The Others

logo_6I’m proud to announce that the Appraiser and I have another baby on the way from the same donor.  Yay, we pulled off another miracle!  So naturally, our donor has been on our minds lately.  We’ve been feeling grateful and a bit more curious.  We thought it was time to see who else he might have made, you know, in the hopes of getting to know him a little bit better.  And this week we finally did it.  Made first contact with The Others– officially registered on the national Donor Sibling Registry to find other babies/siblings born from our sperm donor.  

We expected no response, or not a timely one.  But like the high tech nature of the Cryobank itself, The Others came to us in a cyber second.  Seems our donor was a big success, an equal opportunity gender maker:  There are two little boys and two little girls out there all within a three year age window, including our daughter. 

This discovery has been exciting and terrifying.  Like a wild ride that seriously may not have an end.  Within hours of emerging from the safety of the rock we’ve been hiding under, we’re getting baby jpegs, funny toddler stories, and comparing ears. 

It feels so wrong to criticize or freak out when we opened the door.  The other families have graciously invited us to be part of one big extended family — a family who, by the way, SKYPES, updates regularly on FACEBOOK, and has gone on vacation to Florida together!  

In their defense, the Others have all had two and a half years to wrap their heads around each other’s existence, and we just got on this cruise.  I don’t have my sea legs, and I’m feeling a bit nauseated.

I expect my seasickness will subside, if I can adjust my need to be mainstream and just accept the fact that we made an alternative family which might require an alternative acceptance.  Plus, secrets are bad.  Really destructive.  And we want to be open with our kid about her bio/man-in-a-can/father whenever she eventually learns to speak and asks the burning question.  So whether our kid comes to see The Others as half siblings or some distant cousins, and here comes the Sesame Street logline–  if we help her connect with other children who were created via alternative insemination, she might understand that she is not the “only one,” which could make a big difference in how she feels about herself and her family.

Still, lessons aside, I’ve got to say, this is the weirdest club I have ever been a member of…

Splendor On The Mat

Today at the end of Gymboree, when most of the babies had packed up their diaper bags and headed to their car seats, a fifteen month-old, brown eyed, adorable little Greek boy, with a full head of hair, who can speak four languages, spoke the international language of love to our daughter.  Yes, he tackled, grabbed, and planted a kiss smack on her lips right there on the green mat.  It happened so fast it was a blur.  I’m not even sure it was consensual.  And still…their tumble and smooch “Splendor In The Grass” moment had all of us cooing.  This marked the first time that she and he were aware of other babies on the mats.  Really aware, apparently.  They told us they grow up fast.

So when people ask her who was her first kiss, and she rattles off some dude from Junior High, I will correct her and say his name was Alexander. First kiss

She Wants Stubble

hugh facehotarm

This is hard to acknowledge, but I won’t mince words…..  Our baby girl craves male attention in a big and obvious and embarrassing way.  And she will go to great lengths to get it–aggressively plopping herself down on the lap of another kid’s daddy at a concert, or randomly hugging loose daddies on the mats of Gymboree.  This practice extends to friends and strangers alike.  Last week she made googly eyes across a crowded restaurant at Jason Gould, son of Elliot Gould/Barbra Streisand, of Prince of Tides fame.  Anyway, our baby is a bald-faced flirt.  She seems to have two rules:  the more handsome, the better, and the more stubble, the better.  And as a bisexual, I completely get it. 

hotarmThis attraction is preferable to her screaming in terror at the sight of a man.  Proof-positive that we aren’t raising a “man-hater.”  But her overtly enthusiastic reactions to the opposite sex makes The Appraiser and I — and those terribly observant people– very uncomfortable.  We don’t want it to reflect on our limitations as a two mommy household.  All I can say is that presently, we are assessing the need for testosteroni and are actively seeking out more daddy friends to appease her….

Mine!

Baby trainOur baby has no baby friends.  Is that a problem?  Should we be booking her out for play-dates?  What exactly is baby going to do on hypothetical play-date?  I’ve seen her in action and she doesn’t know how to play with other babies.  At this age, the most you can achieve is parallel play.  And then there’s the other thing, the pink elephant in the room, you know, the really grabby one….  When she gets close to other babies, in the baby pile that is Gymboree, she ends up yanking toys out of their hands, and vice versa.  No need for alarm.  This appears to be common practice among one-year-olds.  I hear all the mommies implore/command their babies, “Share your toys!”  Like it’s so easy….  

Let’s consider the adult version for a second.  Would you like it if a stranger came up to you and asked to borrow your car, or wanted to play in your house?   To a baby, those plastic pretend car keys might feel as important as the keys to your precious S.U.V.  

