Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Quantified Baby Temperament Theory

I'm back at work, and, you know, quantifying things. Looking at graphs and data and stuff. Then going home and playing lots of Peek a Boo and singing endless rounds of Old MacDonald. (It's pretty pathetic when you can only think of like five farm animals. It leads to stanzas like "...and on that farm he had... even more pigs...." Also, our farm tends to have seals, because I do a great "Ork! Ork!" seal impersonation.) Anyway, the juxtaposition between work and home has been twisting my mind in weird directions lately. Leading to my Quantified Baby Temperament Theory.

All babies, depending on whether it's a good day or a bad day, have the innate capability to bring about these two opposite reactions from people of a certain age who are not the baby's parents:

Reaction 1: Oh, look how cute! We should have a baby!!!
Reaction 2: Holy crap! Let's never have kids!!!

Reaction 1 is otherwise known as the Procreation Reaction; Reaction 2 is the Birth Control Reaction. Even the most colicky baby in the world will have moments of extreme cuteness and cause the Procreation Reaction, and even the very best baby can have a fussy day where they can make outsiders have the Birth Control Reaction. But by keeping a running average of how much of the time a given baby deserves the Procreation Reaction instead of the Birth Control Reaction, you can assign a quantified measurement to the baby, which I will call his Cute/Crap number. A reasonably well-behaved baby, for instance, might score a 75 on the Cute/Crap spectrum (75 C/C). A more colicky baby would probably be down around 15 or 20 C/C. I also think that some babies probably hold steady at some number for long periods of time, while others would, for instance, raise their averages over time, as they outgrow the crying and start to smile more. (My understanding is that almost all kids' numbers drop when they hit the Terrible Twos, which tends to bring about an abundance of the Birth Control Reaction from outsiders.)

LL seems to be causing some rather serious "baby fever" among our friends lately, and I can only think of a small handful of times when he has cried enough to make people run out and buy condoms, so I think he's probably around 80 or 85 C/C. I explained my theory to S, and he gave LL a score of 90 C/C. But we're probably biased. LL's cold did cause his C/C number to take a bit of a hit, but he's been such a happy ball of sunshine ever since that he has more than made up for it.

I'm tempted to ask our friends to give their own children an estimated C/C number, but I have a hunch that not everyone enjoys reducing babies to numbers. Particularly numbers with the word "crap" in the metric. Some people take this whole parenting thing far too seriously.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Baby Factory Alternative

We officially pulled LL out of Baby Factory yesterday. It would have been earlier, but LL and I have both been house-bound with our colds since last week. Also, even though I knew that I never wanted to bring him back to that place (three days was more than enough!) I also didn't want to officially cancel our spot there without having some sort of alternate care in place, since I do kind of have to show up at my lab one of these days. I've been back to work for almost two weeks, but I've actually been in to work on only two of those days. It's lucky that I'm a student, or I'm pretty sure that I'd be fired by now. Grad students can't really be fired. Once you're like me and past all the major milestones, grad students can pretty much just be belittled by their advisors until they leave on their own. My advisor is fairly clueless about parenting and social lives and the like, but I'm pretty sure that he's also compassionate enough not to do that in this case. Anyway, I had a long talk with the director at Baby Factory, and the silver lining is that she agreed not to charge me any money. Technically speaking, I've already been billed for January, and I'm obligated to give them 30 days notice, so I would owe them for most of February, too. But the director quickly agreed that since LL was only there for 3 days, and the care sucked, they wouldn't charge me for February and I could tear up the bill I received for January. She was also extremely apologetic about the experience, and a little shocked by some of the stories I told her. S thinks she was just putting on an act for my benefit, but I don't particularly care either way. The good news is that we are officially done with that place!

The better news is that we may have found an alternative to Baby Factory. It's a home care place, which is something that I hadn't really considered until our experience with Baby Factory. The woman who runs it seems great, she used to be a preschool teacher at one of the top schools in our area, the kids at her house seem nice and respectful and mellow, the place looks safe and fun, the place has been running for several years, and the parents that I've talked to as references have wonderful things to say about it. (Also, one of the parents is a pediatrician, which makes me feel good about the level of care.) There's an immediate opening because one of the families that used to go there just moved out of the country.

