Monday, March 26, 2012

How I Spent February, Part IV: Boston

We wrapped up our monstrous month of February by taking a rather spontaneous trip out to Boston to visit the New England Aquarium and the Children's Museum.  The whole thing was Dan's idea; he suggested that Michaela may be very interested in the aquarium since she had just finished her bottle nose dolphin project (see previous post).  We booked a suite in Waltham, MA with the idea that we would take the subway into Boston, making our little train obsessed little boy also very happy.

We left Friday morning and enjoyed a rather complaint-free trip out.  Our hotel was fabulous, spacious and clean and wonderful.  The girls got into their suits and jumped right into the pool and hot tub.  (I'm pretty sure that if we had not even gone into Boston, the trip would have been a success: they loved the idea of swimming and lounging in the hot tub.)  Alec and I stayed poolside and watched. 

After a nice dinner out, we ended up driving into Boston and going to the Children's Museum. It was $1 Admission Friday, which meant that just about every family in MA, NY and CT was at the Children's Museum that night. We parked (now pay attention, because this is important later) in an underground parking lot about 1.5 blocks away from the museum, over a bridge and across the street. And it was raining. But we got there just fine, got in for the phenomenal nominal fee of $5 total, and we were off. We hit the construction zone first, much to Alec's delight, and he tried out all the play tables with cars and tractors and ramps and bridges and cranes. It was really neat.

They had all kinds of stations and activities for the girls to try out: lifting your own weight, climbing walls, kid-powered experiments, and the like.  Then we hit another fun area: the sand and water tables.

About 45 minutes into our visit, a fatal ROOKIE PARENTING MISTAKE hit us: Alec, who had been stricken with a terrible GI illness earlier in the week (along with Jenna and I, but I won't even go into detail about that except to say that I cannot remember being that sick or sleeping that much ever), had a monumental diaper blowout, and guess where my diaper bag was? With all my diapers and wipes in it? Yes, in THE CAR... which was 1.5 blocks away, across the street and over a bridge from where we were.  Uggggghhhhhh.  What was I thinking? Have I not been a parent for over 10 years and do I not understand that by forgetting these crucial items I was therefore practically guaranteeing that this exact event would happen?  So, I summoned all of my considerable diaper changing skill and experience, cleaned Alec up as best I could, and when we left at 9pm when the museum closed, I just took his diaper off and he went to the car with just his sweats on.

At the hotel, we experienced another adventure when the fire alarm went off at 2 am, followed by a recorded message that we need to evacuate the hotel and that the fire department was on its way.  Michaela was awesome- jumped right into her clothes and was ready to go.  Alec whimpered and clearly had no idea what was going on.  Jenna was the funniest to see, bleary eyed and confused, asking "What is that NOISE?  What is happening?  Why do we hafta get our clothes on?"  We went out to our car and waited about 20 minutes until we were able to return to our room.  We heard the next day that the water pressure in the sprinkler system had dropped too low, setting off the alarm, so we clearly were never in any danger.  As we were walking outside into the cold at 2:15am, I just kept telling the girls and Alec what an ADVENTURE this was and making it sound as fun as humanly possible.  Not sure that anyone believed me or shared my enthusiasm.

The next day we enjoyed our complimentary breakfast and took the T into Boston. Alec was pretty jazzed about the whole thing but was a little taken aback by how loud the approaching subway was.  We enjoyed a smooth trip into Boston, only saw one or two crazy people at the subway stop (one of whom asked Michaela, "Why aren't you in SCHOOL? This is why our country is going down the tubes..." and Michaela tried to helpfully answer that it was Winter Break and also, in fact, Saturday)  and found the Aquarium, which was packed with people and kids.  But we eventually got in and all of us fell instantly in love with the penguins.

You can see how crowded it was at the aquarium that day.

Dan and Alec got a nice visit from a friendly sea turtle!

One of my favorite exhibits of the day was the jellyfish tank- they were gorgeous and mesmerizing.  I wish I had known the best way to photograph these fluid, formless creatures.  As I overheard one visitor say, "Can you imagine if your whole existence was just to swim around and be beautiful?"

My girls checked out the tropical fish tank... lots of Finding Nemo-esque fish in here.

Another popular spot for our three kids was the sting ray touch tank- stick you hands right in and feel their slippery backs! Even Alec joined right in!

Two sting rays swimming past us.

Our last stop before we left (and, of course, hit the gift shop) was back to see the penguins one last time.  We took the subway back to our car and headed home.

