Sunday, December 12, 2010

Catch-up time

Holy crap. It is damned well nearly Christmas, meaning I have been working on this post for almost two months. AND IT'S JUST PICTURES! I am learning that this blogging-for-five-minutes-here-and-there thing is not the most productive thing in the world. But I will not, I repeat, I will not give up on you,!

OK. Well, forever ago, it was Mia's first birthday. We had a small party for her, at which she ate pizza for the first time, looked kinda freaked out when we sang to her, and then helped unwrap a present or two. Obligatory cake shot:

Her actual birthday was the next day, a Monday. Dad and I took the day off. We started with brunch at The Flames, then went to Happy Hollow, where we watched a puppet show, rode a carousel, and enjoyed the meerkat exhibit.

Probably her favorite birthday gift was a balloon bouquet sent by dear friends of ours who live in New York. She was absolutely entranced by them. (That animal whose head I chopped off with the camera is that one orange girl Muppet whose name I can never remember.) (At least, I think it's a Muppet? Do they still do those?)

Those balloons lasted for some time, and Mia insisted on clutching them wherever she went. Here's breakfast about a week later.

Of course, this is not a new obsession. This summer we went to a furniture store to look for a new kitchen table, and five minutes after we arrived, Mia started to get squawky. The clever sales lady offered her a fat orange balloon, and I swear she didn't let go of that thing for the rest of the day.

Speaking of baths, we finally graduated to the real tub. I had to go buy a new hooded towel because Mia is too tall for baby towels. I let her choose which animal she wanted, and much to Chickenbone's disappointment, she settled on the pink kitty-cat. (Look close at this kissing picture and notice mom getting the full-on French-a-roo. I swear I'll cry the day she learns how to do a real kiss, because the slobbery tongue thing is, to my surprise, off-the-charts adorable.)

But guess who REALLY loves that Mia kisses with an open mouth. (In fact, we're pretty convinced it was Chickens who taught her to kiss that way to begin with. Hopefully he'll leave the potty training to us! HA! HAHAHA! Just a little dog-bladder-expressing humor. Don't mind me!)

On Halloween, a little dog came to visit!

One of Mia's favorite "toys" is this cardboard box of junk. Lids, bowls, cups and various other bits of kitchen things that she can bang together to her heart's content. Recently a blue and gold SJSU pom-pom made it into the mix as well.

The box also contains Mardi Gras beads - I can always tell when she has put them on because the thump-thump-thump of her crawling on the hardwood floor turns to thump-rattle-thump-rattle-thump-rattle.

Here's the day Mia crawled into the dog's cage to see what the big deal is. When Chickens is inside, she loves to smash her face up against the bars so he can kiss her. I did not see him leaping up to return this favor when the roles were reversed.

Mia's starting to get a pretty good sense of humor. I don't know how she knows it's hilarious to put things on your head, but almost every meal ends with her doing this and cracking herself up. And she's right - comedy gold, I say!

In other news, she is almost a walker. First steps have been taken (on a day mom and dad were off, so we were her two-person cheering section) and every day she strings together a few more steps. She only crawls when she wants to be a hell of a lot faster than that - which is most of the time. She has six teeth. She knows how to sign "pig," "cat," "dog" and "horse," and in her picture books she can identify the banana, the airplane, the boy and the kitty-cat. Looking forward to a Christmas with her where she actually knows what's going on, and I'm sure we'll visit Santa real soon. That could easily go one of two ways. Mia loves new people, especially when they are jolly, so it could be fine. But plopping her on the lap of a crazy-looking man and then backing away to snap some pictures, I can also see it ending in back-arching get-me-outta-here hysterics. I suppose as long as she doesn't try to french him, it'll be OK.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The year in pictures

Mia's dad made this to show at her birthday party. Everyone was getting a real kick out of it until about halfway through, when she crawled over to the DVD player, shut it off, then turned around and grinned triumphantly. By the time Sal got over there and turned it back on, it had already passed the naked bathtub picture, so I am pretty sure the whole thing was intentional. Mia's wicked smart.

Happy birthday, sweet girl.

Mia's first year from Amy on Vimeo.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I am here. I am alive.

