All I Want For Christmas

So, W has a cute little book called “All I Want For Christmas,” in which a variety of animals request clever gifts. The giraffe wants a very, very, very long necktie, the cheetah wants two new pairs of running shoes, the amoeba wants a one-celled cell phone…you get the idea. It’s one of those books that’s as much fun for grown-ups to read (the first time, at least) as it is for kids. Anyway, the book got me thinking about whatI want for Christmas. Santa, if you’re listening, this is my list:

  1. I want to poop (even just once! I’ll take once!) without having someone sitting on my lap, asking me about the mechanics of what I’m doing, trying to flush the toilet while I’m still going, trying to peek under my butt to see what’s going on down there, or making poop noises and grinning at me.
  2. I’d like my vocabulary back. Should it come to pass that I am talking to an adult, I’d like to excuse myself to “use the restroom” rather than announcing that I need to poop or pee. I’d prefer to refer to “kangaroos” as opposed to “hop-hops,” and “cats” as opposed to “meow-meows.” And I’m pretty sure my husband has a name other than “Baba.”
  3. Hey Santa, if you can swing it, could you arrange for Doof (the lovey) to be a normal, mass-produced toy as opposed to an irreplaceable oddball? As it is, I live in fear of losing the little dude…which we did (temporarily) during errands last week. When W realized he was gone, she was surprisingly calm. She had complete faith I’d find him. I, on the other hand, was a nervous wreck as we retraced our steps. We finally found him on a shelf at the bookstore, and Mommy could breathe again.
  4. Oh, one more thing. I know this is asking a lot, but I’d like to drink an entire cup of coffee while it’s hot. Just a thought.


What’s on your Christmas wish list?



Ok-To-Wake, My New Car, and A Parenting Fail

So, despite this post that I wrote about a DIY “ok-to-wake” timer, we actually purchased a funky little bug-shaped light that tells W when it’s ok to wake up. This is partly because said bug light is cute, and partly because the fatal flaw in my DIY timer plan was that it was a garden-variety night light, meaning that basically every illuminated night light in our house (or anyone else’s house, for that matter) caused W to ask whether it was time to wake up and “Nee!” (nurse). Anyway, long story short, we have an official “ok-to-wake” light that turns green at wake up time. Consequently, we’ve been spending a lot of time lately talking about the bug light, and that if W (and Doof-the-lovey, of course) wake up before the bug light is green, they need to be very quiet. Once the bug light is green, they can wake Mama up (“Nee!”).

In other news, I recently got a new car. Well, car-ish, anyway. We’re a one-car household in a city with minimal public transportation, and in order to combine exercise with the daily commute, I bike to work. Because hauling W and her accoutrement to and from daycare/gymnastics/etc requires more cargo space than I have available on a normal bike, I decided to purchase an Xtracycle, which is basically a commuter bike with cargo pockets. And an optional child seat. And room to haul a cooler of beer, a hibachi, and a side of beef (not that I’ve tried. No.)

One major advantage of W’s and my new bike is that instead of carting her around in a trailer, which puts her significantly behind and below me (and both precludes conversation and leaves me constantly in fear that her silence is an indication that she’s actively choking on a raisin), she’s close enough that we can chat. Consequently, we talk about what we see around us (Birds! Trees!), we count different colored cars, or we sing the dumb little song I made up to accompany Sandra Boynton’s adorable book “Snuggle Puppy” so many times that I start to go a little crazy.

Today, she asked why I was pushing the button on the post near the street. I told her that it made the light change color so we could ride across the intersection. I showed her the streetlight across from us — currently red — and explained that it meant we had to wait our turn. Pushing the button, I patiently explained to her, caused the light to turn green, which meant we could go. She considered my answer carefully. At the next light, when I pushed the button, she repeated her question. I reminded her that the red light meant we had to wait, and that the button would turn the light green. Then, never one to miss a teaching moment, I asked her, And what happens when the light turns green? She grinned at me.


Sigh. Parenting fail.

The Last of My Dignity

She’s stolen my heart…and my dignity.

