Friday, August 27, 2010

'Busy' is the word of the week.....again!

So we all survived another busy week of school, work, etc, etc. For the first time since he started school Hamza is getting enough homework to keep him busy most afternoons. And Safa? Well she's really got her plate full. Tons of homework, preparing for the AHSGE (the Alabama high school graduation math exam), which they are required to take in ninth grade and of course she's delved into some extracurricular activities too. Math team twice a week, and debate twice a week after school. Debate she's passionate about, and she really believs that math team will help her with her day to day math syllabus. So I'll be picking her up at 4 on Tuesdays and 4:45 on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Yesterday trying to come home was a nightmare; we hit peak rush hour in Trussville and the traffic was terrible on the interstate. So from next week onwards I'll be using the back roads to bring her home.

As far as school work goes, on Wednesday Safa had her first near meltdown of the school year. When you're stressed out it just gets hard to think things through. She had some research to do on her science project and couldn't figure out where to start. But I helped her work it through, and things fell back into place. One thing she has learned for sure, today's assigned homework needs to be started today, because tomorrow there will be more! And she made another decision this week, she is dropping guitar lessons for now. Practising a new song every week or every other week was becoming stressful for her. When an activity like that ceases to be for enjoyment it probably is a good time to stop. I hope that she continues to play for enjoyment, so that she doesn't lose the skills she's learned in four years of lessons. All we can do is continue to encourage her.

And what is Bilal up to? Spending lots of time outdoors on his new playset. The fort on top stays shady most of the day, so I don't mind hanging out there with Bilal while he goes up the the slide, down the rock wall, up the ladder, down the slide, up the slide, down the ladder, and so on. He has to do everything in reverse!

And when it's too hot to be outdoors we make the most of it indoors.

Bilal is learning a lot these days; Vicki is doing letters with him, and he is starting to write some too. He loves to solve mazes out of his Kumon book, and they're quite challenging for a four year old, but he is learning to look and think ahead, which is an essential skill. I think that by next year he'll be really ready for kindergarten.

And if I put next week's agenda down in this post I'll be able to refer to it when necessary, so here goes:

Monday: Team and technology meeting at Hamza's school at 6pm
Tuesday: Safa stays till 4 for debate
Wednesday: I am headed to Tuscaloosa (1 hour drive away) for an all day conference on rural health. Vicki stays late with the kids
Thursday: Day two of rural health conference in Tuscaloosa (half day only). In the evening Zakir will take Bilal with him when he goes to the Open House at Safa's school. During that same time I will take Hamza to the first middle school football game where he will be performing in the symphonic band. Somebody clone me, or somebody shoot me! Aaargh, football!
Friday: We go to the mosque in Pelham where our friends are hosting dinner.
Saturday: Catch up day
Sunday: Sunday school in the morning, and back to the Pelham mosque where we are hosting dinner, along with a few other families.

This Saturday Zakir will be waiting tables at a charity fundraiser to cover expenses for uninsured patients at our hospital. I will probably take the kids to the mosque with me. Sunday, who knows?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Our journey with CHD

I think it's a great idea that Stefenie is hosting "Every heart has a story", over on her blog. I have decided to join in to be able to make connections with more members of this vast heart community I have been getting to know over the past couple of years.

Our story started a day after our third child, Bilal was born. We had been a family of four, for nearly eight years until he came into our life. One of those last decisions you make when you're about to turn thirty-five, and realize, if you don't choose to have your third child now, it might get too late. After a fairly uneventful pregnancy, except for an induction eight days before my due date for intrauterine growth retardation, (meaning he was so small that at 36 weeks he wasn't even measuring on the charts), and an easy labor, Bilal came into our lives at 11:19am on July 24, 2006. He was small for sure, weighing only 5 pounds and nine ounces, but loud and pink! Who would have thought that the news we were soon to receive would change our lives for ever?

