Well, I finally broke down and got Keane a real little-boy haircut. And after seeing how absurdly cute he is now that the shape of his head is evident...I don't know why I waited so long. Of course, the snipping of the locks is a reminder of the fact that he is blowing through toddlerhood, trying his darnedest to catch up to his big brother in just about every respect except for still wanting to be cuddled and snuggled like a baby...but that's so evident in other ways that I've come to terms with the fact that the hair is not what I'm trying to hold onto. The thing about the haircut that I didn't antipicate was that he would come out of it looking not only six months older but 95% identical-looking to the dink at that age. It's unreal. Of course I love how they look-- their little faces have the most pleasing features to my senses that sometimes it's hard to look away--but sometimes I just think come on, can't J and I produce any other combination of traits?! When you're pregnant, and you try to envision what your future child will look like, it seems the possibilities are endless. And then the child is born, or in my case born twice, and suddenly all the mystery disappears...and you realize there was no mystery at all in the first place. The possibilities are not endless. Clearly, this is what children produced by the two of us will look like. A little of me, a little of you, blond hair, light eyes, fair skin...don't know why we'd ever imagine it any other way! Here's the comparison:
Declan around 19 months
Keane at 19 months, post-haircut
One indication of K trying to grow up too fast (for me) is that he's become obsessed with babies, and recognizes them as something separate from himself. He loves reading his books about babies, pointing out babies in public, and when you sing Rock-a-Bye Baby, he pulls his little hands to his chest and sways back and forth like he's rocking his own baby. So finally, after he twice tried to steal a little girl's baby doll at church (and screamed MINE! while pointing to it obnoxiously), I realized it was time for him to have his very own. It took a little effort to find one that wasn't dripping with pink frills, but I finally did--a little soft-bodied/hard-headed blue and orange thing with a hat. I showed it to Keane in the backseat of the car when we got home one day. I said, "Look, Keane, it's your baby doll!" He immediately kicked his legs and reached out for it, almost panting. Then I freed him from his carseat and stood him in the driveway, holding his very own baby at last. And then I stood there, frozen, while he kissed his baby on the mouth about 27 times in a row, exclaiming "Baby!" every 2-3 kisses. And I mean wet, open-mouth, I-love-you kind of kisses...I'm still kicking myself for not having the video camera ready for this significant event! Keane has finally found a much-needed outlet for sharing his love. And he's learned already at this tender age that babies are meant for kissing. Can't complain about that.
Every time I start feeling like my life is under control and that I can actually handle all of the events and responsibilities that each day throws at me...I get thrown a little more. At least it gives me perspective; things can either be worse or be better, and no sense in wishing for one or the other because you'll get your turn at both at some point. Better to just focus on what you've got for the time being.
Right now what we've got is a complicated approach to trying to improve the health, happiness, and well-being of Keane. Without drawing this out--the meat of it is that he's been ill almost nonstop for the past 9 months (essentially, ever since he started eating a mostly solid diet as a baby, his immune system quit functioning). Ear infections, sinus infections, countless colds and coughs, croup, hand food & mouth disease, tonsilities, unexplained fevers for days...you name it, he's had it. And on top of that, he's frequently cranky as all get-out for no apparent reason and communicates to me in certain ways that an outsider would not see or feel, but that in my own motherly intuition I am 100% certain of, that he just doesn't feel good, most of the time. I remember when the dink was this age, around 18 months, and I would take him out in public to stores and such, people would constantly comment on what a happy baby I had. He was all smiles, waving at people, looking around with bright eyes and absorbing the world around him. I used to think to myself, well what does he have to be unhappy about? The kid has a nice life. Well, I'd like to think that we're giving Keane the same nice life, but no one has ever commented about how happy he is, and we've certainly never made it through a single outing anywhere without fussiness or tears. Some days I've even found myself wondering, is there anything for him to be happy about?
