Monday, December 3, 2012

When I was your age . . .

I am unsure if becoming a parent or approaching forty-years-old is to blame for my sudden disdain towards things I previously thought unimportant. For example, when I’m walking on campus and see a college student, usually male, wearing a Sesame Street tee shirt, I now roll my eyes at what society has come to. “A grown man wearing an Elmo shirt,” I mutter under my breath as I straighten my top hat and cravat. The fact that I dropped Ezra off at preschool in basically the same shirt is probably coloring my attitude, but still I see glimpses of a stodgy parent and grumpy, old man in the mirror. He's usually mumbling, "Get a haircut, whippersnapper."
Ezra and his BFF

Friday, November 30, 2012

Our Vegetarian Thanksgiving

As a vegetarian, I always find it disappointing to find my Thanksgiving dinner relegated to side dishes. I like the traditional stuffing, mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, but without a main course, the meal is starchy and I end up hungry soon after eating while others are still bloated on turkey. Garry and I have tried multiple versions of faux turkey (AKA tofurkey) including the commercial Tofurky and one locally made by our coop, and they have only been okay. Usually dry, too salty and surprisingly flavorless. This left us looking for another stand-in. After a couple of failed attempts (pumpkin ravioli, nutloaf) we found that soufflé works really well as a Thanksgiving entrée, and it has been the main course of our Thanksgiving menu for many years.

Soufflé is, perhaps surprisingly to some, a stellar choice for Thanksgiving. First, there’s the potential for failure. Isn’t the threat of an overcooked and dry turkey the hallmark of Thanksgiving anxiety? When prepared well, a soufflé’s appearance out of the oven is impressive. The flavor and texture of a cheddar soufflé melds nicely with mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes, and a green vegetable – does it matter which? It’s Thanksgiving. Between the butter, cheese, eggs, and milk, it isn't good for you, but it’s so delicious. Garry and I have chuckled with each other over a future day when a grade school teacher would survey Ezra’s class for traditional Thanksgiving foods and he would pipe up, “soufflé!” to the puzzlement of his teachers and peers.

But this past Thanksgiving, we parted ways with soufflé and made tofurkey from scratch. I’m not sure why we hadn’t tried this sooner. We are do-it-yourself, cook-from-scratch kind of people. Every year we spend Thanksgiving Day cooking with friends, making everything from scratch including our gravy using homemade vegetable broth. I was under the impression tofurkey would be difficult to make and not worth the effort, but it was one of the easiest things on our menu to make and it was delicious. Throw a few things in the food processor, spread the mix in a loaf pan with stuffing, bake for an hour. Voilà! Unlike soufflé, tofurkey is a perfect vehicle for gravy.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Breastfeeding through Toddlerhood!

Amanda wrote this essay when Ezra was 2 ½ years old. Seven months later, Ezra still nurses, but infrequently - for a few minutes every two or three days. We have also moved on from the coop daycare, and Ezra attends a preschool class with children 3-5 years old.

At two and a half years old, Ezra nurses two or three times a day, usually in the morning and evening.  He also often nurses when I pick him up from daycare. It’s the first thing he wants to do when he sees I’ve arrived. “Mommy, I want to nurse!” and he will point me toward a rocking chair. We’ve been at a multi-age coop daycare since Ezra was 6 months old. Our coop has a very friendly attitude towards  breastfeeding. It’s common for a breastfeeding mother to stop by and nurse her infant during a break in her schedule and to find a couple mothers nursing and chatting in the playroom at the end of the day. 

The other day while Ezra was nursing, his friend Lucy, who is four years old, asked me, “What’s Ezra doing?” Lucy has asked me some variation of this question almost everyday for the past two years. She never seems to tire of breastfeeding conversations; indeed, in the two and a half years I’ve known her, Lucy has demonstrated an unwavering obsession with pregnancy, babies and anything having to do with childcare. Ezra was the only infant when we joined our coop and while he attracted a lot of attention from the other toddlers and preschoolers, Lucy was his most avid fan. Her first word (at least to my recollection) was “baby” which she repeated over and over while sitting right next to him and this behavior helped coin Ezra’s nickname, “Baby Ezra,” which was quickly adopted by all the children at our coop. As Lucy’s language took off, one of the first sentences she said to me was an instruction: “Baby nipple milk.” 

I told Lucy he was nursing, and she asked why. This is a very rehearsed routine between the two of us with nearly the same questions and answers every day. I told her Ezra was thirsty and having some milk, at which point Ezra stopped nursing, interrupting our routine, and said, “I not having milk, I nursing!” I laughed aloud and Lucy lost interest.