My only reservation is that all of the kids are 2-3 years old, and the woman has never had an infant there before. (She's cared for her own children as infants, but she's never cared for one since she started caring for several kids at once.) Right now, she's looking after 3 toddlers (though one of them is only there 2 days/week), so LL would be child number four, and she'd like to add a fifth as well. My understanding is that five is kind of standard for home care places. But, caring for five kids when one of them is an infant seems unfathomable to me.

The rates are so low compared to Baby Factory... S and I are considering offering her more than her quoted rate in exchange for securing her promise that she won't take in a fifth kid. We're going to bring LL over for a trial run next week, just to see how it feels. (It would have been this week, but LL's not fully over his cold, and he's still so clingy from being sick that I don't think it's a good idea to start him somewhere new for the next few days.) I think that LL will like being around the toddlers, and the little girls we met there when we visited seemed excited to have a baby around, so I think that he'll have no shortage of people waving rattles around for him. But I still worry about anyone's ability to take the time to soothe an infant to sleep for a nap, or even feed a bottle, when trying to keep an eye on a bunch of toddlers.

Anybody out there have experience with these places? Is it really possible for someone to properly care for an infant while also watching three or four toddlers? Anything else we should be looking for, or watching out for, when evaluating small home daycares?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Four Months

LL is four months old today. In honor of his 1/3 of a year milestone, he had his picture taken this weekend (he was all smiles for the photos, then gave in to the worst of his cold later that afternoon, so we got some good pictures in just under the wire). We also had his four month checkup with Dr. K today, who confirmed that he is still quite the little peanut. Despite his gigantic entrance into the world, he is now firmly at the 35th percentile for both weight and length. (Significantly higher for head size... some things don't change.) He screamed bloody murder at his shots, but I think the combination of getting over his cold and getting poked with a needle just seemed like too much, and he was fine once I picked him up and murmured to him a bit.

We're waiting until 6 months for any solid food, so most things are continuing as is. We do need to get him some more tummy time, though. His neck strength is really good, but the rest of his upper body is apparently a bit flabby. (He gets that from me.) And he shows no interest at all in rolling over. Dr. K predicted that he'll be sitting up before he rolls over, and I agree -- he loves the vantage point of sitting, but he's in no hurry to go anywhere or reach for anything that would require rolling.

We're home now (yep, I'm keeping him home with me again today, partially because of the shots, partially because of the cold, partially because of the crappy daycare situation... how many excuses do I need?) and he's fussy and clingy and whiny, but still gives me brave little smiles when I coax him enough. He's fitfully napping right now, which is good, because he was up constantly last night. He usually only eats once during the night, but last night he got up three times to nurse, which isn't exactly helping me to get over my cold, either.

On a more fun topic: one of my friends was trying to figure out what kind of music her baby prefers. She scanned slowly through the FM dial, looking for what stations made the baby happiest. It sounded like a fun experiment, so I gave it a try. What do you suppose I can read into the fact that LL is happiest when listening to NPR? (I tested the hypothesis that he just likes voices by switching to conservative talk radio, and he screamed his little head off.) Our little liberal politico baby is instantly calmed by almost anything NPR, and loves providing his own answers during interviews. S and I are happy to indulge him in his left-wing leanings, so we're both staying home tomorrow morning to watch the inauguration with him. Our friends predict that someday he'll be the first Japanese Jewish president. (Not a whole lot of Jewish Japanese-Americans out there, so really, who's gonna beat him to it?) You read it here first. LL for President in 2044!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Baby's First Cold

Yes, that's right, another milestone. All it took was 3 partial days at Baby Factory, and LL is sick. (And, now, so am I, but whatever.) I know that increased exposure to illness is one of the common pitfalls of daycare, and increased exposure now should build up his immune system and make him more resilient later on, but still -- what the hell?! Though it does give me a convenient excuse for staying home with him this week instead of bringing him back to Baby Factory.

