Monday, December 21, 2009

Why yes, we did go skiing this weekend with Connor and Helen

Around 20 inches of snow fell between Friday night and Saturday evening. After taking the cross country skis for a test drive on Saturday night after the kids were in bed, we decided to go for a family outing today. Ed was in charge of dragging Connor behind him on the sled while I put Helen on my back in a backpack designed for hiking. We went a few blocks away to a sledding hill.

We learned that Connor is pretty fearless when it comes to sledding. I have no good photographs of the event, but he was perfectly willing to head down the hill and at one point, he even went beyond the snowbank at the bottom of the hill and slid a few feet on the parking lot.

He also likes big snowballs.

Helen was a good sport, but she prefers to stay indoors.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

I'm planning to keep my eye on this one

Friday evening, I took the little people to a gym we often go to on Fridays - particularly when it's cold and I need to run them around and get them good and tired before bedtime. Friends Zoe and Mia were there, which is always a bonus. At my children's request, I pretended to be a lion, and I chased them around a bit. It is playtimes like these that account for the fact that I do not exercise, nor do I gain weight. I can seriously work up a sweat.

After running around for a while, Zoe came up to me and said: "Miss Elaine, can you not be scary for a few minutes. Connor and I need some privacy so we can go make a baby. We're going to have a baby. It's going to be in my tummy. And if you're a lion, you might scare it."

Connor seemed happy enough to stop running around for a few minutes, and next thing I knew, Helen announced that she was Connor and Zoe's baby.

To say Helen was thrilled to be fully included in the big kids' play would be the understatement of the year.


A Tale of Two Women with Breast Cancer

About a year ago, two women awoke to lumps in their breasts. One woman - a coworker of mine who is insured, will be alive to reflect on this a year from now. The other, my former nanny, may not ever see her children - who reside in Sri Lanka - again.

My coworker, Kim, had a history of breast cancer in her family. When she felt a lump, she fought for the absolute best treatment she could get. When the mammogram was unclear, she demanded a biopsy. She went through hell - and still faces reconstructive surgery - but she's alive. She's one of those million cases I hear about regularly - early detection (and treatment) saves lives.

My former nanny, Rani, did what I suspect nearly every uninsured person does. She didn't tell anyone. But eventually, that lump grew, and grew, and grew, until she was in a lot of pain. She had an immediate masectomy, several rounds of chemo, and now she's sitting in a hospital and needing every prayer you can muster to get her on a plane on Christmas night. You see, she didn't get treatment soon enough, and the cancer has spread to her brain and is terminal. Her current employer holds a plane ticket in her name to get back to Sri Lanka - he's even accompanying her on the 23 hour journey, but unless she can sit up and walk a little, the airline will not allow her on the flight (odds are 50 - 50 at this point). Her doctor has filled out two rounds of paperwork to get her on the plane, her employer has filled out paperwork, she has filled out paperwork. I suppose the airline wants some reasonable assurances that she won't die on the flight home.

Two of her children, whom she has been supporting from abroad, are in Sri Lanka and the third is in Dubai - a place where she has a planned layover to see him for probably the last time.

Both of these stories repeat themselves daily. Inadequate access to care results in death. People in jobs that don't typically have access to insurance - you know, the people who care for our children, the people who serve us food, the people who clean our offices - and many others. There are a lot of hard working people in this country who remain uninsured and have poor access to health care.

The argument I hear most against passing real health care reform - and I'm not talking about whatever pathetic handout to the insurance companies that we're going to end up with - but health care reform that guarantees true access to timely care - is that people don't want to pay for it. To those people, I say this.

You may not have paid for Rani's early detection, but you did pay for her surgery, her initial rounds of treatment (that came unfortunately too late), the radiation needed when the cancer spread to her brain, the additional rounds of chemo being delivered to her spine to try and enable her to walk again so she could get on the plane (and thank you, humane doctors who are choosing to deliver this care to a terminally ill patient who wishes only to say good-bye to her family), many hospital stays and I'm sure much more. It's care that the hospital will write off because she'll never be able to pay, and everyone else will pay higher rates to compensate for these write-offs. So you paid, you just did it in a horribly inefficient way.

So Congress and anyone else who stood in the way of getting real health care reform done, you get a grade of FAIL for Christmas this year. But doctors and nurses treating Rani, you get my thanks, for doing everything you could once the cancer was identified.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Months 51 and 52, 25, 26

Dear Connor and Helen,

I officially give myself a "fail" on last month's reports. Lack of inspiration coupled with a mad dash to finish work related projects before heading out of town (twice!) left little time for blogging. It did not, however, leave little time for you to change. Despite my hurried manner throughout the month, the two of you kept right on moving at your usual paces. Which is an excellent lesson that through all times, life keeps right on moving.

You change - even when I wish I could put your lives on pause while I get mine sorted out. I used to say that if I was planning to take a one week vacation, I needed to do three extra days of work before I left and two extra days when I got back. Vacation wasn't so much a chance to decrease my work, just a chance to shift it around so that I could be away. And that philosophy was fine before I had the two of you and I didn't mind working the occasional late shift, but it's not fine now that I have you both - you who still need to eat dinner at 5:30 each day and also need to get to bed at 8:00 each evening. Which means I end up squeezing the work in after 8:00 and the house gets messy, and the laundry gets backed up, and the blog most certainly does not get updated.

So what did these last two months involve? They involved the two of you really figuring out your relative places in the world. Where once I had to step in over an argument, now you generally work it out yourselves. Helen, you will yell at Connor, and Connor, you most certainly yell back, but the arguments are brief and the resolutions seem to satisfy all parties most of the time. Occasionally I play the role of mediator, but almost always you both know exactly how the mediation will end, which I think provides the reason why you can end things without my involvment regularly. Now, if only you would stop the bickering all together, but I have a feeling that's going to last a lifetime.

Sometimes, you play the role of cheetah, and then attack me - the innocent giraffe cooking dinner. You both love to hide under the covers - a game your dad introduced so he could milk a few more precious minutes in bed each morning - and you also love to hide in my "secret closet". When your dad and I bought this house, we saw the potential for all the hiding places and knew it would be a fun place to grow up in. You are steadily discovering these spaces and having a grand time. You cook together, play in a band together, and build things together. More than once, the two of you have been so intent on your play that your dad or I have actually avoided entering the room, lest we break it up. In Waldorf terms, the room can be "humming".

