hand. And I am so glad I did.

On a beautiful October Sunday in the sea-level stadium the team has played in since 1971, beloved 49ers tight end Brent Jones took the stage and introduced his team roommate and best friend as "a Hall of Famer both on and off the field." Then Young looked on with his pregnant wife and three kids as his number 8 was added to a group of retired legends on the cement balcony of the historic stadium. When Young took the stage to a standing ovation, he reminisced about some of his favorite moments in red and gold and thanked so many of the key players and coaches who helped him master his craft. Then he spoke directly to the fans. He held his arms up in the classic signal for a touchdown and closed by saying, "Every time I've raised my hands, I've raised them to you."

video

I tried to capture every moment I could: Young greeting friends and fans on the field before the game while his two-year-old daughter slept on his shoulder. His seven-year-old son hanging out the window of their luxury box, waving to the crowd. Fellow teammates and legends in their own right — Jerry Rice, Bryant Young, and Dana Stubblefield — waving and signing autographs as they accompanied Young to the mid-field ceremony. The fireworks and festivities as his number was unveiled. And the exit Young made afterward, walking directly through the stands at the 50-yard line, where he high-fived and hugged fan after fan and personally thanked them before making his way to the press box.

I didn't know it at the time, but very little of the ceremony was shown during the game broadcast — only a few still pictures and a brief mention. And subsequent game wrap-up shows aired short highlights from the festivities, but no coverage came close to the real thing. So the only way I possibly could have experienced it was to be there. After 12 years of cheering for him on the field and nearly 10 more following his football commentary on ESPN and our local sports talk radio station, I'm so glad I had the opportunity to attend the game and celebrate this final well-deserved — and very personal — tribute.

When I left for the game that morning, Josh really wanted to go with me. It seems I've already begun to pass on my love of football to my son, as well as an admiration for Number 8 himself, even though he will only ever see him play on old footage from games that happened years before he was born. So when I got home, we sat down on the couch together and watched the video snippets I shot. Josh snuggled in at my side and seemed as compelled as I was listening to the speeches, watching Young's kids admire their father, and cheering the plays on the highlight tribute reel.

Josh will surely have his own favorite athletes. In fact, he already does. From the moment Jeremy Roenick signed his Sharks jersey last fall, Josh has been a devoted fan. JR is the persona he most often assumes when he's scoring the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup Finals in the middle of our family room floor — narrating as he plays, "He shoots, he SCOOOOOOOOOOOOOORES!"

As Josh chooses his own idols, I can only hope he chooses good athletes who are first and foremost good souls. Because no matter what they can do on the field or on the ice, it is what they do in this life that truly counts. And the longer I am a parent, the more acutely aware of that I become.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Imaginary siblings

In the last couple of weeks, the population of my family has exploded. It seems we've suddenly gone from a humble family of three to a hearty family of eight. And I'm not quite sure how it happened.

Last week, Josh informed me that Eric was sitting next to him in the car on the way home from preschool. Since he is always desperate for someone to sit with, I thought he was pretending that his dad was back there. "No, not Daddy Eric, my brother Eric!"

I tried to tread lightly. "Brother Eric? Reeeaaaaaalllllyyyy???"

"Yes!" he insisted. "And my sister Robyn is on the other side." Uh-huh. I see.

Later that week, he told me he was playing catch in the family room with his brother Chocolate. Again, I paused. Chocolate? But evidently, the new kid can throw a tight spiral.

Then a few days later when he returned from a morning at Grandma's house, he mentioned that he had taken his brother Macaroni and Cheese with him. By this time, the names were killing me. First Eric and I had no imagination by naming Josh's first siblings after ourselves, and then we were evidently thinking way outside the box by branding the next two with comfort food classics.

When I was putting him to bed the other night, I dug a little deeper into this new imaginary family, trying to determine whether Josh is simply embracing that imaginary friend developmental milestone or suffering from severe schizophrenia and in deep need of intensive therapy.

It turns out that he and his siblings all sleep in a five-bunk bed in Josh's room. Josh sleeps at the top, of course. Then comes Chocolate, Macaroni and Cheese, and sister Robyn. And brother Eric sleeps at the bottom. Brother Eric likes to eat yogurt and apple juice. And Chocolate likes to eat — you guessed it — chocolate. He was fuzzy on the eating habits of the others, but I would put down money on what Macaroni's favorite meal is.

According to the creator, the siblings are all three years old, but with varying degrees of threeness. And the ages seem to fluctuate by the day. But it's safe to say they are all "three-and-something." How convenient.

Another interesting tidbit about these five kids (one real and four imaginary) is that they are all racecar drivers. I had no idea. I guess they have been sneaking out to the track for dry practices to improve their lap times. They all sport different colored cars with unique racing numbers. But it came as no surprise when Josh told me he always wins.

Yesterday when I was tucking Josh in for a nap, he was talking about his siblings again. I quietly asked him if he really just wanted a real baby brother or a sister to play with. He seemed to consider this question for quite sometime before saying, "No thanks." And I breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

Then he added, "Baby Leah is already sleeping in her crib downstairs."

No wonder I'm so tired.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Learning to swim

As we enter the local swim center, we are immediately met with the unmistakable scent of chlorine and mold. A smell reminiscent of library books crossed with Clorox. A musty-meets-antiseptic odor that brings my own days of swimming lessons — some 30 years ago — bubbling to the top of my memory. The woman at the front desk directs us toward the waterslide, where we join several shivering preschoolers and their moms, anxious about their first class.

Josh has been excited about this all week. And once he gets into the pool, he's thrilled to find that he can stand up by himself in the generous two-and-a-half-feet-deep shallow end. I take my seat on the bleachers and watch six wet heads blow bubbles into plastic rings, reach underwater for rubber fish, and scoop pretend ice cream with both arms. The teacher then takes each minnow-in-training for a solo swim, first on their stomach with a kickboard and then on their back with their head resting on her shoulder. Some are more graceful than others. And some are definitely more comfortable in the water.

Josh thrusts his bottom underwater yet tries to kick during his back float. He ends up looking more like a clam than a fish. But he tries every exercise, no matter how proficient. And after class, we go out for ice cream to celebrate a successful first lesson.

The next week starts with a half-hearted protest about the temperature of the water and something about not being ready yet. I plop him into the pool and hurry to my seat, hoping he'll suck it up until he remembers how much fun he had last week. He starts selectively dropping exercises. He refuses to blow bubbles in the ring but merely touches his lips to the water. He won't reach for the rubber fish his teacher holds just low enough that he has to get his face wet to reach it. Instead, he lifts her arm up with his foot to bring his prey to his grasp. He swims his solos but only kicks occasionally, and he won't relax his head for the backstroke. Between structured activities, he spends all his time holding onto the side of the pool and pleading with me to let him get out. Needless to say, we do not go out for ice cream this week.

Eric and I try to practice with Josh between lessons. We take him to the pool in his grandparents' neighborhood and urge him to blow bubbles, get his whole face wet, kick, float, scoop. Some days we are successful. Other days we are not. Such is life with a three year old.

