Monday, February 23, 2015

Pressing The Reset Button

        I have a confession to make. It has been more than a year since I began writing about my experiences in caring for my grandniece Kiley. Every Monday for the past fifty-two weeks I have posted a new offering describing my thoughts, feelings and interactions with a little girl as she grew from six weeks to one year old. Being exposed to Kiley on a daily basis made me think about all kinds of wide ranging subjects and I wrote about them too - baby related topics like naps, baby food,  SIDS, milk, security blankets, diapers, car-seats, and many others, and topics not so obviously related to small children like swimming, summer, dreams, flying, snow, dust mites, and even the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. A little girl who had crept into my life and made a comfy nest there inspired all of these things. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that childcare is drudgery that does not engage the mind and imagination.

         cared for Kiley’s mother and aunts when they were young children the way I care for Kiley now. Those years, when they were small and an everyday part of my life contain some of my most cherished memories, but because they were so young they don’t remember any of it now that they are adults. So when I began writing these little essays about Kiley and me, I did it out of a desire to leave her a chronicle of our time together. Not so much a day to day account of what transpired, but rather a memory of us, so that she could look back many years from now and have a glimpse of the way we were and the way it felt when we were together.

         I decided to turn those writings into a blog, I wanted to convey the feeling of adventure and new beginnings that I felt when I undertook the responsibility of looking after another little person just new to the world. And so I began at the beginning, describing my excitement and trepidation at the prospect of once again looking after a little one and helping to mold and shape her mind and spirit. The first year of those posts, my blog to date, correlate to the first year of Kiley’s life up to her first birthday and the announcement that her mother was expecting her second child in August, a second charge for me to look after on a daily basis. Though everything I wrote about actually happened from the time she was born to the time of her first birthday, that first birthday didn’t happen this January, it happened two years ago. Kiley isn’t one year old she is actually three. On top of that, the second child referred to as being due in August was actually born eighteen months ago (in August). It’s a girl! Kiley’s little sister. Her name is McKinley. We call her Mackey and she joined Kiley as part of my daily responsibilities when she was six weeks old. Together, the three of us have had many adventures and I want to relate them while they are still fresh in my mind. And so, I am pushing the reset button and starting anew. Kiley is three years old, Mackey is eighteen months, I am fifty-nine, and let’s take it from there. Kiley and Me and Mackey makes three. I hope you don’t mind my little deception too much. There was no evil intent, I assure you.  Below is a small montage of the last three years, just to give you an idea of what I am up against. The pictures are of Kiley and Mackey but none are of me. I don’t take a good picture, and besides, I am of the firm belief that by taking one’s photograph you can steal their soul and I still have a need for mine, so….


Monday, February 16, 2015

The Chronicles of Nannia - Episode Five

        So, as I mentioned in the post about Kiley's birthday, it appears that another little munchkin is on the way and I will soon be dealing with two tiny tyrants instead of just the one that I am currently charged with. Double the diapers, double the drama, double the fun. Though I admit to a certain amount of trepidation, I am actually looking forward to the prospect of juggling babies again. I have past experience with that, as I've stated before. In fact, I'm anxious to see if my juggling abilities have stood the test of time. It has been quite a few years since I've used them. In fact it has been nearly thirty years since I was called upon to undertake such an enterprise and endure the ordeal. That's a long time. So long in fact, that I scarce remember most of the experience. Then again, there are some things that one can never forget.

         The year is 1986. The Oprah Winfrey Show is broadcast nationally for the first time. Microsoft Corporation goes public, creating four billionaires and twelve thousand millionaires from Microsoft employees. The space shuttle Challenger explodes seventy-three seconds after launch. The Iran-Contra Affair erupts when it is discovered that members of the Reagan administration planned to use money from an illegal arms sale to Iran for the illegal funding of the Nicaraguan anti-Communist rebels known as the "Contras". The explosion of a Russian nuclear reactor at Chernobyl creates the world's worst nuclear accident. Iron Mike Tyson becomes the WBC Heavyweight Champion of the World. My youngest daughter is three, my oldest is twelve, and I am thirty years old.

