Breathless Sunshine

One of the nice things about free-range parenting is leaving your child to figure out stuff on the playground for themselves, which if you’re not in the mood to pretend you’re a fierce playground warrior frees you up to do a whole lot of nothing. Maggie has shown excellent mastery of the monkey bar bridge and so too has she conquered the metal chain cargo nets; thus I am free to sit and read my book. Sometimes I shout encouraging things from my bench like “What’s under that bridge? Pretend it’s a river!” which launches her into a recitation of the River Platte crossing from her “Apples to Oregon” book (“Guard the gwapes!”) and luxuriate in the .002 seconds of summer sunshine that breaks through the clouds. You have to take whatever summer you can around here, and Maggie has what I think is a fabulous trait in a child: she really enjoys amusing herself with the constructions of her own private inner world and though I do love to play with her and prompt games, she certainly doesn’t need (or even always seem to want) me to participate. Thus, my sun and my novel. Happiness abounds.

Today was a different story as I tried in vain to find a comfortable spot on the playground from which to pursue my book and navel-gazing hobby. I’m experiencing an odd occurrence in this pregnancy: my pants are moving backwards. In the beginning I was bloated, swollen, and in yoga pants praying for the speedy arrival of my box of maternity clothes. At the moment I’m wearing normal civilian jeans and a loose t-shirt. As I’ve progressed the baby has moved higher up and the water retention dwindled to nothingness. This is great news for the continued comfort of my favorite jeans but really, really awful on my slowly compressing lungs and it causes me to grumble unpleasantries at my unborn child like “You should know before November: the EXIT is the OTHER way. Now get out of my diaphragm.”

Today I tried as hard as I could, but my poor lungs and I simply could not catch our breath. Finally I grabbed on to some monkey bars and leaned forward a bit, expanding my ribcage and enjoying a few delightful sips of oxygen. But since it requires both hands this is a rotten position from which to enjoy a book and I got cranky because I don’t find the playground nearly as interesting without a little boost from the written word. (Maggie, for her part, had suspended herself from the rope climbing structure and was happily contemplating clouds, so she was of no help.) At least I could feel sunshine on my head and neck.

It’s kind of amazing to me that the child who is so gaily compressing my respiratory system is the same one who settles on the nerves that affect my right leg and hip, making sitting for more than 20 minutes without numbness impossible. Though I feel small for six months along, I can only conclude that this baby is enormous and already defying physics. I can’t wait to see what happens during the .002 seconds of sunshine next summer when my older monkey-child and younger mad scientist start putting their heads together.

Stress

The preliminary visit to the doctor went well. We’re going to have a further evaluation done juuuuuuust in case, but the initial thoughts from the doctor (which we had been floating around ourselves for the last few days) was that Maggie is still coming down from the high-stress, high-instability period of…well, her whole life. She likes to control the elements of her environment that she can–it comes off as potentially sensory, but it’s more about being the boss over the areas that she can control since so many other things have been up in the air.

It makes perfect sense, really. Between Tom’s 5-month business trip where she and I bounced all over the United States, three big trips (two to other countries!), a seven-week period of transit between Hawaii and England, the differences between life in Hawaii and life in England, parents who have been under strain, and a new baby on the way that she’s not totally sure about but she knows something big is up…well, no wonder. No freakin’ wonder. I know how hard it is for me to get out of bed some mornings; no wonder she melts down if I try to put her in a new pair of pants she’s never seen before. It’s just one more change she had no say over, and frankly, Mommy has no fashion sense. I’d cry too.

We’re still going to see the home visitor for additional input–it’s never a bad idea to have the home health visitor in your corner anyway, regardless of what’s going on–but our strategy includes lots of kind words, lots of hugs, easy transitions, slowly moving the next few weeks, quitting ballet entirely. She’s enough like I was as a child for me to know where her other difficulties are going to lie; with the information we’re collecting I feel like I’m getting better at speaking Maggie’s language and getting MY confidence up, which will help me with building up hers. Her world is still crazy to her and sending her crazy signals that make her act a little bonkers, but right now we think it’s for a reason we can readily handle. All good things.

Besides, it’s cold enough in July for her to wear pink fleece footie pajamas. After Hawaii, I totally get losing my mind over this place.

Unsaid

Things I Think But Don’t Say Out Loud at the KidzPlay Indoor Gym:

I can handle most kid noise but parents who allow their children to scream because they like the sound and let them do it indoors should be slapped.

I know the family bathroom smells like a urinal after last call, but please don’t change diapers in the lunch area.

The gym is basically a two-level padded cell enclosed by heavy-duty fine mesh nylon netting. There is almost no way your kid can get truly hurt in there. So when you follow your kid into the narrow tubes and down the skinny slides because you’re afraid your kid will get hurt, you are going to look really foolish when you get stuck. I kept Maggie in the 2-and-under area until I knew she could navigate and let her run, because I know if my pregnant ass followed her in there it would end like Winnie The Pooh trapped in the honey tree. The ONLY place your kid could get hurt is if they climbed up to the roof of the mini-playhouse, which is not allowed and really hard anyway. Back off and knit things or read like the rest of us.

