Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Quality Time

In the days before Christmas, with days off from work, I've been able to have some real quality time with my son.

I wake up when  he cries in the morning and take him downstairs, so Michelle, who has fed him overnight, can sleep in. I change him and feed him a bottle of breast milk that Michelle had pumped the day or night before.

Michelle has told me this is the best time of day with Nathaniel, when he has gotten a good night's sleep. It's a brief window of contentment before real hunger and other issues set in, and his mood changes as if a storm had come through. 

And she is right. Baby N. wiggles as I change his diaper, his eyes wide open and inquisitive, glancing about, taking in a new day, a day that holds all sorts of surprises for his agile, developing mind. He coos. He drools. His lips part into little smiles. He lies with little care as I remove a diaper scarred with poo, clean him, dry him, apply lotion and outfit him with a new diaper and a change of clothes – the one that'll last for maybe an hour or so before he pees on it, vomits on it or something else. No worries there. That is what babies do.

I feed him the first bottle, about two ounces of breast milk. He sucks it down, and as soon as I remove the bottle, he registers his discontent. I prepare the next, dunking the bottle into a glass of warm water to warm it up and bouncing baby N. as I try to buy time. I feed him the next bottle, this one 2-3 ounces. He finishes, and usually, he wants more, which he gestures by opening his mouth repeatedly in an elongated "O" and thrusting a fist into his mouth. (that is, when he can get it there; he still hasn't mastered motor control.) This morning, I had to resort to 2 ounces of formula for bottle #3. He slurped that down, but tellingly, slowed as he neared the end. Victory! The little bugger was finally getting full. All that warm, liquidy goodness was taking effect. His eyelids were getting heavy. Hocus, pocus, no more focus, little one. Fall asleep.

He struggles as his eyes close, open briefly, close again, open again, close again. I cross my leg on to the other and lay him in the "A" frame that's been created. He sighs, and snoozes. I take my first sip of coffee. Delightful. And I gaze at him.

Nathaniel no longer looks like a newborn. His features are not rugged, nor doe she have blemishes, such as cuts or bruises, but that initial, shiny newness, the super delicate, nearly translucent aspects of his face have vanished. They are replaced by features that I deem will be more permanent, while certainly changing as he grows. Right now, his head looks enormous. Not grossly disproportionate to his body, but big nonetheless. You can really see why so much energy is devoted to growing the human brain and its housing. You can really see how central it is to what we as humans are, when you look at the size of a baby's head.

Nathaniel's eyes seem big – again, not disproportionate to his face, in my view, but large, yet evenly spaced. They're wider than mine, at least I think, and are slate-colored. The whites of his eyes still have that bluish tinge. His nose is wide, a bunched button at the bottom, with a flattened septum. His mouth is small and thin, like his mother's. His hair is light, maybe with a hint of reddishness, but that's debatable and may depend on the light. His eyebrows are also quite light, as to be nearly visible. I see traces of copper in them, which drives Michelle batty, because she, as a red head, thinks I'm trying to will him into the same coloring. I swear I'm not; I'm just observing. It really doesn't matter to me what color his eyes, his hair, his eyebrows become. I'm just curious how it'll play out.

One thing is for sure: He's getting longer. In another day or two, he will outgrow the first batch of clothes we had bought for him, clothes that hung off him like some bad drapes when he first donned them. My, how he has grown!

So, while I have visions of NBA stardom for my son dancing in my head, baby N. sleeps fitfully in my lap. This is quality time. Holiday time. 

A perfect time of year, with a perfect little child.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Glorious Heat

While the temperature went into free fall last night, our family is fortunate enough to pay it little mind.

We have a home, like many others. But for the first time since we bought this house, we have reliable heat.

Ah, heat.
Ah, hot water when we want it, when we need it.

Touch those radiators and feel the warmth. Ah, isn't it nice?

It seems like I'm waxing overboard about something as simple as heating a home.

But you don't know what we had. So let me tell you.

We had a very old boiler, a heaping lug of metal shaped like a big box and that rumbled like your granddad's snoring after a Thanksgiving feast. You knew when the  boiler had clicked on because the house would groan. If you were on the ground floor, you could feel the floor vibrate.

We didn't mind that groaning and vibrating, because we knew that was the only time when we had hot water. For nearly five years, Michelle and I had gotten used to timing our showers and dishwashing to hearing (or feeling) the boiler's activity. 