         In January of 1986 I am about to have a house full of kids. I am already providing daycare for my four-year-old niece, the daughter of my husband's brother, plus my own three daughters, ages twelve (known as No. 1), five, and three. That is about to change. In December my brother's wife had given birth, and it was an unusual delivery. She had gone through nine months of pregnancy and the ordeal of labor only to find out after the baby was delivered that there was another one right behind it! Two girls! Twins! We have all heard about such surprises, but I, for one, always wondered how it could happen. Of course, this was December of 1985, and though ultra-sound technology was available it was not yet routinely used the way it is today. Now ultra-sound is used for a number of diagnostic purposes and, of course, to determine the sex of the baby. But back then, ultra-sound was not so commonly used and there were still varying opinions on the safety of bombarding our unborn loved ones with high frequency sound waves. Obviously, her obstetrician had not picked up on two heart beats either so she, as well as everyone else, was unaware that there were two cupcakes in the oven until the oven door had been opened. Gads! It came as quite a bombshell to everyone and the general reaction was something along the lines of   -  Wha-a-a-a-at?

        My father was a twin and my oldest sister had twin boys, so it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility that my younger brother would also be thus afflicted, but the fact that no one saw it coming made for a good deal of drama. They already had a two-year-old (Lee-Lee) so suddenly having two more (Erica and Stephanie) so unexpectedly came as quite a shock. Even more shocking was when they asked me to look after all three of them when she went back to work. And most shocking of all was when I said yes. And so, at the end of January -  ding-dong - here comes a two-year-old and two infants.

        The three kids I was riding-herd on (not counting my twelve-year-old) had suddenly become six, and all of them below the age of six - a five-year-old, a four-year-old, a three-year-old, a two-year-old, and two one-month-olds. Oy! Thank God that three of them were out of diapers, but that left three that weren't. I really don't know how I managed, and I'm sure I wouldn't have if it had not been so easy to fall in love with all of them. Though it was often a chore, my affection for them prevented it from ever being a burden.

        My twelve-year-old was a big help even though I had to constantly watch her to prevent her from making an escape out the front door - "Get back here!"  Still you can't condemn a twelve-year-old to daycare drudgery no matter how desperate you are. So most of the time she was either in school, or outside and out of sight, though never fully out of mind, but I could always rely on her when the logistics of caring for six pre-schoolers became problematic.

        Not surprisingly, it is all kind of a blur now, nearly thirty years later, but there is one thing that sticks out in my memory. And that is the twins. They were so adorable! My husband took to calling them "Weebies" after the toy Weebles that were popular at the time (Remember them? "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down").  He still calls them that today. Even though they are almost thirty years old, I can't remember the last time he called them by name. It is never "Erica" or "Stephanie" to him, it's always just "Weeby or "Weeb"" regardless of which one he is addressing.  It's like they are merely different aspects of the same person to him. He's weird.

        Even though they were fraternal twins, not identical twins, they looked exactly alike when they were babies (fraternal twins are no more genetically alike than regular siblings). As they grew older, however, they took on their own personalities and physical characteristics. By the age of two or three, Erica looked and acted like Erica and Stephanie looked and acted like Stephanie, at least to their parents and me. To everyone else, however, those who weren't around them so much, they still looked exactly the same and people would often ask me  -"How can you tell them apart?"  The answer was easy - "They don't look alike." But when they were babies, they did. They were absolute bookends. I could not tell them apart. And that created a problem.

        To differentiate the twins, their mother often dressed them in different colors, Erica in purple and Stephanie in pink. And when they were infants, that is how I kept them straight - Erica is purple and Stephanie is pink (and sometimes yellow and green though I don't remember which was which on those colors.) Needless to say this is a recipe for confusion and even disaster.

