Wednesday, August 31, 2011

This Year's Version of the Train Birthday Cake

We went swimming for Connor's birthday this year, and I needed a cake that I could transport easily. Per usual, Connor requested some sort of train. Here's a hint - Cupcakes + Oreos = Train!


Things that Make Connor's First Grade Teacher Awesome

1. Every time I have seen her she's had a Starbucks coffee cup in her hand. It makes me feel like we're on the same wavelength. And, can we all say "easy teacher gift" together? Thank you, universe.

2. She sent a note to Connor welcoming him to class. I thought it was super sweet.

3. She named her classroom HerLastNameVille. The letter she sent had a return address of HerLastNameVille. I love a teacher who owns her room. And I presume she has assigned herself to be the Mayor of HerLastNameVille. I mean, why else name your class HerLastNameVille if she's not going to stake out some good turf in it?

4. Today, a day before everyone else was to go to an open house, she hung out with Connor for over a half hour talking about things he did over the summer, the mosquitoes in our backyard, the class garden, the koi fish that died, the koi fish that got released into someone else's pond (with their permission), and really, just about everything under the sun. And she used real words that real people use, not talking in some weird jilted language that teachers often use with young people.

5. She has the book "Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon" in her class. It's a favorite around these parts. And a comfort to see at school.

6. She told Connor his mom was awesome for purchasing the prepackaged school supplies. In this case, "awesome" could easily be code for "lazy" or, to put it in a nicer light "efficient". Our school's PTA has a fundraiser where you can go online, indicate which class your child will be in, give them a credit card, and then magically all the supplies your child is supposed to bring to class are awaiting him when he arrives. I pay the regular price for them, the PTA is actually purchasing at a discount, so the difference becomes the PTA's. I save time, they get money.

The one mistake she made? She reminded Connor about a game that the children play at the end of the year (which he saw when we visited last year) where they get paid money to do work, and then they get to go to the class store which is full of prizes and stuff the children have made to sell and buy stuff. She told him this as soon as he shared his latest obsession, which is Monopoly, Jr. His eyes lit up. My guess is that he will ask her approximately once daily "is it time for the store yet?". Because this? This is really speaking Connor's language.

Tomorrow we go back for orientation to meet everyone in the class. I'm thrilled that one of the little guys Connor met at an after-school program run by the PTA last year is in his class. Connor was super excited about this as well.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Teaching Connor to Read

Connor didn't learn to read in Kindergarten. In fact, he didn't even work with letters - except as his interest dictated. His assistant teacher remarked to me how fascinated Connor seemed to be with signs and in one of his drawings, there's a gnome with a STOP sign.

His first grade teacher knows this. On our last visit to her classroom last year, she asked me if I could please teach Connor his letters and what sound they make. That, she said, would help her a lot.

Lucky for me, as it turns out, Connor already knew his letters and their sounds. Every babysitter he has comments on what a genius he is, and then they get an irresistable urge to teach him letters and sounds - either because they are sure I am mucking it up and cannot believe I am not trying to capitalize on his genius or because they're so used to other moms saying to work on this stuff that it's what they naturally do. Because that other kid at the park who is not as smart as Connor? He is READING! Reading! Did I mention there was a dumb kid at the park reading?!? I politely smiled every time this conversation came up.

Since I discovered the dude knows his letters, I basically dropped all plans of teaching him to read this summer - which had been my goal. I just wasn't interested. That, and I'd rather go to the park or pool after dinner than sit and teach him to read. But a few weeks ago, I decided to give it a go. First, I stumbled upon the rockingest babysitter ever - who actually has a master's degree in education, and she got the ball rolling. Then, I got out the Bob books.

I reviewed some hints from my friend Amy over at Teach Mama. A while back, she posted some great tips about reading out loud - which I adapted a bit to teaching someone how to read - and about Kindergarten prep (which I'm doing for the first grade).

And then I dove in.

I started by making sure Connor and I sat with his books before bed. He struggled - really struggled - and Ed pointed out that maybe an earlier time in the evening would be better. So I switched to (mostly) right after dinner. Sometimes, I catch him early in the morning, and sometimes we still work together at night. In general, earlier is better.

