Archive for June, 2009
2 days, 18 hours, 57 min, 46 seconds

We are sprinting toward the finish line in our race to get out of our condo.  The closing on both our condo and our new house are scheduled for Wednesday, and our house is currently a wreck with boxes piled in every available corner.  The bunny is residing in our friend’s storage shed until later this week, and Stoli gets to stay the night on Tuesday night at his own personal kitty camp at the Pet Lodge.  The Pet Lodge offers 24/7 webcam access to your pet, just in case the details of our move aren’t enough to keep us occupied this week.  Tonight we take our houseplants to a friend’s house in Hinesburg, and our kayaks have been loaned out to friends for the weekend.  Yesterday we donated a ton of stuff to Recycle North.  I also intended to donate a can of formula that I got in the mail before Holden was born, but the food shelf hours weren’t convenient, so I ended up chucking it, which I now feel guilty about.  We are in the agonizing stage of  ”Will we REALLY need access to this spatula before Wednesday??” and “Maybe I can keep wearing these same dirty clothes so I have less laundry to wash….”  And so, we have entered the purgatory of moving.

Tomorrow we have an inspection by the Department of Public Works to close out open zoning permits that our builder never took care of.  We have our fingers crossed that everything checks out and we can proceed as planned.  I also have to run to the bank and hope all of our condo checks have cleared so I can transfer the account balance to the other owners.  Those are the last big items on our seemingly never-ending list of house-related tasks.  This is our third house sale and fourth house purchase since 2002.  We have gotten to be pros at moving but somehow every transaction has brought forth a host of new issues.

One of the easier moves was when we bought our first condo and moved from MD to VT in 2002.  Yes, that was one of the easiest moves, even though it was an out-of-state transition.  We didn’t have to worry about selling a property and didn’t have to move much stuff as we owned next to nothing— prior to moving to VT, we were living in a one-bedroom apartment in northern Baltimore County.

And when we finally re-located to VT, we purchased a basement level 2-bedroom condominium that was pretty much the exemplar of budget living.  Or as Chuck Palahniuk would say, it was a filing cabinet for widows and young professionals.  Our particular drawer was located on the bottom left:

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We had a kitchen with no dishwasher (you should have seen these cabinets before I painted them and replaced the hardware):

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Our little living room (once when we had a TV!):

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And our office:

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While we lived there, we did some small updates.  One of our projects was a bathroom re-model:

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During the two years we lived there, we survived a flood and a disgusting septic back-up.  The flood was a direct result of the negligence of someone who owned a unit above us.  They turned off the heat and left the windows open DURING THE WINTER…not smart during  -20F weather.  The pipes froze and burst, and we came home to find all of our carpet ruined.  We lived on concrete floors in a basement condo for 3 months during our first VT winter.  A few months after the new carpet was installed, the condo association “forgot” to pump the septic, and guess whose condo had a bathtub full of poo??  Not only did we have a bathtub full of poo, but it overflowed and ruined the new carpet!!  So then we had to get new carpet, AGAIN.  Other than that (and perhaps the fact that we’d get calls from tenants about stuff and we had to deal with coin-op laundry, it wasn’t a bad place to live).

In 2004, I switched graduate programs unexpectedly because my graduate advisor was leaving the institution at which I started my studies.  R had a good gig going at his job where he remains to this day, so we decided to live halfway in between my new school and his work so we could both have a shot at pursuing the professional opportunities that were important to us.  We purchased a house in central Vermont, which was our favorite place we have lived to date:

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We did a lot of work to that house.  When we first moved in, it smelled like urine and was generally pretty gross.  It even had mushrooms growing out of the bathroom floor.  It was the definition of a fixer-upper.  During the two years we lived there, we re-modeled the bathroom, painted EVERYTHING, pulled up nasty carpet, put in new floors, installed new ceiling fans and light fixtures, and more.  It still needed a ton of work when we moved out, but it had become a wonderful home for us and we loved living there very much.

