Archive for December, 2012

Sam and Cate’s second cold

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Through luck, diligence, or some combination of the two, Sam and Cate were only sick twice during their first year. They didn’t have a cold since the cold they shared in March 2012… until early December.

Saturday night, Dec 8, was the best night we’d all had in more than six months. Both girls slept untended from about 11 pm to 6 am. Getting 7 hours of sleep interrupted only by our own biological needs felt wonderful! Sunday morning, we mused aloud that maybe they are finally turning the corner, and getting the hang of sleeping on their own. But then the niggling thought occurred to me that they slept really well the night before each of the two times they’d been sick.

Sure enough: Sam was fussy overnight and woke up Sunday all snuffly. Cate was sneezing by lunchtime. Foo.

Years ago, I read a journal article that asserted that 65-75% of sinus infections can be prevented by repeatedly rinsing one’s nasal passages with saline, and timely use of decongestants. I know that in the rare instances when I catch colds, that saline and decongestant help me breathe a lot easier. So I’m eager to help Sam and Cate get mucous out of their heads.

Last time, we acquired a Frida Snot Sucker. Sam learned to endure it within a day or so, but Cate wanted nothing to do with it, so she just stayed snuffly. And since babies up to four months are obligate nose breathers, they just couldn’t breathe well and we were all miserable.

This time I wanted a way that I could offer to suck their nose and they could accede or not. So I looked up the ASL sign for “suck”, but instead of sucking up from the bottom hand, we’re sucking from the nose. Cate grasped the sign immediately. When I asked her whether she wanted Mama to suck her nose, she brought her left hand to her nose and made the sign. When I verified her meaning by asking if I should suck more, she said “mouh” and made the sign for “more.”

More impressively, she now cooperates with the sucker, leaning forward and holding her head just so, for me to suck the mucous out of her nose. It’s interesting to me that Cate was curious about, and embraced nose sucking readily this time, but Sam was really unenthused, which is the opposite of last time.

Fortunately, we didn’t stay sick for long. Last time, we were miserable for between two and three weeks. This time, the three of us were better within 8-10 days. I don’t know whether the immune benefits of nursing are stronger now, or whether we caught a weaker cold virus, or what. Regardless of the reason, I’m delighted that we weathered this cold much better than the first!

Nascent language: We have names!

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Linguistically, “ma” and “da” are among the easiest phonemes to say, which is why they occur universally when babies babble. But they don’t become identifiers, with symbolic meaning, until later.

If you are a linguist, baby talk is not a cute and meaning-lite semi-language used with infants. Babble is the first step towards helping nursery-form words, which classify an infant’s early language acquisition environment. Who inhabits this environment with a child? Parents.

Developmentally, babies babble nonsense sounds to try them out. The simplest form of babble is a consonant followed by a vowel: labial (/m/, /p/, /b/); dental (/t/, /d/, /n/, /l/) consonants followed by a wide vowel sound (/a/) are the most dominant. The opening and closing of the mouth is the most natural order of sound production. Repetition of phonemes set identifiers (names) apart from other babble a baby is making as it explores language. “Nursery names for mother and father, like the earliest meaningful units emerging in infant speech, are based on the polarity between the optimal consonant and optimal vowel,” writes Roman Jakobson in his 1962 article “Why ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’?” the most comprehensible linguistic examination of the global similarities for the names of parents.

Sam and Cate were 10-1/2 months past their due date when they started differentiating words back in early October. According to my list of Cate’s Words, her first was “da” and she learned to say, “maamaa,” by Oct 31. Cate’s second and third words were “Hi Ki’y”, addressed with glee to the cat.

According to my list of Sam’s Words, her first and second words in mid-October were “mmm[ilk]” and “ma”, followed shortly by the greetings [H]”aii!” and “byyyye!” Sam learned to say, “Hi, Da” by Nov 11. So they’ve known who we are for a couple of months, but they mostly didn’t address us these ways.

Both girls can respond to directions like, “let’s go find Dad in the kitchen” or “please go to Mama in the bedroom” by heading off in the right direction, and usually, ending up with the other parent. Being able to shepherd girls verbally is a useful development!

