Sunday, December 30, 2007

What did new parents do before digital?

In our house, Christmas 2007 will forever be remembered as the year we took an obnoxious amount of photos of our daughter. Of the 400 or so images we captured, most of them are of different relatives and friends holding Allison while her eyes are closed. And as much as I want to bore everyone with shot after similar shot, I decided to discard all of those and select a few of my other favorites.

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Toby perched at his second-floor window, watching Jerry load
suitcases in the car -- meaning that we must be leaving.
Forever. And it's time to COMPLETELY FREAK OUT.


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He was relieved to discover that he was coming with us.
And he showed his gratitude by being a guard dog to Alli.
I had just enough time to either wipe the spit off her chin or
grab the camera and take a picture. Yeah, I'm a good mom.

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Me with my new haircut that I am completely loving.

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I could write an entire book describing the events in this picture, but
I'll just say that a few days before Christmas, we celebrated with my
step-siblings, who got my stepdad a gadget that chills a bottle of wine
in about six minutes. We now call that night "Drunken Christmas."

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Miss Allison wrapped up in her Christmas tree blanket.


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Allison on Christmas morning with some of her new toys from Santa.

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Me playing with my new toy -- the flash -- resulting in an
awesome buttery color of gooey picturey goodness. Ahh.

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More flash experimentation on my parents' new
fake tree that looks so good it could be real.

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One of the million photos of Allison sleeping in her Boppy.

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She discovered that bath time is way more fun at grandma and
grandpa's house thanks to a gigantic mirror in the right spot.


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I swear Toby poses sometimes.

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My mom showed me a new trick: tossing a baby
on your lap is an instant soothing technique.

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A few days after Christmas, we drove back to Pennsylvania and
celebrated with Jerry's family where Allison was also passed around.

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More buttery picturey goodness.

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Madeline loved tug-of-war as much as Toby.


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Because I never showed this, here's our inaugural baby backpack
event -- decorating the tree. I laugh every time when I look at this
picture because she's totally passed out with her mouth open.


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I think she had a wonderful first Christmas.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I blame the new flash

Um, I took almost 400 photos in one week.

This could take awhile.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Woops!

Sorry about the technical difficulties over the past few days. My domain was up for renewal and because my credit card had been among a few thousand that were tampered with earlier this year, forcing my bank to issue me a new one as a precautionary measure, it didn't automatically pay the fee.

I had no idea how many places I had that card on file until it was deactivated. My Sirius service got cancelled, my Verizon pay-on-the phone turned into a huge mess and now this.

Wee! Thanks bank tamperers! May your accounts seize up and be completely unaccessable.

Ahem.

Anyway, the problem should be fixed as soon as my payment is accepted.

In the meantime, I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. We had lots of good food, company, gifts and photo-taking at my parents' house. In fact, at one point while Alli was curled in her Boppy pillow asleep on the couch, my dad and Jerry were poised above her, snapping flash after flash after flash. I think I counted 32 of those images on my camera alone. Amazingly, she didn't even flinch.

I'll share them once we get settled back in Pennsylvania.

And they are SO MUCH MORE AWESOMER because Santa brought me this.

Santa rocks.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Newspaper column

Sometimes you can find the true meaning of Christmas in the most unlikely places.

I was reminded of this when meeting one of my husband's old friends earlier this week for the first time. He was introduced only as "Poncho," a longstanding nickname I learned was a throwback to his college days and a tribute to Eric Estrada.

The guys hadn't seen each other for more than five years -- most of which Poncho has spent in the Marines, including two deployments to Iraq.

Not afraid to talk politics, I immediately began asking questions about his experience overseas. As the hours ticked by and his firsthand account of war unfolded, I came to the conclusion that Poncho is a man who values the little things.

He said one of his most memorable moments in Fallujah was when an enemy mortar round landed on top of a huge stash of U.S. ammunition, sending one bomb after another exploding into the sky. It happened to be the Fourth of July, so rather than despair at the lost equipment, he and his comrades sat back and enjoyed the improvised fireworks display.