Unlike numbers, which Connor grasps intuitively, letters do not come so easy. For starters, he's a very exact child, so when someone taught him the sound for "g" and said "guh", that's how he filed it away. The word D-O-G - that would be Dogguh in Connor's vernacular. It was hard to convince him to love the "uh", and more than once I wanted to bang my head on a wall. Seriously. I'm used to a kid who picks up everything super easily. This was a really different experience.

When Connor couldn't figure something out, he would start crawling on me, lying on the floor, begging me to "just tell me!!" but mostly, I just sat there, and thought of different ways to break the letter combinations down for him.

Another problem with teaching Connor to read is that he has a freakishly good memory. You may recall that when Connor was 2.5, he recited the entire book "Make Way for Ducklings" backwards - after hearing it that way once. A month or two before that, my friend Ellen came over to visit and Connor wanted me to read him something. I wasn't fast enough for him, so he plopped down and recited a pretty long book word for word. Ellen looked and me and said "when you said Connor memorized books, I didn't realize you meant word for word with absolutely no prompting". This memory could be used for good - like memorizing certain word patterns and sounds - but instead, he uses it for evil. He simply memorizes the entire book. So if he gets through a book a few times, it's memorized, and then I harldy would call that reading. Purpose defeated.

While teaching Connor to read, I decided I would only honor the calmest, happiest part of myself when Connor and I were engaged. That is harder than you might imagine. My "just get it done" self can be quite demanding.

I'm proud to say, that after a few weeks of this mostly torturous process, Connor has started to read. Amen. Hallelujah. I mustered more patience than I have at any other moment in my life, and I cannot wait to fob the remainder of this task off on a paid professional. I've been assured by Mrs. H. that she's ready.
We've got another week here before school starts. Who knows what will happen after that. But I feel pretty good about where Connor is right now.


P.S. Hurricane Irene predicted to come pay a visit. Hopefully it's just a bunch of rain.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

DC Earthquake - Not Fun

It's true. I've changed. For starters, I look a lot older than I used to. It's incredible, really. Prior to the birth of Connor, I actually had muscles and was fit enough to complete a triathlon and bike across the Loire Valley a couple of months later. Now? Not so much. The other thing that differs greatly about me of late is that I've turned up the crazy irrational part of me by several notches. It happened the first time I held Connor. I knew then that my job was to protect this little person with all my might - because nobody could ever love him like I do. And that feeling just multiplied when Helen came into my life 26 months later. Let's just say, I take my job at protecting these kids seriously.

Flashback to a beautiful blue skied day in September a few months after Ed and I had gotten married and purchased our first home. The weather was perfect.

And then planes starting falling from the sky.

I was intensely aware that my life partner was sitting a few blocks from the capitol, and I was sitting a few blocks from the White House and the IMF. When the first plane struck the World Trade Center, I called Ed. The usually wrong and irrational part of me was ablaze. I advised him to leave his building. But Ed, being the calm partner in this duo, sat there. He doesn't rattle easily. The second plane hit and then he started to get a little bit nervous, but I don't think he was really bothered until the Pentagon was in flames and there were (mostly inaccurate) news reports of all sorts of damage flying fast.

Our reactions to this event describe us perfectly.

Today, when the earthquake struck, I was in the dentist's office. I felt it before anyone else, I hopped out of the chair, and reached for my cell phone. My absolute first thought was that DC had been bombed. And I needed to get in touch with my children's babysitter and confirm they were OK. Before I had dialed the phone, it became obvious that the shaking lights and dental equipment were being driven not by some explosive force, but rather, by an earthquake.

The crazy thing is this. Ed was downtown at his office, and do you know what his first thought was?

A bomb.

I'm not even kidding here - September 11, 2001 has meant that when something happens that, in Ed's words "is clearly not nothing", his first thought is that we are under attack.

And that's really what a lot of people here thought.

Which is why the earthquake was so freakin' scary. Just like on September 11, 2001, for the most part, we were all sitting at our desks (or in the dentist's office, as it were) experiencing the calmest day possible. And then strange things started happening.

The earthquake? It clearly wasn't a disaster. A couple of vases fell off a shelf to their demise that belonged to my former au pair, all of the pictures in my home now hang with a slight tilt, and several drawers slid open as if they existed merely to punctuate this event with their thud as they became ajar.

