Monday, September 30, 2013

A Trip to the Orchard

This weekend we went to visit Nana and Granddude in Charlottesville.  Part of the reason for our visit was my longing for fall activities like apple picking and pumpkin picking.  Charlottesville did not disappoint!  We ended up going to Chiles Peach Orchard in Crozet because they were having a fall festival with lots of activities for the kids.  Annabelle sorely needed a good nap, so we left her with Daddy at home, and Nana, Granddude, and I took Sophie to the orchard.  

First up was face painting!

Next was donut decorating with very watery icing and sprinkles!

Sophie was very serious about pumpkin painting.

At last, the pumpkin patch!

Sophie picks out her favorite.

So happy together.

By the time we were finished with all that, we decided there was not time for picking apples!  We'll have to do that another time.  Any disappointment we might have felt, though, was cured by the purchase of plenty of cider and apple cider donuts.  I could eat those all day!  We can now add a trip to the pumpkin patch to our list of things we longed for in Korea and have now indulged in back in the U.S.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Great Day

Usually I dread Thursdays.  Our sainted babysitter has a busy class schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so she can't come to help out, and Sophie doesn't have school.  The day stretches out quite long, especially when Annabelle doesn't nap well and Sophie has trouble entertaining herself while I keep Annabelle happy (i.e. in my arms).  Today, however, was a pleasant surprise.

In the morning, the girls and I went to a play date with other moms and kids from Sophie's class.  There were six little girls and six moms (and one grandma!) at the group today.  I was a little nervous because although I had talked to a couple of the moms and to Sophie's teacher about Annabelle's condition, I hadn't told everyone.  I was very conscious of Annabelle's small size and funny stare - surely everyone could tell that she was not an average five-month-old.  So I did my best to be honest and matter-of-fact about everything.  And it wasn't so scary.  Everyone was so kind and supportive that I was afraid I would start tearing up.  And other moms shared stories about difficult pregnancies and breastfeeding troubles and the strain of caring for a newborn, and I felt so relieved to have everything out in the open.  And, aside from all that, I really had a great time talking to everyone.  Sophie seemed a bit shy and had a hard time mixing with the larger group of kids, but slowly came out of her shell as the group dwindled.  She didn't want to leave in the end.  Annabelle drank her bottle, slept briefly, and enjoyed the beautiful weather while we played in the backyard.

In the afternoon, we had a visit from our early intervention case manager and physical therapist, Stephanie.  Annabelle slept for the first half of the visit, so we had a chance to talk about her development.  Stephanie brought an assessment tool to look at what skills Annabelle has, and to my surprise, she has quite a few three and four month skills.  We just need to work with her to get her on her tummy more and to start standing her up more to see whether she'll push back with her legs.  I got Annabelle up (it is so unfair to have to wake a sleeping baby!), and we weighed her.  She has gained another three ounces this week - not quite as much as we'd like her to gain, but a gain nonetheless.  We are going to add a bit more rice cereal to her bottles and hope that those extra calories will do the trick.  But the best part of the afternoon was the brief playtime we had with Stephanie after the weight check.  I watched Annabelle follow a toy with her eyes, and even reach out with her hand to touch the toy.  I was amazed!  I think because I don't have a lot of time for playtime and because I am not an early development specialist I have not been able to see Annabelle demonstrate those skills so clearly.  I was so proud of her!  I feel so much more hopeful about her vision.

All in all, not a bad Thursday!  And tomorrow is Friday, a school day and a date night.  And this weekend we'll visit Nana and Granddude and take Sophie and Annabelle to the apple orchard for the first time!  Nice to have a series of good days planned.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Annabelle's Five-month Update

Annabelle is five months old today!  In some ways, I feel like she is barely changing at all.  I try not to think about what "normal" children do at five months or what Sophie was doing at five months, but it's hard not to.  No rolling over, no sitting, still struggling with visual processing, still fussy and disorganized when she takes her bottles, still teeny tiny and gaining weight slowly.  But that is the negative way to look at things.  It is there in my mind all the time, and I want to be honest about that.  For the rest of this post, though, I will be positive about Annabelle's new skills, no matter how incremental her progress.

