Wednesday, December 16, 2009


It was a long time coming, but we have finally received our first dose of frigid weather. 

We live in an old house, built in 1900, refurbished (by us) in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 ... and counting ... and I know when the cold hits because you can feel the puffs of frosty drafts in different areas of the house. Mind you, our house is no sieve. It's insulated pretty well, as far as I can tell. I checked the attic, and it's dry, with lots of puffy, yellow insulating material. The previous owners installed double-paned storm windows before they sold the house to us. Still, you can feel places where the cold seeps in, slithering along the floors with chilly tendrils. I can feel a draft just now, as I'm sitting at our kitchen table. And I know exactly where it's coming from, the cracks of space between the baseboards and the wall. In the dining room, now Natty Lou's playroom, we have a light switch plate located at the base of stairs where there is a small opening that the plate doesn't quite cover. You can feel a little draft there. In the den, where the hardwood floor doesn't quite meet the wall, you can feel a draft there. We have little carpeting, which is a good thing, although that means a cold floor in the winter. Especially with an unfinished basement below. 

Yet by far the most serious chink in our house warming (get it?) strategy is with the window in the stairwell. It's one pane, an old pane, a pretty pane, irregularly shaped. There's still rope on the sides of it that was used as a pulley of sorts to open it back in the day. So, you could say it's got some historical, or perhaps nostalgic, significance. That window happens to face west, where in many cases the direction from which the coldest winds of winter blow. We can hear that pane rattle when the wind gusts. And I can see those heating dollars just sail on out...

So, this year, I tried to address that. I bought some of those plastic sheets and tape job kits at the hardware store. Perhaps you know about them. There supposed to be simple, and indeed, the instructions are so minimal, they're displayed by way of cartoonish sketches on the back of the box. It's plastic sheeting and two-sided strip tape. All you need is a tape measure and scissors. Any fool can follow those and follow cartoons, right?

Well, as with many things in life that come with fail-safe directions, the task is anything but simple. I started with the two windows in Natty's room. The idea was to further insulate the room, to add an extra layer of protection against the cold. I surveyed the window. OK, I can do this. I started to unspool the tape. Then, I realized that the blinds we have in his room, which I think are Roman blinds, the ones that are cloth-like and accordion into a roll as you pull on a string and unfurl when you let the string out, well, those have brackets that have been drilled in at the top. In other words, the brackets (and the blinds) block me from being able to seal the window frame at the top. That is a problem.

My solution was to tape the plastic sheet over the window and go as high up the pane as I could without interfering with the blinds and the brackets at the top. So, the plastic sheeting goes about 4/5 of the way up the window. This may sound to you like I solved nothing with this setup, but here are my thoughts: a) cold air drops, so whatever comes in will dive down the window into the plastic seal and b) the heavy cloth blind catches any cold air that would escape from the top. Of course, I have no way of testing my theory, but it makes me feel that what I did wasn't completely in vain.

The next job involved two windows in our bedroom. One of those windows was a necessity. It sits above my head when I'm sleeping, meaning it runs perpendicular to the length of our bed. And my head has little natural covering, so I'm especially prone to feeling any cold plumes. I covered that window and another with the plastic sheeting, but I'll be damned if the sills are cracked, uneven wood, and the tape doesn't stick too well to it. So, here I was, my arms outstretched with this plastic sheet, trying to stick it on to a tape strip that kept peeling off. Adding to my frustration was I was listening on the radio to the Patriots losing to the Dolphins. Perhaps because of that, I really botched the window near my sleeping head. I had to use packaging tape to adhere the bottom of the plastic sheet to the sill. It looks ugly, but at least it's covered by a red curtain. Again, questionable how much cold is being kept out. 

The last window was the one on the stairwell. Our stairwell is high, perhaps 15 feet to the ceiling, and the window sits a good 9-10 feet up where the stairs make a very sharp L-shaped bend. Can't put a ladder there. So, I balanced a chair on three legs on a stair and reached as high as I could, placing my first strip of tape across the window frame. That strip is probably 3/4 of the way up the window. Much to my surprise, considering my debacle in the bedroom, the rest of the taping and the placing of the plastic sheet went seamlessly. I am proud to say that one looks nearly smooth enough as to be mistaken for glass. And I really think it's made a difference. Whereas before you could feel a tunnel of chilly air whooshing from the stairwell and spilling into the room below, that channel has largely been cut off. 

