Six Years and The Ninth Leap (aka toddler power struggles)

I’m still not convinced that the Wonder Weeks account for Alina’s fussy periods as well as as teething and illnesses explain our most difficult weeks. However, the book’s description of the ninth mental leap into the World of Principles, starting around 14 months, perfectly accounts for Alina’s currently stubborn disposition. I love my little firecracker (I used to call her Sparkler, didn’t I?), but she is much less easygoing than Peter was at 15 months. I don’t remember Peter complaining much (if any) when I shut myself in the office to study for pharmacy exams, but if Alina knows that I’m home, she makes sure that I’m kept busy nursing her, carrying her, reading books to her, playing outside with her, eating food from her hand, or enabling whatever program she currently has in mind. I’ll admit that I did receive adequate warning: the lactation consultant at the hospital the day after Alina was born told me that she thought Alina would be the type of baby who had to have things “just a certain way.” At this point, I can say that that’s not entirely true; Alina does accept variations from her normal routine without fuss. The lactation consultant could have alternatively said that she thought Alina would be a type A, stubborn little girl who will stomp her feet and cry when she doesn’t immediately get her way, and that’s a very fair description. I also noted soon after  Alina was born that she has a double crown (two hair whorls), and old wives say that double-crowned individuals develop stubborn, hot tempered personalities. I’m not superstitious, but Miss Alina is definitely more fiery than Big Brother Peter.

Now that Alina has grown into a fully fledged toddler (who thinks she’s a preteen), her stubborn side shines in new ways as she pushes her brother off my lap, slaps me in the face for fun, insists that she be allowed to make watercolor paintings out of the ice water provided by a restaurant server, and refuses to take medicine unless she is allowed to draw it up into the syringe herself and self-administer the dose. She systematically removes food that she doesn’t want to eat from her plate and – if possible – feeds it to someone else. She enjoyed riding in the stroller for a couple months, but now she only wants to be held facing forward so that she can be the one pushing the stroller. Always one to keep up with the big folks, Alina never crawled down steps; she went straight from standing at the top of a staircase, unsure how to descend, to walking down steps like a grown up. (Thankfully, she is prudent enough to realize that she must slide off beds and couches on her belly to get down safely.)

The ninth leap has not been all temper tantrums, though. Alina is adorable when she tries to help me clean the floor or screw our new decking into place. She mows the lawn with our toy lawn mower and cooks with our toy dishes. Despite her stubborn streak, she is actually better at following directions than Peter was as a toddler. If I can’t read a book to her immediately, she usually complies with my suggestion to ask Son to read instead. And just as Peter’s love for symbols and trains emerged during toddlerhood, Alina is developing a zeal for animals. Although it’s annoying to watch her throw a temper tantrum when a strange dog does not stop to be greeted/examined/pet by Alina, it is nice to know that I can at least try to put her in a good mood by reading an animal book to her or pointing out a squirrel on a tree.

Things would be significantly easier for us if Alina had a greater vocabulary with which to explain her demands. As with Peter at this age, though, it appears that Alina is reaching her language explosion, so there is hope for the months ahead. She loves to wave hello or good bye to people. We also wave good bye to my toilet water when she follows me into the bathroom as toddlers are wont to do. Discuss animal sounds with varying degrees of accuracy, and though we are not generally interested in symbols the way Peter was, we have a special place in our heart for the letter “f” and coconuts in the book, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Peter’s expressive language was easier to follow at this age because he used words with more precise context than Alina. Alina will call any round thing (and sometime any solid object) a “ball” just because she thinks it will make me happy. She jabbers and jargons constantly but primarily makes herself understood through gestures and directions. If she wants her diaper changed, she’ll take me over to get a diaper. If she wants me, she gets an article of my clothing and shows it to Son. She used to lift my shirt to indicate that she wants to nurse, but now she has become more polite and instead makes a lifting gesture with her palm opened upwards.

Like Peter, Alina has a great sense of humor. She rocks rocking horses with unadulterated joy. She arches her back while I’m holding her so that she can hang upside down. She screams for fun (but also to express her obstinance). She loves silly antics and she loves her friends at day care.

My little boy turned six today. They had a small celebration at the day care, and he received a Transformers toy that he currently adores. We had salmon, avocado, chips, watermelon, and globe cake at home. The cake was practice for Peter’s birthday party on the 23rd. It will be his first “real” party; he invited his whole kindergarten class (plus Gram). Our theme is The Amazing Race, and I made a globe cake as practice for the party. I an activity planned for each of the seven continents. Even if not every child is not interested in every activity, I hope that I’ve created enough variety to keep all the kids excited without creating chaos. I assume I’ll need the assistance of Son and my mom to keep the activities organized since Alina will presumably be clinging to me the entire time. Or perhaps I’ll be lucky and she will nap through it all??

six years old

Peter is as sweet as ever with hugs and compliments and affirmations that he loves me and his classmates and the staff at the amusement park. He still struggles with following directions, but he has made amazing progress in fine motor skills over the past year. I had always considered his fine motor skills to be mediocre for his age, but I sometimes am no longer convinced that that is true. In reality, I think that it is the strong visualization in his head of what he wants to create that makes his drawings so compelling these days.

I’m struggling a bit again to keep Peter engaged with reading. I feel that he is capable of spending much more time consuming non-fiction and beginner chapter books and even picture books, but he is usually not particularly interested when it is a coice between reading and watching a Youtube video. I suppose this is probably not terrible; I certainly watched my share of PBS and Disney animation when I was his age. But when Peter tells me that he is bored and I tell him to pick up a book, he would agree with me that this is a good solution to his problem. Perhaps I need to take up our “hobby” of completing GeoBee Challenge quizzes again. When I suggested to Peter that he needs a hobby, his idea of a hobby was to study the globe.

I’ll modify my work schedule starting in September so that I can get Peter off the bus and finish my work at home. This will allow him to start an extracurricular activity as he chooses. At this point, I think he’s planning on being a Boy Scout. But even if he just wants to have after-school play dates with someone other than his day care friends, I think we can consider this a healthy step forward in Peter’s life.

