Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Seasons are Changing

Dear Ellie,

I've begun to notice that the days are getting shorter.  It's the first time I'd noticed the changing seasons since early January.  I was looking forward to January and February while your mother was pregnant with you.  I was looking forward to early Twilight and the cool days of a Florida winter.  To your mother bundling up in 50 degree weather, turning off the heater, and the two of us pretending that it was cold.  All the while we'd imagine the following Winter, with you pretending to be cold with us.

A few days after your mother went on bedrest in the hospital, 22 weeks gestation, we had our first real cold front.  I remember walking out of the hospital on my way home to get a few items.  Calling customers to tell them I had to cancel.  Giving family members updates.  I didn't notice the chill in the air.  Or the length of the day.  Or how the crisp air of a cold front sharpens the luminosity of the stars.  This past Winter, Spring, and Summer all escaped me, somehow.  I felt like there was only one season.  A season of fear, accompanied by an unchanging climate inside of the hospital.  While inside, the days never got longer or shorter.  The colors never changed and there was no smell of jasmine by the front door like at home, just the scent of hand sanitizer.  Even after your release, it felt like we were locked in some seasonal stasis.

But then, just the other day, I noticed that the sun was dipping below the horizon before I could get home from work.  That the first stars greeted me before I walked through the front door.  While I was jogging last evening, I even noticed a cool breeze.  I've finally noticed that the season is changing and I wonder if perhaps it is because you are changing.  Just a few months ago, you were just an eating, pooping sack of human protoplasm.  But now?  You watch us carefully, as though contemplating, and you miss us when we've gone.  You talk to us.  You smile and laugh and every chance you get.  I wonder whether every baby is this jovial.

Here you are, smiling away

To see you change is joyous in itself, but it is also proof that you are growing.  That your mind isn't stunted in some fearful way from your trials in the past.

Having noticed the seasons, I got to thinking about your childhood.  I want the seasons to be pronounced, noticeable, something to look forward to.  I want to infuse each one with special traditions and I fill them with happy memories flavored by that time of year.  Seasonal decorations amid the house and cool afternoons in your grandmother's garden during the Autumn planting.  Late Winter nights far past your bedtime, watching the Milky Way as it is rarely seen in our humid state and sweltering Summer days in the cool shallows of the pool.  And of course, I want to write you seasonal stories.  Like a story about autonomous pumpkins or strangely gritty Christmas tales about Santa's 14th, rogue reindeer.  A reindeer who delivers presents to even the bad children, against Santa's will.  I want to create a seasonal mythos just for us, and just for you.

And why?  Because in many people's lives, its easy to be daunted by an uncertain future, but no matter how far one might imagine into their own future, there will always be more Winters and Summers, Springs and Autumns.  I feel that if I can make each one of those seasons joyous throughout your childhood, you can always look to the future and with each passing season, feel that it will be filled with that same joy.  That same consistency, as reliable as the flit of a page on the calendar.  

Up until just a few weeks ago, your mind was as yet so unformed that it didn't seem like these subtleties and nuances could mean anything to you.  It was easy to table these parental efforts for a later date.  But now, I find that this is quickly changing.  All of these things that your mother and I plan on doing at some point in the future are quickly becoming things that we need to do now.

Yesterday, I got to thinking about the very first things you might notice, and I realized this was food.  Given that you will be eating solids not too long from now, I thought it might be prudent to start there.  As you get older, I'd like to develop a seasonal menu: specific dishes for specific times of the year.  With that in mind, I headed off to the grocery store with you in tow.  It might sound a little bit funny, but one of the parental milestone I looked forward to the most was taking you along to the grocery store.  Yes, trying to convince the cashier to give us a cute baby discount was one reason, but taking you to the store with me had a deeper, special meaning.  For the first time, you weren't just the focus of my life; a thing demanding my time and attention.  Instead, you were a part of my life, accompanying me on a regular part of my day.  Plus, it was a great opportunity to show you all of the colorful curiosities.