When I asked him what he had looked forward to most about coming home, he didn't hesitate.

It wasn't the ability to sleep in or the long-awaited first bite of his favorite meal. It wasn’t a simple pleasure like going to the movies or wearing civilian clothes. It wasn’t even the freedom to do what he wanted, when he wanted.

"Seeing my mother," he said, tapping his right fist over his heart. "Without a doubt."

Later, when I asked him whether he thought the United States should be occupying Iraq, he weighed his words carefully.

"All I know is that when I was there, we were working every day to help people," he said. "That's our goal. I've got to believe that."

I immediately understood.

After exchanging goodbyes and promises to keep in touch, I found myself mulling over our conversation and relating to his experience. Although nowhere near as extreme as being halfway across the globe in a highly volatile environment, I know what it's like to miss the comforts of home and simply hope you're making a difference in the world.

Especially this time of year.

Fortunately, Poncho’s story reminded me that it’s not just the grand gestures that get noticed.

Sure, it’s easy to think you’re not doing enough when you’re bombarded with endless donation requests in the mail, little red buckets on every street corner and back-to-back TV commercials asking for just a few cents a day. It would be impossible to help everyone all the time.

So when I’m feeling stressed about not having all of my presents wrapped, feeling ashamed that I didn’t get around to mailing greeting cards this year, and feeling guilty for only placing a few coins in the collection bins, I think of the little things.

I’ll be home this year to give hugs to my entire family and those don’t need ribbons or bows.

There’s still plenty of time to send e-cards online. The sentiment is the same and it even comes with a jingle.

I might not have a lot of money to give, but I honestly try to do my part.

When it comes to togetherness and showing others you care, every little bit counts.

I’ve got to believe that.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Thinking big

Well, if I thought preparing to take a baby to the doctor or mall was intense, I'm not sure what I'd call preparing to go to another state.

Overwhelming, maybe?

Chaotic?

Or perhaps just stupid?

Today Allison embarks on her first road trip to New York because we're visiting my family for Christmas. Maybe we went a little overboard, but we have enough stuff in the car that someone could easily assume we were dropping her off at college.

On the bright side, my decision to buy an SUV a few years ago -- before I was married or even thought about children -- doesn't seem so unreasonable anymore.

Then again, maybe I should've gotten something a little bigger.

Like a bus.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

She smiles!

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Joy No. 308 of pet ownership

Why is it that every single piece of tape I take off the dispenser while wrapping presents has a tiny Toby hair attached to it?

I might just stop what I'm doing and create another dog.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Looking out

There is an older man who lives next door. Sadly, we've never introduced ourselves to him or him to us because the opportunity never seems to present itself, but I see him walk to his car every morning while I'm on the computer. One of the windows in our office is a perfect vantage point to the handicapped spot he parks in a few steps off his front porch.

He rents the first-floor apartment, which has a gorgeous stained glass window that I've always admired.

I don't know much about him other than his mid-morning ritual of getting in his car, going somewhere and returning a few hours later, but one significant thing has changed in recent weeks.

He no longer helps his wife into the seat on the passenger side.

I think what originally caught my attention almost a year ago was the care in which he assisted her. It just encapsulated true love to me. Every day I felt humbled by his patience as he held her walker until she was seated comfortably, closed her door gently, folded the walker, placed it in the trunk and joined her in the car.

Later, when they returned, he would reverse the process.

It felt strange to be observing something so personal, but I almost felt privileged to witness it at the same time.

One morning a few weeks ago, I never saw them get into the car. I honestly didn't think anything of it until an ambulance showed up later that afternoon.

I remember saying aloud to Jerry that I hoped everyone on the street was alright. But we had a new baby in the house and didn't have a lot of time to spend peeking out windows in hopes of deducting what was going on. We just took comfort in the fact that the lights weren't flashing and assumed it wasn't a huge emergency.

Because my schedule has been altered immensely while caring for Allison, I didn't notice our neighbor's solo treks to his car until recently.

At first I had hoped that his wife was just in the hospital, but now I'm not so sure. When I expressed my concern to Jerry a few nights ago, he confirmed my fears.

