Monday, November 3, 2014

First Day of School: Eighth and Fourth Grade Edition.

Let's start this post with a little nostalgic look back at Michaela's first day of Kindergarten:

Michaela wanted to recreate the picture she took with Dan that morning:

 And here she is now, starting her last year of middle school. Sigh.

Jenna was thrilled to be starting fourth grade with Ms. Lawler, who taught Michaela and we all loved.

Jenna even painted her nails black and orange, the school colors.

Michaela had me straighten her hair and I curled Jenna's.  
Once again I thanked God that he sent me a son for my third child.

And off they went!

This was the picture Dan and I posted on Facebook that day at lunch time: "Dear Michaela, Jenna, and Alec, While you were slaving away at school, Dad and I absolutely did not have any fun at home. And we certainly did NOT go out to lunch.  We only pined away for you.  Happy first day of school! Love, Mom and Dad- at Swifty's Restaurant and Pub."

Kindergarten Update, Part II: My Quirky Boy.

Here are a couple of funny stories related to our new kindergarten adventure with Alec, who can sometimes be a little, well, quirky.

1. The Jitter Glitter Incident of 2014: During the classroom orientation time, Alec's teacher Mrs. Jones handed out an envelope to each new student with instructions to open it the night before school.   When we opened it as instructed, inside was a cute Night Before Kindergarten poem along with a small packet of Jitter Glitter.  The instructions said to sprinkle the glitter under your pillow as you were going to bed and it will help calm your jitters about starting school.  Simple enough.

Well, this caused quite a conundrum for my Alec.  You see, he sometimes lays down on our bed to fall asleep, then we transfer him into his own bed.  Almost every night he wanders into our room at 3am and lays down on the floor to finish out the night.  Where on earth shall we place the Jitter Glitter?  Under Daddy's pillow, where he starts the night? Under his pillow, where he only sleeps for a few hours? Under the pillow on the floor of our room?  Just the first place? Just the last? All three?

This was indeed a vexing problem and one he discussed at length with us... all night.  Despite my strong attempts to get him to move off of the topic and reassure him that any one of the three spots would be fine- though under Dad's pillow was not really a good idea if Daddy found out- he persisted in perseverating on the Glitter Problem.

Finally Mommy made the call and just tossed the darn stuff on the floor of her room and told Alec to go to sleep.  It was the last thing he talked about before he finally drifted off and the first thing he mentioned when he woke up the next morning.

2.  Fleece Fiasco of 2014: After two and a half weeks of school, during which I had carefully chosen his outfit every day to reflect my sensitivities to Alec's recent potty training (no complicated buttons or zippers on his pants) as well as a sense of style to make him appear as loved, cared for and normal as possible, including a well-balanced rotation of preppy dressy, preppy sporty, regular sporty, and occasional all-out-casual-Friday outfits, I learned from Alec that he never took his fleece off and wore it every single day, all day.  And used his sleeve as a tissue to wipe his runny nose.

3.  And Along the Same Lines:  We have done countless hours of social skills training with Alec, pragmatic/social speech therapy, and have given him endless cueing to speak clearly and to look at someone when you are talking to them.  I was feeling pretty good about his growth and development in this area but for the first week of school I was still asking him lots of questions to try to gauge how the social interactions were going with his peers.

He also had a bunch of new, smart clothes to wear (see #2 above), a good haircut from a real barber, and new sneakers and school supplies.  I tried to make him seem as normal as possible, and he looked great.

So you can imagine my horror on the third or fourth day of school when we were asking about recess and he calmly and happily told us that his class had stayed on the blacktop and drew with chalk, and he drew two crosses, "because two people in our family, are, you know, DEAD."

Oh. My. Goodness.

It was a wonderful lesson in the social latitude that kindergarteners give their peers and a sharp lesson to me that you can only really control so much.

And the rest is really up to the kid.
And he's really doing great.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

God Created Kindergarten, and it was Good.

