Category Archives: parent

from the eyes of a toddler

One of the great joys of having a kid is watching them discover the world around them and how they fit into it. I watch the gears in C.’s brain move, oiled and quick, with many ah-ha! moments. The first time he walked, he hyperventilated with joy — deep breaths, face all smiles. His imagination shows itself when he opens my glasses case and balances it on his head and says, “Hat!” or when he bites a tortilla filled with hummus into a shape and says, “Horse!” or when he points to scribbles he drew with blue sidewalk chalk and says, “Seahorse!”

Here is his latest discovery: What happens when he blows into an inch of milk. He watched the bubbles grow and grow and grow until they spilled over the edge.

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Oh I know it’s cliche, but this 20-month-old just keeps getting funnier and sweeter and more and more fun. Lately, he surprises me by saying things like, “Papa drive blue car work” (after A. leaves the house in the morning) and, in the evening, when I tell him A. should be home soon, he says, “Wait driveway?” He’ll throw his hands up in a funky dance and make monster noises and then say, “Mama, do it?” In the car yesterday morning on the way to a coffee shop, C. said, “All over the place,” and I said, “What’s all over the place?” and he said: “Mountains” and I looked out at the Sierras on my left, white on the top, and B Mountain on the right. Last week was the first time he said, “Mommy. Love mommy.” And then later, “Mama, hold my hand.” Melt.

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we scared off a bear in yosemite

I’ve had visions of what I would do to protect C. if our house flooded or if a fire blazed or if we were attacked by a mountain lion on a hike. I’ve even envisioned sacrificing my life for C.’s I’m sure I’m not the only mother to do this.

But when I looked up on Friday evening as we sat in our camping chairs with our jet boils making dinner in Yosemite on Lake Harden, this came out of my mouth, very quietly and calmly: “There’s a bear.”

It was walking toward our campsite, its head peeking over logs, sniffing our cous-cous. It looked small — at first I thought it was a baby. A. and I and our friends R. and R. looked at each other and said, “What should we do?” and then we remembered to make a racket to scare off a black bear. We started yelling, and the bear ran off, but at a safe distance it looked back at us.

All the while, I knew that C. was by my left side, but I didn’t know where, exactly, just close, and my eyes were fully focused on the bear. Our friend R. took A.’s walking stick and chased after it to ensure it wouldn’t come back (and it didn’t).

Here’s what surprised me: That I didn’t grab C. and hold him tight. But I also wasn’t scared – and I didn’t want to scare C. The bear was ambling along and it looked lumbering and curious, but not angry and certainly more frightened of us. Had it come closer, I most surely would have nabbed C.

A friend of mine said, “Good work” for scaring the bear away. I said I was more proud of myself for hiking three miles with 35 pounds of toddler on my back and sleeping two nights in a tent as dirty as can be with an equally dirty child.

I admit that I find back-country camping a bit stressful because of the wildlife, the physical strain, the lack of sleep, wondering if we packed enough food and being far away from any help if there is an accident.

But on this trip it was all worth it when I had one of the sweetest moments so far in C.’s 20 months, as we lay in our sleeping bags in the dark, looking at each other. He kept putting his hand near my mouth and I said, “If you put that near my mouth, I’m going to kiss it!” And he did and I lunged with puckered lips and he giggled like crazy, over and over. Then he rubbed my arm before taking my hand and closing his eyes and falling asleep in the woods.

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routine: a love-hate relationship

C. and I have fallen back into our daily routine since returning from vacation. I love being home, but, after a week, I’m already dreaming about how to shake up our quiet days. I love routine and I hate routine. C., however, thrives in it.

We’ve been spending the mornings reading Ezra Jack Keats and picking the final sweet green grapes off our dwindling vine. By mid-morning, we leave the house — we meander to the library or music class so C. can run around with the 2-year-olds who yell and giggle hysterically at a fly buzzing in the room. Yesterday, we swam at a friend’s pool, and C. blew bubbles and smiled when I laid him on his back on top of the water, his rounded belly like a half sun coming up over the horizon.

