Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

April 30, 2001

The thing with Lucy's mouth

Lucy has developed a curious new feature. It’s a tooth, a front tooth. Only, it’s not in the front of her mouth.

Rather, it appears to have slid about a half-inch from the center, not unlike where you would expect a vampire’s fang to dangle.

We call it “The Slider.”

And now, the question before us is, “Is the Slider a runaway front tooth, or is Lucy just getting a side tooth first?”

Right now, it’s too early to tell. The Slider has only just emerged. This is no surprise, of course. We were expecting a top tooth; but we just thought it would appear someplace else. In fact, I was working upstairs one night a couple of weeks ago while Adam was feeding Lucy her dinner. He hollered for me to come right away, because he thought he saw the tooth, making its way into the world. I ran down – who wouldn’t hurry to see a first look at her baby’s top tooth?

As it happened, though, it was only creamed corn.

The Slider, however, is for real. No vegetable in the world that could hurt as much when applied, with pressure, to my bare breast. This pain and suffering is OK, though. A little misery in the name of parenthood is part of the deal. Besides, Adam gets it worse. Every time he carries Lucy in the sling, she kicks him right in the groin, thereby increasing the odds that she will be an only child.

There is another kind of pain, though, that I am handling with less grace.

And that is the pain that comes with wondering if this tooth means Lucy has her mouth on sideways. Now I know, it would not be the end of the world if Lucy had a few teeth in the wrong places. I’ve described Adam’s unique dental history, and in all fairness, I should also reveal that one of my teeth – a permanent one, no less - came in 10 years late, and backward.

But Lucy, up until now, has been so perfect. She has a smile that gives wings to my heart. It’s lemon-shaped, huge and symmetrical.

Thinking my silly, worried thoughts, I started surfing the Internet to see if there was any way of telling whether the tooth we’re seeing is a front tooth gone amok, or a side tooth that’s just coming in a little early.

The verdict, I’m afraid, is unclear. I found a rather vividly named tooth “eruption chart” that labels teeth with a letter between A and E. The “A” and “B” teeth come in first; the “E” teeth, last. The A teeth are in the center of the top and bottom, and the B teeth sit like bookends on either side of their A-list neighbors.

It’s possible that Lucy’s Slider is a B tooth, and is therefore perfectly normal. But it’s really far to the side, which means she’s going to have a helluva gap even if it is normal. She’s going to be like the Wife of Bath from the Canterbury tales. Lusty and “gat-toothed.” We’re going to have to sell our kidneys to pay for the braces. We’re... we’re...

It’s at times like these that I realize I am getting ahead of myself. First of all, the Slider might slide right back into place once it has a little more company. Second of all, it’s a baby tooth. She’ll be getting a do-over in a few years. Third of all, a snaggletooth smile on Lucy is bound to be as cute as a regular one.

Finally, and most important, I love her just the way she is, and however she’s going to be.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to worry. And the real truth is, it’s a lot easier to worry about something like a baby tooth than the other things I’ve feared lately. In fact, I’ve been so worried, I haven’t been able to write about it. I’ve just wanted the gnawing feeling to go away.

It’s not, though. Which means it’s time for me to start thinking about what I’m going to do if it’s actually a problem.

So here goes. All of the baby books that I’ve read mention a couple key things babies should be doing that Lucy is not doing, and hasn’t done.

One of them seems silly: It’s the act of sticking out her tongue, in imitation of Adam and me when we do this. One book I read said all babies could do this, starting at just a few weeks. Lucy has never been able to do this – not well, anyway. And she only did it a couple times today, meekly, after Adam spent a few minutes focusing on nothing else.

It worries me that Lucy can’t really stick out her tongue. Does it mean she doesn’t get the fact that she has a tongue, or that we’re trying to communicate and she’s not getting the clue?

This leads me to my second fear: that Lucy’s also not really making the kind of sounds she is supposed to. I was alarmed a couple days ago when I read that 4-month-old babies are supposed to be able to imitate sounds their parents are making. Lucy doesn’t do this, at 8 months. And she was a little over 6 months old before she made a recognizable “ba” sound – her first, unless you count the “ma” sound she would sometimes make when she was crying really hard.

I mentioned this to the pediatrician at Lucy’s 6-month checkup. The doctor said she would be worried, but for that detail – that Lucy could say “ma” when she was crying. That wasn’t much comfort then, and it’s even less now that two months have passed and Lucy is not stringing together multiple syllables, the ba’s and ga’s that are the hallmarks of healthy baby chatter.

It’s not that Lucy is silent. She makes noises. Just not the noises that the books say she is supposed to make. When I combine this with my observation that Lucy is also apparently unable to stick out her tongue, it starts to feel ominous.

So, there is my fear, written down at last. That perhaps what we are seeing is just the edge of a problem, just as we are seeing the edge of Lucy’s first top tooth. Things are not quite where they should be.

I will talk to the doctor about it, next month when we go in for Lucy’s 9-month checkup. And I will keep talking to Lucy, every chance I can get, so that I feel confident I’m doing everything I can to help her develop speech.

That aside, there’s nothing I can do. Lucy is who she is. This may be nothing. All children are different; all human beings are different. The only reason I will ever want her to be like anyone else is just because I know that sometimes, it’s our differences that make people reject us. I don’t want her to ever feel that kind of pain.

So, I am feeling it for her, and loving her all the more. She is my child. Perfect or not, I would die for her a thousand times, every time feeling grateful for every second I’ve had her.

Except maybe when she bites me. I may be a mother, but I’m still human, after all.

April 16, 2001

This just in: I can't do it all

I have given up.

I wanted to take such perfect care of Lucy. My plans were as follows: I would read, sing, dance, nourish and clean her. While doing this, I would look neat and trim, keep a perfect house, cook lavish dinners and advance my writing career without so much as wasting one second on self-doubt or soap operas.

I got as far as the singing part when I realized I was in trouble. I don’t know anything but TV theme songs.

It was when I was singing, “Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do,” that I realized something else: I can’t dance, either.

What’s more, I’m not much of a cook, and not even the dog will eat off the floor it’s so dirty. Also, I have a bit of a problem with self-doubt.

The worst, though, is that I was trying to do all these things while simultaneously giving Lucy the one thing she really needed. And I’m not talking about rhythm. You can’t give what you don’t have.

Rather, I’m talking about a steady flow of love and attention. The kind you see on TV in baby formula commercials.

At first, this wasn’t so difficult. When she was a newborn, she slept a lot. The challenge was to find the energy to do anything besides loll about and read as I recovered from birth. Now, Lucy is an 18-pound tornado of activity and demands — and I predict, not so boldly, that she’s only going to pick up speed from here.

Including her in my every activity requires a lot of biceps, way more than I have. We did vacuum together just this morning, but it’s getting ridiculous. It was less of a loving hold than a Heimlich maneuver.

The most difficult, though, is when I try to write. Lucy has now taken to leaning forward and typing along with me. It’s very cute, but also tends to freeze up the computer. Also, her spelling is atrocious.

It’s no wonder the phrase is motherhood and apple pie, and not motherhood and novels. The two are tough to combine.

After several exhausting weeks trying to do everything with Lucy, I realized that I am a failure. Completely and utterly. (Or udderly, as I often feel when I am nursing Lucy and a stream of milk hits her in the face.)

This realization freed me up to take some sensible advice from Adam, advice he had been giving for weeks: Hire a babysitter. After giving it a lot of thought, I decided it was better to have some help a few hours a week. During those hours, I’d focus completely on my new career (along with a few housekeeping chores). And then the rest of the time would be Lucy’s. No distractions, as long as you don’t count my very bad singing voice, which makes even the cats sit up and look miffed.

It took a little while to find just the right babysitter, but we did. She’s a 24-year-old Russian named Elena, who loves babies, likes cats and dogs. She also knows how to knit booties. And she has a particularly fetching habit of squeezing Lucy’s toes when she arrives for work.

This is Elena’s third day with Lucy, and so far, everything is going very well. On her first two days, I lurked around them for a good chunk of the time, so that I could answer any questions Elena had. That was my official reason.

My secret reason is that I didn’t want Lucy to feel abandoned. When you’re a mother, your guilt light goes off the second you start doing something for you, instead of something for your child. Whether you need to work for the money, or just for the sense of satisfaction, doing anything but tending your child feels like some form of neglect, as if you’re pouring acid on the fabric of society.

The truth is, mothers are people, too. And I’m learning that they can do a better job of it if they take care of their own needs, at least for part of the day. And writing is one thing I really, really need to do. That, and stopping the toilet when it’s running. It drives me nuts!

Still, it’s an adjustment having someone else look after Lucy. Although my sisters have taken care of her, it feels different because they’re family. Turning her over to a stranger, even if I’m there, is scary at times. I wonder what’s going through Lucy’s mind, and if she still feels secure and adored.

So, when I do slink upstairs to do some work, I find myself stopping to listen.

The first day was the worst. When I heard nothing, I had one thought: Lucy is dead. When I heard her laugh, I thought, “Drats. Elena is more entertaining than I am.” And when I heard Lucy cry, I thought, “Thank God someone else has to take care of that for once.”

Actually, that’s not what I thought, though it’s making me laugh to say it. A few times when Lucy cried, I went down to feed her. But mostly, I let Elena handle it, because I didn’t want Lucy to think all she had to do to summon me during Elena’s shift was to let out a wail.

As it turns out, Elena’s quite good at making Lucy feel better. She’s also good at finding time to wash clothes while Lucy naps — something I never got the hang of. For the first time in a long time, I’m seeing the bottom of the laundry hamper.

The house is clean. Lucy is downstairs right now, laughing at her cannibalistic puppet, Duran, who likes to eat baby hands and feet. In 45 minutes, Elena will go home. I will have gotten some work done, and I’ll be ready to think about no one and nothing but Lucy for awhile.

I have to say, sometimes giving up is a good thing to do.

April 09, 2001

I love Lucy and she loves me

All mothers have grand plans for their babies. The ones who name their children Keanu, for example, are planning to raise stiff little boys who will become major action stars with excellent teeth. The ones who buy the Baby Einstein video are hoping to raise physicists. It’s one way to make sure your kids never run with a wild crowd, I guess.

My aspiration was more humble, sort of: I hoped to teach Lucy to swim before she was six months old.

I have reasons for this, and at least one of them is good. My parents live on the water, and so it’s a matter of safety. Also, Lucy’s aunts and uncles were excellent swimmers, so she might have some talent. And even if she isn’t Olympic caliber, her feet resemble flippers. It would be a shame not to at least try them in the water.

And for the good reason: I bought her a really cute little pink tankini in the 3-6 month size.

With this in mind, I found a book about teaching infants to swim. We practiced in the tub. Then, when she was two months old (Alas! Too small for the tankini!), I slipped her into a swimming diaper and took her to a really warm pool.

She seemed to enjoy herself. Though she was not an experienced smiler back then, she definitely beamed as I tugged her chubby body through the water. At the time, Lucy was mostly head and stomach — two parts that float great. What that says about her head, I do not know. But she was pretty much a cork, bobbing away in my hands.

That was all well enough until I had to change her out of her swimming diaper and back into her street clothes. I understand the economics of why locker rooms are made out of concrete. But it makes for a terrible changing surface, even covered in towels. Lucy let me know she hated it, and her screams bounced off the walls and floor like a cloud of frenzied mosquitoes.

We did not swim again for five months.

This means I will never know how the tankini looked. Lucy is now too large to wear it. She has also outgrown the first pack of swimming diapers, which cost about 80 cents each, the little buggers. But I’m trying not to think of that. I can always sell them on eBay, along with the Baby Einstein video. She’s just not getting relativity.

Nor did she enjoy our recent swim. As soon as we got on the pool deck, she went monkey on me, grabbing me with her hands and her mighty feet. She clamped down harder once we were in the water. Every part that could grip was doing its best to hang on; I have the cuts to prove it.