Helen, you often report that you are a kitten, or a baby macaroni, or just a baby - and get very offended if your dad or I forget what you are. Unfortunately, the first time you played baby, your dad allowed you to make the most hideous sound ever, imitative of crying. It makes me think of the sound I fashion a small animal makes when it senses death is near, only more intense since it emanates from an actual human I am related to. My first instinct is to find the noise and throw it outside because while I don't always keep the house in top-top condition, I do like to think no animals can get lost in it and die. But then, as I whirl around to find the awful sound, I find you. And you're 'crying', and I give you a few pats. Let's just say, had I been the first person to hear the sound, I would've said "find a different cry, Helen, that one makes me want to slice my ears off". Helen, you also play mother quite regularly and you tell me your baby is crying (and she has a wonderfully soft cry that I cannot even hear!) and then you put her to your breast to nurse her. And then you tell me how happy she is. Which reminds me, Helen, be very glad that flu season and holiday travel fall right now because I was totally prepared to wean you at age 2, and then I got an email from the Breastfeeding Center of Greater Washington reminding moms that weaning during flu season is not a good thing, that should you get sick, the antibodies I will be producing at that moment will be very good for you. And so it is, that you remaind a breastfeeding toddler. And a stubborn one, at that.

Connor, you generally pretend to be a wild animal of some sorts. You are fast, you are sleek, you can sneak up on people. You collect things...lots of makes me fear for your future. You see, I fight packrat tendencies all of the time and I fear you will be doing the same. You will, however, clear your shelf when you notice it becoming too crowded.

Connor you are, for the most part, a gentle leader. You encourage your sister to join you, and often show her how what she's trying to do can be made easier. You regularly grab Helen's hand and lead her around with no prompting at all. When she seems perplexed, you provide guidance. When we walk around together, you often grab her hand, even we're not somewhere that I require hand holding.

You must be growing, because for the last week or so, you've gotten right down to business when it came time to eat, and you've asked for more milk pretty regularly. You've also been sleeping a little late and taking long naps. Hopefully, you don't grow out of all the new pants I just bought you until the seasons change.

Connor, you adore your Kindergarten teacher and this is simultaneously wonderful and awful. You see, we live in an area with incredible public schools. They're the kind of schools lots of people dream about. At the beginning of the year, your dad and I fully expected to send you to one of these fine public schools next year. But now? Now we wonder if perhaps staying at your current school next year might be the better move. And this only begs the question of whether you ought to be going there through grade three. Your dad and I met up with some friends of mine from high school a few nights ago and when one of the folks heard you went to a Waldorf school, he volunteered that I should be sending you there as long as I could. As a former high school teacher, he assures me his Waldorf students were the most creative and absolute best students he had. My pocketbook was not hoping to hear something like this.

And speaking of school, Helen, you love to drop Connor off on Fridays. You get to go into the playground and play with him and his classmates for a few minutes before we join hands and sing our morning verse. One day, you climbed to the top of a short ladder that led to the top of a big pile of logs that the children had turned into a house in previous days' play. You shouted "look at me! I'm so tall!" and almost all, if not all, of the older children were watching you and many even gave a little clap. I think every parent there that morning smiled.

You both loved our travels to Puerto Rico and seeing your grandparents. We found the requisite lizards but boy are they fast. Your nets never seemed to be in the right place when we needed them to catch one of those critters. Connor, in particular, gathered many, many coconuts.

Helen, whenever you hear anyone told not to do something, you immediately go and do it. And Connor, whenever you see anyone breaking a rule, you tell me about it. When a third child is in the mix, this is a lovely combination, I assure you both.

We all experienced our first snowfall of the season this month, which made for lots of shoveling and a little sledding. Hopefully we'll have a few more chances this season.


Bedtime Bargaining

Helen has decided that rather than being left to fall to sleep on her own these days, she would prefer someone lay down on the floor beside her. (In the bed is not an option since she sleeps in a toddler bed.) In theory, this is not a big deal, because it probably wouldn't take long. In practice, it's a huge deal to me because the request takes place during the time of day when I am trying to turn my last gasp of energy for the day into a project around the house. And of course, sometimes the act of lying there just encourages her to stay awake longer so she can keep checking on whether I am there or not.

She's lately added this little line to her "please lie down next to me".

"You can have the pink baby if you sleep with me."

This represents a true sacrifice, since she sleeps with pink baby every night. And actually, if I took her up on the bargain, she definitely wouldn't fall asleep because she'd be so anxious waiting to see if I would give beloved pink baby back.


Friday, December 11, 2009

The Underview: thought for the day

I like my friend's framing of the support issue, so I reprint his post in its entirety. And can I just add, oh the apologies I'll be giving to my children when they inherit a system even more broken than the one I inherited from generations before me.

Relief from poverty, financial support, debt forgiveness, microloans, work programs, and the like are not "charity" or "handouts." Those terms connote that nothing was earned in exchange. Government-mediated material support is a return on the surplus value generated from generations of work --paid and unpaid-- from American workers: laborers, immigrants, the indentured, low-wage workers yesterday and today, all of whose labor generated trillions of dollars in uncompensated value to the success stories used as advertising for the American Dream. That's why we all deserve health coverage. It's why we deserve decent shelter, and a chance to keep houses we may be in danger of losing. It's why food, health care, shelter and education are human rights rather than crumbs of privilege. Ultimately, it will be our right to demand those social goods and acquire them by all available and ethical means. Because we're not talking about stealing or getting something for nothing. We're talking about getting what's rightfully ours.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The two year photos are in

Helen's two year photos, taken by local photographer Liz Vance are in. Click here to see them.

Not sick, but awfully cute!