"When my grandma died, the ambulance lights weren't on."

"Were they on when they came to pick me up last year?"

"Yes."

"Oh."

I know my assumption could be wrong. She might just need more care than he can give, and maybe his daily trips are now spent visiting her somewhere, but I doubt it.

So as I sit at my desk this morning and glance out the window to see him scraping the snow off his car, I'm filled with such sadness. I want to express this to him, but I don't know how. We've never spoken. Or even been outside at the same time to exchange waves.

Earlier I shoveled the walkway in front of our house and continued to clear his sidewalk and porch steps like I always do, but part of me wondered if I should knock and say hello. I opted not to because I honestly wouldn't know what to say.

I just wish he knew he inspired me.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Worth watching

Do yourself a favor and rent this movie.

I think it's my new favorite.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Month 1

Dear Alli,

It hardly seems possible that you're already four weeks old. You're growing so fast that sometimes I worry if I close my eyes for just a moment too long, I'll miss something spectacular.

This month has been one of so many firsts -- your first bath, your first doctor appointment, your first Steelers game and trip to the mall. Even if things don't go exactly as your father and I had envisioned, no one could ever say life with you is dull.

Granted, we're enamored when you fill up a diaper, but who's counting?



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One of the most exhilarating things about welcoming you into our lives is trying to figure you out. You're not shy about letting us know your likes and dislikes. In fact, it's quite obvious that you're not a fan of me sniffling my nose. A full-blown sneeze is fine, but if I dare sniffle while you're resting in my arms, you stir and fuss and shoot me a look that could melt titanium.

I'm more than willing to accommodate your needs, but that's one you're going to have to get over. It's called chronic allergies. And every time you shoot me that melty titanium look, I laugh and pray that gene skipped you.

On the other hand, you love having lotion rubbed on your feet, legs and arms. If you could pick one activity to fill the few hours you're awake every day, I'm pretty sure that would be it. Your whole body relaxes and your eyes sort of glaze over in utter contentment.

I'm seriously ready to book our first mother-daughter day spa trip.



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I've also taken immense pleasure in your mini milestones. The day we brought you home from the hospital, I watched as your eyes followed your father while he was walking around the room. I immediately exclaimed that we had created a genius baby. A GENIUS BABY!

My opinion only solidified when I was showing you your great-great-grandmother's rattle this week and you reached out and grasped it. I don't care if it was a fluke, you took that thing out of my hand with such fervor that it's almost impossible to say it was chance.

So a few years from now when you come home with a certificate of completion for some elementary school science fair, you'll understand why I frame it and mount it on the living room wall above your dad's and my wedding photo.

I'm already just so proud.



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Everyone told me that I would love you beyond measure, but I can measure EXACTLY how much I love you: a cow's worth.

When you started spitting up profusely and your doctor wanted to put you on medicine, I spoke to my lactation consultant and asked for advice. She recommended that I give up dairy because it's very hard for babies to digest.

I know, it doesn't make any sense. I mean, you're drinking my milk, so why would it matter if I had a little milk on my favorite food group -- cereal?

But I figured it was worth a try if it would save me from having to give you three doses a day of this horrible smelling liquid pepperminty stuff. And wouldn't you know it worked. I have now gone four days without any dairy, and even though I stare at your father lustily when he ingests a bowl of Cheerios before he leaves for work every morning, I know my sacrifice will be worth it in the long run when your digestive tract thrives.

I wouldn't give up cereal and ice cream for just anybody, lady.

You can pay me back by preferring vanilla cake for your birthday parties. I don't want to have to suffer through one more chocolate cake-loving freak in this family.



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Life with you so far has been one wild ride. I don't know what day it is or sometimes even what hour it is, but I do know that time sort of stands still when you're snuggled in my arms and you're looking into my eyes.

I can't wait for what comes next.

Love,
Mom



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Best form of flattery?

One of my favorite bloggers, dooce, writes to her daughter every month. It's one of the posts I look forward to reading most because, as a writer, it's always something I envisioned doing for any children I had.

