Maybelle turns one tomorrow, so on Saturday we had her first birthday party. Obviously the first birthday party is an event for the parents rather than for the baby, and I have to say it was everything I wanted her first birthday party to be. The weather cooperated, in spite of forecasts predicting rain all afternoon, so we gathered at the duck pond at Hampton Park. The bigger kids threw loaves of bread and bags of stale cereal into the pond, while the littler kids hung out on blankets where the adults could admire them ("So big!" "So much hair!" "Look, a tooth!").
It was an intentionally low-key party. The invitation promised "No events planned," but that wasn't entirely true, because there was one major event: the birthday cake. It's a Piepmeier family tradition that on a baby's first birthday, she or he gets a one-layer cake to play with, massacre, and/or eat. I made Maybelle a banana cake with caramel frosting, the first cake she'd ever been offered before.
She started off in curious good spirits, sticking her fingers in the frosting and giving it a taste. You could immediately see her brain kicking into gear: "Holy crap, what is this stuff, and where have they been hiding it all this time?" Then she dug into the cake with commitment, scraping off handsful of frosting, grabbing chunks of cake and smearing them into her mouth, onto her face, and across her entire body. It was an incredibly luscious, sensuous experience.
She ended up with a frosting beard and a little body just coated in sugar and crumbs. She loved it. Here were Biffle's and my reactions:
One of our friends who's a pediatrician advised--when asked--that we stop her after she'd eaten about a cup. I guess she ate at least that much, and would probably have kept going. Remarkably, she didn't throw that much up, and after Biffle cleaned her off in the water fountain, she was able to enjoy pulling the tissue paper from her gift bags.
It's always so validating to be with friends and family who want to help you celebrate a milestone like this. The party was great fun for us and left us feeling like we'd wrapped up Maybelle's first year of life in just the right way: by letting her stuff herself with sugar and surrounding her with people who love her and are glad that she's here.
The other morning, Biffle walked into the bedroom where I was getting ready for work.
"You know that bumper sticker they used to have, that said, 'Shit Happens'?" he asked.
"You know why they had that bumper sticker?"
I hazarded a guess: "Because shit happens?"
"Yeah," he said.
I paused. "So, what happened?"
"You didn't close the freezer door all the way last night."
The deep freezer, in Biffle's wood studio. The freezer Biffle's parents bought for us for Christmas because I had so much frozen breast milk stashed away that it was filling our little refrigerator-freezer. And because I didn't close the freezer door all the way, all the breast milk was ruined.
All the breast milk
I cried. I've talked here before about the significance of breast milk, the sort of irrational importance it can take on. The fact is that Maybelle refused to drink from a bottle, so she really didn't have the opportunity to drink all the milk I'd stashed away. It was going to get thrown away, eventually. But having it all melt over the course of one evening brought back to me the hours I spent hooked up to a godawful machine, wearing a hideous (but useful) hands-free pumping bra so that I could at least check my email while the pump motor whirred away. I spent $900 on a hospital-grade pump. For the longest time I got up at three in the morning to pump, every morning, just to make sure that I had enough milk stored up. I carefully poured tiny bottles of milk into tiny little freezer trays that measured the milk into little one ounce sticks. I bagged, I labeled. The hours, the money, the dignity I spent in trying to fill the freezer with milk. All for nothing.
And the timing of this "shit happens" moment was particularly bad, because we're in the midst of a mini-medical crisis with Maybelle, who is the same weight right now that she was at the beginning of the summer. Because of her reflux, she's not gaining weight, and for me, knowing that the breast milk was there was like a safety net. We'd occasionally mix a few ounces of it into her food, trying to boost her fat and protein intake as much as possible. Again, I know that she was never going to go through it all--some of it was going to get thrown away. And the milk wasn't going to cure her reflux. But it does feel a bit now like the safety net is gone.
I'm sure there's some life lesson here, but perhaps it's just that shit happens.
Maybelle had a day of low vomit production, for which Walter and I were both grateful. But as the afternoon progressed, she did have several incidents of throwing up which, oddly, mapped the geographic strata of her stomach. First came the bright red of the beets she ate this morning. Then the orange of the sweet potatoes she had at mid morning, followed by the yellow of her banana-peanut-butter lunch. How were all of those still in there at the end of the day?
