Monthly Archives: March 2009

Curiosity

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Early Signs of Spring

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Just a Day at the Spa

I looked forward to this day with great anticipation all week.  After all, Lyle would be at a friend’s house and would go to school with him in the afternoon, giving me 4 solid hours to myself.  Long ago, I’d scheduled a haircut and a brow wax for this fabulous block of time and just yesterday I had realized that I could add a much-needed pedicure right before the wax and was able to get an appointment.

SCORE! Spa Day for me!

Mothers everywhere will be able to relate to the way this day actually went.  It was something like this:

Drop Lyle off at his friend’s house 5 minutes late and then run a pair of jeans from the child’s dad (who was hosting Lyle) over to the mom, who was at work a couple blocks away.  Race like a bat out of hell to the pedicure appointment, and get my quarter stuck in the meter, requiring me to re-park on top of being late.  Let the nail lady talk me into adding a manicure for just $5 more and believe her when she says it won’t add more time to the appointment.

Enjoy a mani-pedi and then start with the wax guru 15 minutes late (of course, because we all know that a manicure actually does take time).  Leave the little day spa half an hour later than expected, necessitating that I bag the idea of lunch and a little work at my favorite coffee shop before the haircut.  Instead, drive like crazy to the neighborhood where the hair salon is,  grab a yogurt and coffee at Starbucks, and then dash over to the salon.

Discover that the hair stylist is either 15 minutes late or has the wrong appointment time, leading to a stress attack on my part about being on time to pick the kids up at school while she enjoys playing with my hair and chatting.  This is all extremely enjoyable when it starts 15 minutes earlier.

Fly over to the elementary school and make it just in the nick of time to pick up all the third graders.  Swing by Walgreens to drop off prescriptions on the way to the preschool pick-up and make it to the preschool with about 30 seconds to spare.  Hand the other 3rd graders over to their parents and pick up Lyle.

Run to the grocery store for a “quick trip” that takes an hour because they are with me, and then dash home for homework and dinner.  When Baxter proves to me that he really does only have a bit of homework tonight (hooray! no hour-long homework assistance!), I let them watch Lyle’s favorite Winnie the Pooh Christmas video while I chill out.

Reading on my bed for half an hour (can’t remember the last time I read something before 10:30 at night!), I wonder, “How could I feel so exhausted after my SPA DAY? ”

Riiiiight.

Creature Comforts

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The monogrammed towel was given to Baxter as a baby gift.  It was sent to him by two of my all-time favorite speech pathologists, both of whom were instrumental in my grad school training in Boston.  It wasn’t one of those tiny, thin newborn towels, but a thicker, heavier, toddler hooded towel, with his name in bold block letters and a sailboat on it. It was a beautiful gift.

He started using it as a toddler, when it fell far below his little feet.  Hood hooked over his head, he used to trip over it as he walked down the hall in our San Francisco apartment.  For at least 7 years now, it has been the only towel Baxter has used at home.  Despite its million washings, it’s in wonderful shape.  Over the years, I have smiled to myself as it has grown shorter and shorter again.

Last weekend I helped him take a shower and when he was finished I reached for his towel.  He hooked it over his own head for me to towel-dry his hair and I realized with a shock that it barely clears his rear end now.  Suddenly it looks like, well, a baby towel on my very big boy.

I started browsing in catalogs and websites for cool towel sets for big kids that weren’t too pricey.  Pirates, sports, and sharks seem to be what bigger boys are supposed to want.  Tonight as I put him to bed, I mentioned gently that I was looking around for a new big kid bath towel for him because I noticed how small his was.  He looked away from me and was quiet.

“Is that okay?” I asked.

“Can it have my name on it?” he asked softly.

“Yes, sure it can.”

His voice started to quaver.  “Will it have a hood?”

I paused.  “Well, probably not.  Towels for kids as big as you tend not to have hoods.”

And then the real tears started.

I looked around his bed at all the security objects he sleeps with: his baby blanket, the large collie who protects him, and various other stuffed animals that hold meaning for him.  I remembered that he was sad when Matt threw away his old toothbrush after his last dentist appointment.  The baby towel is just another one of those things for him, I realized.

Our kids are pushed to mature and work so hard out in the world.  Baxter has responsibilities that I know I didn’t have when I was 8, and he’s a grade ahead of his age so I know he’s stretching all the time.  Why, in his own home, should he be asked to put away his creature comforts just because they are starting to look a little funny to me?  He shouldn’t.

