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April 2010

I'm With The Brand

A couple of thoughts from the last post:

1. I had never noticed that Curious George has no tail and is therefore not a monkey. I'll be damned. 

2. Miss Clavel is apparently spelled with only one L. Whoops. Two Ls.

3. When I read books for myself I just skip along. While I might feel some skepticism as the heroine culminates her wedding night with a crescendo high C (AHEM) I don't dwell on it. I just think, "Suuuuuuure she did, Lord Darkesmere" and I read on. Depending upon the book I could not tell you five minutes after I am done the names of any of the characters or what happened to them or why. However after reading Goodnight Moon a couple of hundred dozen times I know that I find the babydoll on the bookshelf creepy and I am amused that the picture of the three bears includes the picture of the cow jumping over the moon. You can explore a text much more thoroughly when there are less than 300 words to consider and you are forced at scream-point to repeat it ad infinitum.

I enjoyed your comments very much; I love the fact that you are all unfailingly courteous to each other and me; and in summation, Kate put it best when she observed, "I think maybe reading picture books leaves too much time for thinking." 

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Patrick's bedtime is eight which means he can generally be corralled into his room by 8:20 at which point he does... stuff and as long as it doesn't become too loud or we smell smoke or anything we leave him alone. Now that the Legos have moved to his room and he has the ability to harness the awesome power of six AA batteries he mostly builds robots but occasionally he branches off into more delicate arts like comic writing.

This floated down from over the banister last night and it made me laugh aloud.

Click here

I find him very witty except in the morning on school days when I find him INSANELY exasperating.

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I spoke with the woman who did his PT evaluation and then her written assessment came in the mail a few days later. He has average balance and ok strength and no ability whatsoever to perform any action requiring bilateral coordination. She noted that with a variety of these tasks he thought he was doing what she had asked but when he looked down he would be, like, oh, wait, my feet aren't moving, are they? From tapping his fingers to jumping-jacks Patrick's left side has no idea what the right side is doing and his top might as well be in Calgary while his bottom visits Peru. She thinks he might benefit from OT as well as PT and I am trying to set up an OT evaluation for him while we wait for our insurance company to decide whether or not an inability to play the drums (or the piano. or fence. or polka) is a medical emergency.

In the meantime I feel tremendously liberated. For six years I have dutifully hauled this child to swimming lessons only to wonder what the thrashing thing was in the shallow end: a marlin on the line? Why no! That would be Patrick. And we have conscientiously upgraded him from big wheel to tricycle to inherited bikes with training wheels and then extra training wheels only to have him sit there and then fall over. 

It's nice to know that it is not simply a matter of try. There is no try. So it is to be hoped that our insurance company whom I love (what the hell - Health Partners, I love you) will spring for a little help for the kid whose brain fires differently and if not we will try to figure something out. 

On a vaguely related note: what do you think about trampolines? I mean the modern trampoline with the high protective sides and covered springs, not the pinchy defenestrators of my girlhood. I cannot believe I am even considering it but we have a line on one for Patrick for his birthday and I am trying to decide if this is crazy. On the one hand he would love it. Loooooooooove it. On the other I do not want him to break his neck. 

Please advise.

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Jan just left a couple of questions on the last post and because I am sitting here and I like Jan and I didn't have a next point in mind I might as well answer her now.

Caroline's skin is better, thank you, and yes it mostly just cleared up on its own. She does have a stubborn eczema patch on her chin at the moment, though, and the keratosis pilaris is as awful as ever. Edward has smooth, soft baby skin that you (well, I) want to snuffle but poor Caroline's arms and legs feel like sandpaper. Nothing we can do about it apart from coating her with moisturizers (futile by the way; it's like dropping a teaspoon of water into a desert) and I am just glad that the outbreaks on her face have eased. 

Patrick's school is terrific. Awesome. Perfect. He is like a different child from last Fall. He feels good about himself and it affects everything and everybody. I think they have a truly great (a once-in-a-lifetime-great) teacher who walks that tricky line between educator therapist arbiter and substitute parent that second graders need and the kids all like and respect him and each other.

I am much less concerned about the academics than the social stuff but I notice that Patrick is blooming there too. They do such fun things. Spelling is always interesting. More than half the time they get to pick their own words and then incorporate them into whatever the weekly assignment is. This week one of his classmates made it up: they have to create silly definitions for ten words and then draw pictures of the real definitions. My favorite from Patrick this week was elver, which he defined as an elevator that doesn't go anywhere. He drew a long line of people stretching away from an elevator while the guy inside it looks annoyed. Then he drew a little eel saying 'goo'.

