Tuesday, May 26, 2009


LL turned 8 months old this past week. That's 2/3 of a year! A picture of his many skills and hobbies, to date:

Physical Skills! He's a master sitter now, but still no interest in crawling (thank goodness!). Still, he technically entered the realm of mobility by figuring out how to scoot along the floor on his back, headfirst, in a purposeful inchworm style (as opposed to the random flailing that moved him around occasionally in the past). But since he rarely lies on his back when he's out of his crib (why lie down when you can sit?) it's not really doing him much good. On the other hand, just by continuing to grow taller and stronger, he can now reach his mobile while lying down in his crib, so we had to remove it before he pulled the whole thing down on himself. (He still looks a little sad when he goes in his crib, since his mobile friends aren't there anymore. We added his teddy, Bingo Bear, to his crib as a replacement friendly face.) He shows very little interest in standing or pulling up. Some parents might be concerned at this lack of physical prowess at eight months of age, but S and I are just counting our blessings that we can get away with not finishing the baby-proofing for a few more weeks. (Take your time, kiddo. Those crystal wine glasses dangling just out of reach aren't going anywhere.)

Waving! He waves "hello" and "bye-bye." And by "wave," I mean that he sticks one arm out and opens and closes his fist. I saw him do "bye-bye" first, waving goodbye to Rosie at the end of the day. He added "hello" a day later, welcoming S home from work. And, intrigued by how everyone smiled and clapped whenever he did it, he has now taken to randomly waving at toys, plants, and furniture, in an attempt to get further applause.

Communicating! He asks to be picked up, by patiently holding both arms over his head in the classic baby "uppy" pose. This accomplishment is not only extremely cute, but also useful, since in addition to doing this when he wants to snuggle, he also does it as a way of letting us know that his diaper is wet and he'd like to be carried into his nursery for a change, please. We now have less whining about diapers! Yay! Though, oddly, after calmly requesting the diaper change, he then screams bloody murder as soon as we put him on the changing table, unless we launch into very loud singing of the ABC Song, on repeat, until he is dressed again.

Playing! LL is addicted to blocks. He will patiently watch me build a block tower, waiting until at least block four or five before knocking it down. When he sees a taller tower, he practically hyperventilates in anticipation of knocking it down. When presented with a box full of blocks, he will deliberate long and hard before deciding which blocks he would like to carefully pick up and place on the floor next to him. (I haven't yet figured out his selection criteria.) And, when there's no box and no tower, he will patiently chew on a single block while waiting for somebody to play a game with him. Thankfully, he has not yet learned how to throw.

Bath Time! LL has enjoyed bath time for a while now, but it's worth mentioning how much this kid loves playing with water. Especially moving water. Pouring water out of a cup, holding a showerhead in front of him, watching the faucet... all fascinating. And when we don't provide enough movement, he happily splashes to create waves of his own. Sometime soon, we're going to have to move his infant tub out of the kitchen sink, because the puddles on the floor are getting a little hard to deal with.

Music! LL loves being sung to, despite having two completely tone-deaf parents. We currently have about a dozen songs in our repertoire, ranging from traditional (Twinkle Twinkle Little Star) to kid music (Down by the Bay), from folk songs (am I the only one who knows My Name is Yon Johnson? LL loves being bounced around the house to this one) to completely inappropriate parody rap (S has developed his own censored versions of Saturday Night Live parodies; current favorite is I'm On A Boat, but only because I banned him from singing Motherlover. Because really... ick!). Also, after months of refusing to listen to anything on the FM dial that wasn't NPR, LL has finally come around to appreciating some classic rock, with the Beatles at the top of his list.

Reading! LL has discovered literature. He loves loves loves books. Being read to is the best, but he will also pick up books on his own and attempt to flip the pages. Though, more often than not, flipping pages becomes tiring, and he resorts to chewing on them instead. Yum.

