Monday, December 31, 2007

I'm Baaaack

So I know no one is reading this blog right now, so it doesn't matter that I've been gone for months, but perhaps someday someone will. Since I last wrote I finished my Ph.D., taught three new courses, and presented papers at three conferences. Hence the long silence.

I feel like life has been transformed once again, as my daughter is entering a new phase. She is not quite yet three, but seems much like the 5-year-olds we occasionally encounter, so is very much a preschooler already if not officially so just yet. Occasionally I glimpse the baby side of her, when she says certain words, or gets very tired, but most of the time she is very much a little girl now.

I love this age... she can do so much on her own, can say everything she needs to, and our lives are ever so much more civilized than they once were. And she's such a little love! She will regularly come to me, crawl up on my lap, and declare her love with complete abandon: "I love you Mama, sooooo much!" I am all too aware that one day this will cease, probably quite suddenly, so I soak it up.

She has been singing the most hilarious rendition of Rudoph this year:

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose...
And if you ever saw him...
You would call him names"

Very politically UN-correct. But hilarious, nonetheless. Our camcorder is broken, so I cannot record her sweet singing of this funny little song, alas.

I fear so many little things like this will be lost forever. Parenthood acquaints you with the truth of Zen, that all you have is this moment, that all is ephemeral. But some time spent recently with a 15-month old reminded me that parenting a child is a one-way journey. I might look at old photos and miss my daughter as she was then, but each new phase brings new gifts as she evolves, and I know we can't go back. I wouldn't want to. If I could go back to visit her as she was, I would be looking for the little girl I know now.

Happy New Year everyone... I can't wait to see what 2008 will bring.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

On the Cusp of Turning 40

I'm thinking about my upcoming birthday more often lately, as it's a big milestone birthday. Remembering how dismal my 30th birthday was (I had just moved to a new city and didn't know anyone, and was quite broke, and my car was still in my old city, so I not only had no money, I also had no transportation), I decided I should really celebrate this one properly. The trouble is, I seem to find myself in a somewhat similar situation: living somewhere still new to me, where I do know a few people but not very well yet, and we're on this annoying tight budget, etc.

So, I chucked the party idea out the window, and will probably go for a much calmer celebration, something good like maybe taking off for the day on my own, something I don't ever get to do anymore. I'll be needing a few minor additions to my rather sparse work wardrobe (one doesn't somehow acquire much in the way of professional clothing during grad school), so maybe I'll do a bit of discount shopping. And spend an hour or so browsing at the bookstore. We don't yet have a trusted babysitter, so I don't think we'll be going out for dinner, unless we go en famille. Gigi is pretty good in restaurants now, so it's not entirely unthinkable (unlike last year, when we really should have stayed at home; Gigi screamed and fussed through much of our dinner out that night and we ended up fighting over how to best handle the situation). Or we could just cook something great and eat and drink ourselves silly.

But this isn't what I meant to write about. I was just realizing lately that maybe, just maybe, I may be seeing signs of finally growing up. The evidence is in the smallest things. In this case, in my changing taste in inane television. Though I hesitate to admit this, the first hint came when I could no longer stomach The Real World, a show I had followed religiously for its first decade. I continued to watch out of habit for a few seasons more, but when I realized it was more painful than entertaining, I just let it go.

But now I can't watch even fairly good t.v. if it's about the angst of singles in their 20s or 30s. I tried the first two episodes of a certain new Lifetime show all about one 30-something woman's search for love and meaning; it was a show I once would have truly enjoyed, but I was completely disinterested.

Can you say, not in the target demographic anymore? (Actually, I haven't been in the major target demographic for quite a few years, but my taste in television was rather immature for my age for a very long time.) I'm beginning to understand why older people love crime shows so much.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

House Poor

That's what we are right now. And I know I shouldn't complain, because we are homeowners for the first time. But we bought at the very top end of what we could afford, and are just barely squeaking by as we come to the end of our first full summer here, having had to stretch my husband's 9 month academic salary to cover the summer months. Unfortunately adjunct teachers aren't paid very well in this area, so my paltry income won't do much more than allow us to sock away our cushion for next summer. In other words, we're going to be house poor for awhile, at least for the next year.