I think the point of their math is to extend themselves and get them used to getting things wrong a lot. Patrick used to get upset when he made mistakes but now he just shrugs and says something successories like "Get some right, get some wrong." They are plotting xy coordinates this week and had to create pictures, plot them, figure the coordinates and then have their classmates try to use the coordinates to recreate the pictures.

No one was more surprised than I was to discover I have a dormant love for the equation of a line because I got all excited when Patrick was trying to make his dinosaur work on graph paper and I went on and on and ON about slopes and the y-intercept until Patrick extended his palm toward me (still a gesture of his that amuses me) and told me, "Yeah no doubt but we don't need to know anything you have just said."

Fine. But I still think it is like magic.

So thank you for asking and Patrick's school is terrific and I continue to be grateful on a daily basis that this was an option for him.

What was the third thing? Oh, therapy. Patrick's or Edward's? I talked to the scheduler today while Edward was with his speech person (actually he has two - his therapist proper and then a student who has been following her for the past several months) and we started putting physical therapy appointments on the calendar for Patrick in anticipation of a positive response from our insurer. He would start in mid-May and then we are trying to get an OT evaluation scheduled for June. She laughed as we tried to piece something together for both kids that would not have me ferrying them back and forth all week and she said, "You will be getting everything we offer at this point."

Bring it on. We are all about the therapy over here even if we are sometimes a little late to the party. I know why I did not want to pursue Patrick's coordination issues sooner (I wanted to focus on getting him into a school setting that would work for him without clouding the waters with his Other Problems - whether this was right or wrong of me I have no idea and I was not even aware that I had been doing this until I realized that I relaxed about school and instantly thought, "OK now about the drowning...") and I just hope that the delay will not prove too unfortunate.

Edward, meanwhile, is doing very well in speech and is continuing to work on not dropping his end sounds in the middle of a sentence. Like he can say "Up" with a lovely plummy "puh" at the end but if he says "Up Clouds" (for example although why would he?) he says Uh Cowds.

Steve went to get Caroline up from her nap yesterday and discovered that she had removed all her clothing and her diaper without unsnapping, unbuttoning or unzipping anything . She is like an eel (or an elver.) She is also - and I know everyone always says this about their little girls but I only have the one so... - OH MY GOD Caroline is such a drama queen/princess/empress/pharoah. She is so actress-y. Every gesture with her is enormous as if she wants to make sure they are getting it all the way in the cheap seats. She droops. She swivels her eyes about like expensive hi-beams. She languishes. She trills.

"Oh sunshine!" she exclaims as she flings her arms wide as if to embrace a beam of light and then, turning to her audience of me and the cat she continues, "Sunshine makes me smiling." She's just so consciously precious. Patrick and Steve eat it up, by the way. Edward and I are more immune.

While singing Doe a Deer the other day she stopped herself - twice - and said, no, no it's not good enough. I could not decide if she was doing a Do Re Mi/ Sing medley or if she was having a perfectionist prima donna moment or both. Fortunately (and perhaps not coincidentally) I was filming her at the time so we can all ponder the question together.

Roll 'em.

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In the span of three days I ripped the knees out of both pairs of my favorite jeans. This prompted a minor crisis when I went to buy the same jeans again and discovered that they have changed them enough to make them dreadful. OK. In the spirit of full disclosure I will acknowledge...

I wear Lands End petite (petite as in I have short legs) pajama bottoms to bed every night and a few months ago I realized that the pajamas I have had for years were all skimming above my ankle bones. It seemed unlikely that they had shrunk after so much time so I came to the conclusion that I have grown taller. I believed it and I mentioned it to Steve in all sincerity. I pointed to the highwater PJs and said I know it is unusual for a person in her late thirties to grow an inch but what else could it be? Steve kept a perfectly straight face and said, "Ah?" and I strode majestically away.

Days later I realized that there is actually another alternative: namely, that my derriere and hips have increased enough over the past year that they are hoisting my pajamas upwards.

I returned to Steve with this possibility and he laughed until he choked. Then he caught his breath and starting laughing all over again.

