Friday, May 30, 2008

The Safest Form of Travel?

In what must be the most extreme attempt ever to procure upgraded seating, Emily (Sarah's sister, for those who don't know the Jersey wing of the family) has apparently developed deep vein clots in her legs and pulmonary embolisms. Pulmonary embolisms, if untreated, can be quite dangerous. Fortunately these clots were diagnosed and Emily is currently hospitalized and on blood thinners. She hopes to be released today or Saturday.

Emily's story is that when flying back from Copenhagen on business she was forced to take Economy class, where the restricted movement allowed the clots to form. I can sympathize with the restricted movement. In our last flight to LA I was unable to cross my legs or even hold my paperback book at a comfortable angle. Those Danish airlines must be even worse. I can only assume that part of the treatment in the hospital is to seat Emily in a large leather chair with plenty of legroom and bring her hot towels regularly.

Emily's effort to guarantee Business Class seating in the future is admirable, but it could backfire. What if they decide to transport her by boat from now on? Or even worse, Viking ship, where the constant rowing would be sure to keep the circulation going? This is a dangerous game she's playing.

Claire graduates on Sunday, so we all hope Emily is feeling well and the doctors determine it is safe for her to move about New Jersey by then.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Happy Birthday to My Young Bride

Much, much less than 40 years ago today, a quiet, obedient baby girl was born to James and Clara Burke. In fact, it was probably a little closer to 40 years ago that Clara, who already had three wonderful children, began to realize that a fourth was on the way. This child was a surprise to Clara and James, but a welcome one, and little did they know how much baby Sarahjane would change the lives of so many people.

I was 20 months old, and I can honestly say I had no idea how important this child would be to me. Later, when I was 13 years old and Sarah was 11 (87% of my age in months) and a giggly little friend of my younger sister Amy, I still had no idea. Even later, when I was 15 and Sarah was 13 (89% of my age), I considered Sarah to be a silly little friend of my sister, and - even if she was inexplicably distracting when she slept over in her little nightgown - I had no idea that she would ever mean anything more to me than someone to keep Amy occupied on a Saturday night.

It was in 1984 when I was 16, now licensed to drive, that Sarah Burke turned 15 (now fully 90% of my age) on a warm May 25. She wanted to go to see the school play at Harrison High School. I said I was driving and Sarah could go with us. It turned out Amy was babysitting . . . well, let's go anyway. Was it a date? I still don't know, but the fact that James Yee ended up coming with us provided some comforting weight to the argument that I wasn't going on a date with my little sister's friend. Still, I sat next to her at the play and I realized that she had value beyond occupying my sister (and the nightgown). I still thought of her as a bit shallow, given her preoccupation with fashion and the French Club, and she thought me a bit of a nerd (I can't imagine why). But that spring I was named the next Drum Major of the marching band, which was something, and she was chosen as the band's twirler (complete with cute little skirt) which was something else.

And so began a casual summer romance that continued all the way until I graduated and she (at 92% of my age) graduated one year later. That was a long year, with me at Wayne State and Sarah still a High School Girl, and it emphasized the fact that Sarah was one year behind me.

After that year, the difference in our ages began to fade. In typical fashion, Sarah plowed through college without changing course much at all, while I continued to change plans along my path to becoming -- whatever it is I'm going to be when I grow up. So by 1992, Sarah (at 93% of my age) was already a grad student at Michigan State by the time I started my graduate studies there, too. She graduated ahead of me and began gainful employment, before me, too.

When Sarahjane Burke finally became Sarahjane Burke Orwig, she was 94% of my age. By the time Harrison was born, she had reached 95%. So by then, we referred to people being "our age," "younger than us," or "older than us." Our life experiences were so similar that we hardly considered there to be a difference between us, and statistically, Sarah was catching up.

Until this past September, when I turned 40. Although Sarah had gone from 89% of my age when she first distracted me to now 96% of my age, I suddenly learned that we were NOT the same age. I was 40. I had crossed a boundary that she still considered pretty far off for her. Upon describing someone as "our age," I was abruptly corrected. This person was "my age," not "her age," which was actually much younger. Although Sarah is catching up statistically, by the all-important measure of Perceived Age, we couldn't be further apart.

