Baby Book Entry – 19 Weeks

11811365_10206236742111410_3272484629241250540_nAlma makes out with her hands like a fifth grader who’s been allowed unrestricted access to R-rated movies. So, like fifth grade me. Except she cries if she bites herself too hard.

She’s happy and smiley so often, when she does gets upset — from a gas bubble or teething — she gets a confused look on her face, like she’s thinking, “This isn’t right! I’m a happy person! Why am I not happy?” Sometimes you can get her to smile at you in the middle of a crying jag, before she realizes she’s still pissed.

She’s muscular, just as Nora was. But she’s far more interested in moving around than Nora. She scoots around with her feet and if she’s lying back and wants to see something, she’ll repeatedly try to sit up, basically doing little baby crunches. She loves her Bumbo chair and sits it in on the table top while the rest of us eat dinner, watching us and sucking on her hands.

When you lay her back on her changing table, her face lights up, “Oh! There’s my beloved light switch!” She coos through her frequent diaper changes. She pees a lot.

She adores her dad and her big sister, showing all her gums and crinkling her eyes when she sees or hears them. “Everybody loves Alma Bea!” we all say to her, many times a day.

Nora loves to be responsible for watching her while I shower or pee (I’ve committed to peeing by myself as often as possible). Nora looks for excuses to pick her up and comfortably carries her all over the house until her arms get sore, then hands her off to me. A few weeks ago she told me that she should be Alma’s primary care-giver because she’d do a better job and she loves her more than I do. I nodded solemnly and told her I’d consider it.

I was worried Alma didn’t like her swing anymore. When I set her in it, she fusses unless she’s already asleep. But I found if you put some Marvin Gaye on the turntable, she chills out as fast as she ever did.

Charlie, the goofy hound mix, still comes running to check on her if she coughs. Though he mainly ignores the crying now. You know what would actually be helpful, Charles? If you didn’t howl and bark bloody murder every time you heard the diesel engine of the UPS truck. It always happens during her afternoon nap, which would be her longest one if he’d shut the hell up.

During the day, she mostly cat naps. Rarely do naps last more than an hour now. But she’s a good sleeper at night, so I’m not complaining.

I’m the opposite of complaining — which turns out is bewildered. I can’t believe this is all going so well.

Sleep Laughing

In the hammockYesterday around two in the afternoon, when the shade fell on the hammock, I told Nora it was reading time. She’d been wanting to read George Brown, Class Clown with me.

Baby Alma was cradled into my left arm and Nora gave us a push. The swinging of the hammock almost always puts Alma to sleep.

Nora’s seventy pound body was wedged into Alma’s stroller. (Partly because she thinks it’s funny and partly because I broke her lawn chair a few weeks ago when she made it part of an obstacle course and was timing me to run it.)

Nora was giggling, I can’t remember if it was from the book, or sitting in the stroller or what. But suddenly there was a baby laugh in my left ear.

The first baby laugh.

Alma smiles all the time. She smiles more easily and joyfully than Nora did. But so far, her giggle has not quite been there.

I looked down. Her eyes were closed.

She was giggling in her half-sleep state.

“Nora, do you hear that?” I said, “She’s sleep-laughing!”

This made Nora laugh more, which made Alma laugh more, and now she was awake. It was obvious: her big sister’s laugh delighted her.

Nora crawled in the hammock, licking my arm to make me shriek, which made her laugh, which made Alma giggle.

It was one of those moments — right when it’s happening, you know it will evaporate at any second.

I wanted it to last forever. Like when I was a kid and my mom would tickle me with her long fingernails and I could barely stand it — but would beg for more if she stopped.

Finally, the giggling subsided, with Nora and I lying back, happy drunk on the baby’s laughter.

Pancake Fight

It’s just before 8 a.m. and Nora and I are fighting about pancakes.

My offer to make bacon and eggs was politely declined by Ben and Nora. They are sick of bacon and eggs.

“What else can we make?” Ben asked.

“I can make almond butter and banana pancakes,” I said. We have a nice, ripe banana.

“They’re not almond butter pancakes,” Nora said, making a face. “I use almond flour.”

