a babyproof Christmas tree

Today I am posting about something other than fibular hemimelia. ::gasp!::

There’s a lot of joking around the Internet this time of year about babies/toddlers and Christmas trees. Most of the solutions are fairly bleak. You can protect the tree with baby gates or try to block it with furniture. You can leave the bottom half unadorned, or decorate with baby toys, or do away with the tree in favor of ornament stands placed out of reach. My sister-in-law, a mother of four, puts the entire tree out of reach; fully bedecked, it sits atop a corner table, nestled between two couches. 

Short on space, we considered several of these approaches as we worried about how we’d protect Henry, our tree, and our holiday spirits. But we’ve found another way that’s worked for us, as you can see:

It looks as if he’s pulling up on giant presents. Really, though, this is our Christmas Tree Protection Barrier. It’s worked beautifully so far, in that our tree is still standing and its bottom half is not bereft of ornaments, so I thought I would share our strategy with you. 

I first got the idea for using wrapped gift boxes from Pinterest, of course. This link is the example I liked best, and it cautions against using this trick if you (like us) have a climber. We also have a chewer–no cardboard box or piece of paper is safe here–so I actually discarded this idea for a while.  It turned out to be the best start to a solution I found, though, so I made it work for us. Here’s how. 

First, we needed boxes. I went to Home Depot and found their heavy duty moving boxes were quite a bit sturdier than regular cardboard boxes. The large and extra large sizes are tall enough so that Henry can’t get onto them (for H, this means they’re above armpit level), so I went with those. We played with them for a few days to be sure they were up to a holiday season of use. Next, we needed sturdy wrapping paper. After Christmas last year, Michael and I bought a few rolls of super nice paper from The Container Store. The paper is heavy, much thicker than usual gift wrap, and has a sort of glazed or coated feeling about it. To finish up, I needed packing tape to build the boxes. I got the heavy duty kind from Scotch and used that for wrapping, too. And, since both Henry and our cat will be messing with these boxes for a while, they also needed some weight to them. As it so happens, I have a couple shelves of books around. All set. 

I built a test box and left it in the living room for a few days before I put up the tree. We had to be sure our plan would work…and it did! Henry managed to gnaw through the paper along the top edges of the box, so I covered that area with a strip of packing tape. I also added a few more books to the box to give it more weight. Once we were satisfied, we went to buy more wrapping paper (metallic thus time, which also works well) and built two more barrier boxes. I put packing tape on all the chewing edges.
 I also custom built the extra large box so that it wouldn’t jut into the living room quite so much and we could still have some variation in the boxes. Finally, each box has about twenty pounds of books in the bottom.
And this is the result! We’re pretty pleased. As a bonus, the boxes helped me keep Henry at bay while I assembled, lit, and decorated the tree. 

  

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recovery

  
It’s been a week since we woke up at 3:30AM to a hungry baby we couldn’t feed. It’s been a week since we drove dark streets to the hospital and joked feebly about the light traffic. It’s been a week since we distracted Henry during vitals, kissed his head, kissed his left foot, and gave him to the nurses. It’s been a week now, almost exactly as I write this, since Henry was wheeled from surgery to recovery. 

The surgery went well. Dr. S was able to perform the procedure he’d planned. To be honest, most of what Dr. S said after his initial declaration of success is a blur. I remember being thankful Henry was alive and as he should be. I remember the assuring tone of Dr. S’s voice. I remember holding the X-rays of Henry’s leg before and after. 

  
Seeing his little foot, see-thru, in its last moments as his little foot, was hard for us. It was harder, though, to see our baby so pale and groggy once they returned him to us. Harder still to listen to him crying, screaming, to spend hours bouncing and awkwardly cradling him, awake in the hospital room, trying to calm him as he came out of the anesthesia. Even harder to speak to him reassuringly, to hold him still as three nurses tried in vain to replace the IV he bit from his wrist in the wee hours of the morning. 

