Friday, January 28, 2011

The Baby Turns One

12 months of Violet
My baby turns one today. She is our last baby (unless someone sees fit to bequeath their child to us). All of her firsts have been both occasions for celebration and bittersweet reminders that this will be the final time we will observe such beginnings. Of course, I become wistful and sappy when remembering the day she was born. I was five days overdue and had resigned to the idea that I would be pregnant forever. But, she decided that in the middle of the night, during a good old fashioned Buffalo blizzard, that she was ready. My labor and delivery was unremarkable except for the fact that it was intensely fast and, at the same time, quiet and serene.  Under a full moon, on a Thursday (just like H and Princess Commando) we welcomed her, Violet Emily. She was the crowning golden thread which completed our family’s tapestry. And, it felt as if she had always been with us. How had we gotten along for so many years without her?

 In the very beginning of the pregnancy, there was a slight scare and I was sent for an ultrasound, “just to check on things.” As the tech waved her magic wand, there it was in the dark shell in which I carried her, the unmistakable, first, bright flickering of her heart. There is not much else to see at six weeks, just all heart. And that is what she still is today (all heart). I could sing the praises of her wonder, her joy, her love all day. But, instead I will just share some recent pictures and eat birthday cake.

She kept chasing Princess Commando around the living room. And, each time she would stop at the same spot and "talk" to me with her hands and her little baby babble. The first picture is my favorite because she kept putting her hand over her heart, ever so dramatically, as if she was saying, "Mom. that last run almost gave me a heart attack!"

Violet is obsessed with noses. Ruby is obsessed with fingers.

  Princess Commando is squeezing the love right out of her.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Hour

The bus, the Big Yellow Cheese, has been one of the best things that has happened to our family-especially now that we have a baby at home and we have three kids in three different schools making afternoon pick up challenging, if not impossible. The Mr. still chauffeurs Princess Commando to school in the morning on his way to work. But, the afternoons are free from the unnecessary bedlam I used to subject myself to when picking up the younger kids at dismissal time. If awaiting their arrival at home at three o’clock induces a slight twinge of anxiety, then waiting -at the exact moment the school day ends-at the bottom of the aisle of the school auditorium where the children are dismissed, induces mini strokes. There is a general sense of lawlessness as the back doors to the auditorium are thrust open and tiny lunatics, unattended by school personnel, careen down the aisles toward us with their overstuffed back packs dangerously bumping along behind them. And, we parents, pushing against the tide of children- the mob of rowdy inmates-exercising their outdoor voices- try to make our way to the sign-out sheets which always migrate to the farthest point from where we are standing. It is a miracle that we make it to our cars in one piece.

 I always thought I was doing my children a favor by picking them up from school. The Cheese was hot, loud and smelly. And even though we only lived ten minutes from school, the bus ride home takes an hour.  But, they were always miserable on the car ride home because I foolishly and selfishly tried to extinguish their energy so that I could focus on getting us home in one piece. And, all they wanted to do was decompress. Of course, they need that. Who wants to go from one set of constraints to another without a moment of reprieve in between? They begged me every day to be allowed to ride the bus, and, finally at the start of the 2008-2009 school year their wish was granted. It was more than they could have ever hoped for. Sure there are rules on the bus. Safety rules.  But, as long as you stay seated and don’t use your school supplies as weapons, other minor offenses are overlooked.

The ride home is Happy Hour- time to unwind and socialize without parents or teachers breathing down their necks. There are six kids within five houses of one another on our block who take the same Cheese home. Our stop is the second to last on the route; so, our kids get to party the longest. As parents, we are not privy to the debauchery that occurs on the way back to our quaint, composed homes. Last Thursday Princess Commando got in trouble on The Cheese for standing on the seats and not listening to the aide. This resulted in the cancellation of a play date with our across- the- street neighbors who also happen to ride The Cheese. After I recounted the incident to my neighbor E, she said, a little too excitedly, “ Ooh, I’ll have to get the skinny from Q (her son) about what happened. I never get the skinny from him about the bus.” She paused and I could hear Q’s voice in the background. “Uh, Q’s shaking his head. He’s not going to tell me. Oh, well.”