Oddly, we are having to live on a tighter budget now than we did in California as graduate students! We didn't have much, but we somehow had enough to cook great food and drink wine without fear of breaking the bank, and occasionally go out to a nice meal. Now we're counting every dollar, scrounging change, planning every meal down to the last ingredient. All things we really should have been doing as grad students, I now realize!

I'm just not very good at budgeting, or sticking to a budget. Kaza, my dear readers, was meant to be wealthy. I've never been wealthy, but I seem to have a fine knack for the lifestyle. For instance, I believe that a glass of nice champagne should be a daily right (and rite), not an occasional luxury. As should a beautifully creamy morning cappuccino, made by a barista trained in the true Italian art (which simply cannot be learned by reading a corporate manual, as anyone who has had a cappuccino made by an experienced hand, in Italy, will agree). I also believe that one's food should be made with the finest, freshest ingredients, and that one should be able to go out to eat at least once a week in a restaurant run by a chef who knows food and loves feeding. I could go on and on, but my little reverie is beginning to depress me, alas.

Returning to reality, the good news is that we're making it, and not adding more debt. And we have a house. Although, I have to tell you, this homeowning thing is not quite all that it's cracked up to be. But that's a topic for another post.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Muggy, Buggy, and HOT!

Ahh, summer in the South. We moved to the South last August, just about one year ago now. I was unprepared for the wave of moist heat that hit me when we walked out of the airport. It felt nearly like breathing hot liquid. We hardly left the cool of the apartment in those first two months, as we prayed for the heat to finally let up.

It did, somewhere around mid-October or so. Fall was brief, but beautiful. Winter was a bit longer than fall, with lots of bitter cold and a large dose of ice but only two light snows. Spring was as brief as fall. The long summer began in late April or early May, and by June we were well into the sticky mess of a Southern summer.

I can take hot. After all, California is mostly arid desert, and I had seen my share of heat, well into the 90s at the height of summer, climbing above 100 now and then. My family even sought out even greater heat each year when we would vacation in deep into the desert. In August. On purpose. But this wet sticky heat of summer in the South is a whole other entity.

Then there are the bugs. Where to begin with the bugs? Let's start with the flies. I have never seen so many in my life. And I have to say, these flies are DIFFERENT. I'm used to flies that buzz noisily at the windows in desperate searches for escape, or that try to eat your picnic food. But these Southern flies are nothing short of AGGRESSIVE. They actually dive-bomb us as we sit on the couch. For no apparent reason.

But at least I've SEEN flies before. Most of the other bugs around here are entirely new to me, and many of them are, quite simply, frightening. Because they are HUGE. Mosquitos the size of wasps, and wasps the size of, well, really big wasps. And something that looks like a giant moth but turns out to be a scary thing known as the cicada killer wasp, which nests in your yard and then breaks free to go kill cicadas in the trees. Now, the cicadas are so god-awful noisy that I don't mind the existence of a bug whose sole mission is to eat them. But I DO mind unnaturally large killer wasps nesting in the yard where my toddler runs around. And I DEFINITELY mind these wasps hanging out in the mosquito-netted gazebo we bought expressly to protect us from large bugs. Ahem.

Then there are the black widow spiders, which have taken a shine to nesting in the undersides of our patio chairs. Something made me turn my chair over before sitting down on it yesterday (perhaps it was the spider web so bright white and sticky that I could not rinse it from the chair leg?). It's good to listen to your instincts in the South, because there in the corner between the seat and the armrest was a gigantic black widow just hanging out.

There are countless other bugs, and then there's the infernal racket emitting from the bugs of the forest just outside our backyard fence, which I am quite sure is one of the soundtracks straight out of hell. Seriously, someone ought to record this shit for use in horror films. It is not to be believed.

