Wednesday, March 29, 2006

All about the Banana

When the Papaya was a baby, every week seemed like a month. Every milestone was researched, anticipated, encouraged, and duly noted - if not on paper, at least in our conversation and in our mental log of "The Papaya's Development". With our sweet Banana, however, time just slips away.

We realized with somewhat of a jolt this week that our sweet baby is all of 6 months old. 6 months - that's half a year! How did that happen? What should a 6 month old be doing? Is she doing it? Shouldn't she be starting solids now? She should definitely be rolling over by now! Daddy's medical references say not rolling over by 6 months raises "red flags". What's wrong with her? Have we been remiss? Should we have encouraged "tummy time" more?

Our "awakening" is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it means that the Banana's now getting more personalized, developmentally appropriate attention from both her parents - no more just carrying her around in the Baby Bjorn for half the day and leaving her on her back under her butterfly to happily play with her hanging toys while we focus on other things. On the other hand, somehow the bulk of our non-essential interactions with her have suddenly become achievement oriented - we're feeling pressure to get her "up to snuff" with other average 6-month-olds. Those guilt-free moments of just gazing at her, babbling nonsense with her, and enjoying her beautiful smile and sweet disposition are much fewer. "Mommy guilt" is strong these days, sometimes because it feels like we didn't pay enough attention to helping her through appropriate developmental steps these past few months, and at other times, because it's too important to us now and we're not accepting her own pace. It's hard to know where to find the balance.

The truth is that it's only her gross motor skills (rolling over, pushing herself up when she's on her tummy) that are "delayed". She can almost sit up by herself, and loves to stand when you hold her at her hips. She's actually great with her hands and is pretty socially interactive. She's way ahead of the curve when it comes to stranger anxiety, which is sad because so many nice people come up to greet her with beautiful smiles and coos, only to get cried at. If she knows you, though, you are often rewarded by what seems to be the biggest smile in the whole wide world. The Banana loves music and singing and even has a few favorite songs. Luckily, she's not a discerning listener, because she seems to love my singing!

A couple days ago, I was playing with the Banana on the bed (trying to get her to turn over, of course) , when her father walked in. She looked right at him, smiled, and said "Da da da da"! When he walked over to pick her up, she did the same thing. Coincidence? We'll see!

The Banana is extremely picky about her breastfeeding. For one thing, my nipples are the only thing she will suck. She refuses all pacifiers, bottles, and substitute nipples. (My sister and I tried trading our babies for breastfeeding, and although my infant niece seemed to have no problem with my milk or delivery equipment, the Banana swiftly rejected my sister's offers.) The Banana is even picky about when she will deign to suck on my nipples. She prefers to do it in a completely private, quiet setting, preferably lying down, with my complete attention and no distractions. This does not happen often in a busy day, especially when we are traveling, so she will consent to be nursed sitting up. But if anybody around talks too loudly, or if there is any commotion at all, she will pull off with protests and refuse to nurse again for awhile. And woe to me if I make the mistake of making any noise at all while she is nursing - loud shrieks and a brief (5 minutes or so) nursing strike ensue. Nursing should be all about her, thank you very much! Needless to say, she is difficult, and often impossible, to nurse in public.

The Banana's shrieks, by the way, are notable in and of themselves. She hits notes with a range and power that might command respect from an operatic soprano. She will literally make your ears ring. I changed her in a public bathroom once while she was unhappy, and I fear she may have caused short term hearing loss for the other unlucky occupants (most of whom stopped on their hurried way out to point out to me - in between shrieks - what good lungs my baby had.)

And of course (since this entry is all about the Banana at 6 months), I should mention that she is beautiful! (Despite the bald and faintly flat spot on the back of her head from spending so much time on her back.) I love looking at her as she sleeps - so delicate, graceful, feminine her features are! Big blue eyes, slowly turning hazel. Very round cheeks and face. The enormous, generous smile that just seems to gather up all the happiness in the world and pass it on to the lucky recipient. The innocence and ingenuousness in her face (even when she's shrieking). May God help us to pay appropriate, focused attention to her at this stage in her development, while still celebrating all that she is right now.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Week of the Purell Pump

It feels a little like I'm tempting fate to assert that The Virus has finally left our house. However, after two whole days without any noxious bodily fluids befowling the floors, beds, furniture, linens, or clothes of this house or its occupants, I'm willing to risk a bold statement. The Virus has left our house! We are well people!!!