We catch little bits and pieces that slip out. There are murmurs of bartering and trades; there are hints of forbidden foods told by the colorful candy stains around the lips; and, occasionally caught in the innocent humming of a song, we pick up that there was music played on the bus from a radio station that plays pop music and caters to teenagers. But, the kids will never admit to it- they’ll backpedal and play dumb. You know what they say- what happens on the bus, stays on the bus. The party doesn’t stop until it’s three o’clock. That is when The Cheese- with a hiss and a groan- opens its doors and deposits our kids on the corner. They are shepherded home by the Mommies where they will be interrogated with questions like, "What did you learn today?" They'll answer, "Not, much." And, as they head up to their rooms to do their homework, we'll catch the subtle humming of a tune. Was that Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream"?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Interview (and the Need for a Bigger Bed)

The other night, after Violet had gone to sleep and the older children had completed their bathing/hygiene routines, they all congregated on our bed. When there are five of us hanging out in our room- a queen size bed feels pitifully inadequate. The Mr. was giving First Born Son a summary about computer science. H, always happy to absorb the warmth of our bodies, lay quietly in the middle listening to our exchanges. And, Princess Commando was wrapping up a pre-interview with me for her Biography project which had been assigned to her 3rd grade class to help the students better understand the genre. Princess Commando had chosen to interview me about my life. I should be flattered; but, I know the true motivation behind her choice- I am readily accessible; and, to her, my life is very simple and easy to read. But, she defended her choice by lavishing me with praise of how I am “the best artist she has ever known.”

At 8 years old, where the rest of her female school mates look like Amazon women, she is still a peanut, able to curl up like a little puzzle piece into my curves. I stroked her long hair which smelled of fresh mint and rosemary and I turned the tables and asked her if I could “write” her biography. She bounced up and down enthusiastically, “Yes, yes!!”

Me: What is it like to be a little sister and a big sister?

PC: Huh? ( looking thoroughly confused) I’m not a little sister.

Me: Yes you are. You are still the little sister to your older brothers. And, you are also a big sister to Violet.

PC: Oh, yeah right. Um, well, it is hard to be a little sister because the brothers  ( She always emphasizes the words with a tone of irritation and a roll of the eyes)are annoying and they tease me. I’m so puny; so, when they come after me, I feel so weak and small. (She pauses introspectively) But, I could take Henry, I think.

Me: So what does it feel like to be a big sister after being the little sister for 8 years?

PC: It feels good because I can treat Violet the way I want to be treated. I won’t tease her or attack her or be mean to her. I can teach her all sorts of things- like how to be a good person. And, I don’t feel like I am just in my big brothers’ shadows (where did she come up with that?). Oh, I know a question that you should ask. (Playing with the rings on my fingers) This is me pretending to be you asking me “So, tell me what it felt like to learn that your mother was going to have a baby.” Now you say it.

Me: Watch it, sister. I’m running this interview. (Clearing my throat) So, tell me what it felt like to learn that your mother was going to have a baby.

PC: When I found out, I was really sad because it meant that I wasn’t going to be your baby anymore. But, then, I thought about it and realized it was a good thing because I wasn’t going to be the littlest in the house anymore. And, I could have someone to take care of and look out for.
 (When I broke the news to her, it was like telling her that our cat died or that Pokemon were not real. The hysterics that ensued were the complete antithesis of the celebratory cheers I was hoping for).

Me: You didn’t know for a while that you were going to have a baby sister. How did you feel when we came home from the ultrasound and we told you the baby was going to be a girl? Do you remember how I told you?

PC: I was so happy that I was going to have a sister. You told me by bringing home two pink outfits. I remember one had bunnies on it with bunny faces on the feet. That was cute. I was also a little bit sad because I wanted to buy a little blue blanket for the baby if it was a boy because you were going to name the baby Linus if it was a boy; and I like that name.

Me: How did you feel when you woke up on the morning that Violet was born?

PC: Well, I woke up and I realized you guys weren’t here. I came downstairs, and Nana was there and I said, “ Hey, what are you doing here?” And she told me that you were having the baby. I was really excited.

Me: Did you miss me?

PC: Yes! I missed you so much and I just wanted you to come home. (Due to that year’s H1N1 strain, hospital policy forbade anyone under the age of 15 from visiting the hospital).

Me: Were you sad when you found out that Violet had red hair?

PC: Yes because I wanted her to look like me.

