Liam at 18 months

Liam is 18 months old today.

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There are so many new things to talk about, because the past six months have been full of changes for Liam. He’s at a new daycare with a bigger group of kids his own age, and he keeps coming home with new words he’s learned from his friends. The new environment is helping him grow, and his teachers genuinely care about him, nicknaming him “Lima Bean” and arguing over who gets to hold him at the morning drop-off.

He’s wearing 18-month clothes now and it’s so strange to see how grownup he looks when he’s wearing collared shirts and jeans and little sneakers. He just got a haircut and I swear I see a teenager under there. Especially when he’s ignoring me. I’m going to keep him in footie pajamas FOREVER so he’ll at least be my tiny sweet baby at night.

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We have a pretty good eater, who’s eager to master spoons and forks and feed himself without our help. Unfortunately, his picky phase has continued and there’s a lot he won’t touch. Sometimes it’s about taste, sometimes it’s texture, and sometimes it’s that he forgets he loves cheese. Acceptable and unacceptable foods change week to week, so I’ve learned it’s better to go back to the store for more grapes on a grapes-are-good week, rather than buying a huge bag of them and realizing grapes-are-gross week arrived somewhere around Tuesday afternoon. He’s not a fan of veggies at all, and he hates chicken, but I’m hoping it’s just the lack of molars that are making those foods harder to handle. Yet Goldfish crackers somehow go down just fine. Hmmmm.

Also acceptable: Ah-PUUUHs.

I still get some green (and orange) stuff in him by putting it into pancakes or omelets, or taking a hint from the multimillion-dollar snack-pouch industry and mixing veggie purees with a good dose of applesauce. He loves peanut butter (ba-buh!), meatballs (ba-baw!), and waffles (faffle!). Loves to ask for them, anyway, frantically signing “more” only to yell “ah-dah” and shove the highchair tray once I hand them over. Of course, if we take away the tray, he reaches out to stuff one more chunk of waffle in his grinning face. I suspect this is the start of the crazy toddler era. But he’s right in the middle of the chart for height and weight so far: 26 pounds at his last weigh-in. So at least he’s eating enough!

Liam’s favorite toys right now aren’t toys. Sorry, everyone who keeps buying him wonderful toys! I’m sure he’ll come around! For now, though, he’s obsessed with random household objects, going so far as to throw his first tantrum ever over the living room clock, which we refused to take off the wall for him to play with. He calls clocks ney-neys, he spots them everywhere, and he wants them ALL. It would be cute if it wasn’t vaguely unsettling. He can’t have clocks, but we do let him have his next-best love, the kitchen broom, because he yells BWOOO and reaches for it every time we walk past it, and that’s hard to say no to.

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BWOOO being used ow-kai (outside)

His housekeeping training will begin as soon as he’s steady on his feet, because I could use the help sweeping up all the faffle bits on the kitchen floor. He’s also into pots, hats, spoons, and putting things into containers and taking them back out again, over and over and over. He also likes balls (mostly for throwing or for container transfer), and any toy that makes music. Because he was better with signs than words for a while, we taught him a little finger-waggle as a sign for “music.” He uses it to ask for music, but now he also waves both his index fingers around, conducting an invisible orchestra, whenever music is playing.

He plays a lot of music, too, as long as you’re generous in your definition of music. He has a few rattles, some jingle bells, a “piano”, two tambourines, and a xylophone of his own, and he loves making a racket with them. I bought him a plastic recorder to add to his collection after seeing his delighted response to Dave playing the penny whistle and ocarina.

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He’ll sit there and tootle away on it (just the one note) and then hand it off to each of us in turn. He loves the music boxes and the piano at his grandparents’ house, and he’s mesmerized when Dave pulls out the guitar or ukulele. Some of my favorite moments of the past couple of months have been watching my husband and my son play music together.12305755_10156247484120521_2099042422_n

SO MANY BOOKS are being read in this house. We have at least a hundred, and I think we’ve been through them all a dozen times each. “Book” was one of his first words, and he’s constantly yanking books out of the bin in the play room and handing them to us for story time. His current favorites are books with baby pictures in them, and ones with textured illustrations to poke at (or lick, in the case of “smooth shiny water”). He’s starting to copy the hand movements I use when I read stories, like “up” or “pop” or “no-no.” That comes out when I read him his solar system book: he swoops his arms around to show me the rings around Saturn and lifts up his hands to demonstrate how BIIIIG Jupiter is. It’s just the best thing.

