Monday, April 28, 2014

On The Flip Side

        I had been expecting it to happen for some time now. For the past few weeks I had watched as Kiley had become more and more active when I laid her on her stomach. This is usually on the floor where I lay her down on a blanket or baby mat surrounded by objects designed to amuse those of her kind. "Squeak Toy", "Rattle", stuffed animals, plastic blocks, and a multitude of other objects in various colors and textures are arrayed around her like a court of hopeful petitioners vying for the favor of Her Royal Majesty. At four months of age she is able to support her upper body with her arms and look around, which affords her the opportunity to spot something interesting and desire it. This leads to stretching and reaching and wiggling as she tries to seize upon the correct method for moving in one direction or another. This is the beginning of the long road that, through trial and error, will lead to creeping then crawling, standing, walking, running, driving, hang gliding and God knows what else as she progresses from the infant her mother and I can contain, control and protect to the child, girl, and woman that we can merely watch and worry about. She took the first step in that process just recently. She had raised her upper body with her arms and was wiggling with determination; her eyes focused on a particular item of interest, when it happened. Wiggling just a little too forcefully and leaning just little too far to the left she suddenly lost her connection to the floor and rolled over onto her back. Trumpets! Fanfare! Haaaaaaaallelujah! A developmental milestone has been reached! I'm so proud.

        It wasn't long before she was rolling over onto her back on a regular basis and at will. Once babies do something new they figure out how to keep doing it real quick. They're smart that way. The first time she rolled onto her back was an accident, but no more. Having new and amazing abilities is fun and once she did it she wanted to do it again.  So it wasn't long before she got the method down and was rolling over like a brand new convertible with a texting teenager at the wheel. Her method is simple and effective – push up with your arms, tuck your left arm in while leaning to the left and gravity does the rest. Now I can't put her down on her stomach without her rolling over onto her back. She loves it, rolling over onto her back that is. But being on her back? That's another subject.

It is one of life's ultimate ironies that rolling over from your stomach to your back is a lot easier than rolling over from your back to your stomach. Anyone under the age of six months and over the age of fifty can tell you that. When rolling from stomach to back gravity is your friend and cheerfully assists you in your endeavor, but with the return trip gravity is your enemy and fights you all the way over. So infants are able to roll from stomach to back before they are able to roll back the other way. Unfortunately, when you are a baby, being on your back is not nearly as desirable as being on your stomach. A turtle can tell you that. You can't do anything on your back. You can't look around, you can't raise your upper body, you can't fish and wiggle toward something you want, and you certainly can't roll over onto your back which, at this particular point in your development, is about the funnest thing there is. All you can do after the fun is through is stare at the ceiling, wave your arms, and kick your feet. And complain. And fuss. And cry.

So now I have a problem. I lay her down on her stomach and it's not long before she flips over onto her back. But she doesn't want to be on her back so she starts to complain, and her complaining grows and grows until I remedy the situation by turning her back over onto her stomach. At which point - you guessed it - she flips once again onto her back. An infant rolling over onto her back is like a toddler sliding down the sliding board. Once the fun of the "slide " is through they are stuck at the bottom and need you to help them back to the top so they can slide again. Is there any one with a small child who hasn't hated the sliding board and its incessant demands at some point? Now imagine you have a toddler with a "pocket sliding board" so that everywhere you go the sliding board goes with you and every day is a continuous cycle of sliding and re-sliding with your assistance not only required but demanded. That's what an infant who has just learned to roll over onto its back is like.

There's really not much that can be done about it. I suppose I could try to prevent her from rolling over but that would require even more effort than what I am trying to circumvent.  And besides, that would be like preventing a bird from flying or a badger from digging. Nature just needs to take its course. Once they can roll over onto their backs it's never very long before they can do the opposite, so I just have to bide my time and encourage her in her efforts to perfect the back-to-front-roll. It won't be long. Still, it would be helpful if someone would invent a device to assist with this. A series of levers strategically fastened to the shoulder and hips perhaps, or maybe several small thrusters – you know, like little rockets. They could come with pink or blue smoke and would make an ideal shower gift. NASA should get to work on it. They need to find something to do anyway since they don't go to space anymore. They could even design slightly larger ones with just enough umph to lift a toddler about five feet off the ground and then sell them as a set with the "pocket sliding board". That would be great! Problem solved.


