Parental Advisory

Spirited Toddler Quiz, Pt. 4

You know, it only seems appropriate to post these after you spend a night staring at the ceiling for two hours in the middle of the night wondering why your child won’t let you sleep. Dealing with the midnight moans right now with Ellison. Girl was going last night. We went to a later sleep time in hopes to achieve one long continuous night sleep by keeping her up later. Worked a bit at first, but now she’s contracted the wakeups and then I spend two hours thinking about deadlines, the book of Daniel, retirement, Sun Ra’s impact on Funkadelic, fair trade coffee and how truly fair it is or isn’t, haboobs, Herman Cain, skiing, Theo Epstein (just a for a few seconds) and when I’m due for an oil change among other things. Not me but the Subaru.

Wake up three hours later with a crick in my neck and a nice dark cup of coffee and an Osibisa record. Gonna need it today.

Today’s topic is “perceptiveness.” Writes our author:

Perceptive kids notice the four-leaf clover in the grass; the color, make and model of the car that just passed; the Christmas tree hung on the construction crane; and the ant crawling on the window glass. It seems as though perceptive individuals have antennas out, picking up all of the extraneous information and stimulation around them. As a result it can be very challenging for them to sort out the most important information or to remain focused on their original goal.

Again, we’re going to attempt to objectively assess Ellison’s perceptiveness even though, as a 13-month old, she’s still developing many of these traits literally as we sleep. But in our pursuit for the truth of Ellison’s spirited nature, let’s proceed as best we can. Let’s go to the workbook.

Let’s start at the top: “stays on task and isn’t watching the birds outside of the window” or “notices things most people miss” as being the most perceptive. I’m going to score her a 2 outta 5 on this one. She generally gets locked into something and sticks with it. Now, where I struggle answering this is that it’s sometimes difficult to direct her to do something like, say, stay still for photos because she keeps walking off, but in that case, I see myself as the distraction to her intention which is to stand up, notice where she wants to go and then proceed to walk there. Might not be the task that I want her to stick to, but when she’s destined to go there, she’ll throw up a stiff arm like Heisman to get there. Birds? What birds? The bird would have to knock her over for her to notice it.

How about noticing rainbows in oil spills? I’d say no, although, we haven’t seen many oil spills around town. I will say this, though, last night we went to the park and around the park there were small plastic bottle caps on the ground. Some would be partially buried and others would be hidden amongst some grass. She’d lock in on one from about five or ten feet away and would dig it up using her small little fingers. She’d pick them up, hand them to us and then keep moving. I know it’s not the same as watching rainbows in oil spills, but she sometimes notices stuff that I’d just walk right by. Most of the time, it ends up in her mouth, but that’s just life with a toddler, right? I’m giving her 3 outta 5 here.

Lastly, Ellison’s abilities to follow multiple directions. This one’s tricky. One day, I spent five hours trying to teach her how to change out the bag on a vacuum to no success. Two days ago, I tried to teach her how to simply change the batteries out on her crib aquarium so that she could do it herself. Her look of both amazement and confusion made me realize that she’s not too good at following directions. Only “NO” at this point. She has competency to follow directions of a baby chimp or caveman. “Oven hot!” That’s because she’s only 13 months old. We’re gonna go ahead and defer on this one. Too early to tell here.

So, scoring 5 outta 10 or, to scale, 2.5 out of a possible 5 on perceptiveness. That brings our total score now to 2.91 outta 5 on the SPIRITED SCALE, slightly down from last time where she was at 3.05.

You’ll notice my posts have become even more sporadic and random. That’s life with a toddler. You can’t just lock her in a closet anymore (that’s a joke…a bad one, mind you). I’m working on the top ten realities of life with a toddler maybe for this weekend. One thing’s true though, once she hit her feet, the entire world changed.

And, if Ellison’s not the best dressed girl on the block thanks to Mommy who has an incredible fashion sense.

And like I need a mirror to better accentuate my forehead wrinkles, how about this photo from a couple of weeks ago.Coming soon: Life with a Toddler: The New Norm, Highway to Elle: Traveling with our Baby, and Who Needs Sleep?

