The curious incident of the dog in the night-time

Every night at around 9, I ask Paul, "Do you want early or late?" This is when we decide who wakes up with Charlie for his first feeding, which takes place any time between midnight and 4, and who takes on the later shift, which might entail a feeding around 5 and includes his waking for the day around 7:30.

Paul usually chooses early. And so to bed. We both make sure our baby monitor receivers are charged, and we put them on the headboard, Paul's on, mine off. After Paul's done his shift, he turns his monitor off and mine on.

This sounds like neurotic overkill, each of us needing our own receiver, but our system evolved because neither unit holds enough power to last through the night. When they run out of juice, they make a terrifying scratchy feedback noise that sounds like the very hounds of Hell are demanding their 2 AM feeding, waking us both in a bleary panic and sending me flying — well, stumbling — naked down the hall to give Cerberus a tasty hit of puréed carrion.

Why not use an AC adaptor? Each monitor has one, but they stay permanently plugged in in our offices, where the monitors see the most use. Couldn't I get a spare? I don't know. No. Shut up. I'm trying to tell you a story.

So: two monitors. When I wake in the night, I can easily tell what Charlie's status is by checking my receiver for the glowing green "on" light.

Last night I woke several times — bathroom; more covers; nasty taste from prescription mouth rinse; paralyzing, free-floating anxiety — and looked at the receiver. No light.

Midnight. 2:30. 4:15. 6:00. No light.

8:30. No light.

For the first time in his carrot-loving life, Charlie slept through the night.

Take that, you slavering demon dog. Get your own damn bottle of gore.

09:36 AM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (79)


Godzilla vs. Batman

Charlie is at a funny stage, and by that I mean not "funny ha-ha" but "funny Jesus Christ, this child is immense."

He weighs just shy of 23 pounds, and at last measure he was 29 inches long. He's a bit over 8 months actual; for his actual age, he falls into the 85th percentile for both length and weight. For a preemie, this is notable: children who were born early are expected to catch up to their full-term peers by age 2. Not only has Charlie done so long before that, he is currently leaving most of them in the dust.

For his corrected age, which is about six months, he is off the freaking charts. He is huge. He is enormous. When strangers marvel in their well-meaning way, I blame a minor but embarrassing nuclear accident, smile nervously, and change the subject fast.

Sometimes Charlie's bulk presents a problem. While he's where he should be in growth, as far as development is concerned he's still more in line with his adjusted age (and perhaps in some areas even a bit behind). For example, he is not yet developed enough to sit up unsupported, but he's developed enough to resent that bitterly. He wants, damn you, Mom, to sit.

He's not quite ready for most restaurant high chairs, the kind that offer little back support. Yet he's too big for an infant car seat, the only kind that can easily be carried inside. He is also too big, and too much in control of his own acquisitive hands, to balance him on my knee while I eat. It is possible, just, to eat with one hand and support him with the other as he slopes from side to side in the high chair; yesterday Paul and I enjoyed a thrilling game of Pong while we wolfed down cheesburgers, tipping him ever so gently in the other direction when he'd leaned too far to one side.

He weighs too much for his bouncy seat, bending it almost parallel to the ground the last time I strapped him in. He is too large for his Bumbo seat, which he has never especially enjoyed; I don't know whether its leg openings pinch his hammy thighs in a painful viselike grip, or whether he simply resents being restrained in that way, but he arches back so far that he comes partially out, making what I originally thought was an ingenious item into little more than a molded foam invitation to a concussion.

And so we wait. Dozens of times a day I prop him up on the floor, sitting, then move away, letting him balance on his own until he inevitably starts to wobble. I catch him. I right him. We start again. I can be patient, though it seems he cannot. Sooner or later, all 23 pounds of him will sit. And crawl. And stand.

And, one presumes, empty the contents of an entire shinkansen down his gullet with a terrible, deafening screech. Godzilla had better watch his spiny mutant back.

11:04 PM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (105)


Six months again

Today Charlie's six months adjusted.

