New Year’s Eve

It is amazing how everything in my life now relates to before and after Robert. This past week marks Robert’s first Christmas and the first New Year.

At about this time last year we visited the Festival of Chariots, there were only two of us then, and Robert was still a very much doubted suspicion. This year the three of us went, and dad was holding Robert in his carrier. My heart always burst with pride as we go for these walks, I now have my own little family; it is the most comfortable feeling in the world. From his perch in the carrier, Robert was all regal looking, watching the procession of the chariot and the devotees pulling it. A man was throwing candies from the chariot, and a number of kids were hot on the trail, collecting the falling candies and fighting over them. I still managed to pick up exactly three pieces, for the three of us. One of them actually had to land in the brim of my sun hat. I was never any good at catching, or even tossing for that matter, and Ron had to direct me to where the candies fell, pathetic performance.

A group of Cape Minstrels took advantage of the closure of Beach Road for the chariot. They preceded the chariot with their characteristic musical performance; I thought they were getting ready for the celebration of the 2nd New Year on the Second. The 2nd of January will mark the 100th celebration of this popular Cape Carnival. The music of the minstrels mixed with the chants for Rama and Krishna, and I thought it was a little disruptive to the festival, but nobody seemed to be too concerned. After all this was the rainbow nation and it should have space for all sorts of festivities.

I remembered when we went last year to watch the minstrels on the 2nd of January. The streets were crowded with people who follow this annual festivity. A coloured man spoke to me at length, about God and living in this country. He was proud of his tradition and proud to be part of the New South Africa, after living through Apartheid. I can still remember his face and his parting remark. He told me that for 2007 he was going to make a prediction that next year at this time I will not be standing alone, he pointed in the direction of my abdomen, and said: “It’s a girl”. His prophecy startled me into thinking and hoping that maybe I will become a mother after all, and perhaps I wasn’t experiencing a hormonal hiccup but a start of a new life. In the end he was only right on one count, but in retrospect I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am happy to stand here holding my little boy.

The little boy in question is becoming more of handful as the weeks go by (literally and figuratively). Ron and I haven’t used a stroller yet, but I can see us needing one very soon, once he becomes too heavy to carry in the front carrier. His muscles are strengthening and he can now sit with support for a long time. Sometimes when he refuses to feed, and arches his body backwards, it becomes a real battle to settle him into place. As his personality and stubbornness begin to emerge, his gross and small motor skills are also improving. A week ago reaching out and grabbing small objects was a feat that required huge concentration and effort, judging by the amount of grunts and frustrated outbursts. This was especially true when the skill required coordinated movement of both hands; you could almost watch how the growing brain is learning to fine-tune the choppy motion and the hit and miss process involved. Some larger muscles – unnecessary for the task- are occasionally enlisted, such as neck, stomach and legs. Now there is none of that; the movements are still a bit jerky, but definitely less robot-like and more focused. He reaches towards objects and grips them with ease, directing them immediately towards his mouth. Robert’s verbal tricks continue to expand from grunting and cooing to some lengthy babbling, and a few days ago he added some wet razzing. He continues to slobber profusely but there is no sign of teething yet.

I also show him his books regularly. The book he finds most interesting is the one with the bear puppet, but I think at this point the bear fascinates him more than the pictures in the book. He wants to engage in play with the puppet and reaches towards it to bite its arms. He shows some interest in to the book illustrating colours and textures, but his attention span there is much shorter, and he gets grumpy very quickly once he tires of fingering and touching a few texture pages.

More relevant to celebrating the closure of an eventful year, New Year’s eve was a quaint and simple affair in our household. In the afternoon we went on our most favourite outing, the V&A Waterfront. Yes, we have talked at length at expanding our range, but it remains a project for next year. This year we are stuck at a 10 kilometre radius, or better still a 15 minute drive. For a change we tramped around a different section of the mall where we haven’t been before, and bought an ice-cream cone, for a treat. But as it is always the case with parenthood, precisely at the moment when we let down our guard for a long-awaited treat, Robert made his presence known and demanded some attention. Perhaps he was unsettled by the closed mall and the crowd, and we had to rush outside, carrying him and a rapidly melting cone of chocolate and mint ice-cream. Somehow we managed to take turns with the baby and the ice-cream, but it wasn’t quite the relaxed treat we had hoped for. Later in the evening Ron prepared us a braai of steaks, which went very well with baby potatoes and a glass of chilled white wine. We nursed the wine throughout the evening, but went to bed a good two hours before the old year was over.