When I flip my negative thinking on its head, I can see how far we've come from our first month in the NICU.  Annabelle has doubled her birth weight (She is 10 pounds, 3 ounces as of the last check, nearly a week ago), and her crazy hair has lightened up and gotten even crazier as it grows.  She is finally on a formula/supplement combination that is getting her extra calories and seems to be agreeing with her.  She is getting stronger and more organized with her feeding each week, meaning that she is sucking more efficiently and can eat slightly more formula in slightly less time.  She is less fussy than she was a month ago, and she is content to sit in the Baby Bjorn when we are out and about.  We can go to the library!  And the grocery store!  Without comments from other shoppers like, "She's not too happy, is she?"  (Seriously?  NOT HELPFUL!)

The best thing that's happening is that Annabelle is starting to smile!  We saw sleep smiles a while ago, and certainly Annabelle has had her "happy face," but now she is really starting to have recognizable smiles.  Most of them are aimed at her big sister.  Not surprising.  Who wouldn't love Sophie?  Also, despite her insistence on tickling and ruffling Annabelle's hair, she is the only one who doesn't subject poor Annabelle to agonizing torture like combing her hair or applying anti-yeast cream to her neck folds.  She is also the only one who has only a dim understanding of Annabelle's limitations and loves her without agonizing over her future.  What a lucky pair, and what a special relationship they will have as they grow!

Annabelle is beginning to grab things and bring them to her mouth.  I think her vision delays are making grabbing for toys (or playing with toys at all) more difficult, but she is taking this step nonetheless.  Every time I hold her up to my shoulder while my hair is down, she grabs a handful, and recently, she has begun trying to explore what she's grabbed by putting it in her mouth.  She also frequently grabs her clothes and my clothes.  To Sophie's delight, she also grabs Sophie's fingers and clothes.   I'm sure she'd grab Sophie's hair if she could get her little fingers on it.  Not sure whether THAT would delight Sophie.

Annabelle has great head control and will push herself up on her arms for a very short time when she does tummy time on my chest.  She is beginning to sit with lots of support, either in our laps or in the Bumbo.

Annabelle loves listening to music and listening to me sing.  Since I love singing but have a weak voice and poor ear, I am very happy to add to my audience of willing listeners, which includes only one other person:  Sophie.  She can have a hard time settling herself, but she almost always responds to music, light, and the joy of being outdoors.  She doesn't like to sit still but is very content being carried around.  So we try to fill Annabelle's days with eating, sleeping, and constant motion.  This suits Sophie rather well, as she also enjoys constant motion.  Annabelle loves the bath and smiles and splashes almost the whole time she is in the tub.  Getting out is a miserable experience, though.

Happy Five Months, Annabelle.  We love you more and more as we get to know you.  We hope your sixth month will bring more progress, no matter how slow.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Don't Ever Grow Up

I'll be the first to admit it:  the newborn stage of childhood is not my favorite as a parent.  When other moms talk about baby snuggles and that baby smell and those adorable newborn sounds, I think "WHAT?  You mean not being able to put the baby down, the scent of half-digested, regurgitated milk, and screeches and incessant wailing?"  With two children now, I've waited breathlessly for those anxious, sleepless, terrifying first few months to pass.  I know this is not a culturally acceptable thing to say, but there it is.

I fell head over heels in love with Sophie when she was around seven months old.  Not that I didn't love her before then, of course, but around that time all of the cliches of motherhood finally clicked for me.  I would rather die than see anyone hurt my child.  I was content just staring at her and marveling at how perfect she was.  After twelve straight hours of holding, comforting, feeding, changing, bathing, and entertaining Sophie, I would put her to bed and spend another hour staring at her pictures on my computer. And things have just gotten better from there.  I love how Sophie's language allows her to show me more and more how she sees the world.  I love how her physical abilities allow us to do so much more together - swimming, climbing, hiking, playing new games.  I love having a child who is potty trained!  I love watching her try new foods and read new books and sing new songs.  You can keep the newborn stage, I will take the preschool years, willfulness, potty humor, excruciatingly boring repetitive play and all.

Anyway, a few nights ago, I found myself in the kitchen holding Sophie in an extremely snuggly cuddle and saying passionately, "Don't grow up anymore!  Stay this small forever!"  To which Sophie replied, in a tone dripping with condescension:  "Sorry, Mom.  I have to grow up.  I'm eating my breakfast and lunch and dinner!"  Now she requests this game:  "Mommy, tell me not to grow up!"  She apparently enjoys shooting me down with a withering tone.  Perhaps I will not be so enamored of this during the teenage years.  But now, it is just cute.  I'm telling you, this is a great time for parenthood.