The trip was not only a lot of fun and a terrific change in scenery/ routine/ pace, it really helped me get over the funk I was in for most of the month.  I came home with a new attitude and a lightness that I wasn't experiencing before. I am so glad we took this little trip- it was a great weekend of together time for our family as well as a preview for how well Alec will hopefully do this summer when we go to the Cape for a week.  I can't wait.

Thank you, Boston, for helping me get back on track.

Monday, March 19, 2012

March Bits 'N' Pieces.

1. Alec asked for chocolate chip cookie dough- for breakfast.  He loves to make cookies with me, and will point out the ingredients and say cookie.  And then gets out a spoon and says Spoon! Mix! and then goes to the cabinet and says bowl.  Even though my nutritional standards have flown out the window for my darling third child, even I said no to this request.  Though he uses good vocabulary words when asking, so maybe it somehow counts as Therapeutic Baking.

2.  When I came downstairs after getting dressed this morning, Alec approached me naked and with poop all over his hand.  That scenario rarely ends well.  And it didn't this time, either.

3.  It is freakishly beautiful here- sunny and 75 degrees in March.  My daffodils are aching to blossom, especially since they've been sprouting since January.  Yes, January.

4. Yesterday was our first official soft serve ice cream cone of the season.

5. Yesterday the girls and I had a fun afternoon: we went to a Girl Scout- sponsored Mother/Daughter Brunch at our local country club.  It was the first official activity that I've attended with both of my favorite Girl Scouts!  It was very sweet; Jenna stuck to me like glue and Michaela quickly ditched me to sit with her friends from her troop.  Sigh.

Afterwards, on the way visit some family friends, we stopped in at a Open House located in a home that we watched get built and have admired for months.  It was pretty beautiful inside and the girls were amazed by the Jack-and-Jill bathroom while I admired the butler's pantry and gorgeous molding.  Of course, the house was listed for $630,000, so it's no wonder it was so breathtaking.  It spurred on a great conversation about how much things cost and living within one's means.  Michaela, who is just beginning to grasp the concepts of how much things cost, said to me, "When you said it cost $630, I thought, well, that's not too bad! That's, like, the cost of a car! But then you added the 'thousand' on the end and I thought, Whoa! That's a LOT!"  Watching her grow up is really so much fun.

6.  Speaking of houses, Dan and I watched a House Hunters the other day in which the wife had a very flat Minnesota-type accent, and when she walked into every house, she said, "LOOK, BABE! Look at the hardwoods! LOOK, BABE! I LOVE this hall way! It feels so GRAND!"  And Dan and I have said/emailed/texted LOOK, BABE! to each other multiple times a day ever since.

In a related note, I was watching a show in which a couple were looking for their first house and when they saw brand new black granite countertops in the kitchen, they dismissively laughed and agreed, "These countertops are JUST NOT US."  What does that mean? You aren't shiny and pretty? And new? And high-end? Ohh, you'd rather have bright yellow laminate for your countertop?
Nothing in their sentence made the least bit of sense to me. 

7. Alec's new favorite thing is to throw items into the cart when we're grocery shopping.  Today he "bought" Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, SpongeBob Squarepants mac and cheese, Cosmic brownies, chocolate chip cookie mix-in-a-bag, and a Hershey bar.  Only two of those items actually were purchased.  He makes a huge deal when he throws the item in, really heaving it and then making a "WHEW!" sound once it lands in the cart.

8. The annual Spring Birthday Party Season has begun.  The girls have been invited to eight birthday parties in the last six weeks.

9.  If I end up foaming at the mouth, unresponsive and rocking in the fetal position, it is because my daughters complained ONE TOO MANY TIMES at breakfast that they don't want to eat their orange-flavored calcium gummies and they really only like the pink and purple ones and WHY DO YOU ALWAYS MAKE US EAT THE ORANGE ONES?  People not blessed with children cannot possibly know how incredibly persistent children can be.  I have heard this complaint at least twice a week for the last year.  Good thing I love them to pieces.

10.  In a related note, I was laying on Michaela's bed with her last week at the end of a very long day and we were having nice quiet time together.  I said to her, "I wish you could understand for just a moment the amount of my love and energy and soul that I pour into you and you brother and sister every single day."  And of course she didn't understand, because 10 year olds are not supposed to understand what that means.  All they know is that their mom is their mom, and she does stuff for them.  The nice part about having your kids grow a little older is that you can share things like this with them and it starts to open the door of understanding about what it is like to be grown up.

