Never let anybody tell you that children's games are frivolous or that they don't have anything to do with real life. All the training from one of my favorite board games from my youth came in mighty handy today, when a keyhole was just too tempting a place to deposite a piece of Lego.
Griff, standing in my bedroom doorway this morning:
"Mom, did you know I have a girlfriend?"
I actually did know, or rather, I know that he and Mia Krivanec have been sweet on each other since Kindergarten, when the use of the too-adult-for-five-year-olds words "girlfriend", "boyfriend", and "love" were declared taboo (a far cry from Sabot's response to young love). I know that he was delighted to learn that her desk would face his in their little pod of five kids in his first grade classroom. I know that he's told me that he likes her in a special way, a way he can't quite explain, and that his teacher thinks the two of them are so cute together, completely smitten. I know that they eat lunch together and that they play together at lunch often enough that Mia's friend Mariposa is furious.
But "girlfriend"? It hadn't been declared official yet. I told him that I knew he liked Mia, but that I was happy that he was sharing that she's his girlfriend with me. Apparently he asked her, and she agreed. There doesn't seem to be anything required to be boyfriend and girlfriend other than loving each other and enjoying spending time together. Which is the way it should be, right? ♥
Xander calls me "honey" or "hon" all day long, when he's not calling me "Jess'ca." Today I've heard "what's wrong, hon?" and "other breast, honey," among other endearing requests. It amuses me to hear him call "honey? honnnnnneeeeeeeey! honey, wheh yah youuuu?" across the house for me. He also often asks for "mommy snuggles" and imitated the back scratching that one of his brothers gave me. It's awesome to me to see how generous a toddler can be, not just taking affection but giving it back purposefully, patting my cheek or offering tastes of a lollipop to his brothers.
Reese is super-affectinate lately, offering frequent kisses, and unlike his brothers, he prefers not to aim for the lips. I never know what part of me he will request for the delivery of a kiss: my hand, my shoulder, my knee. He sneak-attacks me and kisses my backside in the kitchen. We'll chalk this up to my bum being at his eye level and assume this reflects no enduring issues on his part. He also asks for snuggles throughout the day. He and Xander both cuddle me in the morning, and Reese's day ends with snuggling and talking with the lights turned out. He almost always requests that I sing "Overkill" before I kiss him goodnight and leave, usually calling him "my sweet boy" before I go. Tonight's goodnight kisses were planted on each other's elbows.
Griff continues to radiate a tenderness that amazes me. He has a way of looking at me or at Dan with a certain expression that is like liquid love pouring from his eyes. Last year he devised a code to signal to each other - one person signs "I love you" and the other signs "I love you, too". He uses it as a way of keeping connected to us; he often looks out through the bus window in the morning and we exchange signs, or he might randomly do it during the day when he catches our eye. It's always with that crinkle-eyed expression. Oh, that boy. He's helpful, too - folding his own clothing, or doing random things like washing, drying, and putting away dishes on a whim. (!!) He sets a great example for his brothers, both of whom have been spotted clearing their own dishes without my request lately. He and Reese are becoming good friends and he and Xander adore each other.
Somebody tell me that they'll stay this sweet forever! Please?
When it comes to cutesy kid classes, we're notorious non-joiners - while other toddlers are happily sitting still or going through the Music-Together or Gymboree paces, mine are all "f*ck that sh*t, I'm outta here." I did a brief and underwhelming mother/son swimming class with Griff when he was 2, and a futile stab at library storytime with him and again later with Reese. I ended up deciding that you know what, I can read books any time at home. We can sing and clap hands and all that stuff on our own. Checking out the interesting corrugated drain pipe and the geese in the pond outside the window and exploring the stacks is far more important and cannot be done at home. Forget this organized storytime stuff. Who expects two-year-olds to sit quietly? Did any of these librarians read a developmental text, ever? 305.23, folks.
Well, anyway, Xander the uber-social, go-with-the-flow, follow-the-leader child seems like maybe he'd actually be interested in those sorts of things, so I've occasionally considered going back to the library or taking some other kind of class with him. Problem is scheduling it around his big brothers' schedules. Then Luke and Sarah invited Xander and me to join them for a Yoga Tykes class on Tuesday mornings while the big kids are in school. The selling point: these folks understand the abilities and limitations of babies/toddlers, so while the hope is to enjoy a yogalicious good time with them, the expectation is that they might just watch, or run around shrieking, or pitch a fit, or all of the above. Sounds perfect, sign us up.