Young Sarahjane is so important to so many people. My life has been intertwined with hers for literally most of my life. Harrison obviously wouldn't be alive without her, and (perhaps even more impressively) she has conjured three more lives into being out of cutting-edge biology and law, all driven by the power of her formidable will. She is one of the people who will (we hope) save the Ford Motor Company, which has been a part of my family for generations. Sarah is a daughter, a sister, and an aunt.

Today marks the beginning of the last year Sarahjane and I will spend apart like this, me in the world of the middle aged, she still a thirty-something. I love this amazing woman, we share a life and a family, and yet we are separated for this last year. We'll be rejoined one year from now.

Until 2017 that is, when I turn 50, and we are separated yet again.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Interpreting Behavior

When working with children, you quickly learn that child behavior can provide a kind of window into the family environment. If a young child swears a lot, you may guess that he or she is learning the vocabulary from the behavior of an adult or older child at home. If a child sits down at a classroom computer and, before she can get to her school work, defragments the hard drive and complains that the school should really be using a better operating system (Mac or Linux or Vista, take your pick), she is most likely being raised by a geek. If she periodically brings in new seat cushions for the classroom chairs and replaces the math posters with tasteful art, she probably lives with my wife (unless she is a boy, in which case you can only hope the parents are open-minded).

In our case, Grace's recent behavior would be a dead giveaway about what's going on in our home (that is, if Gracie ever actually left home). For example, Oinky (the pink pig pictured here - given to Grace by Grandma June) is not only sitting in a vibrachair, but has been carefully strapped in. Hmmm, either there is a baby in the house, or the parents are given to tying people into chairs.

The next picture clinches it. Not one but two dolls, one strapped into a car seat and one in a crib. At other times, you might see the dolls having their diapers changed, or stacked neatly in the crib together at bed time.

No doubt about it, there are twins in our house. Grace isn't in school yet to give us away, but to a trained professional there would be no doubt.

If you know a child whom you suspect may live with twins, watch for these telltale signs:

  • The child does not eat in the cafeteria, but instead distributes food to the other children.
  • When the other children are done eating, the child attempts to burp them one by one.
  • When the other children are burped, the child falls asleep immediately
  • If you wake the child, she jumps up with at start and says "Do we have enough clean bottles? I've got to wash bottles."
  • Any time the noise in the classroom rises, she begins urgently "Shhh"ing everyone.
  • The child tries to complete two school assignments at once, one with each hand.

If you notice any of these signs, give the child a little extra attention. And a sandwich. She may not be getting much at home.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Messy Adoption

Jerry and Kathy couldn't have been more honest with us. "It's a lot of work," they warned us, "and there are expenses." In fact, they made clear it was because of the time and expense that they were looking for a new adoptive home. At first we said no. And then, about this time last year, we changed our minds. We were starting the process of the second surrogacy, with all the anxiety and waiting that go along with that, and needed a distraction. We also wanted something to entertain the kids over the summer.

So we called them back and said "Yes, please," and over the next several months we learned that, as with lunch, there is no such thing as a free pool.

Permits. Assembling the pool. Water trucks (really!). Chemicals (although Jerry gave a us quite a few). The gas hook-up. The electrical hook-up. Fixing the crater on the bottom of the pool from the sprinkler pipes. Fixing the sprinkler pipes. More water. Fixing the other crater from the sinkhole. Still more water. Pool toys. Bathing suits.

And the deck. Jerry was generous with his time but he couldn't live here to build it. Heck, we live here, and after many hours of work we finally gave up and let some pros finish it.

If you think we live in a free country, then you have obviously never tried to put up a pool in your own back yard. It felt bizarre, driving to an office miles away to apply for permission to do something on our property. I understand how the pool can be considered an "attractive nuisance" and many of the rules exist to prevent tragedies. But it just feels wrong. It would have helped if our local office had acted more a guide through the invasive process, rather than acting annoyed that I wasn't born with innate knowledge of their procedures and making clear the burden was on me to prove that I should be allowed to have a pool.

And still, we have no regrets. We are now Pool People. We were outside more last summer than we have ever been, splashing around as a family instead of watching television. I now know about pool chemicals, and I tend to the water as a sort of hobby, the same way I tend to the lawn (well, maybe a little better than I tend to the lawn). And although our back yard was turned into a war zone for a few months, now that it's done it does look pretty darn good.