My cousin recently brought this article to my attention via social media:

It’s a welcome reminder to not worry so much about turning your child into a reader or a diplomat or a geography bee winner and instead, simply love him, provide a safe environment in which to grow, and allow him to take risks and go on adventures that will help him find his place in the world.

We have had a few adventures so far this summer. We visited the Berkshires for the first time over Memorial Day weekend, and crazy mother that I am, I made everyone go hiking for a couple hours at the top of Mount Greylock. (In my defense, it would not have taken so long if Peter had not been dragging his feet most of the way.) We also visited the Clark Art Institute and walked over a natural white marble bridge. We made our annual pilgrimage to Hartford’s Elizabeth Park rose garden on Father’s Day. We made our first ever trip to Edaville USA and were thoroughly impressed by Dino Land and the new Thomas Land. And Peter, my social butterfly, has participated in 3 birthdays so far with a fourth coming up this Saturday. We all enjoyed last weekend’s birthday party at the Discovery Museums; Alina was not a mobile baby the last time I took her, but now she can join in all the fun. I’m sorry to realize that we’re already halfway through summer… hopefully, we’ll cram in many more fun activities for the three weeks my mom will be visiting (starting next week)!

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Happy Birthday, Alina!

This post is coming two months late, but better late than never. Alina has come a long way since last year, and I do think that toddlerhood is one of the best phases of life. The fact remains, however, that when I’m not at work, Alina prefers to be attached to my hip (or breast), and this is not very conducive to composing blog posts. You may ask why I do not just set aside an hour or two while Alina is sleeping to do some typing. Unfortunately, her weekend naps often do not coincide with time that I am at home, and my daughter generally prefers to be attached to the aforementioned breast from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., so typing doesn’t happen at night time except when I’m able to sneak away without her noticing (as I was able to do a few minutes ago). The good thing, though, is that Alina’s nighttime demands ensure that I get plenty of rest (even if it is sometimes broken by nighttime snacks), I get to continue nursing (without the obligation of pumping), and I get to continue my resistance weight training (as Alina gradually gets heavier and heavier).

Our house was stricken by a series of illnesses from Alina’s birthday through April, but now that flowers are blooming and the warm weather is upon us, we are mostly all recovered (with the exception of a persistent cough which has been irritating Son for at least a month). Diarrhea, vomitting, fever, rash, cough, strep throat, congestion, ear infection – one sign or symptom after the next. Alina and Peter took it all in stride, but Son was definitely unhappy to be dealing with unforgiving work deadlines, sick children, and personal aches and pains all in the same week. As for me, I.just accepted the string of illnesses as the cold/flu/RSV season purgatory that all families go through when a child starts day care for the first time.

Happily, Alina was well for her birthday, and she celebrated as all Pi Day babies should: with Funfetti cream pie. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way that almond milk will not make instant pudding set, so the pie was a bit more soup-like than intended, but Alina enjoyed herself nonetheless, and I will never make that mistake again.

We also celebrated by visiting Mystic Aquarium. Alina loved the jelly fish, I loved the beluga whales, Peter loved the topography map sand box, and we all loved petting the rays. Alina’s favorite, though, part was being able to walk around by herself. The temperature was around 60 degrees, making it her first real opportunity to walk outside. The warm weather didn’t last though, and we had enough snow to delay school at the end of March.

Between the town egg hunt, Easter activities at a local religious education center, meeting the Easter bunny at Kathie’s house, having friends (with kids) over for an afternoon, tracking down Easter eggs in our house, and indulging in gift baskets from Gram, Peter and Alina had plenty of Easter fun spread out over a span of a couple weeks.

At the end of April, we got to meet up with my mom and dad and my uncle Frank and Aunt Heidi in Boston. I took off one day with Alina to sightsee at the Boston Historical Society and MFA. Then I got to brush up on my pharmacy knowledge at the MPhA spring conference. Then we all went in to Boston on Saturday for sightseeing on the Freedom Trail and at the Boston Public Garden.

I am trying to revel in my daughter’s toddlerhood. She’s a controlling little creature who routinely demands to get her way. She can be dangerous with her 15 sharp milk teeth and flailing arms. But she also has a great sense of humor, an innate love for books, an intuitive urge to bop and sway and do arabesques when she hears music, and the graciousness to smile and wave when she sees a friend or family member. She loves the “No David” books by David Shannon, the classic, “Pat the Bunny,” and books with photos of animals. Her vocabulary is limited to “uh-oh”, “mama”, “dada”, “do(g)”, and a few gestures and almost-words, but she speaks with enough expression to make you doubt whether she is babbling or if you are not trying hard enough to understand her language. She loves pictures of herself and her family, and watching Peter’s bus stop in front of our house in the morning. She is always excited to watch a neighbor’s dog go for a walk, but it’s even more fun to go on a walk yourself and find a dog sitting outside in a neighbor’s yard.  She enjoys cheese, chicken nuggets, carbs, and select fruits (e.g., mangoes), but Mom’s breast is still important both for its nutritional value and for its use as a pacifier when Alina can’t get her way.

So in summary, Alina’s language skills are similar to Peter’s at this age, but she is a lot more controlling than he was. Perhaps, as Kathie suggested, the difference is due to the fact that Alina feels that she has to compete with Peter for my attention; Peter never had to do that as a toddler. But in Peter’s defense, he’s a very nice and non-demanding big brother, always willing to share with his sister or shut himself in his room. Alina, on the other hand, is quick to pull Peter’s hair and forcibly extricate him if he tries to sit in my lap. Gotta love that girl. As Son says, “You’re beautiful, but you need to be nice!” All in due time, I suppose. The golden rule is a bit above the cognitive, emotional, and social maturity level of a 1-year-old.

Domestic housework, on the other hand, are not above (or beneath) Alina. She likes to help me wipe the floor and takes great interest in mixing various forms of batter. Son and I still have high hopes that our Pi Day baby will one day be a great baker. She attempts to use spoons and forks, usually managing to scoop a bit of food with her utensil and then use her free hand to transfer the food from the utensil to her mouth. She is starting to figure out her shape sorter, can scribble reasonably well, stacks up to 4 or 5 blocks, and turns pages of books like no one’s business. The art of stepping down is still a mystery to Alina, but she did figure out how to safely get off beds by sliding on her belly feet-first.

