Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Merry Dash-mas to All

We're approaching our first holiday with Dash, and it's been a lot of fun even though it's been kind of difficult at the Raymond Compound as of late. My mother was admitted to a nursing home for a respite stay that might end up being something more substantial than that, but, as of writing, it means that we don't know what's going on and it becomes a waiting game. Prior to this respite stay, though, she was really difficult, and, to be frank, it makes it hard to enjoy the holidays. We're a week away from Christmas and it barely feels like it at all.

Thankfully, we have Dash.

Dash has embraced Christmas like any baby would. We put him in ridiculous outfits, he's ridiculously cute in them (as seen above), and we pretty much exploit him for our own personal gain. He's in love with the Christmas tree, especially the lights. At our family Christmas party, there was a singing centerpiece that confuses and enthralls him all at once. He even got to open his first Christmas gift!

Sadly for us, he was much more interested in the plasticware.

Dash will be nine months old this weekend, and the time really does fly. He's not crawling yet, but he really wants to, but the fact that he can lift himself to a standing position and wants to walk around with us constantly is almost certainly holding him back. He's more interactive by the day - he does this weird Shakespearean hand motion a lot where it's as if he's doing a monologue with a skull, and he learned how to clap, which is a constant source of amusement for us (especially when he applauds toilet flushes). He's also still not sleeping - we're on 6 straight months now where he hasn't slept more than three hours in a given chunk, and we're choosing to chalk it up to the fact that he's had 5 teeth come through over that time with more still coming. We might be in denial, but I'm to understand that it's what parenting is all about.

He also eats better and better every day. Loves mashed potatoes and avacado, kind of iffy on pasta and rice. We're trying to make it more of a habit for the three of us to eat together, and it's really shown in regards to Dash's interest in food. I'm really interested in trying to model a lot of things better for him now that he's becoming more aware, but it's hard when you're dealing with a lot of mental health issues that go along with uncertainty with your mother's condition. But I'm trying.

One thing he's not into, though? Snow, or at least his snowsuit:

At the end of the day, he's worth it. He was always worth it, but he becomes more and more worth it every day. When he starts laughing at new things, when he starts noticing more things around, he becomes more fun. Ann is horrified about Dash's impending mobility, but how can you not be charmed when he finds a random gate and starts banging it maniacally against the metal leg of the desk?

It's hard not to love a kid like this. He's really become the bright spot in our lives, and to think he'll be talking soon and walking sooner and all sorts of craziness is coming down the pike? Time flies, man. Time flies.

And this guy is our pilot. We're screwed.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Updates: Mom and Dash Photo Breakdown

As summer turned to autumn and we start hitting the holidays, it's been kind of crazy. Thus the lack of updates period. You may recall the last update, where Mom was in the hospital. She is home, but things are kind of weird and precarious as we sort through the general changes that everything is bringing. So just know that we're doing well, more help is coming, and this means we can focus on this cute little guy with another photodump.

Remember when we said good things happen to our sports teams when good things happen to us? It turns out the secret sauce is making sure the good thing survives a full season. On the left is Dash on Opening Day, 2012, roughly two weeks after he was born, when few thought the Red Sox would break .500, never mind win the World Series. For good luck, Ann put Dash in his outfit from Opening Day on the first day of the World Series. He's a trooper.

Dash loves going on walks nowadays. He's incredibly observant, moreso than I thought he would be, and walks are just about the most interesting thing he can do now. Ann and Dash go on walks nearly every day while I'm working, it's great.

I honestly forget the context of these, but Ann made a Labyrinth comment one night, and the next thing we knew, Beth was shopping Dash's face on scenes from the movie.

"Dude...wait, what?"

Ann didn't want to drive home just yet given how long Dash had been in the car seat, so she sat in a parking lot with him in the front seat. He was much happier.

We've started experimenting with real food. He's not so into it sometimes, but over the last few days, as long as it's something someone else is eating, he's on board. This shift happened when he visited our friends Tiffanie and Josh, he loved the applesauce. Since then, pancakes and waffles are a big hit, as were sweet potatoes last night.

He still prefers pumpkin stems.

Speaking of Halloween, Dash was a hamburger. Yep.

It prompted another Beth photoshop.

Dash got to interact with a baby for the first time a few weeks ago. It was predictably hilarious.

We also learned that Dash has learned to be the master of the photobomb early.

Dash is also able to sit up in the grocery carriages now, which is pretty cool. He charms the old ladies and helps carry the groceries.

We also had a dance party at a recent wedding. That was fun!

