On Friday Charlie had his four-month pediatrician's visit. He is in the 25th percentile for height, weight, and head circumference according to his actual age, weighing in at 13 lbs. 13 oz.
He is now a baby of folds. I am storing my extra set of car keys between a few of his extra chins, and I can't find my voluminous file of medical-related receipts but I am fairly certain he's mischievously tucked it away within the fleshy pouch behind his left knee. If I can't pry it out I'll be sending the entire baby to the IRS, arriving at the post office with a squirming package marked, "HAND CANCEL PLEASE."
Charlie also had his routine immunizations. I know this is a controversial topic, the decision whether and when to vaccinate a kid. We are going the conventional route. I have wholly bought into the notion that a social contract applies.
I understand that many people feel differently, and have serious concerns about the safety of vaccinations. Not me, man. I like to live dangerously. In fact, I've requested that Charlie's shots be super-sized with an extra measure of mercury. I am hoping it will give him super powers.
Things I have dropped on Charlie's head while carrying him in the sling
- Potato chips. Crumbs removed with a greasy moistened fingertip, then deposited neatly into my mouth. (Fingers then wiped on sling, which is fortunately machine washable.)
- Caffeine-free Diet Pepsi. Licked away efficiently through catlike contortion of upper spine.
- Latest Pottery Barn Kids catalog. Required trip to emergency room to ascertain that Charlie had no concussion, and assurance that the resulting dent in his forehead will mend without issue. Impatiently awaiting next catalog to see whether they make a line of tastefully personalized infant-sized helmets.
My heartfelt thanks for the kind advice and support you all offered during last week's freakout. Things are better now. I think my hormones have righted themselves once more after the crash brought about by the end of pumping, and I think Charlie has improved noticeably. I also think I'm happier having ended my unhealthy relationship with the Lactina Select.
The other night I was sitting on the couch with Charlie snoozing prone across my bosom. "Hey," said Paul, "you can do that now."
And indeed I can. I can hold the baby close to my body without cringing or shying away.
Yes, things are better now.
Paul is distracting Charlie during the tempestuous half-hour before lunch.
Julie: He's really staring at you. I think he likes you.
Paul: Nah. He's just memorizing my face so he can pick me out of a police lineup later.
A raisin and the son
Today Charlie had the last of his visits from the home health nurse, who's been coming monthly to give him his Synagis injections. In addition to stabbing his small but meaty thigh with a needle so fearsome it looks like she's going for a core sample, each time the nurse has weighed him; listened to his heart, lungs, and gut; and given him a brief once-over to make sure he's hitting his developmental milestones.
The chart that's used to track his accomplishments is called the Denver II. It consists of a rough timeline of expected behaviors in several different areas: gross motor, language, fine motor, and personal/social. You find your child's age on the chart, then draw a line down through the activities he's expected to have mastered. Then you examine each intersection to determine which percentile your kid occupies. Based on this in-depth assessment, you settle back in your chair feeling the smug satisfaction of being the fine overachieving parent of a fine overachieving baby.
Or, if you are me, you freak out just a little.
The chart is simply fascinating. Some of the listed activities aren't things you'd necessarily notice your child doing if you weren't looking for them bringing both hands together at midline, for example, or following an object with his eyes first to midline, then, at a later stage of development, beyond. Others are things you'd notice smile spontaneously, smile responsively, laugh, and squeal, and in that order, please.
And then there are the raisins. Apparently my child is due any day now to manifest an enduring interest in raisins, or so Denver II insists. First, he will regard raisin. Next, he will rake raisin. Later, he will become disaffected, and will dump raisin. Yes, he will divest himself of raisins in a single shocking act of scorn. Oh, he is impetuous! But do not worry. Should he subsequently find himself in need of more perhaps for feeding himself or baking me a cake as fast as he can, as Denver II promises he will around 9 months of age, when he is expected to be pat-a-caking up a motherfucking storm the nice people at Denver Developmental Materials, Inc. will kindly furnish replacement raisins for only a nominal fee.
And one day he will look for yarn! (Denver sells that, too.)
But I'm getting ahead of myself with the raisin. Before he can regard raisin, Charlie must regard own hand, and he has not done that yet.
At 11 weeks, he's neatly meeting the milestones for his adjusted age, with the exception of discovering his own hands. The visiting nurse was very surprised by this and kept saying so, suggesting that maybe he'd been doing it without my noticing. Little does she know that not a single cell of Charlie's divides without my taking careful note. No, not yet. Yes, I'm sure. He doesn't know he has hands.
