I had forgotten how good graham crackers could taste. And Cheerios, and Goldfish, and animal crackers, and every other crunchy, carby kid food.
Until I had a toddler.
It’s not just the flavor, either. It’s the crackly bag, the tantalizing smell, the convenient thereness. Irresistible. And I can’t eat any of it. Not if I want my morning milk, evening chocolate, or, say, lunch.
But it’s hard to turn down tempting treats when you’ve got a two-year-old snack pusher in your household. Sunshine’s not subtle, either. Like my grandmother, her namesake, she’s a high-impact sharer who hates to eat alone. And I’m her preferred dining partner – or at least the most convenient one.
Each time I break out Sunshine’s snacks, she pinches a few in her fidgety fingers and sweetly offers them to me. When I turn her down, she tries again, pushing the crackers against my hands, my mouth. She chants, “Share! Share!” and eats a bite herself, then waves the gnawed-on remains in front of my eyes. After all, if she loves them, then Mommy will, too, right? (Yes. Unfortunately.) (more…)
Last winter, as my daughter and I spent another chilly afternoon lounging around indoors, Sunshine babbling and me responding as if she had spoken in actual sentences, I pictured all the conversations we might have when she was old enough to string more than two real words together. Naturally, I would have intelligent and well-informed answers to questions such as “Why does the wind blow?” and “Why is the sky blue?” and “What is blue, anyway? How did it get that way?” (Note to self: Do a little research. Knowing the right answers would be good.)
And then I imagined a question that truly stumped me: “Mommy, what did you want to be when you grew up? Why didn’t you do it?” What would I tell her? There’s no Wikipedia entry for that one. “Mommy wanted to be a writer,” I could say, “but she just never got around to it. You can be anything you want to be, though, sweetie. Really.” Hollow words from someone who had several completed manuscripts languishing, mostly unqueried, on her laptop, plus a few unwritten ones banging around inside her brain.
Obligatory signing-of-the-contract photo
This answer – entirely truthful and seriously lame – haunted me. Did I owe it to my daughter to follow my dream? Maybe. More importantly, I owed it to myself, my passion for writing, and my abandoned books.
The next afternoon, instead of spending Sunshine’s naptime doing laundry or reading a novel, I pulled my computer onto my lap and opened my most recent manuscript, a young adult paranormal romance I’d written several years before. After an exhaustive round of revisions I shipped it off to my phenomenal critique partner. She was nice enough to tear it apart before sending it back to me to put together again. My query letter – all three reincarnations – followed. Then I zapped it over to my friends Shari, Liz, and Heather for their (very helpful) opinions.
Finally I could stall no longer. I had to get my work out there.
I knew that, in the face of rejection, the temptation to quit querying would be strong, so I made a list of potential literary agents and vowed not to give up until I had emailed every last one. I didn’t get that far. I didn’t need to. Because after several tumultuous months, I am happy to say that last week I signed with an agent.
Although it’s not a guarantee that this book will sell, it’s one giant step closer to my being able to tell my daughter from personal experience, “Dream big. Because if you keep at it, you have a chance to make your dreams come true.” Here’s hoping that soon we will indeed make my publishing dream a reality, for this and future books. In the meantime, I have revisions to make, and a career to plan, and a new novel to write. Better get to it.
These cherries now languish – crushed, mutilated, and wholly untouched – in our freezer.
Somewhere between buying thirty-six cloth diapers for Sunshine and committing to what our local Target calls ‘natural feeding’ (because some people consider ‘breast’ a terrible word) I heard about the wonders of making your own baby food. The magazine article claimed it was Easy! Wholesome! Cheap! Fun! And Totally Not Messy At All! Since I’m into cheap fun, I went for it.
It was not the first time I’ve been lied to by a magazine.
There were hints from the start that life would be easier if I simply opened up a jar of Gerber and shoveled it into Sunshine’s mouth. For one thing, Gerber doesn’t require a blender. But I’m a stay-at-home-mom now, so I feel an obligation to get my inner housewife on. Most of the time that means I toss laundry into the washer a few times a week, make dinner when I feel like it, and sweep the floor on a semi-regular basis. Otherwise, it’s all Sunshine, all the time. Still, girlie and I were lurking about the house anyway, so why not?
The peas came first. I lovingly cut open the bag (because, no, I was not going to hand-shell three hundred sugar snaps, no matter how much I love my daughter), dumped the frozen contents into our electric steamer, and set the timer. Now all I had to do was grind them into baby-safe mush. Easy. I poured a mountain of veggies into the blender, tapped the puree button, and waited for the magic. The engine whirred ineffectually, a burning smell tinged the air, and smoke curled out from under the base. Okay. Fine. Next button. More power. Still, those blades would not move. Hot pea juice fogged up the inside. Sunshine fussed. The Mother of the Year acceptance speech I’d been composing in my head dissolved.