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He’s got maybe 25 recognizable words, a half dozen animal sounds, and a few signs, and it’s wonderful to be able to communicate with him. He’s just started to show interest in letters, or at least the ABC’s song, which he demands by tapping any page with an alphabet on it, and saying “aiy-cee! aiy-cee!” He understands a ton, and is starting to make connections on his own, which means we’ve had to start being careful with what we say around him. If we slip up and use the real words instead of “round freezer breads” or “ground meat spheres,” there will be hell to pay if we don’t deliver his beloved foods immediately. He knows what NO means and he delights in wagging his finger at himself and saying nooooo, nooooo, as he’s about to eat cat food, crawl down the stairs, or stuff magnets into the gaps of the baseboard heaters.

He’s a great kid. Learning fast, starting to make his own decisions and put ideas together, and testing his limits. The next few months are going to be exciting and challenging as he gets a handle on walking and learns to communicate, and we find out more about what sort of little person we’re helping through the world. We’re very grateful for the village we have around us: friends and family, near and far, in person and on the phone and on the computer. So many people care about our family and want to see Liam succeed, but also to see us succeed as parents. It means so much to us to have so much support. Thank you.

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Why I’m Not Paris

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Image credit: PugGirl via Flickr under CC 2.0

If you know me on Facebook, you’ll know that my profile picture is currently a smiling photo of myself with my son peeking out over my shoulder from a baby carrier. Meanwhile, many of my friends’ smiling Facebook faces are overlaid with the translucent blue, white, and red stripes of the French flag: a gesture of solidarity with the people of Paris, who have endured great tragedy this week. I’m not alone in keeping my photo in its original state, but as I scroll through my feed, my face definitely stands out for its lack of color.

Why haven’t I changed it? Facebook makes it easy – there’s a little button I can click and it’ll give me a new “temporary profile photo” so I can join everyone in expressing sympathy. But I’m not going to do it. It’s not that I’m not upset by the horror that unfolded in Paris this week. I’m stunned and hurt. So many lives ended so senselessly. So brutally. If it can happen in Paris, it could happen anywhere. It could happen here. It could be me.

But it does happen anywhere. Everywhere. Every day. There are places in this world where death tolls like that are a weekly occurrence, and most of us don’t ever hear of it. Or if we do, we dismiss it because that’s just how it is over there, in those places we’ve never seen. They’re not cities, they’re “war zones” and “rebel strongholds.” How else to explain the lack of Facebook sympathy and outrage from my peers over suicide bombings in Beirut, the day before the Paris attacks? Or the millions fleeing unceasing horrors in their home countries, only to find closed borders? Or the systemic racism facing minorities here in America?

It’s overwhelming, and I can see the need to block out what you can, so you aren’t permanently paralyzed by your emotions. What cuts through are the tragedies that make you think “that could have been me.” Or a loved one. It’s human nature, I guess, to feel more deeply about an event when you can identify with the people involved. I know it’s true for me, but that truth makes me uncomfortable. It’s absolutely not right that it takes the deaths of people who look like me, in a place I’d feel at home, to stir my sympathy and support. It bothers me that the tragedies that break my heart the most always fit the same pattern. It bothers me a lot. I need to do better.

I don’t like the Jen who reacts to tragedy in a selective and privileged way. I don’t like that I’m more emotional about things that happen in Europe than in Syria. I don’t like that it’s easier for me to see myself in someone’s shoes when those shoes are on white feet.

Every single person killed in every single bombing or shooting or conflict was once a “me.” Every one. They matter. They count. They have to. Someone is mourning them. Someone’s life is torn in half by the loss of a son or a wife or a friend. They all deserve to be acknowledged.

No flag photo can say all of that. So I’m saying it here instead.

Reading List

I’m making a deliberate effort to read more, and I think it’s helping to rewire my brain in a way that will make it more productive. Good input leads to good output – eventually. My free time isn’t set up to allow for much book-reading right now, but I’m absorbing some great blogs in the spaces between my responsibilities. Here are a few of my current favorite sources of online input for you to explore, if you’re considering adding to your own reading list. Full disclosure: I know these people, at least in the Twitter sense of “knowing,” but I wouldn’t stand behind their work if I didn’t think they deserved it. I enjoy these things, so I am sharing these things with you. That’s how the world goes ’round.

Getting Ready to Go is a fun little blog about transitions and preparation and how to get from A to B in ways that make sense. Tasha writes most of the posts herself, but often invites guest posters (myself among them, yay!) to talk about their own experiences. Maybe you’re getting ready to go to a friend’s wedding, or getting ready for a wine and cheese date you’ve just been invited to with only 15 minutes’ warning. Maybe you’ve got a guest post you could share with her, too – think about it!

