Sunday, May 29, 2011

Let the Vacation Begin

Last week marked the end of school and the beginning of summer vacation.  The last few weeks of school are always filled with too many activities, parties and responsibilities.  By the time we got to Friday we were all exhausted.  I haven't felt much like cooking lately and have been attempting to nourish my kids with chicken nuggets or hot dogs and fruit.  I dare say they are surviving, but it's definately time to return to a more varied and healthful diet.  It was my intent to take the weekend off and start fresh on Monday, but we woke up Saturday morning refreshed and fully energized.  Besides that, Eric started his vacation on Saturday as well, so a good family breakfast seemed to be in order. 

It was just a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and strawberries, but we all came together to make it happen.  Jonah helped me crack the eggs.  He is still a little heavy handed with them, but he got five chances to get it right.  He'll have to practice a lot more in the future.  One of his biggest obstacles is that he squeezes the egg just as it makes contact with the counter.  In the interest of saving a little money and making a little less mess, I may try to have him practice with hard boiled eggs in the future.  I knew way back when I said that little kids are surprisingly good at cracking eggs that there was a good chance I jinxed myself.  I am now paying the price for that statement.  Thankfully eggs are relatively cheap.

Elijah helped me season and mix the eggs, but quickly became bored and moved on to help his sister with the strawberries.  Before the egg cracking I had set Abby up with preparing the strawberries.  She enjoyed every step from removing the stem to washing the dirt off to cutting out the core.  Lately she has developed a love for science.  I think the methodical step by step processes and discovery through problem solving speak to the gentle and thoughtful side of her.  I knew that her little kiddie knife would destroy a strawberry if we tried to just cut a small hole in the top to remove the core, so I just instructed her to slice off the top.  This was not good enough for her.  All on her own she devised a way to remove the core with her own knife that didn't turn the strawberry into mush.  Instead of slicing all the way through the top, she only cut through a little bit,  and then cut around the top at the same depth in order to cut off the top and remove the core all at the same time.  What's more is she taught her 4 year old brother to do the same thing!  I don't know if her love of science will continue throughout her life, but she definately has the brain and the demeanor for it!

Jonah helped me finish with the eggs and put the toast in the toaster.  Suddenly, breakfast was ready and it was time to eat.  For the first time in a long time, all five of us sat down at the table and shared a meal.  We talked and we laughed, we relaxed and we enjoyed each others company.  What a great way to start off our vacation; all together, in the kitchen, around the table.  Sometimes it's the simplest things that can bring a family together and erase the stresses of life.  For us it was breakfast.


It is Memorial Day weekend - a time that has been set aside for our country and all the citizens that belong to it to honor and remember the men and women who serve or have served in the armed forces.  There are so many fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters who are not with their families right now because of their service to this country.  Some will never be with their families again.  My post is a little shorter this week, and maybe a little rough around the edges, because spending time with my family is more important than writing about it.  Not taking them for granted is my way of honoring all those amazing people who have given up so much.  I hope you do the same.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A little Grace with my Motherhood Please.....

A 4 year old and a 2 year old (both boys) in the tub together equals lots of splashing, squeels of laughter, toy throwing, and questionable bubble sources -- which of course leads to more laughter.  Meanwhile, my six year old daughter is happily and quietly playing with Pet Shops and Barbies in the other tub.  Lord, if you choose to bless me with another child, I respectfully request a girl.

Abby is fully entrenched in a very pink, very magical world.  At any given time she will have at least three on-going dramas set up in her room.  Ponies playing with Polly Pockets, Pet Shops traveling with Unicorns, or Barbies putting on fashion shows with Mermaids (underwater, of course).  Her brothers eat up a lot of my time and energy, but every so often I am able to join her in this special world.  Every time I do I can see fairy dust sparkling all around her and there is the faint tinkling of tiny bells in her sweet voice.  So, the other day, Eli (the 4 year old) was content watching Scooby Doo and playing with Spider-Man and Jonah (the 2 year old) was sleeping in.  I detected a chance to have the little girl all to myself.  I asked if she would help me make breakfast and my heart warmed when she breathlessly answered, "Oh, yes!  Can we make blueberry muffins with real blueberries?"  I wonder how long she had been waiting for me to ask.

