Sunday, June 22, 2008

We had a belated Father's Day celebration yesterday. I consulted with several fathers to find out whether a gift for "Dad and kids" would be appropriate and finally decided to go with my instinct: Little Tikes Basketball. John's been talking about wanting one of these for the boys and he and Ed are always inventing ways to play versions of basketball, so I thought this would be well received. We made a big deal about it being "Daddy's" and Ed helped him open it. Still, it was hard to "take turns" initially. By this morning though, he was letting John have some turns after his own. Ed's not entirely clear on the concept, however. John tries to wow him with his long distance shots and Ed says, "Daddy, stand right here!" Meaning--right in front of the hoop where you can easily reach up (if you're two feet tall) and dunk.

Daniel got a turn, but his first move was to jam the ball in his mouth. Ed was not enamored of a slobber ball. Daniel needs a little forgiveness though. He's currently battling an ear infection and pink eye...again! I don't know why this pink eye keeps recurring, but it's getting frustrating. At least a single antibiotic will treat both ailments. However, it doesn't seem to be doing the trick on the ear. He's been on the medicine since Friday but still is having trouble sleeping. If tonight is rough again, we may have to go back to the doctor tomorrow. I guess we had a good run of about a month of health.

I realized the other day that I never posted Daniel's rolling video. He's getting close to going from front to back as well and then--look out. There will be no containing him. He has done it a few times, but not consistently. He is still more likely to cry than rectify the situation on his own when he's tired of being on his belly.

Friday, June 20, 2008

It's hard to believe that just one week ago, I was trying to decide whether to stay or go. The trigger was the announcement that I-380 (between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids) would close by 6 p.m. When I heard this at 2, I kicked it into high gear, packing while the boys slept, loading the car, then the boys (including plucking a sound asleep Edward from his bed) and headed out. I started by back-tracking because I knew the most direct road to the Interstate was clogged with traffic. I got gas and cash on my way out of town and headed east. I got on I-80 going west and sailed through with no traffic to 380. Since 80 was closed east of here there was only local traffic on the road. I also breezed through the section of 380 that would soon be closed. I thought I was in the clear.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Shortly after the Iowa River bridge, traffic slowed and then came to a halt. I knew it would be slow-going given what was happening in Cedar Rapids, but nothing I'd heard indicated the road was closed. Plus the traffic was moving fine southbound, so I didn't think I needed to alter my route. After about an hour, we were approaching a rest stop between Iowa City and the CR airport (maybe a total distance of about 10 miles.) Not knowing what lay ahead, I decided to stop and feed Daniel--trying to avoid getting stuck between exits with a screaming, hungry baby and no way out. Ed had a snack while I fed Daniel and changed his diaper. All told we were stopped for about 15 minutes. When we got off, a yellow cement mixer was right behind us. When we got back on, we were several cars in front of the mixer. This did not bode well. Also, our new location was directly behind a cattle truck. Luckily, I was able to switch the AC to the "recirculate" function and keep the smell out. I was later treated to the sight of a cow pooping out the side of the truck. But that was so minor in the scheme of things.

An hour later, we had still only reached the airport exit, which is normally a half-hour trip. I had the map out and was trying to see what alternatives I might have for getting up to Highway 20, which, as far as I know, was the only major east-west road that was open all the way to the state border (Mississippi River) throughout this flooding ordeal. By the time I decided to try another route, I was about 100 yards past the airport exit. I pulled onto the shoulder and started to back up toward it, but the man in the car behind me suggested that instead I turn around completely. He'd seen me for the past two hours trying to cope with the situation--standing/inching traffic, two kids in the back seat, map reading in the front, etc. I executed a three-point turn on the interstate and drove the wrong way down the shoulder back to the exit and got off.

I thought I could take Highway 965 (which runs basically parallel to 380 at that point) as far north as Highway 30, which I knew was flooded to the east, but open to the west. I thought if I went west a bit, I could take another route north to Waterloo. John was online at home checking for the latest road closures and told me that the next road north (Highway 218) was closed, but the one after that (Highway 63) was open. So I'd have to drive an hour west to Tama, then north to Waterloo, then east to Dubuque. First hiccup in the plan: when I got to Highway 30, the westbound entrance ramp from 965 was flooded. So I had to get on going east, then turn around at the next exit and come back west. After that, it was a smooth, but long trip. Once we were moving, Daniel fell asleep and Edward, comforted by his "teenie and paci (blanket and pacifier)" was calm and observant in the back seat.

While we were stuck in traffic, we were all miserable. Edward kept dropping/throwing his toys and his drink cup on the floor. We were stopping often enough that I could put the car in park and reach back to retrieve things, but it was driving me crazy. I thought I was helping Daniel by hooking a toy onto his sunshade for him to play with. I didn't realize until he'd been crying a while that he'd kicked the toy enough that the shade was down and the sun was beaming in directly on him. This would make me scream too!

So all told, the kids were actually pretty amazing. It took six hours to get to Dubuque, where my parents met us after driving from Evanston (through their own traffic nightmare--Friday night rush hour in Chicago!) I would NEVER plan a six hour trip with kids, even with another adult to help, much less as a solo caregiver. Even when we go four hours to Evanston, we stop somewhere to run around for a bit. But these were extraordinary circumstances.

One more blooper to add to the mix: Daniel woke up just before Traer, Iowa so we stopped there so I could feed him. Edward stayed in his seat eating a "squished cheese" sandwich (one of his favorites--American cheese between two slices of bread, all squished down flat.) The bank parking lot where we stopped was right next to a gas station where I saw gas was only $3.80. After everyone was fed, I thought I'd top off the tank since we'd used so much already. I also realized that despite limiting my own liquid intake, I was not going to make it to Dubuque without going to the bathroom. I have never done this before, never intend to again, and certainly would not have if it hadn't been Traer "no one around" Iowa. I ran into the store, gave the clerk my credit card, told her my kids were in the car (locked with front windows rolled down) and ran back to the bathroom. Worst 90 seconds of the trip, hands down. But we all survived.

Then I thought I should give the boys fresh diapers for the remaining (roughly) two hours of the trip. Too late for Edward. He was totally soaked--top, bottom and car seat. So he got out and stood next to the car while I changed him and then put a blanket over his soaked car seat before putting him back in. (It dried overnight and I washed it when we got to Evanston, but still pretty gross to make the trip in a pee-soaked seat!) As I was getting back in the front seat after all this, Edward said, "Mommy, don't drive!" My sentiments exactly.

We got to Dubuque at about 8:45 and pulled into the parking lot of the Best Western on Highway 20. I called my parents, who, as it turned out, were just up the road at the Hampton Inn. They hadn't checked in though, so they came to us. I could not even bear to put the key back in the ignition at that point! We got two rooms at the "flood rate" and joined a hotel full of evacuees. Edward was excited to see Gram and PopPop, who got him a snack and some milk while I fed Daniel. Then we all sat outside for a bit, letting Ed burn off some steam. He stayed in their room and Daniel and I stayed down the hall.

The Iowa City to Dubuque trip is 83 miles by the most direct route. If I could have gotten through on 380 it would have been about 168 miles. This trip was approximately 210 miles.

On Saturday we drove on to Evanston with my mom driving my car so I could more easily tend to the needs of the back seat. Again, the boys were very good, sleeping part of the time.

Sunday was a very sad Father's Day for John with all of us gone and not knowing when we'd be able to get back. I was hoping for Wednesday at that point, but that was only a guess. I knew I could not return until Interstate 80 reopened--there simply was no way I could repeat the Friday Odyssey. As it turned out, the road cleared overnight Sunday into Monday morning and the Dept. of Transportation announced around noon that it would be open by late afternoon. John called me as soon as he got the press release. Given Chicago traffic though, we could not leave that afternoon. We waited until Tuesday morning and then hit the road. Grandma and Grandpa met us at the Iowa Welcome Center, just after we crossed the Mississippi--again, extra adults are so helpful when traveling with small children. What a great feeling to be home!

So our town never lost water or power, which were my primary concerns, but I won't second guess the decision to leave. If I'd waited to see whether the worst would happen, it would have been too late to leave. We ended up having a nice long weekend with my parents, including a trip to Lincoln Park Zoo on Monday (where Aunt Nora took the pictures with this post), and though it was hard to be separated from John, I think it was the right thing to do. As one of my co-workers said on Thursday when I first started thinking I should leave, "This is millions of years of evolution at work: A mother's instinct is to protect her children."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Just a quick note to let everyone know we're all fine. My office was flooded out, but as long as the sandbag walls we spent three days building continue to hold until the water goes down, we should be back in within a month. Right now, everything is out of the office and they've ripped out the carpet and trim boards, which (cross your fingers) seem to be the only things really damaged. For now, everyone is working out of their home. The photo above is what the building looked like on Saturday, the day before the crest. Our office is about half way down the building.

Our home, as mentioned in the previous post, is high enough up that we are well away from any flood water. The only impact is the inconvenience of still having only one way to get into and out of town. The good news is that they have finally reopened Interstate 80 (above is what it looked like at its worst), so my family is coming home! The drive out was torturous, but it seems as if Mary and the boys have enjoyed their visit with Gram and Pop Pop. I'll let her share more about it, but I do know it included a trip to the zoo that was quite exciting for Edward.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Mary decided to take the boys to her folks' house in Evanston to avoid any potential flood-related problems. We won't get water anywhere near our house, but there is a real possibility we'll lose power and/or water, and that would complicate things enough that it seemed worth the hassle. Actually, hassle isn't the word for it-- ordeal, or trial or tortuous effort are more applicable. It took her six hours to get only as far as Dubuque, a drive we've taken in the past in about 100 minutes. It involved loooooong detours and 5 mph traffic because there are few ways in or out of our region.

Because I was home alone and sleeping off a day that included 7 hours of helping to complete dismantle and move our new office (we've been there six weeks) and another couple helping to sandbag the building, which includes a radio station and two restaurants in addition to the newspaper. Alas, I woke at 7 a.m., too trained by the boys' sleep patterns to even take advantage and sleep in. So, I grabbed my camera and headed out to see what my city looks like. The water is very high in spots and is expected to get anywhere from 3-8 feet higher over the next two days. The above photo was shot from a parking ramp that overlooks the river. The white line in the middle is a wall of sandbags that essentially marks where the edge of the river used to be.

To see all the photos I took, click here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

If you are seeing news stories around the country about Iowa flooding, they are mostly centered on Cedar Rapids, which is about 20 miles north of here and on the Cedar River. If the national media hasn't tired of it by next week, the stories will likely be centered here in Iowa City. We are on the Iowa river which is rising fast but hasn't reached the dramatic levels of the Cedar.


We are being told to expect the river to rise at least 10 feet higher than its highest point in the historic 1993 floods. The crest is not expected until sometime next week and it continues to rain. Our house should not be endangered, but we are preparing for other disruptions. I actually had myself worked up into a pretty good panic this afternoon and was starting to make preparations to leave town with the boys and head to my parents' house in Evanston. A long drive and perhaps an extreme response, but there's legitimate speculation that all roads in and out of town could be cut off by next week. I started thinking about panic scenes at local grocery stores if the stocks run low and deliveries can't be made. I was also thinking about carrying out every day functions without water or electricity for days, perhaps weeks on end.

In the end, I dispatched myself to the grocery store for 10 gallons of bottled water (an arbitrary figure--it looks ridiculous on the kitchen counter and I hope we don't need it, but will be glad to have it if the time comes.) Also bread and some other staples. Now we just watch and wait with the rest of the community.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Daniel is five months old! He has found his toes and loves his exersaucer (which was retrieved from storage over the weekend because he was very impatient with his horizontal life.) He's sleeping right next to me, so I'll keep it brief. We have some video to edit and post, but not sure when that will happen. Preview of coming attractions: rolling over, grabbing toes, jockeying for exersaucer position with a brother who still thinks it's his.

So far we are dry at home. John spent two hours sandbagging at his office last night--his brand new office, the one they've occupied for less than two months! Hoping for the best. The river won't crest until sometime next week.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Parts of our town are slowly disappearing under the rising river. One main road into town from the interstate is closed. Lots of sandbags are being piled around vulnerable houses and some parts of campus. I had gone home to Evanston for the summer after my sophomore year the last time this happened (1993.) There is a palpable tension in town as we wait to see if this summer will match that disaster.

We may end up with a bit of seepage in the basement (though, luckily, none so far) but otherwise, we're far enough from the river and creeks to be mere observers to this deluge. We took a walk near the river and the flooded City Park yesterday afternoon. Edward was not impressed. The real drama in his life took place on Tuesday when they tested the fire alarms at daycare. This induced a major panic and hysterics that led his teacher to call me at work. She didn't say I had to come, but he wasn't responding to any of their attempts to soothe him. Since he never does this, they didn't know any "tricks" to put him back on track. It took me more than an hour to persuade him to rejoin the group. And even then, it was mostly because lunch arrived and it was one of his favorites. Before that he was clinging to me, crying and saying "I wanna go outside. I wanna go home."

I didn't want to take him away because I worried that this would make him afraid to come back. Sort of the same reasoning behind getting right back on the horse after falling. He didn't refuse to go back the rest of the week, but he was definitely hesitant and much more emotional/sensitive than usual. I found out late in the week that they don't ring the alarms when they have fire drills, so this really was the first time he'd heard such a piercing sound (his own shriek notwithstanding!)

