Saturday, December 29, 2007

Random Acts of Cuteness

We spent a good chunk of today painting the room that's going to be the girls' bedroom. Two reasons: It really is time for Caroline to move out of the playpen in our bedroom and into a queen-size bed she can share with her sister. And, we're going to be hosting a child from Korea for two months, starting this Thursday, and he'll be sharing the room with Ian that Ian currently shares with Eliza.

I have my doubts about this sleeping arrangement, though, because last night Eliza wanted to sleep in her "new room" although it was far from finished, and guess who ended up crawling in with her and cuddling up on the (twin-size) mattress for the night? None other than her big brother, who, being human, clearly prefers not to sleep alone!

But anyway, maybe all the paint fumes are going to Caroline's head, because she was especially loopy today. Here are a couple of the more charming manifestations:

First, she discovered the Johnny Jump-Up I had out to give to a friend with an infant. Being the petite thang that she is, she falls under the 25 lb weight limit, even at age 2, so before long we had it hooked up and she was jumping like a maniac. Suddenly, I get the summons: "Mommy! I show you something really, really cool!" (Her really, really cool something was a round of vigorous bouncing accompanied by lusty singing. Now that's what I call truth in advertising!)

Then, while nursing before bed, she randomly pops off to inquire, "Mommy, do you like parking meters?"
Answer: snicker, snicker, not really, honey.

After stories and night-nights, she's down on her blanket on the floor, ready for sleep -- almost. First, she has to find a pencil and a scrap of paper and do some very earnest scribbling "my writing" for a few minutes. When she's done, what does she do? She tucks the pencil behind her ear, brings my attention to that fact, and lays her head down for sleep. She is, as I write, passed on on her blanket, paper inches from nose, pencil firmly behind ear.

Just in case, you know, inspiration should strike during the night.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


We just got home from spending last night and today with my in-laws, who just finished building a new and rawther large house about 40 minutes from us. We're all exhausted, and two girls are already asleep -- and not a minute too soon! About two hours too late, as a matter of fact -- I think all the excitement, and sugar, got to both of them.

OK, can I just rant for a minute here? If you're at all inclined to be shocked or aggrieved by mommy complaints, just skip to the bottom, okay? Or maybe just don't read today's entry.

We begin with the words found on a sign in my midwife's office: "All women. All hormonal. All the time."

I was naive. How else do I say this? Did I really used to think, in the years leading up to and including my pregnancy with my second child, that I wanted a daughter, because, and I think my brain may have used these exact words, a daughter would be "easier to raise?" I'm thinking I must have been entertaining a grand delusion of one endless tea party in fetching Laura Ashley mother-and-daughter ensembles, one lifelong fabric softener commercial my angelic, white-clad offspring and I skipping in blissful slow motion through our days. I guess I actually believed, cue the bitter laugh, that because I was a female MYSELF, I would know, instinctively, how to raise a miniature version of myself.

Somehow these visions did not quite include the reality that most of my days are spent dealing with often-ferocious outpourings of emotion and high degrees of sensitivity. This is somewhat true with Caroline, more so with Eliza. (Okay okay, and very true with me.) On a typical day, especially one on which any of our variables is off (we're short 30 minutes of sleep; we ate refined sugar; the moon is aligned with the planets just so, etc.), we may suffer from not being able to eat the mango we requested Mommy buy because it is suddenly "too hard to chew." Mango, folks! Not steak! We may not be able to wear the (cotton knit) dress Mommy suggests because "it itches me." We may not be able to walk from the table to the bathroom for a Kleenex because "the floor is TOO COLD." We may bump our head and sound the siren for at least five minutes, we may experience gross injustice at the hand of our big brother and fall to the floor weeping, we may be given the WRONG FLAVOR of toothpaste and therefore feel completely unable to brush, etc. etc.

Sigh. It's a good thing I married someone with a large capacity for handling other people's emotions (I guess I gave him lots of practice). Too bad he can't be here 24 hours a day, for those times when it's a coin toss whether I'm going to either completely shut down or run screaming from the house. Surviving those moments involves supernatural power, I tell you. They also make me feel increasingly compassionate toward my own mother. Maybe that's the whole point.

Monday, December 24, 2007

For auld lang syne, my friends ...

It gets me EVERY time.

I wasn't going to do my annual viewing of It's a Wonderful Life since I stayed up way too late last night, BUT, it ran earlier than expected tonight and I had a few things to do anyway, so ... there I was, sniveling my way once again through the final rousing chorus of Hark the Herald Angels and Auld Lang Syne. Do any towns get together and sing anymore? It beats the trained sopranos I've been hearing on the classical station wobble their way through the sacred carols ... after a while they all start to sound the same, and where's the gusto, you know?