And in a related note to THAT, Michaela will be going through the school's Growing to Maturity curriculum next month.  Oh, yes... the Big Talk.  The Birds and The Bees.  I am not sure how I feel about it.  I know several moms who have older kids and similar values to me and they support the content whole heartedly (which is a tremendous relief) so it's really about coming face to face with the idea that one of my babies is growing up.  And even that causes mixed feelings for me: I miss the little preschool girl that she was and never will be again, but I so much enjoy her as a tween and watching her navigate through this process.  Michaela is such a great kid, so fun to be with and funny and earnest and energetic, and I have a strong feeling that no matter how tough her teenage years may be (and I am under no illusions that they will be smooth sailing) I feel that I know she and I will always be thick as thieves.  I just really like being with her.  Hopefully she tolerates me when she's an adult.

11. Alec has been fighting his naps again, which means that this is happening more and more at about 6pm- and then he sleeps right through til morning:


Passed out on the family room floor.

12.  The girls got their Spring pictures taken at school and they came out really sweet.


My babies aren't babies anymore.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How I Spent February, Part III: Shopping.

We bought a new couch for our family room in February.

And there are many, many, many hours of shopping, talking, web surfing, driving, picture taking, and pro-and cons-ing behind that one little sentence.

I won't bore you with all the details, but we went to a whole bunch of stores, took pictures of about half a dozen contenders, almost bought one but then decided on another.  It's a leather sectional in a color called Double Fudge, which obviously sold me on the spot, and then we got an ottoman and matching chair to go with it.  They should all be arriving next month.

I call it our Permanent-Record Couch, our Grown-Up couch, our Way of Seating All Five Members of our Family on One Couch couch.

So we have dolphin sewing projects, Junior Achievement, speech therapy and special Ed teachers coming, and couch shopping on our plates, along with everyday life.  And what else do we decided to take on? A home improvement project, of course!!

We started with this...

And this is halfway through...

We are not done yet.  The room is painted (after Dan started painting the walls, I asked him, "Did we paint anything at the old house this color?" to which he replied, "We painted EVERYTHING in the old house this color." But that is not true.  Well, almost not true.) and looks super fresh, and we are in the process of ordering cabinets to be hung on the wall above the washer and dryer and a pretty counter top to lay across the width of the room so I can stop dropping socks and sweatpants and other various items behind the washer and dryer.  (Point of Interest: we found a pair of  dress shoes belonging to the former owners of the house behind the washing machine, so I'm not the only one dropping stuff back there.) We should be all done in about three more weeks or so.  Final pictures will be published as soon as it's completed!

(Much love and thanks to my dad, who painted all the trim for us!!)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Out and About with Cheryl: Petsmart Edition.

So Friday afternoon I was in Petsmart, shopping for a few items for my 13 year old crazy cat, and the most earnest, gentle, lovely middle-aged guy named Mark came up to me and asked if there was anything at all he could help me with.  I told him that we were having some issues with our cat and gave him a brief rundown of her problems.

And that is when, nodding knowingly, the following sentence came out of his mouth:

"Oh, I understand... when I brought my dog to the canine acupuncturist, she told me his wood chakras were blocked.  And I have just no idea about how to unblock them!"

And I simultaneously had no idea how to respond to him, yet loved his earnestness all the more.

Thank you, Mark, for today's blog post content.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How I Spent February, Part II: The Therapy Continues.

Alec's speech therapy and special education services continued through the month of February.  We are on a routine schedule now, with speech coming Monday and Tuesday at 9am, and the special ed teacher coming on Thursday at 9:45 and Friday at 9am.

What that means is that I get up, tend to Alec, get the girls' breakfasts made, get lunches packed, yell, "Go brush your teeth!" and "No, you CANNOT wear short sleeves- it's February!!" a few dozen times, do their hair, get their jackets on, push them out the door at 8:50 and then have 10 minutes to throw some clothes on and brush my hair before a therapist is at my door.

And sometimes, Alec cries as soon as he hears that doorbell ring. 

And then I feel bad that he's not happy that they are coming.  Because I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself to try and make it all perfect: that he is ready to work/learn/play, that the house is picked up from breakfast and the night before, that they have a clean, comfortable place to play together, and that his diaper isn't full of some kind of foul smelling substance.

I want him to be a "good" boy, one that welcomes them and performs well.  I don't want him having meltdowns or tantrums or being stubborn or resisting their efforts to help him.  I am trying to manage myself, him, the house, and the whole process so it is as successful as possible.

This is my pressure and I try to own it and not have it make me crazy.  But it did, and made me feel overwhelmed and very close to crying a lot of the time.

I have talked to many women who work as in-home speech therapists and occupational therapists and they all say the same thing: don't worry about it.  In-home therapists have seen it all. Some people's houses are really, really gross.  That's okay.  It's not important.

