Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Boo-Hoo-in' at the Bruin

At least once a month, Benjamin and I pay a visit to one of hospitals affiliated with UCLA. There are a myriad of reasons for these visits: doing blood tests, picking up medication, and seeing doctors are among them. During our latest visit, I decided that it was time Benjamin saw more of my alma mater than the all-too-familiar rotation of doctors' offices, laboratories, and exam rooms. As an introduction, I took him to the heart of the campus: the Bruin Bear that stood proudly in Westwood Plaza.

As we stood at the base of the Bruin Bear, I regaled Benjamin with stories of my college days. My heart swelled with emotion as I began telling him about the first time I stood in Westwood Plaza.

To give him a better view, I lifted Benjamin up so he could see the Bruin's magnificent maw.

Unfortunately, Benjamin did not respond the way I had hoped he would. I've seen similar tears from my husband when we've visited UCLA before, but in his case, they're from the torture of hearing my college stories for the hundredth time.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Potty-sey: Part 3

When people find out we're practicing Elimination Communication, or EC, the questions inevitably follow. "Is it the same as potty training?" "Does he tell you when he needs to go?" "Isn't it a lot of work?" "Is he still wearing diapers?" These are all common questions, the answers to which are "no," "kind of," "not really," and "most of the time." As I've mentioned before, EC isn't really potty training, but it does increase awareness of pottying in the baby. Not only does Benjamin know what the potty is for, but he's now able to communicate with me many times when he needs to use it by either crawling towards it, patting it, or making an approximation of the hand signal for "potty." Also, timing plays a big role in ECing; I always potty Benjamin after naps and upon waking in the morning. Contrary to what you might think, EC is not a lot more work if you do it only as frequently as your schedule will allow. For example, I would be considered a "part time EC-er," because even though I try to catch more of B's shalalas and polliwogs in the toilet or potty (see this post if you have no idea what in the Sam Hill I'm talking about), there are times when it's easier for me to just leave him in a diaper and not worry about it, such as when we're out running errands. Also, when he's sick or having a hard time with teething, I tend to put ECing on the back burner. That being said, there are times when it's "safe" for me to put B in training pants or a cloth diaper because I know that he's finishing shalalala-ing for a while. You follow?

The easiest way for me to show you how it works would be to, well, show you. I took this video of me and B practicing EC after he awoke from his morning nap.



As you can see, it does take a bit more effort and a lot more patience than simply changing a diaper. Still, I'd argue that wiping out a plastic potty is a heckuva lot easier than trying to clean a squirming, twisting, messy baby, and it's even easier the times B uses his Baby Bjorn toilet seat on the grown-up potty. The chances of having shalalalas inadvertently flung in my face are much slimmer, too!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Benjamin's First Christmas

Benjamin learns a valuable lesson: Chicks dig cars.

When we found out we were pregnant, we made a vow that we would not spoil our children. They would receive sticks to play with and walk uphill through the snow both ways to go to school. Okay, maybe our vow wasn't quite so draconian, but we did swear to espouse a minimalist approach when it came to giving gifts. That is why we decided that Benjamin would receive only one paltry gift for his first Christmas: (cue Bob Barker voice) A NEW CAR! After reading hundreds of online reviews of a dozen different pedal cars, we settled on a spicy little number by Radio Flyer. Never one to leave well enough alone, I wasn't content to just give the car as-is to Benjamin. I spent the week before Christmas laboriously fitting the plastic tires with hand-sewn rubber treads. I can't claim full credit for this addition: I got this idea from our neighbor Shawn (Nolan's dad), another person incapable of leaving well enough alone. Back in November, he fitted Nolan's pedal car with rubber treads and showed me how I could do the same. In case you're interested, I've included the instructions at the bottom of this post.

Benjamin was lovingly spoiled by his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. On Christmas Eve, we observed the Chan family tradition of eating won ton soup and opening gifts at Vince's parents' house. To everyone's amusement, several of us gave duplicate handmade gifts to one another. Vince's parents got two adorable custom-made wall calendars and two sets of personalized photo mugs, and both Adele and I gave large, framed photo collages and UCLA-themed items as gifts. As they say, great minds think alike!

