Monday, August 30, 2010

Back to School

Here were the troops this morning:

Just for a little perspective, here were Joey, Daisy and Annabelle one year ago, as they started second grade and kindergarten, respectively.

I really thought Lilah would cry when we left her this morning for the first time, but I was wrong on that one. We got there a few minutes early and her teacher did a wonderful job of enlisting Lilah's help to get her warmed up. It worked. By the time it was time to say goodbye, she barely noticed us.

Here's Joey parked dutifully at his new desk in his new third grade class. He seemed a little nervous and even forlorn, and I got more teary saying goodbye to him than to any of the other kids for some reason. I've begun to worry about him; he's always been sensitive and lately has been showing a definite anxious side, and he tends to keep things bottled up a little.

And Daisy and Annabelle. Daisy was raring to go; Annabelle was feeling a little scared - scared of a new class, of new kids, and of playing on the big kid playground.

All in all, the morning went off without any major hitches, save for a mini-meltdown over the wrong color lunchbox - geez. The house was very quiet, and Finn and I went for a nice long walk and then just chilled at home for a while. Before I knew it, it was time to pick Lilah up from preschool. She presented me with this:

Her very first school art project :) She had fun, but was clearly tired.

Later we picked the other kids up from school. Daisy proclaimed, "I had a GREAT day!" Annabelle said, "The only thing I don't like about first grade, Mommy, is it's just work, work, work." Sigh. I will tell you what I think about Annabelle: she is a very bright little girl, but I think she's always going to be one of those kids who doesn't particularly like school. She has a lot of trouble with self-discipline, and she doesn't like doing anything that takes effort. Which is not the best way to be wired when you have to get through life! We - and her teachers - have our work cut out for us with that one.

(An aside: I discovered when I gave the girls their baths tonight that Annabelle had done quite a number on her hair. She's done so well for the last few months, and bam, all undone in one fell swoop. Well, not completely undone, but the one side in the back where she tends to twirl/pull was suddenly noticeably shorter tonight, and I had to trim her hair to even it out for the first time in months. Not super short like in the past, but enough. I tried to not make a big deal about it, but I admit that I am sorely disappointed and sad over it. I imagine that the anxiety about starting first grade - which I knew she was having - finally got the best of her and I'm thinking she probably went to town on her hair last night in bed, and I just didn't notice it this morning with all the commotion. It took a lot of restraint on my part not to scold her about her hair; instead I asked her if she feels like she needs more help keeping her fingers busy, and she said she needs new finger toys because the old ones are boring. Sigh. Anyway, proof that this is going to be a road of ups and downs with her and her hair.)

Joey had a good first day. He seems to like his teacher and reconnected with old friends from last year. Though he was nervous this morning, I figured he'd be okay because he truly loves school.

Kevin's first day went well, too. He announced that now that he's an eighth grader (in a K - 8 school), he's at the "top of the food chain." He seems pleased about that.

I had forgotten how the witching hour hits pretty much as soon as all the kids are home from school. The whining was at an all time high this afternoon, and everyone was crabby and out of sorts. I guess we all just have to get back into the whole school routine.

So, first day of school done, and we all survived.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Time in a Bottle

One last sweep through the kids' rooms this afternoon, on the eve of back to school, clearing out old backpacks, beat up shoes, and clothes that have been outgrown. And suddenly I find myself crying. I am having one heck of a time this year with the kids going back to school. For weeks now, every time I think about it, I feel this emptiness, this feeling of loss.

I've been trying to figure out what's making me such a mess about it this year - a far bigger mess about it than I have ever been before. I think Michael having faced down cancer last year has made both of us keenly aware of everything we have, and therefore everything that can be lost. I think, too, that the fact that I've had a new baby every other year since 2002 until this year is contributing to this feeling of loss; I'm still grappling with the fact that there will be no more new babies for us, and so suddenly not starting over with another new baby this year is making me feel more intensely than ever how quickly all of my kids are growing up.

