The seeds of tradition

What with all the bellyaching i've been doing here lately i wanted to make sure to note in writing all the really sweet and wonderful things that have been happening around these parts, especially as we lead up to Christmas.

Although Henry has been a tad bit blase about Christmas decorations this year, i think it's only to tone down the shock and awe Silas expresses each time we see brilliant lights or favorite Frosty decorations. He literally squeals with delight and loudly requests which decorations we need to see on our drive home.

Both boys had a ball decorating the Christmas tree this year and were downright helpful-- no quotations needed. Henry also displayed some very serviceable wrapping skills and helped me wrap a full night's worth of gifts one weekend. It's taken a bit of planning and prodding from me, but both boys have made treasure boxes for each other in secret and seem to relish having a gift, especially a secret one, to give the other.

It's not always reverent but they heartily request to listen to watch and listen to the Christmas music box each night. Henry especially loves the story of how Gran and Nonna gave it to me the Christmas when Henry was still in my belly.

Henry has been dutifully counting the days to Christmas using the advent calender i made a few years ago. He's even patiently re-attached the little felt ornaments when Silas has blown in like a tornado.

And today we made a go at celebrating the Solstice. Especially with it being a fairly new special day i didn't try to do anything too dramatic. I'll pat myself right on the back for that one. We read a book on the solstice that i checked out from the library, then we said a little verse about the darkness, lit a few candles and talked about the light coming back. Then Henry suggested we blow out the candles which both boys loved. Voila-- small ceremony achieved. I get the sense we planted a seed and i hope we reap the benefit next year.

I promise to illustrate this post with pictures but that will mostly likely happen after the holidays. We're t-minus just a matter of hours until both sides of our family join us for an exuberant and joyful time at Christmas!


Keep the Numbers Low

A friend of mine with many children posted the following on her facebook status the other day: "Siblings are a bad idea, best to keep the numbers low." Her message was intended as a tongue and cheek statement, but i have to say i could have expressed the sentiment myself once or twice.

Henry and Silas have an extremely close relationship which currently consists of playing really nicely or enjoying each others company 35% of the time and being upset about something the other is doing 65% of the time. JT thinks my percents are off, but i think that if i sat down with a clip-board and a timer for a day i'd be pretty close.

Beyond simply playing together, you get occasional glimpses of loyalty. In the moment though, this devotion is hard to appreciate because it usually surfaces when one of the boys is getting in trouble. If Silas has been told he can't have a treat, suddenly Henry is yelling at us to let Silas have a treat and to stop being "mean" to his brother. Hopefully standing up for each other will develop into broader personality traits as they get older, for now it's one of those things you try hard not to laugh about.

I know i've posted a lot about the difficulties we've gone through in the last six months with Silas. And i wasn't making those difficulties up. But, as Silas seemed to hit an upswing, Henry went on the downhill. What i came to realize though was how much "milder" any episodes were when you were dealing with just one child. It really does make a difference, at least for our boys, to have both of them at the same time while you're trying to discipline, encourage, or comfort.

I find that if someone gets wild, the other one gets wild, that if someone starts misbehaving, you suddenly have two monkeys jumping on the couch. If someone gets a timeout and begins wailing as if the world is ending, the other one will join in (and sometimes make himself genuinely upset) just because of all that negative energy in the room. With one, you usually have a bad moment, address the situation and move on.

This helped me understand that Silas probably wouldn't seem as challenging if he had been our first or was an only. I also think that Henry's behavior issues now seem so much worse than when he started experimenting with bad behavior between 2-3, because now he has an audience egging him on.

People talk about how the move from 2-3 kids is easier than 1-2. In this area i can see why. The whole dynamic changes with two. I am promising to keep an open mind about why all this sibling strife is worth it. People tell me strong bonds can emerge and i've certainly seen siblings with enviable relationships. But i'll continue to tell people feeling bad about having an only what a great situation that can be too!


Extremely delayed Silas Medical Update

Sometime in the fall JT took Silas back in for the 6 month ENT checkup to make sure Silas' ears were still okay. Everything looked fine but one tube had fallen out completely and the other one was about to. So they took them both out and wished JT and Silas on their merry way. I was frustrated because essentially Silas had surgery so he could have tubes in for the spring and summer-- not typically our high season for ear infections.

The doctor had agreed with JT that it was too bad they didn't last longer, but also indicated that since he was a year older he may have outgrown the problem. I was skeptical at the time and am even more skeptical now. Silas woke up congested and discombobulated and clearly not feeling well this morning.

JT stayed home with him and he pretty much layed in bed or sat on the couch and watched videos for the biggest part of the day. He didn't have much of a fever but he did keep getting flushed and he was definitely not his normal self. After nap he woke up even more out of sorts and immediately started saying that his ear hurt. Hallelujah for real speech! I immediately called the Dr. and we got an appt for this afternoon.

By then his eye was watering and boy could you just tell he felt miserable. Indeed he did have an ear infection in the one ear he was complaining about and the Dr. thought it was possible he was developing pink eye. She gave us an RX in case he wakes up with it disgusting and clearly pink eye. Otherwise she said it could just be due to his cold. We got his antibiotics filled and his first dose administered tonight. Hopefully he'll be feeling better tomorrow morning, although we'll have to see about school. In the meantime, Henry kept trying to convince us that he should stay home sick as well.

The problem is that he's had a cough for 2 weeks or so that is just stubborn but sounds somewhat bad. So he'll say he feels bad, (cough, cough) and it sounds believable. Wish us sweet dreams as we all try to get a good nights sleep.


Christmas with a 2 and 4 year old

Christmas this year is fun in lots of new ways. This is the first year Silas is consciously involved in the unfolding of Christmas. And everything is a delight. The big snowflake street decorations, the twinkling lights on Christmas trees peeking through front windows, as well as all the decorations on our tree he can reach.

Henry is also into Christmas in a new way-- he remembers it of course, and trots out all manner of details of things that happened last Christmas that we haven't talked about since. He is also much more intrigued with Santa and seems to be wrapping his mind around the "magic" of Santa. We're setting out to write our letters to Santa this week and i'm curious to see what winds up in Henry's this year.

We're not in a bonafide "up-cycle" with both boys, but we've had a decent-enough string of days i think it's worth being positive and grateful for all the fun craziness the boys bring to our life. Silas' newest thing is loving to take all his clothes off. Mostly he does this indoors, but even still it's been FREEZING here and it gives me goosebumps just to see him naked walking around on our super-cold floors. He does run warmer than me to be sure, but it also seems like he has to be on the verge of hypothermia before he'll admit he's cold. Just to make things interesting he also now feels compelled to jump on the trampoline once all his clothes are off.

We have found a solution that's been working pretty well. He comes home, immediately wants to take all his clothes off, we agree he can do that and run around for a few minutes and then put on his warm fuzzy pajamas. We've accumulated several pairs of fuzzy footed pajamas and he really loves them. So he's being rather "un-Silas" about being persuaded to don them.

We're keeping up a pretty good pace with Christmas prep. We try to hold down outside commitments this time of year which allows us to be home, crafting, wrapping, cooking, and preparing to see our whole family. We can't wait!


Christmas Organizing

I had a query about how i prepare for Christmas-- when i start working on things, how i get organized etc. I thought this just might appeal to someone else so am drafting my response in the form of a blogpost.

First of all this is me we're talking about, so a spreadsheet looms large in this conversation. I actually now use google docs and have a gift giving spreadsheet that has data in in for the last 5 years. I have everyone listed in column A that i give gifts to. Then a new set of columns each year that detail my ideas, where i think the gift will come from, the budget for that person and the actual amount i spent on them. I color code them as i make progress on the list, bright green when they're all done, yellow when they're in-process or part-way done and white when they're not done at all.

Just to give some scope to my list versus your own gift needs, i have 28 rows on my spreadsheet. This includes the shopping i do for family and a few friends, as well as the gifts i buy for the kids on behalf of family that sends us money.

I generally start thinking about gift ideas for folks sometime in September. I do very little shopping at this point but begin mapping out ideas i have for each person on my list. More and more i strive for a mix of handmade and purchased gifts. I put a lot of thought into what each person would like. I use a combined method of asking for gift lists and then just thinking about what i know about that person, their interests, their taste-- and what i've been inspired by. I spend a fairly substantial chunk of time looking around on etsy and save ideas i have for others in my favorites.