Well, that day has come.

And if Heather ever stumbles over to this speck on the web, I hope she knows my imitation of her format is an effort of the utmost flattery.

Friday, December 14, 2007

'Roid rage

No, not steroids.

Hemorrhoids.

And they hurt so bad I want to die.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It should seriously come with a toilet paper dispenser

After 45 minutes of messing with buckles and buttons to successfully strap Allison to Jerry via her baby backpack for the first time:

"Um, I have to go to the bathroom."

"Oh God."

"What do we do?"

"I am NOT taking her out of there. That was a pain in the ass."

"Yeah, well, I'm gonna have a different kind of pain in my ass in a second."

...

...

"I won't tell Social Services if you won't."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Oh, Christmas tree

It occurred to me while Jerry and I were out selecting our Christmas tree this year that not everyone gets the thrill of going to a tree farm, walking miles through fields with a handsaw and a selective eye while snow crunches underfoot.

Ever since I was a little girl, I enjoyed cutting down our own tree. For a time, it was in my own backyard. My dad would go into the woods behind our house and come back with a gigantic spruce that barely fit under our vaulted ceiling. Even an entire store of ornaments wouldn't have covered a tree that size, so we just focused on the bottom and the section we could reach from the nearby stairs.

One year, my brother and I made what seemed like miles of colorful paper chain and draped it by tossing it up into the air as hard as we could. Wherever it landed, it stayed.

After we sold that house, we started going to actual tree farms -- all of them so large that the business owners offered horse-drawn carriage rides and a map to get you to the type of needle you desired. It was always agony getting it back to the car because I never allowed the family to settle on a nearby tree, preferring instead to venture deep into the woods. For me, the journey was the most exciting part.

I was afraid the tradition wouldn't be the same when I moved to Pennsylvania. Little did I know there is a wonderful tree farm very similar to the ones I visited in my youth close to our new home. It even has reindeer and a barn gift shop heated by an old iron wood-burning stove.

This year, the day we decided to go was perfect. It was a cold mid-week afternoon, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. There were a dozen or so cars, but the place is so sprawling, we never passed anyone. We did see a beagle, presumably a farm dog, that followed us almost the entire time, but it kept just enough distance to run if we stopped and turned around in hopes of petting it.

After we ventured so far that we could no longer see our car or the baling station, we found the perfect Douglas fir. As I dusted snow off the branches and leaned into the trunk to give it some pressure, Jerry began sawing underneath. It was quiet other than the rythmic friction of the metal on wood, and I couldn't help but breathe in my surroundings -- the cold air, the scent of pine, the gorgeous sprawling mountains in the distance.

Then it hit me.

I can't wait to pass on the tradition to Allison next year.

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Jerry next to our tree.


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Snow-draped needles.


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Sawing the base.


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Rows and rows of pine.


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Later that night, Jerry summoned his inner troll doll.
And, believe it or not, it was just from friction, not sap.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I'm not considering jumping off a bridge, honest

Yesterday afternoon we attended my office holiday party at the home of the newsroom's managing editor. Not only was I looking forward to the adult interaction, but I knew it would feel good to hang out with my friends and coworkers whom I hadn't seen in a month.

Allison, of course, was a hot commodity. She was passed around from one set of arms to another -- so much so that one person joked that I hadn't held her at all. Which, frankly, wasn't far from the truth.

Although everyone was meeting Alli for the first time, it wasn't their first glimpse. Some of my coworkers read my blog and kept remarking how much smaller she looks in person.

The other most common response in regard to this site was that it seems like I'm overwhelmed with the responsibilities of motherhood. Sure, I'd be lying if I said it was a breeze, but I wouldn't trade it in for anything.

When I gave it more thought, I realized that this site is my outlet right now. Well, I've always used my blog for that, but now more than ever. Not only is it a great release, but any complaints or frustrations are greeted with understanding comments, notes of encouragement and advice. Even the best psychiatrists in the world can't offer that type of daily support.

