Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In Loving Memory of Max Winters, My Grandpa

Today the world lost one of its very best, but it is undoubtedly, a happy day in heaven.  In loving memory of the original "Pop Pop" here is a poem I wrote just a couple months ago when we celebrated his 90th birthday. 

Things that My Grandfather Taught Me

My grandfather taught me at an early age to love the words upon the page.
The sounds they make all joined together make a music no man can tether.
The tinkling of words that rhyme and sing create a joy nothing else can bring.
The joy of writing my grandfather gave is a precious gift I’ll always save.

My grandfather taught me at an early age to love performing on a stage.
There’s nothing like it if you’re shy to put on the costume of some other guy
And ham it up before a crowd; the laughter and applause, it makes you proud.
My grandpa taught me you can never feel small when standing before a curtain call.

My grandfather taught me at an early age to be proud of my Polish heritage.
So I flew across the Atlantic Sea, flying over England, past Germany
To the land from where the Wisniewskis came-- my life would never be the same
For after my feet touched that Baltic sand, I fell in love with that Polish land.

My grandfather taught me all along that there are things more important than stage or song.
That sometimes you must use your gifts, not for the bright lights of show business,
But to serve the Lord through worship and prayer for His love is beautiful and rare,
And so dearer to me than anything, is the peace and grace that faith can bring.

My grandfather taught me along with this that true love really does exist.
With a tender kiss and a touch of the hand, they shared something great with that wedding band.
To see the love between those two, even greater at eighty than at twenty-two,
I knew if I wanted to get married someday, my grandparents would be the models to light my way.

My grandfather has taught me a lot of things with the wisdom that ninety years can bring.
But there is one lesson that stands out above them all; it is written in bold upon the wall:
More important than travel or poetry is the love that you show to your family.
When my grandfather would hold me in his cuddly arms, I knew that the world would do me no harm
Because he taught me that there is nothing greater than the love that comes from my Polish grand-pater.

Ja cie kocham, Dziadek.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Enchantment of Books

Few things thrill me more than the look of absolute delight that appears on Finny’s face when I pick up a book he loves. He grins widely and lays his head back on my shoulder waiting for the show to begin. When we get to the part he really loves, he giggles a little and sometimes even takes the boomie out of his mouth so that he can grin just a little wider.

We started reading books together from a very young age when Finny was only weeks old. I would lay him upright on my propped up knees and read him Eric Carle’s The Very Grouchy Ladybug. At that point his eyes were still crossed and he could do little but squirm and wriggle and beg for milk, but he always listened intently to the story of the classic battle for tiny green aphids and that ladybug who just couldn’t find the right guy to pick a fight with.

I’m not quite sure what Finny got out of books at that age, but everything you read tells you to read, read, read to your babies early and often, and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to infect him with the contagious love of a great story.

As Finny got bigger and could begin to focus not only his eyes but his attention, it was such fun to see that he actually had preferences for certain books and aversions to others. Early on, Guess How Much I Love You, a personal favorite of mine, couldn’t quite hold his attention, but he never turned down an opportunity to hear about kitten and mittens and mush in Margaret Wise’s Goodnight, Moon. David once asked, “What is it about Goodnight, Moon? What makes it so special? Why is the old woman a rabbit? And why say goodnight to nobody?”

Maybe it has something to do with the rhythm of her words, the slow, sleepy bedtime ritual of saying goodnight to simply everything and nothing. That room is so great and so green—hardly anyone uses that paint color in bedrooms anymore. And that fire is so red and full and cozy, if not a little hazardous since it is left burning all night in the baby rabbit’s bedroom.

Maybe for Finny though, it has little to do with rabbits or mush or bears in chairs. Maybe it’s just that he simply loves pointing to the moon. He looks for it on every page and points it out every time. Whether arced or full, he knows the moon’s face and loves to find it in the nighttime sky.

As Finny has gotten older he has started to appreciate rhyme and illustration more and more and with that came a love for Sandra Boynton. Pajama Time, The Going to Bed Book, What’s Wrong Little Pookie?—he loves them all. And so does David. “I would marry Sandra Boynton,” David once remarked, “She’s so clever and silly and has such good, fun illustrations. Now she knows how to write a book.” And so, without fail, if David is in charge of bedtime, you can bet you’ll hear “Jammy, jammy, jammy, jammy P.J.!” echoing out of the monitor on the kitchen counter.

For a while there, Finny wanted nothing to do with a story that didn’t have a flap to lift and tear, and so we read a lot of Karen Katz and Peekaboo, Blueberry!, and I spent a lot of time with my roll of Scotch tape. Then it was sounds. He loved anything with a button to press again and again and again and again.

As the reader, I occasionally get bored with the same old books and try to throw a new one in from time to time, but much like his daddy, Finny is a tough critic. Sometimes I make it through the first few words, sometimes the first few pages, sometimes I don’t get a chance to open the book at all before Finny is slamming it shut, pushing it away and pointing to a familiar story he loves. Then, when I pick up The Big Red Barn or The Eensy Weensy Spider Finny lays his head back and grins.

Lately, I know he must be growing up because more and more he’s allowing me to read him a new story. Although hesitant at first, now he can’t get enough of Totty by Paola Opal, and every time the turtle goes “Splash! Yippie!” Finny laughs as if he too knows what fun it is to slide down a hill of sand in a turtle shell. I’ve also been able to get through Green Eggs and Ham from beginning to end, and today he wouldn’t let me read anything but Hi, Pizza Man!, which we read five times before I couldn’t take it anymore and laid him down for his nap. (David asks, “What’s so special about Hi, Pizza Man!? I don’t like that the cat is wearing a dress.”)

There is something enchanting about a great story, something magical about being taken out of your world and transplanted into the world of the book. It’s wonderful that old women can be rabbits, that kitty cats can dress in pearl necklaces, that hippos sometimes exercise with lions, and that gorillas sometimes follow the zookeeper home at night and snuggle up between him and his wife. I hope that Finny’s world is full of fun and adventure and silliness and play, but when it’s not, when it’s cold and rainy and we’ve played with all the toys in the toy box too many times, I hope that Finny always finds the joy and enchantment that comes with the world of a storybook, and I hope as long as possible that he’ll sit on my lap and let me go there with him.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spaghetti Monster

In future, Finny will be eating spaghetti in the nude.  Perhaps even in an empty bathtub.  That way, when he finishes I can just hose him down.  Apparently, he's a maniac when he sees a plate of spaghetti.  I couldn't put it on his tray fast enough.  I put some down, he shoved it in his face, and then he pointed at the plate and demanded more, more, faster, faster!

It became pretty apparent from watching this crazed baby that we have been watching far too much Sesame Street.  Much like Cookie Monster, who pretends to eat cookies but really just smashes 'em up in his face and lets the entire cookie fall to the floor in pieces, Finny would grab a handful of spaghetti and then rub it all over his face letting the majority fall all over his bib, his lap, and of course, the floor.

It was truly a sight.  So much so that I took a video.  Follow this link to see Finny in action:


O Tannenbaum!

As his mother and personal secretary, I am supposed to keep a record of Finny’s many firsts. The problem is he won’t slow down long enough to give me a chance to keep track. On Wednesday, November 18, he took his first steps, just twelve days shy of fourteen months old, and it seems that now that he’s a big shot walker, he’s also a big shot talker.

I could tell you for sure what his first legitimate word was: “Dah Dah!” Always said with full tongue and teeth, accompanied by a smile and followed by an exclamation point. He definitely knows who his Dah Dah is, but sometimes we question whether he thinks Ma Ma is Dah Dah too. Either that or he is already capable of mocking me, which I’d rather choose not to believe.

As far as his second word goes, it’s hard to say because suddenly sounds are spilling out of his mouth so fast I can hardly catch them. When I refer to words here, they are not words in the complete word sense. All sounds are not present at speaking. But they are sounds that get so close to the actual word that we have achieved understanding.

“Daw!” he says when he sees a dog. “Baw!” he says when he sees a ball. “Juh!” he says when he sees his cousin Jane. “Joe!” last night when he pointed continuously to a picture of David’s Aunt Joanne. “Dri!” when he wants a drink, which is always followed by a look of self-satisfaction when he is presented with his cup. Then he takes a one-handed slug out of it and hurls it across the room.

Perhaps the most common word of all though, the one that is clearest, most frequent, and second only to Dah Dah, is:


Driving in the car, he points, “Tree! Tree! Tree!” Playing in the family room, looking out at the yard, he points, “Tree! Tree! Tree!” And now, he is enticed day and night by that glowing Tannenbaum in the corner which grows toys right out of its branches, so whenever we pass by the living room, he points, “Tree! Tree! Tree!”