Ezra’s outburst was a subtle reminder of the shift in nursing from infancy to toddlerhood. Whether or not he recognizes that breastfeeding now isn’t really about milk, I’ve known for some time that it has little to do with nutrition. Even though I have no clue how much milk he takes in with only two or three nursing sessions a day – such a change from when I was counting every ounce I pumped! – it certainly isn’t much. While he might not be getting a substantial number of calories or other nutritional inputs from my breast milk, there are other, clear emotional and developmental benefits he still receives from nursing: comfort, security, and routine.

He nurses less and less with every month, with breastfeeding sessions growing shorter and shorter over the last few weeks. In fact, a few consecutive evenings passed when he didn’t ask to nurse before going to sleep. I was surprised the first night. I was a little sad too, which was mystifying because I had felt, for a period of several weeks, increasingly frustrated with breastfeeding. That first night convinced me to have a little more patience with his need for nursing and was a gentle reminder he will not nurse forever. 

Oddly, as Ezra’s nursing is on the decline, his interest in verbalizing breastfeeding is on the rise. Lately he has been fond of telling me “I nurse a lot” and the other day he told me, “I love nursing.” Well if I had been feeling Grinch-y about nursing, my heart grew three sizes that day. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween Costumes

Last year, Ezra answered “frog” every time he was asked what he wanted to dress as for Halloween. At least this is how he answered the month and half up to Halloween. Then he changed his mind. After seeing his completed costume he decided, “I don’t want to be anything.”

Ezra reluctantly wearing half of his frog costume.
I love Halloween, and I was sad that not only did Ezra no longer share my enthusiasm for the upcoming holiday but that his change of heart was entirely my fault. When Ezra said he wanted to be a “frog” for Halloween, he meant the “frog”: Kermit the Frog. This was obvious to both Amanda and I, but for several reasons I vetoed the idea. Ideologically, I preferred Ezra to dress in a costume that was not a licensed character. Amanda and I planned to avoid exposing Ezra to TV and pop-culture characters for as long as possible. By two, he could already name every supporting character on the Muppets as well as the cast of Yo Gabba Gabba!, Dinosaur Train, and Sesame Street. Dressing Ezra as Kermit seemed to point out one of the many discrepancies between how we had planned to parent and our real parenting. Oh, the pressure to be perceived as a crunchy parents. On an equally selfish but even more superficial level, I had a great idea for a tree-frog costume that I thought would be cuter than a Kermit costume. It turns out that a tree-frog costume that nobody wears is not really that cute, and I had allowed my own self-interests to ruin this holiday, a day in which you can be whoever or whatever you want, for my child.

This year when I asked Ezra what he wanted to be for Halloween, I tried not to treat his answer as the first suggestion in a costume brain storming session. When he again said he wished to be Kermit the Frog, I began thinking of how to construct a Kermit costume.  In complete honesty, I first countered with, “How about Animal?” before reminding myself of last year’s lesson. Ezra continued to talk about being Kermit for a month and a half, and then changed his mind a week before Halloween.

This time he changed his mind because he thought of another costume he was even more excited to wear. Kermit was out and replaced by Pidsley, the “mean cat,” on Shaun the Sheep. Shaun the Sheep is a stop-motion, animated television series produced by Aardman Animations for the BBC. The cat is a supporting character only appearing in a few of the second season’s episodes, so the costume is obscure even for people who are familiar with the show. I anticipated that nobody would have any idea who Ezra was dressed as even after we simplified the costume from his initial request. Originally, he asked to be the “mean cat” wearing a cheetah costume as he does in one episode to scare the sheep. I respected his ambition, but we agreed wearing a costume on top of a costume might be too confusing.

Getting in character.

Even though no one recognized his costume, Ezra loved being the “mean cat.”  He completely immersed himself in the character: growling, showing his claws, communicating with animated gestures, and giggling at the thoughts of his evil plans. In a Halloween episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the characters literally become their Halloween costumes. If you dressed as a ghost, these magical costumes turned you into a ghost. Ezra’s Pidsley costume seemed to have the same effect. I now imagine what I missed by not making the Kermit costume last year. A wonderful Halloween night filled with a toddler playing the banjo, singing Rainbow Connection, and introducing very special guest stars from 70’s now only exists in my regrets.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Dinosaur Birthday Party

For his third birthday party, Ezra wanted a dinosaur theme. Amanda and I often begin our party planning at a level some people people might deem "over-the-top," and then scale it back a bit. When we were presented with the dinosaur theme, our initial idea was to plan the party as if it were taking place during the late-19th century "bone wars"; The decorations, games, food and our dress would look as if were hosting a reception for Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope to reveal their latest fossil finds, which we would create out of paper mache.  We then realized a more general dinosaur theme would make more sense to both Ezra and the guests, and be much cheaper.