 

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Parental Advisory

Spirited Toddler Quiz, Part 3

Woke up this morning to a screaming banshee in Ellison’s room and found it a fitting morning to proceed with our “Spirited Toddler Quiz” series where we look at the characteristics of a “spirited” toddler and see if, in our diagnosis of Ellison, that she is indeed spirited. Today, the trait we’ll be examining is “sensitivity.” Now, I’m a sensitive guy, but it’s more on the level that I sweat profusely when I talk in public places, hear Beethoven’s ninth in the back of my head when I’m watching some nature show where a deer is being chased to the death by a large mountain lion, sometimes carry grudges against baseball players and can’t finish a wedding toast without sobbing like a two year old. I’m a sensitive guy. I raise my voice and talk with my hands. I believe the children are the future. But is that the “sensitive” we’re talking about here?

Kurcinka writes:

Researchers have observed great differences in how children react to the sights, sounds and smells around them. Some children seem unperturbed by scratchy clothes, loud noises, or funny smells, whereas others are extremely sensitive.

Spirited children are both with a super set of sensors. Althought many other kids can fall asleep in a room full of people, the spirited child stays wide awake taking in every sound and sight. Sleeping in a hotel or at Grandma’s house may be a difficult task. The sheets smell weird and the pillow doesn’t feel right. Sensitive kids also respond to emotions, serving as the family stress gauge. When you feel the worst, they’ll act the worst.

To the sensitive child, every experience is a sensory bombardment. He sees, hears and smells things that others–including his parents and siblings–might miss.

Gotcha. So this has nothing to do with crying at the end of the NCAA tournament montages? Crap. Kinda wish I could get that first paragraph back now.

Sensitivity, as it’s described to us here in the context of a spirited toddler deals much more with sensory. How in tune she is with things around here. Not necessarily those bearing emotional weight or gravity. Food textures, the way a sweater feels, bananas, styrofoam (my nemesis). Let’s take the quiz and see where Ellison falls.

Starting at the top, how well does she sleep through noise, thunderstorms or, in one case, a house alarm going off? I’m going to go ahead and score this one with a “2.” Her wake ups aren’t typically reactive to “sound” as best as we can figure out. She has slept through our frightening and deafening house alarm when Daddy accidentally set it off once. She’s never awoken during a thunderstorm. However, we’ve only had one or two sense she’s been born thanks to El Nina and this suffocating drought. Still, she might wake up to a creak in the floor in the hallway, but I’m saying it’s likely she wasn’t really sleeping if she reacts to that.

How about textures? As we’re figuring out with now wearing shoes more often, she doesn’t seem too affected by having them on her feet. Has adjusted well it seems to the sensation of walking on them. She wears varied pieces of clothing with very little resistance. Not a big fan of hats, but that’s more about visibility, methinks. I’m gonna score this one as a “1.”

How about smells? If my two ends of the scale are “isn’t bothered” and “gags easily,” I’m gonna go with “isn’t bothered.” I haven’t once seen this girl gag and given the evil that is hiding in the Diaper Genie right now, I’d say that smells aren’t much of an issue for her. Her father, however, sometimes dry heaves in the backyard still. If I come in looking like I’ve been crying, I’ve been scooping up the backyard. Score it a “1.”

That brings us to, ah, the “picky eater” assessment. My lovely wife will tell you: she’s the pickiest eater out there. Actually, her brother might have her beat. Burgers come with lettuce and cheese only. Mexican food is largely out of the question. Salsa has to be mild and soupy. She’s doing a lot better with Ellison around attempting to eat a new vegetable every week. I commend her on that. I, however, will eat anything so long as it’s cooked right. Ellison definitely takes more after her daddy in that regard. She eats with very little discretion. There are a few things that get rejected as she just simply pushes it out with her tongue, but I’d say that she’s 85-90% effective garbage disposal. We just switched to soy milk and she drinks it like a fish. No issues. I’m gonna score this one a “2.”

