Saturday, September 30, 2006

Banana's boring view continues...

The majority of babies are eligible for a forward facing car-seat position at 1 year old, thus enabling a view that's a lot more varied and interesting than the back of the seat in front of them. I'm afraid it will be a while, however, until the Banana enjoys that luxury.

We just took both kids in to the health center for well-child check-ups & vaccinations. The Banana, while in the 40th percentile for her height, is falling off the growth chart weight-wise. She's 18 pounds at 12 months, & barely makes it to the 5th percentile. We're not worried, though, since she's being compared to a lot of babies who haven't been walking for 2 months & aren't climbing up to the top of everything in sight. But the sad upshot of not reaching 20 pounds is that the poor girl has to endure a pretty monotonous car view for a couple months more. At least she has her brother to look at.

The Banana is going to give me a heart attack, if she doesn't give herself a concussion first. We don't have any stairs in our house, but she still seems to find plenty of things to climb - our kitchen step stool, the child size chairs & table in the kitchen, the lego bench... She's so excited when she gets to the top of something that she usually lets go of any handholds and does a little hopping dance, often accompanied by small squeals. Since she's not very good at getting down yet and our floor is composed entirely of very hard tile, this performance is usually followed by my own hopping dance, as I try to get close enough to her to prevent grave injury. I'd like her to fall enough to hurt herself a little and thus learn wisdom, without hurting herself seriously anywhere. It's a fine balance!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


I'm back! For another lengthy blog entry, quite probably followed by a long dry spell. It's just hard to find the right combination of time, energy, and motivation to do this. (Although I enjoy it while I'm doing it, and am always happy after I've blogged. It's kind of like working out.)

Here are some of the notable happenings of the past two or three weeks:

1. The Banana turned 1 year old! This past year has gone by at the speed of light. It's hard to believe she's the same tiny 6 1/2 pound baby I walked home from the health center with just a few short weeks ago (okay, 52 short weeks ago). She's still tiny (she wears her 6-9 month sized sleepers at night), but is no longer the infant who was happy to lie in my arms or nestle in a Baby Bjorn for hours at a time.

Her most recent passion is climbing. There is a playground in our housing compound, and yesterday she was able to climb to the very highest slide and go down it, all by herself (the only two times I guided her were holding her hand over the bridge without any sides to it, and helping her get into a sliding position with the least likelihood of painful injury at the bottom). She did this 5 or 6 times and was incredibly proud of herself. "Up, up!" she squealed as she climbed. When she wasn't climbing, she was busy stuffing her onesie with the rubber chips that line the playground. I pulled out all I could find before we left, but still cleaned a few more off the bathroom floor when I undressed her that night. One had even found its way into her diaper. At one point, toddling around the playground, she stumbled and put her hand down into a tumbleweed (a truly horrible plant), and I had to pick about 8 stickers out of her palm. She was so excited about her new accomplishments that she neither cried nor complained (usually, she's a bit of a drama queen).

The Banana is still a bit shy of lots of strangers (stranger = anyone not in her family), so she had a fairly quiet birthday. Husband's mother was visiting, and I made a cake and decorated it simply. We sang to her and she did the requisite make-a-huge-mess-with-the-birthday-cake-and-smear-it-everywhere routine, enjoying it greatly. Then, while I was putting her to bed, we invited our neighbors over (a Hopi family of 12) to eat the rest of the cake and ice cream - that was the real party! The Banana was so full of sugar that she refused to nurse and just bit me instead. Nothing would please her, so I finally had to just put her in bed. She cried for about 1 minute, then conked out and went to sleep. I think we'll avoid giving her large pieces of cake right around bedtime for a while.

I'm unhappy to report that the Banana is a very strong-willed night awakener. Despite the fact that we haven't responded to her at night for over a month now, she still cries an average of an hour each evening (sometime between midnight and 5:00, when I finally go in to her). We have a three week visit/trip coming up in October, and I'm not looking forward to the nighttime aspect of it. If she's this bad at home, she will definitely regress to 2 or 3 night awakenings by the end of the trip. But I'm optimistic. At least I don't have to get out of bed until 5:00 a.m., and the Banana's complaints don't bother me quite so much anymore. Maybe we should put the Papaya in our closet for awhile, and move the Banana to the crib in his room.