So...today was our fourth class, and I have to say, after initially finding it to be a tad too Barney-flavored for me, then thinking the shrieking-to-yoga ratio was unfavorable (I mean, there should be some yoga, right?), a week of Xander asking to do "run-around-yogi" and inspiring his brothers to beg for kitchen-floor pose demonstrations has convinced me that this class is a good fit for us. I saw a lot of actual baby yoga ("baby yogurt," according to Luke and Xander) happening in between kids stealing each other's wubbies and making bolsters into a train. Dare I say it? I might actually sign up for another session.
I forgot to mention in the Xander update: he surprised Dan and me last week by referring to both of us by our names. I didn't even know he knew who "Dan" and "Jess" are, but apparently he does. This morning he couldn't get my attention and started hollering "Jess! Jess! Help you!"
This shouldn't surprise me; Griffin calls Dan by name on a regular basis and occasionally does the same to me. I think it disturbs some of the more traditional Mr. & Mrs. types that we know (who, now that I think of it, are few and far between these days), but after the initial strangeness of it, neither of us minds. If the owner of the name isn't bothered, no problem.
A weekful of days, you know, like when you say you're having a day. But it lasts a week. None of it photogenic, especially because of the part where my camera died last week, anyway. My beloved camera, which caused much pain. That's a whole other story, and one with a happy ending. Other stuff first.
We drove up to Delaware on Sunday, taking all the stuff we'd stashed away for the road trip to the beach. Good thing, because what should have been a 4 hour trip became a nearly 7 hour trip. Traffic crawled. Horrible, horrible. The kids were troopers.
Dan and I joked about the superior Maryland roads but lack of mileage
indicators for food and gas. Hey, in Virginia, the journey may be
crap, but at least you know how long it will be. And we joked about
the sign for a decoy museum, imagining people being fooled into
entering it,thinking it's a real museum. We made notes to research
what exactly the piles are near the harbor (pretty sure they're road
salt, but what *is* road salt, and is that really what the piles are?)
We were reminded by frequent billboards not to move firewood.
I sniped at him about getting off the highway at freaking
takes-forever-to-find-anything Columbia for gas, and then looked out my
window at the "Choose Civility" bumper sticker on the car next to us. (Check the link. Oh, Howard County, you are so *precious*.)
We had family conversations like this:
Xander: "A wawa? A wawa?"
Jess: "You want water?"
Xander: "A money?"
Jess: "You want money?"
Griff: "Aww, he's just so grown up already!"
Xander begged for bridges constantly after crossing the Potomac for the
first time. Dan and I realized that this was his first significant
trip out of state (not counting DC). All the way to Wilmington we
heard "more bridge!!" Every overpass was a cause for celebration, then
"I want more bridge." He was happy until we hit 6 hours. We missed most of the wake, then stayed up way too late in the hotel pool, waiting for takeout. Pizza and Chinese by the pool, the exotic nature of a motel room (pronounced "niiiiice" by Griffin), cable TV, everybody sleeping in one room. The stuff happy childhood memories are made of. We made Belgian waffles for breakfast in the motel canteen the next morning, trundled off to Bear to the Veteran's cemetary for the (really brief) funeral.
Then came a wonderful thing. Well, first an awful thing: everybody was DONE. Melty-downy super-frowny DONE. We almost skipped the post-funeral family-reunion-ish restaurant meal. But we didn't skip it, and it turned out to be in a great sunny casual room in a waterfront restaurant in charming charming charming Chesapeake City. The streets there - few as they are and named things like "Bohemia" - are lined with Victorian homes that are part-residence, part-business: B&B rooms, antique shops, photo galleries, and such are tucked in here and there. It took forever to get our meal (which was delicious) but we were able to stroll along the canal with kids or visit with relatives. Better yet, we found a little waterside ice cream shop for an after-lunch treat with the kids before hitting the road. It was wonderful. It felt like a gift.
The whole meal at Bayard's was punctuated by what my brother Kyle called "the boat alarm": "boat!!! BOAT!!!!!! water! boat!!!!" Oh, and there was a bridge, a HUGE bridge, within view the whole time. Xander may want to consider relocating to Chesapeake City permanently.