I think it is quite fitting, Little Finny, that your first word is tree. I think it means you’re going to love the outdoors like your Mama. We will take many hikes in the woods and you will love the beauty of the sunlit shadows that a canopy of trees creates as it sprinkles tiny jewels of light across the path. You will love the fresh, clean smell of the trees and the leaves and the occasional brook you will find there. You will look forward to nothing more than the ache in your muscles after a day of hiking up and down through reds, oranges and yellows.

Or you will be a logger. At which point, we will have a long talk about the beauty and majesty of trees. And then you will lecture me about the necessity of chopping down trees. And then we will go back and forth for a while and then finally just agree to disagree. Then we will probably each take a sip of tea in an awkward silence, avoiding eye contact and trying to figure out how two people who love each other so much can see things so differently.

Hopefully, it’s the first scenario because not only are trees beautiful but hiking also makes a cheap and easy vacation, and I don’t want us to fight.

Friday, November 20, 2009



I heard it, but couldn't see him as I was standing at the kitchen sink. It was coming from the toy box.


I turned the corner to see Finny, head first in the toy box, legs kicking wildly in the air.


Hardest I've laughed in a long time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Walk Walk Walk

And then he walked.

One step. Two steps. Three steps. As if it were suddenly no big deal. He walked.

Laurie and I were just casually talking in the children's section of the library, which we had let Jane and Finn mildly destroy, and Finny, who was already standing against a wooden table, must've decided it just might be easier to walk to that other book.

Laurie and I looked at each other with dropped jaws.

Then he did it again. Craziest thing I've ever seen. Like watching those pictures of evolution in a biology textbook--Ape to Neanderthal to Man right before our very eyes. Millions of years of evolution just sped up for the sake of an enticing lift-the-flap book.

"What's wrong with you guys?" he said with his puzzled eyes, "Never seen a guy read a lift-the-flap book before?"

When I took him home, we did it again and again.

"Finny, walk to Mommy." And he did. "Yeah! Finny walk to Mommy again!" Yeah! Again! Do it again!

"Don't you have to make the tacos?"

"Tacos Schmacos. One more time!"

By the time David got home, he was too tired to perform again and he would turn into a wet noodle when asked. But, you know what they say--baby steps.

And then, a day later...

He threw up all over me. At about 9:30 p.m. Monday night Finny woke up crying and it wasn't over a lost paci. This time it was because for the first time in fourteen months Finny was sick.

Up until this point, Finny has had a couple runny and stuffy noses, but this is the first time he has had such a bellyache that he was left shaking and curled up on my chest in feverish suffering.

This was also the first time we've taken his temperature and it rose above 100 degrees. I held Finny while David called Urgent Care. They told him that there was an intestinal virus going around and we should give him Pedialyte.

"Really?" I asked. "What else did they say? I'll call."

I called back. They told me that there was an intestinal virus giong around and we should give him Pedialyte.

But they also told me he was likely to be throwing up all night and likely to have diarrhea and she said it was highly contagious and we would probably all get it.

I'm glad this turned out to be the worst case scenario. After we gave him a dose of Tylenol for his fever and David rocked him for a good hour, he fell back to sleep.

That night he was awake and crying from 2-4 despite multiple attempts to comfort him back to sleep, including one stint in the guest bed where he rolled over and bonked his head on the nightstand. Mom of the Year here.

The next day he was shackled to me. If I tried to put him down, he would wrap his arms around my neck and lock his legs around my middle. He ate breakfast and lunch on my lap, collecting bread crumbs in his hair as I tried to eat my lunch while holding him and my plate, so that he would not sporadically hurl it across the room. If I did manage to distract him for a second,-- "Hey, Finny! Look! Over there! A tupperware lid!"--then I would bolt for the kitchen to attempt to put a dish away. Within a matter of seconds he was on to me. Pound. Pound. Pound. And there he was on my pant leg, pleading.

By the end of the day, I was drained and sick to death of Sesame Street. Why? Why must Baby Bear speak with that crazy lisp? Those plastic rings? Really not much you can do with them. Stack. Unstack. Stack. That's all I got.

The twisted thing is, in a weird way, I loved it. The clinging. I loved it. Someday I'll have to sit in the car when he goes trick-or-treating with his friends. Yesterday, I hated that he felt so bad, but I loved that I was the one he wanted to make him feel better. Just me. Mommy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Trail of What Ifs

It was the kind of nightmare that makes your whole body ache. If I had been seven, I would've grabbed my blankie and crawled into bed with my parents. Because I'm thirty, I curled into a ball and just lay there moaning and praying for God to take the image of the dream out of my head so I could go back to sleep.

It involved Finny and concrete. Enough said.

I actually tried to toss and turn noisily in the hopes that David would wake up and ask me what the matter was. I wanted to talk about it to get it out of my head and just hear, "Everything is all right. Finny is fine." I knew is wasn't fair to wake David up to terrorize him with my nightmare too, so I lay there cringing at the repeated sight of it until eventually I fell back asleep.

Then, another nightmare. This time David was driving upside down. He wasn't looking at the road and he nearly killed us. In the dream, we were on our way to church, the cause of it all.

After last week's church fiasco, we had decided to try a new church, one of the only Catholic churches which offers babysitting for babies Finny's age. While excited about the idea of sitting through Mass uninterrupted, I was simultaneously terrified by the idea of leaving Finny with complete strangers.

The whole way there I was clutching my sweater and holding back tears, all the while embarrassed that I was this emotional about dropping him off at church daycare. Many, many mothers do this everyday. But not me. Finny stays with me everyday. I'm the only one who knows exactly what he can handle and what he needs. Up until now, if we have left him with someone, it was one of his grandparents or my sister, who also know him quite well and aren't upset or insulted when I freakishly give them a tedious and detailed list of instructions and "What ifs..."

This time I couldn't do that. It really would be freakish if I dropped him off for an hour with a full owner's manual pinned to his back. I never want to be the mom who follows her son to college or drops off his forgotten lunch at the office, and yet, here I was, confronted with my fears of letting him go and my complete lack of trust in the world outside my home. My mind raced.

What if one of the volunteers has a history, one of those women who can't conceive and is looking for a baby to snatch? I've seen them on the Today Show. What if there are bobby pins on the floor and he puts one in his mouth? What if they don't understand that he can't walk on his own and take him for a walk outside and then let go...on the concrete?

As we walked into the church, David kindly tried to put me at ease by suggesting, "I guess he could get Swine Flu in here."

"I know!" I exclaimed. What if, what if, what if?! I was dragging a trail of them behind me as I approached the glass doors.

But I did it. I let him go. We walked into the babysitting room and left him with Sue and Kristen, an adult and a teenager. He saw a plastic slide and immediately lunged for it. We signed him in, gave him a nametag, and I sheepishly muttered, "I'll just leave his bag here. There's a snack inside if he wants it, and here's his juice, and if he gets fussy, there's a pacifier in here, we've never left him before, and well, I guess we'll just go."

We left and we heard every word of Mass and sang every song and we stayed until the end without ever leaving our seats. It wasn't our church. It was much bigger and felt foreign, but maybe it's time we ventured out a bit into the foreign. The message, which we both got to hear, was about tribulation. No matter how big or small our tribulations are, God is there with us. And I guess that's exactly what I needed to hear.

When Mass ended, we raced down the hall to see how Finny had done. He didn't even notice we'd left.

No concrete, no baby snatchers. There was a runny nose in there, but I can't wipe every nose Finny comes into contact with. Instead I need to start getting more of my courage from God and less of my news from The Today Show, and then, maybe I'll be less inclined to burst into tears when I leave my family room. Then, maybe then, I can start to breathe a little easier, sleep a little sounder, and travel a little lighter without a trail of "what ifs" following me into every foreign situation I encounter.

Finny and concrete will have to co-exist after all, and I too will have to learn to self-soothe and put myself back to sleep at night.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Playground Pat

Soaking up every last bit of nice weather we can before winter rears its ugly head, Finny and I take a daily trip to the park for some strolling, swinging and climbing on the jungle gym.

Yesterday, during one of our climbs, we came across a three-year-old we will endearlingly refer to as Pat. I have seen Pat at the park before with his/her daddy, but am challenged at every meeting to determine whether Pat is a little boy or little girl, and I am a little frustrated by the ambiguity of the whole situation.

This child, boy or girl, is beautiful. Soft, baby face, big blue eyes, long eyelashes, and long, gorgeious hair. Because of Pat's pretty face and long tresses, one might initially assume that Pat is a girl, but I fear that that may be the wrong assumption as Pat's daddy also has long hair, and it could very well be a case of like father, like son.

