Friday, May 26, 2006

Vistas of a Little Girl

It is amazing how quickly kids grow up. Not that I know a lot about 'kids'; perhaps I should limit my statement to: It is amazing how quickly my kid is growing up. In the last six months Janelle has begun to develop her own independent, idiosyncratic personality distinct from her both mother's and mine. Thankfully, unlike her Papa, Janelle is showing signs of being a happy, pleasant, agreeable individual. The following pictures illustrate this (I think) fairly well. In order to properly understand how much of a development this 'agreeable' personality really is, compare (and, indeed, contrast) her temperament as evinced in the last three or four photographs taken upon our arrival back in the USA.

The Papa in me needs to start with this picture, dated 25 February 2006. I have to confess right off the bat: Being a Papa is very confusing for me. Being a husband is difficult enough: despite the facts that (a) my wife is a very intelligent woman (b) whose thoughts and actions are (generally) coherent and (generally) consistent, I still have no idea most of the time what she's thinking, what she wants, or (most importantly) what I'm supposed to do. My little girl, however, is neither coherent nor consistent (though a convincing case for her intelligence is being built daily); thus the needs and desires of my little girl are, for me, surrounded by a blacker darkness than are my wife's. Still, there are moments that ring clear as a bell to me. When all is said and done, and Janelle has fallen asleep on my chest, and as I think about how the rhythm of her breathing is in absolutely no way related to my own, I know exactly what I'm supposed to do. In the abstract, I'm supposed to love, cherish, protect, and provide for this little girl as she grows into her own free-willed, independently-minded woman. More concretely (and in this Janelle is just like her mother), I'm just supposed to do whatever I'm told.

The next two pictures are both dated 8 March. In early March Janelle began the adventure that is eating 'solid' foods. The word 'solid' is, of course, being used euphemistically; there is very little — if anyting — 'solid' about what Janelle eats. Still, it is a milestone in her development, and from day one Janelle was keen to explore food other than that which is exclusively 'mama-fed'. She has also started drinking water; as you can tell from this picture, she's developing a taste for bottled water — Evian, if it's available. She doesn't yet turn up her nose at tap water, but certainly it's more fun to play with plastic water bottles than with chrome and plastic water taps. And, the water bottles fit better in Janelle's diaper bag than does the kitchen sink. The concentration that she exhibits as she tries to get her tiny four-month-old hands around that water bottle is amazing. By now, of course, Janelle is much more proficient at grabbing anything (and everything) we leave within her reach, even if (especially if) we didn't mean to leave them at baby-level. It's scary.

Still, she has always been much better at grasping for things that actually fit into her hands, especially thumbs. And hair. And (unfortunately for our dog and two cats) tails. Judging by the look on Janelle's face, you would think that water had just magically squirted out of the end of my thumb and into her eye (reminding us of the incident in which Tom Cruise was similarly squirted with water). The compassionate reader can rest assured, however, that I have not done such a heinous (if humorous) deed. Yet. I'm as stumped as you are as to what could be inspiring such interest in one of my two opposable digits (that's right . . . I have two!); all I can say is that I am, indeed, a very interesting person, and it's somewhat gratifying to finally have someone else (other than myself and my mother) recognize that most recognizable of facts. Thank you, Janelle.

Shortly after she started on solid foods and began exhibiting intense interest in los dedos pulgares (or perhaps shortly before; I can't remember), Janelle was the object of a very lovely baby shower. [For our readers in the UK: a 'shower' is an American tradition in which gifts are given to a woman just prior to, but sometimes immediately following, a momentous occasion, primarily a wedding or the birth of a child. At no time, however, are gifts to be given to the man responsible for the above-mentioned 'momentous occasion', despite the claims sometimes made; I speak from experience.] Janelle's cousin, Olivia (who's approximately six months older than Janelle) was there, and the two hit it off really well. I don't know why, but this picture reminds me of a Peanuts cartoon. Not any particular Peanuts cartoon, mind you; just Peanuts in general. It's almost like Charlie Brown talking to himself in a mirror. Don't you think?

Yeah . . . this is definitely the cutest daughter I've ever had. [Disclaimer: If, in the future, I should ever father another daughter, the previous comment was made prior to your birth; now, of course, you and your sister(s) are all equally cute.] Notice here the especially jubilant smile; you can almost hear her laughing at something just off-camera, eh? I told you she was developing into a happy, agreeable little girl. She doesn't actually know how to laugh properly yet, but it's hilarious when she tries to. The neatest thing, at least for me, is her eyes. In adults you can tell when someone's genuinely laughing with you because they laugh with their eyes. If you look closely, you'll see that Janelle is here laughing with her eyes. Maybe she does know how to laugh properly. Whatever . . . I just know I love it when she does.

Here's Janelle cracking up as her mother holds her. Andrea is very good at coaxing a smile and a laugh out of her; Andrea makes me laugh, too. . . . This is actually particularly relevant: Janelle started crawling on Mother's Day (Sunday, 14 May 2006), and the next Sunday she crawled over to some piece of furniture in her grandparents' living room and pulled herself into a standing position. It seems a bit early for that, really; she's only six months old! But it isn't up to me. As my own Papa said, when I asked him if it was normal for a six-month-old to be doing such things: 'If she's doing it, it's normal'. Though she's now crawling all about the house without any care whatsoever about the dangers awaiting her — dangers that exist primarily, perhaps, in my imagination — she is, thankfully, waiting a while before she works in earnest to master the art of pulling herself up.

