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  • Baby To English Translation

    August 29, 2005

    I came home from the hospital with my baby having read that I would instinctively know what was wrong with him by the sound of his cry. I, for one, did not believe this. I had heard babies crying before and to me it sounded like someone cleaning a chalkboard with a wire grill brush. Never once have I ever heard a baby crying that I said: “What I think I hear you saying is that you’d like to have your diaper changed.” What I have said is, “Please, someone make that noise stop!” I am convinced that God builds babies with the ability to communicate. I’m not sure he built me with the ability to translate.

    Even before bringing Sean home from the hospital, I knew that babies did three things: eat, poop and sleep, usually in that order. And I knew that if the order were to get messed up, they would cry. Loud. Until you put the ice cream down and got off the sofa and did something about it. I had a dog, and she did pretty much the same thing. Since there were only the three things, which I already knew about from the dog, I had a one in three chance of correctly assessing the situation. And so, with the aid of my instincts, the expert advice of the many books I had read and help from the dog, I could usually figure out what was going on by the third try. As it turns out, crying and barking basically mean the same thing: Do something. NOW. Or it will get louder until your eardrums explode.

    Now that Sean is out of the infant stage, his needs are far more complex as are his communication skills. Regular crying is reserved for minor bumps and boo-boo’s. Shrieking like he was about to be carried off by a flying monkey covers most other occasions. Most occassions meaning anything from “I’m about to be carried off by a flying monkey!” to “I can’t get my sock off.” Sean and I have also both learned some rudimentary sign language which I figure will be helpful in the likely event that he renders me deaf in the not so distant future. Along with that, he is beginning to make talking sounds, some of which even sound like words, albeit Czechoslavakian words. But at this point, his ability to communicate is still beyond my ability to translate. This morning, this exchange made me feel like a contestant on Jeopardy:

    Sean: Scheepdow. Boo!
    AM: What is Sheep Ow? A sheep is hurt? You frightened a sheep?
    Sean: Scheep-DOW….. Boo!
    AM: What is “A scared sheep fell down?”
    Sean: SCHEEP-DOW (you idiot).
    Pats the floor and hands me a book. “Boo.”
    AM: Sit Down! Book! — What is “Sit Down. Book?!”

    Unable to contain myself, I did a little end-zone style victory dance, high-fived Sean and then we scheeped dow and read a boo. Just warming up for the Double Jeopardy round after naptime.

    Advanced Grocery Shopping

    August 16, 2005

    The earth is inhabited by two kinds of people: Those who love to go to the grocery store and then the other 98% of the population — those who have a life. Until my son came along, I was among the 2% who rank a trip to the grocery store right up there with a day at Six Flags. Lately, however, going to the store is more like going to a friend’s Tupperware party — you are obligated to go, you’re looking for the cheapest thing to buy and you hope you don’t have to go again for a long time.

    Once upon a time, my weekly visit to the store was a serendipitous adventure. Tom Thumb was my boyfriend. I couldn’t wait to see him. It was exciting to think about what new and exotic fruit or vegetable or gourmet item he might have for me – would it be tomatillos, star fruit or imported olives? I would spend several hours going systematically up and down the aisles looking at all the different items and thinking about what fabulous dishes I might prepare. My cart runneth over (or to use proper Texan, my “buggy” runneth over). Even though my household consisted only of my husband and me, the boy bagging the groceries once asked me how many children I had to feed. Unfortunately, for him, he happened to ask this question too soon after a failed in-vitro attempt. I burst into tears. He tried to become invisible, and in fact, he was never seen again.

    Now that I have a kiddo, I’ve quit seeing Tom. Sam is my new guy. If Tom Thumb is Omar Sharif, Wal-Mart is Al Bundy – convenient, cheap, annoying. The truth is, I have a love-hate relationship with Wal-Mart. I hate how they dominate the retail landscape. I hate how they wipe out the small mom-and-pop businesses when they come to town. I love that they are a block away and sell formula and diapers for less than anyone else in town. And most of all, I love the entertaining study in humanity that is Wal-Mart — almost as good as the airport, only with more local flavor.