Needless to say, we're planning on staying indoors for the next two months. Just as those in wintry climates spend much of January and February inside staying warm and dry, we'll be spending August and September inside staying cool (and dry!). Our neighbors, all of whom are Southerners by birth, think we're antisocial or crazy. They gather outside each evening, just a couple of hours after the hottest point of the day (an incomprehensible 3:00 here rather than the noon-ish peak I'm used to), and remain out until dark, giving the mosquitos plenty of fare for their nightly feeding frenzies. You'd think it was the best weather of the year, the way they're out soaking it up. But no, the best weather is about two weeks in late October and two weeks in late April, and that's it. Sigh.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

...And then we started cosleeping too

To continue on the last theme, I not only fell into babywearing and found it was great for Gigi and that I liked it too, but after six or more months of interrupted sleep, we fell into cosleeping too. Here's our story:

Gigi had never seemed to like the crib, and we had resorted to putting her in her swing to sleep for the first hours of the evening. She hated going into the swing, but would surrender to her fatigue and the motion and finally dropped off. She needed motion to fall asleep for all naps (when I would bounce her to sleep in my arms), and for that first part of the night. After she fell asleep in the swing, right there in the living room with us, we would eat dinner and watch some t.v. for an hour or so. Then my husband, who got up early to do the first bottle and get his day going, would go off to bed around 9. I stayed up, basking in the only two hours each day when I would be free to do as I pleased.

Around 11, I would prepare her last bottle of the night and get her out of the swing to do this "dream feed," which would allow me (in theory, anyway) at least a few hours of sleep before the dreaded 3 or 4 a.m. feeding. These hours were always interrupted though, since Gigi would cry if she woke up with no paci in her mouth. Around 6 months or so, the pediatrician said she could make it through the night without the middle of the night feeding, and she easily gave it up, as long as her paci remained in her mouth. The wakings increased, as she now needed the paci more than ever to stay asleep. Her crib was in our room, so I didn't have to go far, but the constant in-and-out of bed was wearing on me.

One night in the wee hours, after I'd popped up and down like a jack-in-the-box for the fifth or sixth time to replace Gigi's fallen paci, I gave up and pulled her into bed with me. Suddenly, she slept better, and for once, I got some rest. If she woke up and needed her paci, I was right there to pop it back into her mouth and then we both fell right back to sleep. I expected my husband to object, but he had appreciated the peaceful hours of rest enough to suggest that it might not be such a bad thing after all. It was thus that our family became cosleepers.

It's amazing what sleep can do to and for a person. The sleep deprivation of early parenthood is the worst part of the experience, the one thing (other than colic) that can prevent you from enjoying your baby as much as you might otherwise. It was all I could think or talk about in those first months. When we started cosleeping, and finally getting full nights of sleep, it was a revelation, a rebirth. I felt like a new person, and I know I was a much better mother. Once again, I started to read up on the practice, and discovered the benefits it had for both babies and mothers. I wished we had done it from the beginning. (And if we'd had a bigger bed, I think we would have. If you think you might cosleep at all, spring for the king size bed, it's well worth the investment!)

We're still cosleeping now. We want Gigi to move to her own bed and room soon, but we're enjoying these last weeks or months of her little wiggly self in between us.

A note on "parental correctness" in re these things: I share my story only because someone might relate, or even find an idea that works for them too. We went into parenting with some ideas of what we would do, but the experience changed us, and in the end we did things we never would have believed we would do.