That evening, we hosted Christmas Eve dinner at our home for our good friends Deb, George, and Mikey. Despite being instructed not to, Deb and George splurged on a their gift to Benjamin by buying him an animatronic rocking horse who whinnied and tossing his head. Benjamin's initial reaction to his new pet was less than enthusiastic, but by the next day, he was grabbing the horsie's mane and trying to climb on.

To round out the Christmas festivities, we had Christmas dinner at Vince's Aunt Delores and Uncle Harry's house. Benjamin got to meet his cousins, aunts, and uncles from that branch of the family tree for the first time, and he seemed to form an instant bond with Uncle Milton. Perhaps because he was having so much fun hanging out with him, Benjamin pooped out before dinner even began and spent the remainder of the evening sleeping on his Daddy's chest. That was fine with me, because that gave me the chance to drink more wine. I mean, eat more food.

All in all, Benjamin had a wonderful first Christmas filled with the most important things in life: family, friends, and fancy cars. And on that note, here are those instructions for tricking out your very own pedal car tires. Much thanks goes to Shawn for helping me out with this project!

MATERIALS: Two bike tires, box cutters, scissors, needle, black thread, two-part quick-set epoxy, aspirin

STEP 1: GET THE TIRES READY. Cut the beading off of each bike tire. The way I did this was by first cutting an opening into the tire with a box cutter and then using regular office shears to cut all the way around right next to the tread.

STEP 2: CUT THE TIRES TO SIZE. First heat the tires in the oven to get them soft and pliable. I baked my tires at 200 degrees for about 15 minutes. This step to the process was my addition. As I said before, I'm not one to leave well enough alone, and that included not leaving Shawn's instructions alone. After the tires are done baking, stretch one of them as tightly as you can around one of the wheels on the pedal car. Measure how much of the tire you use, and then cut the tire about a quarter of an inch shorter than that. Cut around the treads in a point.

STEP 3: SEW THE TIRE ENDS. Using a needle and black thread, sew the two edges of the cut tire length together. I strongly suggest using a thimble for this step. If you don't have a thimble (and I didn't), your thumbs and fingers will pay dearly. When you're done, you should have four tire loop thingys.

STEP 4: ATTACH THE TIRES. Stretch each tire loop over each wheel of the pedal car. This should take some effort on your part and the tire loops should fit pretty snugly. Make sure the treads of each tire loop are centered on the wheel. Finally, use the epoxy to seal both edges and the sewed seam of each tire.

STEP 5 (not pictured): MEDICATE YOURSELF. Take two aspirin for your aching, blistered hands. Pour a glass (or two) of wine if necessary. I'm not saying I did this. It's just a suggestion.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Clever Little Boys

Every parent thinks his or her child is a genius, and I am no exception: I firmly believe that Benjamin is the brightest, most intelligent, most smartest baby that ever crawled the Earth. I see every little thing he does as proof of that he is a burgeoning prodigy. I mean, take a look at the magnum opus above. You may see the scribbles of a child, but I see the emerging talent of a young artist. A restrained young Jackson Pollack, perhaps.

It should come as no surprise then that every new thing he does I pounce upon with glee in my voice and a camera in my hand. Recently, he made what I saw as great strides in his feeding habits. Instead of my needing to cut his food up into tiny pieces, he began picking up his food whole and either taking bites out of it or tearing small pieces off to feed himself. What did I tell you? He's a GENIUS!
It turns out that Benjamin isn't the only quick learner. Oliver has learned that Benjamin's stomach isn't big enough to eat the large portions that he can now grab, and that if Oliver waits long enough, he will benefit from all that uneaten food.

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Did you see that? The two are in cahoots! As outraged as I sounded in that video, however, I have to admit that was a pretty impressed by what slick team they made.