And thus begins the bickering. I want to use a solid recipe: banana, eggs and almond butter in known ratios. Nora wants to use the recipe she invented, almond flour, banana, eggs — and feel her way through the measurements.

Left to myself, I could knock out these pancakes in less then 15 minutes. Allowing Nora to do it herself means I don’t know how long it will take and I can’t be sure of the results. I just want a fucking pancake.

I’ve been up since 5 a.m. I couldn’t get back to sleep after nursing the baby and peeing, so the baby and I got up.

I drank the last of yesterday’s afternoon pot of coffee, changed Alma’s diaper and made faces at her for a while. I worked on my article for Prevention magazine that’s due soon.

I’m not in bad shape, or so I thought. The rims of my eyelids are not burning. I am not nauseous.

I start looking up recipes and Nora looks over my shoulder.

“That recipe only has four and a half stars. Mine has five and a half,” she says.

I relent. She can make the pancakes. I don’t have the energy to negotiate a compromise. I interfere just enough to get a quarter teaspoon of baking soda in there.

I signal to Ben, who is rocking the baby, that I need to speak to him in the other room.

“I must be either more tired than I realize or not getting enough time to do my work, because this pancake thing is making me crazy.” After an abbreviated work/life integration discussion, he agrees to take the girls somewhere for a full hour and half later today. Even though it’s Sunday and I’ve agreed not to work on Sundays.

Walking back to the kitchen I hear Nora saying to no one in particular, “I love to watch the butter melt.”

How could my petulance not subside after hearing that?

Ten minutes later I am eating one of the best pancakes I’ve ever had. It’s nutty and sweet and firm.


Nora + PancakesNora’s Banana Almond Pancakes (as dictated to me after breakfast)

2 large eggs

1 ripe banana

1 big pinch salt

1-1/2 cups almond flour (or almond meal)

1/4 tsp. baking soda

Butter for the pan

Take out two medium mixing bowls. Put 1-1/2 cups almond flour in a bowl. Add a large pinch of salt. Into the other bowl, crack two large eggs. Then mush up a banana in a separate bowl. Then whisk the mushed banana and the eggs together. Put a quarter teaspoon of baking soda in the dry bowl. Then whisk up the dry bowl so someone doesn’t get a big hunk of baking soda or salt in their pancake. Put an eighth of the flour mixture into the egg bowl and whisk until combined. Sprinkle in more flour until it feels the right consistency, whisking in between each addition. You might not use all the flour. It will be a little thicker than a normal pancake batter.

Heat the stovetop to medium and drop in a pat of butter. Put a half cup of the batter in the pan. Stay by the stove and peek under sometimes to see if golden brown. When crispy and browned, flip. When other side crispy and brown, put on a  plate and eat with syrup, butter or anything you’d like. Continue this process. You’ll probably get about four pancakes out of it. It’s not hard to double the recipe.

The Case for a Screen Free Summer

Water play during Nora's screen free summer.

Water play during Nora’s screen free summer.

My husband and I got rid of our television fifteen years ago after watching a New Year’s Eve special for the millennium change that featured a tanked Bono and a spooky Liz Taylor. But these days, not having a TV means less and less. I’m as unhealthily attached to the smartphone in my pocket as anyone.

Last summer, at our daughter’s teacher’s suggestion, we gave our then seven-year-old a screen free summer.

Nora attends a Waldorf school, where one teacher takes a class of kids from first grade through eighth grade. At the last parent meeting of the school year, her teacher made a plea. She said the best way to prepare the children for the next academic year was a screen-less summer. Come September, she would have all the tools she needed if every child in the class had a good-old-fashioned summer break, the kind where crushing boredom sparks creativity and adventure.

No need to drill them in math and phonics. Just let them play. Then she asked us one of her famous rhetorical questions, “If you had a screen free summer, what would that look like and feel like by the end of August?”

I can tell you what it looked like for our family: freaking awesome.

A typical day had Nora sitting in a mud pit she’d dug in the back yard, wearing duct tape shoes she had made herself. She’d hop up, pluck some lamb’s ear from the garden and hold it to ears, then gallop around shouting, “Bah! Bah!” Then she’d pick some flowers, but suddenly stop, declaring, “The bees need them!” Maybe she’d knit under a tree for an hour, with the dog sleeping next to her.

