Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cry, Baby

One of the most crucial aspects of dealing with an infant is developing an ability to interpret their individual cries and what each means. A fierce, prolonged cry, for example, might mean that they are hungry; a fading, tired cry that they are ready for sleep; or a sharp, angry cry that they're gassy. The list goes on....

I will say for myself that by the time my kids were a few weeks old my cry-deciphering was in excellent form. I could usually make out what they needed from several rooms away based on nothing more than the tenor of their wails.

If only it were so simple with adults.

For example, let's take....me. My temperament is, well, let's just say it's temperamental. So much so that I once heard my mother say of me

"My daughter! She'll never know the simple joy of an unexpressed emotion."

All this to say that it wouldn't have been entirely unheard of, in the early days of our marriage, for my husband to suddenly come upon me storming around the house, weeping copiously, and slamming the occasional door for emphasis. He'd hold out his hands toward me like a tamer approaching an underfed and possibly rabid tiger and ask timidly:

"What's wrong, dear?"

And then, it was on.

David would sit patiently on the receiving end of a tearful litany of those who had wronged me, beginning with, say, Becky Wilson, who didn't invite me to her bat mitzvah in the 7th grade even though we were totally friends and ending with the lady at the pharmacy this morning that promised my order would be ready in three minutes but that was a huge dirty lie!

At some point in the evening I'd wind down, exhaust myself, and head off to bed, only to apologize over breakfast the next morning for carrying on so...

Things took a turn for the better when my husband finally realized that, much like our infant son, my cries meant something. In fact, they inevitably meant one of two things:

A) I needed a nap


B) I needed a snack

Following this realization, David changed his ways. He stopped asking me what was wrong. Instead, the moment he saw me grumping around (to borrow a phrase from my nephew Greg) he'd simply offer me a sandwich. If I finished the sandwich and was still fussing, he would point me toward the bedroom and demand I lay down for a nap...

...and thus, our household became a place of calm.

Or at least it did until last weekend, when my husband was about a third of the way through his list of household chores. As he stood in the yard, gloomily sorting through stuff from the storage unit, I listened to his voice floating in through the open window. There were some grunts, followed by the occasional groan, and before long curse words were being murmured with increasing intensity. After several minutes I headed out to the back yard with a cold beer in my hand and handed it to my husband, saying,

"You know honey? Why don't you take a break for a while? Come on inside, sit on the couch, and watch some golf on TV. Maybe I'll even make us some brownies!"

His cry having been correctly deciphered, my husband stopped fussing immediately and trotted inside past Crinkles, who was wailing in his bassinet...

...because he needed a change.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Going Mad

Short Fact Dictator has begun blogging for Momversation.com and in one of this week's entries I reminisce (not so fondly) about the burgeoning sense of rage I developed towards my darling husband in the months after Snoodie's birth.

To review:

But, I must say, things have not been nearly so dire during Crinkles' infancy - and I give all the credit to Don Draper.

You see, David and I are DVD addicts. We spent our courtship watching all six seasons of 'The Sopranos' back-to-back; our first months of marriage were consumed by episode after episode of 'Lost'; and we passed many of Snoodie's early days devouring the regrettably short-lived 'Arrested Development'.

These days, while sitting up for late-night feedings with Crinkles, David and I been making our way through the first three years of Mad Men.

In case you aren't familiar, the show is set in the early sixties at a NYC ad firm and features a cast made up entirely of the most attractive people in Christendom.

My mother (who graduated college in 1957 and went to work in Washington, D.C.) is my "60's veracity" go-to woman, and since we've been watching the show she's gotten used to my daily question-filled phone call.

"OK, dudes groping secretary's butts and calling everyone 'my girl' and 'honey'?" YES.

"Wait, four different people smoking in the same elevator?" CORRECT.

"Hold up, was everyone just drunk at work all of the time." WELL, A LOT OF THE TIME, SURE.