But it's important to me, and I think I see it as a way of proving to the therapists that I'm not a crappy mom who can't get her kid to talk.  Or is disinterested.  I want them to think, "Gee, she seems to have it all together.  It's just a mystery to me why her son is having this speech issue."  I don't want them to think, "Geesh! No wonder her kid's all messed up.  Have you seen her house??? Clearly this speech issue is just an extension of the chaos that's going on in there..."  And as I type it, I realize how ridiculous this sounds (because reality lies somewhere in between, doesn't it?), but you try having people come into your own house four days a week to "fix" your child and see how you process it.  It's overwhelming.  And anxiety-provoking.

Now, the good news is that Alec is making great gains.  He is using more words, better pronunciation, engaging more with the therapists and is less dependent on me to be right next to him during the session, and using all the sign language that we have taught him.  And those are all huge steps forward.

And the therapists could not be nicer, more caring, more engaging, more focused on helping Alec, and more pleasant to talk with.  Could not be better.  They both have three kids at home and I feel like they are in the trenches of parenting just like I am.  They are MOMS. They totally get it.

So the four weeks of February was full of therapy for Alec.  And full of me trying to process how I felt about it.  I realized about two weeks into February that I had just vastly underestimated how the therapy was going to affect me as a person, as a person who loves Alec, and as a mom who wants the best for her children and puts in a lot of effort to do a good job raising children.  And I was hoping that with that realization, I would feel my anxiety about the whole thing go down, but it didn't.  I was hoping I could let some of this stuff go, but I couldn't.  It wasn't time.  I was still processing.

The therapy was the dominant force in my life this month.  It was like having company every morning.  Gone were our lazy lay-around-the-house-in-our-jammies mornings.  Gone was our freedom to go somewhere for the whole morning.

I was talking with a very insightful friend about it and he pointed out how the therapy, while a blessing, changed the rhythm as a stay at home mom that I had enjoyed for 6 years and suddenly I had to be ON four mornings a week.  At 9am, no less.  And I think his point is a huge one.  Though after re-reading this last paragraph, I'm not sure I could sound more spoiled.

This therapy is a blessing, a gift we have been given, and as I type this, Alec is sitting at the table, drawing and babbling on to himself.  This is something to celebrate.  All this internal garbage I am dealing with is so secondary it is not even funny.

But it almost killed me this month.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How I Spent February, Part I: At School.

The bottle-nose dolphin, in all her glory.

A piece of paper came home in Michaela's folder in January, announcing the famous annual Whale Museum.  Every child was assigned a whale or dolphin and had to write a pretty impressive report about the animal as well as create a 3D version of the animal to put on display at the Whale Museum.  Parents, teachers and other classes are then invited to come in and see the kids' work on Whale Museum Day.

The assignment suggested modelling clay, paper mache- anything to create this 3D model.  I casually asked Michaela, "Soooooo... what are you going to make yours out of?"  And she quickly answered, "Well, I'm going to sew one, of course."

Well, of course.

So that put the gears in motion: printing out pictures of bottle-nose dolphins, assembling a pattern on our living room floor for the stuffed animal out of manila folders taped together, a rather riotous trip to Joann Fabrics, where Michaela declared, "I'll know the fabric I want to use when I see it...", Mommy worrying that the fabric Michaela chose was too slippery and would be a nightmare to sew (it wasn't), cutting out the fabric, helping Michaela use my new sewing machine, Michaela and Jenna and I stuffing the heck out of it, rearranging the stuffing a dozen times, Michaela hand-sewing the fins and tail on while Mommy coaches, "Even stitches! Use even stitches!!", Michaela and Mommy almost coming to blows over the placement of the blowhole and whether anything would actually be coming out of it.  Dan helped us make the stand for it out of a dowel screwed to a wooden plaque, and VIOLA! A bottle-nosed dolphin for the Whale Museum was born.

She did most of the work, but I think I did all of the fretting about it. 
Michaela at the Whale Museum, showing off her creation.

And really, it turned out great.  She had lots of kids asking her about it at the Whale Museum, including one kid who I swear stood next to it for about ten minutes, petting the side of the dolphin the whole time. 
"Can I keep this when you're done?' he asked Michaela. 
"No way!" she answered.

