Monthly Archives: February 2009

All Hail the Half-Birthday

dancing to wilcoUntil a few minutes ago, I couldn’t remember how we got started with this crazy “celebrating the half-birthday” tradition.  I couldn’t recall why I had to go out and buy cupcakes this afternoon in the pouring rain, getting drenched to the very bone, unable to even feel my fingers, with a tired small child so that we could celebrate his 4-1/2 year milestone tomorrow night.

In fact, I sat down here to write a somewhat snarky post about how once we do something with our kids we are stuck doing it forever, even if we come to dread it and can’t see the point.

You see, I forgot.

What I forgot is this – the post I wrote last year at this time.  Reading it again was like a huge slap to the forehead.

It’s hard to remember, especially when we’ve got so much on our minds with the kids and work and business trips and the to do list and the economy and Nik being in the hospital and Avery‘s upcoming heart surgery and, well, all that we face in our lives.

So, in case you’ve forgotten too, I’m going to re-post it tonight.  Think of it as a virtual slap upside the head; a jogging of the brain, if you will:

I reached for the cupcakes at Whole Foods this morning – vanilla, Lyle’s favorite, with coconut sprinkled generously across the top – and paused, thinking to myself, It’s his half-birthday, you dork. He doesn’t need cupcakes! This is a fake occasion, right up there with celebrating the 100th day of school! Just tell him he’s three and a half and move on!

And then I reached for the cupcakes and determinedly placed them in my shopping cart, sending a text message to the babysitter: “Tell Lyle it’s his half birthday and we’ll celebrate tonight!”

At the dinner table, he could barely contain himself. He stood on his chair because from that vantage point he was able to take in the glorious dinner I’d given him (Trader Joe’s 3-cheese pizza, chopped pineapples, and veggie chips – his favorites!) and the cupcakes back on the kitchen counter. “This is gonna be quite a party!” he crowed.

On a whim I set the iPod to Lyle’s 3rd Birthday Mix, a selection I put together for his birthday last August, and while we ate we jammed to some of his faves, such as a couple of hits from Mary Poppins, Justin Roberts, Dan Zanes, and the local Wiggleworms music class CD.

After our fantabulous dinner and cupcakes, I declared it Dance Party Time. The three of us were on fire, I tell you, on fire. Lyle danced in circles around us, yelling, “I’m having a great time with you guys!” over and over. (He later took me by the hand and declared solemnly, “You are my best friend.”)

Suddenly, Dan Zanes’ Wonderwheel came on and there I was, dancing with my little guys in my kitchen on Lyle’s half birthday, thinking about how blessed I am to have this family and house and a husband on his way back from a business trip and this blog and all of you friends out there from all over the world to share the highs and lows of my life with, and I was just overcome with gratitude. Truth be told, today I am exhausted, sick, and in possession of a work to do list with 21 undone items remaining, but all of that vanished in one big happy moment and has left me glowing all evening.

Just like us, our children are facing lots of challenges and have hard times ahead of them. No matter who they are or how they came into this world, no matter how well cared for, fed, educated, and played with, nothing is guaranteed for any of us. Nothing.

So, by god, if we’ve got a chance to eat cupcakes and dance like crazy people and celebrate “fake” occasions together, let’s do it. Because it is what will get them – and us – through the harder moments in life.

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Genetics

We do periodic video chats over Skype with my parents in California and they’re a lot of fun. (The chats and my parents.)  It’s mainly between my parents and the boys, and they all enjoy seeing one another and having a little conversation.  I use the term “conversation” lightly, because Baxter and Lyle are rather preoccupied with the fact that they can also see themselves in a small box in the corner of the screen and entertain themselves by making faces much of the time.

A bit frustrated by this, I attempted to prepare them in advance this last time, reminding them that the point was to talk to their grandparents and listen to what they had to say, and not to spend the whole time making crazy faces.   This didn’t go so well, in so far as they completely ignored my little pep talk.

However, I was reminded pretty quickly that they come by these things naturally; I managed to capture a few shots of my Dad making faces right back, much to all of our amusement, including my Mom’s:

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It all comes down to genetics, really.

Oh, yes! They Did.

Matt took the boys to the grocery store today.

At one point, he asked them to stay put for a moment so he could run down the aisle and get some red peppers.