Eating! Cold pureed food: good! Warm pureed food: eh. Finger food: mysterious. We have started trying him on pureed meats (so far, just chicken) and have confirmed what we discovered about fruits and vegetables: foods that LL loves either room temperature or cold are completely rejected when heated to luke warm. I guess it's okay, because it's certainly easier on us to just serve everything to him cold, but still... weird. As for finger foods... he eats rice crackers, but we can't tell if he enjoys the taste, or just the novelty. He finds smaller foods (eg, little bite-sized puffs) to be more frustrating than fun, unless I put them in his mouth myself, which sort of defeats the purpose. And when I tried giving him a tiny chunk of banana, he repeatedly spit it out rather than eating it, even though he adores pureed bananas. So, for now, we're sticking with cold food on spoons.

Sleep! Every time we have a nighttime sleep breakthrough, LL gets sick. (Yeah, apparently getting a good night's sleep just overwhelms his immune system.) We had an awesome week where LL slept through the night five out of seven nights, and then he got sick again. The suspected ear infection was not an ear infection, it was just a minor head cold on top of the usual teething. For almost a week, he coughed and pulled on his ear but was otherwise in a fantastic mood, and then this weekend he moved from minor head cold to major head cold, the worst he's ever had. Horrible congestion and sneezing and coughing, and obviously a lot of pain and discomfort. The past several nights, the only way LL would sleep was propped up in my arms. He's mostly better today, but we still kept him home from daycare, in an attempt to be good citizens. As soon as the congestion is gone, we're hoping that he goes back to sleeping through the night.

Growing! I've been having more of those days where I get home from work and become convinced that in the six hours I was gone, somebody took my baby and replaced him with a larger version. At eight months old, he's tipping the scale at 19 pounds. That is still on the low end for his age, but it seems huge to me. We haven't measured his length lately, but he's sticking out of his infant car seat in unflattering ways, so he has clearly grown vertically as well. His face is maturing, too, and he's looking more and more like a little boy instead of a baby. And his hair is filling in, silky soft and curling a little at the ends. Good thing that he's keeping his puffy squirrel cheeks!

We leave for our college reunion in one week. I'm growing more and more calm about LL's ability to handle the time difference and general upheaval of being away from home, and more and more nervous about the flight. The thought of six straight hours on an airplane with him makes me a little nauseous. But I am feeling a bit giddy about showing him off to our friends.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Date Night!

S and I went out alone last night, for the first time since LL was born. (Or, as one of our friends put it, we went out last night without our ubiquitous third wheel.) If we had family in the area, we probably would have done it sooner, but with no built-in babysitters within reach, we waited until LL was "easy" enough in the evenings that we were comfortable imposing on friends.

I am happy to say that I didn't call home even once, which I hear is what new moms are supposed to do, multiple times, the first time that they leave their little one with a non-parent. I did ask my friend E, who was babysitting, to send me a text message when LL was asleep in his crib (right on time -- 7:38pm) but other than that, we let sleeping babies lie. S and I just went out for dinner, so we weren't out very late (and our relatively early dinner reservations made us the only patrons in the restaurant for a good half hour after we sat down) but it was nice to be out and about with S for a while.

Back at home, LL played with E, did his normal bedtime routine without a hitch, and went to sleep with no problems. He was asleep when we got home at 9:30pm. Then, at 11:00pm, all hell broke loose. Three nights in a row, LL had slept through the night, 7ish to 7ish, without crying for us even once. Last night, we were not so lucky. When I went in to to check on him, he was in a full panic, like he had just realized that it hadn't been his mommy who had put him to bed several hours earlier. He desperately reached up to me to be picked up, sobbing and coughing. (He hadn't cried at all when we left, and he hadn't cried at all the whole time E was with him.) He kept crying and crying, along with a shriek that normally means he's in pain. So... teething maybe? We got out the motrin, and washed it down as usual with a little water, and he kept lunging at the dropper of water. Hm... hungry maybe? We got him a bottle, and he proceeded to gulp down 8 ounces. (He hasn't eaten that much milk in one sitting for weeks; he rarely eats at night anymore, and when he does, it's usually 2-3 ounces.) When he was done eating, he immediately started to cry again. And then he started coughing and obsessively pulling on his ear. Crap.

