Thursday, April 22, 2010

A six-month Doodlebug

My sweet little Doodlebug, Angel, Snookums pie (that one is your daddy’s favorite)~
You are six month old. How did that happen so fast?
I always thought time was supposed to travel more slowly when you are present with the moment and with the world around you. But someone, another mama, just recently pointed out that we are beyond present as mamas, we are absorbed, and that sort of absorption lends itself to the impressively speedy passage of time.

This seems like an extraordinary month as far as milestones go (then again, I suppose I may be hard-pressed to find a month that such an epithet would not be an appropriate description).

You sit up.
You eat real food.
You rock.

You are an entirely different baby when you sit up.
Not only do you appear so much more mature as you view the world from this new vantage point, but you play differently, you behave differently. You no longer act like a lie-down baby. You now drop toys and reach for them on your own, sometimes even without falling over (!--Still working on balance). You can hold a different toy in each hand. You can, dare I say, play on your own for short bits of time until you realize that mommy is close by and you’d like her attention. You are loving the play mat because you can use the arches that are meant to hold dangling toys as props to hold yourself up.
And let's talk toys for a moment. You are totally into the wooden blocks and you still love the following favorites: the orchestral pelican, the crinkly book (and all crinkly things), balls, stuffed animals (especially the bunny and dog), rattles (especially the froggy and ballerina kitty) and, of course, Sophie the Giraffe.

A side note about Giraffes: you currently have four toy giraffes, by far the dominant species of toy. This was completely by accident and unconscious, and the giraffe-theme was brought to my attention just recently as I pulled three giraffes from your bag in front of a friend who was amused by the misfit giraffe family. Then last week, I bought you an adorable little toy with a clicky head, tail and feet as per recommendation from the toy store guy and it wasn’t until I got to the car and unwrapped it that I realized, gasp, it was a giraffe.
So I have taken the liberty of looking up the qualities for someone who is drawn to giraffes:

People who have a Giraffe totem
often know the future.
They can sense what is going to happen,
what lies over the horizon.
Giraffe people should be very careful of
what they say.
Be sure you are not saying too much to
the wrong person, or in the reverse, too little.
Do not allow other's words to affect you.

Giraffes have their legs firmly planted on the earth but their heads in the sky.
This represents balance and the ability to progress.
Giraffe people should never become complacent and lose sight of the future.
Life will become increasingly difficult
until you set your sights once more on the path ahead.
Giraffes, and their people, have very strong ties to family and friends,
especially parent and children.

We will just have to wait and see how accurate this is!

Anyhow, where was I?
Ah, yes. Your amazing development.

I said this last month about something different, but it just blows my mind how one minute you were not sitting up and the next moment, behold, a different baby with a new skill to build on and a brand new vantage point. You also love to play while lying on your belly and quickly roll to your back (a mastered skill) and continue playing, but must have plenty of room to roll around. You can’t quite flip from back to front yet, so you holler until someone (Daddy or I) flip you back over. We often play “wheelbarrow” by propping up your torso on a bolster and I pick up your legs and roll you forward as you reach for a toy. You seem to love the feeling of having your belly off the ground, supported. You seem to deeply appreciate moving your body in all sorts of different ways. You love to stretch and twist and get massaged and squeezed.

And yes, you are eating real food, my dear. The time has officially come.

At this point, we have done one week of rice cereal, one week of avocado and we are currently on the third week, which is bananas (literally). It is our new routine to feed you in your highchair at the table with me while I eat my own breakfast and the outcome is a little bit different every day. Yesterday you went berserk for rice cereal mixed with bananas (I tasted some and it tasted darn good--like banana bread dough) but today you couldn’t have cared less and were more interested in tossing things at the dog on the floor below (me sees the beginnings of a life-long friendship there).
Feeding you is not a perfect science. There is a continuous subtle question mark around how much and when to feed you and where to fit it between breast-feedings. At the end of the day, after reading pages and pages on the topic, the best thing I can do is go by intuition and make sure you are getting enough breast milk. The day you drank barely any and ate lots of real food was the day you puked up the contents of your belly three times over. And when you seem like you need more real food, we will give you more. Simple as that.
You are sleeping well again and thriving in general, so I feel confident that you are getting exactly what you need.

Now, a blitzkrieg of six month bits:
~ You talk a blue streak, especially in the evenings right before bed, when you get your second wind. You jabber and jabber and often laugh heartily at Olive the dog. You love the dog.

