Thursday, May 31, 2012

what's better than being a superhero?

he was the first to know she was a girl
during our ultrasound the tech asked if we wanted to know
yes, but tell the boy first
the tech whispered in his ear 
the answer 
he kept a poker face
'Well?' we prodded.
'Oh no-I'm not giving up this knowledge that easily.'
it didn't take much to get it out of him
but, still for that brief time,
the tech and the boy were the only ones who knew
and forever he will be the first of us to know
and perhaps that is why he is so bonded to his baby sister
and maybe it is why she responds to him with the most ease
and calls him, my Henny
and he corrects me when he thinks I haven't fulfilled her needs thoroughly
and admonishes me for letting her out of my sight
and snatches her up to point out the things she loves
an airplane in the sky
a lawnmower
a robin
and he doesn't think it is a chore to look after her
if he could give up school to be her guardian
he would
because he can count on her to make him smile
and she doesn't even have to try
she is a billion rays of light
and he is her hero

Thursday, May 24, 2012

game of thrones: 10 Tips for Potty Training

After many fits and starts, The Baby has been out of diapers during the waking hours for a month. Hallelujah! We had an enthusiastic early journey on the potty train months ago, but she suddenly abnegated all interest in researching her next developmental phase. She actually became more content then ever to sit and stew in her own marinade. I had given up all hope of an expedited transition into big girl underwear. As soon as I turned the focus off of voiding habits, she decided of her own volition ( a jar of M &M’s might have helped) to jump back into her studies. For all of the grief that we endured in her infancy as she asserted her unique temperament and needs, she has certainly, gratefully caught on to this process with greater ease than her siblings ever did.

Now we face the issue of fighting for the throne. Splitting two bathrooms between 6 people has been challenging. More often than not both are occupied. Like a yawn in a crowded room, the urge to go becomes contagious when you know the bathroom is on lockdown.  I would never begrudge my child a moment to satisfactorily flush out; but, the other day she was leisurely tending to her business while completing a cross word puzzle and I really had to go. “Mom, I doing pooping. And (straining to speak) it’s a BIG one!” She sure knows how to make me proud.

For those who are nearing the potty training phase, here are some methods that we have employed and that have worked for our four children over the past 15 years.

1.      Forget about it. Resign yourself to buying a life time’s supply of diapers. Like finding love, potty training mastery will find you when you turn your back on it.

2.      Do as I doo. Set modesty aside and lead by example. Every time you have to go, bring your little champ with you. Demonstrating how things work, helps to build her confidence and ameliorate any fears she might have of getting swallowed into that gaping, watery hole.

3.      It’s a Major Award! A Ball jar filled with M & M’s in plain view is sometimes the only booty your toddler needs to get her booty to the pot. If she used the potty instead of her pants, The Baby was given 4 mini M & Ms as a reward. A warning: this may cause your toddler to go into elimination overdrive. That first week, The Baby hit her mark least 200 times to rack up her rewards (that’s 800 M & Ms).

4.      The fabric of her lavatory life. Have your trainer wear only cotton underwear during the training hours. It helps her to decipher her body’s elimination cues. We found that using training pants which resembled diapers stifled the training process as it did not allow for that organic sensation of being wet. All it took was one pee drenched pair of Dora underwear for The Baby to realize that wet clothes were not comfortable. And the only way to avoid being water-logged was to skip to the loo.

5.      We wants it, we needs it! Must have the precious! Don’t get hung up on the prospect of the ruination of your possessions. All objects in the training arena are fair game for your super soaker. Our IKEA Tullsta armchair with a water stain in the shape of Africa is a testament to this. Anything that is precious should either be wrapped in plastic or removed. It will cause you less stress and tension and allow you to revel in this glorious rite of passage.

6.      Here I am. Rock me like a hurricane. As with any new change to routine or life transition, be present with your toddler. Not only does it provide reassurance during this time of development, it allows you to also pick up on their non-verbal elimination communication. Having cleared my own agenda (So sorry laundry, you have to wait), I was able to discern that when The Baby turned into a hurricane, ripping books and toys off the shelf and spinning them in the air, a poop was imminent.

