Flu Shot

My grandnephew is exactly one month old today.  He has resided in an incubator in the hospital since he was born.  Weight at birth:  About 1.7 pounds.  He has his own dedicated nurse attending to him, 24 hours a day.

Weylyn (I know… don’t ask) was two months premature and, to me at least, didn’t even look human.  The first time I saw him, the hospital had him swaddled to within an inch of his life.  I couldn’t even tell which end was the head and which the feet.

Today, he actually looks like a baby and won’t keep his arms tucked in because he likes to wave them around.  I hear he manages to dislodge the tubes they have connected to his little body.

I don’t even want to think about the hospital bills involved.  I’m guessing close to a million dollars at this point.

Meanwhile, my young nephew and his wife have taken to living in a trailer parked in the hospital lot, convenient to pumping and delivering breast milk every three or four hours.  About once a week, they go home for a proper shower and a nap in a decent bed.  Family visits them every day or two, bringing food or taking them out to eat.

The doctors say that Weylyn can go home when he weighs four pounds.  It shouldn’t be long, as he topped three pounds this week.  We suppose he’ll be over at our house a lot, particularly after his mother goes back to work.  My wife and her sister (who lives with us) have volunteered for day care duties.

Well, the hospital says that anyone who comes into contact with Weylyn needs to have a flu shot.  Gulp!

I am one of those needle phobic wimps and haven’t had a flu shot for almost twenty years (and even then only because my doctor collared me at an office visit and wouldn’t let me leave without one).

My 85 year old father got his annual flu shot last week, but Mom, who had surgery a month ago, decided to pass.  Not long ago, waiting for a blood draw in the Kaiser lab, I heard an old man complaining about how last year he got a flu shot and came down with the flu anyway.  Is this whole thing a fool’s errand?

Yeah, I know.  Weylyn.

I don’t trust flu shots.  I received one when I was in my 20s that left me sick in bed for days.  I’m told it all depends on the particular strain they use in the vaccine in a given year, whether it’s live or killed, and I don’t know how many other factors.

Oh, and I hear that if you’re over 55 years old, which my wife and I both are, they inject you with a super strong dose so that you don’t die when a sneaky flu bug gets into your body and causes your immune system to give up the ghost.

I like to think things have improved since the 1980s, but about ten years ago, many of my coworkers took advantage of a flu vaccine clinic at my job and proceeded to get sick.  So maybe things haven’t changed so much.

Except that they have.  On Saturday, I grabbed my cane and hobbled down what felt like a mile of corridors to the flu clinic at Kaiser Hospital.  My wife, who doesn’t do flu shots either, got one as well.  “I’m only doing this for Weylyn,” she told me.  Um, that’s for sure!  The things you’ll do for a little preemie baby.  Sheesh!

I pulled my left arm out of my shirt, felt the alcohol swab, and prepared for the pain of a long needle making its insidious way into my muscle.

But it never happened.  It took about two seconds and the Kaiser lady said “all done.”  I barely felt anything.  Modern times!

So, does this mean that I’m not going to be stuck in bed puking for the next three days?

Dogs and Babies


I have recently discovered that dogs and babies have something important in common (other than being cute, that is):  They both like to vomit in the most inconvenient of places and at the most inconvenient of times.

Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against either dogs or babies.  I’d probably be un-American or some kind of heartless ogre if I objected to either.  Seriously, they rock our world.  And I believe that both are entitled to good homes and the best of care.  Just as long as it’s not my home or my care.  This is largely a product of the aversion to bodily secretions (and cleaning up same) that my wife and I share.

For 15 years, my wife and I enjoyed a blissfully child- and dog-free married life.  Then I was laid off from my job and we moved in with family, 650 miles away in northern California.  Now we spend a lot of time babysitting for my little grandniece.  As for my two young nephews who live here in town, each one seems to own three or four dogs at any given time, and usually a couple of cats thrown in for good measure.

Among my realizations as a human and canine uncle is that, in both cases, there is a lot of slobber, puke, pee and poop involved.  It looks disgusting, smells worse, and I routinely go running to find someone else to clean it up.