Looking Back on 2007

I wanted to dedicate a post to 2007, as the year draws to a close. This has been a remarkable and special year for all of us. Not a day has passed since Robert’s birth when I did not stop to marvel at the miracle of his new life. I am endlessly grateful for the blessing of a healthy and happy baby.

There are of course the restraints, of less time for us, and less freedom. The increased burden of work and planning and the limitation of our activities, but all of these things do not change the fact that we are both very happy to have Robert.

My mirror image looks tired and sleep-deprived most of the time, but the shadows under my eyes and the small wrinkles on my face are marks of a mature woman, a woman who has discovered the deepest kind of love. The happiness shining from within me cannot be disguised by mere fatigue.

As I reflect on the year that passed I remember the nine months of pregnancy. It was an energetic, blissful and healthy pregnancy. I did not experience any of the common ailments; no morning sickness or nausea not even sensitivity to smells. I was as healthy as I ever was, more energetic, and my complexion did not suffer the slightest of blemishes. I was also lucky when my weight increased gradually and did not balloon out of control, this may be the reason why I did not have any stretch marks.

Fortunately our diet and lifestyle are normally healthy, so I did not have to go through a major change there; I have been a long-time fan of cereal or oats for breakfast, and drink milk regularly with dinner. I always had a healthy appetite, it became more pronounced as the baby grew. I admit to indulging my cravings for sweets and chocolates some times, but I also paid attention to the correct diet: I had two daily servings of milk, at least two pieces of fruit, lots of vegetables, and tried to eat fish at least twice a week.

On the whole I enjoyed the experience of being pregnant, and when my belly became big I sported it proudly while lugging myself (and baby) up and down the hill, and hopping on and off taxis. Yes, occasionally it was scary thinking how vulnerable I was against muggers, or traffic accidents, but I was cautious and hoped and prayed for the best. Initially there was the added worry about how healthy the pregnancy was, the risks related to my age, and other genetic factors, but these fears were set aside with every progressive test and screening. I loved going to see the little one on the ultrasound, and the new ‘photo’ will be pinned on the fridge each time. When baby started to have features we would discuss how big his/her nose was, and whom of us s/he resembled. For me personally the first ultrasound was the most touching and dramatic. It was my first appointment to the doctor, and I just had a positive result from a home pregnancy test. The baby was only 10 weeks, but I could already see him or her happily floating there, and moving tiny arms and legs. It was incredibly touching for me.

My doctor has been perhaps, exactly the type that I needed. He has seen it all, and never gave me a reason to worry or exaggerated any type of problem. He just took everything at his stride. From the outset he located what turned out to be the only problem I experienced with the pregnancy. I had a fibroid, located quite low in my uterus. On that first visit he warned me to prepare myself for the possibility of a c-section. However, he kept me upbeat and did not discourage my hopes for a natural birth until the last few weeks. At 38 weeks the baby was still in breech and there was not enough space for him to turn. The doctor considered it too risky to try and force the baby into the head down position, and I think he made the correct call by scheduling me for a c-section.

The pregnancy was also a time when I was most productive professionally. I continued to work until the last minute, both at my office job and my freelance translation projects. Ron supported me throughout all of this a 100%. My pregnancy helped me move from full time to part time work at the office, and it was a good reason to get out of working the extreme early shifts and night shifts. It was nice to get special treatment for a while.

Ron helped me keep active for the whole nine months. He initiated the regime of the daily walk and we followed it diligently every morning, shortly after daybreak, and up until the 27th of August, the day we welcomed Robert.

In 2007 Ron and I had our last vacation as a couple, and for this special occasion we travelled as far as the Caribbean Island of Dominica. It was a very special trip, and it reminded us of what was really important in life, the simple uncomplicated pleasures of living, and the futility of running after material things. On our way back from the Caribbean we stopped in Berlin, and had a great visit with my family there. We were fussed over and I was treated like a little kid again, pregnant belly notwithstanding. I was about to become a parent myself, but I only appreciated this lifelong commitment when Robert arrived. It is much easier when you are the child, you can then afford to grumble at what you perceive as the unwanted ministration of the parent. I am just starting now to see the picture from the other side of the fence.

Our trip to Europe was touch and go until the last second, because up until the beginning of May I only had a temporary South African passport. I only received my permanent passport the week before we were scheduled to leave. I was finally a proper South African citizen after eight years of living in this country. This monumental event happened also just at the correct time, because baby is immediately eligible for SA citizenship.