As I've mentioned, there are significant issues with diagnosing problems in babies. In particular, the available sensor readings are noisy, the baby's actions are somewhat stochastic, and I have no ability to hold any variables constant as controls. Last night, I first thought that LL was upset because he didn't know where Mom and Dad had gone, and he was panicked that someone other than me or S had put him to bed. But, that might have just been me projecting emotions onto him. (You don't want your kid to get really really upset when you leave, because you'll never be able to leave without guilt. On the other hand, you want him to be just a little upset, purely for selfish reasons, because otherwise it hits you that you are totally replaceable in his eyes. Come on, babe, you love me more than that, right?) My hypotheses then rotated slowly through teething, hunger, and teething again, and finally came to rest on the dreaded ear infection. Hence: crap! LL occasionally pulls on his ear from teething pain, but he's never had a cough like that, and he's never tugged so mercilessly on the ear, while crying.

Eventually, the motrin kicked in and he was able to fall asleep. There was less ear-pulling this morning, and he seemed relatively happy. But he also didn't want to eat much breakfast, and the cough seems to be getting worse. We left him with Rosie, and told her to keep a close eye on his cough and his ear, and we'll evaluate tonight whether it seems like it's really a problem. It might really just be teething. Or it might really just be panic that we had left him. Either way, I'm hoping that tonight is better. And that we don't need to go to the pediatrician. I really can't handle him getting sick again right now. Two colds this season has been plenty.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two Years!

Last summer, when I was six months pregnant, I ran into M, a former coworker who is now a respected professor at an excellent university. When he saw that I was pregnant, he told me that his first child was born while he was still in grad school finishing his PhD, and he didn't get any research done at all for two full years after the baby was born. The only way he managed to graduate was that his wife eventually quit her job to stay home full-time, thus allowing M to ignore his family for a while and really focus on finishing his dissertation.

M is a really nice guy. He's friendly and sociable and I've never heard him be mean to anyone. He's normally a super supportive kind of guy. So it really took me by surprise when he assured me, several times, that if my husband was going to keep his job, he was fairly certain that I would never graduate. Ever. And as we talked further, he kept shaking his head and calling me naive. (He didn't use the word "naive." Like I said, he's not mean. But that was the basic attitude.)

At the time, I was very much taken aback. And not a little pissed off. But you know what? I haven't really made any progress on my research in the past nine months. The last two months of my pregnancy, I was uncomfortable and distracted and suffering from pregnancy-induced RSI, which made it very hard to accomplish research that is almost entirely done in front of a computer. Then I was on maternity leave for four months, which kind of turned into five months because of childcare problems. But I've been back at work full-time for two months now, and I've still gotten nothing done. And I feel horrible about it. And my advisors are, um, noticing. (Yeah, they didn't notice until recently. Which actually isn't too weird, because that's sort of a result of where I am in the PhD process right now.)

When S and I were trying to get pregnant, and even during my pregnancy, I had this plan for what it would be like to be in grad school while taking care of a baby. My mom was a working mom, I saw how she balanced things for my entire life, and grad school is basically a job (though a bit more intense and all-consuming than your average job). Also, despite M's attitude, I can now say with a fair amount of certainty that I wasn't naive about how much work it would be taking care of a baby. I was a little naive about the long-term effects of sleep deprivation, and I'll admit that I really thought that LL would be sleeping through the night by now, but other than that, I wasn't too far off the mark in my expectations.

