Thursday, October 28, 2010
Yesterday I was feeding Princess Commando her morning bottle at the computer desk while surfing the internet. H came to me sheepishly, "Can I have one of the hard candies Nana gave me yesterday?" He had already eaten a hearty breakfast, so I didn't think one would hurt. "Sure. You may have one." H was so proud of his candy- 4 pieces of banana hard candy. He had already eaten one the night that my mother brought them over. He had each designated for a special moment over the next 3 days. "This one is for after I play with my Rescue Heroes in the morning time. This one is for after lunch on Thursday. This one is for when M comes home on Friday."
I was distracted by an online article I was reading when he came back into the living room. But, I could hear the crisp crinkle of candy wrappers. He was singing in the background, "I'm a big kid, yeah. I can eat hard candy. Hmmm, hmmm."
"Yes, you are a big kid," I absently agreed.
Not 10 minutes had passed and he peeked his head up over the side of my desk. " By accident I ate all of the candies."
"I ate four candy." I thought for a moment. But, there were only 3 banana candies left.
"What candy are you talking about?" I now noticed the blue sugary specks flecked on his lips. What did he get into? I put Princess Commando down and pulled him closer to me. "What do you mean you ate four candy?"
"I had a blue one, and a green one, and the orange one and the red one." Lollipops! Old lollipops that had been tucked away in the cupboard since Halloween.
"You ate four lollipops?"
"Yes," he lowered his eyes in shame. His lower lip stuck out awaiting my reaction.
"Well, do you still have the sticks?" I wanted to make sure that he really ate lollipops.
"Yes, they're on the couch." Sure enough, all in a row, four lollipop sticks gleefully sucked bare lay beside their wrappers.
"Do you have a tummy ache?"
"Yeah, kind of," he paused, "But, you're not mad."
"No, I'm not mad. How were they?"
" Good! I tried the blue one and the red one and the orange one and the green one! Cause I'm a big kid and I can eat hard candy."
"Yes, you are a big kid. But, you know that you are not having any more lollipops for a long, long time."
"Yes," he agreed with a mock pout. "But you're not mad."
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Okay, so the above picture is not an illustration. But it does illustrate what I have been busying myself with the past two days. My dear neighbor and friend, N, got roped into decorating for our children's school's Spooky Chicken BBQ on Friday night. The “Spooky” was added after someone finally realized that the 29th fell on Halloween weekend and wouldn’t that make a fun theme? A theme that required decorations. Knowing that I am one of those "creative types,” N approached me to see if I had any ideas. I haven't designed anything tangible in a very long time. It sets me into a bit of performance panic when I am asked to fashion something that someone can actually hold in her hands or hang on a wall. As much as I am completely infatuated with digital art, it can tether any form of creativity beyond my Wacom Tablet and Photoshop. I always want to get back to basics- paints and brushes, my Prismacolor and graphite pencils- but I haven’t had the luxury or the allowance to return to the more palpable experience of illustrating that those implements provide. I, also, haven't had many opportunities, since The Baby came to fruition, to volunteer or contribute to my children's schools. I have been feeling guilty about that. Taking on this assignment, was a way to very temporarily ease my regret and to also let me return to my roots as an artist- all the way back to that time in second grade when my construction paper and glue mural of a clown was honored at the city wide elementary school art show at the Buffalo Convention Center.
My mother, the newly retired 1st grade teacher who has been reincarnated as a substitute teacher, has been so benevolent over the years with her left over craft supplies that we could have dedicated one of the children's rooms as a storage locker for craft sticks, construction paper, foam balls, googly eyes, paints, etc. It has come in handy when Princess Commando has company and they've exhausted all roads leading away from boredom. As I never take inventory, I was unaware that all of the “Halloween” colors were missing. N was going to pick up orange paper so that our kids could decorate cut out pumpkins. In the meantime, I needed to make sure that I could crank out something else that could fill in a Halloween tableau on the cafeteria walls. I started the first of the cutouts, very simplistic bats, before Princess Commando arrived home on the big cheese. She was puzzled when she saw the torn up pieces of paper and oddly shaped silhouettes scattered about the dining room table. "Mom, what are you doing?" I had gotten carried away. I was in a kindergarten, paper crafting, muddledness. The Baby was occupied under the dining room table, ripping my scraps into even more minuscule bits. And, because she was quiet, I kept going- cutting out free-form monsters with bulging eyes and bubbly appendages.