This post linked to the GRAND Social.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Chronicles of Nannia - Episode One

         Kiley hasn't been up to much this week, which means she's been behaving like a normal three-month-old. Babies can be all drama at times, cranky or content, stressful or soothing, exasperating or adorable, easy or difficult. But most of the time they are not up to much. Let's face it, a life that consists primarily of eating and sleeping isn't exactly the stuff that gripping entertainment is fashioned from. But that's not a problem, it's a blessing. The boring baby is almost as desirable as the sleeping baby. Still, it leaves me without much to report on the Kiley front. Fortunately, Kiley is not the only child I have ever been exposed to (or is it unfortunately?). Anyway, I have many child related experiences with which to amaze you. So let me take you back thirty years to a time when both the world and I were much younger and childcare was both different and the same. On second thought, let's make it forty.

        The year is 1974, a hit TV show "Happy Days" premiers cashing in on nostalgia for the 1950's, Dr. Christiaan Barnard performs the first human heart transplant, Nixon refuses to surrender the Watergate tapes, Patty Hearst is kidnapped by the SLA, the Arab Oil Embargo is on and oil prices are skyrocketing, my first daughter has just been born, and I am eighteen years old. In '74 my husband, our baby girl, and I are living in a cheap apartment we can barely afford on his income as a production worker in a chemical manufacturing plant (the same plant that he works in today). Our apartment is right above the furnace that heats the entire building so we are toasty warm 24/7. In fact, we have to keep some windows open in the dead of winter just to make it bearable. We are living on the edge as many young couples do, bouncing from one financial crisis to another as we try to cope with building a life and family together with never enough money. We are always one car-break-down away from ruin.

        In '74, mothers who work outside the home are still somewhat of a rarity and the booming daycare industry that so many rely on today does not yet exist. For those mothers who must work in order to survive, the daycare options are limited and consist mostly of available family and friends. Feeling strongly about the benefits of a stay at home mom, we never even consider that option despite the financial difficulties it creates. My husband is working shift work and all the overtime he can get, which is hard because it means that most of the time he is either working or asleep. This means that the baby, let's call her No.1, and I are mostly on our own. But that's okay, we are up for it. No.1 is six months old and she and I are practically attached at the hip, an inseparable team. It's we two against the world and we share the load equitably, each playing to her respective strengths which, as providence would have it, compliment each other – she is in charge of filling diapers, spitting up, and cuteness & adorability, and I handle the rest.

        I have become acquainted with the girl who lives across the hall; Sherry (not her real name) is nineteen and also a stay at home wife and mother. Her son is about the same age as No.1. I have also met Gladys who lives down the hall. She is in her fifties and her husband works as a janitor in a local school. Having friends nearby makes things a lot easier and relieves the feeling of isolation I would no doubt experience if not for their occasional company. I have a large extended family that lives in the surrounding area, I am the seventh of ten children, but with only one car my freedom to wander any farther than walking distance from our apartment is often limited. Most of the time it is just me and the baby.

