a change of season
8 August 2000
This week marks the end of summer for my little family. Yes, the dog days are still ahead, desert heat and still air, dazed beachgoers, crazed vacationers. But the inexorable march toward the fall TV season has already begun and Dan is back at work.

This hiatus went fast. We didn’t go on a trip but we made the most of the time here. We took six weeks of an eight week swing class. We hosted a poker game, which we’d like to make a monthly -- or at least quarterly -- ritual. Dan started an acting class, started getting into mountain biking, tore a ligament, spent more time hanging out at home than he’d at first intended. We introduced Damian to the aquarium, the zoo, our favorite park for hiking, the ocean, and playgrounds all over town. We ate out far too much or maybe that’s not nearly enough, I’m not sure which. We went to the Hollywood farmer’s market every single Sunday and learned or reacquainted ourselves with the pleasures of Japanese spinach, mizuna, pale Japanese eggplants (great for grilling), intensely ripe Elegant Lady peaches, small plums, watermelon, fresh corn, Gaviota strawberries, golden cherries, edamame, and heirloom tomatoes.

It went too quickly, as vacations do. Now Dan’s back to work and I’m back to being Mom-the-Primary-Care-Provider. Last year, I wrote a comparison between the new season and the one before. Time for another one. It seems a good way to measure the passage of time. Damian time, that is.

What a difference a year makes.

Last season I had to shower at night, while Dan was reading to Damian or after Damian went to bed. Dan didn’t want to wait for me in the morning and I couldn’t leave a one year old alone to wander the house. I always went to bed with my wet hair soaking into my pillow, I always woke up looking like Medusa until I tamed my wild sleep-shaped tresses into a severe ponytail.

This morning Damian found me in the bathroom combing my hair and pulled on my shirt until I followed him. He marched like an impatient soldier, leading me to the living room, specifically, the television. Exclaiming "trains!" with an excited trill, his voice pitched even higher than normal. So, obedient mommy that I am, I slipped "Choo Choo Trains: up close and very personal" into the VCR and left him there to ogle and "ooh" and mimic the whistle sounds. And then I ran the bath water. I think it’s the first time I’ve taken a bath since the night I went into labor. The chug and whistle of the trains on the TV served as an oddly lulling background for my soak in the warm tub on a hazy morning.

Last season, I was so constantly sleep deprived, I got dizzy sitting down. I closed my eyes and the world swam. I felt constantly hung over, constantly fighting to catch up on sleep, precious sleep. And even that was a vast improvement on the year before. Bedtime rituals took an hour, maybe two. Bath, nurse, read, rock, nurse, read, rock. And finally, is he out? Is he really honest-to-god asleep? Miracles do happen.

Last night Damian asked, very insistent, for his bath. First "a bath?" and then when I said yes but didn’t hop to, he said "taking a bath?" So I filled the tub and he tossed in his toys. Dan scrubbed his small, slim body and played silly bathtub games with him. After a half hour, Damian insisted the bath was over. Well, he cried. Still hasn’t ironed out the asking process there. He came in to nurse. I sat him up to pull on his PJs top, he pushed his arms through the sleeves himself. He lay back down and was asleep -- sound asleep -- breath lightly whistling and limbs floppy -- within minutes. And slept eight hours straight.

Miracles do happen. Children do change.

Last season I read Miss Spider’s Tea Party, Go Dog Go, and Jamberry aloud so many times I could recite them word perfect. In my sleep. (Then again, I was half asleep most of the time.)

This morning I read Goodnight Moon, The Story of Ferdinand, and Bears on Wheels, books I’ve read so many times I can recite them by heart. But now Damian can too. He reads along, much of the time, subvocalizing or sometimes saying the words ahead of me. It changes the read completely. And he sits for hours poring over his books, remembering the words like they’re an incantation, a key that will unlock worlds of wonder. And he’s right. They do.

Last season, he just barely began to entertain himself with toy cars and trucks and Legos and blocks. Puzzles bored him, shape sorters frustrated him. Now he disappears into his room for an hour at a time. I peek in and spy on him playing contentedly with his puzzle, acing the shape sorter in no time flat, and running his little trains around the Brio track. The world inside his head has gotten bigger and more complex. And we have so many little cars and trucks, I could open a used car lot for mice.

Last season, I popped Damian into the sling and set off for a jaunt to the bank, the grocery store, or just around the block. Midseason, I probably used the stroller more than the sling.

Now I hardly use the sling at all, and certainly not for a serious outing. The kid’s over 25 pounds. My back finally said "enough!" and went on a long overdue strike. Unfortunately, Damian went on strike too, from the confines of a stroller ride where I’m in charge, not him. So now we drive to the bank, I push his trike-with-handle to the nearby playground, I walk hand-in-hand with him as far as he’ll let me and then follow close at his heels as he bounce-runs down the sidewalk. I’m intimately familiar with every rut in the sidewalk between here and the main boulevard, every seedling and pebble on the way back home again.

We spend most of our time outside. That’s just as true now as it was last year. I don’t want to spend my days walking around the block twenty times before lunch, so the big task is to plan ways to get out more together. Dan works a ten minute drive away: I see lunches with Daddy in our near future. And I think it’s time to try a few Mommy-and-Me classes. I wince at the thought of the saccharine teacher and the goofy song lyrics, but Damian’s ready for that kind of stimulation. Then there’s the tried and true: playgrounds, libraries, sidewalks. And running errands is always an adventure with a toddler: this morning’s trip to the drugstore turned into an extended game of peek-a-boo. Which was fun. His insistence that the bright orange earplugs were the best toy ever invented and mommy must take them out of the package this minute... not so fun. But I -- having actually gotten my quota of sleep last night and therefore thinking clearly -- suggested that we could find more toys in the honest-to-goodness toy aisle. And lo, we did. $1.20 for a green Matchbox tractor trailer truck. Can’t beat that.

As he gets older, he gets more decisive and therefore both easier and more difficult to care for. He wants what he wants and makes no bones about it. Part of me wishes for the semi-helpless little guy who slid into the sling or the stroller and sat there while I decided what direction our lives should go. But a larger part is delighted to see what kind of child my baby is becoming and to see that he’s mostly gentle, mostly direct, mostly self-directed and seems to have a lively inner life.

This season looms ahead as a challenge but not a heart-sinking Mommy-on-my-own one. No, now my feelings are more, "how can I find new ways to amuse him, challenge him, stimulate him and how much should I leave him alone to explore the worlds inside his head?" These feel like the right questions to ask. I felt overwhelmed with parenthood when Damian was born. Less so by last year, but the combination of sleep deprivation and boredom mixed with the true joy of watching his growth and eliciting his giggles. This year, more pleasure, more conundrums (how to say no to a child who is learning to say "I want" and "I need"?) but less boredom. Much less boredom. This is good.

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