The before shot of the master bedroom during our inspection:

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The after shots of my painting and decorating magic (I admit that the adhesive glow-in-the-dark stars and planets with which the previous owner’s children had adorned our ceiling were very endearing, so I decided to let them remain over us as we slept for the 2 years we lived there):

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The before shot of the dining room/kitchen (and our house inspector who later tragically fell off a roof and broke his back):

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The countertops were in bad shape:

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Luckily, my Dad came to the rescue and showed Rob how to re-finish the countertops:

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Here’s Rob getting high on adhesive fumes:

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The finished product looked damn good!:

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And the dining room didn’t look half bad either:

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Oh, but the projects in that house never seemed to end.  Here I am, foolishly pulling up urine-soaked carpet without a mask.  Guess who got hives from this experience:

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I also became acquainted with crowbars:

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But man, it looked better when it was done:

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I also did a lot of painting.  A lot.

The before shot of the office (notice that this is a child’s room and there is a rifle on one of the children’s beds—classy!):

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The after shot of the office:

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We had so many good times in that house.  We had visits from many wonderful out-of-town guests.  Here is my oldest friend Deborah, pretending to be a sinister librarian:

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Mark and John came for a visit as well:

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And we always managed to lock ourselves out on the patio, which necessitated Rob and John hoisting Mark onto the screened in porch to get us back inside.  And of course, who could forget Stoli escaping through the hole in the screened in porch, causing Rob to scale the side of the house (in flip flops, while intoxicated), resulting in him falling onto the tomato plants below and taking the rake and lawn mower down with him.  Fun times were had there….

Of course, there were some no-so-fun times….like another incident involving poo!!!  A week after we moved in, the city sewer lines backed up into our basement.  The basement was finished at the time (poorly, I might add), but we ended up losing all of the carpet and about a foot of drywall around the perimeter of the room.  Instead of re-finishing the basement (which is a poor choice in New England anyway), we used the insurance money to transform our mushroom-infested bathroom into this (believe me, you don’t want to see the before shot—it was like the worst bathroom in Scotland):

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We also had another strange thing happen, when a car parked in a neighboring driveway drifted down the hill and hit our house (no one was behind the wheel when this happened).  The house was mostly OK, except for the main electrical wiring coming into the house:

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But believe me, I am telling the truth when I say we really and truly LOVED living there.

So, it was really and truly unfortunate then, that  I had to spend much of the last year we were there, living in a small room down by school because my 120-mile roundtrip commute was really taking its toll on my ability to finish my dissertation.  Rob and I spent months apart (except for occasional weekends), and although we loved loved loved our little home, we decided that once school was done, we would need to be closer to work.  After I finished up school, I took a postdoc/teaching position at the local university close to Rob’s job.  We could once again work in the same town and live together, without the stresses of a long commute.  Our move out of our home in central Vermont was not smooth to say the least, and due to a severe miscommunication, all of our stuff was boxed up and on the moving truck, and we were unable to close on our new condo for 2 whole weeks.  We had to find a place to crash for 2 weeks, and poor Stoli just couldn’t understand why we had to leave him behind in an empty house:

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At first, the excitement of living together again and not having to spend like $500/month on gas superseded the disadvantages of moving back into a condo.  We were mostly relieved to find a place that we could afford that woudn’t need 50K worth of work right off the bat.

We truly were excited in the beginning:

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But how could we have anticipated that we would FINALLY have a little Holden running up and down this hallway just a couple years after moving in??

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And how could we anticipate that our neighbor would loathe said running up and down the hallway so much??

I hope that our new home will be a place of peace for us, where we can enjoy each other’s company, laugh with each other, have good times with friends and family, savor delicious food (and maybe even sleep through the night here and there).  Although I know from past experience that more poo-filled adventures could be in our future, I mostly just want safety and peace for our family.  I used to think that sewage back-ups and floods were spates of awful luck for us (and perhaps they were); however, I now think I’d rather deal with 10 more such incidents in place of feeling like Holden cannot be himself in his own home.  I feel for all of the parents out there who are renting in less-than-stellar neighborhoods or who are not making enough money to move and get their kids away from unsavory situations (and I’m talking environments that are way worse than where we live, of course).  I cannot imagine the helplessness that must engender.  I know how lucky we are.  We are so, so lucky.  Privilege is really about being able to change your circumstances at will.

In just a few short days, the moving truck will be here, precariously backed between our house and our neighbors.  Our belongings will be loaded onto the truck and shuttled off to another physical space that we will inhabit for several years, a space within a suburban neighborhood that is detached physically from other homes but ironically does not foster the sense of alienation that we have felt while living so close to so many other people.