So we have two different kids, despite their physical appearances. That goes without saying. But there's more to the story than that. I've been aware of Keane's sensitivites to food since he was a newborn and I was eating only 6-7 foods to try to get his diarrhea and general misery under control. And that's what I'm still doing today. We recently had his blood tested to find out what foods he is sensitive to, though not necessarily allergic to. And now we're doing a strict elimination diet to get those foods out of his system and see if he experiences any relief. It involves an absurd amount of effort, as he's limited to only a couple dozen very basic foods, so I'm trying my hand at things like banana/oat/sweet potato "bread" if you can call it that just to have something to leave him for a snack at daycare. He's pretty much living off of turkey, asaparagus, mushrooms, onions, sweet potatoes, and a handful of fruits for a few weeks now before we start adding other foods back. But amazingly he's accepting it pretty well. The first days were really rough, with massive BMs that could not be contained by a diaper, a full body rash, and extreme irritability that culminated one afternoon with a fifteen-minute, on-the-floor trantrum asking for a cheese stick...but now things are leveling off. That was supposed to be the "detox" phase of the diet. Yesterday, a daycare worker told me that Keane seemed happier and healthier to her. And two nights ago, I put him to bed at night awake, and he went right to sleep without crying or needing me back in there...for the first time ever in his entire life. So I took that as a sure sign that some part of him is feeling better already. Oh, and his two-week runny nose suddenly disappeared completely around day 3 of the diet...another welcome relief.
So who knows what this will bring. At the moment, it feels like life throwing more at me, but at the same time I realize that if it's successful, our entire family will be in "for the better" phase. We'll all have one more impetus for happiness and health. Even if I have to keep baking these fake breads for the next 18 years...it would be worth it.
Along with this intense focus on diet comes, naturally with these little boys, some silliness. One evening shortly after starting his new regimen, Keane had a poop so enormous that it could not be contained by his size 5 diaper. Before I could grab the wipes to change him, he had passed through the kitchen, dropping poop clumps in various places along the way, culminating by sitting down in the "carpet room"...and I'll leave the rest to the imagination. So I start running around frantically, trying to clean the poop and Keane before any further spreading takes place. The dink senses my stress and asks me what's wrong. So I explain the situation to him, and give him the task of looking around the house for more droppings. Perhaps I should mention that at that moment, he happened to be wearing a Santa Claus hat and a scarf (in July) and carrying a red flashlight. So off he went, telling me he was on an "adventure", shining the light in the pantry, behind the TV, at the base of the dishwasher...looking in earnest for treasure. That dink has a way of putting a smile on my face even in the stinkiest of situations.
Since his birth, we’ve fondly referred to Keane as “The
Keane Machine”, which not only rhymes but gives an indication of the
persistence of his personality. Often, we’ll rearrange it with a modifier to
make it more aptly fit a certain situation: Keane the Poop Machine, Keane the
Blueberry Machine, Keane the Fuss Machine. Lately, we should be saying Keane
the Word Machine because he is saying a new word every day, already saying a few sentences, and essentially talking nonstop.
It makes me wonder if he’s been trying to communicate with me since birth (and
I’ve been missing the efforts), and now that he’s finally finding the words,
he’s got so much to tell! He’s about to turn 17 months, and I’d wager that he
knows about 50-60 words. And on top of that, he’ll try to repeat just about
anything you say.
The funniest thing he says is simply yes and no, but the way
he says it is hilarious—he’s mimicking the casual speech of people around him.
No sounds like noooo, almost like nah, but with a singsong-ness to it. And yes
is yeah the way you’d say it in “yeah, I guess so.” Some other favorites
include him saying Amen! not only at the end of a prayer before dinner, but all
throughout a meal and sometimes during play. He associates it with setting
things down, I think, I guess because we’re saying Amen after I’ve set down all
the food on the table. Sometimes he bows his head and his torso in a worship-like
fashion, then sits up and yells it like he’s so proud of his display.