         One day, early on, when the twins were babies and the other kids were running rampant as usual, I was bathing the wee ones. Something happened that required my attention, (I don't remember what), so I took the babies out of the water, lay them down on a towel, and took care of whatever was required. When I turned my attention back to the twins, I was faced with "The Dilemma" - which was which? Suppressing a feeling of panic, I determined to resolve the problem, but try as I might, I could not tell them apart! What was their mother going to say? In desperation I turned to the other kids for their opinions. Holding up one wiggling, wet "Weeby", I asked the all-important question, "Does anyone know who this is?" but all I got was blank stares from four pairs of pre-school eyes.  Lee-Lee, to her credit, gave it the old two-year-old try and declared it to be "Stephrica". Thanks for nothing.

         What was I to do? The only thing I could do -  "eeny, meeny, miney, moe. I proclaim you Erica" and dressed her in purple. I don't know if their mother ever caught on to what had happened, but she never said anything. And that wasn't the only time I mixed them up either. By the time I could tell them apart it had happened three or four times to me and maybe even a few times to their mother. Who knows? They are twenty-nine years old now. Erica is a teacher and Stephanie is an accountant - or are they? Maybe the teacher is actually Stephanie, I don't know. Does it matter? What's in a name after all? The whole world knows the accountant as Stephanie so she is Stephanie. And if she's not, well, "a rose by any other name is still a rose, and smells as sweet."  I'm just glad there is only one Kiley. That makes things easy, uncomplicated. I'm way too old to go through that kind of thing again. Kiley looks just like herself, though I must say that at certain times, when she smiles a certain way, she looks just like her Aunt Stephanie. Erica is Kiley's mother, by the way. At least I think she is. Probably. Maybe.


Monday, February 9, 2015


        Here it is February. Brrrrr! I always think of February as the coldest month of the year. I don't know why, because it isn't. If it was we would say "as cold as molasses in February", but we don't. Maybe the cold bleakness of January, with the holidays in the past and nothing to look forward to except Groundhog Day, wears me down and convinces my subconscious that winter will never end. Maybe the fact that Punxsutawney Phil, with his promise of spring, prognosticates right at the beginning of February, makes me long for the warm sunshine that is still months away. Whatever the reason, I hate February and thank God it is the shortest month of the year. In fact, I am not real fond of winter in general, the only positives of that season being Christmas, fires in the fireplace, hot chocolate, warm slippers, and snow. Especially snow.

       We got some snow the other week. The whole Northeast got smacked with a blizzard that turned out to be not nearly as blizzardy as predicted, and my area, being just south of that region, was merely grazed by the storm. Good! I like snow, but only the scenic kind of snow, the kind where you sit at the window with a cup of hot chocolate and watch the flakes quietly falling as they cover the world with sparkling lace. You can keep the other kind of snow, the kind with deep piles, treacherous roads, downed power lines, and howling winds that shake the house and blow ice against the windows. In my area we get that kind too often. Storms come up from the south bringing warm moisture with them. They hit the Atlantic Ocean, pick up more moisture, freeze, swing around, and come barreling back down from the Northeast with high winds, burying us in ice and snow in what is affectionately known as a "Nor'easter". These are fine as long as you don't have anywhere to go, the power doesn't go out, your vinyl siding doesn't blow off, and you have all the essentials you will need for the next few days. Being retired from the work-a-day world I can just sit at home and enjoy the feeling of quiet isolation, but my husband can't do that. He is a shift supervisor for a chemical manufacturing plant that requires supervision at all times for the safety of the plant and the surrounding community. No matter how deep the snow is he has to go to work. Even when a state of emergency has been declared and people are being arrested for being on the roads, he has to sally forth. (They gave him a special waiver from the state that he can show the cops if they pull him over. Thanks for nothing!) So when we get a bad snowstorm it's stress, aggravation, and danger for him, and stress, aggravation, and worry for me. But, in this latest storm, the foot of snow predicted turned into only a couple of inches, and we could both relax. Even better than that, I got to take Kiley out in the snow. Hooray!