He has a runny nose and is sneezing and coughing, and often sounds congested. He also has a mild fever (it was 99.5 by this afternoon). We've been holding him upright as much as possible, we propped up his crib mattress so that he could sleep with his head elevated slightly to help to drain his congestion, and we're running a humidifier in his room. But the poor little guy is so miserable. He has no idea what's going on. He just knows that he's uncomfortable. He's crying and clingy and just wants to hang over my or S's shoulder with his finger in his mouth, pouting and quietly sobbing. It's so pathetic.

We called the pediatrician's office, and the nurse there said not to give him anything, keep monitoring his fever, and to bring him in if we are ever unable to coax a smile out of him. (I never knew that smiling was a diagnostic tool for infants.) So, every time we change his diaper, we do a round of Itsy Bitsy Spider, just to make sure that he still finds it amusing. So far so good. He giggles briefly, but it quickly dissolves into this sad little half-smile, like he appreciates our effort but just feels too crummy to really enjoy it.

LL's cold started early Friday morning, when I noticed him having trouble nursing because he was too stuffed up to breathe easily through his nose. My sore throat and all-over aches and pains waited until Friday evening. And both of us got worse over the course of the day today. It's good that it was a weekend, because S got to stay home and make me soup and help to hold LL. Now we just hope that I'm passing LL enough antibodies through my breast milk that we both feel better soon. But, the nurse warned that infant colds usually last 7-10 days, so we both may still get worse before things start looking up. Damn you, Baby Factory!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Baby Factory

This post is long, I know, but it's a topic that's been killing me, and I need to get it all off my chest. Today's topic: child care. I went back to work this week.

Back in April, when I was all of four months pregnant, I put my name on the wait list for the daycare at my university. I was told that the wait time varies... it could be as short as 6 months, or it could be as long as two years. Someday perhaps someone can explain to me how a wait list for infant care can possibly be two years, since every single baby on the list would be a toddler by the time they were picked. But I digress.

Since we obviously couldn't rely on getting into that daycare, we looked around for other options. Talked to a few people we trust. Discussed our finances. But then everything else that we needed to do to prepare for LL's arrival seemed infinitely more imminent, so we stopped researching child care. After LL was born, my months of maternity leave stretched before me, and we avoided the topic of child care for even longer. Then one morning I woke up and realized that all daycares have wait lists, and if we wanted to get LL in somewhere, we needed to get serious. I scrambled to find places to consider, scheduled some visits, and put us on some lists. The place that I liked the best didn't think they'd have an opening until March or April, and even then, there's a fairly long wait list ahead of us. Only one place could get us in to start in January, so we signed up. Let's call this place Baby Factory.

Baby Factory is a big place. They have three infant rooms, with 16 babies in each room, and strict rules about when babies get moved from room to room. Caretaker turnover is higher than I would like. Some of their care seemed a bit "assembly line" to me. So, it's not ideal. But, it also didn't seem objectionable. To top it off, we know four (yes, four) babies that were cared for at Baby Factory while infants, and the parents all had positively glowing things to say about the place. So, while it wasn't our top choice, we didn't feel bad signing LL up for daycare at Baby Factory.

LL was due to start at Baby Factory on Monday, and I needed to be back at work on Tuesday, so one day last week, I brought LL with me to Baby Factory so that we could spend a few hours there together. And it sucked. There were so many things that I saw that made me cringe... I came home and cried and told S that I didn't want to leave LL there. Not that we had many options at that point. So, on Monday, I tearfully left him there for a few hours. (I made S come with me to drop him off, because I correctly predicted that I wouldn't be in any shape to drive home afterward.) He was there for one feeding and one nap, and then I picked him up. On Tuesday, I left for work early in the morning, and S brought LL to Baby Factory later in the morning, and I picked him up mid-afternoon. Same thing on Wednesday, except that I picked him up even earlier. And now I'm scrambling to find somewhere, anywhere, that's better, because I don't want to leave him there ever again. Over just four days, here is what I've been told or what I've observed directly:
  • When I visited last week, one of the babies was recovering from an allergic reaction of some sort that she'd had earlier in the day. The caretakers had left a message for the mother, and when the mother called back, the baby's primary caretaker refused to come to the phone to talk to the mother about it. Just flat out told the caretaker who answered the phone, "Nah, I don't want to talk right now, you deal with it."

