Growing Pains

May 9, 2015

I remember really liking the show Growing Pains. Looking back, I’m not really sure why. There was the intense episode where Mike Seaver is offered drugs at a party and Kirk Cameron and company made a special announcement after the show. One of those one-actor-talks-then-we-cut-to-another-actor-who-continues-the-thought-then-we-keep-on-alternating-between-cast-members-until-we-return-to-a-final-wide-shot-with-all-of-the-cast-members-and-end-with-the-original-actor-wrapping-it-up type of announcements. But I had graduated D.A.R.E. by then (with honors), so I didn’t really need their gravity. In my humble opinion, they would have been better off using those 22 minutes to tell the origin story of Boner Stabone.

I’m guessing the real reason I liked the show was its amazing theme song, “As Long As We Got Each Other”. It easily knocked off the theme from Silver Spoons as my number one TV jam.

Show me that smile again, don’t waste another minute on your crying…

It was electric, but that meant everything after that theme song became anticlimax. Who wants to hear what Alan Thicke has to say about psychiatry’s blurred lines when you’re hyped up on “the best is ready to begin…”?

So four months after my rather somber blog post regarding Elliot’s growing pains, we had another appointment this week. We went in feeling pretty good. Over the past few months, Elliot has made slow yet steady growth. I know this because I chase him around the house with a tape measure on a regular basis. Additionally, he can dunk with more nuance on his basketball hoop. He’s adding a little more Blake Griffin to his repertoire that was once confined to the stylings of Chris Paul. Aside from his vertical growth, Mr. E. has also popped out 6-7 teeth in the last few months. He’s quite proud of them.

Elliot didn’t have any more blood tests or urine samples during this time, so there was no new lab information to freak out about. No more bright green bandages around his arm. No more weird plastic bags to attach using space-age technology.

But nevertheless, once more unto San Francisco.

We were only in the waiting room for a few minutes when they called him in. He stepped on a scale and actually hit the 20-pound mark, albeit with clothes and shoes. They measured his height while standing with a contraption that descended upon his dark curls. He was so patient, considering it looked like something The Borg would use to cyberize somebody. When they let us know this measurement, I was disappointed. He was at 30.12 inches, significantly less than the 31 I had ballparked him at. The results also showed steady growth in weight but a flattening in height. However, the last test was done lying down instead of standing up. Our endocrinologist asked if Elliot could be measured again, so we could compare apples to apples. The nurse who measured him was the same one who did our previous test. He came in right around 31 inches according to this assessment. With the new measurement, Elliot was right back on a normal growth curve.

The doctors and residents seemed cautiously optimistic about Elliot’s growth. They didn’t feel that any new tests needed to be ordered, but wanted to check back on him in 4-6 months. If he started to level off and not show any growth, we could get more tests as needed. It all seemed very sensible.

Throughout this whole ordeal, Elliot was a total trooper. He sat calmly as they checked his blood pressure. He showed no shame as a resident did the obligatory penis peek. It’s really nice to do this when he is so clueless. If he’s worried about anything, he certainly didn’t show it.

On our way home we got stuck in horrible Bay Area traffic. So I had three-and-a-half hours to think about what this appointment meant. It kind of seems like he may just be a short kid who doesn’t require any special interventions. That’s good news of course, but the lack of drama made me feel a little silly for all the worrying evident in my blog post four months ago.

Perhaps, like a Growing Pains episode, everything going forward is anticlimax. Elliot even has curls to rival Kirk Cameron. Both of those are good things, I suppose.

I keep on trying to check my optimism regarding E. What if that earlier standing-height measurement was the valid one? What about his low levels of IGF that showed up in his blood work? What if we’re missing something because we’re not doing more tests? It’s almost like a part of me wants to justify my worrying. Terrible, I know.

However, I mostly feel good. Whatever happens, I’ve made peace. Elliot is going to turn out great no matter what size he ends up being. It’s my new life philosophy inspired by that great television theme song:

Baby, rain or shine, all the time, we got each other, sharing the laughter and love

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The High of Five

May 2, 2015

I’m sure there are some great things about having a 10-year-old or 20-year-old kid. There may even be glimpses of joy during the teenage years, if one is keen enough to discern them in between eye rolls.  However, I’m not sure things get much better than playing parent to a five-year-old daughter.

She doesn’t need her folks nearly as much. She sleeps through the night. She no longer requires diapers (even at night). She can eat food without constant clean up. She dresses herself, even though her outfits often make her look like she was simultaneously dressed by Titus Andromedon and Kimmy Schmidt.