2. The Papaya is now sleeping consistently in his big boy bed! We bought a bed rail at Target, and it seems to have made all the difference. This is convenient when we travel, since we no longer have to tote two port-a-cribs with us everywhere we go!

The Papaya's potty training is progressing beautifully. He can now stay dry/use public bathrooms on long car trips and Flagstaff shopping marathons. Naptime and nighttime are not dry yet but we're not pushing that. The last time the Papaya pooped anywhere but the toilet was a couple months ago and we dare to believe that even he considers it normative at this time to put all his poop in the toilet. We continue to offer incentives, since the wet accidents increase by an alarming amount when there are none. Thomas & Friends engines (the incentives) are actually cheaper than diapers, and they last longer and smell a lot better. They're more fun, too!

The Papaya's stage of defiance seems to be waning a bit, much to our relief. We bought six or seven books on parenting and strong willed children from I read them all, shared their contents with Husband, and some of the new ideas we gleaned seem to be a little more effective than our old techniques. Or maybe his stage was just coming to an end, anyway. In any case, we're happy that it is passing.

3. We just signed a four year contract, meaning that we'll be on this reservation 5 years in all. Our first year here went so fast, and spending only three years (our original contract) seemed too little. We prayed about it and hope we are making the right decision. We hope to build some meaningful, longterm relationships, both with our friends and between my husband and his patients. I'm starting to think in the long term. (Five years in a row is the longest I've ever lived anywhere, and feels like a very long time indeed.)

4. My mother-in-law just completed a 10-day visit with us. It was a very good and happy visit, and the time went fast. There's always been a certain amount of tension involved in her visits, but there wasn't much this time. I'm happy not to be cooking quite so much as I did during her visit, however! I was busy.

Husband's mom stopped here to visit en route from Guam to Germany - she & her husband are moving (in fact, just moved) there. Very exciting for all of us - Germany is a lot easier & cheaper to visit than Guam, and the thought of exploring Europe is exciting. While Husband's mom was here, we purchased tickets to take a 2-week trip to Germany next June. I dread the thought of the airline trip & jet lag with two children, but am thrilled about the upcoming visit. We've got to get a passport for the Banana now!

5. Right before my mother-in-law arrived, our family did our first ever camping trip! We finished purchasing the necessary equipment a few months ago, but never had the nerve to take the plunge. I was a little apprehensive, but we all had a wonderful time. We went to Navajo National Monument. The campsite was free, clean, and beautiful. At 7300 feet, we were a little chilled in the early morning (the temperature was in the 40s), but we all snuggled together and it warmed up quickly with the sun. That morning, we went on a 5 mile guided tour to the Betatakin cliff dwellings (the only way you can access them). We climbed about 1000 feet down into a canyon, which of course meant we had to climb back up again. Husband and I each carried a child most of the way (the Papaya hiked about a mile but did not climb at all; the Banana, on my back, didn't hike at all), as well as a picnic lunch for 4, camera, binoculars, diaper changing equipment, and 5 quarts of water. There was very little shade and we were seriously bushed by the end - and then we still had to break up camp and drive home! But it was very much worth it - the cliff dwellings were pristine and stunning and we were able to climb up into the alcove and walk among the ruins. We're all eager to do another camping trip.

6. I decided that if I can handle the kids on an overnight trip into Flagstaff, I can handle them alone on a cross-continental airplane trip. We're going to visit my sister and her family, in Waynesburg, PA, in late October! Her husband is very busy with teaching right now (he's a college professor with a fairly new job) and we're going to keep her company. I think we'll even drive to my parents' house, in Baltimore, over the weekend I'm there. I'm wildly excited about the visit and a little apprehensive about the trip to get there (another strong-woman trip?!). Just preceding my departure for Pittsburgh, our family will be in Sedona, AZ for four days for my husband's conference. And just preceding that, my dear friend from Germany and her family are visiting us for a week, and we'll be taking them around the state to do some sightseeing. Life is full. I'm going to try to enjoy these next two quiet weeks as much as I can, before our family's next round of busyness begins!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Strong Woman Trip

The children and I took an overnight trip to Flagstaff last week. Even before its denouement, I was thinking of it as a strong woman trip - because I was having to be a strong woman to survive it. Then it got worse. Here's the story:

It was 3 1/2 weeks since our family had bought any groceries except for milk. While this situation resulted in some good things, such as opportunities to be creative with frozen foods and a sparkling clean refrigerator (all of the food in there filled half a shelf, so it was the perfect opportunity to scrub it down), it was not a state of affairs that could endure much longer. Moreover, it was almost 3 months since our family had bought non-grocery purchases (i.e. items from Walmart/Target/Home Depot). It was time to shop.