But when it’s just the two of us at home, mostly in the late afternoon when my energy slips, C. has been digging into drawers and pressing buttons — including mine. He turned on one of A.’s machines in his shop, and scraped his middle finger. He pulled my curling iron out of a bathroom drawer and dragged it across the house to an outlet. He was quiet for much too long, and I found him sitting on the carpet in my bedroom, his thumb pressed in my deep purple eye shadow, his lips and tongue sparkling with powder. I left him on the patio for a moment while he worked on a paint-with-water print — a photo of a boy driving a tractor — and I returned to the paint cup at his lips, his elbows bent, water stained down the front of his shirt and pooled at his feet.

The highs are still pushing 100, so I stay inside while C. naps, catching up on the news and emailing friends. I’m slowly working my way through Dr. Zhivago. But I’ve been feeling a bit antsy, a bit crabby, a bit cooped up. I’m quite sure it’s the routine — and my lack of projects — and feeling sluggish in the summer desert heat.

So I keep reminding myself: This is life as a stay-at-home mom. And this is a special time.

And I remember to cherish certain moments with my 19-month-old, like last night, after dinner, while the sun set, and C. and I drew with thick chalk on our patio — he said he was drawing “A’s” and “ovals” and then he pointed to some scribbles and said it was a helicopter. “A helicopter?” I said, my eyes a bit wide, “Really?” “Uh-huh,” he said, very seriously. “That’s really cool,” I said. “I like the propeller.” And he looked back down at his drawing and smiled proudly.

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what i learned on vacation (and on my return)

Do you ever come back from a vacation more tired than when you left? That’s how I feel today after 10 days in D.C. and New Jersey (with swings through Vegas, New York City and Atlantic City). I definitely overbooked myself — and though I had a blast, I’m glad to relax in the quiet, listen to the birds, make myself smoothies and decompress before heading to the Midwest next month.

Here’s what I learned on my vacation:

1. I don’t hate Vegas as much as I thought I did. We swam in the outdoor pool at New York, New York, and ate pizza and beet salad and drank good wine. Also, C. wasn’t ready to be dunked and he freaked out after I dipped him under (note his wary expression).

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2. C. is still a good traveler, and although long flights make me convulse with anxiety, he never ceases to amaze me. (Granted, with A. it’s 200 times easier.) Here, A. and I rigged him up to the suitcase, which elicited many laughs.

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3. It feels like nothing has changed in D.C. It’s been six months, but it felt like I was there yesterday. I loved connecting with dear friends, even if I ran myself ragged to do so. If only I could move one of them to the desert. Just one.

4. I also still feel connected to former NPR colleagues, although it’s been longer since I left there and they’ve since moved into a swanky new headquarters. They all made me (and C.!) feel loved. Despite the love — and I hate to admit it because I’m happy and I know this is a special time — I still harbor some insecurities about my status as a stay-at-home mom.

5. I’d much rather live in the oppressive desert heat than in chaotic, trash-strewn NYC. Though, we did have fun on our date (rooftop wedding in Soho).

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6. I miss running in cool, humid weather — and sweating. This was a little slice of heaven in New Jersey — I felt like I could run forever.

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7. It was really, really hot in the desert while we were gone and it’s not the dog days yet. Here is evidence.

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7. Our apricot tree has a two-week picking period, and then it’s done. We returned to a whole lot of this.

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I’m glad we told friends to help themselves and I’m even more glad our 82-year-old neighbor — who knew we were away — called A. to tell him there was a black SUV parked in our driveway. Thanks for watching out for us, sir.

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camping with a toddler: how we survived (and some tips)

OK, so I was dragging my feet. Every now and then, A. would say, “When do you want to go camping again?” and I’d change the subject to what should we have for dinner, or, “Look! Look at the big cat wandering through our backyard!”