He's just really a happy kid these days, which is really great. I hear so many horror stories about kids that cry all the time or have a lot of problems, and Dash is only upset when he's teething or can't get something he wants. It's pretty solid.

He also gets REALLY happy and excited with new things he likes.

It does mean that nothing's safe already...

...and that it's only a matter of time before he doesn't need us to move him around...

...and that he's only going to put up with our nonsense for a little while longer...

...because he's seven months old now...

...and he's developing his own interests...

...but I think he gets how lucky he is to have this lady as his mother. I know I'm lucky to have them both in my life.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mom and Jeff and Dash

Ann found this piece of paper when she was cleaning some of my mother's things this week. She must have written it after she had her brain surgery back in August of 2005, but it was kind of noteworthy for me for a few reasons. One, because it's been a long time since I've seen my mother's handwriting normal. Two, because even in what ends up being a pretty sad note, some of her humor/attitude comes across. For those who can't see the image or read the writing:

messed up at work.

I repeat myself several million times a day.

I can remember some things after the tumor removed -

Will I be this way forever? (probably)

I lose stuff in the house - sometimes I can find

The latest this could have been was early 2006. At that point, she was still at the police station, would have gone back to work from the surgery, and I know things weren't going so hot. I had probably moved out by then.

Ann found it this week when searching for some clothes for Mom and cleaning up her room because we had to admit her to a short term geriatric psych ward to even out her meds and get her back into some sort of livable daily routine again. She started at an adult day care facility three times a week, and within a week of attending she made a really, really bad turn. I don't talk about my mother's situation much these days on the blog or on Facebook or much of anywhere else these days because a) I hate being a burden and b) more importantly, it's just really difficult. It's sad and unfortunate and difficult, and as good as she is with Dash, she's been an absolute beast for a month now, and she wasn't especially pleasant to begin with.

To make a long story incredibly short, she just had this really brutal turn where she would attack my father, kick things, yell incessantly at everyone, wander around screaming how she wants to "go home" (her general "things aren't okay" trigger), and so on. We thought the day care might help things in the sense that she'd see professionals daily and such, and it has, but we also hoped it might even her out a bit when she's home with us. Instead, it coincided with this turn.

Ann's pretty much the main contact with the people there. Every family gets a social worker, and our social worker is especially interested in us because Dash brings Mom to the center with Ann every morning while Dad and I are working. We're effectively the youngest caregivers in the program by a longshot, my mother one of the youngest people there. That we have a baby in the house with a (relatively at 58) young Alzheimer's patient means that there are different issues to worry about, from cleanliness to having a positive atmosphere in the house to simple safety issues in the event Mom gets aggressive. It's a balancing act that they're acutely aware of.

Anyway, we've been dealing with two weeks of Mom at her absolute worst. Her yelling is as such that even Dash is noticing it (but, to the little trooper's credit, never really reacts beyond curiosity), and the medicine that they've been giving her to help with the delusions and the anger and the lack of sleeping simply isn't working. A week from last Tuesday, she was up at 4:30 in the morning trying to figure out what to do (and later got up at 6:00a to yell at the kids at the bus stop), and on Wednesday of this week, was up at 5:30a for good. Since that's when Dash wakes up (and a post about Dash's sleeping habits is coming...eventually), Ann sat with her while I grabbed a few more minutes of sleep. Ann, Mom, and Dash trekked to the center, and Ann laid out the last few weeks to our social worker, and by 3pm that day, I had to make the call to admit her to a short-term psych facility, because the meds aren't working right and the center is concerned for all of us and because we're basically "a family in crisis."


It's been exactly two years since Ann and I moved back home with my parents to help with Mom. It hasn't been easy for a variety of reasons, and some of you know just how bad certain aspects have been across the board, others have merely gotten a hint of my mother and get the basics, and that's fine, too. In a lot of ways, home life is like a prison when you have someone with Alzheimer's. We had to make the call to never leave her home alone shortly after we moved in, and she lost vehicle privileges very shortly after that. It's been a semi-progression ever since, although it's more like a staircase where you have a steady thing and then a major dropoff - one of our doctors at the center described it as such and it fits my mother perfectly. Either way, it means we can't leave the house together without someone else taking Mom, it means keeping one ear to the ground at all times in hopes that she stays in bed after going to sleep, and it means not getting much in the way of restful sleep at night in the event you're asleep and she's not. It means basically everything you do going unnoticed and often punished - you don't get gold stars or compliments for keeping your mother alive, few around you when you're in your 30s fully understand and appreciate the difficulty the situation presents, and my mother basically resented me for it anyway - "why can't I go out on my own," or "where's my car" or anything else. Then it becomes more difficult to bring her places, because people not like her (minority, overweight, older) become things of amusement for her toddler brain with near-elderly experiences. Or you worry about losing her. Or you worry about people taking her friendliness the wrong way. Because, at the root of it, a lot of humanity are jerks about things they don't understand, and that's something she carries with her as much as anything else.