Alec has started kindergarten. 
 He is about 40 days in, and has yet to have a complete meltdown about going.  
This, my friends, is nothing short of a miracle.
After all the planning, the meetings, the observations, the IEPs, the therapy, the doctors, the medicine trials, and the praying- ooooohhhh, the praying!- it turns out he was perfectly ready and perfectly capable to get on a bus, ride to school, and do exactly what his teacher asks of him.

We did lots of prepping this summer for the whole experience.  

Here he is at the bus safety presentation, learning how to safely cross the street in front of the bus.

 Here he is in front of his cubby in his classroom on Orientation day.

Here is his box of school supplies I ordered for him. His name looks so official.

As we were carrying these out of the school building so we could take everything home and label it, Alec insisted on carrying it. 
"This is freakin' heavy!" he declared to our surprise and horror.

(We have discovered over the last few months that Alec has an active potty mouth.  Not sure if he picked it up from school, the bus, videos he watches online, or (ahem) from having older sisters/parents in the house.  Amazingly, he has used several of the milder swear words in casual conversation, in perfect context and with appropriate inflection.  Most recent example: putting his pj's on he struggled with one of the sleeves. "That was hard as hell!" he woefully told his surprised mommy.)

We even practiced eating lunch- what to expect, how to open everything, and pack it back up.  I woke up in a panic the day before school thinking that maybe he couldn't open a plastic sandwich bag- what was I going to pack his stuff in? Turns out he can open the baggies just fine.

And finally, it was showtime.
He wore his yellow shirt for the first day because yellow is his favorite color.

He was so tired of Michaela, Jenna and I hovering all around him that he finally told us all very nicely to Back Off, I've Got This. He climbed up those stairs and away he went.  Helped me greatly that Jenna was there on the bus with him and was more than willing to help him in any way.  
Thank God for siblings.

He was tired the first few days getting off the bus but has never complained that the day is too long.  He loves all the activities and the structure his teacher provides.  He feels successful in the academic realm of things and he has always been very compliant and a rule-follower, so he is constantly being rewarded for "being good."  He rides the bus every day except for a few times in the morning when he has asked to be driven, and I am happy to do that.

His awesome adjustment to kindergarten has certainly helped my mental health as well.  I am now, 40-some days in, almost feeling like I can relax a bit and stop waiting for disaster to strike.  Almost.

Hooray for Alec!  We love kindergarten!!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Realistic Fiction.

So I was driving with Jenna the other day in the car, and she starts telling me about the different kinds of writing they will be doing in fourth grade.  Her teacher, Ms. Lawler, is fun and enthusiastic and loving and positive, and we know how she works from when Michaela had her, and the verdict is in: we all love her.  Jenna decorated her Writer's Notebook the first week of school with great fanfare, placing pictures of puppies, kittens, peacocks (she LOVES them, she says), pandas, and little signs that say "I love my family" and "I love Disney World" (that was actually my suggestion).  All very 4th grade girl.  So Ms. Lawler has them trying out different kinds of writing and I love talking to the kids about what they write about: it's like a little window into their heads.  It shows you what events stick with them, what made an impression, what they are still processing.

(True story: a few years ago, we spent multiple thousands of dollars renting a house on Cape Cod for a week's vacation.   We hit the beach, swam in the ocean, shopped, went to museums, did a few nature hikes, mini golfed, jumped on trampolines, biked, ate multiple ice cream sundaes, and enjoyed a boat ride.  The only thing Jenna ever wrote about the whole vacation was how much she loved Cuffy's, the t-shirt store.)

"I'm writing a story of realistic fiction," Jenna tells me.
"Oooooohhh," I answer. "Are you writing about a queen named Cheryl, who is very beautiful and wears a tiara and is ruler of all she sees?"
"Mom. NO. It's REALISTIC FICTION," she answers in a huff.

I'm glad I can still make her huffy.  It's part of the fun of parenthood.

Friday, September 26, 2014

It was a Good Day.

Yesterday was a good day.

