Friday, April 24, 2009

Love and Death

Kevin says I’m morbid.

On the first warm, sunny Sunday of the year, I am driving us to the Philadelphia Bookfest. I tell him, “I know that I truly love someone when I become afraid that they are going to die.”

“O that is so you,” says Kevin, “you should blog about that.”

I was afraid that Sophia would die from day one. This terrible possibility visits me, vivid and real, in my dreams. In my most recent nightmare, I am standing on train tracks, swinging Sophia into the air by her ankles. Her squeals of delight suddenly go silent as I hear a snap. “Owie,” she says, grasping her neck, and I realize her head is hanging at an unnatural angle. She does not scream. She does not cry. She simply repeats “owie” as she dies, painfully in my arms. I scream for help and though there are people all around me, no one can do anything. I have killed her.

She hasn’t merely died. She has died at my hand. Because of my neglect. Because of my carelessness. That is a necessary element in my nightmares.

This afternoon we are having a snack in Barnes and Noble with Nancy and the boyfriends. Nancy has a bag of chips and gives one to each of her sons. Wanting to be more lax about what I allow Sophia to eat, I give her one. My back is turned to Sophia as I’m talking with Nan. I see Nancy’s face change before it registers that Sophia is choking, behind me. I turn around, and her face is scarlet. Every one of my cells is drained of its mitochondria. What do I do? I fumble with the five-point restraint on her jog stroller…trying to pull her out…to do what? Hit her on the back? Turn her upside down? Nancy is at my side, calmly pulling her arms through the straps, releasing her. Sophie gasps. She’s breathing. The chip has dislodged. I lift Sophie out…she’s crying now. I clutch her to my body.

Not today. Not now. It’s not going to happen today. But someday it might. And I know it is not something I could ever live with.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Toilet Talk

Kevin and I are compatible in many ways, but we have very different attitudes, mores and comfort levels when it comes to toilet talk:

My loud, Northeastern, Jewish family was obsessed with poop. The frequency, duration, and consistency of one’s bowel movements was a gauge of good health and had implications for one’s happiness. I can remember, from a very young age…but lasting well into late childhood…my father bending over me, inquiring, did I need to make an eh-eh? (To this day, he will still ask me about the quality of my BMs, if I’m not feeling well.) At dinner, whether you had gone that day was considered to be an acceptable topic of conversation. Both my parents left the door open for business while they were doing their business. As a result, I grew up with a causal attitude towards and, dare I say, a penchant for toilet talk.

Kevin, my Protestant, Mid-Western husband, is quite the opposite. Poop was something that happened behind closed doors. Early on in our relationship he announced that he did not make BMs, but rather “pooted talcum powder.” I smiled at his modesty, but after the intimacy of 10 years together, the question of whether he does indeed poo like the rest of us remains a mystery to me. If he does, he has taken great pains to leave no evidence of this fact.

When we had a child, I warned Kevin that even if he did not poop himself, his daughter most definitely would—and we were BOTH going to have to deal with it. Kevin was resigned to this fact, but I don’t think he imagined in his wildest dreams how much I would want to talk about it: the color, the consistency, the frequency, the contents was all fair game.

In the early days, I took data, noting when she pooped to ensure that she was soiling the right amount of diapers each day. I finally stopped when I felt confident that what was coming out was indicative that enough was getting in. Breast milk poos were the best: mustardy in consistency, faint in order, easily wiped away. I dreaded the day when she would start to eat solid foods and her BMs would become messier, smellier, and more abundant. I even delayed solids, in part, because I didn’t want to have to deal with the fall out. But eventually there came a point where I had to feed my daughter, regardless of how it would transform the contents of her diaper.

As Kevin was generally at work when Sophie let loose with the chocolate mousse, I was the primary cleaner-upper. Which, compounded by the wrestling matches that took place atop her changing table, piqued my interest in early toilet training.

So, much to Kevin’s chagrin, I have begun a campaign of what I call poo awareness. So far, it’s been fairly successful.

