Monthly Archives: May 2008

And We’re Back on Top, Folks

One day life is all sunshine and rainbows, and the next it’s completely exhausting.  But today?  Today we’re back on top.  Such is life on this old Wonderwheel.  Thank goodness it keeps moving, that’s all I can say.

I presented the first job offer of my career today to the fantabulous graduate intern I’ve been supervising this quarter from Northwestern. I was not intending to hire an SLP for the coming year, but when someone so amazing walks in your door, you just have to do what’s required to keep her.   When I met her, she was intending to move to San Francisco when she graduated, but she fell in love with our wonderful clinic and has accepted the offer.  I cannot tell you how happy I am today!  To give you an idea of how well-loved she is, some of the families have put together their own sign-on bonus to keep her in Chicago…they’ve offered White Sox tickets, movie tickets, art for her walls, cupcakes…and on and on.  She’s going to get a lot of really awesome goodies when she signs her contract!   I’ve never heard of such a thing, but it speaks highly of both our families and this SLP.  I might just be the wackiest boss anyone’s ever had, but I’m looking forward to it.  And hey, parents out there, I’ll be preparing another speech pathologist to serve you well.  I’ll have to make blog-reading a job requirement, don’t you think?

Additionally, the iPhone Matt took for a dip in Lake Michigan on Monday became usable tonight!  He pointed a strong fan at it 24 hours a day for five days, and it appears to have dried out enough to be fully functioning.  Which tells me that this wondrous piece of technology is as sturdy as it is cool, and that’s really saying something.

What an exciting way to head into a weekend.  I hope you have a great one.

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What No One Tells You

Today started out much like any other – getting Baxter ready and out the door for school, preparing Lyle for his preschool drop-off, and Matt ducking into the office for a 7:30am conference call.  I threw on my swimsuit under my clothes so that I could go for a swim at the gym after I dropped Lyle off.

And then it all fell to pieces.

Specifically, Lyle fell to pieces.  On the floor, crying, “I don’t want to go to school! I’m not going to school!”  Did I say crying?  I meant sobbingWailing.  Lyle loves school and always cheers when he hears that it’s a school day, so I was shocked, to say the least.  I asked what he was upset about and he cried, “Singing the Good-bye Song!”

Ah.

Of course.  Today was the last day of regular classes, with nothing more than an ice cream party and little music performance next Tuesday.   He doesn’t want school to end.  He’s nervous about a new class and new teachers next year.  Fear of the unknown.

And he was mad.  Mad that I wasn’t going to let him simply avoid something that made him very, very sad.  I held him for a long time and we talked about how hard it is to say good-bye to people but that it’s important to do so before moving on.  I asked him to draw me a picture of his feelings and he carefully filled a page with teardrops in many different colors.  On the back, I started a list with him of great things we will be able to go together this summer when he’s on school vacation.  This combination of things seemed to help, and after about half an hour he finally agreed to go to school with me for just one minute and then we’d leave.  (I told him that we needed to go tell the teachers that we couldn’t stay today, and upped the ante by saying this would be required if he was going to attend next week’s party.) I was fairly certain that once he spent his negotiated 60 seconds in preschool, he’d want to stay longer, but it was clear that I would be staying, too. Suddenly I wished I wasn’t wearing that Speedo, but off we went.

When we arrived at his school, the class was walking across the street to the playground.  Lots of small voices called out, “Look!  It’s Lyle!  He’s here!” and this made him smile broadly.  I was still shaken from the morning’s emotional onslaught but happy to be pushing him and his friends on the swings.

Within minutes, the other adults went into sudden emergency mode.  A child had tripped, hitting his head very hard on the climbing structure, just above his eye.  He was in bad, bad shape.  The staff called 911 immediately and one teacher and a parent assistant ran the child indoors.  I did not see the hurt child from where I was at the swings, but another parent’s description was beyond gruesome.   We watched some firefighters and then an ambulance attend to the child, wait a few minutes for his mother to arrive, and leave for the hospital.  I then spent the next two hours volunteering with the class – in part because I knew Lyle needed my support and in part because one of the teachers had gone with the child and his mother in the ambulance and I didn’t think this was a good day to leave the group short-staffed.   I worked with the kids on answering their questions and quelling some of their fears about their classmate.  The hurt child’s twin brother was still in the group, too, and was, understandably, very scared and confused.

