Sunday, May 31, 2009

Familiar

I was driving down one of the main roads here in town a couple days ago when a funny thing happened. Something that tends to happen a lot to me. A car full of complete strangers waved frantically at me, trying to get my attention. Once I looked at them, I realized why they were waving. They know me. Or they think they do, anyway.

I've been told for years that I am familiar looking, that I just look like someone. Many, many people have told me that I just remind them of someone, or look like their friend. I just got used to it.

I guess I have gotten more used to it over the years, because I now play along. When that car full of complete strangers waved at me, fully thinking that I must have been someone else, I waved back. Yep, sure, it's me. ;)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hold It In

Ally is an incredibly strong willed child, sometimes too strong willed. She has sharp reflexes and speaks her mind - the combination of which will assuredly get her into plenty of trouble in the future. She says what she is thinking just about all of the time, and every so often what she says is mystifying to those around her. The things that make you do a double take. Did she really just say what I think she did?

We were at Grandma and Papa's house yesterday for a little while. They are in the very early stages of building a garage for the motorhome, and we had to go check it out. While cement trucks, winches, booms and loud horns are enough to keep Aidan's interest for days, the girls grew tired of it quickly and wanted to do something else. They wanted to go inside since they were hot, and asked to play with the Barbies. They brought the Barbies up from the basement and played for a while.

Some time later, they decided it was time to go home. Aidan, Ashley and Ally all determined that I wasn't leaving fast enough and went to get in the car. But the girls had forgotten to pick up the Barbie stuff, which was now all over the floor of the living room. Grandma went and got them out of the car so they could put the toys away before they left. I wasn't even ready to go yet anyway.

When they walked back in the house, Ashley started cleaning up. Ally was clearly annoyed though. She was ready to go, and didn't want to clean up the toys. I was in the other room when I overheard her tell Grandma, plain as day, "It's your house, Grandma, you should clean it up".

I spun around pretty quick to discipline my very daring daughter when I caught a glimpse of Grandma. She had heard Ally, all right. And she managed to tell her firmly to clean up again with a straight face. But then she couldn't help it anymore. She turned her head and chuckled. We exchanged glances, and silently wondered to each other - Did she really just say that?!?!

One of the hardest things to get good at as a parent is to control your laughter. When the kids misbehave, sometimes what they are doing wrong is hilarious. And it's downright challenging to hold it in. The trick to having a mouthy kid is not to let her see you laugh. We don't want her to think she is funny, even though she is. Can't let her catch you.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Miracle

There are a few days in my life that I can remember with complete clarity, recalling even the most subtle details. One of them was October 28, 2000. Tom's 24th birthday.

It had been just over a year since our journey with life took a trip down a different path than we intended. In that brief time, we had experienced shock, joy and loss. Cancer, surgery, pregnancy, miscarriage, the sudden death of my uncle and grandmother and a horrible crime against a good friend. The year 2000 was not a kind one to us, in more than one way. That year brought with it much pain for so many people in my life, in so many different ways.

A few weeks before his birthday, we had just received some bad news about our future. The radiation treatments had indeed affected Tom's fertility, and our chances of having a baby without major intervention seemed to be gone. We were grateful that we had banked sperm, and even more heartbroken about losing the baby. We resigned ourselves to wait a few years and test again, hoping for the best.

Something about the morning of Tom's birthday made me think that things had finally turned a corner though. I'm not sure why, but I just woke up feeling different that morning. To be honest, I should have felt pretty far from optimistic.

I couldn't go back to sleep, and at some point got up. No idea what I was thinking, but I decided to do a pregnancy test. I wasn't late, hadn't had any symptoms, and had just been told that a pregnancy was a virtual impossibility. But I dug around in the cabinet as quietly as I could and found a test. And it was positive.

I woke Tom up that morning with the most shocking, most unexpected, most miraculous birthday present I could ever give him. News. We were both in complete disbelief, and a bit skeptical after everything we had been through. I called the doctor's office and made an appointment to verify the results, since neither of us were completely convinced. By the time the nurse had heard the entire story, she was in tears, crossing her fingers right there with me. The first test had not been a false positive. There was a baby.

My pregnancy with Aidan was fairly uneventful. I was a little nauseous, but not too bad. I did sleep in my car between classes a lot at school, much to the amusement of my classmates. We decided to find out the gender of the baby, though we were much more concerned about the health. Everything looked good, and it was a boy. Tom took the copy of the ultrasound to work, but no one needed to ask him what it was - they could tell by the look on his face. He had hoped for a boy.

I woke up early on the morning of May 29th, not feeling well. I figured I had a stomach bug, and kept trying to go back to sleep. At some point I realized that I was having contractions, and timed them for a bit before I woke Tom up. It was over 3 weeks early, so I figured it wasn't real labor. We weren't packed for the hospital, the car seat was still in the box, we clearly weren't ready. I called triage and they told me that it might be a good idea to come in since it was a bit early.

It was a long drive, and the most uncomfortable car ride of my life. It wasn't until later that I realized why I had been so miserable in the car. We got to the hospital, and the nurse was convinced it was false labor since I seemed fine. Then she checked me, and I was already 9 1/2 cm dilated. Her chin about hit the floor, and we were sent upstairs immediately. It's a good thing I didn't have the baby in the car.

Aidan arrived very shortly thereafter. I didn't even get to hold him. He was too early, and it was clear that he would be going to the NICU. I sent Tom with him. He had to be intubated since his lungs weren't fully developed yet. The first time I saw him I was terrified. Tubes coming from everywhere, machines breathing for him, hydrating him, regulating his temperature. It was scary. I'd worked in a NICU before, but it's completely different when it is your child. Aidan stayed for 9 days, then he was released to go home.

He was a sweet little baby. He hardly ever cried, just about the only time he did was when he was hungry. His favorite food was sweet potatoes, and he actually turned orange for a little while. His first word was duck. He walked for exactly two days before he learned how to run. He has an infectious laugh, and often sounds like he is giggling from his toes. He is a fabulous big brother. He is becoming an amazing young man. He is my miracle.

It's hard to believe that it has been 8 years. Seems like just yesterday. Happy Birthday Aidan!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Circles

Boys and girls are just different. There is no denying it. You can try all you want, but you can't fight the chromosomes. Having been a mother of both little boys and little girls, I have seen the differences between them. I used to think that gender roles were largely a societal construct. That boys were boyish because people encouraged them to be so. That they played with trucks and cars and tools because that is what people gave them to play with. I used to think that girls played with dolls only because it is what the adults gave them, and that they would equally play with trucks if given the choice.

Then I had kids. And I realized that I was very, very wrong. I learned, through them, that gender is mostly nature, only marginally affected by nurture. Boys are just boys, and girls are just girls. Every child is different, of course, and there are plenty of kids out there who don't fall into the gender stereotypes as clearly as mine have. I grew up with kids that didn't, and I know a few now.

When Aidan was a baby, it was my first time as a mother. Things that he did I thought were just normal baby things. Like loving to get dirty. Like opening every cabinet, closet and container he could get his hands on and emptying them of their contents. Like taking his dirty diapers off when he was bored. Like making crashing noises the very first time he held a little car. He'd never been around older boys, how would he know to make crashing noises and run the car into things?

Then I had the girls. And they were different. Ashley had lots of boyish baby toys to play with at first, hand me downs from her big brother. Nothing could have prepared me for the day she got her first baby doll. She was about 8 or 9 months old, and as soon as I gave it to her, her eyes lit up. She was gloriously happy, and she played with that doll more than anything else in the house from that point on.

Ally has always had access to equal numbers of boyish and girly toys, and we never pushed one over the other. We try to encourage them to play with everything. And she wanted purses from the time she could walk. She will play Legos with Aidan, but she makes things like people and horses and dogs. She will play with his Transformers and action figures, but they are usually playing house, not fighting.

AJ is already all boy. He found his first toy, you know, the one that comes attached, early on. Every time he gets his diaper changed, he rediscovers it with great joy. He pees every time he gets in the tub and laughs. He already giggles at burps and gas. He fished an M&M out from under the couch a few days ago and crammed it in his mouth before I could get to him. And the girls found a little play hammer in the basement two days ago, bought it up and gave it to him. Seemingly on instinct, he scooted over the the cabinet and started banging it.