Now, how aware is Ellison of her family’s stress level? This one’s tricky. It’s a “chicken/egg” equation for me. Am I stressed because of how she’s acting or is she acting this way because I’m stressed? I do find correlations between how she acts, though, and how I feel. I’m not positive it’s her sensitivity or intuition or just Daddy reading too far into things again. We’ll shoot middle of the scale on this one with a “3.”

Lastly, how concerned is the kiddo with “how things feel” overall? I’d say her overall temperament in this category is fairly low on the scale. Air temperature, West Texas wind gusts, Daddy blowing in her ear, cold tile floors, grass, water, new car seats, car seat straps or mushed apples and pears don’t really trigger much for her. She can sleep with the fan on or off. Door open or closed. She’s slept through house alarms, barking dogs, blazing funk, gunfire (kidding). I’m gonna score her overall as a “2.”

So if we tally up the score on sensitivity, our average is 1.83. Fairly low. What this didn’t really account for is when she falls sometimes or if you put her down, she comes unraveled and starts screaming for minutes sometimes. When she’s away from Mommy, she’s sometimes on a hair trigger. But given the outline provided, we’re scoring her a 1.83. And if you’re scoring at home, that brings our overall average to 9.16 outta 15 or an average scale score of 3.05…just past midway. Not overwhelming evidence of being “spirited,” but still a valid argument.

I’m gonna go cry now while watching the SPCA Sarah McLachlan TV spots. Leave me alone.

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Parental Advisory

The Spirited Toddler Quiz, Part 2

In our look at spirited toddlers and answering the question of is Ellison spirited or just eccentric, we come to the second characteristic of most spirited toddlers…persistence. If there’s one thing about Ellison, she’s persistent, but how much more than any average toddler. Again, the goal here is to take an honest swipe at Ellison’s behavior and assess whether or not she’s clinically spirited (which there’s no such thing as “clinically” spirited because it’s not a clinical condition, but recognizing how you’re child’s different from others will help you develop good practices in teaching, correcting and loving this spirited child). Writes our author Mary Sheedy Kurcinka:

Persistent kids are committed to their tasks. If they want a cookie, they’ll keep coming back until they get one. They are goal-oriented, unwilling to give up easily. Many parents of spirited children are baffled by the fact that spirited children can be both persistent and perceptive. They wonder how spirited kids can forget two directions from their parents, yet remember the Kentucky Fried Chicken stand fifty miles back and insist on going there. They answer is simple. Spirited kids are persistent when they are motivated and personally interest in the idea or activity. If it’s their idea, they won’t let go of it. If it’s yours, they are much more interested in what else is going on in the world around them. They world needs people who are persistent, but as their parent you can expect to expend more energy and skill to win cooperation.

Bullheaded, stubborn, relentless. It’s a trait that can be especially irritating for a new parent. Long hours staring at yourself in the mirror trying to amp yourself up for another quarrel with your little one. Sleepless nights wondering why she hates you. Beating yourself up because this little baby who has only been on this green earth for eleven months doesn’t understand language and won’t stop climbing the screen on the fireplace. Asking what constitutes “abusive language” and have you crossed that line in correcting your persistent daughter? Look, when it’s the nature of child…if she’s truly spirited…the answers become much clearer. But first, let’s determine Ellison’s level of persistence.