Plus, I don't have much time to write right now. I've been meaning to get around to updating about how the only reason my breast pump wasn't working was because I assembled it wrong. Apparently I'm the stupid piece of shit, not the equipment. Granted, I still can't get more than two measly ounces per sitting, but it's a start. And it allowed Jerry to bottle feed her for the first time this weekend. In return, I had the luxury of sleeping a few extra hours.

The other thing I walked away with from the party was advice from two very experienced mothers -- they have eight children between them. I mentioned that Alli only sleeps while she's being held. Both recommended putting her in her crib, closing the door and letting her cry it out. They said it would be tough at first, but self-soothing is an invaluable lesson for a child to learn and would help all of us immensely in the long run.

Jerry and I discussed it on the drive home and agreed to give it a try. After all, we had been trying the "never let her cry" method for three weeks and it was exhausting both of us. When I got her ready for bed and fed her for the last time before placing her in her crib, I was teary just at the thought of her sobbing uncontrollably.

When I closed the door and she started to cry, I cried right along with her and retreated to the furthest place in the house in hopes of finding the strength to resist running in and soothing her to sleep.

Much to my surprise, she stopped after only 30 minutes and slept very soundly for three hours. I slept well, too. It was strange not having her in the bassinet right next to me, but it afforded me a deeper sleep because I wasn't stirring at every coo, cough and squeak.

This morning she tried out her new bouncy swing for the first time. Our neighbors are letting us borrow it and she seems to really like the up and down motion.

So, like her swing, there are a lot of ups and downs right now, but I'd happily give up ever going to the mall again just to watch her wake up every morning.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Ho, ho, holy hell it sucked

Disastrous, horrid, calamitous, terrible, awful, catastrophic, dreadful, unpleasant and just plain bad.

Yes, these are some of the adjectives I would use to describe our mall outing.

Maybe my expectations were too high in the assumption that we would actually get some Christmas shopping done, but every time the stroller stopped moving, Allison's mouth would instantly shoot open and emit an ear-piercing wail.

Jerry and I just exchanged blank stares as if to say, "Um, now what?"

We must've looked like complete idiots to anyone who had been paying attention. We didn't ever leave one wing of the mall, favoring instead to retreat to a dressing room on one occasion and just pace in circles during other crying fits, wondering what the hell to do next.

I've decided that malls are not conducive to babies. First of all, the volume of the music in every store is set to "hearing loss." Perfect for waking a sleeping child.

Second, the clothing racks and merchandise displays are set so damn close to one another that even the smallest of strollers can take out an entire store in its wake. At one point, I nearly toppled a case of holiday-themed DVDs, swore under my breath and angrily mumbled something to Jerry about waiting outside.

During the few moments that we ventured upstairs for the sole purpose of getting to the restrooms to change Alli's diaper, we had to use the ghetto mall elevator for the first time. The smell in that confined space was so overwhelmingly bad that I nearly vomited my Orange Julius all over Jerry's feet. Instead, I managed to bunch my scarf over my nose and inhale as shallowly as possible.

When the doors opened to reveal another stroller-clad couple, the mother laughed. Probably at the lack of color in my face.

"I know, smells like dirty crayon wax, huh?"

I wanted to wholeheartedly agree at her accuracy of pinpointing the putrid scent, but I was afraid to move my lips even a millimeter, knowing that if I did, my stomach's contents would tumble out. Instead I just nodded, scarf still firmly pressed against my nostrils.

The only redeeming value of the entire venture was watching others react to Allison. People would instantly light up at the sight of her, exclaiming how cute she is. And I loved watching women walking in the opposite direction take time to turn around as we passed just for a peek and an "Aw" before pacing out of earshot.

And although we left almost completely empty-handed as far as presents go, the trip wasn't a total loss.

She did get her first picture with Santa.

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I'm pretty sure she was thrilled.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mission: Mall outing

Today will be Allison's first time going out in public.

As much as I want to cocoon her inside our house forever, protecting her from the world, it suddenly dawned on me that there are only a few weeks until Christmas and we have, oh, nothing purchased for anyone.