Boys and girls are challenging in different ways too. I have people ask me all the time which is harder - having boys or girls? They are both hard, but not in the same respects. Boys are physically exhausting. They need to go, go, go all the time. Once they become mobile, they just need to be moving constantly. When Aidan was about two, I used to have him go out in the backyard and run in circles every afternoon just to burn off the extra energy. I had forgotten how tiring boys are, then AJ became mobile. He's been crawling for less than a week, and has already figured out how to stand up and cruise along the furniture. He knows no fear, and will get right back up after falling. His forehead shows the bumps and bruises to prove it.

Girls are exhausting too, but in a completely different manner. They are emotionally draining. They are more demanding, more verbal, generally more whiny. They need, need, need me. They need me to play referee all the time. They need me to do this, get that. They practically reside in my back pocket, since one of them seems to be touching me every single second of the day. Ashley is at the age now where she really and truly cares about what she is wearing, and can have a complete meltdown if she can't find the shoes that she wants. Aidan could care less. It's just different.

I've been a little spoiled in the energy department with the girls. They might be needy, but not in a physically demanding way. Looks like I'll have to be getting used to that again. AJ is a crazy, wild little man. I'll be chasing him for a while. At least until he's old enough to run around in circles, that is.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Worth the Wait

I have seen the original Harry Potter movie once, before Aidan was born. I didn't read the books up until now. It's not that I didn't want to read the books or watch the movies, because I always have. I've been waiting. It's been over 10 years since the first book came out, and it seems I have a bit of catching up to do. I'm not even sure how many there are in the series at this point, to be totally honest.

I've been waiting for someone to read them with. I've been waiting to share them with Aidan. He has never seen the movies either. He's been told from the time he was old enough to know what Harry Potter is that he had to read the books first, then he could see the movies. And he's been a good sport about it.

He has come across the movies more than once on TV, and has always changed the channel. He does not want to ruin it. He trusts that I am right, that the books will be better, and that he will thank me for making him read them first. I hope so.

We started the first book on Monday, and are more than halfway through it already. Instead of wanting to mindlessly watch a TV show, he wants to read. He reads a page, I read a few. We stop and talk about it, I ask questions to make sure he is catching the subtle points.

He is passionate about the book, and in the course of a few days has become a huge Harry Potter fan. He asked me yesterday if he could be Harry for Halloween this year, then disappeared to his room. He returned a few minutes later with his golden snitch, just created out of construction paper and tape.

I've been asked by many people why I made him wait so long to read the books. I could have read them to him years ago, it's true. But I wanted him to be old enough to read with me. To be able to comprehend what he was reading and absorb it. I wanted him to be old enough to enjoy reading it. So far, it's been a blast.

We already have the first movie reserved at the library when it is returned by whoever has it currently checked out. And we have at least 4 more books in the series waiting patiently for their turn. For their chance to create magic, to spark an imagination. It was worth waiting.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's In A Name?

Ally is a funny kid. She already has developed a quirky sense of humor, and she's quite quick witted. There isn't much that gets past her. She's also persistent. She will ask and ask the same question over and over again. Sometimes she is re-asking the question out of boredom. Sometimes she is re-asking the question just for the sake of bothering someone. Sometimes she is re-asking the question because she is hoping for a different answer. But sometimes, it seems, she is asking the question over again because she intuitively knows that the first answer given was wrong.

She already has an antagonistic relationship with many people. She is a bugger. Rarely content to just sit and be, she's always starting something with someone. She pokes and prods her sister almost constantly, and is known to pick play fights with Aidan for no good reason at all. She wants to play, all the time. There's someone else that she does this to, and watching it is entertaining to say the least. She picks on Papa.

Ally is acutely aware of most things happening around her, one of which is the fact that Papa has picked Ashley up from school on most of her half days this year. Ally knows that Ashley gets to go out to lunch with him, and that she generally gets to do something special. At some point, Ally started asking when it was going to be her turn to go. When was Papa going to pick her up from school and take her to lunch? She asked and asked and asked until he said yes. He would do it. Being the type of kid she is, from that point on, she would ask him about it every time she saw him. But Papa, you said you would pick me up.....you pick me up tomorrow?

Finally, as the end of the school year was drawing closer, Ally realized that she was running out of time. And once a promise is made to that child, she will not let you ignore it. She started bugging Papa with greater frequency, until he finally set a date. He would pick her up the last Thursday she had her regular schedule.

With eager anticipation, she counted the days until "Papa pick me up day". She even picked out a special dress to wear to school that day. I'm sure she must have told her teachers that he was coming about a million times that morning. The child thrives on repetition.

I was here, the baby asleep, when they got home. Grandma Kathi had come along too, and when they all walked in the house, they were laughing. Clearly, Ally was on cloud 9, and her grandparents had been amused. It didn't take long for me to find out what was so funny.

Apparently, Ally had been asking Papa over and over again what his name is. He, being the antagonistic person that he is, refused to give her an answer. (Hmmm, wonder where she might get it from?) Finally, she grew tired of asking and not getting the response she was looking for. So she bestowed upon him a new name. This new name was one that she chose for him, since he wouldn't tell her what his real name was. I have no idea where the name came from, where she might have ever heard it before. It's no ordinary name.

Papa's new name is Wendell.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Migration

I've often wondered why I bother cleaning, organizing, putting things away. The things never stay where they are supposed to be for long, and nothing in this house is ever clean for any measurable length of time. I suppose it keeps me busy, and makes me believe that I am in control. Supports the notion that, somehow, I can maintain order. It's a fallacy, I tell you.

The root of the problem is that I live with children. Messy children. Aidan is finally to the age where he has started caring about organization, at least in some ways. He's obsessive about his legos, and has learned the hard way that he has to keep them picked up and away from smaller hands. He's witnessed a few get sucked up the vacuum. Anything else, though, and he could care less.

Ashley might be better about it if it wasn't for the fact that she has to share a room with her sister. She understands that she needs to keep her room clean, or at least make a decent attempt. And she can clean up faster than any of the other kids. Most of the time, though, she doesn't bother. What's the point, living in the same room with Ally?

Ally is small, but mighty. She is the most constant source of destruction in the house. What she can do to a clean space in the matter of minutes is rivaled only by major natural disasters. It doesn't help that she is a bag lady, constantly carrying things around the house. The bags facilitate toy migration.

If you've never seen migration in action, just spend a few hours at my house. The littlest pet shop seem to migrate with the most frequency, which would make sense - they are animals, after all. They need to adjust to shifts in climate, changes in the weather, time of day, right?

We try pretty hard to keep the toys contained, in particular, we try to keep toys off the main floor of the house. The kids have a playroom upstairs, and the basement is all theirs. Often though, that isn't good enough. They want to play where we are - on the main floor. And they bring the toys along with them. They come downstairs from up, upstairs from down. The toys, they come. The migration continues. It's a neverending saga.

Again, we find ourselves with a family room that resembles a playroom. AJ is old enough now to play. And for the most part, his toys are here, where we are, and where he is. I need to be able to keep an eye on him all the time, and consequently, his toys need to be here too. We have years and years of migration yet to contend with.

Someday the toys will stay put away, someday they will find peace in their rightful place. But it's not a day that I am looking forward to. I've learned to embrace the chaos, because it means that my home is filled with children that still play. And having that is worth the mess that it brings.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Hands

I am a doula. I help women become mothers. With my heart and my hands and little else. Though it is something that I don't get the privilege of doing as often as I would like to, I still describe myself as one. It isn't just a job to me, it's a way of life. It means more to me than a set of tasks and responsibilities. Most people have no idea what that means, and I love explaining it. Even once I explain what it is, there are people that will look at me strange, unsure of what it is exactly that I do.

I never set out to be a doula. In fact, I didn't really know what they were until after Aidan was born. I had heard the word, but it didn't mean much to me. It wasn't until I met a few, mostly through the breastfeeding support group, that I started to learn about them. These were women that helped other women have babies. I was intrigued.

When Ashley was born, one of them, who had become a very good friend, attended her birth. Aidan's birth had been a bit dramatic, since it all happened so fast. We were scared, I got a totally unnecessary epidural, and Aidan had serious complications. It was not a perfect birth experience. Pretty far from it, actually. I was hoping for something better with Ashley.

Ashley's birth wasn't much better honestly, it was chaotic and she was also whisked off to the NICU. But with the help of my friend, I was able to do it all without pain medication. And from that day forward, I was determined to help other women have a better birth than I did.

When Ashley was only a few months old, I started working towards my certification. I had some books to read, then I took my training. My first client was also a good friend of mine, and I had a lot riding on her labor. I wanted so badly to help her. And I wanted to do a good job.

