Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, LL!

Time moves in odd ways when you have a baby. The old saying goes something like, "The days are slow but the years are fast." I don't think that I ever really internalized that sentiment until LL was born. But this weekend, faced with the fact that I now have a one-year-old, I couldn't help shaking my head at how quickly the year has gone, yet how far away the time before LL seems. Being pregnant was ages and ages ago, yet surely he was a tiny squawking newborn only yesterday. For the last few weeks, I've been working on putting together LL's baby book, covering his whole first year. Going through old photos month by month has been fun, but seeing the passing of time lined up in front of me has been startling. It really hits home how much he has grown and changed. His face is different, his hair is different, his eyes are different. No longer helpless, he can now move where he wants and reach for what he wants and smile and wave and share toys and share hugs to show us that he loves us.

This past month alone, he has developed so many new skills. He pulls himself up on every piece of furniture in our house, and has begun tentatively taking steps as he cruises along. He loves opening drawers and cabinets to discover hidden treasures. Faced with a room full of toys, he ignores every age-appropriate thing around in order to play with drink coasters and shoes and tupperware and VHS tapes. After a week or so of pinched fingers, he has learned how to properly close drawers without hurting himself. He is growing increasingly adept with a spoon, and insists on feeding himself a few spoonfuls of food at each meal. And his random babbling is starting to become remarkably ordered, organized into sentences with beginnings and endings, intonation and emphasis, with real words occasionally shining out from the randomness. After a week of babbling the same syllables over and over and over, we discovered that he was actually saying something in Russian, phrases that he picked up at daycare and uses in context-appropriate ways. We wonder now whether he has even more words than we think, split among English, Russian, and Spanish.

He has always been a very social baby, and continues to love large parties and being among friends, both old and young. He crawls after babies his own age, he tries to imitate the behavior of toddlers and preschoolers, he happily shares toys with kids of all ages. He never went through a real "stranger danger" clingy phase, but he has started crawling over to me and just resting his head against my leg for a few moments when he feels overwhelmed. After a brief mommy recharge, he goes back to playing. When I walk into a room, he immediately gives me a giant smile and crawls over to say "hello!" before returning to his activity. I love that he is social, that he immediately started playing with his grandparents when they arrived even though he hadn't seen them in five months, but deep down it also warms my heart to know that he knows I'm his mommy, and that he sees me differently than he sees everybody else. It's great that he'll let new people feed him and play with him, but he knows that I'm Mommy. We're not all interchangeable after all.

He is increasingly aware that people bigger than him have the ability to do things that he can't do yet, and has begun asking for help when he wants to do something beyond his capabilities. He hands blocks to me, pointing at a tower to indicate that he wants me to keep building it bigger. He loves the buttons and levers on his activity box, but doesn't quite have the dexterity to turn the nob, so he gently takes my hand and places it on the nob with a "dah!" command, requesting that I turn it for him. He hands me his caterpillar pull toy, then giggles and gets into crawling position, waiting for me to start pulling the caterpillar around the room so that he can chase it.

He had a wonderful birthday weekend, playing with grandparents and great-grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends. At his party, he happily ate a collection of his favorite foods: kiwi, watermelon, cantaloupe, grapes, cheerios, cheddar cheese, and crackers. He was enthralled investigating his first helium balloon, and clapped when he saw the "Happy Birthday!" banner. He wore a birthday hat without complaint. And the highlight, his first dessert, provided all the smiles and giggles and mess that I had hoped for. I made him a vanilla cake with lots of gooey frosting, and he happily ate some and played with some and mashed some and rubbed some into his hair.

LL had a great visit with all of his family, and is spending this whole week with S's parents. (When they found out that we were having daycare problems, they made plans to stay the week to help out. They were very very excited to have him all to themselves for the whole week, so when we solved the daycare problems and didn't need them anymore, they were crushed. So, we told them that they could stay anyway. I love my in-laws, but having them in the house for the whole week is stressful, and it's only Tuesday. But LL is loving all the attention.) He had his one-year check-up, where he weighed in at just over 22 pounds, maintaining his below-average weight class. He shot up in height, though, to the 85th percentile, which means that he has officially outgrown his infant carrier. And he still has a big head.

Most important: he's healthy and happy and learning and growing. He eats and he sleeps and he plays and he laughs. My baby is one year old.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

L'Shanah Tovah

This month is my last first day of school. Sort of. There are a whole host of reasons why that is not technically true. If I decide to go into academia, I'll have lots of future first days, but as a professor instead of a student. LL will start school some day, and I'm sure that the first several of his first days will have a huge effect on me as well. I'm also likely to take a class on ... something ... again someday, so that will technically have a first day of school. But this month is my last traditional it's September and I'm a student and school starts today! day. Weird. After preschool, kindergarten, grade school, middle school, high school, college, and grad school, I'm going to finally be done. That's 25 years of education there. I've crammed in just about all the book learnin' I can handle for now.