I would share Alina’s weight, length, and head circumference stats from her 1-year physical as I traditionally did for Peter, but honestly, Alina is just a normal-size toddler – nothing remarkable. As a normal-size woman, I view this as a good thing.

Peter still seems small compared to his kindergarten peers, but he has grown a lot socially, emotionally, and in the areas of fine motor skills, behavior, and self-help skills this year. At his school conference last week, his teacher remarked that of her students, he is probably the student who has made the most progress this year.  He “has a lot going on up here,” she said, tapping her temple. He will certainly never have any issue memorizing facts, but his teacher encouraged us to work on thinking abstractly because Peter tends to try to change the subject when asked questions that don’t have a black-and-white, straight-from-the-text answer. I suspect that Peter is not yet comfortable with the possibility of giving a “wrong” answer to such open-ended questions. He is, after all, a fact-loving 5-year-old who believes that he has the capacity to master all of human knowledge (despite the messages conveyed in Dr. Seuss’ “On Beyond Zebra”, one of his favorite books).

My work is going well; I am not as crazy busy as I was last fall. May 11th marked one year since the return of my maternity leave. My manager has told me more or less indirectly that he has me in mind for promotion in November, should I be willing to step up to the challenge. I was just assigned to a study comparing traditional (animal-derived) pulmonary surfactant to a new synthetic surfactant for the treatment of respiratory distress syndrome in extremely premature infants. In some very round about way, I guess this marks the fulfillment of a personal goal: to use science to help my favorite patient population. I’m still undecided regarding whether laboratory logistics services is the right department for me long-term, but I do enjoy working on a variety of clinical trials and managing data.

Son saw his first compound produced in a kilogram laboratory this week, and he seemed to agree that it was a significant professional milestone for him. Despite the demanding culture of his workplace, he is a chemist who enjoys chemistry, and I think he will stick with his current employer for at least 3 years.

Overall, I have a lot to be thankful for these days: a cozy home, an interesting, flexible job, a sweet husband, two healthy kiddos, and much to look forward to in the years ahead. I am excited to see what interests and skills Alina will develop in the coming months and interested to see how Peter will put his mind to use in the coming years. As for me and Son, I’ve been reminded that the world is our oyster (still!). As we grow each day; I simply pray that we will become closer to each other, to God, to peace, and to fulfillment.


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Valentine’s Day 2016

This is not a food blog, but I developed a beetroot cupcake recipe today that I like enough to not want to forget, so I’ll share it here:

Valentine (Beetroot Chocolate Chip) Cupcakes

  • 2 large beets, boiled
  • 1/2 c applesauce
  • 1 box vanilla cake mix
  • 1/4 c cocoa
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 bag white chocolate chips
  • sprinkles
  1. Puree beets and applesauce in a blender or food processor.
  2. Mix puree, cake mix, cocoa, and eggs in a large bowl. Then mix in chocolate chips.
  3. Pour into 18 or so cupcake papers. Sprinkle some jimmies on top, and bake for 16 minutes at 350 degrees.

The sprinkles and chocolate chips make Peter happy, the amazing red violet color makes me happy, and the lack of frosting makes Son happy. I’m not going to market this as a healthy recipe, but it does allow me to sort of feel like a good mother because my son ate some vegetables with his lunch.

We have been busy as usual. Alina cut her 8th tooth on January 11th. We had a few glorious weeks where everyone was healthy (with the exception of a persistent cough and feigned illnesses by Peter), but the day care sniffles caught up with us last week, and Alina’s nose has been pretty gross. Overall, Alina has had fewer illnesses than I expected for her first winter in day care. It’s just a pity that Peter convinced his father and then the school nurse that he was sick when he was actually fine, resulting in the need for me to work from home twice in January.

Son and I managed to go on a second child-free date since Alina’s arrival: his company holiday party. The food was mediocre but the company was good and it was nice to just be a couple for a few hours. Alina, however, cried bloody murder when I left her with our sitter. Supposedly, she screamed for a few minutes then put her head on a pillow and napped for an hour. She was okay when she awoke.

Alina has been mastering some new tricks: she drinks from a sippy cup and a straw, blows bubbles in the bath water, and pretends to read books by pointing at pictures, babbling, and turning pages. She also finally started taking steps this past week; I counted 9 consecutive steps on Wednesday the 10th! I’m happy that Alina is now willing to take baths with her brother (instead of me) in the tub with her. I also am guilty of letting her watch baby videos so that I can get stuff done around the house. Finally, I’m glad that Alina leaves elastics in her hair; she looks much better with the hair out of her face.

Peter has been practicing his geography skills with me in the daily online GeoBee Challenge quiz. He took it upon himself to memorize national flags in January and now seems to know 80-90% of the world’s national and territorial flags. I bought him a 600-piece world map puzzle to further indulge his geography obsession. He needed parental help with the edge and oceans, but the parents were appreciative of Peter’s help with the countries.

Peter started taking art classes on Saturdays. The art teacher admires his “abstract” skills as he identifies country shapes in his artwork. His heart painting for Valentine’s Day included Mongolia and Montenegro… because what isn’t sweet about Mongolia and Montenegro? For his 100th day of school, Peter was assigned to arrange 100 items/objects in a creative way. Predictably, he wanted to make 100 countries out of construction paper. I vetoed that idea, and we instead agreed to make 6 national flags whose white stars total 100: United States, Brazil, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Singapore, and Samoa.

Son hadn’t been doing much book binding, but a recent trip to the fabric store inspired us to make more baby books. Son obviously enjoys this hobby, so I like to see him working on it. I would have liked to make Tet more special for him, but several snow storms made travel before and on Tet a bit challenging. We did, however, have a family that we know through Peter’s class over for playdate and dinner the weekend before Tet. I made fresh spring rolls, Son made fried rice, and we shared banh chung, banh dau xanh, mut tet, and dragon fruit. The kids had fun… I had fun… Son would have had more fun if the mother, Sue, had been better able to understand his English. Oh, well. We had Cuong over yesterday, and he and Son were able to have plenty of conversation in Vietnamese.

