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Bear is getting old enough that we’re starting to think about potty training.  Some days, I could care less about the subject.  I don’t mind changing diapers.  I don’t even mind washing her cloth diapers.  But others – like today – make me think that Bear needs to get potty trained and quick!

Bear is no longer content to wear a wet or dirty diaper.  So, as soon as she goes to the bathroom, and usually before I can catch her, she takes off her pants and her diaper.  In the world of wet diapers, this isn’t a big deal.  However, when I find my toddler running through the house with a dirty behind that has touched many things in the few minutes since it left the safety of the diaper, the story changes.  And then, once I have cleaned Bear and diapered her again, she and I go on a diaper hunt to find the discarded dirty diaper that (if we’re lucky) still contains whatever was left in it.

It’s days like these that make me think that Bear needs to be potty trained.  Diapers don’t do anyone any good if they don’t stay on!  And, Bear’s are cloth, so they aren’t that easy to remove.  She has to undo snaps to get the things off.  Not to mention, she is interested in the potty thanks to her potty-trained friends at daycare.  She wants to go.

This said, we will be traveling in August, and this upcoming trip has me questioning whether now is a good time to start.  Once we return and Bear gets readjusted to life at home, we’ll be looking at early September before I can really jump us both into potty training, which is also just a few short months before the next baby comes along.  This has me hoping that Bear will catch on quickly and not regress once she sees a little baby wearing her diapers.  Not to mention, I just don’t know if I can last that long with a little bare-bottomed toddler running through my house!

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While listening to Morning Edition on NPR on the way to work a few days ago, a story of particular interest to me began playing as soon as I drove into the parking lot for my work.  Instead of turning off the car, and going into work, as I should have since I was already late, I sat in the car and listened to this.

I self-congratulated myself as I heard the reporter beg her son to eat his vegetables.  I shuddered a little when she told him that eating his vegetables would make him a big boy.  I thought, that woman needs to talk to Ellyn Satter.

Within a few radio seconds, the reporter was on the phone with Ellyn Satter, a therapist and dietician who has written a number of books about feeding young children, and Ms. Satter began explaining to the reporter that the harder she worked to get her child to eat something, the more likely that he would resist.

When Bear was starting solids, I was at a complete loss at how to feed her.  I felt like her pediatrician gave us very vague guidelines, and as a clueless mom with no previous experience, I took to googling.  Fortunately, I began seeing a pattern of other moms who reported that Ellyn Satter’s book, Child of Mine, was pivotal in forming the way that they fed their children, and so I ordered it.

Shortly before the book arrived in the mail, I found myself engaged in the usual struggle to get Bear to try a new solid.  I put the spoon of sweet potatoes that I had lovingly pureed to her closed lips and she turned her head.  With animated gestures, I tried some and demonstrated how much I liked it.  She took a swipe at the bowl.  I began bargaining with her.  If you just try it, you’ll like it, I told her.  Finally, I stood over her and when she opened her mouth, I shoved in the spoon.  Bear protested and spit sweet potato onto her tray and looked at me like, why, mom?  I did not want my child to become a picky eater.  I am not.  My husband is not, and Bear was not going to be a picky eater either.

Early in the book, Ms. Satter essentially says that forcing your child to eat something means that as a parent, you have a problem with control.  This sentiment pained me.  Was I controlling Bear by trying to get her to try something new?  Was this control hurting her and hurting me?

Quickly, I shifted my efforts at meal time from trying to get Bear to eat to simply providing food for her.  If she did not want it, she didn’t have to eat it.  This approach made meal times so much more relaxed, and I quickly let go of the frustration that I felt inside when Bear refused to eat something.  I would still offer it, but she could choose whether she wanted to eat it or not.