The following lesson is a little worse, and by the final session, I can hardly keep him in the water. The teacher takes each student through the required minnow skills, evaluating their progress. The other kids demonstrate remarkable aptitude — even the ones who cried through the first lesson. But while they progressed, Josh regressed. I try not to cringe as his teenaged instructor hands me the small yellow report card with nary a check on the list of class requirements. At the bottom, it cheerily proclaims, "Congratulations, your child is now qualified to enroll in the Minnows" which is, of course, the very same class he's been taking. Or should I say avoiding.

So I decide to sign him up for a different version. One that meets twice a week instead of once a week so he can hopefully sustain some momentum between sessions. The first day brings an unlikely surprise — a male teacher. Josh thinks this is a huge bonus. And with the help of a rubber duck wearing a farmer's hat, the new instructor lures my timid swimmer into the pool. Winston works slowly, carefully gaining Josh's trust before leading him into uncharted waters. And Josh begins to cautiously follow him, first moving off the stairs (or "his office," as we like to call them), then almost getting his nose wet, and finally kicking all the way to the deep end on a kickboard sporting the aforementioned duck.

As I root his tentative progress, I am reminded of how difficult indeed it is to learn to swim. A couple years ago, he was just learning to walk, figuring out how to steady himself on solid ground, awkwardly scooting around the coffee table on his newfound legs over and over again until one day he accidentally walked all the way across the family room floor while firmly grasping the remote control for imaginary balance. Now I have thrust him into a completely new world — one that doesn't follow any of the same laws of physics or aerodynamics — and I'm somehow expecting him to swim from end to end after a handful of half-hour lessons.

It is suddenly clear to me that he will learn to swim the same way he learned to walk: One small step at a time, with fits and spurts of progress followed by inevitable setbacks and eventually culminating in an unexpected surge of success after what seems like weeks of failure.

And the more I think about it, the more I recognize this path. It is the same one I follow as a mother. Prudently taking two steps forward and then inevitably one step backward. Striving to walk away from my more naive, less sacrificing younger self and swim in the deeper waters of the more responsible, less impulsive, wiser souls who came before me. Learning the new strokes of nurturing and often running out of breath as I brave new depths. Misplacing my confidence with every new challenge. Making mistake after mistake before finally achieving an unlikely breakthrough.

It is slow-going, this process of becoming. And it is rife with setbacks. But it is also full of promise and possibility. When Josh and I are finally able to embrace the true weightlessness of swimming, we will be rewarded with the unique freedom that comes only from perseverance and growth. In this moment, as we both kick and choke and splash our way through our respective lessons, that's what I'm truly counting on. That, and the celebratory ice cream.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Groupies

When Josh was four months old, I joined a local playgroup. When I was pregnant, people were always telling me how easy it would be to meet other moms once the baby was born. But one of the things I remember most about those first few fuzzy months of motherhood was the persistent feeling that I was alone.

It's not that I didn't get oodles of support from my husband, parents, in-laws, and friends, but everyone worked full-time. So five days a week from morning until evening, I was alone with this tiny creature whose needs fluctuated on a daily basis and whose psyche I was convinced I was permanently damaging with every small choice I made. So I went online, found the mom's club in my area, sent a check to an anonymous PO box, and a few weeks later I was in a playgroup with three strangers who happened to have babies Josh's age. And at first — I'll be completely honest here — I wasn't so sure it was a good idea.

Perhaps it's a natural phenomenon when you gather two or more sleep-deprived, anxiety-ridden, intensely insecure new moms together, but those first few meetings were awkward, to say the least. Each week, I would leave and think up creative excuses to skip next week's meeting. But for some reason, I kept me showing up each week. Maybe it was the comfort of knowing that I had a real appointment to get ready and leave the house for, or perhaps it was the morbid curiosity of watching other people's train wrecks — such as blow-out diapers or the meltdown of all meltdowns in the middle of a Starbucks — that made me feel better about my own lot in motherhood. Whatever the motivation, I persisted.

Within a few months, we lost a couple original members and gained a couple more, and somewhere in the middle, we found a nice equilibrium. We didn't always share the same interests or parenting philosophies, but we did share one universal commonality: We were all suddenly doing the hardest job we had ever done, and we had no idea how.

So we faithfully met each Thursday morning at nearby parks on nice days and coffee shops on rainy days. We'd all pull up in our assorted baby mobiles and spend the next 20 minutes heaving our enormous strollers out of the trunk; loading them up with the diaper bag, a purse, assorted toys, and snacks; and then clipping the infant carrier snugly in place, being careful not to wake the just-now-napping baby. Then we would navigate to the chosen meeting place, often en masse, struggling to manage all our gear. Inevitably at least one baby would wake up and promptly start screaming that I'm-either-about-to-be-eaten-by-a-wildcat-or-maybe-I'm-just-hungry cry, just as we were figuring out how to fit four SUV strollers between two easy chairs and a leather couch.

For the next hour and a half, we would compare notes. Does your baby ever sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time? How often does your baby nurse, and for how long? Do you feel like you want to kill yourself at least once a day? Are you laughing one minute and sobbing the next? Oh good. Me too. We'd whine and complain about all the things all those family members and strangers never told us when they were so busy telling us exactly what it would be like to have a baby. And we'd complain about all the unsolicited and mostly untrue nuggets of wisdom we were randomly granted in line at the post office, the grocery store, or the ATM. But mostly, we would sit in comfy seats or on plush park blankets and try to relax for a moment or two before our never-ending shift started again.

While the babies did nothing more than roll around on a blanket or smile at one another from their infant seats and grab their own fuzzy rattles, we moms bonded in a way only soldiers who've been to battle together can. And miraculously, many months later we found one more member who instantly gelled, as if she had been with us from the very beginning. She also brought a much-needed daughter into our group that had previously been composed of three rough-and-tumble boys and one petite girl.

We have stuck together as a playgroup longer than most. A few other moms have come and gone over the years, trying us out for a while and then moving on, but the core remains solid. As our lives ebb and flow with activities and commitments, illness and new babies, one of us may be scarce for a few weeks here and there, but we always come back together, weathering schedule changes, vacations, pregnancy, and preschool. And now that the kids are old enough to really play together, they are great friends. Each child has his or her own distinct personality, talents, and quirks, but they truly love each other. In the last year as they have all gotten so good at expressing their emotions and communicating clearly, I have been touched and amazed to see how strong their bond has become. For they didn't chose one another any more than we did. We were all brought together by a combination of administrative randomness and fate. And it seems both forces knew exactly what they were doing.

So what, you may wonder, inspired this ode to friendship? Last week, we found out that one of our founding members is moving to the East Coast. Her family has an incredible new opportunity that happens to be across the country, and while we wish her well, we are sad to lose one of our own. Her departure has only reminded me how finite our little group is. I have tried not to think about it in the past, but even if the rest of us stick around, in less than two years our kids will be in kindergarten, potentially signaling the end of the weekly play date. And while we all live reasonably close to one another, we are all in different school districts, so seeing one another can only happen extracurricularly.

But imagining life without my weekly dose of chaos and fun is depressing. I'm not sure what I will do if I don't get to see what clever T-shirt Bradley is wearing or find out which words Lauren learned to spell each week. And while I now have no choice but to find out via e-mailed pictures from East Coast servers how tall our resident pro basketball player Alex is getting, I refuse to go more than a week without hearing Sami call me Rockin' Robyn. So how in the impending school-age era do I plan to fix this? There's only one solution: Those kids will just have to move in with me. And they better bring their moms, too.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Something frustrating and a little bit obnoxious

Lately, Josh has developed his own sort of syntax for communicating his most basic needs and desires. Either he's earnestly experimenting with how best to liberally apply adjectives so he can follow in his marketing writer mom's footsteps or he is simply dedicated to thoroughly annoying me every chance he gets. I have a feeling it's the latter.

