44 Centimeters, or Back to Normal

Miracle of miracles, the bus came and Noah got on it, with his backpack full of overdue valentines and his feet protected from the slush only by a pair of canvas sneakers. It was a gym day so he needed the sneakers and we decided if we sent him in boots carrying his sneakers it would be the last we’d see of either the boots or the sneakers. He’s like that. Already this year he has lost his lunch box more times than I can count and his winter coat as well. We got the coat back from the lost and found, but not before we’d bought him a new one. He drives his kindergarten teacher to distraction losing his crayons. One recent morning he lost his sock between getting it out of his sock drawer and getting it onto his foot. I have to accept some genetic blame for this. I am much the same way.

A couple hours after Noah left, June and I needed to get on our own bus, headed downtown to the pediatrician to get her head measured. At her nine-month appointment, the doctor noticed her soft spot had closed early and asked us to come by in mid-February to make sure her skull was growing properly. This had created a subtle but steady undercurrent of worry for me ever since. Beth researched early fontanel closure on the Internet and came back with worst-case scenarios of brain damage and brain surgery. Even though I knew chances were she’d be fine, believed it even, throughout January and February, every now and then I kissed the top of June’s head, feeling the softness of her baby-fine strawberry blonde hair and the warmth of her skull beneath my lips and I hoped no-one would have to cut it open.

We were ready early because instead of taking her usual hour-plus morning nap, June slept only twenty minutes, then drowsed for another ten while I held her and sang and tried to get her back to sleep. Once it was clear neither of us was getting any more sleep, I got up and folded some laundry. Then we went outside and I tried to shovel the sidewalk. It’s a point of honor with Beth (both of us really) to keep the walks clear in inclement weather, and while she got the walk in front of the house finished before everything froze solid, we didn’t get to the walk on the side of the house in time and it was covered in thick ice for a week. In the warmer weather we’d had for the past twenty-four hours, it had begun to thaw. I chipped away at it for ten minutes, clearing less than a quarter of it. By then my arms were sore and June (parked in the stroller next to me) was whining and it was almost time to catch the bus so I called it quits, resolving to finish the next day after it got softer. I was pleased to see even that short stretch of clear cement. It seemed like a step in the right direction, back toward normalcy.

At the pediatrician, the nurse called June’s name only twenty minutes after our appointment time. I am so used to marathon waits there I didn’t even hear her the first time and she had to call again. Once we were settled in the examination room, she asked why we were there and I said for a head measurement. The nurse called out to another nurse outside the room, asking if she should do it or wait for the doctor. The second nurse told the first one, rather sharply, that Dr. Ariza would do it. I wasn’t surprised. Dr. Ariza had been quite insistent at June’s nine-month appointment that the head measurement was to be done by a doctor. We waited another ten minutes for Dr. Ariza. I held June and read her an assortment of board books that were lying around. When the doctor came in, she asked how June was doing. I reported she’d learned to crawl since her last appointment and was standing unassisted. She nodded approvingly. I mentioned she’d had a cold for almost two months and I thought she might have an ear infection. She said she’d take a look in her ears after she measured her head. She looked around for a tape measure, couldn’t find one, left and came back. Then she wrapped it around June’s head. It looked like a crown or a garland, I told myself, not like the bearer of bad news. June’s blue eyes peeked out from underneath, alert and curious about the proceedings.

“Forty four centimeters,” Dr. Ariza said. She flipped back through June’s chart. “It was forty three last time.” She seemed pleased. Then she got out the growth chart to plot the number. “How old is she?” she asked.

“Eleven months in three days,” I answered.

Dr. Ariza made a little dot on the chart. “Twenty-fifth percentile for eleven months,” she announced. Even better news. At nine months, she’d been between the fifth and tenth percentile. I asked if wanted to get her weight and length to put it in context, but she said it wasn’t necessary, that the growth and the jump in percentiles was good enough. “She’s never going to have a big head,” Dr. Ariza predicted, and she cautioned that she still wants to monitor her head growth, but for now everything seems fine. She checked June’s lungs and ears and found both clear. Then she flashed a flashlight into her mouth and found two new teeth, her third and fourth, the top front ones, just poking through. I could just barely see a sliver of white on each gum in the beam of light. “That’s probably what’s been bothering her,” she said and recommended Tylenol for the pain. Meanwhile, she ran through the symptoms of intracranial pressure, just in case, and soon we were on our way home. June was in the front pack, where she’s been feeling heavy recently, but walking to the Metro, she felt lighter than she had on the trip out.

After a couple hours at home, we headed over to Noah’s school to pick him up from his after-school science class. I trudged through the slush on the path through woods, his boots swinging in one hand, June strapped to my chest, and observed the water level in the creek. It looked higher than usual but not too high. The snow was melting slowly, a good thing since it meant the basement was probably in no danger of flooding.

We waited in the lobby for the five, six and seven-year-old scientists to emerge. Noah always straggles out toward the back the pack and today was no different. I noticed he was only wearing one sneaker.

He flashed me a smile when he saw me. “We made glue!” he announced. I let him chatter on excitedly for a few minutes without mentioning his shoe. He showed me a construction paper spider with one leg and seven white dots where other legs had been. Apparently, the Hands-On Science program is not going to be a threat to Elmer’s any time soon.

Finally, I said. “Noah, you’re only wearing one shoe.”

He looked down and laughed. “I have one shoe and the spider has one leg. If it had eight legs, I’d have eight shoes!”

“Hmm.” I said. “Noah, where do you think your other shoe is?”

He considered the question and answered, “Probably in the science room.” I had him take me back there and sure enough, under one of the low tables was his size 13 blue Converse low top with the orange tongue. He climbed under the table to get it.

“Don’t put it on,” I said. “We’re going to put on your boots.” Back in the lobby I helped him into his boots and we headed home.

Later that evening, after we ate dinner and everyone had cuddled on the couch watching The Electric Company (Noah’s new favorite DVD choice) and after Noah was in bed, I nursed June to sleep on our bed. She slept snuggled up against Beth, who was reading The New Yorker. I lay there watching them, thinking about the exuberance of small children in school doing experiments, neatly shoveled walks and my daughter’s growing head. I wondered what dreams fit in forty-four centimeters.