This morning felt like an endless three hours of holding myself together.  I caught myself thinking, as we drove away from the school, that this is the stuff no one prepares you for when you become a parent.  No one tells you that one minute your day is going along just like any other and the next you are talking your sad child down from the tree of emotional avoidance and then helping to hold a group of kids together after an emergency, very worried about someone else’s little boy and looking with wonder at your own child, unharmed.

I’m told that the child will be okay.  It sounded like he was getting a lot of stitches, but I didn’t hear of any damage to his eye, thank goodness.

And now I just want a nap.  Has anyone seen my nap?

Notes and Such

Please excuse this half-assed list format update on life at Chez Wonderwheel, but it’s all I’ve got in me tonight:

1.  My grandfather is doing much, much better!  He’s moved from the hospital to rehab, is eating and walking around with a cane, and ought to be home in a couple weeks.  All out-of-state family members have gone back home now, some after a harrowing 3-week stay.  Although his health will continue to be vulnerable, my awesome Papa has bounced back in a way that, frankly, didn’t seem possible when I was there.

2.  Speaking of bouncing back, Matt’s iPhone – you know, the one he took for a swim in Lake Michigan over the weekend – showed some signs of life today.  Mainly cries for help, but life nonetheless.  There is hope.

3.  I had the distinct pleasure of spending an hour in Baxter’s classroom today, where the kids took turns reading their Young Authors stories and complimenting each other on them.  His was called “Super Heroes” and was a great, imaginative story.  He was so pleased to have me there, and proud of his accomplishment.  Rightfully so!

 

4.  I made time today to take myself out for a pedicure.  While I was picking out one of my usual deep red shades of OPI polish, my eyes continued to roam to the orange one.  Orange?  Orange??  Sitting down with both, I had to admit to myself that I wanted to try orange.  Maybe it’s the summery weather we had over the weekend, or possibly the signs of life everywhere from my grandfather to Matt’s iPhone to the robins in our yard.  Whatever the reason, I went with this fun, bright orange and I’m loving it.  It might’ve been 50 degrees here this morning, but I was wearing summer.   I must’ve gotten five compliments in the first two hours!

 

That is all.

Milestone: Bike-riding!

What a weekend!  Amidst the usual church-and-soccer type of weekend fun we went to a great barbeque, a birthday party with lots of friends, and I got to have a lunch and garden center date with my friend Cara.  And somehow, in addition to all that, we got loads of active time together.  We took the boys swimming at my gym late on Saturday afternoon and there was lots of biking and scooter-riding today.

In fact, it was a big day around here:  Baxter learned to ride his two-wheeler without the training wheels!  He’s been trying for a while but it was somewhat slow going and was also breaking Matt’s back, so we finally took those pedals off and did it the newfangled way.  A co-worker in San Francisco had told Matt about using this method with his kids, and then I saw this video demonstrating how it works on Kyra’s blog, This Mom.

Folks, IT WORKS.

Baxter spent about ten minutes riding his bike on a grassy slope without the pedals (and with his seat lowered so that his feet could easily reach the ground to stop) before he announced that he was ready to put them back on.  In that ten minutes he got a handle on the coordination required to steer, balance, and stop.   Adding the pedals was a minor challenge after that, and he took off.  We all went back out this afternoon and he was able to ride on the concrete bike path by our beach, making slight turns and not hitting the joggers.  Wow.  Don’t get me wrong: he landed on Lyle once and has a nice collection of bruises and scrapes on his legs, but most of the time he landed quite gracefully on two feet, and got up smiling every time.

Now I’m wondering how soon we can do this with Lyle!  (Who proved to have a good deal of coordination this weekend himself as he confidently moved around the pool yesterday and then learned to ride Baxter’s scooter in all of 10 seconds this afternoon.  Excellent!)

Our video camera was in dire need of charging so I did not get any video clips of our bike rider (happily, Kyra got some footage of Fluffy!).  However, Matt has a wonderful series of photos on Flickr (called “Look, Ma – No Pedals!”) that he took with his iPhone today as Baxter was learning – you can see them here (move your mouse over the photos for Matt’s notes).

Now please join us in hoping that it’s not the last series of photos taken on this particular iPhone…Matt jumped into Lake Michigan tonight to retrieve a $2 foam football – with his iPhone in his shorts pocket.  It has yet to be revived.  Ouch.

