Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The quirky kind of kid

Ok...so...about my parenting style...

I'm in many ways an overzealous mother. When Sam and I go to the park, I'm the first one down the slide. I devote almost every waking moment to his happiness and general well-being. I bake him cookies sweetened with organic sweet potatoes. I enthusiastically sing and dance to Veggie Tales songs and encourage him to express himself constantly. I ask him how he feels about things, a question usually answered with a blank stare and a cold shoulder. He's such a boy. I keep trying to talk about emotions with him, and he just walks away from me. "Give it a good cry, boy! You'll feel better!" I tell him, but he picks himself up, shakes it off, and moves on. I'm so careful not to steer him toward gender-specific toys. I gave him a doll for Christmas, and he has passed many happy moments gouging its eyes with his chubby baby fingers. He's drawn inexplicably to trains, cars, airplanes, and dump trucks. He likes to throw balls and make noise. He's just such a...BOY. It's completely fascinating. I realize, of course, it's only fascinating to me that Sam seems to be- huge wake-up call- his own person, so...moving on...

In other ways, I'm really slack as a parent. Here's my big confession: I have baby-proofed exactly one cabinet in my home. One. And I didn't even actually do it. I supervised Husband doing it while I was about eight months pregnant. He put one latch on one cabinet, and then we both got bored and quit. So I guess, now that Sam's mobile, I'll have to...you know...watch him...to keep him from drinking bleach. That's what I just don't get. I mean, aren't you going to be with your child in the kitchen? So you could, concievably, I don't know, stop him? From drinking bleach? I'm just saying...I mean...that's just my, like, opinion...and stuff. I'm by no means a parenting expert. I'm kind of just making stuff up as I go along. Also, am I the only person who thinks those outlet pluggy things that are supposed to keep your baby from getting electrocuted are the most useless invention ever? Because the first thing Sam did when he saw one (at a friend's house, since I'm too slack to put them in my outlets) was pry it loose and try to put it in his mouth. He figures out how to unlatch baby gates, so I'm not going to bother putting any up. I'm not as slack as to not, say, put him in a carseat (I'm obsessive about auto safety, ironically enough) but what, I ask you, is the point of a bathtub thermometer? Isn't that what, you know, your HAND is for?? I feel the baby-proofing industry preys upon the insecurities of new parents, of grandparents, and nurseries, and try to make moms like me feel like huge slackers for not using these "necessities." No, I'm not going to let my child wander out into the street, but I'm not going to put of a driveway gate, either. I call my renegade childproofing technique "keeping an eye on the baby." It's working out for me so far.

What does make me feel like an Alpha Mom, though, is that we've been doing some sign language with Sam at the suggestion (and instruction) of Mama N. It's really helping, since Sam isn't (surprisingly) a big talker. He knows the signs for please, thank you, more, cracker, Mama, and water. That's enough to get by, right? Cracker was the first sign he learned, and that kid must have eaten an entire sleeve of Ritz that day. The first time he made the sign for "more" was when our dear friend Cheryl kissed him, then walked away. He watched her leave, and plaintively signed "more." Precious, right?

He flat-out refuses to make animal noises, which I don't totally disagree with. What does the piggy say? Who cares?

He took his first steps on Saturday. It was later than most kids walk, sure, but he was such an efficient crawler it didn't seem to matter to him. Husband and I were sitting in the living room, talking about basketball (bizarre in itself, as I know nothing about the subject and Husband is a wealth of information on all things athletic) and we looked over and Sam was walking toward the cat. (Luckily, it was the nice one, who loves Sam. He's dumber than a sack of hammers, but beautiful, and very sweet. I know people like that, too...) That's just Sam, though. I went through my entire pregnacy frustrated because nothing was progressing the way the books said it would. I was supposed to be over my "morning sickness" (the term is a lie in itself, as I threw up all freaking day long) after the first trimester, when I, in fact, threw up every single day of my pregnancy, stopping only on the delivery table. I was supposed to give birth in a dimly lit room, surrounded by whale sounds, with my husband coaching me and a soothing picture from home to focus on as I breathed through contractions. Instead, I had a c-section at 39 weeks, never had a contraction, and Christmas carols were being piped in to the cold, flourescent-lit operating room. Sam has never done anything according to anyone else's timetable. He's just his own little planet, orbiting his bewildered parents, doing great things in his own, quirky way. And the only thing we can do is follow his lead.

It's only natural, though, I suppose. His parents aren't exactly orthodox. I don't wear the mom uniform. We have a "schedule" but it's not like anything other babies are on. We sing more show tunes than lullabies. We dance to Flogging Molly and The Ramones instead of Wheels on the Bus. Sure, he's not like other kids. But I'm pretty thrilled with who he has turned out to be.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Who's the leader of the club that's made for you and me? Sam is, of course.

