Wednesday, August 26, 2009


It turns out that LL has spent the past several non-crawling months plotting out exactly what he would do once he learned to crawl. He has been mobile for less than 72 hours, and much of that time, he has been asleep or out of the house at daycare. Nonetheless, in the past three days, he has managed to:
  • run the closet door over his foot;
  • defeat the lock on our entertainment center;
  • slam his fingers in the drawer of his dresser;
  • attempt to eat a plastic garbage bag;
  • pull on a tuft of carpeting, unraveling a good chunk of it;
  • chew on a gel insert in a tennis shoe;
  • have a go at the safety plugs in several electrical outlets;
  • pull a wine bottle off the wine rack and give it a good whack on the tile floor;
  • angrily shake the safety gate keeping him out of the office, then immediately zero in on the latch that opens it.
And those are just the activities that rate in the moderate-to-high danger zone. He has also discovered a totally safe love for dirty laundry and old VHS tapes. Still, we should probably get cracking on the last of that baby-proofing.

With his brain now free of the all-consuming puzzle of figuring out locomotion, LL has turned to more intellectual pursuits. Yesterday, he drank several ounces of milk through a straw, something that we've been working on for weeks. (His normal behavior was to either blow bubbles, or to suck a little liquid into his mouth and then immediately spit it out. Anything but suck on the straw and actually consume what came out.) This morning, he suddenly mastered the arm movements for "How big is LL?" and giving high-fives. By the end of the week, he should be ready to learn how to drive.

LL is not the only one who has new-found independence. I am happy to report that my grad funding situation is resolved. AdvisorA's final comment on the matter, a week or two ago, was that she had no money for me anywhere, she had no plans to look for more money, and I was completely financially on my own. If I wanted help with funding, I should talk to other people, but not her. End of story. So I had a chat with my department's financial manager, Pepper, who had heard about the situation from AdvisorB and was horrified by what had happened, but pessimistic about the chances of finding a good solution. Pepper looked around, and then called me to her office to tell me that she had found some money for me. How much? Enough to fully fund me for the entire academic year, all the way until my planned graduation in June.

I was dumbstruck. I mean, I had given up all hope of finding funding for the year, and had resigned myself to being a TA in the fall, and taking a leave of absence while I finished up after that. Instead, I'm completely out of the financial woods.

A windfall like this one doesn't just happen, so you just know that there was going to be a dark side. I was a little hesitant to find out, but I just had to know: where did the money come from?

It turns out that AdvisorA has a slush fund. Or rather, the lab that she and I belonged to had a slush fund, contributed to by many professors over the years. As the lab shrank, and many professors retired or left, the slush fund became the sole property of AdvisorA. The money is available for absolutely any purpose, except that it has to be spent at my university (where AdvisorA is no longer employed). When AdvisorA left my university, she couldn't take the fund with her, but nobody else had rights to it, so she hid it. And cleverly forgot to mention it when I, and AdvisorB, and Pepper all independently questioned her about any money she had access to that could be used to pay for me. (And before we give her the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe she really did forget about it: Pepper said that AdvisorA is still charging things to the account on occasion, as recently as a few weeks ago, when expenses come up that she can reasonably charge to this account.)

Pepper found the account, and discovered that it had more than enough money in it to fund me for the year. (At least an order of magnitude more, in fact.) Then she went to the Department Chair and suggested that the Chair transfer money out of this account into the department's overhead account, then use the department's overhead account to pay for me. Everything was approved, the transfer was done, end of story. I am now fully funded.

The one glitch: nobody told AdvisorA. I'm not going to be the one to do it, because it will look a lot like I convinced the department to steal money from AdvisorA. And Pepper and the Department Chair both feel like this account shouldn't really be AdvisorA's anymore anyway, that the entire account should have become the property of the department as soon as AdvisorA left, so why should they have to tell her when they spend their own money? And AdvisorB thinks that there's so much money in the account that AdvisorA will never notice the missing money, so why draw attention to it.

For now, I'm staying out of it. I talked with AdvisorA on the phone, and when she asked what class I was going to TA, I told her that the department found money for me. Then I played dumb and said that I didn't know the details, she'd have to ask Pepper if she wanted to know more. Given how little she cares at this point, I doubt she'll follow up. If she does, Pepper and AdvisorB are both prepared to lie through their teeth and tell her that I didn't know where the money came from. My only risk at this point is that she does find out, she does get pissed about it, and she takes it out on me by delaying (or preventing) my graduation. (She is still on my committee, and trying to remove her at this point would hurt me more than just dealing with whatever she decides to throw at me.)

Even though I know that there might still be some fallout, I am elated that I can stop worrying about money and just focus on finishing my research. And writing my thesis. And finding a job. And planning LL's first birthday party. And babyproofing the house.