  
We came home the next afternoon. Since he didn’t have an IV, they weren’t doing anything for him we couldn’t. We thought screaming at home would be screaming at home, at least. As soon as we left the hospital, though, Henry was through with screaming. He fell asleep in his car seat before we left the parking deck. He stayed asleep through two pharmacies and a quick grocery run. He woke when Michael scooped him out of the car seat and into the house. As soon as we were all in bed, though, he fell right back to sleep between us, and we slept for three hours, more continuous sleep than we’d had in days.  

Henry spent Friday night and Saturday quite groggy. He seemed both perplexed and vexed by this, our boy who hates to fall asleep. He wanted to play, and did play, with blocks and a laundry basket and a finger puppet book I picked up in the hospital gift shop. But he glazed over quickly. Sometimes he just shut down, like a little baby robot. He didn’t smile much for a couple of days, didn’t laugh. But the willingness to play, the wanting to, helped us know our boy was in there. Still sunny. Still. 

  
Sunday was difficult. Henry was more alert than he had been, but this alertness came with something like agitation, maybe anger or fear. Whatever it was, it made Henry stop nursing. He was upset about it, I was upset about it. I didn’t know how to comfort him otherwise, and he didn’t want to be with me much anyway. Michael took care of us both all day. 

I was able to coax Henry back to nursing a bit on Monday, and by Tuesday he was pretty much back to his normal nursing habits. He laughed for the first time on Tuesday morning. By this time, he also wanted to get back to crawling all over the place and pulling up. The problem? The pin in his leg means he’s not allowed to put weight on his cast. This kid is not into limits. We spent the first half of the week trying to keep him off the cast. Now we’re working on teaching him how to pull up with his long leg rather than relying on the shorter one. We aren’t sure how much we’ll really be able to keep him off the cast between now and January 6, when he next sees Dr. S.   

We want to thank those of you who have shown us support and generosity over the last week. And longer. We thank you for your prayers, your kind thoughts, your inquiries about Henry, your offers to babysit, the dinners you’ve brought or offered, the texts and cards you’ve sent. This week has been so difficult, so burdensome, but for many reasons it’s also been a blessing to us. You are some of those reasons. Keep reaching out to us, please. Keep Henry in your thoughts and in your hearts. We three still have a long road to travel. 

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’twas the night before surgery


Henry’s been busy today, playing playing playing. Banging on boxes and tins, fitting cylinders into rings, chasing the cat. We have been busy worrying, waiting, and watching. We’ve had a good day together, though. Our boy just babbles and sings along his merry way. 

Our hospital check-in time is 5:45AM. If you have a good thought to spare, send it our way. We’ll update here when we can. 

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how lovely

This is the latest we’ve ever hauled out the holly, but I’m just glad we managed it at all. We certainly needed a little Christmas. And lucky us, it springs up even from the most unexpected places, even without the decorations. But they help. 

  
Henry has been waking up around 3AM for…oh, who knows what for? But here we are again. It’s been a rough few…well. It’s been rough for a while. And it will stay that way for a while. But I want to mark down, I want to remember, that my baby has just fallen asleep in my arms. He’s so warm, so sweet and heavy. And until his eyes closed, he was looking at our Christmas tree. 

the last (day 30)

  
Just like that, November is over. 

I’m grateful that I took the time this month to think about what makes me thankful, to record my blessings here. I’d say more, but I’m busy feeding my biggest, littlest blessing right now. 

tocoming (day 29)

 
Today is the beginning of Advent, what the Anglo-Saxons called Christ’s tocoming. I’m thankful for this season, thankful for its beauty and mystery, and thankful that I get to spend it with Henry and Michael. 

And I was thankful, this morning, to have a chance to nerdily (autocorrect changed that to merrily, which is also true) brush up on my Old English. If you’d like, you can read Ælfric’s Advent sermon here

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clang clang with love (day 28)

Woah, this video is GIANT.  Sorry.  I don’t know how to fix it.