The other piece of confusion is that Pat is always mysteriously dressed in unisex clothing. I keep looking for some kind of clue to gender identification like a large dump truck on a T-shirt or some kind of "Daddy's Little Princess" logo, but I get nothing time and again. Just jeans and a brown jacket with slip-on canvas shoes.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of this mystery, I observed Pat at play and tried to eavesdrop on the conversation Pat was having with other children and parents. Once I heard another mom refer to Pat as she, saying to her son, "Dave, it looks like she wants to slide down the slide with you." I watched to see if Pat's dad would correct her, but noticed he hadn't heard her.

When Pat came over to join Finny at the steering wheel, I gently probed, "Well, hello, what's your name?" This tactic is courtesy of Dana Carvey on SNL when he asked Pat the name of his/her partner, to which Pat replied, "Terry."

My little friend Pat at the playground replied, "Grassi." Now, either Grassi is Pat's true name and it is some kind of symbolic, ethnic or family name which is meant to throw me off his/her trail or Grassi can't speak clearly or I can't hear clearly. Whatever the case may be, I got nothing from that line of questioning.

Despite my attempts at deciphering this playground puzzle, I left frustrated and floundering.

After discussing is with David, he said, "So, are you saying this little boy is supposed to wear short hair or this little girl is supposed to wear pink just so that you aren't put in an awkward situation on the playground?"

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against long hair on men. We just recently watched Braveheart and Mel Gibson was a sight of hunky hunkiness with his long, frizzy hair. Even with tiny braids and a kilt, he was, hands down, the manliest man on the planet.

And I'm totally cool with women who wear jeans and brown coats. I'm one of them, in fact.

But when it comes to little kiddos, it'd be helpful to have a few gender indicators--hair bows, skirts, dump trucks, trains. Something. I'm just trying to be polite. Cut a sister a break.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dah Dah

Dah dah is a popular guy in these parts. Not sure what it is about him. Might be that goofy smile, that gruff I'm-about-to-tickle-the-heck-out-of-you voice, or his contagious high pitch, ever-present giggle. Whatever it is, he's a pretty big hit, that's for sure.

It could be the way he looks at Finny and shakes his head saying, "Knowshon Moreno" over and over again. Finny has no concept of who Knowshon or the Broncos are, but he shakes his head right back nonetheless, his eyes moving back and forth in a goofy kind of just learning how to shake his head sort of way.

Then again maybe it's the way he calls Finny "Melky Cabrera" in the Melky Cabrera voice when Finny has a milk goatee that really makes him so popular.

One thing's for sure, Finny waits for Dah dah. Day and night he waits as if anticipating the arrival of Santa home from the office.

In the morning if we are eating breakfast when we hear Dah dah's footsteps on the stairs, Finny chucks his milk cup across the room and starts flinging eggs and kicking his legs watching the door with duck mouth in full bloom until the moment Dah dah crosses the threshold into the kitchen with his own duck mouth in full bloom.

If we are playing on the floor when he hears the first footsteps, he takes off pounding his knees across the hardwood to meet Dah dah at the bottom of the stairs.

Maybe Finny knows that Dah dah would sit and hold him in the middle of the night when he was a fussy infant to try to get him to sleep comfortably. Maybe Finny knows that it took Dah dah a while to learn that it was not okay to wake him up just simply because he wanted to play. Or maybe Finny knows that Dah dah kicks his legs the whole ride home pounding the gas pedal to get home and meet Finny on the family room rug and shower him with kisses and thigh tickles.

I'm pretty sure Finny loves Mommy, I mean he's dropped a few hints here and there, but at thirteen months old, he doesn't have a name for me. He will, however, look right at David as he walks into the room, and with lots of tongue and teeth shout, "Dah dah!"

If Finny could figure out how to say it, he would call Dah dah on the phone today (he could tell him in person, but he will do anything for a chance to use the phone) and say, "Happy Birthday, Dah dah! I'm so lucky to have you as my Daddy."

But then again, sometimes words just don't do it justice. The giggling, the milk chucking, the knee pounding, the complete, utter adoration expressed with tiny baby squeals--those are more delicious than words.

We love you, Dah dah. Happy Birthday.

Monday, November 9, 2009


* NOTE: Some have complained that they couldn't figure out how to leave a post without having a Google account. I figured out how to change this setting so that anyone, Google account or no, should be able to leave a comment on the blog. Let me know if you have any trouble.

Sunday As It Should Be

A Sunday at home. We slept in, ate French Toast, rolled around on the carpet and knocked down blocks.

We swang on the swings, picnicked in the park and took a walk in the fall gardens of Ault Park.

We napped. We drank tea and read. We grocery shopped. We drank beer and watched football.

We raked leaves. We giggled. We had a family dinner. We did chores, relaxed, and went to bed.

We had a perfect Sunday of doing things we didn't "have" to do. We slowed down and enjoyed being a family. It was lovely.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Separation of Church and Finny

It all begins relatively smoothly. Initially, there is just an overwhelming sense of awe as we walk in the door. The stained glass, the pink ceiling, the man in the white robe with the green scarf, the smooth wooden benches, and the singing, oh yeah the singing! There are so many people and the books with all the pages and the lights, all the lights! Then, the man in the robe with the big scarf talks and everyone gets quiet.

Everyone but Finny.

We get through the gathering song and then the screaming begins. It is not screaming out of fear or anger; it is screaming for the pure joy of screaming. So the pacifier goes in. And then the pacifier comes out, tossed as if this dear friend actually means nothing to him, onto the dusty church tiles. It is retrieved, gently dusted off on a pant leg and put back in only to be tossed once again at the back of the woman in front of us. It is even more gently retrieved and put away.

Out come the Teddy Grahams and in, in, in they go. And even though he now has five in his mouth, he reaches for more--must have one in each hand, one on his pant leg, one dismembered across the front of his sweater and five in his mouth. And then there are none. SCREAM!

We are through the first reading. Ask Mom what it was about. "Something about a widow."

Out comes the juice to wash down the Teddy Grahams and slurp, slurp, slurp, toss underneath the pew in front of us.

Out come the toys. One in each hand. Toss. Toss. Thrash. Thrash. Pull. Pull. SCREAM! SCREAM!

To the back of the church we go. The second reading begins. Finny gets down, grabs my fingers and walks, walks, walks back and forth in the back of the church. Gets down to crawl--escapes! Heads for the table of candles lit for loved ones--oh, to pull myself up and touch all that wonderful light! Captured. SCREAM! Thrash, thrash, thrash. Down again and walking with Mom. Sees Jesus. Makes a mad dash for Him. Wants to pull himself up on the crossed, nailed feet of Jesus. So does Mom.

We are through the second reading. Ask Mom what it's about, "Something about Jesus."

The gospel begins. We are now standing behind the glass windowed doors in the space between the church doors and the doors to the parking lot, but at least there are speakers here and we can hear the gospel. Finny bangs on the shiny glass windows and SCREAMS like Dustin Hoffman from The Graduate.

We go outside. Ask Mom what the gospel was about, "I don't know, DAMNIT!"

We stand outside and Mom prays silently for forgiveness for cussing in her head in church.

Going to church with a one-year-old is an act of futility. I leave exhausted, wondering why I came. We spent the car ride home brainstorming ways to keep both Finny and church in our lives. We are open to suggestions.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Delicious Morning Nap

This morning I am thinking about giving up the morning nap in exchange for a morning workout with the Stroller Fit class. I've tried to do this multiple times now and I can't seem to bite the bullet. The reason? I LOVE the morning nap. It's long, delicious, relaxing and productive time and I don't want to give it up.

Whether you work full or part time or stay at home, there is always the quest for time. While my decision to stay home has given me plenty of invaluable and enjoyable time with Finny, it has left me with very little time for myself, and this is when I start dreaming of the Dark Ages.

Sometimes I wish I lived in a time when there was no electricity. I wish that when it got dark, you simply had to go to bed. Or I wish I at least lived in a time when there weren't TVs or computers, so that in the evening we would all sit around and knit or read or play the piano. I wouldn't have to check my email or shop online. I wouldn't be able to. I also recognize that I wouldn't be able to buy things like Brownie Mix or frozen chicken nuggets, which also make my life much easier today. And if I lived then, I'm sure I'd sit around going, "Ugh, do we have to listen to that tune again?" or "God, wouldn't it be nice if I didn't have to leave the house to go shopping in the rain? Wouldn't it be great if I just had a 20% off Bed, Bath and Beyond online coupon with free shipping that I could just use from the comfort of my own couch while I watch 30 Rock?"

But all the same, I can't help but wonder about how nice it would be to have more idle time.

Just as the more money you make, the more money you spend, the same is true for time. We make things faster and easier to save us time, but then we find ways to fill it up with other things and again find ourselves wondering, "Where did the time go?"