Nicole Dieker is writing a wonderful novel that’s coming out bit by bit as a tumblr serial and it’s really just the best thing. It’s called The Biographies of Ordinary People, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: a series of stories about people who are made so real on the page that you feel like you know them well enough to invite them to dinner. You can support Nicole’s talent over at Patreon if you’re so inclined. And you should probably incline yourself that way, because her work is pretty great.

I absolutely love reading Ken-inatractor, because he’s hilarious. He’s a Canadian farmer who’s experimenting with stretchy jeans in his middle age.  I was delighted to see a new post from him last week, because he’s been quiet for a while and I think the world needs more of him. I’m not sure if he’s going to be updating the blog regularly, but his archived posts are absolutely worth looking through if you want to binge-read.

What about you? What are you reading (or writing!) that I should add to my list? Funny, sad, educational, it doesn’t matter. I need to consume more good work, so I can improve my own.

An Open Letter to the People Who Make M&Ms

Dear M&Ms people,

Why would you put an odd number of M&Ms in a fun-size package, when the only acceptable way to eat M&Ms is in pairs?

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I’ll allow you the necessity of a random selection of colors, even when that means I’ll be forced into a panicked on-the-spot decision about whether yellow or brown is a more acceptable mate to green. Multicolored candies are kind of your thing. I understand that the machinery is set up to dump a colorful mix into every bag with no consideration given to those like me who need to eat things in an orderly fashion. It’s just business. But I know you’ve got an extensive quality control system set up. Every bag of M&Ms, fun-size or otherwise, is allowed an exact number of grams of candy with no tolerance in either direction. I just want to know why you’re monsters and set that limit such that an odd number of M&Ms meets your release criteria. You have the power to change this. Do the right thing.

Sincerely,

Me.

It’s a Pooh Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand

I took a few hours out of my day to be with Liam for the Halloween parade at daycare today. I arrived early, half an hour before the big event, so I sat with him and the other kids in his class while the teachers caught them one by one to put their costumes on. The kids are all between one and two years old, so there was a lot of chasing and giggling and crying.

The first little boy to be dressed found himself stuffed into a Tigger costume that he wanted absolutely no part of, and he sat in the middle of the floor wailing and tugging at the scratchy orange velour. Of particular offense was the giant fluffy Tigger head that completely covered his own little head and was attached with a snap he couldn’t undo. As he continued to cry and strangle himself trying to behead his costume, I scooched a little closer to him, with Liam in my lap, and asked “Do you know what’s so wonderful about Tiggers?” He stopped crying and stared at me.

“It’s that Tiggers? They’re wonderful things.”

Blink. Tug.

“Their tops,” I poked his belly, “are made out of rubber!”

He stared at his belly.

“Their bottoms?” I wiggled his foot. “They’re made out of springs!”

He wiggled his feet.

“They’re trouncy pouncy flouncy bouncy,” I bounced.

“Fun fun fun fun fun!”

“The wonderful wonderful thing about Tiggers is you’re the only one! Yoooooooooou’re the only one!”

He applauded my effort and crawled off with Tigger’s head dangling around his neck.

Re-Engineering

It’s never a good day when you’re called into a conference room and find a Human Resources representative sitting at the head of the conference table with a slim folder in her hands and an emotionless expression on her face.

The organization I work for is making cuts. Lots of them. We’re being re-engineered, re-shuffled, made leaner and meaner and more competitive. And unfortunately, the executive vision of the organization’s bright future only includes 3/5ths of my job. I guess I’m grateful that they didn’t do away with my position entirely, like they’ve done to so many others, but that’s a whole lot less money I’m bringing home to my family.

I refused the severance package and stayed on part-time, for now, despite the obscene increase in my health premiums now that I’m only working 24 hours a week. So obscene that you should probably stop reading this if you’re at work. My cost tripled. That is multiplied by three. Double it, and then add a bunch more. Yay, US health insurance system. So I’m working for benefits, essentially. But I have a job, we have health care, and it could be worse.

I’m using my not-at-work days* to write and get housework done so maybe I’ll be freer in the evenings and on the weekends to just hang out with my family. Theoretically, part-time work is great. The mom thing is a ton of work and it would be lovely to have a regular day or two during the week that I could dedicate to the job of parenting.  Our daycare doesn’t have a part-time option, so kiddo is still there all week – no savings there. But that does mean that I’m able to handle errands and appointments and cleaning without a baby underfoot. And I could easily pull him out of class early on days I’d like to do special activities with him. I was able to enjoy the Halloween parade there this morning, and stay for a couple of hours to get him into his costume, walk him around to see the decorations, and take a million photos.

