Pretty much my favorite summer photo of all time

Ten Thousand Hour MamaA rustic camping spot. The smell of sunscreen. Thousands of dime-sized frogs hopping underfoot. The gritty feeling of mud, sand and rocks between your toes. The sound of lapping water. Sun warming your skin. And above all, the feeling of complete peace, of wanting to be nowhere else, of trying to capture this moment in your memory forever.

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Our favorite children’s books: Interactive edition

Ten Thousand Hour Mama Baby and BooksNow that Peeper has added “book” to her repertoire of signs, she asks for one almost as much as she requests milk. And that’s a lot.

We spend a huge portion of play time reading. She has very strong opinions about which story she wants, using her pointing finger to indicate one on the floor—or trying to squirm out of my arms and leap to one on the end table.

Lately, she loves books that do something. If it has flaps, windows, cut-outs, silky fur—or even better, all of the above—she will probably love it.

That means we end up reading some of the same titles a million times in a row. (I’m looking at you, Dog.) I don’t mind, though. Watching her delight in a story gives me all the patience I need. And now that she concentrates hard enough to tug a pull tab and make a piece on the page move, story time is even better.

Here are our favorite interactive children’s books.

CatCat, by Matthew Van Fleet. We just gave this to Peeper for her first birthday. As it was created by the same folks behind the runaway hit Dog, I knew it’d be a blast. Proof: Peeper has already torn several pieces, meaning she’s really into it. It includes humor adults will appreciate, too: When a feline tips over a vase, it’s a catastrophe, naturally!

The Robot BookThe Robot Book, by Heather Brown. In this charming book, kids get to play with all the parts and pieces of a robot: They can twist a bolt and swing the robot’s arm, for example. I was impressed by how intricate it is: You turn a gear to rotate the robot’s mouth. I like to play with it as least as much as Peeper does.

 

 

Count 123Count 123. Peeper loves the simple knockout photos, which we practice naming. She also likes lifting the flaps and tracing the numbers, which are recessed into the page. She’s still too little to count, but this would be a terrific book for children learning their numbers. It was a sad day when we had to return this to the library.

 

 

Chomp ZooChomp Zoo, by Heather Brown. Ingeniously designed, the same pull tab makes the teeth of a half-dozen animals chomp up and down. Peeper loves moving the teeth and sticking her fingers in the mouths of the creatures. I also love how friendly the animals look. They seem to be barely containing their laughter.

 

 

Where's Spot?Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill. I remember the many adventures of Spot from when I was little, and I’d go straight for these books whenever we visited the library. I’m so glad Peeper likes the tan doggy, too! She grins every time I say, “Peekaboo!” when she lifts a flap to find not a hiding Spot but another creature. (A snake in the clock and a lion under the stairs—it’s quite the menagerie in this house.)

 

 

On My LeafOn My Leaf, by Sara Gillingham. This book combines cut-out windows and a finger puppet in a sweet story about a ladybug and her family. Peeper grabs the soft felt ladybug and sticks her hands through the windows as she turns the page. There’s an entire series like it that features an owl in a tree, a dolphin in the ocean, a monkey in the jungle and more.

 

 

What are your favorite books for curious little ones?

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Summer fun in Eugene

We spent the weekend in Eugene but not to do what 90% of everyone else did, go to the Oregon Country Fair.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good drum circle as much as the next guy, but OCF isn’t really my scene. I’m more of a get-in-nature-away-from-everbody-else kind of hippie.

Anyway, the weekend lived up to Eric’s nickname for the season: the Do It All Summer.

We spent one morning disc golfing at Dexter State Park. Peeper must be a lucky charm because Eric was 4 down within the first 5 holes.

Peeper wasn’t too interested in discs, though; all she wanted to do was play in the gravel and throw wood chips.

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That’s not how I remember it: Children’s books

Eric’s parents came to visit us in Portland last year when I was pregnant, and—like they always do—they brought gifts. One of the more thoughtful presents was a heavy stack of Little Golden Books and other titles Eric grew up with.