His pronunciation is not perfect, of course, and I think I’m
the only one who understands a lot of what he says, but believe you me he
manages to annunciate intensely when he’s asking for one of his favorite things
in the world: outside, pop-pop (popsicle), box (as in juice), bubbles, berries,
bread, cheese, box (different one, jack-in-the-), and a recent favorite that he
suddenly has great affection for, appy (apples)—that one is probably the cutest
thing he says. And those sentences I mentioned--mostly all start with "I want", like I wanna treat, I wanna do it...can't imagine where he gets it from. The other day, he held up his finger to me and demanded one more minute! in an awfully familiar fashion. And just like D as a toddler, there are a few words K refuses to say but uses motion instead to communicate them: elephant (a trumpeting noise), heart (beating the chest saying "boom-boom"), sorry (a hug), and of course the elusive I love you, which is always expressed with a kiss. He still can't say his name but is finally trying--it sounds like nee. And Declan's name sounds a lot like dada, which makes the dink scream at him hysterically (I. AM. NOT. YOUR. DAD!) Oh, and even though he can say Goofy, Elmo, Zoe, Cookie, Abby...he calls Mickey and Minnie both Ninnie. Oh boy, I could go on and on...
It's been too long since I've written about my boys! But it's only because I've been terribly busy living, and I can't complain about that. In the meantime, though, these boys are exploding in their abilities, their wills, their hearts, and of course, their sheer boyness. I am truly outnumbered in this household.
The dink is super-into imaginary play these days. He's constantly asking me to refer to him as Bob the Builder, Elmo, Mickey, kitty cat, lion...you name it. And the rest of the household is supposed to take on corresponding names. A couple favorites have been when J comes home from work and the dink yells "Hey, Goofy!" And another night, we were repeatedly corrected for a two-hour period by the dink if either J or I called Keane anything but "Jimmy," the inquisitive animal-loving character from the animated portion of Wild Kratts.
And then comes the ever-important "play." We build forts. We build roads. We hide from bad guys. We run away from Keane. We get in trouble for pretending to shoot a gun because it upsets Mommy and she doesn't understand how we ever learned about this gun-shooting and bad-guy concept in the first place... But the dink lives for his play. I used to say that he would jump off the roof of the house for a mere three M&Ms. Now, the lengths that he'll go to to negotiate, beg for, and demand to "play a few more minutes" are simply staggering. My favorite play is when we pretend that we're going to make soup, and he goes to the grocery store for all the vegetables we need, but at some point in the process he stops in tracks and remembers--oh no--that he forgot his coupons!...Classic.
He's just trying to figure out this crazy world, that dink, and the little lives we manage in it. You can see his little face trying to sort out things he's seen or experienced, framing them in a question to make sure he understood it right: "Mom, sometimes blueberries cost too much, so we have to go to a different store?" That's right, dink. Or, we just don't buy them. "Mom, when I leave school, my friends will miss me?" Of course they will, dink. "Mom, juice doesn't help you grow. Only water and milk help you grow...right?" Amen to that.
And as much as the dink has his crazy fits of nonsense and misplaced anger, he has crazy fits of love and sentimentality. He's into spontaneous hugs, pats, pets, and declarations of love in which he must have the final word. So he'll randomly say, "Mom, I love you." or "Mom, you're my best friend." And if I reply "I love you, too." He'll say "No! I said I love YOU!" At which moment an argument ensues if you try to force the point. And arguing about love, while it doesn't seem entirely unnatural, is surely unwarranted with a three-year-old. So I just let it stand. "Thank you, dink." Can't wait till he and K fight about their love. :) One day!
Today Baby K is 14 months old! (Note: "Today" has since passed...) I just want to take a moment to sit and be astonished at how much this child has flourished in the past two months. It's really just remarkable. He's finally sleeping through the night (until 5 a.m. or even 6 a.m.) at least half of the week, so my year-long fatigue is at long last starting to wane. He is mimicing everything his brother does, good and bad. That means he'll pick up a plastic baseball bat and hand me a bouncy ball to throw to him...and he'll scream real ugly in my face when I won't let him do what he wants. And somehow both are equally amusing. He's a total book fiend, and the way he says "book" is the cutest ever--he doesn't say the "k" at the end, but let's his voice rise to a high pitch instead. So it's a two-syllable word. But he's so excited to find a book anywhere in the house, and will sit on your lap and point to random things in the book, make animal sounds at the ones he sees, and turn back the pages when we're done to find his favorite picture. When I ask him if he's ready to get out of the bathtub at night, he points to the towel hanging from the shower rod and says "boo-oo?", anticipating what's next. I want to make a list of the words he's already saying because it's pretty astounding (to me, at least) when he's only completed 14 months of life as of today. It's so crazy to think about how much a human can accomplish in one year! Gosh, what happens to us as adults???!
