Thursday, August 30, 2007

Little things

likes her caffeine, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

I am no longer persona non grata here at Casa de Abba.

I think she was about two and still mispronouncing her own name when she thrust her hands into my camera lens and with the screech of three nightmarish words -- NO MORE PISHERS -- single-handedly assured herself a little brother.

Oh how times change.

Now that my camera is seeking out a smaller, less loquacious subject she is all smiles. Not to mention all "Here take my picture doing this ... how about if I hold it on my head. Wait! Here, look at this. ... I'm holding it between my legs. Isn't that funny? Quick take a picture."

I don't mean to give you the impression she's jealous of the attention Silas is getting; she doesn't seem peeved. She doesn't pull me away from him to look at her. I think she's just decided from watching that it's fun to pose.

It kind of took me by surprise this new interest in being photographed. I didn't really know what to do with it since I'm not typically interested in "look at me" type photographs. I'd much prefer she ignore me like she usually does the other 92 percent of the time I've got my camera in hand.

But I'm not going to complain about it; there's still plenty of candid moments even when she's saying cheese. It's just nice not to have to be a contortionist (or a magician) to catch them.

I know this phase won't last, though. One day she'll say Abba-cadabra or some other explosive command and it will be gone.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Team player

skins and shirts, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

Under his breath I hear him say it: "Mama's boy."

There's an unmistakable laugh in his voice but I don't care. The expression makes me bristle with rage.

"That's not fair."

He's been crying since I made the handoff.

I'm trying to finish the tortilla pizzas. I'm not the one who usually does the cooking in this house. I need my wits about me as I'm searing chicken sausage.

At first it was slow, unsure chirps that could go either way. Soon it was clear the boyo was headed for the goal -- me.

I still had my sling around my shoulder, waiting for the exchange. Nothing.

"Are you OK," I call through the steam of the now translucent onions.

"Fine," he says in the adament yet disturbed voice of a dad struggling with the Fourth Trimester Blues. The first three months on the outside when only mama has the touch.

It's painful, really. As I sprinkle chopped peppers, onions and cheese over a thin layer of sauce, I find myself trying to soften the blow:

"He's just hungry."

"He has been fussy all day. It's not you."

But when dad hands him back he instantly settles.

"You realize once he's a little older YOU will be the hero, right?"

I've slid the tiny pizzas into the oven, and in minutes they are ready.

"Here. ... I'll trade ya."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


We've been away at a family reunion of sorts in the beautiful state of Vermont. We stayed with my cousin near Burlington for a few days and then at a bed and breakfast in Waitsfield where the actual birthday party (for my father's sister) took place.

We've returned with a carload of funky laundry to a house full of dog hair, rancid food in the fridge and other real-world duties. Forgive me while I take my time getting back into the swing of things here in the virtual world.

Until then, I'd like you to meet "Bad Word Girl," Annabel's Easter Bunny-disguised bear. During this trip Ittybit decided the bear -- which came in her Easter Basket -- should finally have a name.

I'm not sure where she came up with "Bad Word Girl" since we've tried to instill the idea that there are no "bad" words, there are simply inappropriate times and places for certain word usages.

But, as cousin Bridget pointed out, "Inappropriate Word Usage Girl" is a little clunky.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Oh baby, talk to me

Dear Silas,

It's been two months already, but strangely enough it seems as if you've been in our lives all along.

If you were our firstborn I'd be able to tell you exactly how many times you sneezed in these last two months. I could tell you the exact day and minute of the first smile you'd shown that didn't appear to be pent up gas. But you are the second child, and while you were doing all those things I was looking away or tripping over toys I'd asked your sister to put away.

Instead of being able to pinpoint the exact second of your first smile, I can recall that the first time I noticed a non-sleeping smile was while we were in Maine visiting your Ama and cousin. It was about four weeks (a week sooner than your sister, I might add). Also I can tell you that while I have no idea how many sneezes or hiccups you've expelled, I know that after most sneezes you make a heartbreaking little sighin sound that will make me regret I didn't record it for posterity. (Yes, I know there's still time but I'm not too skilled in the moving pictures department. And since it takes effort, I know I'll just be sitting here on my brains hoping someone else will capture the moment.)

I also don't know when it was that you started trying to be a part of the family on your own, but I know that right now you are verbalizing up a storm. The colloquial term would be "cooing," I believe.