However, this week’s story on NPR made me realize that I am still controlling Bear’s meal times in a way that Ms. Satter would not approve.  She tells the reporter to let her son eat bread, even five pieces of bread at meal time, if this is what her son wants.  In Child of Mine, she suggests putting food on the table and allowing your child to eat as much or as little as the child chooses and to always include some food that you know that your child likes.  Her theory, and that of others I assume, is that children instinctively know how to self-regulate, and they will eat what they need and not over eat what they do not.  According to Ms. Satter, by allowing children the freedom to control how much they eat during a meal, they will begin exercising their internal self-control.

My problem is this:  When I cook, I rarely make enough to put in serving dishes.  I make enough for the meal, and I dish food directly onto plates.  In light of Bear’s restrictive food allergies, sometimes Bear gets different food than my husband and I, although I try to avoid this as much as possible.  I serve Bear her food on a plate, and generally, there is no more of this food beyond what I have given her.  Then, I am comfortable with allowing her to eat all or none of it.  This is her choice.

The issue arises when I serve something that there is more of, like a slice of cheese.  I will cut up pieces for Bear and put them on her plate with the rest of her food.  She loves cheese and will always eat it first.  Then, she’ll turn to the refrigerator and beg for more cheese instead of eating any more of her food.  My husband and I do not indulge Bear in this request, and I wonder if in this way, I am deviating from Ms. Satter’s suggestions.  Perhaps I should cut more slices of cheese and make them available at the table when we sit down to eat.  Then, as Bear finishes what she has, allow her to have more if she wants it. 

This is where I find myself struggling with Ms. Satter’s theory.  I know that Bear will only eat cheese if given the opportunity.  I am comfortable with allowing her to eat the cheese on her plate and then allowing her to choose to eat the rest of her food (or not) with the assumption that if she is hungry, she will eat some of the rest of her food.  If she has an unlimited supply of cheese (at least, unlimited to the extent of what is on the table), I don’t think that she’ll ever reach the conclusion of “I am still hungry.  I have no more cheese, so I’ll eat something else.”

Perhaps, I need to return to Child of Mine.  Perhaps, I need Ellyn Satter on speed dial.  Are any of you familiar with Ellyn Satter’s theories?  Would any of you like to share your thoughts on this or your own battles with toddlers and food?

My time with Bear is in the evening before bed.  No matter whether I spent the day away from her at work or whether I spent the day with her at home, bedtime is our special time together. 

We sit together and rock back and forth in the warm light of her nightlight.  We are both quiet expect for her contented slurps of milk.  She has started reaching for my hand again, almost like she used to when she nursed.  However, now her hand is big enough to actually grasp my own.  She rubs her fingers on my palm and traces her fingertips rhythmically up and down and back and forth.  Sometimes, she wraps her little fingers around my own and holds on.  The gesture feels so intimate, almost as though our bodies were once again connected.

Once she has finished her milk, I scoop her little body into my arms and carry her to bed.  She allows me to lay her down and to pull her blanket up around her.  I am always careful to arrange her babies next to each side of her so she can find them in the night, and then we say a quick bedtime prayer.  We ask God to bless each member of the family, and at the end, I say, “and especially Bear.”  Simultaneously, she inserts “Momma.”  Often, with tears in my eyes and a heart that seems to fill my chest, I will repeat, “and Momma too.”

I carefully kiss her babies, her blanket, and if she insists, the crib.  Then, I direct blown kisses at each cheek and her forward.  If sleep is going to come easy, she will drowsily rub her eyes.  If sleep is going to be elusive, she will chatter and giggle until I leave.

As I close the door, I look back once more, sad at our parting, and say, “Good night, sweet girl.  I love you.”

Is spending too much time on eBay looking for a new pair of shoes for Bear a good excuse for not updating this blog in quite awhile?  Probably not.  I have a couple of pairs that I’m “watching” though.  I tend not to enjoy the bidding aspect of eBay, which results in a lot of watching and waiting.  In the past, whenever I’ve found something that I want – usually after a lot of research and scrutinizing – I have placed a bid only to lose to someone more eBay-savy than myself.  And then, I’ll spend a good hour or two mad about it.  Isn’t the “Buy Now” feature easier?  If only I could find good Stride Rite shoes for less than $30 somewhere else.  Bear is about to grow out the last pair that I bought her at a consignment sale in, um September, so we’re going to need a new pair very soon, and I grew weary of the monthly Target shoe purchases this summer.  I bought monthly not because she grew out of them, but because they fell apart.  The last pair Bear had from there, the ladies at daycare actually asked me not to send her back in them.  They wouldn’t stay on, and she kept tripping on them.  Hence, all of my time wasted on eBay, and I still have no shoes to show for it.

