It's not Thanksgiving unless somebody's vomiting

After courteously sleeping through the night on Wednesday, making only the quietest rustle in his hotel crib as he shifted and sighed, Charlie woke crying Thanksgiving morning with a low-pitched cough rattling deep in his chest. His eyes were watery, his nose was runny, and there was that cough. It was the cough we had come to recognize, the cough we had come to dread, the cough that presaged the delivery of a great deal of foul-smelling vomit.

And vomit there was. Ten minutes into his morning nap, I heard him cry, and entered the back bedroom at Paul's aunt's house to find the mattress of his Pack and Play awash in it. That was the end of that nap. His clothes, his blankets, and my V-neck T-shirt went into the wash, and we rejoined the group, Charlie cheerful in his fresh outfit and I only slightly whiffy in Paul's denim shirt. I had missed breakfast entirely; there was no more food, so I ate some of Charlie's Cheerios and looked forward to dinner.

Not having had much of a morning nap, Charlie was on the verge of a meltdown come dinner, so everyone else sat down at the table while I took him to the bedroom to settle him into another nap. What with the coughing and the crying and his unshakeable conviction that I was actually trying to murder him, it took forty-five minutes of rocking, jiggling, and bouncing on the end of the bed before I was able to deposit him again in his Pack and Play (cleaned to the best of my ability given the situation, but still smelling downright revolting). When I came out, I had missed dinner entirely, but to my relief I saw a plate had been saved for me.

But ten minutes into this nap, I heard Charlie cry once again. Because I'm clairvoyant, I stopped by the laundry room to pick up our clothes before going to see to him. And sure enough, the Pack and Play had been slimed once again; Charlie's spare outfit and Paul's denim shirt were totalled. Together Paul and I cleaned Charlie up, stuffing him back into that morning's outfit. I took off Paul's shirt, trying not to let it touch me anywhere, and reassumed my T-shirt, now clean and only slightly damp.

Paul, who'd eaten, took over with Charlie. I returned to the table by way of the kitchen, where I gave my hands a thorough scrub. And yet, alone in the dining room, as I lifted an appetizing forkload of stuffing soaked in gravy toward my eager and quivering lips, I was assaulted by the ineradicable smell of vomit.

And that is how I ended up discreetly scraping most of my Thanksgiving dinner into the trash.


After his bath, after a bit of milk, he settled to sleep without issue only two hours past his bedtime. But only an hour later, he was up again, crying and coughing, vomiting a little, drinking a little, settling down eventually. This cycle repeated all night long. We've all spent nights in hotel rooms next to the baby who wouldn't stop crying. Thursday that baby was Charlie.

Between 1:30 and 3:30, we turned on the lights and played with him on the hotel bed. We knew he would be awake, and we decided it was better to have him awake and happy than awake and crying. Strangely, it was the best part of the day. I blew raspberries; he watched intently, then blew them right back. He rolled happily among the pillows clad only in a diaper. I nipped him gently along the ribcage, making monster-finding-snack noises, and he laughed a belly laugh that turned into still more coughing. But it wasn't crying, and it wasn't, at least in that moment, more vomiting.

Now you would think that after such a night, a baby would sleep late. Charlie doesn't. It's as if he has an internal alarm clock that wakes him reliably between 6:30 and 7:30 every morning of his life. He woke early, cranky, phlegmy, and malodorous. I woke — ha, as if I'd slept — with a headache like a spike through my eye.

"I think..." Paul said carefully as he balled up Charlie's vomity pajamas, "...we gotta go home," I finished. We nodded at each other grimly, then began stuffing damp onesies into luggage as fast as our leaden limbs would allow.


It was strange to be back at Paul's aunt's house, where I'd been so ill last year. It was strange to be back in Connecticut, recognizing landmarks, knowing where to turn to get to the shop that sells nursing bras, driving as fast as I dared past the run-down residential hotel where we'd spent six weeks in limbo. I felt uneasy the whole time, as if another unseen anvil was on its way down, hurtling towards our unsuspecting heads.

In lots of ways the entire enterprise was a letdown. Cutting our trip short meant missing an eagerly anticipated visit with a friend who'd set up a tiny birthday party for Charlie, complete with chocolate cake and, as a gift, a festive array of helium balloons, his all-time favorite toy.

It also meant missing a chance to visit the hospital where Charlie was born. We didn't get to say hello to the doctors and nurses who cared for him late last year. We didn't even try; knowingly exposing NICU personnel to a respiratory infection seemed like a poor way to thank them for their efforts. It was a great disappointment. I'd wanted to show them the happy, thriving family they'd helped create.

