Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Why are these toys boobytrapped??

What IS it with children's toys' packaging? Why is it necessary to lock down each and every children's toy inside its already secure packaging with enough hardware and security to rival Fort Knox?

I recently sat down to pull out the animal train that my sister gave Sofie for Christmas. This is a smallish toy - one engine, two pull cars, and three animals (an elephant, a giraffe, and a monkey) that sit inside them. None of them are small enough to swallow. None have sharp edges. None are likely to explode if prodded.

So why did these three toys require EIGHT long plastic-coated wires to be wound around various pieces of them and then strung through cardboard and then, for extra security, wound againg through little ladder-like pieces of hard plastic?

Why did each individual animal, in addition to being strapped down by its feet, need to be garotted by piano wire stretched tight around its neck? If I were trying to raise a little CIA agent, working on her double-oh status, perhaps this would be instructive, but as it is, it's just annoying.

And then, just to make it truly unbearable, instead of winding all these wires through the same piece of cardboard, let's make the neck wires go into their own little extensions of the cardboard box, so that once you've sawed through the package tape and torn it open to reach the wires, you realize you still have another little mini-box to saw through before you can get to them.

And finally, to top off the experience with the proverbial cherry, let's wrap every access point to all of this wiry goodness in the world's strongest plastic packing tape.

I feel safer already. What's ironic is that all of this packaging crap leaves way more choking hazards around for our kids than the toys themselves possess. I'm already nervously checking the room to make sure that I didn't leave one of the two gazillion twisty ties laying around somewhere she can reach.

Thank you, Fisher Price! As far as I can tell, your pacakaging people are either insane, or hate kids and their parents. Or both.

Monday, February 26, 2007

House routines

Routines. I find myself strangely dependent on them now that I'm a stay at home parent. It's great when Brett is home unexpectedly for a few days, but even so, I find myself feeling oddly relieved when things go back to "normal". And when we have visitors or someone's sick or some other factor arises that throws routines entirely to the wind for more than a couple days, I find myself coming just slightly unglued. Is this a common new parent thing? I'm guessing that maybe it is.

I've never been the queen of consistency and order, at least not at home. (My former employees would probably say I am, though.) But now there's a rhythm to my days that I like. We have a set order of activities when she gets up in the morning that takes us gently from waking to naptime, and from naptime to lunch. After lunch we usually go out and do something for a couple hours, either Gymboree or coffee with a friend or grocery shopping or visiting grandparents. Then late afternoon playtime and book reading, then get dinner ready, listen to music, dinner, and bed. Of course this varies, and there's no set schedule to it, but this is a pattern we seem to have fallen into and that we both like.

Routine is good for infants, say all kinds of books and experts. They help baby know what to expect, and to move calmly through her day. Funny how they do the exact same thing for me, though. It's soothing; when she moves through her day more peacefully, so do I. And the lack of chaos lets me carve out a little, precious amount of time for myself - a half hour here or there to retain something of my former interests, to write, or just to relax.

In the evening I clean the kitchen, reverently, like a call to prayer, and I find it meditative and calming to set it in order for the next day. Clearing the counters, washing the table, starting the dishwasher, sweeping (especially sweeping) - it calms the soul. That half hour of quiet setting the house to rights before bed gives me such a deep sense of satisfaction that it's become hard to go to bed without it. I turn out the lights when I've finished and head upstairs full of peace and ready to get up tomorrow and start over again.

This probably sounds obvious to many people, but it's new to me to discover that there's something deeply satisfying about caring for a house, especially a house you care for deeply. This modest little house still bowls me over with happiness from time to time - it's my first true house-love since the house I grew up in. (I documented that love many years ago, in this essay.) I have a soft spot for the house across the street, of course, but I moved into that when it was already Brett's. This house is mine as much as his, and I can't imagine that I'll ever love a house as much as this.

A quote I love that comes close to what I'm feeling these days:

"If you sweep a house, and tend its fires, and fill its stove, and there is love in you all the years you are doing this, then you and that house are married, [and] that house belongs to you." - Truman Capote, The Grass Harp

Food at last!

Sofie had her first solid food today, and she took to it like someone who had been eating three squares a day for months. It's just a week before her six month birthday, the "official" date on which you're supposed to start giving a baby food, but for some reason I thought she was ready - maybe the way she's been grabbing at food on my plate for the last couple weeks, or lunging for cups when she sees me drink.

Not knowing what to expect, I strapped on the biggest bib we have, carefully made two tablespoons of rice cereal, and settled in for the first attempt. Would she blow rice cereal raspberries all over the room? Spit it all over herself?

Nope. She sucked it down as if she'd been eating off spoons forever, opening her mouth cooperatively for each bite and slurping it down with no sense of shock, surprise, or distaste. She paused now and then to grin at me as if to say, "Thank GOD! Food. Finally. What do I have to do, feed myself with chopsticks to show you I'm ready?"

Every now and then, she grabbed the spoon from me and proceeded to stick it in her mouth herself, but otherwise she was great. And hey, she knows how to use a spoon!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

And the award for sitting goes to

Sofie is learning how to sit - she's not the steadiest yet, but she can pull herself up into sitting position and stay there for a little bit longer every day:

She's also learning that when you push the buttons on toys like this one you see here, fun things happen:

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

New job

Brett started his new job downtown this week, and so far it seems to be going great. For one thing, he gets to leave the house a lot later in the morning - instead of getting up at 5:30 every day to workout and then make the 90 minute commute across the bridge, he can get up at seven, do his workout, and head out to get on the bus between 8 and 8:30.

Bus commuting has been a little tricky so far - a few mishaps from not realizing the buses were on a holiday schedule Monday, and not realizing when they stopped running last night, but otherwise that seems to be suiting him very well. And as for work itself, as he said in an email earlier this week, he's "exchanged his [Microsoft] window office for a cubicle facing the wall and couldn't be happier."

Sofie has helped Daddy adjust to the new job by coming down with the mother of all colds, which has required us both to stay up half the night with her the last two nights. She's not terribly ill, but she just can't sleep, and when she does she tends to wake up crying every 15-45 minutes because she's congested, unless someone holds her semi-upright.

We're taking turns staying up with her while the other gets a little sleep. Last night, Brett took her to the basement from ten until midnight, then I sat with her, semi-snoozing, from midnight to four, and then he took her from five to seven. Yikes. Brett seems to be holding up okay - probably a good thing he has the adrenaline of a new job to get him through the day on so little sleep.

Sofia seems to be feeling a lot better today, and hopefully she'll be over it soon.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Life on a budget

Now that I'm unemployed and we're living on a budget for the first time in, well, ever, I've given up my $60 haircut habit and reluctantly entered the world of cheapo haircuts. I put it off for as long as I could, using the new baby as a convenient excuse to let my hair go to hell in a handbasket, until this weekend, when I realized that a) I hadn't had a haircut in seven months and b) I couldn't get a comb through it wet or dry and had a social function to go to where I might actually want to look decent.

So off I took myself to the local Supercuts.

Now, I have nothing against Supercuts. Lots and lots of people (including my husband) go there regularly. There's no good reason a haircut needs to cost sixty smackeroos.

But ohhhhhhh my, that was just a very different experience from what I've become accustomed to. Gone was the soft music, muted colors, and soothing ambiance of Gene Juarez. No one hands you a soft cotton gown and whisks your shirt away on a hanger, giving you a little clothing receipt to ensure you get the right items back. No one brings you coffee or ice water. My hairdresser was not a droll and witty gay man. No one massages your head during the shampoo. Heck, they don't even blow dry your 'do unless you shell out another ten bucks.

I didn't really see the point in that, so I went home wet-headed. And a little sad.

BUT - the $16 haircut, if not the haircut experience, was just fine. Aside from the fact that she offered to shave my neck (what? do I have a hairy neck? what was that all about? not being sure I declined), she cut three inches off and gave me layers again and I look just fine.

I am, however, going to widen my search for a cheap but slightly less grungy local place to get my haircuts from now on. Supercuts was just a little bit too depressing for me; I think I can do better and still pay $20 or less.

Morning routine

And then there are the mornings when she unexpectedly sleeps an extra hour or two, after getting up on the dot of seven a.m. for days straight as if some kind of whistle is blowing announcing the start of the baby day, and you wake up to two thoughts: first, oh sweet heaven, she's still asleep! Followed shortly by, oh crap, is she alive? So you poke her a little and lay your hand on your little chest until you satisfy yourself that yes, she is breathing, and then all is well.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Safety first

We've just completed the first stage of childproofing the house -- namely, the big, difficult stuff like putting up the hardware-mounted gates on each stairway and gating off the laundry room, hooking the bookcases and tall stuff to the walls so that Sofie can't pull them over on herself, and putting up a bannister shield on the upstairs bannister, the bars on which were just the right size for sticking one's head through.

At the same time, we dissembled and moved the crib upstairs into the front nook off our bedroom, thinking that it will be easier to transition her from her bassinet to the crib while the crib is still relatively nearby, and then to move her downstairs to her bedroom after she's mastered the sleeping-in-a-crib thing. But really, this is just an excuse (albeit a plausible one) -- the real reason is that I'm nowhere near ready to have her sleeping a whole floor away from us. She's still so little! How can I banish her to the first floor? What if she was scared? And do either of us really want to run down the stairs four times a night when she cries? No.

Fortunately, I have the world's most understanding husband, who had no problem with having her crib moved up for a few months when I explained it to him. If she's still sleeping in a room with us when she's four, I may have a problem, but for now the theory is that we'll transition her to the crib over the next month, and then down to her own room somewhere between nine months and a year old.

How can one little person create the need for so much house renovation? We've now moved Brett's office down a floor, created a nursery, moved parts of that nursery upstairs, blocked off staircases and utility areas, rearranged all the basement closets in an attempt to start getting cleaners and dangerous things high off the floor -- and there's still a ton more to do before the house is kid-safe, mom-approved. And we're not even going nuts trying to pad every sharp corner on the furniture -- we're just doing the basic nuts-and-bolts childproofing: outlet covers, window blinds, cleaners and medicines and other swallowables, topple-able furniture, staircases.

Also note that when I say "we" have completed all of this, that actually means our handyman friend Tom has done most of it. He spent parts of the last three days over here putting up the gates and doing everything else that required drilling, as well as replacing some light fixtures and hanging shelves and other household tasks that are just beyond Brett's or my ability.

Of all the essentials in life, a friendly, affordable handyman is one of the best.

Before I close, on the subject of baby gates, we put up two kinds -- a metal, auto-close one that's pressure-mounted for the baby's room and the laundry room, and a wooden, hardware-mounted one for the stairs. If anyone who's reading is thinking of buying them, the autoclose gate rocks - it's easy to open, swings closed nicely behind you, and is very sturdy. The wooden gate, well, the jury is out. So far it takes two hands and a foot to get the dang thing latched or unlatched. I'm sure we'll get used to it (we're not actually closing these yet, so they're just hanging open for now until she learns to crawl) but I'm not as happy with them as I thought I'd be.

Brett's last day

Today is Brett's last day at Microsoft, just a month and two days after my last day, bringing to a close a collective 19 years of our lives spent working there. And that right there is just a staggering amount of time, is it not?

Starting Monday, Brett's going to a small software company downtown where he'll be employee number twelve, instead of employee number 17,512. He'll be a bus commuter instead of spending 2-3 hours a day stuck in traffic, he's working just a few blocks from the baseball stadium, and he gets to run over to the best bookstore in town whenever he wants. Sounds pretty great!

Congratulations, sweetie.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Random thoughts

Random observations:

  • I agree that the stupid Time Magazine article belittling so-called "hipster parents" was a bad thing, but I'm getting a little tired of the self-reverential posts every single parent blog I know seems to be making about this, one... at... a... time, day after day after day. Enough already! Can there be anything left to say about this? I must've read 15 posts in the last two days, all of them saying essentially the same thing, and yet every time I check Bloglines there's a new version of the same.