I don't remember Annabel doing this. But perhaps I was too busy looking at her to talk to her the way I talk to you. I never really expected you to talk back though. In the doctors' office, while we were waiting for your vaccinations, I was telling you all about the things on the counter I could identify. Cotton sqabs, tongue depressors, a measuring tape, soap ... that thing that you use to look in someone's ear ... And you started repeating what I said. Sort of.

Mostly it had the same pitch and length, but the words were in a language I haven't spoken for more than 30 years -- baby.

Now, just so you know, I don't go in for all that "wooby, wooby widdle baby" stuff. I speak to little people pretty much the same way I speak to the guy at the post office or in coffee shop: four stamps; black, no sugar. (Don't laugh, I get blank stares from them too.)

And yet, when I tell you about the grossness of the dog's drooling ways or wonder if you are more interested in listening to Dave Matthews or Parlament, I am delighted by your enthusiasm. Your "Eeeeyaaas" and "ooooos" sound remarkably positive as I'm reading to you from the grocery list.

"Oh your right! I did forget the Hearts and Os cereal. Annabel's favorite. You're such a good brother."

I'm glad you speak my language. When I ask you to look in the box where the cold food is one day, trying to remember the name for the refrigerator, I'm sure you'll know exactly what I mean.



Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Maternal salvation

I was taking a walk in my village last week with Silas in the sling when a car stopped me on a side street. As I was turning onto the street it was pulling out, so the couple inside had turned around and come back, catching up to me a few houses away from the corner.

They were an older couple, grandparents, and wanted to know how I liked my town. They were planning on moving up from Brooklyn.

My usual response when someone asks what I think of the place I live includes annecdotes about how years before I even considered moving here -- when i was the editor of a local weekly newspaper -- someone had spread a rumor about me being a lesbian and in a relationship with my assistant editor. I was pretty put off by the idea of people who don't know me from Paula Poundstone would have the time and inclination to spread rumors -- true or false. It seemed so ... Oh, I don't know ... antisocial? Not to mention that there's a certain Seinfeldian aspect to the situation: Who'd want to be friends ... or even spend a half hour ... with people like that?

But the couple in the car seemed nice, and I had nowhere to be. I was just out walking, enjoying the summer night and various sounds of window airconditioning units humming from every house I passed. So I smiled and told them a soften version of the truth: that it's a beautiful, quiet town and that there were scads of community-focused activities if one was inclined to take part.

They told me about themselves and kept peppering me with questions. How old was my baby? How long had I lived here? Was I originally from the area?

They wondered if I knew many mothers in town.

I told them that I didn't.

They wanted to know why.

I work. Being away from home more than 10 hours a day didn't leave room for much socializing, and most play groups were either private or suspended their schedules for the summer. I figured once my daughter was old enough to go to the local public school I'd make some more acquaintances. Until then my "social" life would remain on my couch at 10 p.m. while I'm surfing the Web.

That's when the curious woman in the passenger seat told me that she was a clinical psychologist and had made mothering her speciality. She studied women in mothers' groups. She even went as far as to tell me about groups in my area I might like to "check out."

"How interesting," I said, noting that while I don't belong to groups in the local community I did belong to an online forum of mothers that was much the same. We shared tips, recipes, angst and stories. We commiserate about lousy bosses, difficult mates, children we'd like to sell on e-bay. We exchange cards and ornaments at holidays. We bestow gifts at the birth of a child or condolences at the death of a parent or loved one. We chip in and send larger gifts to people who are really struggling with something, just to lift their spirits a little. We even made a point to see one another once a year and do it all over again in person.

I was thinking about all of this as the woman in the car dismissed my virtual support group with the wave of a hand. "You should really find people you can meet in person every week," she said, explaining that face-to-face contact was the "only" way to effectively survive motherhood.

I smiled and nodded and pretended to commit to memory the names she offered. But really I was just wondering when people like her would shift their studies from the handfuls of women who meet in the height of the afternoon -- many of them stay-at-home moms making use of the time between 9 and 5 when the husbands are away -- to the thousands who hash out the same things in the wee hours of the evening or during coffee breaks at work or when their kids are napping or their husbands away.

We laugh, we cry, we wrap our heads around other people's stories; their worries and their celebrations. We adjust our thinking. We gain a different perspective. We are irreverent, and kind, and silly. We lift each other up. The only difference in our virtual playgroup is that our kids only play in posted photographs.