Years ago a dear friend gave me a Williams Sonoma cookbook for muffins and quickbreads, it is one of my favorites and I use it all the time.  It has a very good recipe for blueberry muffins that is perfect for my daughter because it is short and easy to follow.  Her reading has improved tremendously over the past couple of months and she read the ingredient list and the instructions with relative ease.  Although I questioned the wisdom of teaching her how to turn on the oven, I did it anyway.  From there, the process was about ten times slower than it would have been had I done it myself, but pretty painless.  The hardest part was trying to teach her how to get 2/3 cup of sugar.  She figured out how to get 2 cups of flour without any trouble at all, so I thought for sure she would get it right away.  No such luck.  I finally gave up and just told her to use the 1/3 cup twice.  She did what I said, but she was looking at that measuring cup as if to say, "What?!?!  That doesn't make any sense!"  I try to take these reactions in stride, but as a math person, they chill me to my core.  I come from a family full of engineers so my mathiness is not an anomoly, but the gene skipped my niece and I have watched my sister-in-law struggle to get her to understand the most basic of concepts.  I lose sleep at night worrying that one of my own kids will be struck with the same afflicton.  It would be like an artist having a child that never quite understood that mixing blue and yellow together makes green.  It does make green, doesn't it?

Aside from the confusion over fractions, Abby was able to find all of the ingredients and follow all of the instructions without any intervention from me.  I was more than a little impressed.  Jonah awoke just as we were folding in the blueberries and Eli emerged from Spider-Man land about the same time.  I stopped her when it came time to fill the muffin cups.  I could see a major muffin batter mess in the making and, since it had taken well over an hour to pull the batter together, I was starving.  We filled the muffin cups, tasted the batter and Ooooo'd and Ahhhh'd over Abby's muffins as they began to rise in the oven.

It may have taken over an hour for my daughter to pull that whole recipe together, but it was time that I got to spend with her exclusively.  My boys bring tremendous joy to my life, but there is nothing pink and sparkly about them -- they are all about butt jokes instead.  They are also both attention mongers.  Ninety percent of the time Abby lets them hog the spotlight while she escapes to her world of rainbows and friendship, where everything is clean and smells like cotton candy, and nobody farts.  Because of the danger of one of her brothers drinking nail polish remover or running off with the nail polish only to dump it all over the carpet, we don't do the regular girly stuff like spa time.  Those two boys can't be left to their own devices for more than 15 seconds, and sometimes even that is too long.  We grab the moments we can and drink them in, and when they're over, we go back to playing football and Transformers and laughing at the word poop.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Busy, Busy, Busy

Have you ever watched a bee busily buzz, buzz, buzzing through the air on a never-ending quest for....pollen, I guess.  I've always had a fascination with the buzzing bugs and their antics.  Please don't mistake fascination for adoration, as I abhor all bugs.  I'm no different from the average bug-hater; I perform wild, native looking dances everytime a bug even flies near me (especially bees), and I run screeching like a mental patient every time a spider crosses my path (let alone my toe!), but I am slightly enthralled with these creatures that work, work, work from birth to death.  When I watch bees, I am struck by how they always seem on the go, never tiring, stopping for mere moments only to be off again on their continuing missions.  Secretly I envy their ability to forge on and get the job done.  But, perhaps that's why their lives are so short.  No rest equals shorter life spans.  Have you ever watched a turtle?

This past week I have felt like one of those busy, buzzing bees.  Flitting here, then there searching, searching, searching, mostly for anwers and a little peace of mind.  All of my searching has paid off, but I feel like I may have shaved off a few years from my life expectancy!  Is rest in sight?  Not really, but the little bit of peace of mind I have collected and brought back to the hive will sustain me and my family for a little while.  My journey is far from finished.  After all, I have three kids to raise.  For now, while I write this post, I will allow myself to stop a minute, breathe and reflect on the accomplishments of the past week.  I got some answers about my son, Eli, from the speech therapist that have been oh so helpful.  I am astounded by how much her advice has helped already.  I'm also astounded by the simplicity of her advice - Talk slower!  Use fewer words!  Even as I write it I have to shake me head and laugh.  Who knew!

My husband and I have found a fabulous school for our kids.  It will require a bit of a life-style change, especially once all three are there, but the rewards are oh so worth it.  I have gained that peace of mind that comes from knowing that your kids are on their way to a better life.  Isn't that what we all want - to give our kids everything they deserve, and maybe even a few things they don't, so they can have the life we never did?  Within reason, of course.  It's doubtful I'll ever shower my kids with ponies and birthday clowns, but a top-notch education is something I will glady give.  So, at least for now, Eric and I have given up our dreams of retiring early, traveling to distant and exotic places, or skiing the Alps.  Actually, we've given up thoughts of skiing all together!  And I have given up a very special dream that I've held close to my heart for the past year.  Giving these things up doesn't feel at all like sacrifice.  Maybe because they were things that were only future possibilties, and they are being traded for present realities.