Keane's (attempts at) words at 14 months:
on/off (same word for turning the light switch)
hot dog (as in the Mickey Mouse hot dog dance, which Keane joins in with Declan on)
I'm sure there are more yet. Seems like every day he says something that surprises me. Of course, most people wouldn't be able to understand his pronunciation of half the words, but I usually know exactly what he's saying! And he'll pretty much try to mimic anything you say. So if I go, Keane, can you say yesterday? He'll actually try. And I'm convinced he understands 80% of what we're saying most of the time. For example, if we're in the living room, and he brings me a coloring book to read, I can say "Keane, go in your room and get your Elmo book", and he's on it. Or, if I say "Don't you dare pull all of that food out of the pantry again," he'll do it. See? Genius!
And as you can see from his photos...his curls are simply out of control. I've tried once to trim the front of his hair because his bangs were in his eyes, but I haven't had the heart to cut the rest. It's just so crazy cute, especially since I know he got his hair from me...but I guess it is kind of starting to look like a girl. The dink sure thinks so too. When I wash K's hair in the bathtub, as I pour the water on his head and his hair falls straight for once down his neck, the dink loves to say at that moment, "Keane is a man!" As if the rest of the time he looks like a girl. Oh well, I think we'll celebrate it just a bit longer...
I'm just so thankful that we've finally ventured back into "normal" life after a stressful 2011, now with two sweet, predictable little boys and a comfortable routine that requires energy but is way more enjoyment than exhaustion. It feels good.
I’ve been away from my boys for 12 days now. Tomorrow I’m
finally going home. I’ve been finding myself, as the days have passed in
Sweden, fantasizing about each of them, as if we each have our own love story.
I imagine what our reunion will be like, even though I know it’s always the
hours following reunion that deliver the most meaning. I think of the way Keane
smiles out of the corners of his mouth while he’s sucking his thumb, or holds
his thumb between his gums for a moment to let the smile shine through. And I
obsess about the way he smells, so similar to Declan’s scent at that age (has
something to do with eating lots of bananas!), and just want to hold him sideways
in my arms, bury my face in the crook of his neck to inhale his essence, and
kiss him dozens of times. And I think about his typical reaction to me when I
arrive to pick him up at daycare—reaching his arms out and grinning from ear to
ear, sometimes clapping and sometimes bouncing up and down in excitement. Then
I imagine that scene escalating, and us doing something unexpected and
glorious, like laugh hysterically for five minutes, or reach out simultaneously
for twenty wet mouth kisses in a row.
And for Declan, the sky’s the limit. I’ve done some Skyping
with the dink while I’ve been gone, but half the time with no video and the
rest of the time with him not sitting still in the right location for the
video…and so I’ve spent some time focusing on the dink’s voice alone, which is
something that I apparently never do. I think when he talks normally, I’m
focusing on his little face and his actions, and not necessarily memorizing and
savoring the sound of his precious southern three-year-old voice. It was almost
as if I’d never heard him speak before when we talked on skype. I felt like, who is
this voice—the words are all familiar but the sound of it, coming across the
internet from an unfathomable distance away—that I’ve never heard so clear
before. And I can’t wait to hear what that little voice will say when I see him again—probably start
with something random like “you wearing black shoes, mommy?” and then move on to
asking me a dozen times in the next few hours “you home, mommy?”…and then how
many different ways will he ask me to snuggle with him and sleep with him and
prompt me to say things like “My two boys!” as we sit together on the couch. He
can say anything, honestly. I just want to reconnect those sweet words with
those big, bright eyes and be with him.