At least I think so. We'll see with the next western wind.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Butt Up

Recently, Nathaniel has been going through a period of not sleeping well at night. For a few days in a row this weekend and spilling into the early parts of this week, he's been waking up several times during the night and crying. After mulling various possible causes, our best guess is he's been bothered by a lower tooth that's coming in. It's his seventh little biter – four up top and three on the bottom. 

His fitful nights got me to thinking about his sleeping patterns in general. Unfortunately, they seem to mirror mine. Natty is a light sleeper who slips out of slumber at the slightest of noises. We play music in his room – a running loop of a soft, instrumental rendering of some Beatles songs (quite good, actually) – yet he still will awaken to sounds, no matter how soft.

It's gotten to the point where we have had to map our way when walking into his room to avoid stepping on any creaky spots in the hardwood flooring. The path goes like this: For step one, we veer right at the threshold , hard against where the floor meets the door frame. Then we take as long a stride as we can for step two, trying to land on the small carpet in the room. From there, we creep gingerly toward his crib, staying on the carpet. Unfortunately, even some carpeted spots have shown signs of creaking, so we may need to plot our steps there as well. Once we arrive at the crib, we have to be careful where we stand, since some of the floor boards are a little loose, and prone to let slip a squeak. If we've negotiated our way well, and he hasn't woken up, then we can gaze upon Natty and put a blanket over his sleeping body.

We know Natty's having a good night's sleep if he's in the butt-up position. What I mean by that, is he's face down, his body bent in a relaxed V-shape and his little, rounded butt is pointed upward. It's been his favorite position ever since he realized he could have a position when he's sleeping. It also means he hasn't been fidgeting while he's been sleeping.

I tried the butt-up position the other night. It was a brief experiment. First, it didn't feel too comfortable, the most likely reason my joints are not accustomed to being bent so. Also, it just seemed so alien, a weird way to doze off into la-la land. I'm much happier on my side, with my head resting on a firm pillow.

This all makes me wonder why Natty and other babies like the butt-up sleep posture. I guess for now I'll just leave that question unanswered. But I do know one answer: Nathaniel is sleeping peacefully.


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Wee Problem of Pee

I was just about to make a bowl of vanilla ice cream topped with blueberries when I stepped in it.

It was a river of pee courtesy of our dog, Hviezda. Actually, there was a main channel that ran about three feet and a shorter, parallel tributary on the kitchen floor. Description aside, it was a lot of pee. And, before I could savor my blueberries and cream, I had to get on my hands and knees to sop it up.

I wouldn't be writing about this if it were a one-time occurrence. Sadly, it's become all too common. For months, our aging Irish setter has released the contents of her bladder in our house. Tail tucked between legs, shamed by her actions, she slinks away when we notice her latest accident.

It all started, I think, last spring when Hviezda, who's 14 and a half years old, peed in Michelle and my room, where she sleeps on her doggie bed in the corner. OK, we weren't happy, but the rare whizzing inside can be forgiven. Yet it continued, and so I took her to the veterinarian to find out why.

A urine sample indicated she had an urinary tract infection. The doctor prescribed some antibiotics and in a week or so, Hvezda was right as rain. Problem solved – or so we thought.

Beginning in July, we noticed that Hviezda had peed again. If I recall correctly, this happened when Michelle, who arose early that morning, drenched her sock when she stepped in pee massed in the carpet on our upper floor landing. As more days passed, it became clear that Hviezda had peed in several carpeted locations on both floors of our house. Clearly, something was not right. So, I took her to the vet again. The same antibiotics were prescribed, and we waited for them to work. I rented a carpet cleaner.

Hviezda kept peeing in the house. I took her back to the vet, who prescribed a stronger dosage of antibiotics. We waited for them to work. I rented a carpet cleaner.

Hviezda kept peeing in the house. So, yet again, I took her to the vet, who prescribed medication designed to strengthen her bladder muscles, which, due to her age, may have weakened, leading to uncontrolled releases of doggie wee. I borrowed a carpet cleaner.

Hviezda kept peeing – although by now, we had confined her to the kitchen, where we have hardwood floors and no carpets. The situation, bad to begin with, had become untenable, what with one-year-old Nathaniel crawling about. We obviously had to do all we could to keep Nathaniel from being exposed to dog urine. Hviezda, meanwhile, was having accidents at least every second day, on average, and on some days, more than once in the same day.

We were reaching a breaking point. A doggie non grata. An ostracized pooch. A woof without a roof.

