Sunday, December 26, 2010

The First of Many

My parents, THE WIFE, and I stood together in the living room on Christmas Eve. The kids were asleep. We had toys to assemble. And it was already eleven o'clock. My parents were calm. They've been there before. My dad's reaction was unsurprising and amusing. "Ah. (pausing) You got a dry red? Merlot?" I ran to the basement and snagged a bottle of Chuck Shaw. We got to work - on the wine and the toys.


From ages 18 to 33, I appreciated the time spent with my family during Christmas of course. But the supposed magic or aura of the actual holiday gradually decreased with time. The religious aspect never did it for me. The songs stopped appealing to me. The movies ceased moving me. I'm indifferent about cookies. And though I loved giving presents, I rarely enjoyed receiving them. I don't think I was necessarily a Scrooge by any means, but the holiday hype was more bothersome and irritating than enjoyable.

Then, Greta was born. Last year, she was too young to have any palpable reaction to the festivities. But this year was a whole different story. All of those fun things about Christmas that I forgot re-emerged and reintroduced themselves.

We kicked off the season by riding on a Polar Express train ride excursion with both of the kids, her cousins, and the little ones of THE WIFE'S Carver neighborhood friends. The kids were all dressed in their pajamas. After caroling, dancing, and looking at lights, we got off the train and strolled around. A little reception hall had hot chocolate, face painting, and a place to make ornaments. Greta was eating it up.

The highlight of that night was when Greta walked right up to her new BFF Frosty the Snowman. She waved at him fearlessly while beaming with adoration. It shocked me because our experience with Santa the year before didn't go as smoothly. Granted, Frosty was probably a stoned teenager on break from college underneath the costume, but I was grateful nonetheless.

A week later, we put up the tree. G loved hanging the ornaments, which she dangled almost entirely on one branch at the very end. Classic.

Of course, the tree stand I used was too small, which caused the tree to fall over twice the next day breaking several ornaments, making Greta cry, and resulting in my curse-filled, frantic drive to Lowe's, but Greta and THE WIFE were relieved as the tree rose again this time with something like 20 more strands of lights. (Still standing, by the way.)

While her fear of real-life Santas continued like the Real Wives of Beverly Hills fear normal sized lips or faces that move, Greta became a huge fan of cartoon caricatures or small version models of St. Nick. Rudolf is cool but probably only because of his resemblance to Bambi. We even waved at baby Jesus together when passing by the town center's Nativity scene.

After a few weeks, the seasonal songs began to take reawaken my Christmas cheer's soul. Listening to Gigi sing Jingle Bells or Frosty the Snowman comprised the best five seconds of my days leading up to the big event. Greta only knew the first four words of each song but it's all I needed to hear.

Then, the other little things also began to impress: the outdoor light displays of any quality (the inflatable jobs are her fave), Christmas cookies (she baked some with Mimi), wrapping paper, and even just playing in the snow. I hadn't paid any attention to these things since Teenwolf was dunking on the Dragons or Gizmo got fed after midnight.

On Christmas morning, Greta's new trampoline, toy kitchen, and chalkboard/drawing easel sat freshly assembled. (The Grandparents and parents gratefully sipped their coffee or tea.) All three gifts seemed to be big hits, though the trampoline probably had a slight edge. As Gigi bounced gleefully, I understood why my parents were so quick to accept our invitation to sleep over. I think I felt that old-school Christmas magic again.

My only gift to Greta - a set of hers and hers ice skates (a pair to Greta and a pair to THE WIFE) - got pushed aside immediately after opening so she could go back to the trampoline. Poetic justice! That was fine by me, though. I was just happy the kitchen's appliances all beeped properly. Now if someone wouldn't mind telling Greta that the decorations and tree have to disappear for a little, that would be great. Thanks.

Have a happy and healthy 2011 everyone!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wakeup Call

Perhaps lulled into a false sense of security by three-plus months of encouraging doctors' visits, I didn't think much about Gus' visit for x-rays this past Tuesday. G-man has been consistently impressing his cardiologist, endocrinologist, primary care physician, physical therapist, and basically anyone related to him by blood, marriage, and friendship. Granted, he's had a loud kind of breathing sound since he was born, but Gus has been growing at a fine pace and his personality has been more animated than ever.