But I now think that I was wrong about one major thing. I was convinced that succeeding simultaneously at school and motherhood was going to be all about multitasking and being organized. And those things are definitely important. But there's a third piece that is at least as important as those, and it's something that I didn't take into account, and I'm discovering that it's something that I suck at: compartmentalization. I desperately need to learn to compartmentalize. A lot of why I haven't been getting any research done, despite being hyper-organized, is that I simply cannot focus on work when I'm at work. I get to my office, and my mind is flooded with all things LL.

When I'm home with LL, I am very focused on him. What I'm not able to do when I'm with him are tasks related to him that require some brain activity and focus. Things like reading about naps and sleep habits and getting infants to sleep through the night. Reading about upcoming developmental milestones. Figuring out if he's eating enough milk, and how much solids he's supposed to be eating at this age. Planning for upcoming travel with LL. Making plans for everything that we'll need to do (very soon!) to baby proof our house. Making lots and lots and lots of to-do lists. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Compounding the problem is where I am in my graduate career. Most of my research is done, but the bits that haven't been finished yet are those random nebulous ones that are a bit hard to define and require more brain power than anything concrete. The main project that was funding the first several years of my research is over, and I'm being supported mainly on overhead funds meant for end-stage PhD students, which means that nobody is really counting on my results right now except me. And "results" is a strong word, since the stuff that I'm trying to finish right now is fairly theoretical, so it would be hard to measure progress anyway. It's all fairly squishy as far as evidence-of-work-or-progress is concerned. From talking to friends who have finished their PhDs, I understand that it's fairly common for students to stall a bit at this point in their grad school careers. The big things are done, the hard-core writing isn't happening yet, but the tying-things-together-and-finishing is so abstract, and progress so hard to measure, that it's normal to spin your wheels for a bit. (For example, check out this graph. That global minimum in the fifth year? When your advisor loses funding and you haven't defended yet? That's me.)

But for me, the combination of baby distractions and thesis wheel-spinning seems deadly. And it's all compounded exponentially by the months of sleep deprivation, which have left my brain in a pervasive fog that I cannot seem to lift. A perfect storm of non-accomplishment.

I've tried all the normal things to get myself focused. Setting near-term deadlines. Breaking up tasks into small, bite-sized tasks. Making daily schedules. But then I sit down to work, and my mind gets irretrievably distracted. And then I feel terrible about myself for wasting time and not getting anything productive done. Again. Which doesn't help. I just feel like I'm continually treading water at work, but not going anywhere.

Oddly, the only thing that makes me feel at all better about the situation is my friend M. His comment about his research stalling for two years, which pissed me off last summer, now makes me feel comforted. He didn't make any progress for two years, yet he still graduated (eventually), and is having a very successful research career. So maybe I just need to let myself wait out the suckiness that is my work life right now, and trust that I'll still graduate some day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

In Praise of Daddy

In honor of Mother's Day, I would like to spend some time in praise of S, LL's wonderful daddy. Just a few of the reasons why S is awesome:

S shares nighttime duty with me, and he has since LL was very very little. For the first several weeks, when I was recovering from my c-section and couldn't lift LL out of his bassinet very easily, S got up at night every time LL and I did, until I was able to handle the nighttime feedings by myself. Later, S spent several weeks acting as nighttime first-responder, comforting LL when he cried at night, to try to put him back to sleep without needing to eat. More recently, now that LL is on bottles, and doesn't eat at night very often, S and I alternate nights being "on duty." (I still wake up even on S's nights, but I don't have to get out of bed. Thus, neither one of us is exactly well-rested, but at least neither of us are dying of extreme exhaustion, either.)

S has never been afraid to change diapers, and I would guess that we're pretty close to 50-50 on splitting this duty. I was a little worried about this before LL was born, because S is a bit of a neat freak, and I was worried that he would try to avoid dirty diapers. But, it turns out that S's sense of responsibility outweighs his squeamishness. Also, I think that he views the perfecting of cloth-diaper-folding-and-fastening as an engineering challenge. We have very few diaper blow-outs at our house.

