About three months ago, Bella began clapping ... in her own unique way. She would bring her hands together and then move them up and down. She did this when excited, happy or trying to play patty cake.

So earlier this week she woke up sick as a dog. She only wanted to be held and would cry if I tried to lay her down. To make her happy and have my hands free, I allowed her to follow me around the house - which is sort of like taking her Disneyland.

I was putting dishes away and heard a CLAP. I looked over at her and she was alight with pride. She lifted her arms up by her ears and then brought her hands together again - CLAP! Bella just giggled and giggled. Then she did it several times in a row.

Now, all you have to do is say PAT CAKE BELLBELL and she'll clap those hands together and smile. I don't think I can describe it accurately, so I'll be trying to get it on video now that she's a little less needy. But, it's so funny because it's like she knows she wasn't doing it right all those months and now she's finally figured it out.

Also, I realized there's no real video of her walking, so I'll be working on that, too. Let's hope her upswing toward health continues and that we're all sickness free after the weekend.

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Bella Versus Laptop

She must not realize this machine pays for her banana addiction.

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I put a clip in Bella's hair for the first time today. Now I feel the intense urge to run to Walmart and buy up all the cheap plastic baby hair baubles I can find. It's an addiction and I haven't even started yet.

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Life With Baby

We don't get many still shots of Bella now that she's always on the go. Here's one from this morning - it does a good job of summing up her personality these days.

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Movin' on up

Bella's little body does amazing things. It crawls over people to get to whatever object she wants at the moment. It bangs on the window and tries to wriggle out the door. It waves, claps, clucks.

And increasingly, it walks. She's not ready for a 5K, but she's definitely taking some major steps. Billy counted 17 yesterday. Yes, that's correct - he counted each tiny, hesitant, wobbly little step. I believe those 17 steps got her approximately 2 feet from her starting point. And yes, we had the urge to throw a party afterwards. We've yet to get it on video, mainly because she recognizes the whir and beep of the camera and immediately loses focus.

Javier's accomplishing a lot these days, as well. He has begun writing and illustrating his own chapter books. He's even managed to end some of them with something other than a HUGE MONSTER JUMPS OUT AND KILLS THEM! The End. His most recent book features bike riders and is very biographical. Every day he comes home and begs to ride his bike somewhere only an adult could manage: a friend's house, Walmart, San Francisco.

Unfortunately, I got some news today that may make it harder to remain as intensely aware of everything my children are doing. I found out that my company is killing my publication. That leaves me with two choices: Find another job or piece together freelance jobs that will keep us on track financially.

I'm not making any big moves yet, but it definitely brings my earning potential into sharp focus. Sure, I could freelance - but can I do it full time with my monkey on the prowl? This is the same monkey that I have to fight to keep off the laptop - you know, the laptop that I depend on for my portion of our daily bread.

Reality check: I could go back to work, bring in double or triple my current income, and avoid worrying about deadlines, debts, and getting work accomplished while simultaneously feeding, changing, rocking and marveling over a baby. But that would mean hiring someone else to do that for me - whether it's a nanny, an in-home childcare provider or a daycare.

And while I know first hand what a wonderful job others do in caring for children (hello, Javier spent his formative years in daycare), I really love knowing the ins and outs of the kids' days. I think this stems from knowing that Bella is our last baby. There won't be another opportunity to spend every waking moment with her, to watch her grow from baby to big kid.

Also factoring into this equation is that I'm in such a better place both emotionally and financially than when Javi was a baby. I had to outsource his care so that I could provide for us. This time around, Billy and I are working together to keep me home without the fear of the poor house.

So, part of me says (in the immortal words of Tim Gunn) MAKE IT WORK! Keep freelancing even if it means working a 30-40 hour work week ... because at least I'm home with the monsters and I'm honing my writing skills while working with a great group of gals. But the other part of me says YOU COULD WORK SMARTER! Go into a job 40 hours per week and then be done. Have your evenings and weekends to spend with the kids without the pressure/pressing worry of the next deadline, the next article idea, the next source and who's called back and when will you transcribe that 30 minute interview?

I don't know what to do. There are options and I don't have to make a snap decision. Billy and I have decided to see how things fall with my company because they are offering me other jobs to make up for the loss of my baby/pub. Does anyone have any insight/advice/job offers they want to shoot my way? :)

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This baby loves the walker. Unfortunately, we don't have the unfettered space she needs to walk her little heart out.

Instead, she goes some steps and then bangs into something - the couch, the wall, the gate, the window. She doesn't know how to turn around so she looks up at me with her big eyes as if to say, "Hey tall person, do you not see I need some help here?"

The question here is: Does she push the walker or does it drag her along behind it? Either way, she's happiest when she's on it - even if the animals get in her way.

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Bella's New Trick

I remember when Javi learned to 'cluck' - and it really never gets old. Is this considered a milestone to anyone else or is it just me?

