Get your car seats checked out

Ever since Miles was born, the car seat has been always been an issue.

Not for him. For me.

You see, the gosh-darned things are just so hard to install correctly. The guideline, they say, is no more than an inch of wiggle room side-to-side. I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to achieve that.

I mean, I’m a grown man, of not insubstantial size, and I’m literally standing in the back seat of the car, pulling those belts as tight as I can with all the strength I have. I’m also fairly intelligent, smart enough to read an owner’s manual and figure things like this out.

Still, it seems like it’s never quite tight enough.

So a few days before Owen was born, we took both our cars over to St. Mary’s for a car seat safety program they were putting on.

Thank goodness for these folks, who are certified by the National Standardized Child Passenger Safety Training Program. They are truly doing good work. A quick evaluation on both cars and they told me what I expected, that neither of Miles’ seats were as secure as they should have been.

They showed us how to make sure they were as tight as possible, which is not nearly as simple as it seems.

For example, we learned that the “LATCH system” belts we had been using to install Miles’ seat wasn’t adequate in either of our cars.

The LATCH system (standing for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) came into being in the early part of the 2000’s and was supposed to be a universal, foolproof solution for installing car seats.

For newborns and infants, it does just that – for toddler-sized kids, it’s more of a hit-and-miss proposition and even something as insignificant as the shape of the seat back can mess everything up.

St. Mary’s registered nurse Terry Cooper showed us why the “latches” weren’t working for us and showed us how to secure the seatbelt in the more traditional way with the lap and shoulder belts, which in our specific case, proved to be a far safer and easier method.

I could go on a rant about how the car manufacturers and car seat manufacturers need to get their collective acts together and collaborate on a truly universal system for car seats, but if that hasn’t happened by now it’s probably not going to.

Instead, I will simply point out the importance of making sure your children’s car seats are 100% safely installed.

The good thing is, both Deaconess and St. Mary’s here in town have car seat safety programs. My guess is most hospitals have something similar in place.

If your car seat doesn’t seem quite secure enough, it probably isn’t. Make an appointment, and they will check everything out for you at no cost.

 

http://www.deaconess.com/TheWomensHospital/Wellness-and-Education/Pregnancy.aspx

http://www.stmarys.org/car-seat-safety

Requiem for a grouch

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I’d like to think I am a good dad.

But I can also be a real grouchy jerk, often without even knowing it.

I was reminded of that while having a “constructive dialog” (i.e., an argument) with Abbey the other day about how to handle disciplining Miles these days – he has been acting up quite a bit lately, especially since the new baby came along.

I don’t mean to be a crank, but I suppose frustration gets the best of me too often. I probably raise my voice a little too much. And Miles, being the stubborn, willful child that he is, isn’t particularly inclined to listen any better when the decibel level of my voice gets higher – he simply misbehaves even more in protest.

In addition to my usual triggers – noise, messes, mornings – it seems like all of us in this house let ourselves get wrapped up in it. If one person gets upset and starts raising their voice, it turns into a cycle of tension, frustration and raised voices for everyone. Even when you’re not mad at somebody, you still end up raising your voice, if for no other reason than just to make yourself heard.

One of the things I most admire about my wife is her ability to size up a complicated, emotional problem and come up with a solution. She intuited that if we raised our voices less, Miles would probably behave better.

So far, it is working. There are far fewer episodes of willful disobedience and he is a lot more cooperative with us the last few days.

When he does act up, he goes to his new “timeout chair.” This is a rocking chair in the corner of the living room. There aren’t any toys or distractions – his previous timeout spot was his bedroom, which only seems to exacerbate the situation which put him in timeout to start with. I won’t say the “timeout chair” is perfect, but he seems to respond to it much better. After all, a three-year-old bundle of energy can’t waste time sitting around in a boring chair in a boring corner, there are just too many other things to do.

This has been a good reminder for me how my bad mood can affect everybody else, even when I don’t mean to inflict it upon on my family – and I think Abbey would admit she can be the same way sometimes.

It’s also a reminder that we need to stay flexible in how we interact with our kids. What works for one kid may not work for another, and even with the same kid, what worked a year ago may not be the best approach for right now.

Nobody died and made anybody a parenting expert. We are learning just like everybody else and doing the best we can. Hopefully, one of these days, we’ll be able to look back and say we did a good job.

 

 

 

Home sweet home

One of the things you do with a newborn in the house is watch TV.