I asked Michael to pack Henry’s toys for our quick trip to Middle Georgia. One of the things he threw into the bag was this tin from a “My Baby’s Print” kit. As you might guess, we bought the kit to capture–this is not the right word–Henry’s footprint before his surgery.  Once we got it home we discovered we needed something else, so we haven’t yet done the printing–again, not the right word–but Henry has been having a great time playing with the tin. A super time. A LOUD TIME. It’s so wonderful. This funny, music-loving boy of mine has turned something I thought was sad, something I might have used as a simple container for the print, stowed in a closet until Henry asked for it, into a favorite toy. He’s made such joyful noise. That is something to be thankful for. 

I think we’ll make the print tomorrow. Definitely this week, anyway. I still haven’t bought the other stuff we need, maybe because I’ve been avoiding it. Avoiding thinking about the surgery, anywa you, and our particular need to make the print in the first place. It’s hard.  But Henry makes things easier, gives me perspective, if I let him.
Maybe it’s cliche, or a bit mixed up, but all this reminds me of 1 Corinthians 13. And because I want to read it, because I want to keep remembering it, I’ll paste it here.

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

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friends (day 27)

 

We spent today traveling to see old friends in Middle Georgia. These ladies and their babies first made me think I could maybe, one day, be a mom myself. I was incredibly happy to see them and their (giant! nearly grown!) kids. And to introduce them all to Henry! I’m so thankful we got to be together today. 

a grateful heart (day 26)

 

We had a quiet Thanksgiving together today, with a walk on the path and a homemade dinner. I am thankful for our little trio, thankful for my partner and our son, the places they’ve carved into my heart. I’m thankful for the sunset we walked through. I’m thankful for all the days still ahead of us, both joyous and difficult. 

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To Henry, on your first Thanksgiving.

Henry, today is Thanksgiving and this is your very first one! Mostly today is about chowing down with your friends and loved ones.  On Thanksgiving people get together for a meal that consists of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, pie, and pretty much any other dish you can imagine.

Aside from the food, this is supposed to be a day of reflection.  Thanksgiving is when we’re expected to think about our lives and to be grateful for what we have – to give thanks.  Your mother has been posting on this blog all month about what she’s thankful for.  Your mother is much, much, much better at keeping up with the blog than I am.  She’s better at pretty much everything else too, but that is a topic for another day.  Today I’m writing to say – I’m so very thankful for you son.

My mother (Oma to you) often tells me she’s proud of me.  Before I was your dad, I thought she meant that she was proud that I had not become a troublemaker and had instead decided to go to school, to get a job, to get married, and so on.  I thought she was proud because of what I had done and because of what I had not done.  Now that I’m your parent I have a better understanding of what she means.

I will try to explain but I know it might not make any sense…  I see you now as a 10 month old baby.  You have accomplished pretty much nothing.  If you had to write a resume right now it would be seriously thin and I’m sure you’d need help with the cover letter.  But, to me you are so much more than that and I’m so proud of you.

I was there with your mother when we thought we couldn’t even have a baby.  I was there with her during our appointments at the fertility clinic and I was there when we tried to figure out how in the world we were going to pay for the treatments they thought we might need.  I was there when, despite all odds, you were set in motion the old fashioned way.  I was there the morning your mother found out she was pregnant with you.  I was there when your mother and I heard your heartbeat for the first time (we called you a washing machine back then because, well, you sounded exactly like a washing machine).  I was there the night your mother and I were sure she had miscarried and we sat up together most of the night crying, holding each other, and wondering if we would ever have a baby.  I was there when the doctor told us you were fine – still growing and washing clothes just like you were before.  I was there listening to your mother barfing because of morning sickness that somehow lasted all day long and ALL THREE TRIMESTERS.  I was with your mother during all our many visits to Buy Buy Baby when we bought bought the baby things we thought we needed.  I was there when your mother told me she might be having contractions.  I was the one who drove your mother to the hospital.  I was there when she paced around the delivery room at maximum waddle praying that they wouldn’t send us home.  I was there when you were born.