Such queries inevitably lead to a conversation about how things were for my mom back in the day when she and my dad were first starting our family. While my mother always credits my father for being very "hands on," she does so in contrast to a lot of dads at the time, for whom the idea of "doing mommy things" was anathema. (We've often heard the story of one family friend who told my mother in all seriousness about the time his wife was SO sick he had to hold her up to change their son's diaper.) Even my father, for all his "hands-on-ness", could not hide the quizzical and "not in my day" look on his face last Christmas when both his sons-in-law were wandering around the house with their kids in Baby Bjorns.

The times, I suppose, they have been changin'

All this pondering of yesteryear has severely cut down on my husband-centered rage. Instead of spending precious time lamenting the fact that I do more than my share of the household chores, in these post-Mad Men marathon days I find myself grateful that at least David is not off lingering over cigarettes and martinis (and God knows what else) in the city. I delight that he seemingly longs to rush home and throw off his jacket to fearlessly change diapers, run bathtime, and chase Snoodie's little naked butt towards his room for storytime and bed.

So while I may pine a bit for Don Draper one or two hours a night on my TV, it turns out that watching him mostly makes me thankful for my thoroughly modern man.....

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Second Time Around

As Frank Sinatra will tell you:

...and you know something? The guy's got a point.

When you tell people that you have a four-week-old baby, they inevitably give you a deeply concerned look, often lowering their voice before asking with all due gravity:

"How is it going?"

And, of course, if I'm being honest, it's going ridiculously terribly.

I'm barely sleeping, Crinkles is often fussy and difficult to soothe, and two days ago I found myself breastfeeding in my front yard WHILE pushing the Snood around the driveway in his oversized plastic car (much to the displeasure, I can only assume, of neighbors and passing motorists).

But, in spite of all of this, I have to admit - things are easier the second time around. Not because anything is ACTUALLY easier, but because I have something I didn't have when Snood was born:

Expectation management.

You see, when Snoodie was born, I had an expectation (based mostly on the glowing reviews of others) that motherhood would instantly fulfill me and transform my existence into one of perma-satisfaction.

Instead, what I felt was the less-than-satisfying sensation of being trapped at home with an angry infant who could only be comforted by bouncing for hours at a time on what came to be known in our household as "the Yoga ball of doom".

Also, I felt quite a keen sense of the door closing on my pre-motherhood existence (which had, all things considered, been pretty great in that it involved things like drinking, adult conversation, and leaving the house, none of which I was doing as a new mom).

What people forget to mention when they are busy telling you about how wonderfully fulfilling motherhood is that they mean, like, 21 YEARS DOWN THE ROAD, when your kid starts doing stuff like graduating from college, or, say, thanking you when their team wins the Superbowl. But there are A LOT of moments before then that are, shall we say, less than totally fulfilling.

At least with a second child one has the enormous advantage of being prepared for this stark reality. I went into it knowing that the first eight weeks would pretty much suck in the extreme, but also with the promise that life with Crinkles would eventually get better and easier.

I knew this to such a degree that there have been moments of Crinkles' newborn-hood that I swear I have actually enjoyed. During last night's 3a.m. feeding I even found myself smiling, because I realized that it won't be long before Crinkles stops letting me hold him for extended periods of time (and, if he's anything like his brother before him, will punch me repeatedly in the trachea if I so much as even try for a brief hug).

So while I'm still struggling through these early days I am at least able to appreciate them in a totally different way. Mostly because I am able to recognize this time for what it is...and that's fleeting.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Short Fat 21st Century Dictator

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Cry the Beloved Snoodie

Back when Snoodie was born, I clearly remember thinking that there could be NO sound more soul-crushing, NO noise more harrowing, than the cry of a newborn baby.

It is only now, that I have a 20-month-old, that I realize how silly that was.

For truly, the newborn cry has NOTHING on the deafening caterwaul of the angry toddler. Much like an American tourist abroad, the Snood seems to believe that the only reasonable response to not being understood is to continually up his volume. As if the only reason we are having trouble understanding him is that CLEARLY he must not be speaking loudly enough.

This puts David and I on what we refer to as the "comprehension countdown" (i.e. the amount of time we have to figure out what the heck Snoodie wants before he melts down in nuclear fashion.)