Chúc Mừng Năm Mới!

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2015: mission accomplished

It was an act of faith when I picked for my 2014 holiday cards a design that declared, “2015 – The Best is Yet to Come.” Now, at the start of 2016, my only worry is that perhaps the best may have already come and gone. In contrast to 2014, where dozens of residency, fellowship, and job applications and interviews left me empty handed, things seemed to fall into place easily in 2015. I got my long-awaited job offer in early January. By a happy coincidence, a spot opened up for Peter at Kathie’s day care right when I started working. Son got his long-awaited job offers (plural!) in March. And in stark contrast to Peter’s too-early birth, Alina picked a very convenient time to arrive: 38 weeks gestation, Saturday morning, four days after I completed my graduate certificate in clinical trial management through the PAREXEL Academy. The only issue with her timing was that it conflicted with Miles’ birthday party. Overall, it was the “normal” birth experience and healthy baby I had been afraid to even hope for after Peter’s dramatic entry into the world. Of course, Alina made her own drama by being born on the hospital floor, but that’s the sort of drama that we can laugh about.

I found a great (and affordable) day care provider close to my workplace for Alina from May through August, when the provider decided to retire and Alina started attending Kathie’s day care. I sent off my first baby to kindergarten in September, and despite my fears that he was too small and his fine motor skills were too weak, he has flourished in school, developing respectable handwriting, a good cadre of friends, and the confidence and social skills needed to learn and have fun at school.

I’ve been asked multiple times whether kindergarten would be “boring” for Peter since he has been reading for two years already. I didn’t think it would since Peter has never minded repetition; he loves to review basic concepts and “teach” them to other people. I have been correct in this respect. To me, it appears that Peter is taking advantage of review time to learn concepts on a deeper level, much as I did in elementary school.  For example, as Mrs. Bianco has introduced the “lively letters” to her kindergarteners, Peter has taken it upon himself to learn about the cursive alphabet, the sign language alphabet, and the Spanish alphabet. He is obsessed with geography again as he was in summer 2014, but this time, he is learning more of the countries and capitals of the world, national flags, provinces of Canada, and assorted geographic trivia that did not interest him at four years old. At my parent-teacher conference with Mrs. Bianco in November, she was very proud of Peter for meeting nearly all the kindergarten writing goals for the year: he wrote a sentence to describe a picture without help. (It was something basic like, “This is a car.”) The only thing he missed was the period at the end of the sentence. His teacher was also proud of the social progress he had made since the beginning of the year: he had gone from being a shy/nervous child who had trouble following school rituals (such as walking in lines) to a cheerful boy who could bump fists with the other kids and follow the rules when needed. To be honest, though, this was not quite the conversation I was expecting to have with Mrs. Bianco. I was proud of Peter’s progress, too, but my assessment of his areas of growth has been a bit different. I was proud of Peter when he read his first chapter book, Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot. (His teacher assessed him at a much lower reading level than that book.) I was proud of Peter when he knew 9/10 spelling words the day he brought his first spelling list home, and I was relieved when he got 100% on his first spelling test (because I had been worried that poor breakfast and lunchtime eating habits were making it difficult for Peter to focus during school assessments). I was proud of Peter when he took three blank sheets of paper and designed a dice game involving turkey body parts for us to play together. I was proud of Peter when he wrote his first letter to Santa. “Dear Santa, I was good. I have been good. Your friend, Peter.” I was proud when we played a full game of Chutes and Ladders without breaking any rules, when Peter did math worksheets from the library for fun, and when he used the alarm clock I gave him for Christmas to learn to tell time. And of course, I love it when Peter draws maps of the United States and of the world. The U.S. maps never seem to meet his personal expectations, but they are improving with practice.

Then there are the more subtle things that make my heart swell. I absolutely love watching Peter and Alina laugh together. I’m humbled when, in response to my query regarding what Alina might want for Christmas, Peter astutely responds, “YOU!”


On the other hand, I guess it’s not hard to see that Alina has been a clingy baby, particularly when she was 8 months old and when she is teething. The poor girl came down with a fever on Halloween night that was later determined to be due to influenza (type B) and bilateral ear infections. Unfortunately, it turns out that Tamiflu has a nasty flavor, so Alina generally refused her Tamiflu and amoxicillin. She was skeptical about the acetaminophen and ibuprofen, but they turned out to be necessary to manage her ear/teeth pain.

My mother visited the weekend Alina turned 8 months old. We took her to the Boston Museum of Science, and I guess it was then that I realized how much Alina enjoys new places, sights, and sounds, despite her stranger anxiety  and clinginess. She had a blast crawling around the EcoTarium two weekends later, taking advantage of her stair-climbing ability (first discovered by Kathie in late October).

At this point, I’m a bit surprised that Alina hasn’t started walking yet. She started pulling to stand at 6.5 months, bear crawled and let go while standing at 7.5 months, and really started balancing (for 15 seconds or so) around the time she turned 9 months. She will take steps while holding my hands now, but when she really wants to get somewhere, she drops to her knees and crawls. When she wants to look cute, she gets into a kneeling position (one knee and one foot on the floor), claps, smiles, and squeals in delight. She still has 10 more days to learn to walk at 9 months, but I honestly don’t think she’s very motivated to learn; she would rather pull on my pant legs and ask me to carry her. Maybe walking will be a milestone for 10 months? Her pediatrician, on the other hand, seemed more excited about first words. She told Alina that she needs to be saying Mama and Dada by her 12-month checkup. Alina is saying, “dadada.” “hey da,” “ahyaya,” etc. all the time now, but the babbling is not meaningful yet. Her claps and waves do seem meaningful, so I’m confident that the first language explosion will come sometime in the next 6 months. I don’t mind if she chooses words other than Mama and Dada as long as she gets her messages across.