Now, this is the part when I’m supposed to say that I was overwhelmed with love for you right away.  Pretty much everyone says that the moment your baby is born it’s – BOOM- love like you’ve never felt. It isn’t that I did not love you (of course I did) but love is not the feeling I remember most.  Maybe your mother felt that overwhelming love (hormones) but I did not.  What I felt was not love so much as it was extreme terror.  I was immediately struck with your undeniable realness.  You were a human and, for the very first time, you were outside your mother and exposed to the elements.  People were looking at you, prodding you, poking you, taking your blood.  You were crying- no, you were screaming!

Then we found out your left leg, ankle, and foot, were atypical.  We knew that no matter what the diagnosis ultimately was you were going to have a more difficult path in life than some others.  I don’t remember everything I thought and felt at that moment.  I do remember praying and begging through my tears that I just wanted you to be able to walk.  Please, if nothing else, please God just let my son be able to walk.  Now, thinking back on it, I know that there are  lots of things in the world worse than not being able to walk.  In that moment though I was willing to bargain with whoever, whatever, for you to be able to walk.

Anyway, I did not have the overwhelming feeling of love that first instant.  I didn’t love you any less because of your leg but the other emotions at play were all much stronger in me than love.  I was concerned for your mother, I was concerned for myself.

I was there when we brought your home from the hospital and started trying to figure out how to take care of you.  I was there when your mother was making just tiny droplets of milk to feed you and your weight kept dropping and dropping.  I was there when we resorted to feeding you milk with a syringe because that’s the only way we could get you to eat.  I was there when your mother was feeding you basically once an hour (every hour, 24 hours a day) fighting and scraping for you to gain even a single ounce.  I was there with your mother when the pediatrician told us you were still losing weight and, despite all her extreme efforts, we needed to give you supplemental formula.  I was there in the basement alone standing next to the dryer, folding onesies and sobbing – wondering how we were supposed to survive this.  It was, and is, so incredibly hard… But!

Then, slowly, you became you – and you are the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.  It’s not what you’ve accomplished (see above, you haven’t accomplished much) it’s that you exist and that you are so wonderful just because you’re yourself.

A small example:  the other day I was holding you in the kitchen while I made breakfast.  We’re using coconut cream in our coffee nowadays because you’re supposedly allergic to milk protein and I needed to open up a can.  It’s a good idea to shake a can of coconut cream before you open it (remember this some day if you decide to make a pina colada) so I gave this one a good shake and you broke out laughing at me.  You reached out your adorable hands for the can and I decided there was no real reason you couldn’t touch it.  As soon as I gave you the can you started shaking it with all the power your little arms could muster.  You shook that can, squealed with delight, shook it some more, and laughed your little ass off.

It’s such a little thing but in that moment I felt the overwhelming love that I was supposed to feel 10 months ago in that hospital room.  I’ve felt it lots of times before then and since then.  I feel it every moment of every day now.  I am so thankful you’re here and that you are who you are.

In a few days your mother and I are going to take you to the hospital for surgery and it’s not going to be easy for any of us.  On the outside at least you won’t be the same as you were before.  With that said – you are not a leg, and you aren’t an ankle, and you aren’t a foot.  You’re so much more than that and when in a few months I (hopefully) watch you take your first steps I know I will be so proud.  I won’t be proud because you added a new line on your baby resume.  I’ll be proud of you in the same way I was so proud and happy when you shook that can of coconut cream.  I will be proud to be your dad and to have the privilege of caring for you, providing for you, and watching you grow and learn.  I will be proud to have witnessed your journey right from the start.  I will be, and am, so incredibly proud.  I love you very much and I am so thankful you came into my life.  Happy Thanksgiving.