I know this movie has its detractors, and there's a side of it that's pretty depressing, but being a sentimentalist through and through, I'll always love that happy ending.

There are pets, and then there are PETS

OK, how funny is this?

Just got the mail and, nestled among the delightful holiday cards and not-so-delightful junk mail, was a reminder card from the vet -- "time for Sara's annual avian checkup!" Why is this funny? Because Sara is one of our backyard chickens! We had this episode last winter during which one of our hens died of illness, and another (Sara) was discovered to also be ill, so we had to medicate her for a few weeks. I say "we" in the broadest sense of the word, because it was really Tim out there with the syringe twice a day (thus making our eggs NOT antibiotic-free for a period of time). But the funniest thing about the whole things was that as a result of the rushing of the first sick hen to the Animal ER, where she died on the examining table, we received, a week later, a -- wait for it -- SYMPATHY CARD from the vet! Offering us condolences on the loss of Chirp, our beloved companion, who will be missed. They did stop short of sending us flowers.

Let's just say that after that whole $300 episode, we learned our lesson, and poor Sara is just going to have to tough it out without her annual avian checkup this year.

OK, time to get these antsy kids out into the fresh air!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Trail of Lights, Trail of Puns

We took the kids, plus Oscar from next door, to see the 37th Street Trail of Lights tonight -- a Central Austin tradition. Honestly, it's really tacky, and not even that impressive (to me), but the kids were totally fired up about it -- and that was before we even left our street! They were shrieking all the way there every time we even passed a house with what one might call minor illuminations. I guess we don't get out that much at night, LOL!

In retrospect, I was kind of wishing we had made it a family-only event, because we ended up having that lovely dynamic where Ian and Oscar are wound up and as a result, not very kind to Eliza -- whereas had it been just us, I think Ian and Eliza would have just enjoyed being silly together, and as usual, thought whatever Caroline did or said was hilarious, so no one would have been left out in the proverbial (and literal) cold. We had to do a bit of follow-up after dropping Oscar off at home, and I even had to call him to task a couple times, which I hate to do with anyone else's kids, and that did put a bit of a damper on the high spirits we all felt when starting out on our adventure. But anyway. Another learning experience for all, and on balance a fun memory made, I think.

On a totally different note, what's up wi Putin being ? OK OK, I understand why Time chose him, I really do, and I understand it's not an endorsement, but still ... I was expecting Al Gore, who got the #2 spot. I read the whole article, which arrived today, and having lived in Russia for a month during a time of mass instability, I get why most Russians feel like he's been a very positive influence on their country, like maybe democracy and freedom weren't all they were cracked up to be and at least now they aren't standing in bread lines and what not. But I still find his leadership style, his personality, and even his vision to be, well, quite unsettling. Chilling, even.

And not the kind of chilling that Gore thinks we need. :-) Sorry, bad pun, although my brother says there's no such thing as bad puns. But still, looking at Putin and Gore, talk about polar opposites! OK, yeah, I know, I'll just stop right there.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Audiobook Rave

The kids and I just finished listening to Megan Follows, she of Anne of Green Gables movie fame, read aloud the unabridged version of The Incredible Journey. What a treat! We were all spellbound, often sitting in our driveway for a few minutes to finish a chapter. Even Caroline would clamor for "the young dog," as she called it, when we got in the car. Of course, I was a puddle at the end (I have become my mother), but the tears were worth it.

We're big fans of audiobooks in the car, and I highly recommend this one!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Back from Boston Again

Caroline and I are just back from a quick trip to Boston, where we were treated to a very New England winter tradition: the nor'easter. Think freezing rain falling on ten inches of snow. Since someone else was there to run the snowblower (yes, after all these years my parents have purchased a snowblower!), we mostly stayed inside the house and puttered around, visiting with my parents and the couple who is living there to help care for them, and then hanging out with my siblings and their various significant others when they arrived. The major event was my dad's appointments with his neurologist and occupational therapist, both at the same hospital on the same day -- you can imagine the doctor's surprise when Dad wheels in with 9 people in tow! Fortunately, someone stayed home to watch Caroline, so I was able to participate in all this. The moment of truth, as always, was when they tested his breathing capacity (called Forced Vital Capacity) and found that his numbers had held steady since the last visit, three months previously. Hurray! We also got to discuss with the doctor, and later that night with each other, some end-of-life issues related to ALS. Difficult, but important to do so that we all understand ahead of time what he wants.