It became a nightly ritual: Michelle would announce she wanted to take a shower, and I would tune my antennae to determine if the boiler was firing. "Hmmm... I think I hear it," I would say and then walk to the basement door, open it and poke my head down the stairs. I'd hear the rumbling. "Yep, we got hot water!"

The hot water lasted as long as the fuel oil was shooting into the boiler. When the boiler reached a temperature of about 160  degrees, it would shut off. At that point, the countdown would begin. We knew we'd have hot water for a finite period of time – about two hours. Then the water would turn tepid, then mostly cold. At that point, a shower would consist of a trickle of warm water and me dancing in the shower stall to keep my blood circulating.

Look, it could be worse – a lot worse. I realize that most of the six billion or so people on this planet would be eminently grateful for the availability of any water. So, I try to keep all these things in perspective. We are blessed, and I know that.

We also are fortunate enough to have the means to change course, and that's exactly what we did.

We took advantage of an offer from the regional natural gas supplier to replace our oil-fired boiler with one supplied by natural gas. The supplier would give us a rebate to purchase a natural-gas boiler – an incentive, in essence, to convert to natural gas. That was attractive. Our boiler, estimated to be at least 50 years old, was clearly on its last legs. We had to repair it three times last winter, which socked us at least $80 each time. The boiler was so old our service person would not include us in his service warranty. He knew a losing proposition when he saw one.

Natural gas was (and perhaps remains) cheaper than heating oil. And lastly, and consequentially in our book, natural gas burns much cleaner. 

We decided to do it.

So, thousands of dollars later, we have a (relatively) clean-burning, reliable, (relatively) quiet boiler in our basement. We have hot water when we would like it. No more trickles of tepid water in the shower. A real gusher of steamy H2O, baby.

Wow, what a change. We're so happy.

Until that first bill arrives.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

First Snow

The first snow of the season has arrived.

The first flakes began falling around 2 p.m yesterday. I smiled.

I love snowfalls.

It's peaceful, a blanket that covers all blemishes, natural and manmade. Our town becomes serene, any spots of noise muffled.

Our backyard turns into a winter wonderland, a deep meringue of white covering the cloddy soil, the clumps of leaves, the fallow gardens. It collects on tree branches and our arbor vidas and drops in great, big dollops. 

Last night, I looked out the window and took in the view. Behind our house, the lights twinkled from our neighbors' homes. The flakes fell fast and furious, and the scene on the street and in the neighborhood looked like what you see when you shake those Christmas balls. Indeed, it felt like Christmas.

I say we got somewhere around eight inches. It was a light snow that packed really nicely and stuck to the shovel as I dug out our driveway and the sidewalk. I ladled out black sunflower seeds and pieces of bread in the snow for the juncos, sparrows and any other visitors who had huddled during the storm and would now be hungry.

The birds descended on the bounty, hopping to and fro, pecking at the tidbits of food. They seem to revel in the post-storm calm, playful and peppy. I am hoping the family of cardinals we see sporadically will join in.

Later, we will introduce baby Nathaniel to this land of white. We hope he enjoys it as much as we do.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Just the Three of Us

It's just the three of us now.

My father, Marvin, and my stepmother, Joenne, left yesterday, the last of the waves of family visits PNB (post-Nathaniel's birth).

Now, it's us. Well, almost. I've still got a week of work, (that's it! Amazing.) which means Michelle will still be doing the heavy lifting in taking care of the little guy. But come Friday evening, it really will be just the three of us.

A time to share together.

A time to bond with our boy.

A time to learn about him, love him, watch him, gawk at him, giggle at him, sympathize with him, get angry at him.

Yes, that does happen. When he's crying, I mean really belting it out with no end in sight, I can feel the frustration rise like bile in my throat. It's that feeling of helplessness, of not being able to make things right in his little world.

It takes a lot of effort to hold yourself back. I don't condone in any way those who have hurt their children, but I can see more clearly what causes parents to snap. They may just feel helpless.

Not that it's an excuse, but calming a shrieking baby is a major test of your patience, your reasoning, your intellect. You need to step back and think. Why is he crying? What does he want? What bothers him? Or, is he just crying for the hell of it, a baby form of exercise?

And, most important of all, he is a baby, and you are not.

So, for more than two weeks – through Christmas and New Year's – Michelle and I will be tested daily. Our boy inadvertently will make things trying for us from time to time. He doesn't mean to, of course, and we know that.