The quiet hero of our family is definitely Michelle. Both of us have amazingly compassionate employers and supervisors, but my job keeps me on a random road schedule that is difficult to predict - so our matriarch somehow handles every single medical appointment for the kids, while balancing a full-time job. Fortunately, we both went to Gus' recent consult at the Children's Hospital DS Clinic, so I was well aware of the reasons behind the referral to have him swallow barium with his formula. They wanted to be sure he was not aspirating when he ate. In other words, was formula getting into his lungs when he swallowed?

I knew the outcome of the swallowing study the second I heard Michelle's voice when she called. "Okay, temporary setback," I thought. So we just have to thicken his formula. No big deal. Wrong. He would return as an in-patient on Wednesday. Here we go again.

It's funny how easy it was for me to forget about all of the potential complications that could arise due to Gus having DS. After so many weeks of development that paralleled pretty much all of our "typical" experiences with Greta's first four months, I became naively confident that no other medical issues would arise with our little superstar. But there I was, packing a bag and panicking that I might forget some critical piece of clothing or toy before we left for who knows how long.

Of course, I wasn't upset in any way towards the G-man at any time whatsoever. But the unexpected news about another potential obstacle to our quest for Gus to have a clean bill of health alarmed me. What was all this business about feeding tubes? Our little guy was fine. These doctors gotta be overreacting, right? I was at stage one already: denial.

And, frankly, the interruption to our family's daily routine frustrated me. Why Gus? Why us? Hasn't he and we been through enough already? Who would watch Gigi while we were gone? Both Shell and I couldn't have had busier weeks with our jobs. Plus, we were re-entering the hospital world where the promptness of scheduled visits by doctors were as reliable as arrival times by an MBTA bus or subway. Fucking A, man. Now I was at stage two: the self-pity percolated.

Then, we got to the hospital. I looked around us. Worried and caring parents abounded with children of all ages enduring a myriad of disorders and illnesses that spanned a vast range of severity. Reality check. Forget about the small stuff that was seemingly important. Focus on Gus. Listen to the doctors. Ask probing questions. Be sure to understand what they're saying. Make educated decisions. Be a good father and a strong partner to my wife.

After our admission, we immediately became reminded of why Children's Hospital is so great: the nursing staff. Shannon and Ann were yet more all stars in the Hall of Fame cast that has cared for the G-man during both of his stays at Children's. And, to their credit, the doctors seemed to be appearing much more frequently than I unfairly stereotyped. Everybody - literally - was again phenomenal. Very empathetic. Extremely patient. Totally assuring.

As for the cold facts of Gus' situation, Shell and I have different understandings of what is causing the aspiration. Without dispute, he has laryngomalacia - basically, a narrowing in the passage between his mouth and stomach. Doctors have also said he has a floppy airway. (I think they mean the same thing. Shell thinks they are two different issues.) Irregardless, somewhere in Gus' airway, it apparently allows formula into the lungs when it should only be air. This creates a higher risk of pneumonia and long-term lung damage, among others. Consequently, he has a nasogastric (NG) tube for the indefinite future.

The NG tube is a small tube that goes through Gus' nose into his stomach that gets hooked up to a pump for every feeding he has (about 5 or 6 a day.) Fortunately, we can feed him one ounce of formula immediately before activating the pump so he won't forget his eating reflexes. The good news about the NG: it's relatively easy to put in and pull out. Plus, other than the annoyance of its placement through the nose, the tube isn't anchoring into anything internal or external.

The bad news about the NG: it's relatively easy to pull out. Vegas already posted an over-under line for Greta's first successful removal of the NG at one week. I'll take the under.

Not surprisingly, Gus' mom is already a champ at installing the NG. After installing one for practice, Shell got called into duty in the middle of Night 2 when Gus yanked it out in his sleep. But what else would you expect from a mom who, although she trusts dad's abilities entirely, insists on sleeping over to be present "in case anything happens"?

There is a possibility that the NG tube could be replaced by a gastrostomy tube (G tube), which goes directly into his stomach through his belly, but for the time being he seems to be handling the NG okay. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

We got the green light to go home on Friday and rejoin Miss Greta where she was being thoroughly spoiled by her Mimi, who came to the rescue on extremely short notice. As was the case in July, everything worked out, just not in the way we originally expected.