Monday, August 24, 2009

One Small Step for Man

Thank you to everyone who commented that babies learn to crawl before they learn to bring themselves to sitting. Several friends also mentioned that babies tend to spend several days rocking back and forth on their hands and knees before they figure out how to propel themselves forward. The consensus seemed to be: rock on all fours; wait a week; crawl; wait a week; come to sitting. Sounds good! To all of the people who gave us this information, LL would like to (respectfully) stick out his tongue and blow a giant wet raspberry in your face.

As an aside: did I mention that LL was blissfully late to the blowing raspberries habit? He showed no interest in it at all until he met my old undergraduate advisor, a highly respected woman with many many career awards for a lifetime of scientific research achievements; she is a past president of the major research body for my field, and is currently the Dean of a large institute at a prestigious university. She taught LL to blow raspberries when she met him at our reunion. And now I get to tell people that, at the tender age of eight months, LL learned his first life skill from an Ivy League university.

Back to our story. Rocking, then crawling, then sitting. Pfffffttt! We woke up yesterday morning to discover LL happily sitting in his crib. Yes, sitting. And looking awfully proud of himself. But he wouldn't do it outside of his crib, which made us think that he was using the bars to pull himself up. When we went to get him after his morning nap, he was once again sitting, and this time when we put him on the floor, he showed us how he could sit up all by himself. And then clap, of course. Yaaay!

Two hours later, he was crawling. I put him on the floor, and I made a gigantic tower of stacking cups several feet away, and off he went! And oh my goodness, when he knocked that tower down, he immediately sat down and gave himself the most gleeful round of applause that I have ever seen. Pure joy.

After giving him gigantic hugs and lots more cheering, S and I grabbed the phone and called all the grandparents. Through the magic of the internet, we quickly set up a three-way video conference, and they got to watch as LL practiced his crawling technique for an hour, until he was so exhausted that he almost started his afternoon nap on the floor, on his way to another pile of blocks.

By the end of the day, LL was rocking his body on all fours before taking off, like he was revving his engines before crawling away. And I spent the entire day playing over and over in my head that first crawl and the unbelievably ecstatic little boy who clapped for himself afterward. One tiny little leap for mankind, but one giant step forward for LL.

Rocking, then crawling, then sitting, with several days in between? Not in our house. Pfffffttt!

Friday, August 21, 2009


We're past eleven months now. Less than a month to go until LL turns one year old. He's looking so much like a little boy these days, and he has almost completed a full revolution around the sun. After his birthday, it seems wrong to call him a baby, but he's nowhere near walking yet, so he's not a toddler. Is there a stage between baby and toddler? (We're currently leaning towards "really lazy toddler" because I'm pretty sure that he could do a bunch more physical stuff if he weren't so opposed to athletic exertion.)

What else can I say about my little sedentary munchkin? His favorite pastime remains sitting on the floor with a pile of books. Despite the non-walking, he now owns his first pair of shoes. LL doesn't walk or crawl, but he does like to stand, and the available standing surfaces outside of our house are not always kind to bare feet. After many many months (ten?) of eating anything and everything you put in front of him (except spinach... what is it with kids and spinach?!?) LL has now become a bit pickier in his culinary tastes. He wants variety, man! Not just between meals (for months, he insisted on starting every meal with oatmeal; now, suddenly, he's giving us these looks like, "Oatmeal again? Are you kidding me?") but also within a single meal. ("No, mommy, I've just had three bites in a row of watermelon! Perhaps a few bites of cheese, and then I will return to the watermelon.")

His need for variety has also extended to pacifiers, of all things. LL uses a pacifier at naptime and bedtime, but not when he's awake, so his pacifiers all live in his crib. He used to have a hard time finding a pacifier in the middle of the night, and we solved the needing-mommy-to-replace-the-pacifier problem by liberally sprinkling pacifiers around him in his crib. Wherever he reached his hand out, there was probably a pacifier for the taking. He doesn't have that problem anymore, but we still usually leave three or four of them in the crib, one in each corner, so that he can reach one wherever he is in the crib when he awakens. But now he has developed this habit where we put him down for a nap, and he insists on tasting each pacifier before deciding which one he wants. He picks one up, sucks for a second or two, removes it, tosses it aside, picks up the next one, sucks for a second or two, ...., before finally choosing one. It's... bizarre. We do wash them regularly, but do some of them maintain weird flavors? Have some of them deformed over time so that they feel different? Perhaps he thinks that one day we'll place a candy pacifier in with the normal ones, and if he doesn't check, he'd miss the opportunity to try candy?