I would enroll Helen in acting school, but it might only serve to diminish her natural talent. Lucky for Helen, she's cute. And cuteness counts at 11:30 PM when a little person glares at me and claims my pillow as her own.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Verdict Is Out

Helen might have gotten her first ear infection - or she might be putting on the best performance a 2 year old has ever given. Last night, at about 11:00, she was whimpering a little bit in bed, so I went upstairs to check on her. In response to the question "does something hurt?" she responded "my ear" and she tugged at it a little bit. She then nursed for a while but didn't seem to want to get back in her bed (bad dream, maybe?), so I told her I would take her downstairs for some Tylenol and she could sleep in my bed. The sleeping in my bed part excited her. The taking Tylenol part did not. Strangely, after Helen took quite a lot of medicine fairly willingly through the reflux days, she hates taking medicine now. Ed and I gave her the Tylenol, and she slept on Ed's chest.

I finished taking care of a few things and went to bed myself at 11:30. Helen woke up when I came to bed and she sat up and happily exclaimed "My ear doesn't hurt" and then she dropped onto my pillow, glared at me and said "this MY pillow". I wasn't about to get in an argument about the fact that she was in my bed so it was most certainly not her pillow, though I did reach to the floor to pick up another pillow I could use. Perhaps sensing she might be treading on thin ice, she patted the pillow telling me "but we can share". She slept the entire night with barely a wiggle.

This morning, she volunteered that her ear did not hurt and noted that she did NOT need medicine. I then told her that we could go see Dr. Barakat if her ear hurt and he could give her different medicine. At this, she perked up a little and then said "I need to go see Dr. Bear-Cat and get a bouncy ball. My ear hurts again." Dr. Barakat's office contains a bouncy ball dispenser that Helen and Connor both adore.

So now I'm left wondering - does the ear hurt or not? Is she telling the truth when she says it doesn't hurt, or is she merely trying to avoid medicine? Or, is she telling the truth when she says it does hurt and she needs to get a bouncy ball?

If someone has the Helen instruction manual, please send it my way.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Puerto Rico Wrap-Up

Puerto Rico was, in a word, easy. We took a direct flight from Washington to Puerto Rico, no passports were needed (avoiding the whole issue of needing to get Helen's Social Security card fixed), and it was more of a "sit around" vacation than a "pack everything in" vacation. It provided a great first non-ski, non-summer vacation for the kids, and will hopefully be the first of many such vacations. No, I'm not ready to take them on my dream vacation to Peru, but I just might start pricing a trip down the Rhine to be taken a couple of years from now.

When we went to sleep at night, we could hear the ocean lapping at the shore in the background, and when we woke to the same shythmic beat. The waves were easily manageable, and we could walk out pretty far without getting in very deep.

The View From Our Condo

And while I could've sat and stared at the beach all week long, Connor busied himself with finding fallen coconuts and then burying them in hopes that we could find them next time we came to visit. The funny thing? When I talked to a parent from Connor's school who had won the Puerto Rico trip in the school's silent auction the year before, he told me his daughters performed the same coconut exercise when they visited the island. The hunting and gathering instincts run deep, I guess.

The bioluminscent bays in Fajardo made for interesting sightseeing - and though I was unable to capture the glowing water on film (needed to make sure no passengers were making their escape), I did snap this photo of the mangrove trees. Mind you, the only light around us was the light the boat turned on to navigate the waters, so it was very dark. Roots from mangrove trees surrounded us until we made it to the open waters on the other side of the passageway. This would make a great place for daytime exploration - if we were allowed to tramp through it. In years past, swimming was allowed, but not so for our group.

The Mangrove Trees

When we set out on our Puerto Rican adventure, Connor and Helen wanted to catch lizards. They even told me many times that they were going to catch lizards with Grandma, though my mother informed me that if this came up, she would tell Helen that lizard hunting was for boys! As it turns out, we spotted many lizards - but those critters are fast!

That lizard was so close to toast!

The lizards even provided a great reminder that Connor and Helen absort a tremendous amount of language passively. I remarked about a funky blue lizard we saw, and from then on, whenever Connor mentioned the blue lizard, it was the "funky blue lizard".

If you're looking for a nice beach destination for children - I recommend Puerto Rico!


Friday, December 4, 2009

Cinnamon Roll Day, Saved!

In our house, we bake cinnamon rolls for breakfast every Thursday. Helen often gobbles up a scrambled egg with hers. A week before we left for Puerto Rico, our oven broke. The broiler worked fine, but the regular igniter thingy no longer did its thing. Ed tried to salvage Cinnamon Roll Day that week by turning the broiler on, moving one shelf of the oven to its very lowest setting (where he would place the pan of rolls), and putting the pizza stone on the top shelf of the oven to try and diffuse the heat being let off by the broiler. Clever, eh?

The results? Not so inspiring.

The next day, the part Ed needed to fix the oven arrived, but it was a little complicated to install, so it had to wait until we returned from vacation. We hobbled through dinners at the beginning of the week with no oven, but on Wednesday night, Ed and Helen decided it was time to get down to business, lest the fiasco of two weeks ago repeat itself.

They worked diligently for a few minutes until Helen gave up and decided to join Connor and me upstairs for some pre-bedtime books. Ed kept working, breaking only to join us for nighttime verse. After nursing Helen to sleep, I came downstairs and Ed admitted the superiority of my tiny fingers and begged me asked for assistance. I used my freakishly small superior fingers to get the final screws in the new piece and voila!

Yesterday morning we had cinnamon rolls - or swimmin' rolls as Helen refers to them!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I hate pigeons

Seriously. But like many things I hate (swamp crickets, snakes, and other creepy outdoor things), my kids love them. And while I often regret being the official event photographer of our family because it means that my children could well grow up wondering if I ever enjoyed fun times with them, sometimes I greatly appreciate the excuse to not touch some vile object that fascinates Connor or Helen.

While in Old San Juan, we came upon a square full of pigeons. Connor and Helen got right in on the business of admiring them, and we tried to give them a few goldfish crackers that I had in my bag.

But it turns out, these pigeons like ground up corn, and there was some young Puerto Rican boys who had this prized food, and they generously shared with both Connor and Helen so that the two of them could have the good fortune of having the birds come right up to them.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Helen v. Luna

My dad snapped this photo of Helen as she protested something egregious like, being told to follow me. Or being asked to walk a few feet without being carried. Or, maybe even finding out that we weren't going to do exactly what she wanted the way she wanted to do it. I just can't recall the crime right now, or perhaps I don't want to record it here in case Social Services ever starts an investigation.