We all get possessive.  Once you’re old enough to start liking certain objects, the fact is you don’t like them taken away.  And babies are too young to know their stuff really belongs to them, that they can get it back any time they want, which is the main reason most people ever share in the first place!  Of course, sharing should be encouraged with family and friends.  But teaching babies to share with baby strangers might not be the best lesson on making friends and influencing babies.

The Art of Nanny Wrangling

check shotGet ready for a touchy subject.  We’re talking money, fear, and power.  This is about the delicate task of nanny wrangling.  

When she was first auditioned for the role, our nanny made clear that she expected her salary to remain a constant, regardless of our vacation schedule and out-of-town trips.  And when we took our first Thanksgiving vacation two months after she started, we began the pitiful habit of paying her for work she didn’t perform — And we did this WILLINGLY.  Why?  Because we feared losing her to a full-time job.  And because she told us that’s how it’s done.   She told US.   I  had a bad taste in my mouth when she expected to get paid for two weeks of non-Christmas work and then The Appraiser tacked on a Christmas bonus.  What was her incentive to change her schedule to accommodate our travel plans, if she were to be paid whether she worked or not?   I knew this arrangement was a slippery slope.

The slope got too steep for me to climb when The Appraiser’s mother died and we had to leave town for the funeral.  The week before we left, I gave our nanny extra hours and days to make up for lost wages, which was good for her, but not good for me because they were MY baby days.  I was putting her family first.  Her husband was out-of-work and she had two kids to feed.   And I gently reminded her that she’d be working extra hours later that month for the baby’s first birthday party.  She even told The Appraiser, “Don’t worry about next week.”  Famous last words.

Anyway, when we came back from the funeral, a new mommy friend asked me if my nanny was available to work for the two days a week she wasn’t working for me.  I was excited, and encouraged her to interview for the job right away.  She said she’d think about it….   Guess you can lead a nanny to baby, but you can’t make her pick him up.

Later, we sat down on the floor together playing with the baby, and she told me she’d really thought long about it (ten minutes) and didn’t want to drive that far to work.  O-kay.  Wasn’t she on a perpetual shake-down for more money?   Then out of nowhere came the bombshell…   She looked me in the eyes and solmenly said, “Can I ask you something? Why don’t you love me?  All my other patronas loved me.”  I honestly had no idea what she was talking about.   She pressed on to ask me in an ambiguous English-as-a-second-language-way why I cut her paycheck the week before (for the one day of the funeral that she didn’t work).  Wow, she was confident!  She was really banking on my dependence on her to the point of no fear.  Then she smiled sympathetically, “I know you’re new to this, so maybe you don’t know how it’s done.”  And presto, the gloves came off…   I reminded her, in my best Clint Eastwood impression, that her past nanny experiences were based on full-time work and she was only our part-time nanny.  I told her she was more than welcome to find another part-time job with the world’s most easy and amazing baby, only she obviously didn’t want a full-time job.  And I went on to lay down the law — guaranteed hours on a weekly basis no longer work for me.  Yes, it does matter whether you come to work or not.  From now on, I promised her a set number of monthly hours (equivalent or greater than her current weekly hours), if she promised to be flexible.   

I know I’m not the only one having this debate.  One of my friends told me her nanny requested set paid hours and attended more school recitals than she had kids.  She even put up with her nanny’s poor hygiene (some kind of urine smell) simply because she was available.   

We’re lucky that money is our only bone of contention.  Our nanny is otherwise awesome, loving, and dedicated to us and our child.  And we’ve never come home to find her drunk on the couch with our kid screaming in a dirty diaper.  But something about the tenor of our discussion made me no longer care about her awesomeness.  Suddenly, she was a luxury I could afford to lose.  If need be, I could tackle this childcare thing myself. 

You won’t be surprised to hear that after our little chat, our nanny did not quit.  Instead, every afternoon she has taken to the practice of bringing me a cold glass of water and a lovely plate of sliced fruit.  The power is back in my hands… where it belongs.

The Bumbo Bummer and Other Obsolete Decisions

Bumbo bummerBaby’s first year is loaded with  important decisions– what cradle to buy, then crib, the proper stroller, car seat, changing table, diaper bag, the right color Bumbo and shaky chair to sit on.  We’re targeted to believe these devices, gizmos, and gadgets will make the first year run smoother.  Some people get overwhelmed and throw up their hands.  If they’re smart, they pair it down to the bare essentials.  Some invest in the luxury of a baby concierge.  I did my own research by polling select, opinionated mommy friends. 