I never really gave the holidays much thought while I was in my third trimester. To be fair, I never really gave anything much thought other than getting to the finish line. I guess figured I would be on maternity leave and have plenty of time to shop.

Oh, how naive I was.

I didn't factor in the loads of gear I now have to carry everywhere and the hours it takes to get everything in order before we even step foot outside the house. The hassle alone makes me second-guess traveling anywhere, not to mention the scary reality of dealing with a crying fit as strangers give me death glares or the rigors of having to change a soiled diaper on the go.

But Christmas is on the horizon, and hopefully the mall won't be completely clogged on a Friday afternoon. Besides, she might like the motion of the stroller.

If all else fails, I have a plan -- retreat to a department store dressing room.

And if that fails?

ABORT MISSION IMMEDIATELY. GO HOME. SHOP ONLINE.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Now I know what dairy cows feel like

I want to take my crappy manual breast pump that got rave customer reviews, place it behind my rear passenger side tire and back over it.

Repeatedly.

I just can't get the damn thing to work. My nipples hurt, what little comes out leaks all over me and I end up frustrated and ready to cry or angry and ready to hurl the thing across the room.

Stupid piece of shit.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Monday, December 3, 2007

At least there's a reason

So, it turns out that Alli has reflux. I didn't understand why she would cry the second I placed her on her back. Now I know.

The doctor was quick to diagnose her at our two week appointment today.

I explained that she had been spitting up a lot lately. I would hear her gurgle and gasp, then she'd spout loads of warm bubbly white wherever gravity preferred. Jerry and I have been reaching for blankets, tissues and even our own sleeves in the past few days.

The change happened very suddenly. She went from never spitting up to mimicking an active volcano practically overnight. And, of course, I blamed myself. I assumed it was the spicy chicken I had for dinner. Or maybe I overfed her. Or maybe I should just give up on sleep completely and hold her upright 24/7.

Having just gone through months of horrendous reflux while I was pregnant, I commiserate with her completely. It's no fun feeling your meal creep back up your esophagus.

On the other hand, I feel fortunate to at least know what the problem is. Granted, there isn't much we can do other than feed her smaller meals at more frequent intervals, try to get her to burp more rigorously and put a pillow under her mattress so she isn't laying flat. But it's something.

I also started reading "Good Night, Sleep Tight" -- a book about how to get an infant to sleep -- because I keep blowing through my "Newsweek" and "Entertainment Weekly" magazines during those early morning feedings. The book was a gift from another new mother, so I figured it must have some golden nugget of advice that had worked for her.

Now I think she's crazy. Because I want to douse the pages in gasoline and watch them burn, burn, burn.

It's written by a woman who coined herself "The Sleep Lady." Well, I think she should just be put to sleep by a veterinarian.

In the chapters where she starts breaking down advice by the child's age, she advises parents to start a routine by two weeks old.

Excuse me?

My routine is a lack of one. I don't know what day it is, let alone what hour of the day it is. I'm catching quick naps in the afternoon, crashing at 7 p.m. if that's when Allison decides to cooperate, then I'm back up pacing the upstairs hallway from 4 a.m. until 8.

Schedule at two weeks old. Right. I'll schedule a trip to California just so I can slap that author.

Thankfully, the doctor calmed my growing neurosis that I was doing our daughter a disservice by not timing her every move with a stopwatch.

"You will learn as she grows," he said.

And she already is. She grew half an inch in two weeks. Amazing.

Now imagine how much she'll grow if I can manage to help her keep her food down.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Bound to happen eventually

Last night was horrible. I tried, very unsuccessfully, to get her to sleep for six hours. By 3 a.m., I didn't know what to do and just started sobbing uncontrollably. I had been alone with her for most of the day and it had taken its toll.

I'm not sure if she sensed my distress and decided to cooperate, or maybe the sound of my spirit breaking soothed her, but she finally stopped screaming her face red and went to sleep.

This morning I'm still exhausted and drained, but just the sight of her makes me smile.

Babies are damn lucky they're so cute.