It seems almost implausible when I say it out loud, but here I am, in the
middle of my second week in Sweden, the day before Valentine's Day, filing away
a barrage of images of Swedish women pushing around Euro-mod strollers with
babies in their depths--insulated, puffy, snow babies, with countless
protective layers, hats, and blankets, with only pink noses peeking out and
occasional cries when they're wheeled into a shop. And all I can think is—do people really live like this? And a second later, where oh where are my babies?
I may miss my boys like crazy, but it doesn’t take away from my assessment
that Sweden is just a happy place. Despite the February weather, there are
bright, shiny, tall people everywhere I look, going about their business with a
calm pleasantness that, regrettably, you just don’t find in the US. They
seem content, empathetic to each other. Example: It’s against the law to sell children’s
toys that are guns here. I can’t help but think of how many (positive)
implications that has on a society! But back to the boys. In daily life, I
generally maintain the belief that I never get enough (or any) time to spend
alone. And I like being alone; I always have. But this trip has certainly
reminded me that most of what life has to enjoy is doubly enjoyed when sharing
it with the ones you love.
Keane is almost fourteen months now, and I still haven’t
covered his birthday! It was pretty identical to the one the dink had when he
turned one—at Maman and Papa’s house with both his grandparents and his
favorite cousins there. But if I compare the way that the two boys acted at
their first birthday parties, it really shows (at least to me) their
differences. I feel bad already for Keane because he is always measured in the
way that he compares to his brother, but that is only because it’s the only
point of reference I have. And we actually do the same for the dink now, only
in hindsight. For example, I now know that the dink has had an inordinate
thirst for milk and juice throughout his toddlerhood, and I realize that
because his brother drinks half of what he did at the same age!
But back to the party. The dink’s main interest at his first
birthday was crawling around chasing balloons. We could have, and probably
should have, only gotten him a sack of balloons as presents because he had virtually
no interest in each of the age-appropriate toys that were passed in front of
him. Until the dink was 18 months old, I held the honest belief that all baby
toys are unworthwhile and stupid because babies don’t actually learn how to
play with toys until they’re toddlers. But turns out it was just my baby.
Because K enjoyed the heck out of all of D’s infant toys that got no use the
first time around. He actually shook rattles and held soft animals and even
swung his arms at bright objects dangled above his head. And so he took an
interest in all of his birthday gifts—just about the only things he can call
his own. So that was the first notable thing to me at the party. The second notable
thing to me is that my mom and Jon’s mom have a habit of buying the boys the
same gifts. For D, it was the exact same little green four-wheeler for
Christmas one year. Then at K’s baptism, they both gave him religious-themed
nightlights. And for this birthday, a multi-leveled racetrack/garage for cars.
Same brand and everything—just in different sizes. I don’t like to have to tell
the grandparents what to buy the kids all the time, but I think at some point,
I may have to make them at least run it by me for approval first!
The third and most notable thing at Keane’s
birthday party was his genuine, enthusiastic, and absolutely precious enjoyment
of being the center of attention. He’s doing so well with his talking, and he
was actually trying to say “cheese” and giving out grin after grin at each
camera that flashed at him. I had so many just perfect snapshots of him
cheesing it up with his party hat on, opening presents and trying his cake…but
unfortunately my camera freaked out some time after the party and spontaneously
deleted all of those photos and others. But it’s a memory I’ll always keep. A
really remarkable one to me when I reflect over baby K’s first year, and how
unhappy and trying he was as an infant, and how I actually prayed that the first
year would fly by so we could get out of the never-ending, fussy-baby period
and finally arrive at the days of smiling, walking, playing, sleeping, and
mutually enjoying each other and our lives. But I realized as K played nicely
for his audience at the party and smiled accordingly, that we actually have
finally arrived. (And each week since his party we have been arriving a little
bit more.) So while I thank God for the first year of a life that he trusted me
with, I also thank him for the possibility of a second, much easier one.
Still trying to catch up on my laziness over the past couple months. Seems like Christmas should be worth recounting, but as I'm sitting here at the end of January mulling it over, I'm having a hard time even remembering the memorable... Of course presents abounded. And of course the dink wanted every single item for himself that Santa Claus had given to Baby Keane. (Luckily, Santa Claus had some foresight and brought Keane things that were much too old for his age like a basketball, a stool, and a movie, since after all he has all of Declan's old toys already to play with and still only wants the item that Declan is occupied with at the moment.)
