Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reflections on 2009

It’s been a year today since my fun and loving grandmother left us to go be with my grandfather. I never got around to a Christmas letter last year, as her loss brought with it the blessing of a nice family reunion to celebrate her life, and I got to catch up in person. So I am going to try the electronic version this year, and hope that she, the rest of my grandparents, and my Dad enjoy it.

It’s been a great year. Bookworm started it off by turning 8 and being baptized four days later. I still have a hard time figuring out how my toddler turned into this lovely young lady. She continues to be a voracious reader, and loves to work new vocabulary into conversation. I’m also thrilled to have our piano receiving regular use again since she started lessons at the end of the summer. Hearing her playing Christmas songs for the last month has been a real treat.

The rest of the winter was a blur of Girl Scout cookie sales…being troop cookie manager was a workout, but the really memorable part was Aslan taking a bite out of a Tagalong and having her first major allergic reaction. So when she started preschool in September, she got to take an Epi-pen along. She has taken it in stride, though (helped by the fact that Mom has finally mastered the art of eggless cake baking) and loves the art projects, songs, and playtime with friends that she eagerly reports to us after each class.

Spring brought the long, long, long-awaited day that Doc received the title in earnest. After whipping out his dissertation in about three months, he received his Ph.D. in education leadership, and is well on his way to turning that dissertation into his first professional publication. He celebrated by landing the principalship of the largest middle school in our county a month later. We are thrilled that not only does he finally get the opportunity to captain the ship, but he managed to do it at the only secondary school in the county closer to home than the one we moved here for.

Summer was a typical whirlwind, especially with Doc working to get ready for his first school year as principal. We did enjoy a short trip with the kids to Pennsylvania Dutch Country on Daisy’s first birthday, and whiled away much of the rest of our time on park and library trips and lessons in art and dance. I spent a few mornings each week staffing a preschool-age summer camp, and though it was a lot of fun I resigned my toddler-fitness instructorship in the fall to spend more time at home. So now I have to get my professional fun at the National Air & Space Museum, where I still volunteer when I can.

Almost before I knew it, Buzz was following Bookworm onto the bus for her first day of kindergarten. She is taking it on with her usual enthusiasm, and I never have to work too hard to get her to tell about her day. Her teacher reports that in addition to being a diligent student, she has an excellent memory…in fact, she can always be relied on to remember any reward promised to her or the class, no matter how much time has elapsed since the promise. She definitely has a future in any profession requiring sharp negotiating skills. She is also very proud of her daddy’s academic prowess, dubbing him “Mr. Dr. Dadhead.”

Daisy has been busy this fall too, learning to walk and demonstrating her determination not to allow being the littlest to keep her out of anything she wants to get into. She is fiercely independent, but also very social and loves the attention she gets from her big sisters, who still think she is the coolest plaything we ever brought home.

So that’s the year in a nutshell. Best wishes to all our friends and family for a happy, safe and blessed 2010.

Aaaaaand...cue winter!

I guess it's old news by now, but the 22" snowfall we got a couple of weeks ago did make for some fun Kodak moments...well, in my case, Sony moments, though I did get a little irritated at how short the battery life was at 28 degrees. So the following took several tries and a few trips back inside to thaw the thing out, but I think the results were worth it.

The flakes started falling around 9:00 Friday night. This was the view out our front window about 12:45 pm on Saturday, Dec. 19th. It didn't stop coming down until 8 hours later.

Gotta hand it to my industrious neighbor, but I think I will add this to the many reasons why I will never own a dog.

This part was great. However, the mess in our front hall when they all came back in...and yes, the snow across the street really did come up to the hem of Aslan's skirt. Both she and Daisy were a bit intimidated by their inability to take a step.

We decided we'd better take the first foot off the car while it was still coming down. Thank goodness we had the other one in the garage.

The next morning, we had a lovely excavation block party. We have some really neat neighbors, a few of which were making rounds helping dig out anybody who was out there working.

The front door before...

...and after. Don't worry, Mom, I just took off my gloves to get the camera out.

Fortunately, my next-door neighbor didn't have any pressing engagements that day.

And of course, the slightly scary irony is that this took place two days before the official start of winter. Here's hoping for an early spring!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's beginning to sound a lot like Christmas

The tree is up, the stockings are hung, and I only have two presents left to buy. Well, plus the ones for the kids' teachers. Christmas gets a little more interesting each year with more kids in school...all three of their classes are having different gift donation programs, and two of them have a class book exchange. And while they don't generally sing Christmas carols at school, they have picked up some classics on the school bus, like the "Jingle bells, Batman smells" version of Jingle Bells. Hearing my very ladylike and rules-conscious (at least at school) six-year-old sing this at the top of her voice is amusing all by itself. The really funny rendition, though, is the one now sung regularly by almost-four-year-old Aslan, who is learning the real words in preschool for their holiday program, but who has trouble differentiating between the traditional verse and the one she hears from her big sisters, and who has therefore been singing for the past several days:

Jingle bells, Jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh what fun it is to ride
And the Joker ran away. Hey!

I sang it through with her several times in the car yesterday to try to help her remember the correct last line, but somehow the other one kept coming back. I guess a "one-horse open sleigh" is a little abstract for her. Should be an interesting preschool program!

Smoothie Move

One of the few disadvantages to being a mom, at least in my case, is that I have a tendency not to take adequate care of myself. Other than necessarily being quick on my feet to prevent kids from taking spills off of kitchen stools or knocking over the Christmas tree, I haven't been getting as much regular exercise as I'd like, especially now that I've let go my employee gym membership. At lunch, by the time I've got food in front of the kids I'm usually too tired and hungry to really cook myself something, so I do a lot of sandwiches and carrot sticks on the fly, and then have to try to find creative ways at dinner to get the whole family to get a balanced meal using the very short list of vegetables that everyone will eat.

But I'm pleased to report that I've found a new ally in the quest to get the requisite number of fruit and veggie servings into everybody, including me, on a daily basis: I'm becoming a smoothie junkie. I've always been a fan, but I've also been hobbled for the last 10 years by a low-end blender that whines better than it grinds, and then is a pain to clean. So this past week I upgraded to a fabulous machine that actually blends. Without becoming an infomercial for my new blender, my interest was caught by a demo suggestion of putting things like spinach in smoothies to help kids get the veggie servings they need. While I certainly want them to learn to like vegetables for their own sake, on a practical level I'm tired of having to fight every day to make sure an apple or some carrot sticks goes down with the sandwich or mac n' cheese. I let them try the demo smoothie and they loved it. So I got one, and now both they and I are having smoothies daily. Sometimes we have them at breakfast alongside the Cheerios; for lunch today I put together a concoction of strawberries, banana, orange, and a little yogurt, then threw in carrots, baby spinach and a roma tomato. A little apple juice for liquid and sweetness, and my kids sucked it down and begged for more. And this machine pulverizes the stuff so well I don't even get strawberry seeds stuck in my teeth. It's not going to solve all my nutrition issues, but it's a start.

Now, if I could just figure out a better way to work out at home...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Things I'm thankful for

Ok, so I'm getting way behind again in my goal of writing regularly. This holiday weekend seems like an ideal time to stop making excuses.

We spent Thanksgiving this year with Doc's extended family, many of whom gathered nearby for a mini-reunion. It was definitely an occasion for counting blessings.

My four healthy and beautiful children are blessings I thank God for on a daily basis. Who wouldn't be thankful for smiles like these! And in this case I am also thankful for Doc's ingenious aunt and uncle who came armed with an entire roomful of art projects to occupy the small fry in attendance. The beading, painting, and weaving opportunities actually kept about 20 or so under 10's nearly whine free for hours. That's pretty magical stuff.

Some people have to celebrate holidays alone. We had enough family to fill this room.

And some of them are even goofy enough to appreciate my sense of humor.

Yeah, 'nuff said.

Quite an occasion to appreciate a bounteous table. At this point I should also mention my gratitude that this was not my kitchen. Though with all the hands to help, cleanup really wasn't so terrible...

...especially with a few brave souls willing to help the kids work it off with a rousing game of Duck Duck Goose.

I also have to mention that at this time of year I am happy to be in a place where the leaves change color. I am also thankful that there are not this many of them in my yard.