Looking at these scenarios that help illustrate the persistence of a child or toddler, she certainly leans closer to the right hand side on the first scenario. I’ll give her a 4 outta 5 on the first one. Once she sees something she wants, determines where she wants to go or identifies a target, she’s gonna have it and won’t be denied access. This has proven to be especially challenging as she becomes a walker because she’s mere steps away from getting what she wants. She can scale walls, pull up on tables, turn things over, knock things down. When Ellison wants something she’s gonna get it. Why not a 5? Only because she can often be diverted or distracted by something else which disproves any “locks in” characteristic. When Tucker locks in, there’s gonna be blood. Ellison can be reasoned with. Secondly, the crying. We’re gonna give her a 3 on the duration of her crying. Lately, she can be pacified in about ten minutes or so. Sometimes we have bouts that last a longer, but nothing close to an hour. It feels like an hour sometimes because it’s in the middle of the night, but almost always they’re ended under a half hour…usually less than ten minutes. The last scenario deals with the acceptance of “no.” I’m proud to say that Ellison is very responsive to “no.” Our house rule on the word “no” is that it’s used sparingly and authoritatively. It’s a loud and succinct NO! not the machine gun “nananananananana!” or “eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh!” “No!” is unmistakeable. Brief. Like a quick explosive. Sometimes a little frightening to a toddler. But she responds very well when you speak her language. Don’t talk to her like a caveman and she will cease in most cases. She might go back to doing what she was doing later, but you can break the immediate behavior with “no” most of the time. I’m going to give her a 3 outta 5 for the reason that she sometimes will break only as long as you’re looking and then she’ll go back to doing what she was doing as soon as you’re not looking.

Altogether, we’re gonna give Ellison a 3.33 rating on persistence. More persistent than an average child, but only slightly. I told my lovely wife that I was scoring her 3.33 outta 5 and she gave me the same look that I’d expect if I told her that discovered a third arm growing from the middle of my back and the hand had seven fingers. You’d know the look if you saw it.

This brings our score to 7.33 outta 10 total. If you’re tired of me using the word “outta” already, let me know. It’s a word in my world. And the Mac’s dictionary also recognizes it:

outta |ˈoutə| (also outa)prepositionan informal contraction of “out of,” used in representing colloquial speech : we’d better get outta here.

On that note, I’d better get outta here. The kiddo’s waking up.

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Parental Advisory

The Spirited Toddler Quiz, Part 1

“Spirited”…formerly “difficult” or “strong-willed”…whatever you choose to call it, it’s occurs in about 10% of all children and, sometimes, it’s difficult to identify it because, if you’re like me, you thought all babies and toddlers were like that. Writes Mary Sheedy Kurcinka in Raising Your Spirited Child:

The word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is more. They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive and uncomfortable with change than all other children. All children possess these characteristics, but spirited kids possess them with a depth and range not available to other children. Spirited kids are the Super Ball in a room full of rubber balls. Other kids bounce three feet off the ground. Ever bounce for a spirited child hits the ceiling.

I’ve noticed that it’s easy for parents (and, yes, I include myself in the category of “parents”…although not always) to pick and choose how they perceive behaviors. Anything they internally perceive as bad, oddball or not right, their inner-voice of defense goes into apologist mode and says, “Aw, Jeff. All kids are like that.” Conversely, if your kid does something that is good, exceptional or way right, your inner-voice tends to “pedestal” it. You act like it’s something incredible or amazing when, the reality is, it’s probably nothing extraordinary. Both represent ways that parents react to the stimulus of a new baby. I think employing both can be damaging to a kid’s makeup. Your toddler’s floating on a cloud, protected from consequence, criticism and reality. Of course, the opposite can be just as damaging too. If you only accentuate your child’s less favorable characteristics and never recognize good things your child does, can probably disrupt healthy development in the child, blurred concepts of reward and consequence and will most likely lead to a life of crime and deviancy. Okay, I just made up that last part for emphasis.

But being able to honestly assess your child and her characteristics is crucial in diagnosing her as or disproving a “spirited” status. Strip down the characteristics to their bare bones. Offer no apology or praise. It’s a yes or no. Of course, just as I say that, it’s a weighted scale that we’re gonna use. So, for those that live in perpetual grey areas, you’re safe.

The Spirited Toddler Quiz is one using a weighted scale on nine characteristics exhibited by your toddler and, at the end, the range of the sum of those nine individual scores either puts them in the “cool,” “spunky” or “spirited” categories. Or, as I prefer: Fonzarelli, Donald Duck or Sam Kinison. Spirited status is not a death sentence. Realize that the same term in an adult could be considered a positive attribute. It’s just important to determine a name for what you’re dealing with first so you can adjust your reactions to the situation. Education’s key to well-rounded parenting. Either from a book, from others or the old-fashion dive head-first into the blazing inferno…or all three.

