Baby Book Club: 123

Alison Jay’s 123 is a marvel. It’s a counting book, yes, but the illustrations are magical. The more Owen grows the more he can seek and find the numbered treasures lurking on every page.

The story is framed as a dream, beginning with “one little girl sleeping” and ending with the same little girl waking. In between, we count up to ten and back again as the girl dreams of her involvement in familiar fairy tales (“three little pigs”; “four frog princes”; “seven marching dwarfs”). Images from the little girl’s room recur as well – a piggy bank on her windowsill becomes the three little pigs, her stuffed goose toy an avenue into adventure (“two soaring wings”) as well as the goose who lays “nine golden eggs.” Owen was on a goose kick for a while and at that point the story was not about counting but about “goose! goose! goose! no goose [shrug], no goose [shrug], goose!”

In every image, in addition to the main item to count (four royal mattresses), there are several other objects and animals in the same multiple (four deer on a tapestry, four cushions, a four poster bed). These are rich drawings, full of detail and imagination. The girl’s dream is also a journey through these fairytales, which Jay links geographically in the dream landscape. Before we turn the page to the three little pigs, we can see the big bad wolf peeking in their window in the distance. We see a sign to Hamelin Town before we encounter the pied piper and his “eight running rats.”

The journey aspect of the book reminds me of a story told to my sister and me by our live-in neighbour Duffie, when we were small. Duffie and Debbie lived in an apartment attached to our house and since they were good friends of my parents, they parented us a little as well. Duffie was (and likely still is) a phenomenal storyteller. For one tale in particular, Erin and I would rush into his apartment before bedtime and he would pull out the map (that he expanded as the story grew). I can’t remember the details of the story at all, but I do remember the anticipation every night to hear another installment. It was a Tolkienesque story with cottages, trees, mountains, bridges, and strange creatures. Erin and I were adventurers through that world. When the narrative ended (as all stories must), I was deeply saddened, and though Duffie told us others, none took on the weight of memory as that one, in which our adventures spread across a blank sheet of paper.

I wish I still had that map.

Big Brothers

As an only child, Owen doesn’t have to defend himself much. At daycare he has peers but they’re all so well-kept there that I can’t imagine them fighting. I want Owen to learn to assert himself but there hasn’t been much of an opportunity.

Anyway, at the park yesterday, Owen was sharing the park equipment with a little boy who was probably 5 or 6, Prianchu (misspelled?). Owen is not quite two, and a bit slow of movement. He can climb a ladder, but it takes a while, and he sometimes needs encouragement (or help). Prianchu, being so much older, was showing off how fast he could do everything, hurtling over and around Owen, who wasn’t really bothered by it. But I guess I was nervous that he would knock Owen off balance and make him fall. So I hovered, trying to explain to this kid that Owen was little and that he needed to be gentle. Prianchu then took Owen’s hat off his head and ran off with it. This was actually funny, because poor Owen looked distressed and said “oh, oh, chapeau (whimper whimper).” Admonished by his mother, Prianchu brought the hat back. Then took it again and threw it on the ground. Then brought it back. By this point, Owen recognized that it was a game and he took off his own hat and threw it on the ground (and Prianchu went to collect it from him several times). Finally, his mother and I exchanged glances and smiles.

I did feel initially like his mother wasn’t monitoring her son quite enough. I was trying to quell my judgmental side – because I believe that children should be free to play and fight their own battles – but I hover over my son. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. I say to myself that he’s still little and that’s why, but it made me nervous to see this boy play so roughly with mine. Prianchu occasionally overstepped his bounds – he tried to carry Owen around the park (much to Owen’s dismay) and tried to push him up the ladder for the slide – and every time I thought he was going too far, his mother would say something to him – so she was paying attention, though physically, she was on a park bench across the park (did I mention she was also pregnant?) But it also occurred to me that the kind of playing that I was interpreting as rough was exactly the kind of play experienced every day by children with siblings. Prianchu was treating Owen like a little brother – a bit roughly, but kindly. He pushed him on the swings and taught him to climb up the slide, and they said a very friendly goodbye.

Then this morning, I had breakfast with a dear friend and her five-year-old son Jakson, who also acted like a big brother. When Owen toddled over to the escalator, Jakson was the first to run over to him and pull him away. He held Owen’s hand on a walk across the mall. Owen emulated Jakson, too. When Jakson coloured a wooden stir stick with markers, Owen copied him. He knew to model his behavour on the older boy – he could tell Jakson was someone to follow, someone to trust, and that was really nice to see.

