Monday, September 29, 2014

Say Cheese

        Kiley is my niece's first child.  Do you remember what that was like? The first ones are always fawned over, adored, adulated - practically worshipped. It's only natural. When we are parents for the first time it really comes as quite a shock doesn't it? I'm not talking about the long hours, the hard, tedious work, and the lack of sleep. That's shocking enough I grant you. I don't mean the overwhelming responsibility that you find thrust upon you, the worry that follows your first born around like an evil twin. What I mean is the epiphany of first time parenthood, the astonishing, unanticipated wonder of it all, the revelation that you are capable of such depth of feeling or that this profound emotion that only parents can know even existed.

So it is no wonder that we view our first born as something special, something to be doted on and we don't want to miss a single miraculous moment of their precious existence. In fact we want to record every single moment of that miracle we call "the baby", you know, so we can save those moments for posterity and share them with all of our friends and family who are, no doubt, as thrilled as we are at the incredible uniqueness of what we have created. So out come the cameras, phones these days, and we start snapping away, recording every thing that "our precious" does – the first smile, the first bath, the first crawl, the first tooth, the first steps, the first holiday, "Precious" with Mom, "Precious" with Dad, "Precious" with Grandma, "Precious" with Grandpa, "Precious" with the dog, and on, and on, and on. Thank God for digital technology because the manufacture of that amount of photographic film would leave a carbon footprint so large that the ice caps would melt and the seas would rise from the single-mother births alone. All because we are over-whelmed by this new experience we call parenthood.

So Number-one gets a hell of a lot of attention and a hell of a lot of pictures taken. Not so much with Number-two. By the time Number-two arrives the "newness" of it all has sort of worn off, hasn't it? Sure the second one's a miracle too but we're used to the miracle by then. The "shine" has dimmed. So, despite the fact that we love her just as much, Number-two doesn't seem quite as photogenic as Number-one, does she? Oh, she still gets her fair share of photographs taken, birthdays, holidays, christenings, that sort of thing, but we don't seem to be as compelled to record every pose, pout and poop as we were with Number-one. It's human nature. Number-two is not quite as "new" as Number-one was. And number three? Well.

Kiley's Mom had just been showing me about the millionth set of new Kiley pictures. (Don't get me wrong. Kiley has become so dear to me that I am as fascinated by every thing she does as her parents are and every new picture is as special to me as it is to them.) And that got me thinking about my own kids when they were kids so I broke out the old pictures. My youngest was born before the digital age so when I say "broke out the old pictures" I of course mean boxes full off fading, old photographs depicting the fresh, unfinished forms of those who are now in their thirties or forties. There was Number-one in all her grandeur, every possible moment immortalized for the world to wonder over, little notations scrawled on the backs of most of them so that future generations will be apprised of the significance of each particular scene. There was Number-two - birthdays, holidays, special moments all duly recorded for posterity. But where's Number-three? Hmmm. I know she's in here somewhere, isn't she? Wait a minute, is that her? In the background there, in that picture of Number-one by the pool. Isn't that her back there by the trees? Didn't she have a blue outfit like that back then? Yep, that's gotta' be her. So there they are, all three of them. Each as special as the other and each photograph as precious to me in my old age as the children themselves. Look at Number-one with that clever smile she always had, and Number-two with those dimples, and Number-three with that blue outfit. Wait a minute, that is her, isn't it? Or is that her cousin Katy? No, that's her. That's definitely her. I'd recognize that outfit anywhere. Thank God for pictures. What would we do without them, especially as we get older? They are our link to the way things were. They keep the past, and the loved ones in it, fresh in our eyes and in our hearts as our memories of long ago begin to fade.



Monday, September 22, 2014

Stand Up And Be Counted

        Kiley is now nine months old. That is a really significant milestone. Up until now she had lived most of her life inside the womb - warm and dark, cozy and safe, not a whole lot of demands or expectations, with Mom so close that they were literally attached to each other.  From now on, however, for the rest of her life, most of that life will have been spent on the outside, in the wide world – cold and bright, uncertain and perilous, with increasing demands and expectations as she grows, separate from everyone including Mom. That's a big change to have to cope with, but we all did it and it must not have been too traumatic since none of us even remember it except, perhaps, on a subconscious, emotional level. Kiley seems happy enough.