That doesn't sound so thankful, does it?


But I am thankful. Thankful, of course, for Charlie and Paul, but I feel that every day, and tell them so with a frequency and fervency that border on mania. Thankful for a dear friend, but I hope I show her that by being an appreciative and admiring audience no matter what comedy or drama comes next. And thankful for Paul's family.

Last year on the day after Thanksgiving, one of Paul's cousins came to retrieve me in the parking lot of Costco where I'd finally ended up, too sick and weepy to drive any farther after three hours of being lost. (Yes, I'd asked directions, three separate times, getting each time a different wrong answer. Yes, I had a cell phone, but in the wilds of Connecticut it had no service.)

As I lay in the back bedroom trying to breathe deeply through terrible pain after pain, one cousin, a physical therapist, rubbed my temples while another, trained in massage, rubbed my feet. A third brought tea and broth. No one was hurt when I said I needed to be alone to retch in solitude.

After Charlie was born, Paul's aunt opened her house to us with unstinting generosity, inviting us over frequently for dinner, offering us full run of the laundry room, urging us to stay with her and politely cloaking her relief when we declined.

This year our circumstances were different, but the kindness they showed us was not. They made much of Charlie, showing an easy approval I sorely needed. They gracefully accommodated the upheaval any small child brings into a house, especially one as thoroughly encrusted with knickknacks as this one (the house, not the baby, who was encrusted with other matter). They soothed my jangled nerves while I contended with a vomiting, diarrheal baby in someone else's home.

And when I admitted that I'd left Charlie's nebulizer and albuterol at home — he'd been fine when we left, and I'm new at this, okay? — three separate family members offered Charlie a hit off their inhalers. Not only does warmth run in this branch of Paul's family, but apparently so does asthma.

We got out of town Friday morning without difficulty. Charlie did us the unprecedented kindness of sleeping for most of the morning and then again through much of the afternoon, objecting loudly only during the last and longest hour of the drive. When we set him free to play, he was off like a shot, crawling and pulling up and chortling aloud as he reintroduced himself to the toys he'd left behind.

I knew, though, that for all his good cheer he'd wake up in the night, as is his wont when he's been coughing and vomiting. I put clean sheets on our bed, showered, and tucked myself in with the grim knowledge that the sleep I needed so badly would be broken at least once by crying.

Charlie slept all night, and woke at seven singing.

Yes, indeed, I'm thankful.

10:03 AM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (41)


Charlie's best birthday yet

Unfortunately, it was also his worst.


Happy birthday, baby. It gets better. I promise.

11:00 PM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (87)


This one's just gross, y'all.

I am waiting for my small son to empty his bowels so that I might harvest the yield and take it in for analysis.

Because the collection process last time was so odious, I have chosen to try my doctor's recommendation of Saran Wrap.

As a consequence of his unremitting diarrhea, Charlie has diaper rash, so we have applied a layer of A&D ointment to his bare bottom.

Rash-dappled baby's butt. Thin glaze of unguent. Custom-cut rectangle of plastic film. Every time I pull out the waistband of his diaper to check for any issue, what I see looks like something you'd find in a supermarket refrigerator case.

Maybe I should take a friend's advice and augment the A&D with zinc oxide and hydrocortisone. Maybe it will then be not so much a salve as a tasty rub which will impart a delectable flavor to the ass of my son. Maybe I should have added garlic and rosemary.

Maybe the reason he hasn't yet let fly is because the cream and the wrap have formed an impermeable seal around his nether vent.

Maybe, when I take his sample — a wad of foul crumpled plastic crammed with cooking tongs into a specimen cup — in to the hospital lab, I will drop it off and simply...keep...driving.

Paul just came in to report that Charlie has finally deigned to fill his Saran Wrap.

May God help us all.

12:47 PM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (76)


The sacrificial ham

Yesterday Charlie went for his one year checkup. Apparently he sensed the moment of this occasion, the palpable feeling of celebration, the downright festivity of it all, because he cooperatively dropped a gigantic load into his diaper immediately before he was to be weighed.

(Its consistency was unremarkable. Despite last week's drama — the diarrhearama, if you will, not to be confused with the bad '80s band — his stool sample was ultimately uninteresting, revealing no recurrence of C. diff and no other pathogens or toxins to speak of. But before we celebrate the return of regularity to my well loved son, I must inform you that last night and this morning, the diarrhea was back with a watery vengeance, threatening both my emotional equilibrium and his attendance at day care later this week. But this, unlike most of my posts lately, is not entirely about feces or vomit, so I shall say no more about Charlie's various by-products.)