I love watching Alina grow and learn and do new tricks. She weighed 17 lbs, 6 oz at her 9-month appointment. Her personality is starting to develop as she makes it clear that she does NOT want baby food (but will gladly take whatever you’re eating), does NOT want to be put in a bath (unless someone else getting in with her, in which case it is tremendous fun), and does NOT want to have her diaper changed (but loves waving unused diapers in the air). She does enjoy nighttime snuggles, trips to the library, experimenting with gravity, test-driving pillows and other soft places to put her head, jumping with Coach Hooper (from PBS), and directing me to pick her up and carry her around the house so that she can grab at objects which should be off limits to babies.

Son invited an Indian coworker and her family over for Christmas. Her 5-year-old had fun with Peter. We also put up Christmas lights, made an advent calendar, decorated a gingerbread house, and did some baking over the Thanksgiving weekend. The following week, Alina took her first plane ride: a 5-hour flight to LAX. She did remarkably well, sleeping almost half the time and playing in my lap the rest of the time. We attended a rosary vigil for Daddy Joe on Friday and his funeral service on Saturday. The ceremonies were lovely, my dad gave a very good eulogy, and Alina attracted a lot of positive attention. I received tasty cake and chocolate and tiramisu and flowers for my birthday on Monday. Alina particularly liked the cake.


Christmas was lovely, too. In the spirit of giving, I donated 250.5 oz. of my frozen milk to a mom with insufficient glandular tissue (IGT) who was visiting Massachusetts from Michigan over the holidays. Since Kathie doesn’t like to use frozen milk that is over 6 months old and since my milk output has equaled Alina’s milk input for quite some time, it seemed unlikely that we would use the milk before Alina turns a year old. I also donated more books to the NICU. We don’t have much time for hardcover book binding these days, but I printed off and spiral bound 12 books at work on Christmas Eve (since no one was working, anyhow).

We went to mass Christmas morning, spent a few minutes at the playground (since it was a record-shattering 65 degrees Farenheit outside), and had Christmas dinner with the Meyers. Peter received Usborne activity books, a crystal flower craft kit, a Magformers building set, a ninja turtle, a storm trooper car, and the above-mentioned alarm clock for Christmas. Alina received a blow-up pool, a personalized ornament, a stacking cup set, a toy elephant, and a new tooth. Son received a fleece jacket, I received chocolates, and we all got some very cute handmade/handprint Christmas decorations. We had our friends, Van, Karil, Katya, and Andrey, over for lunch on December 26th. They gave Peter a wooden house building set, but Son declared it too difficult for Peter and built the house himself. Meanwhile, Peter built the Lego set that Son had deemed too difficult for Peter last Christmas.

Kathie was only open on Monday the 28th this past week, so I ignored the snow/sleet/freezing rain and took the kids to LEGOLAND on Tuesday. It was fun, and the roads weren’t too bad. I worked from home on Wednesday since none of my coworkers were in the office. We all were off on Thursday, so we went to the library and the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette. Fr. Pat had a Christmas concert at 3 p.m., then we attended 4 p.m. mass, then we saw the International Creche Museum at 5 p.m., and we enjoyed the Christmas lights and outdoor nativity scene afterwards. Peter enjoyed a carousel ride near their Rosary Pond, and I enjoyed reading the Christmas Alphabet to Peter.

On New Year’s Day, we visited Mai Khanh, our friend’s 3-year-old daughter who is in Boston Children’s Hospital with perforated appendicitis. Then we grabbed sandwiches in Chinatown and visited the Boston Children’s Museum. Alina did not enjoy the chilly trek from Downtown Crossing to South Boston, but she did have a blast splashing in the water tables at the museum. Peter, for his part, declared it an “amazing” day. Linh and Jared, engaged as of December 23rd, came over for dinner yesterday, and we also had the opportunity to remove the ice from our driveway during the afternoon. Gotta love calcium chloride!

I guess that brings us to the New Year’s predictions. Here’s a look back at the 2015 predictions:

1) Peter will start kindergarten.  And have a blast learning and playing with the other kids.  Check.

2) I will get a job.  And be happy to finally be putting my degrees to use. Check, with the caveat that my pharmacy license is not being put to use.

3) Peter will weigh 34 lbs and measure 40 inches tall by the time school starts in the fall. He weighed 35 lbs and measured 40 inches tall at his physical in October.

4) I’ll give birth to a daughter.  Vaginally.  In March.  (Knock on wood!)  And it will be a much happier birth experience than what happened with Peter.  (Knock one more time!)  And she will have dark brown hair and dark gray eyes.  And she’ll look absolutely adorable wearing the flower headbands that I already made for her.  And she will be super snuggly in the outfits my mom already bought for her.  And I’ll have plenty of opportunities to put my new camera to good use. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Only caveat is that I like her better without the headbands because her hair is so long.

5) Peter will enjoy being a big brother… most of the time.  And the baby will be fascinated by her big brother.  I also think she’ll be a daddy’s girl just as Peter is a mama’s boy. Yes regarding the brother-sister relationship. Son is absolutely smitten by Alina, but Alina still gives Mom(‘s breasts) first priority.

6) Breastmilk.  I see a lot of breastmilk in my future. Yes!

7) Sleep deprivation.  Meh. Not really. The advantage of a breastfeeding baby is that multiple night wakings does not cause sleep deprivation. Just sit up, feed baby, fall back to sleep.

8) If I’m allowed to make another audacious prediction about Peter’s academic progress over the next year, I kind of think that he will be doing simple multiplication by the end of the year… enough to demonstrate that he understands the general concept.  Yeah, sort of. He’s not that interested in math right now, but he gets the general idea of skip counting and multiplication.

Looks like I did pretty well a year ago. Now how about 2016?