I keep hand-written lists in a small notebook of all the hand-made projects i'm working on. I got underway with those by the beginning of November and have tried to work steadily on them in the evenings and during naptime on the weekends. I tend to cluster my purchased spending online, and do it right around Thanksgiving. There are great sales, still plenty of time to have things shipped, and then i can cross all my purchased gifts off my list and focus on what i'm still working away on by hand.

I can't reveal pictures of what i'm making this year because i don't want to spoil the surprise, but i'm making sure to take pictures of everything as i complete my projects so i can have a big handmade holiday wrap-up post!

How do you organize your gift-giving?


Giving Back

In the past six months or so i feel like i've stumbled on to some blogs that have made some pretty significant contributions in my life. There's no linear telling of the stumblings, but soulemama.com was probably the nexus. Her beautiful photographs and telling of her family life re-focused my energies and spurred me to explore positive parenting approaches, learn about waldorf education, bring crafts into life with the boys, and embrace sewing and handwork in a big way.

And the reason i'm telling you all of this is to say that beyond inspiration and new hobbies, reading soulemama and some of the other parenting blogs has helped develop a positive thought line running through my head. Many of them discuss in their blogs how grateful they are for what surrounds them-- even when things aren't going right. It really is infectious if you hear this kind of talk enough.

So while part of me is whining that i was so excited for this week off, several days to sew and shop and cook and be productive and that it's not fair to be sick, the other part of me is saying that i'm grateful i have three full days to rest if need-be, a laptop to watch movies on, listen to music and connect when i feel like it, and especially for the little boys that have become very adept and (usually) willing to pick up the downstairs when the toy explosion starts to reach the high-water mark.

I'm not having the morning i wanted (gym, shopping, and then massage); but i am having the morning that i need (in bed with the newspaper, the laptop, coffee and saving my energy for said massage.)

Wishing you and yours a grateful week!


Very First Parent-Teacher Conference

Yesterday JT and I attended our first parent-teacher conference. It was a delightful time to hear about how well Henry is doing, how amazing a little guy he is outside the home (he's great inside as well-- part of the time :), and to get a detailed report on some of his activities at school.

For my early-childhood education readers, they use something called "creative curriculum" that the preschool learning objectives are tied to-- a quarter of which are in social/emotional development and the rest spread over things like physical, cognitive and language development. Henry got good comments in all areas, and Ms. Laura mentioned that his physical skills on the playground are right in line with all the other kids (i had mentioned his physical therapy).

She had some observation notes for Henry that she gave us and some of them are too funny not to share:
-Playing independently at the art table, Henry observes: "You know, this orange paper is pretty thick, and the red paper wasn't as thick, Why?"
- Henry easily repeats and extends a simple AB pattern using blue and purple manipulative people. He says later while lining them up, "They're at the Artic Pole. They're really Cold."
- While playing with Henry in Dramatic Play, I ask him, "Can i have some milk Henry?" Henry finds the milk in the fridge, brings it to me, and says "Sure, here it is!"
- Henry puts all the blocks on the shelf to "see how many can fit."


Feedback Loop

From November 2009

Even with the Internet, and a community of supporters that i can access on the phone, online and in-person, sometimes parenting can be a bit of an isolating job. I've been lucky enough to have the opportunity to volunteer in Henry's classroom once a week for the past few months and it's been such a rewarding experience. Seeing Henry outside of his family environment is a joy-- and allows me to clearly see his strengths without having to deal with the "hands-on" parenting that makes you feel like you're in the trenches when you're at home.

I also get a chance to meet all of Henry's classmates, learn their names and see how Henry interacts with them. I recently came across this quote and nodded my head vigorously; "If you ask preschoolers, "What did you do at school today?" they will typically say, "Nothing." Honestly, i was happy to read this as some kids i know just gush the goings-on of their day. But not Henry. For as long as he's been talking, when you ask him what he did at school- or even try to be creative and ask him the funniest or silliest thing that happened he seems to delight in telling you a) nothing happened or b) he just started at the wall all day.

The book went on to say: "But if they get other cues-- you start to sing one of the songs or they see or smell something similar-- you can get an amazingly detailed rendition of the morning's activities."

Being in Henry's classroom gives me the details to be able to ask questions that he'll actually answer, or to weave his classmates names into our conversation. I've considered it laying the groundwork, and in fact it has allowed him to open up and share more with me-- almost as if because he doesn't have to educate me from scratch it's something he'll consider doing.

Henry seems to love having me in the classroom as well-- asking throughout the week if it's the day i come to help at his school. He's really great about honoring the conversation we had the first week in which i explained that i'm still his Mom, but when i'm in the classroom i'm there to help Ms. Laura and all the other boys and girls. He gives me an enormous hug when i'm ready to leave, and interacts with the activities i lead-- but is just as comfortable picking other centers.

But the place i started this post was to say that i've received some hugely valuable positive feedback from Ms. Laura about my skills with the kids. I'm not sure if i can explain how those comments helped shore me up. The kids have both been in some rough patches for awhile and i haven't always felt like i'm doing a great job mothering them. My patience and problem solving skills only go so far. So, being in a classroom with 20 kids and feeling like i know how to help manage the classroom and interact in very positive ways with the kids has been wonderful.


Halloween 2009

We've had a great time prepping for and waiting to see exactly how Halloween was going to play out around these parts. Henry had decided pretty early he wanted to be a firefighter-- which was great, because we already had everything we needed for his costume. Except for some late in the day desires to be a whole bevvy of inanimate objects (a tree and a pillow are two that spring to mind) we were pretty prepared for Henry to have a smooth experience with Halloween.

We started talking early about Halloween with Silas, and particularly about dressing up. He wasn't very interested, but i figured it was weeks away so no rush. We didn't push but most times when we brought up Halloween and getting dressed in our costumes he used a particularly "Silas" tone of voice to indicate-- "no biggie, but i'm not getting dressed up." I know Silas well enough to know that he probably knew full well what he was going to do and was just stating it early. But part of me thought that as he learned more about Halloween and saw Henry and other kids in costume he'd get into the spirit.

We brought a few possible costumes upstairs to the playroom and Silas even put on a giraffe costume a few times. We talked a lot about the giraffe costume and 50% of the time he'd give it lip service. The other half of the time he'd re-emphasize that he wasn't dressing up.

On Friday, the day before Halloween, Henry's school had a Halloween assembly. Henry wore his costume to school, and Silas was excited and wanted to walk Henry to school before heading over to Ms. Brenda's. Surely this portends good things right?

Either way, the Halloween assembly was fun and Henry and all the other preschoolers (three classes on one stage and no one cried or fell off-- amazing!) did a great rendition of "five little pumpkins." Then they had a Halloween parade around the school and a short party where they got gobs of candy. (Quick aside, there were some candies we weren't familiar with printed only in spanish. One was some kind of lime gumball with chile powder flavor. I'm waiting for a report from JT on that one!)

So, on the day of Halloween i realized that we needed a "costume" that wasn't a costume, in case Silas really did balk. He's been favoring his "sheep coat" and his "bear hat" lately and i had already planned to put him in tan cords to form part of his giraffe costume. I was channeling Henry's bear costume a few years ago-- at least in my mind.

On Halloween we headed over to Tiffany and Mike's for the annual Halloween party. Since it wasn't a weekday the whole thing was decidedly more relaxed and laid-back than in past years. We ate some pizza and then started to work on getting all our costumes on. You guessed it, Silas was a no-go. Both Tiffany and Troy (very persuasive with the preschool crowd) tried to convince Silas to put on his giraffe costume, but he just said pretty firmly (and calmly) "no." So, we bundled into his sheep coat and bear hat and he was as happy as a clam. He loved trick-or-treating, wound up staying out later than Henry, who got cold and went back with an early group, and kept wanting to get "more treats." He even said trick-or-treat and thank-you at each house-- albeit in the wrong order.

And as a special gift to his parents, he and Henry climbed right into their sleeping bags, laid down and crashed out while we got to stay and enjoy the party with our friends. Wonderful Halloween-- even without the costume.


Motherhood as Continuing Ed

I recently finished reading a book called You are Your Child's First Teacher, by Rahima Baldwin Darcy. An Amazon reviewer lamented it was long on theory and short on practicalities. I disagree because i did find practical advice in the book-- at least enough to get the gears moving, and I felt the "theory" or rhetoric provided soulful salve at a time that isn't all butterflies and moonbeams with the kids. As you can tell from the quotes i jotted down below, one of the theses of the book that resonated with me is all about how parenting is our own adult journey-- spurred on by our kids.