I hardly ever print my digital pictures any more and I haven't updated my ipod since September of 2008. There is a room in the basement that seems to growl at me when I pass it because it is full of all the things I haven't made time to unpack, and the green folder that holds my recipes begs me to organize it whenever I open the pantry door. Little did I know people were chuckling behind my back when I told them I would work on my novel "while the baby naps." I didn't understand yet that nap time would be my time to empty the dishwasher, shower, pee and collapse on the couch myself.

What is so wonderful about Finny right now is that he is sleeping well. He sleeps from 8-6 or 7 a.m. every night and he takes a morning nap, which sometimes lasts up to three hours and an afternoon nap that lasts close to two. And when he takes these naps, I get, you guessed it--time. Time to drink a cup of coffee. Time to clean the bathroom. Time to check email. Time to write this blog.

I know that making time for exercise is important, but with time for myself in such short supply, can I really afford to sacrifice the mornings for a workout, when all I really want is that hot cup of coffee and some time to gather my thoughts? There will come a time when Finny will voluntarily give up the morning nap, so why should I force him to involuntarily do it now?

There will be plenty of opportunity for me to give up time to myself in the future when we have multiple children who can move and talk and play soccer and take dance classes. I don't think I'm ready to give it up now when it's so quiet and nice and peaceful just sitting here all by myself.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I Got These Sacks Part II

Later that same day, Finny was still clutching his two plastic dolls at lunch time. I pried them out of his fingers for his morning nap, but as soon as he awoke, he quickly captured them again. He drove with them in the car to the park. He carried them around the grocery store. And finally, he was confronted with a dilemma when I sat him in his high chair and sitting before him was a tray full of food. It was then that the anxiety set in.
"But Mom, how am I...? I mean how can I possibly...?"
He was confounded. Food. He wanted to eat. But to let go of the dolls would be simply unheard of. So I watched on, amused, as he finally decided to briefly set one down so that he could put a peach in his mouth and then quickly retrieve the doll again for fear of the imbalance that was immediately created by clutching something in only one hand.
Then, he realized I had tricked him.
"Peaches?! I dropped the doll for a peach?! Blast! Where is the real food?"
Then I showered his tray with bites of peanut butter toast and the dolls were released, but only temporarily. I watched as he would pop a peanut butter bite in his mouth and then clutch a doll. Bite. Bite. Clutch. Bite. Bite. Clutch.
The dolls seemed to be silently pleading with me. Covered with peanut butter from head to toe, I could see them begging with their eyes, "Please!" they pleaded, "Get us away from this mad man!"
And so I pulled out the secret weapon--Milk.
"Free at last!" they shouted, "Free at last! Good God Almighty, we're free at last!"
(The fact that he happened to be clutching the black dolls is purely coincidental. Finny does not discriminate against plastic objects. He holds them all captive regardless of shape, size, age, gender, gender preference, religion or color.)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sorry, Got These Sacks

If ever I'm feeling glum, there's nothing better than a really ridiculous SNL Deep Thought by Jack Handey to pick me up.
Lately, it seems to me if Finny could choose his favorite Deep Thought it would be this one:
To me, it's a good idea to always carry two sacks of something when you walk around. That way, if anybody says, "Hey, can you give me a hand?" You can say, "Sorry, got these sacks."
Finny, like Jack, does not travel anywhere these days unless he has something in each hand. In fact, he's almost totally forfeited the use of his hands in favor of just having a really solid grip on something at all times. You'll notice in the picture above that Finny, unwilling to drop his two plastic pals, is attempting to open his favorite tupperware cabinet with his teeth. You should also know that neither doll was dropped in his upward climb to get there. The climb was accomplished with the help of the rubber traction marks on the bottom of his socks and the complete use of his forearms and head. No fingers or pick axes were utilized. You should also know that his sole purpose in making the climb was to open this cabinet to find more things he could grip in each hand.
For the most part, it is wildly amusing to see him crawl across the house on his forearms, grip his sippie cup between his wrists, and pull himself up with his teeth. It only gets a little irritating when I'm trying to carry groceries in or carry the laundry up the stairs and I say, "Hey, can you give me a hand?" and he says,
"Sorry, I got these two dolls," or "Sorry, I got these two lids," or "Sorry, I got this measuring cup and gravy filter."
Then, I start to get a little ticked.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Your Own Personal Laugh Track

Recently, on our way home from a party, I was feeling a little sad and tired and found myself crying in the front seat. David, driving beside me, was trying to console me when we heard what sounded like someone gasping for air in the back seat.

When we turned to look, there was Finny in his dump truck pajamas with the feet, cloaked in his little black pea coat and cap, sucking on his paci and holding his sides, about to lose a kidney from laughing so hard.

Every time I let out a crying sob, he squealed with delight. Despite my sadness, his laughter was contagious and both David and I couldn't help but laugh at how hilarious he thought it was that I was crying.

David keeps talking about a way for us to bring in some extra money. We've talked about me teaching a class or trying to publish some of my writing. Now, I'm thinking about renting out Finny to anyone feeling a little down. We'll stick him in your back seat while you cry away and he'll just have a ball.

Everyone needs a little cloaked man in dump truck pajamas lurking in the dark, laughing his butt off. It'll do wonders for your mood. Haven't worked out the rates yet. Call me and we can negotiate.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Grand Show Has Begun

If we were to survey moms with babies across the nation on the top five most common comments received from strangers in the grocery store, I would bet,"Ahh, enjoy it. It goes by so fast" would be among them, somewhere beside, "He's so cute" and "Does somebody need a nap?"

I always smile politely and agree when I hear this comment, but frequently I've thought to myself, "When? When does it start going by fast?" The first three months when I was just a human breast seemed to last forever. The sleeplessness coupled with the back pain made me start crossing off the days in the calendar until Finny would be five. But, suddenly, Finny is in fast forward and indeed things seem to be going by so fast. It's almost as if Finny has been storing up tricks for the winter over these past twelve months and now the grand show has begun.

Just a few weeks ago I was so amazed that he could point. Now, all at once, he is standing on his own, playing "sooo big," blowing kisses, and clapping and it all seemed to happen in a weekend. It's official: Finny is a ham.

It was not so long ago that I remember thinking--gasp!--that Finny was, well, a little boring. I was lamenting over the fact that I was not productive and couldn't do my own thing. When he was awake, but couldn't move a whole lot, say a whole lot, or do a whole lot, I would sometimes count down the minutes until nap time. Now that Finny is one, something in me has changed as well. I don't want to be productive--I want to play!

I find myself thinking, "Do I really have to do these dishes now? I'd much rather dump all the blocks on the floor." I often feel like Finny is thinking the same thing. I mean let's be honest, how exciting can measuring cups really be? I know he just pretends to like the tupperware cabinet just so he can be close to me when I'm at the kitchen sink.

After years and years of experience, adults tend to get grouchy and serious, but not Finny. Ordinary things like socks, remote controls, and cell phones are truly hilarious to him. If I hide behind the ottoman and pop out at him, he nearly explodes with excitement. If I stack the blocks, he rocks back and forth sucking on his fingers and giggling, anxiously anticipating the moment when he can knock them down. If I turn on the Oldies music station on cable, he immediately bounds toward the TV, pulls himself up and starts shaking his butt.

This guy is a party animal. I'm pretty sure if he ever joins a fraternity (which I will do everything in my power to prevent from happening) he will have a nickname like Hambone and be put in charge of getting the party started. (The way things are going though, they may not want to put him in charge of music as he is being exposed to a lot of Broadway and Doo-wop, not to mention the Michael Feinstein he is exposed to when Grandma Finnessy has him.)

Don't get me wrong, I had many sweet and precious moments with Finny when he was a little baby and there is something so pure and lovely about a soft, wrinkly newborn. But the giggling. The constant giggling with those six big teeth popping out of his little duck mouth. My cup runneth over.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It's a Dirty, Dirty World

Why do I clean? Don't they say the definition of insanity is to do the same thing again and again and expect different results? I clean and it gets dirty. I clean again and it gets dirty again. There is nothing more satisfying than a made bed, freshly mopped floors, vacuumed carpets, a floor without toys, and a clean bathroom. There is nothing more disappointing than the realization that it's all for naught.

The bed gets slept in, the bananas, french fries, and green beans end up on the floor again, the toys once again, along with the tupperware lids, end up scattered across the family room, the car, and the kitchen.

Yesterday, I found a piece of cheese in Finny's diaper, and when I was returning some plastic cups to Party City, I left the sales clerk with the plastic bag and she called me back. "Excuse me, Miss," she said, "Is this your number three?"

Yes, it was my number three.

I understand why I must clean up. If I don't, we'll all be skating across the kitchen floor on tupperware lids and squashed bananas, and soap scum will take over the bathroom (there's something cruel and unusual about the fact that I have to clean up soap).

