Sweet, comic valentine (for infants!)

After spending about 90 minutes of my precious and rare free time this evening tearing “Toy Story” and Disney Princess valentines apart; and doing the same with accompanying sheets of stamp-size stickers; and inserting the stickers – with surgeon-like precision – into tiny, diagonal tabs on the valentines; and folding the valentines in half; and affixing a heart-shaped sticker to keep them closed; and signing Lily or Neve’s name onto each one, I finally wondered, “What the hell am I doing?”

The answer, of course, is that for some inexplicable reason, I’m choosing to participate in the weird, self-perpetuating, down-the-rabbit-hole annual holiday ritual of parents – OK, fine, mothers – who have little ones in daycare, and thus have kids that are “instructed” in the ways of Valentine’s Day before they can even crawl. (I’ll add here that I love the kids’ daycare center, and my guess is that these rituals were likely, ironically, parent-driven originally more than driven by those who work at the center. I’ll also submit that I should, in the future, by kids’ valentines that require less assembly.)

Consequently, tomorrow, during a preschool Valentine’s Day party, Lily will randomly distribute 55 impersonal, unaddressed, grocery-store-bought valentines to kids who will probably look at them briefly, if at all, before they end up in the trash or recycling (all that painstaking sticker insertion for naught!); and Neve – presumably with the help of her caregivers, since the extent of her powers just now max out at “drooling like a waterfall” and “sitting up unassisted” – will give out 16 of the same cards to her cooing comrades in the same daycare center’s baby room.

So much effort – for what, exactly?

I was all uber-rational about such things when Lily was a 9 month old in the baby room. Yes, I got the pre-emptive Valentine’s letter that stated how many kids were in each class, and how we shouldn’t send candy or treats, but I ignored it – as I assumed the other “baby room” parents would – and brought a big fat bowl of nothing on Valentine’s Day.

Now cut to me picking Lily up later that day and finding a brown paper bag full of little valentines, signed with the name of her classmates (these babies had astonishing penmanship, I might add). After we arrived home, I stared at Lily’s pile of valentines with a mixture of bafflement, guilt, amusement, gratitude, and anger. For there was something undeniably sweet about this adults’ game of pretend – this puppet show of affection and good will that we parents played out through our infant children. Continue reading

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Taking leave of maternity leave

Neve, about to leave for her first official day at daycare

We didn’t make any specific plans for how things would go on the morning of my first day back to work, after a 3 month maternity leave.

Joe and I didn’t decide that one of us would take both kids to the daycare center two blocks from our house; or whether we’d stagger it with one kid each in tow. We played it by ear, trying to be flexible while seeing how things naturally played out.

And despite our lack of planning, the day started idyllically.

Neve slept through the night, waking at 6:50 to eat. After I fed her, she went back to sleep, and a while later, Lily got up with Joe (as has become the norm since Neve’s birth). I spent a bit of time with Lily before she left with Joe for pre-school, and then I got things ready for my day as Neve snoozed in her room. At 9:30, after Neve had had nearly 12 hours of sleep, I woke her (she was still deeply asleep), fed her, and changed her (pooped-soaked) diaper. With all this going for her, she was nothing but big, flirty smiles and coos as we walked to the daycare center and I handed her off to one of the women who’d taken care of Lily when she was the same age.

I drove to work in Ann Arbor, plowed through more than 800 e-mails that were waiting for me (using the delete function liberally), used my breast pump there and at home, and then went to pick up the girls from daycare. (Joe and I feel so weird saying “the kids” now; it’s as if we weren’t really defined yet as suburban parents until we had a second child and started having to use the plural instead of just saying “Lily” or “our girl.”)

I decided to check in at Neve’s room at daycare first, since Lily often tends to be the Norm Peterson of pre-school (wanting to play and stay until closing time at 6 p.m.), and I was anxious to find out how Neve had done on her first day. Continue reading

Drawing the line – where?