It began with food. He would announce proudly that he was hungry. I would dutifully ask what kind of snack he wanted, and he would answer in a vague, yet specific kind of way: "I want something that's crunchy and goldfishy," or "I'm thirsty for something appley and juicey," or "I'm hungry for something twisty and a little bit fruity." I would scratch my head and pretend to search through the cupboard before emerging victoriously with Goldfish crackers or apple juice or twisted fruit in his favorite "tropsical" flavor.

But this penchant for description in lieu of directness has expanded beyond food and grown into a considerable chore. He is now applying his new technique to all his meals as well as his activities. And he has begun to demand polar opposites. "I want something crunchy and fruity and a little bit chewy," he said the other day after his nap. "Crunchy and chewy?" I asked. He nodded. "I don't have that." I responded, and I was met with an instant tantrum.

He also uses this strategy to narrow down things he doesn't want. Yesterday morning, he asked if he could take a toy in the car on the way to school. I told him to bring something small. He looked at his toy table and said, "I don't want something that floats or something that drives on roads or something that goes on a track." Then he looked up at me and told me to choose, based on those criteria, of course. If I threw all the boats, trains, and cars out of his toy box, there would be little left. I motioned toward an airplane, and he quickly threw in, "Or something that flies in the air." Damn. And last night after we went swimming, he announced, "I want something messy that I can eat at the table." Way to narrow it down for me.

So how did I end up as the sole contestant on Josh's unique form of Jeopardy? I have no idea. But if I really think about it, I can probably trace it back to that very first time when I thought it was cute — and I indulged him. The mistake of all mistakes as a parent. I think it was that deadly combination of pride over his evolving language skills and my desire to be the fun mom that lured me into participating. Now I'm stuck in guessing-game hell, and I'm no longer impressed nor concerned about my mommy Q score. I'm just aggravated, and I'm suddenly desperate for something that's a little bit rational and really straightforwardey.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The mouse's house


We did it. We were planning to wait until he was at least five, but we broke down and officially introduced Josh to the Disney cult last week. And he is now wearing the hat, singing the song, and drinking the kool-aid. Oh what have we done?

When you grow up in California, your first trip to Disneyland is practically a right of passage. It's right up there with your first bike, your first slumber party, and your first piercing. Parents agonize over the right time: Are they too young? Will it be too scary? Will they remember it? Kids beg and argue. Parents finally acquiesce (and sometimes regret it).

My parenting philosophy has been that Josh has his whole life to enjoy the granddaddy of amusement parks, so why rush the first experience? (Coincidentally, this is also my parenting philosophy on drinking soda and eating candy, and aside from a couple of birthday party lollipops and a hard-earned chocolate bar from his trick-or-treat bag, I'm standing firm on that.)

But a family wedding an hour outside of Anaheim changed my mind (as did the thought of driving six hours down a long, boring, dusty freeway with a three year old in the backseat on a Friday and then turning around and doing that same thing two days later). So we added more time to our trip and decided to immerse ourselves in what is now the Disneyland resort, which not only includes the classic park and hotel, but a fancy lodge (that costs a fortune to stay at), a new-to-me park aimed at teens and adults but with plenty of preschool-friendly attractions thrown in to make it a worthwhile stop, and an enclosed outdoor downtown area complete with the coolest niche shops as well as slick restaurants that beckon you to sit on the patio and drink tall, pastel drinks with hunks of fruit hanging off the side of the glass.

At the crack of dawn on the first morning, we packed a bag, hopped a tram, and headed for the Mouse Mecca. "I can't wait to see the castle," Josh kept saying as he bounced up and down on the bus seat. He has been pointing to the castle at the beginning of his Disney DVDs and books for weeks now saying, "I'm going there!"

After wrangling with the ticket booth over my Internet-purchased tickets and waiting in a long line at the entrance gates, a loud bell rang at exactly 8:00 a.m., an old man made a spirited announcement, and the crowd surged through the turnstiles and randomly dispersed to roller coasters near and far. We sauntered in and tried to casually observe the wonder we expected Josh to exhibit. We pointed out the Mickey Mouse head made of flowers with flashing lights that Tinkerbell seemed to control. We talked up the train station and the fire truck. And when we finally got a straight shot of the castle, we directed Josh's gaze toward the vaunted icon with a drum roll. And he looked at it as if to say, "That's it? That's the big castle?"

Much of the first morning followed that same theme. We took him on Pinocchio and Peter Pan, those classic Disneyland rides that take you in a little cart through doors that open just as you arrive and roll you through scenes from movies Josh has not yet seen. He didn't like the doors or the darkness behind them, so we quickly shifted gears to the Flying Dumbos and the carousel and other rides that make grown-ups dizzy. And all the while, Josh followed us from ride to ride with a distinct lack of wonder. In fact, I started to worry that he was coming down with something, and I kept checking the temperature of his forehead to reassure myself he was not about to confine us to a cheap hotel room for four days while our prepaid Park Hopper tickets wasted away.

But then we spotted Minnie and Pluto in Toon Town. They were shaking hands and giving out hugs, and although he didn't want to meet them, Josh was thrilled to run into some familiar faces. He watched from afar as they greeted child after excited child (and parent after excited, camera-posing parent). And slowly throughout that first day, Josh started to catch the Disney spirit. By the time the pirate band on Tom Sawyer Island started singing, "Yo-ho, Yo-ho, a pirate's life for me," and the waitress brought him a lunch menu printed on a paper pirate hat, Josh was adorning his head, singing along, and looking like a walking advertisement for the Magic Kingdom.

And his enchantment only grew the next day when we arrived at California Adventure and got to explore it for the first time together. From the 3D Muppet glasses and Turtle Talk with Crush from Finding Nemo to the ladybug ride and surprise water play in A Bug's Land, Josh found his utopia. While he loved drinking a milkshake for lunch and he couldn't get enough of the rope bridges in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, the pièce de résistance was the Pixar parade that marched down the main drag just after naptime because it was led by his all-time favorite movie star: Lightning McQueen. I thought Josh was going to hyperventilate when he saw his red racing hero leading the way through Sunshine Plaza.

Suddenly, all the wonder and amazement I had expected on day one culminated, and Josh was so exuberant that he simply couldn't sit still. He bounced on my shoulders, pointed from character to Pixar character screaming their names, and ooo'd and ahh'd every acrobatic trick. We caught sprays of water from the floats, chased bubbles, and danced to the contagious music as Josh's favorite fuzzy friends paraded by us, smiling and waving. And I stood tall, boosting my little boy up to catch as much of this fantasy as he possibly could. His excitement pulsed through me as I realized that this is exactly what every mom strives to give her child every now and again: an experience of pure joy and delight, the thrill of anticipation, and the gift of discovery and imagination up-close and personal.