Sam, in keeping with his breeding, has become obsessed with Mickey Mouse.
To understand the gravity of this statement, you must first understand the Schultz obsession with all things Disney. I had known Husband for, let’s say, a month, when I learned he was going to Disney World with his family. “That’s so cool,” I said, “that you’re going on vacation with your family. I love Disney World!”
“Yeah,” said Husband, “Disney World is awesome.” He checked the time on his Song of the South watch. “I’ve got to run, but I’ll see you next week,” and turning this back, he retreated to his car, which had a Magic Kingdom magnet affixed to the back and a Mickey Mouse head impaled on the antenna. I should have seen something in that, but at the time, it was a charming quirk, some adorable quality that made him unlike any other man I’d ever known. Not what it truly was: an obsession, an illness that would overtake our life together and very quickly infect me too.
Sure, I’d been to Disney World. For one day at a time, anyway. I went to EPCOT when I was five, I think. When we went to Florida, we always spent a day in the Magic Kingdom. But until I met Husband, I’d never spent more than a day there, and I’d never stayed (gasp!) “on property.”
One day, Husband invited me home to meet his parents. I sat down at their kitchen table, and his dad handed me a cup of coffee. In a Mickey Mouse cup. Then his mother asked me if I wanted sugar in my coffee, and handed me a sugar bowl. Smiling, talking, I lifted the lid…to discover that the sugar cubes in this house were shaped like Mickey’s head. Mickey adorned everything in the house: plates, forks, the toaster…you name it, it was Mickey-fied.
Our first trip (pilgrimage?) together was less than a year after we met. We drove down together to audition for the Mouse, he as a comedian, me as a vocalist, spent the first day auditioning, and spent the entire next day in the Magic Kingdom. That’s when I knew, without a doubt in my mind, that I would spend the rest of my life with this man. And this Mouse.
Three months later, I went with his whole family to Florida. The night before we left, I couldn’t sleep. I was giddy. I had acquired the bug. As soon as we stepped through those gates, we were kids. And just like that, I understood why Husband and Husband’s family plan two years in advance for their summer vacation. It all became very clear.
When I found out I was pregnant, we counted the months, and I told Husband we would probably have to postpone our trip to Disney World. After all, Sam would only be six months old. Husband just laughed at me. “So what?” he said, “ That’s older than most babies in my family were for their first trips.”
Sure enough, Sam loved it. He loved the lights, the colors, the characters, and the Dole Whip. He had to: it was in his blood. The only hat we’ve ever been able to keep on him had mouse ears attached to it. He rode every ride that didn’t have a height restriction. And he loved every second of it. (Well, nearly every second of it. He didn’t like Spaceship Earth.)
The most important thing to remember if you’re taking a baby to Disney World is not to push it. Let your baby dictate your schedule. If you insist on riding every ride there and adhering to a strict touring schedule, your baby will be miserable, and so will you. Take it easy. Keep your baby cool (battery-powered fans and hanging out in the shade help) and slathered in sunscreen. Take lots of pictures. Take advantage of the baby-swap option on rides (ask an employee about it). Get your baby a “My First Trip” button at Guest Relations. (Town Hall in the Magic Kingdom.) If your kid is scared of the characters, don’t force them to hug them. Next trip, maybe. Oh, and also, if you have a boy-type baby like we do, forget about trying to find any clothes for him in the parks. There’s enough princess stuff to fill your minivan to capacity, but if you forget to take an emergency backup outfit to the park and your boy-type child, let’s say, requires a costume change, good luck trying to find so much as a onesie anywhere but the shop in Toontown Fair. And there, it was just a onesie. A red onesie with “2008” and characters on it. And they had ONE in his size. Don’t get me wrong; he was adorable in it. But where’s the love for our boys? My advice is, if you have a boy under a year old, to go to the Target on International Drive and stock up on a couple of outfits.
Husband and I will never forget how it felt to take Sam to meet Goofy, or to watch him enjoying the SpectroMagic parade. It was wonderful to be able to give our kid that experience.
But now…a year after that trip, and a year until our next one, Sam has started showing a clear preference for Mickey. He points him out of everything from clothing to coffee mugs (he adorns every surface in our home, after all) and a few days ago, Husband brought home a Sing Along Songs video featuring Disney characters in Disneyland. Every time Mickey is on the screen, Sam squeals and points to the screen.
Maybe it’s because of how he has been raised. Maybe it’s heredity. But my kid couldn’t pick Bugs Bunny out of a lineup.