~ You stick out your tongue and make “popping” noises, opening and closing your mouth like a guppy, making new and exciting smacking sounds. You mimic our mouth gestures the best you can and do what we call “call-backs,”where we make a mouth noise and you make it back!

~ You open and close your fingers like an over-exaggerated sign-language sign for “milk” or a slow-motion baby-wave. The first time it happened, we were in the grocery store and I thought you were making the sign for milk to tell me you were hungry. I shrieked softly and made a b-line to the car, leaving a cart of groceries behind to nurse you in the backseat, feeling an unbelievable sense of satisfaction from the fact that you were able to so clearly communicate your needs. But, as it turns out, you continued to make the hand gesture for the entire ride home, and later during playtime and after that during our walk. Seems you just figured out a new way to move your fingers and want to practice.
You open and close your fingers like this all the time now, trying to pick up objects this way, touching arms, hands, faces and letting your nails scrape against different textures—the car seat is one of your favorite materials to scratch. You are discovering the individual personalities of your different fingers!

~ Car rides are pretty mellow now. You face the back and have always had a mirror in front of you so I can see you from the front seat, and now you use the mirror to be able to see me! At a red light, when I turn around, you are awaiting my gaze and grin like the dickens when you see my face. Love love love.

~ You have been scooting to the top of your crib for over a month now and often get yourself wedged into the corner of the bumper. We have discovered there is a fine line between cozy and cramped, one that you don’t seem to have much control over the subtleties. You occasionally call us in to slide you back down a bit and rescue you from whatever contorted position you got yourself wedged into. But more often than not when we check on you, you are positioned in a way that looks totally uncomfortable, with a crooked neck and sideways body, but are sleeping like a floating log. And we are forced to make the executive decision of whether to leave you or rearrange you at the risk of waking you up.

~ You love to chew on carrot sticks. Big, cold, peeled ones.

~ We went to our first dance class this month and you loved it! Mama (I) put you on a blanket and danced while you played with your toes and hollered along to the music. Every few songs I picked you up and we danced around together until my arms got tired. It was marvelous fun and I got a heck of a workout. You are someone who loves new environments. A change of atmosphere is a sure-fire way to navigate away from a grumpy mood. (I can relate.)

~ You help push your arms through the sleeves now, which makes life much easier. You still are not crazy about things going over your head (onesies, oye) and are generally quite irritable on the changing table. You want to be done with it and on to the next thing!

~ You are still sleeping beautifully, everything in your crib. Your room is like a haven that contains a level of comfort that is visceral, even for us. At this point, you do not snooze anywhere else aside from occasionally in the car seat on the way home if you are exhausted.

~ New favorite toy thing: the bouncy seat. Holy cow, hold on to your britches, this thing is a blast. We either hang it from the bedroom door frame and play music and dance around or from the tree out front if the weather is nice enough. This is one picture that is hard to paint in words. It’s almost as if you were underwater and buoyant. You bounce, bounce and kick your little toes together and slide sideways and spin and shriek with glee. You get bursts of energy and jump jump jump as fast and as high as you can and then pause for a bit, as if in a hammock, until the next wave comes over you. You seem to delight in being able to engage with your body in this way. And we just watch and giggle as your personality pours over the edges like rain from a bucket. XO.

Our days definitely have a (blessed) routine at the moment. Generally.
You get up at 6am and we nurse and play for an hour until you go back down for a nap, typically for another hour. After the short morning nap, I put you in the hip-sling and we turn on some lively music and begin our day by greeting the dog and the cat and any other notable but inanimate objects in our sphere.
If it’s a nice morning and if we have time, we take a little walk around the “grounds” to check out our garden and see what's coming up. Right now the tulips have just opened, revealing the rich color of their petals.
I then prepare our breakfasts and we sit and eat together and chat about our plans for the day.
You go back down for her morning nap at 10am or so and sleep for an hour or two. After this nap is when we generally go out for our daily outing, whether it be to work or to run errands or to meet a friend. After two hours you are ready for another nap and if we are home, you go down at this point. If we are out, you are a sleepy, relatively unhappy girl who doesn’t nap well anywhere else but home, so it makes for a difficult afternoon. In short, we try to protect your afternoon naps as much as we can without feeling too claustrophobic.
Once you wake from that nap, an hour or two later, we walk the dog (religiously) and come home to nurse some more and play before bed. That’s the gist of it.
It’s a pretty simple day, truth be told. I wonder how long it will last this way! I can’t help but to be curious of your snapshot at seven months, and eight and then nine! But I will give it my best shot to not look too far beyond this coming evening or the following morning. That small chunk of divvied-out time keeps us busy enough.