  • There's a microwave oven in the room, which we were told was used to heat lunch for the caretakers. Bottles were warmed in a warm water bath. While I was there, I watched them heat a bottle of breast milk in the microwave, which is a huge no-no.

  • With 4 infants sitting on the floor near the door, and 40-degree temps outside, one of the caretakers left the door wide open for 15 minutes while she went to talk to someone in a different building.

  • A baby was sitting alone on the floor crying hysterically for many, many minutes, even though one of the caretakers was sitting on a chair just a few feet away, doing nothing at all.

  • One of the caretakers noticed that one of the babies hadn't been put down for a nap for more than 4 hours. (Nobody had noticed before that....) She picked up the baby, brought her to the nap room, then returned a minute later with the baby. When someone else asked her what happened, she said that she put the baby in the crib, but the baby didn't immediately go to sleep, so she decided to bring the baby back out again. (Seriously, it's like they've never tried to get an infant to take a nap before!)

  • The infant care log has a place for the caretakers to write notes to the parents about how the day was, what he did, etc. We were told that we could expect little tidbits about LL's day. So far, after three days, the only thing they've written down was something telling us that they can't take glass bottles (we'd accidentally mixed a glass one in among the plastic ones). I won't get into how they then didn't feed him because of this mistake (as opposed to calling me and letting me know, so that I could have done something about it!). The only information that's ever on the care sheet is naps, diapers, and feedings. Nothing about any interaction or playtime.

  • On his very first day, LL's daily log showed that he napped for 45 minutes. When I asked his caretaker if he had gone to sleep easily, she said, "I don't know. I put him in his crib, then I went on break. When I came back, he was sleeping, so I guess he was okay."

  • On Wednesday, LL's log showed that he "refused" to nap. When I asked what happened, his caretaker said the same thing -- she put him down, then went on break, but this time, he must not have gone to sleep. I asked who was paying attention to him while she was on break, and it turned out that they hadn't communicated at all. When the second woman heard him crying, she assumed that he'd just woken up from a nap, not that he hadn't yet gone to sleep, so she took him out of the crib and returned him to the play area. When I pointed out that maybe they should communicate better when they hand off responsibility at break time, I got a blank look.

  • When I asked on Tuesday how his day had been, his caretaker gave me this response: "LL is such a mellow baby! After he eats, we can just plop him down in a corner and he's fine all by himself until nap time!"
This last one is possibly the most concerning to me. I know that LL is mellow most of the time, but he thrives on human interaction. He's happiest when he's around other people, particularly if they're smiling at him. But leaving him alone in a corner, when he's too young to sit up or get his own toys or anything? That just breaks my heart. I know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but I don't want him to learn that he has to be a squeaky wheel in order to get human contact!

When I came to pick him up on both Tuesday and Wednesday, they had him seated in a high chair at a table, even though he can't really sit up yet and he was slouched uncomfortably to one side. No toys were within reach of him, and no adults were nearby. He was just staring despondently off to the side. It was horrible. (When I picked him up Monday, he was lying awake in his crib, waiting for someone to notice him.) For the past three days running, he's been cranky and fussy all afternoon once I get him home. My normally smiley baby doesn't smile until he's been home for a while, like he needs time to shake off the Baby Factory fog before he can enjoy himself again. It sucks sucks sucks.

I mentioned a few of these things to a coworker on Wednesday, and he said, "Wow, that's horrible! You should try out the daycare where we sent my kids, it was great!" And before he finished the thought, I knew what he was going to say: his kids went to Baby Factory. So that's an additional recommendation for this place that seems just terrible to me.