Me: I understand. But it is really cool that you are the only one of the kids that has brown hair and your hair has the best highlights.

PC: Yeah, I know.

Me: When we brought Violet home, what was that like for you?

PC: I was so happy to see you and I was so excited to meet her. She was so cute and I couldn’t help myself, I just wanted to squeeze her so bad. But, I knew that I couldn’t. I just loved her so much. (Tears are welling in her eyes).

Me:  Shoot, you’re going to make me cry!

PC: I’m kind of making myself cry (starts to giggle).

Me: Do you think you will have kids someday?

PC: Well, I want to adopt some kids because, well… (pauses and looks over at her brother)… Henry close your ears! (Lowers her voice to a whisper)  I don’t want to have babies come out of me. You know, the pain and all. (Stops, again, thoughtfully). But, hey, I’m young, I might change my mind.

Henry’s interest is now piqued.
Henry: I want to adopt three kids but I don’t want a wife.

Me: Oh? Why is that?

Henry: Because girls are…weird.

Me: True that. But, don’t write them all off yet. You have two good friends who are girls. You are at an advantage. You know how to have friendships with the opposite sex. The other boys in your class don’t have that. And that is one of the most important parts of a relationship- friendship.

Henry: Yeah, I guess it’s true I’m ahead of the other boys in my class in that department. But, God, I would never marry either one of those girls. They are both crazy.

First Born Son has since left the room to download music and The Mr. is preparing his work clothes for the next morning. Picking up on the tail end of our conversation,

The Mr.:  Who’s getting married?

Me: No one! And no one needs to be having babies or marrying anyone for a loooong time. Not until you are finished with college and you have a career that will support you and a family and all that comes with that. School first. And, be a good person- always.

Princess Commando and H answer patronizingly in unison, “Yes, Mom!” And The Mr. flashes me a knowing look. We are not often on the same page of the book. I am faster reader- he gets there eventually. We have not always practiced what we have preached. We have done things ass backwards. It is not for the faint of heart. It has been overwhelming, dizzying; and, at times, it has pulled us in different directions. But, if we erase even one line of the story, it is no longer ours to tell. So, while I wouldn’t recommend our methods (or lack there of) of building a family, I also, would not have done it any other way.

Friday, January 14, 2011


 Nella Cordelia and Lainey. Visit Kelle Hampton's blog (links in the text below) because the photographs of these beautiful girls are far more captivating than what I can convey in an illustration

My words are so small and will not adequately describe the heart achingly beautiful world that author, photographer, craft wizard, mother and advocate, Kelle Hampton has graciously shared in her blog, Enjoying the Small Things. I cannot remember how I happened upon her writing and her striking photography. But, I do remember the first post I read which chronicled -with the most open of hearts- the birth story of her 2nd baby, Nella Cordelia. Among other exquisite attributes, Nella was (unexpectedly) born with Down Syndrome.  Kelle straightforwardly recounted the story of Nella’s entry into the world with such palpable emotion, I could not help but feel forever connected to her experience. From the bounty of tender, thoughtful feedback left by her followers, I suspect that I am not alone in realizing that we have all been positively affected by the existence of this little girl.  We have wept with Kelle over the roller coaster of emotions and events; our hearts, too, have swelled with the triumph of each milestone Nella reaches. We swoon with giddy delight at the tender, simple moments shared between Nella and her equally enchanting, older sister, Lainey. And, we are warmed by the humor Kelle manages to infuse in her writing and captivated by Kelle's fabulous photography. Kelle’s journey has become our journey into awareness, appreciation, inspiration, motivation, and, above all, a greater connection to and understanding of the human experience. For these reasons, I implore you to visit Kelle’s blog, or, at the very least, to watch this video. But, consider yourself warned, you will need a box of tissue.