I think the standout moment of the day for me, though, was this opening act at the traditional (for Doc's very musical family) potluck concert that accompanies any gathering. This was Bookworm's first performance outside our living room. I've enjoyed hearing her practice ever since she started lessons earlier this fall, but what really amazed me was her eagerness to get up and play in front of so many people--family, yes, but many of them were strangers to her at the start of the day. Bookworm's extreme shyness at speaking up, even in front of her classmates, was her teacher's one real point of concern at our recent fall conference, and a point we've been aware of for some time. Evidently this shyness does not extend to musical performance, much to my delight. Enjoy!

(Unfortunately, she started without any warning and it took a moment to get the camera out because of the toddler in my lap, so I missed the first few bars. My mistake, not hers. :)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

This one takes the cake

In the car earlier today, the girls got into a discussion about what it means to be guilty. It all started with Aslan asking why the mayor of Lazytown, in a recent episode of her current favorite TV show, said that Sportacus, the hero of the show, was guilty. (Apparently, Sportacus had been accused of the crime of eating Miss Busybody's birthday cake.) The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Me (a little confused--I didn't actually see this episode): "I'm not sure."

Aslan (knew the answer all along, was just checking to see if we were paying attention): "It means he ate the cake."

Me (trying to clarify): "Well, guilty means you really did whatever they said you did."

Aslan (sticking to her point): "No, it means he ate the cake."

Bookworm (loves to explain big words to the little 'uns): "Guilty means you're not innocent."

Doc (not about to let her get away with simply negating the opposite): "So what does innocent mean?"

Bookworm (cheerfully taking the bait): "It means not guilty."

Me (still trying to help actually produce a usable definition): "So can you explain what it means to someone without using the word innocent?"

Buzz (not about to be left out of the conversation): "You could use sign language!"

Me (still trying...): "And what if they don't know sign language?"

Buzz (could do this all day): "Speak Spanish!"

Aslan (frustrated, but refusing to be sidetracked): "No! It means he ate the cake!"

Actually, Aslan could turn out to have the makings of a first-class debater, if not a defense attorney. After all, anyone who knows anything about Lazytown knows that when it comes to sweets, Sportacus had to have been framed.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Setting goals with moving targets

So Doc gathers the girls together this evening to tell them that we've decided to reorganize our weekday evening schedule a that we're juggling two different school schedules, piano lessons, Girl Scouts, and the occasional evening commitment for Doc, we need a little help making sure important things don't get missed. So to start with, he tells them, we're going to try to have dinner a bit earlier. From now on dinner will be at 5:30.

Their sequence:

Bookworm (who always comes home from school hungry): "Wow, that's great!"

Buzz (not completely certain change is a good thing): "When's 5:30?"

Aslan: "Mommy, can you blow my nose?"

Daisy: "Ba ba ba ba ba ba."

Somehow, all of this kind of put in a nutshell the reason why we need the more specific schedule to make sure homework, reading time and family prayers don't fall through the cracks...getting all six of us to arrive at any particular goal all at the same time can be quite an endeavor. But it also illustrates how entertaining the attempt can be. Wish us luck.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Discipline vs. vocabulary

For the last half year, and especially since school has started, Doc and I have been trying to stress with the girls both the taking of personal responsibility for the consequences of one's actions, and the art of finding other things to do besides watching TV. This has been toughest on Aslan (age 3 1/2), who is not in school all day yet, and who got to watch more than the others last year during the first few months after Daisy came while I was struggling to get back into a routine. Although she loves to be read to and played with, Aslan does love to watch the ol' tube, and many of her famous tantrums (now, thankfully, diminishing in frequency) have resulted from being told that it's time to turn it off. This has worked to our advantage in some ways, as we have learned that being threatened with the loss of TV time is a powerful motivator for Aslan right now...

...and, as it turns out, she really is listening when we talk to her about consequences. The other day when I revoked her TV rights for a repeated infraction, she pitched a typical fit, whining about how she wanted to watch a favorite show. I told her that if she wanted to watch it tomorrow, she would have to do a better job of listening. She was thoughtful for a moment, then inquired:

"Then can I have my TV pwiviwedges back?"

Well, maybe she doesn't always listen so well, and certainly she doesn't need to watch any more TV than she already does. But doggone it, she knows that TV is a pwiviwedge. Now if she can just learn to pronounce l's and r's, she's going to wow her teachers in kindergarten.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Put your best knee forward

I have to share this little video clip I shot today of Daisy's latest effort to keep up with the speed of the household that surrounds her. Although over the past week she has made a number of very short walking trips, on the order of 3-4 steps, she is still clearly discouraged by the difficulty in balancing her tall frame standing upright. After a couple of topples, she reverts to crawling, or attaches herself to a rolling toy or handy adult for support. Today she would hardly try at all, but I did manage to finally think to pull out the camera to catch a display of one of her other favorite alternatives for the last couple of weeks...namely, walking on her knees. I guess she figures it's progress toward her goal of being upright like everyone else, but it's easier to balance. And she's gotten quite good at it:

Now, if I could just get her to wear sponges on her knees, I could have a real floor-cleaning breakthrough on my hands...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Everyone's a critic

Every once in a while I get a message from Facebook reminding me that I’ve been invited to sign up by numerous friends, and implying that I’m missing out on all the fun by not taking advantage. Guilty as charged. When I first heard of Facebook a few years ago, I shied away because I’d heard horror stories about compromised personal info and computer worms sending themselves to everyone on your Friend list. Now, those kinds of horrors are kind of a dime a dozen. As much as I love the idea of reconnecting with old friends with whom I’ve lost touch, the chief reason I still haven’t gotten around to it is the time it would take. I would feel pressure to come up with regular updates that are actually worth reading, and I have enough trouble doing that here. Doc has a page, which he used to frequent avidly, and for the first few months he was having daily online encounters with high school and college friends whom he hadn’t seen in ages. Since then, though, he’s found that reading through the daily updates from his hundreds of friends eats up a lot of time, and doesn’t often provide much new info. And he doesn’t have much new to add either, at least on a day-to-day basis. But some people do post gems now and then, and every once in a while he calls me over to share a chuckle. Friending vicariously is great fun and takes much less time.

So today’s chuckle is the ultimate in vicarious friending…it actually was posted by my own brother. It’s a link to an article by a brave soul who makes a passionate case for deploring one of the most popular children’s authors of all time, Eric Carle. (Find the whole story here:

I found the article hilarious, not least because I agree with most of it. I remember being quite fond as a child of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and was pleased to get a copy as part of a teacher’s conference I went to while working as a museum educator right about the time my first child was born. And though it’s not a terribly enthralling story, it is cute, has marvelous pictures, is good counting practice for a toddler, and all my kids have loved it, so I won’t pick too much on that one. Now that I have almost nine years of experience reading to my own kids, though, I’ve come to have a special place in my heart for those children’s books that are especially fun to read. Some may be cleverly written, having fun with the language, or may boast a truly original and engaging story. A few manage to slip in quirks that are obviously meant for the parents while still holding on to the attention of the child they were ostensibly written for. (It’s not a book, but the VeggieTales are really good at this last one also.)

Eric Carle, in my opinion, doesn’t really do any of these. Before the hate mail flies, let me protest that I’m still a fan of the stupid caterpillar, and I also rather like The Very Lonely Firefly, which actually has a bit of story to it. And I can’t think of a single one in which I didn’t think the pictures were fabulous. But when it comes to being fun to read…well, they do tend to be a bit dull. Their appeal to my kids often seems to center on whatever novelty gizmo is on the final page.