She wanted very much to labor without medication or other interventions. It ended up being a very long and drawn out labor, since the baby wasn't in the best position. I'm sure she was in pain the entire time, but I did as much as I could to help her. I used every single thing I had learned in my training that night. And finally, after almost 24 hours of labor, I was the first person ever to see her son as he entered the world. She had done it her way, and it was breathtaking to watch.

My latest client fought for her labor too. She was in a position like too many women these days, forced to be induced, forced to give up many of the things she wanted for her labor experience. Staring in the face of a c-section after hours and hours of pushing, she fought through it. And she did it. And I helped her.

I've helped women mourn the loss of their ideal births, and I've helped women mourn the loss of their babies. An unfortunate truth is that not every pregnancy ends happily. I helped a mom with a single birth that began as a twin pregnancy. And I was there with her, as she cried, celebrating one life while simultaneously longing for the other.

Being a doula is a gift. A privilege. It is the most amazing and energizing feeling to hold the hands of a woman becoming a mother. To help her bring life into the world. To sit in the silence with her, as the entire room hushes, waiting to hear the first cry.

I have witnessed some of my clients transform into helpers. Become doulas, become lactation consultants. My hands helped them, and they are paying it forward. Being a doula truly is a gift, I am so blessed.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Ahead

Ashley made a transition yesterday. She went from being a little kid to a big one, all in the matter of a few minutes. She graduated from Kindergarten. The kindergarten year is one of the most exciting to watch as a teacher and as a parent. The kids all seem to grow up so much in that nine month span, and they emerge different at the end of it.

At the beginning of the year, Ashley was shy and reserved. At the end of the year, she volunteered to speak in front of the entire school. At the beginning of the year, Ashley did not even know all of her letters. Now she is a reader. At the beginning of the year, Ashley could write her name, and not much else. Now she writes me stories and makes cards for family members.

She's grown and blossomed so much this year, thanks in part to her amazing teacher. And we are lucky enough to keep her teacher next year, something that will speed the growth and learning of these kids even more.

Her teacher recognized one of the most challenging parts of Ashley's personality early on. Ashley is a smart little girl, but she lacks self confidence sometimes. And if she doesn't know that she will be able to do something well, chances are that she won't even try. So we had little choice, as did her teacher, but to sit and wait for her. We gave her nudges and encouragement, but it wasn't until she believed that she could read that it clicked. And once she realized that she could read, she did it well.

Partially because of the reading adventure we went on this year, Ashley's teacher chose her to receive the last award of the year, for being reflective. Ashley is not one to jump in without testing the waters first. She wants to think about her choices before she makes them. When she was called up the front to receive her award, you could tell how excited she was. And how very proud of herself she was. We are pretty proud of her too.

Later in the day, her class had a graduation ceremony. There was a little slideshow presentation during the ceremony, where her teacher predicted what the kids will be when they grow up. Her prediction for Ashley is that she will become a veterinarian, specializing in large animals like horses. She knows Ashley well. And there is not much more that a parent could ask for in a teacher than what we have been blessed with. She knows my child. Knows her well enough to know what she loves, to know when to push her and when to step back. She knows when Ashley can do better, and expects her to do so. And she genuinely cares about Ashley.
Thank you Amy, for everything.

And so Ashley's journey as a big girl begins. Ahead she goes to first grade. On to bigger and better adventures. Congratulations to the class of 2021. We love you!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Adapt

There has been more than a little drama at the kid's school this year. There have been funding shortfalls, teachers let go, bond measures passed and new teacher hirings. There have been several teachers out for extended periods for personal and family reasons. There must be something in the water at school with how often the teachers are out for maternity leave.

All of these cause the same issue to arise. The kids have to deal with the fact that their teacher might be gone. Maybe for good, maybe for a little while. It might mean that they move to a new classroom. It might mean that they get extra kids in theirs. There are few classes this year that escaped some kind of staffing change.

The biggest moves of the year occurred because of lower enrollment than projected, which led to the release of one teacher and restructuring the classrooms. When the bonds were passed, the school regained funding for that position and the classes were put back the way they began the year. While these changes were less than ideal in my opinion, they were done in the best way possible.

The kids, for the most part, were fine. Aidan's class picked up 6 kids for half the year, then lost them. A few days of adjusting, shuffling desks a little, adding names to the cubbies. Kids adapt, it's just in their nature to do so.

The problem was with the parents. Some of the parents couldn't change. They fought tooth and nail against the move back to the original classrooms. They couldn't comprehend the benefit of smaller class sizes. They didn't understand that the administration needed to best serve the needs of all the children, not cater to the desires of a handful of parents.

As parents, I think that we need to teach our children important lessons. Lessons like life isn't fair. You can't always get what you want. Sometimes you have to take lemons and make lemonade. Change is inevitable. What kind of message are the parents who fought the change sending to their children?

Our society is unfortunately filled with people like this. The ones that truly believe that their needs are superior to the needs of others. That other people are supposed to change for them, and they need not change for others. By raising their children to be the same way, they are perpetuating this selfishness. Ensuring that their kids will grow up with a sense of entitlement. An inability to deal with the harsh realities of life.

I hope that my kids will someday understand why I don't always go to bat for them. Why I won't fight their battles all the time. Why sometimes they will just have to learn to deal with a difficult situation. It's important that kids learn to adapt. It's important that kids learn to handle change, because change is one of the constants in life. And it's important that we teach them to do so.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Circle of Life

We just recently made an addition to the family. Ally's preschool class has been raising water frogs this year. They got tadpoles a few months ago, and the kids have been able to watch them grow and change into frogs. It was a really great experience for the kids, and there were times that they would all stand there with their tiny magnifying glasses and just watch the tadpoles forever.

At some point in the process, their teacher realized that she wasn't going to be able to keep all the frogs and would have to work on finding new homes for them. For whatever reason, I agreed to take one.

I suffer often from the inability to decline such offers. People ask me if I can do something, pick something up, watch this kid, and I say yes. Every so often my brain censors my mouth in time and I manage to say no. But almost always, I am finding myself with more things to do, more people to take care of, more tasks to complete. You know what they say...if you need something done, ask a busy person. There really is some truth in that.

Last week, one day after school, I gathered up the kids and went in to pick up our newest family member. I knew I couldn't stay long, though, because I had already agreed to be home early in case the neighbor's kids got home before she did. (Remember that prior paragraph...)

The kids chose which frog we needed to take home. Of course, they had to sit and debate which was the best frog for a while, and finally settled on one. And they had to name it. The girls decided that the frog was a girl as well, and her name is Ariel. We got the frog in a container and covered, got some brief instructions and a little bag of food.

The frog can live in a fish tank indefinitely, so I've been told. As long as it has access to air, it will be fine. Part of the reason I agreed to take one of the frogs is that I didn't have to get anything else to be able to keep it. We already have a fish tank.

We've had the same fish tank for a few years now. And we've gone through quite a few animals. We had one goldfish for a very long time, much longer than I ever anticipated having a goldfish for. We had a plecostemus for a while to eat the algae, but that one died too. We got two snails to clean the tank about a year ago, and they are gone now too. The snails did us the favor of having babies before they died, and the tank is now covered with tons of teeny snails. When the big goldfish died, we got 4 new fish. I'm not sure what kind of fish they were, actually. Three of the four died within a few weeks, and one was left. We've had more than our fair share of funerals that ended with a flush.

For probably 8 or 9 months now, it's just been the one fish and a whole bunch of baby snails in the tank. Everyone seemed to get along fine. I was starting to think the fish might be on the way out, since it was spending a lot of idle time at the bottom of the tank. And then everything changed, the fish was back swimming all the time. We got a frog.

I didn't think that the frog would bother the fish honestly because the fish was bigger than the frog. But, within 48 hours of putting the frog in the tank, the fish was stuck to the filter, and no longer with us. Another funeral. Now I am really hoping that the frog leaves the snails alone - they keep the tank nice and clean.

I went to the store yesterday and stopped by the fish tanks. Saw the frogs there in a tank with some fish and asked which kinds of fish could coexist with the frogs. Lucky me, I asked someone who clearly didn't know anything about fish or frogs. I'm not getting another fish until I know if it has a chance.

The kids want to know what happened to the fish. They are used to the fact that fish die, since it tends to happen fairly often around here. But the fact that our last fish died so soon after getting the frog leads me to believe that there was some mischief in that tank. The kids are learning that animals can't always get along.