I had very little time to try and come up with a way to turn the events of the past week into a cooking lesson for my kids.  On Friday afternoon I came up with the perfect lesson.  When life gets so hectic you fear slowing down will mean falling asleep on your feet, and you've neglected your laundry so much it's pouring out the door and creeping down the street, there's only one logical thing to do for dinner.  That's right folks!  This week I taught my kids (mostly my daughter) the fine art of ordering out!!  I don't feel even a little bit guilty.  It's amazing what a little peace of mind can do.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Summertime - and the Livin's Easy

Every spring Colorado will give you a little more winter and a taste of what's to come - many times all in the same day.  Mostly this is pretty cool, but when you've got three kids who just want to go out and play, 2 inches of slushy snow is not so cool.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, I'm tired of having home bound kids. They're bored, and all they do is make a mess. So when I saw the forecast calling for a weekend of temperatures in the 80's, I let out a quick "Hallelujah!" and set to planning the perfect treat to welcome the upcoming summer months.

Everybody has their favorite summer-time snack; that one thing that brings back memories of lazy summer days and good times with friends and family. For many of us it's that first half-moon slice of juicy watermelon, or Otter Pops, or Rocket Pops from the ice cream truck.  I spent my formative years both in a small Colorado town and in the Midwest, so watermelon is my memory trigger.  My kids on the other hand seem to think of frozen Go-Gurts as their #1 summertime treat.  Fortunately, I still have time to try and change that.

Over the years I have seen a few different forms of frozen fruit skewers. To me they are OK, but nothing special.  At Eli's birthday party back in March I was in a bit of a financial and time pinch, so I decided to make some of these frozen fruit skewers with the random fruits I had lying around rather than try and make a smallish fruit salad. As luck would have it, they were a huge hit with my kids - especially with Eli.  Truthfully, I didn't mind making the first 100 skewers of grapes and strawberries, but after that I began to find the process sticky and tedious. As I was scouring my pantry and fridge for some sort of summer treat inspiration, I noticed a bag full or grapes that needed to be consumed soon.  It couldn't hurt to try, right?

I sat them down with a bag full of grapes that had been washed and pulled off the stems and handed them each a bamboo skewer and showed them how to correctly impale a grape. I was actually amazed at how quickly and perfectly all three of them loaded up skewer after skewer until every last grape was gone. It took less than five minutes to go through the entire bag. We put them in the freezer and an hour later they were ready.  In the span of about 15 minutes they had devoured the entire lot!  I was quickly reminded to snip the points off the skewers as my kids like to have sword fights with them afterwards.  This game actually sounds more dangerous than it is.  Besides, if you knew my kids you would know that it is probably one of the safer activities they engage in.  It sure beats climbing our pine tree to its highest heights!

While there's no actual cooking involved in this particular project, I am relieved to know that I can hand my kids some cut up fruit and bamboo skewers and they can make their own summertime treats.  Imagine the freedom!  And, to be perfectly honest, we've had a very busy and stressful week.  Looking for a new school for my daughter, (and eventually the other two) and filling out paperwork for speech therapists and occupational therapists has eaten up a lot of my time as well as most of my energy.  I'll try and get back on track next week, but no promises since we have two more schools to look at and both of those therapist appointments.  I am totally humbled to have to say that, especially after ending my last post practically screaming, "I am mother!  I am strong!  I am invincible!" 

That was total shite by the way.  Four days after I published that post I fell apart and cried for two days.  It's pretty hard having to write out every little thing that your kid does that you don't understand or know how to deal with, and then having to explain to well-meaning friends that while there is nothing WRONG with your kid, he is definitely struggling in some areas.  I guess what I should have said is that I am strong with brief bouts of weakness, and that I am usually invincible but can be hurt by misguided comments.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Facing Forward