(No, we've never given him candy. But he did try his first popsicle this week -- a 100% fruit thing that's basically frozen strawberries on a stick. LL though that it was the most awesome thing ever. After each lick, he would spend several seconds licking his lips to get every drop of frozen strawberry goodness. And then he held onto the empty popsicle stick for a good ten minutes after the popsicle was gone. As a memento.)

His frustration at not being able to crawl keeps growing. He also hasn't figured out how to get himself into a sitting position when he is lying down. Thus, every attempt to crawl involves him belly-flopping onto the ground, meager attempts to move, then lots of crying as he realizes that he's lying down and therefore unable to properly play with his toys. I spend all of my time with him dragging him back up to a sitting position, only to watch him reach for another toy and flop back down onto his tummy. I keep thinking that he'll figure it out if we leave him alone, but he quickly escalates to all-out hysteria if he's lying down and wants to be up and sees an adult nearby and nobody's helping him get back to sitting. Though he's very flexible, so he has developed this impressive move where he leans all the way forward so his belly is on the ground, one leg is behind him, and the other leg remains out in front of him so that, when he pushes with his arms, one of his legs is in position for him to be sitting.

I'm not sure if you're getting the visual there, but he's basically doing the splits, except he can reach several yards past the end of his front foot. Ouch.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Just a day or two before our trip to Wisconsin, LL learned to clap. He had mastered various hand motions in the past: he's an expert bye-bye waver, an occasional hello waver, an enthusiastic I'm-done-get-that-food-out-of-my-face swiper, and a patient please-pick-me-up-right-now arms extender. But nothing so far compares to the adorableness of LL proudly clapping his little hands, usually accompanied by a big smile and a rousing "Yaaaaaaay!" He has started giving himself a round of applause for all of his accomplishments. Diaper change is over? "Yaaaay!" Knocked over a tower of blocks? "Yaaaay!" Correctly waved bye-bye when somebody was leaving? "Yaaaay!" (This one is particularly amusing, because it always gives the impression that he's happy to see the person leave.) Picked up a cheerio and got it all the way into the mouth? "Yaaaay!" (We have a LOT of clapping at meal times, because he is quite good at self-feeding, but he insists on cheering himself on for each piece of food.)

Now that he is so good at self-congratulations, it's making it easier to teach him new things, because he understands that when we clap for him, he's done something good, and he gets to clap, too. It's powerful incentive to try to mimic what we're teaching. We are now working on blowing kisses and giving high-fives. Every baby needs to know how to high-five in order to be accepted by the cool kids, but we still have a ways to go. I started by putting out my right hand and saying "Give me five!" then taking his hand in my left hand and slapping it lightly onto my right. I thought he was getting it, but now when I put out my right hand and say "Give me five!" he reaches out, grabs my left hand, and places it on my right one. So, he's technically following what I showed him, but he's being a bit too literal for it to actually be cool. What a mama's boy.

One thing that he adamantly refuses to learn is how to crawl. In Wisconsin, my father spent a lot of time on his hands and knees with LL, patiently trying to teach him. LL spent much of his time lying on his belly, with all his favorite toys making a ring around him, just out of reach. My father would lift LL's knees into position, and LL would drop his arms and chest to the floor. My father would lift LL's arms into position, and LL would collapse his legs to the floor. Over and over and over, until LL would finally get tired and just roll over and grab a toy. He kept giving my dad these looks like, "Okay, I'll humor you for a few more rounds, Grandpa, but then I'm grabbing the Humpty Dumpty pull-toy that I know is right behind you."

Nobody who knows me and S at all will be surprised to learn that LL isn't really into physical feats of strength. His big physical accomplishment of the past week was learning how to pull himself up to standing. He's very good at it, but he will only do it if there's something high up that's worth the effort, and so far the only enticements that work are books. Favorite toy sitting on the coffee table? Eh, not worth it. Book on the coffee table? Up he goes! LL is very very into books these days. He is now an expert page-turner, and loves sitting in someone's lap and looking at books. S was convinced that LL knew the words to several of them, because he waited until the end of each page before starting to turn to the next page, until I pointed out that he was actually just waiting for verbal pauses. If you just keep talking beyond what the page says, he'll wait and wait and wait, but as soon as you stop speaking, he reaches for the next page. Which I think is no less impressive, and is very cute. And there is one book that we know he does know the words to. Every night before bed, we read him Kiss Good Night by Amy Hest. A recurring refrain in the book is Mrs. Bear asking, "Ready now, Sam?" and Sam replies, "Oh no! I'm waiting!" When we read this book to LL, every time we say "Ready now, Sam?", LL smiles and shakes his head "no!" in anticipation of the next line.

