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?
- 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.
- No job change for Son. Turnover is not quite as fast at his company/position.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- Alina will weigh 21 lbs and measure 32 inches long at her 18-month check up.
- 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….
- 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.
- 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.