And, after you watch the video, and peruse Kelle’s blog and fall in love with her children, please, if you are able, take a moment to donate to Nella’s ONEder Fund. The proceeds help to support the National Down Syndrome Society which “works to create a culture that fully accepts and includes the 400,000 Americans with Down syndrome.”  I have never been one to jump on board the bandwagon of “causes.” But, I hold a soft spot in my heart for Nella, a baby I have never met, because she was born very near to the date, Violet, our baby, was born. I can not help but find something so familiar in the photos of Nella-something I see daily in Violet- the unbridled joy which glows upon her face. And, I have an overflowing pot of gratitude for Kelle, for opening up her home and her heart and for always reminding me to stop and enjoy the small things.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Soup for One (with update, January 15, 2011)

I willingly admit I am no Iron Chef. Tin Can Chef is more appropriate. I have accepted the sad truth that my children, will not be coming home from college craving Mom’s home cooking. To be fair (to myself), the growth of my culinary skills has been impeded by the exquisitely sensitive tastes of my two persnickety eaters, First Born Son and Princess Commando. I have documented in a previous essay the battle we have fought for the past 13 years to infuse our Super Taster First Born Son with a balanced and varied diet. Princess Commando is in a neck and neck competition with her brother for the title of The Most Stubborn Eater at the Table.  Often the stormiest tantrums, the most vocal protests occur when Princess Commando is confronted with foodstuff that appears unpalatable to her tastes. The Baby, so far, has been an eager eater, happy to sample the small offerings I share from our menu. The Mr. will quietly, willingly accept what has been placed before him, as long as there are no onions, avocados, mushrooms, mayonnaise or creamy sauces. I see him steal himself when assessing the plate before him with a look that says, “Well, if anything, it is at least sustenance.”

Each evening I face the dreaded struggle to both prepare a nourishing meal and to lure my dinner party into actually consuming it. Out of my own dinner table exasperation, I had, over the years, succumb to the pressure to prepare separate or simplified meals for the finicky ones- to ensure that they were getting essential nutrients. I am always careful that my spices aren’t too wild, my sauces don’t have texture, and that there are at least 2 items a picky eater can pluck from a casserole, stew or soup which will provide sustenance. It has proven to be a fruitless effort because the majority of the time, they still scoff at the dummied down meals I serve them. At least I can count on H to approach our dinners with a sense of adventure and a healthy dose of optimism. “Hmm, this looks like it is going to taste good.”

In honor of H’s sense of victual enterprise, I decided to allow myself one night per week to create a meal that I have not been afforded the opportunity to indulge in due to collective disapproval. Monday nights seemed the obvious choice since The Mr. and First Born Son are typically away at soccer training. The first week, we made linguine with white wine clam sauce, accompanied by lima beans, as per H’s request (where did this kid come from?).  Princess Commando took her linguine plain with a pat of butter. The Baby happily noshed on her bite size pieces of pasta. And, H savored every bite of his dinner.  It was so lovely and refreshing to share a meal with someone who appreciated the effort, however minimal, put into it.

 H and I had been reading the young adult novel, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins before bed (yes, we like for our bedtime stories to leave us with graphic, nightmare inducing visions. Oh, but it is an enticing story. Please read it before it is turned into a movie). The characters had been given, in preparation for a battle of survival, a banquet of dishes which made our mouths water. Among the fare was a bowl of carrot soup. Carrot soup is, in my opinion, my mother’s most estimable dish. She rarely makes it though as the majority of the family passes on it when it is served. H was game to try it. So, I cooked it according to her recipe and it tasted as I remembered it, delicious and comforting. I served it with warmed, fresh bread and pumpkin cream cheese spread. H hummed his approval while slurping the first few spoonfuls. And, then he slowed down.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. “Doesn’t it taste good?”

Politely he replied, “Yes. It is good.” But, there was hesitation in his voice.

“But, what?”

He paused, afraid to hurt my feelings, “It’s just that the texture is funny. I just can’t get past it.” It’s true that the texture is unusual- something of the consistency of grainy,  pureed baby food.

My heart sank. I was so hopeful that carrot soup could become a regular meal.

“That’s okay,”  I said, heartbroken. “You don’t have to finish it.”

“You aren’t mad?” he asked tenderly.

“No. Just a little disappointed. I was so looking forward to a future filled with pots of carrot soup that I could share with you.  It is always better to share the food you enjoy with someone who also enjoys it.”  I tried to change my tone- to sound more optimistic. “That’s okay. Now, I’ll just have to make it for myself and there will be more for me to enjoy-alone (I emphasized with mock sadness). Someday, when I’m even more old and crotchety than I am now, and you are away at college, you will call me up and you’ll ask me what I’m doing. I’ll answer, in a shaky old lady voice, ‘Your father and I are having dinner. I made a big pot of carrot soup which I am going to eat all by myself. And, your father is having a Pop Tart.’”

