Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dear BOB, happy Earth Day

When I was in high school, my brother and I played online games together. (Yes, this is what sibling bonding time looks like in the digital ages). We'd set up our computers side by side, running our characters around the make-believe world, hacking at monsters and shouting things like "Meet in me in Marion!", or, "Troll, outside of Tos!". There was one area in the game called the "Border of the Badlands". It was a sketchy place. It was where the renegade, criminal players went to hang out. You never knew when a troll was going to jump out of a corner over there. We always shortened it to BOB. BOB was a place to be wary of, to hurry through on your way to somewhere else.

This story really has nothing to do with anything, except that I was thinking of the acronym BOB as I left for work yesterday morning. The neighborhood I live in is a bit... on the border.

Our house is big and grand and, once, it was beautiful. It was built sometime around 1860. Greg and I spent the better part of our early relationship painstakingly renovating it. The heart and soul that we poured into our (well, HIS, at the time) abode, the nights-out denied, the decision-making teamwork... these things formed the foundation of our relationship: domestic accomplishment. Sometimes I look back at those early days and marvel: how did we manage to fall in love while this house sucked away our ability to be fun? Those days were mind-numblingly exhausting and full of tearful arguments. I banish many of the memories to a corner of my mind marked "let's forget that ever happened". But then I get it. Building our house showed us what we had in common when you stripped all the superficial fluff away. What we had left was the unflattering truth of what defines us both: the inability to let go of a goal, no matter how totally insane it might be*.

*Isn't that romantic? Hehe.

Yet, for all of this hard work to make our house into what we wanted it to be, we didn't touch the floorplan, and the floorplan is mighty inconvenient. The house is shaped like giant U. Our bedroom is in the back, at the bottom of the U. There are two middle rooms and two front rooms. The staircase leading upstairs (to the apartment that we rent out to Yale undergrads) runs down the center of the U. If you're in one room, you can't see or hear things in the other rooms, which gets really annoying really quickly.

Furthermore, our patchwork assembly of wood and horse-hair plaster stands on a city corner, such that all of the rooms border a street. When someone walks by at 2am, yammering into their cell phone, it feels like they're only 5 feet away... because, well, they're actually only 5 feet away.

So the house is loud from all sides, yet the rooms are totally disconnected from one another. Baby-proofing is a joke with this awkward layout, since the only way to keep Jack reasonably safe is to be with him at all times.

Poor Jack doesn't really get to crawl all around the house; we mostly encourage him to hang out in the nursery, which faces Dwight Street. When we started planning his nursery, we didn't like knowing that he would face the street. We even moved his crib away from the window because it made us nervous. I swear we're not paranoid -- the street is not safe at night, and our house is ground level.

So this story is about something that happened several weeks ago. Greg and I were in the second front room watching a movie when we heard the gunshots: "Bam! Bam! Bambambam!". We 180'd to the windows and saw the culprit in dark clothes sprinting down the sidewalk. We freaked out, ran into the nursery. Jack was fine. He slept through the whole thing. We called the cops and spent the rest of the night convincing ourselves that gunfire immediately in front of our house is an OK event*. We're urban after all, and proud of it (sort of).

*Seeing as this is not the first (nor the second) instance of gunfire, it must be, right?

But the next morning, our neighbor found the bullet holes. He had parked his car in front of our house, and the wounds in his car told the story: lead projectiles headed straight for where our baby sleeps.

While it is true that most of the crime in our neighborhood is drug related, nobody wants to think the words "innocent bystander" in relation to their baby's place of residence.

Not good, BOB.

Sometimes I love where we live. I love New Haven and I love being close to downtown. It is a vibrant community and I believe we are doing the socially and environmental responsible thing, living near a city center, doin' our urban thing. I take pride in the fact that we renovated our generally-green home by ourselves, that we share a roof with people we're not related to, that we share a street with people who are different than us. These features of our house form an important part of my code of social ethics. The likelihood of Jack being harmed by the drugs and the gangs at this age is slim to none. But of course bullets near his nursery are just unacceptable. To put it lightly, this gets to me.