The first time we took C. camping was on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. It was September, and C. was nine months old. We hiked two miles along a creek deep into the woods. I held C. on my chest and a few other “essentials” on my back and A. carried everything else: tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, food (he had back spasms the next day). When we came to a suitable campsite, I nursed C. against a log while the mosquitoes buzzed and nipped at me and A. ran off to filter water from a nearby stream.

It was humid and I was exhausted. And I still cherished sleep like a queen cherishes her jewels.

Then, when I laid C. down in a tent within a tent and I said, “Good night,” he freaked the hell out. He was full-on panicking with his fire-alarm cry like, “Um, EXCUSE ME? I’m sleeping WHERE?” So we got him up and sat around a warm fire and smelled the pines and watched the flames dance and spooned him some beans until we all laid down in the tent together.

In the middle of the night, I heard a growl that sounded like a big cat. I nabbed a hysterical C. — now panicking myself — and whispered loudly to A. “Did you hear that?” and A. mumbled something in his half-sleep about how it was probably a bird and I actually believed him and relaxed. But C. was now sleeping with me and kept rolling off the mat and I spent the whole night making sure we didn’t squish him.

Here is a photo after we hiked out — my smile reflects relief that the three of us were alive:

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So, I have to say that I’m pretty awesome for agreeing to go again not even a year later.

On Saturday, we drove to Sequoia along twisting roads, parked and loaded up our packs. We hiked a mile in and C. ran around picking up sticks while we set up camp. A. fired up the jet-boil and we ate a dinner of lentils, cous-cous and long-grain-and-wild rice on a huge platform rock and watched the sun set. And then we all went to bed together, around 8 p.m. We read C. “Harry the Dirty Dog” and told him he was sleeping next to mama and papa and isn’t this fun? C. was wired — he was singing and standing up and saying, “Woah!” and babbling and making us laugh.

This time, C. fell asleep with his little head on my sleeping bag, my cheek squished against the top of his head and his body cradled like a C against mine. And oh my god, I love sleeping next to this sweet little guy who would wake up now and then and look at me and smile and lay his head back down.

We got up with the sun and C. was happy and we ate oatmeal with dates and honey-roasted almonds and took down camp and went to find the majestic Sequoias before the crowds arrived.

And I felt relaxed and more than relieved — I was happy. We did it and C. loved it.

So next time A. asks, “When do you want to go camping again?” I expect I’ll say: “Let’s pick a weekend!”

Here are a few tips for camping with a toddler:

  • Bring something you know know he/she likes to eat. I’m so happy we had two peanut butter sandwiches — one for the evening and one for the morning — that filled up C.’s belly because he wasn’t interested in the oatmeal.
  • Don’t forget the winter hats. Even if you don’t think it will be cold, they pack well and it’s worth it if you need them.
  • Bring one more diaper than you think you’ll need.
  • Tell the toddler well in advance that you’re going to camp and sleep in a tent with mama and papa for one night. I think this helped take away the surprise factor.
  • Bring a water filter. Carrying water and a toddler and, well, everything else, is too much and you might end up breaking your backs.
  • Get a sleeping bag for the little one. We had C. in a fleece sleep sack on his own sleeping pad and he was fine, but I would have gotten more sleep (i.e. worried less) if he was in an actual sleeping bag. We plan to buy one for him before our next trip.
  • Relax and enjoy! Losing one night of sleep isn’t the end of the world — and finding adventures is soul-charging. At least, it is for me.

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curls, purses and gender roles

When C. came into the world, he had a dark mullet that reached down to his neck. That mullet has turned into golden curls, longer in the back. So, occasionally, he gets mistaken as a girl.

Last weekend, A. took C. to a cafe after spending the morning feeding carrots to wild horses.

“I sat C. facing two older women, because, you know, they love babies,” he told me later. “And they did love it, but one of them — who was honestly probably 90 — kept referring to C. as a girl.”

A. looked at me like the woman had lost her bananas.

“I mean, look at him.”

I nodded.

