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Archive for January, 2012

January 12, 2012 The Felix Factor

This morning as I stood in front of Eddie’s high chair feeding him breakfast, he stuck his hand into his bowl of oatmeal and banana and grabbed a fistful.

“Noooo!” I exclaimed and yanked the bowl away.

Food, food everywhere

He looked at me, paused, and then let out a wail. I considered putting the bowl back in front of him and letting him swish his little fist around in it, but my neat sensibilities wouldn’t allow it.

I don’t seem like a neat person. My hair is sometimes unruly. My shirt tails stick out in the back. I’ve dropped a dab of food front and center on so many of my shirts, it looks like a family crest. But the thought of Eddie having food on his face and hair, and of cleaning it off his high chair, was too much. I ran over to the paper towel rack and grabbed one, held it under the warm water, and ran back to the high chair before his porridge-encrusted little hands could cover any more ground.

I don’t know if I’m supposed to let him root around in the food with his hands. I can’t tell if it would be a freeing exercise that would embolden him and give him a sense of independence, or if it’s a bad habit I should nip in the bud. I handed him a spoon. He threw it on the floor.

I tried to make up for having pulled the bowl away by waiting until it was nearly empty and then holding it low enough for him to reach in. “Go ahead,” I said and braced myself. He looked down at the bowl and then up at me, and he let out a wail.

My husband, Bruce, lets Eddie play with his food like it’s finger paints. Perhaps that’s why the baby likes Bruce better than me. But Bruce doesn’t have to clean up the high chair afterward, digging into its seams and holes that have gotten plugged up with sweet potato and broccoli. I do. Bruce makes an effort to clean the chair, but it’s like the effort he puts into making the bed: whatever can be done with one hand and one eye in less than one minute. I usually have to give the chair a once-over after Bruce has cleaned it, to get the remaining bits he missed.

Every afternoon, the babysitter is here, and I’m upstairs in my office working for a few hours, and when I emerge, I find her sitting in the middle of the living room floor with Eddie, surrounded by all of his toys. The three different kinds of blocks are blended together. The plastic boat has been dumped and all of its primary colored shapes – the red squares, blue circles and yellow hexagons – have been scattered. Pieces from three different puzzles are in different parts of the room like families that have been separated by war.

I love the sight of it, the randomness, the freedom it exudes. If toys could sing, they would be belting out a discordant note but boldly and happily. And yet after the babysitter leaves, I spend the next 15 minutes putting the puzzle pieces back in their respective slots, the circle-, square – and hexagon – shaped plastic pieces back inside the boat, and each of the different types of blocks back into their respective boxes. The toys then go back into the toy chest we use as a coffee table — though I place the two wooden puzzles and the bead maze on top of the toy chest in case Eddie wants to play with them. I like the way it makes the room feel like a kindergarten classroom – though one you might find on the cover of Country Living magazine.

Toys that escaped from the toy box

I like the boat with the primary-colored shapes. It appeals to my sense of order. The boat has colored windows that match the colored shapes, and I like pushing the shapes through the appropriate windows. In fact I have a hard time playing with the boat with Eddie because as soon as I’ve dumped the shapes out on the floor so we can play with them, I’m putting them back in the holes and cleaning them up.

I clean up everything. I gave Eddie a bowl of dry Cheerios this morning. Four times he dumped them out on the floor as he was eating them, and four times I picked them up and put them back into the bowl. The upside? He would get excited every time he saw the bowl filled anew. The downside? His mother’s a wing nut. I might as well be following him around the room with a brush and dustpan.

It’s not hard to see where I got it. My parents were neat and orderly. My father tried his hand at painting once by drawing a grid on top of a playing card and copying the image in each box onto a canvas until he had replicated the card precisely. My mother loved to do crafts, but everything she made had a pristine little bow on the front of it like a birthday present.

There’s a story in my family folklore in which my mother and I were at my paternal grandmother’s house, and when my grandmother went to feed me soup for dinner, she spilled it onto the floor in front of me.

“What are you doing?” my mother shrieked, to which my grandmother replied, “It’s going to end up on the floor anyway. Why not start it off down there.”