For me 2007 was a tremendous year, it brought fulfillment to many of my dreams. I look back at it with fondness, and gaze towards the future with more hope. As Ron said, 2008 will also be Gr8.

What We Can Do at Four Months

Oh yes, we are looking quite perky at four months.

See? I can hold things with my RIGHT hands.

In fact, I can grab with both hands. My hand-eye coordination is steadily improving. Mom and dad have even witnessed some great achievements such as moving an object from one hand to the other!

I love playing in the pay-gym, grabbing and rattling these colourful hanging toys.

My attention can be diverted quickly even while playing, and especially during feeding.

Everything goes quickly into my mouth.

And I mean everything including the strap of mom’s camera-phone.

Some stories that weren’t told in these pictures:

A marked decrease in the number of meals. Robert’s stomach is obviously getting bigger, and he eats more at each meal, which makes him require less feeding. Another thing, is also the increase in the frequency of dirty nappies. Sometimes we go on for two to three days without any. However, when it finally happens we do require a full bath !

Baby is able to play alone now. He keeps himself amused for some time in the morning and in the afternoon on the jungle gym. Sometimes he is just happy to watch the reflections of light and shadow on the walls and the ceiling, gives us a break for breakfast and lunch most of the time.

Rolling over is an established routine while playing with dad, it is getting to be more natural. On some occasion Robert also falls to sleep on his side, and then rolls onto his back again during sleep.

Likes listening and has an extended repertoire of noises. He screeches, babbles and laughs, the latter is still a little rare though. Most of the time he laughs with delight during an activity. He is not ticklish, and has to be tickled vigorously before he reacts with laughter.

Robert’s First Christmas – A Day of Mixed Fortunes

I feel really bad that Robert did not get any presents for his first Christmas, I guess we were too caught up in buying his day to day stuff, and did not have time to buy something specific for him to open on this day. At one point I had elaborate plans to knit him a Christmas hat, or make up a handmade present for him, but somehow these never materialized. I promise that I will work to remedy this situation during the coming year, and make sure he has a full stocking and lots of presents next time. My excuse this year, is that he is too young to know any better.
Mom and Dad got nice presents; mom received something that she always enjoys… chocolate and sweets, while dad got an interesting book. Robert got to play with the wrapping paper, which caused him tremendous excitement and total over-stimulation.

I planned a visit to my work today with Robert. I figured it was a holiday and there won’t be many people about, in there won’t be a lot of work load on the floor, so Robert will not distract people too much, and won’t be overwhelmed with the noise and activity either. I was mistaken.

I carried him up in a quiet elevator to a very quiet building. Only a handful of people were working on the floor, but somehow he did not feel comfortable. He started crying soon after we arrived, with ear-piercing, panicky sobs. I tried to calm him down in the common area, without success. Women from the Israeli sales team came to see what is happening, one of them carried Robert and sang to him in Hebrew, and amazingly he calmed down for a minute or so before starting his tearful cries again.

I tried taking him out to the atrium, big mistake, his cries magnified and echoed and caused even more people to come and investigate. I never thought so many people would be working on Christmas day! Some people looked at me accusingly; others came with helpfully meant but useless advice: Give him his bottle; give him water; he is hot. Finally I retreated to the ladies bathroom. I thought it was a small space he could relate too, rather than the impersonal huge expanse of offices. It did not help much, and the only way was to get the heck out of there. Ron came to the rescue as soon as I phoned, and we deposited a panic-stricken Robert into his car seat. Ron spoke to him softly, but he still had wild eyes. He only calmed down to the rumble of the engine as we drove away from this dreadful place.

I still do not know what set him off, but I imagine it was too much of a change in his routine. When we usually take him out he is in the baby carrier, this time I carried him up, so he was outside the space he is accustomed to. Besides the environment was quiet and a little gloomy, different from the bright and noisy environment of our place or the shopping malls we are used to.

We drove to Sea Point promenade and walked around the Sea Point swimming pool. The day was cloudy with some fresh wind, but the pool was very busy. At this point it looked like our plans for a barbeque will go to naught, it was threatening to rain. Robert was quiet on our walk; it was an environment he is used to. There was even a group of Chinese tourists who fussed over him, the girls said he was cute, and a man took a photo of him in the carrier, and through all that Robert was his regal self, quiet and aloof, and watching the world go by with restrained interest. I had dressed him in his green and red ‘monster’ outfit, to honour the colours of Christmas, but during our walk the weather turned ominous again, and he was underdressed for the cold, so we had to head back.