“I’m sorry.  You don’t have to have a new towel, your old one is just fine if that’s what you want.”  I paused, and gave him a kiss.  “There’s no need to grow up so fast, is there?”

He shook his head no.

“You can just tell me when you think you want a bigger one, and I’ll get it for you.  I’m not in any hurry.  Okay?”

Baxter nodded, still wiping his eyes.

All in good time, this growing up business.

Why I Blog

Thanks to my years of boring you all with the ridiculous minutiae of our lives blogging, I have at my fingertips a vast treasure trove of “when you were little” stories for the boys.

Tonight, for the first time, I crawled into each of their beds for our good-night cuddle and told them this story, the one about the day when little kindergartner Baxter asked the big boys on the playground if he could borrow their basketball for his baby brother. (Go read it – it’s amazing.)

The telling left Lyle a big bundle of gratitude for his brother; he hugged himself under the covers and asked, “Will you tell me that story again and again and again all night?” Later he ran to his brother’s bed, crawled in, and asked sweetly, “Do you love me, Baxter?”

As for Baxter, hearing this story for the first time left his eyes shining in the dark at the very thought of his own bravery and kindness. His church class had been discussing the concept of “compassion” with a Buddhist guest today, and I suggested that this was one of his early acts of compassion. He was incredibly proud to hear about it.

I’d have never in a million years remembered that story in such detail if I hadn’t written it down that day.  I’m so happy to have all of these memories preserved.

Middle Ground

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Back when I was in my late 20s, I declared to Matt that my 30s would be my so-called “Power Decade”.  I was only half-joking because I could see the writing on the wall: my life was taking off.  I was pregnant with our first child at age 29, had a happy marriage, and was a few years into a satisfying career. Matt agreed with this assessment and it’s been a running joke for years now, when things have been going well: “After all, it is your Power Decade…”

This decade of child-raising, family-relocating, and private practice development is passing me by very quickly.  A certain amount of speed – in my thoughts as well as actions – has been required to make it all happen and happen well.  And, as we all know, time flies when you’re, well, flying.

Flying.  So many of us do it.  We fly through the days and the weeks because it’s the only way to do all that we’ve decided has to be done and before too long it’s our new “normal”.  But in order to do anything extra (like a volunteer stint at the preschool or a work report) we are flying higher – and if we aren’t careful, then that starts to feel normal to us and it’s how we operate.  It’s what we expect of ourselves and what others come to expect of us.  We don’t think much of it until we have an opportunity to take a break, such as a vacation or a holiday off from work, when we discover that as soon as we’ve slowed down we have actually crashed to the ground, ceasing all activity and we find it challenging to get started again due to our need for rest.  Usually, if we’ve been flying too high, that time off is when we get sick, and that’s a bummer but we tell ourselves, “Wow, it’s such a good thing I didn’t get sick last week – I would have missed so much work!  At least it happened when I have time to relax and recover,” as if it’s some sort of coincidence that we get sick when we slow down and let our racing bodies catch up with us.

As I enter the last couple years of this Power Decade, my internal focus has begun to shift.  My 40s are still a couple years away, but I already feel the changes in my perspective.  I am mindful of making the choice to slow down, even as others are flying high around me, swirling and swooping and expecting me to be right there in the sky with them.  But everything is okay on the ground now: the kids are getting older, Lyle will go to school next year, my practice is stable and busy, and new and different work opportunities are on the horizon for me.  There are challenges, some of them considerable, but I can manage them.  I don’t need to fly, or at least not so high.

And it feels good.  I don’t get everything done as rapidly as before – reports go out more slowly, work calls and emails are returned a day or two after I receive them rather than immediately – and the world has not come to a standstill.  I say “no” to things constantly – and no one has died or even been maimed because of it.

I don’t know that I could’ve raised very small children and relocated my family and restarted my practice here in Chicago without flying pretty high for a while.  I don’t regret powering through this Power Decade.  But my spirit is lifted every time I take another step toward creating a different life, one that includes more time to breathe and new opportunities to take care of myself as well as I take care of others.

Because my next decade?  It’s going to be a whole different ride – and I intend to be ready for it.

Overnight Oatmeal

I have a great recipe to share with you but before I could post it, I had to change its name.

Which brings me to a question: do you have word phobias? Words you just can’t stand saying or hearing? I have a few, and they tend to be random – like “teen”. Can’t stand the word “teen” and I don’t think you’ll ever hear me use it.

