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.
The drama of the normal child
What, you mean there isn't any complicated medical reason for Charlie to wake up five times in the middle of the night, he just does it because he feels like it? And that smiling gurgle isn't uniformly a sign that he's about to throw up? How am I going to understand this kid if there aren't Rules?
The obsession I fall into most often is that of the third royal physician in The Madness of King George III -- if I have to smell it (not optional) and clean it up, I might as well worry about why it's tarry or curdy large or small or whatever other variation he's decided to produce. But I can also fuss about how often Charlie is burping or eating or whether he's holding his head up as high off the floor as he did yesterday.
I know that Charlie isn't an intensively-monitored patient, but it's so much easier to relate to him that way, or to think of him as a particularly smart but clumsy puppy. When he laughs to see one of us, or tries desperately to win a smiling contest, it's frighteningly apparent that there's beginning to be a tiny little human being in there. And then I think about how long it took me to learn to tie my shoes.
Charlie's drinking problem and other late-night thoughts
Yes, he has one. Just like Robert Hays in Airplane. He grips the bottle in his pudgy little fingers, pushes it out of his mouth, regards it for a moment, then pulls it back in. To his cheek, or his chin, or his nose, or anywhere else where he can't actually drink from it.
It was much funnier when he had a sucking problem (QuickTime, 3 MB, noisy), because then we could just watch the errant path of his fist and laugh. And plug in a pacifier if he got too desperate. Having Charlie help when he's starving and I'm trying to feed him at 2 in the morning really doesn't tickle my funnybone in quite the same way, although I realize it should.
At 2 in the afternoon, of course, I think it's hilarious. And in another couple of months, when he gets the coordination thing down and I can just toss him a bottle from the other side of the room to drink by himself, I'll think it's great.
Charlie and I are neither of us at our best in the wee hours of the morning. So as I listen to him yelling while he refuses to burp, try to rock him to sleep, or pat him in his crib in the vain hope that he will stay down this time, I try to think about something other than how many seconds until he goes to jail or college.
After the fourth or fifth variation on "but that's not important right now" my mind wanders to such observations as, "I never would have thought that having a kid would make my quadriceps hurt so much" or "I wonder whether my knees will hold out till Charlie starts walking." Or "Maybe if I were in an electric wheelchair I could drive to Kansas."
Then comes what passes for wordplay when one party hasn't learned to talk yet and the other is half asleep muttering under his breath. For the past couple of weeks I've been obsessing over what "Soddenfreude" would mean, if only it were a word. I like to think that it describes the happy feeling that makes Charlie smile and kick his legs when I remove a pound and a half of diaper with its magic moisture-absorbent crystals loaded to the brim. Julie says no, it's the happy feeling I get watching Charlie fill his pants while she's feeding him, and knowing that I don't have to clean up the resulting carnage.
Keep your powder dry and your wipes wet
Most of you will laugh that I even bother to post about this.
Yesterday we were taking Charlie for a ride -- ostensibly to the cheese-and-chocolate outlet by way of the gas station that for no good reason appears to charge 20 cents a gallon less than anywhere else in the state. He's been a bit fussy since getting stabbed three times in the leg for his six-month birthday, and we thought it might calm him. (As a science geek, I also pointed out that if he started crying really loud we could just run the car up to mach 1 and outrun the soundwaves.)
Of course, halfway through the trip Charlie went from twisting his head around to look forward at me with big appealing eyes to calling out for attention to calling out rather more urgently for food. No problem, we just waited him out for a few miles and pulled into the first available parking lot, at a disused carwash, and I got the bottle out of his carefully prestocked bag. He fit neatly across my lap as he ate, only occasionally kicking his carseat or thumping his head against the passenger door.
Cue one gastrocolic reflex. Also no problem -- the bag has long been stocked with diapers -- in his current size yet -- and moist wipes. Which were after a month or so of no in-car events about as moist as a civil-defense cracker from 1955.
We are gifted improvisers, and Charlie did just fine being changed and mostly cleaned under the shelter of a liftgate and an open carwash booth. Whoever empties the dumpster at the apartments across the way, my thanks and apologies.
So now we know to rotate our stock of moist wipes, and all the more-experienced folks out there are shaking their heads at the exponentially more messy hijinks that await us. But every day we do something new with Charlie without utterly screwing up I like to imagine at least a tiny glow of accomplishment, and that was yesterday's.
A few notes to makers of infant clothing
From a darkened room in the middle of the night.
Sleeves. Pantlegs. Make them visibly and obviously different even when all the snaps are undone.
There's going to be a diaper in there. Leave room for it even if doing so spoils the elegant line of your garment.
Zippers are only more convenient if I don't need two hands to hold the outfit on either side of the seam, one hand to pull on the zipper tab, and another hand to steady the squirming boy. Even if some of those can be the same hand.