As soon as it became apparent that the snowstorm wasn't going to be something we had to worry about, I became excited about taking Kiley out in it. Showing them new things about the world is one of the great joys of having children in your life, and snow is enough of a rarity that even for older kids it's a great treat. The snowmen, the snowballs, cancelled school, the snow-forts, frozen creeks, sledding, the possibilities are endless!

This one looks even more dangerous than the sleds I rode as a kid...

        When I was a kid all of these things were fun, but sledding was at the top of the list. We lived in a neighborhood where all of the streets were hills and I mean serious hills. It was like living in the Alps or something. The parents hated it because getting the car up your street to your house when it snowed was always a dilemma, but we kids loved it for the sledding. When it snowed the streets would be full of kids and sleds, (not the plastic ones that you mostly see today, but the old wooden kind with metal runners). We would be out there all day and especially at night when the traffic had subsided and the inconvenient and possibly fatal encounters with cars abated. As teenagers we would be out until nine, or ten o'clock at night, even on school nights, sledding, and partying, and flirting with boys, and having a great time. I was kicking myself the other week when I realized I didn't have a sled to pull Kiley around in, poor planning that.

        The snow stopped early in the morning so I got Kiley ready and out we went. I didn't have her snowsuit, but it wasn't really that cold, so I just bundled her up leaving her pajamas on under her clothes for extra warmth, plus her coat, her mittens, and especially her hat. She has a pink hat with a kind of pom-pom on top of it that fastens under her chin and covers her ears and everything else except her face. She was snug as a bug and had a great time. We built a snowman, or rather I built a snowman though she did help with the eyes and nose. At just one year old she didn't really seem to grasp the concept. We named it Olaf after the snowman in the movie "Frozen". More fun for her was walking in the snow on the deck because of the crunching sound it made. She briefly became obsessed with clearing the snow off of the deck furniture and did a good job of that until she lost interest. We watched the squirrels scampering through the snow and feasting at the squirrel feeders for a while and threw snowballs at them and each other. After about forty-five minutes her cheeks were red so I figured it was time to go in. We shed our snow clothes, got some drinks, (tea for me, juice for her), and watched "Frozen" for the thousandth time.

        The day was actually quite warm and by the afternoon the snow had mostly melted. Olaf sagged and drooped more and more as the day went on until first his nose, then his arms, then his head fell off, leaving a pile of snow that was still not quite gone the next day after all of the other snow in the backyard had melted away. I realized that for real snow-fun Kiley needed a sled so I ordered one of those plastic ones on line. It arrived in the mail this morning. I can't wait for it to snow again.


Monday, February 2, 2015


        There are a lot of children in my extended family. I have nine brothers and sisters, my husband has four, and they all have grown children, most of whom have children of their own.  The newest generation, which includes my grandchildren and the children of my nieces and nephews (my "grand" nieces and nephews) vary in ages from the mid-twenties to not yet one year old. No doubt some of the older members of this pack will be having children of their own in the not too distant future.

         When you have that many young relatives it is inevitable that you become closer to some than to others based on how often you interact with each. All of my grandchildren are very near and dear to me, of course, and hold a special place in my heart, but when it comes to my grandnieces and grandnephews my "closeness" to them varies along a wide spectrum of "closeness". Some of these kids I see on a regular basis because they live near me and I socialize with their parents quite often. Others I see only at holidays and special occasions. Among this group, Kiley (my grandniece) is by far the closest to me. How can she not be when she is with me ten hours a day. I love her more than life.

         That said, I love all the little urchins in my family and each and every one is unique in his, or her, own way. Among this group there are subgroups, and one of these subgroups consists of the sons of one of my nephews. They are the grandchildren of my husband's sister. There are three of them, ages three, two, and nine months old (Whoa! Slow down!). The oldest is Robbie, followed by Anthony and Michael. Robbie just turned three in January. He is extremely active and abnormally strong and coordinated. He is an accomplished "climber" and you have to watch him every second or you will be picking him off the roof. Michael is nine months old, happy and pleasant and though he has yet to accomplish much in just nine months we are expecting great things from him. Then there is Anthony.