But my heart raced for a whole lot longer than it did back in 2001. This time, I had a lot more on the line. I had those two little people (one of whom slept through the whole thing, the other of whom took cover in my bed next to the sleeping one and fell to sleep instantly herself).

I am changed. I think we all are.


Monday, August 22, 2011

Happy Month 46, Helen!

Dear Helen,

You are my charming sweetheart who loves bright patterns and pink. Your sense of style remains unmatched in this house, and it's a rare occasion that you do not express an opinion about what you are wearing, what you are doing, or what you are planning. In other words, you still talk non-stop.

Unfortunately for me, a lot of what you seem to be saying is "NO!", "I don't care" and other bad-attitude related phrases. But of course, when you say "I don't care" it often is just a defensive maneuver and you really do care. For example, when I said "come get your hair combed so you can ride on the boat". You respond "NO! I don't care about the boat". So I said, "OK, you don't have to go on the boat", and you sobbed. Because, still, you can turn on the tears in a New York City minute.

Most of the time though, you still use your smile to brighten a room. And oh my, your hair is getting curlier by the day and you hear how cute you are approximately as many times as you meet someone new or someone sees you for the first time in a while. You've got a good combination going.

You love to run beside the car or bike when your dad or I head off to work, shouting "bye bye Mommy / Daddy" until we reach the stop sign and must turn. Every day I think you're going to trip and tumble, but so far, it's nothing but smiles. You also like to tuck a toy into our office bags, and let us know we should show everyone else in our offices. Lucky parents, we are.

You have become quite the finger knitter, and can entertain yourself for a fair amount of time as you create new things. If your dog needs a leash and you can't find one of the million scarves or ribbons in your possession, you simply make a new one with yarn! Crafty, my dear. Someday, maybe we can knit socks together as you tell me about how college is going for you.

In a few weeks, you'll begin going to school by yourself three mornings a week. You could not be more thrilled about this adventure. It's a little sad that Connor won't be there, so the two of you could see each other on the playground occasionally. As other moms ask me nervously about the first day of school, I can tell them that I'm really happy for you. You are ready to go, you are going to the best place I could imagine sending you, and I'll be surprised if you don't fall in love immediately.

You still love babies. You tend to care for one and drag it around everywhere you go, and then will all of a sudden fall in love with a different one. You've got a lot of love to give. You fall in love fast with people, too.

You have proven yourself to be quite the daredevil. We've gone to three amusement parks this summer - Busch Garden in Williamsburg, VA, Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, MO, and The Great Escape, which is somewhere in upstate, NY. You loved every one of them, and accompanied your dad on as many thrilling rides as you could find. The Scrambler was a favorite at all of the parks. If you're tall enough to go on it, you want to go on it. This is one of few times where being short truly is a disadvantage. I remember going to Worlds of Fun year after year, only to be denied entrance to the bumper cars. Devastating, it was. Each year, I'd stretch as tall as I could, and my mom would have this look in her eye almost pleading with the attendant to please, please, please let me ride, but that damn height requirement was firm. I imagine you and I will be performing the same ritual. Bummer. Total Bummer. But there are also a million ways that being short is an advantage, and I assure you, they'll be more meaningful to you in the long run.

Oh, if everyone had your vocabulary, they'd be a lot more interesting to talk with. I adore it. Your way of picking up words differs from Connor's method. He typically waits to hear a word used a few times, and then will use it in context when he's got it figured out. Whenever you hear a word you don't know, you immediately demand to know its meaning.