It was a bit tricky taking these pictures, since you were packed
into the Ergo.  On the left, you are examining a colorful, organic
box of broth.  Intriguing... In the picture on the right, we were passing by the
dairy section, at which point you became quite exciteable.

I settled on butternut squash stew for dinner, with a side of roasted asparagus.  It may not be Winter yet, but I'm hoping to make butternut squash stew--- with its cinnamon and nutmeg--- a regular Winter entree in the future.  Also, it has the advantage of being nice and soft, so perhaps you might have the opportunity to eat it before Winter comes and goes.

Still perfecting the recipe!  Chicken, butternut squash,
sweet onions, cinnamon, nutmeg, puree of butternut squash,
baby carrots, and a touch of brown sugar... tastes like Winter!

Another little parental milestone I was looking forward to was cooking dinner while you bobbed around nearby.  Cooking has never been a chore, to me, but one of the many spaces that fill a quiet, contented life.  A time for creativity.  A time to think to one's self.  A time to listen to the sounds of a home.  Granted I hit that milestone with you a few months ago, you've become quite the little talker while I work the stove, and a welcome sound it is!  

Here you are, hamming it up with Grandma.

It seems like it should have been such an unexceptional thing.  Grocery shopping or cooking with my daughter nearby.  Maybe it was.  Maybe that's why I liked it so much.  It's these quiet moments that we fill the bulk of our lives with.  That might be why we want to create so many seasonal traditions, because if we do, these traditions can come to visit us every year and help to fill our lives with quiet, happy moments.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Mother of All Invention

You and Divya

You and Grandma Raju

Everyone swooning over you.

How you will look in 4 years... sorta

Dear Ellie,

Since last week we had a family gathering from my side of the family, this week we had one with your mother's.  We spent the weekend at Grandma Kottiath's house.  Your cousins Divya and Adree came by too and since Grandma lives next to her brother, we had a nice big crowd.  Divya, who has 5 months on you, was crawling along on a rampage.  Which made me jealous.  Sadly, you've somewhat fallen behind on your arm coordination milestones, so I think you might be crawling a little bit behind schedule.  You still aren't very good at lifting yourself with your arms, but that might have to do with the fact that you have a head in the 93rd percentile, which adds a ton of extra weight to lift.  On the upside, you aren't nearly obese anymore because you've gotten a lot longer very quickly.  In just a month, you've gone from 3rd percentile into the 30's.  You are still gaining weight nicely though, and you are just about to peak 14 pounds.  

You can sleep quite soundly now too, but while you were once a barracuda when it came to eating, now you've become a dainty little seahorse.  When we add prune juice to your milk, you suck it down like candy but the rest of the time, you put up a fight.  For the past few weeks, the only way to get you to eat was to pick you up with one hand, walk around the house, and feed you with the other hand.  Getting just short of your required calories was quite the endeavor and a lot of the time, we'd spend half the day dripping milk into your mouth at a trickle.

Well, I decided that enough was enough, so I invented a new technique: "taking you through the drive through."  Plato was dead wrong when he said that "necessity is the mother of all invention."  Nope.  Laziness is the mother of all invention.  I'm sure whoever invented the wheel wasn't trying to change civilization as we know it.  He was just sick and tired of dragging that heavy sledge around.  Once he invented the wheel, he could move stuff around with much less exertion, leaving him with more time and energy to sit around doing nothing-important-in-particular.  So to honor the tradition of inventive, enlightened slothfulness, I decided that rather than dragging you around one-handed like a 14 pound sack of potatoes, I'd try sticking you in the Ergo and feed you that way.  The result?  Success.

With you tucked snuggly in the Ergo Baby Carrier like a pouched baby kangaroo, feeding you took about as long as it might take to go through the drive through.  The best part yet?  If I was feeling especially yawnful, I didn't even need to use my hands.

