October 30, 2006

Day 217: Blame Daylight Savings... and the war

Who was it that invented this whole Daylight Savings Time thing? My limited memory of obscure history makes me think it has something to do with either a) farmers or b) the war. As I think about it, though, aren't farmers the reason Saskatchewan doesn't change their clocks? So scratch the farmers off that list; that leaves the war. I should've known.

In any case, it's wreaked havoc on my life. And in light of the fact that I now have a baby, I think the world ought to at least consider putting an end to this practice. Because while it's all nice and lovely to have an extra hour of sun (or in our part of the world, rain) at the end of the day, what's not so nice is suddenly having to get up an hour earlier with Maddie in the morning. Not only that, but somehow her naps also have gotten all out of whack and she has turned into a little she-devil. Now this last part probably has nothing to do with Daylight Savings - maybe she's teething, maybe she's tired, maybe Saturn is in her sixth house or she had a tough day at the office. Who really knows for sure? But her miserable mood coincided with the change of the clocks, so I'm going to blame that.

Of course this hits us just after we had finally gotten a schedule down. I had glimpsed the promised land: regular naps, planned outings, scheduled feedings. It was a beautiful, shiny, happy place. But it appears I've been kicked out and am now back in The Land Where No One Knows What the Hell is Going On. I remember when I first had Maddie I was often reassured by well-meaning books and people that I would soon be able to understand what her cries meant. Well, we're at 7 months and counting. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that I know when she's serious and when she's not. But I can't really differentiate within those two categories. I suppose I thought I would eventually be able to say, "High pitched - check, piercing - check, head is about to explode - check... she must have pooped her pants!" I guess it's not quite that straightforward. Ah well, she keeps my on my toes, this girl of mine.

If all goes well, we're off to our first ever playdate this afternoon, with a whole lot of people we've never met. Maddie will be wearing her Halloween costume. I will not. Wish us luck! Oh, and happy Halloween!

October 24, 2006

Day 214: Where are my milestones?

The other day, a friend asked me how I was and I answered, "Oh, good. Maddie has a runny nose." Later that evening, I found myself mulling over this reponse and eventually concluded that I am in the midst of an identity crisis. Well, perhaps not a crisis - nothing so grave or dramatic - but just a bit of confusion. I mean, somebody asks about my life and all I can think to say is that my daughter has snot coming out of her nose? Seriously? And even now I can't think of anything else to offer, although surely there must be something. Surely there is something more to my life than just motherhood? (Disclaimer: before anybody gets offended or outraged, I don't mean "just" motherhood in a bad way, it's just that there used to be a lot more going on).

It's not like my pre-baby life was full of amazing accomplishments and accolades. I didn't win any peace prizes. I wasn't on an impressive career path. But I did go to work, go to the gym, meet friends for lunch, go out with Fernando. I read the newspaper, planned dinner parties, shaved my legs. Now I wander the mall, go for walks, wander the mall, do a load of laundry (and then redo it because I always leave the wet clothes in the machine so long they start to form mold), wander the mall. These are my milestones. Meanwhile Maddie is on the road to monumental achievements: sitting, crawling, talking (okay, she's admittedly got a ways to go on the last two, but still). So I guess when people ask how I'm doing it seems more suitable to talk about Maddie's accompishments than my own - it's somehow more impressive to say "Maddie's blowing raspberries now" than "I washed my coffee mug this morning."

I'm not even mourning my past life - don't get me wrong, there was definitely a time that I did, but I'm past that stage. There are really cool parts to this motherhood gig: laughing with her, seeing her smile, watching her learn new things. But I feel like there's been some kind of role reversal - when Maddie was first born it felt like she was an extension of me; now it's more like I am an extension of her. I guess I'm just a tad worried that I'm already living vicariously through her. Tempting though it may be, I can't have her life become my own. I have visions of myself getting dressed up to chaperone her grade 8 sock hop, hoping the cute science teacher will ask me to dance while she cringes in the corner and tells friends she's adopted. I have to curb this trend while I'm still able to. The question is, how?

On a sidenote, Maddie fell off the couch yesterday... again. It was a three part tumble: from sitting, to the footstool, to the floor. And then this she morning worked her way out of the Bumbo and ended up face down on the counter. Luckily I was right there for that one. Funny how these incidents that seem so horrifying at first quickly just become part of life.