Financially, though, part-time work sucks. A lot. Lots of people are infinitely worse off, and I’m not going to complain too loud, but this means fewer nice things, fewer house projects, fewer vacations. And more importantly than all that, I get a sense of worth from my work, and being cut really hurt. I need to work, and it would be wonderful if I could work somewhere I felt I was making a difference somehow, and growing as a person.

I’m not sure I want to go back to the hospital labs, working weekends and holidays and being stuck there if the next shift is late, because the blood bank never closes. Besides that, the hospitals are far, and I’m so tired of long commutes. There are research labs around, too, and I’m looking into those, but I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t time to re-engineer myself a little. Who am I, who do I want to be, and how do I get from here to there? Do I need to cut any of my efforts by 2/5ths in order to move forward?

I read Wil Wheaton’s post about “rebooting” his life this week, and it’s still bouncing around in my head. Reboot. Re-engineer. What better time for personal change than a time when everything’s changing around me anyway? What can I fix? What can I focus?

Well, I know I want to write more. So I’ll write more. And read more, too, because Wil’s right that input is necessary for good output. I have a very long reading list to get to, and maybe being part-time for a while will give me time to make a dent in it. I’ve also got more time for writing now, which is great because I’ve got a couple of paid gigs these days, on top of my volunteer projects, guest posts, and this blog. Maybe it’s time to look into doing this more seriously. Am I good enough? Can I get good enough?

*Don’t you dare call them my days off. This isn’t a vacation, it’s 2/5ths unemployment.

Moon

This morning, when we left the house, the crescent moon was bright in the sky. I pointed it out to Liam.

“Moon. That’s the moon. Look. Up.”

And he looked up. And he SAW it. And he stared and stared and stared.

He didn’t try to say “moon,” and he didn’t point. He just stared, absorbing the moonlight through his shining eyes. We stood there for a minute, faces to the sky, and he never moved except for blinking. Looking up. Up up up and so far away.

As I turned around with him to get him into the car, he turned his head so he wouldn’t lose the moon.

Stuffing Chicken Pot Pies

By special request, I’m putting my stuffing chicken pot pie not-quite-recipe recipe out into the world to grow and flourish.

I’ve posted a chicken pot pie recipe before, but it was years ago and I’ve learned a lot since then. I never use a recipe now, and when I look back at my old one, all the amounts seem off. So here’s a fresh start and maybe a good dinner.

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Chicken pot pies!

 

Ingredients

  • Butter
  • Flour
  • ½ a medium onion, diced small
  • One box (32oz) chicken broth
  • Poultry seasoning (or thyme & sage if that’s all you’ve got)
  • Frozen mixed veggies (peas/carrots/green beans)
  • 2 medium potatoes, diced small
  • Diced rotisserie chicken
  • Dry stuffing mix

How-To

Get a medium pot (one that holds 6 cups or so) and melt 2-3 tablespoons of butter to saute the diced onion until it’s soft. Sprinkle in some flour and whisk it into the butter to make a roux, and don’t worry if you add too much and get lumps – this dish can survive lumps. Add in the chicken broth a little at a time, whisking lumps to death as you go. Once you’ve got a nice smooth slurry, pour in the rest of the broth and add in a generous sprinkle of the poultry seasoning – it should smell like thanksgiving stuffing when you sniff your pot. Stir in as many frozen veggies you feel appropriate, lower the heat to simmer, and stir the pot every couple of minutes. After ten minutes, test them for doneness – when they seem right, add the chicken to the pot. Taste and add extra seasoning if it needs more. At this point you can just call this a stew or thick soup and go to town with a giant spoon, and nobody would judge you.

But you want pot pies! That’s why you’re here!

In that case, ladle the stew/soup mix into oven-safe dishes that’ll hold however much you want to eat. I use 16oz Corningware dishes, because I’m hungry. It’d probably work pretty well as a casserole, too, but I’ve never tried it that way. Whatever you choose, leave some space at the top. The stuffing needs to fit!

Get some stuffing ready. I use the kind that’s little crouton cubes in a bag, and I don’t bother with the directions. I just put about a cup of cubes in a bowl, and pour enough hot water over them to soften them up a bit. Scoop the stuffing on top of the dishes and press it in place gently. Put the dishes onto a baking sheet and pop them into the oven for about 10-15 minutes at 350, until they’re bubbling and the top of the stuffing has crisped up a little.

 

(Links in this post are Amazon affiliate links, and you can read more about that here. I only link to stuff I love and recommend.)




This working Mom thing? I think it’s working.