We took tons of pictures of the process, but the most interesting were taken by a still camera on a timer from our bedroom window. I finally got around to assembling them into a movie. You can see the YouTube version of it below. If you want to see it in high definition you'll have to come over.

Bring your bathing suit!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

HJ . . . Better? Sarah Unfreaked

Harrison's blood tests came back normal. This doctor (the one who interpreted the tests) said both the itching and the spots are just rashes. He (Harrison) is still itchy but otherwise seems to be more lively. We'll see what today brings.

[Addendum: I forgot to include Harrison's reaction to the blood test. He did not seem relieved at all, as he did not appear to be worried in the first place. However, upon hearing that the tests were all good, he said "Good. Now can I get my blood back?"

I told him he would just have to make some more.]

HJ Sick Again

We're not sure what's going on. He came home from school yesterday (Friday) very quiet. After a while he told Sarah he was itchy, and sure enough he had a very light rash (no bumps, really just a fine pattern of slight discoloration) all over his arms and legs. We (bought and) gave him some Benadryl. He ate some dinner. Then, while getting ready for bed Sarah noticeds some dark spots (sort of purple) in his mouth. She called our doctor's 24-hour nurse line. The nurse didn't know what it was, but thought we should take him in.

So, with just 20 minutes until they closed, Sarah hurried Harrison to an affiliate of the pediatrician who was open until 9:00PM. I stayed home with Grace and the twins, Googling symptoms like mad and texting disorders that might fit so Sarah could ask the doctor about them: Coxsackie virus, scarlet fever, allergic reactions, ectopic pregnancy -- none of them seemed to match for one reason or another.

The doctor thought it looked viral, but said it looked like the spots in HJ's mouth had been bleeding. So they took some blood to check for platelet levels, which just freaked Sarah right out.

Harrison came home and went to bed. Sarah and I did a lot of Googling with no luck. Right now HJ still has the rash but says only the bottom of his feet itch. They should be calling with results of the blood test around mid-morning.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Twins Second Dr. Appointment

Kennedy and Shepard visited Dr. Popper yesterday (Sarah, Grace, and I came along) and they got rave medical reviews. Everything seems normal. Kennedy is catching up to Shepard on weight and is actually slightly taller now.

The stats:

Kennedy: 8 lbs, 4 oz
Shepard: 8 lbs, 15 oz

Kennedy: 21 inches
Shepard: 20.5 inches

Thursday, May 8, 2008

HJ Well

Harrison (seen here resting with Shepard) just got on the bus. He's doing much better today. Sarah got him to the doctor yesterday, where he still had a fever but not strep throat. What does strep throat have to do with stomach pain? I have no idea. His throat was red so that's what they checked. My diagnosis of appendicitis was entirely ignored.

Grandma watched Grace and the twinlets while Sarah took Harrison, and after the appointment it was Grandma's turn with Harrison. She took him over to her house. I don't know what sorts of dark Grandma magic she worked on him, but when he came home he was energetic and cool to the touch. Harrison was so much cheerier it didn't even upset him too much when we said he would be going back to school today.

Grace seems fine. Coincidentally, the twinlets have a check-up this morning, so if they have any hidden symptoms (we haven't noticed any) there will be a chance of catching them today.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

HJ Sick

Harrison is missing his third day of school today. He's got a fever and a stomach ache. He's also complained about his ears and throat occasionally, but I'm not sure if those are real or thrown in for good measure to make sure we don't send him to school. Harrison (pictured here laying inches from the newborns before we knew he was sick) is not faking the fever. Whatever he's got, I blame Aunt Amy. She was the last one to see him healthy.

Being a calm and reasonable parent, I immediately jumped to a diagnosis of appendicitis, but the pain seems to be moving in the wrong direction. Sarah is going to try to get him a doctor appointment.

Harrison and I just had the following conversation as I stepped out of the bathroom from my shower and found him laying next to Sarah in our bed:

HARRISON (as I felt his forehead): I'm not going to school today.
ME: I know. I'm just feeling to see if you have a fever. How is your stomach?
HARRISON: Mom already said I'm not going to school today.
ME: I know, but how is your stomach?
HARRISON: I'm not . . .
ME: Harrison, I agree you should stay home. You have a fever. Now how do you feel?