After speaking with the vet on the phone and consulting with my neighbor's girlfriend, also a vet, we decided that Hviezda would get an ultrasound, so her innards could be thoroughly examined. Perhaps there was a stone in her bladder, or a growth in another organ that was exerting pressure on her bladder. Worse, her kidneys were failing, or she had cancer.

I took in her today for the examination. Nearly $600 later, (there were other tests.) it appears as if Hviezda has a chronic bladder infection. If all goes well, the vet should know within days which bacteria are causing the infection and can prescribe antibiotics that will knock them out once and for all.

The good news is our dog, despite her many flaws, is a picture of sound health, especially for her age. The better news is the bacterial infection can be diagnosed and treated, Hviezda will no longer feel the urge to constantly pee. And, then, maybe, she'll have the run of the house again.

Or at least a good part of it.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Day after Thanksgiving

The day after Thanksgiving has been a lazy day.

That's good because Thanksgiving Day was anything but.

No, I'm not talking about the usual downers or stresses that befall many on this holiday. Ours were more self-inflicted.

It all began when I spoke on the day before Thanksgiving with my mother who informed us that she was too ill to travel and spend turkey day with us. We were saddened that she couldn't make it, but we understood the reason. Turns out, it was for the best.

The night before the big eatin' day, I came down with a nasty cold. I was in bed by 7 in the evening, and when I woke up the next morning, my nose was plugged like a clogged toilet. I felt about the same as clogged commode, too. That same night, Michelle came down with an odd rash that covered her upper body. She was red pretty much all over, a splotchy crimson, and it it appeared as if she had been sunburned. Nathaniel, remarkably, was the healthiest of all of us.

Since my mother didn't come, we went in on the Thanksgiving meal with our neighbors, the St. Angelos. It was a potluck affair, and we (I mean, Michelle) supplied triple-cheese mashed sweet and white potatoes and a green bean casserole. Others turned up with a turkey, a broccoli casserole, a chourizo stuffing, a turnip and carrot salad, peas, corn, dinner rolls, yams and other foods. Quite a spread, huh?

I felt better by the time the dining started at about 2 p.m. And while my stomach was prepared for the gastrointestinal onslaught, unfortunately, my taste buds were not. I could probably taste about 50 percent of the food's full flavor. Considering how much I love food, this was a major drag.

As we ate, Michelle's rash had spread to her lower torso and to her legs. I could see her stealing scratches when she suspected no one was looking.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel had ensconced himself as the life of the party. See Nathaniel wave his arms! See Nathaniel walk along the table! See Nathaniel smile and gesture at the guests! See Nathaniel play with the remote control, the cell phone, the nutcracker... You get the idea. He was the center of attention and loving every moment of it. Even crusty uncles, middle-aged men with packs of cigarettes in their shirt pockets, were charmed by his shenanigans. He felt great, even as we didn't, and he was a joy for the four or so hours we were there.

After dessert of chocolate cream pie, banana cream pie, chocolate-covered strawberries, two versions of pumpkin pie, cheesecake, apple pie, blueberry pie, pecan pie, baklava and vanilla ice cream (amazing, huh?), it was time to travel the 60 feet home.

That's the kind of trip I don't mind taking.

Too often, we forget that Thanksgiving, is about giving thanks, exactly as the holiday implies. I am thankful for the simple things – my family, my health, my quality of life, our families and our friends. I will add that I am thankful that I've never had to worry about my next meal. A recent news story notes that 49 million Americans – that's one in six U.S. citizens – are not so fortunate. I was stunned by the magnitude of hunger in this country. Considering how much we have compared to most of the world's seven billion people, it seems shameful that so many families here search in vain for food.

Let's remember how lucky we are and what we can do to help those less fortunate.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Small vs. Big

Just a quickie for the day before Thanksgiving.

Although I have been known to complain, whine, grouse and grumble about the outsized influence that having a child has had on my life, I know to the core of my being that I can't imagine my life without him (and perhaps them?).

Besides, I'm sure bigger issues await. As one of my co-workers said so well:
"Small kids, small problems. Big kids, big problems."

Duly noted.

Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fleeting Weekends

We've arrived at the weekend.

Normally, this would be cause for celebration. Two days off, the freedom to do what you please, whether it's watching a college football game on Saturday, eating out one night, running a few errands, going to church, or just plain relaxing.