Charlie was weighed, measured, and pronounced enormous. He was palpated and auscultated. He was stuck in the toe with a lancet, a procedure that evinced lowered brows and a look of concern but no crying. And he was given his next three immunizations — flu, MMR, and chicken pox.

Now, I do not know what other babies have, but Charlie does not have mere thighs. He has hams. (He knows this, as at bathtime we wash both ham one and ham two.) They are stout pillars of brawn, firm and strong, ever flexed in this position or that as he pulls to standing, squats to retrieve the remote control, and falls ass over teakettle from overbalancing as he waves the remote in triumph.

I know those three injections deep into muscle hurt, not only because he immediately turned purple and drew a long breath preparatory to howling in rage, but because I've felt it myself. Once he'd caught his breath, he cried. And cried. And criiiiiiied. In pain, in anger, in betrayal, in outrage.

Those are my hams! he seemed to be saying. I did not say you could stab my hams!

Since the ham-stabbing, Charlie has been a giant, bitter pill — kind of a horse tranquilizer, really, but without the much-needed sedative properties. Dinner was for jerks. Overnight sleep was for stupids. And breakfast? Why, breakfast was for stupid jerks who are stupid, you big jerk, and on that the matter stands.

I can only suppose that his legs really hurt; coupled with teething, which proceeds apace, and diarrhea, which — well, I promised I'd say no more — it's not hard to understand why he's been so irritable, so demanding, so...so...unreasonable.

Listen, I've heard the arguments against vaccination. I've never been swayed in the slightest. I feel strongly about getting Charlie immunized on schedule. I think the benefits to society as a whole far outweigh the drawbacks, which I perceive to be minimal.

But just this morning, listening to Charlie's unceasable whining and the sound of my own teeth, locked in a pleasant-looking rictus as I grind them down to powdery stumps, I'm almost tempted to flip.

Good God, what it does to the hams.

10:46 AM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (48)


Stats and splats

Continuous days of fever: 4

High temperature: 104.2° F.

Current temperature: 103.3° F.

Amount of enjoyment resulting from rectal temperature-taking: -5

Meals ingested in the last 72 hours: 1.00003

Meals kept down in the last 72 hours: 1

Ounces of milk kept down in the last...I don't know, three years: 0

Ounces of Pedialyte cheerfully accepted: 0

Ounces of Pedialyte ingested under main force patient and cheerful parental persistence: Enough...I hope

Times awake last night: ∞

Times vomited today before 8 AM: 2

Parents who got tagged: Both

Parent who got tagged directly in the crotch veiled only by ratty sweatpants: Guess

Hint: Not me

Substance milk-based vomit most resembles: wholesome cottage cheese, curd size dependent on time in stomach

Current local price, one gallon of regular unleaded gasoline: $2.15

Miles to Kansas: Too goddamn many, I'll tell you that right now


Number of thermometers in this house: 2

Large-print labels thermometers now bear: BUTT / NOT BUTT

08:46 AM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (69)


Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Three years ago at Christmas, Paul and I were excitedly preparing for our first IVF.

Two years ago, burned out from a year of disappointments, I couldn't face even the thought of trying to conceive.

One year ago, we celebrated Charlie's first Christmas.  We tried very hard to get into the spirit of things; on Charlie's behalf I made an ornament for the tree in the NICU, as did the nurses.  We were shaken by how close we'd come to  losing him, and our Christmas wish was ultimately a simple one: please let us take our baby home.

This year everything is different.  Everything is better.  And that's due in no small part to all of you, who've seen us through so much with support, encouragement, and kindness.  In your honor — Name: Ms. My Friends Inside the Computer — I've made donations to Resolve and the March of Dimes.

Merry Christmas.  Happy Hanukkah.  May your home be full of warmth, laughter, and light — if not this year, then soon.  May you take your babies home.  If not this year, then soon.

12:00 AM in Charles in charge, You can pick your friends... | Permalink | Comments (49)



Every weekend we go to Friendly's, a local outpost of the burger chain where Charlie can be as noisy and as messy as he likes and still be better behaved than much of the clientele. (I speak not of the other children we meet there, who are, for the most part, tolerable, but of the cadets from the nearby military college, who are, for the most part, in-.) Charlie likes the helium balloons they usually offer on Saturdays, and he certainly likes their milkshakes. But more than anything, he likes the people.