Still, he will test our patience, our reasoning, our ability to think through things.

And while all that will be hard, it pales in comparison to all the great things that he will deliver – the smiles, the twinkling eyes, the wiggles, the squiggles, the squeaks, the little snores.

Can't wait.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Faces & Utterances

I'm going to keep this one simple for two reasons.

1. It's Sunday evening, and I'm beat.

Time was, weekends could be relaxing, if you chose them to be. Now, with baby N. in the house and (happily) ruling our lives, that is no longer the case.

At least for now. And that's okay.

2. We have a video that likely illustrates Nathaniel's facial expressions and utterances better than I can describe with words.

Or, at least without subjecting you to reading a long post that I really don't feel terribly inclined to tackle anyway.

So, here goes. Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Family Waves

We are in the midst of the fourth, and final, wave of family in our house.

Don't get me wrong. I am not complaining. Michelle and I have been so happy that our relatives fell all over themselves to visit, even as we know the object of their attraction and affection was not us (of course) but a certain baby named Nathaniel.

No matter. We are happy to have them around – whatever the reason.

Now five weeks into his life, baby N. has met two aunts, an uncle, three cousins, three grandmothers and one granddad. Not bad.

First, there was Leeann, who drove hell and fire from her home to greet us before we even left the hospital.

Then Michelle's mom, Sharon, and her sister (and baby N.'s godmother), Rachel, came, cooked up a storm and left us fat and happy. Reports are they fell hard for the little guy.

Next up was my mom, Marsha, who abandoned her normally nocturnal routine and cooked for us and loved the newborn.

And, now, my father, Marvin, and stepmother, Joenne, have traveled from Texas to brave the raw, wintry weather to soothe us with their laid-back brand of support. Pictures to come of them.

There will be more relatives who will meet and greet our boy – we hope soon.

In the meantime, let's just say that everyone has been so helpful, pitching in with cooking, chores, baby sitting, and keeping us sane.

We thank them all.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Finally Asleep

Today was one long, tough day.

Actually, this day I'm about to describe began about 7 last night, when Nathaniel began crying. Michelle fed him, and when he had finished about 8, he began crying again. She fed him a bottle, and when he had finished, he began crying again. That was about 10, as far as I can recall, because it was at that time that I went to bed. (Michelle is really good about letting me sleep when I have work the next day.)

Since I was asleep, my recollection of the rest of the night is a little fuzzy, pieced together by blurred memories and Michelle's retelling me what happened over a baby's piercing screams. Michelle fed Nathaniel another bottle of formula, and when he had finished, he began crying again. Then I think he fell asleep around midnight, and, contrary to his normal sleeping routine, he awoke around 3 a.m. and began crying. 

Michelle fed him good and long this time, and when Nathaniel had finished sometime after 4 a.m., he began crying. For two hours straight. Finally, he went to sleep but only for about 40 minutes. And he was crying again. 

He was crying when I got up to go to work.
He was crying as I brushed my teeth.
He was crying as I got dressed.
He cried as I let Hviezda out to perform her morning ritual of relief.
He cried as I got my lunch to take to work.

Before I went downstairs and out the door to work, I thought about cracking a joke to Michelle. But she looked so bedraggled, a long, drawn look on her face, that I thought the better of it, gave her a quick kiss, and scooted out.

When I arrived home around 6:30 that evening, Nathaniel was crying. He was in his swing in the kitchen, normally a spot he enjoys, and the Roomba was running, normally a noise (or motion) that caresses him to slumber. But it didn't this time.

Michelle told me baby N. had slept all of one hour all day. He cried the rest.

She looked beaten. And, I must say it, pissed off.

Who can blame her?

So, I took him. And he kept crying.

He did subside on the sobs for a flicker of time, but then we gave him a bath, which really pissed him off, especially when a dollop of water rushed down his throat the moment he was to give a war whoop.

By about 10 p.m. and no end to the crying in sight (there were feedings in between, to no avail), I had to take a shower. Michelle was slumped on the sofa, dead to it all. I put Nathaniel in his bucket seat and hauled him upstairs with me and into the bathroom.