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We are moving away from everything to feel more connected.

Have my cake and eat it too

No, this is not another birthday cake-inspired story that can be used to embarrass Holden when he is older.  I have been thinking a lot recently about how I am in the enviable position of being H’s sole caregiver most of the week while also having two dedicated work days each week in which I am able to maintain my professional identity.  Thus, I have my cake and eat it too.  I don’t have to miss any special moments with H, and I also enjoy the freedom of working (yes, work is freedom after staying home with a baby day in and day out for 10 and a half months).  It’s a win-win situation.

Now that I am back at work part-time, I am thinking more acutely about my long-term career goals.  Actually, that’s not entirely accurate.  I am thinking more acutely about my long-term goals with H, and how my career can be made to fit around the contours of H’s many, constantly changing, needs and preferences.  Maintaining the career-family balance without going bonkers isn’t a new problem.  The questions that are posed and summarily answered with purely anecdotal evidence are dichotomous and ultimately, not very useful:  ”Is having your child in daycare better than having your child stay at home with his/her mom?”  ”Are stay-at-home moms better than stay-at-home dads?”  ”Are working moms better/worse nurturers than stay-at-home moms?” and so on….

These are terrible questions to be asking ourselves.  They are devisive and provide no insight.  They presuppose that every family has identical priorities, attention spans, patience, education, money, opportunity, support, you name it.  These questions assume that families require formulaic solutions.  What’s worse is when researchers empirically tackle these questions by comparing two groups (e.g. kids in daycare versus kids who stay at home with a parent) to generate some conclusion of the “which one of these two alternatives is better” variety.  Better for who??  The research question is bullshit to begin with.  And usually, the dependent measure is a flawed index of whatever ill-defined variant of “better” the researcher wishes to assess.

Irrelevant questions aside, I’ve begun to use an evolutionary perspective to frame my exploration of family life and parenthood, which may itself seem irrelevant to the many people flocking to popular magazines for answers about the “best” way to raise a family.  For example, throughout much of their evolutionary history, human beings have lived in close proximity to their kin, and thus have cultivated intimate ties among closely related members of these groups.  This dynamic is similar to what is observed in most other primate species, although it is worth noting that monogamy is atypical for primates (generally fewer than 3% of primates are monogamous).  Nevertheless, important hygienic, cultural, nutritive, social, defensive, and emotional resources are conveyed between kin in these primate groups, and for human beings, this has been the case at least up until relatively recent history.  We are an extremely mobile society, and it is not uncommon for individuals to live hundreds, if not thousands of miles, from their kin.  This is a far cry from the conditions in which modern humans evolved.  This form of dispersal puts limitations on cultural transmission (sharing information from one generation to the next), as well as on the amount or quality of assistance that can be provided to offspring with whom we share our genes.  This is a recent problem and is one of the many ways in which we are straining the limits of our adaptability.

If you wish to apply these evolutionary principles to how we live our lives as modern humans, you could make the argument that the offspring of early hominids had the advantages of BOTH a stay-at-home mom AND the exposure to conspecifics of the same age, much like spending time at a daycare, except with Mom present.  By this logic, both “sides” of the modern-day “working mom” versus “stay-at-home mom” shouting match are meeting the needs of offspring in ways that are similar to the conditions in which we evolved.  But you could also make the argument that both “sides” of the shouting match are wrong.  If you’re a stay-at-home mom who doesn’t get the kids out enough to see/interact with other kids (relatives or not), you’re missing half of the evolutionary equation.  Relatedly, if you’re a working mom who rarely sees her kid(s), you’re also missing half of the evolutionary recipe.  What I am saying here, (so I can offend everyone equally), is that NO ONE IS RIGHT!  By evolutionary standards, we are all  failing miserably.  As parents, we are all uncomfortable, feeling guilty, and DEFENSIVE about our choices, because there are aspects of those choices that don’t sit well with us, or tax our minds and bodies so completely that we are bone tired at the end of the day.

