Sunday, September 25, 2011

Live from the Pen, September 25, 2011

Craig just finished his second week at his new job. Every afternoon he comes home at 4:45 to hold the twins and play with Devon. It's an amazing schedule after so many years of 60+ hours a week. We marvelled last weekend at the fact that Craig couldn't do any work even if he wanted to; the building is locked on weekends and nobody really goes in.

What do we do all day while Craig is at work?

Not much.

The twins eat when they want to and Devon plays with his toys. Our house here is open plan, so I sit on the loveseat in the large living room.

Our decorating theme is "Baby." I love that the huge entry way can accommodate both the triple stroller and Devon's single so we never have to fold them up and stow them away.

As you can see, Devon's play room is separated from the rest of the space by a huge gate. I like to call his space "the pen", but not to be confused with him being penned in like an animal. More like "I spent ten years in the State Pen." There are two doors that can swing open for Devon to go in and out freely, but at certain times of the day they are shut. Sometimes when I have to take care of the girls, I feel a stab of guilt for putting him in Baby Jail. I know some people are very anti-gate, because children need to be taught to stay away from dangerous areas of the house. I agree with this logic.

But tell me this: how do I teach Devon not to drag Melina out of her swing and dump her on the floor while I'm changing Carrie's diaper? Devon loves his sisters. He's never acted upset, jealous, or angry around them. He points and beams "Baybeeee" several times a day. When they are older and less fragile, I'm sure they'll make a formidable trio, but for right now he needs to be kept away to keep them safe. His hugs could cause brain damage.

It's like the old farmer riddle:

A farmer has a goat, a wolf, and a sheaf of grain to take to the market. He has to cross a river in a boat that can take him and only two of the others. If he takes the wolf and the goat over and then goes back for the grain, the wolf will eat the goat while he is away. If he leaves the goat with the grain, the goat will eat....

No, The Pen is a necessary way for me to keep all three of my children supervised and safe at the same time.

Really, a jail cell would hardly be cutely outfitted with Devon's shelves full of his "toyeeees," as he calls them. This is what The Pen looks like in the morning, just waiting for Devon to finish his oaties and come play.

This is what it looks like twenty minutes later.

Sometimes it's enough of an accomplishment just to handle both the girls at once. Just getting up from the couch requires me to roll one off onto something with one hand while supporting the other with the other half of my body. I had to snap this shot of Carrie sliding off the bouncy seat after I finished tight-swaddling Melina. We do a lot of tight-swaddling right now. The twins are going through a phase where their arms need to be tied down to keep them from hitting themselves. It's sort of funny to see them flailing and crying as if to say "HOW CAN I GET ANY SLEEP WITH SOMEBODY HITTING ME IN THE FACE ALL THE TIME!!!!!!"

So, basically my son is in Baby Jail and my daughters are in straitjackets.

Devon's recent accomplishment is holding his own sippy. He's had the arm strength and motor control to do it for months, but every time I came at him with a full sippy he'd open his mouth and his whole body would go limp as he concentrated on drinking. He's so proud of his accomplishment and enjoys practicing this new skill several times a day. It's a matter of pride that he won't let a sippy go before draining it fully, then setting it carefully down on his tray without spilling a drop.

So, why are we in Florida again?

Well, if anyone's noticed the price of oranges increasing in the past few years, it's because the Florida citrus industry has been hit hard by several new challenges in addition to the occasional freeze. A disease called Citrus Canker has been decimating entire orchards, turning acres of Indian River greenery into dried stumps. The disease is exacerbated by an insect called Citrus Leafminer, which creates wounds on the leaves that become possible infection sites.

Craig's research with the USDA will determine whether a new product will reduce Leafminer populations in orchards. No, it's not a pesticide, it's a pheromone that should disrupt the natural mating cycle of the insect. The research is funded by the growers, who are faced with losing their livelihoods if Citrus Canker and another new disease with the naughty-sounding name of Huanglongbing (the "H" is pronounced with a "W" sound) can't be controlled. We're so proud of Craig for taking on this new challenge.

Devon, Carrie, and Melina are going to grow up thinking that Daddy is a very important man. After all, a green highway sign on the 95 South advertises the location of his office at the USDA Horticultural Research station.

It's a pretty big deal.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Welcome to Florida, September 5-6, 2011

"Florida State Line," read the sign.