Miraculously, he stopped crying. I rushed into the shower. As I finished, as if on cue, he began crying again. Out of options in the bathroom, I rocked his bucket seat, and his cries subsided. He looked around, not satisfied but at least mildly content. However, the moment I stopped rocking the seat, he'd start that cough, cough! that signaled a spate of tears was coming. I rocked the seat again and that look, the eyes wide and the brow furrowed, as if he were trying to figure out whether this was at all acceptable, would return. Every time I stopped, even for a couple of beats, and he would get all worked up. So, I put my left foot in the bucket seat and balancing myself with my right foot, rocked the seat as I brushed my teeth, shaved and put some lotion on some painfully dry skin. 

It wasn't pretty, but it was effective. Every now and then, my foot would slip off and the seat would stop rocking, and baby N's  would contort with dismay. But I recovered quickly – mostly – and lulled him back.

When I had finished, I took my foot off the bucket seat and steeled myself for the next round of sobs. But ... nothing. He just lay there, his head cocked a little to the left, one arm held aloft as if suspended, asleep. Asleep.

I carried him downstairs, gently. And put him under the Christmas tree. Gently.

And he's still sleeping. Finally.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Name Games

Sunday, December 7. Pearl Harbor Day. My birthday.

I say it's my birthday not because I want to advertise turning another year. At this juncture in life, I'd rather decrease in age, rather than increase. At least I think so.

In any event, baby N's birth dwarfs my advancing another year in life. And that's just fine with me. He means a whole lot more to me than going out somewhere and celebrating with friends. At least I think so.

Sunday dawned with a very fussy Nathaniel. For the first time in a while, he didn't sleep for a long stretch overnight, and poor Michelle awoke at least three time to satisfy what seems to be a never-ending hunger. I vaguely remember rising to change him once, but otherwise I could do little more than offer moral support, I guess. I mumbled a few words of commiseration and support before drifting back to sleep. At least I think I did.

So, now Michelle is sleeping in, deservedly, and I've been wrestling for the past two hours to get the little chaperoo to fall asleep. I fed him a bottle of formula, and still, he remains awake. Man, he fights sleep; it's as if he thinks if he'll miss something if he dozes off. He yawns and yawns, his eyes begin to close .... then a trifling noise and BAM! he snaps wide awake, his eyelids shooting upward like those vinyl blinds on rollers we have on our windows, and his head is swiveling around as he tries to figure out what is going on. Even now, I have him in his swing – a minor miracle in itself – and he's fighting his obvious tiredness, moving his head from side to side and swiping at his eyes with his hands. Wow, he's stubborn about sleeping. Reminds me of myself. At least I think so.

We have gotten lots of suggestions about Nathaniel's name. It seems as if some family, and even some friends, are quite preoccupied with what baby N's nickname will be. Some want to call him Nathan; others like Nate; and others go for Nat. They ask us which one we've "settled on." Well, we've "settled on" Nathaniel. That's his name. so far, there is no nickname, no truncated version. It'll happen when it happens. One day, Michelle may cal him Nat, or one day I may call him Nathan. And at that point, maybe one of those will stick. Or, maybe not. Does it matter that much? After all, it's his choice anyway. He'll let us know what he likes. 

At least we think so.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Small Screen Star

Baby Nathaniel has hit the super-small silver screen.

Welcome to our world of home videos. My sister, Lee Ann, and her family generously got us a FlipVideo recorder for Christmas – an early gift, so we could begin trying our hands at videotaping our baby boy's steps through life.

Michelle has filmed three things so far. The first one is here. It's a trial, so don't expect expert cinematography, and it may make you a bit queasy. But it ain't bad for a first stab with new equipment. And, hey, you get to see the little guy swinging into action! (By the way, see a photo of him clutching his first letter in the previous post.)

Nathaniel is one month now (actually yesterday). He had another appointment with the doctor, and I'm happy to report he is healthy, and, we think, happy. He's gained seven ounces in a week and a half and has grown two inches (to 22") since he was born.

This growth spurt seems odd to me. Two inches in a month? Do newborns really grow that quickly? Is our baby N on the way to being a seven-footer? A real-to-life Super Size Me? Big AND Tall? 

Hmmm... the genes don't seem to bear it out. I'm a shade under 6'2" on a good day, and Michelle's brothers are not giants, although they are solidly and athletically built (and good athletes, too). There are no leviathans lurking in our family trees as far as we know. So, it seems highly unlikely that baby N is destined to be NBA tall. 

All this ruminating just loops me back to the beginning. Can a  newborn really grow two inches in his/her first month? I wished I had been at the doctor's appointment, because I would've asked. Now, I have to wait until January to find out. Argh!