I had forgotten how comforting the tactile sensation of holding construction paper between your fingertips is. As is the feel of scissors (I don’t even have grown up scissors, so I used the rounded tip kid cutters) opening and closing along the path of your outline. And the untidiness of it all, the fuzzy fibers of colored paper stuck to your fingertips by the sticky glue, the paper refuse besprinkled about your feet, the crayons and markers littered upon the table, gave me a feeling of abandon I don’t usually enjoy (as I am the one normally cleaning up after someone else’s creative fling). My products were far from noteworthy. But, the experience was cathartic- crawling back into the artistic womb. It’s too bad my mother is retired. I could really use some more construction paper.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
|Your food is killing me.|
April 30, 2002
Last night Mrs. T sent home a very fitting assignment for M. The children were to draw a picture of themselves eating that evening's dinner. They were to pay careful attention to their sense of taste. I laughed when I read it because M has the most delicate palate. Everything makes him gag except for marshmallow cereals and fast food burgers (without condiments or cheese, of course). We have been struggling since he was two years old to entice him to sit at the table and at least try a bite of everything on his plate. The fights and dramatics that ensue would seem to warrant a call to Child Protective Services from those listening from the outside. It sounds like the kid is being tortured; and, for him, it feels that way. His repertoire of dinner fare is limited to those foodstuffs that are white (boiled chicken breasts, plain pasta with butter, an occasional piece of mozzarella cheese, and apple slices).
Last night, we grilled homemade turkey burgers on our new charcoal grill. I warned M when he came home from school about what was on the menu. He seemed fine with it until his father brought in the thick burgers nestled warmly in toasted buns. M began to panic. Those burgers did not look like fast food burgers and the bun was too hard. The meat was too spicy and it didn't stick to the bun properly. "Can I have something else?" He pleaded. We have tried to stand firm in our rule that he must eat what is placed before him before he can ask for something else.
"I'm going to throw up!" He kept threatening.
"You're not going to throw up," We insisted. And then he gagged hysterically on his food.
"I can't eat this!" He protested. "You don't love me!"
This behavior is something we should be used to by now, but the frustration never wanes. And, the energy of fighting against him is more easily sapped now that he has discovered other battles to wage against us. If it was not for H's agreeable dinnertime presence, I might give up on constructing a meal. H takes his time to eat, savoring each morsel, purring with contentment at mealtime, and trying new foods at least twice. Last night, I even made brownies for dessert- a reward if M ate his dinner. But this meal would have consequences for M. He kept spitting out the food and letting it drop to the floor like an infant starting solids. We sent him to his room to settle down. He kept shouting," Nobody loves me! I want to move out of this house!"
I went in to calm him down, "Where do you want to move?"
"Call him and ask him if you can live with him. But, if you go, we will miss you very much." I retrieved the phone for him and let him call my father. He wasn't home. M was falling deeper into despair. " You can't live with Nana because she will make you eat spaghetti with sauce, and pork chops, and broccoli, and steak."
" Where can I live then?"
"I think you are stuck with us."
He slumped in the hallway and begged with puppy dog eyes to be accepted at our table where the three of us were enjoying our brownies. I made him sit at his place and complete his "Taste" homework. I suggested that he draw a picture of himself crying at the table with hamburger falling out of his mouth. Instead, he drew a picture of himself with a huge smile and an enormous burger in his hands. This is what he wrote:
"My Mom and Dad made burgers on the grill. They were spicy and hard. I did not like it! I wanted to throw up. Then I went in my room and cried."