Your dad and I are totally and completely mad about you, Doodlebug.
And we are loving being able to take you out into the natural world more and more and more as the weather warms up. Camping season is just around the corner!

You are doing just beautifully, kiddo. Keep up the incredible work.

xoxo. mom and dad.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Mimicry and a simple glass of water

Mimic: (verb ) choose or take something as one's own .

I mentioned in the last blog entry (Food, Glorious Food) that Opal has made a study for many weeks now of watching us drink from a glass of water.
And whenever she has a chance to practice that which she has observed, she goes for it, dives for the glass as if she were a circus performer high-diving into a tiny bucket of water. If I am holding the glass, she pushes towards it as if attempting to give it a robust hug, then strives to pull it to her lips with every ounce of her little-baby-strength.
The one-pointedness is remarkable.
All this exertion often results in a sloshing of water, a tiny, exciting tidal wave down the front of one of us, which causes her to shriek with glee.
No longer will drinking a glass of water rank as a mundane activity.
Quite the contrary. It is a full-sensory, full-contact experience that requires some sense of mastery and skill to execute properly. To Opal, this cool, clear, cylindrical object that somehow holds the same clear liquid she knows mainly from bathtime (different context and temperature), must glint with such mystery in the air as it approaches my mouth like a suncatcher caught in the perfect light. Hallelujah. Praise the newness of it all.

But what impacts me most is that we never taught her about a glass of water, how to (aim to) hold it with both hands, bring it to the mouth, take a gulp. She got every little bit of this information-- and the thrill that comes with the attempt at accomplishing it-- completely on her own.

Through watching and emulating.

In this new universe of ours that contains a baby who currently eats real food and sits in a high chair (gasp!), I see a tiny little mimicker sitting next to me as I never have before. She prefers to take her meal in her high chair, level to her mama who is also eating her breakfast, as if joining me for good old-fashioned tea time. Just two ladies dining together. She seems to enjoy the continuous stream of example I provide, as I bring the food to my own mouth one bite at a time, pausing for a drink or to give her a bite from her own tiny bowl. I make an OOOO with my lips and she follows, as a bit of white or green goo passes her lips. I make gleeful noises and over-emphasize chewing and she does her version of the same.
She is essentially, a miniature, much cuter, much sloppier and less refined mirror-image.

And this got me to thinking that nothing is as powerful of a teacher as simple and profound demonstration.

Food is only the most obvious of specimens.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Food, glorious food!

I can't imagine what it would be like to learn absolutely everything from scratch.

As far back as I can remember, I have not been required to learn a single thing from absolute zero. In learning to sew or play guitar, I already know how to use my fingers pretty damn well. In learning Spanish, I have already mastered my speaking voice and know how to read. A new yoga pose is done with a body I have lived in for 32 years and am incredibly well acquainted with. I have a head start with all of it.

But to learn how to function in a tiny human body with only a handful of instincts and reflexes provided by mother nature? I am continuously baffled by the trust, determination and bravery that is required for this kind of unfolding.

The task Opal has set out to master at present is eating. We have spent these last many months together becoming proficient in the art of breastfeeding and now we are graduating slowly to food that does not come directly from the nipple. Real, outside-of-mom's-body food. And though it is squished into a nearly pre-digested form before coming anywhere close to her lips, it looks, smells and tastes very different than the simple vanilla she has come to know and love.

Let's back up a bit.

Opal went from being an impressive nighttime sleeper to recently waking every few hours with the voracious and insatiable hunger of an athlete. My boobs struggled to barely keep up with her demand. She was also suddenly having difficulty falling asleep for her naps, taking an inordinate amount of time to wind down. Something was amiss and intuitively it felt pretty clear that the dumpling was needing more calories to help ground her.

So I did what I have done thus far when approaching a new developmental adventure--breastfeeding, sleep, language stimulation, encouraging mental and physical strength, vaccinations-- and that is to read.

I gather information like a squirrel. I underline, I take notes and I absorb from a number of different sources until finally I glean the common threads that feel right to me. Jesse and I talk it over during a dinner or two and then, voila!, life-with-baby turns to the next chapter and takes on another new detail that changes everything as we know it.