So! It is possible that it is not the jeans that have changed. In any event I tried on a few pairs and realized I would no longer be purchasing this brand and style. Which left me completely effed because have you SEEN how many jeans there are out there? I used to wear Levis as a child and then I wore Guess and then I wore Levis again and then I wore Gap and then I wore J Jill and now... I am back to Levis again. Curvy. Levis curvy jeans for the woman who thinks she might be growing taller. I like them and I bought three pairs and I hope I am done with jean shopping forever but my quest begged a question and I am asking you because I assume you know.

While I was looking for jeans I wondered if I should be looking for more *Nina Garcia pursed lips* appropriate clothing for my age. Granted I just drive children around but it might be nice to wear something other than solid color tshirts all the time. I looked around for shirts that might be more interesting or pretty or something and I discovered that I sort of like the peasant blouses and the frilly tunics but... and here is my question... I think they were all in Juniors. What does a woman my age wear that is casual but not too young, do you know? Can I wear the fun smock-y things or will people with actual fashion sense sneer at me? I tried to look at Target to get a sense of where the teen section ended and the grown women began but there didn't seem to be a whole hell of a lot between twenty and death.
 
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I think that's it.

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Don't forget the trampoline. 

PS Quicktime for the video. If you want.

PPS Video has problems. Will try to fix.

PPPS I feel like the cameraman with the bottle and stars around my head. Still working on the video which is the size of a jumbotron. The Click Here for Patrick's comic is fixed though.


Shortie

Tracy wanted to see a picture of Caroline when she is really mad as opposed to Cecil B DeMille mad and as it so happens I have a nice anger shot from Sunday.

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Feel free to enlarge it to get the full effect of her set jaw, puffed out lip and lowered brow but I think the annoyance is evident even from here. I took this seconds after she said, "That is IT, Ed-wad!" and hopped off the swing like she was about to go over and clean his clock for him. I have no idea what he had done to enrage her but even with no knees Edward can run like a cake frosted warm when he must; so she never got a chance to clarify things.

Generally when he is being a total total she ignores him, which is good because between the hitting and the hair pulling and the Genghis Khanian need to have all of the toys and Asia and chunks of Europe he can be... trying. Oh and they have completely different taste in books right now so that two year old thing when they want you to read the same book a million times? Involves Edward putting Kitten's First Full Moon on top of Seuss as Caroline puts Seuss on top of Kitten over and over and over while they both say, "READ IT AGAIN?"  

Twins. Twins are good.

The picture also captures the last day of her pigtails (for a while) since I took her to get a haircut yesterday and had them give her a summery bob. I think the new cut makes her look months younger. 

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One of the millions of nice things about Caroline is that she takes direction beautifully so that when I fail to have a camera ready she can usually be talked into performing a re-enactment.

So I asked: What did Mommy do when she turned the corner and found Caroline on the bookshelf?

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Right! She screamed.

And then what did Caroline do?

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Yeah. She thought it was very funny.

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I actually have nothing whatsoever against Winne the Pooh. My childish problem (in that it is entirely emotional and also it started during my childhood) is with Pooh's creator, AA Milne, who behaved like a complete cad to my beloved Wodehouse. When I was 8 years old I read my first collection of Wodehouse short stories (Mulliners) and I promptly became a devoted - one might say rabid and irrational - lifelong fan. After a complicated... oh let's call it a misunderstanding... involving Wodehouse and the Nazis, AA Milne took it upon himself to be a dick about it as publicly as possible. Afterward kindly PG said, "Nobody could be more anxious than myself . . . that Alan Alexander Milne should trip over a loose bootlace and break his bloody neck" and that was enough for me.

Robyn pointed out that Pooh and company live in Hundred Acre Wood not Giant Woods or Enormous Forest or whatever I called it and I have no doubt she is right. I wouldn't know. So that is the deal with me and Poopy the bear. If it weren't for my sworn blood feud I would probably find him charming.

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We inherited nice landscaping from the people who built our house. They obviously knew what they were doing - from the twelve foot tall fence around the vegetable garden to the well-planned flower beds - so for the past seven years we have been content to ride their coattails. Unfortunately we began to realize last year that you cannot just leave a garden to its own devices indefinitely. Bushes get bushier and lawn and beds start turf (hmmm) wars and fewer and fewer irises show up each year and the whole place starts to take on a neglected air. I was not sure what to do about this. I do not garden. I do not know why plants grow or do not grow or anything. Last Fall I took an optimistic pair of hedge clippers to some of the more aggressive shrubs in hopes they would be cowed in the Spring but it just looks like a botanist went homicidal.