He rolls over with careless ease, and can travel several feet of quilt-covered floor in a very short time. While on the floor, he prefers to be on his front, and happily shoves toys into his mouth while simultaneously holding his head and chest up. He tries valiantly to crawl, knees churning, feet digging in, but ultimately settles for grabbing fistfuls of quilt and pulling himself laboriously forward. In this way he can travel entire millimeters, grunting, panting, and whining the whole time.

In the window of his room I've hung a butterfly suncatcher. He loves the butterfly and tries hard to grab it when I hold him to look out the window. Looking out the window is an easy way to distract him when he's become fractious; his window faces on the front garden, which is lately vivid and full of movement.

Today we spent a long while playing on the bed, no toys, just rolling, talking, and tickling. He prefers rough play to quiet, and is never happier than when I'm gnawing on his feet, teeth in play, or jolting him up and down hard on my knee.

His favorite toys are still very simple — a shiny rattle, a stuffed cloth ring with chewable projections, his rubber teething flower. He has not yet begun to appreciate the many kinetic charms of my personal favorite, the spinny thing, but he gamely tries to mouth it when I offer it to him.

He can blow wet raspberries, and did constantly for a few days, but seems now to have lost interest in doing so. He doesn't imitate us. He doesn't babble. His vocalization is generally limited to long consonant sounds, though rarely he will softly and tentatively muster a "guh...guh." When Paul addresses him with a long string of "ba ba ba"s in varied intonation, first he starts, snapping to attention, then stares and stares, mouth open, transfixed.

He likes to make noise with his fingers in his mouth.

He shivers and grows wide-eyed at the opening strains of the prologue and "Jet Song" from West Side Story.

He eagerly eats three solid meals a day, fruits, vegetables, cereals, meats, and the occasional fingertip's worth of soft-serve ice cream. He opens his mouth emphatically, tongue extended, and raises his eyebrows in appeal if I'm slow in spooning the gruel. Today at lunch he spent many happy minutes chewing diligently on a dill pickle chip, briny drool running down his several chins.

His navel is an outie.

At bathtime, he crows with delight when we spray him with his tiny rubber squirting turtle. He still loves to drink water poured into his mouth in a trickle, and will patiently wait, lips parted, tongue out, as I raise the bowl over his face.

He usually has at least one long nap a day, frequently two, a great improvement from his former practice of waking up after only 46 minutes. He goes to bed at night between 6 and 7 with no fuss whatsoever — we don't rock him to sleep or feed him until he slumps, since putting him in his crib and giving him a final friendly pat are comfort enough for him. He wakes once at night and we feed him. He wakes again around 5, but coos himself back to sleep. Around 7 he spends about half an hour singing quietly in his crib before he asks in earnest for company.

It is an indescribable pleasure to give it.

12:10 AM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (54)


You don't have to be a bald-headed, feces-smearing, serial vomiter to work here...but it helps.

Today has been a much better day. I may not be reporting Charlie to human resources today after all.

01:12 PM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (51)


In recent developments

Tomorrow Charlie has three doctor's appointments: gastroenterologist, neonatologist, and developmental specialist. Of these three, it's the last that interests me most. He's slated for an evaluation that should tell us where he stands relative to his actual and corrected age.

We were told to bring Charlie's favorite toy to the appointment. Unfortunately, the golden retriever he met a few weeks ago who delighted him beyond all reason had a prior engagement — something having to do with eating sofa cushions, I believe. Instead we will take a carrot.

It's obvious that Charlie's not anywhere near his actual age in any area, but then we don't expect him to be yet. My gut feeling is that he's on par with his adjusted age in most areas, but that he's probably delayed in some way, even for his corrected age, in speech.

I'd be happy to be wrong about this. I'll report back.

10:16 PM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (48)


The scarlet letter

Brand our baby with a big red A: Charlie, you see, is average.

Superachiever that I've always been, I'd never have believed it if someone had predicted that one day I'd thrill to hear a professional describe my child as average. I was always pretty sure that calling someone average was just a nice way of saying he's mediocre, and not really a nice way, at that.