The Digging-est Dog“Oh, I loved this one!” Eric said, picking up The Digging-est Dog. I’d never read it, so of course I cracked it. While the rest of the family talked, I read.

And cried.

Granted, I was pregnant and had more emotions than should be legal, but the story was heartbreaking. (Spoiler: I’m going to tell you exactly why.)

The book starts out with a dog chained in a store sitting on a concrete floor.

Then it is taken home by a boy—yay!—only to endure abuse from the other dogs because it never learned to dig. You know, because it spent its entire life living on a concrete floor.

Anyway, it goes on to learn how to dig but it digs so much that it ruins the town with all the tunnels and is ostracized yet again. There’s probably an eventual happy ending but I can’t even recall it, so scarred was I by the ongoing trauma of that poor dog.

Goes without saying that I haven’t read The Digging-est Dog to Peeper yet.

Anyway, the other day I heard a story on NPR about The Little Engine That Could and the arguments about gender it inspires today. (Apparently the engine in question is a she, which makes some people think it was changed by liberal apologists, which it wasn’t; other critics say it’s one more example of women taking on more than their share of the work; still others view it as the great-grandmother to the lean-in movemement. Me, I just remember it being about a train.)

JuliusThe story got me thinking about how looking back on children’s books (or movies, TV shows, music and the like) shows an entirely different story than the one we remember.

Now that I’m reading a ton of kids’ books to Peeper, I see the stories with new eyes. For example, Julius, a  present my dad inscribed to me on my fourth birthday, now smacks of racism, colonialism, imperialism and probably a few more -isms I’m forgetting.

If I read it to Peeper, would she just hear a story about a friendly gorilla? Or would she internalize the subtle attitudes that imply Indians are sub-human and that it’s acceptable to plunder other countries’ natural resources?

Ok, so perhaps I’m reading more into it than I need to. Or maybe I’m not. I do my best to show Peeper books with positive messages that align with our values.

Do you “edit” your kids’ reading material? Is there a book you reread that seemed totally different through your adult lenses?

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Walk the line

The day before her birthday, Peeper turned a corner—literally. She went from stringing together a few steps to full-blown walking. 

Look! Evidence she’s a walker!

Peeper walks the line from Catherine Ryan Gregory on Vimeo.

I’m still having a really hard time calling her a toddler, so for now I’m settling on one-year-old baby who walks. Really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? 

Her newly honed skill delights everyone, most of all herself. Her hands are always full as she motors around the apartment, and I think she’s thrilled that she can carry mum mums or her hairbrush or the dog’s Kong ball or both the remote controls at all times. 

When Peeper was doing more stumbling and falling than actual walking, parents of older children would give me this knowing look like, Just you wait. And I’d say something along the lines of, “Yeah, I’m excited and scared at the same time!” 

But now that she’s a biped, I haven’t felt the panic that all these parents foretold. Maybe that comes later, like when she decides to sprint into traffic or play chase in the crowds of the Saturday Market, but for now, I’m just enjoying watching her explore on her own two feet. 

For now, those two feet carry her toward me more often than not. They run to me to show me the piece of popcorn she found on the floor. They toddle my way when she needs a snuggle. They leave her hands free to carry a book so we can get down to the serious business of reading I Love You Stinky Face for the eighteenth time.

There’s plenty of time for those little legs to carry her away. Today, though, her walking brings her closer to me.

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One year

Ten Thousand Hour MamaLast night Peeper had a hard time going to bed. We’d spent a wonderful weekend at a cabin with family celebrating the 4th of July and her birthday, so she must have been amped up on the residual excitement.

In her twilit room, she braced herself against my chest and stood on our rocking chair to face me. She half-opened her mouth and leaned in. Knowing what she expected, I planted a big smooch on her. She laughed, leaned forward a second time and smack, I kissed her again. I knew I was supposed to be winding her down, but I couldn’t resist her snorting giggle and the toothy open-mouthed kisses. Within moments, we were both laughing so hard that sleep was the furthest thing from my mind.