Now at the one year mark, I’ve noticed something incredible, something no one bothered to tell me:  These oh-s0-critical-retail-must-haves were just temporary fixes and expenses.  Babies R Us used to be this overwhelming place, a new and alien world of mysterious baby contraptions I thought we needed to buy.  One year later, we’ve outgrown everything in the store, even the footsie pajamas (because toddlers trip on pajamas with feet).  And it’s become abundantly clear that the term “babies” means 0-9 months.  Chill out, parents– the kid phase will come sooner than you think.  Within one year that perfect car seat and stroller combo you were so worried about getting right will be replaced with a front-facing big kid one and big kid stroller, leaving you with a closet stuffed with obsolescence. 

I’m upset how shortsighted I was.  Why didn’t anyone tell me how fast they grow and OUTgrow?   That perfect pink bumbo was great… for two months.  The discontinued Cottontail Friends mobile I tracked down like a private eye on Ebay (because it matched the Pottery Barn bedding) was over and down by month seven.  Even the beloved  baby play gym didn’t last long enough to warrant a second set of batteries. 

We love our temporary treasures.  And I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in the newness –  We want our fresh kids to have fresh things.  But if you ask me, we’re not really buying things for our baby’s future; we’re buying things for the toy companies… and the landfill.

There, I said it.

milkboneSo far, raising and training a dog has been the greatest preparation for raising and training a baby.  If you do it right, and we think we have (SFX: back pat), you get lots of practice establishing rules, boundaries, and limitations.  And since we seem to have manifested well behaved dogs by suppressing their otherwise inclination for world domination, saying  “no” to cute things in the house is not a problem, and our baby is no exception.  Don’t restrictions make both dogs and babies feel safe and cared for?  Dogs have been good for us.  The problem is that dogs vibe on silent understanding.  They learn their position in the pack and what is required of them with a well acted look.  And when you’re close to a dog, that comfortable silence, (at first an acquired taste), becomes enough to feel close. 

So here’s the dilemma:  I’m having trouble moving beyond my satisfaction with the silent understanding of dogs, and I must –because telepathic communication is not the best way for a human baby to learn language skills.  Okay, I admit I’m not a born teacher; going around the house (and Los Angeles) naming people, places, actions, and things is not a natural instinct.  I wish I could remember to give a running commentary, to just say the words.  What ends up happening is that baby and I sit and play in quiet understanding, just enjoying each other’s company.  Is it any wonder our baby remains in the babbling stage just past her first birthday?  That she knows less words than the dogs?  Okay, in baby’s defense, she hears equal parts Spanish and English between our nanny and us, so it’s really hard to know what she really knows.  But her lack of words in English and my not saying them gives me doubts about my parenting skills, and frankly… I’m afraid the baby will never learn to talk.  There, I said it.

On a positive note, she has learned to fetch and play tug.

“Mommy, Mama, and Me”

favorite bookA little while ago, to commemorate our official Adoption Day, our good friend, Norman, gave us a great little book, “Mommy, Mama, and Me” by Leslea Newman (from the P.C. “I Love My Family” series) about two mommies raising a toddler, or some kind of baby situation.  It’s hard to tell; Carol Thompson’s warm and fuzzy illustrations are all soft focus and fall colors.  The Appraiser and I were relieved that the couple didn’t look butch, though we did notice that Mommy had a troubling penchant for fleece.  She also had bushy hair like the baby, so Mommy must have been the birth mother.  Another possible twist was that Mama seemed to be slightly younger and less ethnic than Mommy….

Anyway, it’s a sweet little story with colorful pictures of Mommy and Mama playing, feeding, nurturing, and cuddling their baby.  It really touched us.  What a cool way for our baby to see her kind of family in print and know there are others like her in the world– that she’s not that different after all.  We always try to read her the book every night before bed.  And usually she gets squirmy and bored… and throws it down. 

Well, today after lunch we were playing on the floor, and out of the blue, she handed me the book.  I asked if she wanted me to read it to her.  I was expecting her usual no reaction, but she looked at me with those intense blue eyes, and I knew she meant business.  I opened the book and read it aloud slowly.  She watched me turn the pages and focused on the pretty pictures of typical family life with Mommy and Mama.  Amazingly, I never lost her attention.  We read it all the way to the very last page, 

“Now I’m tucked in nice and tight.  Mommy and Mama kiss me goodnight.”

We were through, and my daughter smiled at me, satisfied.  Whether she related to the story or not, it was the first book she ever asked me to read.

The First Birthday

 birthday balloon

In L.A. you have two choices for a first birthday party:  intimate or obscene.  While turning one is a huge milestone, and for us, a victory lap celebrating fertility success, we didn’t want to go all Tori Spelling and hire an event planner to light up our yard with crystal chandeliers, find Cirque Du Soleil performers who do face paintings, and have pony rides (and pony waste in the yard). 

