Wednesday, October 28, 2009

To H1 or to N1, that is the question

My head is spinning, my entire body aching. Is this what it is to be the mother of a baby on the cusp of toddlerdom? (And just for the record, when exactly does that pivotal shift occur: 12 months? 18 months? 24 months? when you stop quantifying your infant in terms of months?) Exhaustion of a different kind, but exhaustion no less, has plagued the new mom -- ie. moi -- these past couple weeks. No longer content to sit in a quiet lump and play, Little Green One seeks me out constantly and then uses me as a human trellis. Or worse, a human bread stick. I know his gums are hurting, but hey, those existing teeth are little exacto knives and I figure someone's got to tell him so, right? The difficulty is imparting the meaning of 'no' to someone who has as much sense right now as the collective housemates of Big Brother (UK and US editions). It is a double-edged sword, if you'll forgive the pun, in that while I am eager to see him moving, his very movement feels like three rounds with Tyson, but a Tyson who fights dirty. Who fights like... a girl. Pinching. Stomping. Hair pulling. Biting. Don't believe me? I have the bruises and occasionally, the teethmarks, to prove it. Again, there is no maliciousness, no 'I hate you mommy' to accompany the gestures that are more about discovery than aggression. Although aggression by any other name is still aggression, and takes its toll.

This afternoon, in my ongoing, utterly futile attempts to socialize my only child, we invited another boy not much younger than Little Green for a play date at our house. Murphy's Law. Sod's Law. Who ever made the law please explain me this: why when it counts, when there is a lot going on and you're counting on a given day to run smoothly, does your undersized one declare Armageddon? There were fangs on show alright. Oh yeah, there was carnage. He was indifferent to the boy, who seemed overjoyed exploring the new turf. There was no biting, at least, but Little Green made sure the neighbours at the house five doors' down knew of his discontent. He howled so that I could no longer hear my own heart being pummelled inside my chest. I tried to stay calm, I tried to talk over him. I tried to act like a grown up with a toddler. But I might as well have been that referee holding a dinky whistle in between Tyson and his latest victim. Just two hours in, my guests had promptly packed up and shouted their excuses, and the house was suddenly pin-drop quiet. My Tyson triumphant. Does he genuinely despise other babies, I wondered. Doubtful, since he doesn't take enough notice to actively despise them. Is this a symptom of his increasing clinginess to mommy? As in: if I can't have her undivided attention for a tenth of a second, then no one will... God help me.

Little wonder then, while every good parent out there has been obsessing over the H1N1 flu vaccination (to get or not to get, that is THE question), I have been too distracted to weigh in on the debate. I have been too exhausted to read the fine print, the pickets, the pros and condiments. My Tyson seems more robust than most full-grown men. But I know enough to recognize the fallacy in this kind of thinking. If anything should happen to him, I would die. Not physically, of course. I would carry on living, but I would be a cut-out version of my former self. I would be a non-living thing. The wilted lettuce at the bottom of the crisper. No amount of years or shopping sprees and 6-star stays in Dubai would help me recover. And yet why am I not buying into the mass mommy hysteria about the 'flu pandemic. People are dying, indiscriminately it seems. Under 5s are particularly vulnerable. I worry that I have not been worrying enough. That I have continued, against all odds, to take my baby-cum-toddler to the grocery store, to the library, to the park. He has touched various things then chewed on his fingers. I have touched various things then chewed on my fingers. Old habits die hard. My nails are down to the quick and in the middle of the night, half asleep, I fiddle with them. I nibble on them, panicking. Filthy habit. You should know better, and yet... What else can I do if I can't bite my nails, now that smoking nicotine, and pretty much anything else, is off the cards? What halfway respectable bad habit is left for a thirty-something mother of one? The gym? Gasp. Maybe while he's at it, Little Green's pediatrician could inject a seasonal pick-me-up for the moms while they are waiting in line for the H1N1 vaccine. I would so be there.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Little Green One turns one!

So, it came and went. Little Green One's biggest milestone to date --with the exception of being born, that goes without saying. Since he was struck down by a nasty hacking cough during the latter part of the week, we contemplated cancelling the whole weekend affair. After a few sleepless days and nights (for both of us), I wasn't sure he would manage the five-hour drive to my parents' place and even if he did, what sort of gremlin he would be when the company arrived. To his credit, he slept well in the car and even more to his credit, he cranked on the charm when it counted and the spotlight shone down. His father's son, for sure. Charming, almost unrecognizably so, our little changeling smiled and cruised his way along the couch, flirting shamelessly with family and friends. When the cake came, he reached out, grabbed a fistful of icing and sugary gloop, and stuffed the hole in his face. His father's son, indeed.

Twelve months has been a turning point. His gift to us on his birthday: he crawled. I had finally given up hope that he would ever deign to do what most babies his age had already been doing for four months. And yet, what better incentive than to covet --and subsequently wrench-- your own toy from another baby's tiny hands. Nothing like a bit of selfish ambition to get things rolling at your party.

