Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Baby Steps by Bobbi Duffy

Baby Steps

Yesterday I stepped out of my
Comfort zone
I went to the city fair
All alone
I smiled as I made
My way
Down the street
As if to say
Here I am world
I’m alive
I’ve decided
I want to thrive
I want to be part
Of the world again
And this is the beginning
Of my campaign
To set my body
And spirit free
To take what life has
To offer me
To get out of the rut
I was in
And this is how
I choose to begin
One thing that
I have learned
It doesn’t matter
If my smile
is returned
My smiling is
Its own reward
Because I do it
Of my own accord
And that makes it
A grace to my soul
And that, after all
Is the ultimate goal
So I’ll continue to take a step
Forward each day
Because that is
The only way
That I can
Build a life anew
By slowly changing
My point of view
--Bobbi Duffy

Well, after that last post, it's time for some happy baby Elizabeth news.

The first thing I've been noticing lately is the way she plays with toys. I first noticed this behavior when she was playing with the Fisher Price stacking rings. first she pulls all the rings off the spindle (she has the dexterity to put them back on, but has no interest in doing it). Next she picks up one donut shaped ring and holds it joyfully over her head like a trophy and does a little happy bounce. Then she spots another ring and tries to pick it up too. Sometimes she'll pick it up in her other hand, knock the two together and enjoy the sound they make. Usually, though, she'll try to pick them both up in the same hand. To do this, she puts one down on top of the other and pushes down hard, trying to stretch her fingers around both. She can sometimes manage to get them both if she's using the small red and orange rings, but most of the time one slips off of the other, causing her to lose her balance, and tip over. Undeterred, she'll get back up on her hands and knees and try again over and over and over.

Once I figured out what she was doing with the stacking rings, I saw that she did the same thing with most of her other toys with varying degrees of success. She can get both of her favorite rattles (the one from the exersaucer, and the Johnson and Johnson one with six blue balls that go into a red and white striped tube) into one hand. She can also sometimes get two ping pong balls or Fisher Price Little People. I don't know why it's so important to her, but she spends a lot of time working on it.

Another thing she spends a lot of time on is books. Every day, sometimes two or three times a day, she'll want to sit and read book after book. It starts when we sit down in the rocker to nurse. She spots the bookshelf and starts making "MMMMMMM mmmm" or "Uhhhhhh uhhhhhh" noises that mean "I want that!" I say, "Do you want a book?" and she smiles and looks at the bookcase some more. Then I try to get her to sign "book" to me so that she'll eventually realize that there are better ways of communicating than "Mmmmmmm mmmmmmmm" and a longing gaze. I'll make the sign for book (hands together like you're praying, then open them up like a book), which gets her really excited, then I'll push her hands together. By this time, she understands what I want her to do, and she will open her hands like a book, then laugh with glee because she knows what comes next -- the actual book!

She has definite views on which books are interesting, and which aren't. She will have nothing to do with Sandra Boynton's drawings, and actively pushes them away. Photos of babies are the best, but she also loves her Little Gorilla book. She also has favorite pictures in the books. For instance, in Little Gorilla, she always stops and looks in fascinated awe at the picture of the lion, and she looks surprised and happy when we see that Little Gorilla was BIG! Finally, she gives a happy chirp and bounce on the Happy Birthday page. But nothing beats her very favorite picture from the Baby Signs for Bedtime book. On the Love page, there's a photo of a toddler hugging a baby, and Elizabeth's whole face lights up every time she sees it. She pats the babies and smiles, and sometimes she'll even turn to the previous page, and then back to this one so she can see it again.

Here's a video of me reading her Happy Baby Colors and Little Gorilla

Once we're done with a book, I put it back on the shelf, and she reaches with her whole body for another one. We go through the process of getting her to sign "book" again, and she gives a laugh of nervous relief because Mama reaches for another book. Generally it'll take six or seven books to satisfy her.