Just as babies don't wait until the world and our lives are in perfect order before they are born, children don't wait until we are "perfect parents." Indeed, we will be better off if we can give up the idea of perfection in regard to parenting. Parenting is a process of mutual growth, in which parents and children grow in different levels through their interactions and through elements they bring into one another's lives.

I gave up on perfection a long time ago. I was raised amongst perfectionists and i never did see the return in that last 2%-- enough to make me happy and to do a good job has pretty much always been my mantra. And yet, this idea that we are to keep growing and learning based on the interactions we have with our children resonated.

I can't easily think of anything else other than the experience of parenting, that causes you to look at a pregnant lady, or a pregnant mom of a toddler and think "boy, you just wait." And, it's not ego necessarily, not completely a need to revel in your own hard-won experience. Part of it is just an honest knowing that one way or another, one personality or another, the new phase these folks are going to enter into is going to push their boundaries at some point. Of course the same way a mother of three or of teenagers or of grown children looks at me.

And this is where Darcy's book really started to emit sparks for me:

If we see parenting as part of our own inner growth and development and see our children as unique individuals with their own personalities and lives to live, we will be less likely to fall into feelings of guilt.

I also don't tend to carry guilt so that wasn't the hook, but this ideas that being a mother, parenting these two boys is part of my own development has really spurred a bit of a renaissance in my mothering. I've struggled with how to describe this because it's not as if i was "Sleeping Mother" going through the motions of childrearing, suddenly awakened to an interest in my children. No, it's more that i've always loved my boys in an unbounded familial way and now i've discovered a way to apply all my functional "work" skills and interest to the family.

Bear with me if this sounds strange, but i love organizing things, creating schedules and problem-solving. I've been drawing on these skills ever since i started this parenting jig, but somehow in the last few weeks i've really began to apply these skills and interests to the kids in a focused way. And one of the best parts is that JT and i have been brainstorming and strategizing together.

I worry this is sounding a bit nutso. It is difficult to describe. I think the take-away is that i've had a bit of an awakening recently that the kids will not stay young or even in our house forever-- that days are long but the years are short, and finding a way for us all to feel like we're growing and moving together is crucial.


I've been talking about how i'm working to infuse more crafts into our lives and i have a few pictures and some stories to relate on our efforts. I was reminded of something the other day by Henry's preschool teacher "I like the kids to focus on the process, not the product," and have been trying to emphasize the same in our efforts.

We installed a new display line in our kitchen for all of the boys' artwork. It's primarily filled with Henry's creations but Silas is bursting with pride over the one piece of his that is tacked up there.

In anticipation of Halloween we've been making pumpkins and ghosts for almost a month now. Here are ghosts hung up in Henry and Silas' room. Once Halloween is over we'll use this line to display more works of art as well.

I made this little guy for Henry after he repeatedly requested a soft doll like Silas'. He seemed happy and genuinely thankful and (using his big words) told me he was "very appreciative."

We've got more projects, big and small, in the works for Christmas!


Parenting Tricks

I've got a longer essay in here somewhere, but for now a few new techniques i've introduced this week that i think are going to work quite nicely.

Anyone that has spent time with Silas at home knows that his favorite place is in his own house. Even when he eventually has a great time outside the home, getting him to leave can be hell. On the whole he had been okay getting ready for school but last week even this deteriorated and we had a few terrible mornings (lots of shouting, tears, inane attempts to reason-- when will i learn!) I decided we had to figure something else out. Two things, JT is now getting up at 7 so that the kids will get up (they had been laying around in their beds/rooms until 7:30 or even 7:45 some mornings) and have more time to eat breakfast, play, get dressed, play, brush teeth, coats, etc. This i think is crucial and definitely helped.

The second thing we did at the end of last week was to have Silas pick out his coat and shoes and put them on the chair by the door so everything is ready in the morning. We did this again tonight and i intend to continue doing it. I don't expect him to make a beeline for the chair, put on his coat and shoes and declare he's ready for school, but if we could avoid tantrums about wearing a coat i'd call it a victory. I'll keep you updated.

The last thing we did is institute a "ticket" system for screen time. A big portion of me wants to outlaw "screen time" almost entirely and i can attest to it being a slippery slope if you aren't on top of it. In my experience, you all agree to 30 minutes, or no tv on weeknights or whatever, then the next thing you know the little ones are whining for more, or melting down because they can't watch George or other types of behavior that i'm keen on avoiding. So, we're in the pilot stages, but each boy gets a specified # of tickets for 15 min. increments that they keep in special coin purses. They can watch 15 mins at a time and spend their tickets. They get more each Friday.

Generally the bulk of their screen time happens on the weekend (an hour to an hour and a half) but if they want, they have the opportunity to watch a show or two during the week-- which is a nice tool for both the boys and Mom if we're having a rough day.


Fall Fun

A noted lack in posting. I was away an entire work-week two weeks ago and i feel like i'm just about caught back up where i have some time to mess around once the boys are in bed. Plus, i hosted my parents for a fall visit this weekend that was lovely; albeit cool.

After several years of sticking largely close to home during their visits, we were all over greater Chicagoland. The nap schedules or our little people still constrain all day touristing, but we headed out to the NW suburbs for fun at a local pumpkin patch. The highlight of Silas' trip was the tractor ride-- which i remember him balking at completely last year. Henry loved every minute of the kids truck ride he got to go on. I believe the wacky fun house and the strawberries were also a hit, although at that point i had taken Silas to look more at the animals because the wanting to ride, afraid to ride conflicting feelings were just too much for him.

From October 2009

He did very much enjoy watching the sheep eat, the chickens peck around and the rabbits nuzzeld up against the warm back corner.

That night Henry had his first swim lesson at the new "warm" pool and he seemed to do quite well. Once i saw him get in and follow the teachers' lead without begging me to get in too, everything else was gravy. It was a little chaotic before class started with so many kids getting sorted out, but i'm hoping it will be a little calmer and Henry will be a little more assured.

Sunday my parents and i went out to the Frank Lloyd Wright house and studio in Oak Park. I hadn't been out there since soon after moving to Chicago, and it was very fun to play tourist again. It's a cool house and amazing to picture the prairie coming right up to within sight of his house. The boys sat this trip out and probably just as well. Henry might have at least listened attentively for the tour but we had a 2 hour wait before it started that would have thrown him over the edge.

Last event was JT volunteering at Henry's school to get the flower beds cleaned out and planted with spring bulbs. Volunteering seems to be a new thread running through our days. This Saturday it's my turn to help set-up the fall festival.



From September 2009

One of the offshoots of some of my recent reading, as well as just feeling a transition in the boys, has led to my attempts to integrate more creativity into all of our lives. I've been greatly influenced by Amanda Blake Soule's (Soule Mama) blog and her first book (i can't wait until the second one gets to our library!) And have embarked upon creative attempts in a several different directions. Partly i'm interested in incorporating more "arts and crafts" in a straightforward manner into our lives. And partly i feel something a little more complicated about wanting to slow down more with the boys and have time to actually create together. So "create" has taken on a very relaxed interpretation in the past several weeks.

Practically I've approached the idea of "creating more" by re-tuning our schedule to allow tv/videos/computer only on the weekends. It's amazing how this helps open up little pockets of time. I've started a binder of kid friendly projects that i've been using to select one big project for each weekend. I also reorganized all the art supplies so that both the "no assistance necessary" (crayons, color pencils and the like) and "some assistance necessary" (pompons, "real" glue, beads) are within Henry's reach. The two biggest contributors to forward progress though have been buying a small desk for Henry so that he has a dedicated "creative" space, and sitting down with Henry to water color, cut, or just create.

From September 2009

Henry's very excited about his desk and it has given him a little special space that is out of the way and lets him go off and have some alone time when he needs it. As Henry and Silas get closer, they get more and more intertwined. There bond has grown for sure, but so has (at least Henry's) need for some alone time. This desk was a pretty crucial step in helping them find a way to establish this.

You'll notice that so far i'm only talking about Henry in all of this. Silas is not interested in "art" right now and only very fleetingly will deign himself to color or paint. He was exactly the same way with books for a very long time and only just recently became interested in sitting still to be read to. This has prompted the biggest creative development for all of us-- periodic book time. Sometimes they don't go willingly, but i find that if i can get the boys to the couch or the bed or the playroom floor and agreeing to a book (or at least who gets to pick first) everyone's blood pressure drops several beats and their breathing becomes more regular. I can just sense it happening for them and *feel* it happening for me-- even when 2 minutes before i was aware of my last nerve stretched taut.

