Sunday, August 31, 2008

Road Trip

Joris and I took a trip down to Oregon last week to visit Joris' grandma and grandpa, opa and oma and my friends Yuko and Torey. Overall, it was a good trip. Exhausting, but nice. We did have two days of virtually no naps and bad night sleep, but the rest of the time was pleasant.

Here are some things we learned in the 6 days we were gone.

Joris learned:

- to say "Boopa" (opa), thereby increasing his spoken vocabulary to 4 words.
- that going for a walk with opa or oma or playing downstairs with the trains without mama there isn't so bad after all
- that blueberries, blackberries and marionberries right off the bush taste great, but when being presented with them mere hours later, they are poison.
- that sometimes the car is the best place for a nap and sometimes it's torture.
- that some cats don't like being pet and will bite if you try to pet them anyway

Mama learned:

- that planning to drive around nap time sometimes works and sometimes, when you really need it to, doesn't.
- that when you drive the one time the little boo sleeps during the day, it leaves you without a break for the day and TIRED.
- that if you let the boy eat pint fulls of fresh berries, his diapers will actually smell like berries the next day.
- that the city of Eugene has the best playground EVER!
- that having the boy sleep in a strange place is probably preferable to toting him back in the car at night, driving in the dark and pouring rain, have him wake up frantic twice and get a cumulative of barely 7 hours of sleep for the night.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Food: friend and foe

The last few weeks, Joris's food preferences have been throwing us for a bit of a loop. Like many babies, when he first started eating solids, there were very few things that he did not care for at all, and he'd eat just about anything; beets, leeks, stew, lentils and parsnips were all gobbled down without a problem. The sharper the cheese, the better.

Then he started developing very strong food and texture preferences, mainly involving crunchy and salty items, and in particular the Pepperidge Farm all-time favorite toddler snack of choice - goldfish crackers. "Cracker" and later "fish" were among the first signs that he learned to use. One week during the month long misery when his molars were coming in, he almost exclusively ate crackers, washed down with a few mouthfuls of milk. I have begun to both love and despise the cheerful, orange crunchies.

But, even though he'd ask for fishies pretty much every hour of every day, he also was still willing to try new foods and overall ate varied and nutritious meals each day.

The last few weeks, he has been getting less and less adventurous about trying new foods. In fact, he is refusing many foods he used to love before; avocado, meat of any kind, bread, and for a shorter period even cheese all rejected outright. It's gotten to the point now that it varies every day; Vegetable soup; Monday: Yum, Tuesday: Yuck, Wednesday: are you trying to poison me?, Thursday: Seconds, please! Crackers (meaning anything crunchy, most often a cereal or other) are still a mainstay. If he eats particularly poorly, I will make him a bowl of pasta with tomato sauce for dinner that he'll devour and he's been scarfing down eggs an blueberries like they're going out of style as well. But, I realize that it all might (will) change again sooner or later anyway.

We're luckier than most in this respect anyway. I know of several toddlers who are way pickier about their food than Joris is. I suspect that most of it is just his way of controlling his environment and asserting his opinion - even if it isn't his actual opinion.

Although we try to give him as healthy and balanced a diet as possible, in our efforts of getting him to try anything new (and add some calories), we have actually said things like "Finish your fried mozzarella cheese stick first, then you can have some banana." and "Mmm, French Fries! Don't you want to try some? No, you want only beans? But French Fries are so good; greasy and salty...Mmmm!"

It is hard, too, to allow him to get down from his high chair after only eating a mouthful of food, knowing that he is in the bottom percentile for his weight for age and weight for height. (He did actually make it into the 6th percentile on his last check-up - up from the 0 percentile - whoohoo!) It makes me always want to nag "Are you sure you're done? How about some more milk? Have another bite of this. Do you want any of that?" and, worst of all "You're not done yet". It's not a very respectful way to respond to his "all done" sign and I'm most likely giving him some kind of complex or other, but because he sometimes will eat another bowl of stuff after some cajoling, it's hard to stop.

If this blog had some actual readers (it would probably help if I'd tell people about it, but I'm not sure if I'm (ever) ready for that) I would ask them for ideas. What does / did your toddler like? What are some products or recipes you'd recommend trying?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Owl and phone conversation

Daddy, Mama, Owl. The latest word added to Joris' verbal vocabulary is owl. Is that weird? It's not like he's had a particular fascination with owls before. Balls; absolutely. Bears; definitely. Books; for sure. Lion, tiger, gorilla, giraffe - as well as most of the barnyard animals - have all enjoyed more of Joris' interest than the obviously stuffed owl picture in one of his animal books.

