Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rock Star v. Rock Solid

This morning, after the blear of sleep had lifted, and Sophia had her draught of milk, she looked at me and inquired, “Daddy?”

And, later, when we got out of the pool and flip-flopped our way through the chill of the air-conditioned hallway to the family changing rooms, Sophia said hopefully, “Daddy?”

Then in the afternoon, as we returned from our trip to Target, laden with bags of big box booty, Sophia pushed past me and careened towards her father exclaiming, “Daddy!”

Kevin is a rock star.

When he’s not home:
She swoons over his picture. She pulls his shoes out from under the bed, and tries to stand in them. She says reverently, as she bangs her little fists together in sign language, “Dada working.”

When he comes home:
Like a cat, she hears his key in the lock and is at his feet before he can cross the threshold. She whines and hops from foot to foot, begging “carry me.” And when he does, she throws her little arms about his neck and rests her head on his shoulder, a dreamy look in her eye.

Whatever battle Sophia and I have been engaged in is suddenly forgotten.

And we have been engaged in a battle because, every day, there are battles to be fought. I have spent hours reading to her, encouraging her to eat salmon and soycatash as the floor grew littered with my failures. I’ve grasped her ankles and pulled them up towards her head, turkey-style, trying to mop her twisting soiled tushie before she wiped it on my rug. I’ve dumped water over her head, attempting to rinse the soap out as she clung to me, soaking us both in the process.

I have picked her up when she’s refused to walk downstairs, fallen and doesn’t want to get up, or has unilaterally decided that now is not a good time to leave the playground. I’ve held her through her fears of the lowing cow in the Fairytale Garden, the neighbor’s yippy dog, and the strange man in the grocery store whose silly faces were more odd than amusing. I’ve suffered through endless plays of Raffi singing, “Must be Santa,” Gwen Stefani asserting, “I ain’t no holler back girl,” and the Fridge DJ reciting the ABC’s.

Kevin may be a rock star, but I am rock solid.

And though, at times I want to cry… like when she’s getting sick, but I don’t realize she’s getting sick, and she wants to be held ALL day long. Or when she wipes lox and cream cheese in her hair, right after I washed it, challenging me with a smile…I know that she knows that I’m always there.

Remarkably, Kevin and I are both satisfied with our traditional roles: they suit our personalities, the stage of our careers, and our child-rearing skills. And sure, he would like a little more time (and, sometimes, I’d like a little less). But each is equally important, equally valid. And in Sophie's eyes, we are both heroes.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Memory and Peaches

It was a bright, hot morning at the farmers’ market. The booths were crowded with people. Corn, picked fresh that day, sold out before we could push our way to the table. Guitar music floated through the air. Babies lay supine and sprawled in their strollers, hair plastered to their foreheads with sweat. We planted ourselves in the plastic chairs in front of the musicians. Sophia climbed Kevin, begging for ice chips from his lemonade while I enviously watched others take plump peaches out of their eco-friendly mesh bags and eat them lustily: dirt, pesticides and all.

I asked Kevin for some money and purchased a couple peaches…one for me and one for Miss Sophia. They were take-a-bite-and-the-juice-runs-down-your-arms peaches; fleshy and ripe. I sunk my teeth into one and Sophia looked on longingly. “Peach! Sophie! Bite peach!” she cried, reaching for my succulent fruit.

Sophia was looking pretty darn cute that morning, sporting a pink seersucker dress (my choice), layered with a tutu (her choice). The last thing I was going to let her do was take a bite of that peach and sully her beautiful clothes. So, I bit off a piece for her and tried to pop it in her mouth.

“NO! Mama! Sophie’s peach!” Translation: I want the whole damn thing. Give it to me now.

“Sophia,” I reasoned. “If I give you the whole thing, you’re going to get very dirty. Wait until we get home.” She threw herself down on the ground and sobbed for about 10 seconds. All in all, I think she took it quite well.

We piled into the car. Made a pit stop for bagels and wine. Unpacked the car. I was setting the produce down on the counter when Sophia reminded me, “Mama, peach.”

Now, I know that she has object permanence, but this really took me by surprise. As parents, we bank on the fact that our kids will soon forget unfulfilled promises, changes in plans, and minor insults. But, this child has tenacity. She had to hold that peach in her consciousness for at least ½ an hour.

And, oddly, she hadn’t mentioned it since we left the market. There was no obvious “rehearsal” of the promise of the peach.

Now, home, I was able to strip her down to the tutu, cover her in a bib, and restrain her in the high chair. I let her maul the peach to her heart’s content. She handed it to me, ten minutes latter, bitten and battered, with deep wounds that went all the way to the pit.

