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Hello, 2012!

So, it’s New Year’s Eve. And I’m in my slippers and planted on my couch and its not even 10:00pm yet. My glass of wine is within reach, there is leftover takeout in the fridge, and I’ve got Season 1 of Parenthood on tap for the rest of the evening.

It’s a far cry from New Years past. And I would be lying if I said I didn’t entertain a few notions of taking my night up a notch. The most ridiculous one involved me putting on a sparkle outfit, replete with sequined mini skirt, tights, and heels, and having a candle lit dinner with my 18-month-old child. (It’s almost embarrassing to admit that.) Luckily I came to my senses and ordered Chinese instead.

Although it would be nice to be sharing tonight with someone who doesn’t eat at 5:30pm and call it lights out by 8:00pm (at the latest), for the most part, I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do. Yes, I know I’m lame, and I’m okay with it. But on the plus side of not paying out the you-know-what for a night on the town and then making sure I get my money’s worth out of cheap champagne (only to regret it the next morning), I am left with a few hours to really take stock of what 2011 was all about.

Since I wasn’t going to hear it tonight, I decided to look up the words to Auld Lang Syne; I never really knew what the words were even though I’m pretty sure I’ve belted out the chorus like it was my job before. I always thought the message was to not let your past be forgotten, but it turns out that the song really asks a question–whether or not it’s right that old times be forgotten. So, really, it assumes that we do forget, but it doesn’t really tell us whether it’s a tragedy or a blessing. And if I’m going to do my own year in review, I think I’m left with a similar question.

It was a long year. And an oftentimes lonely year. And sometimes just a really hard, total meltdown-worthy year, as I’m sure my mother can attest since I called her at a number of low points in 2011. All of those old times I would certainly like to forget.

But then there were the awesome parts. My baby grew into a little boy this year. So, there were a lot of big firsts to be had–first crawls, first steps, first words. We also had a lot of wonderful adventures along the way, some as far as Europe and some as close as the baby pool in the backyard. And those old times I wouldn’t trade for anything. In fact, it hurts my heart to know they’re gone.

So, with just a few minutes left before midnight, I think maybe the song says something totally different. I think what it means is that every year has its ups and its downs, things we’ll remember for ever and some we wish we could completely undo. We don’t have to relive it all or forget it all; instead we can choose what memories to keep dear and near to us and let the others just go. And so as I head into 2012, I think I’ll just take the good with me and leave the rest in 2011. Auld Lang Syne!

 

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A Win for Tintin

When I heard last month that Stephen Spielberg was working on a Hollywood-upped digital movie version of Tintin, I have to admit I rolled my eyes. Despite everything I should love about him–his vocation as a journalist, his love of adventure and travel, and of course his French-speaking roots in the brain of the Belgian Hergé–I never was a fan.

Maybe there was a little too much Hardy Boys and not enough Sherlock Holmes for me at that point; Hergé’s famed ligne claire illustrative style also felt a little too serious, and so the graphic novels fell a little flat for me. (Little did I know that the flatness was the beauty of the ligne claire technique.) Or maybe it was a girl thing. A whole lot of guy journalists trace their love of their craft to Tintin; maybe his quirkiness struck just the right chord with young boys lacking confidence in the type of men they would become. But 20-plus years and major movie promotion later, I’m reevaluating my feelings for Tintin.

The first article to make me look at Tintin in a different light was a November book review in “The Wall Street Journal.” Meghan Cox Gurdon described Tintin in a light that I’d not considered:

“He is not a superhero or a young James Bond. He is not even really a reporter. His adventures are dramatic yet human-scale, invested with a spirit of moral enterprise and derring-do, in a cartoon world populated by characters at turns quirky, faulty, comical, and villainous.”

Perhaps I was a little too naive in my childhood to appreciate his amateur sleuthing skills; I had expected a more polished junior James Bond when I should have been looking for more of a resourceful boy scout type.

The other thing I failed to appreciate in my youth that I regard as genius in my life now is exactly how inspiring his adventures were for kids with any thread of wanderlust in their DNAs:

“Through his international exploits–in pre-revolutionary Shanghai, the jungles of Peru, a faux Eastern European police state, even the surface of the moon 20 years before Neil Armstrong got there–Tintin shows young readers that the world in all its complexity is theirs to bestride.”

With my long love of travel, how did I miss that? But now that Conde Nast Traveler came out with this handy guide, I feel like I might already be hooked on Tintin without actually finishing a whole book. The guide is basically structured to say, “If you like X place, you’ll love X Tintin book.” Based on the seven destinations the magazine highlights, I’m thinking of rekindling my acquaintance with Tintin with The Crab with the Golden Claws. With my dreams of visiting the rim of North Africa–Morocco and Tunisia have been calling me for years–some day, what better way to get lost in the dream than a Tintin trek through the Sahara?

I’m sure it goes with out saying that I’ve got seeing the movie on my wish list for the holidays. And after seeing the spectacular Spielberg interpretation, I fully expect to be one of what I expect to be legions of American Tintin converts, who no doubt will make the Euro Tintin purists cringe.

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What Parents Care About

I’m on this new parents google-groups, list-share thing for my neighborhood. A mom that I know through the gym had recommended I join, and I did. It’s been interesting, to say the least. Sometimes I totally get hooked into cool stuff for kids that’s going on in the neighborhood; other times, I’m like, “Whaaaaaat?” So, if you ever wanted to know if other parents were thinking the same things as you, here’s a sampling of what’s going through parents’ heads in my ‘hood, as told through e-mail subject lines:

  • Grass-fed beef share (I’m sorry, but this one just makes me crack up)
  • Programming at Bloombars for the little ones
  • Class recommendations for Mondays
  • The second Mount Pleasant puppet hour
  • Formula coupons and bottles
  • Cancelled playdates
  • Cancelled playdates
  • News from CPSC –Recall
  • Toddler-friendly Trick or Treat
  • Holistic Moms DC Nov Mtg
  • Holiday House-share?
  • Nanny share feeler
  • Does anyone know a good pediatric dentist in the area?
  • ISO: My Brest Friend
  • Playdate on Tuesday this week
  • Home contractor
  • Yu Ying PCS (public charter school for all those who need translation)
  • Bed Bath & Beyond or Buy Buy Baby coupon
  • Looking for a snowsuit to buy
  • Also looking for a sitter rec
  • Sitter rec?
  • New changing pad to give away
  • Canceling Sunday’s parent brunch
  • Nursery furniture?
  • Parent brunch next Sunday
  • Rad Dad book release event
  • Excellent nanny available starting mid-October
  • Miss Amy’s Music Makers
  • ISO: Potty
  • Itsy Bitsy Yoga

Yup, this is my life. 🙂

 

 

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Doing the Diaper Dip

One of the fun things we did with baby–at least for Mimi and me–during our trip to Chamonix was take baby to bébé nageurs swim class at the local aquatic center. Basically it was a Saturday morning free swim deal where parents (or grandparents) could take their babies and diapers would be welcome in the pool.

This wasn’t the first time baby had been swimming. He went three times last summer–twice in the River and once in the Lake–but it was definitely his first time in a pool. For as much as I thought he would be squealing nonstop in the water (he absolutely loves splashing in the tub, sink, or any other vessel of water), I’m not sure that he really loved it–despite the fact that the pool was heated for the comfort of the bébé nageurs.

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Part of the problem was definitely that he was tired; the jetlag was still kicking his dimpled butt. Part of it may have been that it was sensory overload. There were a ton of babies (and parents and grandparents), all moving in a gazillion directions; lots of shrieking toddlers jumping and splashing; tons of really brightly colored toys and mats floating all around; and even a big fountain shooting up from the middle of the pool.

But part of it also was me. Turns out there’s an art to baby swims.