Weekend in Pictures

Matt and I took a lot of photos this weekend.  I think it was the combination of sunny skies and fun outings that inspired us.

Here are a few of my favorites – these were all taken very close to our house – and the full set is here. (Matt gets credit for the photo of our new geraniums, although I get credit for buying them!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organizational Review

As I mentioned on Friday night, I am beyond excited for summer vacation to begin.  I am organizing again, which I suppose is a signal that I’m preparing the house and my schedule for the big upcoming change.  I don’t want to spend the first half of the summer cleaning up the mess left behind by this school year, so I’m getting that done now.

I wrote a post over Labor Day weekend last fall about some organizational strategies we were putting into place around here in order to manage the chaos of the school year better.  Memorial Day weekend seems to be a good time to let you know what worked and what fell by the wayside this year.

1. The meal plan. We kept this up for a good 6-8 weeks.  To be fair, we remembered to do it once in a while, here and there, throughout the school year.  Without a doubt, writing down a list of dinners at the beginning of the week makes all the difference in the world for us – we can come home from work and the right ingredients are in the house, defrosted when necessary, and ready to be cajoled into a quick meal.  Unfortunately, we have not made time to do this consistently, but we both agree that it’s worth doing and I’m sure we’ll get back into it at some point.  Probably right around Labor Day, if I have to guess…

2.  Google Calendar.  It is safe to say that this has been the greatest break-through for us in terms of staying on top of things.  I love Google Calendar.  This works a million times better than trying to maintain a central kitchen calendar because, well, neither of us is home much during the week but our laptops and iPhones are never far away.  (Also, I can record an event that is coming up a year from now if I want to, rather than waiting for next year’s calendar to arrive before adding all those little future notes.)  With an online calendar, I can read an email letting me know about a meeting that will require me to work late, something going on over the weekend, or receive an Evite, and just open the Calendar on my desktop and add it immediately.  And with Matt doing the same, we keep things coordinated really well.  We always have 2 months printed out on the fridge for quick reference when we’re home.  This system has worked wonders for us!

3) The Accountant.  I fired that accountant just as soon as it became clear that she was either dumb as a rock or purposely dawdling over my accounts to beef up her paycheck.  I never did figure out which one it was, but it didn’t matter.  Out she went.  However, I did keep up well with the condo treasury using QuickBooks and have gotten my neighbors in the habit of paying their assessment fees on time, so that’s gotten a lot easier.  And I just last week hired a new, very professional accountant who I am thrilled to be working with for my practice.  Hooray!  (I find the fact that I have a lot of financial work as part of my life quite hilarious – and a little bit scary.)

4. The notebook.  I have liked my Circa notebook, for sure.   It was especially useful at the beginning of the academic year when everything was getting ramped up at once and I wanted a way to organize my notes and to do lists.  But I can’t say that I’ve found a sure fire way to deal with my to do list yet.  That worked for a while, then I switched to using Stickies on my MacBook desktop for my most pressing to do lists (one for personal, one for professional), and at times I’ve also toyed with the To Do List feature in the Apple Mail program.  That’s kind of handy, too, since I’m in Mail so often.  I’m not sure if the problem is actually the strategies I’ve tried or simply that I don’t like having to deal with my to do list.  I think I know the answer to that.

5. The Container Store booty.  All of the stuff I linked to last fall was great.  The file folders are so colorful and fun and those file boxes were very helpful in keeping my paperwork for church and the condo association organized.  Very.

6. The gym.  I’m not sure that this belonged in my organizational list last fall, except for the fact that taking care of myself is critical in having the energy to do all of this.  My gym has been great, and although I haven’t gone as often as I’d have liked to, I have been able to go regularly.  Right now I’m into biking over there for my early morning work-outs, which means I’ve enjoyed both a bike ride and a cardio/weights work out when I get home at 6:50 AM.  I know.  Loco.  But good.

Have you tried anything new this year that’s been helpful for you or  your family?  Do tell.

13.5 Days and Counting

It would be hard for me to adequately describe how very much I am looking forward to summer at this moment.

It’s not just the summer weather, although the hours we will spend on our neighborhood beach and playground playing in the sand and in Lake Michigan are extraordinarily enjoyable.