Yet in spite of this self-sufficiency, she finds joy in the company of her parents. She chooses us daily, repeatedly. In her misguided worldview, we are the best parents to ever exist, worth twenty hundred million whole wide worlds of love.

In the first few years of my life, I remember being a little disappointed by our goodbyes. When I would leave for work or a long trip, she would sometimes hug me, but if there was a doll to dress or a cat to terrorize, she would give me a no-eye-contact goodbye.

And then, everything changed.

Now, I can’t leave the house without a giant whole-body hug. Often, she will run to the window, stand on the sofa, blow kisses, and pantomime hugs. It sure beats a V8 as a way to start one’s day.

Nighttime tends to be a mirror image. There’s always a request/demand for a snuggle. She loves the stories I make up, no matter how contrived or formulaic. She loves playing little improv games, like “Fake Laugh to Real Laugh”, “Are You My Daddy?/Are You My Daughter?”, and “Remember When Elliot…?” (our personal favorite). I can’t leave her room without an extra hug or reminder of her five-year-old love.

It’s strange to think that a five-year-old could significantly affect the self-confidence of her father, but I do feel like Alice has changed me for the better. For example, I basically bombed an art lesson today with my students. It was a lesson on origami, and it unfolded poorly. Kids were working at all different steps, the stragglers got frustrated, my students needed lots of reminders about behavior. In addition to this, two college student observers were watching. Perhaps I instructed through negative example. Don’t do what I just did.

In the past, I would have really beaten myself up for this. I would have questioned my credibility, compared myself to others, and vowed to fold no more forever. Today, I did this for a few minutes. Then I accepted it, thought of a few tweaks I could make, and let it go.  After all, I had a loving family to go home to. A poorly-taught lesson would not change the amount of joy in the hug I would receive. Not one bit. I felt pleasantly unbreakable.

Of course I haven’t morphed into Pollyanna. I am still a pessimist at heart, so I wonder if the love I receive from my daughter will just be a temporary shot of self-confidence that will quickly fade as she gets older. I wonder if I will feel a painful void when her uber-love goes away. I wonder if I can store up enough of it in my emergency reserves to keep up with the demands of the self-centered teenager.

So the bad news is that I’m supremely needy emotionally. I didn’t realize the extent of this until I had a five-year-old. However, the good news is that there’s enough love emanating from her to power a city and a half. And partly due to her example, her brother is already powering up as well. His “yove yous” come frequently and he’s started to smile through the window, his froggy visage beaming.

It’s good to be a parent now.

No Regrets

April 29, 2015

I was in paradise, I was home, and I felt like I shouldn’t have come. When Sara and I planned our Hawaii trip, we felt it made so much sense to come to Oahu after our week in Kauai. We had the time off, so what reasons did we have for not spending another week in the motherland, sitting on beaches and seeing family?

Well, it turned out there were several.

Homesickness: Due to six weeks of summer school, I spent about five days at home for the entire summer. Sara and the kids had a similarly hectic travel schedule, going down to SoCal, up to Washington, and barely catching the plane to Kauai. We did not realize we would miss our beds so much.

The Bed Situation: It is ungrateful and impolite to complain about our free accommodations, but our sleeping situations were not ideal. For about five days, we stayed with a family friend. She was most gracious, but had less room than we thought. As a result, the four Ks shared a room along with our hefty suitcases. Elliot was crammed in the corner, sleeping in a travel crib while Alice, Sara, and I tried to sleep comfortably on two twin beds put together. For the next few days, we stayed with my auntie. While she is probably the most awesome woman I know, she’s closing in on 100, and her attention to detail isn’t the best. As a result, our bed smelled a lot like cat pee. A LOT. Aside from when I first got to Yap, it’s the closest I felt to living life in a different socioeconomic status. Except this time, I had a wife and two kids. It made me feel edgy, easily frustrated, more worried. It also made me more empathetic toward people who have a rougher lot than me. I was frayed, despite knowing that I was going home in a few days.

Elliot’s Eating: I feel like this trip may have really set Elliot back and was probably one of the factors in our fear about his growth. He ate very little this trip. Looking at photos, from a few months before, he went from plump with folds to thin and ribby. This was tough, and definitely turned out to be the biggest rub of the trip.