I emphasize the word “defensive” here, because I have seen many friendships between moms sour when it comes out that one or the other has passed judgement on her friend’s choices regarding her parenting.  I have also seen (as I am certain many of you have also observed) women being SO NASTY AND DISRESPECTFUL to other women on comment threads on the Internet.  I have seen stay-at-home moms tell working moms that they should have kept their legs shut and not had kids, because why should they bother having kids if they’re not actually going to be around to raise them?  I’ve seen working moms slam stay-at-homes (although less often) for being lazy, privileged, etc.  I just can’t believe that women are being so nasty to each other, when what we are ALL suffering from is a cultural attitude that does not permit healthy, evolutionarily-adaptive relationships.  The dichotomy of working versus stay-at-home mom is a symptom of a larger problem.  It is not the case that one of those choices is the problem itself.

Working moms have it tough in a lot of respects.  If they choose to breastfeed, it is damned difficult to pump enough milk for daycare.  Our production of breastmilk is experience-dependent, meaning that being away from baby all day really stacks the cards against you.  Plus, our bodies were not designed to produce milk in anticipation of need, which is exactly what your body has to do if you are a breastfeeding, working mom.  Many working moms (although not all), also feel left out of certain parts of childrearing, and some report that they miss engaging with their children.  On the other hand, stay-at-home moms can feel lonely and isolated.  This problem is particularly acute if you don’t have a good support network (e.g. you live far from family), or do not have the monetary resources to do activities with other moms.  Arranging playdates and opportunities for interaction with others takes an enormous amount of effort, and is something that is made more difficult by the nature of our highly individualized living conditions.

It is hard for everyone, no matter the choices they make.

And of course, the messages we receive make us second-guess these difficult choices and put us on the defensive.  We receive messages from Dr. Laura Schlessinger (who holds a degree in physiology, NOT in psychology, just so you know), who recently authored a book called In Praise of Stay At Home Moms.  In this book, she argues that being a stay-at-home mom is the optimal (read, ONLY) way to raise a family.  My question of course, is why can’t Dads stay at home?  Are Dads not good at it?  Do they scar their children for life?  Will the neighbors think it’s weird?  I mean, really, why can’t Dads stay at home if they are willing and able?  I’ll be honest here and say I haven’t actually read the book (only excerpts), but I think it is damaging for the central tenet of this book to rest squarely upon the assumption that only mothers can care for their children.  It’s damaging to children, it’s damaging to women who can use the help raising their kids, and it’s damaging to MEN, whose ability to care and nurture children should not be undermined!!!!

On the other side of the radical spectrum are the feminists.  Now, I will tread carefully here because I know that many feminists aren’t crazy bra-burning wackos who pretend that biology doesn’t exist.  However, I have read a number of alarming articles recently that have offended me deeply.  Take for example, Hannah Rosin’s gem of an article “The Case Against Breastfeeding.” Whether you feed your child formula or breastmilk, you will likely feel offended by what Rosin has to say.  Essentially, she describes breastfeeding as a “prison” that is keeping her “down”.  In regards to breastfeeding, she goes on to say:

It is a serious time commitment that pretty much guarantees that you will not work in any meaningful way. Let’s say a baby feeds seven times a day and then a couple more times at night. That’s nine times for about a half hour each, which adds up to more than half of a working day, every day, for at least six months. This is why, when people say that breast-feeding is “free,” I want to hit them with a two-by-four. It’s only free if a woman’s time is worth nothing.”

When I first read this paragraph, I actually gasped out loud.  The implication of her statement is that your time is only valuable if you are being paid.  And in the realm of parenthood, and actually in life more generally, we do valuable and important things all the time for which we are not paid money.  Rosin’s attitude encapsulates everything that is wrong with conspicuous consumer culture.  Reading bedtime stories and singing songs to Holden at bedtime are also free, but perhaps Rosin would argue that they are free because my time is worth nothing.  Maybe I should stop doing those things, too.

An intriguing article published in the New Yorker earlier this year,  Baby Food:  If Breast is Best, Why are Women Bottling Their Milk? explores the history and politics of pumping breastmilk.  The author, Jill Lepore, describes the Human Milk Gap, a period of time when a baby’s needs for breastmilk must be met following a mother’s resumption of work.  The three ways of filling this gap are longer maternity leaves, on-site child care, and breast pumps.  Breast pumps are cheap, relatively speaking, so of course they have been the solution for this so-called milk gap in the United States.  This solution, although inferior to the alternatives such as a longer maternity leave, has been lauded by many organizations, including the National Organization for Women, whose president has been quoted as saying that “only one-third of mega-corporations provide a safe and private location for women to pump breast milk for their babies.”  To this, Jill Lepore quips:  ”When did “women’s rights” turn into “the right to work”?