But sometimes the puzzle pieces are just going to remain under the couch and my hair dryer is just going to remain on the bathroom counter because you know what? I'm just going to dry my hair again tomorrow and that puzzle is just going to be unpuzzled again in twenty minutes.

It's a dirty, dirty world we live in and sometimes it just doesn't make sense to clean it up.

First Birthday Party

I have never before put so much effort into planning a party for someone who would much rather be sucking on the remote control.
There's an unbelievable amount of build up and pressure surrounding the First Birthday Party. The time must be carefully chosen so as not to fall too close to nap time or bed time, decorations must be fun, but not chokable, the birthday boy must look totally adorable, and over night, a mom must become a master cake maker.
After viewing album upon album of one-year-old parties on KodakGallery, the heat was on. Little Elijah had an adorable train cake with a train made out of cupcakes, Little Gracie had marching chocolate turtle cupcakes, and Little Evelyn had a Barbie Doll with a ball gown made of cake and icing--all courtesy of their mothers. Clearly, the first birthday party is an important coming-of-age event where baby crosses the threshold out of babyhood and Mommy officially becomes Sara Lee.
So I did some research. After two trips to Michaels, sifting through catalogs, cake pans, and frosting tools, I finally let myself be the mom who does not decorate cakes. Thank you to my brother-in-law, Mike, who had a cake made for me, which was delicious and beautiful and saved me from the angst of trying to build a seahorse out of cake batter.
Thank God no one choked on decorations, although almost all of the party favor toys I gave out told me in small print that they are choking hazards. The toy maracas have tiny balls inside which a child could choke on and somehow the toy harmonicas and plastic dinosaurs are also dangerous to children under 3. It's a good thing I had the foresight to take out the tiny bags of glass and the whisky flasks before the party.
And then there was the birthday boy. General consensus agrees that Finny is just about as cute as they come. It's a good thing he doesn't understand much yet, because if he understood all the compliments he gets, his ego wouldn't fit through the door (which might actually save me a couple hundred dollars on safety gates). It just so happens though, that the night before his big day of present opening and picture snapping, I come home from the grocery store to hear the report from David that Finny got his first boo boo. While reaching for something on the end table with only one shoe on, he slipped and split his lip on the bottom rung of the table. At first I was distraught.
"Why weren't you watching him?" I asked David, conveniently forgetting all the times I'm in the kitchen and can't see him playing behind the couch.
But in the morning when I pulled him out of bed and saw his little fat, cut lip, I realized that he was okay and still cuter than ever. Besides Swayze can't be the only tough one in the family; Finn's gotta have a few tough guy scars of his own.
In the end, all went well. Present opening was total pandemonium with toddlers crying and running all over the place. Finny tried to eat the wrapping paper while Daddy wrestled him to the ground and I opened all his lovely new toys. We all watched as Finny bypassed diving into his little cake with his hands and face and preferred to be spoonfed, like the dainty gentleman he is, by Mommy and Aunt Laurie. And he was showered with kisses and love by all the lovely grandparents and aunts and uncles in his life.
Thank you to all who helped make Finny's day extra special. He won't remember a lick of it, but we will and we're grateful for it all.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Finny Kisses Sheep

This week Finny has had two new cognitive developments.

First: He has learned how to Ba, Ba like a sheep. When I sing Patti Page's "The Mama Doll Song" to him, he sings right along with me.

The song goes,

"Her eyes were so blue, and her cheeks were so red, but I loved her most of all each time she said...Mama, mama, mama, mama. One little word she knew. Mama, mama, mama, mama. To me it meant, I love you."

When I sing "One little word she knew...," he chimes in with "Baba, baba, baba." So, clearly he knows that I'm his Mama. He just doesn't know yet that I'm not a sheep. One step at a time.

Second cognitive development: Finny gives kisses on command.

If you say, "Finny, give me a kiss," right on cue he'll lay one on you. It's probably the best thing ever. The only trouble is, he is a little advanced in the kissing department and he goes straight for the open-mouth kiss, using tongue and sometimes teeth like a seventh grader at an eighth grade dance.

But Baba doesn't mind wiping her face and asking immediately for another one.

Whole Milk--Alleluia!

Went to the grocery store this week and bought myself a gallon of Vitamin D milk. Found myself skipping down the aisle with my $1.98 gallon of whole milk. Found myself skipping right past the $23.99 carton of Enfamil and the $21.99 carton of Similac. Found myself whispering, "Eat my dust, Similac" and then giggling as if I'd just beaten Similac in a game of Battleship, as if I'd just won a $100 lottery this month and next month and next month.

Then I watched Finny down a 6 oz. cup of $1.98 whole milk as if he'd been drinking it his whole life.

Mmmm...$1.98 never tasted so good.

Float Like a Butterfly

Teeth. Again. Molars this time, I believe, are waking us up in the middle of the night. David put Finny to bed last night and I gave him all the instructions: two-three books, music, fan. I forgot to tell him about the Motrin and sure enough at 2 a.m....teeth.

I try Motrin, a diaper change and gentle rocking, but although calm, he will not sleep. If I even walk close to his crib, absolute histeria breaks out as if "sharks with lazer beams" were swimming at the bottom of it. So I bring him into bed with us.

The wrestling match begins.

First an elbow to the throat, then a finger up the nose. Next, he pushes all his weight on my face and pins me down so I don't quite know what's happening when he pulls his signature move and pulls all my hair out.

With a gentle, "shhh," I lay him back down between us and in a flash he is up on all fours again and gunning for David. Now he tries to pin David down by propping himself up on David's face and then he takes a good healthy handful of chest hair sending David moaning into the corner.

With a gentle, "shhh," and a kiss, I lay him back down again and the yoga poses begin. Butt in the air, butt in the face, butt that seems to have a mind of its own.

One hour later, this isn't working. No sense in all of us being in the ring, so Finny and I move to the guest bedroom and Round Two begins.

Hair pulling, nose picking, throat checking, and an hour later--TKO.

Not sure who went down first, but based on the way I'm feeling this morning, I'm pretty sure he's the champ.

I should let him win anyway; it is his birthday after all.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Happy Birthday, Finn Michael!

Finny, like a good wine, has only gotten better with age. Tomorrow morning he will be one year old. At this time, on this day, last year we didn’t know him. He was just a belly. Now, he is our baby.
In honor of this very special day, I thought I would share his birthday story. It is not something I could sum up in just a few words, so beware, it will take a while to read. But it is a story worth telling because it is the story of our son.

The Birth of Finn Michael

It is September 29, 2008 and this night, at dinner, David and I are sharing our last meal together as a two-person family. Our last supper as a solo couple. It is nearing the end of September, the school year is underway and all the neighborhood pools are closed because September is expected to be the beginning of a cool weather fall. It never happens like this in Cincinnati though. We often have warm weather well into October and even November some years. The leaves are changing and falling, but summer hangs on. So this September day, it is still warm enough for me to be sweating in a sundress, still warm enough to sit in the park and read a book, still warm enough to grill burgers on the deck. David and I are eating our burgers and chewing our corn on the cob under the bright lights of the kitchen island and we are unusually giddy this night. He makes fun of the haphazard way I chew my corn on the cob as usual and we laugh harder than I’ve laughed in a long time about a Far Side cartoon. Far Side cartoons, although mildly amusing, have never seemed as uproariously funny as they do this night, particularly the ones featuring cows. It all starts with the discussion of the birthday card I bought this day for his dad. There are three cows on it, which in and of itself is a recipe for hilarity, but it is how the cows are interacting with one another that really gets me going. The cows, like us, are grilling out and the entire scene makes me giggle. One of the cows is grilling hamburgers and his two buddies reproach him saying, “You’re sick, Jerry. Sick, sick, sick.” I cannot stop laughing about the absurdity, the irony, the hilarity of cows talking, cows grilling, cows passing judgment on one another.

This reminds me of another cow cartoon I love about cow poetry, so I proceed to try and explain the cartoon to David, but I am already so giddy from Jerry and the burgers that I cannot stop laughing long enough to describe the premise of the cartoon. It is that kind of contagious laughter that David can’t resist and soon we are both beside ourselves. The combination of the laughter and the intensity of the seven pound baby doing a headstand on my bladder heightens my pregnancy incontinence and I start to pee my pants, or dress in this case. As I laugh harder at the idea that I am peeing myself, I pee harder, until I am truly peeing all over the kitchen floor. It is a vicious cycle and because I cannot stop laughing or peeing as they are both the cause of the other, I make a mad dash for the bathroom, but in my great hurry to sit down on the toilet, I don’t take the time to lift my dress. So David, who has followed me to the bathroom, shouts through a mouthful of food, “Jill, you’re peeing on your dress!” And sure enough I am. Sure enough I have soaked my dress with laughter, which of course, makes us laugh even harder.