I quickly put the fruit out of its misery.

But the whole thing got me wondering: what can children remember? And what does the development of memory look like? I did a little Internet research, and here are a few things I learned:

  • “The fundamentals of the human processing system are in place at birth or earlier.” I don’t know how researchers figured this one out but in the 40th week, a fetus can remember a stimulus ten minutes later with a lasting memory for up to 24 hours (we’re born with “memory equipment”)
  • A baby’s long term memory can be for a long as 24-hours at six weeks old and up to four months at 16 months old (the good news is that although she remembers the time you dropped her on her head when she was 13 months old, in another month, she won’t)
  • “If provided with a nonverbal mode of reporting, infants can show robust recognition and recall of stimuli and events” (pointing, re-enactments, etc.)
  • “Young children show superior recollection of naturally occurring events compared to poorer recognition of standard laboratory lists of words and pictures” (personal relevance and context matters)
  • “Developments in neural structures and processes in the infant and toddler years play a key role in facilitating memory performance” (as kids develop, so does their capacity to remember)
  • “As rapid growth of critical brain structures levels off, subsequent improvements in performance are attributable largely to advances in strategies, knowledge, and metamemory” (you CAN improve your bad memory)
  • “Children’s memory reports can be remarkably accurate but are also vulnerable to the effects of suggestions of others” (why it’s so hard to interview children about abuse)
  • “Memory is not context free, but operates in part as a function of the world in which we live” (did I mention that context matters?).

Source: Courage, M.L. & Cowan, N. (2008) The Development of Memory in Infancy and Childhood

So, yes, at this age Sophia is perfectly capable of remembering that I promised her that peach. And the mere act of setting the bag of produce down on the counter might have been enough of a contextual prompt that there were peaches to be eaten. It was also lunch time, so simply being hungry might have activated the memory of the peach.

The takeaway? I need to be careful what I promise, because, chances are, Sophia will hold me to it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Bribe

It’s what you call a win-win situation. I get four days away to myself to think long and hard about whether or not I want to add another human being to our family, and Kevin gets four solid days of Sophie-and-Daddy time (and a better idea as to whether he’s ready to double the pleasure).

I’m going on a cruise. By myself. I booked it this week.

When we first came up with the plan, I was straddling the fence and Kevin had scaled it and jumped over to the other side. He was standing there, in greener pastures, beckoning to me (nay, begging me) to come and join him. According to Kevin, in the expanded vision of our family we would:

  • Have more love in our lives
  • Have a playmate for Sophia (and teach her, for once, that “sharing” does not mean I give you the thing that I have because you want it)
  • Add more people to the world who would do good things.

I don’t think he is wrong about these, but I added that we would:

  • Have less time for each other
  • Have less time for Sophia
  • Risk having a child that, due to my advancing age and disintegrating eggs, would require more than we quite possibly have to give.

So, you can see how the conversation went. And how we both came to the conclusion that I needed to go to the Caribbean: I needed to pull back for a little metacognition on the subject and Kevin…well, consider the following illustrative anecdote:

At a function for my work, we were speaking with one of my colleagues. I shared with her my ambivalence about having another child and the fact that Kevin was sending me on a cruise to make a decision. Kevin leaned in and added, nonchalantly, “It’s a bribe.” I laughed at the time, and I know he intended it as a joke, but I couldn’t help also feeling a bit surprised. How much was he joking? Is it a bribe? How would he feel if, after I took this lovely trip while he slaved over a busy toddler, I said I didn’t think I could do it?

Since that time, Kevin has swung with the pendulum back to dead center, where we stand together united in our divided minds. I continue to vacillate on a daily basis. My current thinking is that perhaps we don’t have enough data. Maybe we need to wait until Sophia is old enough to weigh in on the situation.

But how long can we wait? As we speak, the sand is running out of my not-so-hourglass figure. I’m one year away from 40, when approximately 50% of my eggs will be chromosomally abnormal. The cruise is in December. Even if I came back and got pregnant immediately, I still wouldn’t have the baby until October—two months after my 40th birthday.

Funny how we treat these numbers—how I treat these numbers as magic milestones. As if 20% of my eggs will be absolutely fine until August 24, 2010 when they’ll spontaneously combust and leave microscopic piles of ashes in my ovaries.

I know it’s not true. They could all already be bad. Or, I could be one of these women who is able to conceive at 60—too old to have hopes of watching him/her graduate…take on a life partner…and have children him/herself one day. There’s no way to know. Kevin wants to roll the dice…shake up those ovaries and hope for a lucky egg. He thinks the odds are good. I think it doesn’t matter what the odds are if we are the 1 in 66 who has a problem.