Wow. I'm like the worst storyteller ever.

If you are still hanging in there on ol' Chickenbone Jones - and I can't blame you if you aren't - then thanks. I really love writing in this blog, and I really love when you read it, and I feel horrible that I went this long without posting, especially when my last post ended on a bit of a cliffhanger.

In my defense, though, it would be easier to finish that "Setback" chapter if things were actually finished. To make a long story short, Chickens did just fine on the crate rest, and seemed to be back to his old self again. For about five minutes. Then, in developments that were either related to the setback or unrelated to the setback, in mid-September we entered a difficult stretch in which Chickens was having violent leg spasms, lots of trouble walking and copious amounts of diarrhea. We discovered some sort of problem with his back left foot, and he is obsessed with licking it, and that makes the spasms worse because the whole thing gets red and irritated, and it's even harder for him to walk than usual. These problems continue today.

We have been to a bunch of vet appointments - some at the regular vet, some at the fancy surgery vet - and there seems to be no answer other than this: We just have a very messed-up dog. In other words, regular problems that happen to healthy dogs are much more difficult when they happen to Chickens. His little nerves don't fire correctly, and lots of his muscles are either way too strong or way too weak. One small irritation on his paw might feel totally crazy to him and he can't leave it alone, which just makes things worse. The leg spasms can topple his whole back end, which makes him stop in his tracks and not move anymore. We are carrying him around more and not letting him use his dog ramp much because he's just not a good mover right now. It is frustrating for him and for us.

The most important thing, though, is that he's not in pain. He is lovable and smiley and tries all the time to wag his little limp tail. When one of us sits on the couch, he loves to sit on our laps snuggled up in a warm blanket. And now that his sister is mobile, those two adore taking turns chasing each other down and planting kisses on the other's face. He's a happy dog, and that matters more than all the rest.

Speaking of his sister ... guess who has a birthday next week!

The festivities have already begun, as we picked up her grandma and one of her four grandpas at the airport last night. I am looking forward to posting all 12 of my monthly Mia-in-the-chair photos when I take the last one on Monday, her first birthday. So, see? I already have my next post planned. Stick around, will ya?

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Last night I was in Mia's room putting her to bed when I heard Chickenbone yelp in the living room. My stomach lurched to hear him in distress, since earlier in the evening we noticed he was walking a bit gingerly and was more subdued than usual. I decided to finish putting Mia down and then go see what was up, but then I heard him yelp again. And again.

I opened the bedroom door and walked into the living room to find Chickens on the couch, with Sal standing in front of him. Sal said every time he went to try to lift him off the couch, Chickenbone snapped at him. So I gave it a try, and Chickens bit me. He immediately felt sorry about doing it - he was just in pain, and that's how dogs in pain react. We know this from too much experience.

I tossed a soft blanket over him and lowered him to the floor. (See? Experience.) Then Sal and I sat there staring at him in silence for a few minutes, until I said, OK, I'm going to put the baby to bed. And then we'll figure out what to do. I went back into the bedroom and was rocking Mia in the dark when Sal opened the door and said, "Stop what you're doing."

He said Chickenbone's back leg had gone out from under him when he tried to stand up. And his chin was quivering, just like it was that night in November when he went paralyzed. So, we loaded up the whole family and made our way to the animal hospital ER.

Did you know a baby can totally stay up till after midnight, an go nine straight hours without a nap, without totally melting down? Ours can, at least. That's how long we were out dealing with this, no thanks to a particularly busy night at the hospital. So busy, in fact, that after we had spent the better part of an hour waiting there, they urged us to go across town to their sister hospital where there was no wait. (A dying cat and two other patients were in front of us and it was going to be a good long while before they got to Chickens.) So! We loaded up the whole family and made our way to another animal hospital ER.

There a vet finally examined Chickens. He said it was tough for him to know exactly how much deterioration there had been - after all, Chickens wasn't neurologically normal to begin with, so our observations were all he had to go on. And he said that if we sensed a problem, then there's a problem.