The coming fall weather helps. I can forsee a winter of evenings huddled around the kitchen table, long weekends spent in the middle of big and small projects. The image is at least a good bit enticing although for the part of me wishing summer would never end, i feel like i have some new ideas to meet the long hibernation that i know is coming. I promise more pictures of all the fruits of our work to come soon.


Playroom Overhaul

I've been doing some initial reading and learning (mostly web-based at this point although the library books are in transit) about Waldorf and Montessori theories around child-development and play. My take away from the surprisingly similar starting tenants to play and playrooms that both Waldorf and Montessori sites espouse are:

- Simplify. Cut back. Downsize. Doesn't matter how natural, or cool or creative your child's playthings are. When there are too many of them they get overwhelmed and their toys aren't appealing. Think Barney's, not Walmart.

- Well-made toys that are aesthetically appealing and open-ended are more appealing and last longer than easily broken toys that dictate how a child needs to play with them. This fits the quality over quantity point. For some folks this means only natural materials for toys-- to me it just means a few well chosen toys that hold up, can be used all different ways and if they're beautiful and natural-- bonus!

--Kids need their stuff out in the open. Ideally organized on low-shelves where things are out in the open or stored in open containers for small items. Check! This was my own conclusion after 3 years of trying to bring organization to the play room.

--The other key tenant which we're working on is having kids pick up their playroom-- putting things back where it goes. Part of what seems to help this is having a dedicated spot for everything. I struggle with this honestly, because i'm constantly trying to better organize their playthings-- editing, and oftentimes working in new toys they've been given. So we're working on having them take ownership for picking up but i don't think i'm ready for a system like they have at preschool where each toy or bin is numbered and there is a corresponding spot in the shelf for the item.

There's lots more to both waldorf and montessori philosophy for both play as well as childrens' development, but i've been focusing on these points as an entree to integrating more creativity into the boys days.

As you can tell from the photos, simplifying hasn't meant barren. It's amazing how you cart half the stuff to the basement and the playroom is still almost overflowing. I'm watching carefully though and almost everything in there gets constant use. The only thing i'm not certain about is the bookshelf. So far i haven't applied the same (take out half) approach i have in other places. They probably would read more different books if there were fewer choices. But somehow having an entire shelf of books to browse seems too important to me. So i'm holding off at this point. What do you think?


Silas' Big Boy Bed

It was a rash decision but, but last Monday morning, on the eve of Henry heading to preschool, we converted Silas' crib to a big boy bed. We had started talking with Silas about the idea after we returned from vacation and although he showed very short spurts of interest he always returned to "no" and other sentiments that meant he liked things just the way they were.

Then on Monday morning we started talking about changing his bed and he went for it. He said he wanted to "change my bed" several times and seemed genuinely excited. JT and i talked about the rational reasons it wasn't a great idea; a) we were going to be gone all day at a BBQ so he wouldn't actually be home to get used to it, b) the next day was Henry's first day of school and we didn't want to start off with a terrible night's sleep and c) if things went awry we wouldn't have the weekend to recuperate.

But, we threw those concerns out the window and decided to be led by the fact that the child that has made it clear he doesn't like change, was embracing, nay excited for this transition. We all took a turn with the ikea wrenches and voila-- big boy bed!

Silas was over the moon about his new bed and played happily in it all morning. He took his usual nap upstairs and then we headed out to Tiffany and Mike's for our labor day BBQ. He was clingy and difficult at the BBQ but in the few moments when he'd let me put him down and wander over to the other kids, he'd quickly saunter back and whisper "my bed" with this happy, sly smile that he's great at.

That night he was over the moon to sleep in his bed and so far there has been no falling out of bed or midnight escapades. He and Henry often wake up before 7 now, but talk or read quietly to each other until 7 when they both come bounding up the stairs to wake us up. It's very, very dear and helps smudge some of the harsh edges around the difficulties we've begun to emerge from with Silas.



If you visit my actual blog (instead of using a feed-reader) you might have noticed that i've been posting my facebook status on the sidebar. It's a bit wonky from a design perspective but it gives you a sense that you can find me on facebook making quick frequent updates on our family. I use fb as a way to post short, frequent messages related to the ups and downs in my day and around events related to our family. If you're a friend or family in real life (and i'd be surprised if you were reading this blog and *didn't* fall in that category) i'd be happy to have you as a friend on facebook.

I've found this blog has evolved into a journal of sorts to help me chronicle the major events of our family life. I'm not abandoning this blog, and it certainly gives me a space to write in more depth than a fb status updated. But it's not exactly the place for late breaking news.

So, glad we cleared that up!



We're well on our way to having a preschooler in his second week of school. Even that first day you'd think Henry was a pro! We've been so pleased at his transition to school and are looking forward to many great years at our elementary school.

Henry started school on the day after labor day. The Friday before we got a call that a spot had opened in the morning session. So after all the hand-wringing, the feeling inadequate and ill-prepared to be the parent i wanted, things just worked out. I tried to spread the gratitude around wherever i could that day!

Henry's first day of school, JT and I went with Henry for a shortened morning session. We got to meet the teacher (new to the school), watch the kids take a "tour" of their classroom, drop off our supplies (which we almost needed a wheelbarrow for) and then accompany the kids to the lunch room for a snack while we had a greeting from the Principal. The second day Henry went by himself but was just there (again) with the "new" kids. Then the third day he went and all the kids that attended last year started too. You couldn't have designed a better way to ease Henry into everything.

All accounts are that he did wonderfully. He got a "i did great at school" ticket when he came out beaming on his first solo day and the teacher and the aide have consistently described him as doing great. Really until tonight he's been a little closed-lipped about things. He now things it's hilarious to say his teacher's name is "nothing" when you ask what it is. I'm pretty sure the smart ass humor didn't rub off from my side of the family. Now that he's been going he's describing vignettes from his day-- playing with the blocks, the rules of the playground, how lunch works, the writing center, etc. I'm hoping to keep drawing this kind of information out in dribs and drabs when he doesn't notice.

And after the last post, i'd be remiss in explaining that Silas has taken the whole transition in stride. I wasn't sure how he'd feel about Henry heading off to preschool but i think the fact that Silas is just continuing on *his* own routine and Henry comes and joins him later hasn't rocked his world too much!


Silas and the terrible, horrible, no-good, rotten tantrums

I've been thinking about this post for awhile and yet the idea of sitting down to really dig into my son's tantrums, meltdowns and fits of rage seems to keep losing out to things like, organizing the basement (last night) pulling weeds (nap-time) or searching etsy (all the time!) But before the Henry preschool posts get going (which i promise will be coming soon), i did want to write about Silas and the difficult phase we're going through with him. At first i was going to say so i could remember it, but really it's more so when my friends with younger kids ask me about this type of behavior, i can look back, compare their descriptions with mine and assure them their children are not baboons.

Silas has been lodged in this phase for at least a few months. It's hard to pinpoint the exact start because since he entered toddler-hood, it was apparent he was stubborn and tenacious-- definitely not one to handle with the trusty distraction technique. As he's moved further and further into the twos he's gotten more difficult. He wants what he wants now, and he just melts down if he doesn't get it. He also really, really wants something and then when he gets it he doesn't want THAT and he can't believe you would torture him by taking him to the shower park which he's been dying to go to because now he really, really, really wants to go to the pocket park.

In addition to how easily upset (let's be honest, enraged) he gets, he's also really shy and wary of new people and new routines and just new stuff overall. So he needs to be with Mom pretty much all the time and will meltdown into one of said freak-outs if say, Dad should deign to try to change his diaper.

When we were at the beach obviously everything was new, and even by the time it wasn't new, his meltdowns were reaching a crescendo. It was difficult but also completely and totally exhausting. There were days i didn't have one drop left of patience, or new ideas, or discipline left to give. I think it was probably a lot of little things, he wasn't getting quite the full sleep he needed, he was off his routine, and he's 2. But it did make parts of the vacation really difficult.

Thankfully he's eased off a bit since we've been back. He still gets upset easily and can throw a tantrum with the best of them, but they tend to be more manageable. Unfortunately as some of the meltdowns have subsided we are now moving into another difficult phase of limit testing, hitting and general misbehavior. This one is going to require some new learning on my part because as opposed to Henry, who tested bounds as if he knew it was part of his developmental curve, Silas tests boundaries with absolute and unfettered glee. It's a little worrisome how much his eyes twinkle when he's doing something he shouldn't be. Hmm, makes me think i need to go check out some books on two-year old unruly children. Any suggestions and i'm all ears!


