I don’t want to be the stereotypical white person who cherrypicks and steals traditions from other cultures without respecting or understanding the meaning, but just because they sound kind of cool. Yet I’m craving tradition. I also recognize that some of what gets labeled as “tradition” serves to control women and maintain a patriarchal status quo. I don’t need that. But again, sometimes I crave “traditions.” So perhaps some research into my own waspy (boring?) heritage is on the agenda in order to rediscover lost traditions that speak to me. Or perhaps even better – create our own unique family traditions?
Where did this random train of thought regarding traditions come from?
I was reading about the Jewish tradition of upsherin and I liked the idea of it. Never mind that I don’t think of Sam as an unpruned fig tree. I just like the ceremonial nature of attaching meaning to the commonplace.
Upsherin, as I understand it, is the Jewish practice of not cutting a boy’s hair until his third birthday. Its origins are in a verse about allowing the fig tree to go unpruned for three years, and then it will bear fruit upon pruning. Metaphorically, the concept of “bearing fruit” has to do with growth, maturity, productivity, and living out the life God has planned for you and using the gifts God has given you. Upsherin also signifies the official start of the boy’s Jewish education. Of course, I could be misunderstanding this entirely. I only read about it on a blog by actress and celebrity mom Mayim Bialik.
The thing is, Sammy has not had his first hair cut yet. His hair is soft and golden and so beautiful. True, many strangers call him a girl, but that doesn’t bother me. I understand that with small children people look for certain indicators (length of hair, pink clothes) so that they may comfortably categorize your child into a narrow gender binary (which I believe is extra silly for small children.) But I digress. I don’t have any pink clothing for him, but his hair does go a couple inches past his collar and sweetly curl up a bit at the ends. Can you tell that I’m going to have a hard time cutting it off? Those days of having a wee baby passed by quickly. Once I cut his hair he’s going to look that much more like a “boy” and less like my “baby.” On a purely practical level, you should see how he kicks and squirms during the torturous toenail clipping episodes. Like he’s fighting off zombies. There was no way I wanted scissors anywhere near his head and face.
So we decided to wait until he turned two and might possibly sit still for the haircut. (Do two-year-olds sit still? Yeah, I might have misjudged that one.) Now his birthday is only two months away, and I’m already feeling sad about cutting his locks. Like I said, I’m not hung up on strict gender restrictions for a one-year-old. But it’s starting to look scraggly, hang in his eyes, and starting to – just the tiniest bit – resemble a mullet. I think everyone will agree with me that I can’t have my sweet Sam sporting a mullet.
Sam turned twenty months old this week, and as you can see from the title he has yet to start speaking. I wrote about his apparent language delay in the past post Waiting to Hear “Mama”. At that time we were preparing for Sam to be evaluated. On Evaluation Morning I felt nauseous as I anxiously wandered around our apartment once again to reassure myself that it was clean and orderly. The evaluators were coming after naptime. Hopefully Sam would be well-rested and ready to “play.” While he napped I showered and dressed, but couldn’t bring myself to eat lunch.
All my worries about the evaluation being stressful were, happily, unfounded. The key evaluator was a relaxed and pleasant older “grandma” type. “Grandma” brought with her a big bin full of toys and wonders for Sam to explore. Sam had fun while the nice lady played with him and took notes. He especially loved the mirror. We play and dance in front of the big bathroom mirrors all the time, but this was a mirror he could hold himself so that was great fun. She also had a wind-up caterpillar that enthralled him. He cried when she was leaving. I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t crying because of some instant magical bonding between him and the evaluator. More likely he was thinking “Who brings me a bin full of presents and then takes them away when they leave??? What kind of person does that? Bring back those toys!”
So thankfully the evaluation was fun for Sam, and I was relieved to have it over, but I felt ambivalent about the results. There are four areas: cognitive, communication, social-emotional, and motor and self-help skills. Sam scored below average in three areas and slightly delayed in communication. They said it wasn’t enough to qualify for therapy at that time. Contact them again in three months if we didn’t see positive progress in Sam’s language skills. On one hand, I was relieved to discover that, while I thought he might be very delayed, in truth it wasn’t that severe. On the other hand, if three months were to pass and he still wasn’t speaking, then he would be even more delayed due to the wasted three months without therapy. To pile on more worries, I was surprised that he scored below average in social skills. I think his social development has been great because he has a strong connection with us, and he loves to give me hugs and kisses. It’s all tied in together though; a lot of the social skills tested also require communication. Ultimately though I decided I was glad about the results. He didn’t need therapy. Sam would probably start talking in no time.