“My daughter is not an animal,” my mother said. She told on my grandmother when my father got home.

I like the babysitter’s scattered approach, but it comes at a cost. She takes a similarly scattered approach with her personal belongings. She’s lost her wallet, her keys, and her coat in the short time I’ve known her. And she always brings a black and silver coffee cup when she arrives but rarely remembers to take it home when she goes. Yesterday, she left her cell phone on our counter.

I try to make up for my Stalinist approach to toy-playing by being zany. I acquired the giant Easter Bunny Eddie once saw in a shop window, and when the light in it didn’t work, I replaced it. A glowing bunny now stands three feet tall in our kitchen, next to the Christmas bubble lights and the light-up Chanukah lights I strung in the doorway. I pull out the bubble wand and surround Eddie in a cloud of bubbles when he seems blue. When he pulled all of the tissues out of a new tissue box, I didn’t scold him. I held a few of them over the heating vent until they floated up in the air and then danced to the ground like feathers.

Has his own Easter Bunny

Yesterday, our babysitter sat Eddie inside a little seat in one of his toys. It wasn’t really a seat but rather an indentation in the toy that used to be covered by a plastic piece that’s since broken off. After putting Eddie in there for a moment, the babysitter picked up his Winnie the Pooh doll and placed the doll in the seat. Eddie looked at the bear, pulled him out of the seat and neatly placed him back in the toy box where he belonged.

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January 10, 2012 Kid City

My husband, Bruce, gets home at around 6.30 p.m. every night, so that leaves me about nine hours a day — not counting when the babysitter is here — in which I must entertain my 11-month-old, Eddie, before Bruce gets home to help. Nine hours may not seem like a long time, but if the person with whom you’re spending it needs 100% of your attention for 100% of that time, nine hours can seem like a lifetime. It’s for that reason that I like to have activities planned. If I don’t, we’ll both wind up on the kitchen floor playing with pots and wooden spoons until I start reading my email on my iPhone and Eddie starts whining from boredom. I had a cashmere sweater to return to Macy’s so a trip to the mall seemed like a nice outing for both of us.

We got an early start and arrived at Macy’s before it opened. As we stood in the vestibule waiting for a store employee to unlock the door, an older woman with a rubbery face who was also waiting approached Eddie and began to smile and wave. He flashed her a big toothy smile, as he always does.

“Well aren’t you a cutie! Look at that smile!” she said. They all say that.

Eddie’s grown accustomed to this response, so much so that he wants people to look at him so that he can flash them a toothy grin to elicit that response. When we were in Boston last month, he stared at a young salesgirl for so long waiting for her to glance over at him, I eventually had to tap her on the shoulder and ask her to look at him so he could flash her a smile, which he promptly did.

“Look at that smile. Well, aren’t you a cutie,” she said.

He liked the orange one

They opened the doors to Macy’s and with the store virtually empty, I returned the sweater in under a minute. That left eight hours and fifty-five minutes until my husband got home. Next door to Macy’s was a Barnes and Noble bookstore, a place I liked to go before Eddie was born, but I couldn’t imagine him quietly reading a magazine while I sipped coffee and wrote my blog, like I used to do. But I had to give him breakfast, and Barnes and Noble seemed a better place to feed him than sitting on a bench in the middle of the mall.

I wheeled Eddie over to the counter to get a coffee and some silverware because I couldn’t find the baby spoon I usually carry in the diaper bag. The young girl behind the counter handed me plastic utensils, but I told her I would be using the fork to mash a banana into oatmeal so I needed a metal one. She went into the store’s private stash. I swore I’d give it back. She also gave me a metal spoon, but it was a soup spoon. I can make waves only once. I took the soup spoon even though I knew it would be too wide for his mouth.

When I got Eddie set up in a high-chair, it seemed easier to give him the yogurt I had than to mash up the banana and mix it up with the oatmeal. But as I took the yogurt out of the bag, Eddie began to whine and kick and screech. I became very uncomfortable. I have a strong physical reaction when he fusses in public. My heart rate rises. My face turns flush. I want to crawl out of my skin. It’s probably because I’m acutely aware of how disturbing a baby’s cries can be because, frankly, I was the person who was bothered by it – before I had a child. I hated the parents who would inflict their screaming child on everyone else, like one might hate the parent of the kid who’s kicking the back of your seat on an airplane. My strong reaction to his fussing is either from that, or it’s genetic. My mother would almost break out in hives if we misbehaved in public. She once stormed out of a restaurant and walked the four miles home because we were blowing the wrappers off of our straws at the table.

I quickly ripped open the yogurt and stuck a spoonful in Eddie’s mouth. It calmed him down. I dug into the container and pulled out another spoonful, but the spoon was so big, the yogurt came out in a huge mound. He began to cry so I stuck the mound in his mouth, and again it calmed him down. I got out another huge spoonful, and another, trying to pre-empt the crying.

He knocked over the display

After breakfast, I decided to change Eddie’s diaper. I put my knapsack over my back and the diaper bag over my shoulder. I grabbed Eddie with my free arm and carried him into the bathroom like a football. I headed toward the large stall in the back, which had a diaper changing table. I didn’t want to put Eddie directly onto the table because I feared it was covered in germs so I grabbed a toilet seat liner from the box hanging on the wall, but the liner got stuck in the box, and I only managed to get a small piece of it in my hand. Still holding Eddie, I took the shred of paper, put it down on the diaper table, and placed Eddie on top of it. The paper was so small, it covered just the back of one butt cheek and a thigh.

With the diaper bag still on my shoulder, I tried to grab a diaper and the wipes out of the bag, but as I did, Eddie tried to turn over on the changing table. I pushed his shoulder down so that he was once again flat on his back, but every time I tried to get the diaper under his butt, he would start to flip over like a fish on a dock. I eventually ripped the tags off an outfit I’d just bought him in Macy’s and handed them to him. He loves tags. He promptly stuck them in his mouth.

When I was done changing him, I realized I now had to go to the bathroom, so still balancing the knapsack and the diaper bag on my back and shoulders – because I didn’t want to put anything down on the floor of the stall — I grabbed Eddie again like a football and walked over to the toilet and tried to pull my pants down with my free hand. I realized it was not going to be possible to keep everything suspended in the air so I gave in and placed everything down on the floor, including my son. He immediately began to crawl toward the divider between my stall and the adjacent one, so I scooped him up and held him as I stooped over the toilet. I put him down again, pulled up my pants quickly, and then picked everything up and walked over to the sink. I placed Eddie and the bags in the middle of the counter as I washed my hands, but when I went to reach for a paper towel, the dispenser was out of my reach. I leaned toward it as far as I could, trying to keep my body in front of Eddie so he wouldn’t fall off the counter, but it was too far away. I felt like Nixon’s secretary, Rose Mary Woods, who claimed she inadvertently erased part of the Watergate tapes because she answered the phone while transcribing them. Skeptics said that for her to have answered the phone while keeping her foot on the pedal of the transcription machine would have required her body to stretch so far, only a super hero like “Rubber Woman,” could have achieved such a feat.

When we came out of the bathroom, I wheeled Eddie through the bookstore and paused by the magazines, but he started to cry so I pushed him over to the children’s section and began pulling out children’s books.

“Look, it’s the Grinch,” I said, picking up “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

“Oooh, ooh, look at this,” I said, as I wheeled him past a shelf filled with stuffed animals called “Ugly Dolls,” which seemed to be part rabbit, part dog and part monster. I plucked a pastel blue one off the shelf. He grabbed it and began to gnaw on one of its ears. I picked up an orange one and handed it to him. He looked at it and grabbed it, tossing the blue one aside. I then gave him a yellow one and a red one. I lined them all up in front of him.

“Which do you like best,” I said.

He paused, looked at each one, and grabbed the orange one.

“The orange one it is,” said a woman who was walking by.

“For now,” I said. Sure enough, his love affair with the orange doll ended in less than a minute, and he began to whine and kick his feet in his stroller. My heart rate began to rise again, and I left Barnes and Noble quickly, like an arsonist walking hastily away from a fire he’s just set.

I pushed Eddie’s carriage down the center hallway of the mall, feeling like a heel for being uncomfortable about my child’s behavior, when I saw a sign that said “Kid City.” I remembered the fanciful play area at the Freehold Raceway Mall and was surprised to see that my local mall had something similar. I felt I owed it to Eddie to let him have a bit of a romp. I imagined hearing his laughter as he ran from monkey bars to a little kiddie tunnel and then over to a bouncing horse, or whatever toys they might have. I envisioned mounds of multi-colored balls into which little children were jumping and squealing, and Eddie just watching it all with wonder.

I pushed Eddie for what seemed like half a mile, turning left and then right and then left again as I followed the arrows on the signs pointing toward “Kid City.” We stopped briefly at the Disney Store,where Eddie knocked over a display of little dogs and the placard in front of them, before we were on our way again. After a while, I took Eddie out of his carriage and let him push it himself. He likes to do that, push the carriage like a walker, as he walks behind it in his little feetie pajamas with a gait that’s as smooth as Lurch or Frankenstein. Every now and again, we’d pass someone who would pause and say, “Will you look at that,” and Eddie would stop, flash them a smile, and they’d say, “Oh, isn’t he cute.” He’d then move on until we reached the next person who would pause and say, “Will you look at that.”

The Holy Grail

As we neared the end of the mall, by the movie theater, I saw it there on the horizon like a beacon, bold letters that said, “Kid City.” But Kid City wasn’t a playground. It was a store. It wasn’t even a toy store. It was a discount clothing store that carried things like school uniforms and children’s furniture.

He could barely hold on

Disappointed, I turned the stroller around and started to head back toward Macy’s where we had parked our car when I saw a cluster of little amusement rides that move slightly up and down or from side to side, but usually not both. Eddie pushed his carriage over there and walked right up to a burgundy colored airplane. I sat him down on the seat and as I was about to put the $.75 into the slot, I noticed a sign that said, “Children must be three years of age to go on this ride.” I paused, brushed it off as a silly legal precaution, and dropped the money in. As the ride started pulsing up and down, Eddie began to slide from side to side on the seat. I could see his little hand was holding on to the seat next to him. His knuckles were white. I stood over him holding him up. When the ride finished, I grabbed him and put him on the floor. I was afraid to put him on another ride. But as I put him on the ground, he crawled over to a ride that was shaped like a hot dog truck. He climbed inside and stood up in front of a control panel and fingered some of the buttons until he spotted a little piece of bread, possibly a hot dog bun, on the floor. He dropped down and crawled over to pick it up. I grabbed it out of his hand three times before calling it a day and putting him back in the stroller. I gave him my car keys to divert his attention.

He spotted a piece of bun

I pushed him back through the mall and out the door by Macy’s. As we headed through the parking lot, I could hear a car horn beeping. I stopped and looked around for the origin of the sound because I feared it was someone about to pull out of a parking spot, no doubt talking on a cell phone, and that they would fail to see me and the stroller. My eyes moved from car to car, but I saw nothing, until we approached my car, and I saw the tail lights flashing on and off.  The beeping car was ours. Eddie had the car keys in his mouth and was gnawing on the key pad.  When I reached for the keys, my phone fell.  I picked it up.  11:00 a.m. Seven-and-a-half hours until my husband gets home.

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We’ve turned a corner of our dining room table into a diaper changing table, and I was changing Eddie’s diaper there yesterday morning when he reached up, tried to grab my cup of coffee, and knocked it over sending its contents spilling out onto my lovely blue and white checkered table cloth.

“Eddie!” I snapped, trying to upright the cup and limit the damage while making sure he didn’t roll off the table. “Jesus Christ. It’s all over everything!”

Can destroy a bathroom in five seconds

I heard the sound of my own voice and was disgusted. I’ve turned into the kind of person I wouldn’t like. If I was watching the exchange in a movie, I’d root for the kid. And yet I couldn’t stop myself.

“Why do you have to touch everything?” I said, feeling like a heel with every word I uttered.

He touches everything, and his little flipper hands are better for knocking things over than for picking things up. When I was wrapping Christmas presents last month, I spread everything out on the floor, and in just two minutes, he crinkled the wrapping paper I was about to use, grabbed the tape, unrolled all of the ribbon, crushed the shirt box and tissue paper I’d neatly laid out, and I kept losing the scissors because I had to keep them out of his reach and inadvertently, kept them out of my own.

No garbage pail is safe

Last night as I cooked dinner, he knocked over the bucket of recycling, found a bottle of wine and despite my having emptied it, he managed to spill its residual contents onto the floor and then sit on it, staining his onesie and new sweater. This morning, he knocked over the cat’s water bowl, spilling all of its contents onto the oak floor and soaking the edges of the antique rugs. And while I had him cloistered in the bathroom with me after taking my shower, he unrolled the toilet paper and then fished his hands around inside the toilet bowl that I thankfully had just flushed. He then crawled over to the garbage pail and turned it upside down, emptying the hair, dental floss, nail clippings and other detritus I like to keep hidden out onto the floor. Thankfully, I don’t do much entertaining in the bathroom.

It’s all normal. He’s doing nothing wrong except being a child, and he’s a wonderfully curious one at that. And having a cat already trained me to not leave small, important items like pearl earrings or keys or flash drives on shelves or countertops she can reach unless I want to spend hours searching for them in the cracks and crevices of my house. The rules for a baby are a similar but slightly expanded version: I can’t put any thing, any where, ever. And yet knowing this, I still snap when he knocks something over, and then I hate myself for doing it.

When my husband, Bruce, got home, we had a fight. It should have been about money because it’s tight right now, but it was about the fact that he didn’t read the email in which I told him about money being tight. And I only knew he hadn’t read it because he said, “I’ll write the check to the insurance company from our joint account” – the account I’d told him was tapped out.

“Didn’t you read my email?” I asked.

“What did it say?”

“Read it,” I said.

I was annoyed. I don’t have a lot of time these days. I have a babysitter for three hours a day, and in that time I’m supposed to write my freelance articles, my blog, do the laundry, the bills, and anything organizational I can remember, as well as doing the food shopping and cooking dinner. It was in that time slot that I fired off about four emails to Bruce that involved housekeeping matters – mostly budgetary in nature – and it appeared he hadn’t read them. I don’t have time these days to do things twice.

“Just tell me what it said,” he said.

“Read it,” I said.

“Fuck off,” he said as he turned on his blackberry.

“Did you just say ‘Fuck off?’ “ I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Nice,” I said and walked into the kitchen. I didn’t like the way he spoke to me, though I knew I couldn’t take too strong a stand as it could easily have been the other way around. I’m usually the one with the foul mouth and bad temper when we argue. He’s just taken my lead.

As I washed the dishes, Bruce stood in the middle of the living room searching through the emails on his blackberry and found the one about the checking account. He said he couldn’t find it because I had put the information in an email that started out talking about insurance. It appears I need to keep my emails to one sentence or he loses interest, because Bruce is now doing in our virtual conversations what he does in our live ones: listening to only the beginning of what I say. The rest of my thought drops to the floor like a dead limb. Just tonight, I tried to say something and when I got to a certain point in my explanation, Bruce cut me off. I tried to say it again, and again Bruce cut me off before I could finish. It’s like wearing bell bottom jeans that are a tad too long, and the person walking behind you keeps stepping on them.

The truth is, I usually get mad when I feel slighted, and I usually feel slighted when I’m getting down on myself, and I usually get down on myself when I feel like I’ve done something wrong, like being a bad parent by yelling at my son. So I yell at Eddie, I feel bad, I think I’m a jerk, then Bruce comes home, ignores me, I lash out, then I feel like a jerk, and because I feel like a jerk, I get frustrated and so when Eddie spills my coffee, I get mad, and then I feel bad, and the wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round.

When I went to sleep, I dreamed of a social studies teacher I had in high school named Mr. Hoffman, who wore sleeveless vests and a comb-over, though his hair was brown and the big sweep of bangs that lay over the top of his head like a crown was gray, making it particularly noticeable. I had a special place in my heart for Mr. Hoffman because he was the only teacher who paid any attention to me. I felt like flotsam in high school, bobbing up and down in a sea of students completely unnoticed, but Mr. Hoffman and I would have heart to heart chats, about school and friends and life, and he thought I was smart and special. In my dream, I bumped into Mr. Hoffman in the lobby of a hotel. When I saw him, I was very excited and ran over to him. He didn’t remember who I was.