Owen is unlikely ever to be a little brother except to friends and acquaintances. Eventually, though, I hope that Owen will be a big brother –  that he will be kind, helpful, protective, and adventurous, setting standards for a smaller person to follow.

The Problem with a Diagnosis

Owen and I both got some strange news this week. He’s had a couple of ear infections (or one that took a while to clear). Anyway, it turns out that the bacteria broke through his eardrum and now there’s fluid behind it. We have to wait to see if it clears on its own. If it doesn’t, we’re supposed to do hearing tests, etc.

This news was hard for me to hear for a number of reasons, but perhaps especially since yesterday, I’d been to the doctor and had (finally) been diagnosed with moderate hearing loss, not enough to qualify for a government-paid hearing aid, but enough, said the doctor, to benefit from one. I was surprised to hear that – not that I didn’t know I had hearing loss – that much was pretty obvious. Duncan gets frustrated with me all the time for pretending I heard something after I’ve already asked him to repeat it (I try only to ask once). I can’t hear crickets in the daytime. I can’t hear electronic beeps. According to the doctor, I can’t hear a pin drop. I’ve not tried yet, but I’ll take his word for it. I can’t hear students if they speak softly or if I’m not paying direct attention. I can’t always tell who spoke. It’s a bit stressful, I suppose, but I’ve managed (“quite well,” said the doctor). Um, yeah. So now I know that, officially, I have a problem, but that doesn’t make me hear any differently. On the contrary, I have been marvelling over how much I can hear. The car engine, the radio, birds singing, the rain, Owen’s sighs and cries, whispers, telephone conversations.

I asked the doctor how likely it was that I had passed along this “impairment” to my son – I got it from my mother, whose hearing loss is (and has long been) more severe than mine, but in the same pattern. My mother can’t hear the sibilant sounds (s, th, f – those whispers in everyday speech), so she pieces together words, supplying their missing pieces from her (sometimes quite inventive) mind.

Owen is certainly not noticeably hearing impaired. He’s learning to speak just fine and as far as I can tell he hears everything around him. But, of course, I’m so worried that he has what I have and that this ear infection will take more away from him. Because if he has the same hearing I have, part of me thinks, so what? – he’ll manage (quite) well. But I’d hate for him to struggle to hear any more than that. The doctor was gruff and brief and I didn’t think to ask the right questions (or any questions). I guess I’ll take Owen out of swimming (recommended last time he had an ear infection) and try to keep that ear dry. There’s a 90% chance this will resolve itself, he said – but I’d like that number a lot higher.

As we were leaving, the doctor got Owen to smile. And he says to me: “You know he has a little seventh nerve palsy.”

“What?” I said.

“A seventh nerve palsy. It’s a weak nerve on one side of the face.”

“Oh,” I said (thinking: we just called that a crooked smile. Did we need a diagnosis?)

“He won’t ever be a politician like Chrétien,” he said.

And we were off. I’m sorry. I’m sure he was trying to be helpful. But am I supposed to be worried about it? Owen’s smile has always been a little lopsided. I think it’s cute. My smile is a bit crooked too (though not as much as his). I worried a little that it would look strange when he got older, but it’s not that noticeable unless he really all-out grin or opens his mouth super-wide.

I googled it, of course, to be greeted with all kinds of frightening pictures. It can happen in infants, apparently, usually as a result of birth trauma. Owen’s birth wasn’t especially traumatic, but he did have the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and arm, so I suppose that could have affected something. And I did get an epidural – one of the other potential causes. I took him for an operation when he was 8 days old because he was tongue tied and it hurt me to breastfeed. Who knows.

Do you see what this diagnosis did? It took my adorable little boy and stamped him with a flaw. It turned his little crooked smile into a problem. It ratcheted up my guilt another notch. I needed to get this out of my system. I’ll file it away and ask Owen’s pediatrician about it when we visit in September. But I am a bit haunted by our trips to our doctors, who seem to have created conditions simply by naming them.