So diet issues aside, I think its important to mention that your social skills are developing impressively.  You have become quite the expert at flattering people.  That is to say, you are a very upbeat, sociable baby that needs few excuses to smile.  When you flash that little grin and bounce your arms at witnessing a new face, I always tell them, "Oh, wow, look at that smile!  She doesn't do that for everyone!  She must like something specifically about you."  Granted, even though you smile that way for everyone, I don't think it's dishonest of me to say things like this to people.  After all, I'm only repeating from dictation what that brilliant little expression seems to be saying, that being: "I'm smiling because you are a wonderful person.  Yes, you.  The person right in front of me.  Not the balloon that is dangling over your shoulder.  I like him a lot and smile at him too, but not as much as you.  There is something about you, some deep and essential part of your soul which glints of the divine.  I smile this way because of that unique part of you.  And it's just for you.  Yes, you.  Not Mommy.  Not Daddy.  Not Mr. Balloon, either.  Just you.  Seriously."      

This is not an example of your biggest smile.
Unfortunately, whenever you see my cell phone camera
you stop smiling and start wondering: 
"What witchcraft is this mystical black monolith?"

To add to the adorableness, you are now baby babbling in full force, and you seem quite convinced that everything that comes out of your mouth is some sophisticated philosophical treatise.  So we talk back to you as though it is.  What a tremendous difference from just a month ago when the only sounds you could make conjured up images of a Honey Badger dueling a Burmese Python.

Of course, with all of these new social skills developing, you have learned other valuable skills as well... like manipulation.  It used to be that you'd only cry when something was really wrong.  You know, like, "Hey Mister, I'm gonna die here if you don't do somethin' about it!"  Now, you'll whip out that same old "I'm hungry" whine not because you are hungry, but because you're upset that I went away to the bathroom.  Once, when you were sitting right next to me in your Rock and Play, you started crying because I didn't have at least one hand on your torso.  Your belly was like an anti-crying button.  I'd touch belly button: no more crying.  Take my hand off the belly button: crying.  Touch the belly button: no more crying.

I think my favorite part about you so far, though, is how analytic you are.  Most babies your age seem to act like excited dogs with A.D.D. when they are alert, their heads bouncing around in every direction at whatever new distraction passes by.  But you are so focused.  When someone sits down with you, you'll lock your gaze on their eyes and take measure of every little thing that they do.  There is an sharpness, not a vacancy, to those little eyes.  Like an old soul in a baby's body.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

How to "use your head" at family gatherings

All of the cousins (except Tracy!) and their spouses 

You and your second cousin, Luca

You and Aunt Andrea, who leaned over so that she wouldn't make Daddy look so short

You and a tasty, tasty plastic ring

You, practicing the Vulcan Mind Meld
Dear Ellie,

This past week was full of excitement.  Your Aunt Andrea came by with Uncle Shane and they got to meet you before they ship out to Italy.  At first, you weren't being terribly polite (as is typical of young babies with people they've never met) and we were all making excuses for you as to why you weren't flashing your father's twin sister a proper welcome smile.  Since you are only a 3 month adjusted baby, I think you probably still have a lot of baby concerns on your mind, in which case, I can see why you might have felt some spite for my sister.  After all, while Andrea and I were in utero together, she wasn't very nice to me and I can only expect that you'd take my side on these matters.  Perhaps you resented her for having repeatedly kicked me in the head while the two of us were both in utero.  Or for hogging the placenta.  Or for having taken up all of the best womb real estate and, later, lap real estate.    

Eventually, you let bygones be bygones and gave Aunt Andrea the smiles to which she was entitled, perhaps because you realized that those extra 6 inches of height Andrea has on me made you realize that those genes might somehow make it in your direction, too.  

In addition to your Aunt's visit, we also had a mini family reunion here at the Smith House.  Your Great Aunt Karen and my cousins Tracy and Dominique came by, along with your second cousins, Clay and Luca.  Luca's due date was only a few weeks later than yours so the two of you are following a similar trajectory.  We're hoping to rope Luca into lots of play dates in the future.  On the surface, we want you to have a playmate your own age, but underneath it all, I have ulterior motives.  You see, when Dominique and I were really little, we had somewhat of an intense rivalry.  I even referred to her, in fearful hushed whispers, as Demonic Dominique.  To my own eternal shame, because I was shy and Dominique was strong willed, my younger, female cousin usually had the upper hand in the bullying department.  And let me tell you, it wasn't much fun having all of the women in my life capable of (or in Dominique's case succeeding in) beating me up.  Unfortunately, my cousin eventually grew into a wise, kind, and well adjusted adult over the years so it wouldn't be mature of me to exact revenge on her.  That ship has sailed.  However, an elephant never forgets.  Neither should my Ellie-phant.  That's where you and Luca come in.

