Sunday, April 30, 2006

a little soft-shoe?

Buying some time here....

In the works: a post on the seventh month, a post on our Pesach trip to Israel, and something on maternal speech. No, I don't have much of a life. Yes, this is my main connection to adult interactions. Well, sort of. Except on May 25th, when I'll be furthering my reluctant career as unpaid motivational speaker. Urgh.

In the meantime, here's what the Mama is reading this month:

I just finished Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. It has a perfect paragraph describing hangovers, but that's not why you should read it. And read American Gods first. Or not. Gaiman has a gift for the extraordinary mundane, an eye for the shabbiness of the ordinary life, and for adeptly turning that inside out. Not a very helpful description, really, unless you are familiar with his work.

Courtesy of the SIL-ly, I've just started Lynne Truss' Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. As someone who has whipped out a pen and corrected signs, this book intrigues me. Yea, as a frustrated on-looker to the devastation of the proper plural and the apostrophe, I am now giddily relieved to find that I'm not alone. I suspect that I lack much of the thoroughness that marks a true stickler such as the author, and I'm fairly certain that my grasp of the semi-colon is not quite what it should be. But I do weep for the apostrophe...

Here is a sentence that made me very happy:

In short, we [sticklers for punctuation] are unattractive know-all obsessives who get things out of proportion and are in continual peril of being disowned by our exasperated families. (pg 5)

Ahh, yes. And lo, it is true. With thanks to my too-patient partner, I and my little red pen bid you all a good night.

P.S. for the Strunk and White-inclined among you, yes, I do realize that I have not cited correctly. I haven't found the 'underline' function yet. Educate me!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

the seventh month round-up

And for the love of wee little piggies, do let me finish this before the seventh month is the child's eighth. Oy. Repeat after me: will finish that which I start. Will finish that which I start. Will walk into a room and remember why I am there. Um, sure. Any day now. Okay, the seventh month. Let's start with the ever-popular....

If I ever intimated that the child is placid, I hereby withdraw the opinion and abase myself as a poor poker player. Clearly, the infant was bluffing, and caught his naive parent off-guard. Nope, not placid. Determined, sweet-natured, earnest and prepared to be patient - but not placid. When this child is happy, he's a comically joyous figure, his enormous smile nearly enveloping his poor ravaged face (eczema is not exactly aesthetic, ya know). He's delightfully pleased to be engaged by his chosen circle of adults (and the one, crucial chosen child), and cautiously thoughtful about others who wish to engage with him.

Physically, I'm watching him come into his own. This is a fun stage, as over the next two or three months he'll gain serious mobility and begin to terrorize the house. Already he's managed to grab a plastic bag out of his brother's hands and shove it into his mouth, causing his father to swerve off an Israeli highway while his mother rappelled down the side of the car to save him from choking. Yup, fun days are a-comin'. Whee.

Currently, the child can move backwards handily, and can crawl forwards only - and only I say - if he doesn't think about it. Drivers of a stick shift will understand this conundrum, but muscle memory must remain just that, in a true example of that which must not be over-thought. I'll watch the baby crawl a step, then two towards me. He then pauses, realizing what he's done, and continues the motion....backwards. He then becomes increasingly frustrated, and concludes the effort by roaring with fury while his parent finds herself torn between empathy and giggles. Occasionally he rescues himself by curling himself from his stomach onto his bottom, and from that seated position he repeats the whole process as his parent suppresses a sigh.

Luckily he has at least one laurel to cling to, and that's his swift success with pulling himself up to standing. He might waggle about drunkenly once he's standing, but his proficiency in rising is inarguable. At this stage, along with his mobility and ability to grab carelessly waved choking hazards, the baby's allergies have really been thrown into relief. Or, precisely, not relief. I had long dismissed eczema as the bastion of anxiety for those allergy mums not blessed with more serious issues to worry about. Now, it's the bane of my existence, as the child scratches his skin into shreds, scratches himself in his sleep and destroys all hope of a good night's rest for us both. He and I are now the most reliable sources I know for reports as to whether the weather is dry or humid - a glance at his skin and the bags under my eyes will give any knowledgeable analyst all the date they need. Sigh. I do believe we've arrived at the point where I'd be almost relived to hear that another, as yet unidentified allergy was causing this. I might have to remove something painfully vital from our diet, but at least I'd get to sleep at night...