A lot of TV. After all, when you’re sitting in a chair with a baby in your arms, there aren’t exactly a ton of realistic entertainment options.

In our house, that usually means marathon viewings of series on Netflix.

Lately it seems we gravitate toward the home renovation shows on HGTV and the like. It’s enough to give us serious thoughts as to what we plan to do with our house in the future.

Background: We bought our “dream home” this past spring.

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While we are extremely lucky and grateful to be living and raising our kids in this house, I would be lying if I said everything was perfect. The house has tons of character, which is great, but something I’ve learned is that “character” also equals “issues.”

Nothing major, really. It’s just that the décor seems to date to the mid-70’s (not so bad) and early 90’s (a horrendous era for style, judging from my own teenage memories).

There’s a lot of wallpaper. The wallpaper in my office, for instance, has a plant pattern. It looks like reeds, the kind I might see alongside the road when I go back home to Louisiana.

In the meantime, I am concerned about ducks trying to fly in through the windows in an attempt to land on my wall.

The living room has a giant mirror spanning the width of the fireplace and going all the way up to the ceiling. I am no interior designer, but I cannot understand for the life of me why you would want an enormous mirror above your fireplace.

The fireplace is another issue, itself – even if we wanted to use it, the gas lines have been pulled. Plus, the currently-HGTV-playing television just happens to be parked in front of the fireplace area, seeing as how it was the only logical place in the room to put a TV.

There are other things – the finished basement would be great to use as living space, except it’s leaky; the downstairs bathroom has all the square footage of a postage stamp; and the upstairs is always about a thousand degrees.

But I don’t want to sound negative. It really is a great house. I am extremely proud to live here. I look forward to raising my two boys in this house and growing old here.

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In a funny way, I feel like we are carrying on a tradition, as the previous owners raised their kids here. On the back garage wall, there’s a series of marks charting the heights of all the kids.

I can’t fully explain it, but seeing those marks on the wall inspires me. This place has seen a few kids grow up to become adults – at least three generations’ worth since it was built in the late 1930’s.

No doubt there have been lots and lots of birthday parties, family fun, afternoons spent playing in the backyard, heartfelt moments and hugs shared in this old house. I look forward to adding a few hundred more.

(That doesn’t mean I won’t be writing a few of those home renovation shows, though. That projection theater room in the basement isn’t going to just build itself, you know.)

Watch out world, here we come

Yesterday, we had our first outing as a newly-configured family of four, heading to the Fall Festival around lunchtime. I think we desperately needed a reason to get out of the house; what better reason than carnival rides and amazing food?

It was hot, way hotter than I had expected, but everybody was game. Abbey packed little Owen into her sling and toted him around. It was funny to watch people’s reactions – they would either stare as if they had never seen a baby before or point and whisper to their friends:

“Is that a dog??? How cute!!! No, it’s a baby!!! Wow!!!”

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I had forgotten how much attention babies get. Miles certainly got his share and still does. I guess that’s the price for having adorable kids, right? Fortunately, little “O”, as we’ve taken to calling him, seemed to like the accommodations and happily slept the whole time.

Anyway, we started off at the kiddie rides. Miles has not always been one for rides but he seemed to have a good time. He rode a zebra on the carousel and won an inflatable guitar at one of the kiddie games.

He was “disappointed” (parent code for “he threw a temper tantrum”) when he wasn’t quite tall enough to experience the flying Dumbo ride, but there were other fun things to do. He got to ride in the “boose” (caboose) of a little train and tried his hand as a sailor too.

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I am not a ride person. I am, however, a food person. More specifically, a meat fanatic. From the second we got there, I was thinking about the delicious ribeye sandwich I had last year. I didn’t remember exactly who served it, but we knew about where it would be. I had to exhibit a little more patience than I probably cared to, but we eventually made it to the Amvets Post #84 station. The sandwich definitely lived up to my expectations and was just as good as I remembered.

(Hint: Get the pickles and onions and hit it with a decent squirt of steak sauce. The bite of the sauce and pickles, the crunch of the onions and the hot juicy goodness of the ribeye all combined is something to behold.)

I also had to experience the Pulled Pork Parfait from Hawg ‘N’ Sauce, having heard about it in the course of doing a story I wrote a few weeks ago. This also did not disappoint, although I would probably delete the shredded cheese if I got it again. Nothing against the Hawg ‘N’ Sauce recipe, I just have weird preferences when it comes to cheese.