Okay . . . so Janelle is generally a happy girl now. But that doesn't mean that situations don't arise in which a small bit of concern is visible on her face. One such situation was when her cousin, Toni Beth, tried to hold her in her lap. Toni Beth is only a year-and-a-half older than Janelle; even so, she did very well. And though Toni Beth is, apparently, not in the least bit apprehensive about assuming the responsibility concomitant with holding her five-month-old cousin, Janelle is only too willing to voice her concerns regarding the developing situation. Needless to say, things worked out well in the end, and perhaps Janelle learned a positive lesson about taking risks. Hopefully, that lesson wasn't 'Go along with any crazy idea your cousin may have come up with'.

This is the same day as the previous picture. Having successfully endured the challenge of being held by her (only just) older cousin, Janelle decided to try her hand at driving. Fortunately she hasn't yet figured out what the big black wheel in front of her is for; she was mostly content just to sit there and have her Papa push the car via the purple lever attached to her rear bumper. In the end, everyone was just thankful that there were no mirrors to distract her; the last thing we need is another driver paying more attention to her make-up rather than the road. [I don't intend this to be sexist; I voice the same complaint against men who fidget with the car radio, dial their cell phone, or even [!!!] read maps (or other literature) as they careen down the Interstate.]

Andrea and I are incapable of agreeing about a surprising number of things, one of which is the necessity of sunglasses for Janelle. I have my doubts about their efficacy for blocking harmful UV rays, and, besides, scores of generations have raised their children under the sun's warming if somewhat carcinogenic rays; I don't see the need. Andrea, for whatever reason (she has her reasons, I just don't know what they are), insists that they are necessary for protecting her eyes, which are (apparently) more sensitive to the sun. Still, I'm glad I didn't press my own point, because — as you can see — she looks hilarious (. . . I mean, 'very cute') when she wears them. At first she didn't like them on her face. But less than a week after Andrea started putting them on her, she got used to having them on. Now she loves them; so much, in fact, that I'm beginning to worry that her first words may be, 'Papa, don't I look fa-a-a-bulous in these glasses? Can I have a Chardonnay? Thanks, darling; you're fa-a-a-bulous, too.' At that I'd have to draw the line.

What better way could there be to draw this post to a close than with this picture? I must admit that I forgot completely about this photo until it was brought to my attention by Janelle's cousin, Emily, who has made cameo appearances in previous posts. Once again she's laughing with her eyes; this picture proves you don't need teeth to have a gorgeous smile! We're six-and-a-half months into raising this wonderful little girl, and I can't but admit that I am absolutely, one hundred percent smitten with her. I can't imagine my life without her, and, despite the myriad complications that have been introduced into my life on her account, I look back on mine and Andrea's decision to try for a baby as the single most intelligent, far-sighted decision we've ever made. Perhaps I'll never know what I could have done had we not had Janelle when we did; I guess it doesn't matter. But one thing I'm sure of: everything I've sacrificed for Janelle fails to measure up with the joy I get from one day with her.

When Andrea first told me she wanted to have a baby, I panicked and called a good friend of mine, Lewis, father of nine (9!!!) children. When I asked him for his opinion/advice regarding having children, all I really needed was one moment's hesitation on his part; I was ready to tell Andrea I wasn't ready. Instead, he said almost immediately, 'Go for it. It's the single best thing you'll ever do.' What an understatement.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

My family's closet

As an attempt to make up for the lacuna stretching from January to May 2006, I'll try to post a few things (with photos) from our family life during that time.

In mid-January Andrea, Janelle, and I drove to Johnson Bible College for a job interview (which was successful; I start as a "Full-time Lecturer" in mid-summer). As we settled into the more-than-adequate accommodation the school provided for us, I decided to hang up our coats (it was, after all, mid-January) in the closet near the front door. First mine, then Andrea's, and finally Janelle's. (I know, I know; this is one of the more suspensefully told tales you've heard in a while.) As I stepped back I was amused by the sight of our three coats (and nothing else) hanging in the closet; it seemed to encapsulate visually many of the emotions I'd been feeling as I adjusted to my recently expanded family.

So I share the sight here with you. It may be a bit of nothing, and this post may be OTT in terms of sappiness. But it was an important moment for me. Maybe my inability to explain it adequately expresses something of the impact this image had on me.

God sure is confusing, even to a six-month old!

I apologize for the arid, desert-like stretch of non-posting that has been the last four months; for those faithful readers who still check out this site, here is your long-awaited oasis of Janelle-related posting.

Andrea felt the need to take this picture after Janelle and I returned home from an hour-long walk this afternoon. (As an aside: no wonder Americans are getting fat and lazy at an amazing and unprecedented rate. Despite being a mere one-mile from our house, the route from here to the nearest Wal-mart is considerably without sidewalk ['pavement' for our friends in the UK]. When our town and city planning makes it so difficult to walk about the community, how can we be surprised when no one does it!) I was "wearing" Janelle in a baby sling (if you don't know what this is, here is the site from which we bought ours), and during the last quarter-mile Janelle was falling asleep with her face adjacent to my chest. As she drifted off to Neverland her nursing reflex kicked in, and thus the wet spot on my shirt. Just to be clear, this is not the result of male lactation. (I know, I know . . . I, too, was surprised that there was a link for this! If you think that link was strange, check out how many hits there are here! You really can find anything on the net.)

But that's not all. When we were about three blocks from home, as I was walking across a particular residential intersection, Janelle's instincts utterly took over, and my teething baby girl bit my left nipple! I almost fell down laughing as I thought to myself, "I guess it would be confusing to a six-month-old for God to put useless nipples on a Papa". Then I realized, it was confusing to a 29-year-old.

So while I still do not know why God saw fit to equip fathers with nipples, I do have an increased appreciation for the plight of nursing mothers with teething children. And if all that comes out of this experience is some resumed posting on my family's blog, then that's enough for me.