S is amazing at soothing LL. Several of my friends can't go out at night, or even leave their babies/toddlers at home with Daddy for stretches during the day, because their husbands "can't do bedtime." S and I were both a little horrified by this thought early on (really? Dad doesn't know how to put his own kid down for a nap?) and we went to semi-extreme measures to make sure that LL was happy being comforted by S. S got off to a good start because he was the most amazing swaddler in the whole world, and he's still better at getting LL to go down for a nap than I am. For bedtime, we both know the routine, we each do different parts of it on different nights, depending on who wants to do what, and we've each done the whole routine alone when necessary. (I've never missed a bedtime, but there have been a few nights when I was cooking dinner during bedtime, and just popped in for a book and kisses while S did everything else.) I have no doubt that S and LL would be fine if I needed to leave them home alone together for an extended period of time.

S does ~75% of LL's laundry. Including folding it. But, oddly, not putting it away. He's worried about messing up my organizational system. As if I have an organizational system for LL's laundry beyond "The stuff in this drawer fits. Burp cloths go over there."

S washes bottle parts and baby spoons. He sterilizes pacifiers. I think the only thing that he has never done for LL is food preparation. (He hates hates hates grocery shopping, so he has never bought baby food, and he hasn't attempted any of the homemade baby food recipes.) But, he makes up for it by taking the lead on making bottles. And S helps to feed LL breakfast several days a week, so he still gets to experience the joy of pureed veggies at the consumption phase. (I still have to do all the dinner feedings, because S doesn't get home from work in time for LL's dinner.)

And, of course, there's playtime. S roughhouses with LL, and always knows how to make him giggle. He snuggles with him in bed. They play with blocks together. They read books. S takes LL for walks in his ergo carrier. I can't fully describe how awesome it is watching the two of them together.

Most importantly, it's obvious how much S enjoys being with LL. When S gets home from work, he swoops in to play with LL, and more often than not, takes care of most of LL's needs for the rest of the evening, all the way until bedtime. Which is really nice for both of us -- I get home from work between 3:30 and 4:30, so I play with LL and take care of him alone until S gets home around 6:15, and then S gets to spend some quality time, too, before bedtime at 7:00.

I worry sometimes that we won't be able to keep splitting responsibilities going forward. A lot of kids go through an "I want Mommy!" phase, where they insist on mommy doing everything. (Sometimes there's a "Just Daddy!" phase, too, but they're usually rarer and shorter.) And I wonder sometimes how much of our ability to share responsibilities like diaper changes and bedtime are because LL is laid back enough to not care which of us is there. But for now, we're kind of enjoying being somewhat interchangeable for LL.

With the possible exception of middle-of-the-night responsibilities, before we had a good routine down, S and I have never really had arguments about taking care of LL. Things are definitely not perfectly equal, with an exact 50-50 split of responsibilities, but that's not really the goal. I'm home with LL more than S is, so I end up doing more. And there are things that I'm particular about, so I do them. And while I wish that S came home from work a little earlier (I end my work day a full hour or two earlier than I'd like to, but he he still works basically the same hours that he did before LL was born, sometimes walking in the door right as bedtime is starting) there's no task that I can point to and say, "I wish S did that for LL more often." He's a fantastic father, a fantastic partner, and the love of my life.

Also, for Mother's Day, he let me sleep in and he made me pancakes. I love that guy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Nap Experiment

LL takes three naps each day. One at 9am, one at 11:30am, and one at 3:30pm. Each one is reliably between 60 and 90 minutes. On very rare occasion, he skips one of the first two, usually because of something like teething pain or grandparents refusing to stop playing with him. Lately, he had been skipping the third nap on a semi-regular basis... maybe two or three times each week.