For example, Snoodie walks into a room and announces that he would like something by saying a word at a fairly reasonable volume. Let's say, for the sake of argument,


This causes David and I to look towards each other in sheer desperation,

ME: "Any idea what that means?"
DAVID: "I got nothing."
ME: "Oh no! We're screwed."
DAVID: "Maybe he wants to sing something?"
ME: (to Snood, hopefully) "Do you want to sing?"

There is a pause before Snoodie speaks for a second time, with diminishing patience,


Uh, oh. We have guessed wrong. The Snood does not want to sing, but neither of us has any idea of what he does want. Sip of water, listen to a CD, and look at his songbook ALL turn out to be wrong guesses. AND WE'RE RUNNING OUT OF TIME!

Having found himself unable to communicate what he seems to feel is a simple request, the Snood is growing increasingly agitated. We watch in terror as he balls up his fists, knowing this can only mean he's gathering all his strength to repeat over and over at top volume, "SIN-GE, SIN-GE, SIN-GE!!!"

We continue guessing what he might be after furiously until finally (with the help of Snoodie's frantic miming) figuring out that Snoodie would like to head outside and go on the swing.

And peace is restored!

For a while, we had hoped that we might be able to stave off these sorts of explosions by focusing on teaching the Snood some specific words. Like, for example, "HELP".

Wow, that was really not a good idea.

The result was that, from every corner of the house, a single cry now rings out all day long....


...because after 45 seconds of playing with it Snoodie has gotten his pushcart stuck in the corner of the playroom.


...because Snoodie has been foiled in his single-minded attempt to reach the box of Cheerios that I have mistakenly left out in his sightline.


...because Snoodie desperately wants Blue Bear, who has become trapped deep within the confines of the crib.

We have accidentally given the dictator limitless power over us, his loyal minions, by providing him with the ability to actually scream demands at will.

But, fear not! Just as every cloud has a silver lining, every terrifying childhood phase has an EXTREMELY well-hidden upside...

You see, in comparison to this constant barrage of angry demands for aid from the Snood, the cry of the Crinkles is music to my very ears. That gentle and lovely "Wah!' is practically soothing from my newborn.

Or at least it is when I can make it out over the deafening cries of:


Thursday, June 3, 2010

Week Three - The Terror Surfaces

Well, it was bound to happen.

Ladies who have not had babies, I hearby give you the following heads-up! At the hospital they hand you an infant who does a little adorable crying, but for the most part coos quietly in between naps. This state of continuous calm can continue for several days after you bring your new baby home. It is the phase of human life that my brother John describes as, "still tired from the move". But, DO NOT BE FOOLED! At some point, your baby will emerge from this state and it will be on, as they say, like Donkey Kong.

All this to say that Crinkles, my heretofore placid and loaf-of-bread like bundle of cuteness, has entered "Phase Two" and is now alternating between breastfeeding and crying for about 27 hours of the day. Crinkles has helpfully timed this "personality emergence" to exactly coincide with the moment that my legion of helpers has left the premises for points homeward. Between that and the Snood's recent outing to the emergency room (sprained ankle, and a story for another entry) I have not carved out the necessary time to blog about the wonders of motherhood this week.

Instead, this week I foist upon you an entry from the Short Fat Dictator archives. In fact, it is the one that started it all - my first ever entry about an ill-advised trip to the post office. Enjoy, and I'll see you next week!

Fox. Hen. Grain.
originally posted January, 2009

In case you are not familiar:

Having a baby is like constantly living inside of this riddle. For me, this is particularly bad news as I have never been able to make sense of the whole farmer, fox, grain, hen situation.

Logic problems and I = natural enemies.

Which brings me to one week before Christmas.

I wake up in a panic - realizing that if I don't mail our presents out TODAY I will arrive in Texas to visit my husband's family empty handed (because adding a baby to our itinerary has somehow managed to increase the number of suitcases we travel with from one to FOUR and thus there is no room for presents).

I briefly contemplate explaining to my in-laws that I have given them "the gift of life" in the form of one extremely chubby grandson, but having gone to the effort to schlep a load of gifts back from our Honeymoon in Turkey I determine I must dole them out on Christmas as planned.