If your kid CAN climb on the roof of the mini-playhouse, I’ll thank you to keep your radioactive monkey-gene juice out of my kid’s cup so she will not be influenced by your hooligan’s shocking disregard for…wait. That’s my kid on the roof of the playhouse that the gym guards are running to get. Er…carry on, then.

Dandelions

(He is young, so full of hope; reveling in tiny dreams. Filling up his arms with flowers right for giving any queen.)

Today Maggie and I went raspberry-picking. The field near our house has fantastic plants, but in the manner of all English land the ground cover sometimes tends to thistle and nettles with sharp, poky leaves. If you dress properly you’re fine; if you’re dressed in shorts and sandals for a warm summer day you’re going to have your legs and feet clawed up.

 (Running to her beaming bright while cradling his prize; a flickering of yellow light within his mother’s eyes.)

Raspberry-picking is nice when you’ve blown past the halfway point of pregnancy. Less bending since the plants are so tall and anything close to the ground is going to be spotted and picked by your wee assistant (whether or not the berry makes it to the basket is a hit-or-miss proposition).

(She holds them to her heart, keeping them where they’ll be safe. Clasped within her very marrow: dandelions in a vase.)

But those plants! Oh, how sharp they are around your toes. But if you’re willing to reach in, if you’re willing to navigate patiently, if you don’t mind getting poked a little bit, if you don’t mind getting a little scratched and bloody…the fruit is worth it. Plump, perfect, sunshine on a vine.

(She sees love where anyone else would see weeds.)

Today Maggie gave me a dandelion that she picked from under a bush. It was crawling with bugs but she couldn’t wait to share it–jamming it up my nose so I could “Smell the pretty flower! Smell!” I did.

(Where do I fit in this puzzle? What good are these gifts?)

She carried it around with her until it became hopelessly tattered, in the way that things handled by toddlers so often are, and then she gave it to me for safekeeping.

(All that I have ever wanted was to give my best to you.)

We finished picking (or rather, I finished picking and Maggie finished snacking) and we walked back. She told me the story of the Velveteen Rabbit from memory and how the rabbit played with his Boy while pointing out the raspberry canes in the field. If she hadn’t told me, I could have told her; it was one of my favorites as a little girl too.

(Lord, search my heart. Create in me something clean.)

After we got home I put her dandelion on our summer nature table and went about the business of mid-day: helping small hands wash off dirt, assembling some kind of a lunch, changing a diaper and reading a story before nap time. I sat down after putting Maggie down for her rest and listened to Five Iron Frenzy’s “Dandelions” a few times. It’s always been a favorite; never more than now, now that I have a child. And Maggie? At the end of the day after everything else, she is my something clean. She is a beautiful creation unto herself.

(Dandelions…you see flowers in these weeds.)

Whatever road we travel with her, everything is going to be fine.

Metabolism on Ice

Things Occupying My Mind As I Blow Past the Midway Point of Pregnancy:

1. I can’t believe I’m going to complain about this…but here I go. I can’t seem to gain any weight. Thanks to the Exorcist-level morning sickness I experienced this time around (which has not totally abated), I estimate that I dropped about ten pounds in my first trimester. None of my maternity pants fit; a pair I purchased in a size lower than what I usually wear hangs off me like parachute pants. Since I don’t know the words OR the dance to “Too Legit” I suspect that’s a problem. As 2.0 fattens up and grows on schedule (more on that in a second) I am dropping weight from my arms, thighs, and abdomen. My rings are so loose that I have to be careful to keep track of them; my watch keeps swinging around to face down. I’m wolfing Ben & Jerry’s down by the pint, eating three solid meals and at least two big snacks during the day, dispatching Tom to make cookies, and still the only pairs of pants that fit me are a pair of Levi’s ultra-low ultra-skinny jeans and a pair I hung onto, for reasons passing understanding, from high school.

2. Despite it sucking every bit of caloric storage from my flesh, the little fetus is growing right on schedule and my ultrasound revealed a happy, growing little baby we’ve temporarily christened “Thumpy”. Sadly my cool due date was lost–it moved three days from 11-11-11 to 11-14-11. This actually doesn’t make a bit of difference to me; I went so overdue with Maggie that my hope is to not be pregnant on my birthday (November 28). The baby is also starting to assert itself. Maggie was scrambling around on my lap looking for a comfortable spot when I felt a hit under my ribs so hard that I yelped in pain. I chastised Maggie for not being careful and she looked at me like I was a moron (a look she has perfected). I realized then that the hit was coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE as if to say “Woman, get that toddler under control or I will John Hurt you.”

So there’s that. Assertive, healthy, and fattening up right on schedule whilst stealing all my nutrients. At least my hair is looking full and fluffy.

