(Very) Short Stories From the Life of Spencer

Chapter 4: May

I should really be making a grocery list. So, seems like it's a good time for some memory documenting. Spencer is, well, he is just himself. And we really like him. We have been going to the zoo quite often (to get our "money's worth" out of our zoo pass). It's VERY effective at waring him out. I think the sweltering heat also plays a small role. He is not afraid of the animals in the least bit. He threw a screaming fit because after one goose nipped his finger through the fence, I tried to keep it from happening again. He was LIVID that I would not let the wild animal bite his hand. Most of the animals don't get as close, of course, and for those he prefers we look for approximately 3 seconds. He then makes his "more, more" sign (while saying "mmm, mmm"), and so we move on. Here he is trying to pet the donkey (he succeeded quite a few times, after which we participated in thorough hand sanitizing). The word he says for "dog" is synonymous for "donkey." I can't tell if he thinks I'm saying "dog" when I'm saying "donkey" or if he can't differentiate what he's saying.

In other news, his self-esteem is still a-ok. Not that it shouldn't be, it's just so funny to see such shameless self-promotion in the form of begging for applause. To be fair, he typically has done something to merit it, and he is more than happy to clap for you if you do something great. After I point to the animals in his puzzle or book and say all their names, he always gives me a round of applause as well as a verbal "AHHHH." Which I think loosely translates as "Yea!"

I'm sure not all boys are fascinated with wheels, but he does seem to have a propensity to enjoy them. Even more, he likes playing with a toy in a non-traditional way.

Take, the non-traditional car ride, for example. Papa Kurt is one of the only people who can successfully use the "distraction" method on Spencer. Usually if Spencer is crying or screaming or generally unhappy with the current state of affairs, "distractions" are not effective agents of change. But, Papa Kurt apparently has superiorly distracting "distractions," and they typically prove quite effective. This particular evening pictured was one of the few evening of late where I did not indulge Spencer's desire to turn on the hose. Thank goodness Papa Kurt came over.

"Look, Mom, no eyes!" Spencer is loving the challenge of doing things with his eyes closed. Here he is dancing and spinning around in circles.

He has fewer accidents than you'd think, but I am somewhat eager for this particular exploration to get boring.
One morning, Spencer decided to spice up the routine. I came in and saw this. I love his expression here. "What? Is this in some way remarkable behavior to you? You really should get out more, Mom."

Even funnier, he just sat there while I snapped pictures of him. He hasn't done that since he was about 4 months old. This unusual turn of events was very typical in one way. He was engaging his hands (and feet, if you looks closely) while watching a movie. Apparently he is working at dispelling the stereotype that males fail at multi-tasking.

My "Mimi" turned 80 this week, and my Aunt Valerie threw her a birthday party on Sunday. Spencer wore his church outfit--a beautiful (gifted from Nana) turquoise linen shorts romper. It really was adorable. However, my Aunt Jan brought a few goodies for Spencer, including a book with huge, crazy monster eyes (a big hit, by the way), a wet suite style swim outfit, and a pair of brown shorts. Spencer was standing by me when she gave me the clothes. He immediately grabbed the brown shorts and pushed them against himself. This is the best way he can communicate that he wants to put them on. I told him nonchalantly that we weren't changing clothes right now, and yes, I liked his shorts too, etc., etc. Well, he was not interested in letting this one die. He vocalized and fussed a little, and I attempted to continue a conversation with someone besides him.