After Pastor Mom opened her birthday gifts on Saturday, many of us walked from the social hall over to the church (where the air conditioning was actually working) to sing karaoke.  This proved to be an interesting experience, as my nephews promised Pastor Mom that they would be duly respectful of the church atmosphere and would avoid singing any inappropriate song.  In this day and age, that pretty much eliminates everything.  My nephews settled on country music, a genre in which there are a few songs that do not contain any profanity, references to drinking or drugs, or overt misogyny.  Okay, very few.

As a technodork, I had to ask my savvy wife how this was going to work.  She explained that it is no longer necessary to have backing tracks on CD because karaoke versions of most popular songs are available on YouTube and can be played directly from a smart phone through the church’s amplifiers.  Mindful of their limitations, my nephews settled on, of all things, Bobby Vinton songs.  For some reason, however, there didn’t seem to be any karaoke versions of “Roses are Red” or “My Melody of Love” available on YouTube.  Undaunted, the boys proceeded to use the versions that were available, meaning that we were treated to decidedly unique performances of Mr. Vinton and my nephew singing over each other.  No matter, however; there were several babies in attendance, and we were soon treated to the distraction of one of them barfing all over Pastor Mom.

Unfortunately, we’ve had no better luck in the canine department this past week.  Pastor Mom’s friend (also a pastor) was here visiting and helping with the birthday party preparations.  Although she lives in the Central Valley, she came here directly from visiting friends and family in Oregon.  Now, Pastor Mom’s friend had her dog with her.  Pastor Mom planned to drive her friend home to drop the dog off with a neighbor, then turn around and come home, only to do the trip a second time after the party.  My wife and I told Pastor Mom that all that driving was just ridiculous and that there was no reason we couldn’t put up with the dog for a week.  <insert laughter here>

Weeeelllll… Um, where shall I begin?  What a cute doggie!  A chihuahua/terrier mix with a face that looks somewhere between a bear’s and a fox’s.  And, of course, she had to come with a cute name, too:  Shelby.  And then she’d jump up on the sofa, curl right up next to me as if I were her BFF and start licking my hand.  Even if you’re not a dog person, how can your heart not melt?

And then I awoke at 3 a.m. for one of my never-ending pee runs (among the many delightful perks of being 55 years old), only to find that ol’ Shelby had beaten me to it.  Only she didn’t bother using the toilet.

And the next night, we moved from liquid mode to solid mode when my nocturnal pee run was met with, uh, well, let’s say I just barely missed stepping in it.  Peee-yooo!

And the next night, my niece, who was also visiting with us, allowed Shelby to jump into bed with her, whereupon our canine friend proceeded to barf all over the nice clean sheets.

Everyone, repeat after me:  I love dogs.  I love dogs.  I love dogs.  Okay, you can beat me over the head now.

Good girl, Shelby.  Yes, I’ll pat your head and scratch your ears.  Please stop begging me for my food.  Your food dish is full.  Besides, dogs aren’t supposed to like pickles.

I suppose I should digress here and mention a little something about my mother’s cat, Taffy.  Now, Taffy is a very old cat at age 17.  She no longer stays outside at night, instead curling up on the couch or on one of the rugs or else just roams the house as she pleases.  We stayed over at my parents’ house two nights last week.  One of their two bathrooms is out of order at the moment (which could itself be the subject of an entire blog post), meaning that if either of my parents needs to pee in the middle of the night, they have to leave their master suite and walk down the hall to the bathroom that is near the front door.  On our second night there, my father did so in the middle of the night.  In the dark.


Well, you know what comes next.  “Mrrrooowwwww!”  My father stepped on poor Taffy, narrowly missed pratfalling onto the floor himself (not a good thing when you’re 80 years old), and suffered a lovely scratch on his left foot to seal the deal.

Back on the home front, Shelby had to take her turn playing this little game as well.  I guess she was happy I was home.  After all, it only took two days for her to quit barking her head off every time I walked through the door.  I think she finally figured out that I live here.  So when I entered the house with an armful of bags and took a hard left into the kitchen, Shelby bounded after me and ended up underfoot.  Before I could put the bags down, I heard a sickening yelp that let me know that I stepped on her paw.  I believe I yelled something decidedly uncharitable in her general direction, for which I am truly sorry.  I promise never again to refer to any canine friend as a cur, a mongrel or a bitch.  Honest, I do.

As for babies, toddlers and their stinky bodily secretions, I may also need to take back some of the things I may have said in various fits of olfactory pique.  After all, just tonight my little grandniece finally said the word “uncle” for the first time.