I had to leave the Whale Museum early to go to Jenna's classroom and teach another lesson from the Junior Achievement curriculum.  I did Junior Achievement for Michaela's class in second grade, and being a mom who is sensitive to the fact that Everything Should Be Equal for All Her Children,, signed up in September to teach JA for Jenna's class, doing all five lessons in the first three weeks of February.  It is a very, very well thought out and easy to teach package of  lessons about working, jobs, community, and money, and is really a lot of fun.  I also like doing it because I like to eyeball the kids in the girls' classes and this is a great opportunity to get to know them better.  In first grade the girls are so sweet and pretty and charming and the boys are just as cute, friendly and guileless.  Every lesson was based on this oversized poster of a community showing houses and businesses and people helping each other. The kids were utterly fascinated by this poster, and repeatedly said, "I wish I could jump into that poster and LIVE THERE!" at the beginning of each lesson.  Which is kind of funny because we live in a really nice town with houses and businesses and people helping each other already.

The tough thing about teaching JA was that I had to do it at the end of day, because Jenna hates having me come into school and then leave, and her teacher thought it would be best if I came right before dismissal.  That meant my whole schedule was screwed up, and Alec got to play those afternoons with my mom, which he loved, but did not get to nap.  Which makes he and I quite cranky.

The fun thing about teaching JA was walking into the classroom, hearing the kids say, "Jenna! Your MOM IS HERE!" and then seeing Jenna's sweet little face light up when she saw me.  It almost makes all those nights she screamed for hours in her crib all worth it.  Not quite, but almost.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It's the Mallard Duck All Over Again.

So there is a famous family story about me that goes like this:  when I was a wee lass of maybe seven or eight, my mom and I were driving on Bender Lane and passed a lovely little pond with mallard ducks swimming on it.  Excited about seeing this little bit of nature, I exclaimed to my mother, "Look, mom, it's a mallard duck!" to which she gave no reply.  "Mom! Look! Mallard ducks!" I tried again.  Getting no answer, I repeated my sentence, thinking that surely she had not heard me.  "Mom! Mallard ducks! LOOK!" to which she quite exasperatedly replied, "YES! OKAY! I see them!  Mallard ducks!"

To my parents, this was a great example of being parents: that your children require an enthusiastic answer for every utterance, and of course that becomes quite exhausting.  I, on the other hand, did not quite understand the big deal about all of this for the longest time.  I was just trying to show my mom the darn ducks, and since 99% of the time, she had always responded to what I said, what was the big deal about this story?

Fast forward thirty years, give or take, and now that little girl has three kids of her own, fighting for her attention, and is ten and a half years into this parenting gig.  And now I have a little boy fascinated by all things construction-related, and every time we pass a work site, Alec says, "Scoop! Scooop! SCOOP!!!" because he thinks every backhoe and digging machine looks like the character of Scoop from Bob the Builder. 

So today, as we are passing a rather impressive work site, Alec starts yelling, "SCOOP! SCOOP!" and I answer, "Yes! I see!"  and things like, "Look at that backhoe!" and "What a big building!"  and he responds to every sentence I say with, "SCOOOOP!!!"

And the only thing that stops him is when I say, "Yes! YES! Scoop! I see Scoop!  I SEE SCOOP!"

And I realize that this is the Mallard Duck Incident all over again.

And I think these stories are also a testament to the lengths children will go to to make sure that they are heard.  And really listened to.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Lip Sync! Lip Sync! LIIIP SYYYYNC!!!!!

Ah, the annual ritual in our school district of the Lip Sync, or as some of the moms call it, Lip Stink.  It is a super fun evening, watching all the kids go up on stage and perform and have their classmates cheer and scream and yell while the parents eagerly videotape and photograph it all until everyone is blind.  That's the great payoff.  But the beginning and middle of the lip sync is a draining grind of planning, emails, rehearsals, costume making, phone calls, and making sure your kids aren't doing anything inappropriate.  But we survived another year!  Only 10 more to go until Alec is out of elementary school!

I put together a little video with highlights from the girls' performances, but Blogger is not letting me upload it.  So to give you a flavor, here are some pics from the night.

 Here is Michaela, whose group did "Party Rock Anthem" by LMFAO.  Which is also an acronym for something quite not 5th grade appropriate, but I am hoping she doesn't know that.  It was very bouncy and hip-hoppy and energetic.

And here is sweet Jenna, who danced to a remixed version of  "Do Re Me" from Sound of Music.  Her group was large (12 girls) and did a great job.  One of my projects was making the 12 ties and 24 hair ties that you see pictured. 

Dan and I noticed that there was lots of breakdancing featured in the show, which kind of cracked me up.  Here these parents work their butts off so they can raise their families in a safe, suburban environment and all the kids want to do is look like they are more urban.  (See Michaela's hat and general stance, above.)

It was a fun, loud, happy night.  And I'm super glad that it's done for another year. :)