When the crowd finally dispersed, I lifted my son off my shoulders. As he took my hand, he looked up at me and said, "I didn't know it would be this fun, Mom!" And I looked down, admiring his glowing, galloping, Mickey-eared self and said, "Me neither."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's all downhill from here

My favorite form of exercise is walking. So any time I can sneak out of the house for an hour (which is not often), I put on my tennies and climb the hills in my neighborhood. Since I live at the foot of the slope, there's nowhere to go but up.

Occasionally along the way, I find a small treasure Josh might like. Once I brought him a nearly perfect robin's egg with just a small hole in the middle where the baby bird must have escaped. Josh was fascinated and now asks me every time I walk to please bring him another egg.

One night last week, Eric was working late. I had been chained to my desk all day coaxing letters and punctuation into grammatically sound structures, and I really needed some fresh air. So I suggested a walk. "Can we go up the hills where you walk?" Josh asked.

I suddenly envisioned myself carrying him over my shoulder most of the way and tried to think up a new plan. But he wouldn't take no for an answer. Finally conceding, I quickly debated whether to take my SUV of a stroller, but pushing 30 pounds of plastic filled with 30 pounds of preschooler did not sound appealing. So I finally suggested he ride his tricycle. With the handle on the back, I could push him if he got tired, but I wouldn't have to travel at the speed of a three-year-old's stride.

So off we went, his sure feet pedaling revolution after revolution a few yards in front of me. He brimmed with confidence, looking back only when he came to a crossroads and was unsure which path to take.

Along the way, he discovered all kinds of treasures I could never (or should never) bring home — a jack rabbit hopping across the road and disappearing into a bush, cattails growing along our footpath that he had to stop and pet, and a wooden bridge that made his trike rumble as he traversed its wooden slats. He found delight around every corner. And I found my own kind of delight watching him explore in such an uninhibited way.

When we finally reached the top of the highest hill — me pushing him the last few feet and him sitting criss-cross applesauce on his wide seat — we saw the mountain our valley was named for stretched out before us, highlighted on one side where the sun set behind it and growing darker on the other.

Then came the best part, going back down. I looked at Josh with some trepidation, afraid to let him go too fast or get too far ahead of me. I pictured him flipping over, running into prickly bushes, or veering into the street without me close by to steer him in the right direction. At first, I tried to jog alongside him, but his erratic steering meant he often veered into my lane, and I was more afraid of breaking my ankle then risking a few cuts and bruises if he fell the whole six inches from his bike seat to the ground.

So I slowed up and simply let him go — my heart tightening as he rode further and further away. He soared toward independence with reckless abandon, taking in the thrill of descent. I couldn’t help but admire his adventurous side as I simultaneously fretted over his judgment and safety. When he ventured far beyond my comfort zone, I shouted for him to stop. But my voice couldn't compete with the rattle of his plastic wheels hitting the asphalt and the song of freedom in his head.

He must have sensed my fear though because after a few moments he suddenly he put on his break (meaning, he put his feet down and dragged them until his bike came to a stop) and looked back, smug and satisfied with his progress. I waved and ran to catch up. But as I approached, he turned back toward the slope and took off. As he cruised downhill, he lifted his feet off the pedals and let out a shriek of glee.

And I knew this time I would never be able to stop him.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Midnight regrets

It's after midnight, and I can't sleep. The day keeps spinning around in my head, as I relive a few crucial moments here and there that my left brain won't let me forget. I don't necessarily consider myself a bad parent, but there are days when I fall into bed and can't help thinking I was a bad parent today.

There was the day I put my foot down with an antsy, grabby toddler in the fancy department store and ended up carrying him out sideways to a chorus of "Mommy, no!" and "More magic stairs!" 

Then there was the day Josh asked to get out of the cart at Costco and ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction the minute his feet hit the floor, instantly disappearing among 100-foot-high aisles of dish soap and toilet paper. I frantically dashed from row to row as incredulous shoppers pointed this way and that when I asked if they had seen a little boy buzz past them. (Incidentally, if you ever need an employee to help you find or reach something at Costco, just let your toddler loose. I had three big guys in red vests corner, grab, and return him to me in less than three minutes. I realized only after they handed him back that he was wearing a T-shirt that said, "I do all my own stunts.")

And there are oh so many days when my head hits the pillow and my mind instantly starts flashing through all the moments I didn't play with Josh, all the times he tried fruitlessly to get my attention, all the times I snapped at him for doing something all three-year-olds do. Like a print queue with a paper jam that has suddenly been fixed, my memory spits out lost moment after lost moment in excruciating vibrancy. And all I can do is watch them go by, rendered helpless by the time-space continuum. I cannot fix them. I cannot go back and relive them. I can only remember them over and over again, exactly as they happened.

I try to trick myself into thinking about something else, something I'm looking forward to doing tomorrow, something cute Josh said or did, or something repetitive and boring such as the Music Together welcome song that I can't get out of my head. But my left hemisphere insists on returning to the prickliest events of the day, the ones my brain must still need to process before it will let me rest.

So alas, I get up, creep down the hall, and sneak into Josh's room. By the soft glow of the nightlight, I can see him sprawled out on his back with one arm over his head and his sheets wrapped around him like a toga. His cheeks are red and puffy, his breathing is even, and his eyelids flutter. 

I sigh as I gaze at this peaceful little soul, and small tears fill my eyes. I cannot change today. But I make myself the same promise I have made on many other late nights and will likely make a million times more: I will do better tomorrow. 

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Oh the places I go...

I am standing in a very loud room watching a giant rat wearing a baseball cap give the birthday boy a high five, and I am wondering how I got here. Not existentially how my being came into existence or what my spirit's predestined mission is, but rather how a well-educated, mostly sane woman in her late thirties ended up at a Chuck E. Cheese on a perfectly good Saturday afternoon. 

When I was first pregnant and imagining life as a mother, I pictured stroller rides through the park on a crisp fall day; train rides into the city to check out a children's museum and gaze at the Golden Gate bridge; hikes up the local ridge with the baby in one backpack and lunch in the other; car trips to the ocean, the aquarium, and even a pleasant amusement park. But I never pictured myself standing in the middle of 87 screaming children with numbered handstamps chasing each other through colored tubes, fighting over tickets dispensed by cranky machines with flashing lights, or jostling for position on miniature helicopters, tractors, and carousels. I have no idea how that happened.

It seems that since becoming a mother, I have been ending up in places I never thought about before Josh came along. Sure I drove past the local Chuck E. Cheese regularly when I was shopping downtown, but I simply regarded it as a place other people went. And by other people, I mean people who are not me.

When Josh was an infant and I was first attempting to take him out to public places like restaurants, I one day found myself sitting on a wobbly chair in the women's restroom trying awkwardly to nurse my always-starving son while other women came in and out to do, uh, other business. And when I wasn't in the ladies' room, I was feeding him in somebody's guest room staring at the wall or in the car, alone, on the hottest day of the year with the engine running and the air conditioner set on high. And even back then, with nothing to do but wait for Josh's tummy to fill, I often wondered the same thing: How exactly did I get here? 

That same thought floated through my head at countless Gymboree classes, as I sat in a circle with moms and babies on either side of me smiling and singing, "There are bubbles way down low, way down low. There are bubbles way down low, way down low. There are bubbles way down low. There are bubbles on your toes. There are bubbles way down low, way down low."

And I wonder the same thing every time I am giving Josh "some privacy" in the bathroom of a Costco or Target or grocery store or park — places I never even knew had public bathrooms before I potty trained my three year old. 

