Remembering Hurricane Maria for the Best Possible Reason part 2: Happy Birthday, Peanut!

You may remember that yesterday I left you on a non-cliffhanger of Hurricane Maria’s peaceful passage over the BVI. I wanted to end it there because today is TWO-day! My Peanut, the Wee Baby Abel, has survived two whole years.

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Hello world

Sept 20, 2017 started early, with the medical team letting me know not to eat anything and dealing with all the indignities of surgery. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that everyone was nice and I tried my best to be a good sport. I think I did well considering my head space was still pretty much that I had no idea what was going on.

And later I got to meet my son! He had all the hair, as I had. He just wanted to be held and snuggled, and I happily complied. Aunties and uncles who had been forced from their homes thanks to Irma nonetheless scrubbed up and came by to meet him.

Having a newborn gave me something to focus on, a luxury in those first few weeks after the storm when we had no power and no running water. Post-partum hormones make some moms spiral into depression or psychosis, but I became lazer-focused on my kid, which brought some downsides but also let the stress and uncertainty of post-Irma life fall away. He was adorable, but mysteriously finicky in the first few months. Even then, he liked to be in the center of things. He loved to be cradled by his dad in the crook of one arm while the breakfast routine happened, or to be strapped on and walked around and around and around.

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The first of many buddy naps

He was strong, able to lift his little head early and roll what felt like right away. He thought bicycle legs and anything his cousins did was the best ever. I could get him to chill by having one of the cousins sing to him or read him a book.

He fell in love with the cat, so we taught him “gentle,” guiding his little hand over and over until he could do it on his own. Gentle became one of his first words, along with “meow.”

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Going to day care was a new world. Another baby became his little bestie. They were born just a few days apart. She taught him how to clap and blow kisses. He was the earlier walker and would bring toys to her while she sat in her bouncer. I loved to see how he made friends at such a young age.

Before long he was standing, and then, at just 10 months, walking. Heaven help me, I sometimes feel like he hasn’t slowed since.

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Peanut getting ready to walk

These days, Peanut still likes to be strapped on when I’m walking around, but in general he is not one to be passively carried around. Nope, this is a hands-on creature who wants to stay doing whatever he sees others (especially me) doing. I have two brooms and two dish brushes, and even two “potties” in the restroom. Sure, he still thinks that the main reason we go to the toilet is just to sit on it, but I have gotten used to having company in there. He may be small, but he is genuinely helpful with little things like closing doors, throwing things away in the garbage, or putting dirty clothes in the hamper. It’s cute to see how much he enjoys his little chores.

Actually, I feel like he enjoys most things. There is a lot of joy in this little person, and most days he spreads it to me like some kind of giggly contagion.

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Playing in the park on his first birthday

He loves bubbles and stickers. He loves animals in general but especially chickens and cats. Probably the thing he has the most of is books, but he is shaping up to be a builder of some kind with the way he loves blocks. He’s also still the most curious little dude you can imagine. He doesn’t have the words to express it, but you can just see it in his face and body language. It’s much more than a mere desire to know what’s going on: He absolutely MUST. KNOW.

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My boy thinks iced unsweetened lemongrass tea is juice and an amazing treat!

What else? He loves music and I’m much more more likely to hear him sing than talk… unless he’s showing off his mad counting and number identification skills. While I’m driving, he will often sit in carseat and just count. He can get to 20 if he’s in a good mood. He loves his family, especially the uncles that don’t mind throwing him around. He already corrects me when I do something silly like call my mother in law “Mommy.” …
“Granny,” he’ll tell me, pointing at her and giving me his best “duh,” look.

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Playing with his favorite new toy

I’ve loved watching him grow and develop so much personality so far. I know there will be lots more growth and change to come, and I’m looking forward to see it all. Happy happy birthday, big boy.

 

Remembering Hurricane Maria for the Best Possible Reason

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Baby bumpin’ by the pool a few days before Hurricane Irma

Around here, we share our Irma stories a lot, even now. Everybody has one because the storm was an absolute monster. While some structures might have been relatively undamaged, there was no life in the BVI that was unchanged.

What fewer people talk about is the arrival, just 14 days later, of Hurricane Maria.

I really do remember it like it was yesterday. We had survived Irma, but were – ahem – significantly worse off. We knew Maria was coming. We had spent the days prior scavenging supplies and done our best to secure in all the ways we could but, there’s no other way to say it — I had funny feeling!

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After Irma, we were happy to have a roof and each other.

