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June 2009

Hands up

Every single ultrasound I had with Sophia the tech said two things: "wow, she's really moving, isn't she?" and "her hands are up by her face."

She would push on my belly, or buzz it with some weird fetus-hazing buzzer, to try to get her to move her hands. I remember her muttering during the last ultrasound, "Is there ANY WAY to get this girl to put her hands down?"

If I'd known then what I know now, I could have told her.

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No, there is not.

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She will have her hands up.

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And she likes it that way.

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Evidence that I may be too old to rock sleep deprivation

The other night I woke to hear Sophia railing against all that is bad and wrong in the world, namely: being left alone in one's bed without so much as a boob for comfort. OH the humanity! I scooped her up and cuddled her, palming her cantelope head and cooing the sort of nonsense one tends to coo at an infant.

"Oh, sweet Sophia, are you VERY mad?'

I sat there, enjoying the fuzzy feel of her head, and thought hmm. Sophia. That's a pretty name. We should name the baby Sophia!

You know, the baby. The seven week old. In my arms.

Named Sophia.

Max makes it better

Max was scheduled to make dinner tonight, which usually puts him in a pretty good mood. HoweverTre finished his LAST SCHOOL ASSIGNMENT just as Max was starting dinner. This meant that Tre was done - DONE! -  with school for the year, and was now feeling the warmth on his face of the dawning of a golden summer, full of promise and probably ice cream. Max, on the other hand, still has one report on Calvin Coolidge overshadowing him, dripping large globs of doom down his neck.

And lo, it was sad.

Max wept and grumped through most of dinner preparation. I was a little worried that we'd all push back from the table with intense transferred angst, ala Like Water for Chocolate. However, we seemed to dodge that bullet, and after the meal the boys spilled out of the house to play some large, free-range version of tennis, with no net and several neighbor kids.

After twenty minutes or so, I looked out the window to see Max limping toward the house. There was a knot of kids trailing him, chattering excitedly about ALL THE BLOOD. Soon the door banged open and in hopped Max, gore dripping from his big toe.

"I tripped," he grinned, waving the toe in question at me. I pointed to the bathroom, and he hobbled off. Clay was inconsiderately GONE at the time, off getting fitted for a tux for a friend's wedding, so I - the one WITHOUT combat medical training - was left to deal with it myself. And I was fine, I really was, until I leaned over Max's foot, propped in the sink, turned on the water, and saw the large flappy chunk of toe gently waving from under the current.

Gahhhhhhh. Squirrelly sensation in the knees. Skin is feeling sort of alive and icky. NOT OKAY.

I casually leaned against the wall and thought happy thoughts whilst my son laughed at me heartily. Sweet boy, that one. He's totally out of the will.

Eventually (because I'm The Mother, and that's how I roll), I got the mess cleaned up, ointment-ed, and bandaged. Max hopped around on one foot, stopping periodically to watch the bandages slowly saturate with blood. He dragged a chair out to the middle of the cul-de-sac, so everyone could play AND admire his wound at the same time. He wore sunglasses and grinned at the assembled kids like they were his entourage.

I understand that wounds happen, particularly as outdoor play ramps up with the warm weather. What I DON'T understand is how a blood-spewing toe is the antidote to the end-of-the-school-year-blues.

But then, I guess it's not really my job to understand.

Such boys

I usually try to end school by Memorial Day. Start after Labor Day, done by Memorial day, that's just plain how God intended it. However, what with the whole "adding another human being to the mix" deal we've got going on around here, we're not quite done with school yet.

Correction: we haven't completed all the work I want to do. We are SOOOO done with school.

Every school day finds us in the same places. Tre sits at his desk, alternating between inspecting his toenails and despairing that his history outline STILL ISN'T DONE. Max wallows on the couch, amidst a sea of books and papers and pencils he has lost, and draws pictures in the blank spaces of his workbooks. Raphael is everywhere else in the whole house, bouncing around, crawling under his desk, climbing on the kitchen table, balancing on his tummy on the gliding ottoman, showing me the tricky hop/spin move he just figured out, and periodically bursting into tears because he WILL NEVER FINISH THIS MATH PAGE. I can be found somewhere, pinned under a nursing baby, muttering, "Yes you can too finish that outline and/or page, it would help if you just started, seriously, just start. Write ONE THING," and "Raphael SIT DOWN."