Where am I and how did I get here? 

Don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't like these places. (OK, maybe I don't like Chuck E. Cheese, but I have nothing against public bathrooms, friends' guest rooms, my car, or Gymboree.) And it's not that I don't realize I am indeed a mother raising a small child in the suburbs. I just can't seem to get used to it. That's all.

No matter how many other mothers are standing next to me at the local bouncy house place or the bowling alley or even the playground, I still sometimes feel like a visitor from another planet. A planet full of quaint shops, trendy restaurants, and boutique wineries. A planet that encourages weekend getaways, dinner parties, and afternoon matinees. A planet where people take leisurely drives in clean cars on sunny afternoons and listen to music that stirs their soul instead of songs about llamas wearing pajamas. A planet where adults have conversations that begin and end in one sitting. The planet I inhabited when I was a little younger, a little smarter, and much more rested.

It's just that sometimes when I find myself waiting in line for the Super Slide at our local fair, watching a ridiculous animated film among hundreds of chatty children, or fighting my way up the rope ladder at an indoor gym, I miss my home planet. And at those times, I whisper a silent plea to the mother ship to come back and pick me up the minute Josh goes off to college.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Unique up on me

Josh is into jokes these days. One evening at dinner as we were talking about our day, he told us about a funny thing he saw during Elmo’s World in that run-on way that preschoolers talk when they tell the whole story all at once and talk faster and faster as they get to the end.

"I was watching Elmo today, and there was a beach ball and a football and the beach ball said, 'How do you like being a football?' and the football said, 'I get my kicks.'" Then he laughed that deep, guttural laugh that we often hear when he cracks himself up.

Eric and I looked at each other, impressed on several levels. First, we were surprised that he got the joke, and not only did he get it, but he thought to tell us about it. And not only did he tell us about it, but he recounted it well. He remembered all the parts, put them in the right order, and actually made the whole joke work. Wow.

Since that first success, he has been trying to come up with more jokes. Subsequent attempts have been less successful. They are almost always preceded with, "Listen to this funny joke. This will be the funniest joke you ever heard." Then there is often a long pause, finally followed by something like, "What if I went fishing all day and all night and all day and all night? Isn't that funny?"

The other day we were riding in the car, and he said he wanted to tell me a joke. "OK," I said, readying my indulgent (and by indulgent, I mean fake) laugh.

"But I don't know any," he replied.

So I immediately tried to think of one. "How do you catch a unique rabbit?" I asked, digging a simple joke out of my childhood.

"I don't know."

"Unique up on him!" I delivered with gusto.

He did not get it, but he did know when to laugh. This time I got his indulgent laugh, complete with exaggerated panting.

"How do you catch a tame rabbit?" I followed up.

"I don't know."

"Tame way! Unique up on him!" Ba-dum-bum.

More laughing and panting erupted from the back seat. The fact that those are difficult jokes for a three-year-old to grasp was completely overshadowed by the fact that they were simply jokes, and whether he understood them or not, they were easy to repeat. Request fulfilled. He now had two new jokes.

As we drove, I started to think about the word unique. First I merely thought about how it sounded just enough like "you sneak" to make the joke work. But as I continued to turn the word around in my mind, I realized that this penchant for joke telling was yet one more unique piece in the Josh mosaic.

When Josh was a newborn, I knew almost nothing about him. I remember staring at him as he slept through most of those first few days and wondering who he was. What were his quirks and charms, strengths and weaknesses, turn-ons and triggers? What things would he love most in this world, and what things would he avoid at all costs? And how many of those preferences would come from Eric or me, and how many would be completely individual?

In those first few months, I often found it difficult to distinguish between normal baby developmental milestones and his individual personality. Did he have a quirky love of his own feet, or was that a typical baby discovery that he would soon lose interest in? Was his urgency to move as much and as fast as he could a sign of physical prowess or a standard baby instinct?

Like the scientist I have become as a mother, I am constantly collecting small bits of data, piecing together hints and clues, testing out various hypotheses. Occasionally I even make breakthrough discoveries about my son — everything from how to get this particular child to fall (and more importantly stay) asleep, stop crying, or eat to what interests him (sports), how he learns (through simple explanation, play, and experimentation), and what motivates him (rewards, especially sweet ones).

And the more I learn about this curious little creature, the more surprised I am about his uniqueness. From his individual peculiarities to his passions and predilections, each one is so completely his own.

I was reminded of his originality again last weekend as we were walking to the park. Josh suddenly stopped his tricycle and pointed to the house across the street. "I see something interesting," he said as he gazed at the porch. I noted the familiar metal sculptures of a cactus and a sleeping gaucho that we pass every day when we drive out of our neighborhood.

"Are you looking at those statues?" I asked.

"Yeah," he replied. "I've never seen those before."

I suppressed a knowing smile. "Actually you have. When you were little and I would take you for stroller walks, you would always point to those sculptures and bounce up and down as we went by. You have always loved those."

He gave me a quizzical look. He loves hearing stories about himself when he was "a little baby," but I could tell he was wondering whether to believe me when his three-year-old mind was telling him those standing pieces of art were completely new to him. 

Yet even in spite of himself, he is remarkably consistent in his unique preferences. He is his own self — his own joke-telling, sports-loving, loud-noise-fearing, Mexican-sculpture-admiring, strong-willed-yet-sweet-natured self. No matter how often I forget that, no matter how many times I consider him simply an extension of me — no more separate than he was in the womb — his uniqueness keeps sneaking up on me. And I am once again awestruck by the amazing individual being he already is and can't help becoming. 

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Josh-lish

Here are this week's top three definitions from the Josh-lish to English translation dictionary:

Tropsical:
Otherwise known as tropical; his favorite flavor of twisted fruit.

Canadians: What he calls the box of cowboys and Indians (uh, Native Americans) in his grandma's toy closet.

Are you unkidding me?: His take on the popular phrase. Mostly uttered when I say things like, "It's naptime" or "The Sharks traded Matt Carle and Craig Rivet."


Thursday, July 10, 2008

My destiny

I have never been the sort of person who believed she had a particular destiny in life. I have never been on a mission to become famous or save lives or fight for freedom. I have always believed I should live a good life, make good decisions, and try to be as happy as possible, no matter what life throws at me.

But I have certainly had moments when I believed that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I may not have envisioned those moments in advance, knowing before they happened that they were meant to be. But in the beauty of a moment, when good decisions and good luck happily collided and my soul was at peace, I have definitely experienced a profound well-being that told me I was in the right place at the right time. I felt that peace the day I met the girl who became my best friend for life when I was ten and just starting a new school. I felt it one warm summer night when I was sixteen and my first crush, unrequited for what seemed like years, told me he had a crush on me, too. And at my high-school graduation, the culmination of so many years of studying and learning celebrated in such spectacular fashion. And yet again that fall afternoon when my then-boyfriend of more than three years took me halfway up a mountain and proposed.

In fact, if I tried to count, I’m sure there would be dozens of moments, collected over the course of 36 years when I felt that ultimate peace — the kind that settles deep into your soul and whispers that everything is right in the world. But none of those moments seemed preordained. They certainly felt earned, once achieved, and even serendipitous, but not necessarily predestined. It wasn’t until I looked into my newborn son’s face that I truly understood my destiny. I was put on this earth to bear and raise this child. It became as clear to me as his crystal blue eyes. He is my destiny, my calling, my predestined life’s work. And the older he gets, the more I believe.