Part of me wonders if I would be negative about any daycare, just because I know that LL isn't receiving the one-on-one care that he's used to. Maybe I just need to suck it up and give it more time. But every day when I get him home, I cry to myself because he just seems so miserable.

We're looking around at other places, because I want LL out of Baby Factory as soon as humanly possible. And I stayed home from work today (after being back just 2 days... I'm so dedicated) because I couldn't bear to leave him there. But he's going to have to be there for at least a few weeks until we line something else up, because I need to get working again. We're visiting more daycares, and a few home care places, this week. We're also broaching the topic of nanny-sharing with a few friends. (We can't afford a nanny just for ourselves... did I mention that I'm an underpaid grad student?) And while I do need to get back to my research if I ever plan to graduate, I'm more than willing to work half-days for a while so that we can minimize the amount of time that LL spends at Baby Factory. But in the mean time, I'm horribly depressed at what my poor innocent LL has to put up with. It's completely breaking my heart.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Boy Who Cried Poop

Weeks Fifteen and Sixteen Milestones:

LL is now reaching for toys! He did this once, over Thanksgiving, but hadn't done it since then. But while we were in Wisconsin, he learned this one for real, by watching his cousin, LiLi, who is three months older than him. We laid them down next to each other under a play gym. While LiLi immediately started reaching for the toys, LL just stared at LiLi. Then he reached out and started stroking her shoulder. Then he played with her ear. (She's ticklish, so she kept giggling, which gave him positive feedback to play with her ear some more.) When LiLi had had enough, she grabbed his hand and started munching on it, which confused him, because he's used to his fingers being wet only when he's munching on them himself. Eventually, LiLi went back to her toys, and after watching her a while longer, it was like something clicked in LL's little mind. He suddenly understood that his hands could do the same things that her hands could do, so he reached for the toys himself. It's a whole new world for him now. His very favorite toy is this bizarre thing, which he can grab with both hands and chew on, no matter how it's oriented.

LL loves books! You can hold books above him and he'll stare at the pictures, and he loves listening to people read. His current favorite book is "Barnyard Dance" by Sandra Boynton, which has really bright pictures and great sing-songy rhymes. If I just hold the book up in front of him, he gets excited and wiggles all over the place in anticipation. "Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaur" is a close second.

He has also become a This Little Piggy junky. He mainly tolerates the first several piggies, for the wonderful payoff of the final little piggy going wee wee wee all the way home. He can't get enough of the wee wee wee. Read into that what you will.

The only real problem that we're dealing with right now is the continuation of our pooping problem. As I previously mentioned, starting in late December, LL decided that he doesn't like pooping. When he was a newborn, he pooped constantly. Several times a day. Every single diaper had some poop. Then he slowed down a bit, which is totally normal. Once a day. Then, he settled into a solid pattern of once every other day. Which was fine with us, because let's be honest: changing a wet diaper is really easy, but changing a really messy one is a bit of a pain in the butt. (Get it? Butt? Hee hee.)

Then he went 6 days without pooping, several times in a row. Breastfed babies can go a week or more without it being a problem, but by day 4 or so, LL always starts looking uncomfortable. He fusses constantly while eating, arching his back and crying while also rooting. He seems hungry, but also seems to be out of space to put it, if you know what I mean. So, on day 3, we start giving him pear juice to get things going. We met this week with the lactation consultant one more time, who verified that he's eating enough food (and he's gotten much faster, which is good news for me!) and suggested that we try gripe water to relax him a bit. We'll see how it goes.

The funny part of this whole thing is that, while he's not pooping, LL still has amazing gas. He toots all day long, and they smell, really bad. I'll come in to pick LL up after a nap, and as I lean over his crib, I'll be hit with a tremendous odor. And I'll think, "Wow, that is incredibly smelly! He must have pooped!" But then I check his diaper and no, it's just farts. Amazing. (We have joked that the gas scare at my parents' house over Chanukah was entirely LL's fault.) I fall for it every time. Surely he can't be producing that much stink without having a really messy diaper to go along with it?! But he always does.

