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.