So for two years, we've rarely seen our friends together. We've become detached from a lot of the things and people we love, and now there's a baby. The baby creates the interesting wrinkle for us in that, in a lot of ways, Ann and I have been "parenting" for a couple years now. Cognitively, it's almost as if Mom and Dash are going to pass each other in opposite directions at some point, assuming my mother makes it that long. We've often joked amongst ourselves that Mom is like a toddler that isn't actually learning in many regards. It's not too far from the truth, if you can believe it. Most of our friends are amazingly good about it, and are as helpful as they're able to be, and it's always appreciated even though it's not easy.

So that brings us back to this week. I said in an early entry that being able to take Dash from the nursery was my first "I'm a dad" moment. In a way, having to make the call to put my mother into a short term facility was my first "I'm an adult" moment, and that's with the knowledge that I've gotten married, had multiple mortgages, have a child, and having to make that decision...that's a lot. I can't say I've been the greatest at coping with my mother's illness, but I wasn't at my best this week after that. Having to rush up to the hospital right after work to get everything straightened out, having to be next to someone in the emergency psych area who headbutted his own mother in a fit of rage, then visiting her last night in a ward with people who can't keep their clothes on or seem completely out of it and yet don't seem to be that far off from where my mother is cognitively? That's a punch in the gut. Visiting my mother and having her not seem to care that she's in a psych ward, not especially caring that I'm there, seeming perfectly okay with the situation as a whole because, well, that's about the extent of her coherence? Wow, does that put things into perspective.

So much of how I want to parent Dash comes down to how my mother treated me. She embraced that I was a "little adult" in a lot of ways, encouraging me to try new things and read whatever books I could get my hands on and answer whatever inane questions I had. That my mother was really sharp and bright and with it makes this a lot more difficult, because you can often see flashes of her trying to figure out what's going on in her broken brain. This week, though, was when it really hit me that Dash is never, ever, ever going to know the way my mother was first hand. I always held out hope that she might hold out long enough where they could have a few brief moments, like I did with my Pepere. That's clearly not going to happen, and, given the trajectory of the disease, he might never actually remember her period. All he'll have is our memories - memories Ann never got to make because she was already in weird shape when Ann came around in 2004, and memories I'm desperately clinging to while the thoughts of who she is today melt into the ones I already have. The paper above? It's maybe the saddest thing of her's I've seen since we moved back here, but it really brought back a flood of stuff about Mom that I had forgotten - her little lists, her way of writing things out to figure them out, that there was a time where she was with it enough to actually tell me to live my life and not worry so much about hers.

Mom's in the facility now. She won't be back until Wednesday the earliest, and there's a nagging feeling that she might not be back ever. If she does come back with us, it's becoming quite clear that we're really on borrowed time, and that might not be a bad thing. The doctors at the center have said, in veiled ways, that we might be doing more than what should ever be expected of caregivers period, and it's been implied a few times that her condition two years ago, never mind now, would have qualified her for more help than we're asking for now. But there's a lesson with Mom that also exists as a lesson as a parent for Dash - that the best you can might not be good enough, and even if "not terrific, but competent" keeps someone alive, it might be best for everyone to look around a little differently. Dash is becoming more independent and aware by the moment, and Mom more dangerous. It's not healthy for Dash to be around someone that negative and awful when we have options available to us, and it's not healthy for Mom to be stuck with people who just might not be able to give her what she needs anymore. I don't know, but this week has been a lesson nonetheless - if we would tailor Dash's education, to his physical and mental needs, why wouldn't we do the same for Mom.

Until then, we have to keep on keeping on. If my mother's final gift to me is a sense of perspective in how to deal with my own kid, I'm going to do my best to accept it and use it. It's what she would want, after all, even if we're having a good old fashioned cry about it along the way.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Because Six Month Olds Get Real Food

So Dash turned six months old on Sunday. I can't believe it's been a half year already. Ann's big thing was feeding him real person food for the first time. We evidence:

She first tried to heat up small pieces of baked sweet potato. The consistency of sweet potato squicks me out anyway, so I'm not at all shocked that Dash didn't take a liking to it. The simple act of holding the thing alone made him kind of not happy.