One other thing that also gets to me has to do with the tree that we planted in the sidewalk running past our house. The tree is beautiful. She is an Autumn Blaze Maple (urban tree of the year, 2004!), she has been growing for two years, and her name is Octavia, for the month during which we planted her. The tree brings some life to the corner. She is meant to shield that side of our house from the street noise and from the summer heat. She is meant to scrub the street air of some small fraction of its nasty chemicals.

Every day I look out the window and I see Octavia. Every day I walk out the door and walk by Octavia. And every springtime, without fail, I watch people rip branches off of Octavia.

Few things incite me more than this. I'm not going to even try to describe my anger: the stupidity of ripping branches off a tree, a beautiful, symmetric, healthy tree budding in the springtime. Not your tree. Someone else's tree. Someone else's tree that stands 4 feet from their bedroom window.

People also rip flowers out of our yard when they start blooming, so, yeah, there you have it.

Anyway, the point of this long discussion of our neighborhood is that when I left for work on Friday morning, I noticed that It had begun: the springtime ripping of Octavia had started. On Earth Day. Sorry, Octavia, I wish we could have provided you with better digs.

I want to be an urbanite. But I also don't like living in the BOB.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Happy 9-month-day!

Dear Jack,

You are nine months old today! Did you know? That's three quarters of a year, which means it is only 3 months before you will be one year old.

It's springtime here in New Haven: the trees are budding with new life, and that makes me happy. This change of seasons reminds me of last year's change of seasons, when I was 7 months pregnant. It was a season brimming with hope for your dad and I. We were so excited to know that you were on your way. That was the best time, Jack. You would kick all day long and I got to take you with me everywhere, learning your patterns and nuances, enjoying that moment of calm before you turned my life upside down. But I wouldn't go back to those days, Jack, only because I like you even better now than when I was pregnant. I like you better with each day that passes. You are simply the funniest and the cutest and the most interesting little thing I know. With you around, I look forward to each new day. It is fascinating to watch you grow.

I'm so proud of you, Jack. You've really come a long way. I would say that this month has been about self awareness. You've made a big transition having to do with "you" versus "us", as if you suddenly realized that there are other people around you. Your dad and I agree that you now know that you can affect our behavior by making us pay attention, comfort you, laugh, or get you something. You are learning how to really interact with us.

At the beginning of the month, I think you figured out that I can walk away from you. You did not like learning this fact. You would get very, very upset if I tried to put you down for even five seconds. You wanted to be in my arms at all times. You didn't even want your dad, which shocked me, because he can get a smile out of you better than anyone else can. You just wanted me. It was sweet, Jack, but it was also kind of rough for both of us. Everything was making you upset -- loud sounds, sudden movement, a new taste -- and you needed me to be there, holding you close at all times. The world became a very scary place for you for a few weeks. But suddenly you figured out that things would be OK, and you returned to your bubbly and good natured self. I will always wonder what happened for you, to make the world such a happy place again.

And the world is a happy place for you, Jack. Everything makes you happy, and it is funny to see you get excited when you figure something out. You've started doing some new things. You are standing up! You want to pull up on e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. You're really quite good at it. Once you get onto your feet, you reach up with your arms and try to do a mini pull-up. I was a little worried about the "I'm stuck standing up" phase that most babies go through, but you seem to have skipped it. Within a few days of standing up, you were sitting down, too. The first time I caught you sitting back down, it was really funny. You kept inching your hands down the legs of a chair, lowering your butt closer and closer. I could tell that you were being careful not to fall. When you were about 4" from the floor, you let go with both hands at once! Plop. You were on the floor and off to other pursuits. Your dad says that in the last month, you've gotten to be fast and twisty. We can't leave you alone anywhere.

You learned how to clap, and you learned that it means that exciting things are happening. You learned how to back yourself up from crawling into sitting. You learned how to carry toys with you when you crawl. You learned how to crawl away from your dad when he chases you. You learned how to kiss our noses (though really you seem to be trying to eat them). You learned how to get your socks off. You learned how to go to the bathroom on the potty each morning, right after getting up. You learned how to feed Tori things that you don't want to eat.

