Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My son, agile, curious and flexible, examines bark while in a baby carrier.

Yesterday I was asked if my life changed much since the birth of my son.

"What percent of life has changed? Ninety percent? Ten percent? A difficult question, perhaps not phrased in the best manner," the inquirer admitted.

I stumbled. "Well, I'm used to being a mother. Ummm, so perhaps when he was just a month old, everything was completely different. Now, I don't know, fifty percent? I'm better with children now, I understand them more. I'm more curious about them."

As I write, my son brings book after book to my husband to read. His feet pound across the office carpeted floor as my husband requests another book. He bangs on the drawer.

Last year we rolled him up in blankets and walked down the lane. This year he pushes his stroller down the hill, I cringe as I watch him race down hill far faster than his legs can go.

Last year he voice creaked and sputtered. His hands scratched at his face. This year he points and says, "MMMmmm," emphatically. He reaches for a my husband's hand to assist his climbing.

One hundred percent. I see everything with my son in mind. He would like this. He would dislike that. As a recent date with my husband wound down, we stopped in a bookstore. I drifted towards the children's toys. I unsubtly stared into a stroller containing a newborn baby. The child was beautiful and my smile was radiant at such beauty. The child's mother chatted on a cellphone while the grandfather beamed, appreciating my delight for his grandchild. One hundred percent.

Friday, December 23, 2011

About that toxic fruit

When I took the NJDEP Basic Pesticide Applicator Training Class, we were told the story of a pesticide applicator who left an unmarked bottle of pesticide at a client's home. That bottle was a juice bottle, a bottle similar to the bottles the client's child drank from. The pesticide was colorless and odorless. The contents of the bottle appeared to be water and were found and put in the refrigerator. The child drank from the bottle and...

Regardless of the story's truth, I was sufficiently frightened and my memory banks were seared. Having since smelled Garlon 4, Garlon 3A, Pathfinder, Accord, RoundUp, and CideKick, I could not imagine  any herbicide not being absolutely malodorous. Bottom line: New Jersey has a regulation that says food containers cannot be used to store pesticides and all pesticides must be labelled. Don't mess up and kill a client's kid.

My mother babysits my son while I work. One of those days I work from home, so we are able to catch up at lunchtime. She's very used to all manner of gross and odd items scattered through my home. 

"So, what's that?" she asks, pointing to a moldy simmer pot of balsam fir needles in tannic waters. "I was going to wash that out last week, and I thought, 'I better not.'" 

"Yeah," I sigh. It looked pretty bad. "Oh, I'm dying some yarn. I wanted to mention that. It's on the stove."

"I was going to ask you about that toxic fruit." 

Privet fruit simmered with a skein of yarn and left to sit for 3 days.

I unlid the cast iron kettle, and pull a blue skein of yarn out. "It's privet berries. Don't know if it will be blue when I rinse it."

I'm embarrassed about what a wreck my house usually is, but my mother is very gracious and hardly criticizes though her own home is pristine even when it is deemed "filthy."

That particular day she was going to to drive to Philadelphia to pick up my brother. My son was napping. "Don't worry about the dishes, just head out." 

"You always leave me a mountain of dishes," she says looking at the sink. 

"Don't worry about it. I'm going to get back to work." I slip back into my home office - a folding table in the back room - and hear my mother turn on the faucet. Moments later, it seems, I hear the front door open and her footsteps on the porch.

I wave goodbye, and look at the sink. Dishes are done, except the toxic ones.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Of course we were warned.


Of course we were warned.

"You're not prepared for all the dangers of the world."

After a frightening fever in mid-September, my son emerged walking. Just nine and a half months old, he rose up from crawling, using all those things that had just been things above him. Chairs toppled, vacuum knocked over. Things not worthy of use for escape, were tugged on and released from their perch - blankets draped over the crib made him an infuriating make-shift ghost costume, he hung wailing from sliding seat cushions like Wiley E. Coyote from the Grand Canyon's edge, sliding drawers zinged open and repelled a surprised baby backward.  I came to deeply appreciate the trash-picked dresser whose drawers are so stiff that one must bang them shut, slowly wearing down the dresser's innards and sending a dose of sawdust onto shirts and underwear at each opening.

Bruises, bumps, scratches.

My son glances up at me, smiles. Look at me. Yes, indeed, I'm looking at you - that's my other great occupation. My first occupation is looking after you.

Three and a half months later, he's climbing up the side of the bed and hanging from the covers like a furious koala bear. His foot does not reach the top of the bed, so his goal, to reach the top of the bed is thwarted. He's annoyed. For now. Next growth spurt, he's up.