So, let’s move onto the first question in the Spirited Toddler Quiz…intensity.

Well, I can tell you this: Ellison has never squeaked during a cry and she has definitely wailed. If you’re a Raising Elle reader, you know this. In fact, I keep monitors at about 15% volume strength simply because you really don’t need them with Ellison. She doesn’t have a low volume so amplifying her scream is downright deafening. In houses without carpet, she’s pretty much her own monitor. Secondly, are we ever surprised when she gets upset? Not really. We’ve come to know what’s gonna set her off. The other day, I was trying to get something away from her that she wasn’t supposed to have and my lovely wife warned me, “Better give her something else first.” Mommy knew. Sure enough, I snag it from her hands and I’m looking down the barrel of a colossal phantom tantrum. Then, five seconds later, she laughs at me, smiles and walks away like nothing ever happened. Guess I would call that a “living staircase of emotion.” Third, reactions are either mild or deep and powerful. I’m gonna go slightly above average on this one. She has mild reactions in her arsenal. Not everything is a karate chop to the throat. Which leads us here to whether or not she simply smiles when happy of shouts with glee. She’s definitely more apt to show happiness or approval though vocalizing. Smiles are usually accessorized with laughter or, my personal favorite, “ah-ha!” Lastly, does she usually work through a problem without becoming frustrated or is the easily frustrated. I’m gonna say that she’s not easily frustrated. We were noticing when she was walking early with the walking assistant that when she’d run into the wall, she’d back it up, navigate it into another direction and then barrel along on her way. She’s really good at playing things like “hide the toy” or “where’s daddy.” When we give her simple challenges, she usually takes them on with exuberance. I’m gonna fall on the lower end of that scale.

No doubt, our first year could definitely be considered intense, but after we lift the veil of colic and RSV, what’s is Ellison’s intensity overall? I’m calculating it here as an overall rating of 4 outta 5.

Kurcinka writes, “Spirited children experience every emotion and sensation deeply and powerfully. Their hearts pound, the adrenaline flows through their bodies. There is actually a physical reaction that occurs more strongly in their bodies than in less intense individuals. They are not loud because they know it irritates people; they are loud because they really feel that much excitement, pain or whatever the motion or sensation might be. Their intensity is real. It is their first and most natural reaction. If you have circled a 4 or a 5, you can predict that you child will be easily excited, frustrated or emoitional. When you know your child is intense, you can expect a strong reaction and develop a plan to help your child express her reaction appropriately to diffuse it.”

Next time, we’ll be looking at persistence. It’s 6:15am and I hear her in the other room waking up…typical Ellison style…wailing. Daddy making the donuts on a Saturday morning.

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Parental Advisory

Parental Advisory: Becoming Videographer Dad

One reality that you’ll have to deal with as a father (good job…completely alienate female readership in the first sentence…ladies, you might find yourself in this role, so read up) is that, once that baby becomes mobile and starts doing cooler things than sleeping, crying and farting noises (see first month), your new duty in addition to your others, is A/V.

If you don’t have a filming device (called a camcorder or video camera), get one. It doesn’t have to be the fanciest, but make sure it’s a little smaller than this.

Also, keep it digi. The revolution is taking over and anything you put on tape will inevitably have to be transferred. Might as well go ahead and start out digitally so look for a camcorder that doesn’t rely on tapes and analog storage.

The reason why I suggest going digital is simple and is my first piece of advice as your new family’s cameraman and that is this:

TAKE TONS OF VIDEO

You never want to be short on footage. I know some things might seem stupid to video at first, but you never know when you’re gonna capture gold. Sorting, copying and deleting those videos that you know you’ll never need is so much easier with digital files. But take tons of footage. You might think you’re just filming her playing with her toys until one day she says “mama” for the first time or you just thought she was taking the same route around the ottoman and then she freaking stands on her own for the first time. It doesn’t have to be rolling all the time, but have it nearby. She’s at an age right now where it won’t embarrass the crap out of her. In fact, if she’s anything like Ellison, she actually turns on for the camera. You’re gonna be “that guy,” no doubt. Ask my lovely mother who we’ve termed “Nanarazzi” because of her rabid pursuit of the perfect shot. She’s aggressive and persistent, but it just means you have to work less. Nana always gets her shot and we love her for it. She’s a proud grandmother and a big game hunter. She doesn’t sleep until she gets that shot. You don’t get a second chance to get those shots with a growing baby so make sure you get them while you can.