Rather than benefiting the social needs of our children it's our minds and spirits that benefit. And the mind doesn't need to sip coffee from the same urn or eat cookies from the same plate to realize maternal salvation.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The heavyweight champeein of da world

champ, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

I'm in love with the doctors in our pediatric practice. LOVE.

I would write bad poetry in their honor.

I would bake them little heart-shaped cakes.

I would wash their cars with a Q-Tip, that's how much I LOVE them.

Not only are they reassuring, but they always seem to smile. Our usual doctor was on vacation this week, a fact I was told beforehand, and it turns out her pitch-hitter was my favorite kind of substitute -- a joker.

DOC: "So ... How is he?"

MOM: "I'd say he's perfect."

DOC: "I'll be the judge of that. I'll be honest, haven't seen a perfect baby yet. ... looks like he gained 27 ounces in a month. ... good. Eyes, ears, throat, tummy, legs ... yup. He's perfect. Although I'll have to take off a half a point for that redness in the neck folds. ...

... HEY! He's the first kid to pee on me today.

MOM: See, I told you he was perfect. He's VERY protective of his mama.

Of course the guy earned my complete devotion, and potential for car detailing services, when I admitted the kid wasn't really perfect considering his wonky kidney and all ....

DOC: "Oh, that. I'd say those kind of kidney things are about as normal as cradle cap. The only reason it's moderate is because he's a baby. I'd be more concerned with some of the notations these places put on the reports ... Says here: "Patient didn't complain about pain in lower abdomen, back or groin. ... I can't wait to meet the newborn who complains. Oh look, also says here he's a non-smoker. Good. I wasn't looking forward to giving THAT lecture."

*Silas weighed in at 10 pounds, 11 ounces. It earns him a slot in the 25th percentile for weight. He measured 22 1/2 inches long (also 25th percentile) and his head is 38 cm in circumference (10th percentile).

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Garden variety

Mommy, look!!!

This tomato has a scar just like yours.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

New and improved

I remember what it was like to get a new pair of sneakers.

I felt as if I could run faster, jump higher and do just about anything.

It was like getting a shot of instant invincibility.

Happily, that hasn't changed a bit. Annabel proudly announced that her new sneakers are going to help her practice her running. Not just that but that they help her get more "entergy." Enough to go to the moon, even.

I believe it. I never had sneaks THIS snazzy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

She's got the sass down

not pregnant, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

"Mommy? You were big when you were preglent. But now that you're not preglent you are not big anymore.

"Now daddy's preglent, but he's NOT having a baby right?


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Will wonders never cease?

how do pigs fly?, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

Dear Annabel,

Were you wondering where I've been?

Nearly two months ago I disappeared. For three days I was gone. For three days your access to me was measured in minutes. You were amazing. You seemed to mature overnight.

You started speaking to strangers in sentences. You were in love with your little brother and you had barely met him.

None of that has changed. What has changed is that you share me now, and for a major portion of the day you are entertaining yourself, singing songs, reading books to your miniature animals, and finding new amusements while I hold the baby, change the baby, rock the baby or try and keep the baby happy.

You've not yet asked me to put the baby down or send the baby back. You've not shown even a smidgen of jealousy.

When your father comes home at night, I take walks around the village. With Silas. Not with you. I want to walk, and with you I have to stop for every leaf that's fallen from a tree and some that haven't.

But I gave in recently and took you along. Off we went, you in the stroller and your brother in the sling. I figured we'd be gone five minutes before you'd insist we turn back. You didn't, but we didn't get far either. We reached the village square and you heard music.

You made me stop so you could listen as the brass band played marches and show tunes. You begged me to stay there in the village center and let you out of the stroller.

I wasn't going to get my walk and I knew it.

I unbuckled you and you slid out from under the tray. You held out your hand to me, compelling me to come with as you danced in the cordoned off street.

I stood in the middle of the road trying not to look in the direction of our elderly neighbors, sitting in the lawnchairs they brought to sit on in the median lawns. Your moves were a combination of running around the flower patch and gyrations that would make Olive from Little Miss Sunshine proud. I laughed as they told you how well you dance, knowing full and well that Olive was indeed your mentor.

It was getting dark. I told you we'd stay for one more number and you weasled three more after that.

It was fun. I didn't much mind forgoing the walk.