When my dad snapped the photo, he thought he captured a unique moment in her life, rather than merely recording something I see daily. When Ed asked to see the photo, I quipped "I assure you, you have seen it a thousand times".

All I'll say now is "I told you she was stubborn!". The best part is, when Helen assumes this pose, she will occasionally give a sideways glance to make certain she still has an appropriate audience. Sometimes, she accompanies the arm fold with a little pivot on her heel so her back squares with my front - but that makes the audience peek a little more awkward.

For those who know Miss Lunalicious, you decide who you'd rather tango with!


Tuesday, December 1, 2009


For a long time, we've known Connor was a bit of a dork. What, with his love of reading, the way he practically memorizes every road we go on, remembers stores he's only been into once, etc. We thought though, that Helen would be different. Not so. She sleeps with a bazillion things each night - and what do I find her clutching regularly when I tuck her in before I go to bed?

A book.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tree House? Conquered!

Connor and Helen often play at the neighbor’s house – after all, it has a great swingset, cherry tomato plants that they’re allowed to pluck from freely, a hose that Helen uses to wash those tomatoes she plucks, and a tree house.

During the open house for our home—as we were deciding whether to purchase it or not— Connor ran over to the neighbor’s house, and promptly climbed up the ladder into the tree house. And then he asked if we could buy their house instead of the one we were looking at. We knew right away that the folks next door would be great neighbors because the mom came out to tell us how great the neighborhood was, and as I apologized for my then three-year-old’s trespassing, she said in her fabulous Wisconsin accident “Oh, no problem at all—he can come over anytime! I have three boys myself. Looking at houses must be awfully boring for him.” We chatted a bit more, and Ed and I went home and decided to buy the house.

When we moved in, our neighbor reiterated that the kids were welcome anytime, and I had to tell her “I’m from Kansas. When someone says we can come over, I take them at their word. If you’re just being polite, feel free to say that you’d prefer we knock on your door, or set any other rules. It would be completely fine with me.” But instead, she assured me that she was Midwestern too, and it really was no problem. Naturally, we extended backyard privileges to her boys as well. The boys love playing with Connor’s toys and on the basketball court in our backyard—and if we ever get the ground to harden up enough that the sand truck can dump its 3.5 tons of sand in our sandbox—I’m sure they’ll enjoy the sandbox as well.

And so it is that the five children run pretty freely between the two yards, and occasionally we knock on their door to make sure Helen is inside their house when we can’t find her outside, and we holler out our door when we see our neighbors looking around for there motley three when they’re playing inside our house. Connor seems to be the only one to remember to always tell me if he’s planning to go inside their house, and he rats out Helen fairly reliably as well.

A little over a week ago, I got home with the kids from the nature center and they wanted to run into the neighbor’s yard. I told them I’d be inside putting dinner together. Ed arrived a few minutes later, and the last I’d seen of Helen, her feet were planted firmly on the ground as she stared up the pretty big ladder leading to the tree house. I figured she was ready to go for it. By the time Ed got home, we looked out to see this:

See that little pink shirt and red pants? Helen is about two steps from the very top. I don’t know if Connor had to help her get inside, but by the time Ed got out there with the camera, Helen was triumphantly inside the tree house with Connor, having a grand time.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Well Rested!

Did I hear someone mention that tomorrow is the last day of NaBloPoMo? Oh, right, that event where friends of mine (usually including me) post daily in November (and my hearty congrtulations to all of you who met the challenge). Did you think I forgot? Well, I didn’t forget last Saturday, but I was in Puerto Rico getting lost briefly in San Juan before getting turned around and arriving at my condo. this is the prize I 'won' at Connor’s school’s silent auction a little over a year ago. It sits directly on the beach – and pretty much across the street from the rain forest. I thought about posting, even tried, but do you know how awesome this condo is (besides the location, of course)? Super awesome. NO INTERNET. This is absolutely the first vacation I have taken in as long as I can remember where I answered NO work email, NO personal email, and did NO posting. I haven’t lived this long without a computer since college, and damn was it good. Of course, my companions noted that the world could have collapsed and we wouldn’t know it – because we didn’t even turn the television on, save for a quick glimpse of the weather (gorgeous – it didn’t even rain on us in the rain forest!). But what did I care? I was on the beach, loving life. World be damned! And that was it. On Sunday, I thought briefly about writing posts and uploading them when I got back, but I decided to revel in Connor half-running, half-skipping whenever he got near the sand. Monday, I was busy hiking in the rain forest and riding an electric boat through a forest of mangrove trees to see the bioluminescent bays, and I swear, I did not even think about blogging. And that was true every other day of vacation as well. Last night, I plowed through personal email and got most of the way through before deciding to do my part for the school newsletter. And today? Well, as usual for November, blogger is slow, so there are no photos, just a note to say that leaving the internet behind can be incredibly refreshing. And I’ll post the traditional Thanksgiving post and monthly letters in the upcoming days.

I'm hoping to get to some fun places in the next few days because Flat Stanley has come to visit my home, and I hope to show him around before sending him to someone else. Drop me a note or leave a comment if you want him to visit you. Absent another response, and Therese's agreement of course, I plan to send ol' Flat Stanley her way so that she can encourage him to do a little international traveling. Let me know if you don't want him, Therese.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dick!

Just pretend they say "Grandpa" instead of "Mommy". They're not always easy to manipulate into performing exactly as directed.

Hope it was a good one! Elaine, Ed, Connor, and Helen

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mud huts

I almost never write about my care-givers, but I'm breaking the rule today. When I got home from work, Connor was just waking up from his nap. Normally, Connor goes completely nuts to see me. Today? He excitedly told me that he and Tiny (our au pair) we're going outside to make a mud hut. How awesome is that? They made the mud and the first two rows of bricks for the hut. They collected pinecones for the hut earlier in the day, and Connor and I plan to acquire bamboo for the roof. It's going to be awesome.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Work Vacation

I've been away at a work conference these past few days. I explained to Helen and Connor that I was going on a "work vacation", which was a concept they could both understand. Naturally, Connor requested a gift, and I decided to bring him a gift that simultaneously qualifies as the most fabulous and worst present ever - shredded money from the Federal Reserve Bank. Obviously, it is a mess, but Connor and Helen love playing with it, and their laughter is almost - almost - worth the many extra trips across the floor with the vacuum it inspires.