When he came back 20 nanoseconds later, he discovered Lyle, age 4 1/2, standing there in his track pants with his legs spread apart and his head down, shaking his pint-sized derriere at his brother, and saying repeatedly in a very loud and bossy voice:

“Baxter! Spit on my booty! SPIT. ON. MY. BOOTY!”

To which our 8 year old responds by – yep, you guessed it – doing so.

I can’t imagine how Matt reprimanded them with a straight face, but he reports that the most difficult part was trying to figure out which action was more objectionable and should be addressed first.

What I find most fascinating tonight is that, in the midst of this daily roller coaster ride called parenting, Matt didn’t even think to tell me this story for 5 hours.

A Day in My Life

Finally packed up in his bright orange down jacket, hat, and gloves, Baxter stood by the door, ready to go to school.  His friend’s dad had arrived to pick him up and he was in a hurry.

“Baxter – it’s icy out there and you’re only wearing sneakers.  Please be careful or you’ll slip,” Matt cautioned.

“Yes,” I added.  “You race out there like the van will explode if you aren’t in it in 15 seconds, but you can take your time.  He’s not going anywhere without you!”

He looked at us with his big, earnest hazel eyes, nodded, and kissed us good-bye.  I watched out the front window to make sure he got out of our locked gate before the buzzer that unlocks it ceased its extremely loud buzzing.

I kept an eye on him as he walked a little slower than usual down the first set of stairs and across the icy front walk.  His friend’s father waited just outside our gate to help him get safely across the alley to his minivan.

And then I gasped in horror as Baxter sped up through the gate and actually took a flying leap – on purpose – down the next set of 2 stairs to the sidewalk, feet flying out from under him as soon as he hit the ice, and landing on his parent-ignoring little keester.

*****

To say that the boys were freaked out when I explained that I couldn’t have breakfast today until after my doctor’s appointment is an understatement.  Missing out on breakfast was bad enough, but having to get blood drawn and a flu shot on top of this added injury to insult, as far as they were concerned.  (Just imagine if they’d known about the pap smear!)

Ever protective of his Mama, Lyle put his indignant hands on his narrow little hips.  “Will you yell at them and scream at them?” he demanded.  “Will you say, ‘Don’t you EVER DO THAT TO ME AGAIN IN MY WHOLE LIFE IN THE WHOLE WORLD!’?”

I thought about it and smiled as the nurse tightened the band around my arm, ready to draw blood this morning.

Maybe next time.

*****

Our current bedtime routine ends with me lying down with each of the boys for a few minutes.  It marks the first time that Lyle has been able to tolerate separating from me while awake at bedtime without hysteria, probably in his entire life.

Tonight I started out in Lyle’s bed, sharing his flannel CARS pillow, head uncomfortably pushed back against a plastic basket that serves as his stuffed Pikachu’s “cradle”.  There is a blanket carefully draped over the top of the cradle in case Pikachu thinks he hears a bear coming in the night.  The small yellow creature spent one night in this special cradle but most often is in Lyle’s little hand all night; however, the cradle needs to stay there, “just in case”, and so my head is crushed against its molded plastic for a while.  Many nights, Lyle spends his special bedtime minutes with me concerned about whether they are over and if I might come back to lie down with him again, which is a microcosm of our relationship and leaves me feeling a bit like I’m raising the next generation’s Woody Allen.  However, tonight he remained relaxed and leaned into me happily until his time was up and I kissed him, Pikachu, and Baby good-night, reminding him that yes, I always come back and say good-night again.

I then made my way across the few feet between his bed and Baxter’s.  Baxter frequently scoots over with a sleepy grin and says, “Even if I’m asleep, I always still want you to cuddle, okay?” I assure him that I will and, in fact, that I have.  He whispers to me about the highlights of his Pokemon video game, something funny that happened at school, or upcoming plans he’s excited about.  I asked him if he got married today and we cracked up laughing.  We often giggle over Lyle, who is determined to tug at the strings of my attention from his bed in mostly humorous ways.  After a few minutes, I gave Baxter his kiss good-night and ducked out of the way before he swung a massive stuffed dog into my spot on the bed; he has struck me in the face with the collie more times than I care to recall, but Lassie protects him after I leave and must be in his place.