In addition, the girls enjoy looking at the pictures of people on our walls. I always call out, “that’s Dad,” when we look at the pictures with Bill. One day last week, at the beginning of naptime, Sam looked up at the photos of Dad over her crib, and seemed more excited than usual. She exclaimed, “Da! Da!”, looked at me for recognition, then looked back at his photo and exclaimed, “Da!” several more times. Later that day, Cate got in on the action, also exclaiming, “Da!” But I didn’t see where this was going until Christmas Eve.

Monday morning, we put Sam and Cate in baby jail to play safely while Bill and I packed things for our day trip to Galveston. At some point, I heard Sam exclaim, “Ma!” Startled, I looked up to see her looking right at me, and I asked, “do you mean me?” and she smiled. Cate took it all in and said, “Ma”, too.

Then, after lunch, Baba Jean joined us for an outing to the playground next to Oppe Elementary. We started with sliding down the slides for a while, and the slides were damp and slow enough for both girls to tackle hands-free sliding for the first time. Next, they practiced running/walking/crawling up and down the grassy slope next to the jungle gym. Daddy Bill went up the hill, Baba Jean and I waited at the bottom, and Sam and Cate went back and forth between us. When they started to get tired, they started to call to me. As they turned from Dad, looked down at me, and started down the slope, first Sam and then Cate, would yell for “Ma!”. And if I looked away from them to chat with Baba Jean, they’d yell for me again.

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Get the Flash Player to see this video.

Finally, when we got home, Dad changed Cate’s diaper, and I changed Sam’s diaper. But their diapers had leaked, so I left Bill watching both girls for a minute (always perilous!) while I ran to grab our Christmas jammies (thanks, Auntie Em!) from the laundry room. As I returned, Sam decided to get down from our bed by turning around and scooting backward over the edge, apparently unaware that it’s nearly 3 feet down to the floor. Bill noticed her just in time, and leaned in, pinning Sam to the side of the bed. She was fine, though startled and a little squished, and when he rescued her, she yelled at him: “Dada!!!” As he picked her up to comfort her, she addressed him again insistently, “Da!,” making her dismay plain to any listener.

Wow. After more than a year of being virtual extensions of their existence, we have apparently become our own separate people, and we have names. We are “Ma” and “Da.”

[Second] Best Christmas present ever.


Friday, December 21st, 2012

My perception is assuredly biased, but as of late, the weather in Houston has been as lovely as I can remember. While we are bundling up for lows in the 30s tonight, it seems like we have had weeks and weeks of sunny 60s, 70s, and 80s. It’s been beautiful, and we’ve been making a point to get out of the house to enjoy it at least once and sometimes twice a day.

Until recently, we’ve almost always gone walking, with girls in Bjorn carriers. We mostly wander around Hyde Park, though a few times, we crossed over into East Montrose. We even ran into Bill’s cycling friend, Laura, over there on Thanksgiving morning.

But now that both Sam and Cate can walk, we’re spending a lot more time in parks. On school days we’re having to go over to Cherryhurst, which is a brisk 10-minute walk each way. But on weekends, we’re really enjoying the new Wilson Wonderground Spark Park. On Saturday, Gram Nancy walked over there with Bill, me, and the girls (click for larger):

This may be the last time they ever looked this blase about arriving at a park.

Goodnight moon!

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

We began reading Goodnight Moon back in March. This summer, Auntie Em found Buenas Noches, Luna “in her car” so we read the story in Spanish, too. Several weeks (months?) later, it occurred to me, that our daughters had never seen the moon (luna) or stars (estrellas). We’re generally inside working on dinner or bedtime by the time it gets dark, so I wasn’t sure when we’d get to show them.

Today around 1 pm, Claudia took the girls for a stroll around our ‘hood without me, while Emily and I attended a briefing about MAP-21, the new federal transportation authorization bill that passed in 2012. I returned home just after Sam woke from her afternoon nap. Cate had declined to nap, possibly distracted by the two lower molars she’s busily growing.