It is this very laughter, I am quite certain, that brought our Finny into the world. If we had not been discussing cow cartoons, if we had not been so giddily chomping away at our corn on the cob this night, if I had not peed all over my dress, I am sure, he would have at least held off until one of the first few days of October. But we were having too much fun and we woke him up. He wanted to be a part of the joke, a part of our dinner table giggles. It is only a few short hours later when I wet myself once again. This time it is not instigated by cow poetry, this time it is because my son is coming.

It is 12:00 a.m. when I get up to use the bathroom. The window is open and I can see the lights in the valley below. Things are cooling down now and I can feel the breeze of a September night that is about to fill with rain. I sit there once again on the toilet in the dark in the middle of the night. It is how I have spent every night this summer. The more pregnant I became, the more time I spent in the bathroom in the dark. When I return to bed, I lay there wide awake, waiting, waiting, wondering, always wondering when will it be? Will I know it when it happens? What will it feel like? How will it start? And then I feel the drip, the slow drip that could be anything. Could it be? Could be anything. Until it is no longer a drip but a gush. Until the dam brakes and I am not peeing myself, but I am filling the mattress with water.

“David, my water just broke.”
“What? No it didn’t. What? Did it really?”

“Yes, get me a towel.”

And so it begins and I know it is time to get ready to go. But when I reach the bathroom, the water stops and is it supposed to stop? I call the doctor.

“My water broke but it stopped.”

“It stopped? Are you having contractions?”


“Give it a couple hours. If more water comes or contractions begin come in. If not, wait until your appointment.”

My appointment is at 10:40 a.m. the next morning. Wait until my appointment? But my water broke. Wait?! Wait?! Okay, we’ll wait. We’ve waited this long; we’ll wait a big longer. David shaves. We both shower. We are preparing to meet our new family member and we want to look our best. “Should I wear my hair curly or straight?” I ask him. How will I look best through the long hours of labor? Which hairstyle will hold up best through the intense physical experience I am about to have? How can I best attempt to look pretty through such an agonizing experience? Curly. If I straighten it, it will no doubt begin to curl anyway through all the pushing, sweating, and grunting. Besides, I am feeling a little uncomfortable and I want to get some more sleep if I can.

David checks his email. Tells the guys he won’t make it to softball, asks Kerry if she wants our Ryan Adams concert tickets. I put in a load of laundry, pack my bag. David makes a sandwich, gets dressed—jeans, belt, shoes and all.

“Should we pick up some videos on the way?” He wants to know.

“Maybe,” I say. But what video stores are open? “Let’s get some sleep first. It’s not time to go yet.” I say this as I am drying my hair, trimming and filing my nails, feeling a gradual, nudging discomfort across my lower back. Feeling a gradual, nudging pain. “Let’s go back to bed and see if the contractions start.”

We turn out the lights once again and I lay wide awake on a towel. David who can sleep through anything begins to snore—how easily he can fall asleep! When should we go in? Nudging pain across my lower back. Five minutes and thirty seconds. Nudging pain across my lower back. Five minutes and thirty seconds. This goes on for thirty minutes. It is bearable after all and I want to be sure. Shouldn’t get there too soon. Shouldn’t go unless it’s real. Don’t want to be one of those ladies they send home with false labor.

4:30 a.m. “David, we should go now.”

Very suddenly the pain does not seem so gradual; it is no longer so quietly nudging. It is like a wave, a wave which stops me in my tracks. Five minutes and thirty seconds. But could it be that the last one was only three minutes and thirty seconds ago? Couldn’t be. Must’ve timed it wrong. I try to get into the car. Struggle to get into the car—three minutes and thirty seconds. No time for videos. No video stores open at five a.m. anyway.

On the way to the hospital, David calls our parents, tells them we are on our way. I grip the car door, beg for the seat warmer to be turned on; my back is throbbing. By the time we arrive after only a fifteen minute drive, I struggle to walk from the car to the hospital door, struggle to stand in the elevator, struggle to focus on anything but the pain across my back. When we arrive at the nurse’s station, there is paperwork. Name, birthday, insurance. Halfway through writing VanHimbergen, I have to put the pen down and grip the side of the desk. The nurses are unphased. They see this everyday, but how can they be so calm when I can barely stand.
They take us back to triage. The pain is coming quickly now. I cannot lie down on my back as she has asked me to; the pain is too intense across my back. She hooks me up to monitors; she checks my cervix. She tells me I am four centimeters dilated. Did she lie? Did she know then that I was actually much farther along than that? I try to politely ask for the epidural.

“When is the epidural coming? When can we start that?”

“Soon,” she says, “First we have to admit you and we have to take your blood.” So many papers to fill out, to sign. Liability, waivers. She explains them to me, but I don’t know what they mean. All I know is the throbbing across my back. All I know is the sweat around my face. All I know is the grip of David’s palm. It is all coming so quickly. She checks me again—six centimeters. Time to move me to the labor and delivery room. In between contractions we make a break for it. When we get there, I lay on my side gripping the side of the bed, eyes closed, wanting ice, wanting a fan, wanting something to ease the pain, the heat, the sweating, wanting someone to stick my lower back in a tub of cool water or remove it from my body all together. The nurse is sticking an IV in my hand. Doesn’t take. Sticking the IV in my arm. Needles all up my arm and I am still signing forms. In the meantime, I can think of nothing but my back. I am growing impatient. Breathing, just trying to breathe and think about my breath rather than the pain. There is David’s hand to squeeze and music to focus on coming from the ipod, but where is the epidural?

“Soon. It’ll be here soon. We just have to admit you and wait for your blood work to come back.”

She is being purposefully elusive, won’t give me a time. Soon. Any minute now. But can’t she tell? Can’t she tell this thing is coming sooner than soon and no one is moving quickly enough. The only person in the room with any sense of urgency is the baby. “Hand!” I yell to David. All I want is his hand to squeeze. I don’t need any massage or labor techniques we learned in the birth and labor class, don’t want the rice sock, don’t want to stand and lean into him or sit on a birthing ball. I don’t need him to look into my eyes because I can’t even open mine. All I want is his hand to squeeze and some ice chips. Where are the ice chips? And a fan. It’s hot in here. Could someone turn on a fan? Where is the damn epidural? The doctor—where is he? Shouldn’t he be here? Shouldn’t someone act as if I am in labor? Shouldn’t someone act as if I am about to birth a child. Why is no one else feeling the urgency I’m feeling?

7:00 a.m.

“I feel the urge to push.”

“You do? All right, let’s check you again.”

“Well, you’re about nine centimeters. Let’s go ahead and start pushing.”

Start pushing? But where is the doctor and where on God’s green earth is the epidural?!

“There’s no time for the epidural. We’re gonna go ahead without it. You can do it.”

“Oh shit!” I scream and then apologize for swearing. I’m in the most intense pain of my life and still somehow wanting to be polite to this nurse who is a stranger, to this nurse who took her sweet and precious time with the epidural and now there isn’t one. Now the epidural is off the table and I’m on the table and about to experience a pain I cannot imagine.

“Well, when the doctor comes, can he numb the area?” I ask. At least the area, right? If they can’t make the contractions in my back disappear, can’t they at least protect me down there?

“The baby’s head will numb the area.”

The baby’s head? Oh God! Doesn’t she know I want the area to be numb so that I have no sense that there is a baby’s head in the area or even in the neighborhood? Doesn’t she know I just want the baby to appear; I don’t want feel the impact upon arrival? And where is the doctor? A light drops down, the bed changes shape, my feet go up. I can’t open my eyes. I can’t see anything. And now I have to lay on my throbbing back because they want me to push. I am going to have to push. But how? How do I do it? They told us in the classes, but now I am actually going to have to do it. How do I do it? I am in so much pain. I want it to stop. But the baby can’t stay in. I know the baby can’t stay in and yet I don’t want the baby to come out either. The nurse insists the contractions will feel better if I push. She is right, but what about that head? What about the fact that that large head is pushing through my pelvis, is pushing through what I know to be a rather small opening? But what else can I do? I am out of options.
So I push. Pull my legs up and bear down. David holds one leg. “You’re doing great, Jill.” The nurse holds the other. “You can do this. You’ll be fine.” Still no doctor, but I push again.

“You’re doing such a good job, Jill,” David keeps saying, the nurse keeps saying, coaching me, keeping my spirits up, seeing what I could only feel in the other world of pain I was in, seeing that I was beside myself with pain, that I was worried, concerned, sweating and panting.

“Okay, let’s push again.”

7:15 a.m.

Dr. Ortiz arrives. They can see the head.

“Push again, Jill.”

“I can’t do it. This can’t happen. I don’t understand how this is supposed to happen.”