October 17, 2006

Day 210: The Art of Distraction

Maddie and I just finished our morning workout. We bought a "pilates walking" dvd last week, although I really don't see how it has anything to do with pilates. Basically it's just walking. So each morning I strap her into the Bjorn and we walk 3 miles in the living room. We only stop to drink water (me) and mop up spit up (her). I have that Bjorn on so often it's ridiculous. When I finally take it off the unusual lightness feels like zero gravity or something. All I can say is that when I'm old and grey and calling her to take me in my wheelchair to seniors' bingo I had better not hear any complaints. Payback's a bitch, Mads.

I'm beginning to realize that life with baby is just one long series of distractions. Our pilates walking routine has little to do with fitness; it's really just another way to occupy her for a half hour. Keeping these little ones happy is an all-consuming task. When they're newborns it's tough because they can't see or do... anything. So you jiggle, bounce, rock, coo, run the tap, go for drives. As they grow your arsenal expands. You dance, sing, make faces, look at toys, shake pill bottles, crinkle old pasta bags. But you have to constantly cycle through all of these various distractions in order to keep their attention. Our day is divided into about a thousand 3-minute segments: We rattle the keys for 3 minutes, sing Baby Beluga for 3 minutes, look in the mirror for 3 minutes, shake a soup package for 3 minutes. And when all else fails, when I'm out of ideas and we're both beginning to panic, that's when I pull out the big guns: Baby Einstein. I worship at the alter of whoever created Baby Einstein. Hallelujah.

All of this is why baby toy companies are so profitable. And so cruel. They capitalize on our false hope. Even though I know better, somewhere deep inside of me I think that maybe there is a toy out there that will have the perfect combination of plastic and fabric, of bell and whistle, of colour and light. It will have the perfect number of flaps and tags, and they'll all be in the perfect places. And one day I'll find this toy and bring it home to Maddie and she'll look at it and sigh contentedly with the realization that this is what she's been waiting for all her life. And she'll sit and play happily for hours while I lie on the couch and read my book. This is the dream that occupies my subconcious every time I step into Toys 'R Us. And this is why my house is full of crappy toys that are entirely ignored while we instead play with the Kraft Dinner box.

October 15, 2006

Day 207: Culture 101

A couple of nights ago we were in line at the grocery store - I'm starting to realize that many of my life's most interesting or exciting moments occur at the grocery store checkout; I think that tells you a lot about my life these days - and there was a couple with a 6-month baby in front of us and another behind us. It was very odd. Anyways, while Maddie practiced her new skill of shrieking happily at the top of her lungs and at the highest pitch known to man, the baby in front was saying "mama-mama-mama" over and over again. I swear she was doing it on purpose, just to taunt us.

Babies are everywhere. I mean, at the grocery store I suppose it's to be expected. But a couple of nights ago Maddie was spending some quality time with grandma, so Fernando and I went to the hockey game. Surely this would be a respite from all things baby. Apparently not, because while we're refilling our outrageously overpriced beer and wine at intermission who's waiting right beside us but a guy carrying a tiny baby. And then there was another one waiting outside the washroom. Which of course made me feel terribly guilty, the fact that unlike these other responsible Canadian parents, we were selfishly denying our daughter her first hockey game experience. But who am I kidding? Maddie could not possibly have come with us. She does not sit still and she does not keep quiet - that's just not how she works. She twists and turns and slithers and and yells and grunts and, now, shrieks.

This latest skill is one she's been working on for a couple of weeks but really just perfected during an outing to the art gallery she and I took earlier this week. I quickly learned that what is cute at the grocery store doesn't always go over well with the art gallery crowd - her constant squeals echoing throughout the halls earned us more than one irritated glance. That's what I get for trying to show the girl a bit of culture, I guess! So we ended up leaving about 20 minutes after we got there, which to be honest was fine by me. I just don't get art a lot of the time. Perhaps my sense of artistry is just sadly under-developed, but I don't get how a big canvas painted cream to look like, well, a canvas, and creatively titled Paint on Canvas is all that interesting. Judging from Maddie's particularly aggressive grunts she was not a fan either. Then again, this is a girl who finds a wooden spoon endlessly fascinating, so I probably shouldn't take much solace in the fact that we seem to share a similar aesthetic appreciation. In any case, I think next week we'll stick to the mall!