We call him The Boy Who Cried Poop.

If you're more into history than literature, try this one out: "I have not yet begun to poop." Suggestions for additional mottos are more than welcome.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Mama Bear

I think that everybody has a moment when they first feel the need to leap to action for the safety of their child. I'm not talking about doing research for safety issues, or deciding on the healthiest way to feed your baby, or leaving baby home instead of bringing him into a dangerous (or just less than ideal) situation. I'm not even talking about taking baby away from somebody who is making him uncomfortable for some reason. I'm talking honest to goodness sudden danger that makes a parent spring into action. My moment happened while we were in Wisconsin. Spoiler: it turned out that there wasn't actually any danger. But, we thought that there was, which is what really matters, I think.

Here's the scene:

My parents' house is full of people for Chanukah. Me and S and LL. My brother and SIL, M and A, and their three kids, who will now have official blog nicknames: Bee (boy, age 8), Sam (girl, age 5) and LiLi (girl, age 6 months). My parents. My grandfather (age 86). Several additional older relatives. The menorah is lit for the last night of Chanukah. Food is cooking on the stove. After several days of S and me both complaining that the house is too cold, and wondering whether my parents' furnace is working properly, the house is now pleasantly warm from the cooking, and from all of the additional people in the house. Outside, it is 15 degrees Fahrenheit, with a fresh layer of ice. The kids are happily opening presents.

Then: BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! The carbon monoxide (plus other things) detector goes off. Very loudly. The digital display just says "gas", and the numerical reading which normally reads 0 suddenly reads an alarming 221. Honestly, I don't even know what the units are. But when the number is supposed to be 0, a reading of 221 in just about any metric is alarming. Especially when the oven is on and there are several candles burning. Even more so when we were just commenting about a possibly faulty furnace. We know that it's not just a bad battery because the detector plugs into a wall outlet, and the electricity is working fine.

S and I grabbed LL's coat and bundled him up as quickly as we could, then did the same with LiLi, freeing up A to tend to Bee and Sam, who were freaking out a bit from the noise and urgency. My mom turned off the oven and stove, then ran to call the fire department. My grandfather blew out the Chanukah candles (not knowing what kind of gas the detector was referring to made open flames seem like a bad idea). Less helpful: my father and my brother stood in a corner arguing about what gas the alarm might be referring to, and how often one should replace smoke detectors. Even less helpful than that: one of my uncles, who is a perfectly capable able-bodied middle-aged man, went and got himself a snack, then returned to the couch to watch the rest of us scrambling to get the kids (and ourselves) out the door without leaving ourselves open to frostbite. (Remember: 15 degrees outside.)

We slipped and slid down the driveway and up the street towards a neighbor's house (the fire truck passed us on the way) where we waited for the all-clear. Everything turned out okay -- the firemen went through the whole house with their instruments and ultimately declared it perfectly safe (faulty carbon monoxide detector, apparently). And it was kind of nice to visit with the neighbors. I used to babysit for these neighbors, and their youngest daughter was home last week for winter break from college, where she is a senior majoring in international relations. Yes, the same little girl who, as a two-year-old, made me read Berenstein Bears books to her over and over and over and over has now explained to me her plans for graduate school, after which she hopes to work in South American diplomacy. I feel incredibly old. But I digress.

Our little gas scare was the first time that I really felt like LL was in any serious danger, and my overwhelming need to get him out of the house as quickly and safely as possible was pretty over-powering. As was my annoyance at the many relatives who put on their own coats, then just stood around getting in the way instead of doing anything helpful. (Really? You can't help Bee find his boots? You can't help Sam get her hat on? You can't help open some doors to air out the house? You can't help me figure out how to shut off the furnace before we leave?)