I only learned that after one of the swim coaches (can they even be called that at this stage?) bee lined for my mom, baby, and me. At this point, I had taken baby out of this cool floatie thing–basically it was a thin mat cut in the shape of a fish with a hole in the middle where you stick the kid–and was just sort of holding him on my hip as I walked around the pool. Baby wasn’t unhappy, but he wasn’t splashing like a madman either. So, the swim coach came over and asked if I was familiar with le système de portage. The what?

I mean, I speak French, so I get what it means: a carrying or transportation system. But what was wrong with the way I was carrying my baby? That’s the way I carry him all the time.

But I listened as he explained in that very explicative French way that the proper way to have a nine-month-old baby in the pool was to put my hands under his bottom so that he was sitting in my palms, extend my arms out in front of me, and then begin to walk through the water. He then pointed out that I should pretty much make sure baby was submerged in the water pretty much up to his shoulders so he wouldn’t get cold.

Ok, so I was a little skeptical that there was a huge difference between what I was doing and what he was telling me to do, but I was polite and did as he recommended. Wow, what a difference. Baby went from just sort of being chill in the water–content but not excited–to really moving his arms and legs around, splashing and carrying on.

The guy went on to explain to me that when you hold babies on your hip in the water like you would do on land, they sort of go into a set position and don’t really have a lot of wiggle room. But by basically pushing them out in front of you–they don’t fall over, amazingly enough–they have the freedom to fully ambulate and interact with the water.

I’ll admit that I kind of felt stupid because I had sort of gone, “yeah, yeah, yeah,” to the swim coach and it turned out that he really knew what he was talking about. No wonder every baby in pool (except Aleksi) was just having the time of his or her little life. Their moms weren’t so ignorant as to the correct système de portage. But once I was clued in, everyone–baby included–had more fun.

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Two Windows into One World

Sometimes I wonder how my life would appear if it was played out on a big screen. I think tonight’s scene would’ve been best captured with a split screen.

First, the good stuff happening upstairs…

Baby was getting very close to figuring out that whole crawling thing. Guess mom needs to get going on baby proofing.

Meanwhile, the not-so-good stuff happening downstairs…

Sadly, that was after we’d been to the dog park. I guess he was excited to watch the Westminster Dog Show.

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My Life in Six Words Or Less

My step-mom used to keep a journal to help her deal with some of the issues she was going through as she battled ovarian cancer. After she died last year, my family got a chance to peek inside.

One of the things we found in the journal was that she used to play a game that she called, “My Life in Six Words or Less,” where she basically would jot down a little six-word phrase to describe how she was feeling about her life and the people in it at any given moment. Two stick out in my mind:

  • One dedicated to my dad: “Come closer, kiss longer, my love.”
  • Another to her grand-kids: “Will travel for hugs and kisses.”

There was something so sweet and simple in that little exercise that I think about it often and try to come up with my own phrases to describe my life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like my life is very deep at the moment. Here’s a recent one:

small baby + big mess = my life

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A First in Flight

So, I’ve finally returned from a 10-day whirlwind tour of the East Coast, where I’ve ping ponged my way from Northern New York to North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to Jersey and back with a six-week-old. Traveling with infants… definitely not for the impatient or disorganized (of which I am both).

He's got a ticket to ride

Out of the four different legs of the trip, I was most worried about the flight to North Carolina. I was stressing that baby would totally be that kind of baby that airline passengers don’t feel bad about hating. Think a hot, sweaty, totally over-booked plane meets wailing, screaming, and other forms of inconsolable crying.

But if the truth be told, it wasn’t so bad; the five hour drive from Fayette-nam (Fayetteville, N.C., home to Fort Bragg, for those of you non-military wives reading this) with just baby and me was much, much worse. All things considered, baby’s first flight was fantastic.

Of course a few things helped.

Number one: my mom. Yup, she went with me as my sherpa. She schlepped pretty much everything besides the baby–my carry-on (a.k.a. diaper bag), her purse, cooler pack full of breast milk, dirty diapers, stroller base, etc. I so needed her extra set of hands.