Welcome to the family, Ariel. Try not to eat anyone else while you're here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Boy Legs

Ashley has a lot of nicknames, probably more than any of the other kids. I suppose this is because she has the most varied personality of all of them. Sometimes she is quiet and reserved. Sometimes she is stubborn and difficult. Sometimes she is fabulous and fancy. Sometimes she is a complete tomboy and plays hard. That last one earned her the nickname "boy legs". She earned that label, literally, through a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

The girl loves to play. She's never been one to sit still for long, and gets antsy quickly. It's amazing that she has such a great attention span at school, because at home she tends to flutter around like a butterfly, never staying in one place for long. She's always on the go.

When you combine her inability to be still with a pretty good dose of clumsiness, you can imagine that she gets hurt a lot. And she does. It's not usually too bad in the winter - not because she is less accident prone, but because she's always wearing pants or tights and they help to minimize the damage. During the warmer months of the year, though, she looks like the walking wounded.

It doesn't take but a week or so for her to be covered in bandaids. Bumps, bruises, scrapes - she has them all. When she was about 3 or 4, we were just speechless one day looking at her legs. She looked like a boy from the knees down. The grass stains on her knees, the dirt, the cuts. You can tell she plays hard.

A few weeks ago, she had a particularly bad day. Within the course of about 15 minutes, she managed to fall three separate times and hurt three different body parts. Her knees already look like they usually do mid-summer. Plus, this year she's already got cuts and scrapes on both elbows and her back. She scraped her back up pretty good climbing a tree last night.

I buy Vitamin E capsules in the economy size bottle and pop them open once the scabs are gone, but I am pretty sure some of her worst wounds will leave scars. She scraped her entire shin last year when she fell on the stairs out back, and you can still see that one. It's faint, but it's there. Vitamin E can't fix everything.

Ashley is a passionate kid. She plays hard, and when she gets hurt she usually does a good job of it. And yes, she will have scars. As far as I am concerned though, I think they give her a little more character. And most of them come with a pretty good story.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Therapy

Most people are familiar with therapy dogs. The dogs, that through their training and instincts, know intuitively how to help someone who needs it. What you might not be as familiar with are therapy babies. More specifically, my therapy baby.

A few days after Thanksgiving, a dear friend got one of those phone calls that every parent dreads. Her daughter, her only daughter, had been in a car accident. The day of the accident, the information I received was pieced. Ultimately, the situation didn't seem to be too bad, she was okay, so I was told.

In reality, the accident was much worse that the inital impression I was given. The injuries were worse, and the situation was more complicated. Knowing full well that I wouldn't be able to take the kids in to see her daughter, I went to the hospital that next morning. I'm not honestly sure what I was even thinking, but I just felt like I needed to be there for some reason. Someone, something told me to go. And to take the baby.

AJ was only about three months old at the time. Still tiny anyway. He still needed to be held a lot, still loved to snuggle up in the crook of your neck. Still loved to tuck into a little ball and fall asleep on your chest. When I got to the hospital, I found the ICU pretty quickly. And there wasn't anyone in the waiting room area. They had all gone back into her room, or to get something to eat. I sat and waited with AJ.

The waiting room attendant must have called back that there was another visitor after a few minutes. My friend came out shortly thereafter, putting on her absolute best tough front, and hugged me. She was trying to be strong for everyone. And I wanted to do whatever I could to help her. Another friend of ours had started arranging people to bring in food, supplies, magazines and more. The family had staked out the best portion of the ICU waiting area, and we wanted to try and make them as comfortable as possible. Little did I know that one of the most helpful things that I could do had nothing to do with conversation, company or food. It had to do with AJ.

For the next week or so, I went every day to the hospital. In the wind and the snow. Between dropping off and picking up someone from school. Carrying bags and bags of food along with the baby carrier and someone else's hand through the parking lot. Never once did I go back and see her daughter, since I always had AJ and at least one of the older kids with me. But ultimately, I don't think it mattered. She knew that I was there. And her mom needed me more just then. Her mom needed AJ.

Even if it was only for 15 minutes, she would sit and rock him. Sing to him, cuddle him. Take him for a walk if he was fussy. Or she would just close her eyes and hold him while he slept. He was her daily distraction, and something that temporarily made her forget all the horrible things happening to her own child. I could see her relax with him. The tension, the worry, would fade even if it was only for a little while.

Some people started asking why I was going all the time, especially with the weather being as bad as it was that week. I was going because I was just supposed to be there. Because I was just supposed to make sure that AJ was there.

Her daughter's recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. I have been shocked with how quickly she has healed from her injuries and the surgery. And my friend now knows how strong she is as a mother.

Looking back now, we joke that AJ was the therapy baby, but it's really true. I think that he really did make a difference for my friend. That he helped her cope at a time that she needed help. That he, without even knowing it, made the whole ordeal a little bit easier for her. At least I hope so.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Capes

There is something about superheroes that must appeal to the male psyche on a guttural level. Much like the appeal of fairytale princesses for girls, most boys just want to wear a cape. Seemingly from toddler hood, they are fascinated with them. Even the boys who outgrow them, who at some point become too "cool" for them, probably still wish in the back of their minds that they had superpowers. There is just something about them.

Little boys, and even some big boys want to be Superman or Spiderman for Halloween, every year, for years and years. They will wear the same pajamas over and over again. They think they can leap off the top of the brick wall and fly. I have a friend of a friend who's son jumped off the second story loft. He had a cape on, so it should have worked, right? Not so much.

Probably with a little help from his father, Aidan became obsessed with superheroes at about 18 months old or so. He got to the point where he refused to wear any pajamas that did not have a cape on them. He made concessions with the Spiderman PJs, only because the underarm was webbed. I spent a lot of time, energy and money on those capes - they aren't always easy to find! And he wore them, oh did he wear them! He wouldn't go to sleep unless his cape was securely fastened every night.

Aidan was never as gung-ho about it as some little boys I have known. You've all seen them, I'm sure. The Superman walking through the grocery store. The little boy who will only respond when addressed by his proper name, Batman. He very well might have been that way, but I tried from the beginning to create a sense of separation between fantasy and reality. I didn't want him to think that he really had superpowers.

One year, when Aidan was about 2 or 3, Tom decided that he was going to dress up like Spiderman for Halloween too. He's a tall guy, and the adult costumes are one size fits all. Let's just say that label is an inaccurate one and leave it at that. It went back to the store. Last year, Tom wore a cape for Halloween - though his costume was a little different. He was named Superdork by Aidan, since he was wearing his Wii shirt, camo pants, thick black rimmed plastic glasses and a cape. It was a pretty funny costume, even funnier when people stopped us on the street to ask what his powers were. Some big boys never outgrow the desire to wear a cape.

A few weeks ago, I was out at the store and came across the smallest pair of Superman PJs I've ever seen. 6-12 months, and they had a cape. Of course they came home with us. The first time I put them on AJ, he squealed with delight. He was bouncing and laughing and smiling. Almost like he knew that capes are awesome and faux superpowers are one of the most fun things about being a little boy. Is it possible that he already knows?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Big Wheel

Last Christmas, the kids got a ton of toys. Like every Christmas before, and every Christmas to come, they just got a lot of stuff. But there was one toy that Ally got last year that made me want to be a kid again. That in an instant took me back to my youth, racing down the street, wind in my hair. Reminded me of my toy, the one that I used and used and used until the plastic was worn, the stickers were gone and it showed all the tell-tale signs of being a well-loved plaything. The one that I reluctantly finally let go when I had outgrown it. Ally got a Big Wheel.

Toy manufacturers, in their infinite wisdom, have figured out that if they bring back toys that we played with as kids that we will buy them for our children. By far the coolest come-back toy so far is the Big Wheel. I had a sweet Big Wheel.

Essentially, it's just a big giant plastic tricycle, only cooler. Don't ever make the mistake of confusing the two, because a Big Wheel is not even in the same universe as a tricycle. A Big Wheel is a miniature, self propelled racing motorcyle. Just ask her. Since the front wheel is bigger than the one on her old tricycle, she can get it going a lot faster. It's easier to steer since it's lighter, and it still has the same wicked handlebars that I remember as a kid. You know, the ones with a molded plastic speedometer.

When you sit on a Big Wheel, it's like sitting on an ultra low rider motorcycle. The way the seat forces you to recline back just a little and the way the handlebars are shaped conjure up images of a classic Harley on the highway. The freedom, the open road.

Not much has been done to update the Big Wheel, to improve on it's former self. They do make a princess designed one now, which is what Ally has. But the body is exactly the same, less the non-functional handbrake that we used to have. Otherwise, it's the same. Maybe that is because there wasn't anything they could do to make it cooler.