7.      Yes we can can.  Celebrate each and every successful attempt. Praise her, sing a song about her deposits, dance a joyful jig for her.This positive reinforcement helps to perpetuate consistent use of the can. Speaking of cans, The Baby has her own ideas of how I should applaud her good work “Shake your butt, Mama! Shake it now!”

8.      VĂ¡manos!  Don’t be afraid to venture out into world with a diaper-less toddler. Pack extra clothes, plastic bags and a tarp. We make the restroom our first stop at each destination- turning it into an expedition of the indigenous porcelain thrones. Public bathrooms can be a bit overwhelming. The toilets are larger, the hand dryers are loud. But, the more you expose your toddler to the various latrine layouts, the more comfortable she will be with using the bathroom outside of the home. We do also have a waterproof pad we put in her car seat, just in case she finds the expedition too harrowing.

9.      Like pee off a duck’s back. Of course, as with anything else related to raising a toddler, patience and love are the keys to successful mastery of new skills. There will be accidents and often at the most inconvenient times like when you are already running late for an appointment and the contractor who was supposed to come the day prior to give you an estimate for new front steps shows up at your door. In pre-k, my children’s saintly teachers used to reiterate again and again when the children made mistakes, “It’s no big deal. These things happen.” Say it out loud. Say it in your head- even if it doesn’t seem true in that moment.

10. Pee Pee's big adventure. If  your toddler seems slow to get a handle on this new pursuit, entice her with a trip to a fun place that only allows potty trained kids, like the play center  at your local grocery store, or the ball pit at IKEA. Walk her up to the door, point out to her much fun she could have there and then read aloud the sign outside the door which says, “Only Children Who are Fully Potty Trained are Granted Admittance.” Showing her the amusements she’s missing out on could be the impetus which propels her bum first into her water closet work.  It worked for our late blooming second son.  We still owe him a trip to IKEA.

Monday, May 21, 2012

One Parent for Violet

When I was 18 years old, I had my wisdom teeth removed. When I awoke from the anesthesia, groggy and disoriented, the nurse brought me to a darkened room to lay down and wait for my mother who had accompanied me. As the nurse ushered my mother into the room, my mother's face turned ashen at the sight of my cheeks stuffed with bloody gauze. In an instant, my mother's legs wobbled and she crumpled forward, 'Oh, no!' the nurse exclaimed. 'Up! Up!' she ordered me. The haze and ache in my head left me reeling and unsteady as I tried to move out of the way so that my mother, the woman who was supposed to be my rock- and my ride home- could lay down and recover from a case of the vapors. 'I was just so worried about you,' she offered as her defense. If it had been a kidney transplant, I might have been less forgiving- having felt neglected in my own pain and recovery. But instead, my mother's episode made for light chaffing for years to follow.

When Henry was 5 years old, we agreed after years of respiratory illnesses and allergies, to have his tonsils and adenoids removed.  We were to arrive at the hospital at 7 AM. I was so overwhelmed by the 'What ifs?' that I did not eat that morning. It was the first warm day of the Spring- 80 degrees- and the overcrowded outpatient surgery waiting area was thick with heat of bodies exuding the same tense energy. To make matters more uncomfortable, my time of the month decided to arrive one week early and clobbered me with a vengeance.

When they finally took Henry from us at 2:00 PM, The Mr. bought us a candy bar to split. The rush of sugar made my stomach turn and made my nerves more frantic. I could feel the nausea quickly creeping up my throat and the lights in the room began to alternate in waves of dimness and brightness. The heat of an impending faint started to take over my body. As I began to morph into my mother, the nurse came to retrieve, "One Parent For Henry." The Mr. encouraged that I should be the one that Henry saw first. I stood up and there were stars before my eyes. As I wobbled down the hall, I could hear the nurse telling me that he had done so well. But, all I could do was declare, "I think I'm going to faint!"

"Honey, you're not the first. And you certainly won't be the last, " she said as she led me to Henry's bed. "Climb up on there with him. I'll get you a cold wash cloth." Henry who was groggy and tangled in wires and tubes opened his arms wide so that I could fit inside of them. "Mommy," he croaked with a drunken smile. How cool, he thought, that they are letting my mommy ride on the gurney to the recovery room. As I snuggled with my boy, the shroud of shame fell on me. I owed my mother a HUGE apology for ever giving her a hard time about fainting in the orthodontist's office- for making slight of her worriment or doubting her focus and strength.