        On a June day of that year, I am planning to put No.1 in the stroller and walk over to the local mall which is about half a mile away, just for a pleasant walk and some window shopping, something to do. I am packing up the baby's stuff when there is a frantic banging on my door. I open it to find Sherry with eyes as big as dinner plates and a blue baby limp in her arms! Sherry's baby has stopped breathing and she doesn't know what to do! I snatch him from her arms, dangle him upside down over my arm, and give him a hard thump on the back. At the time, this is the most common remedy for dealing with a choking baby and still is today. In fact, it is actually the Heimlich Maneuver for infants though Henry Heimlich won't publish his famous method until later that very same month. I learned it in health class. Nothing happens when I do this and I feel panic beginning to rise. I yell at Sherry to call for an ambulance. There is no 911 system yet so getting help in an emergency can take a lot of time. Everyone has a list of emergency numbers taped to the wall next to their phone. To get an ambulance you have to call the local Fire Company. Sherry is freaking as she runs to the phone and starts scanning my list for the right number. She has trouble finding it even though it is right there. I was taught mouth-to-mouth in health class so I lay the baby on the sofa and breathe into his mouth. I'm shocked when, in just a few moments, he gasps for air and comes around. The baby is crying, Sherry is crying, and my heart is pounding like a jackhammer. The ambulance never does come. Over the next few months Sherry's baby will have a string of medical emergencies – high fevers, convulsions, trouble breathing - and Sherry will call me for help each time. Most of the time, however, he is just fine and though there was a medical diagnosis Sherry didn't know what it meant and I have no idea what was wrong with him. But on that particular day we don't have a car, and everything seems okay so we just go back to what we were doing before Sherry's baby almost died. Still, I am shaken by the close call. What if it had been my baby?

         About six months after the incident with Sherry's baby, Sherry and her husband split up. We help her move herself and her baby to her mother's house about fifty miles away and I never see her again. I guess their marriage succumbed to the usual destroyers of young couples – too much stress over money, the responsibilities of parenthood (especially with a sick baby), and being too young to cope with it all had driven them apart. They had been married for less than two years. My husband and I are under similar stresses and are just as young but we are desperately in love, with the kind of intensity that only the very young can feel, and those same challenges pull us together rather than push us apart. We cling to each other for comfort and support, and are optimistic about the future. The responsibilities of parenthood weigh heavily on us, being not yet fully adults ourselves, but in spite of this No.1 has drawn us closer together and cemented us as a family. She is such a joy to us that we want to have more children. We decide, however, to wait until we can save enough money to buy a house before we have another baby. That will take six years.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

At The Push Of A Button

        Kiley’s bellybutton is sticking out too far. Uh oh! Her mom brought it to my attention the other day. I hadn’t noticed it even though I dress and undress her several times during the day. Babies’ belly buttons always look funky anyway, which isn’t surprising considering what they are and what they’ve been through. Still, I’m kicking myself for not being observant enough to notice something that could have an impact on Kiley’s well being. I’m sure I would have noticed eventually but once it was brought to my attention, I could see right away that something was amiss. Feel that something was amiss actually. The problem is more easily felt than seen. It’s like there’s a squishy marble there that rolls around when you touch it with your fingers. But you can see it too. It’s definitely an “outie”.

Kiley’s mom took her to the doctor to have it checked out and the doctor said not to worry about it. Umbilical hernias are common in babies and tend to resolve themselves without any treatment by the age of two or three. We just have to keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t get any bigger. He said, “If it sticks out too far just push it back in with your thumb”.

Huh?!! Just push it back in with my thumb?!! You gotta be kidding me! He wants me to push on it? He can’t be serious. I can’t do that! What if I push too hard? What if I don’t push hard enough? What if I push the wrong way? What does he mean by “sticks out too far”?  What if I push too soon? What if I push too late? What if it pops back out? What if I make it bigger? What if I bruise it? What if it breaks? What if it bleeds? What if…What if… What if it… AAAAAAGGGHHHH!!!!!!

While all of this is racing through my head, outwardly I maintain a demeanor of composed concern as Kiley’s mother, my niece, is explaining what the doctor said in a very calm and matter of fact tone. She’s one of those mothers who always seems in control and never appears to be flustered by any of the multiple things that can go wrong with a baby. She’s a natural – cool, calm, and collected, ready for everything and capable of anything. I was that way when I was her age. I was taking care of four or five kids at a time, Kiley’s mother included, and juggling babies like they were part of a Cirque du Soleil skit. But that was when I was still young and innocent, still invulnerable and immortal, still confident that everything will work out just fine no matter what. Since then I’ve had some nasty close calls with what can happen if you take your eye off the metaphorical road for juuuuust a second. Children are not invulnerable or immortal, quite the opposite. Things can go wrong, serious things, things that you have no control over and it usually happens when you least expect it.