Instead of Trick-or-Treating this year, we took Bear to the zoo.  Fortunately, she is too young to really understand that she was missing the opportunity to amass a lot of candy.  Next year, candy avoidance is going to be much more difficult.  Hopefully, by that time, she will have outgrown her soy allergy.  I feel like we could work around the peanut allergy, but soy is in nearly Every Single Piece of candy that I looked at.  Finally, I purchased a package of special allergy-free Sour Worms at Whole Foods.  The package indicated that it had 20 packs of worms inside.  When I opened the package and took out a pack to give to Bear, I found that it had ONE worm inside.  Yes, one.  As did each and every other pack.  I bought 20 allergy-free sour worms for $6.00, which works out to 30 cents a worm.

Aside from the lack of candy, Bear had a great time.  She recovered from the stomach flu (yes, that came to visit us a week after Hand, Foot, & Mouth Disease), and she loved dressing up for her daycare Halloween party.  She was the last to leave, and we literally had to drag her out of the building.  We treated Bear to the zoo next, and since her favorite books right now are Goodnight, Gorilla and I am a Zookeeper, she was delighted to see the animals.

We kept seeing another young couple with a sleeping baby at each exhibit.  Bear refused to ride in the stroller and for awhile, Dad carried her on his shoulders.  Before a long walk back from Africa, we decided that she needed to ride in her stroller, and we gave her no choice but to get inside.  Bear screamed and howled and trashed and kicked.  I noticed the young couple watching us.  As we walked away with a yowling Bear, I told my husband that they were thinking one of two things:  Either “That’s what we have coming next,” or “Our child will never act like that.”  I remember thinking something similar to the latter one day as a little boy followed me around a store beating on a drum.  Every time I turned around, he’d stop and walk the other way.  As soon as I started walking again, he’d follow me banging on the-most-annoying-toy-drum-ever-made.  Even now, as I recount this, I am thinking, “I can guarantee that my child will never wander around a store alone,” but I am sure that someday this thought too will come back to haunt me just as that young couple’s sweetly sleeping baby will soon enter the Frequent Public Tantrum phase.  I do have limited experience, but I am fairly certain that all toddlers try their parents in this way.  And, I have no doubt that Bear comes by it naturally.

When I picked Bear up from daycare on Monday of this week, one of the high school girls who helps out there after school looked at me and said, “She was hitting kids today.  A lot.”

We have had several occasions when I’ve received “Incident Reports” upon picking Bear up from daycare, and each time, I think, “Oh no.  My child caused an Incident.”  Every time, however, I am strangely relieved to learn that Bear has been the incident victim instead.  Bear must have learned to fight back this week, because surely any hitting from my sweet, innocent little girl would only be in self-defense.

On Monday night, my husband and I talked with Bear about how it was not nice to hit other kids and how she didn’t like when they hit her.  She quietly listened to us with big eyes, seemingly absorbing the meaning of our words.  The next morning, I asked Bear, “Do you promise not to hit anyone at school today?”  She replied with a definitive “yes.”

When I picked Bear up from daycare, I asked if Bear had hit anyone.  “Oh no,” replied the high school girl.  Before I could congratulate Bear, she added, “She scratched someone instead.”

I am going to have to expand the terms of our agreement next time.

Contrary to my promise to do so, I haven’t updated my blog in a few weeks.  But, don’t worry.  It isn’t because I haven’t been writing.

I wrote a short story that, while still a work in progress, is a good first start and perhaps, something that I’ll submit somewhere someday.  I need more defined goals, don’t I?