The calendar says it’s been a year. I’ve been a working mom for a whole year.

I took as much parental leave as my job would let me. Twelve weeks; some of it paid, some not. I spent almost three months with my son after he was born, and it wasn’t enough. I wanted so much more, but it’s awkward to say so when I know that many others don’t get that much. I feel equal parts grateful and cheated for what little time I was allowed.

My first month back was emotional, though I cried fewer tears than I was told I would. I was more out-of-sorts than sad. My brain was so slow, like I was having Benadryl for breakfast and lunch every day, and coffee hardly made a difference. I asked so many questions, over and over, about things I should have known well. It was embarrassing. My coworkers were kind and understanding, but my self-doubt imagined dozens of eyes rolling behind my back. I felt so hopelessly and terminally stupid.

I hid in an empty office three times a day to express breast milk, acutely aware that everyone passing in the hallway could hear the pump going. On my third day of pumping, the door creaked open just as I’d gotten everything hooked up and started – the facilities guy heard a “weird noise” and used his key to get through the locked door to investigate. I changed my “occupied” post-it note to an “OCCUPIED PLEASE KNOCK” legal-sized sheet and pretended his apology made everything totally fine and not embarrassing at all. Because I had to do it again the next day, and the next. Wash my pump parts in the break room sink, put my milk in a cooler in the fridge, and get over it.

Those weeks seem so far away now. A whole year ago. I measure that year by my son and not myself – inches and pounds and milestones and giggles. I rarely assess my own progress. I don’t stop often enough to take stock of how I’m doing and how I’m changing. But while I’m still figuring out the balance, things are improving. I still miss him every day while I’m at work, but I’m sleeping more and that’s definitely helping my brain function closer to its pre-baby capacity. I’ve taken on several projects that I’m very passionate about and very proud of, and I’m seeing glimmers of “me” under the “mom” now and then.

I’ve survived a whole year as a working mom. I’m still good at my job, and my son still loves me. I’m going to go make myself a cake to celebrate.

It’s not beer, it’s me. Or maybe it’s you.

Tasha is one of my best friends. Tasha is a beer geek – she’s serious enough about the stuff that she’s working towards getting her Cicerone certification, which I think is amazing. On her MetaCookBook blog this week, she’s asked for people’s thoughts on the beer community and what sorts of topics they should be talking about. Tough topics – like diversity in the community. I’m very interested to read the replies, but I wasn’t going to join in the conversation, because beer isn’t my world. I can only understand Tasha’s passion by comparing it to my loves of other things, because I don’t really “get” beer. I like the stuff (some of it) well enough. But I’m intimidated by beer geeks sometimes, because I don’t feel like I belong to their “community.” So maybe I do have something to say after all.

I’m not saying that beer lovers are hipsters and phonies and are running this exclusionary club on purpose. Maybe it’s my own perception of “beer people” that makes me hesitant to really get into beer.

I feel like there’s this big movement around beer, and some people take it super seriously. There are beer bloggers and beer conventions and people have opinions. I don’t want to commit to all that. I just want to sometimes drink something that doesn’t suck. With friends who also don’t suck. I don’t read beer blogs or keep up on beer news and I don’t know a lager from an ale. I just know a few kinds I like and I usually order those. So far nobody I’ve ever gone out for a drink with has ever rolled their eyes at me or made me feel bad for liking the “wrong” beer, but I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel a small twinge of anxiety every time I order. Beer is intimidating.

That’s a totally weird thing for me to say, because I love wine and wine tastings, (hell, I made wine charms this one time) and I get all nerdy over the tasting notes (which are all lies, people – NOBODY tastes plum and leather in Merlot. NOBODY). I learned about wine by going to tastings and having pros guide me through the general characteristics of different styles, and there’s no reason not to do that with beers. Except that I don’t know where to go. And I have this vague impression that the beer tasting rooms will be populated with dudes and I’ll feel out of place and/or not be taken seriously because I’m a woman. There are Groupon “wine and canvas nights” marketed to moms like me, and memes about mommy needing a glass of wine after a hard week, but I feel like beer is for daddy. It’s such a pervasive concept that we’re even slapping it on baby onesies. Why?

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WHY? (Available at femailcreations.com, if you’re so inclined)

Again, I’m not saying that anyone is making me feel this way. It’s just these hazy impressions I have of “the beer community.” And since Tasha wanted to know what the beer community should be talking about, here’s my thought: why do I feel like the world of beer probably isn’t for me? Is it all my own self-doubt and social anxiety, or is there some subtle signal I’m getting from the beercommunity that this isn’t my place?