Yes, the baby has grown in complexity, in sheer force of presence and personality. I'm as awed this time as I was the last to watch this little character emerge from his infant body. And extremely entertained by the lovely baby babble that he offers up: his proud array of b, g and d sounds are soundly trounced by the sheer pathos of his 'm' sound. 'M,' that is, as in the ultimate sound of need: 'muuuum, muum, muum, mum!'

The Child:
As charming as ever, our older son is a minor force of nature. For a while I was worried that I'd lost the skill of keeping a sharp eye for his personal meteorology and that it was spinning out of control, and into an el nino pattern - but now I know I've merely been distracted. Very, very distracted. But when I put all else aside and focus, there he is, excited, passionate and fascinating. What a reward!

Currently, he is writing. Not, mind you, reading, but instead taking pleasure in forming letters on a page, and linking those letters to meaning. This is typical of the child, who prefers kinetic activities, or, as his teachers point out, anything that involves his entire body, preferably at top speed. So, he writes standing up... Yesterday, he painstakingly wrote out the shopping list for our trip to TJ's: cucumbers, scallions, soy milk, etc. This morning, he labelled a drawing of an extraordinarily hairy person as "MUMMY." He then paused thoughtfully, and added an exclamation point. "This means that I'm done with my sentence," he explained. Ah, the exclamation points of small boys - so much better than the sullen ellipses of teenagerhood.

He's in an interesting phase in the process of gaining literacy. While fascinated by the patterns of letters, he's nonetheless not really intrigued by the game of 'recognize that?' or 'sound that out!' He is, however, excited by the idea of numbers. It is at moments like these that I feel much empathy for my MIL, who sadly tells the tale of reading to her little boy, who would listen patiently and then point to the page. 'That's a two,' she'd tell him. 'That's a three.' So long as the kid will listen to the story, I'm happy. And he will. His father and he have worked their way through the Wizard of Oz, and a goodl chunk of AA Milne. And magid has a wonderful list of what might come next!

Despite his interest in a skill that is light years beyond his baby brother's abilities, he is still delighted in his little sib, playing and chatting with the baby. Increasingly, he wants to exert his independance in taking care of his sib, helping the baby stand or taking away his toys in the name of a shaky idea of safety. But I notice also the early signs of impatience with this small person, whose lengthy probation period has yet to yield a proper playmate. On the other hand, as the Carrot Bag Incident proves, he also consistently underestimates his sib's skills. Well and so, after all his mother often does the same.

The Mama and the Papa:
Not nearly as developmentally intriguing as our offspring, we're bumbling along. My partner has been making highly readable strides, and managed to survive his yearly venture onto Israeli highways (more on that coming). Flattened by his first real illness since college mono, he's now blessed with a burgeoning understanding of what it means to be dog-sick. Bleeeahh. More important from his perspective, he finally dodged his monthly post-major meeting work funk (yay!), for which we peasants are duly grateful. It's been his corporate wage slave variant on PMS, and it was hang-dog sad. Thankee, sir for the paradigm shift...

The mama has ventured into vegan baking (have egg and dairy allergic kids, will seek out comfort pastry), and it's been reasonably successful. Pear-ginger cake, anyone? And dipped a toe into writing children's stories (more on that in August, I hope). And I've been polishing my skill with very tiny needles. As of this past week, we are now almost completely independant of our nurses, with regards to my eldest's prophylactic medical regimen. Almost. It's taken well over a year of practice and patience (from our nurses, not from us), but our family is now within spitting distance of day to day independance, medically speaking. Just in time for the baby to decide that he absolutely despises the car, and will roar methodically should we try and drive any distance with him. Yup. But who am I to argue? At moments like this, his elder brother would come up with immunological plot twists. A little volume, as heartwrenching as it is, is nonetheless amateur hour in this family.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

the terms of mobility

'The baby's mobile, poots,' my partner told me. I looked at the child, energetically scooting himself around on his tummy. Bah, humbug I thought, and tried to persuade myself otherwise. This wasn't real crawling, it was scooting, it was scootching, and surely that didn't count?