At some point in my pregnancy, the obstetrician had said that a mother’s intuition about her child is very often correct. A few days after Irma, while visiting some friends in an emergency shelter in town, a very kind nurse-midwife checked my blood pressure and asked me some things about how I was feeling. He thought I seemed in good shape, but he was concerned at how Irma had interrupted my regularly scheduled appointments. He gave me some signs to watch for and reminded me that I could always go in to the maternity ward in the hospital to be checked by a midwife. As we waited for Maria’s arrival in our boarded up little apartment, I thought of the long hours hunkered down in the bathroom while Irma passed. If my funny feeling turned into labor (or, God forbid, something worse) would I be compromising the health and safety of my baby?

“Let’s go to the hospital,” I told Husbae. He didn’t question it, just helped me gather up my bags (one for me, one for baby, just in case) and hustled me to the main entrance at the hospital.

Which was totally closed. A curfew was already on for the passage of Hurricane Maria. The security guard on duty misunderstood why we were there at first, but before long we were ushered up to the emergency room entrance and from there over to the maternity ward. They checked my blood pressure, baby’s movements, and both of our heart rates, and everything seemed well. The midwife said that as my obstetrician was on-duty, she’d bring him in too.

OB, a highly competent doctor whom I nonetheless would probably not have chosen for myself, had many questions. When had I been in to see him last? When was my last ultrasound? Had I not had xyz test done? My favorite question came at the end: “Was I satisfied with that?”

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IDK, doc!

Bruh. I am a first time mom who barely knew what was going on before we got hit with a monster storm and I felt fine before today so how about you just go ahead and tell me what you’d be satisfied with? I didn’t say any of that, but it was all there on my face.

He thought that even though things seemed good, just to be sure, we should do an ultrasound. Did it come across a little like he wanted to break out a toy he hadn’t gotten to play with in a while? A bit, yes. Did I mind that in the least? Heck no! The ultrasound was set up and before long, we were hooked up and Husbae and I were looking at our actual baby on the little black and white screen. Neat!

OB was in his element now: There’s the head, up here, there’s the torso, there’s the penis…

Me:

new information

OB: Oh, you didn’t know? Oops! Yep, it’s a boy. He’s also frank breech and hasn’t moved down toward the birth canal like we’d expect at this stage. And he’s really big. Big head, very big torso… Basically you’re like 36-37 weeks pregnant but he’s measuring like he’s 41 weeks.

Husbae: … ?

Me: Soooooo is that bad?

For context, I was trying to not scare myself so I wasn’t overdoing it on the birth and labor story reading, and I’d been doing a little bit of meditation. As far as I was concerned, my body would know what to do when it was time for the baby to be born (LOTS of the moms reading are laughing). I did know that first time moms would routinely pass the 40-week mark so that didn’t seem like a problem. Not knowing a damn thing about breech deliveries, I wasn’t concerned by any of this.

OB: Not bad, no. But based on his position and size, I recommend that we not wait and risk the possibility of having to do an emergency C-section. Let’s just schedule it for tomorrow, assuming there are no emergencies coming from the storm and the operating theater is available.

Husbae: … ?

Me:

by all means

In the moment, most likely due to post-traumatic stress and general feeling of disconnection from myself post-Irma, I genuinely had no preference. Having since learned some more of my family history, which includes a bunch of emergency c-sections (some scarier than others) and a blood transfusion, I’m really glad I didn’t fight his advice. I was admitted, but Husbae couldn’t stay overnight, so I passed the night a little lonely and worried about the state of our home.

As it turned out, at least around here, Maria wasn’t too bad. I got regular texts from Husbae to say all was well.

What did the light of day bring? Come back tomorrow for part 2.

Joys of toddler wearing

 

Once upon a time, the wee baby Abel really was wee! I could put him in a my kangaroo pouch and he’d happily sit there for ages. In fact, when he was little and very fussy, strapping him on was one of the few ways I could just about guarantee that soon he’d be snoozing, so it was kind of an ideal way to get chores or errands done, provided I could do them on foot.

These days, it’s a whole different ball game. For one thing, he weighs like 30 pounds now, so wearing him is a feat of strength. He’s way too heavy to wear comfortably in the smaller, less expensive carriers I used when he was an infant. I did some research on the mommy-grapevine and settled on a carrier with lumbar support that has armies of parents singing its praises. It wasn’t easy to figure out, but eventually, I got to a place where I can now get us both pretty comfy in about 30 seconds, provided I have an assistant. I imagine that with time my tot will get a little more patient with the process and I will get more competent with my carrier and be able to strap him on without help.
**Editing to add that the day after I posted this I finally got him in all by myself, YAY!**

Being able to wear him on my back has been a game-changer for us, because he likes the view, and I feel so much more comfortable and stable than I did toward the end of the kangaroo-pouch front carry days.

