Friday, October 23, 2009

Are you not entertained!?

One of the great recent turning points with Olive is the giggling. Babies are cute no matter what they are doing. But for a little while they just kind of stare. Then they smile at you and it rips your heart out and squishes it. Then after a little while they start making little noises when they get excited, little squeals that, if you are in another room, can sound exactly like the start of a cry. But now you get giggles. And it is awesome.

The issue is that no you know when baby is having a good time and when baby is not having a good time. And they don’t mind telling you. This means that you must be an entertainer, or at least a master of ceremonies, for your little baby patron. You don’t always need to be right in front of her, playing the court jester. But since she can’t move yet, you either need to move her to different spots, walk her around, or have a pitching rotation of about five different toys for her to play with. Reading a few books takes up some time, playing peek-a-boo does too. But you need to have a lot of arrows in your quiver. If you can keep her at one activity in one spot for 15-20 minutes, you win.

The end of the day is usually the toughest because she has already grown tired with some different activities; she needs new stuff. We have our nighttime routine pretty well down now. Olive gets picked up at daycare. We play with her for a while – which basically consists of sitting in front of her and handing her things to put in her mouth. To help development along we identify the things.

-Are you putting that rattle in your mouth?
-Does that slipper taste good?
-Ooooh, a remote control!

Then we usually walk around while Leanne or I make dinner. At this point she is probably starting to get hungry. So right as we start to eat, we have to work pretty hard to distract her from boredom AND hunger. If boredom creeps in, Olive realizes that she should be eating too.

After we shovel food in our mouths like it was our first day home from fat camp and pour a glass of wine down our throats we get Olive set up for dinner. Unfortunately, dinner requires you to have the baby motionless. So for a while she eats like a Viking. Chomping down unidentifiable, smooth, food-like substances. Then, she starts to get bored, and she finds other, more interesting ways to keep herself occupied. Last night she realized that she could reach the tray of the highchair with her mouth. So if I took too long to get more food on the spoon after a bite, she would snap down at the waist and start gnawing. (Still trying to figure out why babies do this. I spend 9 hours a day in front of a desk, never had I wondered what it tastes like). Then she saw a washcloth in my hand and decided that she wanted to play with that. This is when dinner time becomes much less efficient.

The next half hour or so usually goes pretty well. Bath time and getting her changed usually keeps her occupied. Then comes more playing, maybe some book “reading”, a final boob or bottle, and off to bed.

We have all the infant entertainment technology. We have the Exer-saucer (which one friend calls the Command Center and another calls the Circle of Neglect), we have the books, and the rattles, and she still likes chewing on measuring spoons. We have started to get some cause-and-effect toys. You know, the ones where you hit a button and something pops up or if you pull somewhere then music plays. But all those only buy you a limited amount of time. Don’t get me wrong, it is a blast playing with Olive. But you do get a little tired of identifying every item and asking questions that you know the answer too and that you don’t get responses for. It is a constant battle to entertain, and you have to mix it up. But every once and a while you stumble upon something that really gets her going.

Last night Leanne was out for a girl’s night to see a movie. I was an army of one in the boredom war. Olive had eaten and taken her bath and was starting to get grumpy but I didn’t want to put her to bed quite yet so I decided to change the scenery. I put her on her back on a bed upstairs. On a whim I rolled her over. From her back to her stomach and back onto her back. Like what you do when you roll down a grassy hill.

Then she looked up to me, smiled, and then cackled.

I mean laughed like a teenager laughs at fart jokes. Like a democrat laughs at Sarah Palin bumper stickers. So I rolled her over again. More laughing. You could almost her future self saying, “Again! Again, daddy!” We repeated this pattern for about 20 minutes. I rolled her over and rolled her back. She cracked up. I mixed up the routine. I rolled her from her back to her stomach and left her there. She paused on her tummy and then finished rolling by herself and laughed even harder.

It was great. Eventually I think she just started getting dizzy and the stomach full of oatmeal and bananas was telling her to stop rolling on the bed. So the laughter slowed down and I eventually calmed her down, fed her and put her to bed. But last night was a good night. Not only did I get a smile. Not only did I fend off the boredom. I kicked boredom’s ass. I had her laughing. I had her laughing so hard that she was out of breath when we stopped playing. But today is a new day. I may have won the battle, but the war continues.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sleeping Ugly

The sleep gods are angry at my wife and I. You see, Olive was born a good sleeper. I think my first entry in the blog was about how much sleep my wife and I got and how we felt like we didn’t know what it felt like to have an actual baby. Alas, the sleep gods did not like such hubris, and have decided that we must know what it feels like to be so tired that you forget your way to work the next morning.