It still sounds same too. That sound of plastic hollow wheels running over tiny gravel and rocks - still the same. The sound of the wheels spinning when she can't get enough traction to move - still the same. The sound when she gets the back to spin around by turning the front wheel fast - still the same. The sound when she gets going fast enough to jump the curb - still the same. And she sounds much like I probably did. Impressed by her own ability to go fast, jump curbs and do burn outs, we'll hear her scream, "Woo hoo!"

It's only fitting that Ally is the one of my children the perfect age to enjoy the resurrection of the Big Wheel. She is my speed demon. And now, she gets to sit back, pedal her heart out and feel the wind in her hair. I wish they came in my size.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sheep

I am all for being passionate about your beliefs. And I am all in favor of teaching your children to stand up for what they believe in. What is not acceptable in my opinion, however, are people who choose to teach their children to be intolerant. People who decide that their kids need to be raised to dislike an entire segment of society. People who have no qualms with ignorance, stereotypes and indecency.

The fundamental problem with people like this is that they themselves are narrow minded and easily led. They are teaching their children to be just like them. They are, for lack of a more fitting term, sheep. People who don't do their own research or make up their own minds, but instead rely on others to do it for them. They listen, without question, to the judgment of whoever they deem the decision makers in their lives.

There aren't many things that can come out of the mouth of a child that can shock me. I've heard every major curse word, racial slurs and more come from the mouths of babes. But what I heard a few days ago set me back a bit. And that I heard it come out of the mouth of a child Aidan's age troubled me. A child who clearly did not learn such things on his own.

Tom tends towards being an antagonistic person, and he loves to talk politics with people. He has, on more than one occasion, had passionate discussions with people he should know better than to discuss such subjects with. They rarely end well.

This boy comes from a family that we had known to be conservative. His parents often made comments, usually under their breath, about Democrats in general and Obama in particular, during the election. Little did they know that the vast majority of families in this area lean to the left. Tom asked the boy, in a completely joking manner, what he thought about Obama's first 100 days. I don't think Tom actually thought he'd get a response. But he did. And it was one that floored me. We were all speechless.

The boy said that he doesn't like Democrats, because they kill babies.

My knee jerk reaction was anger. How could he say such a thing? Clearly it isn't the truth! But then reality kicked back in, and I remembered that this is an eight year old child. Why should an eight year old child even be aware of the subject of abortion? Who in their right mind would want a child to know about that? And what parent would teach it to their child?

There are people who feel that it is okay to teach children about horrible things like abortion in the name of their religious and political convictions. These are the same kind of people that forced their children to stand on corners holding Prop 8 signs in California - the ones that said things like "God Hates Gays".

I am completely and unabashedly in favor of having passionate debates about these subjects. I think that well-educated, intellectual people can see things differently and can discuss them without resorting to lies and name-calling. I truly believe that one of the most important things a parent can teach a child is to be civic minded. To care about our political system, our system of leadership. To speak out. To debate. But there is a distinction between teaching a child to be civic minded and ingraining them with hatred and untruths. There is a difference between encouraging intelligent debates and teaching your children that entire segments of society are bad. There is a difference between showing your children to speak their mind and regurgitating the biased views of others, spewing hatred through your own offspring.

Parents are supposed to try and protect their children from the harsh realities of living in a society like ours, not use them as sign holders for shock value. They are sheep, and they are teaching their children to become sheep. How can people, some of which are otherwise very intelligent, be so blindly led? It is a scary world we live in.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pause

AJ is nine months old today. And, like I am sure that I have said before, he is at my most favorite baby age. He is sitting up. Playing with toys. Crawling. Getting in to everything. And developing his personality more and more everyday. I adore babies this age, and I wish there was a way to keep him right here forever.

A few days ago, a lightbulb went on with AJ. Anyone who has been a parent has seen this unbeliveable phenomenon. When a child instantly figures something out. And is transformed immediately. His new skill is a useful one, because it gives him another way to relate to people. To be expressive. And it gives him another way to just be adorable.

He's always been a pretty socially friendly baby, smiling at people most of the time. He hasn't yet developed any stranger anxiety, and I don't know that he will. Because of that, he will let just about anyone hold him and play with him. He's been babbling for a while, but the only utterances that could be loosely classified as words are Dada, Mama and Papa. He can almost say Aidan. It comes out more like A-Da. But a few days ago, he figured out another way to communicate with the outside world. He learned to wave.

When he figured it out, he realized almost instantly that if he did it, everyone would know what he was doing. That he could elicit a response from anyone around that saw him do it. The girls and Aidan think it's hilarious, and will sit and wave hi and bye bye to him over and over again. He managed to say buh-buh a few times yesterday too.

Even Tom, when he came home from work after a long day, lit up the second he walked in the room and saw AJ waving at him. It's amazing how much a little baby can change your perspective. In just a few seconds, Tom was energized, happy to be home and excited to play with the kids.

He knows already that this whole waving thing is a great way to get attention. He's taken to waving at total strangers. And ordinary people, going through the motions of their day, will stop. They will take a break, even if for a minute, from the hustle and bustle. And they will engage this little boy in a conversation. Smiling and waving.

There is something downright magical about babies his age. They can make us forget whatever else we were doing in a heartbeat. They can draw us in with their giggles and their waves. They can remind older people of what their children, long since grown, were like at that age. They can make us smile, make us laugh. Just imagine how much better the world would be if there were more smiling, happy babies. There is power in that charm.

I love this age, because everything is new. Every skill acquired is a huge milestone. Every experience is eye-opening. When he sees something, he is seeing it for the first time. If only there was a way to enjoy the wonder of this age forever. If only babies came with a pause button.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Silly Boy

Every once in a while, one of the kids will say something so funny that we laugh forever. We will talk about it for days. On rare occasions, it is so funny that the phrase gets transformed into our everyday lingo, brought up with great frequency in normal conversations. Aidan tends to be the most constant source of humor.

My pants are wet! Aidan screamed that over and over again one Christmas morning, after sliding down his brand new, dew-covered slide. It was hilarious, more so to those of us who were there that morning. A few months later at Disneyland, Tom uttered the same exact words, and they came out the exact same way. And we just stood there and laughed.

When Aidan was a toddler, he couldn't pronounce the "d" in his name fully, and would always call himself Annie. People would look at me quizzically, wondering why I had named my very obviously male child a girly name. With time, his pronunciation improved, but the name stuck. The girls, who weren't ever old enough to hear him call himself Annie still call him that now. And he totally answers to it.

We just recently had another episode of Aidan saying something hilarious. Whether it will get worked into the family language, I'm not sure. But it just might. We were sitting at the table eating breakfast on Mother's Day. Ken and Kathi had brought over some strudel from the German bakery, and Aidan was stuck at the end of the table farthest away from the strudel. He asked if he could have some, and I jokingly asked him if he was going to put on his lederhosen. He snickered, then asked me if he had any little weiner hosen. Little wiener hosen. You can't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Shield

One of the strongest instincts that a mother has is to protect her children. To do anything and everything within her abilities to keep them from harm. One of the hardest things about being a mom is being helpless. The unfortunate truth is that I cannot always prevent bad things from happening.

Aidan is a delicate soul. Don't let his size and personality fool you, inside he is a fragile little boy. He is a sweet and trusting being, almost incapable of believing that there are people in the world who are less than nice. He really and truly thinks that everyone who says they are his friend is telling the whole truth. That those who pretend to be so aren't pretending. That they are genuine. And it breaks my heart to watch it.

I try as best I can to explain to him that sometimes kids are not nice. That what is disguised as a friendly gesture might in fact be cruelty. He doesn't see it that way. He can't. His mind and his heart just don't function that way.

He's not a terribly athletically gifted child, but he doesn't care. He likes to play, and just wants to have a good time. As he gets older, the line between the kids who are good at that kind of stuff and those who aren't is getting more clearly defined. He will, I fear, be like I was. Perpetually the last chosen for the team. The mercy player.

At recess, one of his supposed friends, one of the athletically gifted kids, seems to think he is in charge of the soccer field. That somehow, at eight years old, it is his place to decide who gets to play and who isn't good enough. At eight, this child has learned already to focus on winning, even if it mean sacrificing his friends to do so. The saddest part is that kids don't learn these things on their own, someone teaches them.

Through things he has been saying about recess for a few weeks, I derived that Aidan has been made to sit out playing soccer. That his former friend, the one who still pretends to be such, crowned Aidan the team mascot. Aidan is so lucky, he thinks, that he gets to be the one in charge of cheering for the players. The one that doesn't get to play. On occasion, I'm told, they let him play if someone else is absent.