So many changes in all my kids lately. Kevin has entered that early teenage awkward stage. He grew several inches over the summer, and his face is losing its little boy softness and becoming more angular. Joey has become more interested in baseball than anything else, and I can see him struggling in the limbo between little boy and big boy. The twins will be six soon, and already I see glimpses of them as young women. Lilah is starting preschool tomorrow, and there is a part of me that wants to say, "No! Stay home and be my shopping buddy and watch Blue's Clues with me for another year . . . please." And Finn took his first steps this morning.

You hear it all the time from other parents: "They grow up so quickly." It's true. What nobody tells you, though, is that no matter how difficult the stage is that you're in right now with your kids, you will one day look back and wish you could have this time back. Nobody tells you that one day you will be gazing at your baby's sweet, pudgy face, utterly unable to fathom him as a "big kid," and you will go to sleep and wake up what will seem like the next day, and that pudgy little baby will suddenly be as tall as you. Nobody tells you that sometimes you feel like you have whiplash from how fast it all goes by. Nobody tells you that one day, you will bury your face in your son's old jeans with the knees blown out, and you will cry silent tears and wish with all your heart that he would be little again so you could appreciate it and savor it like you didn't at the time.

I swear, the older they get, the more it breaks my heart.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

End of Summer Blues

Well, here we are on the eve of the final week of summer break, and I'm feeling sad. Usually I am more than ready by this time to send the kids back to school and regain some semblance of a routine and some peace and quiet around the house for a few hours every day. But it's different this year.

We've had a really great summer, and I think that's what's making it so hard to say goodbye to it. Last summer we were in (barely) survival mode, Michael having come through major surgery and with months of recuperation and cancer treatment to get through. The summer before that we were shell-shocked from the aftermath of Finn's birth. And it seems like every summer before that for the last several years I've either been very pregnant and cranky or we've been adjusting to a new addition to the family. This summer was different. Everything seemed more vivid, more alive. I guess that's appreciation for having come through the things we've come through. It's been a very busy summer, too, what with our little trip up the coast, five solid weeks of swim lessons, continued dance and music lessons, Finn's therapy, my weekend away with friends . . . I know I had some goals that I had hoped to accomplish this summer, namely learning how to take better pictures and (finally) putting together some photo books. I didn't accomplish either of those things, but it's okay. We lived life, and it's been good.

Kevin was very productive this summer. He's become in very high demand for tutoring, and tutored five kids over the summer. He also had his first foray into babysitting kids other than his siblings. It is so nice to hear other parents rave about your kid - I guess it's validation for all the hard work you put into raising them to be good people, you know? Anyway, we charged Kevin with the responsibility of raising $250 towards his eighth grade trip to Washington DC - I just really want to instill in my kids the value of a dollar and the value of working to earn things rather than just having everything handed to them. The DC trip isn't until May of next year, so he had lots and lots of time to raise that money. Do you know that he raised all of it and more over the summer between babysitting, tutoring, allowance, and a holding a couple of lemonade stands? I'm very proud of him.

I think I am actually going to miss the kids when they go back to school next week. Kevin is dragging his feet a bit, but I think he'll be happy to be back once he gets into the swing of eighth grade. Eighth grade! Holy cow. Next year he'll be in high school (can you hear my hear cracking?). Joey is very excited about going back to school, as are the twins. I worry about how the twins will do - it's quite a leap from kindergarten to first grade. Lilah is starting preschool as well. She'll be going to the same preschool that Joey and the twins went to, and she's excited - she is so ready for it. I don't know if mama is, though. I swear it was just last week that she was a newborn and I was carrying her in a sling to take Joey to preschool. And now here she is, her turn. My chickees are leaving the nest. So Finn and I will have three mornings a week together, just me and him, and I'd sure like to make the most of that time.

As for this last week of summer, it's going to be busy with getting ready for back-to-school. Probably won't be much time for sentimental tears.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Product Review: Bark Off

I have a confession: I am often intrigued by "As Seen on TV" products, and I've been lured into trying out more than I care to admit. Most of them seem to end up being a big disappointment, but if something looks good and doesn't cost too much, I'll likely try it out.