Vacation Breakdown

Vacation was over more than a week ago so if i don't get this written now, i'll forget the details myself. And the whole purpose of the post is to help me remember what our beach vacation was like with a 2 and 4 year old.

Heading to the same beach, at the same house each summer affords us the chance to use our vacation as a method of marking the growth in our kids just like making marks on the closet for our kids height. Each year when it's time to take a new measurement you can't believe how much your kids have grown.

So to help us compare summers, here's how our days generally went at the beach this year.

The boys typically woke up between 7 and 7:45 each morning JT would get up with them, make them breakfast and they'd run around, cause mayhem and wait until they could come wake me up. That happened somewhere between 7:45 and 8:00 most mornings. Other mornings i got up when they did, headed to the pool or out on a run before the day got to hot.

Between 8 and 8:30 the rest of our family would be downstairs, eating breakfast, and deciding on the day's activities. If it was the beach we'd pack the cooler, our beach bag and then spent the better part of the next hour getting the kids into bathing suits, surf shirts and slathered with sunscreen. Usually another 15-20 minutes finding and putting on shoes and loading into the cars. We followed a similar schedule for the pool although every few days you had to factor in Silas' meltdowns into the am schedule. Sometimes they just made things take longer and sometimes they debilitated plans.

We'd leave the beach or pool by about 12:15-12:30, get them washed off in the outside shower (which Silas became obsessed with), while JT made them lunch which they ate in the screened in porch-- or "ousside" as Silas proclaimed. Then into dry clothes and off to naps. Most days Henry napped for a few good hours, although Silas' naps were often fairly short.

Some afternoons we hit either the pool or the beach depending on what we had done in the morning. Others we just played around the house, went on bike rides in the trailer or tried to fit in other activities-- croquet, the sprinkler, baseball game, etc. The boys went to bed late most nights-- close to 8:30.

Silas got to where he liked playing quite a bit on the steps of the pool and having me swim him around in the water of the pool-- only after the first few days when he refused loudly to go near the water. Henry wore his life vest or swim ring and spent all the time he could in the pool and asked to go into the ocean with us whenever possible. Some days the waves were too big and then he ran in and out of the water and discovered making sandcastles down by the water-- thus ending our time being able to hunker down under the umbrella.

We've hit a minor league team -- the Shorebirds-- game each year and this year was Silas' first time in attendance. He loved the mascot, Sherman and spent the entire night asking where "that guy" had gone. Henry continued to love Sherman as well and this year even took a picture with him. Note the distance in last year's picture.

I plan to post more about Silas latest phase--which is a difficult one. But this should give us a pretty clear idea of what the beach vacation was like if we're lucky enough to get to go again next year!


Vacation Update

We're somewhere past the mid-way point of our annual vacation to Bethany Beach, DE. Henry is enjoying his 5th beach vacation and this is Silas'. Each one has been a little different and a little better. I think last year was the turning point with both boys sleeping normally through the night and not waking up at 6 am. Although this year has had some downs (Silas' crazy homesickness and tantrums, my sinus infection, lots of mosquitos) i think they've primarily been overrun by all the fun we've had at the beach, the pool, the park, and hauling the boys around in the bike trailer.

It's pretty fun seeing what the boys are like each year while we're here. Last year Silas was just learning to walk and Henry was pretty cautious at both the pool and at the beach. This year Silas is of course EVERYWHERE, running like a banshee, cautious but making huge progress at the pool and small progress at the beach and Henry is progressing towards fish status. In the pool Henry wears his swim vest and paddles over the whole pool, working on keeping his legs straight while he kicks. He wants to spend the biggest part of our time at the beach running in and out of the water and has been in swimming several days with myself or JT. Silas wants to go "see" the water now a few times an outing, but absolutely, positively does not want his feet or any other part of his body to touch the water. I think we have moved past the waves being "too loud," although he does still ask why they are loud.

JT and i are loving things too. We've celebrated our ninth anniversary (technically July 2nd, but we postponed our celebration until we were on vacation and had plenty of time to chill, read and talk to each other-- once JT and my Dad finished Halo. I'm doing the sprint triathlon two weeks from now so i've been exercising quite a bit each day and loving having the time (and backup) to do it. I tested out my wet suit, which fits and i managed to get it off and on, although the jellyfish in the water freaked me out and cut my ocean swim short.


Rotating Playgrounds

From July 2009

This summer we've gotten in the habit of going by the playground 3-4 afternoons after i pick the boys up from school. It helps the boys unwind, lets me have a chance to just play with them before we get home and i'm distracted by housework, and lately it's given us a chance to appreciate some of the benefits of living in the city.

We've taken to going to new parks every so often and now have a stable of 5 parks that we rotate based on request. The boys have named each one, so there's the "bear park," Silas favorite and named for the bear statues that spray water, the "shower park" which has an awesome water feature like a gigantic showerhead that Henry adores running through, the "close" park-- which happens to be the one 4 blocks from our house, the "sandbox" park and a few others we're still creating names for.

Henry has been exploring more and more in the past several weeks-- climbing to the top of ladders, wanting to do the monkey bars, hanging from the rings and dropping on his own, and climbing up steeper and steeper slides. It's awesome to watch. Silas has been going through a bit of a timid stage lately. He still adores the swings but constantly tells you "no high." He and Henry entertained each other for a good half hour last week "chasing" each other around the playground. I'm hoping that habit takes over because sometimes i'm just not up for another round of tag!


Physical therapy, i think we've found a match

Long-time readers, aka family members will remember that Henry was in physical therapy as a baby. He started around 9 months old and continued receiving therapy until just before his 2nd birthday. He received therapy through a few different practices; the last of which we were very unhappy with and after we left it turns out it closed. We weren't particularly happy with the therapy being delivered and we did not at all have a clear sense of the goals Henry was trying to reach nor any kind of guide for when we would get there. We were trapped on a therapy treadmill where each developmental stage brought with it a new skill that Henry needed help "strengthening."

I say all of this because i was very reticent about getting Henry back into therapy. I didn't want to repeat the bad experience, nor get back into the struggles with Henry about "practicing" the skills he was learning. We've been talking closely with our Ped. and it wasn't until Henry's 4 year appointment that we thought it was a good-idea to get him evaluated again. Our Ped. referred us to a practice that is very close and that she highly recommended. Other than the billing situation (they don't take any insurance) we have been very pleased. The office is convenient (halfway between our house and Brenda), we currently have a 5 pm slot and will soon have the 6 pm slot, and the therapist is quite good and Henry bonded with her almost immediately.

We had an initial evaluation and received a written report that we discussed in an "evaluation" meeting with Caroline the therapist this past week. Henry has some weakness in his legs, particularly his right leg. His core strength is also somewhat weak. She set out a number of physical goals for Henry, i.e. being able to walk up and down steps "reciprocally" without holding on to the railing; being able to hop on one foot, jump forward at least 30 inches, etc. She estimated in the written report that it would take 1 weekly session for 3-4 months and then going to bi-weekly session and then just periodic check-ins. During the evaluation meeting this week she said she thought it wouldn't actually take that long because of how quickly he was progressing just in 3 sessions.

The report also said that he was wonderful at following instructions, very easy to work with, eager to do the exercises, and kept trying multiple times until he got something without getting frustrated. Many of those traits i've witnessed personally but the not getting frustrated part was a pleasant surprise. This time around everything is better because as parents we feel good about the practice and the therapist and where we're headed, but primarily because Henry is excited to see Caroline and looks forward to practicing his new skills. I'm glad i didn't let our previous negative experience make me drag my feet any longer on helping Henry in this way.


Is pink for girls?

We've made it much farther than i thought we would before a dawning of gender happened in our house. Henry and Silas have both liked traditionally "boy" things from the get-go, all manner of transport vehicles, and balls for sure. But until today we've had no discussion of things "appropriate" for girls and boys. I know Henry knows who is a girl and who is a boy but he hasn't asked and i'm not sure he could explain what makes them actually different. You're supposed to answer questions when they're raised and not overwhelm kids with more than they want to know-- at least that's our current logic.

So today in the car as we're about to pull up at the park Henry says "Pink is for girls." A little bit of question mark at the end of the statement. I told him that lots of girls like the color pink but that boys can like it too. I told him that a lot of times people say "blue is for boys" but that lots of girls like blue as their favorite color. He was happy and i didn't prolong the discussion or probe to figure out what had raised it. I do know that pink has been one of his favorite colors and right now he and Silas have us mark on the calendar who gets to use the sparkly pink cup that was left by a playmate last weekend (and that will be returned clean next weekend!)