I was stunned. And numb. We had done EVERYTHING to make sure this could never happen again. We kicked him off all furniture. We built the stupid ramp. We practically destroyed our back door to create an easy walkway for him to get in and out of the house without extra effort. How could we possible be here again? But the vet pointed out that people can throw out their back with a sneeze. It's not like Chickens needed to have some big accident for this to happen - it can just happen.

Now, it's not nearly as bad as it was last time. He isn't paralyzed, and he has deep-pain sensation. He's just very, very weak, and as we know, it's a quick slide to the worst-case scenario. The vet gave Chickens steroids and pain medication, and then said the two words I dreaded most: crate rest. Ten days of being in his cage around the clock, except for potty breaks. I wanted to throw up. We barely survived that the first time, back when both mom and dad were on leave and our daughter was a tiny newborn who slept through most anything. But what is our option? There isn't one. This is the only way to give his back time to heal, and hopefully avoid another disk rupture that only surgery will fix.

At the moment, I'm surprisingly calm about all this. I'm keeping the panic at bay by thinking about how it isn't EXACTLY like the nightmare we had last winter. After all, it's not like we're putting post-op Chickens in the crate, with the staples in his back and all the drugs making him crazy. We don't have the stress of learning how to express a bladder. It's only 10 days, not two months. And when I was reading the paper this morning, I saw the obituaries page and thought, those people are dead! That's WAY worse than what we're going through!

So, it's day one of 10. Right now Chickens is in his cage resting quietly. He's actually a little too quiet - I think we'd all feel better if he were good and pissed off about being caged up. That would be like his old, feisty self. But right now he seems lethargic and depressed. Think a happy thought for him, would you? Maybe one for the rest of us, too.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Pretty as a picture

Here are a few pictures from Mia's first professional photo shoot. These beautiful photographs were taken by Kevin Meynell, the talented, hilarious photographer who kept me calm and laughing on my wedding day four years ago. I was so happy when he agreed to take our first real baby pictures, too. And all our schedules worked out that he took these on the exact date of our anniversary. It was a very sweet way to spend the day.

To be honest, I kind of expected that Kevin would just get here and, snap-snap-snap, take a few nice photos and then go home. I should have known better. He clearly adores his job, and I know that because I watched him work so damned hard at it. He spent almost the entire day here, dragging around 9-foot backdrops and gigantic umbrella lights, setting up "studios" in various parts of our house, and working feverishly to dazzle Mia into a thousand grins.

Here's the whole (human) family.

Partway through the day, Mia had to lay down for a nap, at which point Chickenbone decided to check out one of Kevin's backdrops. And by "check out" I mean "pee on." But Kevin just used the opportunity to take more cool photos. That's why we love the guy. Here's a great article about Kevin, along with a few more samples of his work.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Speeding right along

When I mentally began composing this post many weeks ago, I figured I would entitle it "The summer so far." Unfortunately I didn't find time to actually write anything until "Summer is practically over, so let's get on with it already."

My head spins with how fast the past few months have flown. Mia turned nine months old today, and it seems like the more her little personality explodes and the more fun things we can do with her, the faster time drains away. This must be the beginning of what every experienced parent still reminds us about: Enjoy it now, because these parts will be over before you know it.

Summer begin with Mia's baptism. We held it in the chapel of the high school where I work, and it was lovely. Mia drew some laughs during the ceremony when she stuck the priest's hand in her mouth, and she was a very good sport despite wearing a giant cream-puff gown in the sticky June heat.

After the baptism we enjoyed a delicious lunch at Il Fornaio, where Mia bonded with her new godmother by munching on her jewelry. (See a theme here?)

We had our bottles, Mia had hers.

Also in June we took two weeks of swim lessons, with our good pals Amy G. and Sofia. Mia and Sofia were the only babies at the pool, so they were a real hit with everyone. We even had one mom tell us she forgot to watch her own kids because ours were so cute! I think you will agree.

Mia took to the pool like a champ, enduring regular dunks, water in the face and lots of kicks and splashes. Most of our time was spent passing her back and forth between me and her teacher, fully submerged in the water, which gave me regular heart attacks. But I adjusted.

The best part, each dip in the water ended up in a real tight hug for mom.