3. I’ve been classified as very low risk and a good candidate by the midwives and the local clinic, so assuming the baby is in the proper position when the time comes we’re officially starting to look at things we need for the homebirth. It’s hard looking at those kits without remembering those first days after Maggie’s birth. Ohhh, the ice packs. Lots of ice packs. Oddly enough, pricing out disposable underwear didn’t really drive home the reality of the impending little person; pulling the trigger on buying the baby’s car seat did. We needed to buy it a little early since we’re ordering an American model through Amazon (a Britax B-Safe) and couldn’t try it in the car first–we have to have time to return it in case it doesn’t work out. The seat and two new diaper covers are the first things we’ve purchased for this baby. Imagining that tiny little diaper sitting in that car seat is making me verklempt…as is the thought of those ice packs. Ye gods.

It’s all getting real: there’s going to be a new little person here in a few short months. A little person who will poo and scream and need to be fed every two hours…and who will snuggle and make grunty noises in its sleep and eventually get big enough to wrap its arms around me and say, as its big sister did today: “Oh, I just love you so much.”

That’s worth all the ice packs. Trust me.

Thank You

Thanks for the kind words and emails. Immediately after you post something like that you start thinking of exceptions.

“Well, there was that one time with So-and-So’s son, she was just fine! Loved him! Told him he had nice hair! And she’s so nice to adults once she gets to know them.”

“How can she have tactile/sensory issues? Have you seen that child at the beach? Or eating sticky rice? Or holding a spoon and fork or finger-painting with her yogurt?”

“YOU TOOK HER TO A DAMN LUAU WITH TONGAN DRUMMING AND SHE WAS FINE!! It was the reason you signed her up for dance in the FIRST place.”

So…yeah. Some second-guessing. I guess it reinforces the hunch aspect–the behavior isn’t all the time. But then I remember things like this:

“When she was little she had to be swaddled in a Moby Wrap and bounced on an exercise ball for an hour to sleep. Naps included. And that went until 7 or 8 months old. Rocking wouldn’t do–it had to be the rhythmic up-and-down of the ball.”

“Most of the kids she willingly approaches are significantly older–4 or older–and their movements are much slower and more coordinated. Kids her own age typically freak her out.”

“She reacts better to injections than to getting her fingernails cut.”

“She desperately still needs a daytime nap but getting her to sleep during the day–even with blackout curtains–is impossible.”

“She has little to no awareness of her bodily output.”

“At this very moment she is sitting folded into a storage box reenacting a womb position, and her favorite place to relax in the house is a small bit of dark space at the bottom of Daddy’s closet.”

It’s a mix. It’s inconsistent. It’s not always presenting. But it’s there. I mentioned in the comments that my gut feeling is that she’s just a finely-wired, very sensitive child who will likely need a few tricks to help her in her everyday life until she is older and can better articulate what her world is giving her to work with. I think the main benefit of EI would be for US–showing us what we can do differently and in a way she can process.

This isn’t a big deal, I don’t think. It’s just enough of something to make us want a second opinion.

Into the unknown

I haven’t had too much to say since we’ve been enjoying the summer–at least, the summer, such as it is in Northern England. But briefly, I’d like to say a word about parental instinct.

For a host of reasons that I’ve been gathering, tracking, and as of today actively journaling over the last few weeks and trying inadequately to describe to far-away family members, we’re bringing Maggie to the pediatrician for a referral to whatever the UK’s version of Early Intervention is. Whatever…this…is, if it is anything at all, I am not sure. I’ve had nothing to go on but a few incidents and a nagging feeling in my gut that something was not…quite…right.

There’s something about the way Maggie processes the world that makes me wonder. Hating the feel of the hairbrush and toothbrush or the feeling of water coming out of the faucet. Becoming upset and repeating “Loud noises don’t hurt” over and over to reassure herself when she hears an unpleasant sound. Most heartbreaking of all is backing away from children her own age in a defensive posture, hands up, visibly nervous that they may engage further. It doesn’t happen that way every time; she’s been able to play with some friends’ kids. But most of the time it’s “hands up, back away.”

And most recently, today: a full-blown panic attack (body locked, hyperventilating, sobbing, begging to go to the car) at a baby ballet class that until now she’s made a few attempts to endure, if not happily. This is not the first meltdown in class or the first one that forced us to leave and find a dark corner to calm down; it was the first time we had to leave almost as soon as the class started. It was thirty minutes before I could calm her down enough to even attempt to figure out what might have triggered her reaction. She calmed down enough to agree to go into the adjoining kid’s gym play area, where she buried herself to the neck in the plastic ball pit and remained as motionless as a lawn ornament for twenty minutes before she requested to go home.

I’ve read the literature and I’m quite confident this is not autism. I’m also feeling good that it’s not full-blown sensory processing disorder; she likes to fingerpaint with her yogurt as much as the next toddler, adores the sea and sand, and would eat rebar if only we covered it in tomato sauce. Nobody is going to be more excited than I am to hear that this is nothing; just a phase (albeit a long, protracted, well-predating our move to England phase) or something easily dealt with. I’ve hesitated even saying anything when all I have are a few hunches and a couple incidents that make me say “Hmm…”

I hope I’m overreacting and that we are not about to leap over the edge into an unknown world. I really do. But our instincts say that we need to talk to someone. And so we are.