But here I am, elated that our boy is mediocre. Average! I have been warbling that word happily since Monday afternoon. "How are you?" my mother asks on the phone. "Average!" I carol. "Our records show that you haven't yet mailed in your property taxes," accuses a gravelly voice calling from City Hall. "Average!" I yodel, apologetic but unbowed. "You left your purse on top of your car!" a well-meaning youth shouts as I peel out of the grocery store parking lot. "Average!" I answer gaily, waving as I leave in my wake a litter of credit cards and lipsticks.

That day, the developmental specialist put him through his paces. For a baby of Charlie's age, that involves things like watching how he plays with a tiny wooden cube, or ringing a bell off to his side and observing what he does. ("He's teething," I warned the doctor, "so if he drools don't think we've been getting all Pavlov on his ass.")

For the record, he immediately crams the tiny wooden block into his mouth; when handed additional blocks, he tries quite valiantly to fit those in, too, until it looks like he's dismembered and devoured a Rubik's Cube. And when he hears a ringing sound, he triangulates its source by looking to the side and then down instead of taking the more direct diagonal route. When he's shown a new toy, does he look to me for guidance as to how he should react? (No.) Does he show me the thing he's just picked up? (Nuh-uh.) If both hands are full, does he understand he has to drop an item in order to pick up another, or is he still goofy enough to bash the old item angrily against the new, frustrated that it just isn't working? (Goofy and hilarious.)

All of this means something. In Charlie's case, it means that he's exactly where he should be for now: fiftieth percentile for a 7-month-old in every evaluated area. And I am simply ecstatic.

Of course, because he's still behind his actual age, he's got a long way to go before he's as accomplished as everyone else in the household. But I can wait. After all, even someone who's below average can grow up to be president one day. Right?

12:14 AM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (67)


Yet another milestone


So now Charlie is eating Cheerios. It's endlessly fascinating. Every now and then he'll just pick one up between thumb and forefinger and pop it in his mouth, but more often he'll rake it into his palm (QuickTime, 3 MB) and then put his hands together to dig it back out onto the fingertips, and then it'll end up on the back of his fingers and rub off on his upper lip, and then he'll come back with the other hand and push it into his mouth. Or he'll just pick one up and drop it and stick his hand in his mouth and be completely unaware that he just took a big bite of nothing.  I feel like a naturalist in Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams, sitting entranced for hours watching the activity in a single clump of tundra grass.

OK, it's not endlessly fascinating to anyone but me.  Is his belly a hand's thickness clear of the rug as he pushes up with his knees and elbows, or is it on the floor? No one else really cares: they're satisfied with a simple "he's learning to crawl." (And did I mention our fantasy that the gate I just installed will keep Charlie out of the litterbox without pissing off the cats?)

Eventually I'll get a life beyond Charlie. Or maybe I'll just make things up in a desperate attempt to make his daily milestones interesting to other people. Instead of "Charlie now gets pissed off when I get between him and the electrical outlet, even if he's still a couple yards away" it'll be "Yesterday Charlie developed a cure for the common cold." Or "Charlie is running for Senate next year on the Natural Law ticket." "Charlie just calculated a billion digits of pi in his head. The last one was 3."

And then, when he gets old enough to read the internets, my son can just bemoan my lack of imagination instead of thinking something like this.

Shout out to Nance, Terry, and Annie G. for the bibs, General Mills for the toasted whole grain oat cereal, G. Love and Special Sauce for the music, and Charlie for the toothless milky grin.

07:52 PM in Charles in charge, Paul scrawl | Permalink | Comments (52)


From the desk of Mrs. Cranky

Dear two separate women who tried to guess the provenance of Charlie's clown clothes: Okay, maybe I am crazy to spend so much on so little. Maybe I deserve your raised eyebrows when I confirm your guess. Maybe next time I'll answer brightly, "No! Filthy sweatshop in Myanmar! But close!"

Dear woman in the restaurant who looked pointedly at Paul, then tried to guess the provenance of Charlie's blue eyes: Maybe next time I'll answer brightly, "Oh, those? We don't know whose spunk those come from!"

