Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Things Not Yet Behind You


 Kissing Oliver.

Snoozing with Grandma

Dear Ellie,

Despite the happy photographs up above, I wish I could say that all of your preemie issues are behind you.  As time goes on, we're reminded that there are some things you probably aren't going to outgrow.  The pain of eating is the most prominent of those reminders.  You are over 7 months adjusted now and eating is just as arduous and tedious as ever.  It wasn't as difficult--- when you were 7 or 8 pounds--- to lug you around in a sling for an hour each feeding.  But now you are over twice that size, your legs bulging out the sides of the carrier.  Now that your arms are long enough to claw at my jugular, getting that bottle to your lips involves additional feats of parental dexterity.  Each feeding, I'm constantly searching for that balance between insisting that you eat (to make sure you can keep up your growth and weight) and letting you off the hook (to make sure you don't hate eating even more).  When I insist by holding your head in a vice between my hand and chest, I'm stricken with guilt when you whine and cry and push against my chest.  When I let you off the hook, I imagine you tiny and emaciated.  There is no satisfying outcome.  For some time, we were holding out for the possibility that you'd like eating solids, but you haven't shown any more enthusiasm for them than you did 3 months ago.

Over the weekend, we met a 24 week preemie at your cousin's 1st birthday party.  He had feeding issues that only worsened as he grew older, and it left its mark.  He's now 3 years old, an adorable little boy, but he's as wispy as a feather.  I felt like if the wind blew too hard it would blow him away.  The force behind his arms and legs were so feeble: like that of a puppy.  Seeing him really plied an image to the thing I'd been fearing all along.

I always try to put things into perspective though.  In reality, you aren't like that little boy.  Not even close.  Your weight is still holding firm, you've grown quite nicely, and you have a surprising strength behind those limbs.  Because of this, the frustrating moments we do endure fizzle quickly when we watch you achieve some new physical feat.  Like what happened today.

Typically, we get one really big feed around noontime, but today, you resisted it with all of your might.  I grew frustrated at the thought that you'd lose your biggest feed of the day, and against my better judgement, pushed you too hard.  Most of the time, if I can just get the bottle into your mouth, you'll settle down after a few seconds.  Not this time.  You broke into a fountain of tears and choking cries, as though someone had stabbed you with a needle.  That was the straw that broke the back of my patience, and all I could do was set you down on your stomach in the crib and turn away to collect my wits.  When I returned just moments later, I was shocked to see that you were sitting perfectly erect.  Before then, we'd been waiting and waiting for the moment you'd sit up (with no signs of progress), and all of the sudden, there you were, sitting tall, perhaps so that I could see your pouty little face.  With that, my frustration evaporated, we tried feeding again, and 15 minutes later you had 7 ounces of milk in your belly.

We enjoyed a nice few worry free hours, then when your dinner time came, you went back to fussy and I went back to worry.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Holiday Gauntlet

Dear Ellie,

A few weeks ago, you had your first Thanksgiving.  At first, you weren't happy.  I suspect it seemed like any other day, but with a lot more noise and a lot of extra unfamiliar faces.  At least a dozen unfamiliar faces... yep, we had 24 people over for Thanksgiving.  In case you were wondering, this is what the eating accommodations for 24 people looks like:


And then, those tables occupied:


The plan was for you to make a splash with the remaining relatives who hadn't met you, but it didn't go so smoothly.  Instead of giggling for aunts and uncles, you cried and cried and cried upstairs in the nursery until you fell asleep from exhaustion.  I cried and cried also.  You cried because of all the confusion, I'm sure.  I cried because someone had to stay with you during all of your hysterics and I was certain that there would be no more turkey upon my arrival back downstairs.  After the nap, our dispositions both improved and we both forgot what we'd been so upset about.  There was yummy mashed sweet potato for you and plenty of turkey remaining for me and I promptly fulfilled my personal goal of always eating just a little bit more turkey each year than I had the previous.  With our bellies full,  you set off on your charm offensive.


 





I thought that hosting so many people for Thanksgiving would be hectic, but it wasn't so much.  Aside from tackling a mountain of dishes with Aunt Dani (the dishwasher broke that morning), I thoroughly enjoyed myself along with everyone else, babies included.  Maybe it was the turkey coma, or maybe it was the fire in the fireplace, but it turned out to be just the kind of quiet enjoyment of each other's company that I always hoped our holidays would be.


But the "holiday season" isn't over yet.  Especially not for you.  First it was Halloween, then it was Thanksgiving, and pretty soon it will be Christmas.  A month after that, it'll be your birthday, too. Some people would get worn out by that kind of extended, lengthy holiday gauntlet, but if you are anything like your mother (and me!), it'll be your favorite time of year.  We just got our Christmas tree the other day and you are already enamored by it.



Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Laundry Accident

Dear Ellie,

I'm afraid there has been a mix-up with the laundry.  It was completely my fault.  As usual, I was trying to do too many things at the same time.  It happened while I was doing laundry.  In an attempt to get all the chores done and keep on top of work, I thought I'd change your diaper while also doing the laundry and texting with customers in preparation for work the next day.  In retrospect, it was a recipe for some kind of mistake.  I propped you up, diaper undone, on the dryer which is directly next to the laundry machine.  I don't know what exactly happened, but your little pale body must have rolled right on in with my colored shirts and pants when I wasn't looking.  You didn't even cry because all of that soft laundry was probably nice and comfortable.  So I shut the laundry machine door, started it up, and only then did I realize you were missing.  It didn't take me long to notice, but the damage was already done.  By the time I opened the door and fetched you out... this had happened.


Now I understand why your mother always reminded me to remove the lint from the lint filter.  And why she always told me never to wash colors with whites.  I hope someday you'll find it in your heart to forgive your careless, distractable father.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Laser Beams

Dear Ellie,

Yesterday we took a beleaguering trip down to the exotic, foreign country of Miami and braved suicidal motorists so that we could shoot your face with laser beams.  Okay... so maybe this adventure requires some explanation.

Back when you were in the NICU, the endo-tracheal tube and CPAPs that were helping you to breath were often attached to your face with tape.



Because preemie skin is so sensitive, that tape caused considerable irritation.  When the tape was removed, it appeared as though you had a cluster of little white pimples on the right side of your face near your mouth.  We were assured that they would go away soon, to our skepticism, and indeed they didn't go away.  It even got worse, scarring a bit, and left a nice a red spot in the shape of an eyebrow on your cheek.  It's not a big deal when you get down to it.  When all was said and done, we had expected you to have numerous scars after the ordeal of your first 4 months.  When you were first born, I would have gladly traded 10 such cosmetic scars for the health outcome you've achieved today, yet the only other real scar you have is on your forearm, from your first blood transfusion.  I suppose we should be grateful.  Still, your mother and I thought it would be hard for a little girl to grow up with a big scar on her face, so we took you to a special dermatologist in the great Latin American country of Miami.  The practice specialized in cosmetic surgery involving lasers, and while I insisted to your mother that I could probably generate similar results with my trusty laser pointer without having to spend a lot of money, she assured me that these were entirely different kinds of lasers.

Indeed, when we took you in for the procedure, the process only took a literal 3 seconds.  There were 3 or 4 fast, cartoony sounding "zaps" accompanied by intense flashes of light, followed by lots and lots of belly aching from our Ellie Belly.  It's my impression that the lasers destroy damaged tissue so that new tissue can regrow in its place, and since you are still youthful and stretchy, we're told that the scar should barely be noticeable by the end of treatment.  For now, that dull red spot has become a bright red spot for the next few days!

You still have the scar on your arm, and in a weird sort of way, I'm glad its still there.  I'd like you to always understand how fortunate you are to be alive, and that scar will always be a good reminder.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Proud Day

Dear Ellie,

This past week was quite interesting.  You went through your 6 month growth spurt.  All of that reluctance when it came to eating evaporated and you sucked down as much milk as your stomach could hold.  By the end of the growth spurt, it seemed like something clicked inside of your head.  Like you took a leap to a new stage of awareness.  I noticed it when we were taking a stroll around the neighborhood.  Previously, whenever I took you outside in the stroller, you'd just sit back and gaze out across the scenery.  However, quite suddenly this time, you sat up in the stroller and peeped your head out of the side like a dog sticking its head from a car window.  You craned your neck at each little thing on the side of the road as it passed, then looked back at me with a shocked expression that seemed to say, "Whoa, where did all this neat new stuff come from?"





Here you are, sitting up in your stroller

Evidence of your positive development was especially keen today when the early intervention physical therapist came with a team to assess your developmental progress and examine whether you are delayed, as is so often the case with micro-preemies.  Based on the various skills you present, they give you a score and then rank you compared to other babies your age.  After making rigorous scientific observations, you were determined to be a 10 out of 10 on the cuteness scale.  Good work!  But aside from cuteness, they also determined that you were presenting as a 7 month old, even though you are only 6 months adjusted!  Even when compared to 10 month old babies, you are still considered within the normal range.  Today was a proud day.       

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Halloween Parties

Dear Ellie,

Halloween has been one of my favorite holidays since before I could remember.  Just in case you take a liking to it also, I thought I'd document your very first Halloween.  Granted, from your perspective, it couldn't have been much more than an irritating, confusing hodge podge that was interrupting your naps.

The fun began at Annie and Tony's 7th birthday party, and since their birthdays landed so close to the 31st of October, it was Halloween themed!  Aunt Holly planned and arranged the party at a pavilion, your mother helped with decorations, and I vowed to make a "snake cave."  I'm sure you've heard the stories by now about the Smith Garage Haunted House Adventures when I was a kid.  About when Grandpa and our Uncle Doug turned the garage into a virtual scare-the-pee-out-of-little-kids machine.  Giant snakes and the magic mirrors and the like.  The snakes especially were frightful, to me.  I couldn't have been older than perhaps five or six, but being trapped in a corner by a giant, hissing, snapping snake that was as round as my torso was a wonderfully traumatic experience.  Even though I knew the snake was just a giant sleeve that your grandfather made (because I saw him making it), it has still to this day left a fond scar in my memory.  So what does the Smith Garage Haunted House have to do with Annie and Tony's party?  Well, some day, I'd like to leave fond scars in your memory too, and I used Annie and Tony's party as an occasion to test out the whole snake thing for future Ellie Halloweens.  