Case in point: I was already thinking about writing something on this tonight when Buzz, age 6, walks in with 10 Little Rubber Ducks for her before-bed book. I sigh, as even before the article I had already recognized that this one is not one of my favorites to read. It was a gift for Buzz for her 2nd birthday, and not to worry, Nana, she still loves it. According to the first page, it was inspired by a newspaper report of a shipment of bath toys that fell off a container ship in 1992 and, years later, were found to have washed up in locations as varied as Alaska, Greenland, and on into the Atlantic. So Carle tells the story of a shipment of rubber ducks being put on a boat, then having a box wash overboard, and 10 ducks float off in 10 different directions. I have to offer a little praise here: the pictures of the 10 ducks with the creatures encountered by each during its voyage are some of my favorite Carle art ever. And Buzz does like to count the ducks, so chalk up another one for counting practice. But the narrative is stilted, with a lot of repeated lines that I usually don’t bother to repeat (sorry, but I can only say “10 little rubber ducks” so many times before I just get tired of it, and end up trying to make it sound like one word just to get it over with.) And after you’ve followed 9 ducks to colorful portraits with interesting creatures, you end up tagging along while the 10th duck runs into…a mother duck. And ducklings. Nine ducklings. And this odd number is obviously a serious problem for this group, because I can’t see any other reason why they would be dense enough to take the rubber duck home with them. You get two pages of the ducks quacking at the rubber duck, apparently unfazed by the lack of response. But at the end of the book, you learn that the rubber duck’s silence must have been deliberate, because no duck, however dense, would have wanted to have anything to do with a creature that makes the horrible noise you are met with on the final page, when you are told that the rubber duck finally speaks up with a “Squeak!” and are then directed to press a button to activate the sound chip embedded in the back cover. And you hear…a very rubber-duck-like squeak. And you hear it again as your delighted toddler…wait, she’s six now…presses the button over and over, giggling, until it’s all you can do not to rip the sound chip out and try to engage her interest in electronics by disassembling it. Why do the batteries in such things always last so long?!

To Buzz’s credit, she’s learning to be more discerning in her literary analysis. She had some comments tonight (we haven’t read this one in a while…I don’t recall hiding it on purpose, but maybe I blocked it out). When we got to the part about the boat taking the ducks “across the wide sea to faraway countries, to faraway countries…” she wanted to know why…don’t they have rubber ducks in any other countries? And when the ducks started to float in different directions, even she seemed to realize the difficulty Carle had in coming up with 10 different directions. After you’ve knocked off the compass points and left, right, up, and down (which I guess weren’t in the same direction as any compass point, and the duck who floats down still seems to be on the surface to me) then you get to “this way” and “that way.” Buzz was somewhat disdainful of these; I’m sure she could have thought of some other places to send them. I should have asked, but I was already dreading the approaching squeakfest.

So, after allowing myself to actually commit this opinion to paper, I found myself curious what other people have to say about Carle, and I just had to pull up Amazon’s comments on The Very Hungry Caterpillar just to see what was there. The majority, of course, were very positive, but when I’m reading any reviews on Amazon I always read some of the 1-star ones too just to see what those with a beef had to say. These didn’t disappoint. Most of those posting critical reviews were doing so as the result of poor service or a gripe about the particular edition they’d received, but the last two were priceless:

Posted Feb. 19, 2008

A beautifully illustrated book based on poor scientific knowledge. Butterflies do not come from cocoons - moths do. When butterfly caterpillars pupate, they do not spin silk to make a cocoon. If you want your child to learn inaccurate science, use this book with them.

And not least…posted in 2004

“This book has to be one of the greatest sagas ever told, the story of a caterpillar who eats his way to becoming a beautiful butterfly. I think it's a story we can all relate to. I'm going to give it one star anyway because I just stubbed my toe really hard and damn it, I blame this book.”

So, having gone through this tirade, I decided I had to find something nice to say, because I really do love reading with my children, and there are some amazing children’s books out there. So, without having actually gone downstairs to look through the shelf, I have tried off the top of my head to come up with a few of my favorites, the ones I still love to read and am more likely to be talked into reading over and over. So here’s my list, in no particular order:

1. Any of the books in the Bear Snores On series by Karma Wilson. My personal favorite is probably Bear Feels Sick, in which Bear’s friends nurse Bear through a cold and then, not surprisingly, come down with it, and he in turn takes care of his friends. I also love Bear Stays Up for Christmas, in which Bear’s friends haul him out of bed so that he doesn’t miss the fun, then he does them one better by staying awake when they all doze off and putting together Christmas surprises for everyone. The rhymes are fun to read and hold the kids’ interest, the pictures are beautiful, and the stories are sweet.

2. Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen. This is one of Aslan’s faves, of course. It’s a great story about a lion who starts coming to storytime at the library, and is allowed by the librarian to stay as long as he doesn’t break any rules. When the librarian takes a fall and the lion breaks the rule against loud noises in order to roar for help, the lion is so ashamed he leaves the library and doesn’t come back...and everyone in the library realizes how much they miss him. There are a number of wonderful messages here, and it’s another great set of pictures.

3. The Hello-Goodbye Window by Norton Juster. A fun read, and really captures the perspective of a toddler without having to talk down. Plus I can’t resist having a book to share with my kids about grandparents called Nanna and Poppy, even if the spelling is questionable.

4. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson. Another great rhyming story, and another one that’s original and interesting enough that it’s fun to read over and over. And it’s a great one for reading aloud, with animal characters like Snake and Owl for whom it is pretty easy to come up with distinctive voices.

5. Puff the Magic Dragon by Peter Yarrow (of course) and definitely get the edition with the CD. Though it’s also fun to either read or sing along to without the music. But the great thing about this book is the story it tells. Sure, we all know the song, and though I loved it as a kid I always thought the poor dragon kind of got a bum deal. His best friend grew up and moved on, and he got ditched. But Yarrow comes up with a different ending without changing a word of the classic song. As you get to the last chorus, the heartbroken Puff is shown raising his sorrow-bent head to meet the gaze of a curious little girl, a bright and friendly creature who would make a wonderful new friend. As they scamper off together, we notice that the scene is being watched from a short distance away by a man dressed in the same colors as Puff’s former playmate...Jackie Paper, having returned to introduce his daughter to his old pal. We got this book, as with many others from our collection, as a birthday gift for one of the girls from Nana, and it completely reduced me to tears the first several times I read it. I would have loved sharing this interpretation of the story with the Peter, Paul and Mary-singing Dad who introduced me to so many of my favorite literary friends.

Ok, I’m going to invite comments this time: who’s got a favorite or five to share? I’m always glad to find new ones. And it would be great to have a counter-offer available the next time someone brings me 10 Little Rubber Ducks.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Loose ends

Well, it's the last day of the month, so if I'm going to finally reach my goal of doubling my post average from the last few months, I have less than an hour to do it...

The days continue to fly by. I now think I am more or less settled in the fall routine. It's even starting to feel like fall. After such a mild summer, it almost feels like we should have a few more weeks in shorts before I should have to get out the sweaters, but then maybe my attempt to seed bluebonnets in my front yard is allowing me to revert to memories of fall in Texas. Wouldn't be getting to watch the trees turn colors there, though.

OK, grab bag from the last few days:

Aslan proved once again that she not only misses nothing, but she can put what she picks up together in whatever fashion most suits her purpose. I noticed recently that her front teeth are starting to show a bit of a tilt outward, I'm afraid as the result of her determined finger sucking. When I told her that she needed to stop before her teeth got bent out of position, she turned to me in a scary approximation of a longsuffering teenager trying to explain a fashion trend to a very unhip parent and informed me, "Mom, I can get braces."


When your parents are a museum educator and a school administrator, answering the simple question, "How was school today?" can be a potentially complicated endeavor. Since Buzz has started full-day school, Doc has taken to frequently asking both her and Bookworm to tell him something they learned that day. It's not usually difficult for them to come up with something, and it's often interesting to note what stands out to them. Today, both were full of stories about the magician who came to do an assembly for the school. Buzz was especially impressed by a trick in which he apparently removed and reattached his thumb, which both kids then went on to describe in detail as "very yucky." Amused, but also being conditioned as a principal's wife to wonder about the educational value of this use of instructional time, I asked them to tell me something they'd learned from watching the show. After listening to considerable additional detail about the process by which the magician had removed his thumb, I got out the flyer sent home by the school and read, "Students...witnessed things they never thought possible! (like thumb removal...) More importantly, the students reviewed math concepts in a fun way that they will remember long after today." So, at dinner, Doc and I asked them again what they'd learned from the show. After another detailed description of the thumbless wonder, we asked them if they remembered learning anything about math.

Buzz (after a long pause): "I don't know any math."

Bookworm (after a longer pause): "I learned that six plus six minus four is eight."