We started by designing an awesome invitation.

We then welcomed the guests with name tags. Though almost everyone knew each other, we thought it would be fun for everyone to select the dinosaur they would like to be for the day.

One of twelve different dinosaur name tags.
Even the canine guests.

The party took place in the late morning so we provided bagels, fruit salad, frittata, and chocolate, volcano cupcakes!

For an activity, we organized a scavenger hunt. As junior paleontologists, the kids had to find four items that help us learn more about dinosaurs.

I am unsure if this was the final version of the check-off list I created. Amanda and I disagreed on whether I should remove the flies from the coprolite (because they are "inaccurate and gross"). I can't remember who won the argument.

The kids could then check off on the card when they found
1. A fossil (a paper mache T-Rex skull)
2. Fossilized footprints (a dinosaur footprint impression in dried clay)
3. Coprolite (chocolate meringue cookies)
4. Fossilized dinosaur eggs (a paper mache orb with a toy dinosaur inside)

After the hunt was over kids painted the skull and footprints, ate the cookie, and cracked open their eggs.

Dinosaur Birthday Party: The Invitation

Can you identify the 8 dinosaur species partying at our house? 
Spot the: Ankylosaurus, Stegosaurus, Spinosaurus, Brachiosaurus, two Microraptors, Cryolophosaurus, Utahraptor, and Apatosaurus.

Ezra loved the invitation I made for his third birthday party so much that I was afraid he would be disappointed by the actual party. "When will the dinosaurs get here for my birthday?," he asked in the weeks before the party. Even after repeatedly explaining that dinosaurs (at least non-avian dinosaurs) lived a long, long time ago, he would not give up hope. The day before the party he excused his guests' tardiness by reminding himself that dinosaurs can't drive so it would take them awhile to walk to our house. Yes, it is a long walk from the Mesozoic era.

Once Ezra's family and friends started to arrive for the party he forgot about the no-show dinos. Which is good. How fun is a party when the guests want to eat you?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

I Too Little

 Ezra helping make bread

Out of the blue, Ezra has started discussing what he is and is not capable of accomplishing.  Taking off his shirt?  “I do it.  I’m big.”  Putting together that 20-piece puzzle?  “That puzzle hard.  I too little.” I was surprised by these declarations because they seemed to have started so unexpectedly, and I worried about his quickness to label something beyond his capacity. Why did he suddenly seem satisfied with easy surrender to a difficult task? I quickly realized his statements were both developmentally normal and common.  In fact, they are so common that the day Ezra deemed the puzzle beyond his capability, Amanda was visiting a daycare website that included a quote from a kid around Ezra’s age, “This is a hard puzzle and I'm just a little boy.”

As Ezra continues to become more self-aware, he is realizing the limitations that come with being 2 and a half years old. I find this difficult because as his parent I want to believe there are no limits to what he can achieve. As Ezra and I both accept reality, I realize my responsibility is to help him to discover what he is capable of accomplishing, and to encourage him to exceed what is expected, to challenge himself, and to not be discouraged by failure.

As Ezra learns his own limits, he also enjoys discovering and pointing out the limits of others.  Actually, he only does this to me.  For example, while helping him zip up his coat, the zipper jumped off its track.  Ezra quickly encouraged me to give up because, “you little.  Mom will do it.  She big.”  My incompetence seems to be a boost to his self-esteem.  Knowing he is not the only person who finds zippers challenging helps remind him that it is okay to need and ask for extra help.  It also provides him with the additional evidence for his repeated claim that, “I big. Mommy big. You little.”

At the same time, Ezra is also developing a more complex understanding of time.  Though his sense of the passage of time is not like that of an adult, he now places events in the past or the future.  The past to him is usually “last week” and the future “in two minutes,” but he does seem to understand that time moves forward and things change – including himself.  He remembers that “last week” he was not able to buckle his shoes, but now he can. Ezra is learning that who he is in the present is not who he will be in the future, and what he can’t do today may be easy to do tomorrow. Of course, I recognize this as well, and can’t help but feel this is one of bittersweet parts of parenting. With each passing moment I must say goodbye to the Ezra I know, as I eagerly meet a slightly more grown up Ezra “in two minutes.”