But, for me, at least, weekends aren't really that relaxing. And they go by far too quickly.

About the time Friday comes each week, I feel like I'm staggering toward the end, a runner on the verge of collapse before the finish line. Each weekday morning is like a race of its own, a gauntlet of frenetic tasks that includes getting Nathaniel cleaned, clothed and fed and Hviezda walked. (I'm being generous here; she really gets let out in the yard while I watch her to make sure she doesn't tear off into a neighbor's yard to do her business.)

Then, only then, after those hurdles have been cleared, I get myself ready.

The plan is I put Nathaniel in his "fun zone" and try to sneak upstairs to take a shower. Of course, he notices that I'm leaving and starts to whimper. As I hit the stairs, the whimper becomes a cry. As I climb the stairs, the cry has been co-opted by a full-throated scream.

Morning showers are supposed to be relaxing. Mine almost never are.

Ideally, we leave around 07:10, so I can get Nathaniel to his home daycare by about 07:45, and catch the 07:53 bus to Brown. To make that time, a whole chain of events need to fall neatly in place, beginning with me waking up on time, when my alarm clock rings. That seldom happens, so one could argue with some legitimacy that I force the morning rush on myself. But even when I do hold up my end of the waking bargain, something inevitably throws it all off. Hviezda has peed on the kitchen floor (again, sigh...); Nathaniel is throwing his breakfast around, rather than eating it; Hviezda, despite my best efforts, makes a beeline for the neighbor's yard; and, the cherry on top of this cake of chaos, Nathaniel unleashes a volcanic poop just as we're ready to go out the door.

So much for the plan.

The point is by the time I get to work many mornings, I feel like I need a break. A junior faculty acquaintance of mine, who has a young daughter, told me that work is like a respite compared to the juggling act that is home life. I agree.

So, by the time Friday comes, man, am I beat. I'm ready for some R&R. But those two days just don't do the trick somehow. There are chores to complete, errands to be run, a little boy to care for, play with and enjoy. There is church to attend, Sunday school to teach.

And, before I know, my alarm clock is blaring. It's Monday morning again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

In my last post, I mentioned that Natty Lou has learned some words. He says "Da da," "Ma ma," and recently has learned "Uh oh" and "Ee ee," which corresponds very roughly to our dog, Hviezda (whom we also call Louie). A few days ago, Michelle pointed at a picture of me on the refrigerator, and Natty correctly identified the flaky guy making a face as "Da da."

Well done, dude.

While his vocabulary is minimal, it grew by another word recently. And that word is "No." Hmmm. He's also figured out that word is very flexible; in other words, it can be used in a variety of situations.

Here are a few:

Us: "Nathaniel, are you tired?"
Natty: "No."
Us: "Nathaniel, do you want to try and walk to mommy?"
Natty: "No."
Us: "Nathaniel, quit crawling to the dog bowls!"
Natty: "No."

OK, so it sounds like the little bugger's pretty smart, eh? (Or, a smart ass) But he also says "No" at other times, when it really makes little sense at all. And the way he says the word – softly, with an emphasis on the "N" with a tight finish of the "Oh" is really cute, so I find it hard to get exasperated with him. It's as if he's taking this newfound word for a test drive, to see how it feels to say it.

I am sure in due time the novelty will wear off, he'll understand the true connotation of the word, and he'll wear us out with it. Others have forewarned me about this.

I hope I'll be prepared. But for now, I'll just enjoy hearing him say "No."

Friday, November 6, 2009

One Year

Nathaniel is one year old.

His birthday was yesterday, so it's official: Natty Lou has entered his second year of life.

We staged a mini-celebration with our little guy after I returned home from work, in what constituted an hour-long blizzard of phone calls from well wishers, a special dinner of cheese and Greek-style pizza, slices of kiwi and a kids-size Kit Kat and the opening of one gift (more on that later) before Nathaniel melted down and needed to be carted off to bed.

What an evening.

I've said this before, but I had long wrestled with conflicting, if not paradoxical emotions about Natty Lou. Often over the last months, I would look at him and wonder what my life had been before he arrived. It's as if that part of my life never existed. Then again, who is this little being that I'm looking at and is he really somebody who I helped create? How did that happen and what were we thinking?

For some reason, I don't have the "where did he come from" and "is he mine" mental thunderbolts too much anymore. But I sure do still have the "what was my life like before you arrived" thoughts constantly.