It flattens me, awkward, anti-social me, every time: Charlie makes friends. He's at his happiest when there's another baby nearby, when he can emphatically brandish bits of his lunch, crowing indignantly as if to say, "These jackasses brought me carrot chunks when I distinctly ordered a Fishamajig!" And the other baby waves her sippy cup jauntily in answer, as if to ask, "Dude. What the fucking fuck is a Fishamajig?" And in his subsequent confusion, Charlie crams a pickle slice the size of a dinner plate into his mouth, effectively ending the conversation.

But it's not just the babies. He gives long, soulful looks to the occupants of the next table, squirming in sudden delight when he's noticed at last. He smiles when old ladies touch him. He bends his head backwards to smile upside down at a waitress hurrying by. I am proud and happy that he likes other people, that he naturally wants to be friends.

He is mostly, I see, irresistible. He starts by staring intently at his quarry, waiting to catch the eye of his unsuspecting prey. Once he's mesmerized them with his blue-eyed basilisk gaze, he stuns them with a wide-mouthed three-toothed smile. Then he issues the coup de grace, a high-pitched squawk of purest baby glee, a killing word of sorts. And they are his forever.

Or until he does something disgusting with a French fry that makes them turn away in shocked revulsion. You know, whichever comes first.


One Saturday Charlie was making friends with the people across from us, a middle-aged woman and a boy of about sixteen. At first I was a bit unnerved by the attention the teenager was showing Charlie, but it soon became clear that he was disabled in some way, with halting speech patterns and facial features that hinted at some sort of affliction. He was eager to engage with Charlie, who responded with his customary shout of approbation.

The woman at the other table was, it turned out, the boy's mother. She remarked on Charlie's size, as nearly everyone does, and for some reason I told the truth, as I almost never do. "One pound, eleven ounces," she answered, nodding at her son.

He'd been born at 26 weeks, she said, a twin whose brother hadn't survived. He had cerebral palsy; when he was a baby she'd been told he'd never walk or talk.

But there was her son, walking and certainly talking. He liked baseball, he told us, proudly declaring that he'd attended every home game by our local AAA team and had even been asked by the coach to go with them when they went on the road. He liked to go snowmobiling. He loved the tiny Tupperware we'd packed with Charlie's lunch — "Look how small it is!" "Well, look how small the food is," I answered, and he laughed when I showed him Paul's careful julienne.

I don't know if it's significant that the woman looked tired and was dressed in old clothes while her son's were neat and new. I don't know whether I imagined or observed an air of peacefulness between them, patience on the mother's part, trust on the son's. I know no more of their story than what they told me. It's not fair for me to infer anything from such a brief meeting.

But even now, 26-weekers don't always survive; far fewer did sixteen years ago. And I don't know much about cerebral palsy, but I do know that it can demand an enormous effort on the part of a parent — massage, exercise, and endless physical therapy, to say nothing of the emotional strain. To be given such a grim prognosis, and not to believe it, not to allow it — I didn't know what to say in the face of such courage but, "What a lot of hard work you've done."

"Goodbye, Charlie," the boy said cheerfully as they got up to leave. I wish I'd asked his name.

What a lot of hard work they've done.


At the local library, in the children's section, there's a play area. There's a large table with a train set, a big dollhouse with a cutaway roof, and baskets of interesting toys. There's a bench that runs the length of a bank of curved windows, the perfect height for Charlie to cruise along. We go to the library when we need to get out, need a place to go that doesn't involve money, need to see other kids.

It's fascinating to watch. Charlie is accustomed to kids his own size because of the time he spends at day care, but he hasn't been around bigger kids much. He watches them first, then follows, or tries; they walk faster than he can crawl, but he tries. And he shouts, a short bark of joy, to get their attention. And smiles and smiles and smiles. He doesn't know he's not one of them. They see baby. He sees friend.

I've noticed that kids under about age four aren't careful with each other. They push. They don't look where they're going. It doesn't occur to them that the baby swaying precariously, one hand on the dollhouse, might not enjoy being tackled from behind.

The funny thing is, the baby does enjoy being tackled. Or rather he doesn't mind it at all. He accepts it as the natural order of things, stands up again, and sets immediately to chewing on the yarn-haired grandma just released by the two-year-old who felled him.