He uses them, and to great effect; he bats at toys hanging off to his side, kneads my hands absently as I feed him, clutches the edge of his blanket to feel its fuzzy chenille, repeatedly brings his fist to his face in a hilariously ill-aimed attempt to suck his thumb. But he doesn't hold his hands in front of his face to inspect them. He's not entranced, as I'm told babies are, by the sight of his own fingers. He hasn't made that connection.
Of course I am concerned. I spent some time this afternoon making a formal introduction. (Poor boy is so acutely shy, he wet his pants upon being presented.) Tomorrow I will make up some labels, and perhaps a set of helper mittens. I will work with him on this.
After all, how can he hope to become a fighter pilot, razing entire buildings full of impoverished and defenseless Middle Easterners, unless he begins to develop hand-eye coordination at the very earliest stages? How in good conscience can I indenture him to a nefarious weaver of fine silk rugs if I can't promise that his eyes are sharp and his fingers nimble? You tell me, effendi.
More to the point, how the hell is he going to dump raisin if he can't even find his hands? I'd better get cracking. There is much to be done. That yarn isn't gonna look for itself, you know.
The ravening monster
How soon they grow up.
This morning between 5 and 11 Charlie consumed about 11 ounces of milk. That's the equivalent of five gallons a day for an adult. We'd gotten so used to our petite little boy taking three, maybe four ounces at a feeding (it used to be hard enough to force just two ounces down his throat in the bad old days). Yeah, sure, in the past few weeks I've been filling those four-ounce Avent bottles to the shoulder, but I could still be in denial about how much Charlie was eating. This is getting to be too much. (Literally: the top of the threads is six ounces exactly.)
I know Charlie's gluttony is a good thing, even if it means yet another body of hard-won knowledge has become obsolete -- and that I'm going to have to start mixing formula in half-gallon jugs. But it still does take one a little by surprise.
Whoever sent the big-baby bottles, thank you.
Sleep, but not too much at all
This is going to be quick, because according to the clock I predict I'll have about five minutes before Charlie's current nap is over. Two sleep-related questions for the baby-enabled among you, if you please:
- Charlie sleeps from about 7:30 PM until sometime between midnight and 2 AM. He eats, goes back down easily, then sleeps for another three hours or so before waking again. If I woke him at, say, 10 PM to eat, do you think he would then sleep his five- to six-hour stretch from 10:30 until 4 or so? Or would we he still wake at 2, do you think? I'm scared to try it, terrified I'll end up fucking us out of that lovely long stretch entirely. What do you think? Do I dare disturb the universe? How should I presume? And what about that pair of ragged claws? But this is not about Charlie's tiny untrimmed talons or my own terrifying toenails I digress.
- Charlie naps several times a day for precisely 40 minutes at a time, rather than consolidating his naps into fewer longer ones.
This is making me so insane that I am yanking my hair out in great wiry hanks, leaving my bloody scalp attractively mohawkedI am finding this somewhat inconvenient. Is there anything I should be doing to encourage him to sleep longer? Can I reasonably expect this to change as he gets older? Or am I irrevocably screwed?
"It depends on the kid, and there's no predicting it" is not a helpful answer to either of these questions, even if true, so only tell me that if you actually want me to tear myself into a raw-scalped patchy-haired mess. And if you know where I can get a nice wig. And a pedicure.
Six months ago this minute, I was lying on a table in Norwalk, Connecticut, listening to a scrub nurse count Alice clamps to make sure I didn't make off with any. My plan had been to sneak out with a few extras secretly tucked into my uterus or as I like to call it, my crime pouch but my diabolical scheme was thwarted in its infancy, and I was wheeled out without Alice one.
I asked Paul earlier if he's happier now than he was six months ago. I was fishing for some kind of warm affirmation, a definitive statement of contentment, harmonious agreement that, yes, things have been hard, but they're getting better, and our lives are growing richer with every passing day. "Oh, yeah," Paul said fervently, and I thought I was home free.
But he continued. "Am I happier than I was exactly six months ago?" He looked at his watch.
I am also happier than I was six months ago. First, I no longer feel as if I've just chugged a jeroboam of Liquid-Plumr followed with a frosty chaser of lye. Second, I'm not especially worried that I'm going to suddenly, you know, get all dead and stuff. Third, now we have Charlie.
Today Charlie had his six month checkup. The doctor examined him, posed a few questions about his developmental progress, and then asked, "And what's his personality like?"
I was utterly tongue-tied. He's...well, he's...he's just Charlie.
He wakes peacefully. If I'm there when he opens his eyes, he smiles up at me. He cries to get our attention if no one is cribside when he checks, but it's more of a call than a cry.