We went to work with dad! Sal's job takes him to lots of community events, and in the summer it's easy for us to tag along. We enjoyed a fine night out at the Valley of Heart's Delight fundraiser for History San Jose.

We were joined at our table by KRTY morning show host Gary Scott Thomas, his wife Heather, and their son, Luke. Mia gets a real charge out of seeing other babies. She even tried to hold Luke's hand. Hussy!

In July my dream of going out of town for a little break finally came true, and we made our first trip to Santa Barbara with our baby. Traveling with a baby is ... well, it's not the vacation we used to have, that's for sure. Navigating naps and feedings while being out and about all day, trying to find places to accommodate your giant stroller, sharing a hotel room with a baby ... all that adds an undercurrent of stress that we didn't anticipate. But we had a fine time, anyhow.

We took Mia for her first zoo visit!

We fed some lettuce to a giraffe!

Though Mia seemed a lot more excited about the goats and sheep than the actual exotic animals. Maybe they reminded her of Chickens!

One of our new favorite Santa Barbara restaurants is The Natural Cafe, where Mia enjoyed her lunch of pita bread and hummus with a side of steamed vegetables. Sitting her outdoors by the railing was a stroke of brilliance on our part, since she used her adorable, messy grin to make friends with almost every single person who walked by. Free entertainment for baby gives mom and dad the rare leisurely meal.

We spent the World Cup final at Union Ale Brewing Company. It was actually our second visit to the place, since it was close to our hotel, relatively baby-friendly, and filled with good beer and barbecue. Here's Mia and her dad. Notice the expert head-turn-gulp, a move every parent should know to maximize enjoyment of a drink while there's a baby in your lap.

Though I brought a bag full of toys, my tube of Clinique sunblock was the only thing that kept Mia content. Kids!

Our last outing was to Isla Vista, where we got our favorite burritos and had a picnic in the park. See that weird little tongue curl thing Mia's doing? I don't know what that's about. She does it all the time. It's cute.

Paparazzi shot.

And now here we are, staring August square in the face. In a couple of weeks school starts back up, and I go back to the full-time grind. But I'm not going to worry about that now, since today we're going to a barbecue and an outdoor concert. There's a little bit of summering left to be done!

Friday, June 25, 2010

8 months old

We have some new tricks to show you. For instance, Mia loves to clap!

She also loves to blow raspberries. She has in fact livened up many a car ride by making fart noises in the backseat for miles on end.

Mia loves to gnaw, slurp and suck on anything you put in front of her. Or under her. Like this chair.

She also loves to laugh at her mom, who is making silly sounds from behind the camera.

Our Mia. God, but she's a charmer. Of all the milestones and new tricks and skills and habits, the most distinguishing thing about my daughter is that wherever she goes, she forces people to adore her.

Here is a scenario I have seen dozens of times. We go to a restaurant. From her perch - be it car seat, high chair or our arms - she scans nearby tables to pick her first target. When she has settled on someone, she stares at them intently. Without blinking. Without flinching. She patiently bores her eyes into her prey, craning her neck to catch their gaze, to the point that I am almost embarrassed - like, hey, kid? That's kinda rude to stare at people that way, did nobody tell you?!

When the person finally notices that strange baby staring at them, that's when Mia flips the switch. All of a sudden the catatonic stare melts into batting eyelashes, hands tucked coyly under her chin, and squeals and giggles and a thousand-watt grin. Predictably, the target begins to coo and smile and say over and over again how PRETTY that baby is, how FRIENDLY she is. And would you look at that SMILE? And those EYES!

And at this point, once she has reeled them in, do you know what this child does? She moves on TO THE NEXT PERSON. I'm not kidding, I have literally seen her tackle four tables in one meal. And of course, as we're leaving, she flashes a friendly grin at each of her new pals. But I just know that in her head, she's thinking, "Hahaha! GOTCHA, suckas!"

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father of the year

For Sal's first Father's Day, I wanted to do something really big.

He totally earned it. During my pregnancy and childbirth, this guy did everything - EVERYTHING - he could to help me. If I asked him to read a book about a drug-free childbirth so we could discuss it, he read it cover to cover. If I wanted to make a 17th trip to Babies R Us to work on the registry, he hardly grumbled at all. If I needed a big pillow to help my hips stop hurting at night, he got me a really big damn pillow. He was an excellent pregnant lady's husband.

