Playing Airplane

Dear Love Bug,

It’s been a milestone a minute this weekend. We’ve been really focused on supporting your self-identity as a “big boy” by making changes, probably long overdue, to facilitate bedtimes, which have become increasingly nightmarish. At about 7:30 p.m., you turn into a raving lunatic. (That’s for posterity, my love.) And because of this, Daddy and I turn into exorcists. And it makes us cranky, and it makes you cranky, and many a night has ended in tears. It wasn’t sustainable the way it was, so we set up some ground rules:

  1. No more diapers. Trying to get you into your diapers multiple times an evening–because inevitably you have to use the potty at some point after we’ve finally wrangled you into a diaper but before you climb into bed–was like trying to get one of our grumpy cats into a diaper. It just wasn’t worth it anymore, so we made an executive decision that you’ll be wearing Pull-Ups only from here on out. I thought you’d fight this, but instead you’re so proud of wearing Pull-Ups that you’re telling everyone you know about it.
  2. No more milk before bed. I’m super tired of cleaning up your spilled milk, and I’m fairly close to crying over it. So you get milk with dinner–you can drink as much of it as you’d like while you’re at the table–and it doesn’t come upstairs. After all, only babies need milk before bed, and you’re not a baby anymore. You’re a big boy.
  3. You must be bed-ready before getting either TV (on rare occasions) or a book. TV is an extra-special treat for extra-good behavior. It’s not a given. You can read a book (or two or three, depending on the length and depending on the amount of time we have) before your bedtime cuddles. But you can only do this if you’re in your PJs and have brushed your teeth. So it behooves you to cooperate through those processes to allow time for reading or watching.

And because we have big-boy expectations of you at bedtime, we thought it was fitting that you should have a big-boy bed. We weren’t terribly concerned about the transition from crib to open bed. At Nonna’s, you’ve been sleeping on an inflatable big-boy mattress (that is, a bed without bars) for some time, and you don’t have issues staying in it. So yesterday, Daddy went up to the attic to haul down the toddler bed railing we’ve been saving since before you were born for this very moment.

We tried it out for the first time during your afternoon nap yesterday. You crawled in, turned over, and went straight to sleep. Success! And last night was problem-free too. This morning, though, through the fog of being dragged from sleep, I heard, “Mom! Dad! The light is green!” I squinted at my alarm clock to confirm; your OK-to-wake clock is programmed to turn on at 7:45 a.m. Yup, right on schedule. Then I heard your door open and your little feet slapping the wood floor. Hmmmm. That was not what we’d discussed. Your footsteps stopped, and I heard you say, “Oh! Hi, Obie!” (Apparently, our big blond furbaby was staring up at you from the other side of the barricade we set up at the top of the stairs, not to keep you in but to keep him out.) Then pitter-pat to just outside of our room and then the door handle jiggling. And finally, the door flew open. My eyes still weren’t open.

I had to remind you, once I was up and awake, that you’re not allowed to leave your room until we come to get you, not even when your clock turns green. “But Marshall said it was OK,” you said. “Marshall is a cartoon dog,” I responded, “and he doesn’t make the rules. Mamma and Daddy make the rules.” I explained that leaving your room without us could be dangerous. “Well, Marshall was impressed,” you said. I was still too groggy to  wrap my head around the exchange we’d just had, let alone ask exactly what Marshall was impressed by. “Impressed!” You’re something.

At nap time today, you had a hard time settling, and I found you sitting up on the edge of your bed, playing with your stuffed animals . I had to come in to reminde you that it was nap time, not play time, even if it’s now easier for you to get out of your bed to play. I had to rock you to sleep.

But once you were down, you slept for almost three hours. And when you finally woke up, we went to the playground with Nonna and Opa. You wanted to walk there like a big boy, not ride in the stroller. I brought the stroller along just in case you changed your mind, but you made it there (and back) without once wanting to climb in.

At the playground, you launched yourself down the gentle hill from the jungle gym area into the wide, grassy field below, arms flung out to the side and behind you. You ran in a wide arc and then made your way back up the hill. You did this a couple of times before I asked what you were doing. “Playing airplane,” you responded, matter-of-factly. We stood at the top of the hill, watching you propel yourself down with your arms out and your head back, racing through the field sprinkled with bright-yellow buttercups, so fiercely independent and just so adorable.

And I’m fairly certain this is my favorite age: when you’re a big boy but still so little in so many ways.