He is righteously offended by any attempt to feed him when the temperature of the liquid is not precisely to his liking. I can see him composing the acid review he'll pen for Zagat's (when he can eventually write, that is).
He is visibly fond of that Muppet song. I make up lyrics, and I punctuate them with noisy kisses to his cheeks:
My baby boy [kiss, kiss]
You are my baby, my bunny, my buddy, my birdie
And you always bring me joy. [kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss]
I got my first belly laugh with this, and it doesn't even include swear words. I think I am going soft.
Seductively sprawled on the rug in front of the fireplace, he makes sweet, sweet love to his Lamaze worm.
He currently dislikes being cradled unless he's being fed or rocked before sleep. He prefers to sit up in my lap, though he still needs support to do it. Best of all is standing on my lap, held high above me. I amuse myself by making Godzilla-storming-Tokyo noises. He amuses himself by smiling down at me, leaking long strings of drool in his excitement.
In the main, he enjoys his bouncy seat, and in this he is not alone, but too long in thrall to its noisy toy bar and he gets a little frantic, unable to stop kicking and making noise, casting about for someone to rescue him.
When confronted with new experiences, he's alert but not alarmed. When we take him for walks in the woods and show him leaves and mossy stones, he furrows his hairless brow in concentration, thoughtfully taking it in.
When we give him a bath I like to pour a trickle of warm water over his head, letting it run down his face in thin streams. He smiles and opens his mouth to catch the water.
He's crazy about the baby in the mirror.
You know. Nothing exceptional. Just Charlie.
He got three booster shots today, three long needles plunged deep into the meat of his small but hammy thigh. A year ago I felt that pain myself.
Despite a good stiff shot of Tylenol, this afternoon he was still wretched, crying from 4 until bedtime. He cried when we held him. He cried when we didn't. So of course we held him close.
And this may sound crazy, but I could see that he wanted to be happy. He'd catch my eye and smile, forgetting how much he hurt, but then suddenly he'd remember, and the tears would come again. He wobbled on the line between laughter and misery, and it almost broke my heart, this stouthearted boy trying hard to be friendly while he was in pain.
Six months ago this minute, I was waking from an opiate stupor just long enough to remember where I was and why I was there. I thought about the boy down the hall, whom I'd seen for only a quick count of five and wouldn't see again for a day and a night. I knew he was small, and I knew he was sick, and I knew it could all end badly. I knew the hardest part was ahead.
Oh, yeah. I'm happier now.
Truth in advertising
Charlie's onesie says it all.
(Thank you, ValleyGal, for the gift.)
In the past few days, Charlie has acquired several new skills. Oh, we do have fun!
- He has developed a flair for hitting himself in the head, hard. Gone are the days when his hands flailed entirely without coordination; now he is able to deliver a solid, well-aimed clout directly to the middle of his forehead. He'll do it with the back of his hand or with a tightly furled fist, but he already seems to recognize that it's much more painful, and therefore interesting, to knock himself upside the head with an implement. His Sassy teether thank you, NSR is his current weapon of choice. One end has a textured flower that is eminently clutchable by clumsy but determined hands, while the other sports a hard rubber ball just right for delivering the killing blow with an audible bonk. I am thinking of buying the Fisher Price My First Anvil® for when he inevitably decides that rubber cushioning and unfractured skulls are for babies. Either that or the Lamaze Musical Falling Safe™. It's so hard to choose, you know?
- He no longer requires encouragement to take a dump. Babies come equipped with this neat feature called the gastrocolic reflex. It's what signals the colon to send a load on through when food hits the stomach. It's why young babies empty their bowels while they nurse, and it's why little kids often have to leave the table during mealtimes. Only recently has Charlie begun to move his bowels on his own, without the stimulus of food, and without, I might add, parental authorization. It used to be that when we fed him, he'd strain obviously and deliver the goods with a grunt of triumph. It made it easy to know when a diaper change was necessary, and reduced collateral damage because he never sat in a dirty diaper for long. Now we never know what horrors might confront us as we pick him up after a nap or a stint in his bouncy seat and since we have introduced solids into Charlie's diet, the horrors are horrific indeed. The increased nastiness of his issue coupled with his embrace of his newfound colonic autonomy have led me to scold him more than once, "Your duodenum is not a toy." (Note to Lamaze: stick with the falling safes.)
- For the last few nights, Charlie has obligingly slept for more than a 9-hour stretch. I hardly know what to say about this. Given the abruptness of this shift from two evenly spaced night wakings to one, and a very late one at that, I can't really account for it. Do you think maybe he's sustained one too many blows to his as-yet hairless head?
How to alienate half your readers with one simple sentence
Charlie cries it out.