“You can do it, Jill. You can do it. It’ll be fine.”

“Lord, God please help me. Please be with me. Please carry me.” I need something much larger than myself to lift me through this. I need God. Without Him, I do not have the strength alone.

“He’s here, Jill.” David. “He’s here.” It occurs to me in the hazy split seconds of warped time that this all seems to be occurring in, that I can survive death if only God will carry me.
And so I push long and hard and I hold this push so long I feel as if my head might pop right off. But it doesn’t. Instead the baby’s head pops right out. Oh, I feel it finally push through the pelvis, push through that tiny opening that is perhaps not so tiny after all. A relief, but I have to push again. He is still not out.

And then, there he is. I can’t see, can’t open my eyes. But, I can hear him crying, flailing across my chest. I can barely look at him. He and I have just been through quite a difficult journey and neither of us can seem to look at the other. We are panting, crying, shaking as if we have just been washed up onto shore after weathering a terrible storm. We are wet and weeping and just happy to have survived. And so they take him away, take him away to be cleaned off, suctioned, weighed, cared for. David takes pictures; he is my eyes when I cannot see, and I lay there open, wondering why I am still feeling pressure. Why won’t the pressure go away?

The doctor. “You still have to deliver the placenta. You won’t have to push. It’ll come on its own any second now.” And it does. And I have never felt so relieved, so tired in my whole life. I lay there and shake. Everyone around me takes care of my son and I just close my eyes and shake with relief.

It is a few minutes before I hold my son again. It is a few minutes before I can hold him swaddled and bundled and really see him, really understand that he is there breathing before me and that’s when I really cry, that’s when I fully realize what has happened. And it is exactly as they say it will be—worth it.

It’s gotten a lot easier and I’m adjusting now to this new role. I miss the time to write. I miss the time to do things at my pace. But sitting here for the past hour and a half writing this story, our story, I miss more than all of that, the soft backs of his hands, the most kissable spot just under his ear, the tiny head snuggled up beneath my chin, and the tiny body sprawled across my stomach.

Giving birth to Finny is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done and it is certainly the most pain I’ve ever experienced, but what a story I have to tell. All summer I couldn’t wait to know what my birth story would be, what my labor experience would be like. I am not disappointed. Everyone asks me if next time I will have the epidural. I can only guess that once again in that moment of delirious pain, I will be begging for the relief that those drugs promise, but in the end I’m glad I didn’t have that relief this time. I’m glad I have such an exciting page turner to tell. My novel may be muddled and confusing and stunted right now, but God wrote me a nonfiction story I never get tired of telling. I never get sick of delivering the climax with the appropriate amount of enthusiasm and am never disappointed by the reactions on my listeners’ faces. Finny, like fictionalIsaac, truly shot into this world like a rocket and we are all the better for it. There is no more waiting to know the story. The birth story is told and the chapters of his life I will live right along with him. Everyday is something new and even though I still cling to David’s hand, now my eyes are open for it all.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Thrill of the Ride

Apparently, motherhood has made me into a total wuss.

There was a once a time when I travelled across the ocean to live in a foreign country for two years without knowing a soul; this week I started to sweat when I got lost in a slightly rougher neighborhood than my own five minutes from my house.

There was a time when I would rock climb, hitch hike and walk unfamiliar territory invigorated by the fact that I didn't have a map and wasn't sure where I'd end up. Now heights, strangers and even grocery carts terrify me. I caught Finny with the strap to the grocery cart in his mouth yesterday and broke into a cold sweat; I might as well have just poured him a sippie cup of H1N1.

But last weekend, I overcame a little of my fear and was able to enjoy the thrill I once got from danger. On Saturday, David and I went to Kings Island for P&G dividend days and like little kids we were giddy to ride all the big rides. I noticed quickly though that something that was once so exciting had now become uncomfortably terrifying. I could no longer open my eyes on the big hills and I checked the lap belts repeatedly, convinced that mine was never quite locked. I had a white knuckle grip on every safety harness, certain that at some point during the ride I would be dangling from it. Twelve roller coaster rides later, I found I never needed to rely on my grip to save me. Instead, I relied on my eleven-year-old husband beside me distracting me from my impending death with his high-pitched giggling, ending every ride with, "Should we do it again in the front seat?!" or "Where to next?!"

When it was just me to worry about, the idea of putting myself in potentially dangerous situations was thrilling. Now, although we had a great time and those rides still make my stomach flip, there is an additional element of real terror involved because...what about Finny? He needs us. We need him. Now frivolous risk no longer seems invigorating; it seems selfish and irresponsible.

But there has to be a balance, right? I'm spending a lot of time and money these days on safety gates and soft corners, but I can't become an agorophobe who never leaves the house or a germophobe who stops eating the deli turkey on sample day. So although my hitchhiking days may be over and I've embraced the luxury of maps and antibacterial wipes, once in a while I might need a few corkscrews and a giant drop from a tall tower. Even though motherhood has for the most part made me into a big weenie, thanks to my giggling husband and lap belts, once in a while I can still experience the thrill that comes with a safe dose of danger.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Having It All

This morning I read an article on Student Choice in teaching reading and I got choked up. My heart ached for teaching. How is it possible to be so fulfilled by one job and yet miss the other so much?

I don't miss getting up at 5 a.m. In fact, I can't believe Finny has the audacity to wake me up at 6:15 a.m. I don't miss my albatross of papers to grade constantly hanging around my neck. And I don't miss the politics and endlessly fighting to justify my measly paycheck.

But I do miss my classroom and the energy 120 teenagers brought to me on a daily basis. I love being Mommy, but I miss being Mrs. Van.

Many people struggle to find a career that they love; I guess I should count my blessings that somehow I found two. Someday, maybe I will figure out how to do them both at the same time.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


David and I have been debating about the name of our next son. Although he has not yet been conceived, we thought we might name him Patrick, another good Irish name. After the news today, we are going simply with Swayze. Swayze VanHimbergen. He'll be the coolest kid in school. His black silk shirt will be open at the top to give the girls a little taste of his hunkiness and his black pants will hug his little butt for inappropriate gyrating and stage leaping at school dances. Young girls will carry watermelons into his hidden, sweaty love shack behind Kellermans, and his top lip will curl up just a little bit when he mambos and cha chas and busts out car windows with fence posts in the rain.

Finn VanHimbergen may be our future PGA champion, but Swayze VanHimbergen, well, he's gonna throw his hips around like its nobody's business.

In the here and now

It's easy to wish away the present. It's easy to dream of a day when Finny can walk, talk, go to school, pick up the toys on his own, wipe his own bottom, sleep in until 10, do his own breakfast dishes, and ride in the car without screaming at the top of his lungs. It's easy to dream of the day when I can go to the gym, shop for jeans, or start and finish a long project (shhh, we don't talk about the novel any more).

But, I know, always, in the back of my mind, that when the day comes that I finally have time (and money) to decorate my house, I'll miss the days when I was so needed. Because being needed comes with the priceless perk of endless affection and cuddling.

Best part of my day: rocking with Finny and reading him stories. He lays his little hands on mine and sometimes points to the pages and I can feel his soft baby hair under my chin. Then, he lets me kiss him in the soft spot between his ear and his neck. And as I lay him down, he gives me this desperate look--"You're leaving? But we were having such a nice moment there in the chair with the books and the reading and the cuddling and now, you're leaving?"

Best part of my day: the look of absolute elation on his face when he wakes up and I come back to get him (NOTE: this is not the best part of my day unless at least an hour and a half has passed). He flips all around, does bridges and downward facing dog, tugs on his blanket and smiles so big the paci falls out--"You're back! I can't believe it! I love you! Show me the ceiling light again and our faces in the mirror. Man, I forgot how funny you are!"

Someday, he'll leave me and it'll be the right thing for him to do. But, hopefully he'll come back and when he does, I'll say, "You're back! I can't believe it! I love you! Man, I forgot how precious you are." And at that point it may be weird for a mom to kiss her grown son on the neck, but maybe I'll get a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and it'll be just enough to remind me of that little hand on mine and that soft baby hair under my chin and that skinny little butt in the monster pajamas, and I'll wonder why did I ever want it to end?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Everybody Hurts

So, the mystery behind Kate Gosselin's haircut is solved--one or some or all of her kids were teething.

Something crazy must come over women when their children aren't sleeping. They, in turn, aren't sleeping and suddenly everything looks tragic and hopeless.

The Desiderata says, "Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness." And so, apparently, are reverse mullets.

When Finny doesn't sleep, I don't sleep, and all of a sudden I start going down this dark path of "I'm a terrible mother. My life is misery. I should be teaching and somebody more qualified should be watching my son. I hate my jeans. My face is ugly." You know the drill.