“Mom, you’re crazy!”

“What? Your father loves Pop Tarts.”

There are plenty more Mondays to try new recipes with H. I'm sure they will not all be winners. And, I've resigned to the realization that when I someday take the time to record my favorite recipes- to hand down to my children (who am I kidding?), I will have to change the title of my favorite soup recipe from Mom's Carrot Soup for a Crowd to Soup for One.

On a complete side note- I have been suffering from vertigo (my 3rd episode in 6 months) this week. I wanted, more than anything to be able to come up with a gem of a post and an even gem-mier illustration. But, my eyes and my hands are not working together. Hopefully tomorrow, when I meet the neurologist, I'll finally have an answer as to why this keeps happening. I've been to my general practitioner, a physical therapist, and an ENT. I've had a battery of tests and they all return normal. If anyone has a story to share about his or her experience with vertigo, I would love to hear it.

Update January 15, 2011 - I will warn you that I am feeling completely punchy and a bit stranded right now by this stupid vertigo situation. I saw the neurologist yesterday. Argghhh, I dislike doctors so very much especially when they make you wait 40 minutes to be put in a room and an additional 20 minutes to actually be seen. And they do not take the time to review the required 15 page health questionaire that you needed to complete (while your vision was impaired due to vertigo, mind you!), and they ask you the same dang questions that you already filled out, and they don't make any eye contact with you and they fill the room with their flatulence (yes, yes, yes, he was passing gas and did not apologize for it!) and after sitting with you for ten minutes, they tell you what you already know- you have basilar type migraines (which, to him is concerning because it indicates an sudden change in the pattern of the headaches) and they tell you they would like you to go on a medicine which will take approximately 4 months to produce results, and (this is the best part) to watch out for a rash that might develop which is severe to life-threatening and to also be mindful of sudden urges to commit suicide. Are you frickin kidding me?!! So, I might die from the medication; but, that solves my problem because I will no longer have the vertigo and migraines. Hmmm, it's a tough choice...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Fur Free Friday

Ruby, Before Her De-Fluffing
It's Friday- the first Friday of the New Year. It is also Fur Free Friday in our house. I took Ruby, our dog, to get groomed. We did not mean to let her coat get so unruly. I am able to manage her grooming in the warmer months when I can take her out back, drop her to the grass, and shear her like a sheep. But as soon as autumn arrives, the texture of her fur changes making it difficult to clip and impossible to brush. By Christmas, she is dropping tumble weeds and I am constantly chasing after her with the hand held vacuum. Having The Baby, of course, makes things more tricky due to her insatiable need to taste test everything that falls on the floor. On more than one occasion, I have caught The Baby coughing up a hairball on the living room rug. 

When I made the appointment, I had not mapped out the complexity of balancing a baby, saddled with a winter bunting in one arm, while holding the reins of an overly excitable dog in my other hand. We narrowly escaped becoming casualties of the ice underfoot as Ruby dragged us along the parking lot. When we arrived, the groomer took one look at Ruby, and I could see the weight of defeat in her eyes. She had her work cut out for her. I apologized profusely for allowing my dog to get swallowed by her own fur. In the back of my mind, I replayed every episode of Animal Precinct and Animal Cops, recalling cases of neglect where owners allowed their animals to become so overgrown that the animal could no longer move its limbs. I wondered if the groomer was also recounting those episodes when she was appraising my dog.

With Ruby at the groomer, I could finally vacuum every surface of the house and enjoy it's fur free-ness without worry. I put The Baby down for a nap; and then, I sat in the middle of the living room and tended to the three looming baskets of clothes stationed there. As I folded, I had an uneasy feeling in my spine- as if someone was whispering against my body. It was bothering me enough that I stopped what I was doing and realized that I was alone. For the first time, my home was absent of all dogs. Oscar, Ruby's companion, passed away in July. But, Ruby was always beside me. The unoccupied space made me uncomfortable. I felt vulnerable and lonely. And, it took me by surprise, because as much as I value Ruby as a member of this family, I also thought that I would be relieved when we were one day freed of her anchor. Thinking about that day, which will inevitably come, made me realize how incredibly heart breaking it will be to lose her. And, I did not mind at all when the groomer called to tell me that Ruby was ready to come home.