The next day, I looked up to see that the baby had left his lambskin in the middle of the rug, and had scootched off the rug, out of the room, down the hall, where he'd entangled his legs in the laundry hamper. (Moving backwards makes for poor steering, it seems.) Stubbornly, he'd pushed himself and the hamper back on his way for a couple of feet. Hmm. Still, I said, it's not crawling.

This past weekend, I rose bright and early, determined to accomplish three days worth of chores. Today, I'll put in the childgate, I said. I'll be preemptive, a smart parent, on top of her game. I sent my partner deep into the pit that we call a basement. He returned frustrated. Alas, half the childgate had disappeared, while the other gate lacked a crucial piece. I glared at my partner and tried not to look too relieved. Behind us, the baby rose on all fours and waggled his bottom in the air. We studiously ignored him.

That evening, the baby learned how to move forwards, by dint of first sitting, then stretching forwards, and finally pushing his bottom towards his hands with one leg. (Try it - it's very yoga-like.) He did more bottom waggling. And then he looked at me and offered up a proud, happy smile. I sighed with defeat.

The next day, we had a brand new, installed childgate at the top of the stairs. My eldest, who'd sacrificed a day at the Museum of Science for the gate, seemed delighted in this mark of his sib's accomplishments. And the mama? Well, I survived the consumerist hell that is Babies R Us and came home, where I buried my hands in some fresh dirt and showed my son how to plant seeds. For they do grow, you know...

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

running a marathon

It’s the tentative days of spring here in New England, and tulips are shouldering their way through the soil in my garden, and promising color. Passover and Easter are coming, the season of passage and transformation and identity. And a couple of towns over from where we live a young woman is pulling on her sneakers for yet another long training run.

Yes, it’s marathon time again, and this year is the third year that our family is participating in Boston Children’s Hospital’s Miles for Miracles marathon program. In the past two years, my son has been the patient partnered first with his grandfather, and then with the dueling duo of his grandfather and great-uncle. This year, these two veteran atheletes have elected to hang up their sneakers, passing the torch to Jennifer Quinby, the daughter of a Children’s social worker, herself a Children’s Hospital employee. Jenn, like my father and uncle before her, is raising money for the hospital, money that will fund needs such as groundbreaking, life-saving research, as well as the toys and crayons given to sick, grumpy kids, or the tutors who keep children on track during long hospital stays. Her run is an acknowledgement and gesture of support to Children’s Hospital, an institution that is a treasure, a place that offers top-notch care to anyone who turns up, whether they can afford to pay for it or not.

But my perspective is perhaps a bit myopic. Children’s Hospital has saved my child's life twice, once when he was eight days old and then again on 9/11/2004. As a parent, I only ever expected to be given my child’s life once, when he was born. It is a shattering thing to have happen again, first when he was an tiny baby and we uncertain new parents, and again when he was nearly three years old. Aware of the shock that can come with a diagnosis or trauma, the hematology and immunology teams worked with my husband and myself, giving us the tools with which to protect our son without stifling him, but instead to create an environment in which he will flourish and wreak happy havok. And an environment in whch we, his parents, are competent advocates and caregivers – a role which I find is tested on a regular basis.

The blessing of Boston is that it is full of medical facilities, including a smaller community hospital not five minutes from our home. But the community hospitals are not prepared for cases like ours, for the complications and the specific knowledge that comes with a child with severe hemophilia and multiple allergies. The saying in the medical community is that, when you hear hoofbeats, look for horses – not zebras. Well, we are a zebra, and the hematologists like to tell me that we are a zebra who teaches them something new, at least a couple of times per year.