Recently we had a parent-teacher conference with my son's preschool teacher.  When my daughter was in preschool, I barely took the conferences seriously.  Mostly it was just stuff like, here is a picture she drew at the beginning of the year, and here is a picture she drew this week.  It was cute, but hardly ground breaking.  As I enrolled my son in preschool, I had a sneeky feeling things would be different this time around.  I was already aware that while incredibly charming, this child was more of a challenge than most.  I prepared myself for reports of hitting and pushing, stories of incredible defiance, and trips to the principal's office.  I got all of those, so thank God I was prepared!  I also got a few things I wasn't prepared for.  I wasn't prepared to hear that after 3 months his teacher still couldn't get him to participate in most class activities.  I wasn't prepared to hear things like violent temper tantrums, unable to calm down, and needs to eat snack alone.  This is the ugly side of my charmer.  A side I was hoping he would show only at home.  Then came the scary things like impossible to evaluate, behavioral issues, and possible slight tendencies toward sensory integration dysfunction.  I'd never even heard of that last one before. 

Elijah's teacher is really amazing.  I've met few who understand and can connect with little kids like she can.  In our conferences she is always quick to point out his strengths and the things she loves about him.  She always ends by telling me what a loving boy he is and how much he warms her heart every time she sees him.  It's the stuff in the middle that keeps me up at night.  We've been working together over the past year to try and get him involved in his class as best we can.  We've had several conversations over the best way to avoid major outbursts.  When I dropped him off, I got in the habit of telling her whether he had slept well the night before, or eaten his breakfast.  All year we have been hunting and pecking for the right methods, the right words, the right activites and toys.  This is nothing new to me.  It has always been a guessing game with Eli.  A constant process of trial and error in order to reach him or teach him.  It was in this last conference that we heard a lot of those scary things.  I sat across from her in that little chair feeling shell-shocked and doing the natural thing that all mothers do, I blamed myself.

I've heard all kinds of things over the years about kids and how parents inadvertantly saddle them with horrible disorders like ADD and autism.  All those stories came rushing back to me at that moment.  If only I hadn't had a planned C-Section.  If only I hadn't let him watch Baby Einstein.  If only I hadn't fed him food with red or yellow dyes.  If only I hadn't had another baby just after his 2nd birthday.  If only I had held him more, disiplined him more, or loved him more.  If only...... 

I finally made the dreaded appointment with the pediatrician and spent the rest of that day and night choking back tears.  Every time a few would fall I would hold them back again - refusing to fear the worst.  Refusing to let the idea that something might be wrong with my child take hold.  But also refusing to really look at him or interact with him.  I was so afraid he might see or sense all the thoughts floating around in my head.  I let my husband put the kids to bed and a few hours later went to bed myself with a very heavy heart.  In the morning I awoke still being eaten alive with worry, but having to force myself out of bed and begin the day.  As I was sipping my coffee and planning out my day, I looked over at my kids, all snuggled up under a blanket together watching cartoons and thought, "Wait a minute!!  That is MY boy sitting there, calmly and happily.  He's not sitting by himself in the corner twitching!  His eyes register a lively intelligence and his smile is infectious."  I was able to reconcile in that one moment that while he may need some help, he clearly wasn't afflicted with a disorder that would isolate him from society.  He's still the same kid he was two days ago.

After meeting with the pediatrician, who did recommend having him evaluated, I went into information gathering mode.  Several hours of Googling reminded me of the main piece of advice I give to first time mommies - Stay off the internet!!  I decided to take my own advice.  I made the appointment for the evaluation and began going about gathering all of the information that might be needed or helpful.  I refuse to look to the past in an effort to place blame.  If anything that happened in the past, whether it be having a glass of wine while I was pregnant or cleaning my bathrooms with Tilex while he was an infant, is the reason that he is so difficult and challenging, then there is nothing I can do to reverse it now.  I did all I could to have a healthy pregnancy and provide a safe home environment.  I refuse to beat myself up for trying my best to be a good mother. 

I'm also done with feeling like a failure as a parent when it comes to my son.  I've always berated myself for not being consistent enough with discipline, not feeding him right or on time, not making sure he's getting enough sleep, not giving him enough attention, and basically not being a good enough mom for him.  When Eli's Dr. recommended we get him evaluated, I wasn't devastated or horrified.  I was relieved.  I was so relieved I cried.  Finally my difficulties with him have been legitimized.  I am no longer facing this overwhelming task of just trying to teach this kid to survive in the outside world, let alone thrive!  No longer am I faced with being the mother of the "bad" kid.  For the first time in nearly 3 years, I am breathing easier when it comes to Elijah.  I'm about to get some answers.  I'm about to get some help.  I'm about to get some tools that will help me make my child happy.  How can any of that be bad?