For those who find themselves at the Fed someday, let me warn you that what looks like a fairly small bag of shredded currency can turn into an ENORMOUS pile when freed from the vacuum packed bag. WOW.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Laundry Kids!

A few nights ago, I sent the kids into the bathroom to get ready for their bath. This is what I found. They're sitting in the dirty laundry bag.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Daylight Savings Time

Dear Helen,

Remember all those times I told you how awesome you were because you knew about and seemed to enjoy sleep? You surely remember all those days that I had to wake you up before I went to work so I could feed you. Well, I suppose payback is hell. Almost two weeks into Daylight Savings Time and yet you still refuse to acknowledge the time change. I love you dearly, but I would really like you to sleep until at least 6:30 each day. And please tell your brother to do the same.


PS: I wrote this post on Wednesday night, prior to going out of town on a business trip. I was confident that I did not need to set an alarm that night, so I didn't. I woke up at 6:37. My cap was scheduled to arrive at 6:50. Not good. I woke Connor up on my way out the door to say good-bye and left Helen sleeping.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Always Helpful

An important thing to consider when raising kids, is trying to imbue in them a keen sense of wanting to take care of others. After all, they are your best shot at not sitting in a nursing home somewhere drooling on yourself with no one to wipe it away. Though you might still be drooling on yourself if your children are caring for you, hopefully they'll feel like wiping your chin.

At this house, when things are important, we start early.

Now, for anyone who believed Helen had an object in her hands that could make Ed bleed, please smack yourself. We are most definitely lax parents in some categories, but Ed leaves the plastic cover on when someone besides him is in charge of the razor. We don't want to be raising a little Sweeney Todd!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Climbing Wall

Yesterday, I took Helen to her music class at an indoor playground. Before class, we were running around like crazy people, because I believe in wearing little people out before naptime! At one point, we had this conversation.

"Take my shirt off, Mommy."
"Because I need to climb up the climbing wall." A wall, I might add, that is about 10 feet tall and designed for someone age 4 - 8.
"I don't think having a shirt on will hinder your ability to get up the wall, Helen."
"TAKE MY SHIRT OFF", stomping foot.
And I did. And she proceeded to climb up the wall - sans assistance (because I do not provide assistance in situations like these) - about one-third the way up the wall. She performed this ritual twice.

I learn things from my children regularly. Yesterday I learned that maybe it is necessary to go shirtless when climbing up a rock wall.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wildlife in my home

For Helen's birthday, my parents gave her a set of three stuffed rabbits that come in a cute little box she can open and close. Helen liked the gift from the start - and Connor very nearly claimed it as his, which is usual modus operandi when it comes to gifts of Helen's that he likes.

A few mornings ago, she decided that she would be a rabbit, and get in the box. Only, the box is not big enough, nor strong enough for this to happen. So Ed found a new box for her to use, and this has been, by far, the most popular toy in our home these past few days.

Ever since that box appeared, it seems that whenever I'm not a looking, a turtle will sneak up on me.

And if that turtle is not careful, a certain mischievous someone will sit on his shell.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Why childhood IQ tests are completely bunk

Connor has been participating in a study at the National Institute of Health. The initial step was having a very detailed MRI, which required him to lay still for about an hour. This was an unqualified success, and he ranks as the youngest participant in the study. Apparently, it is very difficult to get a four year old to lie still for that long, in a giant machine, that makes tons of sound. The secret? Connor doesn't watch television, movies, etc. The MRI machine had a DVD player in it, and it played some show that was obviously new to him, and he was rather impressed with it. He actually did so well, that they begged me to allow him to have another MRI for a corresponding study, this one being just a relatively quick one which would take about 30 minutes. This machine did not have a DVD player in it, but Connor took the test after participating in the second part of the first study (described below) and was without a nap that afternoon. He fell asleep during the MRI, which the researchers totally loved.

Stage two was an IQ test - and if they get any result at all, I would question its validity. Connor was happy to participate for a brief time, but then he got bored. At one point, the psychologist asked him "Can you tell me about a shoe?" and he responded "I don't know anything interesting I could tell you about a shoe". The psychologist blinked, I held back laughter, and then she prodded "is there anything at all you tell me about a shoe, even if it's not interesting?", and Connor proudly announced "it's a shoe". And he would absolutely not say anything else. Then she tried to ask him about several other mundane objects, and he would repeat back the object's name. That's it.

During another portion of the test, she asked "what does a bottle do?" and he announced "it holds liquids". So she asked "what kind of liquid?" and he looked her right in the eye and dead panned "any liquid", as if she were asking him a totally stupid question (which she was). And it was at this point in the test that I had personal confirmation he was my child because I hate it when people ask me stupid questions - and yes, no matter what you were told in school, there are stupid questions - and I took this as a sign that Connor does not like them either. He was a little more cooperative during this test, but at one point he decided to torture the research by delivering a brief soliloquy about the importance of shoes, and many random facts about shoes such as the materials they can be made of, the colors they can be, why you can't wear them inside at home, etc. The researcher, doing her best to hide her annoyance, looked up and said "so you do know about shoes?". He said "nothing interesting".

He thought the putting together of red and white blocks to match patterns was pretty fun, and there's one part of the test where he was supposed to fill in different lines, based on symbols and a key. I thought he was going to really dig this, but instead, he sailed through the practice portion really excited, and then when the researcher went to time him, he did about a row of these things, and then just scribbled all over the entire paper, which about killed the researcher. She would very calmly stop her watch, and explain to Connor that he needed to do one at a time, and that it was hard to see what he was doing with all the scribbling. I knew Connor had checked out by this point, so I don't think I even tried to get him to do it.