My latest "As Seen on TV" product purchase is the Bark Off. It's a small, battery-operated device that is supposed to emit a high-frequency sound, inaudible to human ears but audible to canine ears, to discourage barking. I stumbled on this completely unintentionally. Twinkle, our one-year-old malti-poo has a barking problem. She's a yapper. And her yapping is at a pitch that feels vaguely like an ice pick being driven into your brain. I've actually been giving serious consideration to investing in a shock collar for her (gasp!), but I was at Target yesterday and just happened to stumble on the Bark Off, which costs much less than a shock collar, and which promised humane and effective bark reduction in my dog.

Before I share my review, let me just also say that there are quite a few reviews of this product online, most of which seem to be put out by the marketer of Bark Off; they seem to have purchased domain names like and, so that if a person goes online and Googles "bark off review" they're going to be directed to reviews generated by Bark Off. No fair, guys.

So here's my review:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

At the risk of stepping away from my usual cynical outlook . . .

Sometimes it seems like the stars are aligned exactly right, and I find myself feeling an almost physical swelling of gratitude and contentedness. I don't know what tomorrow or next week or next year will bring, but I am thankful for right now: a strong, happy marriage, healthy kids who (I think) are happy, a life rich with friends who make me laugh and make me think. I want for nothing.

And that is worth acknowledging.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Hair There

I've been thinking a lot about Annabelle's hair lately, and the strides she's made. This book made such a huge difference in my understanding of her hair-pulling habit, as well as my approach to curbing it.

The first thing, for me, was understanding what's at the root (no pun intended) of her penchant for pulling. It became clear to me after reading that book that for her, it's not an anxiety-induced behavior, but rather a boredom-induced behavior. She's an antsy kid, often with little impulse control. So the key has been to address that particular trigger, which has taken the form of finding things, through trial and error, to keep her hands busy. We call them her "finger toys." I've had to try a lot of different things, the goal being to find something very tactile that would serve to hold her interest enough to keep her fingers out of her hair. I tried feathers, chenille stems, squishy balls, bath poufs, spiky balls, silly putty, bumpy beads - all kinds of things. And some of them held her interest for a while, but nothing long-term until this:

She loves this ball and has been quite attached to it for a couple of months now. She takes it to bed with her, and I try to make sure that she's got it whenever she's sitting around with time on her hands.

The other big thing is that I don't get on her case about her hair anymore. I don't make her hair the issue. I no longer say things like, "Don't you want your hair to be long? Don't you want to be able to have pigtails?" I try really hard not to make it about her hair, but rather, to praise her for using her "finger toys." If I notice that she's been twirling, I don't say anything, I just hand her her ball. Her hair had become such a point of contention between me and her, and this approach has eliminated that - which is good for her and good for me.

Annabelle is also a girl who thrives on structure, so I was worried that all the progress we'd begun to make with her hair would go down the tubes over summer break when structure goes out the window. But she's done really well. I know she still occasionally twirls her hair, because I sometimes see the telltale corkscrews. But I don't believe she's pulling these days. Her hair has grown out quite a bit:

Here she is in April -

And four months later (it's messy, but you can see that there's quite a bit more of it) -

I haven't had to trim it to even it out in months.

I won't say she's "cured." I believe this is probably something she will deal with all her life, but hopefully giving her the tools to deal with it will be helpful.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Name Game

It all started back when I was pregnant with Finn. Kevin and I had gone to Barnes & Noble one night to browse, and I came across a book of unusual baby names. Can't remember the title, but it was something like Funky Baby Names for Hip Parents (okay, I just totally made that up, but it sounds good, doesn't it?).

Let me back up a little and explain that Kevin, my eldest spawn, and I apparently have a very similar sense of humor. We are cut from the same dorky cloth, cast from the same goofy mold. Michael is forever condescendingly rolling his eyes at me and Kevin, whom he might come across rolling helplessly on the floor, with tears running down our cheeks and holding our ribs, cracking up over some silly joke we've made.