Oh, it was lovely...and I missed my camera. Although I think maybe I needed that trip without the camera to show me how much I need the camera. I did take the old PowerShot A620 with me, and was dismally disappointed in the few pics I took. I may have whined a few times to my sibs. One brother didn't get it. My sister sortof got it. I said it was like missing a limb. Some friends at some point thought it would be a good, restful thing that I would go to the beach next week with no camera, or with only the point-and-shoot. I wanted to point-and-shoot THEM. People, not having a camera is not restful. Taking pictures IS restful to me. It's not about the documentation, it's about art. Gah!
Other fidgety moments: repeated questions from Reese: "What is a coffin?" "What is a cemetery?" "Will the coffin ever open again?" Reese has a way of asking things with no correct answer. He's not really asking what he seems to be asking. Determining what he really wants to know can drive you insane.
Everybody was SHOT long before we got home, meandering as we were on scenic 301 instead of taking the dreaded I-95. At some point I remembered the audio books on my iPod, and miracle of miracles, we didn't hear another peep for the rest of the way home. I'm downloading a ton before we go to the beach.
Tuesday and Wednesday were horrible. Trip fallout? Overtired kids? Just life with three hoodlums? Didn't help that first Griff, then Reese, had some odd probably-viral redness of one eye each. And our plans to catch the free movie on either of those days wouldn't have worked, anyway, because apparently some local summer camp programs send busloads of kids to them, preventing local families from being able to get in. I won't type what I think of them for making that choice. Or what I think of the theater for allowing it. Not cool, folks.
Let's see, the high point of Tuesday was when I discovered that Reese had found a container of children's Tylenol and had consumed the rest of the bottle. There was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and general swearing-off of all allegiance to this child, who has sorely taxed me lately. Oh, and research that revealed that he would have to swallow more than an entire bottle in order to seriously harm himself. This information was preceded and followed-up with extremely stern lecture about liver failure, aimed at the four-year-old.
Griff started a beach countdown. 6 days.
On Wednesday morning, Reese asked, "am I going to die today?" He repeated this on following mornings. I'll admit, it's nice to know if death is in the day's plan. Still, gosh, poor guy. He goes to a funeral, feels apprehensive yet curious about coffins, and then is warned by his mother about liver toxicity. "Great-grandma died yesterday, will I die today?" Dan explained why Great-grandma died and why we don't expect Reese to die. Heavy.
Somewhere in here a friend called me to have an intervention on the photo issue. A totally awesome friend who totally gets how yucky my stomach felt over the months of dreaming of beach macro photography, LOST. My vacation lost! The glorious glowing photos of friends, lost! No opportunity to distill the sun and wind and togetherness into beautiful images.
On Thursday, Xander called Reese a name for the first time. According to Dan, he said "you dumb." Reese, who freely calls anybody and anything "dumb," looked stricken.
Griffin changed the beach countdown to 4 days.
Also on Thursday, Xander caused his first major flood. He turned on the bathroom sink and added a roll of toilet paper. I'm wondering whether he had an accomplice. At any rate, he soon overflowed the sink and the whole room was flooded - so much that it was flowing into the boys' bedroom. While I was hauling a whole basketful of soggy, pulpy towels to the basement, I discovered water flowing through the ceiling onto the basement floor. Oh. My. Goodness. It was a second floor bathroom, what did we do!?! How much damage?!? I raced upstairs and discovered that while I was cleaning one bathroom, Reese put a whole roll of TP into the first floor toilet and flooded it. While I was cleaning *that*, he raided the sugar in the pantry again. I think there was more. I've blocked it. I ranted to local friends about the horrible difficulty in managing three small people, and the impossible balance of providing just enough leadership to children without being an overbearing, scarring tyrant.
On Friday, my new camera arrived. Five minutes with it, and I knew all would be well. Angels sang. Children were nice to each other, mostly. I was nice to them. We bought Crocs and pizza and ice cream at a mall. I easily redirected Reese when little things seemed overwhelming to him. We had a lovely afternoon and evening together. Reese asked Griffin to read his bedtime story to him. Dan found a sitter for the film festival tomorrow. I noticed that Griff had changed the beach countdown to 2 days. Dan left the hospital and sent a text stating that his vacation starts NOW.
Tomorrow we pack and scurry. In the middle, Dan and I will see the premiere of the 48 Hour Film Project films. We're hoping that local friends pack the theater and that Adam wins an audience award. Then Sunday, we're off! Peaches & beaches, here we come!