Abbey, going more for the dessert end of the spectrum, got a couple of really good cookies from Rennie’s; a fantastic white chocolate bread pudding from It Takes a Village; and some fried pickle spears.

I only regret that I had just one stomach to fill because I saw at least 15 other things I would’ve loved to try. But there’s always the rest of the week, right?

 

Three going on 14

I think my son is becoming a teenager.

The thing is, Miles is only three, but with some of the things he says and does these days – if you closed your eyes you would honestly think there’s a 14-year-old in the house.

Lately he calls us “mom” and “dad.” Not “mommy” and daddy” like you might expect from a child who is practically a baby, still in diapers. No, it’s “mom” and “dad” now, and he says it so matter-of-factly we know it’s not just a put-on.

That is, of course, when he uses a parental designation at all. About half the time, he calls me “Michael” lately. Now this behavior, I am sure, comes from hearing his mother call me by my given name all the time. (Surely, it’s a good thing he doesn’t hear all the other things she calls me from time to time.)

Yesterday, he approached me with an orange in his hand: “Michael, could you peel this orange for me?”

Again, the way he said it was so matter-of-factly. I almost fell off my chair laughing.

Now, I grew up in the South. Calling your parent by their first name when I was a kid was like cussing in church or something. If I ever did that with my parents, I am sure it did not happen a second time.

Of course, the most frightening teenage prospect of all, he also wants to drive the car. Every single time we go somewhere. “I want to drive!!”

I tried to tell him he could drive when he was 16 years old. He gave me a dirty look, the kind I would not expect to have gotten until at least eighth grade.

It also shows up occasionally when he’s upset about something. We’re used to the tantrums. He usually will hurl himself to the floor, kicking and screaming. This is cause for a timeout.

Except for times like last week, when he decided to forgo the usual histrionics after being denied free reign with a spray can of air freshener.

“I am sad,” he said despondently, but with no tears or pooched-out bottom lip — just resigned disappointment.

“I want to go to my room and be sad now.”

Off to his room he went, closing the door behind him, the weight of the world seemingly on his shoulders. Emo-toddler.

I had a vision of him going to his little boombox, taking out the Yo-Gabba-Gabba soundtrack and putting on a Depeche Mode album instead.

 

 

 

The chaos has begun

Most of last week was spent at the hospital, with Abbey and Owen both doing really well but stuck there for the longer-than-usual time that is exceedingly common with Abbey’s heart condition.

The days were mostly quiet and peaceful. We would have lunch together in the hospital room, and after Miles got out of preschool, we’d pick him up and bring him back there for a visit. It was all very lovely.

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Then we got home.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a special moment to bring Owen home for the first time. It was even more special to have all of us at home together for the first time. And when we all sit in the living room together, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside, like we’re all the subject of a Saturday Evening Post cover or something.

But the chaos is something else. Miles has this habit of exuberantly screaming at the top of his lungs for no reason whatsoever; the dog is incapable of sitting still or relaxing and is usually pacing a trench in the floor; Owen has his own set of newborn problems; and mom and dad spend most of their time shooshing one child or another.

With the baby, it’s of course a gentle “shhhhhh, now let’s go to sleep in our wittle bitty bouncer” and with Miles it’s a furiously whispered “SHHHHH!!!!!! USE YOUR INSIDE VOICE!!!!!! YOU’LL WAKE UP YOUR BROTHER!!!!!”

And yes, sometimes I forget who I am shooshing – ironically the shooshing only adds more to the feeling of general disarray. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.

The dynamic of noise and movement is tough for me personally. I’ve always been a quiet person. I would guess it is hard for many people to relate, but any more than two conversations going on in a room at the same time and my nerves just get twisted into knots.

Over the years, I have learned a few ways to calm myself. I am increasingly thankful for the quiet moments that break up the mass of noise and confusion. Such as now. Owen is asleep. Abbey is watching some bad reality show. Miles is napping —

(in actuality, he’s probably playing with his trains on the floor in his bedroom and would bolt back to his bed if I went and opened the door, but at least he’s being quiet)

— and the only real noise in my vicinity is the clatter of my keyboard and a Dave Brubeck record on the stereo. Ahhhhhh.

It’s these quiet moments that kind of “recharge” me for the not-so-quiet ones.

Because, sometimes, the not-so-quiet moments can also be the most rewarding.

Vacation from toddler

From a weekend vacation with my toddler to a weekend vacation from my toddler — I really don’t know what to do with myself!