So Kevin and I are at B & N a couple years ago flipping through this book of Funky Baby Names, because, alas, the as yet unborn babe who will become Finnian remains unnamed. There were some interesting names in that book. "Coffee" stands out in my memory - I kid you not. Various fruits, as well, such as "Berry" and "Kiwi." The one that really sticks in my memory, though is DANG. I'm not kidding. Dang. So Kevin and I try it out:

"Dang, you're so cute!"
"Dang! Come in for dinner!"
"Dang, I love you so much . . ."

By now, we are cackling and close to writhing on the floor with laughter right there in the book store.

Ever since then, it's become a favorite pastime of Kevin's and mine - making up Funky Baby Names.

"Hey, Mom, what if you had a kid and you named it Hey-you?!"
"Hey-you, clean up your room!"
"Hey-you, you're the best son a mother could have."
"Hey-you, brush your teeth now."

"Or how about Stinky?"
"Hi, this is my son. He's Stinky."

"Or what if you had a kid and you named her Be Quiet?"
"Be Quiet, it's time for bed!"
"Did you do your homework Be Quiet!?"

"Or here's a good one! How about if you had a baby and you named it Dude?"
"Dude, you're so precious."
"Dude, did you make a poopy? Do you need a new diaper Dude?"

Really, this game can get endless mileage. Today we even came up with twins named Satan and Crazy Jesus.

"Crazy Jesus, I told you to stop beating up on Satan!"

Try it! I promise it will provide hours of entertainment for you and your family :)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Water Babies, Take II

It's been three weeks of intensive daily swim lessons for the kids. After the first week, I put Joey in private lessons with Kacie as well. He's done group lessons on and off for a couple of years, but I think - no, I know - he needed a push, as he had pretty much plateaued, wasn't being pushed hard enough, and was letting his fear and anxiety hold him back from progressing. So for the last two weeks, it's been all three girls plus Joey in swim lessons every afternoon. Phew.

So where are they all are now? You may remember from the previous episode of Water Babies that there was a whole lotta crying going on. Over the last three weeks, a lot of progress has been made. Here, see for yourself:

Lilah -

Out of all of them, she is the most cooperative, the most willing, and really, the most comfortable in the water. I have no doubt it's because she's the youngest - too young to have real fear yet. It makes me really, really wish that I had gotten the other kids in swim lessons a lot younger than I did.

Daisy -

Daisy has come a loooong way in the last couple of weeks! She's actually very athletic and graceful, and I think she has the potential to really become good at swimming and a lot of other things if she can just have confidence in herself.

Annabelle -

This is painful to watch. It's actually very strange, because Annabelle seemed to move forward with swim lessons on a bell curve; she gradually improved in skill and attitude over the first couple of weeks, and then this week it all went downhill for her, and both yesterday and today were spent like this, with her beside herself with fear. For me, it was both completely aggravating and heartbreaking - part of me wanted to just throw her in the pool and say "GET OVER IT!" and part of me wanted to just wrap her in a warm towel and a hug. Ack. I don't know, I just don't know. This - this hysteria and complete and utter terror - this used to be Daisy about a million different things. Daisy, though, has overcome so much of her fear about a lot of things, while Annabelle has grown more fearful. And the sad and frustrating thing about watching her today was knowing that she knows how to swim! She has learned how to swim over the last couple of weeks, and when forced to, she can and will, but she's got herself all freaked out and she seems unable to get a grip on it. Well, we're done for now. I wish it had ended on a better note for her.

Joey -

When I put Joey in with Kacie two weeks ago, he had basic swimming skills thanks to the group lessons he's taken sporadically over the last couple of years, but he had gotten to a point where he was afraid to go in water deeper than he could stand in, and that was holding him back. Joey, I am sad to be realizing more and more, definitely has anxiety issues. About a lot of things. So this session of swim lessons was about pushing him to get over this roadblock he had hit, and he had a lot of stomachaches during swim lessons (which magically disappeared as soon as his lesson was over), a lot of headaches, and quite a few tears. This kid is really athletic though - he can actually swim really well - he just hasn't had the faith in himself, I think, that he needs. Anyway, when he started with Kacie, he would cry when she made him go into the deep end, but as you can see, he is now swimming laps the entire length of the pool. He's still got a ways to go to be completely comfortable in the water, but I'm pleased with what he accomplished.