Reese is FOUR today! Can you believe it? There is something very big about the second child growing out of the baby years and becoming a big kid, which seems to be what the oft-painful transition from three to four is all about.
In the last couple of months, he has really been seeming four. He's showing so much voluntary compassion and helpfulness. He also beat me to the potty-training punch and asked for underwear the afternoon of his last day of school. I had been planning on taking a much firmer stance about it this summer and enforcing lots of naked time until he got it, so that by the time school came around again, no more diapers. Well, he got it on his own! Two weeks in underwear, of his own accord, and he's so proud of it! (Such a shot in the arm for my own "all in due time, when they're ready" mantra. Sometimes I lose my way and stop believing it for a second, and the kids bring me back to it every time.)
He's outgrowing a bedtime song, and asks not to have one 6 nights out of 7, most of the time. But on the up side, he asks for cuddling more than ever before. Morning snuggles, back scratches, stroking his hair at bedtime. He also loves to give affection in those ways. Four is so sweet!
A week or two ago he spelled his name. Griff picked up on the importance of this and remarked on it, congratulating his brother. They seem like buddies more and more of the time, really great playmates and collaborators. I love the way they've developing of making plans and working together on something.
This morning, I had planned a special pancake breakfast for him, but he declined and asked for toast. His day, his pick. He, Dan, and Xander went out while Griff and I tidied up the house, wrapped presents, and baked cupcakes. My brother Kyle called this morning looking for some company for Brody (who asked to see cousins!) and joined us and my parents for gift unwrapping, a trip to Reese's favorite deli for lunch, and dessert in the back yard. Reese requested "no singing and no candles," so we saluted him instead. (Of course, by that time he was burned out from the day, melted down, and enjoyed his cupcake inside with just daddy.) More cousin time outside while Dan and I met with our realtor (more on that later) and then time for bedtime with a new book. His favorite moments: cupcakes and a remote control tarantula courtesy of Mom-Mom and Pop-Pop. Everybody declared the day a success.
:: sleeping way in :: waking up in a quiet house :: six-year-old greetings next to flowers on the table :: hot coffee in the pot, and a card next to it :: brunch (scrapple, eggs, buttermilk pancakes) made by my attentive hubby :: children excited to see me open their homemade gifts :: movie date with the big boys :: family walk to the park :: Xander's first trip down the curly twirly slide :: first honeysuckle of the year, tastes all around :: buttercups and singing with Reese :: discovering a new community garden :: Nacho Mama's takeout for dinner ::
Somebody told me last week that they think Mother's Day should be for the moms who are in the trenches. I'm sure that's debateable, but this mom in the trench really enjoyed such a thoughtfully-planned yet flexible day. Alone time, enthusiastic kids, good food, and plenty of family time. Isn't that how motherhood should always be?
For ages, Adam and I have been planning a kid swap once they were old enough: one free morning for me and one free morning for him while the other watches both toddlers and the rest of the kids are at school. This is week two, and so far, so good. The swapped baby gets a little upset when they separate from their mom/dad and when they rejoin them, and there's an occasional moment of where's-my-mama despondency, and the occasional sippy cup squabble, but really, the boys are both doing pretty well.
Today, Xander, Luke and I went for a walk all the way around our block (amusing with two 17-month-olds on foot) which featured many sticks and puddles, and later Luke taught Xander a new word: MINE. Most excellent.
I somehow came across the blog everyone needs a rock yesterday and it put me in mind of this beautiful smooth one that I rediscovered in a box of knicknacks the other day. It is currently living on our mantelpiece and before we moved, it had taken up residence on the counter above the kitchen sink alongside my orchids. I think Reese brought it home - from whence I do not remember, if I ever knew. It is just the sort of thing that he would pick up and carry, enjoying its weight and its smoothness. Yesterday I carried it in my coat pocket and cupped it in my hand from time to time. Reassuringly, all this recent worrying about Reese has served to highlight some of the ways he and I are alike.
Xander is following in his nature-loving elders' footsteps as well. Every chance he gets, he's off on a hike, and we have little choice but to follow. Today he led the way while I carried my camera, trying to find clover to photograph. He pointed at magnolia droppings on the sidewalk, yelling "cone! cone!"