At home Ron was faced with the problem of lighting the braai. Because of the unclear weather, Ron started the barbeque in a non-ideal location, on our covered balcony.

I might have swayed him into making this decision, which turned out into a near disaster. Poor Ron spent the afternoon battling the smoke which kept blowing into his face and eyes. To make matters worse, the pork ribs we bough were very fatty and turned black on the coals, poor Ron had to scrape them once they were done.

All through that I was entertaining Robert, I held him next to the window for some time to watch his dad preparing a feast that was not going very well. Miraculously, however, things turned out well in the end. Minutes before the meat was cooked, Robert settled for an afternoon nap, and Ron and I had one of our very rare leisurely meals. We enjoyed nibbling on pork ribs, beef short ribs, sausages with sweet potatoes and mashed pumpkin. The meal was accompanied by a wonderful red wine.

It was perhaps the only quiet afternoon we had on our balcony this year. Everyone was enjoying grits somewhere, and no cars on the road. It added so much to our enjoyment of the day. Mom and dad did get a special Christmas after all.

Week Seventeen : Christmas Eve

I keep ranting here about the weather, almost as much as I speak about Robert. But coping with its many changing aspects has been an ongoing challenge in the past few weeks. I have given up on looking at the weather forecast; we just dress for whatever weather we have at a specific moment, keeping a contingency plan for sudden changes when we are out. We are both kept busy trying to keep baby cool, or making sure he is well protected from fierce sun or gusty winds.

Two weeks ago I lost a favourite possession to the ravages of weather. The Cape Doctor (our very own south easterly wind) took away my sun hat; it was last year’s Christmas present from Ron. I have worn it for less than a year, and only on special occasions at first. It was not the cheap cap that I wear on the veranda, and I was quite sad to lose it.

Ron taunted me endlessly about it for a few days, and then this week he bought me a new one from the V & A Waterfront. It is much better than my old had, and has a string that I can bind around my ponytail to prevent it from flying into the ocean like its predecessor. All is well in the world again.

All is well that is, except for the mosquitoes, which have now started to pry on poor Robert. A few nights ago, I had to strip him down to his nappy, so that he can sleep in the blistering hot evening. Bad idea, the next day he woke up covered in itchy mozzie bites on his tender skin. Now he goes to sleep in a long-sleeved shirt, zipped up in a light sleeping bag, but he still gets bitten on his little fingers, ears, and face.

In addition to my Christmas present, Ron and I bought some food for our Christmas braai (barbeque) tomorrow. We did not have a contingency plan for that one, in case the weather turns nasty as usual. We are still hopeful of sunshine, although we had a fair share of thunderstorms, lightning and rain today. The floods in the Garden Route area and a stormy Camps Bay beach were even on national news today. I suppose it will cheer up those who are spending the holidays at home. The upside of this cool weather for us is that Robert will get a break from mosquito bites tonight.

Sixteen Weeks: Developmental Milestones

This week Robert was busy with many monumental developments, and both of us were kept on our toes keeping track with him. His grasping skills are improving rapidly and he now reaches out to take a toy held to his fingertips. He spends a lot of time just looking at his hands, or regarding them, which is considered a very important step in his awareness of himself and how his body works. Grasping is becoming a conscious effort rather than a reflex. The little hands have been busy as usual exploring around his face and mouth, and now his ears have been added to the repertoire of toys. I saw him tugging at his ear a couple of times.

His exercise sessions on the play gym are becoming more eventful as well. He now likes spending time on his tummy and has mastered rolling from front to back, and attempts rolling from back to front using his hips and legs. Sometimes however he gets himself in a pickle while trying to do this. He was fussing at bedtime on one hot evening and ended up on his side. Ron came to the cot to find a very angry baby trying desperately to roll forward or backward without success.

Robert’s awareness of his surroundings is now very clear. He reacts to things he sees and hears and lets us know, in a not too subtle manner, when he dislikes something. Ron is sure for example that Robert recognizes the jingle of our daily South African soapie “Isidingo”, which we watched frequently while I was pregnant, and while in the past he did not react to television he now looks at it and shows interest in following the movement of pictures and colours.

The weather continues to drive us crazy. A blistering hot day is followed by a cold one, and the morning sky is never and accurate predictor of the day. Sunny mornings often give way to rain and thunderstorms, while a misty and cold dawn can later enfolds into a hot and humid day. On Saturday we witnessed the most amazing sunset, the pink hues of the sky turned the ocean purple. We only viewed this spectacle from our balcony, but it must have been amazing at the beachfront.