The responsibility of civilizing this cheerful tiny savage is a daunting one to me. At story hour a few weeks ago, I put Charlie down to cruise among the benches while the older children listened. Charlie quickly spotted a boy he wanted to befriend. First he tried to catch the boy's eye, employing what my mother calls sweet eyes: Charlie's best, most appealing smile accompanied with the crinkled eyes of true and ardent friendliness.

But the boy was listening intently and didn't see Charlie there. So he shouted, a single short syllable, what passes for "Hi!" if you're Charlie.

That didn't work, either. The boy still didn't turn. So Charlie did what any sensible baby would do: he cruised around behind the boy, stood for a second and sized up the situation, then plunged his hand, friendly-like, down the back of the poor boy's pants.

What passes for "Hi!" indeed.


Charlie didn't warm up fast at Christmas. We went to my parents' house while Charlie was still suffering from his latest cold, a protracted affair that encompassed fever, coughing, an ear infection, and the usual torrents of puke. (A brief aside to the commenter who charged that his fever was the result of his MMR immunizations: It was unnecessary to post similar sentiments under three separate names. I heard your ringing accusation the first time.)

Because he wasn't feeling well and was on unfamiliar turf, Charlie was unusually clingy during the first few days of our visit. He screamed if ever I attempted to put him down, and cried when I tried to sit down, even though he was still in my arms; only standing and carrying would do. And since his cry meant business — "I am truly upset" as opposed to "I am formally registering the expected protest but can be bribed into acquiescence with a sufficiently fascinating toy" — I carried him a lot. All the time, in fact. And at thirty pounds — thirty mucusy, vomity, whiny pounds, if I may be blunt — our boy was quite a load.

By the end of the first few days, though, he felt better, more at ease, more ready to make friends with my mother, who won him over with the elaborate gift of an empty Nicorette box. And he took quite readily to my sister-in-law. But he reserved his greatest wriggling enthusiasm for his cousins, my three nephews, who continually fought over who got to sit next to him at dinner. "Aunt Julie, can I hold him on my lap?" they each asked every time we gathered.

Oh, you absolutely may.

He's open. He's resilient. I loved watching him adapt. Not only did he warm to the people, he rolled with every change. When he missed a nap because the whole house was in a pre-holiday uproar, he stayed pleasant until his usual bedtime, though he almost ended up face-first with exhaustion in my mother's traditional Christmas Eve chili. When his dinner was inexcusably late because we were out at a restaurant, he surprised us with a game fondness for the smoked salmon spread and stone-ground wheat crackers that passed for an hors d'oeuvre. When bedtime was an hour late because — well, I guess because he was just being so goddamned delightful that I just couldn't stand to miss it — he sang throughout being pajamaed, then dropped off obediently without even a peep of dissent.

I am happy and proud of our boy.

02:57 PM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (62)


Yes, again.

This time it started on New Year's Eve, with the regurgitation of the hot dog Charlie had enjoyed at lunch.  Of course I blamed myself for feeding him a hot dog to begin with; they are a close enough cousin to Lunchables that their mating is, in fact, unlawful in 37 states.  (I leave it as an exercise for the reader to guess which states might welcome the lovelorn lunchmeats, and to imagine what their unfortunate offspring might look like should they eventually succeed in slaking their unholy lust.  Hints: below the Mason-Dixon Line, and I don't know, but I wouldn't want to meet it in a dark refrigerated supermarket case.)

Anyway, it started with a hot dog, and it all went downhill from there.  By Sunday morning Charlie was not only vomiting but was made miserable by a high fever, and had a rash that alarmed me enough to call the doctor.  Now, one day you may find yourself feeling the urge to call a pediatrician on a holiday.  When that day comes, remember what I am about to tell you:

It's probably just a virus.  If you're concerned, go to the emergency room.

There.  I just saved you a phone call.  Instead please use your valuable time to call Oscar Mayer and ask them what the fucking fuck they put in those hot dogs, anyway, as the tiny chunks I'd painstakingly cut at lunch were ejected entirely undigested almost eight hours later.

Rotavirus_1After the vomiting came the diarrhea.  After the diarrhea came our 1,367th visit to the doctor's office.  (According to the punch card in my wallet, if we go 23 more times this month, we get a free oil change.  You can imagine how eagerly I'm looking forward to that.)  After the visit came the deployment of the specimen cup.  After the harvest — look, what would you call it? — came the mad flight across town to the hospital while the sample was still warm.  And after the drop-off, several days after, in fact, came the verdict: Charlie has rotavirus.