Internal cuffs and hems that snag fingers and toes: bad idea.
(Oh, and clothes for preemies with a closure sewn across the crotch: a bad idea that can be fixed readily with a pair of shears)
The feet in footie pajamas? They should face forward.
Oh. Scratch that. Instead, just make it much more obvious that the snaps on your garment open up the back.
Tertia, do not say condoms.
I can't figure it out. One thing is perfectly clear: I am gonna freak the fuck out the first time I reach into one of his pockets before doing laundry and find a matchbook with a phone number written on it. I have told him and told him never to play with matches. But does he listen? I can only assume he's irresistibly attracted to a certain kind of dissipated floozy with a lush and yielding rack.
All I know is that the minute I start finding colored hankies* in those tiny pockets, it's time for us to have a talk.
* Not safe for work, but then surely† you're not surprised.
† No, and don't call me...well, you know.
Charlie is learning about his upper register. Also about palatal-and-back fricatives. So instead of a baby who says "geh" or "owa" or "EH" we have a baby who sounds like shrieking metal in an extrusion press or Donald Sutherland alerting his fellow pods to the last original human or some second-rate demon possessing an ingenue. And he smiles while he does it.
Long ago I read about artificial-intelligence researchers who were trying to make self-organizing systems that taught themselves how to speak. One of the things they did to simplify their job was to eliminate from consideration the majority of sounds that their machines could make, on the grounds that those noises belonged to no possible human language and hence would never be uttered. Let me just say we got your utterances right here.
I think next week I'm going to teach him how to project.
What a difference a couple of weeks make. Charlie now walks, speaks in simple sentences, and is learning to cook. Julie tells me he has begun studying chess, but I don't believe her; he falls for a mate-in-five gambit every time.
Well, no. But the changes still are pretty remarkable to me after just 10 days away. He's much more sure of his hands when he reaches for something, he can roll over from front to back and back to front, and he can stick four out of five toes in his mouth. He's getting ticklish. Even more important is the long-awaited change in family pecking order: Charlie now weighs visibly more than Skillet.
Charlie's face has also changed in a way that's hard for me to describe he's matured, and even the same expressions he had before seem to have more subtlety to them. When he looks pensively at Thermos (we had the foresight to get a cat who is also a mobile black-and-white pattern) you can tell he's not just staring unfocused into space. When he gets mad that it isn't dinnertime yet, there are a lot more voluntary muscles in play.
And when he blows a bronx cheer in the middle of a meal, we're scraping oatmeal off the ceiling for days...
In the past four or five months, I've developed a pretty impressive knack (If I may say so) with Charlie's medication. I drop a pill into a big bottle cap, get the temperature of the water just right, and splash in no more than half an ounce. After waiting for the pill to dissolve into its tiny constituent capsules, I gently suck capsules and a sixth-ounce of water into a dropper. The capsules settle to the bottom, where they are held by surface tension until I put the dropper in Charlie's mouth and squeeze as he sucks the liquid down. Another dropperful for stray capsules, and a third to rinse everything down his gullet. It's gotten easier as he's become better at cooperating, and I've grown ever defter with repetition. It's a wonder to behold.
Guess what: Charlie can now suck on his own damn pills for the minute or so it takes for them to dissolve. And what with starting to teethe, he has plenty of saliva to wash the bits down. Another painstakingly acquired, absolutely crucial skill rendered obsolete. I feel just like a manufacturing worker replaced by a robot, only completely different.
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.
Some were predators and some were prey
The other day we took Charlie to the local bookstore, and he sat around on the floor while we picked out board books for him. Among others, a couple from the Sheep series (I'm going to have to take elocution classes before I can do justice to the need for dramatic readings) and a new copy of Big Red Barn to replace the old one that Charlie enjoyed so much before he entombed its pages in a block of polymerized vomit.
Last night, as Charlie sat up expectantly to read the new BRB for the first time, I had a moment of hippopotamus. Er, uncertainty. He's starting to understand a bunch of words just ask the cats who were trying to slink by until I said, "Hey, Charlie, look at the kitties!"
So should I read him the version that's on the page, or the one that ought to be? Eventually he's going to find out the difference.
I spent 15 years working as an editor. Once I went up to a friend after a short-story reading and said, "That was great! There were only about half a dozen things I wanted to change." It just comes naturally to fix the scansion and omit needless words, or to add the occasional explanatory passage the author must have forgotten. And then there's the fact-checking: around these here parts, dogs say "Woof!" And things Charlie ought to know, like the potential dangers to monarch butterflies from genetically engineered corn pollen. And but I digress.
What would you do? Slavishly follow the text? Favor him with a brand new reading each time? Maybe I'll just scan the book and print up new pages with the right words on them.