Hopefully he'll be feeling better today. And hopefully this is where Aunt Amy's affliction stops. Grace was acting cranky yesterday . . .

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

No Rests for the Animals

To a first grade student, resting is such a Kindergarten activity. First graders are much too grown up for naps. I am sure you could deprive a first grader of sleep for days, to the point that she or he could hardly keep his or her eyes open, but then ask her or him to lay down on a bed and she or he would lie there wide-eyed and extremely put-out for hours.

After the Raccoon #1 concert in the Fall, and now the Spring "Animals, Animals, All Around!" first grade vocal music concert, I have determined there is yet another kind of rest that first graders have no time for: music rests. After all, goes the first grade philosophy, you're up there to sing, so sing. Why waste time on all that standing around? A group of first graders will always give you a Readers Digest version of a piece of music.

So, on April 24 (yes, just days after the twins were born and hours after they had arrived home) Harrison laid aside his raccoon costume and joined the chorus for "Animals, Animals, All Around!." All of the Pleasant Ridge first grade classes participated, which made for a very full gym on a warm spring evening. I took The Musician and Grace to the concert. Sarah made the great sacrifice of staying home with the twins.

Rests or no rests, I enjoyed every bit of the concert. Even without the racoon costume Harrison was impressive and cute.

Video of each selection is available below. The quality of the video is compromised somewhat by the following factors:

  1. Audio conditions in the gymnasium were less than ideal. You will notice that very few concert albums are recorded in elementary gymnasiums, particularly gymnasiums that are filled with young brothers and sisters.

  2. We were seated near the back of the venue, having arrived only 10 minutes early. I suspect the good, caring parents had camped out in front of the school the night before to get good seats near the front.

  3. The gymnasium did not provide stadium seating. We saw the backs of lots of heads.

  4. Views not obstructed by heads were often obstructed by video camera held aloft by people like me.

  5. I was serving both as cameraperson and as a jungle gym to a three year-old. The roles are not compatible.
On the plus side, the video is zoomed in on HJ much of the time. The overall effect is of Harrison singing along with a crowd of children in a earthquake shelter during an aftershock.
This video is rated DR (Dramamine recommended).

Lion Brave and Mighty
Very cute impressions of a lion being brave and mighty. No rests.


"Something something something, Bobolinka . . .". See if this isn't stuck in your brain if you watch the full five (!) minutes of this song. This video selection shows one of the features of the concert: A Jumbotron-style live projection of video captured by a camcorder in the font row. While it didn't include a text feed of current performers, songs, or other titles, it did feature text such as "REC","HD", and an indication that the camcorder was running off of AC rather than DC power.

Five Little Monkeys

This was an interesting demonstration not of music, but of using different "voices". As they recited the "Five Little Monkeys" rhyme, the students were instructed to use voices such as soft, loud (an obvious favorite), low (in pitch), and piercing screech. They did quite well.

Red Dragonfly

Harrison was featured on the Jumbotron for this tune, although it's tough to tell from my handheld camera video of the dim projection of another handheld camera video. Harrison played one of the xylophones. He had a name for the instrument that I didn't recognize and couldn't begin to spell. I could tell he was starting and stopping in the right place. I couldn't tell anything about the notes from the back of the gymnasium, but, after all, given the family he's from (and his performance as Racoon #1) I sure he got it exactly right.

Miss Mary Mack

As the father of a boy, therefore entrusted with the job a guarding my son's masculine image, I was a little uncomfortable with Miss Mary Mack. This is clearly intended as a clapping or jump-rope song. These songs are sung by girls. At least they were when I was little. Maybe things have changed now, but I found myself thinking "Why not just put dresses on the boys and have them sing CC My Playmate?".

That's not sexist, is it?

Really? OK, forget I said anything. But in my day . . . never mind.

Somebodys Knockin

Performers sometimes worry about losing the attention of their audience, but in the first grade the danger is more the other way around. Frankly, they phoned this one in. Maybe they were saving themselves for the finale.