Last weekend, I took Bear back to my hometown for the first time since March.  I am always amazed at how when I first arrive, my rural little hometown feels so foreign.  After half a day there, though, it begins to feel familiar again.  The first morning we spent there, I put Bear in her jogging stroller and took a twenty minute walk across town to visit my grandmother.  My hometown is flat with few trees in comparison to where I now live.  I reveled at how it was so quiet and peaceful that I could hear a car driving down the street three blocks away, and if I turned my head in time, I could clearly see it pass between houses.  As I walked, I could easily tell who was home, and even hear moms talking to small children inside their houses as I passed.  Sound carries easily there without the trees to soak it up and other sounds to drown it out.  On our walk back, I thought about how all of the familiar names on realty signs and inscribed into rocks in front of houses now belonged to my classmates rather than their parents.  Later, when we went downtown to shop, I was amazed how some people (mostly those from my parents’ generation) so enthusiastically welcomed me and how others (mostly those from my generation) looked at me like I was the prodigal son returning home and they were his brother.

On Sunday, Bear battled stomach issues that I am fairly certain can be traced to some mystery zucchini bread that a lady in a hometown clothing store gave to my grandmother with Alzheimer’s, who then gave to Bear while my back was turned.  There were a few exciting minutes that my aunt spent frantically digging pieces out of  my daughter’s mouth.  Bear spent most of the next day with some nasty diapers and had periods where she cried and beat on her tummy, crying “Owie!”  Her response reminded me why I work so hard to only give her food that I know will not cause her to react.

Yesterday, after several good days at daycare, Bear came down with a fever.  She also began using her new, favorite word “owie” indiscriminately, so while we knew that something was hurting her, it was impossible to tell what.   At first, she would pull up her pant legs and hit her knees and saying “Owie.”  Then, during diaper changes, she would say “owie.”  She would also open her mouth to say something, and a huge bubble of saliva would come out instead.  These symptoms, along with her fever, seemed concerning, so I called the pediatrician’s office and her allergist’s to see if he would call in a prescription for some compounded non-soy containing Tylenol-type medication.   Around 6:00 last night, Bear began acting strangely.  She couldn’t seem to keep her eyes open, and she was moaning softly.  This, of course, scared me, and I immediately took her to her pediatrician’s after-hours clinic.  By the time we arrived, her fever had reached 104.  Despite enduring a strep culture and a catheter to obtain a urine sample, we left without any answers. Her pediatrician promised that a high fever wouldn’t “boil her brains” but acted annoyed that her allergist wouldn’t let us give her generic painkillers that contained soy.  I was annoyed that he was annoyed, but mostly I was tired and sad that my daughter was still not well and that we didn’t have any way to help her.

Fortunately, Bear’s fever broke last night.  She has not felt well today, but the absence of the fever has greatly improved her spirits.  She seems hungry but doesn’t want to eat.  She continues to have strange drooling issues and to say “owie” when I change her diaper.  She has also started telling me that her hand hurts.  We think that she has Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease, but until blisters start forming, we won’t know for sure.  She seemed happy to take a nap, and for now, is sleeping peacefully, and I am still waiting for a call from the compounded pharmacy that someone has made a painkiller that my little girl can safely take.  However, I am hoping that we’ve passed through the worst.

This weekend, my daughter showed me that she can think outside of the box.

By thinking outside of the box, she found a comfortable place to sit when she needed to rest.

She embraced creativity when the whim struck her.

And, she found a step up when she needed help reaching her goal.

I can learn a lot from my daughter.

odd man out, originally uploaded by Terwilliger911, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Today, before Bear’s music class, I sat between two friends (one closer than the other) as they discussed a new place that one of them had “private messaged” the other about on Facebook, and I listened as they discussed taking their two little ones there together sometime. I felt that I was in the middle of a conversation that they should be having elsewhere, particularly if they were not going to include me in it. Uncomfortable, I physically shifted backward to give them a clear line of vision. Still, they did not include me, and then the class began.