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The Walker

Bella works the walker she got for Christmas. I'll try to get video of her walking it into the wall ... and trying to force it to keep going. She's nothing if not persistent.

Oh - the bonus is Javi's original song, composed solely by himself.

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Bike Riders

Javi is a biker!

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Choking hazard? What choking hazard? The only thing that might hurt this baby is if someone tried to take the grapes away...

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This baby has spent the past few months eating - and loving - applesauce. All of a sudden, she doesn't want it in her mouth. What's that about?!

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Monkey Love

My monkey girl had a great day today. She bumped her head twice last week when I was sickly and busy trying to work through my sickliness. So, I was worried she'd have more troubles today because I had tons of work to get through.

However, she only pulled the lamp down on herself once. After that, I gave up on daytime working and instead we both took a nap. Both feeling refreshed, I finally convinced her to kiss on command. I say KISSES! and she opens her mouth wide and drops her big lovey head right on my lips. It's the cutest thing EVER. And, no, I do not exaggerate.

Also, the baby monkey had another 1st today. FIRST TASTE OF PEANUT BUTTER. I don't know if the baby books have a space for this one, but damn if Bella Wayne didn't love her some peanut butter. I made vegetable beef soup and pb&j sandwiches for dinner. Bella ate most of her vegetables but then gave up. I knew she was hungry so I was a bad mom and let her taste a sandwich.

After that - it was on. She gobbled up the bites faster than I could get them onto her tray. All I can say is, this kid is going to be a huge fan of my favorite sandwich: Peanut butter & banana.

Mama loves her sweet, sweet monkey girl.

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Washtub Baby

I think I forgot to share this cutesy photo my friend Laura took of Bella. In fact, I may have forgotten to post any of our Christmas photos here ... though you probably got one in the mail. Here's all of the great photos Laura took of Bella at 9 months old and Javi at 7 years old.

You know the last one is my favorite, right? I love how dour she looks here as it's completely opposite of her personality.

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Letter to Bella, month ten

Dear Bella,

I rolled over the other morning and realized OMG THAT BABY WILL BE ONE SOON! I simultaneously missed your scrunchy swollen newborn face and couldn't wait to see you toddle away with a full head of hair. I'm trying to remember this feeling because though you will be my last little one, it's this feeling that makes people want babies!

In the past month you've earned a few nicknames thanks to your endearing personality and voracious appetite. Of course you are forever my monkey and if I say "Monkey!," you'll turn to me as if to say "What's up?" But, your daddy has correctly termed you the Green-Eyed Monster because heaven forbid there's someone in sight distance with a morsel of food and they don't offer to share.

You'll catapult your body across the room after anything - and you know food by instinct, whether it's an unpeeled banana I've hidden behind my back or a cup of yogurt tucked in my palm. You KNOW it's there and you will have some of it. This month you've chowed on grits, apples, peaches, pears, green beans, lima beans, macaroni & cheese, oatmeal, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese quesadillas, tortilla chips, crackers, shredded chicken, potatoes, peas, ham, cranberries, cheese, carrots, oranges, grapefruit and the list goes on.

But all these foods haven't packed on the pounds. At your 10-month wellbaby check up you clocked in at only 18.5 lbs and 28.5 in. That puts you at 50th percentile weight and height. So where is all the food going? I'm guessing to your head - which measured a whopping 18" circumference. That's 95th percentile! Sweet monkey, I'm sorry to say you inherited your noggin from your daddy.

You love food, but you're so busy that I guess you burn up all the calories you consume. From the moment you wake up in the morning until you fall asleep at night, you are a bundle of energy. You chase the dog and cat, dig around in your toy bin, rock out on the keyboard, attack mama's laptop, cruise around the room and often try to climb the furniture.

The coolest part is you've realized that those little chubby legs are good for more than standing on. You've been able to stand on your own and get into and out of a standing position since early this month ... but now you can get into standing without the help of an object. And, if one object is close to another object - you'll even take a step!!!

Your daddy swears he saw you take three full steps along the side of the loveseat, but I can't vouch for that. What I can testify to is that you try so hard to use those legs the way you know you can. You'll stand up in the room and concentrate so hard on moving forward. Usually you wind up just sitting back down so you can crawl, but I imagine my this time next month you'll be toddling over to me like a big girl.

Every day we learn something new about you and get a better idea of the person you will become. I know you are a mixture of me and your daddy but you are so uniquely your own person. For example, you have daddy's dark green eyes and my button nose, but you are such an optimist. Your smile is infectious - and often we both wind up giggling uncontrollably because you just can't stop laughing and I can't stop laughing at you.

I pray that this optimism sees you through life, that your smile never falters and that you always find someone and something that makes you giggle with such abandon. I wonder if either your dad or I was as happy as a baby, but I don't have an answer. I only know that it's our job as parents to protect your spirit. And that's exactly what we plan to do.

Love, Mama

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