Maybe it's because owl and uil (Dutch) sound similar enough - but then, why not say book, ball or bear, all of which are either identical or very similar in Dutch and English.

Maybe it's just circumstances. Joris and I met Christine (or auntie Chris as we mostly refer to her now) at the Woodland Park Zoo this morning (getting a membership was one of the best purchases ever!) and, by taking a wrong turn toward the Northern Trail where we were going to visit the bears and otters, we stumbled upon the birds of prey area where two hawks, a falcon and an owl were being shown. Joris immediately pointed to the owl and said "Awl" (a cross between the English and Dutch name).

"Did he just say owl?" I asked Christine.
"Sure sounded like it. Joris, what is that?"
"That's right. Owl. What does an owl do?
(Makes the bird 'sign' of flapping his arms)
"An owl is a bird, that's right. What is that?"
Later, over dinner, he repeated his new vocab word for his dad as well.

Joris must have hit a cognitive / verbal growth spurt because later today, after I had vented my frustration with the Sears automotive department to Jacob over the cell phone, Jacob asked me to put Joris on the phone (I envision grandma cringing; no cell phones ever for babies! Sorry grandma.). I heard Jacob say a couple of sentences to which Joris listened very intently and then excitedly responded "Da da DA da!" After that he threw in a few "ja"'s as well, in response to whatever Jacob was saying. It was the first time he ever responded to being talked to over the phone. Obviously, Jacob was absolutely delighted.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Joris has been able to make the sound "mama" for months, but until the other day has pretty much refused to use it to mean me.

When he first started vocalizing, everything (people, objects, pets) was "DEE!". He used it for "Hey, what's that?", "Look at that!", "I want that", "No, not that one", "Let's go there", "open that", etc.

Then he learned and made up a bunch of sign language signs and communication became much less of a guessing game. He now can initiate conversations and does so all the time. He signs for truck, car, bus or airplane whenever he hears one (Jacob's theory is that Joris' mind has not learned to filter out background noise yet, but I think he might just be excited to communicate what he knows) and the other day he got up in the middle of playing and requested a banana by making the appropriate sign.

He has been using "da da DA da" to mean Jacob for quite a while, although it's been only recently that we finally caught on that it is intentional. This morning he walked up to me and, unprompted, said "Da da DA da" and made the sign for sleep.
"That's right, Daddy is sleeping."

For months, Jacob has been asking him "Where is Mama?", at which Joris would point to me.
"Good. Can you say Mama?"
"Ba ba ba ba"
Sometimes he'd just laugh - often times he'd just stare.

But on Thursday night, as Jacob and I were finishing up dinner, Joris suddenly started babbling "Mama ma mama ma ma".
"Where is she, Joris?"
He points.
"Good. Can you say Mama?"

I'm a puddle of gooey motherly love and pride. So who cares if he's going on seventeen months, he decided to say Daddy, boo (sound cows make in Dutch) and baa (for sheep) well before this and that, since that one time on Thursday, he has not repeated it? My boy called me Mama!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Puzzle Genius

Last week, Joris was playing with some puzzles in his room, while I sat in the what used to be the nursing chair, now functioning as reading and dressing chair, folding some laundry. We were both doing our thing, but at some point Joris came up to the chair, trying to get my attention. He had been playing with a barnyard animal puzzle, which has about 10 pieces that show an item you can find around a farm. If you pick up the picture of the stable, it reveals a horse, the farmer is sleeping under the picture of the haystack, there are dogs in the truck, pigs behind a bush, etc.

"Uh", he grunted and then made the sign for cat.
"The cats aren't here. Where do you see a cat?"
He grinned, turned around, walked over to his puzzle and triumphantly pointed to the picture of the cat on the puzzle.
"Very good! That is a picture of a cat!" I praised.
He continued to show me the dogs, ducks, cow and sheep, for which he either has a sign or a sound.

Later that day, Jacob asked me if Joris had shown me his puzzle skills yet. I told him he'd been pointing at the pictures, making signs and sounds. "You can ask him to find the animals when the puzzle pieces are on. He's memorized them all!" Jacob said.

I tried the next day and, sure enough, if you ask him "Where are the chickens?" he lifts the piece with the chicken coup to reveal the chickens.

Like every mother, I believe my child is quite brilliant.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Train politics

We are just on the verge of entering the world of playground politics; you know, the minefield that involves teaching your kid about sharing toys, taking turns, not throwing sand in other kids' faces and holding off tantrums by trying to distract either your own kid or the one who is hell-bound on prying the toy truck from your own sweet toddler's clenched fists - while at the same time trying to keep your composure and showing infinite patience with kids and their adult counterparts alike. It hasn't really been an issue yet since Joris is still very good at sharing and is easily distracted. However, last Sunday we discovered that it's dealing with the adults that might prove to become the biggest challenge.

We took Joris to the Bothell Country Village, where they were having a special kids weekend with games, free train rides, pony rides, balloons, performances, etc. It is a somewhat cute area of specialty shops that mostly sell the kinds of things you buy for people who you don't know very well, or don't know what to give, but it's nicely landscaped (although making it a pedestrian-only space would be a great improvement) and we figured it was a good way to spend an hour or two on a Sunday afternoon. Joris enjoyed the rooster that was walking around the pond area, the toy store and the fountain in the pond, which he kept trying to use as a wading pool. Since the train rides were free, it was pretty busy, but when there was a performance by a slightly creepy clown (well, aren't they all?) it seemed to slow down a little bit, so we took our chance. The train, which is a gasoline operated toy-train-on-steroids with air filled tires, filled up just before we got there - it seats about 4 adults and maybe 10 kids or so- so we parked the stroller and waited patiently for 10 minutes until it got back. In the meantime, several other families had come to the waiting area. When the train came back there was a flurry of activity and within seconds the few seats that support adult weight were taken up. I tried looking poignantly at the adults who had clearly arrived some time after we did, while Jacob was holding our wiggly 16 month old who was visibly excited about getting on the train.

That didn't work, so I tattled to the "conductor" who was trying to keep some semblance of order. In a trying-to-be-intimidating, booming voice he announced that the people who had arrived through the exit instead of the entrance, should make room for those who had been waiting longer than them. No Response. One woman offered Joris a seat in their compartment and even to move one of her kids to one of the kid seats so that Jacob could go with Joris, but her kid threw a fit and so nothing happened. By this time, Joris had started crying. The conductor was ignoring us and started to get ready to depart again. None of the parents moved. Waiting for the next train really wasn't an option, so we left.

Joris forgot about the train as soon as he saw the little merry go round a minute or so later, but Jacob and I felt like crap. Should we have demanded one of the parents to move? What kind of message would that have sent Joris? You get what you want if you boss other people around, or complain enough? What kind of message did he get from us leaving and not standing up for him more? The other parents teaching their kids that they have the right to do what they want at the cost of other peoples feelings - is that better or worse?

So it begins... I'm worried about my ability of setting the right example for Joris; to stand up for himself, without being pushy or inconsiderate, to share and be kind without being taken advantage of...

It's easy to find fault with other parent's approaches (for example the guy who complained to his wife that his two year old wasn't playing "the right way" with the train at the toy store and later, outside, chided the lad "what is wrong with you?" when the tot showed no interest in stomping on an air rocket) as it's also pretty easy to promise yourself "I will raise a confident, caring, considerate and intellectual child", but the how-to details, the everyday practice of parenting is a lot harder.

We also lost Joris' beloved Woodland Park Zoo sun hat that afternoon.
All in all, we've enjoyed better days.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Mama Joris

When we visited Kenya for a few weeks two years ago, we stayed with two different families in a town close to Nairobi. Martin and Janet and their six year old son Munene welcomed us into their small, third story apartment for most of that time. Family, friends and acquaintances alike called Janet "Mama Munene". I only remember James' wife as "Mama Mercy".

With the birth of her first child, a woman's world is forever changed. She no longer is just Kate, Elizabeth or Anne-Marie, daughter, sister or wife - she is mother, a mom, mommy and mama. A title earned, quite literally, through blood, sweat and tears.

It seems appropriate then, that after such a life changing event a woman should be called something different, to signify her new status - a badge of courage, if you will. Mama Mercy, whose children were grown up and had moved out, and Mama Munene both beamed when we used their titles instead of their names. (It probably wouldn't be a very popular suggestion to, say, the feminist movement - a mother is so much more than "just" a mother after all - but I find the idea charming, endearing and honoring of the job that is being a mother.)

A little over nine months after our Kenya trip, I gave birth to our son Joris.