Today, I was feeling quite ill, and had to put her down after only about four books, and she wanted more. She started to walk towards the bookcase with one hand on the arm of the rocker, and the other on the side of the crib. When she got to the end of the crib, she was about two steps away from the bookcase. She reached out with the hand that was holding onto the rocker, and could almost get there, but not quite. So then she let go with both hands and took the last step unsupported before grabbing onto the bookcase! I'll admit, that I had imagined her first step being from my arms to her Daddy's, where she'd get a shower of kisses rather than a weak, "Good Job!" from a Mama who hardly has the energy to sit up, but it does make me happy that it was books that motivated her to venture into the unknown. And Peter and I will have plenty of time to practice walking and showering her with kisses.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some fun pictures I took of Elizabeth and her friends wearing the tutus I've been making. Her friend Anna stalwartly refuses to have anything to do with tutus, but other girls in our park group are not so anti-ruffles and were more than happy to play dress up. In fact, they had so much fun that one of the boys came over and said that he wanted to wear the red one because, "It's the Boy tutu."

And now, here's one more funny story because we all need a laugh sometimes. While I was working on one of the tutus at the park, a little girl, about 3 years old, came to watch me. She wanted to try it on when I was done with it, but I got interrupted when Elizabeth fell off the stroller she was trying to climb and needed some comfort. She was also tired and hungry, so I decided to try nursing her. The little girl seemed confused as Elizabeth latched on the first time, and craned her neck to get a better look. This distracted Elizabeth, who let go for a second, then went back to nursing. The little girl looked up at me and said, "Oh! I see! She's suckin' on your boob!"

Well, that's all for now. If any of you want to buy tutus for the little girls (or boys) in your life, they make great Christmas presents that can be worn all year long. Drop me a line, and I'll give you a special blog reader's discount.

PS I've got more tutu photos, photos of Elizabeth in November, and Youtube videos up too!

Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day by Anne Bronte

Lines Composed in a Wood on a Windy Day

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.

The long withered grass in the sunshine is glancing,
The bare trees are tossing their branches on high;
The dead leaves beneath them are merrily dancing,
The white clouds are scudding across the blue sky

I wish I could see how the ocean is lashing
The foam of its billows to whirlwinds of spray;
I wish I could see how its proud waves are dashing,
And hear the wild roar of their thunder to-day!
--Anne Bronte

The sky here is overcast. They say it might rain. I sure wish it would. The world needs to be washed after those fires. Of course, rain after fire brings the danger of landslides, and lightning could start more fires. When it rains, it pours, they say -- but waiting for the rain is the worst.

Heather called me the other day, and our conversation started something like this:
  • H: I haven't heard from you in a while, so I thought I'd call and see how things are going.
  • K: Sorry I haven't written in a while, it's been a crazy couple of weeks.
  • H: Yeah, well you said that when you hadn't written, that's when we should start so worry, so...
  • K: I guess that's true.

It's been nearly a month since I've written anything, and my anxiety level has just kept going up since that last post.

First there was the election. With all the work and worry that went into the Prop 8 campaign, I was excited for election night because at least then it would be over -- but then it wasn't. The news just kept coming and getting worse and worse. Now it looks like it'll be at least March before we get another ruling from the supreme court, and even if it comes out in our favor, that will just spark another round of protests.

Then there's Peter's job. It was Tokyopop's implosion and the layoffs in June that really started this current bout of anxiety attacks. Five months of not knowing what the future will bring, especially with daily news of the rest of the economy going into self destruct, has really taken a toll. Peter has been sending out resumes, and doing his best to network to find a job, but even when a company president personally requested his resume, there has been zero response -- not even a 'we got your resume but we're not interested right now.' Well, last week he finally got a response! Penguin's Children's division, Price Stern Sloan needs a Senior Production Editor, and they want one fast. Peter spoke with them Tuesday, took their copyediting test and returned it by Wednesday, then had a phone interview on Friday morning that lasted nearly an hour. They asked him how soon he could start, and whether he really needed to give a full two weeks notice to his temp job.

He has just about all the specific skills they're looking for, and I think he has a really good chance for this job. I think that if he got this job it would be a really good thing for his career and our family. At the same time, if he gets this job, it means he'd have to go to NYC to start right away, and I would be left behind to pack up everything we own and say goodbye to all my good friends here, and hope that we can sell the mobile home, and leave Grandma Stay knowing I'll probably never see her again. But if he doesn't get the job, then he's still stuck with a horrible commute to a job he doesn't enjoy, that has no benefits, and no obligation to give him any notice at all if they decide they don't want him anymore.

I don't know which option is worse, or when they'll call to tell us one way or the other (though they did promise to call), and all I can do is just wait and pray that Heavenly Father knows what He's got planned for us and will make everything turn out for the best.