The kids were home for the first time since the beginning of school for the Jewish New Year, and we enjoyed a lazy hang around the house day.  Both girls had friends over to play with and Alec was up to his eyeballs in LEGO sets that he had opened for his birthday the day before.  (At one point, we had half-completed sets on the kitchen table, the kitchen counter, our half-wall into the family room, and random spilled pieces on the kitchen floor.)  I had the day to putz around the house, assembling LEGO pieces, half-supervising the houseful of kids, doing some laundry, and putting out our fall decorations.

I realized with great joy that I have a new mantle in the basement den to decorate for all my fall/winter holidays.  It's the little things that make me so very happy.

After the friends left and I had destroyed the pads of my fingers putting together a Minecraft LEGO set- it had the tiniest pieces and SO MANY OF THEM- we ate and went out to choir.

I finished up the evening by judging a "dancing contest" in the living room between Jenna and Michaela, wherein they played very borderline-appropriate pop music and "dance" to it, one at a time.  I was asked to judge on "creativity and overall look".  Michaela's strength was moving around quite a bit, not quite dancing per se, with lots of hair tossing, a few of her Toddlers and Tiaras pageant moves, and she threw in lots of mediocre cartwheels for good measure.  Jenna did much better lipsync-ing to the song but her moves weren't quite as polished.  In desperation at the end Jenna did her trick of the week: laying on her stomach and stretching up backwards so her head touches her toes.  A neat trick, for sure, but not really a great dance move.  I declared Michaela a winner by a hair and Jenna took it pretty well.  They did a little routine together at the end to a different song which was made up of Michaela barking orders at Jenna and Jenna laughing and trying to keep up while they both generally flopped around.

We tell Michaela all the time that one day Jenna is going to finally snap and give Michaela a beat down of a lifetime for bossing her around her entire life.

At the end we were all laughing and could hardly breathe.

Dan and I watched the end of Derek Jeter's last home game with the Yankees.  The only time I cried was when they showed his mom crying in the stands after the game. (of course.  That's how I roll, Mom-style.) It was all very exciting and sweet and a little schmaltzy and wonderful.  We had seriously considered giving Alec the name Derek- in fact, it was the name we picked out if Michaela had been a boy- and for a moment last night I was a teensy bit wistful that we chose Alec instead.  Jeter is a classy guy and we both really admire him.

I think the best part of the whole day was something totally unexpected: Michaela asked me to dig out the published blog books we have so she could show her friend some stories and pictures from when she was little.  After hunting around a bit (they were moved in our basement remodel and in the half-completed office redo) I found them.  Dan and I spent lots of time last night reading through old posts, seeing our life as it was eight years ago.  So much has happened since then- it is incredible.  The girls love hearing stories of the quirky things they did and said and I, of course, gush over all the pictures of my sweet babies.

It is a great reminder of how far we've come as parents, that the kids are really easier now, and there seems to be much less puking now than there was back then.  Thank goodness.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Starting Over, Again.

2014 is the Year of Catching Up.
Catching my breath.
Catching a break.
Catching a nap.
Catching my sanity.
Catching some moments to remember.

Once again I am back in the blogging saddle after a long time away.  All I will say is that I am finally coming out of several months' time of depression and anxiety that was overwhelming at times.  It was from a bunch of things: my dad's passing and processing the grief, dealing with Alec (and all that comes with him: doctors and evals and therapists and meetings) and a preteen Michaela (and all that comes with her: hormones and finals and lots and lots of energy), making decisions for Alec's placement this fall, and generally not being able to cope with life.  My tank was empty.  And while I was able to go where I needed to go and bathe, feed and dress my kids, there was no more energy or room for anything else.  I was very numb and foggy.  But I am catching my breath and finally finding my way out and feeling better.  The noose of whatever I was going through is finally loosening.