It’s also not the Evanston Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, despite the fact that we always see friends and neighbors there and get to hang out listening to live music with other families while husbands and wives take turns shopping and bringing back baked goods to tide the kids over…and then have the pleasure of going home with huge bags full of really fantastic food.

It’s not even all the vacation time we’re taking this summer, no matter how excited I am to go back to the rental house in Michigan with Matt’s family and then to spend two weeks in California with my family.

No, really, it’s the end of school.

It’s not having to leave the house early in the morning to drive the carpool even though I don’t have to be at the clinic until some later hour.  It’s allowing Lyle to nap every day, because we never have to leave at 2:00 to get his big brother from school.  It’s having two kids in the same place at the same time almost all the time for weeks on end, and not trying to coordinate who is where at what time and being picked up by whom when.  (Just typing that wore me out.)

And it’s less paperwork.  I just spent three hours sorting and organizing paper.  Oh, the paper!  It’s never-ending.  The field trip permission slips, birthday invitations, and walk-a-thon pledge forms.  The piles of Pokemon drawings and 3-year old writing, and the stack of corrected schoolwork that came home today.  Reminders about book swaps and multicultural assemblies and pages that need to be made for the teacher’s thank you book.  The good-bye gift for the student teacher and the donation being collected to give her a present from the parents.  The notes about all of the deposits due for summer camps, swim lessons, and next year’s nursery school.  The bills.  The magazines and catalogs. The condo association bills and notices. The Google calendar pages printed out and posted on the fridge – on top of the soccer game schedule print-out – that could make you dizzy if you looked at them too long.  The pledge statements from church and the checks that must be written now or never shall be.

The paperwork is the bane of my existence.  I get a headache just thinking about it.  If we aren’t focused on it for a couple of days it takes over the entirety of both our kitchen counter and my desk.  Imagine what happens when we’re not focused on it for a couple of weeks?

But even this slows down in the summer.  I’m ready for this.  All of it.

Boy, am I ready.

Get it in Writing

Lyle was an emotional wreck this morning.  I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s probably some combination of fatigue, allergies, Daddy leaving on a business trip, and end of the year changes.  Although he fell apart about a great many things today, the one that we really got stuck on was about Blues Clues.

Lyle went digging through our video collection and presented me with an old videotape of Blues Clues.  “I want to watch this while you dry your hair,” he decided.  I sat down with him and explained that drying my hair would only take five minutes and then we’d be ready to go to school.  That he would be very upset if he had to turn off Blues Clues after only five minutes. And that we could watch it after lunch today, during quiet time.  But the wailing, sobbing, and copious amounts of drama were not going to stop.  This response is very unusual for him these days and I could see that he needed something more;  none of my usual strategies were working.

So.  We went into my office and got out a yellow legal pad.  I told him this was “work paper” and that it’s what I use for writing Very Important Things.  He started to dry his eyes and relax a bit.  I took a Very Special Work Pen out of my Amazing Work Bag and wrote:

Lyle will get to watch Blues Clues as soon as he is finished with lunch today.

Signed, Mommy

I handed the paper to him and said somberly, “This is my promise.  You can hold onto the promise all the way to school and keep it in your cubby.  Anytime you think about Blues Clues and feel sad this morning, you can go look at it and remember my promise.”  And he did.  There was not another word of complaint.  I dried my hair, and off we went to school.  It stayed in his classroom, tucked carefully into the little cubby hole that bears his name and photo.

I talk a lot with parents about the importance of the written word. Last year, I wrote a piece here about using writing and drawing to explain social situations, and coincidentally Susan Etlinger has written a fantastic post today about her very successful use of a social story to help her son, Isaac.

When you’re feeling really, really stuck in one of those truly difficult parenting moments, stop and ask yourself if there’s a way to improve on things with a piece of paper and a pen.  Make the solution tangible.  I’ve been amazed professionally and personally how often it works.  The written word is pure gold to kids.

Guess I Forgot the Fried Chicken

There are moments when I feel as if I am raising my children in a foreign country.

We are fortunate enough to live in a large, diverse city where it is quite easy to find like-minded parents as long as one knows where to look:  the literature and writing magnet elementary school, the cooperative preschool on the far north side, fellow Macalester College alums, and the local Unitarian Universalist church are fine examples.