Over in the Garden

This one was largely a rest for the vocalists, with the Jumbotron focus on xylophonists in the front. Since it wasn't Harrison's class playing the instruments, and I had my camera focused on him, this is mostly just video of Harrison standing there, occasionally mouthing the words, while a few of his classmates forget they aren't supposed to sing. If resting for a whole beat or measure is hard, imagine a first grader trying to lay out for a whole chorus.

Octopus's Garden
Apparently in the first grade you do the Ringo tune. I'm guessing the rest of it goes:
2nd grade: Yellow Submarine
3rd grade: Sgt. Pepper's
4th grade: Revolution 9
5th grade: Revolution 9 backwards

Harrison and his classmates do an impressive job with the sign language here. I didn't know he knew how to do that. It was a good tune on which to finish. Clearly a favorite of the performers, it also went over well with the audience. I know that some parents wanted to wave lighters, if they hadn't been afraid it would set off the fire sprinklers.

Concert Atmosphere

This one is here to give the viewer a sense of the concert venue from my point of view, which is to say to show how I tried to keep Gracie occupied during the breaks between songs. She's cute as she discovers she can see herself in the camera monitor.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Hospitality and Head Injuries

For overwhelmed parents of four, we've been pretty social this weekend. The Browns came over Friday. Harrison and Grace love playing with Abigail and Dayton, and it was fun for Sarah and I to talk with Mr. and Mrs. Brown. It's important that we have regular reminders that most people don't discuss feedings and poop 24 hours a day.

Saturday night Grandma and Grandpa Labuta came over for dinner. When Sarah isn't on maternity leave, Grandma Labuta is practically a part-time resident of this place so it was great to have them over. Grandma gave Harrison a bath (sort of retro for him -- he's a reluctant shower man nowadays), and Maestro Grandpa Dr. Labuta had a tea party with Grace. We also discussed Grace's recent backward slide in potty training since the twins came along. Is it due to the presence of the twins, or Grandma's absence? We don't know, but Sarah suggesting sending Grace to Grandma's for Potty Training Boot Camp.

One thing I've noticed about entertaining as a family of six is that people don't stay very late. Sarah and I were never the all-night party type, but I think all possibility of such activity is gone until the twins move out. Later, in fact, because at that point Sarah and I will both be working multiple full-time jobs to pay all the college tuition (Note to self: Look into existence of Pokemon scholarships - if they exist, HJ's got a full ride).

Today was the much anticipated visit of Aunt Amy. She fed . . . uh, I dunno, one of the twins. We got to have a little grown-up talk. But HJ and Grace could only be held off so long. So then it was out to the swing set, and a little time sitting under a tree in the back yard, and back in for some hide-and-seek and a (finally abbreviated) game of Sorry.

It was during the game of hide-and-seek that Aunt Amy really took one for the Orwig team. Hiding on the floor of our closet with both kids (from whom I have no idea at that point), someone inadvertently tugged on a wire dangling from a shelf. We have wires dangling all over the house, of course, but this one happened to be attached to a power adapter ("wall brick") that wasn't plugged in. So down it came, like something out of a Home Alone movie or a Road Runner cartoon, casting a rapidly growing shadow over Amy's forehead until - THUNK! - it hit her in the forehead. She was okay, but she must have an impressive lump by now.

The real irony is that as a typical older brother, I might have tried to orchestrate exactly such an event when we were kids (although maybe with something more annoyance-sized than closed-head-injury sized). Here I am 40 years old and it happened by accident.

After a few hours, worn out and bruised, Amy headed home. Our entertaining was done for the weekend, but we found ourselves ready for more.

I'm sure Aunt Amy slept well tonight. If she has any difficulty waking in the morning, though, I hope she'll have one of the doctors take a look at her. That adapter was pretty big.

Prom Triumph

It was wonderful to get this picture in an email from Emily this weekend. It was just short of two months ago we were so worried about Claire, and here she is all dressed up and going to prom. I don't want to minimize the work Claire has left to go to a full recovery, but what a difference a couple of months can make! Sarah was so happy, after having last seen Claire at the hospital, to see a picture of her having reached this goal she set for herself.

Congratulations to Claire, the whole Reinhard family, the doctors - everyone. Well done. We hope Claire had a great time.