        Kiley managed to reach another milestone recently, one that is essential to her ability to live in the wide world she now finds herself in. She has been crawling for sometime now and doing a good job of it. She's everywhere, into everything, and up to no good. Fast too, put her down and she's off like a shot. So I have to watch her and make sure she stays out of trouble. But that is nothing compared to the trouble she is about to get into because over the past couple of weeks, as expected, she has learned to stand and is beginning to walk. What a big girl! Generally, she still has to hold on to things when she walks, but she is already managing a few steps unsupported by anything but her own two feet. And she's doing that more and more often. Her legs are short and chubby but strong. I coax her with outstretched hands to walk to me, which she does with a few uncertain steps before falling into my arms – a moment of joy for both of us. It won't be long now until she's careening around the house with little skill but much determination, a true "toddler". Nothing will stop her now.

        The importance of walking can't be overstated. It's the way we get around in the world. And the way we humans do it is one of the things that set us apart from the other animals. (There are a lot of things about us that are unique in the animal world. We are strange creatures.) Unlike any other animal, we walk upright on two legs (I know birds walk on two legs but they don't stand erect and it's usually more of a hop than a walk, kangaroos too.) The advantages of standing and walking on two legs are obvious. It gives us the ability to see things at a distance at all times (our eyes are five feet off the ground). It limits our exposure to the sun (we have to lie down to get a good tan). It frees up our hands to do other things like carrying and throwing - no other animal can throw with speed and accuracy, a uniquely human ability and a distinct physical advantage over all other creatures. Kiley is already beginning to throw things, not with any speed and certainly not with any accuracy but already far better than any dog, cat, fish or bird ever will.

        The importance we, ourselves, place on our unique posture is illustrated by the phrases in our language that reflect it – "I'm taking a stand " - "I won't stand for it" - "Stand up to your enemies" – "I can't stand it" – "Stand and deliver" – "She's awfully stand-offish". Like flying to a bird or swimming to a fish, walking upright is one of the things that make us what we are. Maybe that is why we feel so proud of our children when they begin to do it. We actually get excited over it. I know I was excited when I first saw Kiley doing it and I'm not even her mother. Her mother and I talk about it in excited tones. We're absolutely thrilled. "Look, she's standing up! She's such a big girl!"  In a sense, what that really means is – "Look, she's a human being, she's one of us".


Monday, September 15, 2014

An Apple A Day

        Kiley just had her nine-month check up. Everything looks good. She only had to get one shot this time, for Hepatitis B. That's good. At six months she got a full round of vaccinations which was unpleasant but it had to be done. Immunization is not something you can skimp on. Vaccinations are too important. That is why I am simply appalled at the whole vaccination "scare" that has wormed its way into the popular culture. (If you don't know what I am talking about, don't even read this. It's best if you never even hear about it.) It seems that "the word" is still going around that vaccinations are, or might be, the cause of what most people see as an increase in the incidence of autism in children.  From what I have heard, there have been, and still are, parents who are refusing to have their children vaccinated for fear of this possible link. Wracking my brain to the utmost, I cannot think of a more dangerous development for the welfare of children. I am sure many will agree that one of the greatest advancements in medical history has been the development of vaccines to prevent serious diseases. It would be tragic if any parents decided to forgo this gift to mankind for fear that their children would fall victim to autism, since every credible source insists such fears are unfounded.

From what I have been able to scrape from various sources, it appears that this "scare" probably originates from two facts about vaccines. The first is the large number of vaccinations that children receive these days. As medical science has advanced over the past few decades the number of diseases that can be controlled by vaccines has grown. When I was a kid I think we got three vaccinations (the dreaded "shots") which controlled five different diseases – one for Small Pox, one for Polio, and one for the combination of Diphtheria, Pertussis (whooping cough), and Tetanus. Today, the normal schedule of vaccines for children include, not only two of the three that I had to endure (Small Pox has, theoretically, been eradicated), but various others with clinical sounding names like HBV, Hib, IPV, PVC (you can also run your plumbing with that one), Rota, MMR, Chicken Pox, HPV and others. Some of these require booster shots and, therefore, are administered more than once, so that by six months old the typical baby has received fifteen vaccinations. Ouch! Even though some them are combined into one "needle", that's a lot. I suppose it's not too illogical to link an increased incidence of autism with the corresponding increase in the number of childhood vaccinations. I mean, who knows what all of those chemicals are doing to the still forming brains of our little ones, right?