Little known educational fact that I just made up: the reason there are so many school trips and field days toward the end of the school year is so that the teachers won't eat the children.

Today I was in the girls' room, changing Sophia's diaper, and I overheard the boys talking as they "worked" in the living room.

"Hey," Tre said, managing to spare a moment from the toenail/despair cycle, "remember last night? When I let one loose? And it was like - four seconds long!"

There was hearty laughter and congratulations all around.

It's not that I'm so uptight that I can't handle some happy fart conversation, lest it sully my sea-shell ears. It's just that this was the FOURTH TIME the boys had felt the need to discuss Tre's Very Special Fart from the night before. I mean, REALLY.

"OH, for heaven's sake," I said as I walked into their midst with a fresh-diapered baby, "it was PASSING GAS, not a major cultural event. STOP, ALREADY."

They ducked their heads and snorted. I deposited Sophia on her blanket on the floor, and stalked off to wash my hands.

Sheesh. They are such BOYS.

As I washed my hands, Sophia realized that I was not HOLDING HER, AS MANDATED, and she proceeded to fuss. At the first irritated cry, all three boys called back to her.

"It's okay, Sophia," Raphael crooned from the floor under his chair.

"Awww, what's wrong, little squinchy?" Tre wanted to know.

"Don't worry, Sam," Max said. Sophia's initials spell Sam, and so that's what Max calls her.

Like a chorus of tree frogs, they peeped at her, and I listened from the next room.

Oh my. They are just...SUCH boys.

New Normal

Max: Goodnight, Mom.

Me: 'Night, honey.

Max: Hey, when do I get to snuggle with you?

Me: Well, how about you wait for some time when I'm not covered in baby puke?

Max: Oh. Is that baby puke?

Me: Yup.

Max: I'll wait.

Me: Good plan. Love ya.

Max: Love you too.

Pride goeth before a spit up

The truth? Over the last few years I've heard story after story about babies with reflux, and I...well, I was skeptical.

Seriously, how is it that infants are suddenly suffering in droves from a condition one normally associates with 50 year old men with an addiction to spicy bratwurst? How could so many tiny little babies need acid-blocking medication, and can that POSSIBLY be good for them? Isn't it possible that some parents need to learn how to soothe a newborn a little better?

Ha ha ha ha ha. I'm funny when I'm all hubris-y. Ha.

Monday I took Sophia to the doctor and plopped her down for him to inspect. "She cries," I explained, "every night. During the day, too, but she stops sometimes during the day. But every night she cries and cries and cries. Sometimes until one or two in the morning." There was more, of course, including the eye-bulging way she wails after spitting up, the way she stops breathing sometimes when she spits up, the endless spitting up, but mostly there was the crying.

He agreed, it looked like reflux. There were things I hadn't connected, like her runny nose, and the arched back posture that is apparently classic in infants with reflux. He wrote me a scrip for Zantac, and that was that.

Monday night she had her first dose. The doctor had warned me not to expect results immediately, so we weren't surprised when she started her usual cry-fest a few hours later. Clay went to bed eventually, and I walked and bounced and...well, you know.

It wasn't actually a heavy crying night - just about 50% crying, I'd say. But Sophia just couldn't stay asleep. She'd drift off, red-rimmed eyes finally, mercifully closing, and then I'd put her down or lay down with her, and after a minute or two she'd wake up screaming. In retrospect I suspect that any posture other than upright allowed that stomach acid to leak back into her enraged esophagus...argh. I hate to think about how she was feeling.

About three in the morning, I thought I'd gotten her down for real. She was in her bed, and I crawled gratefully into my own. Soon her wail filled the room, and I crawled out again. Clay asked if I was okay, and I said sure, fine. She'd let me sleep for a whole seven minutes. I scooped her up, and as I headed for the door, a thought popped into my head.

I could throw her.

It wasn't that I WANTED to throw her, or that I thought I should. It just...occurred to me that I could. I stood there, at the threshold of bedroom, and pondered that thought. Then I turned around, and shook Clay awake. I handed Sophia to him.

"I'm sorry," I said, "I just can't anymore. Will you take her?"

And of course he did.