Summer Documentation

I know i need to post some pictures, although honestly i need to take some pictures! But, i thought i would use a few minutes of quiet time to post something rather than wait for the perfect convergence of events when i've got pictures readied as well-- you'd be waiting for a bit longer i dare say.

I'm home now and not traveling again until early August. That's a one-day work trip and the boys are coming with me. They get to spend 3 days with Oma and Opa by themselves, and then after picking JT up we're all headed to the beach with my parents-- Gran and Nonna and my grandmother. It was really hit or miss for a long time whether JT would be able to come to the beach this year, so we're especially looking forward to the vacation since our whole family will be together.

The list of things that various parties want to do is pretty long. There's swimming and sandcastles and jumping in the waves of course, there's flying kites, playing mini golf, eating a 5 guys burger, as well as cooking fish, going to our delayed anniversary dinner at the Buttery, and finally renting bikes and a bike trailer, possibly renting jet skis and going to a baseball game. We'll have a full schedule and can't wait to have enough time off to enjoy it all.

Quick update i didn't make before. Henry had two one-hour evaluations with a physical therapist. We'll get a full written report, but the initial feedback was that he has weakness in his legs (one more than the other although i don't remember which) and that he needs to be able to strengthen them so he can jump as far as he should be able to and do things like hop on one foot-- which he can't do at all right now. The other issue is that he has "collapsed arches." He stands and rolls his feet inwards so that his arch is almost touching or touching the ground. We've ordered some shoe inserts that is supposed to help with that. He starts his weekly sessions next week. More to come.



Tuesday when i was talking about my trip to Atlanta this week i told the boys I would take them to school on Wednesday morning and JT would pick them up in the afternoon since i'd be going to the airport. Henry said "i don't like it when you travel." It wasn't particularly emotional, but he said it and it was negative which both hurts a bit and is a turning point. Previously he and Silas both have been largely nonchalant about my travel. I know it's not easy, it certainly asks JT to shoulder a full-time parenting burden for a few days, but i also know the kids are in good hands. By all accounts they've done great while i've been away this visit. I now call and talk to both boys before they go to bed which tells me that Silas is definitely getting older. Nevermind the conversations seem to focus a lot on booboos and what they had for dinner, but the both chatter away-- Henry with his "Mommy i want to tell you something" and Silas with his "Mommy. Mommy? Mommy!" Even as i'm answering each request with a "yes Silas?"

I'm looking forward to being back Friday night and not travelling again until early August when i bring the boys with me and we go on vacation!


Three (attempted pool visits)

Summer is finally here. It seemed it would never come and then just in time for my aunt and cousin's visit-- we had 90 degree heat and the unrelenting jet engine of our air conditioner. We did get to take them downtown to see the Lake and some of Chicago's great parks. Henry had wanted to see Buckingham fountain ("big water" by Silas' naming) and they had a lot of fun in the Crown Fountain-- doing a bit of splashing. JT bundled them home for naps and the rest of us did some walking on Michigan Avenue and then took the Architecture tour on the Chicago river. It was hot and sweaty, but fun to get downtown. I do have to say that until Silas is another year or two older i think that was the one big "downtown" outing for the summer.

He wanted in the stroller, or out, or to walk, or to be carried, or none of the above. He had fun but he also was grumpy and he's just impossible to reason with. I can only presume he'll at least get more rational as he gets older but i guess i should be prepared that his stubbornness will not subside.

Today we took the boys to the park for a bit before Tammie and Morgan headed off to the airport. Then i took Henry to swim lessons (i'll write more about that next time) and after naps i took both boys to the baby pool. Now i'm sufficiently exhausted and ready to get the boys to bed, eat dinner with JT and catch up on a few tv shows and 6 enormous baskets of laundry!


Picture Roundup

I know i've been light on pictures lately so rather than relating much i thought i'd just peg some escapade retelling to what was on the camera.

Silas and Henry play together a lot now. Which means some cute moments like this and about 100 other hours of Henry pouncing on something Silas was just playing with and yelling mine, Silas countering with "mine!" ensuing tug-of-war and then Silas crying or whining. Seems like an age-old story doesn't it-- any ideas for changing the dynamic entirely, i.e. make this kind of interaction stop? If not, lets just enjoy the sweet brotherly love pictures. Oh yeah, forgot to mention Silas had an asphalt burn-- he fell at school. It healed pretty quickly-- it looked terrible but was pretty shallow. It went away several weeks ago but he still talks non-stop about his boo-boo and points to his nose.

We recently finished another round of sticker charts with Henry. The primary purpose was to "re-program" him away from the middle-of-the-night visits that were becoming routine. We also managed to throw in getting dressed on his own and picking up his toys at night. Ice cream (that he got to pick out) was the big end of week treat!

We had a lovely visit to the zoo with Marc and Jessica and Gabe. I never get good zoo pictures so here is Henry looking okay and a meerkat in the way background. In the same exhibit were the giraffes but Henry preferred the meerkats.

And finally, here is Silas enjoying two of his favorite things-- his house and blowing kisses. Currently the "guys" he play with in his house include an alien, an astronaut, a firehouse Dalmatian dog, and a dinosaur. I brought him two little people tonight-- a female mechanic and moses-- he threw them across the room and wouldn't let them in the house.


Babys and babas and george, oh my!

Very, very busy lately. That delicate balance between work and home was pretty much obliterated this past week. I traveled to DC Wed afternoon for a two day training. The days leading up to the training were frantic work days with many extra hours logged in the evening. I was stressed, i didn't get to work out, and in general it was not how i like to spend my days. We're still busy but i'm really hoping that things will be back to normally busy this week. I've got another training (and another trip) in two weeks, but it's one we do each year to there isn't as much prep for it.

The boys seem to be doing just fine. Brenda was closed Mon-Wed so they spent two days at another home daycare run by a woman i've met through the parent support group for our elementary school. All reports were that they were very happy. She's said to let her know if we ever need back-up care which is a great resource to have indeed.

Henry has thrown out a few funny sayings lately. Last weekend a few minutes into quiet time he knocked on his door. When i went to see what the problem was he said-- "what's that noise?" I told him it was the Cuisinart and he said "well i was curious about that noise." Later that day he came in from sitting on the porch with JT as i was drawing his bath and said something like "Mom, the point is, that i need to watch George after i take a bath." I assumed JT has used the expression but said Henry worked it into his dialogue all himself. He's a talker that one.

Silas is great; funnier and sillier than ever. But also really not liking going to sleep nowadays. I must take a picture of his crib. The "usual" includes his two life-size baby dolls, a small stuffed baby, his original lovey bunny and backup bunny, a small curious george doll, an oversize george book, 2 (of the same) kitty books, a small george notebook, and two other normal sized george books-- as well as the cat book he got for his birthday. Plus, on any given night he picks something else he *has* to have in bed with him. Last night we fought a major battle because he wanted to sleep with his school bag (!?) JT and i felt with it's handles it was just too much of a safety threat but the poor thing was crying and sobbing hysterically as if his comfort hinged on the school bag (something he's never, not once, mentioned at any other point in his life.) And don't forget, he has to be covered-up with two special "ba-bas" (blankets). Problem is he says "two" for everything and now he's up to 3-4 blankets for him to be satisfied. I'm worried he's going to be a hoarder later in life. Anyone think this is normal?


Almost Summer 2009

Last week i was reminded why the park by our house is really one of the best. Sure it has some bigger kids that can get out of hand on weekdays, but it has shade, lots and lots of shade. The bigger park we've been going to lately without the big kids and with a huge sandbox is lovely when it's 70. Last week when it was 82 i took the kids on the way home from work and after about 15 minutes Henry was asking to go home. They had spent a long day at the park at daycare and the water for the drinking fountain hasn't yet been turned on. So we played a bit, picked up sticks under the few trees at the park and called it a day. It was a good reminder to keep a bag packed in the trunk in the summer with sunscreen, hats, and water bottles (well those have to be filled fresh).

Today was day 2 of our 3 days of Memorial weekend BBQs. This one was at our house and very small. Even with just 3 families of us there were kids a plenty but they had fun, played well together and we didn't freeze even though by the early evening it was definitely cold enough for jackets. Henry and i sneaked out to a local carnival while Silas napped today and Henry had a blast! It was really the first time he's been on rides that i can think of (other than an odd carousel here or there). Some things were a little scary for him but in general he loved it and at the end of the day he said his favorite was the one he kept saying "was too scary for me!" It was a nice impromptu visit that we shoehorned into a busy and fun day.