Last but not least, I have decided it is time to give the baby a new name. Spot just doesn't really fit someone with so much personality, and now that she is so close to walking is just doesn't capture the constant motion. More often than not, she is the first one awake in the mornings, and as soon as she hears any movement from anyone else, she starts chattering away, gradually increasing in volume to a loud complaint if someone doesn't come fairly promptly to spring her from the crib. She does much of this lying on her back, until someone walks in, at which point she pops quickly to her feet with a sunny welcoming smile. For months now I've noted that no matter how tired and grumpy I am when I walk in there, I have a tough time not being charmed by this greeting. That smile really lights up the room. For some reason it calls to mind some time-lapse photos I've seen of daisies popping open when the sun comes up, so I've started calling her my daisy baby. She pops up at other times too, pulling up on any available stationary object, but being particularly excited to make use of a convenient standing parent. She's determined, too...still lacking the balance to stand on her own, but bored with cruising furniture, she has started traveling around the room upright on her knees when crawling fails to provide a high enough perspective on the world. Anyway, I find I now think of her as Daisy much more than Spot, so she is now electronically so dubbed.

Well, that about does it for September. It's going to be tougher to double my post total again next month.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I need a pause button

It's happening again. It's been happening steadily and perceptibly every year of my life, so I don't know why I'm wasting time remarking on it, except that doing so is getting me to sit down and write. Obviously, I've not been making myself do that much lately, and it's certainly not for lack of material.

Anyway, the phenomenon about which I am circling is the acceleration of time. Back in the pre-Internet Dark Ages when I studied physics in college, I'm pretty sure I remember reading that if you are traveling at relativistic speeds (like, much faster than the rate at which I have to travel in order to catch a rapidly crawling rugrat before she reaches the stairs) that time as we know it slows down. So does it follow that if I'm moving at an absolutely anti-relativistic slog, that time speeds up? Because that is what it feels like.

Things are a little better since school started again. It was tougher than I expected having the extra week of summer this year, due to Northern Virginia's stubborn insistence that school can't start before Labor Day even when that means waiting almost a third of the way through September. Having kids who are a little older is both a blessing and a curse; they are both more capable of entertaining themselves, and more likely to come complain about being bored when stuck inside on a rainy day and we've already been to the library. We had a number of excursions this summer, and a nice weeklong visit from Nana, but by September I think we were all thoroughly tired of being in the same house. Having looked forward to having half my houseful gainfully employed for most of the day, I still had to stop and count their ages on my fingers to be sure I could really have two kids getting on a school bus, and a third going to preschool.

In the last few weeks, it seems like the temporal wormhole effect has just hit even more frequently than usual, with one kid or another saying or doing something that I was sure they were years too young for. Bookworm made dinner pretty much by herself twice in the last ten days. (OK, so it was mac and cheese both times. She still did it herself.) Buzz picked up tying her shoes in one sitting (she was properly motivated by a new pair of tennis shoes I'd picked up at a yard sale...she took one look and said, "Are those Sketchers?" Up until she asked, I hadn't had any idea what brand they were. I asked how she knew, and she said some of her friends had some. A guardian angel definitely guided me to that yard sale...six, going on sixteen...). Aslan is learning the gentle art of snappy comebacks; she was demonstrating for Bookworm her new trick of pulling her lower eyelids down to show red, to which her properly horrified sister responded, "That's a dangerous thing to do." Aslan replied with a cheery, "But it's a fun thing to do." And Spot came to help me sort through a box of old shoes to make sure that everyone has something to wear for the fall...I put a pair on her to play around in, and she proceeded to crawl over to the ones she wanted and brought them to me. I never thought the whole shoe fetish concept was really a genetically programmed girl thing, because I don't remember ever having it that bad, but all my girls seem to have it in spades. Maybe my memory is going too.

And to top it all off, a few short weeks ago my husband and I celebrated ten years of marriage. When you consider that we have shared six moves, ten job changes (between us), and the production of four remarkable children, it's almost hard to believe that it's been only ten years...but it's also still a little hard to wrap my head around. Still, at least I can look back and reflect with satisfaction that I was not, after all, insane to get engaged to this dashing fella I'd been dating a whopping seven weeks at the time he popped the question. Ten years later, my family are still the best decisions I've made. I wish I'd generally done better at keeping journals and getting pictures into albums, to say nothing of keeping up this blog, but I've stored up many years' worth of hugs, laughs, good books shared, wisecracks traded, and quiet reflective moments. A pause button for my life would not improve these moments--it would just mean I might actually get the laundry done.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Through pink-colored glasses

Bookworm got new glasses the other day...the poor kid has definitely taken my genes and gone one better as far as poor vision is concerned. Her eyes have gone from -1.0 to -2.25 in just a year. Fortunately, she is a good sport about it, and loves her new pink glasses.

Actually, she is generally a pretty good sport about most things, and is good at finding a bright spot in a disappointing situation. I was reflecting on this yesterday after an exchange which occurred when our new church magazines arrived. Our church puts out a children's periodical called the Friend, the arrival of which is one of the highlights of Bookworm's month. When she saw the September package sitting on our kitchen table, she pounced and had the table of contents open in a flash. Quickly scanning the titles, she exclaimed with delight:

"Oooh, look! 'Maddie's Grumpy Afternoon'! I love reading about other people's bad days."

After her father and I finished snickering, we asked her why.

"Because they always figure out how to make them better."

Nothing to snicker at there. Gotta hand it to those church magazines!

Sunday, July 12, 2009


I got a very nice compliment yesterday from a first-time reader, which served not only to stroke my ego, but also to remind me how much I love writing these. So here is one of the several entries I've been composing in my head of late without getting around to posting. I've often admired the photo logs I've seen posted in the blogs of friends and family. I don't compare my photography skills to theirs--mine still need plenty of work--but this is one story that is really told best in the photos.

So we decided this summer that we weren't up to another long road trip like those of last Christmas and the summer before Spot was born. We've spent most of our time off this year hitting local parks, hanging around the neighborhood, and rearranging furniture in our house (which kind of freaked the kids out, but even that was fun in its way). But last week, for a change of scene, we dusted off an idea we'd gotten from some friends with kids about the same ages as ours. They had spent a spring break exploring Pennsylvania Dutch country, which is only a few hours' drive from us, and found a little family amusement park called Dutch Wonderland that they said had something for any size visitor. So we booked a hotel room just a few minutes away from the park, piled everybody in the car, and headed off down the rabbit hole.

Trip Tip #1: If Google Maps tells you to get to Pennsylvania by taking the DC and Baltimore Beltways on a Wednesday afternoon after 2:00, ignore it. We got around DC with only moderate difficulty, but forgot to figure in Baltimore's rush hour, and spent way too much time sitting in traffic. Thank heavens for portable DVD players. We took a more westerly route home in half the time.

By the time we got to the hotel, although there was still plenty of time to send the kids to the pool as we had planned, the thunderstorm had caught up with us. Fortunately, the kids found plenty to do in exploring the room, especially when we let them play with the camera.

Almost everyone got a turn.

They were very impressed with the big screen TV.

But the biggest hit was probably the makeup mirror, which had both Aslan and Buzz spellbound.

They took great delight in posing for each other...

and in snapping shots of everyone who would sit still...

...or not.

So the evening passed quickly, and the next morning we got up and headed to the park. Now for those of you who haven't been there, Dutch Wonderland is a great place for people like me who don't have the time or crowd tolerance to handle Disneyworld, at least not with a stroller-dweller who has to wait outside all the rides. Plus, I can handle roller coasters just fine, but just can't stomach paying six dollars for a hot dog. Dutch Wonderland is small enough that a day is plenty of time, especially given that we never had to wait more than five minutes for a ride. The rides are sized so that all the girls except Spot could ride virtually anything, at least with a parent or big sister along. The restrooms had toddler-sized stalls and sinks right next to the regular ones, and are also among the few places in the world I've ever found a changing station actually stocked with the paper pads. And the chief mascot of the place is a princess in a marvelously floofy pink dress, whom we had the luck to encounter minutes after crossing the castle threshold.

Then on to the rides...

Even Dad liked the Sky Ride enough to get talked into three trips. This one was Bookworm's favorite--she liked the view--though he's shown here with Buzz.