Love you, mom.

MAKE YOUR VIDEOS SHORT

Quantity is the name of the game. Don’t take fifteen minute videos. They can hardly be edited. Stick to short minute-and-a-half videos. It makes it a little more difficult to sort through once they’re on your PC, but better than sifting through a fifteen minute video looking for that one second of usable video. You’re not in the long-form documentary division. Know when to kill the shot and cut it off. For Ellison in the early going, the easiest queue to shut down the shot was when she tore off into a colicky fit, basically ruining any footage after that point. When she started throwing punches, you turned off the camera. Even now I regret not letting it roll during one of those tantrums just so you would believe how bad it was. Like documenting a pit bull attack or five cops beating a man senseless with nightsticks, some things you just have to film for the purpose of documenting it. But I can’t imagine my lovely wife’s reaction with Ellison screaming in her arms in the middle of a thirty-minute round of colic when I come in the room with the video camera. She would’ve whooped my ass. Like, seriously.

WATCH THE NARRATION

The best footage is the silent film, that is, the footage that doesn’t have you or a co-pilot telling the audience at home what your baby’s doing. It took some getting used to, but I realized that I’m not as funny as I thought I was when I listened to myself in the hours of video footage of Ellison. Don’t hum, don’t whisper, don’t sing or mumble. Just shut up and shoot. It’ll be hard at first because you’re compelled to describe everything the audience is seeing, but that’s the power of video. It’s not a radio broadcast. We don’t need the play-by-play. When you practice silence too, it means you’re less likely to ruin a shot when you stub a toe on the couch while chasing a crawling baby and almost belch out a four-letter obscenity over the footage. Silence. Observe it when the video’s rolling. I’ve also discovered that my voice on video is the same as it is on phone messages. I sound like a total doofus. Someone should’ve told me I sound like such a moron when I talk.

STEADY AS SHE GOES

If you’re new to the game, you will learn quickly that even the slightest movements with a small camera later to be played back on a wall-sized flatscreen will generate the most nauseating effect on your audience. Hold that thing steady. Learn how to perch your hand on something to level your shot and frame your subject. Going freehand allows for fluid movement through a household setting, but is usually the most jarring and dizzying experience on playback. Learn how to hover and move like a spirit through the living room. Walk lightly. Don’t jump. Glide. Smooth movements. You don’t want ten hours of baby footage that looks like you were in the process of getting mauled by a lion protecting her cubs. Learn how to go from your feet to your belly and back to your feet smoothly. This move comes is crazy handy as videographer. If you perfect this, you’ve inherited the keys to the kingdom.

KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR VIEWFINDER

The viewfinder is your friend. You don’t want to live in the viewfinder when you’re filming because you gotta watch your step as you navigate across challenging terrain, but when you’re eyes venture away from the viewfinder is when you often times will find yourself with two minutes of carpet. Aim high and watch the viewfinder. You can tell on playback who uses the viewfinder and “wings it.” You have to live somewhere in a toggle between the viewfinder and looking over the top of the camera.

USING YOUR FREEHAND

As a dad, you’re probably getting used to never having a free hand. One’s holding the baby while your other is finding your keys. One’s holding the baby while your other is mixing a bottle. When filming, one is videoing while the other is causing a distraction. One is videoing while the other is moving a beagle out of the shot. One is videoing while the other prying something from your baby’s mouth that she found on the floor and is now about to swallow. The great thing about today’s camcorders is that they can be operated with one hand whereas the old ones required two hands and a shoulder. Remember your freehand and use it often. The better you can use that freehand while shooting, the better your output.