So how about mashing them with breast milk. Putting aside the basic discomfort of that mix as a 32 year old adult, and given that he likes putting spoons in his, this didn't work, either.

Finally, how about as a popsicle? This went better, mainly because teething children enjoy the cold, but you can still see that the taste didn't really do it for him.

He had some good luck with a frozen apple slice, so it's not a complete loss at this point, but I can't say I'm not completely amused by the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

5 months down...


Some random stuff that I've been sitting on for no good reason.

* Teething is the worst. I always used to get mad at the animals in the house for resorting to simple cries and barks and meows when they've been around human language their entire lives and can't just tell us they need food or want to go out or saw a shadow in the corner. Teething is definitely a traumatic experience for our little guy, and too often it's crying without knowing what to do, and then you have the guilt about giving him baby Tylenol even though it clearly works to help settle him down, and then you realize how silly that is, and yeah.

As seen in the picture above, he got his first two bottom teeth. We had his four month doctor's appointment on a Friday, the pediatrician couldn't find any teeth, but they were there on Saturday. We're...pretty sure his top ones are coming in as well at this point, but for the time being, it's just a lot of whining to go along with his otherwise awesome demeanor.

* This does mean that everything goes into his mouth. As someone who is a compulsive hand-washer, watching my child take anything within arms reach and bring it to his mouth is something that I've had to work on suppressing my gag reflex over. I keep telling myself that it's just a behavior he'll grow out of, and for now he's building up immunities, but seriously, dude, gross. I know you don't know where that's been, but I do.

* Dash's 5 monthaversary was this past week, so we did our normal picture:

As you see, he's now actually noticing the My Favorite Monster that is his comparative example. By month six, I fully expect the photo to be of him devouring the doll's head.

* I went away for the first time from Dash. It's one thing to have Dash go to Maine and know that, at the end of the day, he's three hours away and if something came up that I absolutely needed to be there for, I could drive there. Going to Charlotte for four days was a difficult thing. Not so much while I was there, since I was very busy for most of it, but leaving and coming home? Just brutal. I didn't expect that.

I talked once about how I first knew I was a dad, and those moments come and go a lot, to be honest. I experience the world around me very strangely, and I'm still not really used to this whole father thing. But when I got out of the car at 7:45, and Ann and Dash were sitting in the yard, and Dash saw me get out of the car from 40 feet away and flashed that great, great smile? Might have gotten a little dusty.

The interesting point of Dash's development is here now, where he is super aware and super curious. Everything around him is interesting, is his toy, and should exist in his mouth. That alone is worth the price of admission, to see him notice things for the first time that were previously always there. What's great for me is that we're starting to get into little routines that I'm convinced he can expect. I grab his hands a certain way, and he reacts because he knows I'm about to make him do the cabbage patch. I look at him a certain way and get a little grin from him without even having to say a word. I know what words make him giggle, I know what actions I can do to make him laugh out loud, and he always has the biggest smile for me when he comes into a room I'm in. The hard part of having to deal with a baby that literally just existed to eat and sleep is now over, and we're actually having some fun now. We're not quite at the point where he can sit and read a book without inherently wanting it in his mouth, but we're so much closer. It's great. So great.

My friend Liz came up to visit for a real quick afternoon last week, and she repeated something she's told me a few times when I've talked to her about how I'm always surprised that Dash is so taken with me: "Your his father, of course he likes you." I didn't really get it for a long time, but I'm starting to get it now, and I get to see why parental dynamics happen so much. Ann gets the lion's share of the time with him - she doesn't work, I do. She takes care of Mom as well, I can't do as much. She breastfeeds, I have nothing to offer. I end up being the fun guy who isn't all business and doesn't have the toys, and I think I've fallen into a bit of a groove with him that works for us for the time being. It definitely helps with the parental guilt I tend to have, because it means I'm actually offering him something that he wants. My dynamic with my parents shifted over time - my father was my best friend for a while and Mom split between my brother being the baby/toddler and being the disciplinarian, then my mother and I started clicking really well on that intellectual level and my father took on the more disciplinary role. I can't imagine it was planned out that way, but it was what it was (and probably gives you all a lot of insight as to why this situation with my mother is so difficult for me), and now I see how it's happening with us. No matter how hard you want to balance the two out, things are just going to happen the way they happen. No use fighting it, I guess.

* A final story as this has gone pretty long. We've been trying for months to get my mother into an adult day care program to help take some of the load off and to get her the care we simply can't provide anymore. For the sake of brevity on what's really off-topic for this blog, the idea behind it is obviously to care for those who are ill, but with caregiver burnout in mind because it's cheaper to do a day thing than to do full-time care. It's one of those "why didn't they think of this decades ago" type things, but hey, it's there.