Turn me into jelly and knock me over with a feather, why don’t ya.

Eskimo Kisses

Hayden potato

Thank you, dear readers!  A Map of California has reached the milestone of 100 followers.  I am humbly grateful for your support.

It’s amazing watching my grandniece learn to walk.  Now, this may be old hat to many of you out there, but it’s a rather wondrous experience for those of us who skipped the whole having children thing.

My grandniece is still more comfortable on her knees than on her feet, but she seems to have figured out that there are two alternate means of locomotion, kind of like choosing between taking the bus and taking the train.  Only she hasn’t quite mastered the timetable for the train yet.

What’s really funny is how she surprises herself when she is able to take several consecutive steps without falling on her bottom.  She raises her hands to balance herself and assumes an open-mouthed, shocked expression, as if to say “Holy crap, I can do this!”

We are blessed to have the little one over here for at least a few hours each day, and all day and evening at least a couple of times per week.  Now that we’ve been here for a month, I am starting to become more comfortable playing with her.  And it touches my heart that the feeling seems to be mutual.

She doesn’t seem to be averse to a little roughhousing, as long as I don’t overdo it.  I might throw her over my shoulder or hold her upside down so she can do a headstand while I pretend to read a “this end up” label on her little feet.  I don’t know what the heck I’m doing, but that doesn’t seem to bother her any.  She puts up with me.  I’m just glad she hasn’t learned how to do the eye roll yet.  Whatevs, Uncle Guacamole.

Speaking of which, we have ripe avocados again.  I’m saving them for tomorrow, so we can make (and eat) guacamole together.

I’m really lucky that my wife and her mom take care of the business end of things (diapers, powder, ointment) and let me just play.  I am fortunate that I am a night owl who sleeps til the afternoon and blogs in the wee hours, as I don’t get much of anything done when Li’l Miss is visiting.

I think she’ll have her own blog pretty soon, and I can only imagine that I will blush at the things she has to say about me.  I know she digs this scene because she is forever banging on the keyboard or yanking at the cords of either my laptop or my wife’s.  She also likes to play with our iPhones.  I have to hide the mouse and my headphones when I see her coming this way, or else I know they will be summarily disconnected and whisked out of sight, whereupon I will spend an hour searching for them under the couch, behind the TV and in the kitchen cabinets.

You think I’m joking?  Earlier this week, the little scamp did something to my wife’s keyboard, after which she unable to type the letters H or C.  Then she changed the text notification tone on my wife’s cell phone to a ring tone so that my wife keeps thinking someone is calling her every time she receives a text.  Hello?  Hello?

I don’t know what my grandniece did to my laptop, but after she got her hands on it, I couldn’t get any sound through my headphones for two hours.  Then she grabbed the TV remote and recorded one of her Baby TV shows.  I kid you not!

We’ve been calling the little one Bug since she was born.  But now my wife has come up with another highly appropriate nickname:  Screech.  The lung power of someone so small defies logic.

I feel badly that we have to tell her “no” every minute or so, but the kiddo grabs at anything in sight and proceeds to investigate its qualities by tasting it.  When the prohibited item is removed, she likes to express her disapproval of this untenable situation by screaming her lungs out.  As I mentioned, I sleep during the mornings, and I am accustomed to hearing, with one eye open, “No.  No!  NOOO!!” followed by “Waaaaaaahhhh!! Wah-ah-ah-ah-wahhhhh!”  My wife and Pastor Mom must have incredibly deep wells of patience to draw upon.  If it were me, I’d be blogging from the looney bin.

If it can be knocked over, it will be.  If it can be dumped, it will be.  If it can be flung, it will be.  My grandniece particularly enjoys turning over the trash can and playing with our discarded paperwork.  When she comes near, I must quickly remove my glass of iced tea as well as the tea pitcher, or both will end up poured over her head, her clothes and the carpet.

A writer must have a pad to take notes, and I keep one next to my computer.  There are always loose pages stored inside the cardboard backing.  If I look away for a minute, the loose pages will be strewn every which way and my grandniece will be sitting among them while she sucks on the pad itself.  This has already happened at least four times to date.  As the magical masters of legerdemain point out, the hand is quicker than the eye.  That is, her hand is quicker than my eye.