In the post-festivity week, Little Green has been unstoppable. Not exactly a cyclone, like some tots I know. But he has certainly graduated to toddler almost overnight. He hates to sleep and insists on using his crib as a bouncy castle; he regards most suppers I serve with the contempt usually reserved for airline fare. Yay for toddlers... At least the word NO hasn't yet made it into his lexicon, but I know it's coming. He is cruising the coffee table like nobody's business --often with one hand if you don't mind (his father's son)-- and scaling the walls like Spidey minus the spindly web. The crawling continues but still at a plod and only really for things that truly warrant the effort: like Mr Green's 50-odd-inch home cinema. And his disposition. Sometimes I have to pinch myself. I know a dingo didn't eat my baby, but it is as if someone swapped the 'griner' in the night for a happy chappie who has started to clap his hands, laugh spontaneously, and bounce on his wobbly feet for no apparent reason. Not quite his father's son...

My theory is that for a while now his size has restricted and frustrated his physical prowess. In short, his body couldn't carry out his brain's commands. Furthermore, because he couldn't get around as much as he would have liked, he continually had problems releasing wind, which led to painful cramping --the black colic that never really truly subsided. Now he can slither and writhe and sidestep and lunge, LG toots like no tomorrow, all the while looking pretty thrilled with himself. As if there was any doubt by now --his father's son.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Only (but not lonely)

With Little Green's first anniversary coming up next week, I thought I would touch upon the mania that is THE FIRST BIRTHDAY PARTY. Mania is no exaggeration. Where there are entire websites devoted to cake decorating -- from superheroes to teddy bears to the cartoon sensation of the moment -- there should also be sites devoted to post-birthday counselling for the moms who labour over said iced masterpieces.

Of course the occasionally ultra sensible Mr Green doesn't get this phenomenon. 'What's the point,' he says, 'the kid isn't even going to remember any of it?' True enough, but there will be photos, there will be full-length feature films, there will be documentary evidence of that first magical occasion. And if it isn't quite magical enough... Well, therein the problem lies. Much of the birthday party craze is down to other mothers, to other, preceding parties. A keeping-up-with-the-Joneses sickness that starts way too early in the mite's life. Birthday parties dominate the social scene for both the child and the parent, who must dutifully drive and chaperone the festivities at any given house on nearly every given weekend. And then there's the present to buy. I hear that once kids are in school, the phenomenon turns pandemic. After all, it's rude not to invite the WHOLE class, least anyone be 'left out', right? And while it is great to receive 20-something gifts at your own child's party, reciprocation is very much expected. That's 20-something parties to survive, 20-something gifts to search out and buy at a Walmart near you, 20-something gifts to wrap with a pretty bow. I'm not one for maths, but in this case the numbers are loud and clear.

Today's Parent recently reported that the cost of putting on a party for your child can run anywhere from CD$50-$500, with the average being $20 per tiny head. Our Little Green's party, though it falls (cover your ears, Pipsqueak) in the 'el cheapo' bracket, will be a weekend-long affair, with cake and Little Green Family on Saturday, followed by pizza, toys, and my own top-secret cake concoction, attended by all manner of Little Green Friends on Sunday. There will be loot bags and decorations to think of. In addition to making 'practice' cakes (trust me, a common occurrence since the gateaux in question are worthy of Ms M Stewart herself), I have been slaving away at a birthday banner, too.

Needless to say, the time and money involved are a shameful reflection of the age we live in. We all want the best for our little princes and princesses, no question. But it seems to me that in this quest to give them the very best of the best --and in an (un)conscious attempt to compensate for what our own childhoods may have lacked-- we have taken the birthday party to new, utterly senseless levels. Anyone about to quibble the point needs only watch that show documenting Sweet Sixteen parties in the U.S..

For my part, I am already feeling the heat of the social crunch, and my almost toddler hasn't even reached school age yet. Most week days are filled with his extra-curricular activities: from swimming lessons, to music classes, and now storytime. Already I worry about his sociability. As Little Green is an only child (and foreseeably staying that way), I understandably want to do my utmost to mitigate against The Only Child Syndrome otherwise known as loneliness and spoiled-ness. Being an only child myself, I know all too well that a lack of siblings can often foster a greater closeness to your parents, as well as a heightened imagination (cue: imaginary playmates) and creativity. But on the flipside, I have also known the loneliness, acutely and intimately at times. Teachers were quick to pin the 'shy' label on me growing up and as a result I often struggled to make friends. However, the few friendships I have developed over the years are of the close and long-term variety, friendships which I wouldn't trade for the world. Wouldn't even trade, all this time and hindsight later, for a sibling.

With any luck, Little Green will cultivate the same kinds of friendships, even if it means several years of birthday mania for his parents.