We moved into our home in April. We got all the important stuff unpacked and in it’s “right” place — the kitchen, Miles’ room, the bathroom, our living room, Michael’s office… you know, the important stuff.

But then there’s all that other stuff. Granted our ratio of “other” stuff to every day/critical use stuff is way down after the fire, we still have some of it hanging around, much of it stuff for baby to be that we’d handed off to my sister for her son and that she is handing back to us. So the basement and the nursery to be have kind of become these gray, dark, bottomless pits.

And these pits, well they’ve been mostly unattended to other than when I’m frantically looking for a particular pair of shoes or a bag for vacation last weekend. We had a huge unpacking and organizing push early on. My mom and sister helped with entertaining Miles as we got the bulk of it done. But since then, we’ve kind of gone back to life as normal with busy weekends that lead the exhausted evenings and no further unpacking/organizing of the pits.

The time has come though for the pits to go away, hopefully forever. My mom, who is also quite the social butterfly with a busy calendar, has carved away a weekend for her and Miles so Michael and I can really get to work.

I know, I know — a kid-free weekend, and we’re going to clean, organize and unpack? We aren’t going to sleep in, escape somewhere with sunny beaches, bon-bons and golf or go have a nice dinner? We may do one of those things (a kid-free dinner out sounds AMAZING) but what we both really want done is a house that really feels settled and a lack of PITS!

The end of September (when Baby Doyle is expected to make his appearance) is creeping up on us very quickly. And I want his nursery to feel as special and welcoming as Miles’ did.

So here’s to our kid-free weekend filled with cleaning, unpacking and organizing (and hopefully at least one morning of rising after the sun and a quiet dinner).

What do you do if you get a quick reprieve from your kiddos?

Identifying as survivor strange, yet rewarding

April 28, 2006, is a day that changed my life.

That’s the day, at age 25, I had a pacemaker implanted. And while I’ve been living with this lifesaving device for almost eight years, I hadn’t given much thought to being a “survivor.”

But a call for participants for the Courier & Press’ team in the upcoming American Heart Association’s Heart Walk tugged at my, well you guessed it, heart.

I am a survivor — a heart disease survivor. And like a lot of stories of survival, mine is far from typical.

I left for Bangladesh as a healthy, idealistic 23-year-old in 2004. I’d spent some time in Haiti while in high school and felt a strong pull to do work on an international level — to change a tiny corner of the world and myself at the same time. I had worked for a year as a cops reporter at the Springfield, Ill., State Journal-Register but was ready to tackle the world before settling into a career somewhere in the U.S.

This was a group of children running and playing through a tea garden in Sylhet. There was a lot of joy there.

This was a group of children running and playing through a tea garden in Sylhet. There was a lot of joy there.

I returned home from Bangladesh a year later a much different woman. Many of those changes were amazing and positive. But along with that came life-changing damage to my heart.

While serving as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Comilla, Bangladesh, I taught English to young adults and did HIV/AIDS awareness and education programming aimed toward at-risk populations. I was loving the amazing cultural experience there and really felt like I was making an impact.

One of the city squares in Comilla.

One of the city squares in Comilla.

After several months, I started to have fainting episodes. They were unexplained by local physicians, so I was medically evacuated to Bangkok, Thailand, where I spent almost a month in and out of the hospital and doctors’ offices looking for a cause. None could be found, so they sent me back to Bangladesh.

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Several months later, the spells worsened, and I left the Peace Corps after about a year for medical reasons. I returned on a plane to Evansville escorted by our Peace Corps medical officer.

Not only was I devastated to be separated from friends that I’d made and those I was working with, but I was also left with this mystery.

After enough doctors’ visits and tests to make anyone’s head spin, doctors determined I’d developed a virus while in Bangladesh that had spread to my heart, causing damage. My heart was stopping temporarily, making me pass out. After about a year of trying different medicines to control the issue, I had my first pacemaker implanted at 25.

Since then I’ve lived a pretty normal and healthy life. I’ve had a few more surgeries and the occasional complication, but I’ve had one healthy pregnancy that led to my amazing 2½-year-old son and now I am in the second trimester of my second pregnancy.

I will be walking in the May 20 Heart Walk at 19 weeks pregnant, pushing my toddler in a stroller and as a survivor. There will be countless other survivors, those who have or are planning to make lifestyle changes to be healthier people; loved ones of those lost to heart disease; and those who want to help raise funds and awareness for heart disease education.

I’ve told my story. Why not come out to the walk and tell yours?