Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Dads and Daughters

It really was the most wonderful time of the year. And by that I mean the week between Christmas and New Year when Ford Motor Co. shuts down, forcing all its employees, including my husband to retreat to their homes.

The first few days, I must admit, were a bit odd. Though the loneliness of being at home with two little ones is at times palpable, we have settled into our own routine, and having someone else plop into the middle of it was at first a bit awkward. But once we got over that hurdle it
quickly became clear: love was in the air.

Hey now, this is not that kind of post. Sure, it was great to reconnect with my husband, blah blah blah. We don't get nearly enough quality time together yadda yadda yadda. But this is not about us, not exactly. In fact, it's about my husband and another woman. I have good reason to suspect he's got a thing for a certain gorgeous, dark-haired, blue-eyed babe. She's had her eye on him for months now, but it's taken him a while to come around. I've seen the tell-tale signs: stolen glances, soft giggles from behind closed doors, the sparkle in his eyes. You'd think I'd be jealous but in fact I'm thrilled. Because over the past few weeks I watched my husband start to fall in love with his little girl.

With Baby #1, those loving feelings seemed to come more naturally for my husband. While the arrival of every child is guaranteed to take your breath away, there's just no word to describe the awe that comes with that first special delivery. Everything is so new, so remarkable, so incredibly lovable. Baby's first bath! Baby's first spit up! Baby's first Arbor Day (celebrated of course with a matching bib and onesie)!

It also helped that Baby #1 was a boy, making the bonding process a bit more obvious. With Noah's arrival my husband could see deep into the future, envisioning the two of them tinkering together on the old car in the garage, watching football games on the couch, making armpit noises and other such manly endeavors. And 2.5 years later, it's not difficult for a man to connect with a little creature who is 34 pounds of pure boy. Wrestling! Trains! Boogers!
Then along came a certain sweet baby girl. Sure, my husband loved her from the start in the way all parents love their children. He just didn't seem to know quite what to *do* with her. She was so delicate, so feminine, so soft, this little creature. So different from that solid mass of a brother. Her clothes, aside from being so tiny, were so frilly, so And they came with a whole new world called "accessories." Matching socks, diaper covers, headbands and bows... it's enough to scare any red-blooded man away. And I think it did.

In my husband's defense, the early stages of a baby's life (especially a breastfed baby) don't provide the most accessible opportunities for bonding. Between his work schedule and her seemingly incessant feeding and diaper schedule, he spent the first few months either looking at the back of her head or the bottom of her... well, bottom. And let's be honest- until they hit about the 3-month mark, babies are basically blobs. Lovely, wonderful, magical blobs, but blobs. But then out of the darkness of sleepless nights and explosive diapers comes... a personality! Mix that with a long stretch off work spent at home, add in the magic of the holidays, sprinkle with the world's sweetest giggle and a gurgle that sounds remarkably like
"Da-da," and you've got the recipe for magic.

So I think it's time we make this relationship official. Since this is a topic I know a thing or two about (my own love affair going strong nearly 4 decades later), I'll perform the ceremony.
Do you, sweet baby girl, take this man to be your lifelong hero? Do you promise to keep him wrapped securely around your little finger, to hold his heart in your tiny hands? Do you take him in sickness (including, but not limited to stuffy noses, ear infections, croupy coughs) and in health (and I know his seems great right now, but trust me one day far into the future it may start to fail and it will break your heart but that's when he'll need you more than ever)? Will you obey him most of the time until you're a teenager and even then try to go easy on him because he really does want what's best for you even though you might not see it at the time but eventually you'll come to understand this when you're much, much older?

And you, Daddy... do you promise to love, honor and cherish her even when the drama sets in? Will you take her for richer (which she will make your life) and for poorer (which she will make your wallet)? Do you promise to have and to hold her even when some dumb boy breaks her heart (without actually blaming her for falling for a dumb boy no matter how dumb he clearly is because she needs to figure that part out for herself even though it can take a long time, like potentially years which I'm sure will feel like decades for you)? For as long as you both shall live (which I'm sure will seem like not very long when she stays out past her curfew and you feel like you're going to die of worry)?


You may kiss the girl. Over and over and over again.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Unusual Resolutions for an Unusual New Year

I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around 2010. It sounds like a prescription from the optometrist, or a verse from a song designed to teach kids to count by tens. Backwards. But maybe I'm saying it wrong? Is it "Twenty-Ten" or "Two Thousand Ten?" Or maybe "Two-oh-one-oh?" Just hours into the new year and I'm already confused.

Maybe it's because I don't really want to let go of 2009. The sparkle of the holidays still lingers in our house, and I mean that quite literally because those glitter snowflakes I put up have shed all over basically every flat surface. But I'm still not quite ready to take them down. Though the Christmas tree is beginning to look a bit pathetic, I can't bring myself to separate it from the little boy who races down the stairs each morning and yells "1...2...3!" as I turn on the lights. Christmas 2009 was certainly a memorable one: the first ever for a sweet baby girl who arrived 6 months and 2 days before Santa; the first time a certain 2-year-old boy really understood what was going on. And I, for one, just don't want it to end.