After the class, another woman who has been in previous classes with me, my two friends, and our babies took one of my friends aside to discuss something that they were going to do together. Earlier in the summer, my other friend mentioned taking her son to a play date with this other woman’s daughter.

I know that I shouldn’t be offended. Obviously, we are all adults, and we are all free to choose who we want to spend time with. Particularly, in the past, this other woman has made numerous passive-aggressive comments about her daughter’s lack of hair and walking. Since my daughter has quite a bit of hair and walks very well, I felt like she was comparing our daughters, and it made me uncomfortable and a little sad for the other little girl whose mommy didn’t seem to be content with what she had. I shouldn’t be surprised that this woman has not sought me out as a companion. Frankly, I shouldn’t even care.

But, I do. I feel a little like the kid who wasn’t invited to the birthday party with all of her friends, and I hate that feeling.

When I was ten, I remember being acutely aware that most of the girls in my class had been invited to one of our classmate’s birthday parties. I was not close friends with the birthday girl, but being from a small, rural community, most everyone was invited to every birthday party, and she had been invited to mine. My mother concluded that it was not possible that I had not been invited and that the invitation must have been sent to our old farmhouse rather than the one where we currently lived. So, despite the cold, wet day, she strapped my younger brother into our 1984 Blazer, and we began battling the snowy, muddy road for the two-mile journey to the farmhouse. Once there, I sadly discovered that my wonderful and couragous mother was wrong. No invitation waited for me in the mailbox. Unhappily, we began the trip back only to become hopelessly stuck in a ditch before we could reach home. I remember walking through the cold, wet mud and crying less about the slight of the birthday party and more about the feeling that I had somehow failed my mother.

Despite this experience, I always had close friends throughout my childhood. I have no actual memories of “making” these friends, however. For whatever reason, we were always friends. I made a few close friends in college, and with many nearby acquaintances, I was not lonely. That was the nature of college.

After law school and marriage and the start of work, my husband and I wondered if there weren’t multitudes of other couples “out there” who already knew each other and spent a lot of time together socially. If there were, they weren’t doing it with us. We finally decided that social relationships outside of the school environment, particularly after marriage, were meant to be different. I assumed though that once we had kids, we’d begin forming friendships with other couples who fell into the same phase of life as we did. Now, I’m wondering if maybe I just don’t know how to make friends. Maybe I’ve forgotten, or maybe I never knew.

At ten years-old, I realized that the sting that I felt at not having been invited to a birthday party had very little to do with my desire for a friendship with the birthday girl. I did not want to be left out. Being overlooked seems to say something about one’s self, and one’s importance to others. Perhaps now, I’m looking to the wrong people for friendships. I just wish that I was grown up enough to remember the difference between the two.

 

“Bountiful implies that your cup is already overflowing so you simply tip your abundance into the hands of others.”  Christina Katz at The Prosperous Writer, “52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers:  Number Thirty-Four is Bountiful.”

My cup overflows.  It’s true.

I should regularly reflect on the gifts in my life so I can more fully appreciate its bounty.   Instead, I often focus on the minutiae of each day rather than savoring each sweet, small moment before it has passed.

I spent the morning with my daughter.  We had appointments to meet and errands to run, but before the flury of daily activity began, I sat at my kitchen table soaking in the early morning light streaming through the window in front of me as I sipped my coffee and Bear chattered in her chair about “doggy” and “cereal” and “agua.”  The morning light softened her bedraggled hair and face sticky from peaches and post-nasal drip.  I turned my thoughts from the piles of magazines and junk mail on the table and dirty dishes in the sink.  Instead, I focused on the loveliness of sitting quietly at my kitchen table, with a warm drink in hand, and a sweet soul next to me.