Somewhere between being a perfect sleeper and becoming a screaming, crying, wake-up machine, Olive decided that she wanted to wake up in the middle of the night for a snack. No big deal. Especially for me since I wasn’t the one feeding her. She had beeen a perfect sleeper for months, we can throw her a nipple every now and then. She'd have a little snack and go right back to bed. Well, then she decided that she would get up in the middle of the night, and then get up again at 4:00 AM and then not go back to bed. That did affect me. Then she had some nights when she just didn’t want to sleep at all. She really thought that 3:45 was a perfect time to cmile and play with daddy.

Of course, we are not without fault in this matter. Along the way we probably made some strategic mistakes.

1. If she woke up we either fed her, bounced her in our arms while walking back and forth, or we did both. We did this until she fell asleep.
2. If she woke up when we put her down, we immediately scooped her back up and kept walking and bouncing.
3. We flew to Chicago and stuck her in a strange hotel room in a strange crib, the same weekend she came down with a case of the sniffles.
4. If she woke up early in the morning, we either brought her to bed and let her sleep on our chests until morning, or we gave in and brought her downstairs and played with her cause she is so damn cute.

Most of these things were really designed to get us some sleep. We walked her and bounced her because she fell asleep right away, and if we did it for long enough, she would stay asleep when we put her down. Feeding her was always a sure-fire solution to get her to calm down. Sometimes when she wouldn’t let you put her down on her back, she would fall asleep on your chest. SOOOOOO…why would we stop doing any of these things. She fell asleep. We fell asleep.

Well, the problem is that over time, every time she woke up she wanted mommy and daddy to come in a hold her. And she refused to be put down. She knew that if she screamed, we would pick her up and keep walking. So why wouldn’t she scream? This came to a head, conveniently, the night before Leanne and I ran the Chicago Marathon. Olive didn’t know or care that we had to be up at 5:30 AM to run 26.2 miles. She just cared that her nose was stuffed and that she didn’t want to sleep in the strange crib. So we walked her. And we bounced her. And Leanne kept feeding her. It was the same the next night…except we didn’t walk her as much because neither of us was walking very well.

So recently we have been trying some new techniques. We try to put her to bed or down for naps when she is awake. Inevitably, she screams her head off. But we do our best to let her cry for five minutes. (And here is a little tip for non-parents. Never, ever, ever, ever, in a million years, even dream of thinking about possibly ever telling a parent to let their child “cry it out.” It isn’t that it is bad advice. It is probably good advice. It is just that listening to your child lay alone in an empty dark room, screaming until tears run down her cheeks, is not exactly as easy as it sounds. Yes, it gets easier, but only because eventually they don’t cry as long. Non-parents tend to make it sound easy. Sometimes telling a new parent to let their baby cry it out is like a skinny person telling a fat person to not eat so much.) After five minutes of screaming we go inside and we tell her it is going to be okay, and we rub her chest or her forehead. She usually calms down. Then we leave again, pledging to return in 10 minutes if she is still crying. This technique, as corny as it sounds, has started to work. Olive usually falls asleep within five minutes now. If she wakes up, we tend to let her cry for a couple minutes before going in, and a few times she has just fallen back to sleep on her own. For about 5 days we had limited the wake-up calls to about one per night.

Last night the beast returned. She woke up at 3:30 and wouldn’t fall back to sleep. Leanne threw her a boob and then tried to put her down at 4:00 (the times may be a little off, because Leanne tells me that in the middle of the night I tend to lose all reference to the time-space continuum). Eventually, we started doing the whisper-yell at each other. You know, where you are whispering, but trying to do it in a way that the person knows you are pissed. It happens a lot in places like movie theatres and kitchens on sitcoms.

-Why don’t we just pick her up?
-Cause we are trying to let her cry it out.
-She has been crying it out for an hour!
-It hasn’t been an hour…
-Yes, it has!
-Well, I have been the one getting up!
-Oh, like I don’t get up and help her ever?