All of a sudden, Mimi comments, "I'll help him put them on." Now, while I'm sure somewhere deep down in his heart, Spencer has love for his (Great) Mimi, he has yet to express it. In fact, he usually grins coyly at her when she addresses him, but refuses to be held or otherwise involved with her. When he was really young, he seemed truly scared of her (she's quite rambunctious). However, upon hearing her offer, he grabbed her finger and started walking off with her. She began to lead him into the other room where there'd be space to lay him down and change him. I watched, fully expecting him to turn around and insist I follow them. Instead, they proceed hand in hand to the living room. He is perfectly still while she takes off his linen romper (read: a no-give, one-piece article of clothing, so it's hard for me to get it on and off of him--and I change him all the time). The next thing I know he is running back into the room full of people grinning, shirtless, and modeling his brown shorts. It was quite a moment. I hope it's the beginning of their newfound friendship. I fear it's the beginning of him successfully manipulating loving relatives for his own purposes. The good news is that most of his loving relatives don't seem to mind a little manipulation, at least not if it's coming from Spencer.

Now, you probably recall my intrigue with Spencer's seeming inability to differentiate some animal sounds and other basic words. For example, if it starts with an "M," he just says "mmmm." No matter what the word is. Well--good news for all of you losing sleep over this issue in my 17 month old's life. We have an "M" deviation! There was a cat at Mimi's party, and after hearing it "meow," Spencer started in with some ADORABLE, high-pitched, strikingly realistic meowing of his own. Ahhh, now we can all relax. I just want to point out that many adults in his life have "meowed" at him, and he has multiple movies where real cats "meow." There's just something about real life. [Shocker] Or maybe he really couldn't do it until now. But he loved that cat, and he would scream at it when it wasn't either rubbing up against him or meowing. Unfortunately, his screaming did not encourage the cat to do either of the aforementioned actions...but we got through it, no shirt, brown shorts and all.

After Mimi's party, we headed over to Aunt Hillary and Uncle Tony's house for a cookout. Oh, the love of dogs. It is still in full force. Note the sheer delight on his little sweet face. Even playing in Aunt Hillary's sprinkler paled in comparison. Unfortunately, it was hot, and Spencer wouldn't stop running to areas of the backyard filled with dog poop. So, this bliss did not last long.

We did let him get in a few pats between all the face licking he'd endured. You can tell he's braced himself for it. I thought he'd be a little more scared, but I thought wrong. While Dakota panted, Spencer exploited the opportunity to poke around on her teeth, gums, and tongue.

There was no shortage of "no no's" to get into in Aunt Hillary's kitchen. However, I finally grabbed some of her metal mixing bowls and handed them (probably not so nicely) to Spencer--desperate to enjoy just 1 sixty second interval of being with my family where Spencer was not breaking something, spitting something out, or crying. He certainly found them to be a suitable form of entertainment. They played right into his "closing his eyes" bit. He put them over his head and ran as fast as he could down her halls and through her living room. He looked a little like a robot. They were also really noisy when they came in contact with the "right" surfaces. So, I think I achieved my goal and then some with approximately 3 minutes of "relaxing" family time.

In other news, Spencer now anticipates the camera's flash. He squints, covers his eyes, and looks away whenever I point a camera at him. It makes taking pictures much less gratifying (for me, at least--he's pretty proud of himself). I wanted to take a picture of how he had carefully put each and every ball from his closet onto his glider. He did not want any part of that picture.

He was too busy plotting his next move: taking all of the balls off of the glider and putting them into the hallway. He gave himself bonus points for carrying more than one ball at a time.
He then proceeded to throw a baby doll into the mix.

Then, I guess, he realized the baby doll shouldn't be thrown on top of a pile of balls. So, he insisted I come over and pick her up--and help him carry all his balls into the living room. That's where they stayed until I picked them up before his bedtime.

Above was a particularly sweet moment, where Spencer (while watching a movie, of course) decided to give me a little side face-hug. Note his arm coming down from my face; before I snapped the picture it was hugging my head. And since it's a sweet memory I did not delete this picture even though I look like I've been experimenting with illegal substances. I can assure you, I have not. I prefer to limit my addictions to legal, allergy-related drugs and caffeinated beverages only. The reality of the situation is that we'd played outside in the hose and eye-makeup (from Sunday maybe?) had smeared under my eyes and then stuck there with a lovely paste of sunscreen and sweat (and maybe bug spray). Ah, (almost) summertime in Arkansas...