One last vignette from the weekend-- unfortunately without any pictures. I've talked in the past about it being more of an "organized equipment rental" rather than a "class" but this time was totally different. There was a new coach and he actually led them in a class. He started out by hitting them balls, alternating where they went so that the kids got into the rhythm of waiting for a ball to come in there area rather than all running after the same ball. This was crucial for Henry. Previously he had hated "fielding" because he never gets to the ball first and this oftentimes prompts him to throw his glove and storm off the field (something we're clearly working on.) Next up was hitting until the coach realized the kids really needed to figure out the bases. So he made them line up and run the bases several times. Then back to hitting but he had everyone in the outfield and each child come up one at a time. He helped them with their stance and how to hold the bat. Really-- was this so much to ask from a class? I'm just hoping that guy is there next week. If we can keep him for the last few weeks of the class, i think Henry will really get something out of it. Next up are swim lessons that start in the middle of June. I've decided my philosophy right now is to try to have him try as many different activities as possible. I figure this way it broadens his skills and also lets him decide later what he really likes and wants to focus on.


Pirate Party

We hosted an (ill-timed) pirate party for our 4 and 2 year old sons and i wanted to share our party preparations back with the internet. Many of my initial ideas came from various web pages i saw so i felt like i'd like to both a) give back and b) show off a bit; isn't that what the web is all about?

I used the suggestion you'll see most everywhere to tea-dye paper and write the invitations on this paper. We found what worked best through some trial and error. It turns out regular old lipton definitely work best. Green tea and mugicha are just too light. Tear the paper when it's too wet. I soaked two sheets at a time in a baking sheet and then put them on wire racks to dry. My 4-year old helped with this process and had a ball. I made some extra sheets for invite mishaps and to write the treasure hunt clues.

Pirate Costumes:
I had some scarves left over from an international trip. I didn't have enough for everyone so i split the scarves in half and sewed up the edges. The kids tied the sashes around their waist. I made some eye patches out of felt, used an ice pick to poke a hole in the sides and tied some skinny elastic in the holes. I really made the elastic too tight but figured the kids would just tuck them in their sashes or wear them around their neck-- which they did. My mother-in-law found a treasure trove of old beaded necklaces and i gave each child two necklaces. The remaining "booty" we used to decorate the table. I also made pirate hats from this pattern (http://www.kidscraftweekly.com/pirates2_issue.html) and added feathers to the hats.

I had all the parts of the costumes lined-up and as the kids arrived i let them pick a scarf with all the rest of the costume. I measured the child's head and stapled the hat band-- voila! They were off to my my mother-in-law for the crafts table.

In advance i made some spy glasses. I collected paper towel tubes and toilet paper tubes. For the toilet paper tubes i used two and rolled-up thick paper inside both of the toilet paper tubes. I cut-out squares of cellophane, covered the ends of the tubes, and put rubber bands around the cellophane. Then i covered the tubes with brown construction paper. These were all pre-made and on the table. We also had jeweled stickers, other stickers, etc for the kids to decorate the spy glasses. I had planned to print out some coloring sheets but just ran out of time.


The kids then started to play outside and then we moved on to the "planned" activities. First i did the treasure hunt. I made a treasure-chest by painting a shoe-box with a hinged top all black-- just with acrylic paint. Once it dried i "painted" the shape of a lock on the front of the box and coated it with gold glitter. I made little envelopes out of blue construction paper, put gold coins inside each envelope, wrote each child's name on the envelopes, sealed them with gold wax, and put them in the treasure box.

I wrote out three clues for the treasure hunt (the kids were aged 2-6, although it was mostly 3-6 year olds doing the treasure hunt.) The first one said something along the lines of "as any good pirate should know, this is where the tomatoes grow." The next clue was in the raised-bed and said something about the clue being by the front gate. The last clue took them to the pirate box. I wish i had done several more clues-- probably about 6-8 total. The treasure hunt was the kids' favorite part of the party and i should have dragged it out longer.

Afterwards i attempted a "walk the plank" game but my plank wasn't really balanced and this didn't work out so well. I should have had a longer plank and some concrete blocks or something-- for some reason i used paint cans-- but the little ones. I covered everything with a blue sheet.


I made a chocolate cake with chocolate icing from the Kings Arthur cookbook. I highly recommend the cake recipe (which also works as cupcakes) although like all icing, i found the icing too sweet. I basically used the Betty Crocker pirate template which uses 8 and 9 inch cake pans (http://www.bettycrocker.com/Recipes/Recipe.aspx?recipeId=40763) It turned out great and was delicious too. Although we were worried that for 10 kids and 17 adults the cake wasn't big enough and we supplemented with a double-batch of cupcakes-- just one would have sufficed.


I bought two black sheets from the thrift store. One i folded over and painted Happy Birthday Henry and Silas in big white letters. I printed out the letters on my printer, big enough to be basically one to a page-- cut each one out and traced around it on the black sheet with my sons' white crayon. Then i painted in the ouline using white acrylic paint. This took two evenings worth of time so i decided to not put any kind of temporary decorations on the banner so that i can re-use each year-- simply adding whatever the theme is to the banner. This year i made little pirates out of felt and pinned them on to the corners. I hung the banner on the window behind the table where the boys blew their candles out.

I used the second table cloth to cover the dining room table. We covered the table with gold coins, the extra necklaces, the treasure box, and a toy pirate ship the boys have (draped with necklaces). The food was here early in the party and this is where we did cake as well. We did black and red cups, plates, napkins and utensils mixed-in with some pirate cake plates.

Goodie Bags:

I made little gift bags out of a pirate-print exclusive to Jo-Ann. This was the least cost-effective thing i did but it was fun to make them and they were super-cute. Basically they were receptacles for the costumes and the spy glasses the kids used at the party. We also sent them home with a balloon, some stickers and a tattoo.

Really the party was a huge success. Thankfully my boys share a party for now because it was quite a bit of work!

Preschool Update

From April 2009

Around the last time that i posted i had almost figured out Henry's preschool for the fall. And then i went to register him and things started to unravel again. The temporary plan i had for Henry to have quiet time while i finished my work-day after his preschool session somewhat fell apart when the preschool aide that was registering me asked what i would do when i traveled. Hmm, what would i do when i traveled?

At this point i started reconsidering everything-- including Henry and Silas' daycare. I was feeling absolutely terrible and thank goodness finally got around to calling Brenda to talk about the situation. Again she proved she's the best daycare provider ever. She listened and pretty much immediately agreed to take Henry back and forth to school every day. What more could i ask for? So crisis averted and now come fall we're planning to apply for both kindergarten and preschool for Henry and Silas so that hopefully we have a few more options.

So now Henry is enrolled in the afternoon session of preschool and if there is an opening we'll get moved up to the morning session. He's excited about his new school and he'll get a chance to ramp-up his social skills which are okay but not amazing.

We had his 4 year appointment last week and i also realized that it took awhile but we really love our pediatrician. My two concerns with Henry were his social skills and his physical development. We got a recommendation for a Pediatric therapist to have him assessed. Socially she thought he sounded like a normal but shy kid. We're going to work on prepping him for more difficult social situations and if we don't see some improvement, especially after he starts preschool we'll see about getting him assessed in that department too.


Just a small whine

I really love being an adult. No really. I was never one of those people that wished for the good old days of high school or even college. The central thing i argued with my parents about when i still lived at home was responsibility (and independence of course) and i've never thought-- gee, i wish i was back to having someone take care of me.

And then Friday happened and i found myself secretly wanting to say-- "but no one TOLD me," or "how was i supposed to know!" WAAAAH.

It reminds me of a conversation i remember having with my dad when i was little about how "i didn't know" is not a valid defense when you're breaking the law (strangely enough i've had a similar conversation with Henry without any prompting of my own). At the time i was stupefied about the implication. Imagine that you're on a road trip and you have to know the laws of all the states you're driving through-- what an insane obligation! How on earth did adults do it?

Friday i found out that I had seriously underestimated the preschool registration process at our neighborhood elementary and the only slot that we had managed to land (by the hair on our chinny chin chin) is for afternoon preschool. I started with feelings of shock and denial and got stuck in pain and guilt for much of the weekend. I hope that i'm jumping over some of the more "rock bottom" stages of grief straight ahead to "reconstruction."