I'm happy to say she didn't throw up her afternoon snack, a piece of bean pie which she and I shared. I used a fork for myself, and rolled her bites up into little baby-sized balls, which she snatched up as quickly as I gave them to her. This obviously bodes well for her future entrance into the Nation of Islam.
Check it out. I have made a bean pie. It's actually surprisingly easy, and there are plenty of recipes on the internet. I was a little surprised by that fact--Biffle and I both thought that the bean pie was some odd food that Wali's Fish Supreme invented, but in fact it's a pretty common food for folks who belong to the Nation of Islam. According to Wikipedia (an authoritative enough source for a blog post, if not for real research), "Elijah Muhammed encouraged their consumption in lieu of richer foods associated with African American cuisine." I think a bean pie is plenty rich, though.
And a word of advice: do not eat any bean pie in front of Maybelle unless you want to share.
And here's a final bit of food-related fun for a Wednesday morning. We fed Maybelle beets long ago, but we never returned to them--until this morning. It turns out she loves them. How good an idea is it to feed beets to a baby who throws up all the time? We'll find out.
Watching Julie and Julie has inspired me to share some food-related thoughts.
The first: The other day, Biffle, Maybelle, and I were walking home from the pediatrician's office. Biffle decided to take a small detour to a restaurant on Spring Street with a sign out front that says "Wali's Fish Supreme, World Famous Bean Pie." We've seen this restaurant hundreds of times. I've always found the sign intriguing, but I don't know that I would have ever made it a priority to go there, because it's in kind of a weird set of buildings that didn't look particularly inviting to me. But Biffle is really good at exploring his surroundings and taking risks. It was because of Biffle that we got to know Bob's Walk the Plank in our old neighborhood in Nashville--a topic that will have to be the subject of its own blog post someday.
So we walked into this incredibly clean and fresh smelling little dining room, completely empty, with some pies in a display case. Let me tell you, this place is a find! Biffle had the fish supreme--a fried fish sandwich he seemed to enjoy, but he'll have to comment on that. I, of course, had to try the world famous bean pie. It turns out it's a sweet pie, not a savory one, and it's the kind of thing that, had I not known it was a bean pie, I would have eaten thinking, "Something about this tastes a little familiar. What is that flavor?" The flavor is bean, but it comes across in the pie in a sort of caramelly-sweet potato-y way. It's rich but not overly sweet, with a texture that's not unlike a bean-infused custard. I loved it. It's a really delicious pie, and I imagine that, like pumpkin pie, I can count a slice or two of it as an actual meal, since it's made of nutritious ingredients. Charlestonians, you have to go check out Wali's.
And my second food-related thought: This will perhaps not be surprising news, but Rice Dream non-dairy frozen dessert is not nearly as good as Ben and Jerry's. If, like Biffle and I, you eat a lot of Ben and Jerry's and have started taking its creamy deliciousness for granted, just go buy some Rice Dream and give it a try. It's remarkable, the difference. We have Rice Dream at our house now because Maybelle is afflicted with the dreaded GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease), which is, it turns out, the reason that she throws up constantly. We were, in fact, coming back from having learned this news when we stopped at Wali's Fish Supreme.
The treatment for GERD is a baby version of Zantac--foul, foul tasting metallic stuff. There was no way that we could get her to swallow it unmediated, so the nurse at our pediatrician's office suggested we try it mixed in ice cream. Because we're a little concerned that dairy may be exacerbating the vomit situation, we got some Rice Dream to mix with Maybelle's meds. Fortunately for us, Maybelle hadn't eaten ice cream before, so she's unoffended by eating two bowls of metallic tasting, fruity, weird Zantac-infused Rice Dream every day. We'll just have to keep her away from the good stuff until she outgrows her GERD.
Conseula and I went tonight to see Julie and Julia, a new film about Julia Child and a fan of hers who cooks every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was such a sweet movie. Meryl Streep was fantastic as Julia Child--a spot-on version of her that was human and not at all a caricature--and Amy Adams was also quite good as Julie. Although I preferred Julia.