So I had one of those epiphanies you get when you hit the bottom of things. Namely: I had been so worried about screwing things up that I have not wanted to touch anything the original owners put it but now it looks so terrible I figured nothing we could do would make it worse. So we just took out the scary overgrown bushes and it looks a thousand times better. Less is more and mulch covers a multitude of sins. Or will cover a multitude if I can find any. Am I crazy or didn't there used to be free piles of mulch everywhere around this time of year? You know when a municipality does tree work and then mulches the wood and leaves it for people? I called our county and talked to a woman who thought I was insane when I asked about this. She did tell me that she had seen bags of the stuff at Home Depot, which is true but also not free. I was sort of looking forward to free.

Right now I am going to take advantage of the brief "nap" period and go back out and tackle the vegetable plot. I think Steve and I must've been mutually depressed last autumn because we clearly did nothing outside before winter. The leaf piles in the garden are three feet high.

So this is more of a postcard than a post but there it is .

As long as I am offending you by bitch-slapping beloved childhood icons I might as well tell you that I hate the book Guess How Much I Love You because I think big nutbrown hare is a complete jerk and that his need to not only compete with little nutbrown hare but one-up him at all times is pathological.

I heartily dislike the drawings in Dr Seuss.

Curious George disturbs me: from the monkey-napping to the pipe to the zoo. But I like the art.

Madeline loses its rhythm halfway through and I have never figured out if Miss Clavell is supposed to be a nun. If yes, why the mademoiselle? If no, why the weird headgear?

And you? Any classics you wish to defend or pummel?

PS I love everything by Sandra Boynton (who ALWAYS scans properly) and the Hobans whose books were both clever and lovely. 

PPS OH! I forgot until I saw Alanna's comment about Boynton and the word "ugly" (I concur by the way) that I do not care for But Not The Hippopotamus. I think it is mean. 

PPPS So you think that the hippopotamus is just shy? And that the other animals - busy as they are drinking juice and trying on hats - are not being deliberately unkind? OK. I accept this. Now is there innocent explanation for why the elephant is not allowed to use the swings and the bunny cannot play basketball? Because those two couplets are even meaner. And both Caroline and Edward automatically say Ewwwwww whenever they hear the word broccoli. Caroline then looks at it with her hands folded and Edward eats a metric ton.


Transactions

I realized that when I have random amounts of cash in my wallet I tend to spend it in pointless little dribbles so I have made an effort to only make an ATM withdrawl with specific things in mind. This has been a good system but it frequently leaves me with nothing but Cheerios in my purse and when I need $2 to accompany Patrick's last minute permission slip and I do not have it.

They're going to the ballet, by the way. When I got the notice I thought about a couple of comments you guys left on the last post, specifically the ones from Betsy and Kathleen, about the merits of ballet training and I am hoping Patrick falls in love with it so he can get a gruff Russian teacher of his own to tell him to straighten his back and pliĆ©, damn him. As for tumbling I thought Victoria summed it up nicely when she said Patrick has been benignly neglected in his current tumbling class, being left to bounce happily but ineptly by himself when it became obvious that he was going to need some pretty specific coaching to improve. Patrick had his last tumble on Thursday and I decided not to sign him up for another session just yet; although he might go back this summer if I can get a different teacher for him. Meanwhile he has been asking to take swimming (the gym and the pool share a building) and I have a credit with the swim place left over from last year when Patrick wound up hospitalized mid-session so I signed him up for a twice a week mini swim camp starting next week. I also called the place that does Edward's speech therapy and they are going to give Patrick an evaluation this afternoon and we'll see what they think. The woman I spoke with said it sounded like he was more of a PT than an OT candidate but we're going to have them assess a broad range of things and see. Oh and for your benefit I want to repeat something from a comment that Aurelia left. She said that rather than doing piecemeal assessments we really should do a complete psychoeducational assessment that looks at the total enchilada of intelligence and achievement and fine and gross motor and whatnot. And she is absolutely right. However our insurance will only cover OT ST and PT stuff so they will pay for the assessment unless it looks at IQ in which case they will not. So there it is. Piecemeal ho for us but I am mentioning it in case you are wondering about a child of yours and have more flexibility.  And thank you, as always, for your thoughts. I always find it enormously helpful when you weigh in and I hope you do as well.