So now it seems that my wife is schooling the little one in the operatic arts.  They perform a two-part tune known as “The La-La Song.”  My wife cacophonously screeches “la, la, la laaaaa!!” and then says “your turn.”  Li’l Miss then sings her part in what is actually a fairly good imitation of my wife.

She has also been teaching Screech how to rub noses, known as giving “Eskimo kisses.” I remember my aunt doing this with my sisters and me when we were little.  Where this particular maneuver got its name I have no idea.  Do the inhabitants of the Great North actually rub noses to greet each other in their fur parkas?  If so, I think the time has come to update to the modern age and be a bit more PC.

But who am I to say?  Somehow, “First Nations osculation” doesn’t have quite the same ring.


Uncle Guacamole


My mother called last night and asked whether I am depressed because I am unemployed.  I assured her that such is not the case, that it is so nice to relax and to be able to do what I want to do rather than what I have to do.  But you know how it is, mothers are always worried, so they are hard to convince.

I wish you had been here today, Mom.  Then perhaps you’d understand.

My niece has college classes very early on Wednesday mornings, so she saved some time by bringing her baby over here yesterday in the evening.  The little one was with us all night and most of the day today.  At one year old, she is a handful for my wife and mother-in-law to handle together.  It is a wonder that my niece, or any mother, can retain her sanity.  I have learned that, at this age, they require attention every minute.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again:  There is nothing like being surrounded by extended family.  Many humorous and maddeningly frustrating moments result, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I just soak it all in and bask in the glow.

The baby takes a few steps here and there, but mostly she toddles back and forth and it is necessary to keep an eye on her at all times.  She is fond of opening and closing cabinets, hiding behind furniture, pulling on cords and knocking things over.  Today, we brought over her favorite toy, a doll-sized stroller that she likes to push about without a doll in it.  Her latest gift was a plush Eeyore that is supposed to be Halloween-themed, but looks to me as if it has antlers on its head.  I call it Rudolph the Red-Nosed Eeyore, and the little one loves to cuddle it.

Little Miss Trouble wanders between us, checking on who is willing to give her attention at any given moment.  All the while, we have Baby TV playing in the background.  If you are not familiar with this British-based Fox franchise, let me just say that after about five continuous hours, you feel like you’re getting soft in the head and your brains are turning to a soupy mush.  But the Bug wiggles her diapered bottom and dances to the music, so we get a lot of laughs and have no choice but to keep the baby shows playing.

Last week, I ended up sharing some guacamole with the Bug at a family get-together.  Then last night we had some overripe avocados, so I made a fresh batch.  Guess who crawled over for a taste.  Now my wife is trying to teach the baby to call me Uncle Guacamole.

Other than that, the day was uneventful, except for the time my wife was holding the baby in her lap when the Bug suddenly thrust her head backward into my wife’s face, nearly giving her a black eye.  Ouchie!

Oh, and then my niece came over with a friend and a pumpkin after her classes were done for the day.  They sat out on the walk with Little Miss Fussy and carved a pumpkin.  After that, we watched the little one so that my niece could take her mother out to dinner to butter her up.  It worked.  She returned with her septum pierced.

See, Mom?  You have nothing to worry about.  My cup runneth over with love. 

The Picture Window

looking out wiindow

Barbara Shelly, who writes for the Kansas City Star, recently praised the relaxation in prescription standards for the “morning after pill” that makes it available to minors.  However, she muses, this is supposed to be an emergency measure for use when traditional contraception fails, a Plan B, if you will.  What, then, she asks, is Plan A for teen sex?

Is it the use of condoms?  Hmm, the health curriculum in just about every middle school and high school includes the lesson in which the proper use of condoms is demonstrated by fitting a rubber onto a banana.  Much snickering and a little embarrassment ensues. (But not much of the latter among today’s jaded teens.)

Oh, you poor thing, did the bad condom break? This could happen, of course, but probably not!  The guy needn’t worry about carrying a bowling ball around for nine months and then having his guts ripped open, so what incentive does he have to make sure he has a condom with him and is wearing it properly?  Exactly none.  The threat of AIDS and other STDs do not seem to resonate in the heat of passion.  Some say that the above indicates that the woman must take the responsibility for her own birth control.  At the age of 14 or 15 or 16?  Get real.  Not happening.

All of which leads Shelly to ponder that “the problem is, we really haven’t figured out how to convince young people not to have babies.”

Abstinence, a delay of sexual activity, would be the logical answer, she suggests before recognizing that this, too, is not going to happen.  Hormones will rage and Mother Nature will do her thing to keep the species going into future generations.  No amount of banana condoms or carrying around an egg or a crying Betsy Wetsy doll for weeks is going to change this.

The only thing that can make progress toward increasing the rate of teen abstinence is a healthy dose of social approbation.  This, of course, went out the window many decades ago, and it ain’t comin’ back.  The “good girls don’t” motif is dismissed out of hand without so much as a belly laugh.  Way back when, teenage girls didn’t want to “get a reputation.”  Straying meant being “sent away,” either for an illegal abortion or to give birth (and generally to give the baby up for adoption) out of sight of family and friends.  In other words, sexual activity came with consequences.

Today, those consequences constitute more of a red badge of courage than a scarlet letter.  Single motherhood is glorified in the media.  There is a country song that declares that a woman who doesn’t have at least two children by the age of 21 is going to be alone forever.  And then there are TV shows like Teen Mom 3 that don’t sugar coat the hardships of single motherhood, but do make the statement that it can work out and, hey, everybody’s doing it, right?

Many parents are unwilling to talk to their teenage girls (and fewer to their teen boys) about peer pressure, bodily urges and the consequences of early sexual activity that may affect them for the rest of their lives.  “Let the schools do it” seems to be the attitude, or let them figure it out for themselves.  Their friends will tell them what’s what (and we wonder how misinformation spreads).

My mother, however, did discuss this subject with my sisters as they approached puberty.  I believe her approach was effective.  She had this important conversation before the picture window in the living room of our suburban home.  Her speech went something like this:

“Look at those girls walking down the street.  They look like they’re laughing and having a good time, don’t they?  They’re kind of dressed up.  Maybe they’re going to a party.  You’ll have plenty of chances to do just what they’re doing.  But not if you have a baby.  If you have a baby, you’ll be stuck in the house, rocking the baby, feeding the baby, changing diapers, dealing with a sick baby throwing up all over you.  Meanwhile, while you’re sitting here with the baby, you’ll be looking out this window at the girls going out to have a good time and you’ll wish it were you. And your heart will ache.  But it won’t be you.  No parties, no fun, no dates.  No boy is going to want to have anything to do with you because you will be stuck at home cleaning up pee and poop and vomit.”

It worked.  Neither of my sisters got pregnant until they had been married for a while.  And it’s not as if they were deprived as teens.  They had dates, they had boyfriends, but they also knew what the consequences of stepping over that line could be, and they made sure the guys kept their hands to themselves.  Some of the other girls thought my sisters were hopelessly out of date, but they remembered the “picture window” speech and they dealt with it.

Of course, this was more than thirty years ago.  I am not at all certain that my mother’s speech would have the same effect today.  I think of my niece, who managed to get pregnant at the tender age of fifteen and whose baby recently turned a year old.

I don’t know whether my niece’s mother ever sat down and talked with her about what life would be like with a baby.  Perhaps she did and perhaps my niece shrugged it off as just another dumb thing that adults try to force on you.  Perhaps the fact that my niece’s father left when she was three years old has something to do with it.

Don’t get me wrong:  My little grandniece is a delight to the entire family and we are all so glad she is here.  I just wish she had waited a few more years to make her appearance, and that during those years my niece would have completed her education, embarked on a career and started out in life with a man who is utterly devoted to her.

My niece is luckier than most.  Yes, she is struggling to balance a full load of college classes, working part-time in a fast food restaurant and caring for her baby.  But she has lots of family around to provide day care, to give her time to do her homework in the evenings and to be there for the little one when my niece has to work late on the weekends.  Last night, my niece was working on an assignment until 3 a.m. This morning, she texted my wife, who went right over there and picked up the baby so that my niece could get some sleep before her afternoon class.

Many young mothers don’t have this intense level of family support.  Estranged from family, they pinch pennies to pay for day care, or lacking that, are unable to work and end up on public assistance as they slip into poverty from which it is difficult to recover.

Fathers certainly need to talk to their sons about what it means to be a man and to take responsibility for their actions.  It is sad that too few fathers are around to have such conversations.  But as for the mothers of teenage girls, I highly recommend drawing open the drapes and launching into an honest discussion in front of the picture window.