Dear tense-looking woman herding four kids through the children's wing of the library: How do you spell your son's name? If it's Lennon, hahahahahaha. If it's Lenin, hahahahahahahaha.

Dear Charlie, who is valiantly trying to pull up to a standing position: Mama is very, very proud of you. You are big and strong and brave and fine. Yes, you are. Yes, you are! Now allow me to find you a different handhold, because my pubic hair, grasped tight in your sweaty fist through the fabric of my yoga pants, isn't safe for babies.

Dear hesitant toddler who obviously wanted to approach Charlie but was simply too shy: Go on. He's friendly. He won't hurt you.

Unless you have pubic hair.

10:32 AM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (92)


Yeah, yeah, I know

But if your baby had been sent a Batman costume by a lovely Internet friend, and if he looked downright eager to fight (and possibly chew on) some crime, you'd post pictures, too.

Happy Halloween.

08:22 PM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (48)


Jurassic hork

After consulting my watch, a calendar, and several core samples of the Earth's crust and mantle, I have come to the inescapable conclusion that Charlie has been sick for a geologic age.  A careful consultation of the fossil record reveals all.  The stratified layers of vomit offer incontrovertible proof; the petrified partially digested carrot cubes do not lie.

It started with a cold, an inconsequential case of the sniffles punctuated by the occasional gentle cough.  Charlie had had a cold before, so we knew the drill: he would wake frequently in the night, finding it difficult to breathe through his clogged nostrils.  His appetite would suffer, and he would be more irritable during the day.  We would shepherd him through it with patience, good humor, and a minimum of baby Tylenol.

And that was sufficient until he developed an ear infection to go with his cold.  After a night of screaming and only two doses of foul pink amoxicillin — Do you taste your child's medicines?  I do.  But I don't have a problem.  I can quit anytime, so wipe that concerned look off your face and call off the intervention already — he was doing well, feeling cheerful, and on the mend, we thought. 

How wrong we were, how wrong!  For then began the vomiting.

Don't read the rest of this before lunch. Or after. In fact, don't read this at all.

A brief digression, if I may, about vomit.  For the first several months of his life, Charlie had acid reflux, which caused a great deal of spitting up, usually immediately after meals, before the milk could curdle in his stomach.  When he began taking Prevacid, which shuts down acid production in the stomach, the byproduct he exuded was even less offensive; the milk was almost entirely unchanged by the digestive process.  And since there was no acid in it to hurt his throat, he was what's called a happy spitter, grinning one moment, dribbling three ounces of milk down my cleavage the next, and playfully dabbling in it with a curious hand the next.

This vomiting was different.  First, it did not merely ooze but was propelled, and with such force that it seemed to come not only from his stomach but from the depths of his small spotless soul.  Second, it smelled.  It smelled very bad.  And the smell clung, not only to my clothing, his bedding, and the upholstery of the glider, but to the very core of my being: even after showering, I was sure I still stank of it, and drove Paul crazy by following him around and whining until he finally consented to smell my scalp.  Third, because Charlie is now an avid consumer of table food, it had chunks in it, recognizable scraps of food, items I had only recently consumed myself.

He vomited a lot, after every meal, after every bottle, and even after he'd been put peacefully to bed fast asleep.  (If you are a parent, please consider the genius of what I call bed lasagna: several waterproof mattress pads interleaved with several crib sheets.  When the top layer is soiled in the dark of night, you can simply tear off the sheet and mattress pad, ball them up in a malodorous tangle, and set them aside for burning once the sun has arisen.)  We noticed that his vomiting was usually heralded by a cough.  Only after being drenched nine or ten dozen times did it finally occur to me that it would be a good idea to keep a basin handy; this cough told me when it was time to hold bucket and baby far away from my body and let the freshet of hork flow free.

He also began to have mild diarrhea, not the frequent, gushing kind, but a tamer variety that consisted mainly of runny, mucusy-looking stool.  Since our pediatrician was out of town, we consulted her partner, who did not seem fazed by the diarrhea, took note of the fact that he was neither dehydrated, nor fevered, nor losing weight from the vomiting — "probably just a virus" — and sent us away to get spewed upon some more.