Two months passed. Sam still doesn’t say any words. He does recognize some more words such as “socks.” And if I ask “Where’s froggy?” he searches the room and then brings me his stuffed frog that he got for Christmas. (We also got him a mirror to play with for Christmas since he had so much fun with the evaluator’s.) But still no “Mama.” Still no words at all. And I haven’t had much luck with signing, although I admit I really didn’t know what I was doing, I couldn’t even get him to do the simple sign for “more.” I’ll have to call the evaluation agency back in a few weeks, and I feel disheartened by that. I thought for sure that he would be picking up language and speaking by now.
To add on to my worries over Sam’s language delays there’s my frustration with the tantrums. It’s a safe bet to say that we are now in the stage of toddler tantrums. From the horror stories I’ve heard, his tantrums aren’t even that bad. However, they are super frustrating for me because of the lack of language. I don’t even know why he’s tantrumming! He’s screaming and crying but not asking me for anything! I can’t help but think that maybe if I just knew what he wanted, I could eagerly give it to him and we’d all be happy. For instance, this morning beginning at breakfast time he was screaming and crying and screaming and crying. Perhaps he was just saying, “Gee, Mama, this oatmeal is too warm, too cold, needs a bit more cream, I’d rather have some of that lovely spinach soufflé instead, etc.” All valid requests I would have been happy to fulfill. But I have no idea what he wanted. It makes me sad, really sad. It probably makes him sad, too, and frustrated, too – thus the tantrum. He was crying like that on and off all morning. I still don’t know what he wanted.
For once, I stayed calm and didn’t allow myself to get frustrated and raise my voice over his. I used to think that the best course of action to take with a tantrumming child was to walk away and ignore them. I know that is the common advice from most experienced moms and experts. Now, I’m not so sure. And like I’ve said at the beginning of writing this blog, I’m tending to lean towards the crunchy munchy side of things, off center from the mainstream way of thinking.
So I spent the better part of the morning holding him. (It’s similar to an idea I read on another blogger’s site. She’s a mom in New Zealand with interesting insights and ideas about children and parenting, and she wrote about Boring Cuddles.) From what I’ve understood about small children not yet mastering their emotions and self-soothing skills, it seems counter-productive to just let him tire himself out screaming. Counter-productive, and cruel. When it comes right down to it, my compassion for his frustration and my crazy love for the little guy make me want to hug him. So I hold him, firmly so he feels secure, and I sway back and forth. Sometimes it’s difficult to hold him when he’s thrashing about, but I do my best. And sometimes it takes longer than other times (this morning took a while) but eventually he’ll calm down. Some people might disapprovingly accuse me of coddling during a tantrum, and perhaps when he’s older and throwing a tantrum in the middle of the store because he wants candy I won’t stop to hug him. But, for now, he’s only twenty months old, he can’t even say “Mama” yet, and I think he needs hugs and cuddles. Come to think of it, I could use a hug and a cuddle today, too.
(After he calmed down, I took him outside for a long walk. He got some exercise and to release some energy, and the fresh air was good for both of us. After our walk, he fell right to sleep for his nap.)
Can you have a sex life after having a child? Do you even want one? Let’s say that I did want a sex life. And not just a ho-hum marital duty kind of monthly maintenance, but a hot and juicy, highly satisfying, spontaneous and fun kind of sex life. You know what I’m talking about, the kind that I had before having a baby. The kind that I had when Jack and I were dating and then during the first year of marriage. The kind that is loud and ecstatic in private and hot and hushed in public where there are hopefully no cameras. Although the idea of a voyeuristic security guard wasn’t exactly a turn-off either. (Years later I’m sighing with relief at escaping a police record and criminal conviction brought on by our youthful horny foolishness).
Our second year of marriage was marked by quasi-homelessness and transition. By no means were we hungry and sleeping in the car, but a lack of jobs during a rotten economy had us leaving our home to look for greener pastures. During the transition of a cross-country move, we had a few months separation due to the logistics of moving, then a few months staying with Jack’s parents followed by about seven months staying with my parents. Crashing with one’s parents and in-laws would put a damper on the activity of even the rowdiest of couples, I’m sure. Once we settled into our new home and lives, with the routines and busy schedules of work and school (I went back for my BA), we saw our sex life gradually plateau at once or twice a month. Now let me add, it was very satisfying for both of us, just not as frequently as either of us would have liked. Then I got pregnant with Sam. Sam is now 19 months old.