Another of these words is “crock pot”, although I don’t think that phobia is nearly as random. The word “crock pot” is loaded. Having spent the majority of my life on the East and West Coasts, “crock pot” screams The Midwest. Not the happy little slice of Midwest that I live in and love, but what Matt and I admittedly used to refer to as “The Godforsaken Midwest” back when we were a bit younger and living in San Francisco and too cool for school, you know, in our over-priced, under-insulated flat in a foggy neighborhood on a street with no trees. I look back now and giggle a little sometimes: now that was livin’! But from that vantage point, owning a crock pot was right up there with not living near the ocean or mountains, wearing a kerchief to bed and calico dresses. Something the Pioneers might have been really into, you know, if they’d had electricity. Which they didn’t. But you get my drift.

(Sometimes I don’t even know I’m in a random mood until I start writing; does this happen to you? And now you’re thinking crock pot? More like crackpot…)

So anyway, long story longer, it didn’t take long before I drank the Kool Aid and bought a crock pot last year. Because, well, when in Rome… And I love it, Godforsaken Midwest or not. There are quite a few dishes we make in it that we adore, and here is a new one, courtesy of our fabulous friend Cara. It was originally called Crock Pot Oatmeal, but you will now understand that I had to rename it and so it is called Overnight Oatmeal.

It’s so easy that I could’ve actually given you this recipe on Twitter, but then 90% of you wouldn’t have it, and I wouldn’t have been able to share that inane story about word phobias:

Overnight Oatmeal

1 cup steel cut oats (do NOT use instant or “quick” oats!) – we like this one

4 cups water

Put the oats and the water in the crock pot when you go to bed and leave it on the low setting all night. I’ve done it for up to 9 hours and it’s been fine. It does get a thin crust around the sides in ours, but it’s easy to scoop around that. I like to put sliced apples, raisins, and/or dried cranberries in it about 45 minutes before breakfast so that they’re cooked into it, and I also pour in a little bit of real maple syrup. YUM. I put a small bowl of brown sugar on the table so that Lyle and I can fight over how much he dumps in which is extra delicious.

How do I know this is good? My hipster younger cousin from San Francisco was here over the weekend and she loved it so much that she actually ordered the same crock pot on Amazon from our house so that it would arrive in San Francisco when she got back. Just for the oatmeal! Perhaps if I’d eaten it back in the day I’d have done the same.

Enjoy!

Book Recommendation: Your Eight-Year-Old

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One of my professional responsibilities has been to help parents sort out which of their child’s behaviors are “typical”, i.e., often occurring in the development of neurotypical kids, and which are more atypical.  To be honest, this isn’t a conversation I ever seek out, but it does come up fairly often when parents attribute very typical things as “disordered” or “autistic” and then I step in with some developmental information that generally provides a sense of relief to worried parents.

It has been very helpful in my own parenting to have this background and training in child development, especially because I generally know when to be concerned and when to relax about difficult stages.  Lord knows I don’t always get it right, but it has been useful at times.

However.  Baxter has hit a stage recently that is unfamiliar to me.  I have not written about it here because he is now at an age where I feel that I need to protect his privacy more; suffice it to say that challenges like occasional untruths, minor rebellion and secrecy have emerged over here and while I assumed it was normal, I really didn’t have as much to base that on as I normally do.  I was intrigued to hear from his teacher that these themes had been emerging in most of her mid-year third-grade conferences last month, and so I decided I needed to learn more about what these 8- and 9-year old kids are dealing with and what it all means.

A search on amazon.com and an inquiry to our friends Alex and Anna (parents extraordinaire who had previously mentioned a set of developmental books they rely on) turned up the same book series.  I immediately purchased the books that pertained to my kids: “Your Eight-Year-Old: Lively and Outgoing” and “Your Four-Year-Old: Wild and Wonderful” by Louse Bates Ames, Ph.D. of the Gesell Institute of Human Development.  I have not picked up the Four-Year-Old book yet but just finished the Eight-Year-Old one.

I love the positive tone of the title and cover of all of these slim paperbacks, and in general they are very upbeat about development at each age.  Happily, though, as the back cover states, the one I read about Baxter’s age group also includes: “Aggressiveness in eight-year olds, sensitivity to criticism, talkativeness, behavior problems in school, reading skills, quarreling with parents, stories from real life, and books for Eights and the parents of Eights” and it helped me to put in perspective what I’m seeing.