October 11, 2006

Day 204: When it comes to advice, it's give and take

If you were to gather a group of women together and take a vote on the most irritating aspect of being mom to a young baby, I think a clear winner would emerge. Not the most difficult part, just the part that makes you grit your teeth and pull your hair out. The winner may not be what you expect, and in fact has little to do with the baby at all. It would not be, for instance, when the diaper suddenly gives way in the middle of the grocery store checkout and releases a river of foul-odoured, runny poop down baby's leg. It would not even be when you're in the swimming pool and baby spits up a giant white mucousy delight that then floats its way in and around the other swimmers for the next half hour while you try to pretend some other phantom baby was the culprit. No, these would merely be runners up to the mother of all irritations, which is the constant, unwanted and unsolicited advice and opinions on how to raise your baby.

It starts when you're pregnant, this torrent of well-meaning, condescending wisdom. As soon as the bump emerges even strangers feel entitled to weigh in on what you eat, wear, do. The first few times it seems kind of sweet, but when it gets to the point where you are having to hide your can of Coke in a paper bag to avoid public criticism it becomes harder to see the fun in it. Keep in mind that pregnant was not my favourite state of being. I did not feel glowing and peaceful; I felt big and awkward and like all of my internal organs were on the verge of dropping to the floor (hmm, too much information?).

But then the pregnancy is over and the little one is on its way and the steady trickle of opinions you received over the past 10 months suddenly explodes into a raging flood. It starts, of course, with your labour choices - drugs or no drugs? c-section or natural delivery? From there we move onto the breastfeeding/formula debate, which is always a fun one. If your newborn happens to fuss in front of company, you will be warned that it is colic. And then, god help you, what to do when she actually cries - do you pick her up and spoil her or leave her cry and be cruel? If she spits up a lot, you will be told that she is eating too much, or too fast, or that she is simply, as one relative put it, "not normal." And then there's the naming of the poor child. When told that we call Madeline "Maddie" for short, a friend of my mom's commented that it sounds like the name of an overweight maid in a romance novel. And not long ago on the bus, upon hearing her full name a complete stranger leaned down and said to Maddie, "You'll have to be a tough little girl with a name like that." It goes on and on and on, and from what I hear it only gets worse as you go.

The flip side of this, though, is that we new moms are just as guilty. Now, I am of the opinion that babies come out complete with their own little personalities and preferences. Some cry, some don't, some sleep, some don't. My role during those first few months was just to do my best and cross my fingers. But not everyone seems to agree, there are a few who've got it all figured out. For instance, more than once I've heard one new mom say to another, "Your baby doesn't sleep through the night (STTN)? Well, you should just make sure his room is dark and quiet when you put him to bed. That's what we do and little Johnny is a perfect sleeper!" Wow. Parenting breakthrough. Maybe I'm crazy, but after 6 months of sleepless nights I'm pretty sure this woman would have tried that alternative. But I understand the temptation. Now that Maddie is emerging from the newborn stage, I am somehow drawn to those who are smack in the middle of it. When I see a woman struggling with a tiny, screeching baby in the mall, I have to resist the urge to cast a knowing little smile her way, one that would no doubt come across as saying, "Been there, done that." I want to ask how she's coping, tell her what I went through. I suppose it's a little like one warrior returning from battle passing another just going into it: Good luck, friend, hope you make it out alive.

October 09, 2006

Day 201: Guilt-free and loving it

Well, I'm exhausted. What was supposed to be a relaxing and rejuvenating weekend away with the girls was corrupted by too much wine and late night Balderdash - yes, I know, we're crazy - and I came back more tired than I was when I left. But it was worth it to spend a bit of baby-less time with friends and enjoy some adult conversation. I think we managed to cover all the essential and pressing topics, from skinny jeans (which few of us would dare to wear) to Matthew McConaughey (who we all agreed is a bit off his rocker and in need of a shave and a T-shirt) to whether Meredith should be with McDreamy or the vet (this one was split down the middle). Oh, and of course the coming nuclear threat and global warming, too.