Meanwhile, one of my friends talked me into making tutus to sell at craft boutiques, and I've gone kind of crazy throwing myself into this project. I hope I'll be able to make back what I've spent on supplies. I've made more than 50 tutus now, and since this is one thing that I have any control over, my brain has latched onto it, and for several nights, I couldn't sleep at all for all the cute ideas for embellishments and accessories that came flooding in. Peter asked me one day, "are you sure this isn't a manic project?" and I had to answer, "No, I'm not at all sure." The first boutique is on Dec 6th -- the same day as the ward Christmas party that I'm supposed to help set up for -- and the weekend that Peter has decided to go to Salt Lake for our niece Hazel's baby blessing (that's his sister Barbie's baby, for those of you that hadn't heard) which means that he can't watch Elizabeth that day.

WARNING: This paragraph may contain TMI for some people. Feel free to skip. Stress does bad things to my digestive tract. I've had something bordering on diarrhea for about a month now, and every day it gets harder to put food in knowing that it's going to feel so bad coming back out. I'm also getting less and less nutrition from the food I eat, and I'm pushing my body harder and harder to burn off the nervous energy (I've been laying more bricks and replanting the gardens). All of that means that I'm losing weight, and since all of the baby fat is gone, my muscles are getting weaker too. I've caught a cold, and it just keeps getting worse. It's harder and harder to get out of bed to take care of Elizabeth at night, and it's nearly impossible to make myself prepare any food at all.

I went to my therapist on Saturday -- we'd had several weeks break, and when she saw me and read my state of mind questionnaire, she said, "I think that you have been too anxious for too long. You need to think about getting back on medication." I agree with her -- my brain is not working the way it should, and I've made some irrational decisions, but it still feels like defeat, and I worry about what even the "safe" drugs will do to Elizabeth -- though I don't think I'm ready to wean her either.

Peter's birthday is this week, and I'm worried that he'll feel let down by a very low key celebration like I did in May, but I didn't plan far enough ahead to get any friends to come over, and most of them will be going out of town for Thanksgiving anyway.

Elizabeth is getting better and better at getting into things, and doesn't sweetly stay put like she did before she could crawl. I had to take a break from writing just now to stop her from gnawing the paint a plaster off the windowsill and pulling the tall lamp down on her head. Right now, she's crying softly to herself in her crib. She's been fed and read to, and now I'm hoping she'll go to sleep, but if the rest of the week is any guide, I have about a 50/50 chance.

Well, there you go. A thoroughly depressing post. I have some happy news too, but I think I'll make two posts today instead of one long one.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Law Nolte Ph.D.

Children Learn What They Live

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
--Dorothy Law Nolte Ph.D.

I first remember reading this quote (I'm not sure the author quite meant it as a poem) on the attic stairs in our white house in Michigan. Rationally, I'm not certain that it was actually there -- it's more likely that I saw it on a poster in some classroom I was in -- but I do remember thinking about it there. It's odd that I have such a sense of place with this poem, and not with so many others. If it was in Michigan, that means I was less than ten years old. It really made an impression on me for some reason. I really believe that the world our children grow up in makes a difference in how they grow up, which is why this election and the Prop 8 campaign have been so important to me.

With all the election stuff, it's been a few weeks since I wrote about what Elizabeth is doing. After a particularly bad hour or two spent arguing in somebody's comment thread, I was physically ill for a hours, and have been getting flashes of intrusive thoughts accompanied by nausea for days, so I've declared that subject off limits for discussion (though I'm still willing to do things like hang fliers on doorknobs and call to remind supporters to vote). At any rate, that gives me permission to blog about the baby, so here we go.

She has been ahead of schedule (according to What to Expect in the First Year) on all of her gross motor skills, but she has only been on schedule or even slightly behind on communication, and that had me slightly worried (only very slightly, since I know that there is a wide range of normal, and she's been working so hard at locomotion). For example, she hasn't seemed to pay any attention at all to the baby signs I've been using, which some babies start at eight months, and she hasn't been imitating sounds or gestures like sticking out a tongue. When we went to the doctor for her nine month checkup, and she couldn't do some of the things the doctor asked about, like clapping her hands or feeding herself with a spoon, I realized, too, that I simply haven't been practicing some things with her.