Aha, I mean several hours later, he's up. He began the bed climbing project a couple weeks ago. As of this afternoon, he couldn't make it. As of this evening, he's up. Sure, it is dangerous, but primarily it is fantastic.


Of course we were warned.

"Babies put all kinds of things in their mouths."

Beren has not put too many awful things in his mouth. He always goes for metal or long objects for teething. Teething toys were ignored. Metal brackets on the baby gate - fine. Great Grandma's aluminum garlic press. Not good. Aluminum garlic press gets taken away and is piled on top of the scads of items precariously perched on the limited number of surfaces beyond my son's reach.

"How about this?" I ask and hand him a red, rubbery, water filled teething ring from the refrigerator. He looks at me, takes the ring, and drops it. We look at each other. "I wish he'd take the ring," I think. I try again. He looks at me, takes the ring, and drops it. I look at the ring. Honestly, I'd do the same if someone handed me a red, rubbery, water filled teething ring from the refrigerator. In fact, I might not even accept the ring. At least my son is polite.

Realizing, his mother has not met his needs, he opens a kitchen drawer, which holds his stash of parent-approved utensils. He reaches for the Oxo spatula, a shower gift from my in-laws, and jams the handle into his mouth. Unlike the red, rubbery, water filled teething ring from the refrigerator, which may have endured extensive testing (doubt it - what is that water anyway?) and adheres to US Consumer Safety Product Safety Commission (check the link for a very nerve-wracking slideshow, a la Yahoo! News) regulations the Oxo spatula did not undergo child safety testing and has no safety features other than a very high melting point. Thus, the spatula works well - it reaches his molars.

I found an interesting pdf document - the US Consumer Product Safety Commission Engineering Test Manual for Rattles. On August 21, 1978 a safety regulation for rattles was developed - I made it through my babyhood which occurred before this regulation. My son has a rattle that probably did undergo this testing. The rattle is plush and the handle floppy. The bell is uninteresting sounding. Occasionally Beren bites into the handle. To me, it appears he is annoyed at the rattle. In his infancy, he latched onto the rattle's nose feature, which is the color and shape of a small nipple.

Bored with Oxo spatulas and floppy rattles, he ambles to oak desk, opens the drawer, and begins to gnaw on it.


On the trail at Lord Stirling Park, before my son could walk, he liked to be carried belly down.

Of course we were warned.

"Kids pick up all kinds of things." 

The flu at the doctor's office, your bad cursing habit, discarded gum on the sidewalk...

We frequent the woods more than the doctor's office and city sidewalks, and well, that cursing habit is another story... So, we haven't gotten the flu or chewed anyone else's gum.

Observing how much my son enjoyed walking on trail boardwalks at the Cook Natural Area, I decided to take him to the pond where our landlord placed several boardwalks over wet areas. We walked across the planks several times - great fun.

After not observing my son very closely for a couple moments, I noticed him showing me something. "I've found something to show you," he says gesturally, stretching a hand towards me.

"Oh, what do you have? What are you showing to Momma?" Typically, he is fond of sticks, rocks, leaves.

My son had, however, picked up something else.

"Let go of the poop." I say loudly, my eyes wide. I step towards him, and grab his wrist. "Let go of the poop." He hangs on to the dry scat, presumably fox.

I begin to shake his wrist, "Let go of the poop. Let go of the poop. Let go of the poop!"

The poop flies out of his hand. I wonder what dried fox poop might have in it besides persimmon seeds and mouse pelvises. We begin the walk back to the house. I try to hustle him along, but he's happy to meander. I settle for making sure his hand doesn't go into his mouth before we wash hands.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Pandora radio

Playing the ukeule.

"Why is the music so bad?" wails the singer of Culturcide.

Tired of the music in iTunes, we try to find something new.

NPR broadcasts bad news and hardly much music, but American Routes. Since having a child, I've given up listening to the show regularly. The din of 3 live humans (my family) added to 2 piped in ones (interviewee and Nick Spitzer), plus clips of music (the interviewee's) and slice of life recording bits (interviewee clopping down the steps to his basement recording studio in New Orleans, interviewee laughing at his favorite diner, interviewee greeting his neighbor) becomes nerve-bending.

Pandora radio - just like Pandora's box who knows what evil will emerge. We tried "The Gossip" Radio, which devolved after just a half an hour into music the sounded like farts in pleather pants. The Pandora write up for one band reminds me of the term "electroclash". Never in my life would I think of the term "electroclash" unbidden. The thought of electroclash was tossed into the same fiery pit as my lease for an overpriced Long Island City, Queens apartment.