In the last few months, I've written quite a bit about how much you babble. You made so many sounds so early on: it was a constant stream of chatter for a while! Now you've gotten so much quieter and pared things down to a limited set of sounds, mostly "duh" and "nuh". I'm not sure if they mean the same thing to you or not. Sometimes you repeat them endlessly: "duhduhduhduhduhduh nuhnuh duh nuhnuhnuh", and so on. Sometimes you use them like little explanation points, like "that!", and sometimes you use them like questions, like "huh?". You also do a lot of hooting. We can tell what the hoot means, usually "Wow!", when you are really impressed with something, or "What?" when you are trying to figure out how something works. Your hoot is my favorite sound of all, since you've been making it since you were a little tiny baby.

Maybe if you read these letters, some day, you will realize how completely absorbed your dad and I are by your every moment. We want to learn everything we can about you.

Your two bottom teeth are totally in, now, and your top teeth are just starting to break through the gums. You are eating lots of food. You definitely want what we are eating, even when it is spicy or has a strong flavor. Your favorite this month was something I made last week: potato gnocchi with sardines and pepitas/cilantro pesto. Considering that you went nearly as nuts for pepitas/cilantro pesto shrimp as you did for the sardines and gnocchi, I think we can conclude that you are of the "cilantro = yummy" camp (good thing, because your parents are, too). You liked this particular dinner so much that we actually ran out, and your dad and I had a heated debate over who would forgo their last bite to satisfy you. By the way, one of your other favorite foods? Beans. Beans, how you love beans, and even more so when they are cooked with tomatoes. You cram them into your mouth by the handful.

You tried two, completely different things this month with two, completely different reactions. First, you went swimming. You weren't too big on that. I think it was quite overwhelming. You just wanted to cuddle with us in the water and didn't like it when we tried to play. Then, a week later, you went on a swing set. You loved the swing set. You loved it so much. I took you to another playground last week, and you had so much fun. Every time the swing went back, your eyes would get big. As it rushed forward, your eyes would get all squinty and then you would giggle and clench your little fists. I could tell you were really enjoying the feeling of flying. Considering how much you like it when we toss you in the air, and how much fun you have when jumping in the doorway jumper, this is no surprise.

We have so much fun, Jack. We play so many games. You giggle and laugh and get breathless from excitement and fun. You just want to play all day long. Just tonight, your dad was blowing puffs of air in your face. This nearly always gets a giggle out of you. But this time you found it especially ticklish, and whenever he would get read to puff some air in your face, you would duck your head, put your hands up in front of your face, and giggle in anticipation. (This is a technique that I'm quite familiar with, because your dad is terribly playful with the people he loves). We could not stop laughing. It was certainly the most coordinated thing I've ever seen you do.

I could very well live on smile of your's. I love you, Jack.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jacked Physics

Science has kept me away from this blog in the last few weeks. I thought this might be a good time to discuss a particular scientific subject that is near and dear to my parental heart: Jacked Physics. I present to you here the new rules of physics as they specifically pertain to my son, Jack...because we all know that the rules of the physical world no longer apply once you become a parent.

A few examples.
  1. The pitch of a baby's cry rises in proportion to your inability to attend to it, and its duration is inversely related to the square of your remaining patience. Babies know these values. They do. They really do.
  2. Babies do not fall asleep according to the amount of time spent in the car. Instead, they fall asleep in direct relation to the amount of time remaining before you pull into the driveway. This number generally equals exactly 5 minutes before you would have reached their crib. For really long trips, they wake up (cranky and hungry) exactly 15 minutes before you are capable of stopping your motor vehicle to attend to them.
  3. The width of the most commonly traversed door / hallway / corridor is always exactly 1/2" smaller than the width of the car seat in your preferred carry position (1" smaller if you've got groceries)
  4. When the baby begins to overturn a cup of water or, say, uhm, that new 8oz box of cornstarch, your hand must repeatedly cover exactly half the distance between you and the object to prevent the accident. This means that you never actually reach the cub or the box. Mess, therefore, is inevitable.
  5. The willingness of a baby to sleep is inversely proportional to how tired they actually are. *This one is true. Very, very, VERY true.
  6. Pooping frequency increases in inverse relation to the number of diapers left in the diaper bag. (This is also true of toy-dropping frequency and the number of toys left in the diaper bag)
  7. The longer a baby has been sleeping, the cuter the baby becomes
  8. The number of times that a baby looks up while nursing (thus exposing your boobs and their spraying milk to everyone within view) is equal to the number of people in the room divided by your familiarity with them.
  9. No matter the baby's appearance or behavior, he or she is simply the cutest and the best baby around.
While I'm on the topic, I think I've got to share this video with you all. I've watched it more times than I should probably admit!