Love you like crazy, kiddo,

Mamma

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list-making mode

12 months

The kugel for tomorrow night’s break fast is in the oven. Lunches are made. Coffee is prepared. The daily chaos you create in your room and in the living room has been made less chaotic. All of the little projects that come before blogging are done (I even finished up the photo book for your second six months, of which I’m quite proud). So Obie and I are curled up on the couch, and I can focus on filling in the seemingly huge gap since you turned one–an eternity ago.

Life has been a bit frenetic lately as we ramp up to our big trip to Italy–where you’ll meet your Nonno and get your first taste of my beloved Verona–in less than two weeks. We planned this months ago and kind of tucked it back behind all of the other things that came first: the beach, the summer, your birthday. Now it’s imminent, and I’m in full-on list-making mode. We’ve squeezed as many plans into September as we possibly could, and I’ve managed to keep this coming weekend free for last-minute whatever and for our first stabs at packing, if we can get around to it. I’ve been focused this week on stockpiling an arsenal of distractions–from a mini Doodle Pro to pipe cleaners to a little library of iPad apps–for the plane rides. I pulled out the iPad yesterday evening and let you go at it for the first time. It kept you busy for a full 20 minutes before you’d had it. Twenty minutes is good! Twenty minutes will do. Especially if I can get several 20-minute chunks out of it at a time.

I was exactly your age, 13 months old, when Nonna boarded an international flight (in the opposite direction, of course) to bring me to the States for the first time. I’ve been traveling overseas for my entire life, and yet this trip–this plane ride–is causing me angst. It got so bad at one point a few days ago that I told Daddy I wanted to cancel our plans. I’ve never been afraid of flying, but because we’re taking you with us, I’m having misgivings. It’s my responsibility to keep you safe, but in getting on that plane, I’m handing over that responsibility to someone else, and that’s hard for me to reconcile. The panic has subsided a bit since talking about my fears with several people, and I’m focusing on what lies on the other side of the air travel to get me through: 11 days of watching you get to know your Nonno, of walking you around the prettiest city in the world, of playing with your zia Ila and of eating better than we have in a long, long time. I’m anticipating you’ll initiate a long love affair with pasta. These things make me happy, but I’m wondering: Has anyone else out there traveling by plane (or overseas) with your baby for the first time had this same anxiety?

You, of course, are oblivious. You’re much too busy discovering more and more of the world each day.

You’re still not walking, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not getting everywhere you want to go as efficiently imaginable. You’re so confident on your feet, cruising everywhere while barely holding on. You can go up and down stairs without ever slowing down, and you’ve even begun to step up with alternating feet if we’re holding your hands and helping you lift yourself. You’ll take several steps between bases, like the coffee table the couch, and you’ll walk quickly and confidently while holding our hands. You just haven’t let go to do it on your own, but I know it’s coming soon. (You have your first pair of real shoes–the cutest little pair of Saucony sneakers I’ve ever seen–so we’re ready.)

You’ve got your third tooth, lower incisor just left of center, and you’ve begun using a fork to feed yourself. You’ve even gotten the knack of stabbing food with it and navigating it to your mouth. It’s not consistent, but you seem to like doing it, and even just holding the fork makes you happy. You have a great relationship with the whole milk we started you on about a week after your birthday; despite our concerns about an intolerance (we supplemented you with soy formula from the time you were three months old because you had such negative reactions to the milk protein-based formula), you’re handling it just fine with no apparent digestive fallout.

Your language has blossomed; every day, you spit out something new that catches me completely by surprise and makes my heart soar. In addition to mamma and dada (still not entirely consistent, but it’s clear you know who we are), you now say car (so clearly!), hat, cup, cat and kitty (that one’s new as of today). You can tell us how old you are (pointing your index finger), and you still look up and say your version of “round and round and round” when we ask where the fan is. You know the sounds that monkeys and ducks make, and you’re working on cows, pigs and cats. When Wild Kratts comes on, you sing the opening jingle: “Wild Wild Wild Kratts” comes out “wa wa wa.” One of your favorite expressions is “no no no,” and you’ll accompany it with a finger wag.

But it’s not just talking; your comprehension is astounding. You can make the sign for “butterfly” when you see one in a book. You throw your hands in the air when you choke and we say “arms up.” You do the same when we ask you how big you are. You point to your head and to other people’s noses on command. You know the words “ball” and “plane” (as they relate to your toys), and you know your dolls are named Luis and Andy (as in Raggedy). And you’re beginning to generalize, so “car” is both your toy cars and Mamma and Daddy’s big cars. “Hat” applies to Daddy’s, yours and the toy crown in your room. Also, you’ll pull out books and look at them intently, flipping the pages, whereas just a week ago your main goal was simply pulling them off the shelf and throwing them on the floor.