On previous evenings we tried other artists, which also devolved into electroclash pleather fart sessions. Mind you, I'm using electroclash to include all bad music of this era - drippy male vocals over drippy strumming, male falsettos over drippy strumming and keyboards, breathy female vocals over pleather fart keyboards, drum machine music, and other musics made by individuals between 18 and 45 years of age.

Keyboards blinking away, drum machine doinking on, female vocalist in rapture.

"What is this sh*t?" I asked Jared.

As if possessed, he begins to sing along, "Irritate irritating ting ting. Irritating IRRITATING IRRITATING IRRITATING. ting ting. IRRITATING IRRITATING IRRITATING. ting ting."

"I think it's Peaches," he says.

And, with that my son needs my attention more than electroclash does.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


My son Beren sits on the kitchen floor. Cabinet drawers are open, and spatulas, potato mashers and hand mixers are strewn about. He's working on pulling our old electric blender base from a low drawer, by wrapping himself in the electric cord and pulling with all of his 12 month old might. Causing Papa some modest alarm (mental note, tell Momma to watch Beren extra closely when cords are nearby...).

He's fueled entirely by curiousity. He knows not the concepts mine, yours, property line, nor the costs of different items. What is this, he wonders? How does it move? Can I pick it up and manipulate it? Does it make noise or smush or smash?

We take walks outside and he is engrossed for hours. Sticks and gravel in infinite supply, topography to test balance and strength (up to the walnut trees, down to the swampy meadow, visit the hackberry, repeat). Puddles in the dirt driveway, multiplying and diversifying with every storm, worth a visit every time.

The way he picks at the lichens on boulders or crinkles the dry oak leaves transcends the concept of "toys". Here is a young creature exploring his world, honing the subtleties of his senses, trying his strengths and getting wet, bruised, and covered in dirt and moss in the process.

In one of my favorite photos of him, he is crawling on an Adirondacks trail, plastered in mud and tiny winged yellow birch seeds from his pants legs up to his chest. He's one of the wild life, dispersing seeds as he wallows, crawls, and digs around.

Inside the house is different. After a few days of investigation, most of the "baby toys" he has are more-or-less ignored. Which means that days cooped up inside can get frustrating and boring, as he tries to climb the drawer handles to get at the interesting items on top of the rolltop desk, or open the top drawers in the kitchen (knives, Felco clippers, glass measuring cups, etc.)

I cringe (a little) thinking ahead to a time when all this unrelenting curiousity about objects is superimposed on a greater acquaintance with the marketplace, and the word "mine". Partially, the concern is financial. But more so, it hurts to think of all that intense, sensual curiousity being transformed into consumerism.

And isn't this a process that has happened to all of us? I'm bored, I'll go shopping. There are people, behind the scenes, who have dedicated their lives to creating items that appeal to as many of the long-evolved curiousities, proclivities, and desires of human beings as possible, all wrapped into one. Sleek, shiny, easy, interactive... with sugar on top. Utility... but only enough to help the desiring person to justify buying what is often a direct appeal to a swirl of senses, needs, and the desire for self-transformation.

I'm hoping that the natural world remains available and interesting to Beren, as an antidote to the enchanting world of the consumer object. Natural medicine against the thrall of plastics, virtual realities, and the broken promises of the newest and most fashionable.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


 A nest from a native bee nesting block. I built from a hunk of tulip tree, using plans from The Xerces Society

 We usually eject or welcome insects into our home, excluding ants and stink bugs. This bumblebee made it inside, but couldn't get out while we were away. 

Honeybees can be pesky gang. As the weather warms, before the window screens go in, they like to come inside. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Birds of Winter

Blackbirds, primarily grackles, take flight, December 4

Each year I look forward to the grackle wave. Tens of thousands of birds use the opening around our home to forage. When the flock is at a distance, the birds sounds like a waterfall. So black and featureless, they appear like paper cut outs in the sky. From the porch, my husband and I watched the birds fly over. 

Jared wondered if our son was awake, so he too could see the birds. No, asleep. And there we let him sleep, one year and two days old, teething and croupy.

Along the trail at Cook Natural Area in Kingston, December 5 

My husband gasped and said, "Look!" I thought, "Snake."

To my husband's frustration, when he exclaims, "Look!", "Look out!", "Duck!", or "Slow down!", I usually say, "Huh?" I think a touch of fight or flight comes on.  Instead of seeing more clearly, my eyes blur and I get ready to... stand still. Of course, 'fight or flight' doesn't take animals like woodcocks and grouses into consideration--animals that do best by moving slowly or not at all.