It was nearly 5 pm, and we’re just days away from the shortest day of the year, so the sun was about to set. But we decided to walk over to the Spark Park anyway. On our way to Wilson, we heard a familiar hum and looked up to watch a Southwest Airlines 737-300 fly low overhead. At the same time, we spotted a thin sliver (first quarter) of the rising moon. Claudia and I pointed and said, “¡Mira! ¡Luna! ¡Look! ¡Moon!” Both girls spotted it, and for the rest of our early evening outing, they would occasionally look up, point, and exclaim enthusiastically!

Once at the park, we met up with Sean and his dog, Sophie. And while we were wandering about, we looked up just in time to see Sharon pedaling home from work, and she came over to visit, too. If I haven’t mentioned it lately, I love having family in our ‘hood, close enough for spontaneous get togethers.

A tiny sliver of moon, shortly after Cate and Sam saw it for the first time

Adventias: Need to get going…

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Over the last year, we have successfully requested nearly all of our family and friends to call our mobile numbers instead of the house. We can go days without the house phone ringing at all, so I was startled when the phone rang Sunday night at 9:05. The caller ID said it was Gran’mom’s number calling, so I hastened to answer it.

Gosh. I haven’t written about Gran’mom in 17 months. I have pictures of Sarah and her brother, Frank, from a day in August when we all had lunch together in honor of Sarah’s 96th birthday, but I never found time to post them. I have seen her fewer than a dozen times since our daughters were born, so I have little else to post.

I admit that as I reached for the phone, I wondered if it would be a Belmont Village staff person calling to say something had happened. At 96, Sarah is quite inactive, terribly frail, and down to about 85 pounds. But when I said hello, a familiar shaky voice said, “Robin?”

As brightly and cheerfully as I could, I said, “Hi Gran’mom! How are you? What can I do for you?”
Sarah said, “I’m tired and confused and I can’t find anything. I can’t find my purse.”
I told her that I was pretty sure it was in her dresser drawer, and asked her what she was looking for.
She said, “I need to get out of here and I can’t find my car keys.” She said she was on her way to pick up Slover and she was late. They were going to a concert together and she was already supposed to be there.

There are many problems with this story. She hasn’t driven in four years, and my brother, Chris, now drives her car. She lives in the secure unit of an assisted living facility. And her brother, Slover, has been deceased since 2004.

We had a previous conversation like this one in February 2011, when Sarah first started taking Namenda, an anti-dementia drug. I navigated this one a little differently.

I reminded her that a long time ago, she asked me always to be honest with her, even if I feared it might upset her. But before I could ask her if she still felt that way, she interrupted to say, “Please don’t upset me. I have too much to do.”

OK. So instead of trying to confront her with jarring facts, such as relaying that her brother is no longer living, I decided to tell her that she just had the day wrong. I told her that it was after 9 pm on Sunday night, and assured her that no one was expecting her tonight. I told her that she could go out gallivanting tomorrow, but tonight she should go back to bed.

Sarah said that would be a relief, because she was tired.

Then she thanked me and said that she needed to get off the phone, because she was late and she had to get going.

So I tried again. I suggested gently that I thought maybe she had just had a vivid dream, and that’s why she was confused. I said again that I was confident that Slover was not expecting her.
She insisted no, that these were plans they made yesterday.
I said again that it was after 9 pm on Sunday night. When she said, “it is?!?” incredulously, I tried again to redirect…

Eventually, I convinced her that she could just go back to bed. But before we parted, she told me, “I thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon together. I am more grateful than you can ever imagine for spending the day with you.”

She sounded so happy that I had come to visit her… except that I didn’t. I was curious what she imagined we had done that brought her such joy. I asked her what was her favorite part? She said all of it, so I tried again by asking for just one part of this day that she had enjoyed. She said she would meditate on it and get back to me. It made me think that she lacked any specific memories — which makes sense since it didn’t happen — and just had a strong impression that I had visited.

Rather than disabuse her of this notion, I asked her if she’d like me to come visit again tomorrow, and she said, of course! So I will endeavor to get over there, and assess how up and about she is.

Bill will have our car at work on the west side, and Sharon is in North Carolina, so it will be Wednesday before I can get there. In the meantime, I hope that Sarah has happy thoughts about what she’s trying to do, regardless of whether any of it is likely to happen.