GET DOWN ON IT

I’ll be the first to tell you that somedays, you’re just too tired to get in there with the videocamera. You just rather sit on the couch and take shots of the top of your baby’s head. I’m hear to tell you that you log more useless footage this way more than any other. Your best shot is when you get level with your baby. The hardest angle for a baby who has just learned how to sit upright is to then crank her head back and look up at her six-foot daddy. Don’t strain that poor baby’s neck and head. Get on your belly and get the ground-level shot. It’s easier on her and she’ll be more active. Plus, when you’re filming from your feet down to the floor, it has this weird predatorial POV like your stalking her.

Happy filming, fellas. Again, make sure you’re taking tons of footage. Right now, I’m cutting together a video for Ellison’s first birthday and there’s something to be said for having enough video to cut it down and put together an hour of gold. Admittedly, not all of it is gold, but there’s enough to keep an audience entertained. By the way, if you’re wondering why I haven’t been posting as often lately, that’s one reason. Just one reason. I still love you. I do.

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Parental Advisory

Parental Advisory: The Babies R Us Gift Registry

Here you are…new parents wandering through the aisles of Babies R Us with scanner in hand, hitting up every little colorful piece of plastic or rubber for your new baby to play with once she begins crawling around the house with “velcro hands” where she latches onto every little fleck, speck or granule. Sure, it’s important to have something occupy the baby…safe objects, things she can’t swallow and choke on, things not covered in layers of tasty lead-based paint. I’m here to tell you, new parents, don’t be surprised if every single toy you registered for ends up in a trunk in the attic or a “donate” box in the back of your car before your baby gets out her first bah bah or mah mah.

There’s a island the size of Connecticut somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean comprised entirely of unwanted and discarded baby toys and, meanwhile, these companies make tonnage manufacturing these little trinkets and squeakers.

Ellison’s favorite toys, as she turns over her ninth month, are her daddy’s car keys, an eight-ounce bottle with under an ounce of unconsumed formula in it, a coaster, a water bottle with a couple of pebbles in it and her daddy’s lanyard and work ID. Under constant supervision, the keys and the lanyard are permissible substitutions for real baby toys. The others are weird, but reasonably cheap toys that serve dual-purposes. All of which cost almost nothing. Every favorite toy in Ellison’s toy basket either came from within the house or from the second hand baby store.

The Babies R Us gift registry, I’m here to tell you, is a great tool for building an assortment of practical baby products from bottles to nipples, bibs to burping clothes (a hand towel will suffice), and cribs to jumpers. But registering for toys when, in the end, all it takes is an empty roll of packing tape and an old remote control (without batteries) to keep that kid entertained for days, hell, months at a time, is a futile task. Do not register for toys.

Plush will suffice early. As she gets older, introduce a few toys, possibly an egg yolk strainer, a plastic spatula or a turkey baster. If you absolutely have to buy something with a smiley face on it, go to Once Upon a Child or some other used baby store and buy some cheap dollar-fiddy plastic toy. You are not a bad parent because the baby’s toys didn’t come from Target or Babies R Us.

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Parental Advisory

Parental Advisory: Going Dental

I’m awake. Been awake since 4:30 this morning. It’s like the second coming of colic. Screaming baby. Anguish. Violent outbursts. Superhuman strength. That’s right, baby. Teething. Stage three teething. One of the wonders of Google is, if you want any base-level idea about a subject, just do a Google image search and it’ll pretty much tell you the story. Search the word “teething” in Google and this is what it looks like. Looks about as fun as roof work.

Wanna blow five minutes, search the word “weird” in Google image search.

The whole teething thing freaks me out still. As her teeth drop in, though, I’m even more weirded out. Her gums are swollen. She’s in excruciating pain. Her cries hit Mariah notes. Her shrills can cause you to drop to your knees and black out temporarily. She can go from sweetheart to velociraptor in a matter of seconds. Every arriving teeth is another painful chapter in the book of pain.