So, in an attempt to get my mind out of this depressive loop, I took Finny to the park and walked him around the track listening to REM's "Everybody Hurts." Somehow it made me feel better to know that everybody hurts; not just me. And also, I decided I would feel better if I got my haircut. Short.


My mom came over to watch Finny and I, armed with a photo of a stunning model with adorably short hair, went to the hairdresser and decided to become her. Two hours and four inches later, I left feeling a tight bond with Kate Gosselin.

"Many fears are born of loneliness and fatigue," and so apparently are mom haircuts and perhaps other bad decisions like mom jeans and sweater vests.

Next time, I may just opt for a cup of coffee and a good book and stay clear of Coldwater Creek.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Forget it. Finny doesn't speak after all.

Okay, so maybe I gave him a little too much credit. His hand opening and closing that I thought was a desperate plea for milk may have just been his hand opening and closing because he's figured out that it can. He does it a lot now and doesn't necessarily want anything to do with his cup of milk.

He does continue to communicate with me though mainly through whining and screaming and mainly to continously complain about the service.

It's a good thing he's so stinkin' cute when he's cheerful or else I'd be on the horn to the leader of that wolf pack I got him from to come pick him up and take him back to the woods. Let's see how he feels about the service around there.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Finny Speaks!

Finny and I are on speaking terms again. And by speaking terms, I mean he spoke to me today! He actually spoke! Well, perhaps I should clarify. He speaks all the time in variations of "Ma, ma, ma, Na, na, na, Da, da, da, dee, see, blabbity, blabbity." His mouth makes sounds, but he doesn't communicate. But today, he sent me a message, a very clear message, using a new language I didn't know he'd learned, so like a dope I totally ignored him.

All in all, we were having a pretty good day until about 5:30 p.m. Just when I was struggling to get dinner together, Dr. Evil Finny showed up in yoga pants again. I threw balls and crackers and lightswitchs at him, but was getting nothing. Or so I thought.

He kept opening and shutting his hand at me and I was like, "What does that mean? Lightswitch? High five? Cigarette?"

I changed his diaper, I gave him his paci, I showed him his sad face in the mirror, and still he continued to play Charades, thinking to himself, "Ugh, how did I get stuck with this idiot on my team?"

I put him in his high chair and threw more crackers at him and watched as he continued to open and shut his hand, and finally it dawned on me--Milk! He was giving me the sign language for milk! Beside myself with excitement, I quickly prepared his cup of milk and he guzzled it and smiled.

All this time I've been showing him the Baby Einstein sign language video thinking he didn't get it. I've been showing it to him since he was 6 months old and he loves it, but until today, he's never given any indication that he was actually learning the signs.

Today, Dr. Evil Finny became simply Dr. Finny, Master of Language. I will never underestimate those little hands again. They are full of new tricks everyday.

Dr. Evil Finny

It seems Finny's evil brother, Dr. Evil Finny has reared his ugly head. Who is this crazy baby who kicks and screams every time I try to pick him up, put him down, feed him, put him in the car seat or the stroller? If I didn't know any better, it would seem that for the past 11 months Finny had been raised by wolves in the backyard.

One minute he's so cute and cuddly, and the next, he is contorting his body into advanced yoga positions and howling at the moon.

I know that at the heart and soul of this behavior is the fact that he can't walk and wants to and he needs my two little fingers to keep his balance as he explores the house. If I try to reclaim my fingers for my own personal use, he immediately files a complaint with customer service.

He wishes he could walk. I wish he could talk.

I like to imagine how civilized our relationship would be if he could talk.

"Excuse me, Finny. I'm going to let go for a second so that I can itch my nose."

"Oh, of course, Mother! Go right ahead. I'll sit and wait patiently here for you. But do be a dear and get me cracker while I wait. Thanks, love."

Then we would embrace and tell each other how great we think the other is.

Instead, I watch as he does variations of downward facing dog and screams at the top of his lungs, looking at me as if I just murdered his seahorse.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Civil Disobedience

Before Finny was born, I dreamed of all the things I wanted to teach him. I would teach him to be kind and generous, to look out for the weak and unfortunate, to learn to laugh at himself, to have a strong faith, and to fight injustice. These, in my mind, are the characteristics of admirable men, heroes, and followers of God.

It wasn't until recently, when Finny learned to morph into a wet noodle every time I try to pick him up, that I began to re-think "fight injustice." Perhaps he and I need to break down exactly what qualifies as "injustice." Injustice is, for example, unfair school funding in the state of Ohio. It is not being placed in the exersaucer while Mommy takes a shower. Injustice may also be a little kid being bullied at the bus stop. It is not being pulled away from playing with dangerous lamp cords.

So, it has occurred to me that before I can teach him the things he needs to know to be a man, I first must teach him what he needs to know to foster a healthy Mommy/Baby relationship--obedience. It's good to see that he has a little fight in him, don't get me wrong; I realize it will come in handy some day when he needs to stick up for himself. But putting him in the pack and play so that I can pee does not qualify as abuse and so I'd appreciate it if he would stop throwing his head back as if he were resisting arrest every time I try to contain him.

I'm sure that Gandi and Thoreau would agree that in the case of Mommy v. Baby, Civil Obedience is the best approach.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What's the point?

I guess we have children in order to keep teaching that old dog new tricks. It seems everyday now Finny is waking up with a new trick, something that amazes both him and me. I don't wake up with new tricks anymore, unless of course you count my new trick knee or trick back, but I always anxiously open the door to Finny's room to see what new tricks he is going to teach me today.

A few days ago he learned how to point. This is a minor milestone, one that is not much discussed in books or among mommy circles. Everyone wants to know if he can clap or high five or wave goodbye. He can't do any of these things yet, but he has figured out how to stick just one finger in the air and point (and thank God it is the right finger or else I would have a lot of explaining to do). He points to everything now. He points to himself in the mirror, he points to the light on the ceiling. He doesn't point in an accusatory way as adults have learned to do. He doesn't even point to indicate that he wants something (although I am hoping this is on its way soon). Right now, he points just for the pure pleasure of pointing. And so, I point too. I point to him, I point to me and sometimes we touch pointers and ET phone home.

Who needs new tricks when I can just relearn the pleasure of the old ones through the eyes of my child?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Teeth Bite

For first-time moms, there’s a lot of pressure to do everything everyone says you should do. You shouldn’t spoil your baby; you should give your baby whatever he needs—it’s impossible to spoil a baby. You should take the pacifier away early so that your baby doesn’t become too dependent on it; you should let the baby have the pacifier as long as he wants—he’s teething after all. You shouldn’t co-sleep with your baby; you should keep your baby as close to you as possible—nothing wrong with sharing a bed. You should keep a consistent bed time for your baby; you should make the baby adjust to your schedule, even if that means keeping him out late on the weekends. The world is full of parenting experts and according to at least someone out there, I am ruining my child by my parenting choices. But isn’t it also possible that my child, to some degree, will do whatever the heck he wants regardless of my choices? Aren’t there some other variables involved besides just my parenting choices? To the people who say, “You need to get your baby on a schedule,” I continue to wonder, “Do their children have no teeth?”

It seems every time I think Finny is on a “schedule,” he reminds me that he is determined to challenge the status quo. Don’t get complacent, Mom, bicuspids are on the way!

Finny just spent four lovely days at Cape VanHimbergen in Louisville where, relieved from his normal, everyday stress, he was able to sleep from 8-7:30 every night and take two good, solid two-hour naps everyday. Now that he’s back to the daily grind of life at home, it seems he is stressed to be back at work and can’t seem to relax. Suddenly, he struggles to go to bed at night, is waking up at 4 a.m., and refuses to take a nap longer than forty-five minutes, which is just long enough for me to pour myself a hot cup of coffee and make a list of what I’m going to get done during his nap—I have yet to drink a "hot" cup of coffee this week or get anything done during his so-called “nap.”

“Maybe he’s adjusting to being back at home.”

“Maybe it’s because you have hardwood floors; he hears everything.”

“Maybe it’s his teeth.”

I’m going with the teeth; they sabotage all attempts at scheduling and all attempts at sleep and productivity. Poor guy. Poor me. Yesterday, I had had about all I could take when he was up wailing after a twenty-minute morning nap, during which time I successfully took the garbage to the garage. When I brought him downstairs, I sat on the couch and cried, which Finny found hilarious. Every time I let out an exasperated sob, he thought I was laughing and would crack up, which then of course, made me crack up and then sob some more and then crack up some more.

Then, I called my parents. Finny needs me. I need them. They allowed me to get some housework done and gather my sanity again and Finny got the undivided attention of his grandparents.

This morning brings a new day and as I write this, Finny has been napping for close to two hours. Alleluia, back on schedule.