The next night, after her third dose, Sophia fell asleep a little after 8. With hardly any crying. She woke up a few times to nurse during the night, then fell back to sleep, emphatically. She slept until 8:30 the next morning. Ever since, things have just plain been better. She cries a million percent less than she did (although she's crying RIGHT NOW, as Clay walks her and tells her an inviting tale of sleep). She sleeps. At night.

And now all of you who have dealt with infant reflux can have a hearty chuckle at my expense because I, mother of four? KNEW NOT WHAT I SPOKE OF. I have been soundly pride-checked, and I promise (AGAIN) to stop judging others.

Now we're sleeping more, I've been humbled, and best of all...well, here's the best of all:


I've never been happier to be wrong.

A practically grown-up brother

Sophia was lying on the floor, on her back, on a quilt her grandmother made for her. It's not a very good idea, her lying flat on her back like that, because just today her doctor agreed she probably has reflux, and so I should keep her head elevated, to encourage her stomach contents to stay down. But Sophia is kind of a wild child, and she likes the feeling she gets when she frogs her legs up in the air and waves her arms around. It unmoors her, a bit, from the solidity of the floor, and she wobbles and bobs on the curve of her back. Tonight she spent a good fifteen minutes on the floor. Her legs churned and her arms flailed and she rode the resulting motion with wide eyes. Occasionally she hooted softly.

It was after dinner, and the boys were outside, attacking a warm, bright evening with basketballs and scooters and much noise. Tre came thundering inside to grab something, and seeing Sophia on the floor, he detoured over to her. He dropped to his knees with a thud and brushed her forehead with his lips.

"Hey there, baby sister," he cooed, and then he was on his feet and on his way out the door again. I listened to him thunder his way down the deck to the sidewalk, watched him angle his broad-shouldered self into the midst of the street-side basketball game, and I pondered the big brother he is.

I would have to say that Sophia's arrival in our family has so far been easiest on Tre out of all the boys. He's been through this process before, after all, and the job of big brother is a familiar and easy one. He knows enough to enjoy these sweet early days, before she's big and mobile enough to get into his stuff. But there's something else in this new relationship for Tre, something I didn't see coming.

One evening recently Tre came upstairs to say goodnight. Clay was sitting on the couch, holding Sophia. As he sat there, talking to her and watching her expressions and just enjoying her, Tre sat down next to him. I watched him watch his dad with a peculiar intensity, and I couldn't figure out why. Clay sing-songed babytalk to Sophia, Tre watched Clay, and I watched them both, trying to understand what Tre was seeing.

I keep seeing that moment, Tre's eyes bright-intense, watching his dad's every move like he was studying for a test. Finally, I think I figured out what he was doing.

For the first time, Tre isn't experiencing his new sibling primarily from the perspective of a child. He's not watching me and trying to imagine being in my arms, wondering if I loved him like that. He's watching his dad, wondering how it feels to love like that. Tre takes his sister in his arms and practices caring for her as an adult would.

He loves taking responsibility for her, walking her patiently if she wakes up crying when I'm taking a shower. He carries her out to the car and fastens her into her car seat. He's even changed a diaper. Singular. But still.

He loves on her and smiles at us over her head, pleased with his sister, pleased to share this job with us. He's not just getting to know Sophia, he's trying on a new role himself - and learning it from a fine example indeed, if you ask me.


He's learning to be a dad.

The birth of a big brother

People often ask how the boys are adjusting to the new baby. It's a fair question, because a new person in the family changes things for everyone. I don't imagine we know for sure how this gift of a sister will resonate in their lives, so I watch them closely for signs that it's GOOD and they're HAPPY and I didn't actually ruin their lives.

Fortunately for everyone, there are plenty of signs that they're happy.

In particular, it seems, people wonder how Raphael's handling his loss of position as the baby of the family. I have to say that I think he's handling it fine. On the one hand, sometimes he stands next to me while I'm nursing Sophia, and he lets his head flop over on one shoulder.

"I'm a baby and I don't have any neck muscles," he laughs, "you have to support my head!" So I'll reach out and try to prop his head up while he lets it fall to one side and then another, laughing like a little loon. WAY subtle, little man, I think. He cracks me up.