Hell’s parking lot (a representation)

After getting away on my own for a fantabulous gal pal weekend, I had a lovely night with Lily (and Joe) at a winter-themed library storytime on a recent Monday night. We all danced to songs, made marshmallow/pretzel/chocolate chip snowmen, cut out paper snowflakes, and made snowy pictures with glue and instant potato flakes. We all enjoyed ourselves, and Lily couldn’t have been happier as we headed back down the block, through the snow, to our house.

So here I was, thinking, “Wow, things are really going great.” And when Joe reminded me that I’d be flying solo with Lily the following night, because he needed to go to an evening board meeting for the brass band he used to play for. No problem, right? He’d just been on his own with Lily all weekend, and she’d been an angel throughout. This should be a cake walk.

By now, when I think such things, I should automatically assume the worst. Yet I never do. Despite my generally cynical persona, I have an irrepressible optimistic streak when it comes to my own life. So I couldn’t possibly see the dark night of the parenting soul that lay before me. Continue reading

Field notes and follow-ups

* Joe and I took Lily to see “Tangled” this past weekend at the nearby, second-run theater, and the basic premise, of course, involves a witch stealing Rapunzel as a baby from her parents (who are the land’s king and queen). In the movie version, the beloved king and queen, as well as their subjects, release glowing lanterns that float up into the sky each year on the girl’s birthday, in hopes that she will return. By Rapunzel’s 18th birthday, after being shut up in a high tower her whole life, she ventures out to see this ceremony in person; and simultaneously, we see the king and queen briefly behind-the-scenes, just before they step outside to release a lantern once again.

It’s probably about 30 seconds of film, and involves the father looking inconsolably sad, while the mother touches his cheek in comfort. And at this point, I completely fell apart, quietly crying while Lily sat attentively on my lap.

This throwaway little scene that would have passed me right by a few years ago. But the difference, I’m sure, is that while I would have empathy for these characters before, and would have vaguely imagined what the loss of a child might feel like, Lily makes these kind of scenes powerfully concrete rather than merely abstract. There’s not a blank, faceless child in my mind; it’s Lily’s face, and cry, and laugh, and smile, and voice. The thought of her, and the very specifics that make her who she is, being suddenly taken away is too devastating to even imagine. 

Hence my turning into a weepy mom during a Disney movie – despite the fact that in the past, I established a reputation for being pretty stony while watching movies and plays. (The phrase “dead inside” has surfaced more than once.) But apparently, my falling head over heels in love with this little girl has endowed me with a new Achille’s heel. Continue reading

Oof. (Or, anatomy of a really crappy morning)

I’m not sure what else to title this post, since it deals with the seemingly endless and impossible struggle I had with Lily on Tuesday morning.

Things started calmly enough. Lily had slept in a bit, and Joe had to get to an 8:30 a.m. meeting, so he only had time to bring Lily downstairs and serve her her standard breakfast order (Cheerios).

As usual, she was only moderately interested in eating – the world is a palace of constant distractions for a 2 1/2 year old – and while she’s done well using a “big girl” juice glass of late, she stopped paying attention long enough to drop, and consequently shatter, one that morning. I picked up all the pieces I could find, making a mental note to vacuum around the area later, and stayed calm while telling her that that’s why she had to be careful with the “big girl” glasses; they can actually break. (You know. Like Mommies.)

Soon after Joe left, Lily pulled her chair to the nearby stereo to engage in one of her favorite pastimes: pulling CD cases out one by one and handing them to me while also insisting on taking some of the CDs out and putting them into the stereo (where she randomly pushes buttons until the stereo does what she wants). I hate this game. And because Joe had had to leave before she was dressed, I was suddenly feeling quick-to-anger. So when CDs came toppling down, my voice rose, in volume and register. “Lily, PLEASE BE CAREFUL.” And when she told me to pick something up, without saying “please,” I yelled, “For the 5,000th time, how do you ask nicely? I really don’t like to be ordered around like a servant!”

I knew I was being irrationally short-tempered. Here Lily was, in a good mood, and I was steaming. But I couldn’t help it. I was just destined to have a shorter-than-usual fuse that morning. Continue reading