Monday, January 26, 2015

A Special Day

         Oh! My! God! I'll get to the reason for that exclamation in a moment. But first I have to announce that Kiley had her birthday party today, her very first one. Can you believe it? She has completed one full revolution around the sun, one orbit, and the first of many. Since the Earth's orbit is quite large, this means she can be considered quite the traveler, having gone about 584 million miles by the time she was one year old. How many one-year-olds can say that? Well, all of them actually, but I contend that she did it with unusual grace and aplomb. She hardly even worked up a sweat. She gets her stamina from her mother's side of the family, which is, of course, my side.

The party itself was a roaring success with all of the usual birthday party trimmings and too many presents to count. The birthday girl was in her glory and did a fine job of soaking up all of the love, celebrity, and adulation that was tossed so abundantly her way. The presents themselves were a big hit with her, though I must say she derived as much pleasure from tearing off the wrapping paper as she did from the gifts so revealed.

This was the first milestone birthday that she has experienced. Others will follow – becoming a teenager at thirteen, becoming a real teenager at sixteen, becoming an adult at twenty-one, becoming a real adult at thirty, becoming forty, becoming fifty, becoming a retiree at sixty-five. (That's assuming there is still such a thing as retirement sixty-four years from now. There wasn't always such a thing you know.) And perhaps many more birthdays to come after that. Who knows how long people will be living by the time Kiley is an old woman? Who knows what the definition of old will be seventy years from now? They say that the first person to live to be one-hundred-fifty is alive today. I don't know who they are or how that assumption was made but I wouldn't doubt it. People are living longer all the time. Maybe Kiley will some day celebrate her one hundred fiftieth birthday with the same abundance of fun, presents, love, celebrity, and adulation as she did today. I hope so.

Now back to the Oh! My! God! In the midst of the celebration, when the presents had all been unwrapped, the cake had been cut, the birthday girl had been thoroughly idolized, and things were winding down, Kiley's mother, my beloved niece, interrupted the festivities with an announcement. It seems that nature once again has exerted its will, and what happened just one year ago, is going to happen again. That's right; Kiley is going to have a sibling! Her mother is pregnant again! Aaaaaggggghhhhh! The baby is due in August and six weeks or so after that will be accompanying its sister to my domain on a daily basis. That means I will be juggling a helpless, unweaned, peeing, pooping, crying infant and a walking, talking, peeing pooping toddler both at the same time. (Kiley's mother had, of course, filled me in on the news earlier and we had agreed that I would continue in my present function times two once the baby arrived. I know, call me crazy.) To me this is like a flashback to when I cared for Kiley's mother and two sisters when they were little. What an adventure that was! It was over a quarter of a century ago and I still haven't fully recovered. (And I mean that literally. I 'll tell you about it some day.)

So I am soon to be the proud Nan of two adorables and get to help gently guide them both on their journey as they go spinning around the sun together. Remember, that's 584 million miles a year. I feel up to it at the moment, and even excited, but let's face it, putting that many more miles on this old chassis may very well result in some mechanical depreciation. I should take measures to prevent that. You know, gird my loins for the ordeal. If I had known about this before the New Year I would have made a New Year's resolution to eat right, exercise, and generally get myself in shape. Oh well, too late now.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Safety First!

          When you have a little one in your care everything is more complicated than it should ever be. From cooking to cleaning to using the bathroom, everything becomes problematic.  Everything transforms from a simple task into a "situation" that requires a strategy to accomplish. I don't mean to say that your life becomes a series of insurmountable obstacles. Cooking or cleaning or anything else with a toddler around just takes a little extra care not a S.W.A.T. team.  Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the little one becomes a factor impacting every aspect of your activities and the older and more mobile they get, up to a certain point, the harder they are to fit into your plans. It all has to do with safety, the safety of the child, and when you are a mother or the temporary equivalent thereof, the safety of the child is always paramount in your mind. Because of this, a mountain of special products have been invented and marketed to allow the modern mother to go about her busy day with the least amount of worry or concern about how to safely accomplish this or that task. Some of these inventions are truly innovative (the baby gate). Some are, I must say, simply bizarre (the child leash). But premier among these innovations, at least to my mind, is the car seat.