Buzz and Aslan made Mom proud by choosing as their favorite the biggest, fastest coaster in the place--the Kingdom Coaster. OK, it's pretty tame compared with anything you'd find at Six Flags or Busch Gardens. But it packed enough of a thrill that I was a little concerned about how Aslan was taking it...until we got to the end, and she immediately begged to go again. Sorry, no pictures of that way I could get the camera out of the bag at that speed!

Bookworm was kind enough to stand in as the "responsible rider" a few times when Aslan wasn't big enough to ride alone. Big sisters are the best.

Spot wasn't able to ride much, and had to settle for merely being the most admired by passers-by. She was quite good natured about the whole thing. Actually, it worked out well, as she got some real quality time with Dad while the rest of us rode. (Aslan later asked, "Daddy, why are you allergic to roller coasters?")

We finished off the day by letting each of the kids play to win a stuffed animal. Here is Bookworm with her prize, won by beating Mom at a game of Whack-a-Mole:

By the time we got to the car, she was affectionately calling it "Direct." I asked why, and was told, "It says so on the tag." (Note: we have quite a few Beanie Babies at home.)

All in all, it was a fabulous outing. We took the kids to Applebee's with the coupons on the back on our tickets, then plugged back into the car for the three-hour trip home, arriving a little after nine that evening. My one complaint: by the time we got home, Dad and I were more than ready to head to bed. After eight hours at an amusement park and three in the car, all four kids were still awake. It's just not right. Maybe we'll have to take them to Disneyworld sometime after all.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Like a Virginian

I know, I'm way overdue. Tons has been happening...updates coming, I promise.

Meanwhile, to tide you over, this nugget from this morning's breakfast table:

Bookworm: Mom, one of your refrigerator magnets has a joke on it.
Me: Which one?
Bookworm: It says, "Life is too short not to live it as a Texan."
Me: Yep, that's a joke. Though being a Texan is very cool.
Bookworm: Yeah, but we live in Virginia.
Me: Yes--even I'm not really a Texan anymore.

(You can see this coming, right?)

Bookworm: Yes, you're a Virgin now.

(How am I going to break this to my husband?!)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

St. Anthony is the Best

I hate losing things.  Anyone who has ever been around me when something I need disappears right under my nose knows I may need a little space.  It’s a weakness I need to work on, I know, but very few things loosen my grip on my good humor faster than realizing I can’t find something and it was just right there.  This is especially true if it is 1) irreplaceable, or 2) expensive to replace. 

My mother went to Catholic schools all her life up until college, and when I was a kid I remember her telling me stories about various saints and how they generally had some particular kind of help they were known for.  My favorite is probably St. Rita, the patron saint of hopeless cases, but I’m also a big fan of St. Anthony, known for giving help to those trying to locate lost things.  While I am not a Catholic, I am a big believer in prayer, and at times when the stakes are high for finding a particular item I am frequently found pleading for heavenly aid.  Like the time I drove off with my diaper bag on top of the car, and later realized that it, with my wallet, cell phone, and a few other things were somewhere on the streets near my house. I went over the route several times, praying it would turn up.  I didn’t find it, but I came home to find a message on my machine from the man who had found it, looked me up in the phone book, and called me to come and get it.  He wouldn’t even accept any money as a thank you.  Then there was the time I left my favorite raincoat, a nice Gore-Tex jacket I inherited from my father, in the car of a total stranger on the way home from work one day.  You may be curious as to why I was in the car of a total stranger on the way home from work…you can check out for the essentials of metro DC’s professional hitchhiking system.  Anyway, two weeks later the driver of that car recognized me in the slug line; we traded phone numbers and the next day I got my jacket back.  Chalk up one more for St. Anthony—and don’t let anyone ever tell you there are no more honest people in the world.  But I digress. 

I’ve had quite a few people tell me that I am well-organized.  What these people don’t realize is this is how I manage to maintain a reasonable level of sanity.  If I stay organized, I lose things less often. I try hard to make a place for everything and get everything into its place.  This may not sound too hard, but it has gotten increasingly difficult as each child has come along.  Trying to get the kids to put their things away is almost as tough as getting them to stop walking away with mine and leaving them who knows where.

Bookworm takes after me in a number of ways, one of which is an unfortunate tendency to forget where she's put things.  She has also inherited my myopia.  When she got glasses last summer, we established a rule that she would never leave them anywhere but the top of her dresser, which is too high for Aslan (who loves to play with glasses) to reach.  She did, of course, forget and leave them in the living room on occasion, since she didn’t need them to read and would take them off to give her face a break.  So when they went missing again a few weeks ago, though I was irritated, I was certain they’d turn up again.  They always had.

Well, they didn’t.  Bookworm was positive that she had left them on the end table in the living room before dinner.  She’d then gone to a church activity.  When she came back that evening, they weren’t there, but she figured I’d put them back in her room and she didn’t realize they were missing until the next morning.  I looked everywhere.  I made Bookworm look everywhere.  And then I looked everywhere again.  I made Aslan and Buzz look everywhere, and then look everywhere again with me following to see where they looked, trying to get an idea of where they might have dropped them (though both, of course, adamantly denied having touched them).  I don’t know how many hours we collectively spent looking. 

Being both too aggravated and too cheap to promptly replace the glasses (which are covered by a warranty against everything but loss, sigh), I put off getting her new ones.  Every once in a while I’d think of a new place we hadn’t looked, rush there eagerly, and then go back to whatever I had been doing.  I quizzed the other kids again, promising immunity from punishment and even offering bribes for information leading to the recovery of the glasses.  They had, of course, heard and seen nothing.

So last week I picked Bookworm up from a school meeting.  While there, I learned that her desk had recently been moved to the back of the room, a position that required her sometimes to come and sit on the floor at the front of the room in order to see the board. Feeling horribly guilty now about having let her go for two months without her glasses, I went home resolved to find them or replace them by the weekend.

That night, I said a fervent prayer to Heavenly Father, St. Anthony, and anyone else who might be listening.  I then rolled up my sleeves and proceeded to take apart the living room molecule by molecule.  I’d already gone over the girls’ bedrooms with a fine-tooth comb, emptying drawers, looking behind dressers, and even between mattresses and box springs.  Now I moved bookshelves to look underneath them, swept every crevice in the sofas, and looked behind the books on each shelf.  I found socks, puzzle pieces, and many other odds and ends not seen in this house for periods ranging between two days and two years.  It was during this process that I found myself looking with new clarity at our bookshelf stereo system, a compact little thing that puts out a decent sound for our living room with twin speakers and a little 6” subwoofer.

I’d looked behind this set a couple of times already.  Only this morning, after resolving to solve the problem once and for all, did it occur to me that the subwoofer is actually a box with a big hole in it sitting right at a three-year-old’s eye level.  The hole opens into a tube that extends back the length of my index finger, and it had never occurred to me to look any further inside.  A closer inspection revealed that beyond the tube, there was an open space several inches wide that dropped off into the bottom of the box.  Oh, boy. 

So then began the saga of trying to get inside the subwoofer.  On the off chance that you have actually read this far, I will try to summarize this quickly.  The speaker’s hole is too narrow for my hand and the front panel is very securely glued.  Creatively twisted pipe cleaners failed to do anything more than rattle the invisible innards enticingly (I had already disconnected the power, which involved unscrewing the bookshelf from the wall to scoot it out far enough to reach the plug).  Eventually I had to untangle three sets of wires from the back, unscrew and remove the back panel, push aside another set of wires to unscrew the speaker’s inner cover, and pop it off—finally revealing a hole wide enough to get my hand into. 

At this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find a family of opossums in there.  Instead, I unearthed a hair clip, two sets of doll clothes, the broken handle from a toy pan—and Bookworm’s glasses.

I’m not sure why I went through all this.  Part of me asks whether it was worth it, especially when you tally up all the hours I spent looking before I finally got to the entertainment of taking apart my stereo.  Maybe it was sheer stubbornness.  Maybe it really was divine intervention.  All I can say is, pulling those glasses out of that box felt AWESOME.  Thanks, God.  Give St. Anthony a big hug for me. 