Saturday, December 8th, 2012

At a year past their due date, both Sam and Cate are startlingly strong and quite sturdy little creatures, enabling Daddy Bill to introduce a new activity: rocketship! Last Saturday morning, over the baby monitor, I heard Sam squealing delightedly interspersed with Daddy saying, “3…2…1… launch!”

I entered the bedroom just in time to see Dad catch Sam. I went to grab my Nikon and from then, I managed to catch most of two rounds of flying girls (as always, click for larger):

Sam was animated after her first round of rocketship!

Cate was pretty anxious during her first flights

Sam was eager to go again

Flying Sam!

Delighted Sam

As soon as Cate got down from her first flights, she toddled over to the chair to collect her binky and her white lion blankie. She needed some reassurance before going again, and brought her friends along on the next set of flights.

Cate and Bill discussing possible future flights

Binky falling to earth as Cate flies high. (This is the photo the NTSB will need to determine when parts started falling off…)

Flying Cate!

Nascent language: Horns to Toes!

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Back in July, when I requested book suggestions for pre-verbal kids, you all came through with a bunch of great suggestions, most of which* are now favorites in our house:

* I say “most” because we didn’t buy all of them; the ones we have are all favorites!

We read Brown Bear in both English and Spanish, and the artwork is beautiful. We have also used it sometimes to practice colors. I pull out t-shirts in each of the colors: brown, red, yellow, blue, green, purple, white, black, and orange. (Those bike event shirts come in handy!)

The incredibly detailed and nuanced drawings in Everywhere Babies really capture the girls’ attention. I love that the book chronicles development from birth through the first year, so it feels like a forecast of what’s coming next. When we get to the “Babies make noise!” page, first Cate and now Sam clap at the appropriate time. And when we get to the “Babies make friends!” page, the girls are starting to call out the animals.

In Each Peach, we are not hunting for the “I spy” elements yet, but we are searching for and calling out everyday elements. For example, when we get to the page with “Jack and Jill are in the ditch, I spy the Wicked Witch,” Cate points to the black cat on the facing page and exclaims, “Ca!” On the early pages with Mother Hubbard, her cupboard, and her cellar, Sam can point to the ubiquitous white dog and says, “Daw!”

This morning after nursing and before breakfast, we sat on the bed together and read Horns to Toes. When I read, “Oh we’ve each got these horns right on top of our heads,” first Cate and then Sam, put their hands on their own heads, without any additional prompting from me. Even though we’ve read the book more than a dozen times, with me identifying their corresponding body parts, I was unprepared for their participation. I continued with “we’ve each got two ears” and they grabbed at their ears. “We’ve all got a mouth” prompted them to touch their mouths, and “We’ve each got two feet” prompted them to kick their feet. When we got to “nose,” they snuffled! Arms, legs, fuzzy tummies, belly buttons… they identified all of the right parts except for tails.



Friday, December 7th, 2012

When the girls are done with a meal, and we unsnap the trays from their booster seats, they almost always want to play with them, which takes a little time. One day, I spotted our nanny, Claudia, doing something clever: she quickly liberated the trays, called them “aviones,” and then “vuelan” (flew) them to the sink. Sam and Cate watched in fascination, and the process took only moments.

Despite the appeal of a way to speed up that transition, I instead found myself letting the girls fly their own “airplanes.” Now end-of-meal transitions take even longer while the girls wave their trays around. We made “zzzhhh” engine hum sounds while we “flew” their “airplanes,” and they immediately began making “zzzhhh” sounds, too.

What’s funny to me is that I realized that they don’t know that we’re pretending that trays are aircraft. That comes later. They’ve never seen an airplane. Right now, they presumably think the trays are “airplanes” since we never call them “trays” anymore. And they assuredly think saying “zzzhhh” is just what you do when you’re done eating and ritually waving your “airplane” in the air before sending it to the sink.

With that in mind, I started looking for opportunities to show them real aircraft. Conveniently, our house is more-or-less under the approach route for Houston Hobby airport (HOU). We’re far enough from the airport that the planes are still at altitude and the noise is not troubling. They’re also high enough up that you have to know what you’re looking for. Nonetheless, big jets go overhead every 5 minutes or less, pretty much all day.