There's probably some psychological explanation for all this, all wrapped up in a neat jargonistic phrase that only other psychologists can decipher. But I'll just call it the syndrome of living in the here and now.

And I'm loving this syndrome. If it were a drug, I'd buy the whole supply. If it were beer, I'd but the brewery. If it were basketball, I'd buy the team. If it were ... you get the picture.

Point is, while I may have mentally glazed over the last four decades of my life BC (Before Child), I am thoroughly enjoying the AC (After Child) years. Yes, there are many times that suck. Time is not my own, for example. It has been wrested from me as if it were a bed sheet that's been ripped away while I was sleeping. I gripe about this regularly, by the way. But the truth is I'm so glad Natty Lou is a part of my life that I willingly (albeit grudgingly) sacrifice my time.

I'll also readily admit that the first 4-5 months of Nathaniel's life was hellish. This was not entirely his fault; he regularly had ear infections that made him miserable and dragged Michelle and I to the emotional brink. Michelle and I played "baby baton" in which she would work in the morning, hustle home and relieve me, and I'd hurry off to work the afternoon, half days each, so we could preserve our precious allotment of sick time. We were quite stressed.

And poor Natty. All he knew was that his damn ears hurt like hell. Anytime he got a sniffle, the bacteria would migrate to that pool of stagnant fluid behind his ears, and he'd be in for a hurtin'. Then he would begin wheezing, and we'd have him on the Nebulizer for weeks at a time.

In July came the tubes, and if that's not a Hallelujah moment, I don't know what is. Natty Lou's disposition, which, if it were a weather forecast, let's call it mostly cloudy, changed to mostly sunny practically overnight. His appetite (never a slouch there, really) got better, and he started almost immediately mouthing "Ma ma," "Da da" and most recently "Uh oh" and "Ooh eeh," which we think is a stand-in for our dog's nickname "Louie."

So many changes, physically and mentally, in the first year for Nathaniel. And so many changes for Michelle and I – how we live, what we do, what we want to teach and embody for our little role modelee. So much responsibility. So much pride.

So, so much love.

And that's just the first year.

Can't wait for the second.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Phone Obsession

One of Michelle's coworkers told her a story not too long ago.

The coworker's nephew, almost two years old, had found some loose change in the car. The coworker asked him what he would do with the money.

"Buy milk," he told her cheerfully. "And beers."
Somewhat shocked, she finally asked him, "Why are you buying beers?"
"For daddy," he replied without pausing to think.

You hear about how children mimic their parents. Often, it's humorous; sometimes, it's not. Either way, children give you the most unvarnished views into your own life – your actions, your words and how you conduct yourself with others.

The results can be arresting.

In our case, the results would appear to illustrate that Michelle and I must spend a lot of our time on the phone. Truth is, we don't – at least not when I compare to others who I see yammering at all times and in all places. Then again, I work on a college campus, where students can't stand to spend a moment with their attention stuck in neutral. In any event, Nathaniel has picked up on the time we spend on the telephone and has mimicked our behavior almost to a tee. You'd think he had been rehearsing for the role. Watch how he cradles the phone against his ear. Watch him speak. Watch as his eyes veer from side to side as he speaks, just like we adults do when we're talking on the phone and looking around. Watch his reaction when it's time to hang up. Thankfully, he hasn't observed (or learned) looks of exasperation or boredom.

We've been spared that embarrassment so far.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Chronicle Returns

Well, it's been a while.

The easy thing to say is I took a nice, long break from chronicling developments in my little clan, most notably those involving Nathaniel, our 11-month-old son. Truth is, I write for my job, and I'm trying (haltingly) to research and write a book, and I was just too darn tired of writing to imagine writing some more.

But I realize that the writing I do here is the most important of all. Not because I'm writing for an audience per se; this is no vainglorious pursuit. Rather, it's writing as a chronicler of Nathaniel's life, at least the beginning of it, and the satisfaction that I hope will come when he reads these postings, these musings, these joys, these tirades, these frustrations, these little raptures that come from watching him grow.

So, I'm back to trying to tell some of those stories.

A little recap: Last you knew, Nathaniel was all of three months old, a being with few emotions (beyond crying and brief rays of sunny happiness). Since then, he has morphed into a little boy, with wants and needs, a robust appetite (add pizza and cupcakes to the list – albeit on special occasions only), personality tics (he likes to click his tongue against the roof of his mouth, making a soft, popping sound), an obsession with climbing stairs and splashing the water in Hviezda's dog dish. So many changes in such a short time. I could go on and on.