It was the longest I'd spent away from Mads - two whole days - but it was good to get a break. Your world kind of closes in on you when you're mom to a young baby, and getting away lends some necessary perspective. I have a tendency to think of Maddie as a somewhat difficult baby (in the decidedly more positive language of baby books, she would be called "spirited"). She knows what she likes (bottles, her Baby Bjorn, Baby Einstein dvds) and what she doesn't (strollers, car seats, bouncy chairs, tummy time, swings, rockers, vegetables that aren't orange...) and she lets everyone else know it as well. Getting this girl into a car seat takes monumental effort. As soon as she sees she's headed for the seat she goes into a state of advanced rigor mortis - knees locked, arms stiff by her side - and screams bloody murder. The trick is to keep her bum down while administering a light karate chop to the back of the knees and then somehow manipulating her little limbs into the straps. All this while she wails like a banshee right into your ear. The stroller tends not to be much better, which is why I end up Bjorning her everywhere we go, casting envious glares at moms happily pushing their little ones along and thinking, "Why can't my baby be that easy?" Of course I overlook the possibility that the happy-go-lucky baby in the stroller may be up seven times a night while Maddie sleeps peacefully through till morning.

The thing about being a first time mom (baby book language: FTM) is that when things don't go according to plan it tends to be interpreted as an overwhelming personal failure. The other thing about being a FTM, of course, is that pretty much nothing goes according to plan. And so you're stuck wading in a constant pool of guilt. But being away for a couple of days helped to make the obvious clear to me: maybe everything is not my fault. Maybe the fact that she loses her mind at the sight of a car seat is not a reflection of my poor nurturing skills or retribution for the pack of Rolos I "borrowed" from the corner store in grade 7. Maybe she just doesn't like it; no reason, no solution. I'm sure that tomorrow I will go back to blaming myself for her intense and vocal hatred of creamed corn, but for now I am enjoying the freedom that this realization brings.

As a sidenote, in our travels we discovered a local children's author and illustrator named Dianna Bonder who is amazing. And if you're wondering about the picture accompanying this post, I returned home from a run (okay, okay, it was the third one in the past six months, but still!) to find Maddie apparently working on the art of traditional Inuit drum dancing. How's that for advanced? Take that talking babies.

October 03, 2006

Day 197: Mom Brain

Sorry it's been a while since our last update. This is due in part to the fact that we've been busy achieving milestones and in part to Maddie deciding to ditch her usual 90 minute morning nap in favour of a 20 minute one as of late.

In regards to the milestones, there have been two that are particularly noteworthy. First of all, Mads had her 6-month birthday last week, which means that our little family has officially survived the first half year of her life with our sanity relatively intact; I consider this to be an incredible accomplishment. Instead of getting professional pictures taken to celebrate hitting the 6-month mark, as is the tradition apparently, I decided to be creative (and cheap) and take them myself. So I went and bought Maddie a new little outfit, plopped her down on the lawn and snapped away. I thought the results were pretty cute. My father-in-law thought the dress I chose made her look poor (as in destitute). Enough said.

The second milestone, as you can see from the picture: she's sitting! I sat her down as per usual the other morning and much to my surprise instead of doing the slow motion faceplant she just stayed there. Amazing!

In other news, my brain has officially turned to mush. Mom Brain is, I believe, the technical term for it. Poor Fernando, having a conversation with me these days is like talking to a brick wall. And a dumb one at that. This is a typical evening exchange:

Him: I have to work early tomorrow.
Me: Oh, too bad.
5 minutes later...
Me: So, are you working tomorrow?
Him: Yes. We just talked about that.
Me: Really? Oh, okay.
5 minutes later...
Me: So do you have the day off tomorrow?

And so on, and so on.

Another symptom of this Mom Brain is that I forget things everywhere. I leave a trail of personal belongings wherever I go. Salesgirls at the mall are regularly having to chase me down with my wallet/keys/phone/baby.

And then this morning I spent a good 25 minutes trying to decide if the correct term was "wheelbarrow" or "wheelbarrell." In the end I gave up and Googled it; turns out it's the former, in case you were wondering. Although, I still have my doubts - what hell's a "barrow?" This is how I spend my days.