The second issue deals with what some believe to be the most likely culprit in the vaccination/autism theory – the MMR vaccine. This is a combined vaccine that provides protection against Measles, Mumps, and Rubella and has been around since 1971. It appears that the perceived link between autism and the MMR vaccine is probably due to the fact that the symptoms of autism often begin to appear at around the same time as the MMR vaccine is normally administered to babies (12-15 months). This coincidence got some parents of autistic children, who are justifiably upset, to seek legal advice on possible civil action. Uh, oh! Here we go! If you present a lawyer with a problem he is likely to find some reason, and someone, to sue. Enter a charlatan.

A medical researcher by the name of Andrew Wakefield published a research paper in 1996 that suggested there might be a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Other researchers were unable to reproduce the same results but that didn't matter to the media. Stories about Wakefield's so called findings went viral (perhaps we should work on a vaccine to protect us from the media) prompting some parents to refuse certain vaccinations for their children. Eventually, after much drama, Wakfield's research was exposed as a fraud. It seems that not only was he being paid to do the research by lawyers involved in representing families with autistic children, but that he falsified data and misrepresented the results of his research to create the appearance of the link he was looking for (kind of like the more recent global warming scandal). It seems that Wakefield planned to market a diagnostic kit for "autistic entrocolitis" the fictitious condition that he claimed was linked to the MMR vaccine. His plan was to make millions from lawsuit driven testing. The only thing he actually made was a bad name for himself and an increase in the cases of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella in areas where parents were fooled into foregoing the appropriate vaccination of their children. Nice guy, huh?

Despite that sorry tale, and the passage of more than a decade, the myth of vaccine caused autism continues to spread and has loyal converts wherever the gullible reside. Such is the power of the Internet and human folly. The MMR vaccine does not cause autism, but make no mistake, the diseases it prevents can come with deadly complications. Vaccinations, in general, are the best thing you can do to ensure the health of your children. They prevent serious illnesses. Before the advent of vaccines the mortality rate of children was ridiculous. The MMR vaccine and many others were not available when I was a child. I remember the Mumps; I was seven when they got me and it was no fun. I remember the Measles; I was eight and it was even less fun. I remember Rubella. My older sister remembers Polio. Don't mess around with these things. They are monsters, plain and simple, and they are out to get our children. Don't let them!


Monday, September 8, 2014


        Robot nannies? Have you heard about this? It seems someone has come up with the idea of creating robots to perform as nannies. Apparently, the main focus for this bizarre idea comes from Japan where a shortage of day care workers is forcing the Japanese to think outside the box. Well, maybe it isn't so outside the box in Japan. The Japanese are probably the most high-tech-obsessed society on Earth. They are even more obsessed with tech than Americans which, considering recent reports of people camping out in front of Apple stores weeks in advance of the iPhone 6 debut, is saying a lot. Still, it is one thing to trust an electronic device to run herd on your personal data and a completely different thing to trust the well-being of your offspring to the vagaries of the silicon chip.

        I admit my opinions on the subject are not without prejudice. (Full disclosure) I, myself, am a nanny after all. In fact I am practically the quintessential nanny (Mary Poppins without the scary edge). Even my given name "Nancy" has, over the years, been so frequently mispronounced by my linguistically challenged charges as "Nanny"(then shortened to "Nan") that I have, in effect, become what I do, even to adults. And so it rubs me the wrong way to think that there are those who believe that a machine, regardless of how sophisticated, could take my place, or that what I have provided for my charges could be so easily duplicated. I rebel at the notion.

        Then again, isn't this the exact same situation that workers through the years have experienced since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution? Our society and our places in it have undergone radical transformation more than once ever since the dawning of the age of machines. People are displaced by devices that can do the jobs they once did quicker, cheaper, and better - (robots on the assembly line, robots performing surgery). Even whole industries just disappear as new inventions do essential things in a different way (where have all the blacksmiths gone, or the once ubiquitous telephone operators?). The development of computers, or course, has accelerated this process exponentially. This is called progress, and though progress is ultimately beneficial it also comes with a price to individuals as well as to society as a whole. Part of that price is the effect on society's image of its self and of the individual's place in it. That is why the Industrial Revolution spawned not only new industries dominated by machines but also new songs, stories, and folklore revolving around the competition of man against machine. These tales (stories like those about Paul Bunyan or John Henry etc.) are possibly the way our collective ego comes to grips with the realization that our creations are, in some ways, greater than ourselves. They also serve to assure us that, regardless of their abilities, "they" will in some ways never be equal to what resides in "us". It is telling that John Henry ("a steel driving man"), through super-human effort and will, defeats the "steam drill" only to collapse and die heroically of exhaustion while the machine, ego-less and tireless, goes on driving steel into the future. The machine may outperform and outlast its mortal maker but it can never be noble.