Independent of the fact that they are mandated by law, the utility and undeniable benefits of child car seats have made them one of the most indispensable items in every parent's arsenal of child related paraphernalia. They have become as common an item as diapers to the child afflicted, and the modern parent would no sooner contemplate life without a car seat than they would life without a car. For infants they double as a carry-all for babies, and Kiley was brought in and out of the house in her car seat until she got too big for that to be convenient. The car seat is like water, you've got to have it, but it wasn't always that way.

Most people over the age of forty, and all people over the age of fifty, can remember a time when car seats were not the ubiquitous items that they are today. In fact, as with all inventions, there was a time when car seats had not yet been invented, and, like all inventions, it took time for the car seat to "catch on" with the public. One can find examples of car seats as far back as the 1940's but even in the 1960's so called car seats were designed to contain children not protect them. Some of them looked down right dangerous themselves and were probably counter productive when it came to safety. Some were more like baby cages than baby seats. This is not an indictment of parents of the past. Seat belts themselves were not common in cars until 1958 (though no one really used them until the 1980's) and, as with the car seat, this was not due to a cavalier attitude toward safety, but rather to a lack of awareness of the dangers involved. What person of my generation does not remember standing up in the back of the car as a child or, when they were smaller, standing up on the front seat of the car? There were nine kids in my family and even if car seats were in wide spread use in the sixties, it wouldn't have done us any good. We were packed into the station wagon like sardines, crawling around back there, playing games and fighting. If we had ever been involved in a serious accident the carnage would have been epic. But, like everyone else at the time we were unaware of the possible consequences.

My first daughter was born in 1974, and when leaving the hospital I was wheel-chaired to the car, sat down in the front seat, and the baby was handed to me by a nurse. That's the way I got her home, holding her in my arms in the front seat. By the time my third daughter was born in 1982 the hospital wouldn't release the baby if you didn't have a car seat to put her in and would lend you one if you needed it. Now, where I live, it is against the law to transport a child under the age of seven or less than sixty-five pounds without the use of a car seat. Added to this, children under the age of twelve or less than sixty-five pounds are required to ride in the back seat and it is recommended that children under the age of two ride in a rear facing car seat. Like the general use of seat belts, car seats have gone from a novelty to a necessity in the course of a generation. Even if it weren't the law, what parent today would contemplate doing what my parents and I myself did as a matter of course - transporting our children without a car seat? In times past parents didn't realize the danger they were subjecting their children to by not using car seats. Today they do. What are we doing or not doing now, as a matter of course, that we do not yet realize poses a danger to our children, and that in years to come will be considered irresponsible and even illegal. Times change, and usually for the better.


Monday, January 12, 2015

Mr. Pickles

        A new baby coming into the house has a profound effect on everyone in the family. That's only natural. Every family, which are basically social organizations; has its own set of dynamics and relationships, its own hierarchy, or pecking order, that has been established over time through complex interactions between the various personalities in the group. Introduce a new personality and the whole thing is disrupted, the pecking order, so laboriously constructed, is reshuffled and rearranged. Years of vying for position within the group can be all for naught as the newest addition to the family displaces and discombobulates the whole thing. I'm not a psychiatrist but I have a feeling this process has the greatest effect on the youngest of the group. Everything that made the youngest special, everything about being the youngest, is taken from them and given to the baby, the new youngest. This can be trying under any circumstances but when the "youngest" is also not human it can be especially hard to cope with. The introduction of a baby to the household has a profound effect on everyone, including, and perhaps especially, the dog.

Mr. Pickles, "Himself", is a white shih-tzu, one of those little lap dogs from Tibet. He is eight years old, which means he's not a kid anymore, and weighs about fourteen pounds at this point. He has, I'm afraid, gained a little weight in the past couple of years, ever since he has entered middle age. He is a little touchy about the subject actually; the effects of aging have a worrisome impact on all of us, and is of the opinion that his recently expanding waistline is merely an aberration. He considers his true weight, his fighting weight, to be closer to twelve pounds (good luck getting back to that). Other than those couple extra pounds, he is in great shape and loves to run, jump, and tear the living hell out of the many stuffed toys he is in possession of.