Honestly, I don't know if I'll even be able to convince myself to get through the next several months. I am ready to be DONE, and the academic year has barely started. Nine months to go....

LL's new daycare is working out great. LL even made a new friend! They sit on the floor vaguely near each other and play (separately) with toy cars. Then they both crawl over to the big basket of blocks and lean on it at the same time to make it tip over. In one-year-old terms, I think that means that now they're BFFs. (For one-year-olds, the bar is pretty low. "You didn't steal my crackers?!? You're my new bestest friend!")

My entire extended family is flying into town tomorrow for LL's big birthday bash on Sunday. Our theme for the party is "Stuff LL likes." We're serving yogurt and oatmeal and watermelon and crackers. Everybody will play with cars and blocks. There will be regularly scheduled dramatic readings of Sandra Boynton's Barnyard Dance! Then, we will all take a nap. Truly, a party for the history books.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


I love being a mom. But let's be honest, there are a lot of things to dislike about the job. Keeping LL safe is hard work, especially now that he's mobile. Finding nutritious things for him to eat can be tough, considering my limited time to shop and cook and prep food. Trying to find the right balance of encouragement and discipline is getting trickier as he gets more capable and more aware and more curious and more defiant. Reading the same kids book dozens of times a day, with the proper voices and sound effects, can get boring. Sleep deprivation over a long enough time period does weird and horrible things to the mind and body. Repeating "Gentle! We don't pull Mommy's hair!" over and over and over is unbelievably annoying. But you know what my absolute least favorite aspect of being a parent is? Child care. I can deal with everything else, usually happily, with a giant smile on my face, but when problems arise with child care, my life completely falls apart. Completely. Finding decent child care consumes me. I worry about it constantly, and once the problem is "solved," I continue to worry about it. And as soon as everything seems okay and I trust my new child care provider, it falls apart again. Good lord, I hate dealing with child care.

Thanks for all the suggestions of nanny-share and craigslist and relying on stay-at-home friends. Sadly, we have no friends, none at all, that use a nanny. All of the working moms I know use daycares. We are big craigslist users, but the majority of the crappy daycares that we've visited have been found through craigslist. And I really do mean that we've seen some crappy daycares. Recall: Baby Factory, Total Wackos, Lila's Place, Piper.... (We found Natasha through craigslist, too, so it hasn't been a total loss. But the hit rate has been depressing.) As for stay-at-home friends... we have LOTS of stay-at-home friends. Tons. I can count on one hand the number of my mom friends that actually work outside of the home. But when I sent out a "please please please help us!" plea to the stay-at-home friends, we got a deafening silence. Followed by a few offers to maybe take LL for half a day sometime at the end of the month. To be fair, I do understand the reason: all of my stay-at-home friends have one child, and every single one of them is currently stressing about whether to have a second child. They're all agonizing over whether they can handle taking care of two children at once. When faced with the prospect of trying it out, using LL as the stand-in for child number two, I think that they all froze in panic and decided that they're really not ready. One of my friends felt so guilty about coming to that conclusion that she offered to leave her own two-year-old child with her in-laws while she cared for LL, thereby helping me out without needing to care for both children at once.

The good news: we seem to have found a decent solution, for now. One of my friends recently started her son in an in-home daycare, and because of several job-related relocations, the daycare happens to have several immediate openings. The woman who runs it agreed to take on LL on a temporary basis, knowing that he'll probably only be there for a month or two. (I didn't want to mislead her.) We know two children at the daycare, one of whom has been there for almost two years. The parents and children all love it there, and it's been open for over 20 years. Everything about it is perfect (except the location, which is a pain in the ass, but really, if everything else about it is great, I can deal with the horrible commute for a month or two). LL started there today. Fingers crossed that everything goes well, and that this place can carry us through until Natasha returns.

