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.