But he’s not just bigger. He’s on a whole other level of development now. As a toddler, he’s supposed to be exploring his world and he is! He’s very active and loves to interact, so if I strap him on and I’m doing something he doesn’t find interesting, he might start finding ways to amuse himself. I’m lucky in that it’s typically something cute like playing with my hair or wanting me to talk to him about what I’m doing. The best is when I can do something to let him feel included somehow — He can close the fridge, or handle one spoon while I stir the pot with another.

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Getting ready to go out on our first big back-carry walk

Other times, I’m not so lucky and he wants to arch his little back or smack me until things get interesting or I let him down. He doesn’t talk much, but he can definitely get loud and will cry if he’s displeased.

As you might imagine, all that closeness in this tropical climate has one major downside: it’s hot! We both get sweaty and I can count on needing to change us both out of some very sweaty clothes if I wear him for longer than about half an hour or so.

One thing has not changed as he’s grown: he generally loves to be worn as long as I am walking, particularly if I’m walking outdoors. Lately, we have been walking together on the weekends, often with a friend. It’s nice to see what catches his attention (usually animals, naturally). While I often encounter other moms who wear their infants in the grocery store or, say, at the laundry, I have yet to see another mama who wears a bigger kid. That might be why we attract a fair bit of attention from others on our walks… Or maybe it’s because my kid is just that cute?

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He’s pretty freakin’ cute!

Scroll Away

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One thing you need when you live on an island is a reliable way to stay connected. Sure, most of us are pretty good at checking in with our co-workers and neighbors, but what about all those friends and relations in far away places? That’s what the internet is for!

Indeed, I feel very blessed when I hear about unlucky island dwellers of not-so-long ago, for example, the North American transplant who was so homesick and had just enough to drink one night that he thought it would be a good idea to borrow the company phone to make a massively expensive long-distance phone call.

Nope, we lucky folks of today can fire up one of any number of social media sites and scroll through our feed or sit back and watch the latest stories to see what our peeps all around the world are up to.

But, and I can’t be the only one who falls into this trap, how do we know when we’ve had enough? A quick check can keep you informed, but did you know researchers are finding more and more evidence that too much scrolling, rather than helping us feel connected, actually causes most people to feel isolated?

Take the way people often use their Twitter pages to vent their problems. Everyone needs an outlet, but it’s stressful for us as readers to take in so much negativity all at once. One Pew Research Center study showed that more time reading people’s tweets is correlated with a higher stress level. Other studies have pointed to links between social media use and anxiety, feelings of envy, a reduced amount of sleep, and, for women and girls, reduced self-esteem.

On second thought, maybe I’ll log off the internet a little early this week and make an old-fashioned long-distance phone call!

A version of this post firs appeared in the Feb, 7, 2019 edition of the Limin Times.

The Huntress

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The Huntress guarding the Wee Baby Abel during a nap

Sharing a home with any pet requires trade-offs. At our house, the cat – who adopted us when we moved into what she clearly thinks of as her apartment – provides many benefits. She is an excellent snuggle buddy whenever anyone is enjoying some quiet time with a book or a movie. She’s been very patient about her de facto role as big sister to the baby, waiting as he progressed from the stereotypical baby “pat-pat” through to understanding that animals should be touched gently. Where she used to tolerate the baby for a few moments and then dash off as kiddo got excited, she now seeks him out for attention and I think she might be trying to teach him to open doors for her. It’s been sweet to watch how much the baby loves this cat. He follows her around the house, sometimes babbling excitedly. “Gentle” is one of his first dozen words. “Meow” is another. I would even go so far as to guess that his positive experiences with our cat are the reason behind his love of the pets he meets when we are out in the world.

As the adult human in the partnership, my end of the bargain is usually pretty low-key: buy some cat food, fill her dish a couple of times a day, make sure her water doesn’t turn green. All in all, it’s a pretty good system, most of the time.

But then there are the times when I have to deal with the cat’s instinct to hunt. Or rather, her persistent attempts to bring her prey inside the house.

Once, the only clue I had that one of her prizes was in the house was a terrible smell. I searched high and low before I discovered the source: a decaying lizard under my bed. Another time, I caught her as she was coming inside with a mouse in her mouth. Who knows where she would have stashed it if I hadn’t sent her right back out once again.