If you've been reading for a while, you might recall that when left to his own devices, Charlie takes naps of no more than 47 minutes in duration. I asked Charlie's pediatrician if there was any help for it, and she shook her head grimly. I consulted Weissbluth, who warns that children who take short naps are less adaptable, less attentive, and more likely to mow down their kindergarten class in a devastating hail of gunfire, but also says without so much as an apology for destroying my fragile dreams that "you cannot make short nappers into long nappers." And then I asked Charlie's neonatologist, who said, "Oh, that's easy."
"When you put him down," she said, "set a timer for an hour. Then go outside where you can't hear him, and don't go in until the timer rings." Then she paused, to give her next words special weight. "And do not," she said sternly, "take the baby monitor with you."
We started that day. At the end of the hour, when I went back inside, Charlie was just winding down. Hearing his complaints diminish, I planned to wait five more minutes before going in to see him. It didn't take even that long: before five minutes were up, Charlie was back asleep, and didn't wake again for another hour.
Since then we haven't looked back. We've made some adjustments; if he wakes much before the magical 45-minute mark, it's generally because he's hungry or has rolled over and can't get comfortable again, so one of us goes in and soothes him back to sleep, usually without difficulty. I no longer set a timer, having developed a sense of how long is long enough. And I seldom go where I can't hear him.
I think it's supposed to bother me to hear him cry. I know it bothers more experienced mothers than I. And I've heard more than once about parents who are determined to try, but crumble in the face of prolonged howling. I get the distinct impression that hearing him cry and not going to him should make me feel like my heart's being ripped, still beating, from my chest (heaving, natch, with sobs).
But I have to tell you it doesn't. I know he's not hurt, ill, hungry, soiled, or wet. He's physically fine. And though he's unhappy, it's transient and, I believe, superficial. See, I don't interpret those premature-end-of-nap cries as "Help me, I'm alone and frightened and I'm worried you'll never come back." I hear it more as, "Hey, here I am, ready to play! Hey! It's time to wake up! Heeeeeeey! Big lady-shaped person! C'mere! I've had enough sleep!" To which my response must necessarily be, "The hell you have."
About 80% of the time I'm right. Most of the time, after 10-15 minutes of low-level complaining, he settles back in for a long continuation of his nap, for a total of anywhere from two to two-and-a-half hours, a reasonable length by anyone's definition. The rest of the time, I let him round out the prescribed hour, then go to him in his crib. He stops crying immediately, and is invariably delighted to see me not heartbroken, not inconsolable, not betrayed just as he is when he's managed that longer nap. The difference is, when he's slept the longer stretch, I'm delighted to see him, too.
I am only too happy to trade those 10-15 minutes of crying for the sleep he certainly needs and that mutual delight. It seems like a fair exchange.
I'm well aware that people who oppose crying it out might accuse me of a lack of empathy or warn that I'm jeopardizing Charlie's trust. The only answer I have to that is to say that I do care about Charlie's feelings, passionately. It's just that I care about his obvious need for solid sleep and the collective sanity of the family a little bit more.
But then I never thought I'd be the kind of parent who couldn't leave a baby to soothe himself. I didn't feel a visceral resistance to doing so, and I never thought it was categorically cruel to hear your child cry and yet not respond. So far I see it as a means to greater household harmony, one I hope will be only temporarily necessary. After all, I don't enjoy hearing him cry...it's just that in this case it doesn't gut me.
Am I damaging our boy or our relationship? Do me a favor: if you think so, don't tell me. I won't hear it anyway. I'll be in the yard, out of earshot.
Baby got back
A quick post-vacation roundup:
Things we like: travel edition
Powdered formula container. Easy bottle-feeding on the go. Before your trip, measure the desired amount of powdered formula into each of this container's three chambers. When ravenous yodeling commences, ask a flight attendant for warm water. Dump, shake, and feed. Dishwasher safe, holds up to 4 scoops of powder, and did not come open inside my carry-on bag as I desperately rummaged through it in search of Charlie's spare outfit. (More on that in a bit.)
Bib clips. This useful item coupled with a succession of paper towels, dishcloths, and pages torn hastily from a complimentary copy of USA Today saw us neatly through twelve days of the smeariest solids. Absolutely a must for any trip on which you don't intend to take a separate suitcase full of cloth bibs. (Thank you, Kirsten and Sheri!)