With a few decades to stew on the injustices, I've come up with all kinds of useful mischief I can teach you.  Like how to fabricate misdeeds and blame it on your second cousin.  Or how to flatten him with a withering scowl and then, on a dime, turn around and charm adults with a twinkling smile.  And of course, how to "use your head" to advantageous ends... that is to say, if he gets on your nerves, your head is big enough that you should be able to smite him with a headbutt.  You only have to do it once.  The fear of a repeat should keep him in line.  Yes, I had a Demonic Dominique, but Luca will have his own "Evil Ellie."

As you grow into a child, you might find my recommended measures a bit cruel and mean spirited, but if you ever think such things, just remember that he's family.  No matter what family does to each other we will always love one another.  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Washed Up Has Been at Age 15

Dear Ellie,

Life has been comfortably dull, lately.  You've become somewhat less of a rollee pollee in the weeks since we took you off of rice cereal.  Someone put you into the taffy puller and you've gone from the 3rd percentile in length to the 15th.  In weight, you've moved out of the obese category, too, but your head is still massive!  That's fine with me, though, because you seem to be hitting all of your cognitive milestones ahead of schedule.  You can carry out quite the conversation, even if that conversation only involves words like "Vuuuooooo" and "Aaaabbbbuuufffft."  Impressively, your vocabulary of baby babble is expanding by the day.             

You are having a few issues, but nothing out of the ordinary.  I'm still not convinced that your arms are quite up to snuff.  You've never been CrossFit when it comes to upper body strength and you don't often push yourself up by your elbows (maybe because of that ginormous, heavy head??)  You've also lost interest in a lot of the exercises that help to strengthen your arms and tend to cry and throw a fit during tummy time.  The physical therapist told us to try to keep your tummy time "positive" which your mother has interpreted as "don't let Ellie cry during exercises."  Unfortunately, you tend to get a lot more done when you're angry.  Personally, I'm somewhat an advocate of Fredrick Nietzsche's perspective when it comes to tummy time: "Whatever doesn't kill your two-month-old baby can only make her stronger."  
On the upside, Grandma Kottiath seems to know the secret to tearless tummy time.

To change the subject, I think we've somewhat informally taken you off of quarantine.  According to the pulmanologist, your lungs are still a bit weak, but for the most part, your chronic lung disease is mostly a memory.  I used to have a sort of reflexive impulse every few minutes to check for your breathing and to make sure your lips were red, but that's mostly gone now.  If you were to get sick I suspect you can weather a cold with about as much ease as a normal baby.  We've begun having more visitors, too, like Debbie and Winona.  You were quite at ease in Winona's arms, given that she is your fellow Micropreemie-in-Arms:

Also, you've begun your training in the arts.  Remember, we Smiths aren't just science nerds and such, we're musicians, artists, and writers.  To get you started, we've introduced you to your very own piano (a gift from the Renkins!)  When we sat you at the stool, you erratically slammed the keys with quite a bit of enthusiasm, which I can only assume is an expression of your natural musical talents.  At 10 weeks adjusted age, this was quite impressive and we can't really expect more out of you than that.  In this day and age, though, if you plan on excelling at something you need to have strict goals (and since you are too little to develop goals of your own, we'll develop them for you!)  At 6 months, we expect you to learn a few chords.  At 1 year, perhaps the chopsticks.  At 5 years old, you should be composing your own music.  I know this probably sounds pretty ambitious, but remember that Mozart was composing at 5 years old too and HE lived during a much more primitive era.  Besides, if you get as much greatness out of the way as you can, you can be a washed up "has been" by the age of 15 and move on to other pursuits.