These are a few of my favorite things

1. Jack poops on the potty every morning

It's cute. Really cute. Cuter than I ever imagined pooping could be.

Jack poops a lot -- like 3 times a day, STILL -- and he's a reliable morning poop-er. At least every other day, we would get him fully dressed for daycare, be ready to go out the door, and find out that not only does he need a diaper change, he needs a full-body hose down.

I had toyed with the idea of elimination communication training (or EC, that is, teaching a baby about going potty) when he was young, but dropped the idea as unlikely to work due to the fact that Jack spends most of his day at daycare. Then we hit several weeks of morning frustration. Greg picked up where I left off, and he started taking Jack to the potty in the morning.

First, Greg stands him up with his feet on the seat and makes the sound "psssss". Jack pees and then bounces up and down with excitement when he's done. Then Greg puts a baby seat onto the toilet and sits him down. Within a few minutes, Jack's done, we all clap, the diaper goes on, and our morning becomes that much easier.

Imagine the sight for a moment. A nine month old baby, sitting on the toilet, legs sticking straight out into the air (they're too short to bend over the seat!), twiddling his feet back forth, and making excited hooting sounds and faces as he alternately stares down at the toilet and back up at his dad. My husband, who is kneeling next to him offering manly encouragement. "Hoot?" Jack questions. "Uh hu" says dad. "Du?" says Jack. "Yup!" says dad. "Du! Du! Du!" replies the baby.

It's cute. It's really cute. I haven't taken a picture yet, but I realize this is only a matter of time.

2. Jack likes lasagna, a lot.

And he smears it all over his face when he eats it. Good handheld fun. Actually I think what he likes most is the tomato sauce. Jack loooooves tomatoes and tomato products, which is funny to me because I've disliked acidic things since I can remember.

Also good handheld fun: lemons. Did you know that Jack likes raw lemon? Crazy. We've given it to him 4 times. The first three times, he kept going back for more. The fourth time, he got a particularly sour bite, made a face and put it down. We'll try again.

3. Greg taught Jack the game "I'm gunna get you!"

Jack has learned how to crawl away from us, giggling frantically all the while. The game is exponentially more fun when he tries to take a toy with him.

4. Bedtime, please

Jack is sleeping so well! We've still hit the few odd rough nights, but things are definitely moving into Phase II of Parental Un-Rest. Jack goes down at 7. I wake him up to nurse at 11. He wakes up once in the night (usually around 2), and then he's back down until 6 or 6:30.

Oh my gosh, getting so much sleep is simply incredible. I could do this (getting up once in a 7 hour night) indefinitely.

(This from a woman who, pre-baby, would eagerly sleep 11 hours a night)

5. Teeth

A toothy grin is way cuter than gums. Jack has two lower teeth clearly visible, and the upper teeth have broken through, too. I can see his lower canines are getting started. He went through a short phase of wanting to bite while nursing, but it wasn't too bad and he hasn't tried in a few weeks

Teeth are cute. He leaves bite marks in fruit. He ate a whole pear yesterday.

6. Sippy (straw) cups

We're attempting to avoid sippy-cup-land, so we are giving Jack straw cups. He knows how to use them. Awww.