About One Year Ago and Now

Dearest Little Spencer,

I got my teeth cleaned today, and it reminded me of how old you are. I last got them cleaned about a year ago, and I had to have some fillings. It was a big deal because I was still nursing you, and we weren't totally sure about the local anesthetic. It was also a big deal because I couldn't breath through my nose at all while they did the fillings because I wast still nursing you, and lastly it was a big deal because someone else had to take care of you while I had it done and you still refused to take a bottle.

Last night, I gave you your bath. You played and talked to yourself so sweetly. It was 8 o'clock, so you were exhausted, and after you'd had your fill you calmly stood up at the edge of the tub, looked me straight in the eye, and signed "finished" with a matter of fact look on your face. It was so precious. I love it when you will "tell" me what you want instead of screaming. It's just the best feeling to know that we are communicating effectively to one another.
I looked back at your Baby Book Word document that I have going. Hopefully someday it'll get transferred to your actual baby book. I thought it'd be fun to read what you were doing this time last year.

"5 Months:
I started working 1 day a week, while you stayed with your Gigi at your house. You would eat just enough from her not to starve during the day [if I remember correctly, about 4 oz], but you never cried, so we just went with it.

May 9, 2009
Mother's Day Weekend we took you to Fox Ridge to visit your Great Grandmother Joann. I dressed you in a pink oxford button-down shirt which was so cute, but it was very confusing to most of the nursing home residents who kept asking me if you were a boy or a girl. I should have known better. Joann held you for quite a while and really enjoyed seeing you, me, and Daddy.

May 14, 2008
Your first road trip! We took you to Birmingham to see the Hankins. You were a little out of your element and still having a lot of trouble taking the bottle. You did great in the car, which was what I had been dreading, but you were really hard to get to sleep. There were definitely some fun times thrown in the mix, but your daddy and I were very tired when it was all said and done. Audrey loved having you at her house, although she was disappointed that she didn't get yo hold you. You did not like to sit down (part personality and part reflux discomfort we think), so it was not feasible for her to hold you for any length of time. We make the best of it, and I'm glad we took you."

One of the next entries for June mentions that you slept through the night 2 times. Retrospectively, this is very sad, because you basically didn't do this again until you were about a year old--6 months later! I'm not going to say that we love you more now that you sleep through the night, but it sure does make the days easier!

It's so fun to compare the above entries with what I'd write today. You ran into a tree while you were playing outside with Gigi, then you threw a fit on the kitchen floor while I filled your sippy cup with milk. As soon as you devoured that, you went right down for your nap, which is where you are right now.

You're obsessed with the vacuum cleaner right now, and Gigi and I are having mini panic attacks worrying that you're going to wrap the cord around your neck while we are in the other room. Pretty sure I have to hide the vacuum for now. I thought letting you play with it for a few days would help the novelty wear off, but it seems the opposite has happened. You're going to be pretty angry when you wake up and can't locate it, but I'm hoping that someday you'll understand.

You shouted "Elmo" the other night while playing with your Elmo-in-the-box toy. I have many witnesses. You haven't said it since. You just stare at me when I ask, or you won't even acknowledge that I'm speaking to you about it. Your aunt Natalie got right in your face the other night, asking you to say something, and you literally turned your head as far as you could over one shoulder so she couldn't look at your eyes.

You are SUCH a little rascal, but that's what makes you you.


My Mother

In honor of my mother, I'm going to write this post right now. And everything is going to be ok--even it's not perfect. At least that's what she kept trying to tell me. [Five days later: Ok, I tried to do it in one sitting, but that's just not how writing works!]

Mother's Day is huge. Mothers are huge. And I'm not just referring to the "miracle" that transforms a 5'6" 120 lb. woman into a 200-plus-pound miserable creature for whom even the idea of giving birth begins to sound like a welcome relief. I'm referring to the size of the impact that they have on your life for better or for worse.