Recently, she took it way too far, however, when I came home to find a ground lizard on its back. This is the biggest thing she’s ever brought inside. In my mind it looks like a small alligator, although the reality is that it was probably 12 inches long from snout to tail. Normally I find small lizards pretty cute. I’ve never willingly touched one, but neither do I find it necessary to chase them away if they want to hang out nearby, and, I don’t know, hunt flies. This one, however, was too big to be endearing, it just needed to get out. Attempting to removing it showed me the worst of the situation. The poor creature was still alive.

Is there a ground lizard intensive care unit? No, but even if there was, I doubt very much they could have saved this thing. It was just the latest victim of the huntress.

This first appeared in the Jan. 31 edition of the Limin’ Times.

Bird Walking

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A green heron spotted in Road Town on assignment during previous bird count.

After wanting to participate for ages — and not just cover it as a reporter — this year I finally got it together and joined in the annual Christmas Bird Count. If you’ve never heard of it, the count is a bit like a census, with birdwatchers taking to the field (or sometimes their own backyards) to identify and count the bird species they see.

While the BVI is home to many different birds, the Christmas Bird Count is an international project, with volunteers from around the US, Canada, and parts of Central and South America and the Caribbean, all designating the last weeks of December and first few days of January as the time they will count in their local area.

Although there are places that have had counts all the way back to the year 1900, the history of the event here in the BVI is pretty respectable, with the National Parks Trust recording counts going back to 1988.

Being a novice when it comes to identifying birds, I tagged along with a more experienced birdwatcher in my neighborhood. Together, we spotted a sparrow hawk, a bird of prey that I’m pretty sure I’ve seen hunting from the treetops near my deck. I learned what an ani looks like. We also counted a couple of thrushies, which are more properly known as pearly-eyed thrashers, but which I personally think of as papaya thieves because I can never get to a ripe one before they peck holes in it. Naturally, the birds that were most common on our path were the chickens, which don’t get counted.

Between the sizable puddles from that morning’s rain and the rather small wheels on the stroller I was wheeling the baby in, we decided to cut our walk short, but I still count the morning’s adventure as a success: The little one and I got some fresh air, I learned a bit from my birding buddy about bird calls and behaviors, plus I got to contribute (albeit only a small bit) to a really cool global science project. I had so much fun that I’m already planning my next birding adventure.

A version of this column first appeared in the Jan. 10 edition of the Limin Times.

Island Life in Space

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Moon sprouts (photo: AFP)

In a project that would have seemed farfetched just a few years ago, China recently landed a probe called Chang’e-4 on the moon. The most recent news from the project is that some cotton seeds planted inside the lander have sprouted*, along with hopes in the space exploration community that the moon could eventually be used as a home base for future explorers. The idea is that rather than coming home to earth, future astronauts could simply grow the food they need on the moon.

You might say this project is about as far from our little island as possible, but I’d argue that island life and space exploration share many of the same strengths. For one thing, space missions are right to start thinking about plants early. Relying on imports for basic necessities is the main reason island living is so expensive, and any disruption in transport channels trickles down to every other aspect of life here. Chinese researchers started with cotton plants since those can be harvested to make fabric. According to reports, the Chang’e-4 also carried potato seeds and yeast, so clearly staple foods are another priority.

Whether on islands or in space, it’s clear that teamwork is crucial. As many of us have seen time and time again, island folks know how to pull together to help each other out. We share rides and water; we check to make sure our neighbors are okay after a storm; and, if we see someone stranded on the road, we stop and help however we can. The most successful space endeavor so far (21 years in space!) is the international space station. The five space agencies who partner on the project represent the US, Japan, Russia, Canada, and 22 European nations. No doubt all these countries’ governments have some serious disagreements, but they are able to put such conflicts aside for the good of the greater mission.

As futuristic as space exploration still seems, both island dwellers and space explorers do best when they rely on their history to guide their decisions. In our case, specialized local knowledge of everything from seasonal weather patterns to tourism trends help us make smart decisions in the day-to-day. In space, knowing which missions landed safely on Mars since Russia’s partially successful 1971 Mars 3 were key to the NASA’s InSight touching down on the red planet in November.

What else do space explorers and island dwellers have in common? Let me know in the comments.

*Too bad the dark side of the moon is so cold. The sprouts have since died.

A version of this column first appeared in the Jan. 17th edition of the Limin Times.