Easter Sunday rears its ham-heavy head

Good times have been had by all. Easter has always been one of my favorite holidays. Probably sandwiched between Christmas and Halloween, sitting over Thanksgiving. It's a beautiful time of year. Granted, it's over-commercialized, and most people who celebrate the holiday are really just chocolate bunny junkies looking to get a fix, and the Easter bunny has always bewildered me, but there is nothing quite like going to church on Easter morning and singing "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" and letting yourself be completely filled with joy. At Mom's church for the sunrise service (Sam wore his pajamas), I felt that way: full of joy. Just imagine! You think your best friend is dead, and then he's there, in front of you, telling you that he's risen from the grave. My heart was filled so full that I thought it might leap from my chest. I couldn't help but think of the other people I've wished to see again: Dad, Robert, Dave Norton, Uncle Paul, Jon Birdnow, Geneva, Papa Ira, Mama Sue.

We had a big breakfast after the service (this is a tiny church, and nearly everyone who goes there is related to me. So boy, can they cook) and Sam chowed down big time. After the breakfast, we went home to dress Sam in his Easter suit and then it was off to another church service at my aunts' church.

I love their church. At home, I go to a Lutheran church, and I was raised Methodist, but every once in a while, I feel the need to go to a Pentecostal service to get sort of re-charged with the Holy Spirit. And that's what you get there. From the moment the service started, I just felt full of the Spirit. Full of joy. Not contentment, but bouncing, bubbling, crazy joy. And I feel that way every time I go to a service there. Sam liked it, too. This little Lutheran kid waved his hands in the air like he had been doing that his whole life. He was so excited to be able to dance and squeal in church! He praised like you're supposed to praise: without shame, without worrying what people might think, like, literally, there was no tomorrow.

We spent this Easter in Tennessee so that Sam could be with his girly cousins. (I say "girly" because they are, in fact, girls, not because they only wear pink. I mean, they do wear a lot of pink, but that's because you can't find girl's clothes in any other color. The same reason Sam always wears blue. Anyway, they're girls. The end.) Pookie is six months older than Sam, and Doodle Bug is two weeks younger. (No, these are not their real names. Where do you think we're from? West Virginia?) It is incredibly cute to have the three of them together, with their round cheeks and blue eyes. They don't look a whole lot alike, but their hair is in the same color family, and they're all nearly the same size. They aren't first cousins, but I hope they grow up as close as I was with my first cousins. So close, in fact, that it's really important to me that my kid spends time with my cousins' kids, and not just because they're cute together. Sam is around other kids pretty often, especially for a kid who has never spent a day in Mother's Morning Out or day care, and has only spent an hour, tops, in the church nursery. He's pretty clingy. But we play with Baby Girl and Preacher's Kid pretty often, and he is around tons of people at the theater. I'm just not prepared to offer him a sibling yet, so I think it's good that he gets some socialization, and family ties are invaluable.

I was talking on the way home from Tennessee yesterday about the long trips I took with my cousins. My dad would load us all up in the van (Mom was usually there too, but a few times, he braved it on his own) and take us to Florida on what he called a "Surfin' Safari". Sure, we didn't actually surf, and mostly, we built sandcastles and went to Disney World, but it was like having four siblings instead of just my big brother. Actually, I have two big brothers, but the other one was in college by the time I was five, so he wasn't around for the twelve-hour van trips. But piled in the van with my brother and the Pratt kids (to clarify, there are eight of us cousins, but the three Pratts were the ones we travelled with at this period. The girls were too young, and the Other Boy was always, it seemed, in Europe or at some seminary or another. He was smarter than we were, ok?), I felt like they were my brothers, and that I had the big sister I always wanted instead of my brother. Now, it is true that today, I wouldn't trade the world for Ben. He's an amazing brother, and I have more fun when I'm with him than I do with just about anybody. However, when we were kids, he was exactly what a big brother should be: a complete jerk.

I want Sam to have that kind of family. I want him to know who his cousins are. I want him to know them as well as he knows himself, so that one day, he'll be eating Jelly Bellys and remember how they used to bite them in half and press different flavors together and think they had really done something cool. I want him to have the memories I have, of riding through the night with someone's foot in your ribcage, alternately sleeping and laughing so hard the grown-ups have to pull over so somebody can pee. I don't want him to miss out on inside jokes that stay around for decades. I want him to know what made Link drink water. (For those of you who weren't there, it's because he got thirsty and ate peanuts. I know you don't think it's funny. That's ok. Five people in the whole world do. And if you're not one of them, then ha ha on you.) When I see Sam with Doodle Bug and Pookie, I see amazing potential for lifelong friendships. I hope they see the same thing.