At which point I would have another decision to make that I don’t want to be in the position of having to make.

Back to the cruise: my plan is to sit on my balcony, gaze out at the water, and write daily. To channel every thought and feeling out of my head and heart and onto the page. To allow my intuition to serve as my guide.
And then, to take a leap off this damn fence.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I Walk the Line

Any parenting book will tell you, a toddler’s cry in the middle of the night can mean one of a jillion things:

  • Teething
  • An ear infection (or other illness)
  • A nightmare/night terror
  • Normal sleep cycle waking coupled with an inability to self soothe back to sleep
  • A painful encounter with a bed rail
  • A lost toy, blankie, pacifier, etc.
  • Fear of the dark
  • A dirty diaper
  • Stressful events (a new home, a new room, family discord)
  • The realization that his/her parents are doing something much more fun than sleeping

It follows that how one reacts to mid-night wails very much depends on what’s going on.

For example: If Sophie’s got a dirty diaper, I’m going to go in and change it. If she’s got an ear infection, I’ll give her medicine and love. But, if she simply wants out of the crib, I’m going to stuff ear plugs in my ears and do my best to ignore the cries.

The problem is, I often don’t know which it is until I run down the possibilities (e.g., go in and sniff her bottom, feel her forehead, scan the floor for members of her stuffed animal menagerie, etc.) which means going in.

I’ve always been wary of going in. It’s the behaviorist in me. A little voice inside my head says, you go in once and the behavior will escalate. Don’t reinforce! Let her cry it out! Give her an inch she’ll take a yard!

But buried under my training exists my instincts. Weak and muted they plead: “She needs you. Wasn’t it reassuring when your parents responded to your cries? What does it cost you to go in there?”

And there is the physical pain of listening to your child suffer—like the blood being wrung out of your heart.

So, about a week ago, when Sophie started waking in the middle of the night—my heart and mind fought a fierce battle over what to do.

Day One
The first time I went to her. She stood in the corner of her crib, real tears streaming down her face, hair damp and matted to her cheeks. Baby in one arm, bear in the other. “Mama! Out! Out!” she cried. I lifted her and felt her body shaking in my arms. She threw her little arms around my neck and burrowed into me.

Are you scared? I asked.

Yeah, responded Sophie.

Did you have a bad dream? I wondered.

Yeah, replied Sophie.

Are you an apple pie? I tested.

Yeah, affirmed Sophie.

I was not going to find out what was wrong. At least not by asking her. Within a minute or two, her body grew limp in my arms.

“Bed,” she told me. So I laid her in her crib, sang a made-up lull-a-bye, and backed out the door. She fell back asleep

She woke an hour later. This time I decided to wait out the screams. She’d cry out, five minutes would pass quietly, and then she’d cry out again. Thirty minutes passed. An hour. Two hours. There was no sign of her stopping. I moved to the attic where I could no longer hear her and slept for two hours. When I came back down, she was fast asleep…but at what cost? How long did scream and sob until she finally passed out? O, the guilt.

Day Two
She slept like a (proverbial) baby.

Day Three
On the third night, she was up at midnight again, wailing. I went in, held her a minute or two until she asked for “nap,” and put her back in her crib. I felt relieved. It seemed like the right decision. She slept through the night. I thought to myself, perhaps one size does not fit all…maybe this is what Sophie needs.

Day Four
Wrong. She first woke at a quarter till midnight. I comforted her; she fell back asleep. And hour later she woke again. I comforted her; she fell back asleep. When she woke for the third time, an hour later, I started to feel like I was getting played. I resisted going in, and she fell back asleep after ten minutes.

But…the next day Sophie was listless, ate poorly, and tugged at her ear. O, the guilt. I called the doctor and made an appointment for the following day.

Day Five
Sophie woke only once, cried for five minutes, and resettled herself. Later that morning, the doctor peered in her ears and down her throat, and concluded, “She’s fine.”

“Then I AM getting played?” I asked.

“Well, its possible she has a virus that’s making her uncomfortable. I’d give it seven days. If she’s still waking…THEN you’re getting played.”

“Seven days from today?” Kevin asked,” or from when it started?”

“When it started,” replied the doctor, raising an eyebrow.

So now Sophia has two days left of 24-hour full-mom access. After that…it’s tough love, ear plugs, a bloodless heart and a well-rested mom. Some days, it seems that parenting is a constant struggle to find and walk the line between indulgence and neglect.