Iselle and Julio: These were the two hurricanes that were headed to Oahu while we were there. The media was going crazy. Costco was selling all their water. We feared evacuation to a shelter. Alice and Elliot got comfort toys (big rubber ball and Hot Wheels). I called our airline, clamoring for updates, wondering if we could leave the island as scheduled. In the end, it was much ado about nothing. Minor wind and a few showers. It made me very cynical about the media’s coverage of meteorological events.

But in spite of all these harrowing factors, I am happy we went to Oahu. We found refuge on beaches, with Elliot scooting in the sand and Alice practicing her newfound swimming skills. We drove up to the Pali Lookout and watched the wind deliver joy to the kids with gusto. We went to church with familiar faces, and enjoyed the world’s best church potluck. We saw old friends with their new families.

However, the thing that made the trip was getting to see my 90-year-old aunties, Alice and Ellen. When we came over, amidst hurricane warnings, they were waiting for us on the porch. They were so worried. They held my Alice and Elliot and fawned over them. They played ball with them, showing off an unexpected limberness as they reached down to grab the ball. They laughed, and hugged, and kissed, and loved. Like they always have. Sara fell in love with them the first time she met them. They are like an extra set of great grandmothers, family treasures that I want my kids to experience as much as possible.

In their video clips, I’ve deliberately left in their audio. They don’t match the delicate voice of Israel Kamakawiwo’ole at all, but when I think of this trip, their voices are the ones that soothe my restless soul.

Rut or Groove?

April 27, 2015

So I’m either stuck in a creative rut or found a certain groove. I go back and forth really. One certainty, however, is that I am going hog wild on nostalgic video moments set to music.

There are many hearbreaks that come with the process. The spoiling revelation that the song you once thought to be sweet sounds really creepy when it accompanies video footage of your children. The pangs of disappointment when you realize that exactly zero hip-hop/rap tracks are appropriate for the vibe of the childhood video.  The guilt of the uncroppable finger that ruins the shot you can never have back.

However, there are some positives as well. Reliving moments that you completely forgot about, like the one where your daughter dances like an octopus and your son’s attempt at mimicry results in adorable failure. Choosing a song and seeing a word or beat match up perfectly with the footage, as if things were meant to be. Imagining how much joy your children will get out of these videos when they are 30, and imagining how much embarrassment you can inflict upon them when they are 16.

Perhaps the best outcome of this video frenzy is that it finally motivated me to put together some video footage of our Hawaii vacation from last summer. It isn’t good enough to justify nine months of waiting, but it also doesn’t require an epidural to complete. At least that’s what my video doula told me.

tEAm

April 22, 2015

I wasn’t there, but I could picture it clearly and it brought me so much joy. It happened after Alice’s ballet class. There’s a handicapped-access ramp just outside of the building where she meets. In their post-pirouette punchiness, the girls like to climb and hang and flip on the ramp’s railing. It’s basically an insurance claim waiting to happen.

But creepy opportunistic lawyers aren’t the only ones intrigued by such acrobatics.

Apparently, a curly-haired five-toothed fellow has been watching the gymnastics carefully. And on this particular Monday, he thought he would try to hang with the ballet gals. Much to his mother’s surprise and delight, he actually succeeded. An unflexed-arm hang for several seconds, with some back and forth swinging. While that feat was certainly a Mufasa-holds-Simba-over the-edge-of-the-rock moment for a father, what followed was even better.

Alice, dressed to arabesque in her black leotard, came running over and effused joy at her little bro’s accomplishment. Rather than choose to compete with him (“Look what I can do Mommy/Daddy? Do you see what I can do? Are you looking at me?”) she chose to celebrate her sibling. High on pride, low on guile.

That’s Sara’s story anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

These moments are important to me. I know a number of brother-sister relationships (and older sister-younger brother ones in particular) that seem less than ideal. I’m not sure if my data is skewed toward the dysfunctional, but my perception makes me want to actively nurture Team E & A. It’s probably one reason for the video propaganda below:

So there. I hope they never get over the fact that they are on each other’s team.

To Quote Bono

April 18, 2015

It’s been…well, it’s been a little while. Since I did anything really. But definitely since I posted a video. Here’s one of the son growing up. And indeed he is growing, slowly but surely. We’ll have another checkup at the beginning of May, but most of the indicators seem to be hopeful.

In addition to finally growing teeth, the young buck is sliding, throwing, kicking, running, and verbalizing with abandon. His favorite word is ball, and he is obsessed with every variety. Just be alert though, or he’ll pop you with one when you aren’t looking.