So here I sit at my computer, four days into the new school year for my chicks.  This is a huge reason why I am able to breathe again: six blissful hours of time to myself five.days.per.week.  (Whoever came up with this school thing is a miracle worker.)  All is going well so far for all of them-blog post about that is forthcoming- and I am a busy beaver all day long, processing and sorting and attending to things that I wanted to do since last summer.  Catching up.

I just had a blast looking through old posts of mine, remembering stories of the kids that I had forgotten, seeing pictures of them looking so much smaller, and reading words I wrote that I now have much better insight about.  Some posts I wish I could go back in time to relive, and others I am so profoundly glad I have been through and came out safely out the other side.

It is amazing how time marches on... such a cliché but true.  We are all architects of our lives, designing and building and re-examining a little each day until suddenly years have gone by and you can step back and see what exactly you've been working on.  The rest of this year will be a 'step back and see' time for me as I finally have some time and the ability to be very proud of what I've made and also see what will be next for me.

And finally blog a little bit about it.
I have some great stories to record.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Here Comes Peter Cottontail.

Actually, I am not really sure where exactly my two older kids are with the whole Easter Bunny thing, because a few days before Easter I received two fairly detailed lists, both casually left on the kitchen counter, one from each daughter about exactly what kind of candy each would enjoy in their baskets.  Lots of requests for Cadbury mini eggs, Hershey's kisses, M&M's, a request for Dasani water flavor stuff (which I rail against, since it's all colored dye and fake sugar... blech), and one request for a chocolate bunny.  Alec only wanted a Skylander and some Skittles.  So someone is getting the idea that Peter/ Mommy responds to advance scouting lists.

Easter was wonderful.  We started the day with an Easter Egg Hunt encompassing the entire downstairs of our house, and I hid the eggs in slightly trickier places this year.  Everyone gets a golden egg with their name on it (Michaela's is actually gold... Jenna and Alec's are really just yellow... first-born status has its perks, eh?) that has $5 in it.  The rule is that is you somehow find a sibling's golden egg, you have to keep your mouth shut and move on.  Two of the three kids found the other's golden egg, and in neither case was the Golden Egg rule followed.

Don't tell Jenna, but when I opened up the eggs from last year, a $5 bill fell out of hers.  (Suddenly Easter as a whole was $5 cheaper.)

We then had our cinnamon rolls and started getting ready.  Off to church we went.

Jenna sang in the choir and the lilies were gorgeous all around.  There is nothing like the joy of Easter morning!

Photo op at the altar.  I love my girls.  Alec was not on board with the family shot at the altar.

Right after church, we headed over to my mom's where we played Hot and Cold and "found" our baskets that are in the same four hiding spaces every single year.  Lots of merriment ensued going through the baskets, especially since a Skylander and the DVD of Frozen were involved. We also got some nice family pictures.

(A brief word about the Easter Outfits: I have not been this casual about a holiday outfit ensemble since Christmas of 2004.  Michaela refuses to match, Alec won't wear any kind of vest, Jenna is done wearing Gymboree, so I basically bought a dress for Jenna that she liked and let the chips fall where they may.  I was really bummed out- really just sad- that holiday wear circa 2010 are gone... all three in their little matching Gymboree dresses and vests.  At one point the words, "I don't care... Easter is DEAD TO ME" were uttered.  Then I got my act together and worked it out.  Turned out pretty good, even though Alec is wearing crocs, Michaela is wearing my necklace and I grabbed a necklace from Jenna that I think she made at a birthday craft party.) 

We headed home for a bit and then went back to my mom's for dinner with more family members.  It was a lovely evening.

When it was all said and done, my buffet in the kitchen looked like this:

and I decided 1) I could open a candy store and 2) I am going to send out the word next year that we don't need quite as much candy for Easter.

I was a little sad the whole day, missing this:

Hard to believe that was only a year ago.

We dyed eggs on Easter Saturday and made one for him, of course.
 He is always with us.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Alec Calls it Can-COOOON!

We are now international travelers.

We went to Cancun- well, really Riviera Maya- on a wonderful vacation with Dan's family a few weeks ago.  