Then she’d wander her muddy self into the house and make costumes from fabric scraps and decide to organize the rest of the family to ride bikes to the farmer’s market. Once we were home from that, she’d write and illustrate a book about biking.

I didn’t love every activity she came up with, mind you. One afternoon she used nearly every damn spice in the spice drawer to make potions before I realized what she was doing. Another time, July 5th to be exact, she covered her hair in half a bottle of lotion. When questioned, she claimed the fireworks from the night before and the resulting sleep deprivation had made her “half crazy.” Later that day she started writing a book she titled, Fireworks are Stupid, Dumb and Annoying.

Then there was the time I didn’t pay close enough attention to the dessert she’d made and she vomited three times. From what I gathered later, the concoction was mostly sugar and undercooked eggs. Mea culpa.

The best thing about all these shenanigans is not one of them was inspired by Disney or Nickelodeon. This was pure Nora. We got so many glimpses of her unique little brain, like the time she wistfully declared that her idea of relaxation was “lying on the floor, drinking a bottle of barbecue sauce.”

Typically, during the school year, the most media Nora has is an episode or two of Mythbusters on the weekend (an episode that doesn’t feature guns, which is a bit tricky to find), or old episodes of Good Eats, or Nova ScienceNow.

During her screen free summer, she asked to watch Mythbusters exactly once — likely because she was holding a roll of duct tape at the time — and I simply redirected her to the backyard.

Waldorf schools are famous for their no media policies. Some schools make you sign a contract that says you won’t allow your child to have screen time. Our school strongly encourages no screens at home, or limiting screens to a Friday night movie night, allowing the kids to detox from media influence over the weekend before they return to school.

Spend anytime at all on a playground, and you’ll likely see children re-enacting scenes from the most recent thing they watched on television. Media makes such a dramatic impact that kids spend a good chunk of time trying to process what they have seen. Think how many times you’ve seen kids standing on a mound of bark dust belting out “Let it Go” instead of riding the merry-go-round.

Waldorf believes in a concept they call the nine-year change. Basically, it’s a child’s first existential crisis. They realize they are an individual and they get to decide who they want to be based on the menu of options laid before them in the previous nine years. Our teacher merely wants us to provide the best possible menu of options. Why let your child add snotty, vain or violent television characters to the menu?

What’s more, as Waldorf puts an emphasis on the subtle wonder of nature and storytelling. Nora’s teacher pointed out that there’s no way she can compete with high-budget, multimedia video games and movies. “Your child is doing exactly what they should be doing by gravitating to the most exciting thing around. That’s what their brains are wired to do.” It’s up to parents to decide if the most exciting thing around is truly the right lesson for their age.

Guess what, if my daughter’s teacher — who is an amazingly energetic and riveting storyteller — can’t compete with media, then neither can I and neither can you.

There’s a reason it works to hand your child a device to buy yourself thirty minutes of quiet. The device and its output are far more compelling than parents. Now try getting your child’s attention back to chat with you at dinner or go clean her room.

Our house is not completely media free, Nora listens — with relish — to audio books. She went through most of the Ramona Quimby books several times over the summer. Now she wants to change her name to Beatrice. Audio books allow her to absorb stories and information while still using her own imagination. But we are still trying to find the balance with listening time. It too, can carry her away.

Just as you don’t need to become a Buddhist to reap the benefits of meditation, you don’t need to shell out tuition to a Waldorf school to try a no-screen policy in your house. (Tip: For the love of all things holy, do not tell your kid they are not allowed screen time. Simply redirect them.)

Some parents think that not allowing screen time is depriving their children of some inalienable right to consumerism. I say, you’re simply prepping them to enjoy it properly. I say, it’s media that deprives children — of their fundamental right to get bored stupid and wash their hair in a bucket in the backyard.

Let their brains develop to the point where they can successfully sort through the bullshit in the media. After the nine-year change, media can play a larger role. Thankfully, all the movies and games are digitally stored for your convenience. As Nora’s teacher likes to to say: “All of it will be there waiting for your child when the time is right.”