On a selfish note, the trip came at a good time for me, since I had been feeling the need (one might even call it desperation) for some sort of break, and having only Caroline with me and others to help out meant that I wasn't being constantly pulled in all different directions, which is what basically overloads my circuit breakers. :-) In fact, I would venture to say that I got to be a bit lazy. My in-laws stepped up to the plate to help Tim, most gallant husband that he is, take care of the older two (while at the same time moving into the house they finally finished having built!), and it's amazing sometimes what a few days apart will do -- I could almost swear that Ian's maturity level jumped a notch or two while I was gone! Of course, life is back in full swing today, you just can't skip a beat, but I have to say that it was most gratifying to hear from my husband last night: "Boy, just keeping the house clean and picked up really takes half the day!" Now that's what I call a sense of perspective!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Santa Agnostic

Oh for a tape recorder I could plant in the next room ...

Oscar, my kids' friend from next door: Do you guys think Santa Claus is real?
Kids: (Some unintelligible answer I couldn't make out from around the corner)
Oscar: But think about it! How could an ADULT fly across the sky like that? And how could ONE GUY deliver all that stuff in one night?
Pause, while everyone absorbs this information.
Oscar: So we don't have proof that he does exist, but we don't have proof that he DOESN'T exist. But I have an idea to prove whether he exists!
Kids: What?
Oscar: He likes cookies and milk, right?
Kids: Yeah?
Oscar: So, we put out a plate with three cookies on it, and a full glass of milk. In the morning, we check and see -- if there are less than three cookies, and if any sips are gone from the glass, that will PROVE that he exists!
Kids, clearly wowed by this irrefutable logic: Yeah!

(P.S. As I was posting this, Caroline wandered up, streaming nose and all, pointed at the picture of me, and chirped, "There's Hannah!" I didn't even know she knew my first name!)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ship of Doom

There are days, and then there are days.

Yesterday was one of those days.

I can't even describe how things went wrong, except to say that I felt stuck in an accumulating cycle of negativity. OK, when I was in junior high, one day my entire seventh grade class went to an amusement park to celebrate the end of the year. My friends and I decided to ride on of those pirate ships -- you know those giant boats that rock back and forth on a pendulum-type thing, getting higher every time? So the first time, we were sitting in the middle of the boat, and it was fun, like a nice swinging back and forth, wind in our hair, isn't this fun, wheeee! That was when I made my big mistake. I agreed to ride again, and this time sit at one of the ends. OH MY GOSH. The trauma still remains. We were swinging SO high, and everyone around me was gasping and squealing in terror, but a DELIGHTED sort of terror, actually ENJOYING the sensation, when I was gaping down, convinced that at any moment I would plunge over the flimsy restraining bar and catapult to my dismemberment on the machinery below. I was screaming, "I WANT TO GET OFF!" every time we passed the ride operator, but he just watched with an idiotic grin, thinking, if indeed he was doing any thinking at all, that I was just one of the happy shriekers aboard the Pirate Ship of Doom.

So, that sort of describes my day yesterday. In fact, at times I feel that the Pirate Ship is an apt metaphor for my whole emotional life, but anyway. I felt so angry and resentful at one of my children's "bad attitude" (in contrast with my sweet and pleasant one, of course), not to mention chronic lack of enthusiasm for whatever I present by way of academic stimulation. There were conversations that should have gone better had I the fortitude to use some of my listening skills, but instead turned into zero-gravity nosedives. Example:
Me: We're going to do a craft on Thursday before Spanish with Rhynn [Eliza's friend] and her mom, and hopefully Kevin and Christopher too.
Ian: Rhynn is my enemy. Not only so, but she is my NEMESIS. [OK, the reason for this is that Rhynn is too much like him! She is very precocious, tends to dominate and spew facts regardless of audience interest level, and is eager to impress upon Ian her superior intellect and body of knowledge. Nevertheless, she is four and he is seven, so ...}
Me, somewhat patronizingly: Well, Ian, why do you say that?
Ian: Because she talks about how she's so big and smart.
Me: [feeling the weight of my duty as a parent to grind good social skills into my child and also to convict him of the malevolence in his heart, and also perhaps somewhat being influenced by the discussion with my neighbor you all read about that has somewhat exaggerated my paranoia about whether my child might grow up as a disgruntled sociopath, you know, sort of a Bill-Murray-in-Groundhog-Day sort of character]: Well, honey, YOU do that too! ... (blah blah blah blah blah). [And I KNOW how I'm sounding, but I can't stop myself!]

Then I catch him making a face, so I send him instantly to his room.
And we've only been interacting for, oh, ten minutes!