And Aidan, my dear sweet boy, cannot comprehend why this is cruel. All he sees is that they picked him to be the mascot. He thinks that is a pretty special role. What he can't see is that they don't want him to play. That he isn't good enough. That they have convinced him that being the mascot is better than playing. That they aren't really his friends.

I told him that he needs to play at recess, not be sitting on the sidelines. And that it isn't up to anyone else to decide when and if he gets to play. And that if these children won't include him, then he needs to go play somewhere else. I have, thus far, managed to restrain myself from speaking to the boy's mother. I know her well, and I'm sure she would be mortified if she knew what her son was doing. If she knew how manipulative and mean he was being, pretending to be a friend when he is really pretty far from it. I haven't talked to her, because I know that in the long run it won't change anything. That even if this kid learns his lesson, many more like him will come into Aidan's life.

I try the best I can to give Aidan the tools to deal with interpersonal relationships. To give him ways to decipher the actions of others. But one of the things that makes him such an amazing little boy is his ability to see the good in people. And I wouldn't want to change that. At the same time, I can't stand to see him hurt. I am angry when his kind soul and trusting nature are taken advantage of. Especially when he is so completely unaware of it.

I want so much to protect him. But I can't always do that, no matter how much I might want to. Someday, maybe soon, he will realize the truth. If only there was a way to prevent the pain he will feel when he sees what is really going on. If I could shield him from it, I would. I can't. What I can do is mourn with him the loss of his innocence when that day comes. For it will be a difficult day, for both of us. I hope that when it does come, it will not leave him a jaded and cynical person. I hope that he will find a way to still look for the good in people, to put his faith in his friends and to trust his heart.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ed

I am lucky enough to have had the chance to know all four of my grandparents. I know many people who did not have that opportunity. And I was blessed to get a bonus grandparent, an extra. Ed was, for many years, my surrogate grandfather. My grandfathers had both passed when I was pretty young, and Ed came around a few years after my Pap died. He and my Grandma Doll met at a support group for widows and widowers. They had a connection, one that was often antagonistic and amusing. Every once in a while they would get in a good argument and stop talking to each other for a few days. She was stubborn, and he didn't hesitate to call her on it. Their forced distance never lasted long, they always ended up back together. But they loved each other, that was never in question. Ed was a part of my family. We were lucky to have him. He was a special man.

Never having kids of his own, and being alone for many years after his wife had died, I think he was glad to have us around too. We filled voids for each other. He was funny and sarcastic, but gentle and loving. He got to go to baseball games and birthday parties. We got advice from someone who had been around the block a few times. We shared holidays, and ribbed each other about football. You see, even though he had never attended college, he was a loyal Notre Dame fan. I used to give him the hardest time for that. What business did he have being a Notre Dame fan? He was Italian!

When I chose USC, it grated on his nerves. After months of anticipation and endless teasing, we all went to the Notre Dame/USC game my freshman year of college. The weather was horribly cold, almost freezing by the time the game was over. It was the last season that the NCAA would allow Division I teams to finish in a tie, and a tie was the only appropriate ending for the game that night. The teams had to call a truce, and so did we.

During the first week of my sophomore year of college, I got a phone call. It was my Dad, and he had some news. The kind of news that you are told to sit down for. It was Ed. Just nine months after that football game, he was gone. And I was, again, without a grandfather.

Since he did not have children, and the rest of his family was fairly emotionally distant, he had chosen my grandmother to inherit his house and all his belongings. Of course, some of his family miraculously appeared after they heard of his passing, mostly to collect anything of value from the house. We didn't stop them though, since they made the argument that he was *their* family and not ours. It didn't matter though. We weren't there for the things. I was sad for them. I was sorry that they didn't know him like we did. That they, his true relatives, had no idea what an amazing man he was.

Out of the things that they left, I did manage to keep a tea set, the one that I use with the kids for tea parties. I also kept a few dishes. I kept some Italian books because he made little notes in the margins. And I kept his Notre Dame stuff. He would have wanted it that way. Cleaning out his house was no small task, and we worked on it for a long time. Weekends and weekends of cleaning. Stripped wallpaper, painted the walls and tidied up the yard. It was hard to say goodbye. He had been such an important part of my life for so many years.

What I didn't realize was that he had made some prior arrangements with my grandmother. Arrangements about his car. He wanted me to have it, and there was to be no arguing about it. It was mine. I had a car. Well, I had a land yacht. I had a tank.

It was a 1981 Chrysler Imperial. It was a gigantic silver beast. With primer spots. The leather interior had been ruined years before by teenage vandals that threw some kind of acid in the car and it burned holes in the seats. The vinyl part of the roof was peeling. And the car had an electrical short that caused the battery to drain repeatedly. The only solution for that was to install a kill switch. The switch couldn't be put inside the car for fire hazard reasons, and had to go under the hood. The huge, wide and heavy hood.

It could guzzle an entire tank of gas on the way to work. I worked in downtown LA, about 10 miles from my apartment, and it could go through an entire tank. My friends got to be experts at lifting the massive hood. I got really, really good at parking. When I first started taking it to work, and first had to get it parked in the underground structure, I tried parking between two concrete pillars. I rammed right into one of them. Dented the pillar, but the car escaped unscathed. I can't tell you how many times I would sit and laugh in that car. I have a feeling Ed was laughing right along with me. We had some good times.

While it certainly wasn't the car of my dreams, it was my dream car. It was a car, and it was mine. And I will be eternally grateful to the man, the wonderful man, who gave me that gift. Thanks Ed. I miss you.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Box

It can be very amusing to watch children entertain themselves indoors. Left to their own devices, they can be pretty darn creative. Since yesterday was a gloomy day with rain showers off and on, there wasn't a whole lot of playing going on outside.

Since we try very hard to limit the amount of time spent in front of the magic box, a.k.a. the television, the kids have to find other ways to keep busy. It didn't take long for the plan to take shape for the day. I had a fairly big box sitting in the family room, trying to transition the winter blankets to the basement for storage. If you have kids, or remember being one, you probably know what they were thinking.

Forts. Lots of forts. We have tons of cardboard boxes in this house, and at this point, I think every single decent sized one is in the family room. Most of them are covered with the blankets. You know, the ones that were supposed to be headed to the basement for storage. That I was putting away. Oh well, I should have known better. They are much better suited for door creation and tunnel building.

Not a single actual toy is involved in the process. Just a bunch of boxes, some decorated with markers and crayons. Boxes and blankets. And they have been busy all day. All the toys in this house are no match for a big giant box. Babies figure out how fun boxes are fairly young, when they are far more amused by the container a toy came in than the toy itself.

What is a box anyway? As adults, our ability to be creative is limited. We see it as a container. A method of transporting something from point A to point B. A way to preserve and store stuff. A hard to recycle thing that takes up a corner in the garage.

But to a kid, it's a home. It's a city. It's a zoo. It's a puppet theater. It's a bus. It's a shoe store. It's a bathroom. It's a bus. It's a school. It's a spaceship. It's a fort. It's a blank canvas. It's anything and everything that they can imagine it to be. It's just a piece of cardboard. It's just a box. And it's pretty awesome.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Becoming

If you were to ask 10 different women about the day that they became a mother for the first time, I'm certain that you would get vastly different answers from each of them. At the same time, I'm fairly sure that most of them would describe the day that their oldest child was born as the day they became a mother. My journey with motherhood began before that day, though. I was a mother long before Aidan arrived.

By this point in my life, most people that have known me for any length of time probably know the rough details of the last 10 years. That Tom had cancer, and that our life as parents began a bit earlier than it appears now. That there was another baby. My first baby. I became a mother December 6, 1999.

On that day, one of the most memorable in my life, two life changing events took place. Tom finished his radiation treatments that afternoon. Earlier in the day, I found out that despite the enormous odds stacked against us, I was pregnant. Somehow, with the surgery, radiation, recent birth control pills and sperm banking efforts, we had managed to do the impossible. We were going to be parents.

In that moment, that highly unlikely moment, I was transformed. I was a mother. No longer was my primary concern Tom or me, it was this little tiny life. Purely as a defense mechanism, I had convinced myself that there was no way it could happen. I knew that the odds clearly were not in our favor, and did not want to get my hopes up. But it did happen.