It made me really happy therefore to see her start waving hello to people and things this month. I've been waving her hand when strangers or friends come to smile at her (and get a winning smile in return most times), and now she doesn't wait for me to do it for her. She waves at all sorts of other things too -- her reflection in the mirror, the kitties we see on our walks, and even the chorister at church (who she thought was just waving at her).

She has also started saying Mama. She realized that this sound is one that Mama really likes, and she's using it more and more often. At this point, I don't think she uses the word to label me specifically so much as, "Oh look, there's something I really really want!" She uses it when I walk in or out of a room and she wants to be picked up, but she also uses it when she sees something cool like my hair clips or phone, and they're out of reach. That said, I can deal with being the really cool thing that she wants most often.

One extremely cute thing that I have unfortunately not been able to catch on camera is Elizabeth's little trill. She's discovered a way of making a little trilling gurgling noise, and has added it to her vocal repertoire as an accentuating noise when she's very happy, very upset, or very tired. It's the same sort of sound as you get when you rrrrroll yourrrr Rrrrrr's for a long time, but it's made in the back of her throat rather than with the tip of her tongue.

She seems very focused on sound lately. She has two toy xylophone pianos that she hasn't been very interested in playing herself, but liked to hear me play. When putting her toys away the other day, I put the tiger piano on the upper shelf to keep her from dumping out the box of hats behind it when she pulls up on the shelf to stand. The next time she did it, the piano was at the perfect level to bang on while standing. She tried it, and was very impressed with herself. She'd hit a key, hear the note, smile, and look expectantly at me. I showered on praise appropriately, and she did it over and over, thrilled with having figured it out.

One of her favorite noise games is to take a ball from the big house toy and knock it against something to make a noise. She tries it on walls, boxes, bookcases, a ball in her other hand, etc. One of the cutest things she does is to knock it on the side of the bowl on her play table like she's cracking an egg. Then she'll put the ball in the bowl and roll it with her fingers to make another noise until it pops out of the bowl and goes rolling across the floor. Then she'll go find it and try again.

She's also gotten more elaborate in her play with the Strawberry Shortcake Jewelry Music Box. At first, she just liked to watch me open it to make the music play and the little figure dance. Then she learned to open it herself when I shut it again. Now, she takes full control, opening and shutting -- seeing just how far it has to go to make the music stop and start. She also imitates what I say for the game: "Ooooh! There's the pretty girl dancing. Isn't she pretty?" She can't say any of the words but Ooooh! but she gets the pitch and tone of voice just right. Finally, rather than just taking the valentines and little doll out to try to eat them, now she turns them over in her hands, looks at them very carefully, then puts them back in the box!

It's only been in the last week or so that she has begin to figure out how to put things in to other things. She's really good at taking things out -- she takes the Fisher Price little people out of their bus, she takes the plastic shapes out of the sorting cube, she takes the rings off the stacking toy, and she takes the Valentines out of the music box. This week, though, she has started putting stuff back in -- so far it's just the puts the balls in the bowl and the valentines back into the music box, but she's so pleased with these accomplishments, that I'm sure further generalizations are on the way.

One old thing I haven't blogged about is her fondness for photos. All of her favorite books have photos rather than drawings, and most of them are about babies. The Baby Signs board books are really great, but she has one about colors, and another about dogs that really fascinate her far more than drawings do. Of course her favorite photos are of herself. I put one of the Queen Elizabeth pictures on my computer desktop, and whenever I close a program and show that background, she starts making happy noises. She loves to look at the Picasa slide show, and will watch as many videos of herself as I choose to show her -- even protesting when one stops and another doesn't start quickly enough. It's not just the movement, she is only selectively interested in YouTube videos for example, I think she really likes watching herself. When she's tired, sad or groggy just before or after a nap, it also calms her down to look at the month by month photo collage on her wall, and the charcoal portrait I had done of myself when I was in Leningrad.

While this book doesn't have photos, it's one of her favorites. I think she has realized that reading a book is a kind of game with rules that she's starting to figure out. She will sit very still while I read most books, and help me turn the pages. Sometimes she picks up a book and tries to open it herself, and is very pleased when I notice and read it to her. She has also figured out how to open the little hiding panels that are in some board books, and likes this added interactive part.