I tried half-heartedly to float her, but babies do not float when they’re in the fetal position. Instead, we just swished around in the water, pretending like it was a giant bathtub. We hugged and chatted. Every once in awhile, she smiled, but I think that’s because the lifeguard was foxy, and Lucy was topless. Even at seven and a half months, she’s well aware of her charms.

The lifeguard just wasn’t enough to make for a really fun outing, though. And the whole experience was a reminder of something I’ve noticed more and more lately: Lucy needs me, like un needs couth, like gruntled needs dis.

It’s a different kind of need than the one she had when she was a newborn. Then, I got the feeling that she viewed me as her own personal Dairy Queen franchise. Lucy ate and ate and ate and ate, and for weeks, didn’t so much as smile in gratitude. Later, she got liberal with the smiles. Maybe I got a few more than everyone else, but not many. Pretty much anyone could hold her, and that was fine with Lucy. It was fine with me, too. A friendly baby is something to be proud of.

Lately, though, she’s let me know I am her A-No.-1 Super Friend. If someone else is holding her and I walk by, she whines, sticks out her arms, and leans toward me. Her eyes bulge, and she makes a noise that sounds like a sewing machine engine in high gear. If she is in her crib, fighting her mortal enemy Mister Sandman, I can’t get anywhere within eyeshot. She takes it personally if we look at each other and I don’t rescue her.

But I love it. I love making this baby feel happy and secure, even if it means my spine literally goes numb several times a day.

The main reason I put up with the freakiness of a tingly back is that I know Lucy won’t always feel this way about me. Babies fall in love with their mothers. Part of growing up is claiming independence. And sometimes, this feels like the opposite of love.

I know I created separation from my own mom in all sorts of ways. And this wasn’t always easy. Every time we went somewhere together, people would say, “Oh! You look JUST like your mother.”

No one wants to hear this, especially during the ‘70s, when your mom is wearing thick, black glasses and plaid pants shaped like trumpet mouths. Even then, I knew those pants were a bad idea, although they were how I used to keep track of Mom in a crowd. Follow the big green pants. Follow the big green pants...

It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with how my mom looked, by the way. She was decade appropriate. And even though I’m shorter, I weigh a good 15 pounds more than she did at my age. She looks way better in pants (still!), and she has the naturally curly hair I deserve but, for some reason, did not get.

The simple fact is that I just wanted to be me. That’s the other side effect of growing up as part of the “Free to Be You and Me” generation. You feel it is your right to be you, and when your mother has the gall to look like you, sound like you and act like you, she’s being a real jerk.

If Lucy is anything like me, she’ll find lots of ways to assert her independence. And yes, I am aware of the irony there.

I’m just hoping she doesn’t do anything permanent, like a face tattoo. Or any tattoo, for that matter. (This is my future speech to her, which I will regret because it will be the very sermon that drives her to the tattoo parlor. Lucy, for crying out loud! They stretch and fade. That heart may look adorable on your pelvis when you’re 21, but when you’re 31, with a baby, it’s going to have stretched so much it looks like the four parts of a cow’s stomach. Have you seen the hole that used to house my navel ring? It’s the size of Alaska!

For now, though, I am loving how she lays her head in the hollow between my neck and shoulders. Its weight is perfect, like the feeling of a softball smacking the heart of your glove.

Come to think of it, I might even have to take her swimming again next week.

P.S. If I do, I’m hoping that our outing doesn’t end up quite like it did last time. The pool is near my parents’ house, so we went there afterward for a visit.

As I carried Lucy in her car seat, I tripped on the walkway. I am not graceful, and this was a huge wipeout — a bellyflop onto concrete that left me flat on the ground, my arms flailing at Lucy’s carseat, which had tipped to its side.

My Dad saw it happen and raced out to pick her up. She was buckled in, so she was fine, but screaming. I, on the other hand, was thoroughly bashed. Dad held Lucy, while I struggled to stand, looking around for the one person who would make me feel like less of an idiot:

My mother.