Someone said to me "there are so many decisions--how do you know what to do?"
And I confessed that I am only an expert on a baby Opal's current age, plus maybe a month or two.
Beyond that, no idea.

I also consult with other mamas, but on topics leaning more towards what to use as natural stain remover and what kind of sippy cup is preferred. I typically avoid asking advice on the large parental decisions that are accompanied by an emotional component. We generally try to figure these areas out on our own, discussing with other mamas more out of curiosity than needing guidance.

My current baby reference material is the following:
Your Baby's First Year, a book put out by the American Academy of Pediatrics is a decent straight-up and factually objective text.
The Baby Book, a massive light-blue opus written by Dr. Sears and his wife, is also bursting with factual information, but is paired with the Sears' opinions, personal experience and advice.
I have found these two publications to work well together for the basics.
Then, for more specific needs we turn to additional reading and to the Internet (bless it).
We used Dr. Jodi Mindell's Sleeping Through the Night as our sleep-bible--with great great success!-- and Dr. Sears' The Vaccine Book was helpful in concluding what to do regarding Opal's vaccinations.
A book called Super Baby Food by Ruth Yaron made the cut as an impressive manual on feeding your baby homemade, pure, un-processed foods.

Aside from subtle variations, most of the material on feeding a baby for the first time reinforced the same basic points:
A baby is old enough for "solids" (a misnomer, because the consistency of food for the beginning eater is to be runny enough to slide off the spoon) between 4 and 6 months old, for a number of reasons. A baby's digestion is simply not ready for anything but breastmilk (and no solid food has the nutritional quality of breast milk) before 4 months. A baby cannot physically swallow until 4 months, because of the tongue-thrust reflex, which is an inborn mechanism to protect the baby from choking. The baby needs to be old enough to prop herself up and turn her head away when he's had enough food (4 or 5 months).
But once your baby is old enough to eat, there is no foolproof way of knowing when to begin. Much of this is instinctual and communicated by the specific baby.
This is how it went with her sleeping. One morning I woke up, after Opal had been restless at night for about a month, suddenly absolutely clear that sleeping in our bed was what was keeping her up. It didn't even occur to me until then! She moved to her crib that very night and has slept brilliantly until this recent bout of mysterious fussiness. But this time it only took a few days for me to understand her message and know I'd better be getting some food in her belly within the week.

As far as what to feed her and how much, I am have mined the simplest and most straight-forward of guidelines to start with, and then have pages and pages to reference as time goes on for more specifics:
1. First meal: Iron-fortified rice cereal mixed with 2-3 tablespoons of (my) breastmilk to a mustard-like consistency. She'll be old enough to digest homemade rice cereal at 6 months, but until then she needs the store-bought kind. We chose Earth's Best, which is organic and local and completely additive/preservative free. We feed her this once or twice a day for 2-3 weeks.
How often, for how long and what time of day to feed her are all negotiable and depend on the source. One book says to sandwich her solid feedings between breastfeedings so that she is never starving, but I also read that feeding solids along with breastfeeding deceases the amount of iron absorbed. Some say to feed her early in the day while others prescribe evening feedings. Regardless, it is recommended to feed her only one kind of food at a time for about a week so that if she has an allergy, it is obvious where it's coming from.
2. Next comes veggies. Squished-up, pureed squash, sweet potatoes, carrots (though one book says no-no to homemade carrots for some reason) one-at-a-time for about a week each, building one on the next. The grandma's all say veggies come before fruit so your kid doesn't have a sweet tooth , but with the kind of over processed, over-sugared diets many kids have by the time their teeth come in, such a phrase seems like a moot point in this day and age.
3. At 9 months she will delve into the world of fine-dining as it pertains to finger foods. Bread, cereal, teething biscuits. Maybe some dairy. Strained meat (though I don't actually know or trust what this is.).
4. Before one year, no egg whites, cow's milk, peanut butter, citrus, chocolate or honey. Not sure why, but this no-no list made it into every book so I will just go with it.

But again let me reiterate that in my experience, information is lopsided if not blended with intuition and a knowing of your own baby.