I have never in my life felt such unbridled joy and complete terror simultaneously. Not having prepared for the possibility that our brief attempts at conception would work, I was in a bit of a state of shock. Glorious shock. The previous few months had been some of the hardest in my life, but none of that mattered anymore. Tom was healthy, and we had a future to worry about.

For a while, I was happy. I was glowing. It was as though there was a reason for everything that happened. There was hope.

That all came to an end sitting in an exam room. The baby was dead, the heartbeat was gone. And what we had wanted more than anything else in the world was stolen away from us forever. The joy. The innocence. The unwavering optimism. Gone. I lost so much that day. In addition to losing my child, I lost much more.

What I gained from that experience I would not trade for anything though. I have loved my children, all of them, from the moment I knew I was pregnant. I have treasured every single second of my pregnancies. I take nothing for granted. Until you have lost something so precious, you have no idea how much you loved it. How much you needed it.

I became a mother almost ten years ago for the first time. Though there is no way for me to ever really know, to this day I am convinced that she was a girl. Her name would have been Hannah. She is with me, every day. The constant wondering never ends. What she would be like now, who would she look like, what would she love? I miss her and I love her. And I hope that she is keeping an eye on her little brothers and sisters. Because of her, I became a mother. She is my angel.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

8 hours, 40 minutes

There are 8 hours and 40 minutes left until I get to go out. By myself. I get to go out to dinner and have a drink without the kids! Cleverly disguised as a thank-you dinner for the Daisy leaders, there is a small group of us moms headed out for the night. A break from our duties, a chance to unwind. A break that is long overdue.

The women that head up the Daisy Troop that Ashley is in are very similar to me in a lot of ways. The moms that step up and ask if they can help, that take on projects, that are always bringing in something to school or volunteering. The moms that often seem to live in the car, taking one kid here and another kid there. The moms that understand just how important it is to be there. How important it is to see what they are doing, to know their friends, to be involved and to really know what is going on at school.

These are the moms that don't have much time for themselves. The ones that long ago gave up on salon haircuts and pedicures. The moms that drive the dirty, beat up minivans in the parking lot. Who frequently sacrifice sleep for the sake of cupcakes, weekly folders, class projects and sleepover parties. The moms who will always, always volunteer to take something else on when no one else will. Given the choice between me doing it or it not getting done at all, I will do it. And so will they.

The moms that try desperately to squeeze in a little time for a hobby or craft that doesn't involve glitter glue. The moms who appreciate the wonder and necessity of coffee. The moms who love to read books without cartoon characters in them, but rarely have the chance. The moms with piles of laundry left sitting for days this week like I did. Too much else to do. Too many things more important. Too many opportunities to be there. Too many chances to be mom.

To my friends, my cohorts, my partners in crime, I say thank you. Thank you for being the fabulous teachers, leaders and women that you all are. Thank you for caring about my children, and thank you for sharing yours with me. Cheers!

Friday, May 8, 2009

We Like to Move It!

Just one among the many things we have had to do this week, the Move-A-Thon was held. Usually scheduled in the Fall, it is the biggest fundraiser for the PTO at school. And the PTO has to raise a ton of money every year. Since their school is an IB school, the PTO has to pay the annual fees. It isn't allowed to come out of the publicly funded portion of the budget, and isn't a small amount of money. I want to say it's in the $6,000 range. Needless to say, we do a lot of fundraising.

The Move-A-Thon was moved to the end of the year this time, and I am not quite sure why. This week is insanely busy as it is, between staff appreciation week, the end of Daisies, the end of Scouts and the end of Religious Education for the year. I haven't had much down time this week.

The older kids were outside for the Move-A-Thon, and it was a beautiful day to have it. I got to spend some time outside with Aidan's class. The preschool and kindergarten classes did theirs inside, since the teachers had set up an obstacle course a little more workable for the little ones.

The whole premise of the Move-A-Thon is to raise money based on how long the kids can stay in motion. Mostly though, it's a good excuse to get out and play and make a little money for the school in the process.

Aidan's class decided to go with the tie dyed shirts and crazy hair theme. Poor Aidan tried desperately to get his hair to stick up, and it did, a little. By the time he was done running around and sweating, his hair was pretty much done too.

Here are some of the pictures of the kids in action!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Counter intuitive

I've never understood how people can read something in a book, something that goes against all normal reasoning, and believe it. How they can throw out their natural inclinations, their instincts, just because of something a book says.

New parents seem to be one of the most susceptible groups of people to this gullibility. More and more often, people are looking for advice in the form of a book instead of asking family or friends for help, or just trusting their instincts. I see it all the time as a doula. People relying on a book to solve their problems, answer their questions. Some expert said this, therefore it must be so, right?

Writing books for new parents is a multimillion dollar industry these days. You just have to conjure up some idea, then convince enough people that you are right. Do it well enough, and you'll earn not just money, but accolades and maybe even branding of your ideas.

The most poignant example of this that I can think of is Ferber. If you've had a baby in the last 20 years or so, chances are that you have heard the term. Read it in a book somewhere, heard it on a tv show or overheard other parents discussing it. Ferber is a pediatrician who wrote a book almost 25 years ago about the sleep patterns of infants.

What he suggested doing is training your child, in the 4-6 month range, to put themselves to sleep. His methods have become well-known to parents, most often as the loosely defined "cry it out" process. His basic idea is that parents should use that window of opportunity to train their baby to self-soothe. Great idea in general, but I take issue with the specifics.

We have always, from birth, tried to put the kids down awake for naps and at night. If they fell asleep nursing, so be it. If rocking them to sleep was the only thing that worked one night, I never minded. I won't be rocking them for long.

Ferber's method tells parents to put the baby down, fully awake and leave. Let them cry for a designated amount of time, then go in and rub their back. Don't pick them up though, because that would be interfering with the process. Then leave again and let them cry. Repeat until the baby goes to sleep, whether through exhaustion or self soothing. Repeat until the baby gives up, basically.

I've wondered what exactly this method is supposed to be teaching anyone. When your baby cries, your instinct tells you that there is something wrong. And that you should go figure out what the problem is. Instinct does not tell you to wait 5 minutes, then go rub their back, now does it? It goes against parental instincts.

What is it teaching the baby? Newborns need to know that their needs will be met. When they cry, they need to know that someone will be there to attend to them. They don't need to be left to scream. How sad is it to think that eventually the crying child will just realize that mommy isn't coming? And just give up. What is that teaching them?

We have been lucky with our kids. We haven't really ever had major issues at bedtime. As I said above, we have always tried to put them down awake. The only one of the kids that would fight bedtime with any regularity was Ashley. She had colic anyway, and it was often hard to tell why she was crying as a baby. We reluctantly tried to let her cry it out once. We didn't even last the first five minutes. It was heartbreaking, and totally unnecessary. It was torture for both of us. And just seemed cruel.

There are plenty of people out there who will swear by Ferber's methods. Who wholeheartedly believe that it works. I'm sure it does. I'm sure the babies will at some point just go to sleep. What I worry about is why it works. And why people would do something so counter intuitive just because a book told them to.

I do love to sleep, don't get me wrong. And I fully recognize that my children need to get an adequate amount of sleep. But I am not about to teach them that if they cry, I will not come. I don't care what some book says.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Bag Lady

I live with a bag lady. Well, I take that back. I live with two bag ladies. Having two little girls, my house is overrun with purses. We have lots and lots of purses. We have bags and clutches and wristlets and backpacks. We have dressy purses and fuzzy purses shaped like animals. We have tons of them.

I don't know what it is about little girls, but they have an almost constant compulsion to carry things with them. Ashley's obsession with purses started right after she started walking. Everywhere we go, it seems, someone needs to bring a purse. Even if there is nothing in the purse, we still need to bring it. You never know when you just might need one.

There are always purses in the car, discarded purses that are forgotten about, at least for the moment. Until someone remembers that they need that particular purse again, and trust me, they always remember. The girls might not be able to do many things quickly, but one thing they can do in seconds is find the perfect purse to complete their ensemble for the day.

Ashley mostly has to carry little animals with her. She fell in love with the Littlest Pet Shop toys a few years ago, mostly because they are adorable and portable. She can cram tons of them into even the smallest of purses. She's been know to double up on purses. On her most recent trip to Grandma and Papa's house, she actually took with her four purses. Just in case.

Ally is more practical. She generally carries her cell phone, camera and a snack. Her Tinkerbell cell phone is a must have, she even dials it and pretends to talk on it just like I do. Her pretend phone even has a photo button, and she's constantly taking pictures of the baby with it. It's amazing how much they can mimic.