It was awesome. It was beautiful. It was warm.

We stayed at an all-inclusive resort called Marina El Cid, which is clearly the way to go if you are traveling with 13 people like we were.

We flew out of Newark, NJ, which is clearly the way to do it if you'd enjoy booking a hotel room near the airport that looked nothing like the pictures online and featured real, live prostitutes.  (We found another hotel.) Also clearly the way to go if you enjoy following nonsensical directions of how to get to the AirTrain while keeping track of 6 kids and traveling for almost 24 hours.

Marina El Cid was super family-friendly and filled with people from the Northeast who had suffered through a horrible winter and were now drunk on Vitamin D and sunshine.  No riff raff, no obnoxious drinkers, all families, all nice.  The staff was wonderful and couldn't have been friendlier.  The food was good and the place was spacious, well kept, and had an amazing beach and pool. So many activities we barely even scratched the surface of all you could do.  And lots of palm trees.  Y'all know how I love my palm trees.

We all had fun hanging out together and it was so nice to see the cousins all playing together.  There was lots of hand-holding which was so cute to see.

They had professional photographers walking around who would take your picture in the pool, on the beach, or holding one of the various species of wildlife- monkeys, toucans, iguanas.  You could hire a photographer to take family photos on the beach and of course we did that.  We teased Dan's brother Mikey, who had the idea before we left of everyone wearing black and white shirts for a family picture... and didn't pack a white or black shirt.  We lamented that of all the moments he could have chosen, Alec chose the walk down to the beach as his Super Freak Out Moment and refused to take part in the beach photographs.  We finally calmed him down enough and carried him out to the gazebo in the ocean, and in the picture he looks kind of squinty while in reality he was just on the verge of losing it again.  But we got beautiful pictures of the kids and our family... totally worth it.

It was five days of bliss.  We were so sad to come home.

A huge thank you to Paga for making this trip possible!!

Here are some (well, a lot of) pictures of our adventure.

 The Whole Gang

 The Grandchildren

 The Daniel Libuttis

 We all gasped when we saw this picture... perfection: Michaela, Olivia, Melina, Sophie, and Jenna.
They are all so pretty and what a joy it is to watch them all grow up.

 Our only family pic down at the beach.  See how Alec looks kind of squinty?

 Our girls

 If I have ever seen a picture capture Michaela and who she is... this is it.

 The Libutti Boys: Dan, Michael, Ron, and Jim
(Also known as Danny, Migs, Paga, and Jimbo)

 Me and my girls

 Michaela ponders the ocean

 Jenna plays in the sand

 Dan and Michael soak up some rays on the beach

 Hammocks on the beach

Palm trees! 

 Michaela, Olivia, Jenna poolside

 Michaela with some monkeys.

Jenna's turn with the monkeys.

 Part of the huge, huge pool

 Michaela and Olivia got their hair braided... Michaela said the Mexican ladies who did it were much gentler than the Bahamian women who did it last year.


 Alec drinking his fruit punch.  We were a little desperate to find a drink he would enjoy since he so recently gave up his bottles... and milk.  He drank three or four of these a day, and ate them with Fruit Loops in the little boxes we got at breakfast.  Yum... sugar bombs!!

 Love this picture of my baby boy.

 One of the places we ate lunch outside.  So relaxing and beautiful.

 Uncle Jimmy holding court with 4 out of 5 Little Libutti Ladies.

 Alec ready to head into the pool

My boy on the beach

 Jenna, ready for dinner.  Her sunburned face made her smiles look like a serial killer's grimace, so I told her to turn her face to the side and don't try to smile.

 Michaela and Olivia, thick as thieves

 The pool had a jumping area at the top, like cliff diving.  
Michaela, Olivia and Jenna were brave enough to try it!
Here's Michaela taking the plunge.

 Walking to breakfast... here's Sophie, Jenna, and Melina all holding hands.  Love it.

 Libutti Girls on the beach taking their own pictures.

Our last morning there... One last picture by the pool.