As parents, we struggled a lot with Natty's frequent bouts of sickness. Last winter, any time he picked up a cold or a sniffle, the bacteria would migrate into his ear canal and park there. He got ear infections, he got fevers, he got deep coughs. He was miserable, and so were we. Finally, in July, Natty Lou got tubes. These tubes look like tiny lug nuts and are placed in the membrane of the ear drum. They let air in and help keep eustachian tubes ventilated, and thus, dry. After the surgery (a scant, ten-minute outpatient procedure), Natty's shroud of sickness had been removed – just like that, as if a magician snapped his fingers. The fluid that had pooled behind his ears, a reservoir just waiting to be infected, could finally drain.

What a revelation. What a change. It was as if we could see the relief etched on Nathaniel's face. He was happy all the time. He was giggly, bubbly, sparkling. He immediately began to communicate with us, using all sorts of different sounds, and, later in the summer, began saying "Da da" and "Ma ma." A few weekends ago, we visited the Vyases, our good friends in the Boston area, and they swore he said "dude" and "ball." Hmmm.

In any event, he is constantly interacting with Michelle and me. He's exploring his surroundings, crawling at baby Mach 4 and lifting, dropping, turning, twisting, throwing about anything he can get his hands on. He went to the beach for the first time and got dipped in the cold New England surf. He didn't care for that too much (video below), but he loved the surf and the beach (picture above).

That trip was our one big trip of the summer. Michelle's brothers (and one sister-in-law) and sister visited from Iowa and Nebraska, and we spent a week at a rented house soaking up the surf and the sun. We biked, we hiked, we grilled, we played games, and we watched as Nathaniel took stock of it all. Truly, vacations with family are so special. Granted, they're different from the trips I used to take when living in Eastern Europe. Those trips were about seeing new places, appreciating the diversity and the vibrancy of other countries and cultures, an attempt to appreciate the differences and the commonalities that is the human race. Vacations with family, I would argue, are less about seeing new places and experiencing different cultures than about appreciating the closeness that others who share your blood, or your values, can bring. They're about cherishing those ties and creating memories that invariably will be the ones we will cling to most vividly later in life.

Nathaniel, though he won't recall it, got plenty of those groovy times with his uncles and aunts. Then, he got to visit with his other aunt and uncle, and his only cousins so far, later in the summer. These were important, and special, times, and we are fortunate to have families who are as keen to do them as are we.

When it comes down to it, there is no substitute for family. None.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Baby, Meet the Needle

I've already written, and shown in pictures, about how Nathaniel is growing – in height and in girth.

He's getting fat rolls all over his body. He's got "thunder thighs" and is growing a double chin. His ankles look swollen and his cheeks resemble those of a squirrel stuffed full of nuts.

In other words, he has all the features that mark a baby as healthy but an adult as unhealthy.

On Monday, he was back at the doctor for his monthly checkup. He was happy and playful even as the doctor poked and prodded him. He rolled over and banged his head against the wall, which briefly soured his mood. Then, he resumed cooing and smiling as the pediatrician checked him all over.

Now, the latest measurements: He's 23 1/2 inches tall. Weight: 11 lbs. 6.5 oz.

At some point during the exam, the doctor got out a syringe and stuck it in his thigh. I wasn't there, but according to Michelle, our boy's expression changed the instant the syringe met his skin. His smile vanished, his playfulness halted. For a moment, he looked shell shocked as he experienced a sensation previously unknown to him. Then, a frown, followed quickly – very quickly – by a gaping opening of his mouth and a piercing scream.

More screams followed.

The doctor plunged a second needle into Nathaniel's other thigh, and the boy acted as if the end of the world had truly come. He wailed in agony, pain, disgust, shock and whatever other feelings he may have had. He was truly pissed at this turn of events.

So, Nathaniel got his first shots, vaccines to protect him against seven types of diseases.

He may not remember the injections, but we sure will.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Little Drummer Boy

One fun thing about having a baby is it gives you an excuse to be a child again.

For someone who lapses into immaturity from time to time, this is golden. 

For someone who is flaky, this is golden.

For someone who likes to have fun  – and poke fun at others – this is golden.

For someone who likes to dip into the waters of irreverence, this is golden.

For someone who tries not to take himself too seriously, this is golden.
For someone who can use a periodic injection of zaniness, this is golden.