Here are a few things about three-year-old Sophie that I will miss when she inevitably does grow up:

  1. Her wonderful voice - "falingmo" (flamingo), "pollilog" (polliwog), her hilarious use of adverbs like "actually" and "even."
  2. How she tells secrets so quietly that it's not possible to hear them, only to feel her breath on your ear.
  3. How she sometimes asks to walk her stuffed animal dog, even though that means wrapping him in a plastic bag to keep him from getting totally destroyed and then dragging him along behind her.  
  4. Her bonecrusher hugs.
  5. When she tells me "Mommy, when you wear your hair in a ponytail you look like Ellen, but when you don't you look like Mommy."
  6. How she believed Daddy tonight when he told her that "finding treasure in the cat's sandbox" was a tremendously fun game to play.
  7. How she takes care of me when I'm sad (and also how she expects that proffering a tissue will solve any sadness in just a few seconds).
  8. How every night at bedtime when I ask her what was the favorite part of her day, she says it was being with me.
Oh, Sophie, I hope that even when you outgrow your baby voice and your baby gullibility, you will retain your sweetness, your joy, and your love for your Mama.

Sophie the frog demonstrates how frogs drink their water.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nature vs. Nurture

When we were in college, my roommate and best friend Rebecca and I took a lot of psychology classes. We were struck by how often the phrase "nature vs. nurture" appeared in our textbooks, and, being longtime nerds attending the College of William and Mary, the phrase soon became a frequent source of merriment for us. "Psst," one of us would hiss, highlighter poised over some weighty tome, "here it is again!  Do you think it's nature or nurture?"  Either eye rolling or hilarity would ensue. 

I've been thinking a lot about our old catchphrase lately. Back in March our second child, Annabelle, was diagnosed prenatally with a rare genetic disorder. The last few months of my pregnancy were filled with pain and uncertainty. Because Annabelle's disorder is so rare, no one could tell us what it would mean for her.  My mind reeled with visions of a vegetable-child, unable to walk or communicate in any way, stuck in a wheelchair with a blank stare.  My heart hoped for a child who was only a "little bit off."  I knew that reality would most likely fall somewhere in the middle, but I still searched desperately for any information that might help us anticipate what our daughter would be like.  

Finally I took the time to really look at the homepage for Unique, a group in the U.K. that provides support and information for children and families dealing with rare genetic disorders.  While reading about the possible consequences of my yet-unborn baby's genetic condition, I began to feel more and more scared.  Learning disabilities, health problems, difficulties with walking, talking, seizures.  Then I came across this sentence:  
There are many other factors besides a person's chromosomal disorder that affect how they develop, for example, the unique mixture of genes on their other normal chromosomes, the environment in which they are raised and so forth.
There it was again:  nature vs. nurture.  What causes us to be who we are?  Is it all in our genes, or can the environment we live in, the way we are raised, the opportunities we have for growth and new experiences really make a difference?  Of course, the reason Rebecca and I always laughed or rolled our eyes when we read about the nature vs. nurture debate was that the answer is always "some of both."  We are not defined solely by our genes, nor entirely by our environment.  Both work together to make us who we are.  And on the Unique website I found reason to be hopeful for my baby's future:  she would not be defined solely by her defective genes.  Both her other, non-affected, genes and the way we would choose to raise her could affect her development, her abilities, her potential.  Finally, some sense of optimism and even of control.  Yes, we passed on some troubles to our child.  But we also passed on her father's physical abilities and sociability, her mother's facility with languages, her grandmother's kindness, her great-grandmother's artistic streak, her grandfather's talent for science, her granddude's energy and attention to detail, her nana's talents in the kitchen.  And we had the opportunity to give her love, affection, discipline, and a variety of wonderful experiences.  We had the chance to make a real difference in her life by guiding her in her discovery of the world, however limited her abilities might be.  

After finding this new source of comfort, an idea for our baby's name came to me.  Our older daughter, Sophie, has the middle name Joy.  I gave her that name because it sounds pretty and because it is her grandmother's middle name and my best friend's middle name.  But when I chose it I had no idea that Sophie would be such a joyful child.  The name fit so well.  So we decided her sister should have a similar middle name.  We had been thinking of Grace, but after we learned about the baby's genetic condition, we thought it wasn't fair to give her a name she might never live up to.  So instead, we chose Hope.  Several weeks later, our baby girl arrived.  And now we have Annabelle Hope.  Everyday we think about her future, strive to make her always feel loved and cared for, and hang onto the hope that nature and nurture will combine to help her reach her fullest potential.