What I love about researching teething is that there’s really no explicit explanation of why teething is painful except that it’s when your baby’s teeth sequentially break through their gums. What? You wanna know why that causes pain too? Their freaking teeth are slicing through the skin in their mouth one unbearable mini-millimeter at a time over and over and over again 16 times. If you want a testimony to the toughness of your baby, here it is.

Teething is marked by the following complications.

drooling: Baby turns into a drool factory. It ends up everywhere. Down her face. On her clothes. On your clothes. The constant drooling, if not wiped off her face occasionally, can cause a rash on her face so make sure you’re armed with a dry towel or rag to keep her face as dry as possible. The drool can (and likely will) also travel down into her belly. This is when the real fun begins. Diarrhea and, then, the resulting diaper rash can result from the increased saliva levels in the belly. I discovered a new consistency the other day that I refer to as the “tuna melt.” Ayo. And the diaper rash took over. A little advice for you here: go cop a container of corona cream. You’ll find it in the horse treatment section because it’s an ointment that’s typically used on equines. Yep. Don’t worry. Personal testimony. It works like crazy. Mainly because it’s 30% lanolin. Only side effect is something known as “hoofing” which is when hooves begin to sequentially break through the baby’s hands and feet. Don’t worry. It doesn’t last but a couple of days.

The drooling (by the way, that last part was a joke…you never know who’s reading this) is the first domino to fall in the sequence of hellish complications from teething. This gastrointestinal discomfort caused by saliva in the belly can lead to a lack of appetite.

lack of appetite: Great. Just when the baby needs fluids because of the diarrhea (which causes dehydration), the baby doesn’t want to eat. Dehydration then can cause a number of even more dire issues. Stay on top of the bottles. Fluids are important…crucial…at this juncture. Examine those wet diapers for weight. Stay on top of it.

gum swelling: Ellison’s gums right now look like they’re about to explode with teeth. Locked and loaded. There’re countless products on the market to help with this discomfort. Some of which can be frozen or chilled so that the baby can ice their gums while chewing.

biting behavior: Get ready because she’ll put practically everything in her mouth to test it’s chewability. I could hand her a crowbar at this point and she’d likely chew on it for about five minutes before ultimately dropping it because of it’s weight. We’ve discussed Sophie the giraffe. My lovely wife also picked up some sort of raspberry pacifier the other day which is purely a chewing/teething piece of tire for the baby to work on. She’s been loving on it for the last couple of days.

irritability or fussiness: Or violence against members of the household. Ellison’s favorite move is the crocodile “death roll” where her entire body begins to spin in your lap like she’s trying to escape the pain. Watch for the hook. That’s all I’m saying.

sleeping problems: And you thought you were done with the sleeping problems. The patterns are disrupted once again. Ellison’s nights usually include one or two wake ups in the middle of the night. You’ll hear a shrill from the nursery, maybe a scream and then she’s back to sleep after a little baby Tylenol and rocking.

And I got a “just wait” from my cubemate the other day when he said, “Just wait until the molars.” Great. Thanks. So here’s the chart. Here’s the gauntlet that you get pushed through. We’re on teeth number three and four at this point. It’s a long road…there’s no turning back.

I guess if we can say anything of Ellison’s teeth is that they’re right on time. Two have already arrived and the second set (the central incisors) are on their way right now and we just turned over nine months old.

Ellison’s giving me a few warning shots so let’s wrap this up. Here’s your shopping list:

  • Baby Tylenol…ask your pediatrician for recommended usage
  • Corona Cream…the hoofing comment was a joke
  • tire scrap that you found on the road or other rubber chewing toy
  • a bottle of whiskey…for you…use as necessary and, no, that’s not nightly.
We had been advised to use gels sparingly because it can toughen the gums and make it even more difficult for teeth to push through. I’ll research this claim a little deeper and follow up on that, but there’s tons of gels on the market which help numb the pain to bearable levels and millions have sworn by their effectiveness. Just use caution as you should with any medication on your baby. Overuse or misuse can make matters worse.
The werewolf needs a diaper change. Happy Tuesday.
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