Ah, parenthood. Olive ended up falling asleep on Leanne’s chest at 5:00 and slept for another two hours. My perfect baby that slept through the night at a week old is now just my perfect baby that sleeps four-five hours at a time. Things come in phases with a baby. What may happen one day or one week or one month, may be completely different the next. Everything I thought I knew about Olive and parenting a few months ago seems completely irrelevant now. Right now it may feel like I’m the one that needs to cry it out, but I’m sure that will change in five minutes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Food is an adventure

This is Olive's first try of carrots. It was her first vegetable. She loves them now though. Go figure.

The roll call right now is:
Carrots: Like
Sweet Potatoes: Like
Pears: Love
Rice Cereal: Will tolerate
Oatmeal: Like, but love when mixed with pears
Peas: Would rather eat her own poop. Seriously.

I think we are trying peaches tomorrow.

Flying Baby

Last week my wife and I did something that I think every parent gets excited for and sick over. We flew with our baby. Yup, Olive took her first plane ride to go visit her auntie and watch her, along with mommy and daddy, run the Chicago Marathon.

Flying, from everything I have heard and read, is not usually a pleasant experience for either baby or parents. Websites list "survival tips" for flying with an infant. So this is basically on par with riding out a hurricane and climbing Everest. But we were bound and determined to be prepared. It helped that my parents, or as they are now known, mima and papa, were on the same flight and sitting in the same row. It also helped that we got a row with a little extra leg room. Those were things going for us. The things going against us was that air travel makes most adults cranky, pushes some to tears and others to violence, and we were dealing with a six-month old who screams if she isn’t allowed to put a diaper in her mouth.

The preparation really began a couple nights before. We started packing bags for the trip and realized just how much “gear” we would need. We needed stroller and we needed her car seat. We needed enough diapers to get her through a day (we were forgoing the cloth diapers – I like the environment and all, but there has to be a law about transporting poop across state lines, right?) We needed a bottle for the flight. We needed some food for the hotel room; enough toys to cause sensory overload, a blanket, a burp cloth, a change of clothes for the plane in case her bum exploded somewhere over upstate New York; and we needed an enormous amount of patience. We also needed to get all this through airport security. You know, the people who pop a vein if you try to bring four ounces of Pert Plus on a flight.

Now, I used to travel fairly frequently for my job. My wife travels monthly. We both consider ourselves expert flyers. Personally, I can have my shoes off, my little baggie of toiletries out, my laptop out and in its own container, my belt off, my pockets empty and my bag on the belt at the security line before you can say “Al Qaeda sucks!” Few things annoy me as much as slow security lane people. Slow mall walkers – maybe. So if I saw me and my wife pulling up to security, with enough more stuff then many pioneers had in their wagons, I would have either switched security lines, or tackled them. So it was no surprise that when we got into our line, that no one followed us.

But we made it through the security line in record time. Even though the diaper bag contained a full bottle of formula and two small Tupperware containers of unidentifiable white powder (formula and rice cereal, pictured here. I still think it would have been funny to pack these in about 50 small plastic bags, but that is just my sense of humor).

At the gate we continued to get stares from fellow passengers. The best came from business travelers who were staring down our cargo and wondering who they were going to have to trample to get there carry-on in an overhead bin. Everyone else was praying to whatever God they pray to that we were going to sit 20 rows away from them. Once on the plane, entertaining Olive proved to be pretty easy at the beginning. She watched all the people walk down the aisle. She got smiles and baby talk from everyone who realized that they were, indeed, 20 rows away from us. For all she knew, she was just in a really cool new place and she would be home in her own crib soon enough.

But then the grumpiness ensued. People had all taken their seats, no one left to watch walk down the aisle. She wanted to get up and explore beyond her seat, but she had to deal with being entertained by mommy and daddy and mima and papa. We weren’t cutting it anymore. So as we started to taxi we pulled out the bottle. Now, everything you read about flying with an infant tells you to feed them at take-off and landing. Babies can’t pop their own ears and sucking on something help them regulate the pressure. If you don’t do this, well, I think the baby’s head may explode. That, or there is a chance they will be fussy until their ears pop. One or the other. Well, luck would have it that we were in a line of about 10 planes waiting to take off, and Olive finished her bottle about 30 seconds before we took off. I panicked. This was the one thing we were supposed to do and we failed. Now my baby’s ears weren’t going to pop and her head would explode. I started to hand out plastic ponchos to people around me like they were at a Gallagher show. Leanne nursed her for a couple minutes, but Olive was already full. But then the darndest thing happened. Nothing. Olive was fine. Maybe her ears popped, maybe they didn’t. But she was fine. We were flying with a happy baby.