Am I talking about myself? Maybe.

Watch the video, and you be the judge.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Growing Boy

We pretty much knew that baby Nathaniel is growing. Growing taller. Growing fatter. Growing stronger. Growing more obstinate? Hmmm, depends whom you ask.

Anyway, we've noticed the development, in a micro sort of way. We knew he was taller, because the pediatrician measured him and told us so. We knew he was heavier, because the pediatrician weighed him and told us so.

We also had anecdotal clues: My muscles would tire more quickly when I held him. My arm hurt after I cradled him like a football as we dashed through the airport in Chicago to catch our connection at Christmas. Nowadays, my arm falls asleep from the wrist down when I plop him in the crook created by bending my arm in a "L" shape. It's that tingly sensation, followed by numbness and then a dull pain. That comes more quickly now.

In the stronger category, baby N. can escape with ease from the original swaddling outfit we had for him. It has two, cuddly bear-shaped velcro flaps as the main instrument of restraint, which worked just fine for about a month and a half. Give him a minute now, and he's out.

We've graduated to an elaborate infant-wrapping mechanism called the "Miracle Blanket," which involves numerous flaps for arms, legs and torso and several wrapping techniques to swaddle. Still works, but its days are numbered: Baby N. usually has fought his feet out of it when he wakes in the morning.

But lost in the day to day shuffles are the macro developmental signs, the visual, physical clues and cues. These two photos really bring that to life. Michelle's mother took the first picture, when Nathaniel was two weeks old. Michelle, ever vigilant, snapped the second when baby N. turned two months earlier this week.

See the difference?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Operation Grandma Surprise

We called it Operation Grandma Surprise.

Michelle and I didn't expect to travel anywhere for the Christmas break. We thought how nice it would be to spend the holidays alone – just us and that boy, Nathaniel, who invaded our lives and turned it upside down more than a month prior.

But Michelle had an inch she couldn't scratch, and that itch was Christmas time with her family. For a few years running, we've packed Hviezda the dog and ourselves into the car and driven to Iowa, to eat and be merry with Michelle's family. It had become a de facto tradition, and an enjoyable one at that, and I think she was reluctant to break it.

More to the point, she misses her family around the holidays, when her brothers (and a sister-in-law) come from Nebraska and they, her sister, mother and other relatives gather to swap stories and swig concoctions ranging from spiked Egg Nog to Lover's Wine.

I understood all this completely, and the fact is I enjoy these visits nearly as much as she does. That's a testament to the welcoming nature of my wife's family. But this year, with a newborn, it seemed too much. A two-day drive with a baby not even two months old? Too daunting. Travel on a plane? Too risky. So, we mentally shelved the idea of going anywhere, comforting ourselves with a stress-free (baby not included in that thought) break.

But, as I said, Michelle got itchy.

She checked airline flights and fares periodically. Once I got wind of what she was doing, I did, too. The week before Christmas, Michelle found fares that were reasonable: We'd leave Christmas Day and come back before New Year's Eve, our anniversary.

"What do you think?" she asked.

I thought about it. I liked the idea of not traveling. I also liked the idea of seeing Michelle's family, including her brothers and our sister-in-law, who had yet to meet Nathaniel.

What really clinched it was Grandma.

Grandma Finck, or Virginette as I probably should call her, is a stout woman who shows zero sign of slowing down at the age of 80. The woman is maniacal about cleanliness and tidiness. The floor in the unfinished basement of her century farmhouse is so immaculate you can eat off it. I'm not kidding. I have never, ever seen anything out of place in that house.

Grandma, too, had not been part of the waves of family to meet and greet Nathaniel chez nous. And it was important to Michelle that it happen. This was the best time, she emphasized.

I agreed.

So, away we went, on Christmas Day, courtesy of United and hassled, frazzled connections, to Iowa. Nathaniel met his uncles and aunt and saw his grandmother and other aunt again. He met a new friend, one whose mother is already plotting to pair in marriage in, say, two decades hence. He met and babbled to Pooh Bear, who hovered over his crib dressed in an oversized gardening hat. He got his first breath of bone-rattling cold that it seems only the plains can produce.

And the day after Christmas, he met Grandma, or great-Grandma to him, when we showed up unannounced at her door – Operation Grandma Surprise.

As soon as she opened her door and looked at him, she smiled. And as soon as Nathaniel looked at her, he smiled.

I smiled. Michelle smiled.

We're so glad we made the trip.