The Baby underwent surgery last week for ear tubes and an adenoidectomy. This time, all of the maternal torment that infused my being years earlier took on the face of one giant, mother 'What if I pass out on the way to see my daughter?' Focusing on conjuring calm in order to be steady enough to hold my daughter helped to keep the morbid misgivings at bay. And when the nurse came to retrieve, "One Parent for Violet," I walked with confidence down the hall. My love for my toddler surged through my arms which ached to cradle her. And it's a good thing I kept it together. Have you ever seen the size of a toddler gurnery?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

When you have doubts in your abilities to fix things, raise someone who can do it for you

It's not only children who grow.  Parents do too.  As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours.  I can't tell my children to reach for the sun.  All I can do is reach for it, myself.  ~Joyce Maynard

Princess Commando had saved  two months allowance and miscellaneous gift money to purchase a 'rare' Pokemon plush toy direct from China. I counseled that it would be wise to be frugal- to save for something more useful like a new bicycle or a kayak. But she insisted on relinquishing her funds to a magic factory which fabricated a most coveted  morsel to add to her collection. When it finally arrived after three weeks of stalking the mailbox, she stood before me sheepishly. The cotton candy creature she protected from my killjoy frown had a visible tear in its muzzle where stuffing seeped through- the material was akin to the itchy fabric of Midway prizes. I tried with all of my might not to set  my I told you so expression on her; but, the way she slunk out of the room let me know I didn't do a very good job.

Later that evening, after The Baby was finally settled for the night and I could feel the energy draining from the tap in my spine, I stood at my bed deconstructing a pyramid of laundry. Princess Commando faced me on the other side. She held up my sewing kit and her damaged merchandise pushing them toward me. "You can fix it. I have faith in you!" Her exaggerated smile was endearing but my shoulders involuntarily slumped and an audible sigh escaped my chest. It was getting late. I was so close to bed.

I hadn't any confidence left in my abilities to 'fix' things. The Baby's upcoming surgery for ear tubes and an adenoidectomy weighed heavily on my mind. The fact that my kisses could not steal away her pain made me feel helpless. And then, I had been having a difficult time with my exquisitely introverted and shy 13 year old. Henry had been suffering for two years with a mounting school related anxiety which paralyzed him.  His pain was already etched on my heart as I, too, had suffered throughout my school years with a crippling anxiety which landed me in the hospital and kept me out of school for 2 years. I did not want this for my child. The raw empathy I felt for him was a searing pain compounded by the fact that my own experience with this same challenge made me an unreliable guide. And then there was First Born Son- I hardly ever saw him. He had become so passionately involved in soccer- travelling to various tournaments on the weekends with his father, developing a crucial bond- a connection I was not privy to. I felt irrelevant.

I stood, unmoved, beside my bed. Princess Commando cocked her head to the side and pleaded with her anime eyes. Henry had been watching us from the hallway.

"Let me sew it," he offered.

"You don't know how to sew," Princess Commando answered doubtfully.

Henry left the room to return 60 seconds later with a primitive looking Scottish terrier. He pressed the toy into his sister's face.

"What is that?" I took the toy and ran my fingers along the seams. It was a crude representation of a jaunty dog in black fleece with a tartan bow tied expertly around its neck. It was so simple and yet so inspiring.

"I made it in Home and Careers," a glint of pride lit his eyes. "Mrs. P showed us photographs of Scottish terriers and told us to come up with a pattern to sew." He went on to talk about a double back ninja stitch that he wanted to learn so that he could make extra money reinforcing men's shirts.

Princess Commando marveled at his handiwork and confidently handed over her damaged Pokemon for repair. Henry's precise stitches far surpassed the factory machine work on the rest of the creature.

"Henry is so nice! I love him so much!" Princess Commando gushed as she threw her arms around him.