So another week passed.  Charlie, I must point out, felt fine.  He was as cheerful, lively, and active as ever.  Paul and I were the ones with the problem, the cubic yards of laundry, the worry, and, yes, the scalp that did smell like Satan's own long-simmering chunder.

This couldn't be right, could it?  He'd been sick now since, oh, I don't know, the Permian age.  So back to the doctor we went, for the third time.  Our pediatrician was still out, so we saw a nurse practitioner, who, upon hearing that Charlie vomited after coughing, listened to his chest and immediately broke out the pulse oximeter and then the nebulizer, sternly informing me that my son was wheezing and needed to be given vaporized albuterol four to five times a day.  "But the vomit...?" I asked, "...and the diarrhea?"  "He's coughing so hard it's making him vomit," she pronounced, and sent us away to get spewed on some more, this time by a baby so hopped up on goof balls — for among the side effects of albuterol are elevated heart rate, hyperactivity, and excitement — that he might as well be a spider monkey.  A vomiting spider monkey.  On angel dust.

The medication did seem to ease his cough a bit.  He was still vomiting, perhaps not as often, but often enough for me to call the nurse practitioner back and ask, "What the fucking fuck?"  (My language was slightly more polite than that, but, since I was damp to the skin with vomit, only slightly.)  Her advice was to keep up the albuterol, that it would take some time for us to see an improvement.  She sent me away to get vom...oh, you know.  Monkey.  Vomit.  Angel dust.  You know it.

And then.  And then Charlie laid one of his runny diapers on the lovely women who care for him two mornings a week, and they were not best pleased.  It was communicated to me, gently but firmly, that Charlie could not return until he had a note from his doctor assuring them that whatever he had — "probably just a virus," remember — was not contagious.  They told me this while I held him in my lap on the floor of his day care room.  Immediately thereafter, he vomited into my lap.  Into my lap, when I was sitting cross-legged.

The vomit soaked my crotch.

I hobbled out to the parking lot, put the towel I keep in the car in the driver's seat, and drove home with a vomit-soaked crotch.

This was my low point.  Feeling utterly helpless, I wept as I drove, wiping my nose with my arm, leaving a long, silvery trail on a sleeve that still smelled of upchuck. 

Okay, I didn't really wipe my nose, but my internal editor felt this story didn't have quite enough secretions in it yet.  But I did cry, because I needed Charlie to go to day care.  Why?  So I could mop the floors he'd vomited on, and chisel the half-digested now-dried green bean mush out of the rug in his room.  And he was still throwing up.

This was the nadir, and what sent us back to the doctor's office with a clean baby food jar full of runny, mucusy, stringy-looking stool.  I will not tell you what it took for me to collect said sample, except to confess that I did not follow the doctor's advice to put a piece of Saran Wrap in Charlie's diaper, because, ew, but I fervently wished I had. 

It was worth it, however, because it gave us some answers at last.  It seems that the amoxicillin he'd been given for his ear infection several thousand years before had wiped out all of the well-meaning flora in his gut, which allowed some slightly more malevolent bacteria to move in and set up shop.  In this case, it was Clostridium difficile, which a baby can pick up just in the normal course of being a baby — crawling around, putting things in his mouth, eating dirt, that kind of thing.  To wipe out the bad guys, the doctor prescribed a course of Flagyl, a medicine so bitter that she advised administering it with a chaser of chocolate syrup, and we have commenced megadoses of acidopholus to strengthen the number of good guys.

Charlie is back at day care, and his excrement is once again only ordinarily offensive, and the vomiting, hurrah, has ceased.  The house no longer smells of soured milk, having reverted to its usual low-level diapery funk, and the pile of laundry is no longer taller than I am.  He and we are smeared with chocolate syrup — doctor-prescribed, I promise — instead of with, well, everything else.

And when future generations of appalled archaeologists unearth yet another festering pocket of half-gummed Annie's Shells and Cheddar, I pray they will understand. Because I'm not collecting another soupy stool sample, and no one on Earth can make me.

11:01 AM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (76)