And, finally, a story about LL's latest willful behavior. He discovered several months ago that when you drop something over the side of the high chair, it falls to the ground. It was clear, though, that he was doing this out of experimentation, as he would lean way over the side of the chair to watch it fall. Lately, however, there has been a distinct shift in his behavior. He clearly understands now that things fall. No need for further study. Now he does it because it's fun. And he understands that he's not supposed to do it. How do I know? Because he no longer watches as it falls. Instead, he holds his hand out over the side of his high chair and pauses, staring straight at me, daring me to stop him. I shake my head and say, "No, LL, we don't drop food on the floor." And then he gets this mischievous grin on his face, and, still staring directly into my eyes, he opens his hand and drops it onto the floor. And then he claps. ("Yaaaay!")

The first time he did this, he was holding a rice puff. The problem with rice puffs, of course, is that they're meant to soften very quickly in baby's mouth. Thus, when a baby holds them in wet hands, they become rather sticky. So when LL tried to defiantly drop the puff over the side of the chair, the puff defiantly refused to unstick itself from his hand. Which, you know, ruined the moment for LL. He spent a full minute continuing his staring contest with me while frantically shaking his hand to make that darned puff fall to the ground. He finally had to break eye contact and use both hands to scrape the puff off his fingers, but he looked rather deflated at his failed attempt to dramatically disobey Mommy.

It was a good learning moment, though. Now he only defiantly drops non-sticky foods like blueberries. Blueberries are much more emphatic, don't you think?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Trip Report

So much to catch up on! We're back from our trip, LL's aunt stayed with us for several days, LL is learning new things and showing new independence, and my advisor still sucks. But, one thing at a time, I think.

Our trip to Wisconsin went well, with the small exception of sleep. The flights were easy, the wedding was beautiful, visiting family was great, and LL was a champion napper during the day. But at night, LL would suddenly realize that he was not at home, and that when he fell asleep, he would be left alone in a room that was not his bedroom. Even worse, he would be not in his own crib. Each night, we struggled to get him to fall asleep, and he would then wake up a few hours later in a total panic. Inconsolable crying, which is highly unusual for him. We ended up letting him sleep in our bed with us. At home, even if we wanted LL to sleep in our bed, it wouldn't work. If he's in bed with us, he thinks that it's playtime. He would never go to sleep. But bizarrely, in Wisconsin, when we put him in bed with us, he gave us a sleepy smile, curled up with his blankie and immediately calmed down. I wish we slept well, too, but S and I spent each night terrified that we were going to smother LL, though he was very good at kicking us in self defense whenever we dared to get too close. He also learned how to pull my hair in his sleep. So much for Experiments in Co-Sleeping.

The highlight of the trip was visiting with my grandfather. My grandfather is 87 years old. He still works, he still lives independently, and he's still completely sharp. The week before we arrived in Wisconsin, he had finally sold his house and moved into a smaller apartment in a nearby retirement community. I told him that we would love to help him with his move while we were there -- LL is bad at packing, and he can't carry heavy things, but he certainly knows how to unpack a box like nobody's business! So, Grandpa set aside a few small boxes of non-fragile, non-choking-hazard items for LL to unpack. We sat LL on the floor next to the open boxes, and let LL have fun. He very carefully pulled each item out of the box, examined it, and set it down neatly on the floor around him. When he was done helping, we rewarded him by putting him into the now-empty box and dragging him around the room. Fun for everybody!

Unlike our college reunion trip, during which LL switched time zones on our very first day there, and miraculously switched back the day we returned, this trip has caused a lot more disruption. LL stayed on our home time zone after we arrived, so we decided to just go with it. On our last day there, he suddenly switched and woke up at his normal time, local time. Ummm, okay. Twenty four hours later we were at home again, and he had no idea what time it was. We've been back for over a week, and he's still confused. Fighting naps, looking exhausted way early, waking up at odd times, not sleeping through the night.... We have a very tired household right now.

Complicating our attempted return to a normal routine was the visit by S's sister right after we got back from the wedding. She was with us for four days, and we had a lovely time, but it means that LL was off his normal schedule for well over a week. This week was our time to adjust back to normal, and it's just not happening. For a while, I thought that the teething was further complicating things, but LL has cut way back on the incessant chewing, so I think that we're actually in a reprieve on that front. Now we've just got to get him sleeping through the night again before the teething starts back up, because holy cow I'm exhausted.

Happily, we have several weeks of relative calm ahead of us. Our house will be inundated with visitors in five weeks for LL's birthday (yes, he's turning one in just five weeks!) but until then, we should have a bit of normalcy. No trips, no visitors, no major disruptions. Lots of weekend activities, and a first birthday party to plan, but nothing that should interfere with getting LL back on schedule.