Ruby, After Grooming. She always looks a little bit exasperated when I am taking pictures of her.

Ruby looked like a deranged Muppet before. But, now she just looks naked. She always walks funny after she's been thoroughly clipped. She fluctuates between a spring in her step and  awkward caution-as if she is trying to figure out how to move through space with a new body. The Baby was intrigued by our new pet.  She assessed the unfamilar creature before her and concluded that she was worthy to partake in a snack of yogurt bites. And, Ruby, never one to pass up a snack, earnestly accepted the offering.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Eye Eye See See You You

We recently took H for a consultation with a Behavioral Optometrist due to tracking difficulties that were observed by the school psychologist during an evaluation ( for a possible learning disability). Although H is exceptionally bright and is attending a very competitive academic program, he has been battling with the tasks of reading and writing for years. It has become more burdensome as he advances through the grades and the workload increases. In third grade, he was receiving Occupational Therapy services and classroom accommodations (time and a half for testing and in class written assignments) via his 504 plan for a Visual Fine Motor Integration problem. But, the "diagnosis" of Visual Fine Motor Integration disorder didn't sit well with me. In the initial report, there was very little to support that identification other than that recognition that his handwriting was below grade level. There seemed to be something more going on. We had always remarked at how brilliant his fine motor skills were. But, when it came to written expression, there was a complete disconnect between his thoughts /what he was able to verbally convey and what ended up on the paper.

He, by his own admission, is a boy of little words, meaning he does not like to talk. But, man, those very few words are so rich with vocabulary- to hear him speak, you would think that you had just gotten hit with a dictionary/ thesaurus combo. I used to scribe for him. Thinking that if I allowed him to recite to me what he intended to write, it would make it easier for him to then just copy in his own handwriting. But, it didn't help. His sentences broke through margins and were sometimes floating above the line. He would omit words or phrases that were right there in front of him. His spelling, again with the typed material right before him, was atrocious. We have been lucky up until this year that his teachers have been so accommodating and compassionate. They knew how much these hindrances hurt his confidence. They were patient and forgiving of his written work. This year he is in 6th grade and his team of teachers is more disjointed; and, due to district wide budget cuts and the removal of aides positions throughout the city schools, there is not any time in the schedules for extra help and attention. To make matters even more difficult, his teachers during an Open House presentation during the 3rd week of school, stressed that they are looking for absolute neatness and perfect spelling in all written assignments. I knew that H was doomed.

So, I set the ball rolling for reevaluation. I typed up a brief history and a reminder about H's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for all of his teachers. And I arranged to have him reevaluated by the school and, tentatively, by an outside psychologist for a possible diagnosis of dysgraphia (a learning disability which affects writing abilities). When discussing my concerns with his consultant teacher from last year (she has since taken on a position in the district's 504 office), she suggested I perform a little research on Vision Therapy and Behavioral Optometry -referencing that one of H's former teachers had a successful experience with the program. I brushed it off because H's eyes had been tested on numerous occasions and his vision was always normal- or very near 20/20. I did not understand that vision involved more than simply acuity or being able to read the Snellen Eye Charts. It was not until H came home with the news that he had "jerky eyes," that I began to give the suggestion more thought. During one of the specialized tests performed with the school psychologist, H omitted entire lines of text and symbols. The psychologist had him follow her pen and she noticed that when tracking, his eyes had an uneven, jerky movement. To make a long story just a little bit longer, the behavioral optometrist, Dr. Gordon, after performing a battery of standardized tests, came to the conclusion that H had been struggling with a visual processing disorder, Ocular Motor Dysfunction. Basically, the poor kid, has been seeing double. The words move around and sometimes jump off the page. A little bit like this:
Dr. Gordon explained that, for H, every time he reads, it is like learning the words again because they appear differently each time he sees them. He likened it to learning the Chinese characters when all that you have ever seen is English letters. Ironically, H is taking Mandarin Chinese and has complained on numerous occasions about how lost he feels in class. Vision therapy was recommended to help correct the problem. It is an expensive treatment which is not covered by insurance; but, it will be worth every penny if it helps to diminish this hindrance to learning and boosts his self-confidence. I met with the 504 committee today at H's school to re-write his IEP. Both the psychologist and the SST/ CSE chairperson were exceptionally compassionate and enthusiastic about helping H. H had made such a wonderful impression on them both. The CSE chairwoman said that these cases break her heart the most because these children are often swept under the rug. They perform well in school, so little thought is given to their struggles. The school psychologist went so far as to call H a "hero" because he had not once given up on his school work despite the impairment he had been trying to adapt to. When we were finished with our meeting, H's IEP was covered in red ink with the new modifications. The chairwoman indicated that this is a unique case and that we needed to provide as much coverage as possible to protect him- to help him.