Not that I don’t feel absolutely confident in my ability to care for Kiley or anyone else large or small for that matter (just ask my husband). Lots of experience with children, and life in general, has made me a better “Nan”. Despite the fact that I might be prone to worry a little more, now that I have a more realistic idea of what can go wrong, I took on the task of caring for Kiley fully confident that I would be able to cope with any situation that arose, as I have many times in the past. Everyone who knows me knows that I can handle just about anything if I have to.

But nobody ever said anything about pushing on belly buttons! I didn’t sign up for this. I’m not a – what do you call a belly button specialist anyway, an umbilicatrician?, a bellybuttonist?, a navel officer? – whatever, I’m not any of them. I can’t be expected to be pushing on belly buttons just because they’re sticking out a little bit. If I had known I was going to end up pushing on belly buttons I would have stayed in school or.. or  joined the military or something, this is ridiculous. I don’t know anything about belly buttons and I don’t want to.

After Kiley’s mom left for work I took Kiley’s shirt off to get a good look at what I was up against. There it was, sticking out a little bit. Does that amount of “stick out” meet the definition of "too much"?  Suppressing my natural inclination to scream, I reached down and gently touched it. It rolled around a little bit under my fingers, eeewww!  Kiley just smiled. I guess it tickled. My husband was home so I called him over, “Hey, look at this”.  He came over and looked but didn’t seem to understand what he was supposed to be seeing. “Look at her belly button”, I said, “It’s sticking out”.

“Yeah?” he said.

Unbelievable! “Well, it’s not supposed to be sticking out”, I said. “It’s a hernia. We have to keep an eye on it. If it sticks out too far we’re supposed to push it back in. I don’t know if I can do that. I don’t know if my thumbs are strong enough. I don’t know if I can do it without hurting her. What if I hurt her?  I don’t think I’d be good at that. You’re going to have to do it.”

In reply to that he just held up his thumb and made a popping noise with his tongue and upper lip. Great! I dismissed him. He can’t be trusted to deal with this responsibly. I was on my own. But it’s not fair! Why me! What did I do to deserve this, belly buttons sticking out and all? What was I going to do? Then I looked down at poor Kiley, my "Little Big Button", and an overwhelming feeling of love and pity and worry swept over me and I resolved to do whatever was necessary to help her with whatever problems she has to face in her life. Even if it means pushing her belly button back in. That’s what loving a child is all about.

All exaggeration and attempt at humor aside, sometimes children can be so worrisome, even when it’s over something as minor as a belly button malfunction. I can’t even imagine the strength and determination required of mothers who are dealing with truly life altering circumstances and faced with a lifetime of worry and heartache. I don’t know how they cope, but I’m sure there must be a moment, after rage, and fear, and pity, and tears, when they too look down on their little loved ones and resolve to do whatever becomes necessary to help them through all the challenges in their lives, as they play out the hands they’ve been dealt. I can only pray for them, mother and child alike. May God bless them, and may God keep them, and may God help them find the happiness that is always possible, for all of us, regardless of what challenges we are forced to face.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Time For A Change

        Kiley is three months old! I can't believe it. That makes her twice as old as she was when I first started caring for her. Those six weeks have flown by, at least they have for me. But then I'm a little older now and, as they say, "the older you get the faster it goes". For Kiley it's probably a different story. The younger you are the slower it goes and I'm sure that half of anyone's life, no matter how short a time that may be, must seem like forever to the person living it. I think that must be because we gauge the passing of time by how much change we perceive has taken place. Change in the world around us but, even more so, changes in ourselves. I know that the last half of my life (twenty-nine years or so) seems like a long time to me when I look back at it. The world has changed dramatically in that time, to the extent that anyone stepping from that time directly into this one would find the world unrecognizable. The changes in my life and myself have been even more dramatic. In that span of time all of my children have grown up and gone (at last) and I have grown from a young woman to a middle-aged one - (Knock it off!  I'll decide the definition of middle-aged here). At the same time, was it really three decades ago that Gorbachev became head of the Soviet Union and "Born In The USA" was a new hit? The younger you are the more dramatically you change over time, hence the slowness of it. Kiley has lived for twelve weeks and, if she could, I'm sure she would look back at the past six weeks and marvel at all of the changes that have taken place in her life. One of which was me. I am now a familiar and expected part of her day.