We’ve been working on the very start of potty learning with W, which mostly means that we talk a lot about the potty, read books about the potty, and every time I use the potty, I narrate a running commentary. The constant potty talk appears to be breaking down my social barriers that would normally govern appropriate topics of conversation in public places. The other day, my husband and I took W to the bookstore. While we looked at books, I suddenly felt the urge to use the potty. “Mama has to go poo poo,” I announced at regular speaking volume, in full earshot of the other book-browsing patrons. “Let’s go to the potty!” My husband was briefly speechless, then cracked up. I was a little embarrassed, to be sure, but it could have been worse…I could have made that same announcement in the middle of a bookstore without W there as an excuse! It could totally happen. I’m so used to narrating everything that I sometimes find myself talking aloud even when she’s not around.

Honestly, while my social barriers are lower than they once were, my embarrassment threshold is higher. The things that would once have sent me diving, red-faced, under the nearest rock (like announcing my need to poop to entire bookstore) now barely register. We were in Target a few days ago to buy a lunch box and water bottle for W, who starts daycare this week. I gave her a choice of two “big girl” water bottles, and she fell in love with both. I explained that I would only buy her one, and that the other one needed to go back on the shelf. I asked her which she wanted, and she pointed to both. Long story short, my attempt to extract her preference was protracted, and the eventual selection of a single water bottle (and replacement of the other bottle on the shelf) resulted in a sobbing, back-arching tantrum in the middle of the store. Before I had a toddler, I would have imagined myself mortified in this situation. If I’d seen another mother in this situation, I would have been mortified for her. Now? Meh. Toddlers tantrum. Doesn’t mean they’re bad kids, doesn’t mean I’m a bad mom…it just happens. Sure, I try to control it, I try to arrest it, and I apologize to those within ear-splitting range, but I can’t honestly say I’m embarrassed; it just comes with the territory.

During the same trip to the mall that resulted in my poop announcement, I left W with her daddy at the bookstore while I went to browse the sales racks at a few clothing stores. Doof-the-lovey had accompanied us to the mall, of course, but W wanted me to carry him for her, so I’d stuffed him under my arm where he remained as I entered Banana Republic sans child. The sales girl greeted me, then did a double take. “I see you brought your little friend,” she said in a slightly mocking tone, as she eyed the little yellow butterfly-bear with his sparkly purple wings. Once upon a time, I would have been horrified. I would have stammered to explain that I did, in fact, have a daughter, and that she was elsewhere in the mall, and…and…and. These days, though, I don’t skip a beat.

“Yep,” I said, “I did,” and off I trotted to the sales rack, Doof in tow.

The Banana Republic sales girl, all of 21, is toned and gorgeous. Her hair is perfect, and she doesn’t ever have to comb jam out of it. She doesn’t have a funky little flap of extra skin on her tummy that won’t go away no matter how many crunches she does. She doesn’t announce that she has to poop at Barnes and Noble. She is either critical of or embarrassed for, depending upon her mood at the moment, moms of tantruming toddlers at Target. And under no circumstances would she ever find herself at an upscale clothing retailer with a stuffed animal under her arm. Not now, anyway. But someday, when she’s a mother, she’ll realize that all those heart-stopping mortifications of her pre-parenthood days just weren’t that big a deal. After all, with regard to embarrassing child-related public moments, observers are either parents or they’re not. In the case of the former, it’s not necessary to explain because they’ve been there and they totally get it. In the case of the latter, it’s not worth it to explain; they can’t begin to understand…at least, not yet.


What have you done in public that would once have mortified you?


Lessons In Chemistry and Physics From A Toddler

1) 1st Law of Thermodynamics — the energy of the universe is constant. That is to say, if one system or object gains energy, another system or object must have lost energy. As the day progresses, I steadily lose energy, and W steadily becomes more and more energetic.

2) 2nd Law of Thermodynamics — entropy is always increasing. “Entropy” is a fancy chemical word for disorder. ‘Nuff said.

