And... We're Back
Austen and I returned, along with Al (who flew up to Hartford to meet us on Sunday), from Maine on Monday. We had great weather every day except Sunday (which was foggy and drizzly), and especially on Saturday, when the air was brisk but not cold, the sun was warm but not roasty, and the wind was cool but not frigid. Perfect Dreamweaver fleece weather. Val, Austen, and I started the day with a hike around Mackworth Island just north of Portland in Falmouth, Maine. Fabulous and varied views and terrain; it was somewhat similar to our walk around Walden Pond, only with the water on the outside of the loop rather than the inside. (Walden, if you'll recall, was what prompted me to purchase the Kelty Kids backpack, and I wore it on this hike with pretty good success. I had considered going over to Walden while we were in Lexington, Mass, btw, but I went to a playground instead.)
From Falmouth we drove to the opposite end of Portland to visit Portland Head Light on Cape Elizabeth. The spectacular weather really enhanced the experience of visiting the lighthouse and the park around it. Austen fell asleep in the car on the way there, so he didn't get to admire the lighthouse or the amazing view, but I've shown him the photos.
After all the beautiful views and brisk weather, we went to Silly's, a local Portland eatery, for lunch. There was a Magic 8-Ball on the table, and Val offered to get an answer for any question I cared to ask, but I found that I couldn't come up with anything I really wanted to know. (Guess I'm finally living in the moment!) Austen was another story; he was very eager to know when he would be walking on his own, when I'd let him drive the car, and especially when he'd get to eat.
I fed him a jar of apples & blueberries while we looked over the menu. Val ordered some crab-stuffed mushrooms to share and a greek salad with the feta on the side, and I got a giant Harvest Burger with BBQ and bleu cheese sauces (yeah, I'm really that decadent) and sweet potato fries. The fries were EXCELLENT; I had no trouble finishing them, especially since Austen ate quite a few. They were fried with their skins on and tasted more like baked sweet potato strips than french fries. Yummy. The Harvest Burger was homemade and HUGE, and although it was delicious, I couldn't finish the whole thing. Ditto the pint of locally-brewed root beer.
After a sufficient interval, during which we played with Austen in the house and napped, Valerie made the most awesome zucchini-onion-broccoli-mushroom-tomato soup for dinner. How something so simple (and so vegan) can taste so delicious, I'll never know; credit Valerie's talent in the kitchen and experience with fresh fruits and vegetables.
On Sunday morning Austen was up at 6:30, as usual (well, he wakes up and wants to nurse before that, but he usually sits up and starts poking me—or Al, if available—around 6 or 6:30). Luckily Valerie also rises early, so we didn't interrupt her sleep routine too much by being in the house. We went downstairs to say good morning, brush teeth, etc., and then I took Austen back upstairs so I could get dressed and pack while Val cooked breakfast (wheat-free apple pancakes for me, and homemade applesauce for Austen; now that I know how easy applesauce is to make, I've made three batches since returning home :). This is when the crying started.
Val was being kind, or at least circumspect, when she said "Austen gave us a glorious example of the highs and lows of a day in the life of raising a toddler." She definitely got to witness highs and lows throughout the weekend, but the low I suspect she was referring to here was the non-stop crying jag-turned-tantrum that Austen threw when I put him down so I could pack. At first I set him on the floor, but he kept UNpacking the suitcase while screaming, so instead I put him in the Pack 'n Play not one foot from where I was standing, got dressed, and tried to pat down my sticking-up hair. This was when I realized that my arms were so sore from carrying him for the past four days that I couldn't hold them over my head, and when Austen decided that I was going to leave him there and never come back. Or maybe he noticed that I couldn't get my arms over my head, and despaired of ever being picked up again. In any case, the screaming reached a fever pitch.