We will definitely be back with Kacie next summer, this time with five kids. I will be putting all three girls and Joey back in, and next summer Finn as well.

Aside from swimming, I am so glad to have become acquainted with Kacie. If you follow my other blog, you may remember back in April when I first signed my kids up for swim lessons with her, I wrote about how my friend Jen put me in touch with her, and how it turns out that she's one of six kids and that she has an adult brother with Down syndrome. I never did get to meet her brother over the past few weeks, but I did get to meet her mom, Cathy, and it has really been so great to connect with another mom of a child with Ds, and to get the perspective of a veteran, so to speak. Really, really refreshing; I have completely enjoyed our conversations and look forward to many more. Oh, and, Kacie not only teaches swim, but she babysits! And, as Alycia, our beloved regular sitter, is out of town this weekend, Kacie is babysitting for us so Michael and I can go out for a post-birthday celebratory dinner!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Down With Prop 8!!

I don't usually write about political issues. In fact, I kind of go out of my way to not write about political issues, mostly because I don't feel that I am generally well-versed enough on political issues to put forth an informed commentary.

That said, have you heard the news? California's ban on same-sex marriage - better known as Prop 8 - has been found unconstitutional and overturned by a federal judge, who apparently said that moral opposition to same-sex marriage is not a sufficient basis to deny people's rights.

Can I hear an Amen?!

Seriously, folks, this whole Prop 8 thing? That's all it is, a moral opposition to homosexuality that has evolved into a whole freaking law that strips certain people of a basic right that everyone else gets to take for granted. I'm going to restrain myself and not go all postal on the religious right here, but there's certainly no denying that the Christian conservatives are behind not only the subject moral opposition, but the law born out of that moral opposition.

I just can't wrap my head around this propensity of certain sectors of people believing it to be their right - their duty! - to poke their noses into other people's intimate lives, and to pass judgment. And to work so very hard to strip away other people's rights. I don't get it. How does any of that make this a better world?

There was a time, not so long ago, when mixed-race couples were denied the right to marry. That seems crazy now, doesn't it? At the time, it was considered immoral - immoral! - for a black person to marry a white person. There was a time, also not so long ago, when people with certain disabilities were involuntarily sterilized - forcibly stripped of their right to bear children. Seems barbaric now, doesn't it? But again, it was a question of morality, and certain sectors of people not wanting the feebleminded to produce feebleminded offspring - god forbid, the world might be overrun by imbeciles and mulattos! This denying gays the right to marry - it's the same damn thing. It's not right.

They say that same-sex marriage threatens the very foundation of the sacred institution of marriage. I honestly just can't help but laugh my ass off over this logic. As if we heteros have done such a bang-up job of upholding the sacred institution of marriage, with our divorce rates, and our adultery statistics, and our domestic violence - even among, dare I say, the Christian conservatives themselves! So I'd just really like to know exactly what it is they think they're preserving by trying to keep gays out of the marriage club.

So down with Prop 8 already. How about all of you who are so against same-sex marriage just worry about your own life and the state of your own marriage?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Father and the Son

When Michael and I became involved, it was a long time before I would allow Michael into Kevin's life. Kevin, at the tender age of two years old, had only recently lost his father to a drug overdose, after having been caught, the innocent, in the wreckage of his father's and my failed marriage. I wanted stability for Kevin, and I had no intention of subjecting him to any new person in my life who wasn't going to be a permanent fixture.

Finally, after a while, when I knew that things were serious between me and Michael, and I knew his heart was good, I began allowing him to spend time with me and Kevin together. I can still picture clear as day a turning point: the three of us had gone to the Balboa Fun Zone for the afternoon - a carnival-type attraction on the water's edge with arcade games, pizza parlors, a carousel, and a ferris wheel. Kevin must have been three by then. We were walking along the boardwalk, me a few steps behind the two of them, and suddenly I watched Kevin slip his little hand into Michael's big hand. I think my heart just about broke in that moment, for all that had been lost, and yet for all the optimism of possibility.