Now, rotavirus is one of those bugs that afflict pretty much every child eventually: according to the Centers for Disease Control, most children in the U.S. will have some kind of rotavirus infection (for there are several varieties) by age 2.  Those stricken initially have fever and vomiting with abdominal pain; as the vomiting tapers off, diarrhea then sets in, lasting from three to twelve days.

Worldwide, rotavirus kills upwards of 600,000 children annually, largely through dehydration that results from the vomiting and diarrhea.  In the U.S., it's rarely fatal, but approximately 55,000 American kids are hospitalized each year from dehydration.  Of course Charlie's doctor advised us to push Pedialyte, but that wasn't necessary; even the briefest of exposure to his diapers these days underscores the urgency of replacing that which is being lost.

Now, do you know how much Pedialyte costs?  Here it's approximately $4.50 a liter.  The only things I can think of right off the top of my head that are more expensive are Jo Malone perfume, printer ink, and scorpion venom, none of which I would suggest you drink, no matter how thirsty you feel.  Since we'd capriciously blown the monthly budget on diapers, Desitin, and Dreft, Paul went looking for a recipe for homebrew.


Homemade Oral Rehydration Solution

one level teaspoon of salt

eight level teaspoons of sugar

one liter of clean drinking water

That's it.  That's all Pedialyte is.

Wait, that's not precisely true.  Among its medically useful ingredients, Pedialyte also contains sodium citrate, one of the components of citric acid, and potassium.  If your child can keep food down without vomiting, as Charlie currently can, you can supplement your homebrew with some mashed banana at mealtimes; if not, you can add 1/2 c. orange juice to your homemade solution instead.

Mmmm.  That's good rehydratin'.

The first batch tasted dreadful — or rather even more dreadful than it should — so Paul set out to augment it further, trying to recreate the insipid flavor of the single variety Charlie had finally deigned to drink (Gerber Liquilytes, fruit punch flavor, available here only in single-serving packets of powder, at a cost of approximately $7 per liter).  After scanning the label of the Liquilytes package, he added:

3 tablespoons of Splenda

1 packet unsweetened Kool-Aid, fruit punch flavor

...and offered it to Charlie.

He figured the Splenda supplied the Sucralose listed in the ingredients, and assumed the Kool-Aid would contain analogs close enough to the artificial flavors and assorted FD&Cs of the original to satisfy Charlie, who is, after all, a baby, and therefore kinda dumb — and who drank greedily of its blood-red depths.

Estimated cost per liter: $.25.

I consider it only a minor inconvenience that Paul's concoction turns Charlie's effluvia a bright shocking pink, leaving an indelible stain on everything it touches, including Charlie's skin.  Hey, it's still diarrhea — only now it's cheerful diarrhea.  I think it's absolutely worth it: the money we've saved on Pedialyte can buy an awful lot of my own preferred oral rehydration solution, after all.

06:53 PM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (83)


11 months adjusted

Every few months I check in, charting Charlie's developmental progress on the Denver II assessment sheet we began many months ago. Here's how it works:

The horizontal axes are labeled by month. First you draw a vertical line down through your child's age.

The chart includes ranges for every activity to be evaluated, denoted by a box. At the left end of the range, where the box begins, 25% of children can perform the activity. Each box has a tick mark showing the point at which 50% of children can perform it. Closer to the right end of the range, the box is shaded blue to show that 75% of children have begun to perform the activity. And by the end of the box, more than 90% of children should be performing the activity. Fall outside the box and it might be cause for concern.

So then you look at your line and where it intersects which boxes. You decide whether your child has mastered a given activity, and you either congratulate yourself on some fine trick-rodeo parenting, or you quietly freak out, sure that your child is about to be institutionalized.

Here's what Charlie's chart looks like at 11 months adjusted. (I don't even look at the activities for his actual age.) The green check mark denotes items he's mastered; the orange not-smiley shows activities he's not yet expected to have mastered; and the skull and crossbones appears when our boy's not even close, causing me some measure of concern.

Activities Charlie has mastered

Indicate wants. If lunging out of my arms and flinging himself on top of the fleeing cat is any measure, it is safe to say he can indicate wants. That poor goddamn cat.

Thumb/finger grasp and Feed self. So precise and powerful are Charlie's pincers, so ferocious his drive to feed self, that I'm pretty sure that if we turned him loose on the savannah armed only with a bib, he could bring down an impala and ingest only its choicest morsels. I pity the poor cheetah who's uppity enough to take him on.