Vince also demonstrated to me how clever he is. We were out shopping the sales when I found a great pair of yoga pants. I don't do yoga, but some of the positions I contort myself into trying to chase after Benjamin should count for something. In any case, I tried the pants on and asked Vince if he liked them. He looked up briefly from his iPhone and said, "Mm-hmmm." Inspecting my rear in the mirror, I expressed concern that they were too snug and asked him if they looked like pants or tights. He replied, "Are they supposed to be pants or tights?" Wow. Could I not get a straight answer out of this man? So finally, I asked, "If you saw another woman wearing these pants, would you try to turn around and look at her butt?" He paused, rolled his eyes, and then walked away. I realized then that I had inadvertently asked a question to which there was no good answer. Say "no,"and I'll take it to mean that the pants don't look good on me. Say "yes," and you're admitting to being a total slimeball. At that moment, I was filled with admiration: it takes a pretty smart man to know that he's being asked a trick question by his wife, even when she doesn't realize she's asking one!

And in case you're wondering, I bought the pants.

Friday, December 19, 2008

All I Want For Christmas Is Some Red Blood Cells

As I've mentioned before, Benjamin was born with a blood cell disorder. Although it has necessitated a stay in the NICU, more doctor visits and procedures than he cares to remember, and blood transfusions, we are very grateful that his is a fairly low-maintenance disorder to have. As long as Benjamin stays healthy, we have little to worry about. When he does fall ill, however, he is in danger of becoming dangerously anemic. Unfortunately, our little guy picked up a bug several weeks ago that he was unable to kick, and thus began the medical merry-go-round. Blood tests and x-rays and hospitals, oh my!

Several days of testing revealed that Boo would be needing a transfusion. Luckily, we have the best pediatrician in the world. When I was still a swollen, hormonal pregnant woman, I interviewed ("ruthlessly interrogated" is more like it) several pediatricians, and Dr. Sharon Kaminker was the only one who passed muster. As we got to know mommies and babies in the area, we found that Dr. K had fans in many places. The last time I saw her, I joked that we were going to start The Cult of Sharon Kaminker, which made her laugh. Somewhat uneasily, I think. Anyway, we checked into the peds ward of Santa Monica-UCLA Hospital where the wonderful nurses got him set up and Dr. K also came to check on him.

In between the various tests and procedures, Benjamin carried on with business as usual. He ate crackers and watched talk shows, yelling at the asinine comments people made.

He took naps against a soundtrack of beeping and whirring machines.

He tore up a menu after he was told that his favorite meal of string cheese, yogurt, and pork sausage wasn't on it.

He hung out in the children's playroom where he fiddled with toys, drew on a pad of paper (and on himself), and read a book.

He kicked back with Daddy, made Mommy smile, and sang songs with his future mother-in-law, Catherine.

And yes, he did business as usual in his potty. A funny sidenote: The pottying has actually come in quite handy this week. When a lab tech told me that she'd have to "bag" Benjamin to collect a urine sample, I told her that that wouldn't be necessary, because I could simply ask him to pee into a cup like all the other patients. The look of shock on her face when I procured the sample was priceless. Also priceless was Catherine's reaction when Benjamin decided to entertain her by very enthusiastically going Numero Dos in his potty while she was visiting.

After a fitful night, an endless day, and prayers from family and friends, Benjamin's blood counts went up, his fever stayed down, and we were discharged. It happened not a moment too soon: in the words of Jack Bauer, this was the longest day of our lives.

Monday, December 15, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a Little Like Christmas

The bulk of our holiday cards may have gone out weeks ago, but we've been horribly remiss in getting the Christmas decorations up. The main reason has been because we couldn't decide whether or not to put up a tree this year. In the end, we opted to place a small tree and wrapped gifts in the area behind the gate at the bottom of the staircase. Sure, it may not be quite as festive as a full-sized tree, but at least we don't have to worry about Hurricane Benjamin doing this to our Christmas cheer:
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Our friends and family have been very understanding of the perpetual mess in our home, but we didn't want to push our luck by giving them slobber-covered, duct-taped holiday gifts. As you can see, even though Benjamin's been laid up with a nasty cold, he's still well enough to do some serious damage to my magazines.
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I wanted to liven up Benjamin's Clubhouse with some decorations, so on Friday, I went on a hunt for mistletoe with my buds Deb and George. I failed to find any, but Uncle George was more than happy to give his favorite little mohawked dude some Christmas love anyway. In case you're wondering why there are two seemingly identical pictures of George holding Benjamin, it's because George insisted that I take a second picture because he wasn't flexing enough in the first one. I'm not joking.