        We have settled into a routine, Kiley and me. Routines are good for children. They give them a sense of security and continuity. When Kiley comes to me in the morning the routine begins almost immediately. Her mother brings her through the door still in her car seat and I greet her with excited and happy sounds which makes her excited and happy to see me. She's still too young to miss her mother much, that will come later. Her mother leaves for work after giving me the low-down on any problems Kiley has had since last I saw her, (there are often problems with babies – eating, sleeping, colds, crankiness are all things that change from day to day with babies). Then off Mommy goes and we are on our own.

        At three months the routine is still pretty basic. The eating and sleeping schedule are well established and the rest of our time is spent with activities. At three months the "activities" are also pretty basic and consist mainly of me trying to come up with new ways to entertain her. It is important to keep things fresh and new because babies, even more so than regular people, become bored with the same old thing over and over again (until they are toddlers that is, then they want you to read the same book over and over and over… ). So you have to create and maintain a balance between comfortable routine and stimulating novelty, something that's not always easy to do.

        For the most part, of course, everything is new to a baby and the slightest variation in stimuli is enough to keep Kiley interested and occupied. The "rattle" will keep her busy for a good long while before it becomes wearisome, but once it does the "squeak toy" is warming up in the wings and ready to take over. Now that she is able to grasp and shake things "rattle" and "squeak toy" have become my trusted allies. Such toys have been keeping babies occupied for centuries, but now the old standbys have a lot of competition.

        Baby toys have undergone a revolution since my kids were children. The miniaturization of electronics has created a bewildering variety of toys that buzz, whistle, sing, flash, spin, and change color. I guess you can look at them as high tech rattles and squeak toys but I believe that with toys, as with many things in life, "less" is often "more". The amount of stimulus provided by these things is overwhelming, really, and I'm not so sure that it's all for the best. Attracting a baby's attention is one thing, keeping it is another. The best toys for babies are ones that they can manipulate themselves and have fun with by learning to control the object by learning to control their own motions. When it comes to babies, if a toy merely stimulates the senses rather than engaging the imagination and enhancing coordination it's not really a "toy".

        Toys aside, there are plenty of things that Kiley now does that keep her occupied.  Her abilities have multiplied exponentially since she was six weeks old. She can now raise her head and chest, and support her body with her arms when lying on her stomach. Coupled with the new ability to follow moving objects by turning her head, this gives her the opportunity to look around and get a better idea of the nature of her surroundings. She kicks her feet a lot when lying on her stomach, a prelude to crawling which is still months away. Anything that dangles seems to fascinate her and she is now able to swat at dangling objects. Her own hands are also objects of fascination and she puts them in her mouth a lot. She turns her head in the direction of sounds. She is beginning to "babble". More gratifying to me, she recognizes me from a distance, smiles at the sound of my voice, and watches my face intently.

        I too have developed new abilities in the past six weeks. I can now "sense" a dirty diaper in the family room - from the kitchen. I can now lull Kiley to sleep with only thirty-four repetitions of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" – down from sixty-two. I can load the car, strap Kiley into her car seat, and disassemble and stow away the stroller in under two minutes (I bought a stopwatch).  I can vacuum, make the bed, do the laundry, and cook dinner all with one hand. I can make the weirdest sounds and most ridiculous faces imaginable to make her smile. And I can leap from a second story window, swim a freezing river, land a crashing plane, or walk through fire to make her safe. Sometimes I think I've changed more in the past six weeks than she has. Maybe I'm not as old as I think I am.