  • Me, I'm not really a hipster parent. Sure, my kid does have a couple of rock-n-roll onesies and has heard more grownup music than baby music, and she's spent more time in sushi restaurants and grownup movies than non-urban kids, but I'm not contributing much to the very deep and interesting conversations going on about identity, nontraditional parenting, and other struggles. These are the conversations that make the parenting blog-o-sphere great, but try as I might to get some thoughts together that are deeper than the latest cute thing Sofie did, right now I'm quite honestly just deeply enjoying living the unexamined life for the first time in years and years. I don't have qualms about my identity; I don't feel like I'm losing myself in stay at home motherhood. I feel great! I worked hard for fourteen years before I chose to stay home and do this, and it's fricking fantastic.

    99% of the time, not having to think about anything more complicated than whether Sofie needs to eat or not or what I should make for dinner tonight feels like the greatest vacation ever after so many years being a corporate drone. Does admitting this make me not a feminist? No. It makes me a late-thirty-something woman who's made a choice and is comfortable with it. I'm playing house and I loveloveLOVE it.

    Check back with me in a few years and perhaps I'll be feeling differently. I certainly expect that at some point I'll deeply need to go back to work, not just for financial reasons. Until then, this is the best, most fun, most rewarding (and occasionally hardest, but still great) sabbatical/vacation/break ever.

  • I saw the first crocuses in bloom today, and the cherry trees down the street are starting to blossom. I love how early spring flowers arrive in Seattle. It's been almost sixty degrees for the last few days, giving us the perfect opportunity to try out Sofie's new ride, a tangerine-colored Combi umbrella stroller that's way smaller and lighter (9 pounds!) than the Graco travel system (20 pounds!) we've been using up until now.

    And it's not pink. Hallelujah. I swear, every piece of clothing and gear she owned in the newborn phase (most of it gifts or hand-me-downs) was pink, and of this frothy collection the stroller (which we purchased ourselves, but pink was the only model available so we had no choice) was the worst of the lot. I'm really happy to be relegating that stroller to the "leave in the car and drag it out for emergencies" role. And now that she's a little older, her clothes are becoming a lot less pepto-bismol-esque and a lot more colorful and interesting too.

    Case in point:

    Sofie I'm-too-cool-for-my-crib Zalkan

    Sure, she looks icy cool, but look how big and wiggy her eyes are underneath her new shades

Saturday, February 10, 2007

More teeth, and reading

Well that was quick. Just seven days after tooth number one showed up, tooth number two is halfway through the gums, poking up one little razor sharp corner and reducing our usually happy baby to depths of misery heretofore unknown. Poor kid. She wakes up crying every two hours at night, and alternates between being a little clingy or in outright pain during the day.

I didn't know these things happened so quickly, or so close together! It seems like mother nature should give the kid a break and let her recover from one before starting on the next one, no? Then again, perhaps it's best to get it all over with at once.

I so rarely blog about anything other than Sofie these days, that I feel I should mention that in spite of being the fulltime caretaker of the little one and getting no sleep, I'm continuing to somehow get lots of reading done -- mainly by lowering my standards a little and reading things that don't take a ton of concentration and energy. Instead of reading sensitive, deeply felt works of fiction, I'm now plowing my way through detective novels, a genre that's completely new to me. I read a couple of the highly popular Janet Evanovich series before decided I didn't like them too much (interesting gimmick, but the characters grated on my nerves after a while), then hit on the ever prolific Sue Grafton, author of the alphabet series (A is for Alibi... B is for Burglar... etc.)

Now these I like, somewhat to my surprise - mainly because the main character is sort of an intriguing anti-heroine who you can't help but be interested in. I don't particularly care that much about the mysteries themselves, but I keep going back to find out what's going to happen to the recurring characters next. Also, I'm somewhat interested to see when Kinsey (the main character) switches from using a portable typewriter (the first books were written in the mid-eighties, when personal computers were not commonplace) to a computer. It was really jarring to me at first to read about someone pulling out a typewriter every time they needed to make notes. L is for Luddite. T is for technophobe.