I am an advocate of both babywearing and cosleeping, as they worked well for us and studies have shown benefits of both practices, which tend to receive a great deal of popular cultural criticism. But I don't judge my friends who made other choices for their babies or their families. (In fact, I envy how my best friend can tuck her child in and close the door and walk away, not only at bedtime but at naptime as well!) We need to support one another, and recognize that there are many ways to parent well. No parental correctness allowed in Kaza's Place!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Accidental Attachment Parent

I was a stay-at-home mom for the first 18 months of Gigi's life. I hadn't expected to love being with her so much. I also hadn't expected how lonely it would be, and how difficult. Gigi was demanding as a baby, in that she would scream if you put her down for more than a few minutes. And she would cry if, even when holding her, you sat down! She wanted to be in motion, and she wanted me as her method of transportation. I had envisioned my life being much as it was before, only with a baby in the room. That's hilarious to me now. The total naivete of an expectant first-time mother is astounding. You can't tell them how it really is, though later they'll be mad that you didn't. No one can prepare you.

I remember feeling jealous of women with babies who cooed happily in a swing or bouncy seat for long periods of time. But I soon came to love carrying Gigi in the "babywearing" style of the attachment parents. It wasn't anything I had intended to do, in fact I distinctly remember coming home one day a few years earlier and telling my husband about a fellow graduate student who was doing the whole attachment parenting thing with her child; I said it was ridiculous.

It was Gigi who turned me into an attachment parent. She simply needed to be held to be okay, and I responded in the only way I knew how: I held her almost all the time. And as long as we were attached at the hip (literally!), Gigi was a happy baby. A few times we tried to "make" her sit in the bouncy seat or swing, letting her cry and fuss. It didn't work. It was unbearable for me. Everything in my being cried out 'pick her up!,' and when I did, the relief -- hers and mine -- was immediate and palpable.

The funny thing is, I had to do some reading to reassure myself that what I was doing was okay, because everyone around me thought it was rather crazy. Both grandmas were convinced we were "spoiling" her and made sure we knew how they felt (to be fair, they did try to restrain themselves, but in the end they just couldn't help it). At the grocery store when I had Gigi in the Bjorn rather than a stroller, women often commented about it. (Though we were living on a university campus, we did not live in a freethinking culture; rather, we were surrounded by conservative wealthy suburbanites.) My reading not only reassured me, it made me feel that I was doing the right thing for Gigi, and I learned that I certainly wasn't doing any damage by practicing the most primary mode of baby care. (Though the difference here was that I was doing it alone, for Gigi wasn't accustomed to being passed around to many different arms like babies in other cultures or in large families here; as a result, she wanted only me to hold her and the work of carrying her was predominantly mine.)

At a certain point she became very heavy in the Bjorn and I began searching for other ways of carrying her. I bought a nice padded sling, but it was too late. Gigi hated this new contraption and refused to sit in it. My weary back demanded that I try something new. We popped her in the stroller, now facing forward (she had HATED riding in it in her infant carrier, so we'd hardly used it for the first six months), and she loved it. Though she still wanted me to carry her most of the time, she would happily ride for longer and longer periods of time until, finally, she was able to do entire outings in the stroller.

One day I realized I hadn't carried her in the Bjorn in a very long time. I put it on, and popped her in, and just about fell over. She was just too heavy for me. To my surprise, I felt sad. I hadn't known the last time I'd worn her in it that it was to be the last time. I missed the feeling of her warm, heavy baby body. It had been difficult, physical work for so many months, but now I missed it. I miss it still.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

She Loves Me, She Really Really Loves Me

It's amazing, the way your toddler loves you. The adoration is dizzying. I remember the first time Gigi told me she loved me: "I love you too, Mama." It was one of the best moments in my life. And now, she'll throw her arms around me and declare her love out of the blue, when I least expect it, without any prompting whatsoever: "I love you Mama." My heart melts. There's simply nothing better in all of life.

Today I had to go to a meeting. She was in the car when her daddy dropped me off, and I had explained where I was going, so she accepted my departure with no tears or protest. I reached in the back to give her a hug and kiss goodbye, and she squeezed me with all her might and then said, "bye Mama." After my meeting I walked across campus toward the student union, where my husband was waiting for me with Gigi, and suddenly saw the pair of them walking toward me. My heart leaped at the sight of them, my tiny little girl in her hat and my hubby holding her hand and pointing to me. When I got close enough for her to recognize me, she broke into a run and threw both arms around my legs and then held her arms up in the universal small child sign for "pick me up!" Once in the car and on our way, she exclaimed, "I really missed you so much!" It was the first time she'd said that without any sort of prompting. "I was looking for you everywhere!" she reported breathlessly.