My own mother is far from perfect. The wonderful thing about her is that she is honest about it. Do you know how resentful children can become when their parents won't acknowledge their failures? Luckily for me, my parents, and my mom in particular, owned right up. My mom's life was not what she'd thought it would be. There were surprises, disappointments, and difficulties along the way. But she refused to be dishonest about these things. She called a spade a spade. Then, her children and friends had the privilege of looking on as she relied on her relationship with God to get her through the times that she found herself simply "getting through" and to celebrate the times she found herself able to truly celebrate along life's way. When honesty is acceptable, then real communication, healing, and love is possible. And the opposite is true as well. With her honesty, my mom made it possible for her children to love her and to be loved by her in a meaningful, life-shaping way. Without her brave and often costly honesty, I'm not sure who I'd be. I know I'd be much, much less.

Not only was she capable of profound transparency and honest living, she also happened to be full of practical advice. I remember as a little girl, laying underneath the covers on my bed feeling hot. Then, I'd kick off the covers, and I'd get cold. I distinctly remember telling my mom my dilemma, and almost daily, I fondly remember her reply. "Put one leg out and one leg in." Brilliance.

Unfortunately for her, I expected this brilliance to be unilaterally applied to every life-situation. I knew her to be the keeper of wisdom concerning every day issues, but I suspected that wisdom to be existent across the board. I knew that she must also be fluent and accomplished in each and every technical and academic discipline. And so, I came to her every day, hour, or minute with some of life's most difficult questions, and she would tell me me all she knew. I'd look at her, disappointed, and she'd admit that some questions don't have good answers--I would have to ask God when I got to heaven. (What would YOU say if your preschooler asked you, "If God loves us and He created everything, then whey did he create Satan?")

I typically under-appreciated her attempts, and as I grew up, I determined to find better. So, I pursued a Bachelor's of Biblical Studies with an emphasis in Theology, and imagine my surprise as I realized that most of her answers were pretty much "correct." Not that it wasn't worth learning the nuances to the arguments, debates, and centuries' worth of philosophic and theologic thought, but the same questions she couldn't answer to my satisfaction then, cannot be answered "definitively" (read: to my satisfaction) now. However, now I know for sure that she wasn't just holding out on me!

My mother wouldn't keep peanut butter in the house, because she knew it would be all we would want to eat. I didn't know that white bread existed until I got to preschool and saw everyone else DIDN'T have smoked turkey on pumpernickel. She never peeled our fruit, because she said the peel contained "all the stuff that's good for you." At the time, I had no idea how "counter-cultural" all of this was. It was so ingrained that a few months ago, someone had to suggest to me that I peel the apple for Spencer if he was having trouble chewing it up. Ha! An apple without a peel just didn't exist to me.

We were never allowed to have a Nintendo--not even if we "saved up our own money." On pretty days, my mom would send us outside and then lock the screen door. She said we needed to play outside. She didn't tell us that Santa Clause was a real person who would bring us stuff, because she remembered being devastated when she found out "the truth." Now, I am aware that neither the sum nor the parts of the random minutia I've listed are in any way a formula for being a "good mother." I am simply citing them as examples of how thoroughly my mom thought out and followed though with how she believed she should raise her children.

As if withholding white bread and peeled apples wasn't enough, she slathered us in sunscreen and then made us wear t-shirts over our bathing suits to swim. Yeah, obviously we were the "cool kids." But, you know what? Now I don't care if doing what I believe to be right is "cool," and that's not a characteristic that you can instill by lecturing. It has to be lived to be owned.

And live it we did. No PG-13 movies 'til we were 18 and could decide for ourselves. I saw a few at that point (and decided they weren't for me). She wouldn't let me ride around with my friends on the day they turned 16--or for months following. Did most of them have wrecks? Yes. Was I in any of them? No. Did I moan and complain ALL THE TIME about these rules? Yes. Am I indescribably thankful they were enforced ruthlessly with total disregard for my feelings? Yes.