Enjoy the video. I will post more soon. It's going to be really, really cool. You know why? Because baby N is really, really cool.

Of course I'm biased.

Aren't you?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

He's Real (so says the government)

Our son has received his first letter.

A congratulatory birth card from adoring relatives? you might ask.

A note and a $10 dollar bill from his parents to begin his little life?
You'd be wrong.

An announcement from the church?
Wrong again.

A newspaper clipping?
Sorry, out of luck.

No, the letter addressed to Nathaniel Ames Lewis, to the proper address, town, state and zip code came from the federal government. The Social Security Administration, to be exact.

In it, was his Social Security card and an admonition to "keep this stub with your personal records."

We'll make sure he gets the message.

So, it appears the government now knows about our little boy. Now, he can pay taxes, perhaps get drafted, and die.

That was pretty morbid, wasn't it?

On the brighter side, it does mean he is official. Actually, it was kind of cool to see his name, typed in black block letters on plain white paper peeking from a box in the envelope. We hadn't seen it printed like that. The first thought that came over me was, "Holy crap, he is real."

Indeed, he is. And he's ours.

No matter what the government thinks, we think that's very, very cool.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Moments with Mommy and Daddy

In the fourth week of baby Nathaniel's life, mommy and daddy are, for the first extended time, home alone with their son.

We returned last weekend from a trip to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her family in the mid-Atlantic region. It's the second time Lee Ann (who has her own blog, by the way – a really good one, I might add – at http://www.niccofive.blogspot.com/) has seen Nathaniel; she joined us days after he was born and helped Michelle with a litany of newborn-fueled crises in the first days we returned home. She also cooked a mountain of comfort food, including lasagna, chicken cheese casserole, cinnamon buns, apple pancakes, glazed salmon and other delicious dishes that I no doubt have forgotten.

Then along came Michelle's mom and her sister. They flew in from Iowa and like twin tornadoes, took care of any and every need that Michelle and I had, thought we had, and never even knew we had. They came with us to church at baby N's first service. (He seemed to like the music. Psst! Wait until he finds about rock n' roll.) They cooked. They cleaned. They took N when he got cranky or when one of us, or both of us, looked on the brink of emotional collapse. They catered, they caressed, they cared for us.

And then they left.

And then arrived my mother. She came from Atlanta, and seized any and opportunities to cuddle with her newest grandson. (my sister has three children and is the wise one among the child rearers.) In between nuzzles, Mom made her signature spaghetti and sauce, chicken casserole and fried chicken. We've still got half a breast and two legs left, plus some spaghetti sauce.

Three days into that visit, my mother, Michelle, baby N and I drove to my sister's. We left on Wednesday morning, a little later than planned and headed west through the bottleneck they call the NYC area and headed south, through Pennsylvania farmland to our destination. It's never an easy trip, really; and around Thanksgiving, with a baby on board, and a mother who was too excited by it all, it was one long journey. Baby N was remarkable. He slept nearly the whole time, and when he did wake up and cry, he took the bottle with vigor, downed it like a good drunk and slipped back to sleep.

My most vivid impression of the journey was how thankful I was for any gas station restroom that was outfitted with a baby changing table. Don't get me wrong: I've noticed these things before, mostly out of fleeting curiosity that faded away about the moment I exited the stall. Now, I was really looking for them, almost desperately. Where are they, dammit! Doesn't anybody care I have a baby loaded with poo and no respectable place to place his ruddy butt?

No, of course, they don't care, and neither did I until about a few weeks ago. But I sure care now, after resorting to changing baby N. on the bathroom floor a few times. I am happy to say that Michelle planned for something like this by buying an elaborate diaper bag with myriad pockets, pouches and more hidden crevices than a den of bears could make use. It also had a clear plastic, add-on pouch with a plastic mat designed expressly for those times when you need to shield a baby's privates from the dank world of bacteria and germs.

Thank goodness someone was thinking.

So, now we've returned home and it's just mommy, daddy and baby N for the next week a half, before my father and stepmother come in from Texas. Make no mistake: We are so, so grateful to our families for their help during their visits. But finally, it seems, we'll have some time to ourselves, and time to learn about, commiserate over, get frustrated at, make funny faces and just smile, smile, smile at our new son. Michelle and I are really excited about this bonding time. The first month of baby N's life has rocketed by, and, boy, we hardly knew ye. Or so it seems.

We're going to make up for some lost time.