Lapses

This morning, Owen was hungry. Big surprise. I think Owen’s been hungry every morning of his life. When he was born he was so ravenous it was as if I’d been starving him in the womb – and I wasn’t, honest! He weighed 7 pounds 15 ounces! He’s been getting extra big snacks at daycare because I mentioned that the moment we get home he makes a bee-line for the kitchen for a “sack! sack! cheese! juice! de l’eau! cackis!” and I no longer know if it’s genuine hunger or just a habit. He’s a powerful little creature, too, so it’s clear we’re not starving him.

Anyway, this morning, after wolfing down a banana, some milk, and some juice, he started pointing in the general direction of the cupboard and the fridge, saying something that sounded like “chockit.” We assumed that he wanted to eat “nunny chockit” (chocolate bunny), but we’re all out (Easter was a month ago, after all) and anyway, no chocolate for breakfast. We eventually let him out of his high chair and he walked over to the fridge. Just as we were going to tell him to stay out of the fridge, our little boy pointed to the crayons and paper ON TOP of the fridge. Owen wanted to colour! Who knows what word he was saying that sounded like chocolate (maybe he meant brown? He has a book in which the colour brown is associated with a chocolate smear). In any case, after the colouring supplies came out, he was a happy camper. So (note to self) he’s not always trying to get food.

In all the excitement this morning, I forgot to give Owen his medicine for the ear infection. Second dose missed in 8 days. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem, but I wish I was someone who wouldn’t forget things like this. I don’t want to contribute to antibiotic resistant diseases and stuff like that. Bad self.

The lesson: try harder. On the other hand, I need to calm down. I think my heart has been racing for the past 2 months. I get stressed because I need to try harder to be a more effective (and calmer) parent. I just don’t know how to get to that happy place – and trying harder to get there seems counterproductive.

Baby Book Club: Mouse Tales

Mouse Tales, by Arnold Lobel (who also wrote the Frog and Toad series), is one of the books from my childhood that I sought out (a bit desperately) mid-way through my twenties and bought for myself.

It’s a collection of short stories, delightfully illustrated and good for beginning readers. The stories’ frame is a father telling his young mouse children a series of short tales before they go to sleep. There’s a story about a mouse who takes a long bath and floods his entire town. There’s another one about a mouse who throws pennies into a wishing well only to be met with an “ouch” from the well, who is sensitive. There’s one about a tall mouse and a short mouse that reminds me of my walks with Owen lately, where he is fixated on every ant and pebble and flofleur (he’s short mouse) and I am looking longingly at our destination – the park, or home (I’m tall mouse). I am more adult-like and abstracted than the tall mouse in the story, but I do (like tall mouse) lift Owen up from time to time, so he can smell the apple blossoms or see the sunset.

My favourite story, and the reason I sought the book a decade ago, is called “The Journey.” It’s about a mouse who sets off to visit his mother. It’s a really long way, so in the process the mouse’s car breaks down, then his boots, his sneakers, and finally his feet (there’s more than this, but you get the idea). Conveniently, at the side of the road, there is always a mouse selling a mode of transportation. The last mouse is selling feet. My favourite part of the story is when the mouse arrives at his mother’s house (with a line across his ankles denoting the new feet), and his mother remarks “what nice new feet you have!”

I love that the story swerves across the line between absurd, macabre, and practical. Of course, the traffic of body parts is terrifying (on that note, a nice grown-up counterpart is Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go), but haven’t we all had days when we wished there was someone by the side of the road selling new feet?

A Good Day

Owen and I had fun today. I skipped yoga because the weather was so nice and took him on a run in the stroller. I felt slow and cumbersome, but I like the stroller because it makes it look like that’s what’s making me so slow and cumbersome – it legitimizes my ineptitude. Anyway, I had my music spliced so that Owen could listen on his earphones too – we got some kiddie earphones that are sound-protected so it won’t hurt little ears. He loves to “dance” so he bopped away. And I gave him a book so he’d be extra occupied. I could look down through the stroller window and comment on the book – kind of a lot going on, but at least I got some exercise in without the whole rigamarole of going to the Y.

On the way home, after several requests to “wa? wa? Owie wa?” I let Owen out so he could walk. He trotted along on the grass through the campus and we examined apple blossoms and lots and lots of flofleurs (dandelions).

When we got home, I showered and then took Owen down to the market where we bought some lunch to eat outside. I asked Owen if he thought food tasted better outside and he said no, but I beg to differ. We stopped at the second-hand bookstore and picked up 3 books for 25¢ each.