However, I have to say that the main emotion I see in him is pride. He is, at long last, the big brother. He can poke a binky in his baby sister's mouth, and soothe her. He can coo and talk to her and sometimes elicit a gummy smile. He can fasten her car seat straps, all the while saying calming things in an attempt to gentle her out of her car seat rage. He is the big brother.

The other day we were at the park, having lunch with my mom, and Raphael wandered off to play. After a while, he marched past us, trailing a pack of little boys. They looked younger than him, about four or five years old, and he was clearly the alpha grubby boy. One of them, an adorable little towheaded button of a boy, was on Raphael's heels, calling out to him, "Hey, friend! Let's go to the swings, friend! Let's go this way, friend!" He obviously thought Raphael was the coolest big guy on the playground. I found out later that he was teaching the little boys what NOT to do on the playground, so they would be safe. Unfortunately, he was mostly teaching them by demonstrating for them the unsafe behaviors, something I'm certain their parents wish they could thank me for RIGHT NOW.

When we got home, I set the boys back to work on their school work. Raphael soon brought me his math to check.

"You know, Mom," he said seriously, "on the way over to you, I noticed that there was some recycling there on the counter, so I took it out to put it in the bin. And when I came back in from the garage, the door almost slammed, but I caught it," - he pantomimed his dramatic rescue - "JUST before it slammed. I didn't want it to make a loud noise and scare the baby." He nodded at me, clearly impressed with himself. "And THEN I put BOTH the water glasses that were on my desk in the dishwasher. It's sort of like how I was helping the little kids at the park. I just...NOTICE things that need to be done."

I thanked him for his thoughtfulness, and he swaggered away.

I remember when Max was born, how suddenly huge Tre seemed, compared to his brand new brother. And again, when I saw Max next to newborn Raphael, the previous baby seemed enormous compared to the new baby.

You would think, considering the fact that Raphael is very nearly eight, that it wouldn't be a surprise to see that he is no longer a baby. That it wouldn't startle me to realize how huge and capable he really is.


You'd think so, but you'd be wrong.

The thing about colic

The thing about colic, I thought as the morning sun hit my burning eyes, is that the rest of the world won't cut you a break, no matter how little sleep you got last night. Life goes on, and so I slowly peeled myself away from the sleeping form of Sophia and dragged myself out to the kitchen. I heard the boys' voices making their raucous way up the stairs, and I closed my eyes, feeling both incapable of dealing them and sick-guilty for feeling that way.

The thing about colic, I thought last night, as I walked and walked and walked and rocked and bounced and swayed and hummed and sang and walked, is that you can't do anything while you wait for it to pass. It's hard to hear the TV over the crying, you can't sit down at the computer, and there is no way on this earth I could have focused even on a magazine. It leaves my mind too free, in the dark of the night, to think about all the other things I can't change either. I walked and walked and thought about my parents, and their parents, and Clay's parents and the pain each of them faces. I wished I could save Mom and Dad from having to deal with all the losses that come with the job of walking with their parents toward the end. To take away the grief that smacks them down again and again, leaves them with that stunned sadness. I wished I could spirit Connie and Larry away from the realities of chemotherapy, which is a stupid thing to wish, when it is saving Larry's life. It just seems like such a harsh savior, and I wish they could be here instead, Larry soaking up the sun on the porch, Connie sitting on our couch, holding Sophia, and soaking up granddaughter.

The thing about colic, I thought as I tried to convince Clay to leave me to this mid night journey, is that it leaves each of us alone in one way or another. Clay had done more than his share of hours of walking, and he had to get up for work in the morning, and so I told him to go to bed, go sleep, there's no reason for us both to be awake. And I meant it, I really did, except he couldn't believe me because tears were pouring down my cheeks like melting wax, and as much as I wanted to save Sophia from the misery that tied her into a writhing knot in my arms, Clay wanted to save me too. And nobody, not one of us, could have what they wanted most.

The thing about colic, I thought as I brought Sophia to my shoulder, is that I have nothing to answer this need. It's my job, as mom, to find the answers. But I don't have any. And so I walked and walked and walked and rocked and bounced and swayed. One hand patted the tight concave of her back, her legs scrabbled against me and her downy head bobbed against my shoulder. My head echoed with her breathy wail until I didn't know if I was hearing her cry or remembering her cry, but I knew it would take hours for the sound of it to drain away.

The thing about colic is that it