Usually, when a crisis like this arises, Husband and I strap up the kids and head down to Flagstaff for the weekend. But not this time. Some dear friends from North Carolina were staying in Flagstaff from Tuesday to Thursday, and I had the bright idea to drive down there with the kids, do our shopping, spend the night, visit with my friends and perhaps lead them on a Sedona tour, and then drive back to our house. So I made up a shopping/to-do list (2 pages, typed, single spaced, involving 7 stores, the recycling center, and the library), helped my Husband install the box onto the roof rack of our tiny Toyota Corolla (our only car), loaded the car down with 3 months of recycling (they don't pick up here, so we have to haul it to Flag), strapped the kids in, and headed off bright and early last Wednesday morning.

Just in case you're wondering, taking two very young children on a 2 hour car trip, followed by a marathon shopping day, especially when one of the two said children is not only incredibly active but is also going through a pronounced stage of defiance - I don't recommend it. The day had many highlights, but the one I remember best is when I told the Papaya we couldn't return to the toy section at Target because he was disobedient and whiny (I had warned him of these consequences) and he took off running across the store, screaming "NOOOOO!!!" at the top of his lungs. I grabbed the Banana from the full shopping cart and took off after him as fast as I could while holding a baby. I finally intercepted him as he rounded an aisle, grabbed his arm, and dragged him back, literally kicking and screaming, to the cart. Mercifully, he fell asleep soon afterwards. The next stop, Walmart, was the most peaceful part of the day: I put the Banana in her backpack, balanced the Papaya on the baby carrier attached to the shopping cart (it was a tight fit for a 3-year old, but it worked), and shopped in blessed silence. You know things are bad when you find peace and rest in a crowded Walmart.

I finally got the shopping finished and checked into a small cabin in a county park. The cabin was rustic and nice, and there was a great playground for the kids. Unfortunately, the Papaya repeated his running off and screaming act when I tried to give him a time out for throwing pebbles at his sister - I had to chase him down and drag him back to the cabin to discipline him - and he lost his favorite car, Lightning McQueen, by burying him in the pebbles and forgetting where. (Hopefully, he didn't lose too much of his faith as well, since we asked God to help us find Lightning and we never did!) But the evening did have its nice moments, and we all managed to get a decent night of sleep.

The next morning's trip to Sedona did not go as planned, since our friends' RV had mechanical problems and they had to spend the day stranded in a hotel room while attempting to get it fixed. I took the kids to the hotel room to meet my friends, where I soon felt like the World's Worst Mom - the Papaya was hyper and disobedient (literally bouncing off the walls, the couches, the drapery, his sister), while the Banana, beset by seperation/stranger anxiety, screamed bloody murder every time my friends tried to look at her or talk to her. One of my friends sat in the Corolla's empty passenger seat and helped me complete my shopping - I still had Sam's Club to go, as well as fresh produce and cold things to buy at the grocery store. By the time I was done, the car was so full that I was stuffing fruits and vegetables into every imaginable little space in the trunk and at the kids' feet. The car was packed within an inch of its life.

"What will you do if you get a flat tire?" my friend asked me jokingly as I prepared to drive back home. "Hope I have cell phone reception!" I replied blithely. Because of course a flat tire couldn't happen to me, alone with two children in the car and a trunk packed as full as it could get. I was going to have a peaceful, restful drive home, with the two children taking their long-postponed naps in the back seat, listening to nice adult music instead of nursery rhymes. Husband may make the money, but I really felt like I was the one bringing home the bacon. I couldn't wait to get there with my haul!

The kids fell asleep immediately and the first half hour of the drive went exactly as planned. Then, behind me to my left, I heard an awful noise that I hoped was simply a car with serious mechanical problems trying to pass me. Eventually, my brain accepted what it really didn't want to acknowledge - the noise came from my car! I pulled over and sure enough, my back tire was as flat as it could be. I was on a road in the middle of the vast Navajo Nation and was pretty isolated. And - here's the part I'm embarassed to admit - I had never changed a tire before and wasn't sure how to do it.