All the reputable baby books advise choosing a simple kid theme like Winnie The Pooh, limiting the party to one or two hours (in between naptimes), and inviting only close family and friends, so you don’t overstimulate your kid to exhaustion.  Well, simplicity is a tall order…  

We settled on a more adult, yet festive, Caribbean theme, and hired Prince Bernard, an affable steel drum player from Haiti, who we found at the Farmer’s Market.  We invited 70 of our closest friends and flew in out-of-town family. 

On the day of the party my mother and I tied dozens of purple, pink, and green balloons to the pool fence.  We rented high-top tables with white linens, had it catered by a local Caribbean restaurant who provided tray-carrying servers who could navigate the narrow yard.  We were happy not dealing with the food ourselves.  And Caribbean was a big hit, despite the jerk chicken being spicy for the kiddie guests.  Another good idea was rolling out a big bouncy castle in front of the house to keep the neighbors’ kids busy and out of our party.  Also, we snuck a snow cone machine in the back by the bar, which featured a thirsty parent mixed drinks station and a uniformed bartender (A.K.A. our nanny).  We topped it all off with a big fancy cake, with a relief  buttercream version of baby’s favorite bunny, which she may or may not have recognized.  However, the real icing on the cake was witnessing our baby take her first steps and stroll proudly around her own birthday party.

The party lasted three hours to the minute.  Right in between naptimes.  Prince Bernard packed up his drums and synthesizer, told everyone to “God Bless,” after he got paid, and disappeared.  Presents were opened- mostly girlie girl dresses (*see prior Apples and Oranges post)  and people left like magic.  We’re told (they could be lying) it was tasteful and not over-the-top.  Only the price per hour was obscene.

Now the million dollar question: will the baby remember it?  Probably not.  But that’s what digital cameras are for.  We celebrated her and that is priceless.

The United States of Mommyhood

blogA few weeks ago, we put the baby in her best Lilly Pulitzer knock-off dress and took her to juvenile court, so I could officially adopt her.  The Appraiser and I decided to do a Second Parent Adoption to avoid any ugly custody disputes between our families in case of unforeseen tragedy.  We started this process at six months pregnant, and it ended an interminable fifteen months later.  Highlights of this annoying (but necessary) hassle include the bitter independent adoption lady who has no respect for birth mothers in “regular adoption” because they are “low quality” –  Our attorney’s obscene bills for one-sentence emails.  Our home study by same jaded independent adoption lady who complimented us on the house, but complained that she had to drive through a rough patch to get to it.  And who could forget the brain-challenged California social worker who applied her canned adoption speech to our case –  She  suggested we explain the adoption to our child (when she can grab concepts as well as the remote control) by saying it’s like a tiger mom caring for a baby elephant.  When I gently reminded her that the natural elephant mommy lived in the house, she looked at me blankly.  Oh, the annoyance of adopting a baby born into my own family.

On the court date, I was scared of what could go wrong.  I didn’t want any more legal hiccups.  Our lawyer told us in the eleventh hour that the court had questioned our anonymous sperm donor’s termination of parental rights.  I guess anonymous doesn’t hold the weight it used to.  In any case, we just needed The Appraiser to fill out more affidavits acknowledging that she never slept nor cohabitated with him, until the court finally seemed satisfied.  

And when that day was finally here, we waited anxiously in the lobby of Children and Family services with our lawyer.  I amused myself by watching the kids of possibly unfit parents crawl around on the filthy, carpeted floor.  God knows what’s slipped through the floors of Children and Family services.  I was determined to make sure our baby would be legally recognized as my child.  So I focused on the cheery paint colors of the hallway, until the bailiff called us into the judge’s chambers for a private session. 

Our judge was a  jovial looking white-haired  man who seemed happy not to be putting another child  into Foster care.  He questioned me –on the record– about taking forever financial responsibility, emphasizing all rights of inheritance, and whether I was fully committed to this adoption.  I answered all his questions affirmatively, remaining polite, poised, and professional… until he hereby declared on record, pursuant to the authority vested in him and the great state of California that the baby was my child and a member of my family with all the rights and responsibilities… and I instantly burst into tears.  I felt like I had just become a citizen of  the United States of Mommyhood.  All that hard work had officially paid off.  This fertility cycle was finally over.  I was surprised at the sudden outburst of emotion, but I couldn’t help it; my heart was full and something had to give.

The judge handed the baby a plush white teddy bear with a big red heart and gave us an official-looking paper appointing me her parent.  Then we all joined him behind the bench and took pictures of our family holding up the adoption certificate with the baby in the judge’s lap, smiling like she won a contest.  

It was special, and not at all scary.  The scariest part was when it was over, the baby, in her pretty knock-off Lilly Pulitzer adoption dress, joined the ranks of the masses and crawled on the carpet of Children and Family services.  Who cares?  She was mine.

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