While on vacation, your grandmother and everyone else got to see your saddest moment ever. We were preparing to go get ice cream and you were mad at me for asking you to put your shoes on. I turned back to the dresser to find socks for Connor, and you snuck up behind me and whacked me on the bottom. Now, it certainly didn't hurt, and I could've just laughed it off, but I'm firm on my no hitting Mommy policy, and especially no hitting Mommy out of anger. So, I picked you up and let you know you would not be going for ice cream. Oh, how you howled. And howled. And howled. And every adult in the room could hardly make eye contact with me and you as I kept you firmly affixed to my hip and calmly repeated "you may not hit me". Then, I set you down, and you ran faster than I have ever seen you run, with the singular motivation to get to your daddy. And you beat me out the door, and you sobbed for the only hero who you knew could save you, and you went right for him. I appeared at this point and gave him the look that said "if you do anything except deposit that screaming child back in my arms, we are getting divorced" and so, as hard as it was for him, he gave you back to me. Apparently, your cousins were wide mouthed and wondering what the heck was going on and their mom quipped "sometimes, when someone says no, they mean it". You made one more mad dash, but the cars were gone, and although you assured me you were going to fly to the ice cream store that night, we both knew there would be no ice cream for the evening. We read books of your choosing, we laughed, you cried some more, you fell asleep faster than you've fallen asleep in a long time, hugging me tightly on the teeny-tiny Dora sofa bed that you had propped on your bunk bed and requested I join you in. Before you fell asleep, you did ask whether we could get ice cream tomorrow, and we did. In fact, we went right after lunch because I didn't want to risk you getting tired and being in a bad mood and missing out on ice cream again. You licked up every drop of that delicious chocolate ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. And you were my lovely Helen for the remainder of the trip. In fact, you started out the next morning by telling me you were never going to hit me again. You then extended the pledge to being no hitting, biting, punching, nor kicking. Frankly, I had no idea you were planning all those other things. I'm thinking this is temper tantrum number 2, but possibly it's temper tantrum number 3. Definitely, it's a number less than five. Number 1 was also over ice cream.

And since then, Helen, you've been an absolute doll. You're running and skipping and laughing and having so much fun it's infectious. Both your dad and I sit back and think about how lucky we are to have you.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy 6th Birthday, Connor!

Dear Connor,

Cross another year off. You’re six! And that surely means good things are upon us. I’ve not kept up with the monthly notes, which is truly a pity. I wish I had them to look back upon. But alas, I do not, so perhaps I shall be motivated to write monthly in the future.

Five provided a lot of fantastic memories. We played hard, your artwork flourished, and you joined the diving team. Six has become known as the year you fell in love with math. You also were utterly reasonable so often that when you would be a little nutty, it threw me for a terrible loop. Yes, you bicker with your sister, and yes, that makes me completely insane. And yes, you flirt with pushing her around and seeing what you can get away with. But all and all, I think you’re more moderate than most your age.

Connor, age 5
Connor, age 6
So now that you’re 6, you like to play structured games. You love all manner of board games, and you can beat some adults at checkers – even when they’re trying. Competition motivates you greatly, but although it annoys me often, I still use it to my advantage. As in “first one out of the gift shop wins!” I tried that challenge as we departed the Philadelphia aquarium on your actual birthday. All interest of scoring some sort of treasure from the shop evaporated with the challenge. You enjoy kicking a ball around the yard, making your dad’s goal posts as narrow as possible while widening yours at every chance. You’re starting to get the hang of your bike, and you enjoy roller skating. Most of all, you thrill in riding your scooter.

Connor the builder, with Helen the princess builder in the background.

Where once you scribbled, now you draw boats, docks, trains and for your birthday, you decided to write a book. You have completed the illustrations, and you’ve been working on the story. I’m hoping you gift it to me. I might just put it on my shelf when it’s finished so I get to keep it. You see an object and then draw it. Lately, you’ve been drawing gnomes in caves protecting gems. Your paintings are beautiful.

The diving team provided more entertainment value than any other single endeavor I can recall – for both of us. And since all I had to do was watch your uncoordinated body become slightly less uncoordinated, it was a hoot. It took a while until someone reminded me of the time Greg Louganis banged his head on the board at the Olympics. That dampened my enthusiasm for the sport somewhat. I hope I’m never witness to that.

Math. It’s your friend. This year, you have tried to drive me to the loony bin as you count by 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s… This represents a solid step up from the days of “what’s 2+3?” and other fascinating questions that amused you for far too long. But still, this counting gets old. You also love dividing and multiplying and most importantly, you can actually apply your math smarts. For example, if we tell you something will happen in two weeks, you will multiply 7 and 2 to know that it’s fourteen days away. You are positive that infinity times infinity must be bigger than infinity. Ummm…no. And we’ve discussed this more than once, I’m afraid.

You’re a bit apprehensive about starting first grade, because you know at your beloved Waldorf school, you’d get to stay in Kindergarten another year – and you would very much love that. The age cut-off is 6 months different than public school. But, you’re heading to public school next year, and that means first grade. The teacher you will have is simply remarkable, and I do think the two of you will get on well together.