In many ways, I feel like Hannah Rosin’s disdain for breastfeeding stems directly from the attitude that women’s rights = the right to work.  Rosin’s criticism of breastfeeding seems to be a manifestation of her belief that women deserve to be paid for their time.  One wonders whether she would be opposed to breastfeeding if the government paid women to breastfeed by the hour.  If our biology can be used to earn money, can we applaud it?  And if so, what makes this different from the prostitute who earns her money through exploiting her sex-specific anatomical characteristics?

But I digress—the real “oh my god, really???” of Rosin’s argument is that she herself is a breastfeeding mom.  She discusses in her article how she resents her husband’s uninterrupted sleep and loathes his ability to simply leave for work, unfettered.  I would be lying if I said I too never had a single second of “OMG, please stop nursing now so I can brush my teeth/sleep/answer the phone/not feel like a cow.”  I do have those moments, although they were more frequent in the beginning, when nursing was more frequent.  Rosin clearly resents breastfeeding, and in my opinion, should probably just stop so she doesn’t take her resentment out on her kid and husband.  Breastfeeding isn’t a good thing if it engenders anxiety and strife.

And blogging isn’t a good thing when you’ve been doing it for a couple of hours and your one-year old is repeatedly tugging on your shorts to get your attention.  I have lot more to say and don’t have a tidy way of wrapping this all up, so I will end here.  Expect more on these topics in the future—-

Solstice Baby…Almost

One year ago today, my little Holden was born.  We had a wonderful birthday celebration for Holden on Saturday at Oakledge Park in Burlington.  Rob’s parents and grandmother traveled from Maine for the party, and my folks flew up from West Virginia.

Holden’s party was so much fun!  We were surrounded by lots of people who are very dear to us, and I felt like it was the perfect celebration of Holden’s life thus far.  We kept things simple by asking everyone to pitch in a dish to share while we provided burgers and hot dogs, and Rob’s folks provided some gourmet cupcakes from Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland, Maine.  Yum.  It was an overcast day but it was not hot or humid—really a perfect day for grilling some food and swinging with the kiddos.  Holden was given a personal 6-inch cake for the occasion:

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I had assumed beforehand that Holden would tear into that sucker with gusto, not unlike all of his other encounters with food.  I fully expected his hands to be encased in sticky chocolate, and that his face would boast more chocolate than skin.  However, I think Holden was a little overwhelmed with the large crowd of people singing to him and subsequently starring at him in anticipation of that first bite.  He nearly cried when my mother finally stepped in to offer him some chocolate icing.  

But he got over it:

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Holden had such a fabulous time (other than being intimidated by the cake situation).  He walked and walked and walked all over the place and fell down three times, scraping his knuckles at one point.  He also showed me that yes, he can climb stairs, thank you very much.

Here’s Holden enjoying special time with my Dad:

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And with my Mom:

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On Father’s Day we enjoyed some breakfast with the family to celebrate all of the wonderful Dads in our lives (especially my dad as it was his first Father’s Day as a Grandpa, and Rob as it was his first Father’s Day since Holden was born).  Then we had to say goodbye to my parents, which was tough for all of us.  It’s hard to be so far from family sometimes.

Although we had a nice birthday bash for Holden on Saturday, I wanted to do something semi-special with him on his birthday.  This morning I had a ton of moving-related tasks to check off my list, so I busied myself with those thinking that the afternoon would free up and I could take off with Holden and do something fun with him later in the day.  Finally, the afternoon rolled around and I had to run to the other side of town to pay the electrician.  I decided while I was over on the other side of town that it would be fun to take Holden to the Chittenden County Humane Society, the same shelter where we adopted our dear rabbit Sambuca, 7 years ago!  When we got to the shelter, I saw that it was closed (annoying, because Monday is the only day during the work week that they are closed).  So instead, we sat in the grass and enjoyed yogurt for a snack while one of the resident “dig-digs” barked at us from afar.  I then decided that we may as well visit Red Rocks Park as long as we were on that side of town.  I loaded Holden into the stroller to take a walk through the tamed trails of the park and sit for a while by the beach.  Holden fell asleep during our walk, which pretty much never happens.  He must have been worn out from his exciting birthday weekend!