It seemed perfect that we spent Peeper’s final hours as a baby trading kisses instead of going to sleep. The puffy-faced, helpless, mystifying newborn has turned into a one-year-old with an outsized personality. Although she still rocks her signature furrowed brow, these days she more often crinkles her nose and juts her jaw out in the goofiest expression as she laughs.

Ten Thousand Hour MamaTen Thousand Hour MamaI spend our days together inventing new ways to make her smile. I make the cat hand puppet crawl toward her and tickle her neck. I put stacking blocks on my head. I stick out my tongue and shake my head until I’m dizzy.

She creates her own humor, too. She chases me in circles around the room. She peeks above the ottoman to surprise us. She tickles my armpit when she’s nursing. Peeper seems to want to make us laugh as much as we want to crack her up.

Ten Thousand Hour MamaIn the days leading up to today, Peeper’s first birthday, I’ve been repeatedly blindsided by an unidentifiable emotion. Just as I’d take bite after bite of a delicious meal seasoned with a surprising combination of spices, I try to puzzle out precisely what contributes to this feeling. It’s part nostalgia, part amazement and part gratitude with a tantalizing helping of something else I can’t quite put my finger on.

This important day also brings me back in time. It prompts me to remember the before, as the day Peeper was born divided my life in two. Everything that came before 9:21pm on July 7, 2013 was completely different than everything that came after.

Ten Thousand Hour MamaOne year ago, contractions woke me, and Eric and I whispered in the pre-dawn as we came to realize, this is it.

One year ago, we blithely headed out on a long walk, expecting early labor to take all day, just as the childbirth classes and books say it will.

One year ago, my water broke on the drive home from that walk, and all of a sudden labor got serious and nothing about the experience seemed fun or funny.

One year ago, I endured the most harrowing and difficult stretch of my life as my baby and my body worked together to bring her into the world.

One year ago, my midwife placed a squalling and purple infant on my chest, and we learned that we had a girl.

One year ago, we met our daughter.

One year ago, our lives changed in the most fundamental, irrevocable and unimaginably joyous way.

Ten Thousand Hour MamaThe other day, Peeper was nursing when she looked at me out of the corner of her eye. She smiled and went back to nursing. But her smile made me smile, and that made her smile, and on and on until we had to give up nursing and give in to the laughter. One year ago, I could never have predicted moments like this and like last night’s kiss-fest. They are at once so simple and so profound that nothing could have prepared me for them.

Peeper has so many birthdays ahead of her. They’ll be much different than this one, I’m sure. I imagine I’ll end up planning princess-, ocean- or dinosaur-themed parties. Maybe later I’ll spend them trying to explain why she’s too young to get her wish of a body piercing or tattoo. Even later I’ll stay up worrying as she celebrates in a bar.

One thing will stay the same, though. I’ll spend the rest of my life doing what I did last night: looking for the right combination of silliness and sweetness that will light up her face in the happy abandon of a smile. 

Happy first birthday, Peeper. You are my everything. I love you.

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Hurricane Peeper

One morning this week I woke up as one half of my head imploded and was sucked into a black hole behind my right eye.

At least that’s what it felt like.

I haven’t had a migraine in years, but this one woke me around 3am. It kept me awake as I tried to alleviate the pain—massaging my scalp, plopping a bag of frozen vegetables over my face—between retching into the garbage can. Yeah, not pretty.

Peeper, luckily, slept in as late as she ever has, and the headache had mellowed quite a bit by that time. Even still, I was nowhere near the top of my game all day.

By the time Eric got home from class around 5pm, the house was a disaster. He laughed as he stepped over the shoes scattered across the hallway, the DVDs spread out over the living room and the cookbooks, bags and utensils in the kitchen.

The chaos made me realize how much I tidy up after Peeper throughout the day.

Imagine a wrecking ball dismantling a 10-story building. During a hurricane. In a town recently hit by an earthquake. Such is the destructive power of my daughter.

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She loves to “help” with laundry.

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