By Saturday, Benjamin seemed to be doing much better, so we took a stroll to the neighborhood library. He played with the trucks in the kids' area and even did some coloring. Ok, I use the term "coloring" very loosely; "stabbing of paper with crayons" is probably more apt.

The holiday vibe continued through Sunday when we watched cousin Ryan perform in the children's Christmas play at his church. He attacked his role as Shepherd #2 with gusto, speaking his lines loud and clear. We look forward to next year when his little brother Tyler will likely join him on stage.

Unfortunately, Benjamin took a turn for the worse Sunday afternoon when his fever returned with a vengeance. At his pediatrician's urging, we went to the UCLA-Santa Monica emergency room. Let me tell you that if you ever have to go to an ER, this is the one to go to. It's new, the staff are very friendly, and they're quick. We were out of there in less than two hours! Anyway, Benjamin checked out fine. The doctor told us that he was probably just fighting "viral crud." So basically, we'd taken our baby to the ER for a cold. Novice mistake.

I did get to bring a little something home with me from the hospital, though. While waiting for our discharge paperwork, I fashioned this Koons-esque sculpture out of an inflated latex glove:

I call it Pregnant Woman Surrendering Her Sanity to Motherhood.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Benjamin's Clubhouse

On a recent stroll through Ikea, I made a wondrous discovery: Ikea sells igloos! This place is amazing. Ikea sells not only cheap potties, furniture, and dishware, but also igloos! IGLOOS! Will wonders never cease? Best of all, the igloos sell for only-- Nevermind. I'm not going to disclose how much they go for, because some of the lucky little boys on our Christmas list may be getting one this year.

Since an igloo would be incongruous within our SoCal home, Benjamin -with my help, natch - fashioned a sign for its doorway, transforming the igloo into a clubhouse. And in deference to his mother's anal-retentive wishes, he made a second sign for the inside of the entryway. Anyone who's been to our home will understand.

The beauty of Benjamin's clubhouse is that a substatial amount of our baby detritus is now contained. Now when you approach his playroom, instead of a messy landscape of blocks, dolls, books, and toys, you're greeted by the far neater sight of a single igloo-- I mean, clubhouse.

The one thing that will stay out of the clubhouse is Benjamin's potty. As the saying goes, one shouldn't um... poop where one eats.

Of course, a clubhouse wouldn't be complete without a trusty guard dog. If Oliver looks less than enthralled with his new job, it's because even though he's welcome to stand sentry outside of the clubhouse, there's an understand that's he's not allowed to go in.

Before you start feeling sorry for the pug, know this: along with the igloo, I also purchased a new baby gate to use during Oliver's mealtimes. So even though Benjamin may have his own clubhouse, the pug now has his own dining room - as well as the smug satisfaction of knowing that his nemesis is barred from entering.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Male Bonding 2

As Benjamin's gotten older, he seems to have traded in some of his more baby-like traits for those of a boy. Don't get me wrong: he still cries, drools, and poops with the best of 'em. But we're starting to see signs that we have a rambunctious, mischievious little man on our hands. He yells. He destoys things. He likes eating red meat chopped up into tiny, bite-sized pieces. He's becoming a Real Man. And to go along with his budding manliness, Benjamin's developed a posse of pretty close male buds.

There's Nolan, his numero uno partner in crime. Nolan's a little older than B, so he's taught him a thing or two about some of the important things in a man's life like eating solids, and standing up for himself. Well, actually, he's just taught him about standing up. Period.
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Then there's Luc, Benjamin's Friday afternoon class buddy. They're a bit closer in age, and they have a great time hanging out. Literally.

And recently, Benjamin made a new guy friend, Brayden. They enjoy looking cool together on the playground.

Even though he has all these great guys to hang out with, Benjamin's favorite bud is still Vince. Maybe it's because Daddy has the most to teach him. He's able to show him how to fearlessly go down a slide, how to bounce on a teeter-totter, and how to ride atop his shoulders to get a better view of the world.
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Maybe Benjamin's old man will even teach him how to pee standing up. That'll be the day!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Cruising

Now that he is able to cruise around the house, Benjamin's horizons have greatly expanded. Literally. In his pre-cruising, crawling-only life, he was only able to see things that were approximately one foot off of the ground. Now that he can pull himself up and stand upright, he can see things a whole two-and-a-half feet off of the ground! That means that he's able to see over tabletops, over the couch cushions, and out of windows where he can see (cue music) a whole new woooooooorld!