        Mr. Pickles holds a unique position in the family, occupying a nebulous place between pet, child, and employee, and, therefore, is pampered as a pet, cherished as a child, and relied on as a biological security system. (With my husband working shift-work, I spend many nights alone and have done so all of my life.) His ability to loudly proclaim the existence of anything out of the ordinary, (his howl is piercing), can be quite aggravating when the "danger" he perceives is nothing more than the mail lady making her usual deliveries. On the other hand, I can rest assured that if a true threat were to ever arise, he would become aware of the intrusion far sooner than I would, and raise the appropriate alarm. Due to his size, and, I'm sorry to say, cowardly temperament, his function as a security system is limited to that of an alarm. His bark is not only bigger than, but is actually in lieu of, his bite. But that's okay. I only need his bark. I have something else that bites.

        We acquired Mr. Pickles as a puppy, when I was still caregiver to my granddaughter. She grew quickly, however and within a few years had matured to the point where the main function of her "Nan" was limited to seeing her safely on and off of the school bus every day. So, for the most part, it has been just me, my husband, and the dog for quite some time, and we had all become accustomed to our positions and roles within the household. The bottom line is, Mr. Pickles is a beloved, and integral part of the family, and for years occupied the enviable position of youngest, cutest, and most doted on member thereof. Enter Kiley.

        When Kiley came, Mr. Pickles was, at first, unaware of the import of the event. Mr. Pickles loves company and is endowed with a natural curiosity about anything that breaks up the ordinary pattern of his existence. He's the kind who welcomes every guest with a loud and menacing bark, but then wants to sit in their lap the entire time they are in the house. Kiley's initial arrival, therefore, was a welcome diversion from his routine.  He was all over her like a shot with a "what's going on here" air about him. Nose kicked into overdrive, insistent on being right in her face, refusing to back off or let up regardless of how many times he was held back and told to calm down. He loved Kiley! I'm sure her smell was strange and alluring to him. He wanted to be near her in the worst way. He was ecstatic, overjoyed at the presence of such new and intriguing company. Ah, if he had only known!

        It didn't take long for Mr. Pickles to become accustomed to the presence of a baby in the house. After several days of curiosity and investigation he discovered that this particular guest wasn't quite as fascinating as he originally assumed. The baby, in fact, was rather boring. It didn't do anything but eat, sleep, and cry, didn't interact with him and was, for the most part, inaccessible to him. Within a few days he become bored with the whole baby situation and basically ignored the new addition. He settled back into his normal routine, of eating, sleeping, and barking which, ironically, wasn't that much different than that of the baby.

        This period of peaceful co-existence, however, was doomed to be temporary. Infants are easy to ignore if you are a dog. They are someone else's problem and basically out of the way. Unfortunately, infants don't stay infants for long; a fact that soon made itself known to poor Mr. Pickles. As Kiley grew in size and ability she gradually became more and more intrusive as far as Mr. Pickles was concerned. What was once safely relegated to the baby bed, or blanket on the floor, leaving Mr. Pickles in possession of the rest of the house, started to become mobile. The more mobile she became the more of his territory Kiley was able to co-opt. He had previously been able to indulge in his favorite past time – sleeping - wherever he damn well pleased, under the table, on the sofa, on the chair. Once she was crawling, however, she became a nuisance and once she was walking she became dangerous. No place within her reach was safe. How can you fall asleep anywhere when there is someone or something that can fall upon you without a moment's notice, grabbing and pulling and squealing? To make things even worse, Mr. Pickles now fascinated Kiley in the same way that she had once fascinated him. She was all over him with a "what's going on here" air about her. Hands kicked into overdrive, insistent on being right in his face, refusing to back off or let up regardless of how many times she was held back and told to calm down. Eventually his position became untenable and he retreated to self-imposed exile upstairs where she could not intrude on his privacy.

I'm afraid hiding under a chair cannot save you now, Mr. Pickles...

        I feared that it was this unpleasant stand off that would define their relationship going forward, at least until she was old enough to control her zeal and take directions where Mr. Pickles was concerned. But all things change. Even the most distrusted adversary is sometimes found to have positive attributes, and any wall of separation can be breached by common interest. That common interest, in this instance, is lunchtime. Mr. Pickles discovered that, in spite of her many egregious faults and hazardous behavior, Kiley has one saving grace. She has one redeeming attribute that makes up for her many deficiencies and which is, as far Mr. Pickles is concerned, positively endearing. Kiley drops food. The floor beneath her highchair is a veritable cornucopia of scraps, morsels, and crumbs. The impact that this discovery has had on their relationship cannot be overstated. Kiley's tendency to drop food more than makes up for any deplorable behavior or heinous propensities she may exhibit. It far outweighs any fault, flaw, defect or crime that she may be capable of.