Cosco Regal Ride car seat. We noticed before the trip that Charlie had outgrown his infant seat. Since he still needs a rear-facing seat until his first birthday, we decided on a lightweight convertible, one that we'll still be able to use for travel once he's eligible for a front-facing seat. At 9 pounds, it's not impossible to maneuver through an airport or down the aisle of a plane, especially when sheathed in a bag. (I cannot heartily recommend this bag in particular, as it is now in tatters and won't make another trip, but it was useful while it lasted.) But most importantly, the car seat cradled Charlie safely when our car was rear-ended at a red light neither he nor anyone else was hurt, and, as I was sitting next to him at the time, I saw that it held him securely in place during the collision. I have already ordered another to replace it.
I miss Southern women.
As I waited to disembark from the plane in New Orleans, an older woman, petite and clad in hot pink from head to toe, stopped in the aisle by our seat, looked at Charlie, and crooned, "He looks like he drinks a lotta milk."
And at the Waffle House in Port Allen, Louisiana, a waitress eyed Charlie approvingly, then said in a conspiratorial tone, "He doesn't miss too many meals, does he?"
And in the New Orleans airport, a well-groomed woman in her sixties smiled indulgently as I played actively with Charlie, hoping to tire him out before boarding. When I allowed him to latch onto my chin like a corpulent remora, she asked me, "Is he your first?"
I said he was, and she chuckled knowingly. "Am I in for it?" I asked her, assuming she was laughing for a reason.
"Oh, I don't know, honey," she told me, shaking her head. "I was never blessed. We tried for a long time, but..."
I thought about telling her how hard it had been for us, wanting her to know I understood. But then I decided I probably don't understand, not exactly. I did have access to treatment that wasn't available to her when it might have helped. And I do, after all, have Charlie.
"I'm so sorry," I said, keeping it simple. "How painful."
And you know what she did? She patted my hand. An infertile woman who was never able to conceive comforted me as I ostentatiously enjoyed my beautiful laughing boy.
That, my friends, is grace.
Remember that gastrocolic reflex I was telling you about? Shortly after takeoff on one of our flights, I was feeding Charlie a bottle to relieve the pressure in his ears. Apparently it relieved the pressure in his bowels as well, because he almost immediately began that workmanlike grunting that heralds a giant dump in progress. He presses his lips together, furrows his brow, stares meaningfully into my eyes, and growls, "UUUUUNNNNGH." It is unmistakable, impressive, and exactly what you don't want to hear before the captain has turned off the "fasten seat belts" sign.
I bided my time, then, until it was safe to move about the cabin. From the diaper bag I retrieved our folding changing pad, whose pouches are kept stocked with fresh diapers and wipes. I politely ousted my rowmate from his aisle seat and carried a squirming Charlie down the entire length of the plane to the rear lavatory. And I set to on the plane's fold-down changing table.
All went well at the beginning. Charlie's dapper plaid shirt was rucked up under his chin; his miniature jeans were scrunched down as far as they would go without passing the clodhoppery barrier of his big-boy sneakers. This isn't so bad, I thought, daubing at the muck with one hand as I held Charlie steady with the other. And then...and then...the captain turned on the seat belt sign and the flight attendant asked everyone to return to their seats as the plane hit a pocket of turbulence.
But, you know, when you're halfway through changing a filthy diaper, that's not as simple as it sounds.
I will not describe the carnage in detail. It is probably enough to say that I ended up sitting on the floor of an airplane bathroom (which I am certain was immaculate, and do not tell me otherwise) with my undiapered, shit-smeared son alternately clutched against me as the plane bucked and rocked, and then held as far away from me as my trembling arms could manage as I tried to keep myself from getting pasted any further with curdy yellow feces.
Happily, I did have an extra outfit for Charlie and an extra shirt for myself. Unhappily, they were back at my seat in my carry-on, which I had elected not to carry down the aisle to the bathroom. When the plane was finally steady again, I took up my half-clad son, trudged back up the aisle, reeking of poo and appalling the entire complement of passengers, retrieved my bag, and closeted myself in the bathroom once again to clean up the baby, myself, and the lavatory as well as I could with a precious few wet wipes, more airplane paper towels, and one fuck of a lot of swearing.
My fervent thanks to those of you who suggested I carry a wad of large Ziplocs on my travels. My sincere apologies to everyone on Northwest Airlines flight 1476. And my nearly hysterical gratitude to the unknown innovator of those airline-size bottles of vodka.
Stupid: going to the hippie food co-op and expecting to find organic meat baby food.
Really stupid: going to the hippie food co-op and expecting to find organic veal baby food.
This morning I gave Charlie stewed plums for breakfast, a food he hadn't tried yet. After his first few bites he grinned up at me, face smeared with red globs of gore, looking for all the world like he'd been snacking on fresh corpses. He doesn't need a bib with a lobster on it; he needs one of these.
Charlie masters the carrot (QuickTime, 3.2 MB).