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.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Hm. That might've been a little hasty.

I'm sorry, but can anyone tell me who wrote that last post?! The one about borrowing dog pee? Because I don't quite recognize that burst of optimism as being my own. It is gone, and I can't recover it. Not 24 hours after I hit "publish post" on that sucker, I decided the whole idea was silly and futile.

And I still think that.

Because guess what. I remembered that we don't have time to borrow dog pee. To make the whole borrowed-dog-pee scenario work, we would presumably have to borrow it, like, a lot. And we don't see our neighbors very often. Maybe once or twice a month are we all home at once. And frankly, I think bringing a dog into our back yard to pee every now and then is going to piss Chickens off a lot more than it will make him cooperative.

That's the bad news. But I have good news, too: We found a vet tech who would love to come house-sit for us. She can express a bladder, she lives five minutes from our house, and she is delightful. And get this - she already knows Chickenbone because she works at his vet office. Uh, can you say MFEO?! So today I made reservations for three nights in July our favorite hotel in Santa Barbara. Just me, Sal and the little Meesters!

ROAD TRIP, YOU GUYS! Bladder-free!