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We took our son, Eddie, for a walk along the boardwalk yesterday. He pushed his stroller like it was a walker for about five city blocks, so far that my husband, Bruce, was pestering Eddie to stop.  We then went for a drink at a bar along the boardwalk. As Bruce and I had a drink at a table near the bar, Eddie sat in his car seat at the foot of my bar stool yabbering endlessly as if he was telling you about some dramatic event he’d just witnessed.

Can someone help me up here?

“How old is he?” asked a woman seated alone at a table nearby.

“11 months,” I said.

And as often happens, we went from Edwin’s age to fact that he was conceived from a donor egg and how she had breastfed her son until he was about two-and-a-half, the personal information going back and forth in loud voices over the wide aisle of a restaurant. She said she was from Connecticut and that she and her husband had moved to New Jersey recently and their daughter was enrolled in a program called The Sudbury School, where they learned by democratic vote. That is, the children, and not the teachers or school board, determine what the kids are taught. Her husband, who joined us at the restaurant, said at the Sudbury School in Massachusetts, the children wanted to take mathematics and wound up learning eight years worth of math in 60 hours.

“But how do the kids even know what to ask for? How would they even know to ask for something like chemistry when they don’t even know what it is?”

“They do research. And if they like something, they hear about other things related to it,” the husband said. “It motivates them to investigate what they want.”

But they said the founder of the branch of the Sudbury school to which they sent their daughter was being dictatorial, failing to put certain staffing and curriculum matters up for a vote. They were considering switching their child to another branch.

The hypocrisy of it reminded me of a situation a friend of mine experienced this week while on vacation in Washington State. He and his girlfriend drove for 15 miles at 10 miles an hour on a road filled with pot holes and then hiked uphill for another five miles in order to reach these hot springs that were supposed to be magical. But when they finally arrived, the hippy environmental group charged with protecting and overseeing the springs were running it like a hotel and turned them away because they didn’t have a reservation.

“We weren’t even allowed to look at the springs,” he said.

I liked the concept of the democratic school but found it hard to imagine children knowing what they want or need, in life and in education. Like most, I was used to the idea that you tell a child what they need to know, you present it to them in the driest possible way, and you then test them to see if they retained it.

That night, we gave Eddie his dinner and then placed him in his ExerSaucer – a donut with a seat in the middle in which the kid is placed, and he can play with an assortment of balls, wheels, buttons, and a rubbery star. It seemed like a good way to keep him in one place while we ate our dinner. We usually eat in the living room, at 1960s-style TV tables. When Eddie is allowed to roam freely, the first thing he does is crawl over to our tables and rock them incessantly until the water spills out of the glass, the salt and pepper shakers fall over, and our dinner plates are at risk of flying off the edge. It’s like eating on an airplane with violent turbulence. Putting him in the ExerSaucer with a pile of Cheerios seemed like the perfect remedy.

But last night, I can’t even remember why – perhaps he’d been cooped up in a car seat a lot recently? – we decided to let him out of the ExerSaucer before I was done eating. Bruce had already finished, but I was still eating my soup, and as soon as Eddie was free, he made a bee-line for my table. Bruce put his leg up before Eddie reached my table, but the child was driven. It was like the baby was a dog, and my food tray was lathered in bacon. Eddie tried to go over Bruce’s leg, but Bruce raised it. Eddie then tried to go under Bruce’s leg, so Bruce lowered it. This dance went on for a minute or two, with Bruce going one way and the baby going the other, until Bruce dropped his leg for just a second to let it rest and inadvertently created a sliver of an opening, and whoosh! Eddie darted through the hole like a greyhound at the dog track. Within seconds, he was at the base of my TV table shaking the legs like an animal shaking a tree to make the fruit fall.

“Hey, hey, hey,” I said, watching the salt and pepper shakers sway and then fall over.

“I only put my leg down for a second,” Bruce said.

The funny thing was, Eddie didn’t even know what was on my tray. All he knew was that he wanted it badly.

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