December 31, 2011. It’s now been about 21 months since I’ve had sex. That is a long, long time, I know. It’s also embarrassing to admit.
First, I was recovering from the c-section. Secondly, I was an exhausted first-time new mother. And I admit, my body is not what I would like it to be. (I had started exercising and lost 15 pounds, but then I got pregnant, and the newly acquired weight loss disappeared like so many double BLTs that I insisted our unborn baby wanted me to eat). Additionally, and no small matter in my mind, I think the scar is ugly. Then I was nursing all the time. My “fun bags” were transformed into nourishing, life-sustaining, often leaky, sometimes sore, fully utilitarian, completely desexualized, milk producers. I rocked my baby and snuggled him close to my body, sharing my warmth with him and gazing at his soft cheeks as he nursed. And I sat in awe of my ability to provide this sweet warm nectar of life for him. And gratitude. I felt overwhelming relief and gratitude that I was able to nurse after such a rocky start with Sam’s inability to latch onto my flat/inverted nipples. But eventually I realized that unlike all of my friends, I was not falling back into past sexual habits. I had become “New Mother,” and I couldn’t remember who “Sexy Wife” was, let alone be able to combine the two roles into one life.
I had lost my groove. I didn’t feel any libido raging through me at all. Who am I kidding? Forget raging. I didn’t sense so much as a slow drip from the fount of sexual desire. Eventually it felt, to me anyway, like Jack and I had lost our mojo, at least in the bedroom. We were still best friends, and now co-parents of the sweetest little baby boy God ever created, but lovers? Not so much. What happened to my libido? It certainly wasn’t sparking in this frumpy mom. Was it absolutely dead and buried in cold ashes? Yes.
Maybe not. When I went back to work this past summer, I had to go shopping. I bought new clothes. I had lost a couple pounds, nothing really noticeable to anyone besides my fogged up bathroom mirror, but enough that I was able to sashay right past the XLs and fit into a size 12. On the few evenings a week that I was headed to work, I had to ditch the mommy uniform of old sweats and Jack’s old tees. I did my hair and make-up. I wore cute heels. My students listened to me and looked up to me. I felt more confident. I felt attractive again. Then there were a few naughty dreams – mostly about Jack, but the odd celebrity made an appearance as well (sex with a timelord? yeah, that dream was um, interesting). Maybe my sex drive was just hidden away in the land of subconscious dreams. Still, even though I did feel more attractive, I didn’t feel any real interest in having sex again. In fact, so much time had passed that even when I began to have an inkling that there did indeed exist a sex drive, I didn’t know how to start anything up.
I might as well be a young innocent again for all my awkwardness when I try to imagine jump starting our sex life. What would I do? What would I wear? Could I wear something to cover my “problem areas”? Like, say, a tent? With the lights out? Would he be looking at my c-section scar? Would it turn him off? How would I position myself? Like should I be in the bedroom and call him in? Or meet him at the door when he comes home? It just all felt so awkward in my mind. Then there’s the minor problem of our bedroom; it’s a mess. You have to climb over laundry and clutter to get to the bed. Not exactly a sex nest.
It’s like sex amnesia. I don’t remember our rhythm or even how to start the beat. But tonight is New Year’s Eve. It’s all about new beginnings and giving life an energy boost. Jack has just put Sam to bed. My husband is making me a very special dinner. There’s a starting course of oeufs en meurrete (which I had once in a restaurant and have never found again, and which he is trying to recreate for me tonight) and a main dish of canard (duck) a l’orange, and the gods of wine should be pouring generously. I may have fallen off for 21 months, but let’s see if I can climb back on the horse, so to speak.
It used to be that I could go several days without talking to a single person other than my husband. I was even a full-time university student at the time. Lest you think that I did nothing but wallow in friendless self-pity, I assure you that I tried various tactics. I joined the glee club. That was an awful dreary experience (and nothing like the much-loved show). The rest of the glee club members, all a decade younger than this “non-traditional” student, mostly ignored me. The tipping point just before I quit came when a new girl joined the club. She strolled in on her first day, exuding cuteness with her blond perky ponytail, carrying a pizza box. “Hey Everybody! I was just walking past a frat house and these frat guys were outside on the porch, and they said they had too much pizza and gave me one! So who wants pizza?” Glee members swarmed around her. I was neither cute nor perky. Frat boys would never offer me anything other than a seat on the bus if perhaps I was looking especially old and haggard. In a few moments this girl had everyone talking to her. Nobody ever informed me of the Bring Pizza To Class Rule in order to make friends. And can you tell me, who ever heard of frat boys claiming to have Too Much Pizza? Glee club and various other tactics notwithstanding, I was still able to go through whole days without so much as a “Hey! How ya doin?”