I just spoke with another mama who has a daughter two days older than Opal and she wants to start feeding her solid foods but feels paralyzed by all the information. She said, just when she feels ready to go for it, another bit of information pops up to put the fear of God in her.
It seems to me that every parental decision we've encountered thus far has had the potential to be overwhelming. Definitely.
I do my best to protect the simplicity of a situation and ward off information overload. I read a few trusted books, talk to a few trusted folks, discuss it with my husband and then ultimately take a leap with as much confidence as I can muster, reminding myself (often in ink pen on paper) that I have no control of the outcome. Opal can certainly pick up on whether I'm relaxed or freaked out in any given moment, which I think is as impactful to her as the decision itself.
Now don't get me wrong, mommy-doubt is undeniably a visitor I am well acquainted with, but I try to keep it gated up like a destructive puppy until the baby goes to sleep.

Now, without further hesitation, the first supper.
Opal has been interested in the food we eat for a couple of months. She watches it transport from plate to mouth, taking copious notes with her eyes.
She reaches for the food we are eating as well as the glass we are drinking from--pulls it to her mouth with all her might, grunting with exertion, and smashes her little baby lips on the side of the glass, like a sucker-fish on an aquarium wall. Her level of mimicry is impressive and one-pointed.

She has had six official meals now, as I write this. The first of which occurred while on the floor in her Bumbo (for an image of the Bumbo, see the entry "Back to Work"), surrounded by the wild kingdom of cat and dog as well as dad-with-camera and mama-with-food. It was quite a sight to behold.
Organic, iron-fortified rice cereal mixed with warm boob-milk into a consistency of roux is currently the only selection on her menu. She was bibbed-up and I had a pile of paper towels to my side that I went through in no time.

That first night I served her using my finger. She didn't seem at all sure of what was going on, but seemed clear that it was a pleasant thing. Jesse and I guided her through the process with coos and squeals and she seemed to dig the attention that accompanied the sloppy goo. She swallowed well. She didn't turn her head away. Most of the meal wound up on her bib, pants and face, hardening into a paper-mache cast, but we considered the experience to be a consummate success!

In the evenings since then, the outcome of dinner has been across the board.
Sometimes she eats. Sometimes she plays. Sometimes she has no interest at all. Often she is hungry but would rather nurse. She prefers the tiny spoon to my finger as a serving utensil and loves to grab the food-end with her little hands to bring it to her mouth. It always makes an impressive mess and takes upwards of an hour from start to finish. And all this seems just about right since she has NO reference point for this kind eating-- Mom feels like a beginner too!
So we just give it our best shot and hope that some food lands in her mouth.
What's most important to me is that she feels positive, never rushed (ahem, slow down mommy), about the situation. Enjoys herself.

Even as I sit here writing, I have spotted a dozen different calcified rice-cereal tear-drops and pimples on the wooden chair and tablecloth.
Tomorrow the hardened bits will also be avocado-green.

I have said it before and I shall say it again and again:
and so it begins.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

protecting the hole in the fridge

Good morning computer screen.
Blog. Smudgy mirror.

This last week has collected a half dozen bits of entries that sit in my draft box like hungry puppies. Big, glossy eyes. Licking noses. Panting.

And I have noticed that the precious times I do have to sit and write--naptime-- have lately seemed much more vulnerable to be filled with the most common of parasites--emails, phonecalls, breakfast or lunch for myself, grocery-lists, preparing for future outings, laundry, picking up baby-excerpts from all over the house, etc.
Free time for writing has lately felt like a hole my parents' fridge. When my dad removes a jug of juice from the refrigerator, he hollers this spot's for the juice! so the space does not immediately get filled with cheese or bread or the like. The space just seems to cave in, he says.

So, computer-blog-mirror, I just wanted you to know I have not forgotten you.
Quite the contrary.
I visit you daily, but have simply not been successful in completing an entire typed-word thought for one whole week. Until now.
And yes, a completed thought about incomplete thoughts does count.

(Ahh. It already feels so good to publish this post and set it free rather than tucking it back in a drawer to collect a velour layer of dust, anxiously awaiting further review.)

That's the beauty of the blog.
It lives in the present tense.
It doesn't seem to work any other way, with drafts and revisions and lots of editing.

So at least for today, I have protected one cavern in the fridge for writing.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Roll over, little one!

Watching Opal learn to roll over was a little like watching a cellist learn Mozart in the matter of a few short weeks. One day she couldn't do it. The next day she could. Her entire perspective is different now-
Rolling from belly to back is yet another skill she has mastered and added to her repertoire.
I hope to learn as much in the rest of my lifetime as she has during her first few short months.
And I positively love how she celebrates herself after every success.

This video was taken on March 23, just after Opal's five-month birthday. xo.
(videos work best if you let them buffer beforehand...)