Henry's compassion and willingness to help his sister was the indication I needed that I might have done something right along the rough hewn path of parenting. We have steadfastly tried to instill in our children to think of others before themselves- to act with sympathy; to keep their ears open so that they my catch a quiet S.O.S. floating in the air; to lead with patience- especially in moments where love might feel muddled. That Henry interpreted my sigh- sucked into the piles of laundry- as a moment to step in, to help me carry out my will to nurture, to fix things made my heart swell with pride and it humbled me. 

I may not be able to fully reconcile Henry's daily apprehension but I will keep walking along side him- helping him to find the resources he needs to feel safe and strong in the world. I may not be able to cure The Baby's chronic ear infections with a kiss; but I know that while she is recovering, my hands and heart will work overtime to comfort her in the way that only her mother can. First Born Son may be developing out of my sight; but he does still come to me to express his unexpected growing appreciation for jazz; admit to me his fears of failure; and to share his off beat, sometimes dirty humor which he knows I will appreciate and not admonish him for. Princess Commando will continue to make decisions independent of my best guidance, but she still holds onto the belief that I can fix the pieces that need mending. She returns to me- despite my disapproving eye, in spite of my doubtful spirit-for me to embrace her with all of my heart. 

I have learned that motherhood is a process of continuous evolution and accommodation, of learning and growth with hefty purpose, of giving one's self up to the ebb and flow of life. I am fortunate to have had sage teachers- my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, my dear friends. But the most competent teachers on the subject of flourishing within the realm of the human experience, whose reciprocation of faith has helped me to continue to place one foot before the other, are my children. As parents, we do our best to ‘fix’ things. When we don’t get it right the first time, we keep trying because we must and also because we desire to do so. But, sometimes in order to fix things it means that we may have to hand over the needle and thread to more capable hands. Sometimes we need to accept that our quiet S.O.S. has been answered by a tender bloom on the family tree reaching along side us for the sun.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Send Off for Sendak

Inspired by one of my favorite Sendak stories, Pierre

Like so many children, I was raised on the imagery of Sendak, Silverstein, Wilkin, Tudor, Potter, Fujikawa.  As a child, I believed that when I grew up I would find the places they created. I was so stricken by my anxiety that I could not enjoy my own world. I longed for their atmospheres of fantasy, of whimsy, of harmony with nature and with others, of lessons learned in safe places. Their visions on paper filled me with hope- for what, I cannot quite remember. But its funny that now when I share their work with my children, I feel the same hope projected onto them. It has come into focus as I've gotten older. Hope for dreams, for pleasure in life, for mischief, for adventure, for merriment, for exploration, for the blossoming of talent, for a little light that always glows in the darkness, for simplicity, for commonality, for individuality. As an adult, I am coming to understand that what I really wanted all along was a sacred space where imagination and creativity always reside. I strive to honor that place in my life daily in my own work, in my own illustrations.

I am so grateful for the insight and artistry of others whose work- even after death- continues to inspire a spark in young minds.

Rest in peace, Maurice Sendak.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Did you ever wonder where all of those dandelions on your lawn came from?

I have a little sprite
When I take her for a walk
she drops to the ground 
at the sighting of an ant or a potato bug
On her stomach, 
she flattens out on the pavement
with her little pointer finger 
she manipulates his path until she has him where she wants him
in just the right position to gently pinch him off the ground
She cradles him in her palm
rocking him like a baby
then she lets him explore her arm 
until he swan dives into the grass below
She does this every few feet
A new ant
The same little arm
It takes us a  l  o  n  g  time to walk around the block

And then she spots dandelions
"I pick them!" 
Did you ever wonder where all of the dandelions on your lawn came from? 
She loosens their anchors in the soil
knowing that she is allowed 
unlike the tulips she longs to pluck- the neighbors will not mind
She does not see weeds
She sees pretty flowers
that flit and flurry with their silky strands 
when they are blown upon with just the right breath
With a whisper she spreads the fine seed
sending them off with her wishes
She propagates their billowy cover
dappling the lawns of our neighborhood
with innocent invocation
with good intentions. 

Friday, May 4, 2012



I cannot vouch for the dog, but as far as I am aware, The Baby has only had one sip of coffee in her whole two years. She sipped it and said 'yummy' but her forced smile through puckered lips suggested a different adjective.