The next day the neonatologist casually mentioned a murmur, but was not too concerned about it; so neither was I. On the day of our scheduled discharge her partner was rounding and came to talk to us. He informed us that he had asked the pediatric cardiologist to evaluate him, so we had to wait to be discharged. Hours passed by, until 5:30pm that evening when Dr. C walked into the room to talk to me. My husband, after spending hours waiting for discharge, had just gone home to drop our older two children off. So I was alone in the hospital room. Dr. C started to explain the anatomy of the heart, but I reassured him I was a doctor, and understood all that. I still didn't expect the bombshell that was to come next. He told me that Bilal had Tetralogy of Fallot. I couldn't believe it! Not my beautiful pink baby boy! My image of tet kids was 6 and 7 year old children, blue as a blueberry, and squatting, as in the old medical textbook photos. I just started fumbling for the phone, trying to get my husband on the line. I needed to be held by him and reassured, and he was still on the road.

We learned that Bilal was a pink tet, so he should do fine at home for months, as long as we had frequent follow ups with the PC. Large VSD, relatively mild pulmonary stenosis. Surgery was probably going to be at 4-6 months of age. So home we went, and I steadily watched him gain weigh as he nursed well. There were many, many sleepless nights, that had nothing to do with a newborn frequently waking up to eat. It had everything to do with the knowledge that I had a heart baby in the bassinet next to me, and I didn't know what to expect. We started noticing that he would breathe rapidly when nursing, and fall asleep often. His lips would often become dusky, although he continued to grow. In the weeks following we were at the PC's office every two weeks. The time frame for surgery went for 4-6 months to 4 months, then 3 months, then when he was 6 weeks old Dr. C decided it was time for The Repair within a couple of weeks. By then his growth rate had tapered off and he was taking Lasix for pulmonary congestion. So months before we had anticipated, Bilal went in for open heart surgery, at 8 weeks of age and weighing less than 9 pounds.

Handing over a child for heart surgery is probably the hardest thing I have ever done, but we survived, and I remember spending the morning praying and crying, and pumping. Praying and crying and pumping. Until surgery was over, and he was in the ICU. I barely left his side for a couple of hours for the days he was in the hospital. He remained on the vent overnight, mostly for pain control, and needed to be transfused twice. But within 36 hours of the first incision he was alert, and nursing actively. Two days in the CVICU, one day on the step down floor, and we were home! So surgery on Monday morning, home by Thursday. Amazing!

The first two weeks at home were not easy; Bilal could not tolerate ibuprofen because of vomiting and reflux, so Tylenol was all he could get. The reflux induced hiccups were horrible! But gradually, things improved, and life started falling back into place.

Less than three months after open heart surgery

All his follow up appointments have been encouraging. A residual VSD has closed on its own. He continues to have pulmonary insufficiency, and we have been told that valve replacement though not inevitable, is probable in the future. He has been cleared for 18-24 month appointments, evidence of how well he actually is doing. And now, we are enjoying Bilal with all his energy, and feistiness. He is a true blessing.

I did not personally know a single family affected by congenital heart defects when Bilal was born. It was a scary, lonely journey in the beginning. But now I know he is 1 in 100. That's very common. And I am proud to know so many heart warriors and their families, thanks to my blog, facebook, and a small local heart community. I feel like they are my extended family now. Click on the link below if you would also like to make connections with this amazing heart community. You will read some heroic stories, I promise you ♥

Every Heart Has a Story

Saturday, August 21, 2010

We're still here

I don't often go this many days between posting on the blog; so just wanted everyone to know we're still alive and kicking. It's been an eventful week in many ways. Not to get into much detail right now, but everyone has been adjusting to the 'new' in our lives. Safa is getting tons of homework. I think she's managing to handle it all pretty well, and has not been procrastinating with her work, so that's a good thing. Apparently a couple of students from the JCIB freshman class have already dropped out. And that's only 10 days into the start of the school year. Hamza is busy with school too, and has already had a couple of tests last week. He claims they went well; we'll know by next week. The first football game that he has to perform at is on September 2nd, which also happens to be the day of Safa's school's Open House. Which means we will have to split up. Zakir will probably do the Open House and I will go to the football game. I admit I have never watched more than five minuted of a football game in my life. But I don't want to miss Hamza's first band performance of the year. And one of us will take Bilal with us, we haven't decided who. there are four home games that he has to perform at, so I think we can survive until the middle of October, then it will all be behind us!

I am on call this weekend. Not to jinx myself, but it's been pretty uneventful and quiet so far. As long as I can make it like this until Monday morning, it will be great. Last night my cell rang at 1:09am. Fortunately it was right next to my bed. I figured it was the hospital, but as soon as I answered with a "hello?", a lady on the other side said, "Sorry, I dialed the wrong number". Hmph! I wanted to tell her that she should look at the clock before she dialed some random number, but she had hung up by then. When I got up to make breakfast at 4am I was tempted to *67 and dial her number back, just to disturb her too, but then I figured it's Ramadan, let's just forgive. Getting up early to eat and pray has been taking time out of sleep, of course, but I think of all the blessings we can reap this month for fasting and praying, then it doesn't seem that hard any more. Although staying without food or drink for fifteen hours would be a lot easier if the temperature wasn't rising to 95+ every day. It would be nice to get a reprieve from the heat. We are more than 1/3 of the way through the month of Ramadan, with 11 days behind us, and only 19 more to go.

Darn, I haven't had the camera out lately either, really slacking off! So no new pics to share today. But I will make an extra effort to post some pics soon!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

And the saga continues.......

....... Except this time it doesn't involve a certain three legged dog named Molly. In fact, the animal of concern right now is one of our own, none other than Atlas the ginormous puppy. Last night we had one of the worst storms we've had in a while. After every flash of lightning there was an instant boom of thunder. Ordinarily Atlas would go into his crate and do fine; he's been pretty much desensitized from the noise of thunder. But because it was so close, Zakir decided to bring him in to the garage. Plus he's not been using his crate as much since we had to relocate it, but that's a whole 'nother story I might get into in a bit.

As he opened the back yard gate, Atlas shoved his way through and bolted down the driveway, instead of into the open garage. He stopped briefly to glance behind when Zakir called him, but then kept on running. So Zakir took out the car and went hunting for him, figuring he couldn't have gone far. No luck. So he came back, and went out again half an hour later when the storm had passed through. Still no Atlas. So he finally gave up for the night and figured maybe he'd find his way home, or someone would see him and call out vet in the morning. Since unlike Molly, Atlas actually has a rabies tag on his collar, with our vet's phone number on it. After waking for early breakfast since it's Ramadan, Zakir went for a walk to try and find the puppy, but found no sign of him, so came back. Then he got ready and went to work.

Fast forward to 7:08am this morning. The phone rings. I answer it, not with a "Hello?", but "Do you have our dog?!" The response from a very kind sounding lady on the other side was initially a laugh, then, "Yes we do". After a million thank yous I got her address and went to bring Atlas home. He had managed to end up in a neighborhood that is pretty far away from ours, possibly cutting through many a back yard. Now Atlas is a strong dog, and this lady told me how he pulled down her 6 feet 2 inch husband when he tried to get his leash that had still been attached to his collar. Apparently some time overnight he manged to get himself wrapped around the wheel of a truck, and couldn't have left it he tried to. Poor pup must have had quite a traumatic night! Well, so did we.

So I loaded him up into the minivan and brought him home. Atlas doesn't mind me the way he does Zakir (and evidently that's not very much either, otherwise he wouldn't have ran off in the wrong direction in the first place!), so I had to coax him into the back yard. Before I manged to get him in all the way he jerked his leash and ran on to the driveway, with part of the leash caught around my right leg. With the sheer force of his tug I lost balance (it tends to happen when your right foot is flying through the air) and landed on my back, with most of my weight on my right wrist. Luckily the leash unwrapped itself from my leg, so it didn't snap my ankle or tibia, but I can just imagine what might have happened if it hadn't. I managed to get myself up, insure I didn't have a broken wrist and proceeded to bring a still reluctant Atlas back in to the yard. Then I tied him up to the tree.

Sadly we have been having to keep Atlas tied a lot of the time because his puppy tendencies to chew have afflicted Bilal's new wooden playset. No amount of repellent will keep him away from it. But he's on a long leash and we make sure he has multiple supervised free roaming opportunities throughout the day. Today I had to tie him further away because he still managed to reach and gnaw on the play set. So he was unhappy; one of those rare moments that you actually hear him make any noise. It was pitiful, sounded like he was crying. He did this off and on a lot of the day, despite the fact that we were outside with him a lot. It breaks your heart to hear it. Then there was another intense rain shower this evening with a little bit of thunder and I went outside to put his food in his crate so it wouldn't get wet. Picky pup likes it dry and crunchy. While I was outside he again manged to tangle himself up and by the time I got him untangled I was drenched and mucky; had to come in a take a shower.

So much as I covet our Tuesdays, this was not a good one. Bilal and I did manage to get out to the library and run a few other errands, but it was quite a stressful day overall. And now the soreness has set in. I feel like I've been in a fight, have bruises and muscle spasms in places I barely realized existed. I'm sure a couple of Tylenol later I'll be fine, but right now I feel rather crummy.

Tomorrow we hope is the start of a better era. We have decided that Atlas needs some serious behavior modification. So we are hiring a dog trainer. If we could break his habit of chewing on all our valuables, we could put his crate back where he likes it (so he would stay in it during storms), he wouldn't have to spend most of the day tied up (or tangled up) and we could all live in peace and harmony. Let's see how if this guy can actually work some magic. I have often said I'm not a dog person, and Atlas has been so much trouble since we got him, but I really don't want to have to give him away. He's just another four legged member of the family now. And inside that oversized puppy body of his, I know there is a really good heart.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

And she's back!

Yesterday I wrote about how we spent half the day trying to locate the owners of a lost dog, and eventually succeeded. Apparently she is afraid of thunder and must have bolted when she heard a storm coming through, which led her to our house. Now we know her name is Molly, and as the crow flies she doesn't live far, but if we were to drive the distance would be significantly longer.

Well today Hamza walked in to the garage to pull out the lawn mover, and guess what? There, on the driveway, next to Zakir's car, was Molly, the three legged dog.

Now I can believe that she got lost yesterday and that's how she ended up at our place. But today?! There wasn't even the faintest sound of thunder. And the way she walks, it may have taken her an hour to get here! Evidently she knew her destination. Noooooo! We do not need another dog, and she has a rightful owner! So I took the kids, and hooked Molly's collar to Atlas' leash and off we went to return her, yet again. But as yesterday, she kept stopping at the side of the road, and refused to get up. A friendly neighbor brought out a bowl of water, which she slurped down, and walked another 3 or 4 steps. Evidently this wasn't working. So Safa and Hamza ran ahead to ask the owners to bring their car around and retrieve their dog. They came back with the daughter of the owner and no car (her father was out, no car at home). The dog seemed genuinely happy to see her, so we exchanged leashes, and headed back home. I have no idea how she's going to be able to persuade the dog to walk the 150 or so yards back home, but I'm sure she'll figure it out. And just in case, just in case, we got the owners' telephone number. Not that we expect her to come back or anything!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Weekend news

This morning started off quite eventful. Zakir took Atlas out for a walk and returned to find another dog on our deck, one with a collar but no tag. We know she didn't belong in our neighborhood; she would have been pretty hard to miss. A chestnut colored dog, about the size of a retriever, but quite chunky, and missing her right front leg. We know of only one three-legged dog around, so he drove her around to a house by the library. But their three legged chestnut colored female dog was at home, not the one that ended up on our door step. So he brought her back home and started making some phone calls. He tried several vets, but no-one had reported a dog of that description missing. He actually drove her to our vet's, to see if the collar suggested that she might have a chip implanted. Nope. I called the shelter, no reports there either. So Zakir went to work, and we decided we'd have to drop her off at the shelter and hope that her owners tracked her down.

Meanwhile Safa texted some friends, and got a lead. One of her friends who lives a couple of doors down thought she might live in the neighborhood just behind ours. So, armed with umbrellas, the kids took the dog for a walk in the pouring rain. Couldn't get far though, she would only walk a few steps and then sit down, totally short of breath. Evidently this is was dog that never got her daily walk. So Zakir came back, they loaded her up into the car and started randomly ringing doorbells. Just as they were about to give up, they found the right house! The owners were obviously excited to see Molly back home, and Zakir didn't pass up on the opportunity to lecture them about the need to have a tag on her collar. I don't know if many people would have gone to such lengths to locate a missing dog's home.

The rest of the day was comparatively tame; we mostly stayed indoors listening to the rain bring the temperature down from a high of about 103 yesterday to a very pleasant 88 today. It was 79 degrees by sunset today, instead of the 90 we have got used to experiencing.

We took the kids out for ice cream after dinner. Bilal wanted to go to Dippin Dots, but he was outnumbered, so we ended up going to Coldstone Creamery instead. Yum! And later in the evening while Bilal was drinking his milk he asked a very astute question, "Mama, what are the ingredients that make milk?" The resulting conversation was a discussion that involved cows, collecting milk and a simple explanation of pasteurization. The funny thing is, he'll probably be able to explain it to me tomorrow. Yesterday's question of the day was "Where do thunder and lightning come from?" Safa tried to explain it to him, but I think some of the terms she used, such as 'static electricity' were a bit tricky for him. I like the fact that a lot of thought seems to go into the questions Bilal asks. No more, "What's that?", or other simple little queries. The questions are getting more and more complex, as are the answers.

Last Friday MINI of Birmingham hosted their very first Friday Night Flick, with a drive in screening of The Italian Job. They also had a hula hoop contest and a raffle. Here are a couple of pictures from the night:

And Safa won the hula hoop contest.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A little tweak

I'm always looking for useful gadgets to add to the blog to keep it interesting. I'm pretty much satisfied with the 3-column layout I have (now that it's actually working correctly) The latest thing I have added is a nifty little facebook 'share' gadget that I found online. After all, life according to my blog and facebook are pretty much integrated. So if you ever see a post on this blog and have the urge to share on facebook, you can just click the little blue button next to the 'comments' link at the bottom of each post. As represented by the big orange arrow, pointing right to it.

Cool, eh?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

School's in

The kids go back to school today after a long, hot, summer break. It's still hot, and it's still summer, but now they will have something to keep them occupied. I took Hamza to school yesterday to meet his seventh grade teachers, and drop off some school supplies. He is genuinely excited about going back to school. Safa, on the other hand is not totally thrilled. I think she's still a bit nervous about starting a new school, and then she just loves being at home, maintaining a dent in my sofa. It will be a change for sure; this year's math and science freshman year at ASFA has 14 students, and the freshman class at JCIB is 115 (of course that's all specialties). The graduating class size at IB is usually closer to 70-80 students, so evidently several students drop out of the program over the course of the 4 years. Tough program, but good college prep.

Bilal won't be going to preschool this year, he will stay at home with Vicki when I'm working, and he'll hopefully start kindergarten next fall. We have started doing little workbooks with him, and he recognizes most of his letters and numbers; can write all the letters of his name (although not always in the right order), so I think he'll get enough exposure to the basics without formal preschool.

We have been fortunate to find someone to car pool with, so Safa will be riding with another student in the morning and I will be bringing them back in the afternoon. I hope that works out; it did last year! I wonder what the car pick-up lane will be like in such a big school?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Is this a Southern thing?

We've lived in Alabama for the past eleven years, and have encountered all sorts, so not much surprises us anymore. But this sight today made us slow down and whip out the camera. You know, for posterity;

At first blush it was just another white Toyota Tundra pick-up truck. Of course, a very popular vehicle, so nothing surprising about that.

But what was it towing? Hm..............................

Supper, anyone?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ready to play!

So what's all the excitement about?

We finally had Bilal's birthday present delivered and set up today. So now in the back yard, instead of an old, broken down swing set, we have a brand play set, equipped with two swings,

a slide,

a rock wall,

and of course, a fireman's pole!

There's a nice shady play house/tower at the top too:

It's 93 degrees outside today, with a heat index of 103, which feels positively balmy compared to yesterday's 101, with a heat index of 114. And it's quite shady where the play set has been erected, so we have been out a lot even in the afternoon today.

Atlas gets a tad too excited when the kids are outside playing, and keeps trying to climb up the rock wall. So we have to tie him up for a little while and he just observes everything from the shade of the tree. Maybe when he gets used to it he'll settle down a bit.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Looking down

I hope everyone hasn't got tired of our vacation photographs, because there's still more to share. We took a ride up the ultra fast elevator of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), to get a good view of the Chicago skyline from the Skydeck. It was a bit hazy that day, but still, the view was spectacular.

And how does it feel to be standing on a glass ledge, looking down 103 stories to the ground below?

Quite impressive, and a bit dizzying!

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