  1. Honestly, I think I’m due for a job change this year. I hope to become a drug safety specialist at my current company because the pay is a bit better than my current role and because then I would actually be using some of my pharmacy knowledge. My manager, however, would obviously prefer to keep me in the lab logistics group. He indicated that a lab coordinator position would be a reasonable next step for me, but honestly, I don’t think our group needs another lab coordinator anytime soon… we just increased the number of coordinators from 2 to 4 last summer.
  2. No job change for Son. Turnover is not quite as fast at his company/position.
  3. Alina will be walking by March. A few weeks ago, I thought she would be walking by today, but she seems more inclined to ask to be carried than to walk on her own at this point.
  4. Peter will weigh 39 lbs and measure 43 inches tall at his 6-year physical. Despite the recommendations to not transition to a booster seat before 40 pounds, I will get him booster seats because Alina will need his convertible seats.
  5. What to predict for Peter? I think he will be capable of reading from the “middle readers” section of the library a year from now, but I doubt he will want to. With the exception of Ricky Ricotta, he’s just not that excited about fiction. I don’t see him improving in reading or math that quickly nowadays because they are still working at a very basic level in kindergarten. To our amusement, he tells people that he’s in fourth grade because he wants to be in fourth grade. I think someone told him that fourth graders learn U.S. geography. Perhaps Peter should start studying for the National Geographic Bee in fourth grade?
  6. As for Alina, it’s exciting to think that she could be recognizing colors, shapes, and animals a year from now. She’s already playing with Peter’s toy cars by pushing them along the ground, so I think she will like things that go, too.
  7. Alina will weigh 21 lbs and measure 32 inches long at her 18-month check up.
  8. Peter will start an extracurricular activity in first grade. I will (fingers crossed!) work from home after 3 p.m. so that he doesn’t have to go to Kathie’s and so that I can take him to / pick him up from his extracurriculars. I’m hesitant to guess which extracurriculars he will take on, though. Boy scouts? Soccer? Gymnastics? Music? Maybe he will start a geography club….
  9. I won’t be pumping at work a year from now, but I feel like Alina will still be nursing at bedtime. I’m hoping that she’s sleeping through the night by the end of 2016.
  10. Alina will make her first trip to Vietnam. Peter will take more interest in learning Vietnamese.

Most importantly, I hope that a year from now, I feel confident that “the best” did not come and go with 2015. There are still many joyous days ahead for me and my family.

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World Prematurity Day (or Peter’s Story, for those who haven’t already read it)

In July 2010, when I was 27 weeks pregnant, I found some blood in my panties. The on-call obstetrician told me to go to the maternity unit at UMass. The thought never crossed my mind to bring anything with me like a change of clothes or a book or a camera. I was just going to be reassured that everything was fine and sent home.

In triage, however, it became obvious that I was having contractions every 4 minutes. A bag of IV fluids did nothing to mitigate my contractions, and after a couple hours in triage, my cervix started dilating. Nifedipine brought my labor to a halt, thankfully, and for 20 hours, my cervix held steady at 1-2 cm dilated.

At 3:00 a.m., almost 24 hours after my initial steroid injection for fetal lung maturation, I had to admit to myself that my contractions were becoming painful. I called for my nurse. She didn’t seem worried, but I was becoming increasingly concerned as the contractions intensified. At 3:35 a.m., a resident arrived to do another internal exam, pain and pressure mounted, and I struggled to lay still. He pulled his hand out and told the nurse quietly, “I feel nothing but membranes.” I stopped resisting the pressure, and my water broke in a huge gush. My baby’s feet slipped out my vagina.

The next 15 minutes passed in a whirlwind. Someone called Code White, the obstetric medical emergency code, and I was quickly surrounded by medical professionals. On the way to the operating room, a doctor exclaimed, “This is not the way it’s supposed to happen!” Those words still ring in my ears every time I think of my son’s birth.

A dozen screams and one long push – that’s all it took to deliver my 2 ½-pound baby. At 3:51 a.m., a wave of relief swept over me as the pain vanished. Then a wave of shame consumed me. I was mortified that after giving birth to a tiny, silent baby, my primary response was to feel relieved that the pain was gone. Finally, a wave of uncontrollable shivering overtook me, and my heart went numb.

About an hour after the birth, a neonatologist came to update me and my husband. Dr. Picarillo congratulated us and asked whether our son had a name. I panicked, not ready to commit. Thankfully, my husband had a sufficiently level head to christen our son.

“Peter. His name is Peter.”

Dr. Picarillo told us that Peter was alright. He promised us that we could see our baby in a couple hours after Peter’s umbilical catheters had been placed. After he left, I finally broke down and cried.

For most parents, their baby’s NICU stay is filled with both highs and lows; it is often described as a roller coaster ride. Unfortunately, we inherently recall negative events more easily and in greater detail than positive ones. Looking back on Peter’s early weeks, I remember all too well the green aspirations that a nurse pulled from his stomach when he was 4 days old, the x-ray that showed just how inflamed his lungs and intestines were, the neonatologist’s decision to treat Peter’s patent ductus arteriosus with NeoProfen, and the numb feeling that overwhelmed me during this first setback. I remember how tears blurred my vision and guilt knotted my stomach when I was told that Peter’s second cranial ultrasound revealed an intraventricular hemorrhage. I remember how horrified I was to learn that Peter’s 1- and 5-minute Apgar scores were 1 and 4, to realize that he was in hypovolemic shock after delivery, and to be told that Peter “gave us a run for our money” in the delivery room. I remember how hopelessly impatient and frustrated I felt when, after making it 4 days without a recordable bradycardia spell, Peter had several spells on the night shift that set back his discharge yet another 5 days. The list of Peter’s diagnoses still rolls off my tongue: respiratory distress syndrome, hyperbilirubinemia, apnea of prematurity, anemia of prematurity, bilateral stage 2 retinopathy of prematurity, hydronephrosis…

Thankfully, the emotions associated with those negative events faded from memory more quickly than the emotions associated with the happy events. Nostalgia for Peter’s early milestones gradually supplanted the feelings of sadness, guilt, and fear which at the time made the NICU stay a torturous marathon. I have many cherished memories of our time at UMass: the first time I held Peter, the first day he was allowed to wear clothes, the day his nasal cannula was discarded, the day he moved to an open bassinet, and the day that he was finally unhooked from the vital signs monitors. I miss the way Peter used to open his eyes one at a time, wrinkling his entire forehead as if it took a tremendous effort just to lift an eyelid. I miss reclining after Peter’s feedings with him asleep on my chest. And I especially miss watching Peter’s miraculous transformation from a wrinkly old elf into a chubby-cheeked cherub.