Eyes on the Prize

January 24, 2015

I always thought that I would look up to my son someday. Literally. Since his paternal grandfather is the height of an NBA shooting guard, and I am the tallest member of my immediate family, I figured he would get closer to dunking than his dad ever did. That he would not need to ask for assistance when reaching for top shelves at Target. That he would not have to perpetually consider the height added by heels before asking a girl out on a date.

But recently, I’ve received news that these predictions might be off. I don’t want to get too specific at this point, but on Wednesday we will consult with an endocrinologist and take a few more tests. However, it appears that Elliot is low on a protein that is supposed to help his toddler body grow. This makes sense. It would explain his lack of teeth at over 18 months and the fact that his height and weight have fallen off all growth charts.

When Sara told me the results, I experienced a wide range of emotions. Fear. Disbelief. Disappointment. Relief at finally knowing. Frustration and even anger and not trying to test these things sooner. Confusion. Determination at finding more about what it all meant.

I went online which helped and didn’t help. It certainly triggered more emotions. It made me hopeful one minute and paranoid the next.

Another emotion I experienced was guilt over being so affected. When we were still trying to figure things out, I directly asked the pediatrician if he saw any possibilities that would affect Elliot’s long-term health. He seemed to indicate that there wasn’t reason to think there would be anything life-threatening. This brought me comfort.

My reading seemed to confirm the pediatrician’s assessment. That there was a range of quality-of-life issues, but that he would be okay. So I felt a little guilty for my angst over my son’s size. There are obviously much bigger problems and much greater struggles. In fact, there is a very slight chance that he may be less likely to get cancer because of this condition. But nevertheless, my son, my perfect son, probably has a condition. And though I experience many different emotions depending on the day, or hour, or minute, or the size of the kid next to him, the one I feel as I type is this—crestfallen.

But as I type that word, which I never found much use for until now, I find myself fighting back. It’s like when I take Elliot over for a meal or another “opportunity” after he has thrown food off of his tray. He stiffens his legs, he arches back, he will not go gentle into that good high chair.

When Sara and I talk about this at night, I hear myself saying surprising things. Things that come across as unsupportive or even uncaring when they leave my lips. But, while I talk to her, I’m also talking to myself. I sound very new-age-y or like I just attended some motivational seminar. That his limits may be his strengths. That he won’t fall into the trap of trying to feel normal because of his obvious differences. That we can give him such a strong foundation that he won’t feel deficient.

I may be completely naive about this, but this is what I choose to believe. I believe that somehow, the love that this kid gets will make whispers roll of his back. That it will give him the confidence to push harder with each dismissive glance. That he will take any laughter aimed his way and re-direct it so that a room can laugh together.

I didn’t think it was possible, but somehow, I’m going to start loving this kid even more. To meet whatever condition he has with a recklessly unconditional love. And the little dude is easy to love. Easy on the eyes and the heart alike. When he watches his mother and sister and asks for a “nuggle”, an uncontainable love pops from his tender soul. When his eyes sparkle as he runs away with a red pen he isn’t supposed to have, he makes mischief look adorable. When he utters his 289th word, he feels satisfaction without even knowing why. He is fully confident. A believer in the world and in himself, and I will kick, and cry, and throw food off of my tray to help him keep this sense.

The world can be a cruel place. It can damage you and leave you incomplete. It certainly has done this to me. Yet there are people out there who seem to rise above the refuse. People who are self-possessed enough to handle their differences with fearlessness. People who don’t let their race, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical disabilities, learning differences, or any other differences limit their capacity for joy.

All of this talk, in fact, may be a non-issue. We won’t make any judgements on growth-hormone therapies until consulting with the endocrinologist and others. However, there’s a reasonable chance we may choose to go that route. This would bring up a different set of challenges, but I think that giving a child the love he needs to develop self-confidence will translate regardless of the circumstances.

To some extent, this technique has worked with Alice. She isn’t perfect by any means, but I can tell she has a self-confidence that I can’t ever remember having. Of course, other than being on the small side for her age and acting out 20% of her life as a kitten, she doesn’t have any significant differences from other kids.

But no matter what happens, I have this belief that Elliot will grow up to be a happy, self-possessed, charismatic kid who makes the world a better place. It won’t be smooth sailing all the way. His sparkling eyes may be glazed with tears from injections or insults. I may occasionally see his dark curls running away from me towards a soon-to-be-slammed door. My faith may falter as I try to protect him from being hurt. But I choose to believe that, regardless of whether he is 4’8″ or 6’8″, Elliot will be a son I look up to.