So...the NIH has allegedly awesome photographs of Connor's brain and who knows what for the IQ portion of the test - and Connor has $225. I'm not sure who came out ahead on this one, but it did satisfy Connor's desire to be in a study "just like Helen is".

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Connor is, by far, the hardest working person in the house. In particular, he loves his yard work. The dude is dedicated. This weekend, in particular, he showed up everyone else in the household.

On Saturday, Ed was busy installing a light that should've taken - oh, I don't know - thirty minutes. But, naturally, because we live in an old house, it took several hours. I was also catching up on chores, and eventually Helen told us she wanted to go outside. Connor decided to go out as well. They got their shoes on, and went out back. The next time I looked out the backdoor, Helen was busy fighting imaginary fires and Connor had taken the liberty of getting out the leaf blower and was busy blowing all the leaves off of our new grass. And he did a good job. He raked them into a pile, and at some point used a plastic baby carriage to move the leaves to the garden. It was definitely impressive work.

Later that night, I asked the kids what they wanted to do today. Helen said she wanted to go the zoo, and Connor said he wanted to do some work. And he wasn't kidding. This morning, as I was prepping to go to the zoo, Ed thought that perhaps he would stay behind and get caught up on a few odd jobs. Connor volunteered to stay at home with him. So Ed decided to go to the zoo. But on the way home, Ed mentioned he needed to do some yard work and Connor let out a yelp of glee at the prospect.

When the time came to do the yard work, he was no less enthusiastic and even recruited the three boys next door to help out.

I only hope his passion for yard work never wanes.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Life, according to Helen

"Helen, what did you have to drink for breakfast today?"
"Apple SPIDER!"


"We weren't able to finish because someone was a little bit stubborn."
"I am NOT LITTLE! I'm a big girl."


"I'll help you clean up your toys."
"I too tired to help clean-up toys. I need to rest."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Please put your shoes on

A couple of months ago, I heard a snippet of a parenting lecture that completely revolutionized my thinking about how I communicate with my children. At issue? It makes me nuts to ask Connor or Helen to do something, and then watch them not do it.

For example, I might have said to Connor or Helen:

"Please put your shoes on. We are going outside."

Connor would either:

(1) hop to it
(2) look up from what he is doing and slowly wind around an imaginary path that detours through every possible space in our house before he gets to the shoes, sometimes veering so far adrift that he forgets what he started out doing
(3) not even look up, as if he is so engrossed in what he is doing he can't possibly be bothered with being aware of the rest of the world.

Helen would:

(1) stomp her foot and shout "NO!".

Assuming Connor went for option two or three (the norm), I would then have responded in a louder, firmer tone:

"Please put your shoes on. We are going outside."

Because seriously, he must just not hear me, or he must just need a reminder.

And Connor would respond by:

(1) Acting surprised and annoyed that I had interrupted his daydream
(2) Continuing to ignore me.

Helen would

(1) stomp her foot more firmly and shout "NO!!".

And this could go on indefinitely, until I finally said, in an exasperated tone "if you don't put your shoes on right now we are going to have to stay in this house for the remainder of your lives - which might be suspiciously short - because I am going completely insane", or something akin to that.

But then, as I mentioned, I listened to a snippet of a lecture and the lecturer said "do not repeat things to your children. All it does it teach them that you say a lot of very unimportant things each day and they don't have to be concerned until you start threatening them or screaming at them."


She followed that advice up by saying "after you ask your child to do one thing, if they do not do it, simply move to them, take their hand, and guide them to do what you have asked them."

And it almost totally worked. Within a few days, when I would ask Connor or Helen to do something, they would just do it. And I patted myself on the back for being a total rockstar mom. And life was, indeed, easier.

But Ed? He has a more direct approach to the problem.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Prep Work

Paint was recently on sale at a store a few blocks from my home, and I LOVE a good bargain. So I purchased 8 gallons of paint. GALLONS. EIGHT OF THEM. This will (hopefully) allow me to repaint the dining room, kitchen, sitting room, upstairs landing and hallway, and Connor's room. Left to paint (since after the purchase was made, I also decided to have Ed rip many, many shelves out of our home) will be the office and main floor hallway and entry. EGAD!

I am definitely in over my head.

So I've smartly decided to delegate a bit, and lucky for me, Connor and Helen had the opportunity to paint another house as practice.

The project appeared a bit daunting at first, but Connor dove right in.

After a while, he took some time to consult with staff. And for the record, staff was happy to be consulted.

And from there, the two never looked back.

I'm just hoping they remember these skills when I finally bust out the paint. I'm sure I'll be able to use the help. The only issues I'm having trouble resolving is that the practice run was with washable paint and that is not the case with my new paint.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Oh how sad it can be, an off-year election in Virginia

Prior to having children, I was quite interested in politics. In fact, some of my college friends would've pegged me to run for some small office at some point - and occasionally I entertain the notion of figuring out how to run a successful school board campaign simply because I care quite deeply about the education of children. But I don't care deeply enough to bankrupt my family in the process, so probably it will never happen.

I also used to be quite informed about politics, and I cared deeply. Largely stemming from an intense 5.5 years in college debate - 3.5 as a debater followed by two years of coaching - I knew what was happening in the world of politics. I can still defend every time I've voted for Ralph Nader (seriously, Bill Clinton, if you would've just allowed gay marriage instead of punting it to the states, I might not have started down this path - and I cannot even believe that you are only now announcing to Anderson Cooper on CNN that you believe gay people ought to be able to marry) and I will not apologize, even though it causes a lot of hard feelings among close friends. In my lifetime, I have gone from telling a friend our teacher would think we were dumb if our fable allowed Mondale to beat Reagan (because, geez, Lisa - Reagan is A.W.E.S.O.M.E, your hippie parents don't know anything) to realizing that there is no nationally viable candidate that will ever really represent me. Sure, I like Obama, and I'm still thrilled he won for lots of reasons, but I consider him to be solidly to the right of where I stand on most issues; most people are.

And while I can still hold my own in any conversation involving tax policy for low-income families (a product of my work), or why I believe in a safety net, or why I believe people ought to marry who they want, or why I believe we ought to think peacefully and act that way, or a number of other liberal causes the pique my interest regularly - I am sadly uninformed about local politics. It's to the point of being embarrassing when my neighbor, who is the democratic coordinator for our area, walks over to say hello. As I see her approach, I rack my brain for ways to steer the conversation away from politics so I don't have to admit how little I know.