Now, lest you believe I was a sad little girl, locked outside without any peanut better and denied the joy of imagining it to be in next years' stocking, I must emphasize that much of what she did for us as children provided time and space for us to play and bond as sisters. For example, Mom routinely let us fill a bowl with water and put it on the kitchen floor so that Natalie could lap it up and be our "dog," the only rule being that we were NOT allowed to tie a leash around her neck (another important life lesson). We found Natalie's wrist to be a suitable substitute. Without a Nintendo to play for hours on end, we built tents in the living room with sheets and sofa cushions and lots of stacks of heavy books for stabilization. I personally removed the training wheels from my bicycle and hammered random pieces of lumber on the top of one corner of our privacy fence to build a "fort" (and then let Natalie fall off of it--Natalie was often involved in the learning of life lessons). I could go on, but you get the idea.

People need honest, thoughtful, persevering mothers. It's how they learn to live. And it's hard to do anything in life that doesn't involve living.

Thanks, Mom. I love you.


I Never Love to Write More Than When There Are Household Chores to Be Done

Tomorrow Spencer will be 17 moths old. We've decided he's a keeper. Here's what he's up to these days "milestone-wise" with a few humorous anecdotes thrown in for good measure.

Today, he weighed in at just under 25 pounds, and he is 31.75 inches tall. He is 25-50th percentile and has been all along. His head is 50th percentile. I don't know how mothers of children with 99th percentile heads get shirts on their children. It's hard enough with a 50th. His 12-18 month clothes still fit him with room to grow. His 12 month jammies still fit snugly, and the 24 month jammies are still a tripping hazard--they're footed.

He is so affectionate these days. He will give big, long, tight hugs. It really doesn't get much better than that. He is CONSISTENTLY sleeping through the night! He's been doing this for about 5 months now, and it is life changing. Jonathan is ready for another baby. I told him he better hurry up and get pregnant, then. Spencer went to 1 nap a day about the same time he started sleeping through the night. The books say that this is way too soon. Spencer begs to differ. His development has been very similar to what my mom remembers of mine (except for his "delayed" crawling due to reflux). I slept through the night around 1 year, and my mom never remembers me taking 2 naps, ha! Bless her heart.

He does a little better in the nursery each time I manage to leave him there. More often than not I "volunteer" in a nursery or pre-school room and bring him with me. You think we've got the bonding thing down? I cannot believe that someday he will be a grown man who does not need me or want me to hold him and kiss him. I hope he calls occasionally.

Spencer has decided that he doesn't care much for my song selection at bedtime. If I start a song he doesn't want me to sing, he fusses at me until I stop. Sometimes he leaves it at that, apparently preferring to be lulled in silence. Other times he fusses at me until I start singing a song that we can both agree on. He's quite the critic. We lay him down wide awake, though, and he just lays there while we cover him up and walk out the door. Then, he goes to sleep. EVERY time it happens, I'm surprised (pleasantly).

He walked into the allergist clinic today holding my hand. We'd attempted this maneuver a few times before, and he would just pull away and want to run the opposite direction of where ever we were going; but today he compliantly walked all the way in, though multiple sets of doors and down hallways with many other options, right to the chair where we always sit to wait for my shot. It was fabulous. He loves to walk, but hadn't quite learned to "heel." I think we're making some progress.

I continue to be amazed at the sort of things he "knows" now. He walked into my sister's bathroom at my parent's house. He pulled some toilet paper off of the roll (this is not unusual, and I was telling him "no"). Then, he made blowing sounds with his mouth, while he held the tissue to his nose. We NEVER blow our noses. I wipe his nose, but I never tell him to blow. I think the last time I blew my nose was this time last year just before all the powers of the universe aligned against me in my colossal attempt to nurse my child (allergies, reflux, and Spencer's temperament). So, anyway, after he finished "blowing" his nose, he immediately opened the cabinet door under her sink and put his tissue in the trash can that is under there. How he knew that trash can was there is so interesting to me. Yes, we have a trash can under his sink in his bathroom. But we don't have one under the sink in our bathroom, and he spends more time in our bathroom than he spends in his own. I've never shown him the trash can under Nat's sink...although I'm sure he's seen it before when he ran in there ahead of me. I'm fascinated with human cognition, ok? At least I'm entertained.