Peter was discharged weighing 5 lbs, 6 oz after 73 days in the NICU. It was the happiest day of my life, a day worth waiting for. We still had some hurdles to overcome after discharge: follow-up appointments with specialists, developmental screenings and therapy, and six months of quarantine during cold and flu season. My attempts to get Peter to exclusively breastfeed and to sleep through the night before his first birthday were ultimately unsuccessful. The memories of Peter’s abrupt delivery came back to haunt me, and I struggled with PTSD for a few months after he was discharged. But at the end of the day, I knew that we were lucky. Peter didn’t have any severe complications of prematurity, and his prognosis was good. One by one, he was discharged from specialists and therapists, and his neonatal diagnoses were archived, leaving him with a clean bill of health.

Peter is now an amazing little kindergartener. Ironically, if he had been born near his October due date, Peter would have had to wait an extra year to start school. The day he was born, I honestly expected that we would be facing learning disabilities when he reached school age. Instead, Peter turned the tables and taught himself to read around the time he turned 3 years old. He is a spatial thinker and loves geography. He memorized all 50 states and capitals around his fourth birthday… just for fun! Now his fine motor skills are catching up, and Peter has started to write and spell. Peter’s first months of life were not easy, but his early struggles made me all the more grateful for and amazed at each milestone he has achieved. I’ll certainly never take a single breath – or opportunity to hug my son – for granted.

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Joseph Thadeus Glab

Another member of the Greatest Generation passed away today: Joseph Thadeus Glab, age 94, 6/7/1921 – 11/5/2015. Joe grew up in a primitive log cabin in Hazelhurst, WI. During the Great Depression, he hunted wildlife to provide meat for his parents and three sisters to eat. After graduating Minocqua High School in 1940, he left home to serve in the Navy. During WWII, he was a pilot in the Atlantic Front and later, the Pacific Front. He married Lois Kohl in 1950, had three children, retired as a Navy commander, and eventually became the grandfather of five grandkids. He was an incredibly charming man with his bright blue eyes, warm smile, and generous praise. I’m thankful that my grandfather was able to pass peacefully to a better place after a long, full life. May the lessons of his generation not be forgotten.

Glab kids

My dad’s eulogy for Daddy Joe was more detailed:

Good morning.

On behalf of my family and myself, I would like to thank you for honoring my father with your presence. I am most grateful.

Joseph Glab, my dad, was a modest man of great integrity with a remarkable personal story, lived in extraordinary times.

Dad was the third of four children of ethnically Polish immigrants who came to this country to escape economic deprivation in an obscure corner of the Hapsburg Empire in 1905. My grandfather worked in the mills in Pennsylvania before making his way west to the great Polish enclave in Chicago. From there, my grandparents homesteaded a farm in the north woods of Wisconsin. My dad grew up on that farm. Things were basic. His home was a vertical pole log cabin without electricity or indoor plumbing. If you wanted heat, you chopped wood. During the summers, my dad worked as a fishing guide. The Chicago businessmen who hired him recognized his potential and urged him to get an education. That wasn’t easy. In order to attend high school, Dad had to work for room and board with the owner of the bakery in Minocqua Wisconsin as the family farm was too far for a daily commute.

Dad joined the navy in October of 1940. Upon entering boot camp the Navy gave assessment tests to the recruits. To encourage the recruit’s best efforts, the Navy offered pilot training slots to the top two recruits in each battalion of several hundred. Dad’s hard work and talent payed off, he got the number 2 slot. That was fortunate, as the most common assignment for his battalion was the USS Arizona and many if not most of them died the morning of December 7th. Following a brief assignment to the USS Nevada, Dad went to pilot training and Officer Candidate School. He was assigned to squadrons flying long range missions against U-Boats out of the US and England.

As the war in Europe ended, Dad was assigned to a reconnaissance squadron in the Marianas Islands. After the war, the Navy sent him to college at Marquette University where he met my mother. They married in 1950. Highlights of his assignments over the next twenty years included what is now the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterrey, Photo Reconnaissance Squadron 63 which surveilled much of Southeast Asia in the mid 1950’s, Two tours developing Navy’s P-3 antisubmarine aircraft and as the chief staff officer for antisubmarine warfare in Keflavik, Iceland during the 1961 Berlin Crisis and the months leading up to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. His career was consequential.

After the Navy, Dad worked for the local school district. In retirement Dad volunteered at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library for two decades as well as a national level figure skating judge.

My mom once told me that you never fully appreciate your parents until you have children of your own. As a child, I appreciated that Dad was one of those guys who could fix anything, He was a good provider and most importantly a faithful husband to my mother for nearly 65 years. Only as a parent did I come to appreciate his parenting skills. Dad would insist that as kids, we would look at disagreements with others from their perspective. Though I did not like that as a kid, he was right. Dad was also a “free range parent” before the term was coined. He never set curfews. Instead, through discussions, he insured that we were schooled in the “real world”, its risks and rewards. We understood the consequences of poor decisions and the rewards of good ones.

In the fullness of time Dad, along with the much of the country, came to appreciate the extraordinary times of Second World War. Millions from this country and many others, without any prospect of fame or fortune and at enormous personal risk joined in the greatest collaborative effort in the history of man. Dad and his generation saved the world from fascism, eastern imperialism, and then prospered after the war.

They and two subsequent generations, contained Soviet communism until it collapsed from its own despotism. Tom Brokaw was right to call them “The Greatest Generation” and we all owe them much.

In closing, please remember my Dad the way I think he would like to be remembered. A patriot, a member of that greatest generation who did his duty when duty called. Thank You.



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Welcome, fall!