And by the way, I put the subwoofer back together—and it still works just fine.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mother Nature'd Better Not Mess With Mom

Bookworm had an assignment this week for her Brownie troop to write a letter to the President. Each Girl Scout was supposed to think about problems in our country and how she could ask the President to help her make changes.   Now, a little background:  Bookworm was in a school group last year that encouraged recycling and picking up of trash.  We encourage this at home as well, but with four kids frequently heading in three different directions when we're out and about (the fourth kid isn't walking yet!) I have had to be sharp a few times when Bookworm or Buzz take off in parking lots to pick up water bottles or drink cans left behind by the less-environmentally-conscious.  Apparently this conflict has reached the level of requiring executive intervention, as illustrated by the first draft of her letter:

Dear Barack Obama,
You are the 44th President of the United States!
But anyway, I have a problem.
Around stores and on my school playground people are littering all over the place.
I help Mother Nature by picking it up and either recycling it or throwing it away.
But that's another problem.
Mother doesn't want me wandering around picking up trash to help Mother Nature.
She says I can't clean up after everyone.
I don't know what to do to help Mother Nature if I can't pick up trash.
(signed her full name)

So, Mr. President, now you know...the real threat to our environment isn't deforestation or rampant industrialization.  It's the vengeful Mom sparring with Mother Nature with one hand, while trying to get four kids and a cartful of groceries into the car with the other.  Choose your side carefully.

Monday, April 27, 2009

It's Official!

The Spotster has mastered forward motion! The baby gates are back in service! And Buzz is so excited she can hardly sit still. OK, so she generally doesn't sit still anyway, but this definitely isn't helping. And the little 'un is quite pleased with herself too.

So now I'm going through the house again, reviewing anything below two feet above ground that can't go into her mouth. Something else to do while I attempt to finish a little of the spring cleanout I started during Spring Break. I had to actually look back at the calendar to remember what I did for the two weeks since then, since it passed in such a blur. There were quite a few highlights: egg hunts at church and at Grandma and Grandpa's, our last NSO concert of the season (a marvelous Deutsch Requiem), turning 37 (for the first time), and surviving my first Blue & Gold Banquet with the Cub Scouts ("Jurassic Pack"). We did manage to clean out the garage and get a bunch of stuff given away. Now I have exactly two weeks before my mom comes to finish cleaning out the rest of the house and plant something in the front yard, which underwent a major slash-and-burn event last weekend--well, I didn't actually burn anything, but I dug out and tossed most of those nasty overgrown lion's mane grass things that could have been the inspiration for the Venomous Tentacula. As far as I know they haven't grabbed any people yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to find they've snagged a few garden tools or small animals by the time I get the last of them out. Wish me luck.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The real reason tape recorders are obsolete

This evening while I was standing at the kitchen counter getting dinner ready, Aslan comes up to me and says, very politely: “Excuse me, Mommy, I wanna be a wion.” So I moved aside, allowing her access to the floor mat I’d been standing on. She promptly curled up in a ball and began snoring like a drunken sailor. If this is indicative of the sounds of lions in the wild, no wonder lionesses have to do all the hunting.


When I was a kid I would occasionally tape record myself talking or reading aloud. I don’t really remember why I did this, though it may have been in imitation of my dad, a communications professor who used to spend hours at home transcribing recordings of conversations with a foot-pedal Dictaphone. What I remember about my own recordings, though, was that I always thought my voice sounded really strange. I knew that it was me, but it felt like someone else was speaking my words. It was weird to hear what I sounded like to everybody else.

This sensation of having my words played back to me has returned with a vengeance since my kids learned to talk. The first time I really remember it happening was when Bookworm was about four. We’d been battling for about year over asking for things politely; we’d progressed from “I want some goldfish” to “May I have some goldfish?”, but getting her to add “please” was like trying to get my hair to hold curls on a rainy day. So we were at a family reunion watching a football game with one of Bookworm’s uncles and a few cousins, and the following exchange took place:

Uncle Keith (to Bookworm, who was snacking away on her usual): Say, can you hook a brother up with a goldfish?
Bookworm: Not if you ask like that!

We have since taken to keeping a little notebook handy in the house to jot down the priceless things they say, since I generally can’t remember them by dinnertime. This procedure is now so familiar to our kids that if my husband or I bust out laughing at something someone says, the kids immediately ask “Can we write that down?” even if they’re not sure what the joke is. There are a number of gems in this book. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that some of the most fun and fascinating things to come out of my children’s mouths are noteworthy not so much because they are funny (though plenty of them are), but because I can tell exactly where they came from. In the age of credit-card sized video cameras and digital recorders that have pretty much replaced my old push-button cassette recorder, the best playback devices in my house are the kids. Not that any of them are copies of me or their dad; they have four completely different personalities, but we can both identify particular traits that remind us of ourselves as kids, or phrases whose provenance is obvious. If you ever want to get a brutally honest assessment of your parenting style, listen sometime when your children are disciplining their dolls.

The playback effect can be particularly entertaining with Aslan, who is quite articulate for a three-year-old, but who still can’t quite manage the sounds “r” and “l.” With two big sisters acting both as models and as competition, she misses nothing and is rapidly developing her skills in reasoned argument and negotiation. But it’s hard to keep a straight face sometimes when her most earnest reflections come out sounding like those of an intellectual muppet:

I can’t have Cown Fwakes because I’m awergic to soy. But I’m not awergic to Cheewios.
Mommy, I can’t find my bwankie. Is it awwight if I bowwow (Spot’s) bwankie?

Or others, like her comment during a recent diaper change when I realized I might need to tone down my verbal frustration at her lack of interest in potty training:

Ewww. That’s extweemwy gwoss.

If her pronunciation is less than precise, there is nothing wrong with her perception, or her determination not to be misunderstood. This one from a few days ago sums it all up—I had gone upstairs upon hearing the baby wake up crying, leaving Aslan at the kitchen table with a bowl of pretzels. She came up to join us, pretzels in tow, before I’d finished changing Spot’s diaper:

Me: Hi there, did you get lonely?
Aslan: Yes, I got wost.
Me: Oh, you got wost?
Aslan: Not wost, wost! Oh, I dwopped my pwetzews.

The older ones come up with some priceless comments too, but with them the odd déjà vu sensation of hearing my own words played back tends to have more punch, often inviting me to reexamine both the wording and the attitudes that I’m modeling for them at home. On a recent occasion when Buzz asked if I knew where her favorite dress-up dress was and I didn’t, she responded with some heat, “Don’t you tell me no!” I have also attempted to break my unfortunate habit of speaking aloud my opinions of some of the less-than-considerate motorists in the metro area ever since Bookworm innocently inquired what a moron is. I sincerely hope that their flattering imitation of my expressions will continue to motivate me to improve their quality.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Not just another tea party

Buzz was telling me on the way home from preschool today about how they were studying what happened on the first Easter. Apparently she is under the impression that after Jesus died, he got arrested.

Been offline again for a while...kinda lost the last few weeks in a blur of the usual events plus taxes, the end of the Girl Scout cookie sale (whew!) and several sessions of Cub Scout training. No, that's not a typo. I was recently asked to chair the pack committee for our local Cub unit, which involves a big learning curve for a woman with four daughters. Until last week my only personal experience with the BSA consisted of the fact that my dad did a stint as my older brother's den parent when I was about five or six, which I remember only because of the time they did a candle-making activity which ended in my father's setting the kitchen floor on fire. After about six hours of introductory training, though, I have to admit being grudgingly impressed with the organization, and I am sure that if I go at it with the right attitude I will get a lot out of the experience.

Anyway, getting back to the fun of life with four daughters, I thought I'd put up this little piece of performance art created by Buzz and Aslan a few days ago. I think they are doing a nice job of not allowing themselves to be pigeonholed into conventional stereotypes of princess behavior. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Splitting Heirs

Well, Mom has been asking for more pictures, so here goes. Last week Bookworm requested a short haircut, which suited her father and me as it also seemed to be the only way to keep her from chewing on her hair. I told her I'd take her to the Hair Cuttery as the poor kid has inherited my straight, impossible-to-do-anything-with locks, but she protested that she hated their shampoos and begged me to do it. Flattering, yes, but also nerve-wracking. Anyway, here is the transformation:

And in the grand tradition of keeping up with your big sister, I immediately had two more haircut requests from the peanut gallery:

So I guess if the teaching thing doesn't pan out for me, I can always go to work for the Hair Cuttery. As a shampooer.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


I think one of the reasons I put off answering letters and emails from friends is that I always feel like I have to start them with an explanapology for the length of time it has been since the last time I wrote. Frankly, I feel that part of the problem is that I have been privileged to travel and live in a number of different places in my nearly four decades, and in so doing have been blessed with a large number of really wonderful people with whom I would like to remain in touch. I just don’t manage my time well enough to write that many letters. My mom is quick to point out that I have four young children, and certainly my family takes up the lion’s share of my time, but the bottom line is that I just don’t get around to it.