So if you are ever following us in a store or stop by somewhere we've recently been and happen to stumble upon a tiny well-loved purse, full of treasure, it's probably ours. One of the girls will be back to get it shortly. And yes, we do need it. Really.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Inspired

Here it is, my 100th post on the blog! When I started doing this, I committed to one a day. Has it really been three months already? Time sure does fly.

I took Ally to the park yesterday to do her four year pictures. There is a particular park in town that I adore. I always try to convince my photography clients to do outdoor shoots there. It's in one of the oldest neighborhoods, surrounded by fabulous craftsman and Victorian homes. The kind of homes with wrap around porches, greenhouses, fully matured gardens and structural interest. The homes that have a personality, a charm and a history. The homes that make you sit and think about who lives in them. The homes that make you wish that you lived there. Someday, I hope to own one of them. I know it will be a perpetual work-in-progress, but one that is most certainly worth the effort.

The park has a playground of course, but it also has some thought provoking art installations. And trees. Oh, does it have trees. No matter the season, the trees in this park are marvelous. In the winter, the branches of the elder oak trees seem to reach to the top of the sky. In the spring, there are some flowering trees on the perimeter of the park, and the fragrance is amazing. In the summer, the bountiful branches and huge leaves create an enticing shade canopy. The park is a fabulous refuge from the blistering heat, and the rustling of the leaves in the summer breeze is a sound not to be missed. The fall is spectacular, especially at this park. With so many different varieties of trees, the color is vivid and gorgeous.

The park is home to hundreds of squirrels. They chase each other up, down and occasionally across the trees. Sometimes, if you watch them long enough, the bravest of the squirrels will leap from one outstretched branch to another. There are a couple of albino squirrels in the park, and one solid black squirrel. The first time I saw that little guy, I was taken aback. I thought for sure it must have been a cat, but no. It's a jet black, acorn loving squirrel.

I love this park. And I love to take pictures there, because the backgrounds are beautiful. No matter the season, no matter the subject. It's just a great place to be inspired.

Here are some of my most favorite shots from yesterday. I hope you love them, and this park, as much as I do.








Monday, May 4, 2009

Weeds

I spent the better part of the morning pulling weeds yesterday. The weather here in Colorado is such that the year is split into two parts. The part of the year where you have yardwork to do, and the part of the year where you don't.

In the fall, the sprinklers get blown out, the bushes get cut back, and the grass gets aerated and cut for the last time. Throw on that last step of winterizer for the lawn, and that's it. The grass goes dormant, as do the plants. The trees lose their leaves and turn into sticks swaying in the wind. When it's all done, we can sit back and relax for about six months.

Spring brings with it a lot of work. And spring has to wait until tax season is over. While our neighbors might get their yards going weeks before the 15th, ours always waits. Sometimes is it painfully obvious that we are the last in the neighborhood. The last ones with yellow, thatchy grass. Especially when we live near people who have professionally landscaped yards, the people who are out there working on it all the time. The people who have green grass weeks before anyone else could dream of it.

Getting the yard back up and going is no small task. It's a good thing that we get all that time off, because we more than make up for it in the spring and summer. The grass again needs aerated, the sprinklers need turned on and adjusted. The lawn needs a few treatments of fertilizer, and the roses need to be fed. For years now, I have bummed used coffee grounds from the local Starbucks for the roses. I planted 6 bareroot rosebushes a few years ago, and all but one made it. By mid summer, we'll have beautiful roses again. Like me, they need their coffee to wake up.

At the peak times in the growing season, the grass could be cut twice a week. And the weeds really should be pulled as often. It's amazing how fast they grow here. I don't really mind doing it though. Getting out there, dirt under my fingernails. Conquering the entire yard, front and back can take hours. But it's worth it to see a weed-free yard. Even knowing that it will only last a few days. It's a good thing the weather is gorgeous here in the summer, because I'm going to be out there a lot.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Crunchy

I recently took a quiz on Facebook about my parenting style. After answering a few questions, this virtual game was prepared to diagnose my mothering methods. Always a little skeptical of Facebook quizzes, since they seem to mostly be authored by grammatically challenged teenagers, I was a little leery. Once the result was generated, however, I was surprised just how accurate it was. I was a Crunchy Mama.

I would have to say that compared to many moms I know, I am pretty crunchy. I'm not quite a total granola mom, not fully immersed in the wonder that is attachment parenting, and would never in a million years homeschool my kids unless I felt that there was truly no other good choice. But I am pretty crunchy.

I am a huge proponent of natural childbirth, but not for the reasons that many people might think. Yes, I am a doula, but that didn't come until after Ashley was born. I got an epidural with Aidan, at over 9cm by the way, mostly because I thought it was what I was supposed to do. Having never been through it before, I thought for sure it was going to hurt a lot more than it was. None of the nurses told me otherwise, even though I was walking and talking fine, clearly managing the pain well. By the time it started working, Aidan was already born. Weeks of back pain later, I realized it was a stupid, uneducated choice on my part, made out of fear. And that I wouldn't do that again.

I've seen what all the interventions and unnecessary procedures can do to interfere with labor. I've seen women so drugged and out of it that they seemed to miss out on the experience. I've seen women convinced by other people that their bodies would inevitably fail. Are there reasons for c-sections? Of course. And there is a wholly appropriate time and place for an epidural. But the vast majority of women don't need either, if they have the proper support in place. And if they believe that they can do it.

I didn't set out to be a doula, and I certainly didn't ever think I would be a nursing mom for as long as I have. No one in my family had ever nursed, and I didn't really have any strong opinions about it either way when I was pregnant with Aidan. Sure, it seemed like the better choice, but life gets in the way sometimes. Then Aidan was born, and everything changed. He was in the NICU, connected to all kinds of machines that breathed for him, fed him, hydrated him and monitored him. I was helpless as a mother, there was nothing that I could do. I made a decision to breastfeed sitting in that NICU. I knew that with him being premature and sick, really the only thing I could do to help him was to start pumping. And I did.

As Aidan started to grow, I joined a breastfeeding support group. Not only did that group bless me with friends that I still have today, it kept me nursing through colic, teething, nursing strikes and more. It is the perfect food for a baby, changes with them as they grow, is always available and gives them immunities that help keep them healthy. I set a goal to nurse Aidan until a year. We made it to almost 14 months before he self-weaned. With Ashley, my goal was 18 months, she made it 21. With Ally, I aimed for 2 years, and let's just say we overshot that one too. I figured out not too long ago that I have been nursing, pregnant or both for the last 8 1/2 years straight, minus about a month in 2007. I haven't been the only person in my body for a long time.

I wouldn't consider myself an attachment parent, even though I probably am. Considering I have been away from him for more than a couple hours only once in his life, to help another mama birth her baby, I guess I am. I don't wear AJ all the time in the sling, though I probably should since I am always carrying him. It would probably be easier on my back! We don't technically co-sleep, though for all intents and purposes we do. He starts the night out in his bed, but never wakes up there in the morning. Once he gets up to nurse, he just gets to stay. I've never understood the cry-it-out method. I couldn't do it. It seems cruel to me, and babies don't cry without a reason. He won't be in my bed forever, and I know that. All the other kids co-slept to some degree, and they all sleep in their own beds now.

Having had as much education as I have, some of it in the field of teaching, I have never once contemplated homeschooling. Having worked in the field myself, I know that one of the most important facets of school has nothing to do with learning. It is the social aspect, and it just cannot be duplicated in a homeschool setting. Kids need to develop their own relationships away from their parents, and school is a pretty good place to do it. If I ever felt like my children weren't being challenged enough at school, I'd supplement their education. But I wouldn't for one second think that I could do it better. That I could create a better experience for them. I can't. So, in that respect, I could be considered pretty mainstream.

I've tried using cloth diapers. I really wanted to do it, but Tom had to draw the line there. He just wasn't into it. And I couldn't do that by myself. Something like that has to be a team effort. I've also made some of my own baby food. But I buy it too. I try to get as much organic food as I can, but sometimes I am priced out of it. We try to squeeze as much life as possible out of clothes and shoes, happily accepting hand-me-downs and passing what we can down to others. But most of the clothes and shoes the kids wear are new. We borrow from the library rather than buy new books all the time.

Before I had kids, I never could have imagined being labeled as a crunchy mom. I didn't have strong opinions about labor and nursing. I swore never to co-sleep and I thought slings were for hippie moms. Then I had kids, and I changed. If I have to be labeled as a type of mom now, I guess crunchy is a pretty accurate description.

I always did like granola anyway.

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