There were times when I didn't get why my mom wasn't really into politics - THIS IS LIFE, MOM! And why my dad clings to an arcane belief system - LOOK AROUND YOU - that he will staunchly defend, but never to my satisfaction. But now I totally get it. You see, for better or worse, I have largely dropped out of politics. The practicalities of my life get in the way. Connor needs to point out the two enormous squirrel nests in the tree next door that have been revealed by falling leaves in the past few days, Helen asks "can you read me jus' one book" and says "hold me mommy" and really, it takes a heart of stone to resist these requests - especially in favor of reading the Washington Post, a newspaper that is easily accessible, but annoying because it's so conservative. Schedules need to be coordinated, children need to be fed on time and put to bed on time and work needs to get done on time. And reading the newspaper or one of the million bits of media available on the web? It largely doesn't get done.

But I think I reached an all-time low this morning when I got to the subway and a man tried to hand me a piece of political literature as he asked me if I had voted. Voted? Today? Are you kidding me? This, after Ed reminded me last night that there was an election today AND there was at least one green party candidate running who I had expressed an interest in at some point. No, I have not voted. And yes, I had forgotten today was an election day in Virginia. Hopefully I'll remember this as I ride my bike home from the subway tonight and I detour to stop at the polls.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Sometimes, it's fun to save the best for last

As a child, I loved Halloween. My mom would typically make me some sort of fabulous costume, which usually involved some cursing at an uncooperative sewing machine or a hard to follow pattern and a few late nights before the big day. We'd have a Halloween party at school, complete with a parade to end the day. Then as soon as it got dark, it would start raining, and my sister and I would trudge off to see what sort of booty we could acquire. At the end of it all, we would dump all our candy out in the living room, and the trading would commence. Two twizzlers for some M&Ms; gross candy like black licorice to the Dad pile; things with coconut to the Mom pile. And that was pretty much Halloween. After that, it was business as usual. Candy in the candy cupboard couldn't be consumed too close to dinner, but Maybe it's just my kids, but now rather than Halloween being one day, it lasts for a week. Seriously. The week before Halloween, Helen's playgroup had their annual Halloween party. For this event, Connor chose to wear his firefighter outfit, and carry a hatchet (a nice touch suggested by Ed). In preparation, Helen alternated between being a firefighting bumblebee and a plain bumblebee - the difference being the addition or subtraction of a red firefighter hat. At the actual party, she opted to be Helen. That evening, we went to Boo-at-the-Zoo (BATZ), a fundraiser for National Zoo - second only to their adult fundraiser that takes place in the summer where a bazillion fancy restaurants descend on the zoo and serve bite-sized portions of incredible food. There came a point in that event when I had to impose a rule "no more food that had to be chewed". I was open to the idea of more wine, beer, and soup - but I simply couldn't put in the effort that chewing would require. At BATZ, kids walk around the zoo collecting treats ranging from ice cream to potato chips - and there's usually at least one table with apples on it. Connor again dressed as a firefighter - only this time his outfit only made it about halfway through the night, and then he was just a kid dressed in a rainsuit with a great hat. The next weekend, Connor and Helen attended a morning costsume birthday party (plain bumblebee and firefighter), followed by an afternoon costume birthday for Connor (firefighter), and a neighborhood Halloween party (plain bumblebee and firefighter). Despite some talk of Helen donning the monkey costume, it seemed as if the costumes were pretty entrenched. But as is often the case in parenting, as soon as the kids appear to be acting in a predictable manner, everything changes. And true to form, when it came time for the big event - Helen thought about being a scary bumblebee. But in the end, Helen busted out a dance costume I wore when I was 5 or 6 and Connor decided to be a transvestite Home Depot employee. Didn't see that last one coming, did you? The bottom layer of Connor's masterpiece was a sweatshirt and jeans, topped by a green and gold costume my sister wore, an apron from the Home Depot kids workshop, and then as a last minute item, he decided to hang his treat back over his head, which I appreciate because a key element to a good Halloween costume is the ability to drink freely. The still shot was taken prior to the HD apron being donned, but the video captures the whole outfit.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Conversations by the swingset

Helen: Take me to Amy and Wally's to ride the swing. I'm goin' to ride the big swing, not the little one. Don' push me. I can do it by self. I ride on my tummy.

You ride on dis swing. Wait a minute. I take this leaf off for you.

Me: Are you sure you don't want me to give you a push?

Helen: I no need a push. I need my privacy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cool as a Cucumber

This evening, Ed and I took the kids over to a gym to burn off some excess energy before bed. Helen was cruising around in a little car, not paying attention to where she was going. Naturally, she ran into the wall. Without missing a beat, she looked up and announced "This my parking spot". Yeah, right, babe.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

BBB #4

The oldest children in the mom's group turn 4 sometime between August 12 (Connor's bday) and December 28 (David's bday). In celebration, almost every family was able to gather - and there's a really wonderful thing about 4. Everyone can be your friend. Sure, there were a few tears, but mostly the kids just went right to the business of having fun.

The moonbounce proved to be a wild bit of entertainment, with kids diving in and out of it all morning. Possibly even more amazing than how well everyone got along and how much fun they had, was that nobody ended up going to the ER.

Occasionally, Helen would bop into the moonbounce for a bit of jumping, and Connor would tell the other children to not bounce too much because Helen was in there. It wouldn't take long for Helen to realize she was outmatched though and head back out.

She enjoyed the party, possibly mostly because baby Ari was there, and the fascination with him has not subsided in the least.


Monday, October 19, 2009

What next?

On weekend mornings, after breakfast I generally tell Ed what my plan for the day is. Last Saturday, Helen had other ideas. Immediately following breakfast she announced "This is my plan for today."

We all eagerly looked in her direction and she firmly announced "No boardwalk walking!".