I relented and lifted him out of the Pack 'n Play and stood him up at my feet. He hugged my knees and clawed my thighs and screamed even louder. With my hair still looking like shit and makeup on only one side of my face, I picked him up and tried to console him. He scratched my face, pushed against me with his feet, and tried to strangle me. These are indications that I have become both his tormentor and his savior. He wants me to help him, to fix him, to MAKE IT BETTER, but at the same time he hates me for any number of crimes I've committed against him. He ends up looking like the Exorcist baby, writhing, crying, and clawing, giving both "PUT ME DOWN" and "DON'T YOU DARE LET GO" signals. I got down on the floor with Austen and tried to snuggle him, to jiggle him, to kiss his forehead and tell him I love him, but he wasn't having any of it. And after 10 minutes straight of screaming, I called Al.
Usually I can last at least 20 minutes before going round the bend, but after four days of being the only parent on duty, I was already near my wit's end. (This happens at home sometimes, too, when I don't get enough of a break to completely regroup: My anger and despair stay just beneath the surface, waiting to be roiled up by a Difficult Child Attack.) I needed help, moral support, another parent. Unfortunately, when I reached Al he tried to comfort Austen via phone, instead of trying to comfort me. I think I said the reason I was calling was that Austen was throwing a tantrum, but I didn't make clear that it was I who needed soothing, not him. Austen threw the phone across the room as Al said, "it's OK, buddy, it's OK", and that was it for the call. Neither of us called back.
As Austen continued to thrash and scream, I started to wail, "Austen, you HAVE TO STOP CRYING!", and then I started sobbing. The initial shock of seeing me blubber caused him to dial it back a bit at first, but then he continued the tantrum where he left off. It was time for desperate measures: I was going to have to impose on Valerie. I brought Austen downstairs, tears streaming down both of our faces, and managed to whisper, "can you take him for a little bit? I need to regroup." Valerie gave me a hug and took Austen from me.
When I came down about 10 minutes later, dressed and packed, Austen was sitting on Valerie's hip while she made applesauce. I said to him, "will you give Mommy a hug and tell me all is forgiven?" He reached out for me, put his head on my shoulder, and squeezed me around the neck, lovingly this time. Then he struggled to get down so he could play with the jars and containers under Valerie's sink.
After snarfing down applesauce and pancakes, I loaded up the car with our luggage and a much-coveted jar of Valerie's blueberry jam, took some final photos of Valerie and her lovely house and yard, and Austen and I headed out for Springfield, Mass. The goal was to get to the hotel around 3pm, feed Austen lunch, and watch a little football until Al's plane arrived at Bradley International Airport at 5:50pm. We made it with time to spare, at around 2:30pm. Austen ate a bunch of cheese, some more baby food, and some of the applesauce Valerie sent home with us, and then both of us got restless. I decided to just walk to the end of the street to see if there was a Starbucks nearby, but I ended up going completely around the block (no mean feat while carrying a 24-lb. baby). Good thing I did, because I noticed that we were adjacent to the Mass Mutual Center, where the Springfield Falcons hockey team plays... and that there was a game at 4pm.
I realized that Austen probably wouldn't last more than a couple periods anyway, so it was probably feasible to take him to the game and still pick up Al at the airport. I went back to the car, got the Bjorn and a sweater out, strapped Austen in, and walked back to the Mass Mutual Center. We ended up getting a seat right in front of the visitors' goal, which was a mixed blessing; great view, but I had to worry about one of us getting beaned by a misfired puck.
Luckily we didn't incur any injuries, though we did have to endure some loud and inane screeching from the teenage girl behind us, and some scary shouting from a 50 year-old guy in the next section over who wanted a specific Springfield player to know just how much of a pussy he was. That, and some ridiculously over-the-top cheering every time a fight broke out. This is the thing I'll never understand about minor-league hockey: Why do the teams, the leagues, and the fans all encourage—even promote—fighting? Go to a boxing match if you want to see a fight, for pete's sake. I want to see skating, passing, and shooting, thank you very much. In any case, it made me re-think the idea of taking Austen to minor league games in the future, even though they cost a fraction of NHL games.
We did indeed manage to pick Al up at the airport, and we had a nice evening together before heading back to Philly the following day. We made the requisite stop in Norwalk to visit Stew Leonard's and stock up on everything from asparagus to scones, and we even got the perfect photo of fall foliage when we put on the four-way flashers, rolled down the passenger window, and pressed the shutter button exactly once on the Canon 10-D before continuing on our way back to I-95: