Dance as if no one (or just your baby) is watching

When babies hit the 10-month mark, they enter a glorious phase that showcases their newfound mobility as well as their listening and social skills: the dancing phase.  Anytime they hear anything with a beat, whether it’s the music you listen to (my firstborn liked to rock out to Metallica), a toy, a television commercial, or the blender (like my friend’s baby), they start grooving to the music.  This can take various forms including rocking back and forth, swaying side-to-side, bopping the head up and down, bouncing in place, and pumping the fists.  Not even adults laughing will stop them.  In fact, it may even elicit a smile and encourage them to dance even more.

This dancing phase is adorable and highly entertaining.  Grab the video camera now because before you know it, this phase is gone.  Somewhere after 18 months old, they become less interested in dancing, and by the time they are 3 years old, they are downright self-conscious.  At least my kid was.  When my son turned 3 and a song came on that he wanted to dance to, he would yell “No! Don’t laugh!” at me or “Go there!” and point to the other room.  I guess children become aware of when adults are laughing at them instead of with them.  Now when he wants to dance, he’ll stand up but then take a sidelong glance at me to see if I’m watching.  I take the hint and leave the room so he can cut the rug in private.

I’m sure this will get even worse as he gets older, judging from the typical American parties and weddings I’ve attended.  At these events, people sit around, talk and refrain from dancing.  If some brave (or rip-roaring drunk) souls start to dance, it’s not often that others follow suit.  If they do, their movements are slight and timid, as if they are trying to draw the least amount of attention to themselves.  Usually they are off to the side gawking at the ones dancing.  Maybe it’s just the (lame) parties I’ve been invited to, but it seems that people are too self-conscious and embarrassed to really let go on the dance floor.  Perhaps they are afraid of being made fun of (I still hear references to that infamous Seinfeld episode where Elaine dances).  Of course there are exceptions, but generally Americans are a pretty lame dancing set.

In contrast, I remember a party I went to when I lived in Boston, given by the Brazilians who I worked in a restaurant with.  To this day, it goes down as one of the best parties I have ever been to, and not because of the free-flowing alcohol or the big slabs of meat on the grill.  When I arrived at the party, it was still relatively early in the evening, but the house was wall-to-wall packed with moving bodies.  Almost everybody there was dancing.  I was amazed that people were so uninhibited and dancing their hearts out, not because they were drunk but because they were celebrating life. We had similar parties when I lived abroad.  There’s nothing like getting a bunch of American/Canadian/Europeans aid workers together in a foreign land after a week of stressful work, add in some familiar dance music and a lot of alcohol to get a lively dance party going.

In other cultures, people embrace dancing and are more uninhibited on the dance floor than their American counterparts (after all, that great party I went to was a Brazilian party).  Dancing may be more ingrained in their culture or just something fun for them to do to let off some steam.  It was that way in Kenya, where I’ve seen Kenyans dancing on several occasions that is even remotely a cause for celebration – a wedding, parties, having visitors.  Dancing was more an extension of themselves rather than a skill that they were being judged for.

So if your baby is in the dancing phase, enjoy this wonderful time and take videos.  Or better yet, get up and dance along with your baby.  It’s a great way to let off some steam.

Our road trips always lead to…diarrhea

It never fails.  Every time we go on a road trip, it seems to happen – the worst thing to befall a child (and the parents) while on vacation: gastrointestinal illness (i.e. vomiting and/or diarrhea).   We were staying at a hotel the last couple of times it happened, so at least we had running water, plenty of clean towels and sheets, garbage service, etc.  But when it strikes, you would much rather be in the comfort of your own home.  I felt horrible asking the housekeeping staff for new towels and sheets every 2 hours and disposing of the toxic diapers in the main garbage can near the dining area.  I guess it could’ve been worse…we could have been camping.

On our last road trip a few months ago, we were in the middle of the Petrified National Forest near Holbrook, AZ.  I was carrying my then 14-month old girl on my back when she started hacking.  At first we thought the jostling in the Ergo carrier made her motion-sick, but she would not stop throwing up for the next 6 hours.  Then as quickly as it came, it left, replaced by diarrhea (not sure which is worse).  The vomiting curse then passed to my 3-year old son, who threw up all that night into the trash can.  Two nights later my husband was praying to the porcelain goddess.  At least they took turns and weren’t all hurling in unison.  (I suffered from nausea the day after but miraculously didn’t end up vomiting.  Amazing considering that I’m usually one of the first ones to go down in these situations.)

Last week, we went on a road trip to San Diego.  On the third night, my now 19-month old girl was rolling around and whimpering in her sleep.  I could tell she was uncomfortable so I held her, thinking she might vomit.  Then I heard the liquidy-fart sound and thought, Oh no.  We stayed in the hotel room the entire next day as she had her runs, slept, and cried.  We gave her water and Pedialyte, and for the first time in her life, she refused any food.  By the next day, she started to resemble the Sudanese kids that I worked with a few years ago.  Her eyes were wide and glassy with dark shadows underneath, her face was gaunt and pale, and her body lost all semblance to her former chubby self.

As I watched my poor little girl in misery, I asked myself, Why does this happen every time?  Well, I already know the answer.  Road trips mean being out of routine, familiar surroundings, our usual foods, etc.  On road trips I tend to be a bit lax about washing hands (ironically I used to organize hand-washing campaigns at the refugee camps in Thailand), keeping snacks at the right temperature, and de-germing in general.  The day before she got sick, we spent the whole day at the beach.  Not once did we wash our hands.  We ate snacks (yogurt and turkey wrap) that were stashed in an insulated lunchbox without an ice pack.  For dinner, we ate at an Italian restaurant where I shared my linguine del mar (shrimp & shellfish) with the kids.  Between all the sharing, sticking beach-sand hands in the mouth, and eating perishable (perished?!) food, it’s no wonder that some harmful bacteria found its way into my unsuspecting toddler’s gut.

Yep, diarrhea happens.  And while it’s a miserable process, I know that with a lot of water, Pedialyte, probiotics, and the BRAT (bananas, rice, apples, and toast) diet, this will pass within a few days.  We are blessed here in the U.S. to have a standard of living high enough that diarrhea is just a minor worry.  Sadly, this is not the case in developing countries, where diarrhea is one of the biggest killers of children under 5.  In parts of South Sudan where I worked, children suffered from diarrhea frequently due to poor hygiene and drinking from contaminated sources (swamps, the river where I once saw a dead cow floating, etc.).  Limited access to health care and low education increased the risk for the child, whom normally wasn’t given life-saving ORS (oral rehydration solution – water mixed with a bit of sugar and salt to replace the electrolytes lost).  In fact, the mother or caregiver oftentimes withholds all food and water, hoping that it will “dry up” the diarrhea.  Unfortunately, the child ends up dying of dehydration.

It’s tragic that so many children around the world die from diarrhea when it is preventable and treatable (if you are interested in learning more, I found a short and informative video on the subject at http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xg26pm_eliminating-child-diarrhea-in-developing-countries_people).  It really makes me appreciate the resources we have in this country that allow us to see diarrhea as a temporary nuisance rather than a real threat to our child’s life.

And for our next road trip, I’ll make sure to pack the antibacterial hand gel.