I think he is trying to sing with his movies, but he can't quite do it. Instead he makes semi-shouting noises, and points to himself whenever the lyric is "me." At first I thought he only did this with the song that ends "for King Cole and me, for King Cole and me, put it in the oven for King Cole and me." But today I saw him "singing" to the ABC song and pointing to himself when it got to the part about "next time won't you sing with me." It's really cute. Also, whenever Dora asks him if he sees the _____ (fill in the blank), he points to it! I noticed him doing that a few nights ago. So, I'm convinced that his television hours are free preschool, and so far he gets "E's" for Excellent. Plus, when they sing songs they stay in one key; which is more than I can say for his mother's bedtime medleys. So, add music education to the free preschool curriculum.

He has diversified his food interests lately to include strawberries and crab cakes and, last but not least, biting off chunks of apple from a WHOLE uncut apple (NOT SLICES) and then spitting the peel out on the ground while watching tv. And old favorites have morphed into "learning" opportunities, i.e. he pretty much insists on being involved in feeding himself yogurt and apple sauce. I've made some "go-gurt cicles" to avoid big plops of yogurt all over his clothing, and he likes those; but they'll be even better when it's hot outside and his hand isn't numb. I've been having to put masking tape around a wash cloth around the go-gurt so that he can hold it for any period of time. Oh, and he had some ice cream a few nights ago. Big fan.

He continues to love being outside. He especially loves any standing water he can find, especially if he can manage to sit in it or lap it up off of something disgusting. If the water is muddy or otherwise contaminated that makes it even more appealing. What is it about mud that makes him want to ingest it? He LOVES to play in the hose or the sprinkler. And if the water falls from the sky in the form of rain, he dances around grinning. If it stops, he does his sign for "more" towards the sky. My mom said it's his first prayer. It was really sweet until yesterday when he started crying because it wouldn't give him "more" rain. Add it to the list of things he'll have to take up with God. I kept telling him that Mommy can't make it rain.

As far as talking goes, he seems to be most interested in saying things that will get him what he wants. He's not really in it for fun yet. He says "keys," "dog," "pas" (paci), "mmm" (milk or me or moo or meow), "Gigi," "PaPa," "Bob Bob" (that's me), "Ga Ga" (Daddy), and "Bye" (with a strong Southern accent). He makes a guttural "gu" or "coo" (for cookie or Cookie Monster), he says "ca ca" (for cracker and what the duck says). He says "aye" (yes or outside), "ee" (eat), and he makes all sorts of "gee" noises and words that I have no idea what he is trying to say. This noise comes up most often when he is talking in long sentences that contain no recognizable "words." He says "Ahhh" when we say "yea!" I think he tries to say "backpack" when Dora tells him to. He whispers his words when he is trying really hard (his Gigi noticed this first), so it's hardest to hear the words that he's trying the hardest to say. He shakes his head "No" but doesn't say anything like it, and he will say "yes," but he won't nod "yes." This makes for interesting communication sometimes.

He really enjoys riding in his car seat unless the sun is in his eyes. I do put his sunglasses on him sometimes, but they don't stay on for long. He will also ride in his stroller sometimes (he was NOT a fan as a baby), so that's fun for all of us. He has been having fewer tantrums than a month or so ago, and that's been great. He doesn't always comply with what I say, but he is more easily re-directed these days. That's also fun for all of us. =)

One last new "skill"--he can open zippers now. I'm pretty bummed. My Grandmother showed him how to do this a few weeks ago, and I thought he'd forgotten. But I was wrong. There are many "No No's" that were safely zipped away now floating around without a Spencer-proof home.

Around every corner, always a new challenge. . .