So he's still talking about "alarms" and saying "alarms hurt me," but he also says "alarm keeps me safe" and "they're just testing it." So he may be on the road to recovery. At one point during the initial breakdown he either asked about Daniel or they thought seeing Daniel might reassure him, so they took Edward to Daniel's class. Daniel was laughing. Edward was not comforted.

We have tried several times this weekend to capture video of Daniel's rolling abilities. Even though his first move upon being placed on his back is to flip himself over, he is mesmerized enough by the sight of the camera that he freezes and stares as soon as it appears. A stare down is not most dramatic video material. Once the camera is put away, he rolls right over. Then it takes just a few minutes for him to realize he really doesn't like being on his belly much. He twists and flails his arms and legs like a beached whale. Today I thought he might be figuring out the reverse flip from belly to back, but I don't think he's there yet.

Edward's gymnastics are on display at the park. Anything above his head is fair game for climbing. He seems to have no fear in this realm. His parents on the other hand... We're trying not to hover too much or stifle his exploration, but we've seen him climb nearly to the top, get distracted and think he can make a lateral move, so we know better than to leave him totally independent.

Daniel was playing with his ear while John and I were eating lunch today. We hope this is "I just discovered these things on the sides of my head" rather than "Man this thing really hurts!" No other signs point to the latter, so we'll assume the best for now.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Daniel finally got over his own shoulder and rolled from back to front Saturday morning. He's been half/three-quarters of the way there for more than a week, but never could figure out that last shoulder hurdle. I missed the first performance while in the shower, but there were many repeats throughout the day. It's still a somewhat arduous process that takes several minutes, so we'll spare you the video until he becomes a bit more practiced. (Our camera battery isn't up to the current challenge!)

I wanted Edward to have some new summer sandals so we took him to have his foot measured. The only place locally that still provides this service is our Von Maur department store, but the shoes there start at $30, which is a bit pricey in my opinion given how fast kids grow out of them. He walked in wearing a size 6. The saleswoman said in a sandal he'd take a 7. For a closed toe shoe she said an 8 would work "with room to grow a bit." Oops. Guess we were a bit late in remeasuring. But since that was the extent of her help (she brought us a pile of boxes and then walked away, helping a series of other customers and never returning to us) we left without buying any. A trip to Target later in the evening produced a perfectly serviceable pair of $10 sandals. For that price he could have another pair before the end of summer if he wears these out (or grows out!)

We had a fun visit with cousins on John's side of the family when we all gathered at his grandparents' place yesterday. John's cousin's kids are 2, 5, and 7 so it was fun to see them all play together. Edward was exhausted by the time we left, but decided to stay awake until only 40 minutes remained of the 2-hour drive. When we arrived home, he was not happy to be awakened. John set him in his bed thinking he'd calm himself with "paci and teeny blanket" and then move on with the evening (it was about 5 p.m.) Instead, he was sound asleep when I looked in on him 5 minutes later. We let him sleep until about 5:45, but then figured the pain of waking him would be less than the pain of him waking us at 4 a.m. if he was asleep for the night at that point. In hindsight, I still think we were right, but it was a painful two hours for all involved. Edward just could not get himself under control and was just crying pitifully. Everything we suggested (park, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, food, drink) was met with a wailing "No!" We finally persuaded him to sit and eat something. He agreed to mac&cheese, but then started crying "No" again when we put it in front of him. We finally settled on applesauce and a leftover ham ball. We kept offering the mac&cheese, but since it continued to bring tears, we finally took it away and John ate it. About one minute after John finished the bowl (out of Edward's sight) and put it in the sink, Ed asked, "I want mac&cheese?"

We didn't have any more. The tears started flowing again. Two parental heads banging against the wall.

So those tears led straight to the bathtub, which was only saved by the emergence of a set of bath toys that arrived at Christmas, but were put away for just the right occasion. This got him to stop crying and get in the tub, where he played happily for about half an hour. (Another reason this was not in immediate use--a half-hour bath in January could lead to hypothermia!) Then we only had to survive the tears about not wanting to leave the toys and get out of the bath. (Side note: first thing this morning he asked to take another bath!) Pajamas, stories, a bit of milk and then back to bed. We all sighed with relief. Then we had to laugh when about 40 minutes later we heard him belting out "The Farmer in the Dell" from his bed.

Another funny moment to remember when things seem to be spiraling out of control. During a late-afternoon thunder storm this week, this empty wipes box provided either protection or distraction for Edward. I couldn't quite tell what led to this headgear choice, but it helped him get through the storm, so no argument here. We also tried the trick of counting between the lightning and thunder. He doesn't understand about using that to estimate distance, but it did seem to help distract him from his worry about the thunder. Daniel was unfazed by it all.