The rest of the flight was, sorry about this, uneventful. One thing about traveling with an infant is that the wonders of flight are completely lost on them. They don’t want to look out the window or go see the cockpit. They just want to do the same stuff they do every day. She played. She fussed a little and Leanne got up and walked her up and down the aisle. People smiled at her. She smiled back. She fussed a little more. She got happy again. I want to send a special thank you out to the mis-guided but well-meaning flight attendant who gave us a pair of pin-on wings to give her. Yes, sir, I’m sure they give you these to hand out to children, but my six month old really doesn’t need a bite-size pointy object with a needle attached to it. Thanks!

Soon enough we were descending towards Chicago. Leanne nursed her and Olive fell asleep for the landing. We had to wake her up when time came to get our bags and get off the plane. No one on the flight told us how good she was, but no one shot us dirty looks as we walked up the jetway either.

Really, flying with Olive was not something I looked forward to in any way. I had to talk myself down a few times and there were more than a couple occasions that I broke out in a sweat thinking about dealing with a screaming baby and 100 angry airline passengers in a confined space for 150 minutes. But looking back, it wasn’t that bad. I’m not booking a flight to Sydney anytime soon, but I think that with the right preparation, helpful parents, a little luck, and the promise of a stiff drink at the other end, flying with a happy baby is possible.

(No, we didn't fly with her in a towel. I just thought the picture was cute.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Color Blind...

It is hard to imagine seeing the world through the eyes of a 6 month old baby. Everything is new. Everything is different than the time before. So many times are the first time. I was pushing Olive on a run this past weekend and realized that she has never seen the leaves on the trees change color. They have always been green to her and no they are becoming orange and yellow and red. I took her out in the back yard and a few days ago and sat her up on the grass. She played with the grass for a half an hour. Pulling up clumps, rolling it around in her hands. Brushing her fingertips over the tops of the blades. It was new, it was something she had never felt before and she was trying to absorb everything about it. Sometime you never know what is going to catch her attention, or why.

Which brings me to this point: Olive seems to really like black people. We aren’t sure what it is, but she takes a quick liking to those blessed with a little more melanin. I think we first noticed it while we had a Presidential press conference on TV and Olive seemed transfixed. Now, Olive gets transfixed by lots of things, but we started to notice a pattern develop. She would see an african-american in a store or in a park and immediately smile or kick or start talking (talking right now is just making noises, she isn’t that smart). My wife brought her in to her office on a few occasions and Olive immediately took a liking to her company’s office manager, who happens to be black. It was like Olive was reuniting with a long lost friend. She was smiling and talking and cooing. She didn’t care about anyone else in the room. We’ll be pushing a stroller down the street and Olive bird-dogs any black person that may walk by. I immediatly went and bought a big bottle of self-tanner in an attempt to get on her good side.

The first thought, of course, is that she is curious about people that look different from mommy and daddy. I have tried to look up experiments on how babies view race, and haven’t been able to find anything. Kenneth and Mamie Clark ran the famous “Doll Experiments” in the 1940s which showed that children may internalize racism they have seen or felt. Black children more often preferred to play with white dolls and would often draw pictures using a lighter than accurate skin tone. A really sad outcome, especially when you think that the experiment has been redone as recently as 2006 with similar results. Maybe Olive is rebelling against that and represents a new, more color-blind society!

Really, we have no explanation for it, but it has been a blast to try to prove our theory. I tried turning on BET one night, but they were playing The Matrix for some reason. We live in a diverse neighborhood, but when we are on our front porch, Olive is more interested in watching cars drive by than people walk by. I feel like printing 10x10 pictures of varying races and seeing if she reacts differently to one or another. It might be the only way. But barring turning my daughter into an experiment in latent racial biases, we’ll never know! She could have just liked the color of Barack Obama’s tie, or the bracelet that the office manager was wearing, or her smile; maybe the people she saw in the store were just really nice to her and she reacted in kind.

Or maybe, Olive, as a 6 month old, is ready to explore any new thing she can lay her eyes or hands on. Maybe she realizes that every new person, new face, new toy, new tree, new food, new picture, new color, that she sees is something to learn from and to absorb. Hopefully she stays just the way she is…