I wished I had some friends. They didn’t have to be soul mates. After all, I had Jack, and I had my sister. What I missed was having someone to catch a movie with or share a laugh fueled by delicious dinner and wine or even just to walk to class together. I really miss having a shopping buddy who is as happy to spend an afternoon at the mall as I am. Shopping is fun when there are two of you laughing at clothing and arguing over styles. And the dismal failures in the dressing rooms aren’t depressing when there’s a friend to make light of them. A friend and I, both well past our prom prime, tried on a pile of awful poofy prom dresses, just for a lark. But I digress because she was a close best friend and confidant. I’d be happy now with just someone to gab with over coffee.
But, see, I did have friends once. I have photos of tulle prom dresses to prove it! What happened? People move far away. People marry or grow insular in the first years of romantic relationships. People grow apart. People lose touch, and in drifting away the bonds of friendship are loosed until all that is left is a cheery Christmas card exchanging photos of your families. Some friends are meant to reside permanently in your life, while others are meant to enrich your life for a short time and then to exist mostly in your memories. Then there are those friends who you silently wish would drift away, but remain ever annoyingly present through the relationship equivalent of a pacemaker. Of course I’m referring to Facebook. And now I’ve grown gloomy in the company of the ghost of friendships past.
But wasn’t there optimism and a hint of happiness in this post title? Yes, there was! And I can thank Sam for that for tonight I went out to dinner with several fellow mamas from his playgroup. We left the toddlers home with the menfolk so that we could indulge in a rare (rare for me!) mothers’ night out. I had a sweet pink martini with a silly name like Razzmatazz Tartlettini, the pan-seared duck breast with raspberry demi-glaze, and a glass of wine, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The food was delish, but that wasn’t even the best part. The best part was that we did NOT spend the entire night talking about our babies! Woohoo for conversation not centered on milestones and poo!
Amazingly, a group of women with nothing more in common at the start besides the birthdates of our babies and yet we all enjoy each other’s company. We get together in parks or meet in our homes for the babies -now toddlers- to play. It’s been wonderful to have a group of women to connect with who were going through the same stages as we were. It’s been great that Sam has had friends to play with. It literally kept me sane during those early months when all I did was rock and nurse; but once a week I could leave the house to go rock and nurse with other exhausted nursing women. Once in a blue moon, we even leave the toddlers at home and go out for drinks and adult conversation. Did we talk some about the kids? Of course. Did we talk about subjects indirectly related to the kids? Yup, like what kind of money markets, 529s, savings accounts we’ve got set up for them. But we also talked about non-kid related subjects! You have to understand, I was so worried that the whole conversation would be around the usual topics, and at times I really crave discussion that is not about toddlers, even my own (gasp!).
But here’s where I start to doubt. Are these women my friends? Or is this just a temporary alliance? Once our tots grow up and begin to expand their horizons, will we still want to spend time together? Or will I have lost another circle of potential friends? How well do I even know these women? How closely can you know someone when 90% of conversation is about your kids? Certainly you can tell by now that I’m lousy at making new friends. So I’d rather not lose these budding friendships. I already sense that some of the women are forming closer bonds. My guess is that maybe they’ve gotten together one-on-one outside of the group play dates to hang out. Maybe I should try and set something up. It might be a little too soon though to try on poofy prom dresses together.
Or am I just deluding myself? Once a playgroup has served its function, do the relationships fade away?
Red lights when you’re running late. Picking the slow check-out lane at the grocery store. Insomnia. Seeing red splatters decorate the wall after the spaghetti sauce somehow flies out of your grasp. Dealing with in-laws that are staying for three weeks. Listening to the new upstairs neighbors stomp back and forth across your ceiling.
As frustrating as those events may be, none of them reach the level of frustration involved with trying to understand a pre-verbal toddler.
Sam’s wailing cry is implausibly both guttural and piercing. It means that he is unhappy or uncomfortable. Or he is hungry or thirsty. Or he wants to play. OK, I admit I really have no idea what it means. Oh wait, I do have some idea; it means that my head is going to start hurting. Not that that helps.