I had many fun plans laid out for this past week. Our family was just completing a trip to New Mexico, where my husband attended a training and my sister, brother-in-law, and their two children joined us for the adventure. We stayed a couple nights in Albuquerque at the end of the trip; my brother-in-law flew back to Pennsylvania and, in order to prolong the fun of family togetherness, my mother arrived from Baltimore. She, my sister, and the kids were going to return with us to our home, where we planned to have a wonderful time watching the four cousins interact and exploring the Hopi Reservation.

The first inkling that the week might not go entirely according to plan came when Papaya awakened last Saturday morning in the hotel room crib, covered in diarrhea up to his armpits. Despite this inauspicious beginning to the weekend, Papaya seemed to rally and had a good day - he ate well, napped for 3 hours straight, and seemed happy and healthy. We thought it was a just a reaction to tiredness, a fond hope that shattered the next morning when Papaya vomited banana all over his father and continued to vomit every 10 minutes or so for the next few hours (sometimes, for variety's sake, the vomiting would be punctuated with diarrhea). The fun plans I had for our 4-hour drive home that day began to evaporate.

Papaya is usually an extremely active toddler who seems to radiate energy. Within a few hours that Sunday morning, we saw him deteriorate into a limp child who could barely sit up. His retching was so violent that he tore his esophagus and began to vomit blood. As we started our trip home, my husband was so worried that he called in a prescription for an anti-emetic to the Walmart pharmacy in Gallup, a town we would pass through in 2 hours. As you can imagine, it was a delightful drive. In an effort to keep our 6-month old, Banana, uncontaminated, I became the "clean" person (driving and dealing with Banana) and my husband, stocked up with paper napkins and styrofoam cups from the motel, became the "dirty" person (dealing with Papaya and his by-products).

Unfortunately, Papaya's virus wasn't the only thing we had to deal with during that unforgettable trip home. We had chosen to travel during a weekend of unseasonal snowstorms blanketing the Southwest. The brilliant blue sky of Albuquerque quickly turned dark and threatening, and the snow falling from the sky combined with the snow blowing across the interstate (the winds were upwards of 35 MPH) to create some decidedly unfavorable driving conditions, even white-out in places. In fact, it was so bad that the police closed I-40 in one place, creating a complete stand-still. Our feelings of desperation ran so deep that I, mild-mannered, law-abiding driver that I usually am, piloted our overloaded Corolla across the snowy interstate median (at a pretty good pace, hoping not to get stuck), drove back to a previous exit, and navigated a side road until we saw the interstate traffic moving again. Even with this daring move, it was a tortuous four hour drive to Gallup.

At the Superwalmart, my husband toted Papaya off post-haste to the pharmacy, procured the anti-vomiting suppositories, and headed off the bathroom to do the fun work of clean-up and medicine administration. I breastfed Banana and desperately tried to think of what groceries I would need to buy to get us through the next two weeks until we made it to a grocery store again. My mom, sister, and two kids did their own shopping & settled down for a snack at McDonalds. After a two-hour stop (during which we all had something to eat and Papaya was able to keep some Pedialyte down, perking him up considerably), we were finally on our way again. By this time, it was 4:30, and we were beginning to realize that we would have to drive in the dark across the reservation, something we try to avoid if possible.

As it turns out, driving in the dark was the least of our worries during the tense hours that followed. After more stop-and-go on I-40, we finally left it for a reservation road whose condition deteriorated from fairly clear to completely covered with two or three inches of snow. Then, to make matters much worse, just as the sun went down, we drove into a blizzard-like snowstorm. "It feels like we're a milkshake inside a blender," my sister aptly observed. For the first time that day, I started to feel really worried. "How could this drive possibly get any worse?" I thought - but then realized that there were many ways it could get worse, and prayed again that we could get home safely. We were well into the Navajo reservation by this time, and pretty isolated.