    Aside from where I shop, how I shop has changed as well. Where shopping once was a leisurely exercise, like golf only with more physical and mental exertion, it’s now a study in ergonomics and economy of motion. The goal of every trip is to maximize the shopping that needs to be done within the time restraints of my toddler’s disposition on any given day. No wasted motion, no wasted effort, no wasted time. Not even a second glance towards the beloved olives. I remember how, in my previous life, I used to see women in Nike’s, running through the store like spooked race horses that had somehow gotten out, pushing carts laden with children and macaroni and cheese, taking corners on two wheels. And I would think to myself: “They should really slow down and stop and smell the cilantro — life is short.” (Apparently I also had more time to wax philosophic.) What I didn’t know, until now, is that no one with a toddler buys cilantro and yes, life is short, but a toddler’s cart-tolerance is even shorter and death is only a slightly less attractive an option than a toddler melt-down.

    Before Sean came along, there were no daily emergency trips to the grocery store. I consulted my cookbooks, I made a list, I pressed my clothes. If I were out of, say, anchovies, it could wait until next week. These days, it seems that I am at Wal-Mart just about every day for some emergency item, like chocolate. I realized this recently when the greeter, who knows me by name, calls to me as I’m pushing my over-the-legal-weight-limit cart out the door. “Nice Nike’s,” he says with a knowing look and a wink, “See ‘ya tomorrow.” I felt so cheap and tawdry! As if no other grocery store would have me! Tom wants me back you know. He still sends me coupons….

    A Week at Grandma’s

    August 12, 2005

    Last week, we took our little boy on his first airplane ride to see Grandma and Grandpa. My parents are in their early 70s and in good health, but you don’t need a calculator to see that time is a precious and limited commodity for Sean in this regard. My hope was that in spending some lazy summer days with Grandma and Grandpa this past week, that he might plant some sweet and cherished memories that would last him a lifetime. What I didn’t anticipate was that it might take a lifetime to undo a week of “grand-parenting”.

    Grandma went all out to see that Sean would remember his visit fondly. There was nothing that the wave of his little hand could not bring forth. Five little fingers flung in the general direction of the pantry could summon an array of cookies, cereals and snacks no matter the hour. It was like being on a cruise ship – there was always a buffet somewhere.

    Grandma: “Can Sean have a cookie?”
    Antique Mommy: “No. It’s only 8am and he hasn’t eaten breakfast.”
    Grandma: “Ok…(pause) Sean would you like an iced animal cracker?”
    Sean: Nods head vigorously and takes three in addition to the two he has already shoved in his mouth.
    Antique Mommy: “Mom, I said no cookies.”
    Grandma: “It’s not a cookie dear, it’s a cracker. Animal cracker. You said no cookies.”

    One of the nice things about visiting my parents, was that Antique Daddy and I could go off and do some things, just the two of us, just like in the olden days, when we were dating, except without all the kissing and making out. Only this time we didn’t talk about current events and ideas or kiss and make out. We talked about what Grandma was probably letting Sean do and how long it would take to restore him to his proper position in the universe – not king and co-creator of said universe as Grandma has lead him to believe.

    At Grandma’s house, it’s always time for ice cream, cartoons are always on, coffee tables are for standing on and beds are for jumping on – because who sleeps? I mean, ever? Every flower can and must be picked, every cabinet must be opened, inspected and emptied, and every lamp must be touched and deemed breakable or unbreakable. (Answer: breakable). No problem. Anything that gets broken at Grandma’s was something she was planning to get rid of anyway. It’s fun to go to Grandmas!

    Grandpa was no better. Normally we don’t let our 21-month-old play in the street, unless it’s been a really hard day, but after a nice summer rain, Grandpa thought Sean might enjoy a lesson in “puddle-jumpin”. And he did. And being the over-achiever that my son is, he even perfected the “lay-down-and-roll-in-it with-your–new-outfit-on” technique. Good times.

    So now we are back in Texas in our lampless, flowerless, empty-cabinet home, looking at our vacation photos. And in our sleepless sugar-induced ADHD haze, we are enjoying a familiar false sense of well-being and fondly reliving our week at Grandmas…. Ice cream anyone?