Home again, we went in the backyard and read those books under an umbrella… and then… Owen napped. And I napped. For 1.5 hours. Glorious.

Then Duncan took Owen to the grocery store and I read outside (and propped up some perennials).

And after supper, Owen, Duncan and I went for a long walk down by the water and back to the campus again, where we let Owen roam free and kick his fish ball around.

It was glorious.

Bubbles

Finally, the rain stopped.


We have more fun outside.

PS If you’re wondering (you are, right?) where I got my fabulous T-shirt, Duncan made it to promote his history wiki project: Sextant.org – You can go there to learn about and map history  in your neighbourhood and around the world.

Baby Book Club*: The Napping House

There is a house, a napping house

Where everyone is sleeping…

Audrey Wood’s The Napping House, (illustrated by Don Wood), is another one of our favourites, a gift to Owen from his uncle Luke (along with Peepo, profiled here). Like some of the earliest stories for children (think: “This is the House that Jack Built”), this is a cumulative tale that builds itself up in words and pictures, creating a portrait of a cozy (if unstable) naptime. Both author and illustrator depict a literal tower of naptime, with napping people and animals perched on top of one another in decreasing size. The weather outside is summer rain. You can see it teeming down outside; the light is dim and the sheets are warm. You know the kind of day I mean, right? This is the kind of day that would make anyone want to climb into bed and sleep until the sun comes out. This is the kind of book that gives me hope on days like today where the weather forecast calls for rain with relenting periods of drizzle for as far as the forecast can reach. Boo.

Well, I’d like to crawl between the sheets on days like today (and Sunday, and Saturday), but Owen is leery. In the book, I should mention, a Granny climbs into bed and is joined by a child, a dog, a cat, a mouse, and a flea. Owen (his mind on the flea? or God forbid the bedbug) seems to consider naptime a kind of punishment again. It’s not a chance to become human again but an imprisonment. Well, we do place him behind bars, but it’s for his own good, really.

In any case, at the end of the story, after the tower of sleeping creatures has tumbled down (Owen is on to something – that pesky flea really is at the root of the problem), the sun comes out! You can see the rain start to subside out the window, and the flowers become visible, and the last image of the book shows Granny (Nanny) and Child and Dog (ouf) and Cat (chat) and Mouse and Flea, frolicking on the grass.

That day will come. For now, I’ll dream of clean sheets on rainy afternoons and a son who can appreciate the virtue of naptime.

* So, I’ve decided to start a series… Every Tuesday (for a while) I will profile a book we love. They won’t really be reviews, but more like reflections of how the books fit into our lives. If you have any favourites, please share!**

** And also, this is my 100th post. Wow, no?

Tree Kisser

Owen has taken to embracing nature lately – literally. He hugs and kisses trees as we go by (OK, to be fair he kisses telephone poles too, but they used to be trees).

"Mmmmmmmmaaaah!"

Here he is examining a squirrel.

The squirrel in question.

And here’s Owen looking a little tired in the evening sunlight.

A satisfied explorer

xo.

A Sample Conversation

“Happy Mama?”

“Yes, Owen, very happy. Thank you for asking.”

“Happy Nunny?”

“I don’t know. Do you think the bunny is happy?”

“Unh Huh! Happy. Mmmmmah. Happy Baby Cheechos?”

“No! If you take the baby’s Cheerios, he will be sad”

[Side note: Owen walked up to an unattended stroller in the park Sunday and proceeded to take some Cheerios off the snack tray.]

“Waahhh! [mock crying] Baby sa?”

“Yes, the baby will be hungry and sad because he will have no more Cheerios.”

“Uh oh. No mo’ cheechos”

“Should you take the baby’s cheerios?”

“No, no, no, no, no.”

“Right. You wait until we get home and you eat your own Cheerios.”

“Yellow Cheechos? Num Num?”

[Yellow Cheerios are the ones in the yellow box, unlike the alternative, Multigrain Cheerios.]

“That’s right.”

“Happy, Mama?”

“Yes, sweetie. I am very happy when you’re around.”

“Happy Cheechos?”

[And on…]

*** I am putting this here (A) to record the cuteness of Owen’s speech right now and (B) so I can hopefully stop narrating our conversations to every adult I meet (I am sure they don’t care, cute as he is to me). How easy it is to become THAT PARENT, who won’t shut up about her child. I am totally THAT PARENT. Oh well.