        So let's be honest, shall we, leaving all ego aside. Has the present state of robotics reached the point where we could even remotely consider entrusting such a machine with the most precious things in our lives? I mean, seriously, I don't know about you but I'm not overly impressed with the abilities of those robot vacuum cleaners you see on TV. If we can't have faith in a robot's ability to clean our carpets effectively, how can we believe they are up to the task of raising children? That's what we are talking about here isn't it, raising children? Because that is what nannies do, you know, they help us raise our children. They are not just baby sitters; they are baby raisers. The hand that rocks the cradle, changes the diaper, and disciplines tiny tyrants shapes the next generation and the daycare worker we hand our "precious" over to every morning will, for better or worse, have an influence on the development of our child. Taking care of children requires both an emotional commitment and emotional engagement. To do that in any meaningful way a nanny robot would have to, at the least, mimic those emotions appropriate to every situation in the daily lives of its charges if not actually experience those emotions. For robots to take over the responsibility of something as uniquely human as child rearing would require a machine that exhibits spiritual qualities; qualities like patience, humor, kindness, and nobility. I'm not an expert on robotics but it seems to me that a computer algorithm that sophisticated is still a bit out of our reach regardless of how rapidly advances in computer science are coming. It may be that such a machine will never exist, but I wouldn't discount mankind's ability to achieve anything it sets its collective mind to. If we can imagine it we can probably build it, eventually any way. Who knows? Perhaps in another couple hundred years or so our creations will actually be able to "sing the body electric" (as imagined by Bradbury not Whitman). Until that fateful day, however, letting the androids take charge of the children is a dangerous and subversive idea. Rosie doesn't exist yet.


Monday, September 1, 2014

Once More Unto The Breach

       Well, Kiley is back. Summer is over, school has started and I am back in the babysitting saddle. And look at this baby, will ya! Good Lord! The difference between a six-month-old and an eight-month-old is huge. Who is this enormous child and what have they done with Kiley. I have to tell you, I'm shocked. I had intended to take Kiley for one day a week throughout the summer just to keep her used to me and me to her but, as they say, "the best laid plans" and all that. I took her a few times here and there but other things always seemed to get in the way and it is so easy for plans like that to fall by the wayside when there is so much to do and summer is calling. So when her mother dropped her off last Monday morning I was taken aback at what was presented to me. What a big girl she has become! She's practically ready for college. I had to shift gears to keep up with her.

It's not just her physical growth that is amazing; it's her abilities too. Back in June, at six months old, she was fishing around on the floor, rolling over, and sitting up with my help. Now, at eight months old, she is doing all of the above on her own, with ease and grace, and crawling thrown into the bargain. And I mean crawling at an alarming speed. I have to watch her every minute and be on my guard for the unexpected. She is in "explorer mode" which means nothing holds her attention or keeps her in one spot for more than five seconds, six at the most. The fireplace seems to be a location of particular interest. There is no raised hearth on our fireplace so she can crawl right up to it with no difficulty. There is a screen on it but that is designed to keep sparks in not babies out so unless I am ever vigilant she can get filthy black in an instant. After pulling her away from there at least a hundred times the first day and washing her hands at least fifty I decided that I needed to take preventive action and went out that night and bought an extra baby gate. It fits perfectly in front of the fireplace and after a few days of frustration she gave up her aspirations to be a chimney sweep and left it alone.

Her consciousness has also expanded. She is dramatically more aware of everything including me and the dog (Mr. Pickles), whom she desperately wants to get her hands on. That could be disastrous. Mr. Pickles is a furry, white lapdog who weighs less than she does but he is an adult canine and, therefore, more than a match for Kiley. He is not aggressive but who knows how any dog will react if suddenly seized by an eight- month-old. I am keeping them separated. She is also more aware of herself and loves to see herself in the mirror. I love to see her there too, she and I together. With her personality more apparent I can see that she appears to be naturally good natured and happy. Everything makes her smile. She does, however, love to play "lip music" and is constantly giving me the Bronx Cheer.

Between now and next June Kiley's growth, in both body and abilities, will continue unabated. Over the next nine months she will achieve many new milestones, the most notable of which will be turning one year old (the birthday girl!). In that time, as I watch, she will learn too many new things to count including standing, walking, and saying her first words. It promises to be an exciting time for both of us. The adventure continues.