I share this story because we have struggled for years to get to the bottom of H's writing and reading difficulties. I truly would not have known about this disorder if it were not for his teacher's insight. And, I've researched the various conditions and disabilities linked to written expression/ handwriting/ reading; and, I've consulted with different doctors, teachers, specialists to find something that would explain the disconnect between his thoughts and his inability to express them on paper. Vision disorders never came up in my queries- and were never suggested. There is so much more involved to this all than I can explain here. But, by sharing this, I hope to provide a starting point for those who might happen upon this page, searching for answers about their own children's learning differences.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2:40 PM

My Bookends, first born baby and last born baby

The children’s vacation has ended and school has resumed. On Sunday, we unceremoniously dismantled the Christmas tree, and removed the lights which had been strung throughout the house. Like blowing out a candle, the rooms instantly became stark and dim. It was a fairly lackluster winter break; and, the children had become punchy toward one another towards the end. But, we all had the Sunday night blues before bed. By the incessant rustling of sheets and creaking of bed frames, I could tell that they all were too unsettled to get a decent night’s rest. Monday morning I woke to read First Born Son’s Facebook post, “This is going to be a looooong week.” It does feel that way.

It is too quiet here. The Baby has been out of sorts- waking to an empty house. On Monday morning, after I released her from her crib, and changed her out of her pajamas, she toddled down the hall toward First Born Son’s room- her favorite destination. She looked pitifully heartbroken to find it empty. We had gotten into a routine of sending The Baby in to wake First Born Son. She would creep to the edge of his bed and stand on her tiptoes, peering with her giant brown eyes right into his face, until he lifted her up into his arms. She would put her head on his shoulder, smile brightly and softly breathe, “Ahhh.” 

To think that this time last year, as we awaited The Baby’s arrival, First Born Son adamantly asserted that he would not, under any circumstances, ever hold the baby. I respected his position. I knew in my heart that he would eventually fold to her charms. It took 6 months; but, it happened- on a quiet summer afternoon. I could tell that he had been working up the courage. He was acting funny, pacing the room, hands cold and clammy- incessantly sighing and swallowing as if he had a mouth full of cotton. “All right, I’m ready. But you’d better not tell anyone that I did it.” From that moment on, he was smitten. H and Princess Commando had each other. And, now, First Born Son finally had a sibling with whom he felt an intense and beautiful connection.

And, now that she has outgrown that painful colicky, non-sleeping, fragile stage, The Baby is not difficult to love at all. Her transformation over the past week has been incredible. She has been under the guidance of 3 additional mini teachers. Her list of achievements has grown at such a rapid- fire pace I find myself wondering on many occasions throughout the day, “When did she learn how to do that?” My favorite new talent is her rhythm and musicality- her ability to move and dance and imitate sounds and melodies. The dancing started with a shoulder shrug on Christmas Eve and now she has incorporated a toe tap and a little hip hula. It gets me giddy every time. And, I catch her performing a hundred times though out the day. I attribute that gift she has to her time spent with First Born Son, rocking out with him to Daft Punk in his room.

First Born Son worries about the significant age difference between The Baby and him. I see him start to pull away sometimes when he begins to feel so deliriously happy- wrapped up in a moment with her.  He was calculating her age when he will enter college and it choked him. “She will be four. And I may be going away. She won’t know me. It’s not fair.” He is afraid to invest his love for fear that she will reject him one day because she will not remember him. I try to reassure him that their bond is something that cannot be broken over distance and time. She doesn’t call out Ma Ma in reference to me- it is for her older brother, Max. She has never laid her head on my shoulder in a show of affection. She only does that for her Max. They are kindred spirits. They will be with each other forever.