In happier news, the Packers beat the Bears on Sunday. I had the highest score in the league for fantasy football this week. LL's vocabulary is growing, in three languages. Lots of family members are flying in later this week to celebrate both LL's birthday and Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). And I have officially reached my pre-pregnancy weight. (I have a little more to go to reach my pre-fertility-treatment weight, but I'm taking baby steps, so to speak.)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Running a Daycare

Holy crap! How is it possible that there are so many horrible daycare providers out there?!? We brought LL to Natasha's yesterday, to see how it would work out with Piper filling in for Natasha. I hadn't exactly gotten a positive impression of Piper on Tuesday, but S had met her before and liked her, so we decided to go together and talk to her and get some more concrete information from her, and give her a day as a trial run. When we got there, the two children were in the middle of destroying the house, total chaos. And the television was on, something that is absolutely not done when Natasha is there. And she kept saying things like, "He'll be fine as long as he doesn't try to crawl anywhere." Huh? Or he picked up a toy and started chewing on it, because that's what babies do, and she grabbed the toy away from him and said, "Don't chew on things! Gosh, I hope that he doesn't keep doing that." Again, huh?!?

When I picked up LL, Piper told me that LL cried for much of the day, which is completely out of character for him. I don't know how much of it was the strangeness of a new caregiver, or the fact that the caregiver kept taking toys away from him and not letting him do anything. I asked how his naps were, and her response was, "I assume that he slept okay." What the hell does that mean? "I put him in his crib, and he cried for ... at least 30 minutes, but I'm not sure how long. Then he was quiet for a while, so he must have been asleep."

She let him scream for 30 minutes, after he had clearly already been upset by the change in caregivers. Crap. I hate her so much right now, I want to strangle someone.

To top it off, I had this conversation with her:

ME: So, could you please give me a few references, preferably for clients that were around LL's age?
PIPER: I've run my own daycare for many years. I have lots of experience.
ME: Yes, I understand. That's why I assume it won't be a problem for you to give me a few references.
PIPER: Oh. Um... well, I don't actually take care of infants at my daycare. Just preschoolers.
ME: You had given me the impression that you took care of infants. Okay, well then I'll take references for the children that you do take care of.
PIPER: Um, I'd rather not.
ME: Excuse me?!?
PIPER: You know, I run my own daycare.
ME: Yeah, you've mentioned that. Could I please have some references?
PIPER: That's kind of a problem, because I haven't told any of my clients that I'm not going to be there for the next month. I left my assistants in charge, but I didn't tell any of the parents. If I give you their numbers and you call them, they'll find out.
ME: So, you're lying to all of your current clients? Interesting. Um, okay. In that case, why don't you give me some references from past clients, for whom your absence won't be an issue?
PIPER: Well, but I don't want them to know, either. I'm not really comfortable with that.
ME: Is there some reason why you're unable to give us any references?
PIPER: No, I have lots of references! It's just... see, my assistants sort of interact with the kids more than I do, so if you call the parents, they're not really going to tell you anything about me, just about my assistants, so I'm not sure that it will help.
ME: You run a daycare, but you don't interact with the children?
PIPER: But I have lots of experience! So you don't need to worry.
ME: Well, I am worried, because it sounds to me like you're refusing to give me any references, which makes me think that you're unable to provide any.
PIPER: Oh. Um, okay, fine, here are two names, but I really do need you to lie to them for me about why you're calling.

Needless to say, we're not going to bother with the references because we won't be using Piper. I'm having a hard time believing that this woman runs a successful childcare business. Our current theory is that she likes preschoolers, but didn't want to have to bother taking care of an infant, so she was doing a passive-aggressive thing to convince us not to bring LL back. If so, it worked.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Child Care Woes: A Tale in Two Acts

First, a story that happened last week. While LL was off at Natasha's on Thursday, I ran an errand in the morning and then returned home to work. As I turned onto my street, a little girl stepped off the sidewalk towards my car. I quickly stopped the car, and she returned to the sidewalk. She was about two years old, and standing there completely alone. I didn't recognize her, but one of my neighbors runs a home daycare, so I guessed that she had "escaped" from there. I slowly pulled into my driveway, got out of the car, and looked around. By this point, the little girl was three houses away from the daycare, and continuing to walk further away. I looked towards the daycare, but couldn't see anyone outside that could be quickly flagged down, so I walked over to get the little girl, before she got hurt. By the time I caught up with her, she was at the end of the block, about to cross the street and enter the intersection. I took her hand, pointed back to the daycare, and asked her if that was where she belonged. She nodded, so I told her that we were going to walk back there together, and I guided her back down the street. Along the way, I asked her name: Lila.

When we got to the home with the daycare, I noticed that there were several children in the front yard, and a woman I didn't recognize was standing on the lawn, helping a child with his jacket. I know C, the woman who runs the daycare, and I've met her assistant on a few occasions. The week before, C had mentioned to me that the daycare was expanding, and that she had hired a second assistant, apparently the woman standing on the lawn. I walked up to her with Lila, and asked, "Is this one of your children?" She glanced up, nodded, then returned to the jacket. I waited for her to say something else (for instance, "Hey, who are you, and what are you doing holding hands with one of the children that I'm responsible for?") and when she didn't say anything else, I volunteered that I had found Lila all alone, at the end of the street, more than a block away, about to cross the street by herself, after nearly stepping in front of my car moments earlier. She sighed, yelled "Lila, get back onto the porch!", then shrugged at me and returned once again to the jacket.