It’s all just so amazing to watch, to see the synapses connecting and know that you’re getting it. I could go on and on about other things you’ve figured out–to my surprise and delight–but I’ve mentioned the biggies. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

In the meantime, I’ll keep making lists while you figure out your world. Have an easy fast, everyone. May this new year bring us all much joy and peace–and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life. ❤

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our own private battle

Who knew we’d be waging a war from Day One, you and I?

When they first placed you, hot, slippery and still corded, on my chest, the only thing I could think was, “Please let him cry.” Gloriously, you screamed your little lungs out, and in a wave of relief, my thoughts quickly shifted to, “Please let him latch.” For me, there was never a question or a decision to be made. I was going to breastfeed you, just as your Nonna had breastfed me. It wasn’t simply about the health benefits (although lord knows they drill that message into you from the moment your pregnancy is confirmed) or even about the bonding; it was just something I felt deep down to my core that I was supposed to do for you.

So when you were born, I waited for nursing to happen.

Well, it quickly became evident that babies are not like kittens; they don’t intuitively find their way to the breast and take it from there while their mamas lounge in the sun grooming themselves. They need help to nurse. And I had no idea how to help you.

This is 100 percent my own fault. I’d kind of halfheartedly read a book about nursing but I hadn’t paid much attention to the process before you were born. I didn’t take a class. I didn’t seek out lactation assistance. I just figured that everyone else could do it and so could I. I’ve never been so wrong in my life–or so regretful, once I learned the truth about nursing.

It’s damn hard.

And we had the odds stacked against us. While the staff at St. Agnes Hospital, where you were born, were truly excellent in supporting us through labor and delivery, they dropped the ball where lactation was concerned. You were born at 2:13 p.m. By the time we were both cleaned up and given the all clear to be moved to our postpartum suite, it was closer to 5, and by then, it was too late for us to a see a lactation consultant. That first night, as we struggled to figure out what we were doing, Daddy and I gave you formula–at the recommendation of the nursery staff–to keep you hydrated. (If only we’d known then what we know now!) It took nearly 24 hours for the lactation consultants to see us. And when they finally arrived, it was in the midst of a hectic hubbub in our room: OB, pediatrician, nursery staff, family, etc. I was hot, sweaty and overwhelmed (not to mention steeling myself against a great deal of pain from delivery). And it just wasn’t working all that well.

But the LCs got me pumping, at least, that tiny bit of colustrum that new mothers can produce. And they showed me how to hold you so we could at least make an effort. Daddy and I continued to give you formula from a tiny syringe because we didn’t want you to lose too much weight. When they discharged us, you were down 6 ounces from your birth weight.

I don’t remember how we stumbled through those first few sleepless nights. I don’t remember how I nursed you, when I nursed you or where I nursed you. I only remember the panic that gripped me when at your first pediatrician appointment, four days after you joined us, you weighed in at merely 6 pounds. You’d dropped another 6 ounces, down 12 from your birth weight. All I could think was, “I’m starving my child,” and I burst into tears. The pediatrician told us that we had to get your weight up, and if it wasn’t working by breastfeeding, we’d need to tuck into the formula. My milk hadn’t even come in yet, so of course it wasn’t working by breastfeeding. She piled free cans of formula on us (yay for free formula, at least; that stuff is powdered gold) and sent us off with orders to fatten you up.

That night, stressed nearly to the breaking point by my inability to feed you, we had an in-home appointment with a lactation consultant referred to us by your doula. It was an overwhelming, exhausting two hours. But there were some major takeaways from our time with her:

  1. She determined, by weighing you pre- and post-feeding, that you were transferring very little milk, maybe a third of an ounce.
  2. This was due in part to what she diagnosed as a tongue tie. We’d never heard of this before, but it’s the affectionate term for a shortened frenulum, the membrane that keeps the tongue from floating around in the mouth.
  3. She told me that to establish and increase my milk supply, I’d have to pump constantly–at least every time I fed you, if not more, and around the clock–and I should be doing so with a rented hospital-grade pump.
  4. She got us started nursing with nipple shields to help you latch.

By the time she left, I felt defeated. Your Daddy and Nonna did everything they could to scrape my morale and my will to continue up off the floor and push us forward in our battle to breastfeed. The next few weeks are a blur, but we did our best. You were eating every two hours during the day; each time we fed you, you’d nurse, then bottle feed and then I’d pump. Your feeding sessions lasted well more than an hour–and then, just minutes later, it seemed, we’d start the whole process again.