Sam is 16 months old, and doesn’t say one recognizable word. If only I knew what his little crying heart desired, I would most gladly offer it to him, silver platter and all. Our saving grace is that Sam is overall a very content little boy. But when he lets loose with a demanding howl I wish so much that he could tell me what he wanted. As frustrating as this is for me, I can only imagine it is even more so for my Sam.
It’s not as simple as teaching Sam a few signs. See, not only does Sam not speak yet, but he also shows no (or very little) sign of comprehending anything I say. Some kids are late talkers, and that’s usually A-OK, because you can see that they understand everything that is said to them. Babies begin to build their receptive language vocabulary first. After developing their receptive language comprehension, they’ll eventually start speaking. My son, however, never responded to simple directions such as “Give me the ball.” And he wouldn’t turn towards me or Jack when we would ask “Where’s Mommy?” or “Where’s Daddy?” Sam seems to have gotten stuck somewhere on the path to language comprehension.
It has been, at times, so frustrating to decipher his grunts and yells and to feel that sense of emptiness where there should be comprehension. But even worse is the creeping fear that something is wrong.
So I’ve grown more and more anxious about his lack of language. I almost never mention it to anyone. I spoke about it to my sister once. She quickly replied with assurances that Sam was fine, all kids are different, Sam is so smart, don’t worry. I’ve always found that uninformed knee-jerk assurances are utterly useless and insulting to my intelligence. Worse, it’s like a quick dismissal of my feelings and concerns. I haven’t spoken to her about it since. I was anxious and worried, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to.
My husband believed, or wanted to believe, that Sam was understanding everything we were saying. I knew better. Jack argued that Sam would respond with happiness when my husband would propose their various fun activities, like running or swimming. I pointed out that Sam always responded with happiness whenever Jack would speak with a happy tone. That wasn’t clear evidence of comprehension.
Then we had Sam’s 15-month check-up with his pediatrician. He agreed that it sounded like Sam may have a language delay. And no, I didn’t really want to be right, but finally, I felt like my concerns were acknowledged and validated. Our next step is to set up an appointment to have a speech evaluation done.
The creeping fear didn’t have a concrete shape, but the scary A-word was almost certainly driving it. Autism is a huge terrifying monster for most new parents. It definitely was weighing on my mind as I waited to hear “Mama.” I don’t pretend to know a lot about autism. I know that language problems are one aspect, so understandably this was a root source of my anxiety. But as our pediatrician explained to us, social problems are far more indicative of autism than are language delays. My sweet Sam, I am happy to tell you, has great social skills.
Sam is my Snuggle Monster. He is very affectionate with both me and Jack. He makes eye contact and smiles and laughs easily when we’re being silly. He plays peekaboo. He also has his own version of peekaboo that he made up. While in his highchair, he covers his eyes with his hands. I say “Where’s Sammy?” until he peeks out from behind his tiny fingers with a twinkle in his eye. Of course I call out “There’s Sammy!” and he giggles and hides behind his hands again. It’s adorable.
While we were sitting in the doctor’s room, the pediatrician observed Sam giving Jack hugs and kisses, unprompted by us. A good sign, he said. Also, Sam carefully watched the doctor throughout the appointment, which the doctor said was very much expected behavior for his age. He said that an autistic child would more likely be gazing towards the corners and not paying attention to the stranger in the room. That half hour with the pediatrician did a lot to allay my fears.
In the past two weeks since then, I’ve had the joy of seeing some progress. It would look insignificant to the casual observer, but it feels momentous to me. Being careful not to look in the direction of the ball, I said to Sam “Get the BALL! Can you get the BALL? Where’s the BALL? Get the BALL Sam!” Where’s the B-B-B-ALL?” Four out of six times, Sam has turned, crawled straight to the ball, and grabbed it and looked at me with a big smile! You know I was whooping and clapping with joy! Such a seemingly little gesture, but I was overwhelmed with happiness and relief. I call that clear evidence that Sam understood exactly what I said! In the past, when I have asked him to get the ball, he would sit and give me a blank expression. He wouldn’t even glance in the direction of the ball. Now 4 out of 6 times, he made a beeline for his ball. And as for the two times in which he did not move towards the ball… well, he’s one. One-year-olds don’t always listen. They get distracted by other toys. That’s what I’m telling myself.
I still need to call to set up the speech evaluation. Hopefully we can get some advice on how to help Sam build his language skills. Until then, I’m still waiting to hear my sweet boy call me “Mama.” I can’t wait!