I don't think there is any greater gift than your child's love. From the moment your baby is born you are overwhelmed with the love you feel for her, an emotion you thought you understood but suddenly realize you never really knew before that moment. As a baby she can't really reciprocate in any way, but this doesn't diminish the intensity of your mother love. Then suddenly she begins to show you she likes you in various ways: her smiles, her cries that only you can soothe, her protests when you leave the room. She seems to enjoy you, and she very much prefers you. It is beyond flattering, beyond gratifying. But this is nothing compared with hearing her tell you she loves you, especially at this age, when there is no guile, no purpose other than to express her feelings.

It is no accident, I think, that this phase coincides with the onset of the "terrible" twos and threes, as these unabashed declarations of love are often just what a worn-out mama needs to keep going on a tough day. Up until very recently, Gigi was a pretty easy two-year-old. But I didn't let my guard down, as my mother had told me that three was much more difficult in her experience with my brother and me. If this past week is any indication, we could be in for quite a wild ride in the next year or so.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Paradox of Life with Little Ones

There's a curious paradox in life with babies and toddlers... daily life can seem to drag on and on because there are so many mundane and repetitive tasks we must perform, yet these little people grow and change so fast that you can almost see time flying by.

Gigi will be two and a half next month. I was home with her for most of the first 18 months of her life, while my husband finished his degree and I took as much time off from my program as they would allow. I did a bit of work here and there, and worked as a teaching assistant for one quarter, but for the most part, I did the SAHM gig. Much, much more on that experience later. For now, let's just say that I became VERY familiar with the mundane aspects of baby and toddler care.

I'm not quite sure when the sensation of time flying became almost physical, but at some point the changes I saw in my daughter began to provoke a bittersweet reaction in me. I was thrilled to see each development, particularly those major milestones like sitting, rolling over, crawling, cruising, walking, and talking. But somewhere along the way I started also feeling that sadness at what had passed. I also discovered that it was all too easy to forget what she had been like before, until a photo or a video reminded me of the baby she used to be. Now, when I scroll through the photos in our online albums, I am flooded with the memories and overcome with missing the baby she once was.

Not that I would go back. Nope. Well, maybe for a few moments, to hug that baby, that 13 month old, that 15 month old, that 18 month old. But this parenting gig is a one way journey, and it's true that it just gets better and better. When I was an overwhelmed new mother trying to get through each day, I clung to this promise, and it soon proved true. Now I wait with anticipation to see who my daughter will become next, though I'm all too aware that something will be lost in that change.

Like the adorable way she said things when she started to talk. I've forgotten too many of the funny pronunciations already (if only I had started blogging already, because somehow I can fit this in, though I never found time to journal and barely wrote in the baby book). Let's see, there was "Duh-Duh" for her lovey, a Dora doll. Now she thinks it's hilarious that she used to call her Duh-Duh. And "lo-lo" or "yo-lo" for yogurt, "dih-doh" for dirty (for awhile her favorite pasttime was to point out dirty things on the floor and elsewhere, much to my chagrin), and "moo-moo" for cow. Milk was quickly dubbed "num-nums," and she still says that, though she can and will say milk as well.

I remember when she started to use phrases, how exciting that was. When she started imitating us and calling out "bye-bye, luh-boo" whenever one of us left the house, my heart would swell and break in the most wonderful way.

And then one day she started speaking more clearly. Not only were most of the cute pronunciations gone, but she would adamantly correct me whenever I said a word the way she used to. Now we only have a few cute ones left: "bussybye" for butterfly (I love that one!), "dyepoahr" for diaper, and "cahyns" for crayons. Just two weeks ago she would say, "I wanna play Play-Doh in the baby hi-da-da-chaiw," but this week she clearly says "high chair." Soon she'll say everything correctly. She's a voracious learner of new words now, like most kids in this toddler-becoming-a-preschooler stage.