The next day when you woke up, you asked me to play a game on the porch. You wanted me to bring your brother, even though he was crying.

"Maybe he just wants to hang out with me more."

I hugged you and told you how right you were and how happy you made me.

"You're happy mama? Then I'm happy, too."

It was a sobering moment, because it wasn't your words so much as the flash of sheer bewilderment and relief in your eyes that told me what I really needed to know. That I haven't really been there for you and you were waiting for me to come back. Waiting patiently at that.

I love you, kiddo ... all day and night.


Monday, August 13, 2007

Because we couldn't cram all the fun into just one Sunday ...

paint the town, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

oh ... and if you've got nothing to do tomorrow ...

jed's turning 37, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

Pop on by.

Side by side

i've missed you film, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

How I've missed film. When I lugged two children and about 10 rolls of film into the lobby of my preferred pro lab it all came flooding back.

The magic that is photography.

A feeling.

A wordless wisdom that almost blindly catches a moment and holds it in ways you may not have intended or perhaps even noticed.

It's something digital doesn't do in the same way.

Digital has made me understand what instant gratification really means. Film makes you wait. It forces you to be judicious. It makes you pay otherwise. It also makes you remember things you might never have seen.

The thing is, I only shot a few rolls of film during the last week. The rest I found by going through boxes and drawers and glove compartments in several cars. What I found were six or so overheated, overdue, overlooked rolls to bring along for the ride.

I didn't have much hope for finding long lost gems. The rolls from last year or from 10 years ago didn't get developed for a reason. Mostly the images were sure to be afterthoughts. I didn't finish the roll and it stayed in the camera. It was last ditch efforts, usually not worthy of a second look. They were just because.

When the contact sheets came back there were amazing litle memories I'd completely forgotten. There were photographs from magazine jobs and weddings, there were pictures from my old apartment.

But somehow, years later, these trigger-happy castoffs seemed valuable even in their imperfection; perhaps because of their faults.

One roll from seven years ago contained a photograph of Jed holding a metal snow saucer, standing in front of Ledig House with Maggie by his side. We'd gone sledding with the dogs down the big hill despite only a smattering of snow that year. It was an old-time looking frame with a weird light-leak and funky coloring.

He wants me to make a larger print of it to hang in the house. He said he felt as if he were looking at his own father standing in front of the Captain's Walk . Timeless even while time passes.

It's made me want to keep my old Nikon as more than a paperweight. Keep it loaded and ready for a shot or two as an afterthought. Perhaps once every few years send off the rolls to see what, if any, treasures await.

Friday, August 10, 2007


?, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

... and I'm picking up $130 worth of processed film today.

... and I'm still considering the purchase of a new camera.

I have a problem. Perhaps a 12-step program is in order. It's either that or I'll need a second job.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Muddy waters

strong man, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

The summer is just flying by in a heat-soaked humid kind of way. We swelter at home or hole up in the only room with air conditioning, watching movies.

It's the kind of summer that makes me drool as I drive through the local communities counting backyard swimming pools. It's so bad it's even threatened to end my boycot of Walmart just so I can procure this blue monster for our backyard.

Thank goodness I can't commit to such an impulse buy.

Yesterday, while the kids and I were out running errands (bringing about 10 rolls of film to be processed) and getting lunch at Ralph's Pretty Good Cafe (which should really strive to become Ralph's FRIGGIN' AWESOME Cafe if they insist on continuting to hawk $7 grilled cheese sandwiches and $6.50 milkshakes) Annabel saw Crellin Pond and started the "I-want-to-swim-in-that-big-pool-with-all-those-kids" chant.

"Not THAT pond," I think to myself as I recall the countless times I'd driven past that body of water to see it covered completely in migrating Canada geese. How may times had I stepped in goose grease while taking the dogs for walks? No, I couldn't let her swim there.

So I diverted her attention until it was bedtime. "MAAAAYBE we can go swimming later after your nap (you know, the nap you no longer take?). Look, honey, you don't even have a bathing suit with you. ... Oh look, kiddo, a plane."

But I couldn't get around it forever. It's much to hot not to swim.

And today was perfect. It rained in the morning, Jed's job got postponed and it wasn't too terribly sunny. So we piled in the car and went to Grafton Lakes State Park, a swimming place of my childhood.