         Anthony's birth was traumatic. He was born with a broken hip and other conditions that were alarming. He lay very still and wasn't wriggling around like newborns usually do. He had difficulty breathing and swallowing. For the next couple of weeks we were all worried sick. He couldn't move, and each couple of days brought new revelations of the seriousness of what he was dealing with. We were beginning to fear a lifetime of  paralysis and dependence for him. Eventually it was determined that he had a condition known as CMS, which stands for Congenital Myasthenic Syndrome, a neuromuscular disorder. I won't try to explain something that I don't understand. There are different forms of CMS and if I just say that it is caused by "genetic defects that affect proteins of the neuromuscular junction" it will give you an idea of the complexity of the disorder. Having a diagnosis, even such a serious one, was a relief, however,especially when we learned that there are treatments available.

         After much experimentation with various drugs, all accompanied by worry, anguish, and hope, a drug was found that worked extremely well. The effects of the treatment were amazing. A baby that was nearly paralyzed became active and increasingly stronger. It was a miracle. Even the doctors were amazed at the result and a medical team began a study based solely on his individual progress to learn more about the disease and why he was responding so well to treatment. The doctors were confident that Anthony would be able to live a normal and independent life. He might never be an athlete, but his future would be the normal one of school, job, marriage, and family. We all breathed a sigh of relief.

         That is not to say that there were no problems that Anthony had to face and hurdles he had to overcome. There were many. Among these was the fact that the condition had resulted in his legs being crooked. He had to wear leg braces as a baby and his parents had to routinely perform stretching exercises on him, twisting and manipulating his legs to straighten them over time. But that worked well and before we knew it this little guy who was born nearly paralyzed was crawling and in due time was walking. After that you couldn't stop him.

         As he grew he did well in the give and take with his older, stronger, faster, "climbing" brother. Anthony couldn't match Robbie's physical abilities, but in the inevitable competition between brothers he held his own. What he lacked in strength he made up for in determination. The trials he had faced from birth had taught him courage and perseverance.

         Since they live in a place called Quarryville, the two brothers soon came to be known in our family as "the Quarryville boys". And talk about hellions. Whenever the Quarryville boys are around it is pandemonium. There is nothing more dynamic, or should I say destructive, than two boys on the loose, each determined to have fun. Though they sometimes clashed over toys or other childish priorities they got along well together and are a joy to the whole family. When Michael was born nine months ago both of his big brothers took to him right away and the three brothers, sometimes referred to as "Little, Middle, and Big", became a triumvirate with Michael taking his rightful place as a Quarryville boy.

         Anthony turned two years old at the beginning of January, and until Robbie turned three at the end of January they were both two-year-olds for that short time. Their father jokingly referred to Anthony as his "younger two- year-old". Anthony's second birthday was a great milestone considering from where he had started, and everyone was happy, pleased, and proud of how he had turned out.

         Last Thursday Anthony had a bad cold so his mother took him to the doctor to make sure it wasn't anything serious. The doctor said it was just a cold so there was no need to worry. He went to bed that evening as usual but somehow, somewhere in the night, he slipped away from us. We don't know what happened yet, but whatever it was it took him from us and left us all so heartbroken. He had fought so hard and had done so well that it doesn't seem possible that things could have turned so quickly and so unexpectedly.

         The hurt is still fresh for all of us who loved him, but I had to say something now because he deserves words of praise. He came into the world having to fight for himself, and all his life he showed great strength and courage. He was a loyal and worthy companion, and little brother to Robbie, and a caring, affectionate, and protective big brother to Michael. He was loved and cherished by every one of us and an inspiration to all who knew him. They say it is not how long we live that matters but rather how well we live. Anthony lived well. He gave life his all, and lit up the lives of all those around him. The world seems darker to us now in our sorrow, but it is not. When our tears have dried we will see the truth: that the world is a far brighter, better place for having had him in it. Go bless him.