When I pumped, it was a matter of a few milliliters. I’d collect the 3 or 4 or 5 CCs I pumped in a tiny syringe, and we’d feed it to you along with your formula at your next feeding. Overnight, I’d wake you at 11 p.m., 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., and I’d breastfeed you for 45 minutes–that was our cutoff–before handing you off to Daddy while I pumped for 20 minutes through the deepest depths of exhaustion.

With Nonna’s help, I took you to the drop-in breastfeeding clinics at the local hospitals. Diligently, we’d weigh you before you ate. You’d breastfeed for 40 minutes. We’d weigh you again. Time and time again, your post-feeding weight indicated that for all your effort, you’d gotten two-tenths or three-tenths or four-tenths of an ounce. I cried ten times that in tears, easily. I felt guilty and helpless and like I was a terrible, unfit mother. You just kept happily trying to nurse, not knowing that it should be infinitely easier. You loved your boob and you loved your bottle.

The good news is you put on weight, and fast, thanks to the formula. But my dream was to get you off of formula and exclusively onto breast milk. I did everything they told me do to increase my supply: In addition to the pumping, I took Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle, two giant pills each three times a day (yes, that’s 12 pills daily); I ate oatmeal every morning topped with brewer’s yeast and flax seeds; I drank mother’s milk tea; I baked up lactation cookies; and I pumped myself to dairy cow-dom and back.

When you were three weeks old, after seeing multiple lactation consultants who all said you were maybe dealing with a tongue tie and getting multiple opinions from some of Nonna’s former colleagues, we went to see Dr. Andrew Goldstone, an ENT at GBMC who was recommended to us for his expertise in more complicated tongue ties. He took one look in your mouth and confirmed what all the LCs had said. You had a tongue tie, alright, but it was posterior–a more difficult diagnosis. You also had a lip tie, a shortened membrane attaching your upper lip to your gum. He could correct both in three seconds through a procedure using a cauterizing blade, he said. Would it solve all of our problems? He couldn’t guarantee anything, but as there were no risks involved–no real pain or even bleeding–and a huge possibility that it could solve our problems (not to mention eventual orthodontic issues, the only lasting effects of a lip tie), we decided to go through with it. I steeled myself for putting my sweet, three-week-old boy through surgery, however minor. I cried more than you did.

Three seconds later, even though we didn’t  yet know it, the course of our private war had changed. Within 24 hours, we’d abandoned the nipple shields. Within a week, you’d learn to latch like a pro. And all of a sudden, breastfeeding became–if not easy, much less stressful. I could relax, and so could you. I stopped timing our sessions, and I started focusing on how quiet and peaceful our nursing time was for both of us.

But I’ve never produced enough breast milk, sadly, to completely ditch the formula. This will always, always be the pea under my giant pile of motherhood mattresses. I have nothing against formula; I’m not a militant lactivist. I don’t understand this judgey mom debate about breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding. Sure, breastfeeding provides benefits that formula cannot. But I’ve never met a formula-fed baby who’s worse off for it. And while formula is absurdly expensive, breastfeeding is far from free. I just had a personal desire to breastfeed you, and I would’ve loved to be able to do it without supplementing with formula. I tried, once, to get you off of formula; it was probably the worst day of your young life. By mid-afternoon, you’d nursed me dry and screamed and screamed for more food. I decided it wasn’t worth starving you, so we went back to what seemed to work: about an even split of breast milk and formula from both breast and bottle.

Daddy, our family and our friends never stopped encouraging me to breastfeed, though, even when I was tempted to give up. And every time we weighed you, we were reassured that we were doing everything right. At one point, you were gaining more than an ounce and a half a day–and turning quite pleasantly plump.

When you started sleeping through the night at about four weeks, I continued to get up in the middle of the night to pump as recommended to maintain my supply. At first, we’d give you the extra pumped milk in the morning to boost the amount you were getting, but then I started freezing it in an effort to develop a stash of breast milk to make sure you continued to get as much as possible when I went back to work.

And here we are, four and a half months into our lives together, and you’re still nursing happily. My 3 a.m. pumping–which I quit just a week ago, after 19 weeks of never sleeping through the night, when I returned to work full time after the holidays–contributed to a supply of approximately 150 ounces, which we’re using to supplement what I’m pumping at work. My goal of nursing you for two months turned into a goal of four months, and now I’ve got my eyes on six months. Maybe we’ll make it to nine months or maybe even a year. At this point, whenever together we call it quits, I’ll be at peace with it. I feel like we’ve achieved the impossible. We’ve battled fiercely, and we’ve won the war.

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