If suddenly, the room is, say, smelling like rotten eggs I ask, “Sophia, where’s the poo?” She pats her bottom and replies, “poo.” Then we march upstairs to the changing station where, after I’ve pinned her, I remove the offending diaper and hold it up for her to take a good look.

“Sophia. This is your poo.” I instruct. “PU STINKY!” which is all she needs to hear to reach for the diaper to get a closer look. “Poo,” she echoes, reverently. Similarly, when changing a wet diaper, I again hold it up for her inspection. “Pee. This is your pee.” “Pee!” Sophia repeats, diligent student that she is.

Pretty soon, under my tutelage, Sophia came to want to talk about her excretions. Each morning, when I removed her five-pound Pampers, Sophia guessed happily “Poop?”

“No,” I corrected her, “pee. You went pee,” and show her the evidence.

Then came the status updates. We’d be playing in the basement, when she’d suddenly grab her diaper and exclaim, “Poop!” Skeptical, I’d give her the sniff test, and generally she was wrong, but I would change her anyway…assuming that she had wet her diaper and was aware that SOMETHING had happened DOWN THERE. Even Kevin got excited as she began to make these announcements. And on multiple occasions I caught him having conversations with Sophia about her diaper action while he tended to her needs.

I decided it was potty time. We went to Buy Buy Baby and I quickly became overwhelmed by the choices. Did we want a potty that cheered and sang when you peed on it or did we want one that had “real flushing action?” Did we need a multitasking toilet that could also serve as a step stool and a kneeler or did we want one that would later become a training seat? Sophie became impatient, begging to get down from the shopping cart as I fretfully weighed the options. We finally walked away with a modest model that had a cushy foam seat. I decided that if she was going to be spending a lot of time on this thing, comfort should be my primary concern.

Sophia was charmed by the potty and immediately climbed into it. Fearful she’d make a habit of this, I lifted her out of plastic pot and explained what I wanted her to do with it. She pointed to the potty and shouted, “Pee!” I felt encouraged by this. Now, I casually have her sit on it when the mood strikes me or she makes one of her pee-pee proclamations—but, alas, she has yet to christen it.

Just days ago, I set her down on it and urged her to pee, making sounds that I hoped would inspire her to action. She sat there with a book, popping up when finished, her onesie flapping against her bare behind. Standing on the cold tile floor, a pool of urine formed at her feet. She looked up at me proudly, beaming, “Pee!”

Looks like Daddy’s gonna have to put up with our potty mouths a little while longer.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mean Girl

Her name was Liv, but, henceforth, will be known as Miss Thang.

Miss Thang stood just a few inches taller than Sophia, had round hazel eyes, a stylish bob, and wore a blue corduroy coat evocative of an English schoolgirl or a character in a fairy tale. In a word, adorable.

She stood outside, on my neighbor’s porch, her tiny hands curled around the edge of the screen door, sliding it open and shut. The door looked as if it had suffered much abuse at the hands of children, quite possibly, this child.

Sophia stood on the inside, watching Miss Thang’s movements, thoroughly charmed by this person who was a part of her world. (A world that exists closer to the ground. A world of squirrels and flowers and seed pods.) Yet, who clearly had more autonomy than she and exercised it without fear of reproach.

As Miss Thang opened the door, Sophia took a step towards her, arms held out, poised for embrace. Miss Thang’s wide eyes shrank as she shouted, “No you NEVER come out.”

She was two. She meant business: The world is mine. Baby, you stay in the house full of parents and limits.

Sophia paused a second before her face broke out into a broad, dimpled simple.

Miss Thang was not to be disarmed. She became even more adamant. “NO YOU NEVER COME OUT.”

Sophia laughed with glee and lifted her shirt, baring her stomach. “Belly button,” she replied.

And so it went. Miss Thang continued her verbal assault until she caught her fingers in the door and ran crying to her mama. Sophia toddled after her, oblivious to rejection, enamored with her enemy.

I looked on, amazed and amused. Every day, she moves me.