It would seem like with two of us, we’d have everything under control. But all it took was the top to snap off of one of my mini canisters of breast milk and it felt like the wheels were starting to fall off. Of course, then I was reminded of my utter incompetence when I saw a girl probably 10 years younger than I, toting her infant son onto the same flight with what seemed like half the amount of stuff and no mom.

But I digress… my number two savior was the Charlotte USO.

Now, for the non-military readers out there, the USO (United Service Organizations) is a group whose mission is “to provide morale, welfare, and recreation-type services to uniformed military personnel.” That encompasses a lot of things, but one of the cooler things they do for military–and that includes active duty military, national guard, reserves, retired military people, and military families–is operate a number of airport lounges, where people can hang out and rest up before their flights or during a layover.

And there happened to be one in Charlotte, where my mom, baby, and I had a three-plus hour layover.

This was my first time using a USO lounge. In fact, my mom and I had first headed to the US Airways club lounge, armed with her American Express platinum card and a hope that they had reciprocity with card members. (They don’t.) Rejected and wondering where we were going to find a suitable place to hang out (I was probably going to need to nurse given how fast baby sucked down a bottle of pumped milk on the first flight), I suggested we try out the USO.

It took us awhile to find it, but once we did, it was so worth it. The people

The Charlotte USO = Godsend

were so friendly, warm, and welcoming; they showed us every corner of the place from the video message center to the DVD viewing room to the kitchen area (complete with bottled drinks, fresh hot dogs, and other snacks) to the nursery (equipped with gliders, a pack ‘n’ play, and a bunch of toys and books for kids) to the bathrooms with the infant changing station. Our host even thought to tell me that I just needed to let her know if I needed diapers, wipes, or formula. (How awesome is that?)

It was so nice to be able to use the USO to regroup. I was even able to nurse comfortably (I’m still not totally down with whipping out the boob anywhere, anytime) while my mom put her feet up in an overstuffed leather recliner while watching the news and reading the paper.

Now, I realize that a lot of people reading this probably don’t have access to great services like the USO, so here are a few lessons learned:

  • Book a hotel. If you have a very early morning flight, seriously consider getting a room at the airport hotel for the night before. It probably is worth the money because you won’t have to get up so darn early, so your kid is likely to be less cranky, and you won’t have any last minute snafus like a late start, a pit stop for gas, heavy traffic, or flat tire.
  • Good things come in small packages. If you are bringing expressed milk on the plane, consider using smaller quantity canisters. If your bottles are under three ounces, you’ve got a green light to go. If they are bigger, it’s still no big deal–the TSA people will ask you to open the bottles so they can wave this paper strip thing over it and conduct a vapor test–but it will cost you more time getting through security.
  • Bag it. Bring a plastic garbage bag with you. When traveling with itty bitty babies, you will likely have them in their car seat with the clip-in base. (I have the Baby Trend Snap and Go, but there are other brands out there.) This stroller system makes it so easy to get to your gate, particularly if you’ve got luck like mine and you have to change terminals during your layover. But you’ll have to check it at the gate. I put the whole car seat part of the system in a plastic bag before giving it to the runway dude who threw it into the belly of the plan. It may sound strange, but think about how dirty it’s got to be–from the workers’ gloves, to the carts on which the baggage is transported, to the under carriage of the plane. Ewww. Plastic will protect the seat fabric.
  • Double bag it. I went for the bag-within-a-bag as my carry-on and I think it worked out really well. A friend had given me this great oversized, water repellent bag as a baby gift, so I packed that thing full of all my baby and travel essentials. And the bigger the better. I was able to fit my diaper bag, the cooler pack, my giant wallet, and a few other miscellaneous items in the thing and it was easy and compact to carry. Here’s a pic:

A carry-all carry-on

So, thanks to smart packing, planning, and a personal pack mule, baby’s first flight was pretty painless. However, although I’ve lived to tell about it, I’ll say that I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m ready to be a frequent flier family. In fact, I’m trying not to think about the trip to Hawaii that we’ve got planned with baby. (How long is the flight, again?)

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