That sounds about right. I wonder if Mrs. T, in her 25 years of teaching kindergarten, has ever had a student who suffered so much through such an innocent assignment.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
A few weeks ago Princess Commando had her second ear infection in two months. She was stirring in the middle of the night with a fever; so, I brought her two purple, grape flavored, children's acetaminophen tablets. I left the light off in her room, so not to rouse her any further. Of course, I could not see what I was doing and one of the tablets fell out of my fingers before I could get it in her mouth. She was already laying back down upon her nest of Care Bears- so I didn't bother fishing for the tablet, figuring it would be okay if she found it when she woke up.
The following morning she came into my bedroom with a concerned look on her face. She informed me that there was "dirty"in her bed. Sometimes "dirty" was just a piece of fuzz; so, I dismissed her worry and brought her into my bed to snuggle.
Later, while I was in her room helping her get dressed, she pointed to her bed, "See? My bed's all dirty!" I examined her sheets and, sure enough, the purple tablet I had dropped the night before was crushed into a fine powder. "Oh, what happened here?" I feigned surprise. To that, she answered quite definitively, "The Care Bears did poopies in my bed!" And that is how I learned that Care Bear scat is grape flavored and it takes your pain away.
Monday, October 11, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
The Mr. and I attended First Born Son’s “Back to School Night” at his High School last Thursday. Parents follow their student’s schedule for that particular letter day (it happened to be D Day). It is a two hour epic journey through the expectations and opportunities for the 9th grade student. Parents are given 15 minute course overviews by the core teachers and allowed a brief introductions. We usually dread these events- mainly because once we are introduced to his teachers, once they find out to whom we belong, they will forever connect our faces and names with our boy. We can no longer hide or pretend we do not know him if he pulls a stunt, let’s say, like skipping Art to hang out in a stairwell. FBS opted out of joining us (it truly wasn’t mandatory) which made me suspect that he already had something to hide.
First Born Son is a bright child, but he is also a flake. It may be par for the course- being that he's a 13 year old boy. He is particularly gifted at developing strong relationships with his peers and his teachers. But, academically he often fumbles. Where the information and the work comes naturally for his cohorts, FBS needs to work twice as hard just to keep his head above water. It may be due to his late birthday (born in December) or his Central Auditory Processing Disorder but he has always been slow to bloom in his studies. We have tried to impress upon him that if he is working to the best of his ability and even pushing himself a little further, it is enough to satisfy us. Good grades are wonderful, but exceptional effort counts, too. For whatever reason, he took our advice and threw it out the window in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 8th grade. And, we were not made aware of it until the 39th week of a 40 week school year. Luckily he passed all subjects; but, we like to see our student aim much higher than the passing mark.
I realized that I needed to abolish all opportunities for lying about school work. I began this school year with a mass email to his teachers. It was a preemptive measure in hopes of creating a partnership and developing an open line of regular communication. In the email, I explained that there had been two dramatic changes within our family: the birth of The Baby in January and the death of FBS’s great grandmother in early February. In addition to these events, FBS had been struggling to increase his scholastic independence while balancing increasingly challenging course work and the obstacles of his Central Auditory Processing Disorder. (The disorder affects him in the classroom when he is to follow multi- step directions or take down notes that are given orally. It is easy for him to lose focus during a lesson and we are working on getting him to recognize when this happens and to not be ashamed to ask for help to recover the information that he missed.) FBS understands that performing well over the next four years is of utmost importance to gaining entry into college. Ultimately the onus of success in school lies on FBS’s shoulders; but, historically, he has been the most successful when we have been given the opportunity to create a partnership with his teachers. That way, no one is in the dark. I asked if the teachers would be agreeable to alerting us if they noticed FBS struggling or slipping in his class work so that we may find the proper supports outside of school to reinforce what he is learning in school. They all kindly replied that they would keep an eye out for him and keep us in the loop.
The first period on FBS's schedule was Gym. We have known his Gym teacher for four years. Mr. K did not have a presentation planned and was distracted by the intermittent buzzing of his cell phone- stepping away periodically to answer it. We needed to kill 14 more minutes until the bell rang for FBS’s next class. We introduced ourselves to the only other parent and child in the gym. The young man, J, happened to be in most of FBS’s classes and acknowledged his friendship with FBS. It dawned on the Mr. that this was a good opportunity to peak into FBS’s world. I begged him to not ask any questions that we really did not want the answers to. I would leave it up to the teachers to let me know how well he was performing in school or what kind of performances he was putting on in class. After some thought, the best question my husband could come up with was “Does he eat his lunch?” Lunch has been a hotly argued subject in our house. We witness him construct a lunch of a ham sandwich, apple slices, a juice box and some crackers every day; but we never had the sense that he really ate it. For FBS, lying has become as effortless as breathing. He has a tell, though. It is subtle and the Mr. is not yet able to detect the nuances. I can’t quite describe it; but, it has something to do with the way he sets his mouth and his gaze. He staunchly stands by his claim that he does in fact consume it. Yet, that tell is ever present; so, I can’t be sure of the truth. J thought for a minute about the Mr’s question. He looked relieved that we did not ask him to delve into anything that would breach the sacred trust of teenagers. “Hmm, if he has a bag of chips, he’ll eat those. But everything else gets tossed in the garbage.” A bag of frickin chips! We don’t even have chips in our house. My husband nodded his head in understanding and thanked the boy as if he received the golden information he needed to solve a long standing mystery. Of all of the possible lies I have worried over, lunch was low on the list.
As we traveled through FBS’s classes, we learned from his instructors that he is doing well, that he is an engaged student and a kind human being. It is still the honeymoon period- but I was grateful to not have to don the dunce cap just yet. Both the Mr. and I walked away pleasantly surprised and with a renewed hope for all of the successes FBS would achieve this year. At the conclusion of the evening, we spoke with FBS’s assistant principal, Mr. F, a man who supported and championed our son even in his lowest moments. He asked how FBS was doing and if he was enjoying school. He wanted to know what feedback we were getting from his teachers. We told him that thus far everything was positive. But, we learned that FBS doesn’t eat his lunch. Mr. F let out a hearty laugh. “Nope. In all of the years I have known him, he hasn’t eaten a single lunch he has brought to school.” If lunch is our son’s greatest failure this year, I will gladly accept the defeat.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
|Evil Princess Commando, Sweet Princess Commando|
If Princess Commando was an animal, she would most likely be a cat. She reminds me of our younger cat, Mitsy. She curls up with you on her own time- peacefully, graciously snuggling one minute; and then, as quickly as she perceives being crossed, she snaps-claws out-hissing! The only difference is that Mitsy makes herself scarce; but, the 8 year old girl throws herself on the couch in a whiney tantrum when she does not get her way. It is no secret that she has been dubbed "The Brat" within our family. Princess Commando's attitude has taken a turn for the beastly as she has begun to face the rigors of 3rd grade. The word from school is ( although I am inclined to believe this is a myth) that PC is a dream student in the classroom. She is well behaved, respectful, thoughtful, helpful and kind. I try to be sympathetic to her new challenges, yet firm in my direction with her. But, there is only so much ornery, selfishness that a parent can endure.
We were well overdue for some alone time. This past Friday, I followed through with a promise of a "girls night" with my number one girl. The Baby went to sleep at a reasonable hour. The boys found a way to busy themselves; and, The Mr. agreed to sleep in Princess Commando's twin bed in order to accommodate our sleepover. PC's only requests were popcorn, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie and some gaudy nail polish. She was in a rare good mood. She allowed me to braid her overflowing locks of hair. (She no longer lets me dress her hair in any way but "plain and straight." So, this was a treat for me). Despite being exhausted from caring for The Baby all day, I made it through the movie; and, PC was soon purring, blissfully curled beside me. I had forgotten how much I missed time alone with her.
Any sign of sweetness, was eradicated the next day when Princess Commando came down for breakfast. She was quick to whine and hiss at her brother's benign teasing. She recoiled at our attempts to cheer her up. She was grumbly when we instructed her on what tasks needed to be completed for the day. In fact, she stopped using words, she just groaned through the day. She was pouty and obstinate all weekend. She was disrespectful to the Mr. and me. But, she looked adorable. She had unraveled the braids from the night before and her hair hung in crimpy plaits about her head. The hairstyle dwarfed her petite body; and, she looked a little bit like a child who was raised in the woods by wolves. When I showed her this new version of herself in the mirror, she softened. She actually enjoyed it and decided that we should braid her hair on Sunday night so that she could wear the new look to school on Monday.
On Sunday night, after her shower, I attempted to replicate my design. This time, I decided to add more, thinner braids. Her hair seemed to be a mile long and my fingers were stiff and aching when I was finished. We waited until the last minute on Monday morning to unweave the braids. This time, with the addition of the much smaller braids, her hair increased in volume. The effect was not lost on her. As soon as she saw the big reveal, she broke down. "I hate it!! I hate it!!" "I'm not going to school like this!" "It's too puffy!" I calmly sprayed her hair with leave in conditioner to tame it. She did not look any different than the other day when this style was met with beaming approval. She was not budging. She sat on the floor of the bathroom refusing to brush her teeth and move on with the morning. The Mr. was taking her to school on his way to work- so there was no time to waste. And, I had precious minutes left before The Baby woke up and my chance of a shower sped down the drain. I tried to hurry her along. But she became more and more disagreeable. I finally snapped- as this Monday morning was the last straw of mornings, and afternoons and evenings like this. I threw every ultimatum, threat, and bargain at her. She wasn't buying it. She finally left with the Mr.- but not quietly.
I mulled over how to handle this behavior. What has worked for us before? What consequences should I instill? I sought the advice of my mother, a newly retired 1st grade teacher, a mother of three, a grandmother of 6 and a veteran of doling out consequences. I took her suggestion to give PC a warning that Monday's behavior would be the last time she would go without punishment. If she were to act up again, I would bag up her beloved stuffed animals. She would go on a behavior chart and would need to earn 3 stars/ day for seven days and then she would be allowed one of her animals back. I also would have her fill out a "Making Smart Choices" sheet that was sent home from school as an example of the behavior plan that is implemented in the classroom.
She came off of the bus, happy and high on the bus social hour, as if nothing happened earlier in the day. I sat her down and laid out the new guidelines. She apologized and agreed that she would try harder. She reluctantly filled out the Making Smart Choices sheet. ( I didn't have her fill out the section about what rule she broke). Find the completed form below. It may not be the explanation that I hoped she would muster up; but, it's a start.
Friday, October 1, 2010
The Baby has been my most challenging child. She has been a test of endurance, strength, patience, creativity and faith. And, shamefully, I will admit, for at least the first 5 months, I struggled to resist the temptation to sell her off to the gypsies. I raised 3 babies before. Why was this one so hard? In spite of the fact that The Baby was a "surprise," I was confident going into this venture that she was going to be a piece of cake. Why wouldn't she be? Her siblings, as infants, were gifted sleepers and talented eaters with easy dispositions (when they got older, of course, that changed). This having been my last pregnancy (yes, the Mr. took care of that prior to her birth), I thought I would treasure every moment. The other three children were in school all day; and, I would have time to focus inward on connecting with the new little one- growing her, loving her. But, from the get go, the pregnancy was exhausting- despite the fact that I was in the best shape of my life prior to getting pregnant. I was nauseous; yet, I was agonizingly hungry all the time. At nine o'clock at night, I had such intense cravings for hamburgers, I could not sleep. I was in constant pain; and, I was woefully fatigued. My midwives were quick to point out that at 34 I was much older this time around. It was not comforting. The only silver lining, to a tarnished pregnancy, was the fact that for the first time in my history of being pregnant I had friends to go through this with. Five friends to be exact.
When I had First Born Son, I was 21 years old and the first among our friends (by 12 years) to have a baby. I had, by my own accord, isolated myself from everyone to immerse myself in the role of mother. At the time, becoming a mother was the most profound experience (it still is). Everything else paled in comparison. I looked at the Art History degree that I was working so diligently to complete as pointless. Art History, Fart History. Nothing could make me feel more complete than my days spent raising my son. It was too easy to push everything else aside and become drunk on baby love- to revel in my tiny creation. I didn't realize what little value I placed on my friendships. I made excuses not to see people-probably because I felt we weren't in the same place and I feared they would no longer understand me. I loved motherhood, but I didn't know that I was allowed to have more than one dimension. I can not be sure if I suffered for it at the time. The Mr. probably did though, as I tried to get him to wear the girlfriend hat, the one which allowed me to confide in him my deepest thoughts, unload my all my emotions, and gripe about him- to him. I secretly scoffed at the fluffy articles about the importance of friendship in the women's magazines that my mother handed down to me. "Real Women Have Girlfriends," "Girlfriends are Good for the Heart," "Without Girlfriends, You will Die Young."
I was excited at the prospect of bonding with my friends over their newborns. I was happy that I would be able to offer my years of expertise in all things baby related. But, with The Baby, I found myself in uncharted territory. None of my other children had colic. None of my other children had trouble gaining weight. None of my other children would scream bloody murder if I put them down in the coziness of their cradle to, God forbid, use the bathroom. The Baby was the universe's little wake up call to me- "You haven't learned everything yet, Oh Experienced Mother." I had wanted to breastfeed this child as I didn't fully commit to it with the others (that is a story for a different day). But somehow, at the start, we were incompatible. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (oh, how I loathe that book!) does not mention anywhere about how over 13 years and 4 pregnancies, your boobs can become stretched beyond Gumby proportions, making it difficult for the baby to get milk. So, I exclusively pumped. It was so taxing physically and emotionally. I only made it through 6 weeks before I could no longer handle the injuries I was sustaining. I tried formula, but she was so sensitive to it- it made her colic worse. We eventually figured it all out on our own and I was able to nurse her. But in the stupor of that dark time, I emailed my friend J, a new mother whose daughter is 6 weeks older than The Baby. I've known J since she was 5 years old. She is actually my sister's good friend. But, since my sister lives on the other side of the U.S., I get to reap the benefits of J's beautiful friendship. I was so upset and felt like trash for giving up nursing (I blame the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, for putting so much emphasis on breastfeeding as the sole means to being womanly and artful). I wish I had her response to post here; it was truly magnificent. Her words lifted me out of a gray cloud. She made me laugh. She validated my emotions. She offered me her friendship.
We now have playdates. When we first placed the girls side by side on the floor (at 2 months and almost 4 months) they reached for each other's hand and held on. A sign of knowing. A sign of friendship. Our daughters are very similar in temperament in that both are high needs and neither one of them wants to give us a break. Sleep has been such a struggle. I always know that if The Baby has been up all night, that I can talk to J and find out that her sweetheart was up all night too. And with the ever changing guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics (which our pediatricans follow as the Bible) on infant feeding, mealtimes have never been more complicated. But, we've been able to navigate through it together. I am learning from Js' trials and errors as much as I hope she is gaining something from mine. I feel that when I spend time with her, I can exhale. I am free to unload and she does not judge. I hope I do the same for her. It is like therapy. I walk away with a better understanding of myself, of my baby, of what changes might need to happen in order for us to grow. The Mr. always says that I am a much nicer (more "chipper" is how he puts it) person after our playdates. He suggests that we have one every day. And one of the biggest light bulb moments I've had, happened with J during our playdate this week. J was talking about how she does not feel the need to escape to have a drink with friends- that her sweetheart might be her one and only child forever and that this time goes by so fast that all she wants to do is savor it- even the difficult moments. I realized that The Baby's disposition is the universe's way of forcing me to appreciate this experience. A child who is high needs does slow down time. I had been lamenting all of these months that the days were dragging on, that I was suffering from not getting any sleep or exercise because my baby needed me all of the time. But in reality I was being given an opportunity to be in the moment. Her immediate needs were all that mattered. Her health and well-being was all that was important. And, now that I've stopped fighting it- The Baby has become truly delightful. And, miracle of miracles, she sleeps! But, without J's support and perspective, I might have still been floating adrift at sea. I will no longer scoff at articles in my mother's magazines touting the positive significance of friendship. It's true, "Girlfriends Give You Clarity."