Triumphantly, Gus, Shell, and I exited through the lobby into the chilly frenzy of pedestrians and traffic of Longwood Ave. As we passed by Santa Claus and an elf standing idly on the sidewalk, I nodded with a smile whereupon Saint Nick extended his hand and said, "Here you go, dad. Happy Holidays." Expecting to see a coupon for 10% off at Dunkin's or the like, I was shocked to find what appeared to be a $50 bill in my hand. By the time I inspected the gift for authenticity (it's bona fide) and turned back to thank the philanthropists, they were gone.

While astounded to be the recipient of such an unexpectedly generous gift, we were much more grateful to be going home with our still perfect baby. Happy Holidays, everybody!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Night in the Life

The doorbell rang. Standing in the kitchen with Augey strapped to my chest in the baby bjorn, I was smackdab in the middle of a dinner jam session with both kids. (Pretty sure it was The Clash playing in the background.) Using Gus' left arm as a guitar neck and his right leg as the bridge, I was channeling my inner Pete Townsend by windmilling a G-man air guitar. Meanwhile, Greta was demonstrating her version of "devil horns" (or the Longhorns sign for you Texans) as she sat confined in her highchair, which looked more like a double finger mom dance at a wedding after a few white zins.

"Uh oh," I thought. "Hope it's not DSS."

Fortunately, it was just the former owners of our house who were picking up some mail during a Thanksgiving trip back home. "C'mon in," I offered waiving them inside with Gus' feet dangling around in front of me. Clad in suit pants and white undershirt stained with spit-up and Greta's dinner shrapnel, I explained that THE WIFE was out galavanting with her GFs at a nice adult dinner free from constant threats of timeouts, Tinkerbell sightings, and Gigi's claims of "accidents" after she's spitefully hucked a broccoli branch to the ground. They politely declined the tour and insisted that I return to dinner.

Next up, bathtime for Greta as Gus reclined in the rainforest vibrating seat, tripping out as frogs and parrots moved simultaneously. Then on to PJs and diaper changes for both peanuts. We return to the kitchen for a nightcap: sippy cup of milk for Greta, 6 oz of Similac for Gus, and a tumbler of Jameson for Daddy - strike that, a Polar lemon seltzer for Daddy.

The three of us subsequently retired to the living room where we queued up "Ellyfants" per Gigi's request a/k/a National Geographic's "Great Migrations" series. (Yes, she's daddy's little girl alright.) Little miss sipped her organic whole as G-man whacked back his formula. We "do" books when mommy's home and we're in man-to-man coverage, but that night I was scrambling with a 1:2 zone-D, Gus was hungry, and I wasn't gonna risk messing up his mojo. I was on the verge of getting these two down by 8:30 and then a quiet house was all mine until THE WIFE returned, so I wasn't taking any chances.

While distracted by a food coma and full belly, I temporarily deserted Augustus in his swing and threw the original G. over my shoulder. Off to bed for you, young lady. Quickly, I zipped up the sleep sack (yes, we still use one - our house is frigid), plopped her in the crib (yes, we still use a bumper - the shame!), and handed over the three (gasp) binkies (the horror!) that Greta promptly plopped - one each - into her mouth and hands.

Incidentally, our daughter does this thing with the pacifiers in her hand where she rubs them on her eyes as she settles into sleep. It's kinda funny and I have no clue of the significance. But it's worth mention because THE WIFE tells me the blog's infrequency of late is failing to record our family's history, so there.

Then, the main event. (With a nod towards Leslie Nielsen.) Summoning Enrico Palazzo, I began my nightly serenade to Greta. My concert usually entails a random combination of nursery rhymes, rock classics, improvisational ballads, and the occasional Irish ditty, which all depend on the energy/enthusiasm level of course. That night, it could've been "Itsy, Bitsy Spider" (Greta loves the tickle part) into "When I'm 64" into "Whistling Gypsy" into "Cheerios" (my creation). To signal that I'm done, I saluted my little love as usual with blowing kisses, I love you's, sleep-tight-don't-let-the-bed-bugs-bite, etc., all while inching towards the door - but that night, like most every night, she sweetly requested an encore. "One more?" I heard somewhat mumbled beneath the binky.

I paused and listened for any squawks from the Gus-man. All quiet. "Okay honey," I replied. "Twinkle, twinkle..." Just another night in our little paradise.