Later, as we waited in an exam room for Bear’s allergist, Bear and I read a beautiful book about butterflies that my dearest friend gave us about a year ago.  I pulled the book from Bear’s bookshelf today for the first time, knowing that a long doctor’s visit might be the perfect time to read it.  Bear gazed lovingly at it from the moment she laid her eyes on the cover.  We spent long moments lingering on each page where Bear could pull out flaps revealing elaborate garden scenes and run her fingers over vibrant butterfly wings, kingfisher feathers, and sunflowers.  She continually amazed me as she pointed at the ladybugs and fireflies that I asked her to find, even though I didn’t think that she knew about such things.  I found myself holding Bear a little more closely, breathing in the smell of her hair, and sending a silent thank-you to my friend for the thoughtful book that had so completely captured my daughter’s interest.

As Bear has napped this afternoon, I checked in with the world at work and found that it has not fallen apart in my absence.  This has left me with a span of uninterrupted time to think and write.  The dog sleeps on the floor next to me.  The locusts sing and buzz soothingly outside my window, and our homebuilding neighbor builds quietly across the street.   I can sit at my computer reading, thinking, and typing; embracing this rare time to be alone with my thoughts and to focus them in the directions I desire.

My husband told me earlier that his day has been passing smoothly and quickly.  His work has been going well, and clients have been cooperative.  Before long, he’ll drive back to our home and his family.  When the garage door begins groaning and rising, the dog will scamper wildly around the house, and Bear will run to the door shouting, “Daddy!” and he will step through wearing an expectant smile at our celebration.  Then, we will start our long weekend together.

All is well in my world, and I am thankful for each sweet, small moment of the day and the bountiful life they signify.  I hope that by sharing the bounty that I enjoy in life, I’ll tip my cup to help fill up yours.

San Juan Islands, originally uploaded by HeyRocker, Flickr, Creative Commons.

Two years ago today, I snuck out bed in the early morning darkness while my husband slept in our hotel room in Canada. I fumbled through our suitcase in the dark and found something that I had eagerly been waiting to use. In the bathroom, I managed to break open the package with my teeth and somehow used the pregnancy test without making a mess. Once the appropriate time had passed (and not before, because I considered it bad luck to peek), I held the test up to the faint light coming through the window and focused my blurred, morning vision on the result. A line! I could see a line! Excitedly, I reached around the bathroom door and flipped on the light. There was definitely a line! Holy cow, there was a line!

I had been waiting and hoping for this moment for a long time. Now that it had arrived, I was unsure what to do or to think about it. I wrapped up the test in toilet paper, put it back into the box, hid it in the suitcase, and climbed back into bed with a racing mind.
When my husband woke up, I told him “happy birthday” but I did not share the news. Instead, we went through the same motions of the previous two mornings. We went downstairs and had a quiet breakfast. I avoided my usual coffee, but my husband didn’t seem to notice. Our time in Canada had ended, so we packed our suitcase and headed toward the ferry. As we climbed aboard and looked back out over the misty city, my husband said, “You know, if we ever have a girl, maybe we could name her Victoria after this city.” I still didn’t share the news. Once into the Puget Sound, we watched for whales and pointed at antelope darting from cliffs on nearby islands. Although I felt that words might jump out of me, I still didn’t share the news.

We arrived in Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands a few hours later, and as we stepped off the ferry, I saw a nearby bookstore. My request to go inside wasn’t an unusual one for me and so he didn’t notice that I was purposeful once inside. While my husband was looking at books that held his interest, I found a card with a picture from the San Juan Islands and quickly purchased it. Later, I made my husband stand at arms-length as I wrote inside the card.

The exact words are his, and someday, our daughter’s, but in essence, I told him that his birthday gift from me would be a life-changing piece of information. During his 29th year, we would have a baby.

I gave him his gift once we arrived at the bed and breakfast where we would be staying and were settled into our room. After reading the card, he looked at me with a mixture of wonder, excitement, and fear.

Two years later – today – this morning – we stood at the bathroom door to our bedroom and watched our daughter sit against the side of the bed and read books. I observed my husband as his eyes followed our daughter’s movements. The fear was gone. But, the wonder and excitement remained.