As I read the book, which I have to tell you is in many ways very “old school” (I’m not sure when this one was originally published but the Four-Year-Old book was copyrighted in 1976 and the Eight-Year-Old version has that same 70s feeling), the core developmental information was very useful and Baxter leapt off the page a great many times.

But beyond those general developmental changes, I found tons of references to 8-year-olds loving board games in this book; as I thought about it, I realized that when we are on vacation or hanging out with people at our house, Baxter does enjoy board games and we have such a great time with them.  It feels like a bit of a loss that we have not made enough time in our day to really sit down and play them together.  I have been concerned lately (especially since getting the Wii, although this was an issue before that, too) about how isolated Baxter can be.  He is perfectly happy to be lost in a book on the couch for hours or playing an intense game on the Wii and, frankly, we miss him.  But I was at a loss – what do you do when they don’t want to “play” anymore, especially when you have a younger child who only wants to play all day?

Yesterday he had the day off from school, and so while Lyle was in preschool, Baxter and I had a wonderful time playing Scrabble and UNO together.  After watching Lyle and his little friend across the hall dump our Scrabble game upside down later in the afternoon, I decided that we needed a designated place for games, up off the floor and protected from small hands.  So yesterday evening I set up our old card table by the front window in the living room, threw a nice cloth over it, and we pulled in a couple of extra dining room chairs and voila!  we had a  game table.  Flying high from our afternoon together, Baxter and I also managed to get in some UNO time before bed last night and even briefly before he left for school today.  He has been engaged, bright-eyed, and having a blast.  He especially loved my trash-talking, particularly when I referred to him as “pure evil” last night when he cackled as I took more and more cards in UNO.  He must have repeated that phrase, laughing, 5 more times.  In fact, after our game time last night he was really upset that I had to make dinner; he followed me into the kitchen and said, “Mommy, can you put on some crazy music so that I can dance?”  I put on some hip hop and realized that what he wanted was to dance with me.  I could only boogie so much with him while stuffing chicken breasts, but he was seeking me out for more interaction, rather than flopping onto the couch with Harry Potter.  By god, I think we’re on to something here.  Thank you, Dr. Louise Bates Ames!

This morning we woke up to the sound of the boys having a great time together.  I couldn’t figure out what they were doing or where they even were in the house.  When I came out to look for them at 7am, I discovered them at the new table by the window, playing UNO together, Baxter trying desperately (and, ultimately, unsuccessfully) to teach Lyle the rules so that he could play it with him.

Apparently, I’ll need to consult the “Your Four-Year-Old” book on how to deal with that one.  And then I’ll go back online to order “Your Five-Year-Old” and “Your Nine-Year-Old” because a little warning could be really nice.

Swoon

Not only did he happily agree to paint Lyle’s toenails bright red…

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But he read him an Elephant and Piggy book while they dried…

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And then applied a coat of Quick Dry.

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Making him the world’s best dad for these little boys all over again.

I’ll Have What He’s Having

Claiming to be “starving to death” at 11 AM, the boys talked me into making them an early lunch.  (This after an early-morning stop for a snack at a coffee shop while the car was at the mechanic.)

I asked Lyle what he wanted to eat first, suggesting he’d like the leftover pasta that he loved for dinner the other night.  He looked excited, then stopped himself.  “What do you want, Baxter?” he asked.

“Lyle, please.  You can just tell me what you want.  You don’t need to eat the same thing as your brother,” I implored, knowing that his big brother doesn’t like pasta and these leftovers will just sit there forever if he bases his answer on Baxter’s, given that his parents are on a very low-carb diet.  [And I’d rather make two separate lunches if it means we’ll eat the leftovers rather than throwing them out.]

“Peanut butter and honey, please,” replied Baxter, predictably.

“Okay!  I want that, too!” said Lyle brightly.

Lyle doesn’t like peanut butter and honey.  He likes peanut butter and jelly.  Or pasta.

This is a new phenomenon and it drives me batty, but not as batty as it drives Baxter.  Which leads him to a variety of “tricks” to get his brother to choose something different from him, and in the end I get so fed up, standing there holding a jar of peanut butter like a total idiot waiting for the end of insane answers like, “I want slugs, then!” and “I actually want peanut butter and jellyhoney,” that I wind up putting all of the choices on the counter and telling them they can just make their own [damn] sandwiches and they can call me when they’re at the [friggin’] table, and I walk out of the [godforsaken] kitchen.

The [blessed] end.