We have been blessed with gorgeous fall thus far, and Columbus Day – a non-PAREXEL holiday which I was forced to take off due to Peter’s school and Alina’s day care both being closed – was spectacular: warm and sunny with flaming fall foliage. I took the kids to the Fall Festival at West End Creamery, and Peter had a blast climbing a tractor tire tower, racing rubber ducks, riding a cow train, swimming and digging in a corn crib, climbing a giant spider web, jumping on a giant inflated bounce pillow, weaving our way through a giant corn maze, learning to ride a tricycle, and making an admirable effort in tether ball and tug of war. Unfortunately, the large crowd of people meant that we didn’t have the time/patience to purchase the creamery’s ice cream, much to Peter’s chagrin. And we tried to catch a hayride before he had to leave for Peter’s physical… but just after we sat down, a staff member announced that rides would be on hold for 20 minutes due to a medical emergency. It’s hard to complain of bad luck, though, when the weather was that good.

At Peter’s physical, we confirmed that he (still) weighs 35 lbs and that despite his father’s worries, Peter’s BMI is perfectly normal at 45 percentile. He’s right on track to reach an adult height of… ahem… 5′ 5″, like his father. I was relieved that Peter had learned to pedal a tricycle just before we went to the appointment because that was a prominent question on the developmental questionnaire.

Peter has earned his share of bragging rights in other areas as well. He started kindergarten holding his scissors backwards and holding his pencil with a clumsy fist grip. Within the past couple weeks, though, his pencil grip has been perfected as far as my untrained eye can see. Moreover, the boy who cried in frustration and refused to write his name on valentines for his friends last February is now happily writing the titles of books (which he may or may not have actually read) on his reading log and writing the names of objects he drew on class worksheets (with some degree of spelling awareness). And the the literacy milestone which I had been predicting for awhile was reached last week: Peter started reading chapter books. (More precisely, he started reading Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot books. I’m unsure whether I’ll be able to find many other chapter books that are at his reading and interest level. He lets me read Junie B. Jones books to him, but they seem to be a bit above his interest level.) Overall, I’m very happy with the progress Peter is making in kindergarten. I worried about him being too young or too advanced in reading, but overall, kindergarten seems like a good fit for him this year. He does manage to wow his teacher occasionally, e.g., when he is asked to draw two things that start with the letter, o, and proceeds to draw Ohio and Oklahoma. And then mark ‘O’ in the center of Oklahoma for Oklahoma City and ‘C’ in the middle of Ohio for Columbus. At the end of the day, though, he is enjoying school and growing in several areas, and we are both happy about this.

Meanwhile, Miss Alina just hit 7 months, weighs 16 lbs, and thinks that she is about 2 years old. When we wound our way through the corn maze, Alina insisted on being the one to carry the map. When she sees other people eating, she demands a share of the tasty goodness. When we go to the library, Alina crawls through the room and attempts to pull books from the shelves. She loves to stand holding my hands and “dance” with me the way Peter did when he was 11 months old. She will play on the floor by herself for awhile, but then she will spot a tall person, crawl over to him or her, grab onto garments to pull herself to standing, and indicate through chirps and tugs that she should be carried. In sum, there’s no stopping this girl!

If I may say so, I think Alina has left her awkward 1- and 2-month-old days behind and blossomed into a very pretty baby. Son is obviously smitten by Alina and tells her instinctively every day how beautiful she is. I completely understand where the words are coming from, but I couldn’t help pointing out that by his own assessment, his wife is “cute” but his infant daughter is “beautiful.” Seems like an unfair allocation of adjectives to me. Regardless, it’s clear that Alina’s smile is infectious, and she has become quite popular with the older kids at day care. As for Alina, she clearly adores her older brother, and nothing warms my heart like watching the two of them laugh together. In fact, after 1.5 months of Alina screaming bloody murder every time I tried to bathe her, I finally discovered the trick to getting her to enjoy baths again: brother Peter. All three of us hop in the tub together, Peter makes Alina laugh with his bathtime antics, and I wash Alina. Once she is clean, I hand her over to Son to be dried and clothed. (Yes, it takes 3 people to bathe a 16-pound baby.)

It is interesting to note the ways in which Alina and Peter are similar and different. Alina has way more and longer hair than her brother did as an infant. Son wants to cut her hair, but I refuse because I want it to grow long enough to put into pigtails. Both Peter and Alina were/are very smiley, flirtatious babies. Both love finger foods but couldn’t care less about purees and infant cereal. On the other hand, Alina’s fine motor skills are more precise than Peter’s were as a baby; no one’s going to accuse that girl of having a “preemie grasp.” Alina drinks significantly less than Peter did, making pumping an easier endeavor to keep up. (Bonus: Alina still nurses at night!) Alina generally seems more driven and less laid back than Peter. My memory of Peter’s baby babbles is limited, but I do think that Alina is more “talkative” and more intentional with her vocalizations. Before Alina was born, I asked Peter what babies say. “Ah,” he replied. I thought this was cute but somewhat off-base at the time. At this point, however, it is a very good approximation of Alina’s “Hey, look at me!” vocalization.

I’m not mentally ready for winter yet, so we’ve been trying to squeeze as much fun into our fall weekends as possible. In September, we went “rock climbing” at Mt. Wachusett, visited Vietnamese friends in Andover, enjoyed the Sterling Fair, and went pumpkin picking at Breezy Gardens. Last weekend, we went apple picking at Tougas Farm and had a blast at a backyard birthday party of Peter’s classmate. Peter has another birthday party and playdate scheduled for this weekend. I hope we get a couple more nice weekends before winter sets in.

Peter says that he’s excited for Halloween, but I’m not exactly sure why; he still hates all things ghoulish or frightening. If we’re lucky, he may have outgrown has fear of jack-o-lanterns this year and be able to trick-or-treat after dusk. I suspect most of Peter’s excitement about Halloween was picked up from his classmates. Although Peter is a relatively quiet kid, he seems to be well-known and well-liked by his classmates. This makes me happy because it appears that Peter is getting out of kindergarten everything that I had hoped he would get: opportunities to read books independently, develop his writing skills, learn to follow directions, and make friends with his classmates. And as I watch Peter make new friends, I start to think that I, too, may be able to make some new friends again.

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