Here is the Halloween Party Pavilion


Some of your mother's "monster poofs" and her skull Jack-o-Lantern.


And the snake cave.  The best I could do in a few hours...


Sadly, it was a rather blistery day so a lot of the decorations for the party blew away into the highway (nearly causing a few traffic accidents) before anyone even showed up to admire them.  The snake cave took a beating too, partly because I wasn't thinking very hard when I used push tacks instead of nails to put the darn thing together.  Oh well, duct tape to the rescue!

As the children started showing up, the snake jumped into action.  That is to say, I scattered candy in front of the cave to lure the children over and when they were inches from the wall, the snake THEN jumped into action.

The snake guards his hard earned candy (the snake himself, courtesy of Grandpa).


As one might expect from a bunch of young kids, they were at first fearful and uncertain of the beast.  As the snake popped out from holes in the cave, they shrieked or lurched away.  Some of the children courageously darted in closer to snatch at some of the candy.  Pretty soon, though, their attitude toward the snake closely mirrored broader human tendencies when a people are faced with a terrible beast.  At first, they fear it.  Then, it fascinates them.  Then they take up arms.  Then they kill it.  Then they dance about in triumph with some part of the defeated creature's carcass.  My poor snake was no exception.     

Phase 1: Fear and Uncertainty.


Phase 2: The Humans arm themselves, using the bones of the 
snake's former victims as clubs and candy as projectiles!


Phase 3: The Humans band together and do what 
they do best... violence!  A Great Battle Ensues!


Phase 4: The Beast is Slain!  The Victors Celebrate with clenched firsts!


So there you have it, a microcosm example of why many animals go extinct (and why your father's arm gets bruised so often).  I suppose there is a last phase to the whole thing, too.  Once the snake was slain, there was great regret at no longer having a creature to do battle with.  Fortunately, the party furnished many more activities to amuse them.  From there, we moved on to numerous games that your mother and Holly prepared, with little trinkets being awarded to the winners in order to motivate them.

With the limbo, Holly and I abruptly yanked the bar down on 
the bigger kids so that the younger ones would win.


Here we have the classic potato sack race.  First one to touch 
the snake, wins!  In a momentary lapse of adult judgement 
though, I started the kids off going downhill and, well...


You can see the result for yourself.  Its a good thing kids bounce back easily...


...though I'm not sure I can say the same thing for the adults.  Look closely in
the back and you can see Sajan wiping out right out of the gate.


I'd like to think you enjoyed yourself, in so far as you can enjoy apparently random noises and movements.  A few pictures would seem to suggest that you did.

Here you are with Grandma! 


 People who didn't understand that you were dressed like a Star Trek science and medical officer thought you were a boy.  Blue is a boy color, supposedly.  Who knew?  On the upside, when we dressed you up in the same outfit for Uncle Zack and Aunt Danielle's Halloween party, there was a good bit more context, and a good bit more nerds to get the reference.

Our half Vulcan, half human baby.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

First Winter

Dear Ellie,

My favorite time of year has finally arrived: that four month stretch where the sun lumbers along in the south, too beleaguered by 8 long months of trekking up the center of the sky.  The trees cast long shadows, making it seem as though every hour were in the evening.  As though all day were the end of the day, when our worries wind down and invite moments of reflection.  Cold fronts blow in, blowing away too the mosquitoes and heat and humidity.

We've made liberal use of the cool weather, though if the stroller proves too cold, I bundle you up inside of the Ergo, close to my chest, and take you on early morning walks just the same.  You peer out all the while, looking hard at each new thing before moving on to the next.  Sometimes you'll twist around and gaze back at me, your expression shifting from wonder to familiarity, before you turn once more to the strange surroundings of your first winter.  Oddly, with you here, it feels almost like its my first winter as well.  The same way that the cold seems to add a sheen of "different" to a landscape, you've done the same for all things in my life.    

Here you are, bundled up for a morning walk.

Of course, Winter in Florida is actually quite verdant compared to other temperate climates.  So much so that we actually have a winter harvest!  The first crop of green beans just arrived from your Grandma Smith's garden.

Mmm... fresh green beans!

When I was a kid, I never had issues eating my greens.  Why would I when there were so many fresh vegetables, ready to be eaten right off the plant?  The same would appear to be true for you!



      You may not have teeth yet, but you have already shown
an enthusiasm for green beans!...

 ...And lettuce!

I'm sure that as Winter progresses, I'll start to look fondly ahead to all the things I missed about summer.  There are, after all, trips to the beach and sloshing in the pool to look forward to!  Still, our first Winter together will be one we will relish.