Connor was in full agreement with the plan, for I suppose he took it as a sign he was finally getting some respect. He's been into rules and signs lately, and a few weeks ago when my dad and Ed removed most of the boardwalk from our backyard, Connor insisted a sign be put up that said "No Boardwalk Walking". He explained at the time that it would be dangerous since parts of the boardwalk were missing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Bedtime conversations

Me: Connor, go make your potty and then we'll read your last book.
Connor, turning to me with a wild look in his eyes "for 53 years I've been putting up with you telling me to do stuff and I do not like it".
Me: OK, well, go make your potty and then we'll read your last book.

I have to admit, I was impressed with, but a little confused by the conversation. As it turns out, it's a line he adapted from the Grinch.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Two Year Appointment Wrap-Up

Helen saw Dr. Barakat on Tuesday for her two-year check-up. When he walked in the door she said "Dr. Bear-cat, my daddy no here right now. He is at work. This my mommy." The way she said it, I felt like she thought Dr. Barakat would be disappointed to see me when in fact, outside of a couple of newborn appointments, I am the only parent he ever sees. No introduction is necessary, though it was still nice, I suppose.

Dr. Barakat's response? "Well, Helen, it's nice to see your mommy. I guess I don't have to ask her about your speech."

Me: "She speaks in sentences."

Helen: "Connor at school today."

The appointment continued with Helen interjecting random things about her life, as if her and Dr. Barakat were old friends catching up after not seeing each other for a few years.

Finally, the appointment was over and Dr. Barakat mentioned that she would get her flu shot and one other.

Helen looked at him very firmly and crossed her arms in front of her: "Helly no want the flu shot. Ouch! Helly no like it."

Me: "Sorry Helen, but that reminds me, can Helen have her shots in the leg instead of the arm. She's still mad about the last one."

Dr. Barakat: "Absolutely, I'll tell the nurse." Then, turning to Helen "Helen, my dear, you are perfect. You are the reason I became a pediatrician. It has been a pleasure to see you today. Hopefully we will not see each other for a year because that will mean you continue to be in excellent health."

And with that the nurse came in and gave Helen her two shots, and unlike last time when Helen talked about her flu shot for at least a week, she was over it by the time we got to the car and she hasn't mentioned it again.

Vital stats: 22 pounds exactly (which is the 3rd percentile - and yes I did give Helen a 4 ounce bottle on the way to the doc's office!), 20th percentile height, and 50th percentile head circumference.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Happy 50 months, Connor!

Dear Connor,

Yesterday, you turned 50 months. And you are so much like your father that sometimes I want to hug you because I absolutely adore you, and other times I want to kick you because you make me completely insane. Take, for example, our recent trip to the zoo. You wanted to push Helen in the stroller - sweet. Then you wanted to push her with the front wheels up so you could see better, like the way she pushes the stroller when there are no occupants. Fair enough, except that I understand gravity better than you apparently do, so I very clearly told you "DO NOT TIP THAT STROLLER BACK WHEN HELEN IS IN IT BECAUSE IT WILL FALL", but just like your dad would do, you tipped it back. And it fell. And Helen's head hit the ground. Why is this like your father? Because he typically assumes that his ability to generalize from one experience to the next is superior to advice someone will give him. And unfortunately, he is so often correct that it is just a self-reinforcing trait. You're the same way.

When your dad and I were dating, I used to take him to shows at the Kennedy Center or Broadway regularly. Except for Stomp, I could pretty much predict your dad's review "about an hour too long". Last Sunday, you, Helen, and I went to "Go Dog Go!" at Adventure Theatre and true, it was the longest show we've been to. But I was still a little surprised when we walked out and you said "that show was a little too long". And I thought you were going to be my theatre-going buddy. I think partly you were disappointed because you saw the advertisement for "The Little Engine That Could" and you were hoping we were seeing that - but that show is not for another month.

You've been a really happy little dude this month because there are so many projects going on, that pretty much anytime you want you can join one. Sometimes, you're even helpful!

School wears you out, which makes for long naps in the afternoon. You're so busy taking everything in, flitting from one activity to the next - always happy when Mr. Kinnicutt lets you work on one of his projects. Apparently Sam has adopted you as a little brother. The two of you share a cubby, and apparently he spends his day showing you the ropes of the Oak Tree class. This was pretty funny news to me, since your comments about Sam are almost always "Sam got in trouble at school again today. He broke another window." I'm not sure if he ever broke one window, and I'm certain Mr. Kinnicutt would not actually get mad if he did (where do Kindergarten teachers get their patience, anyway?), but for whatever reason, Sam is naughty in your mind, and you are completely attracted to him. I suspect you like hanging out with someone so much bigger than you because at home, you are solidly the leader. Having someone to follow around must be quite a relief.

You were the poster child of a perfect grandchild when your grandparents came to visit for a week. Even though I did not prompt you at all, you asked your Grandma to please not leave and you told them you wanted them to come back and stay with us forever. I'd like that too, Connor, but only a lot of pleading from you could make it happen. Good luck.

You spent a few days being sick, and you make the perfect patient. You don't really complain that much, you just go and lie down. Apparently you fear being given the wrong medicine because you always tell us when we tell you that it's time for medicine whether it's time for Tylenol or Motrin. Thankfully, you like them both. It was a pretty persistent fever, and you clearly felt awful, but you did your best to sleep it off and keep yourself hydrated. You didn't even want the radio playing much because you found it too distracting. It earned you a few nights in my bed, with me up in yours. When you're really sick, Daddy reports you sleep like a rock. When you're starting to feel better, you like to try and shove him off the bed with your persistent moves closer to him. That's the sign that it's time for you to move back upstairs.

There is one thing this month that I have really learned to appreciate about you. While you might express affirmative preferences for clothing (yellow and rainbow are good), you have never refused to wear something. This is in stark contrast to your sister who thinks anything that is neither pink nor purple is unsuitable. I appreciate your response to clothing.

Fall is here, and with that comes a trip to the farm. You chose the biggest pumpkin you could find, and I can't wait to carve it and eat all the seeds! It's so big, that your dad has to carry it around!

You have become my very sensitive child, keenly aware of the feelings of others around you. You've always been compassionate beyond your years, but I really notice now how you want to be a positive force. Your dad and I are so lucky to have you.