“He looks nothing like a girl.”

Yesterday, I stopped in at Stater Brothers to pick up some pork chops for dinner,  and C. insisted on carrying my purse: “Mama, purse?” I offered to help as he struggled, and he said, “No, no,” in a panicky voice, like I was trying to de-pants him in public.

As he stumbled like a drunkard near the flower section, a woman in her 70s with curly gray hair and thick glasses stopped her cart.

“Aw,” she said. “How old is she?”

“Oh, he’s 17 months,” I said, correcting her. “He’s a boy.”

And then, later, I thought to myself, “Why does it matter? Who cares if they call him a girl?”

C. is starting to catch on to the concept of female and male.

Last week, he said to me, “Mama, penis?”

“No, no, honey,” I said. “Mama doesn’t have a penis. You and papa have penises.”

Later that day, he pulled a bra from my drawer.

“Mama, bra?” he said, pointing to my breasts. “Yes,” I said. “Mama wears a bra. Papa doesn’t wear a bra.”

(Though, with A.’s sense of humor, C.’s bound to be confused.)

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Yesterday, at the playground, C. watched a 5-year-old climb on the structure. It was his first time assigning a gender to another kid when he said: “Girl, up, steps.” He watched her, captivated, and when she said, “Boo!” at him, he giggled hysterically. “Nen, nen,” he said [“again, again”]. It was almost as if he had his first crush, his eyes danced with happiness watching her run around.

Now that he’s noticing the differences, I’m becoming more and aware of what A. and I — and society — communicate to C. about gender.

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a toddler, books and … tears?

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One of the wonderful things — and curses — of living in the desert is the quiet. So much quiet. The wind is fierce, the air is dry and the summers are hot. This week, the temperatures are pushing 100 degrees — a hint of what’s to come. Our swamp cooler kicks on at random times during the day and I have to park under trees and stretch a shade across the windshield.

There aren’t many toddler classes in town, the city is shutting down its only public pool for lack of resources and it’s getting too hot to go to the park.

That means that C. and I are spending most of our time at home or at the library. At home, we don’t watch TV — and so we read. A lot.

The tiny, shabby desert library is open Tuesday-Thursday and the kids’ section is meager. We’ve run across gems like Jim Aylesworth’s “Little Bitty Mousie” and Pamela Edwards’ “Warthogs Paint” about colors (C. still calls everything “bue”), but I feel like in a few weeks we’ll have picked over the stock.

As I skim through books, I notice that many of them have characters behaving badly, and I gently close them and return them to the shelves. A. and I have read that what you read to kids can influence them in ways you might not realize. Kids don’t have the staying power or ability to comprehend a resolution. They just pick up the bad behavior.

What we didn’t expect was for a book to make C. cry. This is new for our almost 17-month-old: His chin wobbles and he tears up when a book ends with a “goodbye.” He has no problem saying bye to A. in the morning, or bye to me if A. takes him to Home Depot. But a book about a mouse leaving a museum had him crying over the weekend. And a book about boats had him in hysterics yesterday evening.

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the land of meltdowns

Last week, A. and I crossed into the land of meltdowns (said with a booming voice) where storms can unleash with little warning. Our little helper — who loves to sweep, rubs down the floor with tissues and toddles to the trash can to throw away litter — gave me his first forceful “NO!” when I tried to change his diaper. It was accompanied by a little kick and I raised my eyebrow, like, “Really? You’re going to go there?”

In general, this kid is awesome. He wakes up in his crib and reads to his llama and owl for an hour. The other day I heard him counting. He giggles like crazy and has a new way of saying, “Hi!” that brightens up a room. He sings to himself, and says things like, “Mama, hat, on” when he wants me to put on a hat and “Book, couch” when he wants to read with me. He says “mama, nine” (that’s wine) and “papa, beer.” (Hmmmm…) He always says please (“peas”) and he grabs my face to give me kisses.

