I usually bristle when people tell me what they think I should write about on here. Being a writer and editor for hire, I fiercely hold onto this space as the place where I can babble on about whatever I feel like, even if the topic sends my readership stats plunging faster than the Dow Jones Index. But lately several people have asked me to write more about Charlie and that is a request I can happily honor. Also, I know there are people reading this blog whose babies are still in the NICU and who are grappling with some of the major problems that Charlie faced during his first five months in the hospital (birth weight of 1 lb. 4 oz., Level IV brain bleed, six surgeries, VP shunt, etc.) and I want them to see how he is growing and thriving, I know how much that would’ve helped me when we were in that situation.
I wish I had a better camera because my photos from this week don’t do him justice. (The more artsy photos I'm including in this post were taken by our friend Campbell who is an excellent photographer.) Still, even in my photos you can see that he is an amazingly happy boy. And very social. We often go to Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax for our morning outing and Charlie loves it, mostly because he loves interacting with the people there. The other day there was a busload of German tourists swarming the market and we came upon an exhausted couple, probably in their 60s, arguing with each other about something and looking quite miserable. When we walked by, Charlie, strapped to me in his ErgoBaby carrier (no back pain at all—I highly recommend this carrier over all others!), looked straight at them and started smiling and waving. The couple stopped their fight in mid-sentence and broke into wide smiles, cooing at Charlie in German (!) and trailing us a half block through the market.
Charlie’s smiles are like crack to me. I’m addicted to them and they immediately send my sometimes languishing seratonin levels through the roof. His laugh is also intoxicating. He thinks his mother is a scream. She can cause hysterical gales of laughter in all sorts of ways, from the more traditional farm animal sounds to her dead-on impersonation of Katharine Hepburn singing Wilco songs (you really have to hear that to believe it). Oh, he’s a normal baby and can also cry up a storm, usually when he is tired, but since for a long time we worried whether his vocal chords would ever function (when he came home from the hospital after five months he still had never made a peep), there’s always part of me that sighs in gratitude at his screaming wails. Nothing is sadder than a baby’s silent sobs.
As of yesterday, Charlie is a year and a half old. But he is only 14 months “adjusted,” a term used with extremely premature babies to more accurately describe where they are in their development. Eventually we’ll switch to his actual age, but for now he acts much more like a 14-month old. Because of his prematurity, he still gets therapy three times a week at our house. Thank you, California. But because of the crumbling (crumbled?) California economy, I worry that the center that supplies this service (until the age of three) may fold at any moment. We’ll see. Because of Charlie’s severe brain hemorrhage at birth on the left side of his head (he had a slightly less severe hemorrhage on the right side), he has delays on his right side. He favors his left arm and leg but he certainly uses the right side—there is no paralysis. (He definitely seems to be left-handed at the moment but it’s hard to really tell at this point.)
While in the NICU, we were constantly given the range of disabilities that Charlie could face in the future because of the brain damage, including all the worst-case scenarios. While we still have to wait and see what cognitive issues he may or may not have in the future, it’s clear that he’s learning every day (he speaks several words and understands many more) and that he clearly has no problem at all attaching to people or making eye contact.
Charlie is not walking yet, but he can zoom all over our house in record speed, acting as a human Swiffer since he’s usually covered in dog hair at the end of one of his sprints! For some reason Charlie is obsessed with our pitbull Emma (the dog my nervous father would still like us to take out back and shoot) and calls out to her all the time, even in his sleep. He loves her and has been known to sneak her many a treat from his high chair. Charlie and our other dog Henry have more of a bemused tolerance for each other. Henry was barely over the addition of Emma to our household when Charlie came along and usurped most of the attention that Henry feels is rightfully his. But he’s also been known to benefit from Charlie’s furtive high chair treats.
Charlie sleeps in bed with us. Yeah, yeah, I know some of you will think that is a really bad idea and will have horror stories to share, but please don’t, I’ve heard them all. It’s what’s right for us at this stage. Don’t worry—Charlie won’t be sleeping with us when he’s 17. I have to say, though, that we’re not fanatics about the “attachment parenting” stuff. I heard actress Mayim Bialik (remember her from “Blossom”?) on a podcast recently talking about her approach to parenting that includes “elimination communication” which means her babies do NOT wear diapers at all, she learns to “know” when they have to pee or poop and keeps a bucket next to their family bed. Oy. I’m not dissing Mayim, I actually thought she was fantastic on the podcast, but we will be keeping those diapers on for a while, thank you very much.
I’m trying my best to live one day at a time and to appreciate everything we have right now. Sometimes we get very sad about Charlie’s twin brother Oliver who died after 12 hours, but that doesn’t take anything away from the constant joy we experience with Charlie, even when he is screaming in our face. Yesterday Kendall took Charlie to a senior citizens home near our house and he brought so much happiness to the old ladies there (except for the one elderly Miss Gulch-like woman who said to Kendall “you get of here and take that damn baby with you!”) that Kendall wants to keep going there on a regular basis. We have no idea what the future holds for Charlie, what issues he may face, or what other challenges we may have to deal with ourselves. But today is great.