7. Walking

Jack has been pulling up for a while, and now he is showing interest in walking. We hold onto his hands and he makes GIANT dinosaur steps. He's very eager! I love walking him around the house

8. Pinscher Grasp

Jack still has a terrible pinscher grasp, for two reasons (I think). 1, we usually give him big chunks of food, so he hasn't had as much time to work on fine motor skills (note to self: feed more puffs). 2, he figured out that that most food will stick to the outside of his fist if he smashes it enough

Clever, no?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tragedy that I can hardly begin to understand

Every Wednesday I take a mile walk to lab meeting. 8:30am. Bagels. Cream Cheese. Coffee. Munchkins. Science.

The building that we meet in is at the far edge of the medical school. It is a new research facility: state of the art, nicely designed, full to the brim of cutting edge research.

I see it loom in the distance as I walk each Wednesday morning. Watching this building come into focus is a ritual that saddens me.

This building has an unfortunate history. In 2009, a young woman was murdered in this building by an animal technician that worked there. Her body was concealed in a wall. Some part of the event took place in the small room where my lab group houses animals.

Although I do not use this particular animal facility, the whole thing was... close to home. I've spent countless late night hours in the creepy, uninhabited bowels of Yale, my heart pounding as the lights automatically turn off or a rat shuffles in its cage. To imagine that something so terrible could happen at a normal hour in a normal room in a normal building: it frightened me. I think it frightened all of us.

Every Wednesday morning during my walk to lab meeting, I think, for a brief moment, about this young woman.

This morning the Yale Campus learned of another tragic death. There was a horrific accident last night. An undergraduate was working alone in the machine shop. Her hair became caught in the lathe and she was killed.

I haven't stopped thinking about it all day. Now that Jack is here, there is something new for me to consider, something more than just the tragedy of this woman losing her life: my god, her parents, oh my god, her parents. It is a trauma for her family that I can only begin to imagine. I am so disturbed.

If I were to lose Jack, I do not know what I would do. I suppose I would continue living for Greg, but not for myself. I imagine in time the shock would subside, but I also imagine that the pain would never go away, and how is it that a person can live with so much pain? How these parents must have felt, to receive a call in the middle of the night, to know that their daughter, a graduating senior they thought they left safe to pursue her education -- to learn that she is gone before her life truly started, her life destroyed by such a horrific and preventable accident. To learn that they could never hear her or see her or touch her again. To learn that they would not know what she would have been.

What a terrible thing. What a tragic, terrible thing.

These tragedies were sad to me, before. Now they take on new meaning. I realize, now, why the death of a young family member is so atrocious: it is not just the loss of life, it is the loss of *living* for those who remain. And yet these two sad stories are only two. I am naive at best when I try to comprehend the tragedy available for pondering. The world presents us with a limitless source of loss.

Something about being a parent makes me hopeful, for there is love and happiness to be found in the smallest of ways. Something also makes me fearful, for there is the potential for devastation greater than I can even begin to imagine. This potential devastation is something that I compartmentalize every day, that I prevent myself from thinking about. No, Jack will not fall on the tile and hurt his head. That car will not run the red and sideswipe us. He will still be breathing when I get up to nurse him. He will. I can will away this potential harm.

Every minute of Jack's life, I have considered the worst for the shortest of seconds. Some subconscious filter sorts through my minute by minute anxiety: certain thoughts are permitted through, and the rest are locked away in the corner of my mind marked "neurotic mother". But events like this break the lock, and the flood of emotion, of fear, of empathy for what I can only begin to imagine another family is going through -- this flood of emotion reminds me of how incredibly lucky we are to have each other.

My sincerest condolences, to the void, for unbearable and unnecessary loss.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A few more videos

(So sorry if anyone got a double post. I realized I had a better jumping video to put up, but then my internet decided to crash out and then it was 15 minutes before I could edit in the better video)

More from the "random" files.

Jack LOVES the doorway jumper.

My grandmother asked to see a longer video of Jack crawling. Here it is! :) That's Greg's mom at the end

Jack can click his tongue more loudly than I can. I still can't figure out how he makes such a loud sound so easily

We got Jack a tent! He likes crawling through and over stuff (particularly over)