I’m feeling very fortunate- in this moment- to have all four of them, idiosyncrasies and all. That feeling may change at three o’clock when they start filing in from school. For the next 20 minutes, I will revel in that gratitude.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to California

Last week, I learned that my baby brother (he's not really a baby at 27 years old)  is to become a father in July. Suffice it to say, the circumstances are complicated and not desirable. But, everything will be okay- because it must be okay.  And, what they say about it taking a village will resonate with more truth and purpose in our family than it ever has- once the baby arrives.

When I told my children, they received the news with a surprisingly mature discernment of worry. My children are, perhaps, a little more traditional than I am in their perception of what should constitute the family unit. I could see the wheels turning in Princess Commando’s mind, “But they are not married.”  I refrained from interrupting her thought with a lesson about how it is sometimes better not to marry in these situations.

When his sister and brother left the lunch table, First Born Son solemnly asked, “Was I a mistake?” It is no secret that I was pregnant when The Mr. and I married. Anyone examining our wedding photos can detect the hint of a bump beneath the wedding gown I borrowed from my mother and had extensively altered to accommodate both bust and bump. We have not kept this detail hidden from our children. And, this is not the first time this question has come up. It has, up until now, been substantial enough to simply answer, “No. Of course you were not a mistake.” But, on this particular day, when weighing his Uncle’s circumstance against what he thought he knew of his parents’ situation 14 years ago, First Born Son had(with a greater breadth of understanding of the human experience) begun to worry that the first flickering of his essence had not been wanted. I knew that I had to be both delicate and definitive in my explanation to him.

I set out cautiously. “No. Not a mistake. Of course, not a mistake.”

First Born Son, “Not planned though?”

“No, not planned. But that doesn’t mean that it was a bad thing. We chose you and you chose us.”

He looked at me doubtfully. “Was it a bad thing at first, and then you guys got into it (I am assuming he meant parenting) and really liked it?”

“First off, it was never a bad thing. It was, hmmm, a change of plans.  I had been going along on a certain path- the path that I thought I needed to be on- college and Art History and all of that. And, then I found out about you; and I was given the opportunity to go on another path- a better path. So, I did. And I don’t regret it for a minute. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. Really.”

He still did not look convinced.

“Ok, it’s like this. You know how California is supposed to be all warm and sunshine and beaches and Hollywood and glamour and awesomeness? Well, say I was convinced that California is where I would find happiness and success. I had researched the life, the culture, the land, the work; and, I was ready to commit my life there. So, I set out on a journey across the country to California. But on the way, my car broke down in Colorado…”

“Oh, great! So, I’m the broken down car?”

“No! No! Okay, so I was taking a passenger train across the country and I was very close to reaching my destination; but I had to stop in Colorado to transfer to a different train. But, the next train was delayed for a couple of days ( a problem with the rail and inclement weather) and the conductor told us that we would have to stay in Colorado. Even though I was a little concerned about not getting to my destination on time, I decided to make the most of my stay in Colorado. I explored, even though I was nervous because I didn’t know anything about this place. After viewing the landscape, walking through crisp, fresh snow, and meeting the people, I decided that Colorado was awesome. It felt like home. I felt at peace. I felt love and life. That was where I was supposed to be. I never even thought about California again.”

“I’m Colorado?” he smiled.

“Yep. But, keep in mind I’ve never been there- so you could be Ohio.”

“You’re weird. But, thanks.” He flashed me a very teenagery grimace.

“You made us a family. You gave us a greater understanding of home and a greater sense of purpose. You and your brother and sisters are the most important work I’ve ever done. Thank you for that.”

He seemed at peace with the explanation- enough to give me a hug before he left to hang out with his friends.

My brother will be okay. We won’t let things turn out otherwise. He has travelled across the country and around the world. I am certain it was meant to be that his path wound back to Buffalo- to our home. It is my wish for him, that he may embrace this journey as a time to learn and grow without regret for things and times he will undoubtedly need to leave behind (at least for now). A wish- that when he is faced with the same question from his child, he will be able to answer with a resolute, "You were wanted and I would not have my life any other way."

 P.S. Still trying to find time to put a decent thought together and whip up an illustration to go along with it. This was "whipped" at a wicked hour, three o'clock. My first image had a passenger train flying off the page. But it looked like something out of Harry Potter. Obviously, I do not journey much. Like an ice cream sandwich tucked in your suitcase for a 9 hour drive, I simply do not travel well.
 I am a Buffalo gal and that's how I'm gonna stay.