The two things that were depressing about the film were really more about me than about the film:
- The Julie character blogs every day for a year about what she cooks. Every day! I'm impressed if I manage to blog once a week. Conseula pointed out that neither Julie nor Julia had children.
- The film celebrated good food, showed it being cooked and caressed, eaten and moaned over. And what did I have for dinner before I went to the movie theater? Frozen waffles. I did top them with Rodenberry's Cane Patch Syrup, a sort of weird syrup that I learned about on Kevin O'Mara's blog, so maybe that counts for something.
I'm rereading Life as We Know It: A Father, a Family, and an Exceptional Child, Michael Berube's book that combines a narrative of the first four years of his son Jamie's life with musings on the significance of representation, the history of Down syndrome, deconstruction, social construction, and the difference between memorization and understanding. Among other things. The book is both incredibly smart and readable, a combination that always impresses me.
One thing that struck me this time through the book was Berube's description of how Jamie learned as a baby. He's comparing Jamie with his first son, Nick, who's a typical kid:
With Nick, developmental milestones were fairly discrete: One day he learned to reach and grasp, the next day we had to put away every sharp object in the house, as Nick grabbed keys, pens, and ears of corn with infant abandon. Jamie, by contrast, was not only slower but deliberately slower. For many weeks after he grasped his first toy, he acted as if he were relearning grasping, a little more efficiently each time.
He goes on to give a great description of Jamie's surprise and joy when he was given a toy--surprise and joy that would kick in after he'd been staring at the toy for several moments. "I imagined that we could see all his teeny neurons firing hin order, just that much more slowly, telling him as they cleared a brand-new pathway through the brain, This is something you like. Get it."
This struck me because I've been noticing the same phenomenon with Maybelle. While my mom and Trey were in town, Maybelle finally decided to start commando crawling. This is a step on the way to actual crawling whereby a baby drags herself across the floor by her elbows, perhaps nudging herself along with knees or feet. It's slow and difficult, resulting in little thrusts forward of a couple of inches at a time, but it's mobility, and Maybelle has started doing it. I sort of thought this would be an epiphanic moment for her: she would recognize that a toy (or Benya) can be a foot or so away from her, and now she doesn't have to just scream at it ineffectually--she can go after it.
But it seems that epiphanies happen sort of slowly for her. Every day since her first successful foray into commando crawling, we've had to reintroduce her to the concept. It's sort of frustrating to her. You can imagine her thinking, "Listen, you people--why don't you just give me that toy like you always used to do?" And because she has low muscle tone, she's often just as content to lie on her tummy and watch the thing she wants rather than make the effort to go get it. But every day she seems to learn, or remember, more quickly than the day before. Eventually she's going to be able to do it without us coaching her, and then we're going to have to start thinking about babyproofing the house (and Benya's going to find that her life has changed utterly).
Because her learning is a bit slower and more deliberate, we can really see it happening and participate in it. Sometimes this is hard for me, but most days I'm able to observe and appreciate it.
So last night i was reading a magazine that was sitting on our coffee table. It was one of several girly magazines. That is, feminist magazines that Alison subscribes to. Well, i'm looking through there, just kinda killing time, checking out what BUST has to say about what is sooooo cool in pop culture for this fall, when,
much to my surprise, right there on the same page as Jermaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords, is Alison Piepmeier and her new book Girl Zines: Making Media Doing Feminism. Isn't that something else?
i'm married to her, you know?
I go to bed at 10 p.m. now, because Maybelle wakes up around 5 every morning--and therefore, so do I.
We choose her food based on two criteria: 1) What we think won't hurt so much when it gets thrown up, and 2) What we can stand the smell of, when it gets thrown up.
I'm not much of a clothes person, but her outfits are awfully cute. It's fun getting her dressed.
Different small things get to me and Biffle. For him, the almost intolerable thing is how much she spits up. For me, it's when she won't take a nap. We're fortunate that one of us is able to be reasonable about the thing that freaks the other one out.
I fear that she is taking over my entire brain. I'm not a very good conversationalist anymore.
Every new skill she develops is really exciting. Check this out.