This blog is already starting to fall into a similar pattern. Some days it just seems more important to go to the gym, do laundry, or even sleep instead of writing during what little time I have without interruptions. I’m not intending any judgments here on the relative merits of these activities. I have noticed, however, that in a few short weeks blogging has become one of the things I miss when I don’t get to it. I find the writing itself satisfying, but in a way that is very different from the journaling I’ve done in the past. The fact that these words are written to be hung out in cyberspace for anyone to read, even if not many actually bother, makes each post feel a little like a letter to the many friends to whom I so rarely manage even an email update, but of whom I think frequently and often miss fiercely.

The above paragraphs, for what it’s worth, have nothing whatsoever to do with anything I was planning to write when I sat down, or with the number of entries I have composed in my head over the course of the last few days but have not yet managed to commit to electrons. But suddenly I can’t stop. And I have to add here that the pair of eyes that today I feel reading over my shoulder belong to one correspondent with whom I have had pathetically few exchanges in the ten years since he left this mortal existence. I thought of him quite a bit this afternoon as I sat in a college classroom for the first time in years, wondering what this veteran of some thirty-three Ph.D. defenses would have thought of my husband’s performance today as he successfully presented his case for the completion of his own. Dad never got to meet my husband—I found him just weeks too late for that—though I’ve always been sure they’d have liked each other. Quite aside from the shared penchant for bad puns and the hard-luck Cleveland Indians (makes me feel sympathy for Ron Weasley’s loyalty to the Chudley Cannons), they also had in common a passion for music that runs deeply. My last conversation with Dad, the evening after our first date, featured a fair amount of gushing about my new cellist beau’s musical talent. When I went home for Dad’s funeral four days later, I found in his CD changer a two-disc set of Pablo Casals playing the Bach cello suites.

My mother and in-laws have always been awesome and attentive grandparents, and over the eight years since I became a mother the moments of poignancy when I regret that my dad has never gotten to play and sing with my daughters have gotten a little rarer. Today has been the first time in a while that it hit me again how much I miss getting to share my husband with him as well. All three parents remaining here with us were lavish with their praise when we called this afternoon with the news that the dissertation was accepted, the five-year journey almost over. Mom was quick to add that she was sure Dad was bragging to all the angels about the accomplishment of his hardworking son-in-law, who managed this feat while working full-time as a high-school administrator and busy father. I know that she’s right. When the Doc’s advisor commented on how quickly he always turned around requests for revisions (eight hours after the defense ended, he is already done with the few changes the committee told him to make before final submission), I could just hear Dad muttering under his breath about some of the students he’d advised who were, shall we say, less prompt. Dad would understand on every level the blood and sweat that went into this unrelenting document. As someone for whom teaching was a true vocation, I know Dad would have been incredibly proud of my husband, as I am, and would probably by now have been well underway to memorializing the occasion in doggerel verse. I wish that the Doc could hear him, as I do, chuckling under his breath as he composes it.

To those friends I never write: I haven’t forgotten you guys either.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Snow Daze

Words to live by from the dinner table this evening:
Buzz (to Bookworm): Hey, I’m going to whisper something in your ear.
Bookworm: Finish chewing your broccoli first.


I’m not terribly surprised by the fact that I didn’t find time to write this weekend. I went to the gym on Saturday, cleaned house, and went to a concert with the Doc. Sunday is always a full day, and with church in the afternoon now it feels like it goes by even faster. But I wish I knew what happened to the two snow days!

Wouldn’t you know it would take until March to get our first real snowfall this season? Bookworm watches weather reports avidly, and is quick to flush an ice cube at the first sign there might be some wintry precip. She also does a mean snow dance. She used to wear her pajamas inside out—all of this was inspired by her bus driver, who was probably almost as eager for a snow day as the kids—but that must have been too irritating even for a chance at snow angels. Anyway, the weather wasn’t her doing this time. She was actually quite put out, as Monday was Dr. Seuss’s birthday, and was therefore to have been a “Reading Day,” when the kids were invited to wear comfy clothes, bring a stuffed animal and their favorite books, and have a carpet picnic while spending the day immersed in the printed word. This is Bookworm’s idea of a great day at school. Not even the promise of possible snow playtime really reconciled her to missing Reading Day until we also promised to have a picnic in the living room. So she spent a good part of the morning reading to her sisters, and lunchtime found us on a beach blanket, with sandwiches (egg and soy free), apple slices and popcorn. Since I had my hands full keeping them from knocking over drink glasses, we didn’t have any books at the picnic; instead, Bookworm suggested we could tell picnic stories. Hers was remarkably autobiographical, but with character names artfully borrowed from a book she was reading that morning. Of course, once she told one, everyone else had to have a turn too. Small wonder that we whiled away a fair amount of the remaining afternoon.

Somehow the rest of the time vanished among an assortment of other small projects. With four kids in the house we always have projects, and with four kids in the house we’ve learned it helps to keep them small. Spot’s was learning to scoot. With three older sisters in constant orbit, she’s always been pretty motivated to move, beginning with barrel rolls at about three months. Now she does some rocking an all fours, but not having yet quite figured out what to do with her legs, she generally resorts to a reverse army crawl across any open space until she hitches up against a sofa or family member.

Buzz’s project was changing clothes about three times an hour. I’ve heard friends complain about having kids with this impulse, but only recently has it really hit home. Buzz has always been my most fashion conscious—one of the aides at her preschool told me that the day isn’t complete until she gets a chance to see the outfit Buzz has come up with this time—but lately, after going through and trying on half the outfits she can reach (and depositing the unfit in a heap on the floor) she tends to end up wearing one of the same two or three things anyway. Since even at my best I’m not doing laundry every other day (though it can be close), this means that more often than not she is digging through the hamper to retrieve the red floral leggings she wore yesterday, her only concession being that she will wear a different shirt. Worse, she’s figured out that if she puts on something else in the morning, then changes right after lunch while I’m getting the baby ready to drive her to preschool, I don’t have the time to bully her into changing without the risk of missing the kiss-and-ride window. She knows that as long as it’s not her Tinker Bell nightgown, I’ll cave rather than have to park, get everybody out of their car seats, and march all three musketeers across the parking lot. One of Monday morning’s projects for me was swapping out some increasingly snug items from each of the girls’ drawers with others that had been too big last fall. Buzz, going to her dresser to answer a midday whim strike, found a shirt she’d never seen before (except on Bookworm two years ago, but who remembers that) and went into an ecstasy of gratitude for her new adornment. I was pleased that she said thanks without being prompted, but I knew I was in trouble when at dinner time she glowed aloud again and then exclaimed, “Mom, I want to wear this to school tomorrow and show all my friends and teachers my beautiful new shirt!” Undeterred by my pointing out that she’d worn it all afternoon and that it now had rice stuck to it, she brushed it off and promised to be more careful. With preschoolers like this, who needs teenagers?

Aslan, aside from shadowing Buzz anytime a change in wardrobe involved a fairy tale she felt like being involved in, also whittled away at my remaining energy and nerves by once more resisting any attempt to get her to use the toilet. While she mastered the mechanics of using the potty more than a year ago, has done so successfully on many occasions, and is now tall enough that she doesn’t even need the stepstool to reach the seat, she has made it clear that she sees no real reason to bother. I have reached the point of simply removing the diaper and letting her notice the consequences—the only way her predecessor was finally convinced at very nearly four years old—but unfortunately for me, those consequences are far more frustrating for me than for her. We’ll get there, but it’s hard to miss the irony when we still have to work pretty hard to get her to remember to use her manners at meals or snack time, but anytime someone asks if she needs to go to the potty, she chirps a ready, “No, thank you!”