On the walking front, she is a positive expert now at pulling up, standing unsupported so that she can have both hands free for toys, and walking along edges. I've only ever seen her take one little step, and that was just to fix her balance while standing (10-20-08 if anybody's keeping track). I sometimes hold her hands and we walk together a long way, like from my bedroom down the hall to the office. We got her a Step Start Walk N Ride toy and she's figured out how to walk behind it as she pushes it ahead of her. It's a little tricky -- the first couple of times she pushed it forward too quickly and fell on her face (though she just got right back up and tried again, so it must not have hurt too much).

Peter was surprised at the way she often kneels and sits on her heels rather than sitting with her feet in front of her. I'm not sure if that's unusual, or if most babies do it, but it certainly seems to work well for her. In the last day or two she's begun to use this position to do a happy bounce when she's particularly pleased with herself. For instance yesterday at church, she got her friend Ari's rattle, and held it triumphantly above her head like a trophy and bounce bounce bounced so hard that she tipped over backwards and bumped her head (she was a little wired from lack of naps with the time change). I'm a little worried about her habit of taking Ari's toys. Elizabeth is three months older, and big for her age, and she simply knocks Ari down, and steals whatever it is that she has. I've resigned myself to the fact that the two of them share so much spit from sucking on each other's toys that they're destined to have all the same germs and colds , but I don't want Elizabeth to learn that she can get what she wants by bullying other kids.

Finally, I wanted to talk about what Elizabeth does while eating, since Heather reminded me by writing on her blog all about what Anna does. Elizabeth has always been pretty good at communicating hungry, though specific "words" have come and gone. There was rooting when I touched her mouth, a specific pitiful little cough, an urgent MMMMMMMMmmmm MMMmmmmmm with a pleading look, and a relieved nervous laugh as I open my shirt. She's often very patient while I'm doing something else, but at the first sign of a shift in activity, she'll demand to be fed right now.

She will feed herself cereal puffs and other bite sized bits I put in front of her, but she prefers to have me put things in her mouth for her and will often lean forward and slurp something out of my hand rather than taking it in her own (now that I've noticed this, I've been careful to make her do it herself most of the time). She absolutely refuses to hold her own bottle unless she's laying down though. She has noticed that when Mama holds it, stuff comes out, and when she holds it all the juice sits at the bottom and she gets nothing out. Rather than learn to tilt the bottle up, she has decided that the best course of action is to get her hands as far away from it as possible and cry till Mama holds it for her. The only time I give her bottles is in the car when she's too tired hungry and cranky to just watch the world go by, and at church, and neither place is appropriate for a power struggle over the issue, so I've just been giving in (I know I need to take the time to teach her at home, but it's hard to take the time to feed myself real food, let alone get out bottles and baby food and make a big mess when nursing is so much easier).

Speaking of nursing, she's getting much more willing to at least start nursing in places other than her bedroom. Of course, she gets distracted and will nurse only in fits and starts if at all, but it's better than it was before. When in her bedroom, she sits on my lap and watches impatiently while I get all those pesky layers of cloth out of the way, then leans forward, grabs a hunk of breast in her fist, and latches on without even waiting to get into a comfortable position. She is remarkably good at holding tight while I shift her to her side, position her feet, and grab a blanket or toy for her to hold while she nurses. Heather says Anna will rub a blanket between her fingers, but that's not Elizabeth's way. The only thing she likes to rub is a pinch of my skin. She does like to have a blanket, but she just grabs a handfull of it and pushes and pulls the cloth around while she eats. If she was holding a particularly fascinating toy while waiting, she'll keep hold of it and hold it in front of her face to keep looking at it while nursing. I think that, like me, she can focus on a mindless task better if she's doing something else with her hands and eyes. Sometimes, she gets so interested in whatever it is that she's playing with that she'll stop eating and put the other thing in her mouth for a moment to try it out, but then she'll realize that it's not nearly as nice as what she had in there before and go back to nursing.

When she's done, she's very clear about it. She'll physically push me away and sit herself up. If she's tired at this point, she'll lean even farther forward and grab onto her crib like she's trying to climb in. In these lucky moments, I'll put her in bed, give her one blanket to hold and snuggle with, cover her up with another, pop her favorite pacifier in her mouth (MAM brand), and pull one of the music box stuffed animals attached to the rail. Then I'll turn on the fan for some white noise so that my puttering around the house won't wake her, turn out the light (I have blackout curtains on the windows so it's nice and dark in there) and close the door. If I'm really lucky, she won't even make a peep as she drifts off to dreamland.