This may not be a novel or even uncommon discovery for new mothers. It likely seems unremarkable, even ordinary. But for me, it was my single biggest discovery. The realization that my life had a destiny all along, and that destiny was embodied in the every breath of a new being who is now under my sole care. I wholeheartedly accept this mission. And I hope one day when it is complete and my son is busy discovering his own destiny that I will be proud of how I fulfilled mine and look back on a life well-lived.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Backward driver

Josh started playing indoor soccer a few weeks ago. One of the drills they do every week is running backward. Every since the first session, Josh has been walking everywhere backward. And therefore, he has been bumping into things often. Whether he's slowly backing up as he's playing in the family room and runs into the corner of the entertainment center or running backward to his bedroom only to be tripped up by a small fire truck, Josh falls almost every time he tries his new trick, yet he is undeterred.

The other night, we were headed from the laundry room to my bedroom. When I realized that Josh was indeed going to go the distance backward, I warned against it. "Please don't. You're going to run into something and get hurt," I pleaded, picturing the sharp corner of the door frame colliding with the back of his unknowing head.

"I won't bump into anything," he responded joyfully. Then he put his fingers behind his ears and pulled them forward. "I have rear-view ears!"

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

We go together

Josh and I have a little game we like to play together. It started innocently enough one day while I was trying to put on his shoes, and for some reason, I said something like, "You're the shoes, and I'm the laces." 

He gave me a puzzled look, glanced around the room, and said, "How about: I'm the hockey stick, and you're the puck!" 

"That's a good one!" I replied.

And so it began. 

"How about: You're the bird, and I'm the nest," I said as we got into the car.

"How about: I'm the flag, and you're the pole," he matched as we made our way downtown.

"OK. You're the car, and I'm the road," I said as I drove.

"Yeah!" he shouted with glee. 

"I'm the tea, and you're the cup!" he said after a couple of minutes, recalling Daddy's morning ritual.

"Nice one! How about: You're the gas, and I'm the station," I said as we pulled in to fill up.

When I got back in the car, he was waiting. "I'm the grill, and you're the meat," he shouted from the quiet of the back seat.

We drove past the post office and merged onto the narrow downtown streets. "I'm the letter, and you're the stamp," I said as I parked the car.

We walked a couple blocks until we could see the plastic tables piled high with fresh vegetables, hand-baked bread, and baskets of berries. A musician plucked his guitar and sang folk songs as we strolled down the street that this morning was filled with people instead of cars. Josh took my hand, looked up at me, and sweetly said, "I'm the macaroni, and you're the cheese."

I squeezed his small hand and beamed, flattered to be so closely associated with his favorite food on the planet.

"You're the chocolate chip, and I'm the cookie," I said quietly, returning the sentiment.

He grinned up at me and did a little hop. 

Then he said, "I'm the yummy part of the orange, and you're the peel."

OK. I think I lost that round.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

In the moment

As a mother, I am always trying to savor the here and now of my son's childhood. I rarely encounter a stranger who does not tell me to enjoy Josh while he's young or warn me of the speed with which the early years evaporate. It is a universal truth that everyone feels compelled to share, yet so often, my mind can't seem to stay in a given moment. It prefers to be making mental dinner plans, brainstorming weekend outings, or adding and deleting to-dos from my neverending list. Joshua climbs up the playground ladder and slides gleefully down the spiral slide as I calculate how much of this week's budget I have already spent or try to remember whether I replied to a client's e-mail. It's not until I hear him cry out after bumping his head on the railing that I am jolted back to the moment I was supposed to be soaking in.

As Catherine Newman, one of my favorite introspective writers about all things child-rearing, once wrote in her Wondertime magazine article about the art of mindful parenting, "I had mastered a number of skills in my life — to be smart, capable, efficient — but it turned out that being still wasn't one of them. Even with a newborn, I found myself constantly in motion: toward a different moment, a different place, a different experience."

There are plenty of parenting moments I can't help but absorb. In fact, many times I'm downright stuck in them. Like the ones in the middle of the night when Josh vomits all over himself and his bed (or even worse, my bed and me), or the ones where I have to drag him across the floor just to get his clothes on or off. The problem is that those are not the moments I want to gather in both arms and carefully pack away in my cedar chest. Those are the moments that long-time moms quickly forget, especially those who are considering just one more baby. Those moments disappear as quickly as the pain of childbearing once you hold that small pink baby in your arms.

But it's not even the big moments I'm desperate to hold onto — not the trips to Disneyland or Christmas morning or his first day of kindergarten. Those memories are predestined to stick. I'm concerned about missing the unexpected surprises. The gleeful smile of my infant when he learns to put his toe in his mouth while I'm absentmindedly matching up socks. The sweet cadence of my toddler's voice when he turns to me out of the blue and quietly says, "I love you, Mommy" for no particular reason while I'm chatting away on the phone. Or the triumphant sigh when my preschooler figures out how to slide down the pole at the park all by himself while I'm watching the cars pull in and out of the parking lot.

As a parent who works (albeit part-time), I often worry about what I'm missing while my son is at school or at his grandparents' house. He inevitably bursts through the door in the afternoon with burning news — anything from "I got to hold a duck and two chicks!" to the ever-popular and ever-exciting "I ate a cookie!" But I'm realizing that the adventures I miss while I'm stuck at my desk are not truly the lost moments. No. The lost moments are the ones I'm actually present for yet completely miss. The moments I held in the palm of my hand yet let blow away with the wind. Those are the moments I will never get back. Yet ironically, they're the ones I will never even know I missed.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mommy? Mommy? Mommy?

Because it is driving me crazy, the other day I counted just how many times Josh said, "Mommy?"

204 times.

That's 17 times per waking hour (on a good day).

That's once every 3.5 minutes.

That's 204 times I tried to sweetly say, "Yes, honey?" while waiting for no reply, or a string of gobbledygook I call "speaking Goofball," or a really hard question such as, "What is the Earth made out of?" 

No wonder it seems like a lot. 

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The painful side of parenting

Before you have kids, people always tell you about the highs and lows: the happiness and disappointments, the exhilaration and exhaustion, the pride and the worry. It sometimes seems parenting is defined by its dichotomies. Yet no one tells you about the pain. 

I'm not talking about your wounded ego when your grade schooler wants to walk to school alone because she's too embarrassed to be seen with her mom, or the hole you feel in your heart when you find a thong in your teenage daughter's laundry or your adolescent son is caught cutting the whiskers off all the neighborhood cats. I'm talking about the physical pain — the kind I feel when my three year old stomps on my bare foot with his hiking boot or kicks me in the chin when we're snuggling or pokes me in the eye when he's trying to get my attention by waving his hand in front of my face or pulling my chin toward him. I'm talking about those eye-watering, breath-holding moments when I want to scream the F word and check the mirror for blood. No one ever told me about that pain.

Last weekend, Josh decided at the last minute to jump off the kitchen stool that I was helping him down from, and he ran his head into the underside of my chin, causing me to bite a chunk of my lip off while simultaneously banging my jaw shut. Then later that night, he decided to give me a kiss on my cheek that, without warning, turned into a bite. And he has developed this nasty habit of suddenly walking right in front of me on purpose, so that I trip over him. It's not enough that I trip multiple times a day over his toys or the bathroom stool, but now he must actively (and unexpectedly) throw me off balance as well. 