There came a time eventually when Michael said to me, "I wonder sometimes, will I have the chance to watch him grow up? Will I get to teach him to have a catch?" That's when I told Michael, "Do you want to know what I think? I think I am going to marry you."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

When Michael and I did get married, Michael wrote and made vows not only to me, but to Kevin as well. He presented Kevin, as part of the ceremony, with a family medallion: three interlocking circles representing the union between the three of us. For years, Kevin referred to our wedding as "when we got married," meaning the three of us, and not just me and Michael. I love that, because that's what it was, the three of us committing to each other, forming a family.

Neither of us ever pressured Kevin to call Michael "Daddy" or "Dad." For a while, he called him just "Michael," but over time, he began calling him "Daddy," and of course, then, "Dad."

Michael has always been there. Donated genetics or not, he is Kevin's father. He's wiped away tears and made owchies better and read stories. He helped potty train Kevin, he pulled his first tooth out, he taught him to ride a bike and how to throw a ball. He coached Kevin's t-ball team, bought him his first guitar. He's taken him skiing and enrolled him drum lessons. He's
encouraged him and lectured him, about honesty and integrity and doing the right thing and always doing your best. He's had the dreaded man-to-man talks with Kevin about changes on the horizon and girls.

And suddenly, that little hand he slipped into Michael's hand all those years ago isn't so little anymore. I realized this past weekend that Kevin is suddenly taller than Michael. When did this happen?

And being at that age, that oh so fun age, I notice Kevin and Michael butting heads quite frequently these days. And it feeds a tiny kernel of fear in my heart. Some day, in the throes of teenage angst, is Kevin going to scream at Michael, "YOU'RE NOT MY DAD!!"??

And what if he did? Because Michael is his dad. And really, butting heads is all part of the deal between fathers and sons. Michael's raised Kevin since he was a tyke, and I know there's nothing he wouldn't do for Kevin - no more or less than any of the other kids to whom Michael has biological ties.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A Day In the Life

mommy are you awake ummmm can i watch tv go potty first drag myself out of bed brush teeth climb into sweats take the dog out go pick up coffee come home make the bed get the baby up clean up the kitchen throw diapers in wash feed finn breakfast make the girls' beds put on some makeup for god's sake change into something presentable what to wear what to wear oh i'll just wear this i don't feel too fat in this where are you going mommy can i go no i'm going by myself daisy's crying now oh god make a run for it go to bank go to target go to mall have to get michael a birthday present what in the world should i get him hmmmmmm oh this will be perfect oh and the girls need shorts too hey i made pretty good time go home change finn put finn down for a nap take the dog out clean up the lunch dishes more laundry oh shit i forgot about that spill on the carpet under the ottoman from the other night clean the carpet sew three doll slings mommy can i have a snack in a minute mommy can i have a snack in a minute in a minute get the baby up change the baby take the dog out what would you like for a snack this no this no that no that okay here you go clean up sewing stuff feed the baby fold clothes more laundry oh no i didn't take anything out for dinner run to the store make dinner clean up michael can you give the girls a bath more laundry pick up house feed the baby finish up lilah's bath comb everyone's hair oh the tangles in her hair one more load of laundry boys clean up your room change finn put finn to bed nighty night baby boy goodnight girls love you see you in the morning boys take your showers take the dog out feed the dog take a shower okay i need to shave my legs should i shave my legs eh i'll skip it too tired hopefully michael won't feel my legs geez i never even ate dinner what are you doing up lilah do you want to sit in the rocking chair with me for a minute okay nighty night baby girl get ready for bed boys get ready for bed boys get ready for bed boys nighty night love you see you in the morning update calendar sync brace myself for the week shit there's something going on every single day i'm pooped i'm calling it a day goodnight.