Other than the threat of the house blowing up or my entire family dying in a haze of poisonous gas, Chanukah was a lot of fun. My mom and I made a treasure hunt with little poem clues for Bee and Sam to follow, with their presents waiting at the end of the trail. ("Sam likes unicorns and LL likes bears. / For your next clue look at the bottom of the stairs.") Though some of my more creative poems were vetoed by my parents. Something about age appropriateness and the need for Bee and Sam to respect their parents. ("Bee and Sam love to sing songs. / Go look where your Dad used to hide his bongs.") And everyone respected my request to only get LL toys for 6+ months that encourage free play and don't need batteries -- things like alphabet blocks and shape sorters and pushable toy cars. (Though the toy that was the biggest hit with everyone was for LiLi: this jar of bugs, which looks and sounds odd, but all the kids loved it. In particular, LL and LiLi both very much enjoyed chewing on the spider.) Also, Bee started Hebrew school a few months ago, so he got to read the prayers when we lit the menorah, which was cool to watch. All in all, a fun holiday!

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year Reflections

We're back from our winter wonderland trip to the Great White North, and now that LL is sleeping peacefully in his crib, I have a few moments to reflect. But only a few, because I've been up for 19 hours and counting, including several on airplanes and several more wandering around what has to be the worst organized airport in the country, waiting out a weather delay. I'm really looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight. The really fun stories from the trip, about LL and his cousins and Chanukah and snow, will have to wait for later in the week. For now, I need to get down my feelings about the New Year.

We spent New Year's Eve with my parents, my brother, M, and my sister-in-law, A. After all four kids were asleep, we played poker and ate New Year's foods. (It was a pretty random food assortment -- my dad always eats herring, M and A wanted shrimp cocktail, and S and I made soba.) We also had a bottle of champagne that was leftover from my wedding.

As midnight approached, S and I made the soba and poured the champagne and turned the television to the coverage of the ball dropping in Times Square. We kissed and told each other how much we were looking forward to 2009. Meanwhile, M and A and my parents groaned about how late it was, and how silly the Times Square thing was, and how this was just another night so what was the big deal? M complained about the weather. My parents were fighting about ... something minor .... Mainly, they all made fun of me and S. I finally had to ask them to just let us have our moment.

I spent several New Year's Eves in a row going out to parties while just feeling sad that I wasn't home with a baby. 2007, in particular, really sucked, and a year ago I was thrilled to see it go. We got our positive pregnancy test on December 30 of 2007, but didn't get it confirmed by a doctor until January of 2008. So, even last New Year's Eve, while I was thrilled beyond belief at finally being pregnant, it was still really freaking early and I was still holding my breath. It was the latest in a series of years that felt like all we were doing was waiting.

This New Year's Eve, I finally didn't feel that way anymore. Instead, I feel like in 2008 we were really living our lives, enjoying life, growing closer and being happy. We had a wonderful 2008, and not just because of the pregnancy and the birth of LL. We also traveled a lot. Got to spend a lot of time with friends. Visited a lot with family. We paid off our second mortgage. We bought our first new car in ten years. S made some great career advances at work. I made terrific progress on my PhD, finally reaching ABD (All But Dissertation) status. We got our home into a de-cluttered state that I'm really proud of, and that no longer feels like it's decorated in cheap college dorm furniture style. And I feel like, as a couple, we learned to be more patient with each other. And we got better at making each other laugh during times of stress, putting us day-by-day on a much more even keel. Heck, even a presidential election finally went our way!

That's not to say that everything was perfect. S was in grueling physical therapy for the first half of the year, trying to recover from his knee surgery. My pregnancy wasn't always roses and sunshine. Learning to be parents, and dealing with how being parents has changed our relationships with our own parents, has been a challenge. And honestly, it feels like I spent most of 2008 in a slight panic, brought about in part by a continuous state of sleep-deprived haze.

Still, it felt wonderful to spend a New Year's Eve feeling more joy than sorrow. More hope than trepidation. More excitement than emotional exhaustion. When midnight rolled around and we kissed, we stayed that way for longer than we have for many New Year's, even though my parents and M and A were making fun of us the entire time. It's good to be hopeful again.

And I'll brush right past the fact that LL woke up screaming at 12:05am.