My projects? Well, more of them were started than finished, as usual. And as usual, I have stayed up too late writing this. Mom, I promise I’ll add pictures soon. For now, my project had better be getting to bed so that I have a better chance of keeping up with them tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is the Honeywood Over?

WARNING: This takes long-winded to a whole new level.

As the mother of four kids under the age of 9 and the instructor of a toddler fitness class, I spend a fair amount of time around children, and I have commiserated with many a friend over the struggle to get kids to eat well. My kids fit a lot of the eating stereotypes for their respective ages: they love pizza, pasta, white bread, and pretty much all sweets. But having seen some of the titanic battles waged by some of my friends even to get their kids to finish a bowl of Kraft mac n’ cheese, I have to admit that I’ve had it easy. My children, with a little encouragement and/or bribery, will generally eat vegetables. They love fruit, will eat wheat bread if it’s not too nutty or grainy, and are mostly willing to believe the argument that too much of certain things like fats and sweets really isn’t good for them. None of my kids has ever been below about 50% on the weight charts for their ages. So the worst I’ve had to deal with are the quirks like the fact that Bookworm will eat raw tomatoes like they are candy—I’ve seen her put away nearly an entire pint of grape tomatoes in a sitting—but often has to pick a piece of pizza apart into its component atoms to remove the chunks in the sauce. Or the fact that Aslan can hide two or three masticated baby carrots in her cheeks while putting off a decision to swallow until, having reached the point where she can no longer move her jaw, she instead regurgitates the whole mess back onto her plate. Worse, if downing the said carrots was a requirement to get dessert, she may even try to eat them again.

One of the most entertaining of my kids’ vegetable-related eccentricities is the fact that they all like lettuce, but don’t generally care for anything else in a salad (which in my opinion is what makes a salad, a salad). Even Bookworm, my only tomato ally in the family, prefers them on the side. She doesn’t even want dressing. But she will eat more than one plateful if it’s just plain lettuce, or in the words of her Grandma, “Honeymoon Salad”—lettuce alone. Bookworm, though, decided somewhere along the way that the name was really “Honeywood Salad,” and despite her father’s and my attempts to explain the play on words in the original name, she sticks to her version with a determination that would be envied by Olympic swimmers. When I suggested that she ask Grandma which was the right name, she adamantly refused, insisting “…you’re always telling me to ask people stupid questions.” So I gave up the argument, content that my daughter will at least fill up on salad while she waits for dessert.

Yesterday, however, a trip to the allergist changed radically the way our family will eat in the future. The visit was inspired by the fact that Aslan had thrown up a couple of times after eating peanut butter, which is a favorite staple of her older sisters. The first time was a year and a half ago, when she was about 18 months old, and our family pediatrician advised us to wait until she was three before trying again, as apparently sensitivity to peanuts is something many children outgrow. So we let her have one bite again last week, with the same result. This time, our regular doctor (a different one since the earlier advice) advised we have her tested by a specialist.

Given this lead-in, the fact that she turned out to be allergic to peanuts was hardly a surprise. I had already spent the week since the reaction to the peanut butter cookie we gave her reading the labels in our pantry and mentally noting which things would have to go. I also did a fair amount of online reading about food allergies, and peanuts in particular, and learned that peanut allergies can be some of the most severe and are also among the least likely to be outgrown. Buzz’s preschool has sent home a fair amount of literature on nut allergies, as enough children there have to carry Epipens that the whole school has been declared a nut-free zone. One such flyer included a story written by a mother pleading for understanding and support from teachers and other parents in protecting her 5-year-old from chance exposure to peanuts, as even accidentally rubbing her had against a peanut butter smear left on the cafeteria table and then touching her face could be enough to send her into an airway-constricting emergency. Or it might just make her hand itch…one could never be sure. I found the story fairly heart-wrenching, since like most Moms my worst fear is that something horrible will happen to one of my children when I’m not there to help or protect her. In my nightly prayers I almost always express my gratitude for my healthy children, and I have enough friends and family who have dealt with debilitating and/or life-threatening health issues that I don’t think I’ve really taken my own health or that of my loved ones for granted.

But my sympathy for this mother’s plea is now the empathy of personal experience. It is estimated that 12 million Americans have food allergies, perhaps 3 million of them school-aged children. These food allergies are the leading cause of anaphylaxis (until yesterday I’m not even sure I could have spelled that), which is a severe, life-threatening reaction. Ninety percent of these food allergies are caused by eight foods: peanuts, other tree nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc), eggs, soy, milk, wheat, fish and shellfish. Aslan, as it turns out, is allergic to the first four. The peanut allergy is so severe that almost 24 hours after the test when the rest of the positive results, including the pure histamine control spot, had all completely faded, the reddish wheal marking the spot where the doc poked her with peanut extract was still visible, like a counterfeit mosquito bite. As I said before, I had already resigned myself to the likelihood of a peanut allergy. To learn that she was now also to be denied other nuts (she loves almonds), eggs, and soy products came out of left field. I have been an avid reader of food labels for a long time, mostly in search of options lower in fat and sugar and higher in fiber. I had some idea already how many things either contain eggs or soy, or are manufactured on the same equipment as various nuts. Going home and just looking through our pantry reinforced this in a big way. Granted, she’s been eating many of these things without identifiable allergic reactions for years, but that doesn’t mean that the next time might not be the one that sends her to the emergency room. Peanut butter she has never really developed a taste for, so she won’t really miss it, but she adores eggs. Other favorites now on the prohibited list include Corn Flakes, most of our favorite sandwich breads, Ramen noodles, Annie’s White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese, chicken noodle soup, most ice cream, and the entire spectrum of Girl Scout Cookies. We will be making no more family trips to Five Guys, a fabulous burger dive with a trademark open vat of shelled peanuts for patrons to munch on while they wait. Any time we do eat out, it will take significant advance homework.

So part of me is still reeling a little from what feels like a sucker punch. My adorable three-year-old, I feel like whining, is being deprived of the right of the very young to ask for a treat with a kid’s blissful ignorance of its nutritional value. Bad enough that she got landed with a birthday on Christmas Eve, making it unlikely during her school years that she will ever get a birthday party that isn’t at least a little overshadowed with Christmasness—now she can’t even have a regular birthday cake. When she starts getting invited to her friends’ parties, she won’t be able to eat theirs.

But a bigger part of me is simply reeling with gratitude, a little breathless at how lucky we’ve been. If my worst fear was a potential hurt that I couldn’t protect her from, I am now forewarned and can be forearmed. Reading the labels and learning some new recipes may be frustrating, but thanks to regulations designed to protect allergy sufferers, the information is there and I can find the things that are safe. In doing so, we will be rewarded not only with protecting her from potential harm, but with other likely benefits, like probably clearing up at least to a significant degree the annoying eczema that has plagued her on and off for the last two years. Her condition, with the necessary precautions taken, is not going to shorten her life expectancy or adversely affect her quality of life. It is quite possible, in fact, that she may outgrow at least some of these allergies. My nightly expressions of gratitude for my healthy daughter will now be all the more fervent.

And Aslan’s reaction to all this? I have joked that she is the first of my children to hit the Terrible Twos right on schedule, but I have been amazed at the poise she has shown throughout this process. When told before that she couldn’t have peanut butter, she simply accepted that and never begged for it, even when her sisters were allowed. Yesterday, I got to sit with her while a nurse jabbed her back about two dozen times with a needle, then held her hands for twenty minutes while several of those pinpricks turned into vicious itchy blotches. She did whimper a little—who wouldn’t?—but by the time it was half over she was already telling the doctor knock-knock jokes and introducing her stuffed animal (a lion, of course). When we explained the results and their implications to her, she didn’t whine or try to bargain. She simply seems to accept at face value our explanation that these things could make her sick. I’m sure there will be times when her limitations will feel more restrictive and she may resent them, but for now, she’s taking it famously.

Kinda makes me think back on the scriptural admonition that those who wish to be saved in the kingdom of God must become as little children. Aslan is learning discipline at a very young age. If all of us learned to truly avoid those things that could do us harm, how much better off would we be, physically and otherwise?