*****

A day like any other and at the same time so precious that I’d like to hold onto it forever – possibly tucking it in right next to me in a plastic basket with a blanket draped over the top, to protect me and everyone I love from the bears.

When Soap Hurts

california-baby-shampoo-bodywash-calming-largeLike all of us, Baxter has his own unique sensory processing profile.  Part of that has always included a certain amount of tactile defensiveness.  He likes a firm touch and deep pressure, and has always sought that out through gross motor activities.  As he’s gotten older, his strategies to get this for himself have become more socially appropriate and he no longer stands out in a crowd the way he did when he was younger.  Matt and I were amused recently to watch an old home movie in which Baxter lay on a crash pad on our family room floor and begged his 1-year old brother to fall on him over and over.  “Fall on me, baby Lyle!” he implored in his high 4-year old voice.

However, we still have mild struggles and the problem that has yet to fade into something that looks more typical has been his complete disgust of lotions, creams, and soaps.  He just cannot bear to touch them.  At age 8, we are still putting his sunscreen on for him (while his 4 year old brother sits next to him, slathering on his own) because although the feeling of lotion on his body creeps him out it’s nothing compared with having it on his own hands.

Fast forward to this morning.  We insisted that the boys take a shower this morning because, well, it had been a while since they’d bathed, to be honest, and we were going to church and then to a friend’s house later.  Matt usually does their showers but this morning I agreed to do it.  When I realized that Baxter – this very big kid! – was still not helping to wash himself at all, other than holding the shower head, I pushed him to do it.  I only asked him to do his own arms for today and gave him a choice of bar soap or liquid soap, but it didn’t matter.  I suggested he chew gum, which his OT had said helps kids tolerate sensory discomfort.  He would have none of it, and just stood there having a fit.  As we all know, once that old anxiety starts to rise, it’s a little hard to negotiate – for mother and child.

You would think – or at least I would – that a mother who understands this stuff, who has always recognized it in her son and helped him adapt and be tolerant of sensory experiences, wouldn’t be so obnoxious with her child.  But I was.  I got really, extremely, aggravated with him.  I used the word “ridiculous” at least 10 times and I’m not proud to say I used the old, “Are you going to go off to college not able to wash yourself with soap?”  Yes, I did.  (And his answer?  “My friends will help me!”)  To not try any of the strategies, to just stand there and cry, refusing to budge, really drove me nuts.  I finally did one of his arms myself using a soft scrub puff and he was willing to wash the other arm.  But honestly?  A 10 minute fit?

It’s so hard to know sometimes where to draw the line.  What is truly unbearable for him and what is an old habit that needs to be broken?  He expects we’ll wash him, just as he expected that we would always get up and pour him some more milk or put his homework away for him.  Now he gets up and gets himself more milk and puts his homework away all the time, and he’s proud of himself for doing things on his own.  Is this just one more thing, or is it really that uncomfortable?  I suspect it’s a combination of the two.

Later, Baxter admitted that it was more comfortable to wash himself with the scrubber than to do it with his own hands, and agreed to try that again next time.  We also apologized to each other and he loved it when I shared with him that we are both very stubborn and so when we get into an argument, no one budges.  This is only funny after the fact, for the record.

I know lots of you go through situations like this all the time and that there are no easy answers.  But if you have any strategies for helping the sensitivity to lotions improve, I’m all ears.

Sunscreen season is coming around again, after all.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentines

Hand-Me-Downs

I am always fascinated to see Lyle walking around in Baxter’s old clothes.  Certainly the baby and toddler clothes have brought back memories of specific outings or holidays, but those were worn for such a short period of time.  For me, it’s the preschool clothes, the ones that were worn for a longer while, that take me by surprise.  Take this coat, for example – the coat not only reminds us strongly of Baxter’s preschool years but of the change in climate we took on when we moved here from San Francisco.

At Christmas just after Baxter turned 3 years old, I bought him this hanna andersson coat.  We didn’t normally have to buy something so warm – fleece jackets and raincoats would do – but we were going to Yosemite that January to celebrate my Dad’s 60th birthday, and so we all invested in warmer gear.  Since we wouldn’t need it that often, I bought it rather big so that he’d get some wear out of it, and indeed, he wore it through three winters; you can see how roomy it was!  It was handy for our trips out here to Chicago to visit Matt’s family in the cold months, and he wore it on the very coldest Bay Area days, when the temps dipped down into the 40s.