A quick consultation with my father – who’d never made baby food in his life, but does have a knack for dealing with mean machinery – solved the problem. A little water, a little stirring, a little more water…a lot more water. With a groan, the blender finally complied, grinding the peas into an unappetizing neon green sludge.
Giddy with accomplishment, I slid Sunshine into her high chair and served up a big old glop of the stuff. Which, of course, she refused to eat. (Because, you know, who wouldn’t love warm pea mush for lunch?) Undeterred, I spooned the rest into three ice cub trays and froze them in baby-sized portions, as per the instructions in the magazine article, two cook books, and seven websites I had, by now, read on the subject.
Carrots came next, chopped and steamed and blended with a bucket of water, then chilled into little orange cubes. I dished up a mound of the sticky slop. Ick face ensued.
I was desperate for a victory, so when she ate the yams I sent a silent “Take that!” to Gerber and planned my next feat. Luckily, the end-of-summer trees were heavy with fruit. I peeled, sliced, and simmered apples. I halved and roasted hand-picked peaches and apricots, then slipped off the skins. I removed the seeds from so many grape-sized plums that my thumbs hurt for days. And every bit went into our now-compliant blender.
On occasion I trot out one of the cubes, let it melt, and dish it up. Sunshine still likes her peas round and her carrots chopped, but she’ll take a taste if I pretend I don’t care. As for the rest? Wholesome, cheap, and, if you’re fourteen months old, rather tasty.
I am sitting in our family room in the dark, listening to my baby cry in her nursery, just as I have for the last hour. At ten months we are finally, supposedly, teaching her to fall asleep on her own, and apparently it involves tears. Her torment is incessant, a tide of misery building into giant, shuddering sobbing fits and then subsiding, only to rise again. It is impossible to listen to, and unthinkable not to.
At regular intervals I slump into her darkened room to check on her. Each time she is standing at the foot of her crib, bawling, loudly waiting for my return. I am sweet but firm, a difficult combination with all this guilt clawing at me, urging me to end her sadness, to try this process again another night. Instead I murmur to her, brush her hair from her wet face, lay her down, and rub her shuddering back until she quiets. And then, as advised, I back out of the room to let her figure out how to sleep without me. Her howls follow me down the hall.
I feel cruel and selfish and desperately tired. I swore I would never leave Sunshine to cry it out, but those were pre-parent vows, the promises of someone on the other side of all of these sleepless nights. I am doing the right thing. I am. I know I am.
On my web browser, ten tabs open to articles about sleep. The words are different, but they almost all say the same thing: let her cry. Let her cry, and she will fall asleep. It’s not mean. She has to learn. It’s only a few nights. It’s time. I read through them again for affirmation. Still, I nearly rise and go to her a dozen times before the clock says I may.
Finally, her cries slow to an intermittent whine, a tired drizzle. And then…nothing. I blink into the silence, torn between relief and worry. I can go back to bed! Yay! But is she okay? Did she just fall asleep? Did it actually work? I can’t check now, risk repeating all this drama tonight. Tomorrow will be soon enough. And, yes, we will have another round of this tomorrow night. And the following. And, all those websites assure me, a few nights after that. But we can do this. For now, baby’s sleeping. And soon, I hope, so will I.
I can easily spend an hour each day sprawled out on the floor, nose to carpet, examining the pile for lint, leaf bits, and the random fluff that floats around any cat-cluttered house no matter how many times you vacuum. Just step over me. I’ll be there for a while, putting all those specks in my pocket, trying to get to them before Sunshine (formerly The Schnooks) does. At nine months old she’s a crack-up, a mooch, and the household’s chief fleck inspector. She’s also mobile and voracious; I feel like I’m on suicide watch, anticipating the next item she’ll grip in her tiny fist and shove into her mouth.
It doesn’t help that our vacuum bit the dust, so to speak, and now spits out more specks than it sucks up. And I guess I don’t think like a baby, since I’m almost never right about what Sunshine will eat, especially when we’re outside or visiting someone. Or maybe my vision is just off, and I simply can’t see what she sees.
Even at home it’s impossible to always stay ahead, though it’s easier when she inadvertently warns me. She goes still and stares at something, then wiggles her ample booty, wrinkles her nose, and lets out her happy Beavis “heh heh heh”. A moment later she’s off, scooting across the room in adapted military fashion, forearm, hand, toe, toe. At times like those, I swoop in, examining her path for any chokeables or other hazards.
When she quiets, though, her mouth pursed closed, her little jaw working, I know I’ve missed something and am about to fight a baby who’s determined to chew, chew, swallow anything small enough to fit between her teeth. All four of them. Sometimes she wins, downing it before I get to her. If not, I squeeze her cheeks, fish-lipping her, and examine the piece. Let her swallow it? Scoop it out? Depends on if it’s worth the struggle.
Staying ahead of Sunshine is never easy. Still, the scooting’s cute. It may even be worth the constant vigilance.