Then Mia was born. And I watched him melt into doting father. The first night we all spent in the hospital together, Sal basically hadn't slept since two nights before. But after Mia and I fell asleep in the darkened room, he kept himself awake for hours by reading a book near the glow of the laptop screen. He wanted Mia and I to rest, but he also wanted to be alert in case we needed him.

The next day, he dashed home to tidy up the house because he knew I would hate bringing Mia home to the mess we left when I went into labor. He even made me that awesome banner that made me burst into tears when we walked in the door! Remember?!

For the first month after Mia was born, Sal kept the household running smooth as clockwork, buying groceries and cooking delicious healthy meals, washing dishes, clothes and countertops. He made it so that the only thing I had to worry about was taking care of Mia.

Then one night our new family got sucker-punched right in its happy little face. At around 2 a.m., I got up to feed the baby and discovered Chickens sitting alone in the dark nursery, not moving and looking very frightened. When we touched him, he yelped and cried. And his back legs were very weak. We rushed him to an emergency vet clinic, where they gave him fluids and immobilized him in a crate. But his paralysis grew worse by the hour until he had no sensation or movement in his back legs at all. At 11 a.m. the next day, we consented to a costly and invasive spinal surgery. And over the next several months, as you likely read here, we helped Chickens recover from that horrible injury.

Except it wasn't so much "we" as "he." After Chickens came home from the hospital, most of the family pretty much fell apart. Mia was spiraling into her 6-weeks-long colicky phase, and Chickens barked and cried around the clock over being confined to his crate. And me, I was a hormonal, sleep-deprived disaster.

But my husband, he doesn't fall apart. Not ever. He stayed calm and reassuring, handling the post-op Chickens with endless patience and love. When Chickens stopped eating because his pain meds were making him feel sick, Sal gently coaxed him to eat grains of rice from his hand. To keep Chickens from crying all night, he slept on the couch for weeks and weeks - and even spent a couple naps on the floor beside the cage. Sal also kept me from going to pieces, taking plenty of shifts with screaming Mia, figuring out how we'd pay for the surgery, and reminding me over and over again of tiny signs of hope we saw that Chickens would someday walk again.

He is our family's very own superhero, and we could not have done this without him.

So! Even though he is now the father of an actual human child, I wanted to get him something special from Chickens. I commissioned a portrait of him from watercolor artist Rachael Rossman, whom I learned about from this post on Dooce. Rachael used pictures from this blog as her inspiration, and I think you'll agree that the piece turned out beautifully.

My dad likes to say that Chickens often looks like he's feeling concerned about you, and I think Rachael totally captured that. And also, of course, his natural movie-star handsomeness.

But the story doesn't end there, as many of you already know. The artist told me she was thinking about entering Chickenbone's portrait into the 2010 Dog Art Wine Label Contest sponsored by Mutt Lynch Winery and Dog Art Today, and would I be OK with that? (Answer: "Uh, OF-FREAKING-COURSE I WOULD!") So she asked readers of her blog to decide which of three portraits she should enter. I secretly reached out to friends, family, colleagues and even my online moms group, and everybody flooded the site with votes for Chickens, making him one of 77 contestants in the contest. Again, the vote was thrown out to the masses, and again, my peeps came through, launching Chickens into the top 10 finalist group. Thrilling!

Then the winemaker and founder of Dog Art Today picked the winner, and it was not Chickenbone. Still, it was loads of fun to finally be able to tell Sal this whole story on Sunday. And I think - I hope - that all this made him feel as loved and appreciated as he is. For being a rookie dad, he is damned good at it.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Baby's first food: Food.

I'm kind of a weird mom.

I don't like filling my daughter's hair up with ribbons and headbands. I dread milestones like crawling and teeth. And for some reason, I never did look forward to the whole spoon-feeding "open-wide-here-comes-the-airplane" thing.