Maybe a little neutral, I thought. After all, we are still in the South, the land of hospitality. About six hundred miles ago, we had been welcomed to Georgia with a big swirly sign, welcomed back to Tennessee when the highway dog-legged backward, and then welcomed back into Georgia five minutes later.

The welcome sign came a few miles later, the "O" a big Florida orange. It just happens to be the reason we are in Florida, for Craig's job doing citrus research with the USDA. As the miles continued to fly by, I watched the terrain and felt that I was welcome. It was green like Kentucky (California is brown all year round in comparison) but a different green: more vibrant, springy, yellow-green crayon. I was also surprised to see pine trees growing along the highway interspersed with the expected palm trees.

Driving east on Highway 60 about thirty miles from the coast, we saw a rainbow in the clouds right over Vero Beach, our new home.

"If our lives were a movie, it would be pretty lame right now. This is such a cliche!" I exclaimed.

"Yep," Craig shot back. Now all we need is little woodland creatures to surround our car and cavort and gambole along with us as we make our way there!"

The mood of expectation and promise was not exactly fulfilled by our first night in Vero Beach. Driving into the garage of our Internet-selected rental house, we were met by the realtor.

"I'm sorry, but it's really hot inside," she apologized.

"That's okay!" I chimed sanguinely, thinking she had just come by to turn things on.

"No, it's not. The air conditioner isn't working." And it WAS hot inside, a steamy 85 degrees of Welcome to Florida weather. We did the walkthrough and an emergency diaper change on the kitchen counter, all the while marveling at the thrumming presence of the heat. The situation was complicated by the fact that we arrived on Labor Day. An emergency service call was not put through until evening, late enough only to conform that the unit was too iced up to diagnose.

The temperature inside was still climbing, and the realtor informed us the heat index that day was 103 degrees. We were all sweating and exhausted, the babies worst of all. So, after unpacking the car and making a few cursory overtures towards furniture placement, we repacked the crew and headed to an America's Best Value Inn a few miles away. It was not the first night in our new city we had meticulously prepared for, squirreling away bedding and towels in the back of our van. Devon, the original Social Child, doesn't shut down unless he's alone in his own bed, so it was after midnight when he finally stopped making faces at us and laid down to sleep in his pack-and-play.

Wide awake the next morning, I headed to breakfast at the stroke of six with Carrie in her carseat. I later found out that the hotel clock was set a half hour late (to convince guests to check out sooner?) and it was really 5:30. Craig and I then scrambled to get back to the house for the promised first visit from the HVAC guy, only to find out that they had scheduled us for four that afternoon. So, in an effort to keep cool we took a drive around town, and I once again got to experience the fun of nursing two babies in the driver's seat of the van with the engine running while Craig and Devon visited a park.

While the movers stumbled in and out of our house with boxes and furniture, we didn't have to worry about leaving the doors closed. It was the same relentless dampen-the-carpets moist heat inside and out, not really helpful in the already stressful situation. The crew leader came in and arranged our inventory on the counter, telling us to check off each numbered item as the unloaders read the numbers on the red tags. We soon wondered why there were so many items that didn't match the inventory, and so many duplicates.

Our move to Kentucky was tagged in green four years ago, many tiny tags remained because they are virtually impossible to remove. One of the movers was reading the numbers on the first tag he saw, green or red. We explained to him that he needed to read the red tags, and he cheerfully agreed and kept on making the same mistake.

He was obviously red-green colorblind. Oops!

"Well, I just feel sorry for him," said my compassionate mother-in-law. "He's obviously got some sort of mild cerebral palsy. You can tell by the way he walks."

I watched him closely as he headed out the door to get another stack of boxes. He held his head crooked, regarding us always out of his sunglassed right eye. His gait featured a swivel that turned one foot inward, left shoulder four inches higher than the right. With each step, he swung and curled his left arm around as if to tap his crotch.

"That's not a motor disorder. He's doing that on purpose. It's a wannabe gangster walk," I said. Six years teaching public school and I have that one down.

"No!" her eyebrows flew up to her hairline in surprise.

"Yes! The colorblind mover thinks he's P. Diddy!"

Devon handled the chaos better than we did. He beamed at each of our belongings as if receiving the item for the very first time. He gestured wildly at each round light fixture, exclaiming "A BALL"! Since his toys were packed and he had little to do, he compensated by playing with the shelf paper...

and helping Daddy put things together. I tried not to miss the oddest things about our old house: the rabbit that lived under our deck stairs, my yellow living room, my trash-can drawer in the kitchen. Instead, I focused on the new and handy features of our new house: the soaker tub in the master bathroom and the formal dining room we're outfitting as a play room.

Not everybody's day was as busy. The twins sweated out the day in their new bedroom, which remains completely empty because we haven't bought them any furniture yet. The HVAC guy eventually came and fixed the AC, and it was hard to even notice the addition of one more person popping in and out.

Things finally started to calm down. A few woodland creatures even showed up to welcome us. Imagine seeing that in your back yard. It's a sandhill crane, I found out later. It wasn't the only wildlife of the day. Craig picked a dried leaf off our bathroom floor.

It wasn't a leaf. It was a dessicated frog.

At the end of the day, Craig and I decided to take another drive to unwind, made peaceful by his parents offering to stay at home with the kids. I told him I was "so not in the mood" to wade for the first time in the Atlantic Ocean, but he took me anyway.

It turns out, you don't have to be in the mood. As the bathtub-warm waves lapped in and out, surprising us with their unpredictability and intensity, I felt something inside of me unclench. It hadn't been the easiest day, but more tranquil days would follow. We walked down the beach, passing the Disney resort and several other posh hotels. I wanted one of the strangers we met to ask us where we were staying so I could reply:

"We live here!"

Saturday, September 3, 2011

One Month Birthday, September 1, 2011

Craig is a little miffed with me because I left a huge pile of dirty diapers on his nightstand. The logic of my comeback was unassailable: should I have just left them in the bed?

This is the nightstand in his parents' guest bedroom in Nashville that is currently sleeping us and the twins. We were thankful to have a few days in between to rest. Monday's moving day was crazy busy. The movers showed up at 3:30, opened the back of their truck, glanced sheepishly at each other, and then set about sorting other people's belongings that had settled on the drive over. When at 4:45 they finally turned their attention to loading our stuff, they seemed to do a good job. I hope everything gets to our destination all right, but the fact remains that they finished at 9 pm and we didn't get to Nashville until 1, so I'm a little underwhelmed by their service so far. It was too late and we were too tired to summon the requisite nostalgic emotions for leaving Lexington for the last time. I didn't even look back at our house as we drove away.

Carrie and Melina celebrated their one month birthday on Thursday. Carrie now weighs in at 8.2 pounds, and Melina is 7 pounds. Most identicals have a discrepancy in birth weight, and most keep it throughout childhood. It just grows less noticeable with time to, say, have a 20 pounder and a 21 pounder.

Carrie is still the contemplative twin, and still the bellwether twin. When she wakes up to eat, we put her beside Melina so she'll wake her up, too. Then they both eat at the same time, and we credit their healthy weight gain to Carrie's healthy appetite.

Melina is still the party girl, quick to respond to the feelings of others. When they are both crying and I move Carrie away, I often return only seconds later to find Melina fast asleep. Once she turns her mind to it, she often decides that there wasn't really anything to cry about after all.

The kids had some time with the cousins, and we got a first family picture.

Actually, this was the first family picture. I have to admit, I'm partial to it.

Who rocks, Devon? That's right! We got to celebrate Craig's graduation, too. Poor guy, his major accomplishment could easily become overshadowed by the move, the new job, and the new babies. Laura put it best when she said the only way we could have crammed more life milestones into one month is to have gotten married this month, too.

Craig's graduation party/gift was tickets to the UK season opener in Nashville.

In the words of Jeremy (striped shirt), it was AWESOME!

Ally kitty gets the worst end of the deal this week, being kenneled in her Porta Pet most of the day. We're just thankful that she seems content. During the move from California to Lexington four years ago, she didn't stop squalling for the first 208 miles. We were more worried about moving with the cat than all three kids put together.

So tomorrow we'll leave for Florida, and get there midday Monday. I am looking forward to having things I've taken for granted, like a place to put the dirty diapers. Also: uninterrupted Internet access. Before we left, I placed a free Craigslist ad offering our old couch as a freebie to the first taker. It was gone in two hours. The only problem is, later we took our computer down before I went back through the email and deleted the ad, which listed my cell number.

Who knew? My wildly unfashionable yellow-and-mauve couch is apparently a must-have for UK fall dorm fashion. I've used the opportunity to educate a few dewy young freshman on the virtues of cell phone etiquette.

Word to the wise: if you want to score my free couch, don't wake me and my twins up by calling at midnight.

Not cool.