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And now there is this budding streak of independence and “no” is his new favorite word. Last week, he tried to shake off my hand and run into the street. I grabbed him, jerked him to safety and made him look me in the eye while I told him why that wasn’t OK. Major Meltdown. (A few drivers flashed me sympathetic smiles.) He has a new fascination with outlets and crouches down to see if he can look into the wall. Cool! Electricity! He drags us objects to plug in and we shake our heads, “No, buddy, how about we don’t plug in the curling iron where you can step on it?” Meltdown. He loves the food processor plunger, but we decided that hey, maybe that’s not a great toy so let’s lock that cabinet. Meltdown.

He’s only 16 1/2 months, but I’m seeing a rapid change. It’s natural development and A. and I agree that we’d worry if he didn’t go through this stage. And, really, he’s so much easier than when he was an infant and I had a trillion hormones coursing through me and his cries made me want to crawl into a corner, curl into a ball and rock. So much easier.

But I’m getting prepared for this new stage: I plan to put on a heavy raincoat and boots AND carry an umbrella as we enter the land of meltdowns.

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a new appreciation of mornings

It’s official, I’m a parent. This night owl is starting to appreciate mornings. And I don’t mean hanging-in-the-kitchen-with-C.-while-he-eats-his-yogurt-and-blueberries mornings. I’m talking a half-hour-before-sunrise mornings where I have the quiet house all to myself.

The past few days, I’ve woken up at about 5:30 and holy crap I’ve achieved a lot before many people are swinging their legs out of their beds. I can enjoy my espresso and read the news without interruption, run west (sans stroller) along dirt roads so I can visit nearby horses and see the mountains in the distance, hit up the grocery store and have the aisles and check-out dude all to myself, and, most importantly, write.

It’s always quiet where we live, on a cul-de-sac in the Mojave desert. But, for me, the mornings are extra peaceful.

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a taste of freedom in LA

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Last Thursday, I went on my first solo overnight trip since C. was born (I know! 15 months is too long, but that whole nursing thing has gotten in the way). I had a doctor’s appointment at UCLA (all is well), and stayed with my friend S. in Venice beach. I had no idea how it would go, but a few things surprised me.

I was looking forward to some “me” time — but as I was driving south through the Mojave desert looking at desert brush, deserted trains and blue sky, my mind kept wandering to C. I kept getting visions of him cocking his head to the side and smiling so big you can see all of his six teeth and I was laughing to myself like a wacko in the car.

S. took me to get drinks at The Tasting Room. We had scotch and ginger drinks and saw the actor who played Charlotte’s bald Jewish husband on Sex in the City. He was shorter in person than on the screen, surprise surprise. And I felt a little bit old and a little bit frumpy and I didn’t care.

Then we had a 9 o’clock dinner at Gjelina, a hip restaurant that had more than an hour wait. We shared several tasty dishes and the vegetable list looked exactly like what I’ve been making at home from our farm box (which, trust me, is shocking) — kale, cauliflower, beets. And by 11, I was yawning incessantly. I guess that’s my new bedtime.

The next morning, after my doctor appointment, I found a brunch place in Santa Monica where I could sit outside next to a heat lamp, have a latte and breakfast burrito, and eavesdrop on the LA glitterati. I also took my writing notebook. But I spent the whole time talking with my sister-in-law about parenting. I also could see a bookstore from my seat: Books and Cookies. It was wholly for kids. So, of course, I went over and browsed the shelves and took mental notes of what they sell. I read so many kids books daily, that buying a new one is actually a treat for me so that I don’t lose my mind.

I think a night or two here and there away from C. is really healthy. What surprised me most is when I pulled onto our block, I actually had butterflies. When I walked in the door, I could hear bare toddler feet slapping on hardwood floors as C. ran to me calling “mama” and circled his chubby arms around my neck.

After I put him down for a nap, I tackled A. and held him tight and said: “Thank you for taking me to the desert.” Now that C. is almost fully weaned, my next night away from C. will be with A. I can’t wait.

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