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One of the most exciting aspects of our trip across town today was the new perspective afforded by Holden’s forward-facing carseat.  Holden has been over 20 lbs. for quite some time now (since about 5 months of age!), and he has been increasingly uncomfortable in the rear-facing position.  His little legs have been all jammed up against the upholstery of the back seat.  But now, our little guy can legally be turned around and enjoy the leg room:

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I just can’t believe how he looks like a little boy now and not a baby!

It’s difficult to describe all of the varied ways in which Holden has changed me over the past year.  Certainly, watching a person grow and develop so rapidly from just a tiny, helpless newborn is an unbelievable experience.  I’ve been surprised by how much fun I have had watching him grow up thus far—not that I didn’t think it would be fun, it’s just more fun than I anticipated.  I feel more excitement when thinking about the prospect of a new experience for Holden than I do for new experiences for myself.  When I think about the future, which is often, I base all of my thoughts on what is best for Holden.  That’s not to say that I never think of doing things for myself, it’s just that doing things for myself is secondary.  I don’t say that in a “martyr” kind of way either, as I truly don’t feel like I am depriving myself of much by putting him first (although there are days where I would immensely benefit from a yoga class, a massage, or drinks with friends).

Or sleep.

There are many, many things that I want to say about parenthood but they may have to wait until a future blog post.  For now, I will close with my favorite things about Holden:

  • Laughing at everything (silly animals, chasing and being chased, games where we imitate each other’s gestures/vocalizations, etc.)
  • Dancing (H loves to get down)
  • Flirting and pretending to be shy around ladies
  • When H nurses, he will pull at my shirt or play with my buttons.  It’s very endearing.  He also looks me in the eye and will start smiling and then laughing….while nursing.
  • I love his exploration of his body parts—how he practices waving and will scrutinize the movement of his fingers, how he pokes himself in his own belly button.
  • H “talks” to the characters in his books.  He loves turning pages and pointing at specific events in his books.  His first favorite book was “Green Eggs and Ham.”  Then he was in love with “Bear Snores On.”  Now “Where the Wild Things Are” is at the top of his list.  He still cries every time the story ends.
  • Clapping and being pleased when other people clap in response.
  • The fat rolls on his big toes.
  • The fat on his thighs (although since he started walking, I’ve discovered that his thighs feel less squishy and more firm/muscular).
  • The fact that he thinks it’s hysterically funny when Stoli swats at him (this swatting is a recent phenomenon and is probably related to anxiety regarding the move.  Cats are smart like that).
  • Pointing at things on the ceiling (lights and ceiling fans are a current obsession).
  • How he scrutinizes the variation of our hardwood floors and will inspect them by running an index finger carefully over the floor.
  • Being nosey when we’re out in public—Holden will turn around completely in his chair and stare at other people for minutes at a time, sometimes with his jaw dropped.  It’s funny now, but in a few years it won’t be.
  • Putting a piece of food in his mouth and then moving his hand with a flourish to indicate the excellence of the cuisine he is enjoying.
  • Carefully depositing every third piece of food over the edge of his food tray.  It’s unclear what criteria are being used to determine what gets jettisoned.
  • “Reading” the New Yorker and acting like he gets it.
  • Getting his words mixed up.  Example:  ”Holden, press the yellow button on your drum.”  Holden responds by inspecting his belly button.  Another example:  While I point to a window fan, I say “Holden, this is a fan.” He responds by looking up at the ceiling, thinking that I am talking about a ceiling fan.
  • Sucking the water out of his washcloth AFTER it’s been used to bathe him.  It’s totally gross, but *so* funny.
  • Cuddling (he only does this at night when he is going to bed, so I try to really cherish it).
  • Walking like a drunk zombie, with outstretched arms and unsteady gait.
  • Resting his weary head on my shoulder.
  • His blond curls.
  • His big, blue eyes
  • His long, dark lashes
  • His huge, fat hands
  • His gentle soul
365 Days of Holden

One a day for the first year (with only one exception):


Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Happy 1st Birthday H.

Holden's First Birthday Party

Original photo on Flickr.