Work for toy. Oh, Charlie will work for a toy. The kid will practically drill his own oil well; refine the resulting petroleum into ethane and propane; gear up a high-temperature furnace to "crack" them into ethylene and propylene; shovel the whole mess into a reactor; add a catalyst to produce "fluff"; combine the fluff with assorted other additives in a giant blender; send the resulting polymer to an extruder for melting; squirt the lavalike plastic compound into an injection mold; impatiently wait while the molded item cools; break it off its sprue with an audible snap; and then lift it triumphantly into the air, crowing, "Bah!"

And then put it in his mouth.

Put block in cup and Bang two cubes held in hands. I have never seen him do these things — Jesus gay, am I supposed to watch him every minute? — but Paul swears he can. And whatever other faults he might have, and I'm not saying he has any, Paul's not one to lie about cubes.

Jabbers, Combines syllables, Dada/Mama non-specific, Single syllables, and Imitate speech sounds. He does all of this, and I suppose you could construe it as imitating speech sounds. After all, I do say, "MmmmMMMMMUH. Gaahbbm. Buhbuh...buh. [High-pitched skirl.] UNGH" a lot as I go about my daily business.

Get to sitting, Pull to stand, Stand, holding on, and Sit, no support. MmmmMMMMMUH. Gaahbbm. By which I mean UNGH.

Activities Charlie should be on his way to mastering

Drink from cup. Charlie can occasionally and accidentally find his mouth with the spout while holding his own sippy cup. He can rarely manage to drink from a regular unspouted cup held by a parent without flooding his own lungs with vodka water.

Imitate activities. So far, he has shown he is able to clap his hands in imitation, but only when he feels like it, and to mimic my talking on the phone, but only that single time. Either I'm not that interesting, or he's not that swift. The cat, on the other hand, is worthy of imitation. The cat fetches, preferring a plastic ring from the top of a milk jug, and therefore so does Charlie. The cat favors a particular end table for lounging, and, apparently, so does Charlie. And the cat has an entirely uncatly propensity for sitting up on his haunches for long periods, like unto a meerkat, while Charlie — well, I don't even know what to say about this, but whatever it is, he does it.

Play ball with examiner. As if. Listen, the minute any kid of mine actually wants to engage in athletic activity is the day I demand a DNA test.

Play pat-a-cake. You know, this is a digression, but around here, we call it patty-cake. I am fairly certain the term is derived from the French pas de caïque, a rallying cry that signified the stubborn unwillingness of the sans culottes to accept Marie Antoinette's proffered brioche as the Revolution came to a head. (Thousands of these brave patriots were later killed for their refusal to capitulate.)

Anyway, Charlie has shown that he can play patty-cake. But he's also shown that he's not especially inclined to do so at appropriate times — like, say, when his mother is squatting expectantly before him, patty-caking her motherfucking head off — preferring rather to do it under questionable circumstances. He is much more likely to perform the patty-cake of rage, such as when he's flat on his back having his tiny package smeared with diaper cream, or the patty-cake of sorrow, such as when I've told him that his stuffed duck went to live on a farm where it can romp through fields of daisies and drink the milk of contented cows.

One word. Not yet, but I'm not worried. If I had to predict, based on his record so far, I'd say Charlie's first word will probably be "meow."

Stand alone. Not yet, but I'm not worried. If I had to predict, based on his record so far, I'd say he'll never, ever learn to do it, as the domesticated housecat simply doesn't have enough strength in its spine for standing.

Things Charlie really should be doing by now

Wave bye-bye. Not a bit of it. This concerns me somewhat. It occurs to me, however, that maybe he just hasn't been left often and dramatically enough, so I've taken to making histrionic exits several times a day, roaring, "You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around anymore," storming noisily out of the room, and slamming the door behind me. All after a slow, exaggerated wave and a sweetly crooned "bye-bye," of course. Sometimes.

Stand, 2 seconds. Nothing doing. On the rare occasions that he absentmindedly lets go of the coffee table, he wobbles immediately, looks panicked, and then leans forward against it again with palpable relief. I wonder if I should wait until he's playing contentedly there, crooning to the remote control and whatnot, then, surprise, yank away the table. What do you think?

Dada/Mama specific. Not yet. Not at all.

But at least he's not saying it to the cat, either. Not yet.

09:34 AM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (69)


A little talk

The first word Charlie spoke was, as predicted, cat.  This was a surprise to none but the cat himself, who, when he first heard the delighted "Cah!  Cah!" and connected it with the sudden, dangerous lurch Charlie made, looked as thoroughly put out as Rumpelstiltskin must have when the miller's daughter guessed his name.