3) Processes are reversible. However, a process that occurs spontaneously in one direction requires an input of energy in the reverse direction, and vice versa. It takes me significant effort to clean up the house. W can take it apart again with no apparent expenditure of energy.

4) Macromolecules bind to one another via an “induced fit” rather than a “lock and key” mechanism. If you pound hard enough, you can get the square peg into the round hole.

5) The laws of the macroscopic universe are constant, and effects are predictable and reproducible. When W squeezes the fruit smoothie pouch, fruit smoothie comes boiling out all over the floor. Every. Single. Time.

6) The most damaging types of radiation are undetectable by humans. Beware the silent toddler.

7) The true nature of a particle is a mathematic combination of all possible states of that particle. Like Schrodinger’s cat, a toddler can exist in multiple (and completely oppositional) states at once. Like ecstatic and enraged. Or exhausted and wired.

8 ) The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that it’s impossible to know both the position and momentum of a particle at the same time. This is because the act of measuring the position affects the momentum, and vice versa. Similarly, the very act of checking up on a toddler’s current activity affects the toddler’s next action, making it impossible to predict with any certainty what said toddler might do next.

9) Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion — every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When W throws herself on the floor of the grocery store and starts screaming and ripping all her clothes off in an attempt to get me to pick her up, all I want to do is run. Far. Away.

10) Gravity. It works.


What lessons in the physical sciences has your child taught you?



Reflections on a First Birthday — My, How We’ve Grown

This Saturday, my sweet W will celebrate her first birthday. Ok, no, not really. We’ll celebrate her first birthday; she’ll sort of cluelessly enjoy the fact that she’s being handed a cupcake.

It goes without saying that she’s grown and changed so much in the last 365 days. Seriously. It goes without saying. So I’m not going to say it.

Instead, I want to talk about someone else who’s grown and changed in countless ways this last year — me.

A year ago Saturday, my OB plopped a tiny, squirming, mewling, squishy baby onto my chest. I stared deep into her beautiful, soulful eyes, and thought to myself, “Holy shit.* I’m a mother. Whose idea was THAT?” Which, admittedly, is not what I’d envisioned myself thinking at that particular moment.

*Yes, I swore. If you’ve been following this blog since the beginning, you’ll remember I once wrote a post about how I’d never swear on SquintMom, because I wanted it to be a “Gentle Space” where people could come and know in advance that they weren’t going to read anything that could ruin a good mood. Screw it. This blog is as much for me as it is for everyone else, and sometimes, moms need to swear. This is another way in which I’ve changed in the last year; I recognize that now.

Anyway…not what I’d envisioned myself thinking. No, during pregnancy (when my brain was filled with fluffy bunnies and butterflies and all the other sorts of gooey, lovey things that a preggo brain, hopped up on preggo hormones, is filled with), I envisioned myself locking eyes with my newborn and falling deeply, perfectly in love. I imagined I’d immediately feel a sense of “motherishness,” and that I’d, from that moment on, be transformed (in ways more profound than the integrity of my lady parts). I imagined I’d be willing to die for my baby. You know, like that Maureen Hawkins quote goes: “…before you were born, I loved you. Before you were an hour old, I would give my life for you.”

Bullshit. That did not happen for me. Did it happen for you? That’s nice. No, really. I’m happy for you. But it doesn’t make you a better mother than me. Here’s the thing, though…at the time, I thought it did.

I thought, lying there in my hospital bed, holding my newborn W, that there was something wrong with me, because I couldn’t honestly say that I LOVED her, or that I’d DIE for her. Sure, I felt strong and instinctive things toward her. I cried harder than she when they did that PKU heel-stick thing. I wanted to punch the nurse who (I felt) took an excessive amount of blood for her bilirubin re-test. But love? How could I LOVE someone I didn’t know? How could I LOVE someone I’d only just met? How could I LOVE someone who, up until hours ago, had been nothing but an idea, an image on the sonogram, an occasional squirming sensation in my belly.