Here he is wearing it at Yosemite in January 2004 (I was pregnant with Lyle at the time):

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After one of the coldest Januarys on record here in Chicago, we had an amazingly warm day yesterday.  The thermometer hit 58 – in February!  I pulled the old coat out of the closet for Lyle for the first time, having found it in a bin in the depths of winter, and he wore it happily.

The coat that for Baxter was only for the coldest winter days now symbolizes the thrill of early spring for Lyle.  It’s hard to believe it’s the same item of clothing.

Here’s Lyle in the same coat in February 2009:

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19 Years Later

Macalester Girls 1990

Clockwise from lower left:  Sara, Cara, Jordan, Julie

Macalester College, St. Paul, MN, 1990

Mac Girls 2009same order

Julie’s apartment, Seattle, WA, 2009

25 Things About Me

I completed this meme that’s flying around Facebook this week:

1. Growing up, I hated my name. Everyone told me it was a boy’s name. Later in life I came to appreciate its uniqueness and now I actually dislike the fact that it’s very popular among kids.

2. Until 2nd grade, I was the only white kid in all of my classes, which were otherwise made up of African-American kids. I had no idea whatsoever that I was different from everyone else, even though I can remember a girl saying I couldn’t play at her house – and when I asked why she shook her head incredulously and told me I was “hard-headed”. Or just clueless.

3. I can remember my mom telling me when I was 5 that if I still wanted to marry my best girlfriend when I grew up, it would be fine with her. I always say that heterosexuality was wasted on me, given my open-minded family.

4. I have lived in CT, MN, MA, CA, and IL. Matt and I figured out at one point that we had moved 14 times in 16 years (including our college years). Now that we own a place, we are never, ever moving again. Ever.

5. I have always been social and outgoing. I was physically attached to the telephone throughout childhood. The older I get, the more I revel in solitude and quiet. I almost never answer the phone anymore.

6. I find sharing Christmas with my boys makes it even more magical now than it was during my own childhood.

7. I forget my own age on a regular basis; thankfully, I usually make myself older than I am, so it’s a relief when I discover I’m wrong.

8. I have never, ever colored (or highlighted) my hair, unless you count the occasional henna treatment, which I don’t. This will change sooner than I’d hoped.

9. My husband and I have the same birthday. He was born the day I turned 2.

10. I had my older son on my aunt’s 50th birthday and my younger son on my grandfather’s 85th birthday.

11. If Matt and I would consider living far from family, we would probably choose Brooklyn, NY.

12. All of my grandparents are still alive. I knew 3 of my great-grandmothers.

13. I run my own business and am the treasurer of our condo association, despite the fact that I suck at math.

14. In college, my roommate and I were known to occasionally read from Winnie the Pooh to each other at night.

15. I was suspended twice in high school. Once was for being tardy to school too often and the other was for insubordination. I had a MOUTH on me. (I’m laughing at my use of “had”…)

16. I was a regular performer growing up – choirs, plays, musicals…lots of solos and some big parts. I miss it.

17. I have only had two jobs that didn’t involve children. I worked at Lyman Orchards as a cashier my senior year of high school and at the R.C. Dicks Deli in St. Paul for 3 weeks in college. I have never worked in an office in my life.

18. I went to grad school in speech-language pathology because I was fascinated by autism and that is what I wound up specializing in years later.

19. Senior year in college, I chose to participate in an Urban Studies program instead of going abroad. It was in Chicago. I moved here and lived in an apartment just a few blocks from where we bought our first home 14 years later.

20. I am suddenly in touch with old camp friends and my best friend from elementary school whom I haven’t heard from since 1984, thanks to Facebook.

21. I am a social media junkie. I have been blogging for 4 years and am addicted to Twitter.

22. I bought an iPhone the week it came out in July 2007 and not a day has gone by when I have not loved the hell out of the thing.

23. In an education class in college, my learning style was categorized as “random abstract”. That explains a lot.

24. I do not collect a single thing. I’m pretty sure I never have.

25. The older I get, the more I realize that in being open-minded and generally unafraid of change, I view the world very differently from most people around me. It’s a little alarming sometimes, actually.

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