On one particularly hot evening I put Robert to bed without his shirt, and he was still too hot, and only when the air cooled down with nightfall. The next evening it was cool and I had to put him in a shirt and zip him up in a sleeping bag. This is not normal at all, looks like we will have interesting holiday weather.

Fifteen Weeks: Swim Time

We surely had the strangest weather this year. One day we complain how cold and miserable it is, then the next day we pray for a respite from the heat and humidity.

The days however are still getting longer and we have more daylight hours than we know what to do with, especially when baby wakes us at first light at four thirty in the morning. As of this week I am on holiday again until next year. I am dragging out my crochet and books and relaxing when Robert allows it.

Thanks to Ron, Robert is getting a lot of exercise. He now enjoys spending time on his play gym, and is learning to roll over from his tummy onto his back. His favourite position though is upright on his short little legs. He only needs a little support to his arms to carry the rest of his weight and he can remain upright for a minute or so before he slumps down. He can also now sit in his “Bumbo” seat for longer periods. He is always in a good mood, fusses only occasionally and then for a good reason. His routine for sleeping at night is now established, he is normally asleep by eight, provided he doesn’t get himself overtired. There are also the rare occasions when he is too hot and uncomfortable to sleep.

This week Robert got a chance for his first swim outdoors. We put his bathtub outside, filled with lukewarm water, and he enjoyed it immensely. He kicks the water with both legs pedalling so wildly that water splatters all over his face. His shock at the water hitting his face makes him splash even wilder, kicking his legs fiercely. We got the same reaction when the water was a little bit too cool, he started splashing wildly with arms and legs, but did not give a single moan of complaint.

Another important event this week was the arrival of his detailed birth certificate by registered mail. It was delayed in the usual muddle and inefficiency of Home Affairs. Perhaps this time though they had a genuine excuse; their offices in town were flooded due to a leaking pipe. We are actually lucky that the whole paperwork wasn’t lost in the confusion. The next important step will be registering Robert at the Canadian Embassy to get his Canadian passport, but this can wait until after the holidays.

Fourteen Weeks: Runny Tummy Time

It is typical that we have to get sick right after a routine visit to the pediatrician. Robert had a runny tummy over the weekend; there were no painful cramps, but he seemed lethargic and lacking his usual spunk. Today he is a little better, but still not quite right. Hopefully this little thing will get sorted by itself.

Over the weekend we went to the Sea Point Christmas market. There were many interesting things to buy, home industries, jams, sauces, liqueurs, biscuits, chocolates, and lots more. I resisted the impulse to buy and buy. As in all Christmas markets things look pretty, but they are rarely useful. The only thing I would consider useful are the sweets and cookies, but Ron doesn’t like them.
On Saturday we drove to Camps Bay to see the Summer Festival at Camps Bay High School. The trip was a great flop, and at the school grounds there was only a huge sign announcing the cancellation of the event. We hadn’t planned anything else, so it was another nice and hot day wasted. At least we got to walk a little bit on the main road to Camps Bay, which was hopping at this time with tourists. We could have had more summer revellers if the weather wasn’t so fickle. The south easter was blowing again on the weekend, and it keeps pushing cold weather systems into the Cape.

Since our visit to the doctor I started giving Robert one extra feed before I head to bed. He still wakes up at the crack of dawn for his first meal of the day, but at least I know now that he is getting one more meal per day- better than last week. Now that his interest in the outside world is increasing he doesn’t seem to fuss too much about hunger. In fact, he keeps himself amused for a long time in the morning before he finally decides to raise his voice for our attention. He is slowly getting used to the play gym and a few times he carried on a conversation with his reflection on the play-mat’s mirror. He still prefers being held and carried around, though. When I carry him or lift him up, he has the annoying habit of turning his neck to glance backwards over his left shoulder. Initially I thought that he was trying to look at something from this uncomfortable angle, but whenever I turn his body in that direction, his neck remains twisted in the same position, looking backwards. I never know what he is looking for.

Ron is keeping track of Robert’s motor development, and I think his attention to exercising with him makes Robert quite advanced for his age. Even the doctor remarked on his good progress in that area. His head is steady, and demonstrates very little head lag when pulled up to a sitting position. He has mastered almost all gross motor skills for the average fourth months baby. He can now sit with support, and he quite enjoys being wedged in the middle of the leather sofa, or in the corner of his crib. His expression is normally one of amazement at the new perspective.