This physical abuse has become so common that I can't even remember the story behind every cut or bruise I have at any one time. But I know they are all preschooler-induced. And I am never surprised to discover a new one. 

To add insult to injury, when Josh isn't inflicting unintentional physical harm, he's inflicting unintentional stains. Dirty fingers, overzealous conversations with his mouth full, and careless leave-behinds on the tabletop wreak havoc on my clothes. There's no such thing as a white shirt in my closet anymore. I often can't wear a clean pair of pants for more than ten minutes before they are dirty. And if I dare to dress up, I regret it. 

So I hobble around in my mommy uniform — a dark T-shirt and cargo pants — avoiding the plastic garbage trucks and little plastic hockey guys in my path, favoring my right arm and re-bandaging my left knee, hoping all these bumps and bruises won't leave any permanent marks — only permanent memories of a boyhood lived out loud.



Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A little bit of magic

According to my son, I am magical. I am able to perform impossible feats with the wink of an eye and a nod of the head. I'm like a genie, a superhero, and God all rolled into one. Don't I wish that were true, especially on those days when he won't nap or goes boneless when I try to remove his tantruming little self from the middle of the aisle at Target only to be kicked in the face by a miniature Croc. 

Yet no matter how many miracles I fail to perform, Josh continues to request them. And he is genuinely disappointed (and sometimes downright angry) when I cannot perform them. Take snacks, for instance. I'll pick him up from preschool bearing a treasured fruit bar he couldn't get enough of last week only to find that he wants almonds. When I break the news that I don't have any almonds, he demands them louder. I try to be a good mom and ignore the outburst — starve it of attention. So I start driving. This only angers him more, and he starts demanding that I pull over and give him some nuts. So I calmly try to explain to him that I am good at many things, but I do not possess the necessary skills to pull food out of thin air. We eventually work it out, without the expected miracle, but that doesn't stop him from asking me to change the weather when he wants to go outside and it's raining or to instantly heal his cut finger. 

As I have learned how to mother, I have discovered that I actually am magical, just not in the ways Josh wants me to be. I can carry 15-20 separate items, large or small, AND my 30-pound son through shopping malls, across parking lots, and down stairs with only my two arms and ten fingers. I often laugh when grocery store clerks ask if I need help out to the car with my small two bags. 

I can also do several things at once, even things that are seemingly unrelated. Since Josh arrived, I have become an extreme multitasker, working on six or eight tasks at once when a few short years ago I could accomplish only two or three. I can often cook dinner while simultaneously soothing the grumpy preschooler wrapped around my legs, answering the phone, setting the table, checking e-mail, and cutting my toenails. It's not my preferred mode of operation, but it has become a necessary survival skill in my world. (And when I fall into bed in an exhausted heap at night, I no longer wonder why I'm so tired.) 

And I can often still outsmart Josh into doing what I need him to do. It takes more and more brain power these days, but I continue to amaze myself with my ability to sidetrack, redirect, and motivate a very stubborn and very smart three year old. That's magic in my book. 

Now if I could just find the spell that keeps Josh my sweet baby boy forever, that would truly be magical. 

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The last time

As the weeks, then months, and now years tick by and Joshua grows, I often realize he's no longer doing this or that cute thing anymore, yet I have no idea when the last time was that he did it. I so wish there was some way to be alerted that this is the last showing of one of the endearing mannerisms, traits, or habits he displays and then so quickly discontinues. 

When Josh was a newborn, I loved the way he would stretch backward with his hands over his head when he was full and ready for a snooze. And as he got a little older, I would always crack up when he sucked his lips in and puffed his cheeks out, making the perfect round baby face. When he finally learned the sign for "more," he banged his fists together with gusto. I always assumed that sign would disappear the minute he could say the word "more." But it didn't. Josh hung on to that sign for more than a year after he was speaking, and he used it judiciously, especially when his mouth was full yet he still wanted more food. But that too is now gone.

One of his first words was "Melmo," his custom moniker for the lovable red Sesame Street character. And when we took him to Hawaii at 2 and he had trouble pronouncing words with the "l" sound, he ran around Kauai saying, "A-yo-ha!" and "Ma-ha-yo!" Alas, when we returned to the islands last month, the cute "ys" had been replaced with the proper "ls", and if we pronounce those words the old way, Josh simply gives us a puzzled look.

As a compulsive journaler, I have recorded so many firsts over the years, from the major milestones like rice cereal, crawling, and walking to more minor feats such as first signs, first laugh, and even first Sharks game, but I have been unable to capture the last occurrences of so many things he has simply grown out of. I don't know when he last nursed or sucked his pacifier or spit up or fell asleep in my arms as I rocked him. When did he stop referring to himself in the third person ("Josh do it") or reaching his arms up to me without words when he wanted to be held? When did he stop asking me what everyone we saw was doing or where every other car on the freeway was going? And when did he lose those chubby cheeks and legs?  

Some progress I can almost piece together with pictures, lining them up chronologically and straining to see the evolution. But other advances are a complete mystery. And often I don't know he's lost a special word or gesture or quirk until long after it's gone, leading me to miss it all the more.



Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Josh's big snow day

Little did we know when we planned our late May weekend trip to Lake Tahoe that we would be vacationing in the snow. What was even more surprising was that Josh's first snow experience was documented by the local news.

While Josh loves watching the video clip, he doesn't have quite the appreciation for it that a kid growing up in a different era might have. Every year for his birthday, I take all the video clips we've shot and edit them into a 15-minute highlight reel, complete with music, titles, and a DVD menu. This is affectionately referred to as "the Josh movie." 

So for Josh, this clip is yet another of many Josh movies he has starred in throughout his (short) life. He will be signing autographs somewhere near you later this month....


video

Saturday, June 7, 2008

So much and yet so little brain power

I am constantly amazed by how much I know, when tested, and conversely, how little I know. Ever since Josh entered the "Why?" stage, I have been surprised (and sometimes even amazed) by the tiny gems of knowledge hiding in the dark pockets of my brain. While explaining everything from why a lake is different than an ocean and why we can't drive any faster than we are already driving to how windmills, cars, airplanes, and hair dryers work (and all the whys that inevitably follow one of those explanations), I am surprisingly quick at fetching simple, basic knowledge that I'm not sure I would have claimed to know before Josh was born. 

I am also astonished by how many insignificant details I can retain, not to mention how many I am now required to retain, as I chase my son through each day. At a moment's notice, I can tell you where each of his 22 die-cast Pixar cars are, name every child in his preschool class, recount insignificant tales from playgroup two months ago, remind him what he had for dinner the night we went to that place with the red umbrellas, and immediately locate each of three rotating sippy cups, no matter where Josh may have dropped them when enthralled with something infinitely more interesting.

However, all that data is evidently overwriting precious memory space in my brain — space likely already allocated to more basic (and lifesaving) knowledge: remembering to turn off the stove or toaster oven when I have finished cooking, finding one of my things when it is within arm's reach (or on top of my head) without tearing up the house for an hour before I realize it is right in front of my face (and sometimes even on my face or in my hand), and recalling basic personal information when unexpectedly asked, such as my name, phone number, or address. It turns out that those skills are rarely readily accessible. So for all the time I save being able to magically find Josh's missing shoe when we're already late for school is often spent later in the day when I make fifteen phone calls to research something I later realize I already researched, such as where's the best place to take my car for a major service. 