Anticipation was a major component of this year's excitement. Starting the week after Thanksgiving, daycare craft and music activities centered on reindeer, Santa, and baby Jesus. By the end of December, the dink could sing all of Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph from start to finish, if not with the exact correct lyrics, with dead-on vim and vigor. Although I got tired some days of the dink asking me if tomorrow is Christmas and begging/crying to open a present already, I do think the waiting is good for a kid. And it also gave me a chance to plant the seeds of excitement in his mind for the gifts that were sure to come. (Gosh, D, your slippers are too small! Maybe Santa will bring you some new ones...) Naturally, I shopped my heart out for most of December, pleased with my efforts in buying the dink both things that he could use or would serve a purpose, as well as things he'd enjoy. In the final weeks leading up to the 25th, people were continually asking the dink what he wanted for Christmas, and his consistent response was of course something I hadn't even considered purchasing: a robot. But he told anyone who would listen that that's what he wanted, and when he sat on Santa's side at the mall and told him too that all he desired for Christmas was a robot, I knew I had more work to do. And needless to say, his lime green Radio Shack robot that my mom ended up finding at the mall was his favorite Christmas present. I just found out last night that the darn thing already needs new batteries.
Keane was just happy for Christmas to be spending time with his family, in the middle of chaos and excitement. His most prized possession was a gift he didn't receive, but one we gave to his cousin Ellie--some wooden pots and pans. He spent an hour on Christmas Eve just putting the lid on the pot and off. I didn't feel too bad for not realizing the poor kid was dying to play cook because it gave me an idea for a gift for his birthday, only a week after Christmas. So Keane got a remarkably similar set to Ellie's for his first birthday, which of course he's hardly played with since.
And me, I got a new job for Christmas, complete with a two-week paid trip to Sweden for my initiation. That's coming up in only a few days now. With a start like this to the new year, I can't imagine what adventures 2012 will bring.
July 2012: KEANE, pointing to my cleavage: Cheeks, Mommy, cheeks.
June 2012: KEANE, for the first time ever after watching me kiss all of my cousins and aunt and uncles hello at a wedding: I love you! (complete with a big smooch for punctuation :)
June 2012: DINK: Mom, yesterday, you went to church and they pulled me out of your tummy! MOM to DAD: Ummm, I think we need to have a talk with Declan about the difference between birth and baptism. And the passage of time.
May 2012: DINK: Mom, sometimes things are tricky. Like balance beams.
May 2012: K's first sentence, mumbled under his breath in a fashion he learned from his brother used for requesting something you know you're not likely to get: I wanna treat.
April 2012: DINK, when rearranging all the cushions and pillows on the couch so he and K can snuggle in them: We're gonna make a sleep challenge!
March 2012: DINK: Dad, you're my best friend.
Feb 2012: DINK, standing in the driveway, watching Samuel, Caden, and Ellie leaving: I miss them so much.
Jan 2012: DINK: Mom, did you know that I don't like bats? And did you know that cats are soft and comfortable?
Jan 2012: DINK: Mom, did you know that strangers have bad news?
Jan 2012: DINK, pretending to be a cat while replying to my question of Where is Number Two?: I don't know. I mean, I don't meow!
Dec 2011: DINK: Sometimes, your heart gets broken, and Jesus fixes your broken heart.
Dec 2011: DINK: Daddy, should I help you?
Nov 2011: DINK: Get outta here, kitty! You're supposed to be LITTLE!
Oct 2011: DINK: You will be the kitty, and I will be the dog.
Sept 2011: MOMMY: Look, Declan, there's a school bus up ahead! DINK: Mommy, you got a school bus on your head?
Sept 2011: DINK, looking at a picture of a log truck in an ABC book: "Truck is for L!"
Aug 2011: MOMMY: Goodnight, sugar. DINK: I not sugar! I Declan Marx Womack!
Aug 2011: DINK: "God bless Mommy, and Daddy. God bless the stars. God bless Elmo. God bless dinosaurs."