Oy. Lightening must have struck when this kid was conceived: his hemophilia makes him one in ten thousand, according to the statistics, and one of 8% of American children managing dangerous allergies. And his combination of the two, along with his personal quirks on his diagnoses make him, well, unique. But at Children’s Hospital, he’s just another kid, laughing in the play-room. And thanks to Children’s Hospital and the support they’ve given us, when he goes home or to school, he’s just another child, running and climbing and generally getting into trouble.

My uncle, last year, described his experience running the marathon. He said that as he ran, he passed a little girl who pointed at his Miles for Miracles jersey and shrieked, ‘Children’s Hospital?? They fixed my heart!’ As he ran, he thought about the children for whom he was running, and his nephew, for whom the day begins with a needle and continues with a watchful eye, guarding his safety while also guarding his freedom. My nephew, wrote the uncle, also runs his marathon. But he runs his race daily, balancing medical need with the right to a childhood that is marked by joy, rather than by diagnoses.

Nobody wants or expects to be a zebra. Certainly my husband and I never envisioned this complicated life for our child. We are grateful that, having produced our loving, chatty little guy, there is a place where he can be cared for and nourished in times of need. It is this sense of security that permeates our relationship with Boston Children’s and our parenting, allowing us to build a world that is exactly the right kind of ‘normal’ for him. So, whether you are the parent of horse or zebra, or simply friend and family, we invite you to join us in supporting this remarkable institution. And think of Jenn on Patriot’s Day!

To Donate:
1. click on this link Miles for Miracles
2. on the right side of the page, choose to sponsor a runner (or patient).
3. Type ‘Jennifer Quinby’ in for the runner’s name.

you've come a long way, baby

It was a trust exercise worthy of an executive retreat:

"Mummy, I want you to not put the baby in the playpen while you shower. I will watch out for him!"

I looked at my four year old consideringly. He'd played with the baby, he'd taken away toys and checked if they were choking hazards..and he'd also tested toys that the baby was playing with, removing them for a fun-worthy assessment. Usually, the toys passed muster. And the baby roared at losing them. But still.

So we tried it. I put the baby on the bed, which is set up for co-sleeping with a rolling, scootching (i.e., not crawling, but pushing himself around with his arms in a sort of swimming motion) baby. I yanked all blankets and pillows off the bed and put a few toys on it. I reviewed the rules with my older child: can you take the baby's toys away? Should the baby get near a pillow? a blanket? Can you leave the baby alone on the bed? What do you do in case of emergency? He knew the answers to every one.

However, this is the same child who also knows enough to hold my hand in a parking lot, yet dropped my hand two days ago...just as a car was sweeping past. He's four, with all of the contraditions and splendors of the age. Do I trust him with the baby?

The answer is, frankly, not really. But I've learned that, while my older son can be an outright hazard to his infant brother, treating him that way only exacerbates the situation. If I bellow, he'll look to fulfill the pattern I've given him, and he's extremely good at playing the role of Evil Offspring. If I bring him over to my side, engage him in my role as being the grown-up, amused by the baby's foibles and patient with the baby's needs (more or less), well, I usually end up being reminded that he is, in fact, only four. But first he will do his damndest to play that role, as well.

So I left them there. And went down the hall to check on the weather report. And peeked in. I brushed my teeth and then peeked in. Over and over, I saw a happy, giggling baby and a delighted, proud four year old. So I took a deep breath and hopped into the shower, where I listened to "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" being bellowed at the baby. I got out of the shower and dripped my anxious way down the hall, only to be greeted by a very self-possessed young man, who explained to me that, thanks, but

"I'm bored of taking care of the baby. I'm going to go and play with some choking hazards now."

Um, okay. Sure. How old are you, again?

My thanks to Auntie A for this corn-y link: