An extra set of hands

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By John Foster

Fifteen-month-old Chabrin Duvall whirls around his living room, showing off his toys, dancing to the music on TV, grabbing at his daddy’s face. 

With bright brown eyes and a glowing smile, he has every trait of a healthy, happy baby.

Across the county, the equally bright-eyed 10-month-old Phoenix Phelps crawls around, exploring everything within reach — scratching on the upholstery, playing peek-a-boo with a curtain, pulling himself onto his feet with the help of furniture. He plays contentedly on his own, periodically turning around to look at his mom.

Registered nurse Mary Lee Voegele is visiting the family on this day to distribute weekly parenting advice from the Oldham County Health Department’s Health Access Nurturing Development Services program.

“That’s a sign of good parenting,” nurse Mary Lee Voegele said. When children know they are loved, they are less clingy and more confident in exploring the world on their own, she said.

The two sets of parents have their differences. One woman became a mother at age 33, the other was 18.

But they have much more in common. They both are first-time parents — worried and excited about their child and unsure about how to be the best parent possible. That’s why they both enrolled in the HANDS program.

The program has helped everyone from a preteen to a woman with a Ph.D., but “they all have the same anxieties,” Voegele said. They all want to be good parents but don’t know the details of how to do it.

Voegele and other health department employees visit about 40 homes of first-time parents usually once a week. The parents enroll either while expecting or before their child is 3 months old. Health department employees distribute information about fun and fruitful activities for their child, ways to make homes safer or scientifically based discipline techniques.

Chabrin’s mother, Chasity Covington, said she always wanted to be a mother and knows the basics, but there are details about being a parent that don’t come naturally, she said, like the correct way to wipe Chabrin’s eyes.

“When you get your own, it’s totally different. You can’t drop them off,” she said.

The biggest help has been having someone to call, she said. When Chabrin is gagging or spitting out food, what can they do? Or when he’s crying for hours on end, what’s the solution? At times like that, they call Senior Family Support Worker Donna Lee Campbell who visits their home weekly.

“She’s part of the family,” Chabrin’s father, Brian, said.

For Phoenix Phelps’ mother, Leigh Graviss, becoming pregnant meant a sudden change in lifestyle. While her 18-year-old friends still went out every night, she couldn’t anymore.

“You become more mature, whether you like it or not,” she said. Her schedule doesn’t revolve around her anymore. She no longer has the luxury of putting herself first.

There are the times when she wants to scream just like anyone else, she said, but there are also the times when Phoenix is in a good mood — inquisitive, smiling, affectionate — or when he does something new for the first time.

She said she didn’t know much about being a parent and welcomed the help from the HANDS program. It’s especially good to have someone to talk to who understands babies, unlike most of her friends, she said.

“Every little thing that happens to him when he’s growing is so amazing. I just want to brag about it to someone,” she said.

Statistics about the program statewide show it’s had an effect. Families who participated in the program during pregnancy had fewer premature infants and fewer with developmental delays.

But it doesn’t end there. The vast majority of human brain development takes place in those first three years, she said. If parented well, babies will grow up able to control emotions, be confident and independent and able to follow rules.

Being that good parent can at times be frustrating, Duvall said, like when he has a migraine and Chabrin won’t stop wailing. Sometimes it’s frustrating but funny, like when Chabrin peed in his daddy’s face.

But then sometimes it’s pure joy.

“It’s pretty cool being a dad,” he said. “You get to see part of you growing up.”

He’d rather hang out at home and do nothing with his son than hang out on the corner like he used to, he said.

“I enjoy life better,” he said. “He’s straightened me out, for real.”

For information on enrolling in the program, call the Oldham County Health Department at 222-3516.


E-mail us about this story at: jfoster@oldhamera.com