I realize there are those mothers for whom love comes strong and early. Who truly do love their babies before they’re born. I don’t doubt that. I just wish I hadn’t expected to be one of them. I wish I’d known then what I know now, which is that love comes to some like a hurricane, fast and furious. Forceful, and certain. For some, love blows open the doors to the heart, and storms in. For others, love creeps on silent feet, curls into a corner of the heart, and settles down. It’s not as dramatic, but it’s just as real.

I wondered many times, in those first weeks, whether there was something missing in me. I wondered whether I was “meant” to be a mother. It felt so hard. She wouldn’t sleep unless she was in my arms. She cried All. The. Time. I fumbled through diaper changes, needed step-by-step pictogram instructions to swaddle her, and worried her bobbly head would fall off if I didn’t hold it just so. She couldn’t latch, so we had to use a nipple shield to nurse. My breasts — which had been, shall we say, “fun size” — swelled to beyond Playboy proportions. I looked like a badly drawn pornographic cartoon character. I didn’t recognize myself. I didn’t recognize my life. I felt like someone had made a terrible mistake, trusting me — ME! What were you thinking!! — with this beautiful, helpless human.

Somehow, slowly, things changed. She and I got to know each other. Nursing became easier (though sleep never has, but we’ll get there). My arms learned to cradle her, and my hands learned to diaper her. The muscle memories of these actions became so ingrained that I could perform them in my sleep. I grew accustomed to my new body, and came to appreciate what it could do. Also, at some point — and looking back, I don’t even know when, exactly — I fell in love. Love crept into my heart on silent paws, and now it fills me.

I’ve also realized that “becoming a mother” isn’t something that happens one night on a beach with a six-pack of beer, nor is it something that happens in a delivery room. It happens day-by-day, month-by-month, even year-by-year. Because yes, I’m good at changing diapers now, and I can tell the difference between a “hungry” whine and a “tired” whine, but I am as clueless about the year ahead of me — the first year of her toddlerhood — as I was about the year of her infancy. I’m FANTASTIC at mothering an infant now. Too bad for me, I don’t have one anymore! So off I go to keep becoming a mother.

But here’s the thing, and this makes all the difference. Back then, in the delivery room, I had the expectation that I should “become a mother” instantaneously. That I should feel love right away, have an instinctive sense of what to do. And I judged myself harshly when things didn’t happen that way. Now? I’m perfectly accepting of my cluelessness. I know I’ll screw up, and go to bed at night thinking, “Tomorrow, I’ll do better.” But I also know I’ll figure out how to mother a toddler eventually. Heck, I know I’ll become FANTASTIC at it. Eventually. Like, by the time she’s ready for preschool.


How did your first year of motherhood change you?



My Birthday

So, rather than trying to write a single, coherent PhPh post today, I’ve got a bunch of stuff rattling around in my brain and figured I’d share it in a series of shorts, in no particular order.

1. It’s my birthday today. I’m 34 29. Yesterday, I had an appointment with the eye doctor for an annual checkup (I wear contacts). Word to the wise: never schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional the week of your birthday (unless you’re pregnant and are hoping to go into labor, which is what I was doing on my birthday last year). Why? Because healthcare professionals have a nasty habit of telling you things that translate to you’re getting older. Which unless you’re under 21, isn’t what you want to hear. For instance, yesterday I got to hear you have presbyopia, which is optometrist-speak for you need {an expensive pair of really cute} glasses on top of your contact lenses so you can see when you read and use the computer. Ok, in fairness, he didn’t say the “expensive and cute” part, but that’s what I chose to hear. That was my aging-eyes consolation prize. I got to pick out my expensive-and-cute frames while W had an I’m-almost-one-going-on-terrible-two tantrum in the frame store. Whadaya think…how’d I do?