Sure, it's a trek but it's worth it. We can spend the day there. We could have a picnic. We could swim for as long as we like and not even have to think about how many septic tanks empty out into the water ... because the land is largely undeveloped.

Yeah. ... that's the kind of delightful stuff I think about now as a parent. Shite AND Shineola.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Smiling in your sleep

sweet sleep, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

Dear Silas,

I had been holding off writing this first letter to you, dear boy, as I waited for you to put your stamp on me. With all the events preceeding and following your arrival -- some that don't even really pertain to you -- I wanted to get a better feel for who you are.

I waited for your first pediatric visit to see how big you were; to see how you measured up with another first visit I'd encountered. I waited to see how your eyebrows and lashes grew in. Would they be thick? Thin?

I waited long past your first smile ... four weeks was it? Perhaps gas? No matter, by six weeks you were smiling more broadly and often. And as always, even in utero, you still smile in your sleep.

It's probably going to annoy you, being second. Being the little brother. There will always be someone else leading the way.

It's tempting to compare, to look for differences: You don't cry too often (no matter what your sister says); You enjoy being worn in the sling; You do not like being put down; You accept "tummy time" with much more enthusiasm than you know who.

It is my theory that you will be a cuddly child. I could be wrong about that, of course, but what I'm probably not wrong about is that you will be a heartbreaker. Potentially mine.

It's been oppressively hot this summer. I can't bring myself to swaddle you in blankets, and yet I bundle you up in the pouch sling and wear you close to my heart. You are warm, your body a furnace just like mine, or so your father says anyway.

"It's like a fourth trimester," I tell folks when they comment on how content you seem all folded up like you are still inside. "Only without the heartburn and swollen ankles," I laugh.

Tonight, however, before the sun set completely and I turned the fans back from their outward stream, I saw the real you as we rocked in the chair. The you that has nothing to do with your birth order, or your sister or the million things that keep me from looking into your eyes every second of every hour of every day.

It's true what someone told me once. Despite all the struggle of having more work and less time; more hugs to give but less space in your arms, there is always room. Room that you didn't even know you had. Room that clears itself.

You came into that room without making a sound; you just slipped right in as if you were there all along.

I can't wait to get to know you, boyo. I have a feeling you are something special, too.



Saturday, August 04, 2007

Everyone needs a big brother, right?

broken, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

It's been like a year right? Or has it really only been a few days?

I've taken at least three rolls of film (unearthed from the haunted house that is my office) since my digital camera shit the proverbial bed. I flew through 108 exposures faster than poop through a goose. Three. Rolls. I'd say I'd spent all of 13 minutes composing and shooting those three rolls. In U.S. currency that's about $15 in materials and $30 in processing costs. $3.46 per minute.

Of course I haven't sent the rolls for processing.


What I have done is sent my D70 on an all-expense-paid USPS tour of Manhattan, where it will enjoy three weeks (at least) of rest and relaxation at a premiere spa for unemployed photographic equipment.

I thought I could be faithful and await its return, however I find myself surfing the Web late at night looking for a replacement ... one with more power, especially in low light. It pains me that these cameras seem so disposable. A few years in service and a broken pin or a damaged sensor can wind up costing as much to repair as the camera costs to replace. I was hoping to stick it out, go back to film (which I love) and wait until the fix-it people tell me the good news: That just some spit and polish -- and $19.95 (payable in song) -- will send my baby home in tip-top shape.

But it all seems so unlikely. Silas keeps smiling and doing cute things, and Annabel has started to allow more access to her pretty face and funny antics. I'm starting to rationalize my consumerist ways. After all, at the rate I'm going, I'll have paid for a new camera by the time I get the old one back and it becomes second fiddle.

Note to self: Next time forget futzing with the memory card and hook the camera up to the computer directly. Leave the card alone. It's more trouble than it's worth.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

From the archives ...

just like mommy, originally uploaded by toyfoto.

What do you get when you hand an expensive digital camera to a preschooler?

Do you know?

In my case, you get this ... or this ... or perhaps even this.

But what do you get when you put a memory card back into the camera in the dark? If you're someone like me you get this.

Shite. ... and, of course, the Champ picks today to start smiling ... and holding his head up ... and grabbing my hair with both hands. And Annabel even asked to have her picture taken, too.

You don't believe me, do you? I can't even prove it until I buy some film. ... I wonder if I remember how to use it?