Now that the bottoms of his tender little feet are seeing more action, Benjamin's shoes must serve more than just an aesthetic purpose: they must also protect and support his delicate tooties. The three pairs shown above are the ones he wears most frequently now, and they were all chosen because of their superior design and comfort. Ok, I'll admit that the fuzzy slippers (previously worn by his cousins and generously given to him by his Aunt Adele) are for my enjoyment only.

Even though Benjamin has his pick of his own stylish footwear, he seems to be more drawn to mine. He's especially fond of my Ugg boots, a birthday gift from my husband and a staple of moms in Los Angeles. It seems that if you're an LA mom, these hideous-yet-fashionable boots are de rigeur. My friends laugh at me for wearing them in our warm climate, but I maintain that until they see me tucking Juicy velours into them while zipping up a matching Juicy velour hoodie, I'm beyond ridicule. Now excuse me while I go finish my non-fat, half-caf, soy caramel macchiato.
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Monday, December 1, 2008

Thank You, Thank You Very Much

Is anyone else in utter shock that the winter holiday season is upon us once again? Not that I'm complaining. I have so much to be thankful for. Since last Thanksgiving, I've been blessed with a new sister-in-law, a beautiful baby boy, the transformation of my beloved hubby into an equally amazing father, female friendships that only seem to get stronger as time goes by, and the return of my waistline. Kind of.

My brother Leon and his wife Claire joined us again for Thanksgiving this year. Also, we were thrilled to have our dear friend Umberto travel all the way from Milan to celebrate with us, too. I think that Benjamin was even more thrilled than we were, however. He and Umbo hit it off so well that I joked that we'd have to make sure that Umbo didn't bring Benjamin back to Italy with him as a souvenir.

We spent the day before Thanksgiving enjoying what has become something of a family tradition: Rock Band. Maybe Benjamin will actually be able to play one of the instruments the next time we all get together!

On the big day, Leon and Claire resumed their positions as Vice Presidents in charge of Turkey Roasting and Sausage Stuffing. This year, they got a little help from Umbo. Above, you can see Leon and Umberto having their way with the turkey. I swear that I witnessed them doing things to the poor bird that must have been illegal in at least five states.

Later in the evening, Vince's parents, his sisters, and his nephews arrived for the feast. Vince's Dad and Umbo made quick work of slicing up the turkey.

We were anxious to see what our resident food critic thought of Leon's turkey. After puzzling over its unfamiliar taste and texture for just a moment, he gave it one thumb and one chubby pinky up.

Still full from our Thanksgiving feast the night before, we decided to enjoy a light breakfast of Portugese sausage, fried spam and eggs, corned beef hash, french toast, and pancakes at Rutt's Cafe on Friday morning. Never one to miss an opportunity to make new friends, Benjamin spent the entire meal staring at a group of policemen seated in the booth behind us until they agreed to take a picture with him.

The friendly cops at Rutt's weren't the only new pals that Benjamin made this weekend. On Saturday, Umbo's college friend Andreas (whom he hadn't seen in 15 years) and his fiancee Jennifer joined us for lunch. In the evening, Claire's college roommate Grace and her fiance Armand came by for dinner. We capped off the weekend by meeting up with our cousins Mike and Jason and their loved ones. Mike, his wife Wendy, and their baby girl Audrey were in town from Raleigh, NC to visit Wendy's sister in Irvine. Wendy's brother-in-law Ivan joined the reunion. Jason was in Cerritos with his girlfriend Hanie. Ever the Ladies' Man, Benjamin spent the visit showing off his standing skills to the younger Audrey.

And if the weekend weren't exciting enough, Benjamin took his first steps! Ok, I'm totally exaggerating. He didn't really take his first steps, but he did start doing this bizarre half-crawling/half-crabwalking thing in which he crawls on his hands and knees and then takes a step left foot. Surely, that counts for something. Right?


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Even if it doesn't, that's ok. I enjoyed a wonderful weekend was filled with food, family, and friends, and that's more than enough to give thanks for!