And yet of course, the “real world” is all around us, at all times.  There is nothing bad about this, in fact we value it pretty highly.  If everyone around us shared all of our values and our parenting style, I’d be unhappy.  After all, a large U.S. city can only handle so many candlelit dinners and family nights without television before falling apart at the seams.  We’re the freaking Whos down in Whoville, except taller and with more hair. Really, can you picture them all holding hands in a circle and singing on Christmas morning?  Yeah.

There are times, though, when my kids are exposed to something that really makes me aware of our differences in a more “Boy, we are awkward, aren’t we?” kind of way.  The cold January night when I attempted to expose Baxter to the Superbowl, for example.  That didn’t go so well, as you might remember.  And how about the time I took the boys to a McDonald’s drive-thru for the first time, just last summer?  That was also well-executed.  (Snort.)

Sometimes we’ve made the choice to open the door to certain aspects of mainstream culture we’d rather do without because the time seemed right – Pokemon books and cards when they became all the rage in first grade?  Fine.  The introduction to McDonald’s last year?  Sure, okay, but it’s only for rare occasions.  Until that day, Baxter used to point to a McDonald’s PlayLand and say, “Hey, look at that cool playground over there!” causing us to stare with wide-eyed disbelief, eyes asking, “Can you believe our luck?”

It happened again the other day.  This time it was fried chicken that brought our Who-ness to light.  A friend of Baxter’s started to tell us about the great fried chicken his family had bought to share with his grandparents, who were in town.  Fried chicken was decidedly not the main point of his story, but we shot that all to hell. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw the confusion on Baxter’s face:  fried…chicken?  He’s never heard those words together, I realized.  Oh, shit, we’ve never had fried chicken.

“Umm, Baxter, do you know what fried chicken is?” I asked.  He said, “No,” so I described it to him.  I watched his friend’s eyes bug out and could hear his inner voice saying, “Good God!  First no cable TV and now this?”   All he said audibly was, “Innnteresting….”  Interesting, indeed.

Baxter doesn’t care that he’s not up on the latest and greatest of American culture.  He asked me what American Idol was the other day, and in a generous mood I offered to watch it with him later that night because I thought he’d probably find it entertaining and sometimes I just feel bad for the kid.  (I’ve never seen it, either.)  He declined, and said he’d rather read.   The short-term novelty of the TV watching idea had worn off rather quickly for me, so I was relieved. But he doesn’t feel left out or worried that he’s missing anything, so he doesn’t ask for things we don’t give him and he buys into the limitations we put on those little secrets we let him in on, like McDonald’s.

Quite often I feel proud of the fact that Baxter is being raised differently, with a certain fresh-faced, old fashioned quality about him, but at times I worry that he’s far too innocent, especially given that he’s a city kid.  Those are the moments when I wonder if we should be eating some fried chicken in front of American Idol once in a while, just so he knows what his friends here in America are talking about.

Congratulations, Sarah and Chris!

This is my friend Sarah (the babe on the left in the 1980s hipster sunglasses):

Sarah was my best friend all through middle and high school, and has remained a great friend ever since.  Although we don’t see each other often, we stay in touch.  She’s just as fabulous as ever.  I’m glad to have dug up my old photos of Sarah because otherwise, I’d never have remembered that she danced with our principal at the prom, wearing her sari:

Here is a recent photo of Sarah, taken in the past couple of years, lovely as can be:

And here is a photo of Sarah with her brand new husband, Chris!  A happier, more fun-loving and adventurous couple you will never meet:

They were married just yesterday in Cambridge, Massachusetts…after a service at Sarah’s church where she is Children’s Worship & Arts Director (in addition to her part-time job as a social worker), there was a potluck meal followed by a contra dance.  Today they are all having a big picnic at Walden Pond.  And go check out what they did for their registries here and here (note the solar panel fund!) because this is very cool.

Matt and I were supposed to be at this wedding, but due to circumstances arising from my sudden trip out to Massachusetts to be with family two weeks ago, we had to cancel the wedding trip.  This was a difficult decision, but one that we had to make for our sanity and for the kids.  Since I can’t be there to celebrate with Sarah this weekend, I want to give her a big, hearty CONGRATULATIONS here on The Wonderwheel.  May you and Chris have many happy years together!

Sarah is an infrequent commenter but a regular reader here, so I’m hoping you will all join me in toasting Sarah and Chris by leaving them a celebratory comment below!