Just as we were starting to think that maybe he was ready to consolidate to two naps (by pushing the mid-day nap a little later, to say 1:00pm or so, and eliminating the afternoon nap) we ran into a forcing function. LL is the only baby at Natasha's daycare. All of the other kids are right around two years old. They all take a single nap, at 1:00 every afternoon. Normally, nap time is when Natasha can sit down for a moment, eat lunch, straighten things up a bit... you know, the same things that normal people do when their kids nap. Unfortunately, LL is always waking up from his midday nap just as the other kids are going to sleep, which means that Natasha doesn't get any down time at all.

When LL was smaller, she carried him around with her while the other kids napped, and sometimes put him in a swing to hang out while she ate, which was fine. But now he's kind of big to lug around all the time, and he doesn't always agree to play by himself on the floor while she eats or cleans up. (I know this from experience -- he's happy to play on the floor if I'm playing with him, but heaven forbid I try to focus on something other than him, even if I'm sitting right next to him.)

Anyway, Natasha was slowly losing her ability to cater to his unique schedule. So, she reluctantly gave us a choice: we could let her move LL's midday nap closer to 1:00, so that it overlaps with the other kids, or we would have to find another daycare. (When I say she was reluctant, I mean it -- she was practically crying at the thought of losing LL, which is probably also a sign that she's really really tired to have brought it up in the first place.) The whole thing also sent me into a horrible panic, because we've been through enough daycare searches and turnover to make me know that I do not want to find someplace new. But then we said, hey, we were thinking about consolidating his naps soon anyway -- no time like the present!

So, Saturday and Sunday, we did two naps, 9am and 1pm. Each day, by 1pm, poor LL was a sleepy little zombie. Totally exhausted. And his normal bedtime is 7:00, but by 5:30 each day, he was yawning and looking at us with these pitiful little eyes, pleading to be allowed to just go to bed already. And he was so grumpy by bedtime. Noon to 1:00, and 6:00 to 7:00 were ugly. I mean, I'm cranky when I'm tired, too. (Honestly, I feel like I've been a bit cranky for several months now, thanks to constant sleep deprivation.) But LL is normally so good-natured, that it was horrible to watch him be in such a bad mood. I kept telling S that it felt like we were breaking the baby.

But we thought that maybe he just needed to get used to the new schedule, so we kept at it. LL is with Rosie on Mondays, so we told her about LL's new schedule. But when I got home, Rosie told me that LL was tired and cranky by noon, and she couldn't torture him, so she put him down for his nap at 12:30. And then at 4:00 he was falling asleep while playing, so she put him down for another nap. She told me that he was very fussy, then asked if "fussy" was the right word, because English isn't her first language, and she'd never before had to describe that type of behavior from LL.

I was almost scared to bring LL to Natasha's on Tuesday. When I dropped him off, I told her that she could try the 1:00 nap we had discussed, that he's been doing that for three days now, but that he was still adjusting. I picked LL up at 3:00, and asked Natasha how his day had been. Apparently, he started yawning and rubbing his eyes at 11am, so she put him down for a nap. He woke up shortly before 1pm, but consented to play by himself, so it wasn't too bad. And then he fell asleep in the car on the way home, and slept until after 4:30. (He had to work off all that sleep debt from a weekend of missed naps, I guess.) I told her that we had been trying to push back LL's nap to make her life a little easier, but she shrugged and said that while she appreciated the effort, she knows that forcing babies to change their schedules doesn't make anybody happy, so she'd try to make do.

So, clearly he's not ready to give up his third nap yet. On Tuesday, Natasha seemed so relieved that we were even willing to try it that she told us not to worry, that she could work through it for another month until he's ready to try again. But the whole experience left me a little nervous. I'm nervous about traveling next month and dealing with a nap-deprived LL. And now I'm nervous that we'll have to find yet another new daycare.

I'm a scientist, so I have to admit that I like experimenting a bit on LL. Food experiments, in particular, are a lot of fun, though messy. But sleep experiments suck. Blech. I'm hoping that LL is well behaved at daycare for the next few weeks, so that we don't have to run another nap experiment until he's really ready for it.