Even speaking is sometimes difficult. I struggle to find the word I'm looking for, even when it's a very basic adjective or synonym. I forget appointments. I make promises I can't remember long enough to write down so I at least have a chance at fulfilling them. And I can't tell you how many times a month I buy the wrong thing, whether it be whole milk instead of 1%, pasteurized instead of unpasteurized orange juice, or conditioner instead of shampoo. For someone who makes a living as a detail-oriented freelance copy editor, I provide my husband endless entertainment. Sometimes he can't believe I can find my way to Josh's preschool twice a week, let alone find subtle inconsistencies in 50-page technical documents with topics I'm not versed in.

Yet somehow, I manage each day to stay alive. And more importantly, I manage to keep my kid alive, which I guess are my two most basic responsibilities as a parent. The peanut butter sandwich may have ketchup on it instead of jelly, and the park we tell the playgroup moms to meet us at may or may not be the one we actually show up to, but Josh still thinks his mom knows everything (and at his age, that's still a good thing). And I even manage to occasionally impress myself with nuggets of knowledge pulled out at precisely the right moment. After all, I am the only mom I know who can name the starting goalie for most NHL teams. And I try really hard not to worry about what crucial data that trivia has overwritten inside my head. Watevver itt is, I'mm shure it'z nott impoortent.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Blogging is no longer cool

As possibly one of the last people to show up to the blogging party, you could say I have finally arrived. The only significance in that is it's a sure sign that blogging is about to become passe (or is it already)? As someone who has always been passionate about technology and pop culture, I have fallen incredibly behind in recent years. Never was that more clear then when I turned on the Grammy awards last February and didn't recognize a single face, nor for the life of me, could I figure out how to pronounce the names that were handily displayed onscreen during the red carpet interviews. At first I thought I had tuned into the wrong station, but I sadly realized that I simply wasn't tuned in at all.

I always knew that would happen to me someday, but I assumed it wouldn't happen until my son Joshua was a teenager, complaining endlessly about how out of touch I was before hopping into his flying car and zooming off to hang with his bros (or peeps or whatever they will call themselves in 2022). But I clearly got off the cool train early. Or I was forced off by an eight-pound baby boy who screamed and ate and pooped until I could no longer hold on. Not that I was ever really cool, but I at least enjoyed cool, kept pace with what was cool, flirted with cool from time to time at the Apple Store or the opening-night late show or a trendy restaurant or bar in SOMA or Gramercy Park. But I was definitely more of an appreciator of cool than a trendsetter. (And where would the trendsetters be without appreciators like me who admire from afar and then go tell all their friends.)

So now that blogging is officially uncool, I am finally jumping on board. I have actually been blogging the old-fashioned way since Josh was born — in a 50+ page Word document that no one but me can access. Now that I am indeed online, I plan to do what all the uncool do — go backward as well as forward. I will post observations, musings, and tales of my early days as a parent as well as the reflections, insights, and stories I will inevitably gather as I continue down this wacky road. And if possible, I will date the posts according to when they were written (not posted), to provide chronological accuracy. The uncool are nothing if not accurate.

So look around, check back, and most importantly, share your thoughts. Because while I may be hopelessly out of touch, I am always looking for tips and advice from those infinitely more cool than myself. At least that way, maybe I can momentarily be cool by association. OK, maybe not.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Born right in

I woke Josh up early this morning to catch an airplane to Hawaii for our annual vacation. He was groggy enough to actually say, "I want to go back to sleep," which is something this mother of an active three-year-old NEVER hears. I coaxed him out of bed and was reminding him of where we were going and what we would do there as I tried to get him dressed. He became more animated as we talked, and as I was changing his diaper, he randomly said, "All penises are different." 

I agreed and asked if Daddy had told him that. He shook his head. I asked if he noticed that from seeing other kids go potty at school, and he nodded and said, "All the different boys have different kinds of penises," in that matter-of-fact way he often speaks when he's "teaching" me something he thinks I don't already know. Since I have never actually had a penis, I could understand why he might think this was new information for me.

Thinking of our decision not to circumcise him, I wondered if this was going to be one of those parental teaching moments where I explain the difference between circumcised and non-circumcised in language a preschooler can understand (whatever language that is) and describe how neither is better but they are simply different. Before I went down that road, I decided to ask, "What's different about yours?"

Josh looked up at me without skipping a beat and said, "Mine's bigger." 


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Big boy bed

Just a few months after his second birthday, Josh climbed out of his crib and fell on his head. It was naptime. I was rushing around getting ready for a rare girls' night out with my oldest and dearest friends when I heard the tell-tale thud. I couldn't climb the stairs fast enough, and I couldn't have been happier to hear the screams that shortly followed as I envisioned his lifeless body in the middle of his floor. 

That night, we took the door off his crib and turned it into the advertised 2-in-1 crib/toddler bed we purchased. But maddeningly, this particular manufacturer does not make a compatible bedrail, so Josh proceeded to fall out of bed — often. That first night, I was up with him every 45 minutes, trying to figure out how to keep him off the floor. I finally perfected the envelope technique with the sheets, which greatly reduced the incidents. But every now and again, he would come untucked in the middle of the night and roll onto the pillowed floor. There was no way to completely eliminate it. 

Just after Christmas, Josh started to ask me when he could get a big bed. He had already spotted the twin bed in my office and decided he was ready. For days, he begged for a big boy bed, doing a little dance and raising his voice to a sing-songy whine. When I finally realized that the twin bed had a boxspring and I could therefore purchase a bedrail for it, I expedited the move. 

The first night of the new year was Josh's last night in his crib/toddler bed. When Eric got home from work tonight, he got busy disassembling the crib, moving the twin bed and frame, and putting together the new bedrail (bless his heart). It took much longer than either of us thought it would. And as we proceeded, we kept cautiously checking in with Josh. 

We'd ask, "Are you sure you want to sleep in the big bed from now on?" 
"Yeah! Big boy bed," he would reply. 
"You're not going to want your crib back once you see it's gone?" we prodded.
"No. I want a big boy bed," he reassured, still doing the dance.

And so we toiled until finally the twin bed was made up with airplane sheets and neatly pushed into the corner, and the bedrail was securely attached. An hour past bedtime, Josh finally got to hop in. He was delighted. He jumped on it, practiced pulling the sheets over his head, inspected the rail, and shouted, "I have a big boy bed!" over and over. We couldn't help but get caught up in this milestone. 

Exhausted, Eric retired to our bedroom. I turned down the lights and lay down beside Josh on his new bed (which I couldn't do easily with the crib). I rubbed his back and gave him some snuggles as he settled in. He was quiet for a long time, breathing evenly and looking so cute nestled into his cozy sheets. Just as I was about to get up and go to my own room, he put his arm around my neck, pulled me in close, and quietly said, "Now you can sleep with me the whole night." 

And there it was: The real reason he wanted that big boy bed. Now he had enough room for Mommy to sleep right next to him. Maybe my big boy isn't so big after all. 

 
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