I need to start wrapping so baby needs to go somewhere stationary. How about the exersaucer? (aptly dubbed by a friend of my sister's "the circle of parental neglect").

This "toy" is recommended, incidentally, for children ages 5 mos. and up. Snoods is only 12 weeks old but as I'm pressed for time I determine that he is exceptionally mature for his age and that "requires head control" is a subjective criteria.

I manage to get something like 24 gifts wrapped and boxed in about 12 minutes (with apologies to the recipients who likely suspect me of cutting corners by allowing my baby to wrap said gifts himself).

Off to the post office.

OBSTACLE ONE: I have a box the size of a small refrigerator filled with gifts.

OBSTACLE TWO: I need to get to the Post Office along with a purse. a diaper bag, a stroller, a car seat and a baby.

OBSTACLE THREE: It is raining. It is pouring. The old man - you get the point.

So add umbrella to the list. Then immediately subtract umbrella realizing that it is the only negotiable item of the six. (As a side note, when I mentioned this choice to my sister-in-law who had 4 kids in 6 years she told me that she has recently begun carrying an umbrella again now that her oldest is in high school. For the first time infourteen years.)

So the box goes into the car seat, which fits into the stroller. The diaper bag goes underneath and I carry the baby in one arm while maneuvering the teetering overloaded stroller in the other. I begin to think this is not going to be that bad. I'm ready to walk over and see my friendly neighborhood mailfolk. Until I remember that because of the rain and my lack of umbrella I'll have to drive.

For the record this is how my baby feels about being in the car:

That is not a file photo downloaded from an anonymous internet site. That is my actual baby reacting to being placed in his actual car seat.

I manage to get all of the items in question into the car and off we go. I turn up the radio in an attempt to soothe/drown out Snood's forced-restraint induced nervous breakdown and make it in record time.

There is no parking at the Post Office and the rain is getting worse.

I could try to wait it out but by now the Snood has reached extreme core meltdown status in the back seat so time's a wastin'. I find a spot at a meter a block and a half from the Post Office and begin the process of digging through the seats for change (having decimated my husband's careful system of separating the coins by denomination in the appropriate holder trays on a mad dash, without wallet, through the McDonald's drive-through the day before). I hop out of the car and feed the meter.

Back to the car. Now, rolling the box in the car seat while carrying the baby is no longer viable because I have no umbrella. And so I have to make a choice. Box or baby.

I choose box because frankly there's no real upside to having a baby in a post office with nothing to mail.

I throw the box into the stroller and go careering down the block.

Thinking of my baby still melting down in the back seat sends a series of news stories flashing through my mind:

I'm soaking wet by the time I make it to the front door of the Post Office. I run inside and heave the box out of the car seat into the middle of the lobby. I'm vaguely aware of someone shouting "You can't leave that here!" as I make a break for the car - all the while composing the story I will tell to the Child Protective Services officer who will clearly be waiting for me, "You see, ma'am, my husband promised me he would help me do this last weekend..."

But, when I reach the Snood he has miraculously stopped crying! That is, until I pull him out of the car and put him into his cold and drenched car seat. He is seriously pissed off and the wailing begins anew. But there's no time to soothe! I bolt for the Post Office while attempting to press the button to lock the car doors, all the while hoping the suspicious package I left behind has not already been denotated by the bomb squad.

It is then that I pass a woman on the street who looks at my screaming passenger and says helpfully, "Baby's getting wet." I long to stop and murder her but unfortunately I have neither a weapon nor a free hand.

In the Post Office several customers watch me indifferently as I struggle to open the door and get the carriage in the door. Their looks of disdain fall upon me as I try to soothe my drenched baby while kicking my now sodden and collapsing package of gifts through the line behind them.

I get up to front of the line and Myra, the Postal Worker sent for me by Jesus, comes around to help me lift my package onto the scale. She checks me out and forty-two dollars later my errand is done.

Myra looks at me with a sweet and baldly pitying glance and says, "First baby, hun?"

Yes, Myra, first baby. How did you know?