In hindsight, I was able to see that I could have defused the whole situation with humor: "You know, I think you secretly LIKE Rhynn. I think you'd send her a big bouquet of roses if you could." (In fact, I did do this later that afternoon, and I don't know if it was the "right" thing to do, but it sure changed the temperature of our interchange!) But, it was just a day pockmarked with a multitude of those incidents when I was in the grip of my negative emotions and we were just OFF, just not connecting, just frustrating each other. Eliza and Caroline were, fortunately, a bit more manageable, but still, I wondered whether JetBlue might have a direct-to-Tahiti flight that might be leaving that afternoon. Blue potato chips, all to myself. :-)

So one thing that came of it was a tearful discussion with Tim last night when we decided to take a little break from any kind of formal "schooling" for right now. I'm going to focus more on doing things with Eliza, who is always receptive and eager for a little sitdown with the letters or numbers, and on doing some hands-on stuff like arts and crafts (the holidays are a good excuse), and not even try to do a math lesson, as fun as I try to make them. I will read aloud, but attendance will not be compulsory. Hopefully with a little time and space to experiment, to truly let go of my expectations that are, at bottom, mostly to meet my own needs for a sense of achievement, to pray more, our direction will become more clear. The last thing I want is for our homeschooling style to be toxic to our parent/child relationship, and so here we go, feeling our way long, taking a break, keeping an open mind, trying to remember, and give thanks for, all the delightful qualities of my spirited children that I tend to lose sight when I'm looking down, down, down.

I have to laugh at myself a bit, because you know how they give out those Web Awards for Homeschooler Blogger of the Year or whatnot? Clearly, we're not in the running! Are those people EVER grumpy or unsure of themselves? Maybe those posts go in a password-only file and we, the public, don't get to see them. Instead, we think they just float companionably from one joyful learning experience to another. How about a Brutally Honest Homeschool Blogger Award? Now accepting nominations! Get in line behind me!

The prize: seats on that flight with an extra bag of blue potato chips.

Friday, December 7, 2007

OT Begins

So this week we finally started our twice-weekly, in-home occupational therapy sessions for Ian. I think I may have forgotten to blog about the eval we had before Thanksgiving. In short, the results were that he does not have a clearcut Sensory Integration disorder, but more that he has difficulty with motor planning, including something called crossing the midline. He was hypersensitive to smell (this jives with his refusal to eat fruit "because of the smell" -- but why o why does this sensitivity not extend to the majorly stinky feet that result from the sock-wearing aversion?!?) and to sound (she congratulated me for homeschooling as she felt that this would be disastrous for him in a classroom -- yea, a supportive medical professional!), but hypOsensitive to vestibular stimulation, which means he doesn't get dizzy easily, he craves exaggerated amounts of stimulation because he doesn't pick up on more subtle degrees, and that explains why he may, say, bump into someone or squeeze them, or the like, without it really registering in his brain what he is doing and how it's affecting the other person.

Interesting stuff, that. My friend and college roommate, Cara, is a pediatric O.T., and now I have a whole new level of respect for what she does. It's funny b/c she always used to say she wasn't creative, and I think she meant artistic, but it's clear to me that what she does for a living (and I am SURE she is very good at it) requires incredible creativity, patience, resourcefulness, etc. Especially because sometimes you're working with kids who aren't exactly full-on cooperative/

So now the therapist comes to our house twice a week and does stuff like having Ian spin himself around a bunch of times on this thingamabob she has, and then going and lying face down on an exercise ball while working on a puzzle on the floor (working on trunk strength and visual tracking at the same time). So far, he loves it. The girls are jealous. Maybe I am too! :-)

Oh, and totally off-topic, I discovered this, which could seriously become addictive if I had more time ...

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Mom is Born

On Friday, two of my dear friends, both coincidentally named Jessica but unknown to each other, gave birth to their babies. One had a daughter -- her firstborn. One had a son -- her fourth baby, and fourth son. Congratulations to both of them!

Then yesterday, a friend brought her six-week-old firstborn over to get a little help learning to use her sling. Her baby was, as mine were at that age, a bit on the fussy side, and it brought back so many memories. Whenever a friend of mine gives birth to their first baby, and especially when the transition is a bit rocky (is it ever otherwise?), it's like instant transport for me -- back to those early days of Ian's life as a human and my life as a mother. I can still remember where I was sitting on that first night home from the hospital when it hit me like a strollerload of bricks: my life had changed forever, this was now a 24-hour commitment, I couldn't just go to bed, kiss this baby goodnight, and say "see you in the morning, when I'm well-rested, honey!" And I couldn't send him back! Panic would be an appropriate descriptor for that moment.

But we got through it, I learned quickly to live, albeit more moodily, on two hour chunks of sleep, and as I fell in love with my baby it made those moments of complete helplessness, when nothing I could do seemed to make him that happy, easygoing baby other people seemed to tote around, less overwhelming and more just part of the package. And now here he is, seven years old, and I've done it twice more!

But every time I talk to a new mom and she says, semi-quaveringly, something along the lines of, "What am I supposed to DO with him?" or "I just didn't realize how much my life would change," I'm there again. Everything one could say, from "welcome to the club!" to "but it's so worth it" to "don't worry, it gets better" seems so cliché that the best I can do is trust her to learn those truths for herself and just say, "I know exactly what you mean."