One of Reese's teachers mentioned "low tone" as a possibility for him
about a week ago, which sparked my recent examinations of what kind of
physical attention he needs and whether or not to pursue talking to an
occupational therapist. Yesterday she and I talked more about my
observations about his liking firm touch and needing pushy/aggressive
play. She recommended a book, The Out of Sync Child,
and last night I started thinking more and more about sensory
processing and how he seeks certain kinds of experiences (like pushing
his head against things, and enjoying putting things in his mouth) and
avoids others (he's reluctant to potty train, doesn't like loud/bright
places unless he can warm up gradually). He fits a LOT of the items on
the SPD checklist, it's actually quite amazing how the list calls to mind many things he does currently as well as things he did as a baby/toddler. It provides a new filter through which to view Reese, and suddenly a whole bunch of seemingly unrelated quirks come together and fit into a whole, in a way that helps me to understand him.
So...I think there's something here, in exploring the idea of Reese as a sensory seeker who is interacting with the world in a way that isn't average. I'm having trouble, though, with the idea of seeing it as "disordered." I do not think of him as out of sync or as having a disorder, nor do I think it would serve him well to label him as such. Considering new information about him or viewing it through a new lens is awesome. Treating it as something wrong that needs to be fixed? I don't see the usefulness of that. He is a functional person, not somebody with a neurological disorder. The statistic on the SPD Foundation website that 1 in 20 children has symptoms of this "disorder" sends up a red flag for me. Really, 5% of the population is screwed up? Maybe, instead, we need to take a look at how we define healthy function? Is this the next ADD, over-diagnosed, over-treated? Do kids lose something when they're expected to fit a narrow defnition of "normal"? (Would the artists and innovators of yesteryear stand a chance in today's schools?)
Dan and I have decided to proceed with caution on the diagnostic front. For now, we can seek information about sensory processing and use it to understand him better (no differently from how I would use new information about Griffin or Xander). Both of us approach testing thusly: what information will a test (evaluation, diagnostic protocol, etc) give us, and what will we do with that information? At present, I don't see an OT evaluation changing what we do, and I do see it potentially being a harmful process for him, so we will hold off on that unless we sense that seeking an expert opinion is truly in Reese's best interest.
I have a book group on March 15th, and despite the fact that I adore the book and have been working on it in 1-2 sentence snatches for the last two or more attention-span-deprived years, I'm a little concerned that I won't be done in time. So here I am, with a rather tasty glass of wine and a bit of dark chocolate "brownie puddle" left over from our dinner earlier tonight with Adam & Sarah & co., soaking in Naomi Aldort in the quiet of a house full of sleeping people.
Loving a child does not guarantee that he will experience himself as being loved.
True, and frightening.
So, tonight I was sitting on the floor, talking to Sarah, and we touched on how we probably have different core philosophies when it comes to parenting, and I said that I think, maybe, that core philosophy doesn't matter. Ok, I don't entirely mean that, I do think it matters to some extent, and I don't think a philosophy based on a parent totally dominating a child is a terribly good thing. But I think a lot of what parents *do* on a day to day basis, whether or not their kid was totally validated all the time or whether or not their kid was ever spanked or whether or not the parent ever totally lost their shit (to borrow a phrase from Sarah)...I don't think that stuff necessarily matters, if at the end of it all, the kid has experienced himself or herself as being loved. In my own life, being loved means a person accepting that my own perception of my own experiences is valid. Sometimes a person may have good intent, but if that is not my perception, how much does the intent matter? I suspect that intent only matters if the person with the intent is willing to understand, accept, own that what they intended may not have been what happened. I guess what I'm getting at is responsibility. No matter what we intend, we are responsible for the outcome of our actions.
In my life as a parent, I hope that I will own an appropriate amount of responsibility for my children's experiences. I hope that I am able to let them know what my intent was and listen to them and understand when my actions did not have the desired effect - whether because I erred, or because my children are not myself and will not always share the same view on what is necessary and good for them, and do not necessarily have the same needs and preferences.
I am hoping that even though I fall short of my ideals, and even though my very ideals may not be what my actual children turn out to need, that I will hear them. Really hear them and understand them. I hope that I have the humility for that, whenever it is necessary. I know it would mean a lot to me as a child, and I hope that I can do it as a parent.
I suspect that this is far more important than adhering to any one particular philosophy or playbook. Although isn't that a philosophy in itself?