Now the cat is wiser and hardened by experience, and knows that when he hears Charlie's cheerful bark, he's been made.  It is time then to scamper into hiding, belly riding low near the floor, rear claws scrabbling against the hardwood, searching for purchase in vain. 

The poor sad bastard of a cat doesn't know that even when he ambles he's faster than Charlie; he only knows that to a one-year-old, "gentle touch" might as well mean "grab a big handful of whiskers and yank.  Go on.  No, really dig in.  He likes it!  Harder!  Come on!  There will be prizes!"


Charlie's best word is cracker.  Recently I discovered that if, after his nap, I hustle him immediately downstairs for a snack, we can usually avoid the crying jag he used to have when I simply rescued him from his crib and hugged and rocked him.  (I will not speculate on his preference for food over the suffocating love of his mother — that's another entry and five years in therapy.)  I took to picking him up, giving him a cuddle, and whispering, "Who wants to go have a cracker?"  Then we would hurry downstairs, where he would cheerfully attack his fruit, milk, and graham crackers.

One afternoon, I heard him wake up.  He was peeping softly in his crib when I entered, and smiled at me as I bent to pick him up.  Enjoying the quiet of the moment, I only smiled at him without making my customary offer.  He must have disapproved of the change in routine, because as I brought him up to my shoulder, he twisted his neck to look at me and said, quite definitely, "Cracker."

Two days ago, I brought him in from the car, and stood holding him in the kitchen doorway as I took off his snowsuit.  He looked around the kitchen, homed in on his highchair, and said, quite definitely, "Cracker."

It was the first instance of his spontaneously making a verbal request that I understood.  Weepy, I strapped him into his chair and produced the goods, sniffling happily as he devoured one, two, three graham crackers and half a banana.

I was telling my friend T. about it on the phone later that day.  "And then," I exulted, "he said, 'Cracker!'"

Pause.  Then T., liberal New Yorker who mocks my Southern origins every chance she gets, suggested, "Maybe he was calling you a name."


Thanks to the second page of Sheep in a Jeep, Charlie knows "uh-oh."  The premise of the book — and, in fact, the entire series — is as follows: Five sheep go out and wreck shit.  True to form, these street-smart fish out of water caught in a world they never made manage to turn a tranquil Sunday drive into a bloodbath of ovine carnage.  Or, to put it more simply, they wreck the goddamn jeep.

I hope I didn't spoil it for you.

I trust any attorneys in my audience will correct me if I'm violating copyright law by quoting the entirety of page two:

Jeep won't go!

One afternoon, I turned the page and Charlie piped up.  It sounded more like "eh-ah," but I knew what he meant because, see, I can read.  So over the next several days I tried to show him what it meant.  Every time I dropped something, I would warble "Uh-oh!" in a tone of deep regret.  He caught on fast, but understands the concept only enough to say it every time he drops something but also when he puts things down voluntarily.

He also says it when he's just feeling chatty.  I think he knows we register it as a real word, that we listen when he says it, that we respond with warm approval.  This is not ideal, because I'm currently stuck applauding him when he intentionally drops the can of beans from the seat of the grocery cart over and over and over.  "Uh-oh!  Well done, baby!  No, no, no, for the love of God don't drop it ag—uh-oh!  Riiight!  Good boy.  Now why don't you hold a different — Uh-oh!  Hahahaha.  Yes!  Clever bun.  [Sotto voce.]  Fucking beans."

Last week at the library, where I sometimes take him to play in the morning, he was standing with one hand on the window seat, bending over, holding a train car in his free hand.  He held it approximately an inch above the floor.  Then he let go, and the train dropped that single inch.  "Uh-oh," he said, and picked up the car again.  He raised it an inch.  Dropped.  "Uh-oh."  Over and over and over.

And a few days ago, he woke me before dawn.  This is not usual; his normal pattern is to sleep until 7 or 7:30.  So when I heard noises at 5:15, I assumed he needed assistance.  I got up fast, hoping he wouldn't wake Paul, and trotted down the hall to tend to him.  I stopped outside his door to listen for a moment, wondering whether I'd need to go down for a bottle.  But there was no crying.  No fretful tone.  No sad-sounding "muh-muh-muh."  No, all I heard was "uh-oh." 

At 5:15 in the morning.

Well done, baby.

Fucking sheep.

12:39 PM in Charles in charge | Permalink | Comments (52)