Finally, after crawling along at about 20 miles an hour for a long time (I was afraid to go faster because we could hardly see, and afraid to go slower because I didn't want to get stuck), we came to the town of Ganado. There isn't much in Ganado besides a gas station, but it was nice to at least feel safe for awhile. We stopped at the gas station (which was actually closing its little store because the snow was so bad) for a bathroom/baby feeding/catching our breath break. In the half hour we were there, our cars got covered with two or three inches of the driving snow, our license plates unreadable. There were still about 60 miles between us and our house, and things were not looking good. If Ganado had any motels, we probably would have given in and stayed for the night. But there was absolutely no place to stay, so with prayers and hope we headed off into the snow and the isolation again. At least the Papaya had stopped vomiting by this time. (He started wailing for food, which we didn't want to give him much of at that point. His screams joined his sister's screams of protest at being strapped into the car seat again and made for some jolly noise.)

Finally, something went right - within 15 minutes, the snow stopped, and within a half hour, we could see stars and the beautiful almost-full moon. The road became clearer and clearer until suddenly, right about the point that we entered the Hopi reservation, we were driving on dry tarmac and could actually go the speed limit. With great thankfulness and a profound sense of relief, we pulled into our driveway a little after 9:00 - the normal 4-5 hour trip had taken more than ten hours.

We thought it was over. We were wrong.

The next morning, my sweet husband woke up with tummy cramps that quickly escalated into nausea and diarrhea. The crazy man went to work, where he took an anti-emetic that curbed the nausea but made him incredibly sleepy. I can't believe he interacted with patients all day! I felt progressively worse throughout the day and spent a miserable night dealing with nausea and vomiting. The next night, my four-year-old niece vomited all over her bed (and throughout the night), and the following evening, after yet another night-time bed-covering vomit by the Papaya, my mother succumed. After this, we hoped we had seen the last of it, but Papaya continued sick; the next night (Thursday), his crib was again the victim of a violent attack of gastro-enteritis. Between the vomit and the catastrophic diarrhea explosions, we did 6 or 7 loads of laundry a day. Thank goodness for washing machines, bleach, and Purell. Our little pump of hand sanitizer was a hot commodity and we were all lucky that our hands didn't dry up and fall off! Happily, my sister never came down with it, and both babies (Banana and my sister's 3 month old) were spared - either a testament to the magic of breastfeeding, a similar bug my sister had in January, the obsessive cleaning measures, or all three.

On Friday, the family was tired but - for the most part - continent. On Saturday, we were just tired. Finally, on Sunday, everybody was feeling a bit more themselves and we actually had a delightful day - "incandescently lovely" was my mother's description of it - and compared to the rest of the week, I would have to agree.

Yesterday (Monday) everybody left. I can't say the visit was all that I had hoped for, although it was surely more memorable than if we had done everything I envisioned! We did enjoy being together, and there was a certain esprit de corps in working together against The Virus. And there was at least as much love as vomit flying around!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Overheard at our vegetarian table...

Mommy: Papaya, if you finish eating your lentils & couscous, you can have tofu & broccoli!
(Unbelievably, this actually works. You know you're vegetarian when you can successfully bribe your 2-year old with tofu. We've started to order 16 pounds at a time from our co-op so we can cook up extra for Papaya - no kidding!)

Tofu works better than this offer today:
Mommy (Papaya has just finished his lunch): Okay, it's sleepytime now.
Papaya: No sleepytime! I still hungry!
Mommy (this is clearly a stalling tactic; Papaya struggled to finish his last helping): Okay, would you like to eat some raw kale?
Papaya: Yes! Eat kale! (After seeing it) No kale!
Mommy: Okay, sleepytime.
Papaya: Want kale! (I handed him one raw curly kale leaf. He tasted it, then pretended it was a chicken, dancing it around the table while making chicken noises. He's now napping.)

We have a weird family.