So when we go out for our afternoon walks, I’ve been trying to keep an ear tuned to the sky to listen for jets. Several times I’ve seen one, but been unable to get the girls to look up. Even though they now understand pointing, there’s invariably something sufficiently interesting going on at ground level (e.g. dogs, cats, birds, people) to keep them from looking up. I’ve tried saying, “¡Mira, Look!”, and pointing, and even using my hand to push their heads back and hope that they look up, but so far, to no avail.

Thursday afternoon was gorgeous: clear, sunny, 68… perfect. Claudia had Sam in one Bjorn and I had Cate in mine. We walked north on Van Buren to go visit a friend, a furry yellow laborador named Rex, who “owns” the corner lot garden on West Drew with his brother, Henry. As we walked, I heard a jet coming south. I looked up to see a big, orange, Southwest Airlines 737-300 approaching us.

Excitedly, I said, “¡Mira, Look!”, and pointed to the plane. This time, Sam saw it! I could tell from the direction of her gaze, and the way she craned her head further and further back into Claudia’s collar as it approached, that she was watching it. All the while, Claudia and I were saying, “Avion! Airplane!” We turned as it passed overhead, and Sam watched as it continued its flight toward Hobby, vanishing into the distance.

Afterward, Sam looked up at me as if to say, “what was that?” Claudia and I clapped and said, “Yay!” and Cate looked at each of us as if to say, “what’s all the excitement?” Cate assuredly heard the jet, but had been too taken with Rex and a nearby dog-walking party to look up.

But with Sam’s recognition under our belt, we were motivated to keep trying. Fortunately, another jet came by a few minutes later. This time, she saw it! Cate’s head pressed further and further back into my sternum as she craned her head to watch the next jet come toward us, this one a long silver MD-80 (American Airlines, I think). We turned as it went overhead, and she continued to watch it fly away.

Once it flew beyond our view, Cate clapped her hands together and said, “mouh” [more]. So we spent the rest of our (longer-than-usual) outing walking a ways, stopping to watch planes go overhead, and then continuing on. Wonderful!

* * *
As I write this, the girls have just waked from their morning naps and Claudia is changing their diapers. As soon as they drink a little water and I hit “Publish”, we’ll have some free time before lunch. It’s 78 and partly cloudy, but I just heard a(nother) jet go overhead. I know what we’re doing next!

Kenya has no apples…

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Last Sunday, we went to Gram Nancy’s house for lunch, and the girls had lots of time to play and explore her house. Early on, an empty wine case/carton was commandeered to become a boat.

What happened next may remind some of you of comedian John Oliver’s bit in “Terrifying Times” about Kenya and the apples:

Sam has a boat

Cate wants that boat

How many boats does Sam have?

Sam has no boat.

Helping each other

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Sam and Cate are increasingly able to follow directions and participate in more activities. For example, if I say, “please give it to Mama” and hold out my hand expectantly, they often will place the relevant object in my hand.

What’s funny to me, is they’re now each paying attention to whether the other one is complying. If their sister doesn’t act quickly enough, they’re starting to jump in and “help.” For example, once Cate is done removing the paper from the sticky back of a nursing pad, I ask her to hand it to me. If she doesn’t hand it to me promptly, Sam may reach in, grab the nursing pad, and give it to me herself.

Conversely, when we read board books, the daughter on my right often takes care of turning the pages. If Sam is still enjoying a page when it’s time to turn to the next one, Cate may lean past her to turn the page herself.

Thursday morning, this reached a funny new level. Several of our books have little mirrors in them. ¿Dónde está Elmo? (which is a fantastic, interactive book for two kids!) ends with the question, “¿Dónde estás tu?” and a small mirror in which the reader can see themselves. When I asked the question, Cate eagerly leaned in, pressing her nose to the book, and looked into the mirror. Then she sat up and looked at Sam. But Sam was already very sleepy, and declined to look in the mirror. So Cate reached up, placed her hand on the back of Sam’s head, and shoved her face forward toward the book, presumably to “help” Sam look in the mirror.

I guffawed.

Loudly. I know it wasn’t the “right” response but I couldn’t help myself. So, so funny! Having two toddlers to interact with each other is increasingly interesting. If you haven’t come to play with the girls lately, you’re missing out.