My mother starts that program today, and Ann and Dash are going to drop her off and get a better lay of the land. That part of it is not interesting as much as the part where Ann is really, really excited to take Dash and volunteer at the place with him. The elderly love kids and babies as is, and Dash has proven time and time again that he's a great sport when it comes to large groups and unfamiliar places (as long as the mariachi band isn't too loud), and the idea that one of Ann's first instincts is not only to bring Dash and volunteer a bit, but to be able to instill that sense of care and giving into Dash so early is...well...amazing. For as much as I talk about how much I love Dash, it's really how much more I love Ann. I never knew that the girl I met almost 10 years ago had this much to give to this many people. Other girls would have ran when they saw what they were marrying into with my mother, instead she showers her with love and with water, listen to her incomprehensible conversations and her seemingly coherent narratives, and even decides that she wants to help out when she can at the place we're sending my mother because we're increasingly incapable of helping her ourselves.

I know I'm going to try and be the best dad I can be, because the best mom I could ask for my kid happens to be my kid's mom. She makes me want to be better at it, and makes me want to make sure that Dash gets the life he deserves from parents who want him to be the best he can be. I married up, I lucked out, and not only does my mother and my family win as a result, but I think Dash hit the jackpot.

I'm starting to think he knows it, too.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Dashypants Photographic Update

Late July/Early August tends to be a bit of a busy time for me with work and getting into the swing of things, and life has been...rather crazy at the Raymond compound. However, I tend to hold back on the pictures, especially on Facebook, so I think I'll toss a bunch in a post here for folks who are looking for an update of sorts since last go 'round.

A friend of Ann's from her old work got Dash an "I Believe" shirt with the Loch Ness Monster on it direct from the Loch. This, of course, requires a silly photoshop job to fully get the entire desired effect.

Posting in part to show off our super awesome solar pants, but also posting in part because Dash is loving sitting in his little chair. He spends a lot of time in these sorts of things, and it's always funny to me to see a baby sitting like a little man.

We chose to pose our child with a sack of potatoes to represent the five pounds he gained between his two month and four month appointments. He's in the 85th percentile for weight, which is ridiculous.

Ann dug out a bunch of my old baby hats and outfits, posing Dash in them while they still fit. This is my favorite...

...this, not so much.

Dash spent some time with his Memere in Maine a few weeks ago, and was on a boat. No dolphins were involved.

Going back to the "my son is a monster of a child" theme, here he is in an outfit designed for nine month olds. He's basically exploding out of it at this point - if he ever goes Baby Hulk on us, it might look cool, though...

While I was away on my business trip, Ann played more dress-up. This picture was emailed to me with the title "Save Me, Daddy."

More dress-up time. This time, it was more just because he's wearing a shirt and pants. I don't know why babies in pants crack me up so much, but they do. It's like the opposite of dog sweaters for me. He's just so happy to be chilling in an outfit he will almost certainly ruin with his poop in a matter of hours.

Mom has been...very difficult as of late, but, for the most part, she still loves her grandson. He gives her a lot more attention in response as well, too, so sometimes it's nice for him to be in his own little world with her and it gives us a couple minutes to breathe.

Weirdly enough, we don't have a ton of pictures of Ann with Dash. This is a new favorite of mine, though. I loved getting this in my email.

Dash has already started teething, and he spends a lot of time being upset about it and making this weird turtle face while he tries to cope. So, naturally, Ann puts him in giant pants and makes him a spectacle. Parents of the year, right here...

We inherited an "Exersaucer" (who names these things, seriously) from my Aunt Mo and Uncle Chickie, and, needless to say, Dash loves it. Except when he hates it because he can't put all the pieces in his mouth.

Sharing because Dash looks ADORABLE in a little tie, but also because Auntie Beth is still improving our lives with a little magic.

I also met author Brandon Mull during my travels last week, and asked him to sign his newest book for Dash. I let Dash have the book when I got home, and it appears that it meets his approval.

Auntie Tiffanie spent some good time with Dash yesterday as well. Dash loves her, she loves Dash, it's all good.

Finally, Dash went to his first wedding yesterday. My good, dear friend Julia got married to her now-husband Jabian, who I don't know well enough but already really, really like. I always talk about how Dash has the best extended unofficial family in the universe, and Auntie Julia and Uncle Jabian are absolutely part of that. We're the luckiest people on the planet.