2. On a related note, I offered W to a woman at the frame shop. I had finally stopped the tantruming by letting W push her stroller around the store (yes, I have become the annoying mom with the child that pushes her stroller around the store, about whom childless people think things like why can’t she control her kid and Jeezus, just leave her at home next time. I was that childless person. It’s karma that I’ve become the annoying mom. Oh, and to the childless people, I AM controlling my kid. There are two options here — because…leave her at home? With WHOM? — and they are a) let her push the stroller around the store, or b) let her scream. I’ve gone with the option that I assume you prefer, but if you’d rather hear her scream, lemme know. Happy to oblige.) Anyway, so while she was pushing her stroller around, a woman who had not been present for the tantruming commented that she was really, really cute. I said, like I was flattered, Oh, you think? She reaffirmed. I said, You want her? And then I laughed, to convince myself that to show her that I was kidding. Anyway, one of the things I’ve learned about motherhood is that it means loving someone more than anything, but occasionally being willing to sell them to gypsies for the right price.

3. Husband baked me a birthday cake last night so that it could cool and set while we slept. It’s chocolate. Yum. Anyway, I was in bed already (because W holds me hostage every night likes me to lie next to her after she goes to sleep), and when he came to bed, he smelled like chocolate. Best. Birthday. Gift. Ever.

4. I’m starting to wonder whether this blog needs to split into two separate ones. The sciency posts are becoming more sciency and less personal/philosophical than they used to be, while the PhPh posts are becoming more personal and less sciency. I’d love some feedback. Should PhPh stay on SquintMom to “soften” it up, or should SquintMom become strictly resources for evidence-based parenting, while I take my snarky, wish-I-could-swear-in-posts-but-don’t-want-to-on-a-semi-professional-blog self off to another URL dedicated to my random thoughts and observations?

5. Happy birthday to me. Looking forward to a big glass of wine, maybe even two, with dinner. Hooray for being not-pregnant!


Science Under The Influence (Of Motherhood)

This week, my husband and I are attending the Science Online conference in North Carolina. It’s a great opportunity to network and to learn about trends in science education (my day job). Because W is still nursing (and because, truth be told, there’s no part of me that’s ready to be away from her at night yet), she came with us. The plan was that my husband and I would take turns attending sessions and watching W, which is perfect…in theory. In reality, I am finding it hard to present myself as a SCIENTIST (…and mother) when I feel more like a MOTHER (…and scientist).

Granted, I wear both hats comfortably at home, and after some initial bumps, I’m now quite good at doing my science writing in 2-minute increments between verses of “Old McDonald.” Those times when I have to interact with others in a professional manner and for a period longer than W’s attention span, I’m at school and W is at home. I think about her, but I can compartmentalize. Having her here, in the conference building, makes things different. I’m fine during sessions while she’s with her father, but when we meet up in the halls between sessions (which is when the most interesting conversations take place and the most networking opportunities present themselves), my attention is definitely pulled in her direction. There’s no doubt I’m doing science under the influence of motherhood.

The complete realization of how “under the influence” I am has come upon me slowly, probably because I’m so used to multitasking (a word that once meant doing several things well at once, and now means desperately trying to accomplish a task one-handed while juggling a diaper bag, a baby, and a cup of Cheerios). Still, the evidence is mounting. In the break room today, I sought out another woman holding a baby, and the conversation was more along the lines of how old is she and is she walking yet than what are your preferred modalities in the undergraduate classroom? Furthermore, I may have sniffed W’s bottom (you know, poop check) mid-sentence while networking with another conference attendee. I say “may have” because the recollection is vague; I’m so used to this commonplace and now-unremarkable action that I didn’t fully register having (allegedly) performed it until afterward.

While being “under the influence” may have come to the forefront of my attention at the conference, I think the truth is that I’m always at least partly influenced by motherhood, because it has changed me so much in such pervasive ways. I’m still me, but compared to the old me, I’m running a little later, look a little less put-together, and need a little more coffee in the morning. In the end, though, I think that doing science under the influence of motherhood is a good thing. I think it makes me, if nothing else, better at my job. Motherhood has taught me the importance of repeating myself over and over again (and in different ways) to promote comprehension. It’s softened my approach and deepened my empathy. Most of all, it’s given me a concrete understanding of and appreciation for the fact that everyone is under the influence of something, be it motherhood, or a job, or simply life itself. We’re all (mothers or not) doing our own version of juggling Cheerios one-handed, and I really get that now.


What are you doing under the influence of motherhood, and how’s that working for you?



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