When she was a baby we would sometimes do a double-take upon first seeing her face in the morning, because it often seemed like she had changed overnight. It happens less often now, but when it does, the difference is even more dramatic. Will it always feel this way? I have come to understand that children are not so much beings as 'becomings,' always changing, always growing, never the same. I can't wait to see who she'll become next.

Monday, July 16, 2007

My Blog Starts... Now!

Welcome to Kaza's Place. I'm new to the blogosphere, and after a few months of enjoying so much of what I've been reading, I decided to join the party. I feel like I should make some sort of grand introduction, but that seems counter to the spirit of blogging, so I'll instead jump right in.

The title of this post is a riff on the phrase from the series "Top Chef," in which, at the beginning of each challenge, the statuesque Padma Lakshmi dramatically starts the clock by intoning, "Your time... starts now!" Every time she does this, I want to yell "cut!" and ask her to do another take, moving the pause to emphasize the word "now" (rendering it even more dramatic by saying "Your time starts........ NOW!" It just seems better that way.

Is this an example of the sort of inane observations you can expect from this blog? You bet your sweet bippy. But I'll also be sharing written snapshots of my life as a mother, the role that seems to have completely colonized my former life, leaving it an unrecognizable pile of rubble but rebuilding it in a manner both delightful and maddening! Yes, this will often be another "mommy blog," so if you roll your eyes at this term or this sort of subject matter, you'll want to move right along now.

If this hasn't turned you off, and you enjoy (or don't mind) reading mommy blogs, than let me give one further warning: if you are a member of the parenting police who cheered the recent media lambasting of the "martini moms," then you too can move right along. No parental correctness allowed in Kaza's Place! (Martinis, on the other hand, are very welcome, and in fact, encouraged.)

I'm also a feminist, and proud of it, so expect plenty of that sort of thing as well.

What else? I love food and wine, so I'll talk often about these subjects, particularly in regards to my ongoing search for ways to maintain the foodie lifestyle while parenting small children. Our life as foodies took a serious hit when we became parents, and we've been trying to get our epicurean groove back ever since.

Lastly, I love pop culture and watch far too much t.v., so I'll be commenting on favorite shows here and there. At the moment my summer favorites include the following (in no particular order): The Next Food Network Star, My Life on the D List, Big Love, On the Lot, Flight of the Conchords, Confessions of a Matchmaker, and repeats of Brothers & Sisters. I also have great hopes for "Scott Baio is 45 and Single" so I hope it's as juicy as it promises to be. I can just about remember the first time I laid eyes on the fine specimen of teenage boyhood that was "Chachi"... oh, yes, it was a very happy day for my little 10-year-old self. But I digress.

As for the people you'll be reading about at Kaza's Place, the two main ones will be my little one, "Gigi" (a nickname she had only while in the womb for reasons too arcane to trouble you with here) and my husband. I'm still figuring out his pseudonym though. I asked him to choose one, and he couldn't think of anything except the accurate yet too ridiculous, "Smarty Pants." I'm not kidding. He actually suggested that this be his pseudonym. But since he's not a horse or a sassy preschooler, I'm going to pass on that one.

Perhaps instead I should go with He Who Talks All the Time, because that's what he does. I'm married to a talker. You know those studies claiming to prove that women talk more than men talk? They're either completely wrong, or I'm married to one of the outliers in the data. In any case, I'll let you know when I figure out the right pseudonym, so you'll know who I'm talking about when I write about... Chatty Charlie? Word Man? White Noise Machine? I'm just not sure yet.

Okay, this first post has become obnoxiously long, and I've done what I thought I shouldn't do, which is to make a big long introduction. For those of you who are still with me... more soon. Thanks for stopping by.