        So I am quite relieved to be able to say that Mr. Pickles loves Kiley. In fact I would go as far as to state that she is his favorite person. Yes, she pulls tails. Yes, she pulls ears. Yes, she pinches, stomps and gouges. But all of that is forgiven as long as crusts, crackers, cheerios, and the like continue to slip from her less than coordinated fingers. Mr. Pickles is soft, fuzzy, and infinitely adorable to Kiley, and Kiley drops food. What greater foundation for a deep and long lasting relationship could one ask for?


Monday, January 5, 2015

And In Flew Enza

        Kiley returns on Monday. Hooray! It has been two weeks since we were parted for the holidays and I am sure it will not be the same baby who returns. Two weeks is an eternity when it comes to not-yet-one-year-olds. They grow so fast, both physically and in other ways as well. I had intended to take her for the day last Wednesday, just to give her mom a day off and to keep in touch, but she came down with something on Tuesday and was too sick to do anything but lie on the sofa and look miserable. When I went over there she looked so pathetic. All she wanted was for her "Nan" to hold her while she drifted in and out of sleep. She was getting worse so her mom consulted with the pediatrician then took her to the emergency room that evening, and yep, it was the flu. That is alarming to me. Kiley got the flu shot as recommended and so did I. Unfortunately, there is a mutated version of the bug that is on the loose, and it is not prevented by the vaccine that is being administered this year. Yikes! I don't know if what Kiley had was the mutated form or what, but I'm crossing my fingers that I don't come down with it. I was holding her for a couple of hours Tuesday so I was definitely exposed. Still, Tuesday was five days ago so I am hopeful that I am out of the woods.

At the hospital they gave Kiley the appropriate medication, made sure she wasn't dehydrating and sent her home, where she recovered over the next few days. I hope that if I come down with it, that it is as easy as that for me as well, but it probably won't be. Knowing my luck, I'll be sick as a dog for a week and a half and wishing I could just die and get it over with, (Come to think of it, the flu isn't all bad. It's a great way to lose weight.) We adults are not as tough as babies. It's amazing how they can spring back from a serious illness. They are very resilient; at least when we take the appropriate action to deal with whatever afflicts them. The opposite can also be true, however, and things can get real serious real quick with a baby. You have to watch it.

I remember when my youngest was four years old and most of the family came down with a stomach virus. (They say most "stomach viruses" are actually food poisoning, but as the cook in the house I am resisting that scurrilous assertion.) Everyone was throwing up, including me, and it was one night of hell. You've been there. We had all recovered by the next day, however, which is the way these things usually work out, and everything went back to normal -  except for the little one. She was still looking a little rough and wrung out, but otherwise seemed to be on the mend like the rest of us, until that evening. After dinner, which none of us were enthusiastic about, she started throwing up again and looked really bad – lethargic, dark circles under her eyes, eyes all glassy. She was going down hill fast so I rushed her to the emergency room where they slapped an I.V. on her and admitted her to the hospital.

What went through the rest of us in twenty-four hours lasted seven days for her! Seven days in the hospital with nothing going into her that couldn't pass through a needle in her arm, while she begged for a drink to ease her parched throat and cracked lips. Seven days of my husband and I taking turns sleeping overnight in her hospital room with her. Seven days of worry, fear, and self-recrimination.  On the fifth day the folks at the hospital figured it had run its course so they fed her spaghetti. Yes, spaghetti! My pediatrician freaked when he found out. This, not surprisingly, resulted in renewed vomiting and another two days on the I.V. before it was all said and done.

The whole experience made me very wary of illness in small children. Everything can go wrong very quickly with them, especially when it comes to dehydration. When they weigh less than forty pounds it doesn't take too much loss of water to be too much loss of water. When a preschooler is obviously sick I am quick to call the doctor. It's best to nip any trouble right in the bud. If it ends up being a lot of worry over nothing, good! I can still hear my daughter begging for water twenty-eight years later. I don't want any more memories like that.