To me, the idea of starting solids spelled nothing but stress. Breastfeeding has been going so well for us that it seemed complicated to figure out a new routine. I don't think it sounds fun to sit there trying to spoon gloppy purees into the mouth of a squirmy baby. Also, the idea of baby food is kind of gross to me. Pulverized peas and jars of chicken? To someone who adores cooking and eating good food, that just doesn't sound like a hearty, delicious meal.

Well, one day I was perusing the message board of my online moms group and I saw someone wondering why we have to do all those bland cereals and purees. Couldn't we just feed our babies real, healthy food? Another mom replied: "What you're talking about is called baby-led weaning, and yes, you can totally do that."

I perked up.

I started doing some research and learned that baby-led weaning bypasses the entire purees stage and goes directly to finger foods - large chunks of soft, healthy stuff that the baby handles all on their own. With this method, you never put food into your baby's mouth. Instead, she learns to feed herself and controls when, what and how much she eats. I grew very excited about this idea and ordered this book. It is an excellent and quick read, and when I finished it I knew this was the right thing for us.

Here are just a few of the benefits of baby-led weaning:
  • The baby can eat what everyone else is eating, provided you are a healthy eater. You save money, and you know exactly what's in their food.
  • The whole family can eat at the same time, instead of mom or dad feeding the baby, and then parents eat later.
  • Because BLW babies control their own intake, you avoid mealtime struggles to get them to eat. The book also says BLW babies often have better relationships with food when they get older.
  • Baby-led weaning is fun! Your baby learns about the different textures, colors and flavors of food, and - the book says - is more likely to eat a wide variety of foods as an adult.
Finally, I was terribly excited about my baby having something other than breastmilk. And the week she turned six months old, Mia ate her first real food:

Avocado is a popular first finger food because it's rich in healthy fats and nutrients. (We'll introduce chips and tequila at a later date.) It was served alongside a spear of baked sweet potato sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon.

Since breastmilk or formula should be the main source of nutrition until a baby is one year old, the first months of baby-led weaning are about exploring and having fun. We have one meal a day (right before the bath, and you'll soon see why). "Dinner" falls between her normal milk feedings, so she's still getting all the daily nutrition she needs, and I don't have to worry about how much food actually makes it down the trap. Which is good, since most of it gets played with, but not necessarily eaten.

Here's Mia squishing and smashing her first meal. (Rookie parents forgot to put a bib on her - boy, you only make that mistake once!)

At first she mostly just sucked on the food, and seemed surprised when it started to come apart in her mouth. But within a week or two she learned to make deliberate chomping motions with her jaw to chew things up. She doesn't have any teeth yet, but that doesn't matter. Babies don't use their front teeth to chew food anyway, and she can do plenty of mashing with just her gums.

We soon moved on to steamed carrots and broccoli. Man, this kid is nuts about her broccoli.

One day I got a carton of gigantic organic strawberries in my weekly CSA delivery, so I washed one off and handed it to her. Do you know how cool it is to witness the first time a person tastes a plump, delicious strawberry? She sank her gums into the fruit and froze, her eyes wide as saucers as the juice streamed down her chin. Then she worked on that thing for a good 20 minutes.

With banana, I cut it in half, and then trim a ring of peel off the top. Then she can use the peel as a handle and easily get to the fruit.

She liked a few whole-wheat rotini noodles with a bit of marinara sauce.

She's loves cantaloupe, too, to the point that she bangs her hands on the tray and squeals when she sees me cutting it up for her. I leave the rind on so she has something to grip. It's amazing how fast she learned which side was edible. See? She'll even show you!

And after a skeptical first taste, steamed asparagus was a hit, too.

In fact, I haven't put a single thing in front of her that she didn't like. (That's my girl!) She has also had cucumber, yogurt, grilled chicken, toasted waffle, tortilla, tofu and rice cakes spread with hummus. Meanwhile on that online group I mentioned, moms who went with traditional jars and purees fret all the time about why their baby won't eat this or that - or why their baby won't eat, period. And while other babies Mia's age are only now starting to figure out how to go from purees to something more solid, she has been handling that stuff like a pro for nearly two months.

Oh, and she's not alone. At every meal, a faithful sidekick waits patiently by her high chair in the hopes that someday he, too, can do baby-led weaning.

He gets lucky now and then.