In preparation for first grade, we’ve been reading and, I’m looking forward to the days where you will be reading on your own all the time. When you can go to your school library, study the spines of the books, and figure out what world will be opened for you next. I believe you’re going to be blown away. The sheer amount of information contained in that room is almost impossible to fathom. The fact that your new school has such a lovely library is a new experience, and one I think you’ll love. There is also a dedicated art room, and your classroom looks out on the playground – where I am assured you will play, rain or shine, every day. And that brings great comfort to me.

We celebrated your birthday in Kansas with family, in Arlington with friends, and then in New York with more family. I think three celebrations is pretty good, but I'm quite certain you'd be game for another. We've had a back-up babysitter lately and her mom gifted you with a man made entirely out of rolls of coins. A finer present she could not have produced.

You've decided to be a White Sox fan, which is nothing short of atrocious, but I do believe I still have you as a Wildcat!

You’re a joy to have around, and just like when you were a baby and every day was better than the last, so too, are these days.



Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mom Power, Inspired by Disney's New Movie - The Help

My friend Ellen and I took a rare Monday evening to head to the movies. We had passes to see "The Help" - and we both loved not only the chance to sit and eat sushi together before the movie, but also the chance to see a flick on the silver screen. Neither of us tend to do this very often.

The movie made me think about the powerful bond between a mother and her child - for better or worse. "The Help" points out that in the Jim Crow South, black Americans loved and raised white babies. Eventually, these babies grew up and would own either them, or the rights to their labor. It drives home the point about just how powerful a lesson is, when it comes from Mom. In many, many cases, a child was raised by a black American and the lesson of treating them as a second class citizen (learned from Mom) was more powerful than the lesson of being loved by the person that took care of them.

In this particular case, it's sad. Really sad. But it's also a refreshing thought for a working mom. That the lessons I try and convey to my children will be the most important ones.

Of course, I'm trying to convey the lessons of treating everyone with dignity and to always work against inequalities. I think that's where peace begins. And despite all the turmoil that surrounds us these days, I look at my children and know that the future can be good, indeed.


Disclosure: I received two free passes to see a preview of "The Help". I enjoyed the movie - although any movie about the segregated South makes me cringe inside, and am told I'll enjoy the book even more. My sister saw it today and gave it the thumbs up as well.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Planning for the Future - Some People Always Find the Sunny Side

Ed got a new bag carrier attachment on his bike, which apparently impressed Helen a great deal. When he pulled up this evening, this was what she told him.

"Wow, Dad, that's really cool! That bag fits right on your wheel. Maybe someday I can have your bike...When you die...Then I'll use the trailer bike with my kid!"

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bring the Tray, Too

Tonight at dinner, Helen could not have been squirmier. Finally, Ed told her if she didn't sit still and eat he would have to get the high chair.

Helen responded by demanding not only that he get the high chair, but that he buckle her in it and get the tray, too!

That's what I call turning the tables. I give both of them credit though, it did work.


Buy That Kid Some Dance Lessons

On Saturday night, we went to the newly re-opened Lubber Run Amphitheater to hear live music. We went to hear Justin Trawick, a local singer-songwriter who Ed and I saw perform at Iota a year or two ago. At that performance, Trawick came and introduced himself to us because we were quite possibly the only people in the room he didn't already know. When I got home that night, I vowed to become a groupie. We haven't seen him since. You might say I'm not the most loyal groupie.

We started the evening in the back of the amphitheater where it wouldn't be too loud, since certain of the family doesn't actually like loud music. (That would be the sub four-feet tall contingent.) After a couple of songs, Helen wanted to move to the front, and Connor decided to follow suit. A few songs later, Helen started shakin' her thang' - if it is possible for a three year old to have a "thang" - and she didn't quit. She was totally getting into the music, hips bouncing back and forth, arms gyrating every which way, and criticizing me for not spinning enough. I noticed the bass player laugh at one point.

Then Trawick looked her direction and directed the entire crowd to look her way, asking if we rented her out for parties. Yes! And then the entire amphitheater gave her a round of applause, as she continued to shake her little tushy. If was, quite simply, hilarious. After several songs, she would ask "is he going to play another song" and then would be completely thrilled when we affirmed additional songs were coming.

I think the excuse of "going to see loud music" is no longer going to be cause for getting her to be less interested in date nights. I'll also note she might be the best dancer in the family.