At least I had fleeting cell phone reception - enough to call my husband (at work in the ER) and tell him my problem, but not enough for him to return my call after he was finished with his patient. I emptied out every last bit of groceries and purchases from my trunk onto the side of the road, bid a mental farewell to my hopes of bringing home frozen ice cream, pulled out the instruction manual that came with the Corolla, found the section on changing tires, located the proper equipment, and set about removing lug nuts (the hubcap had apparently flown off when the tire suddenly went flat, and was nowhere to be seen).

At this moment, an extremely nice young man from Illinois, on a road trip vacation across the US, stopped and asked if he could help me. I decided that my strong-woman status did not preclude accepting help from nice strong young men, took the screaming Banana out of her carseat, and let him carry on. I'm happy to report that more Good Samaritans stopped to help, including a Navajo family with an air compressor in their pick up truck. Even if I had figured out how to change a tire, it turns out that my jack wasn't tall enough for the back wheels, and the flat tire was so stuck it took two men to wrench it off. Moreover, the air compressor people ascertained that the tire's problem was a blown air valve and told me where in the tiny town of Leupp, just 11 miles away, I could get it replaced. I reloaded the trunk, stuck the big wheel in the back seat between the two car seats (the only place it would fit), and crawled to Leupp.

I was very grateful to know where the Leupp auto repair shop was, since it was a true local joint, without even a sign announcing itself. It consisted entirely of a small half-pipe type building with a few pieces of equipment inside, a concrete slab, and a guy in an old white Cadillac. I told him what my problem was and he fixed it in 20 minutes, charging me only $6! God certainly took care of us through the whole ordeal, even if He didn't let us find Lightning McQueen!

There was no way I was going to unload the trunk again to put the spare back, so I put it between the two car seats and turned towards home, now about 1 1/4 hours away. The Papaya, newly awake and grumpy, objected strongly both to the placement of the spare tire and the Banana's screams at being put back in her car seat. He started screaming and spurred the Banana on to new and greater screams, which in turn encouraged higher pitched screaming from the Papaya. They egged each other on like this for most of the ride home. In one of the few quite moments between the screams, I tried to get a whole deep breath in before they started up again (I failed). In another quiet moment, I heard a random line from the Caedmon's Call CD I was trying to listen to: "You knew this day long before you made me out of dirt". "Yes," I grumbled to God, "and you laughed sadistically!" But I laughed, too - the whole experience was so over-the-top by this point that I was starting to see the humor in it (being 15 minutes from home and having a fixed tire helped, too).

I finally arrived home and thought I was in heaven. Not only was my husband home from work, but there were TREES in the yard!!!!! Real trees! With leaves! Five of them - two in the front yard, and three in the back! Two cottonwoods (my favorite), two Navajo Willows, and one peach tree (Husband's pick). Husband had planned a big surprise for me, and hired our pastor's son to drive to Winslow, pick them up, and plant them. They are truly beautiful. I felt so loved. It was a wonderful end to a trying trip. (And, despite all odds, our ice cream is still edible.)

I survived. I am a Strong Woman.

Afterword: The craziness didn't end with my homecoming. We drove to Winslow the next morning, met our friends who had been in Flagstaff, escorted them back to our house, hosted all 7 of them for the night, and went on a road trip with them the next day. The following morning I took the kids to church by myself (Husband was on back-up call) and taught 7 preschoolers with the Banana on my back. Husband worked all night Sunday night and Monday night. Today is Tuesday, and we're ready for a rest and some normality again! I think I'd like to be a Not-so-strong Woman for a little while!

Cursed ants!

Usually I tolerate, and often enjoy watching, the harvester ants that populate our backyard. Until today. The Banana, having always been thwarted by me in the past, finally fulfilled her weeks-long desire to pick one up. The ant clamped its jaws down on the Banana's ring finger and stung her hand with all its might in multiple places (wherever its back end happened to jostle). It took quite a bit of force to pull the dratted ant from the Banana's hand, its jaws were clenched so tightly.

Despite the combined forces of Children's Benadryl and Infant Tylenol, the poor Banana screamed for about 3 hours, and her little fingers swelled up hugely. She seems to be better now, and is finally napping peacefully after a second dose of both medications.

I guess, if you're an ant, biting and stinging someone who picks you up may be a perfectly defensible response. But I still don't like ants very much anymore.