Our (only) plan has always been to send Henry to the preschool at our local elementary. They offer a very good half-day preschool M-F and Brenda agreed to pick him up after the morning session and bring him back to daycare. Ideal. I knew that registration was in April last year and that last year the slots didn't fill up until summer because the school is generally considered "undiscovered"-- especially compared to some of the high-profile public schools in the nearby very wealthy neighborhood.

Although i had been watching the marquis and had called the school once or twice i didn't get concrete information on when registration had started until it had been going for two and a half weeks. Fast forward to Friday when i got a call from the teacher who said that indeed there was a slot for Henry but it was in the "afternoon" session which runs from 11:45 to 2:45. The teacher was good enough to strongly recommend i register for the afternoon session and put Henry on the waiting list for the morning, which i will do on Monday.

After i got off the phone however, i was shell shocked and continued to feel worse and worse about the situation as the day and the weekend wore on. How did i miss this? HOW WAS I SUPPOSED TO KNOW? How much is one person supposed to be on top of at one time? I messed up big-time and i was angry at myself and mad that i was the only one mad-- how is it that Mom's are the one's that automatically have this responsibility?

JT was helpful in talking the situation through and trying to brainstorm what we could do about it-- look into registering at some other schools, looking into some local private schools, working something out with the afternoon schedule, etc. That night i sat down to research application processes at other nearby schools and found out that for most public schools the registration deadline is December 19th the year PRIOR to enrollment. Woops. Not even any other options. I emailed a couple of schools to find out if i could get on their waiting list and one preschool teacher emailed me back to let me know that i could be added to the waiting list but that they had 200 families on the list already and our chances of getting in were slim (you think!)

I think there is a realistic chance that Henry will get into the morning class. I'll find out tomorrow just how far down the list we'll be but i think we're close to the top. The office ladies were joking about how you'd be surprised at how many parents pulled their kids out once it got cold. If he doesn't get into the morning class i think we're going to have to try out a situation that isn't ideal. I'll take Henry and Silas to daycare in the morning at 8 instead of 8:45. Brenda will take Henry to school at 11:45. I'll pick Henry up at 2:45 and he'll come home and have "quiet time" until 4:15 when we leave to pick up Silas. Again, really not ideal but i think it's workable-- especially as i've had time to come to grips with this.

The only upshot to this whole situation is that now i know how the system works for kindergarten and when it comes time to register Silas for preschool. From now on, i'm camping out for everything...


What to expect from parks district t-ball

I can't say all parks district' 3-4 year old t-ball works like the class Henry is enrolled in, but Welles Park in Chicago seems to have the loosest interpretation of a class this side of the river. We missed class last week due to a baby shower and JT's meat pick up (another score for the Mazda 5--20 chickens and a 1/4 cow fit in the way back.)

This week we made it to class although it was held in the gym due to very soggy fields. The class really doesn't have an instructor-- the guy was at the front desk when we walked in but never came into the gym. The parks district provides the equipment and since it's a "parent/child" class, i think the idea is that the parents largely control the experience.

For $20 for 2 months of classes i can't really complain and the loose nature of the class fits Henry pretty well. He loves hitting and is getting pretty good at hitting the ball and not the tee. He also likes scooping up grounders with his glove. He is not so good at trying to catch balls in the outfield. Along with most of the other kids, he gets discombobulated if he goes after the ball and someone else beats him to it.

There's a large playground at the park which we've started hitting on our way out. Henry has gotten much more adventurous at playgrounds in the last month or so-- walking up steep slides, climbing up chain link ladders, jumping on the suspension bridges-- stuff that even at the start of the spring he was hesitant to do.

We managed to get some yard work done today and Henry and A got to play together some more. I'm hoping that she comes over frequently this summer. They play great together and Henry will stay outside and play much longer with a playmate.

I hope to download pictures from the camera soon but thought i would post an update when i had the time.


Birthday Success

So i hope to do a rundown on the pirate party planning I did for those that might be interested. I found lots of resources for getting started on the web and made some variations that people might like to see. In the meantime i thought i'd just give an update on the actual party- a smashing success i think.

From April 2009

The guests started arriving right before 4 and Henry was already decked out in his full-pirate costume. Silas wouldn't let me get closer than a 2 foot plank so even though he had previously enjoyed dressing up with the necklaces he did not sport any for the party. As the guests arrived they got decked out in their pirate duds and made their way to the spyglass decorating table. Oma helped them decorate with gems and stickers and they seemed to enjoy this. As more kids arrived people congregated outside since it was 70 and sunny that day.

From April 2009

JT had the food ready to go so after people filled up on chicago hot dogs, small hot dogs wrapped in pastry, potato salad and cole slaw we rounded up the kids for games. First we did a treasure hunt which i think was probably one of the high points of the party. I wrote a few clues that were stashed around the yard and after the last clue they found the treasure chest. The chest was filled with individual little coin purses i sealed with wax for each child with gold coins inside. After that we did a little walk the plank game.

From April 2009

Then, cake time and presents. People loved the cake and cupcakes (which we made when the cake didn't seem big enough). Guests were very generous with the gifts and the boys have been having tons of fun since then. It's a little crazy with a whole bunch of 3-4 year olds attempting to "help" each other open the gifts. For those that stuck around we all moved outside and Cullen organized races for the kids. Next year i'm just going to have Cullen run a "field day" for the birthday party-- he doesn't know that yet though.

From April 2009


Meltdowns and Easter, thankfully not conjoined

From April 2009

So a mix of good and bad to write about. Let's get the bad out of the way. Friday was just about the worst number of hours our family has gone through (although these are certainly in the running, here, here and here.)

I picked the boys up from school per usual and things immediately went downhill. Silas was crying when i got there because two parents had come just before i arrived and he was upset that each one wasn't his mommy. Henry started misbehaving right away, running away from me, not heading up to the car etc. His interplay with Silas seems key to this afternoon going awry. I was irritated and trying to be authoritative which backfired-- on me of course.

I finally *wrestled* them both into their car seats and Silas proceeded to cry strongly the entire way home. Henry was upset too and kept telling Silas to be quiet. No attempts on my part to distract with music or sightings of trains worked at this point.

From April 2009

When we got home i attempted to "reset" the mood-- at least with Henry by apologizing for getting upset and saying that i was hoping we could start over now that we were home. Silas stopped crying and i thought things were looking up. Then we got out of the car and Henry purposely started stomping on the crocuses. I told him to go inside for a time out and he lost it. He stayed lost for approximately 1.5 hours.

Soon thereafter Silas also fell apart. He wanted crackers, he didn't want crackers, he wanted crackers, NO, NO, NO. At this point he also began sobbing and screaming hysterically.

From April 2009

For the next hour and a half JT and i each had one child on a different level of the house alternately disciplining, distracting, or comforting them. Nothing seemed to work and then as suddenly as the storm came it left. By about 7 both boys were happily playing after finally eating some semblance of dinner. JT and i just looked at each other shell-shocked.

In the midst of everything i called Brenda to find out if something happened at school. All she could come up with was that Silas did get upset waiting for me to pick them up and Henry didn't nap. She said there were only 5 of them there that day so they got plenty of attention and she didn't think anything escaped her notice. She even called back to check about an hour later after she had talked to her sister. Thankfully we were doing better by then.

From April 2009

Now that some time has past i think Silas was reaching a peak of his start (gulp) of the terrible twos. He wants what he wants when he wants it and he just lost the ability to calm himself down. I also think that Henry is sensitive to Silas and feeds off the negative or positive energy he exudes. Henry also seems more... threatened, challenged (?) by Silas now that he's becoming a "big boy" himself. We're trying to set aside more special time for Henry and have been emphasizing the good parts of their relationship to one another.

The upside was that every upset since this nuclear attack has seemed mild in comparison.

And now i'm about out of time. Easter was very nice. The boys woke me up Sunday morning and did a little egg hunt to find their easter baskets. They happily explored the contents (which i'll admit was a little practical this year) and then we headed over to Tiffany and Mike's for Easter brunch and an egg hunt. All the kids had fun finding the eggs but we were nice enough to give the littlest ones a head start.

From April 2009

Henry in particular had a great time and told me that he wanted Mario Race Cart for his birthday and a real fish tank. We talked about how he could have a fish tank when he was a little older and he said "yes, when i'm 8." He also told me that Tiffany could buy it for him when he's 8 so if you're reading this you're on notice :)

We're knee-deep in preparations for the boys "ill-timed" pirate party and a visit from Oma and Opa. I hope to have lots more to report and pictures up next week.