I found this awfully disturbing. The woman clearly had not noticed that one of her charges had wandered off. And given how slowly Lila was walking, and how far away she was, she had clearly been gone for several minutes. And when all of this was brought to the woman's attention, she seemed completely unconcerned. That evening, after the daycare was closed for the day, I saw C out in the yard and I went to talk to her. I told her the whole story, expecting her to be upset? concerned? outraged? that her assistant had paid so little attention. Instead, C said, "Oh, I guess I should talk to Lila's parents and have them tell her that she shouldn't wander off."

Blaming the two-year-old? Interesting.

I told C that I wasn't recounting the story so that she could discipline the little girl. I was telling her the story because it seemed to me that maybe she should be aware that her new assistant didn't notice that a child had gone missing. To which C responded, "Oh no, she's a good teacher. It's just that two-year-olds like to wander away. We would have found her when we got to the park." (Note: the park is 4-5 blocks away, on the other side of a major busy street.) She then concluded with this: "You don't understand, because LL is still young, but you'll see, when LL gets a little older, he'll just wander away." I like to think that he'll be watched closely enough that he won't get hit by a car, but apparently I'm just naive, because I'm a new parent.

Ever since this incident, I've been congratulating myself on my excellent decision to not send LL to this daycare, even though it would be really really convenient. I had a bad feeling about it when I visited... it felt just a little too chaotic for me. Now I think that the pit in my stomach was totally confirmed. Thank goodness I found Natasha's daycare, with its excellent references and very few children and wonderful care. It was so hard trusting a stranger to watch LL, and it took me a long time to relax enough about him being with her that I was actually able to focus while I was at work.

Right on the heels of this disturbing incident: my second bullet point about child care. Natasha had another family emergency come up in Russia, and she's leaving the country (again) for a month, if not longer. Back in February, Natasha's father passed away unexpectedly, and she closed the daycare for a month while she went home to help her mother. Today, she got news that her mother was in a horrible car accident, and is now in a coma. The doctors aren't giving Natasha very much information over the phone, but they have no idea whether she's going to live, or pass away, or remain in the coma for an indefinite amount of time. So, Natasha is (completely understandably) flying to Russia to be with her mother.

I feel terrible for Natasha. She is the same age as me, and I can't imagine dealing with a tragedy like this after losing my father just seven months ago, especially while being so far away. But I'm also reeling with panic about how we're going to weather the daycare disruption. Last February, we hired Rosie to come two days a week, and I just took off three days each week for the whole month. It was less than ideal, but I had just returned to work and wasn't being productive yet anyway, so it just kind of worked. Now it's a different story. We still have Rosie two days each week, but I can't afford to take off three days every week for a month or more. Not if I hope to graduate, ever. S and I have backup care in place that can help for a day or two, because we know that things come up on occasion, but none of that does us any good when we're talking about several weeks at once.

Natasha has a friend, Piper, who has run a daycare in the past, and who is planning to come to Natasha's every day until she returns, so that the daycare doesn't shut down this time. I met Piper for the first time today, when I picked up LL, and I wasn't impressed. She was brusk. She wouldn't listen when I tried to tell her things, insisting that she already knew everything. Some of what she claimed to already know, she clearly didn't know. (For instance, when Natasha mentioned that she would show Piper how to put on LL's diaper, Piper acted offended and insisted that of course she knew about cloth diapers, and she wouldn't take instruction. When I got LL home, I found that she had put on his diaper incorrectly, and his shirt and shorts were soaked.) And when I asked her to tell me a bit about her experience, she changed the subject, going on and on about how important it was that I pick LL up on time every day, because Natasha might be understanding about late pick-ups, but Piper would not stand for it, and would absolutely be leaving on time every day. (Natasha interrupted to mention that I have never once been late, but Piper shrugged and said, "Well, I want to be sure, because it's very important.")

Natasha sent me a follow-up email, emphasizing how much she trusts Piper, but I'm leery. Not that I have a lot of options right now. And I just keep picturing little Lila wandering down the street by herself, away from the unconcerned assistant that C trusted completely. I don't have the time to shop around for new daycares, and LL is so happy at Natasha's that I want to be able to bring him back there when she returns. But the thought of leaving LL with a random stranger that I didn't get a warm and fuzzy feeling about leaves me sick to my stomach. Again. Blech.