"It will only get better," my been-there, done-that friends say, and I'm sure that's true. Because as wonderful as this past holiday season, and the year as a whole have been, there are definitely areas that could use some improvement. Which is why, like most people, I'm working on a list of New Year's Resolutions. But this year I resolve to not resolve anything involving weight loss or exercise. And let's face it, I will not likely write the Great American Novel in 2010, so I resolve not to resolve to do that either. In fact, in honor of this nonsensical sounding year, I'll think I'll try some non-resolutions.

1. I will change fewer diapers. No, I'm not going to leave my children to sit in filth, but I will allow others to help more when it comes to diaper duty and all the rest. And I suppose it's also time we get going on the Great Potty Training Adventure.

2. I will sit down more. Yes, I know all about the obesity epidemic and the lazy-fication of America. But in my corner of the world, I too often find myself hovering over the table at meal time, slicing grilled cheese sandwiches with one hand, mixing baby purees with the other, eating my own food with.... well, there's the problem. Even prisoners sit down to eat.

3. I will break traditions. At least the ones that no longer work for anyone involved. Like the giant family holiday get-together that takes place too late at night with too much food, too much drink, and too little quality time. "That's the way we've always done it" isn't a good enough reason to continue. New traditions have to start somewhere, and somewhere is now.

4. I will not always focus on the present. I'm pretty sure the moments that seem so incredibly stressful, so draining, so intolerable right now will look and feel very different 10, 20, or 30 years from now. When my son is 12 and is too cool to acknowledge me in public I'm sure I'll long for the days he begged me to sing "Frosty the Snowman" for the 27th time. Staying up all night with a coughing baby girl won't seem so bad when I'm staying up all night waiting for her to come home.

Sure, there are other areas of life that could use some work, but I'm just going to start with these four. I'm hoping that working on what matters most in my life will bring more inner nourishment than any new diet, more strength than any gym membership could provide. I'm still not sure what to call the year, but I pray that 365 days from now I'll be looking back, holding onto each last moment, and just calling it unforgettable.

Mona Shand is a TV and radio news reporter and a contributor to who lives in Brighton.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Christmas Rush

'Twas the morning before Christmas and all through my house, the only sound to be heard was the click of my mouse. The children were sleeping all snug in their beds, but visions of Target kept dancing through my head. What time do they open, how crowded would it be? I need one more package to put under the tree! I threw on a sweatshirt, grabbed the keys to my sleigh, I was headed out the door until a small voice inside yelled "NO WAY!" No more toys, no more food, no more gifts no more bling. The voice said "NO" to the Christmas Eve urge to run out for "just one more thing."

It's a powerful urge, one I'm convinced has genetic links. My mom, a very busy career woman, always did the the bulk of her Christmas shopping on December 24th, closing out the stores and barely beating Santa home. Still mall-weary from the extreme effort, she'd then spend most of Christmas Day in the kitchen, cooking up a feast for the many relatives who poured in. Yes, our tree was piled high with gifts, and yes, our table did runneth over, but even as a child I felt uncomfortable and unhappy with the excess. I craved her presence more than the presents, I was hungry for something that couldn't be baked or sauteed.

The trend continued into my adult years, because let's face it, old habits are tough to change. But one year, they did. Unexpectedly, my mom had major surgery just days before Christmas and all thoughts of presents, wrapping, or food went straight out the wreath-free window. My aunt and cousin flew in from Egypt to be with us, and when we woke on Christmas morning I think it took a while to even remember what day it was. In a last minute decision we dragged the tree up from the basement and rummaged the cupboard for something to eat. The only gift we unwrapped was a project I had been working on for months- finally organizing the scattered, tattered photos from my parents' wedding into an album. We sat around the kitchen table together sipping mint tea, nibbling on whatever we found, pouring over those black-and-white photos from so long ago. I remember my mom looking at my dad with happy tears in her eyes, remembering that day 4 decades ago when their lives became one. I remember my aunt telling stories of the eight siblings whose faces peered back from those pages. You can call it relief from passing through a medical emergency, you can call it the spirit of simplicity. I just call it the best Christmas ever.

Sadly, the lessons of that Christmas were short-lived and faster than you can say "Holiday Excess" we've all returned to our usual ways. Now that I have my own children I understand the irony of Christmas: how the desire to give them the most wonderful holiday can be exactly what prevents us from doing just that. But this year more than ever, I'm also coming to understand that the holidays as we know them will not last forever. No one knows how many more Christmases my babies will be blessed with the gift of four living grandparents. Not even Santa can bring us promises of job security or good health.

So this year (and hopefully many more to come) I'm just saying no to any last minute holiday economic stimulus. The stockings could surely be more stuffed, and there won't be as many cookies to feast on. There are even some last-minute additions to our Christmas gathering who will not find gifts from us under the tree. To them I apologize, but if they truly love us I know they'll understand. There's nothing left on any store shelf that's worth losing time with the ones that I love.

If you need me, don't search the malls or the stores- look no further than the couch. That's where I'll be gazing at my semi-decorated tree with two wide-eyed little elves. I'll do my best from this Christmas Eve on to give them my full attention, time and love. And "just one more thing": Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

PS- Mom, please stop shopping now!