So far, I'm up to L, having just finished K last night. (No computers yet, but we're moving into the mid 1990s, so it can't be too far away.) I can't quite believe I've read eleven of these in a row and am still not bored. After L, I have to make another trip up to the local used book store and buy the next few. Luckily we have credit there, and they're costing me next to nothing.

Other recent reads: The Book of Lost Things (not bad), Healthy Child, Whole Child (terrific, will be buying my own copy since this was a library book), and a few Kathy Reichs of variable quality -- Deja Dead (excellent), and Cross Bones (laughably awful, just terrible - enough to make you wonder if the other was ghost written by someone better).

Friday, February 09, 2007

Tooth time

Sofie has sprouted her first little tooth, which I've been trying in vain to get a picture of for posting purposes. It came through the gums over the weekend, making clear in the process what morons Brett and I are -- you'd think by now that we could figure out that last week's crying jag was teething. But nooooooo, not us. We just thought she'd become possessed.

New parenthood seems to consist of a series of events that you're unable to figure out until after the fact. Second babies must be a little easier, I think, in that at least you have some chance of knowing what's going on the first time teething or a growth spurt happens with that kid.

Anyhoo, it's about two millimeters tall and very sharp and she feels much better now that it's all the way through the gums. She's the first of her little buddies to get a tooth, too, so everyone's all impressed and interested and making her feel very important. I suppose tooth number two will be a big letdown, since she'll no longer be so unique. Oh, you have ANOTHER tooth. Yawn.

We had PEPS at our house last night -- and for the first time the whole group showed up in one place. It was a little overcrowded:

Monday, February 05, 2007

Happy Birthday Grandma

Sofie helped Grandma celebrate her birthday, last Thursday:


The rest of the weekend was just terrific. Sofie did great; we were delighted to discover that she's not only cute and funny but quite adaptable too! Only the first night was difficult - each night thereafter she slept better and better, leading up to a solid 9.5 straight hours of sleep without interruption on Saturday night.

She also got used to her Peapod travel bed, which is nice since it folds down to about the size of a large frisbee; her willingness to sleep in this means no more carting around her moses basket or a playpen or some other large contraption. Yay Sofie! Way to go.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Sleeping Lady

2/4 - Adding pictures...

It's amazing the places you can find an unexpected wifi connection these days -- even out in the middle of the woods in a place that makes much of its no-televisions-no-connectedness status. But lo and behold, our little cabin in the woods is tapping into someone's wireless, and Brett brought his laptop along just in case. So here we are!

Sofie has been (mostly) a saint so far. She slept the entire three hour drive here without so much as a peep, woke up for lunch when we arrived and then placidly went down for a nap about an hour and a half later.

Mom and Sofie napping

She's astonished by the cold, wintery world we've landed in. It was definitely in the teens when we left the cabin this morning to walk over to breakfast at the communal dining hall, and although we bundled her up so that only her face was showing and strapped her to my chest for extra warmth and then even wrapped the ends of my scarf around her chin, she looked around all wide-eyed and shocked as if she had no idea the world could be like this.

Bundled up

Last night was one of the brightest full moons I've ever seen, and the snow outside our window looked as if it was still daylight outside, or dusk maybe, at two a.m. The mountains that ring the Sleeping Lady glowed eerily and you could almost read a book by it. I half expected to see small woodland creatures dancing in a ring around one of the big pine trees. It was that otherworldly.

Perhaps it was the full moon that made Sofie crazy last night. Although she went down to bed at her usual time, she had a really tough time sleeping much more than an hour. We took turns settling her back down and have therefore been napping as much as humanly possible today. It's hard not to sympathize, though - she doesn't know what we're doing here, just that it's different and her bassinet is somewhere else. She finally ended up sleeping for a few hours in the twin bed window nook here, carefully bolstered in by pillows.

Playing with Daddy

Aside from that she's been her usual cheerful and sweet and goofy self, and we're having our usual book-reading orgy and enjoying the good life up here. Hopefully she'll sleep a little better tonight and we'll make it through to Sunday just fine!


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