I wasn't sure how to explain that we were going to the place where his baby brother gets speech therapy so he could balance on one foot in front of some total stranger. So I told him that this place has coaches who work one on one with kids to help them develop the skills that allow them to get really good at things like tumbling and soccer and swimming and he said ok. Actually first he explained to me that the way he swims is a deliberate STYLE and then he said ok.    

Where was I?

Oh right, borrowing cash from the littlest godfather. So I needed $2 this morning and I didn't think Patrick's teacher would appreciate an envelope full of the loose change from the car's cup holder. I asked Steve if he had any cash and he said, of course not. So I sighed and he said I guess you have to ask Patrick and I sighed again.

Patrick is loaded. If you were to look at the members of this family and evaluate them solely upon their liquidity Patrick could buy and sell us all, no problem. Caroline and Edward each have a few coins in their piggy banks (courtesy of Patrick. he was feeling generous one day) and I currently have eight dollars in my wallet (I found a ten dollar bill in my coat pocket and used the Bank of Patrick to make change in order to return his $2.) Patrick on the other hand has his coin collection (currently unvalued) his piggy bank that clanks like a knight and the empty box from a Maurice Sendak boxed set literally stuffed full of cash.

For the past seven years he has been collecting birthday tributes, Christmas offerings, just because cards from Nana and the occasional allowance and hoarding it all. Every so often we venture to Target or the Lego store and Patrick considers the possibility of a purchase but then he realizes that if he spent the money he would no longer have the money so... so nevermind.

Recently he saw the latest Lego catalog with the Emporium that features a chandelier and a revolving door and an escalator and he decided he absolutely positively wanted it more than anything. So I said are you sure and he said yes. And I said are you really really sure? And he said yes. So I took him down to the Lego store and they didn't have the damned thing and he was crushed. Then he realized that they did have the other thing he wanted even more than the Emporium, the thing he has wanted for over two years that I have always said was too expensive and for which he was too little anyway: the Lego NXT 2.0 Mindstorm robotics set.

So he paused in his grief over the Emporium and considered the robot. He was tempted but it was a staggering one hundred dollars more than he had intended to spend. What to do? For an hour he debated with himself, assisted by the Lego store personnel who clearly work there because they love Legos and who thought nothing of standing around en masse with a seven year old going over and over the NXT product features while a line of Mall of America shoppers grew long enough to snake outside the door.

It was very sweet actually. At first the Lego store guy tried to talk him out of it because the NXT is not an easy thing to deal with but he took Patrick through his Lego CV (the VW Beatle, the Fire Station) and decided he was up for it. Patrick - and I say this objectively - is amazing when it comes to spatial relationships and construction. He does incredible things with both Legos and paper, which reminds me that his class is working on 3-D cities this week as part of their geometry unit. Each kid has a big sheet of paper upon which they have drawn roads and blocks and then they are using paper to create three dimensional buildings. Patrick dragged me into the classroom to show me his work in progress and I could spot his from across the room; partly because he does really good work and partly because he had a NASA rocket in one corner. When I got closer I saw that he had a small rectangular building a few lots away from the space center and when I got even closer I realized...

"Is that a bathroom?" I asked.

"It is a public restroom, yes."

"Why?"

He looked at me with the pity of a thousand years worth of administrators forced to take stupid questions from the masses during public planning meetings.

"Because people need to go to the bathroom."   

Anyway, the Lego store guys convinced Patrick that the NXT was as cool as he thought it might be and he handed over a billion dollars and he brought home the Mindstorm and that is the last we have seen of him. Robotics. We are now alllllllll about the robotics.

And now where... the point is that Patrick is $300 poorer and although he is very happy with his purchase he - like the rest of the lenders in America - is now a lot more cautious when I come to him with my hand out. When I went to borrow the $2 from him he hemmed and hawed and asked what I needed it for and why I couldn't go to my real bank (his words) and get some and when was I going to return it and in what denominations and what year would the bills be from... I almost dropped kicked him. The end.

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Spring!

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Patrick and I were at the children's consignment store looking for a raincoat for Caroline when he spied a little red cozy coupe car for $20. He told me that Edward and Caroline (who he still tends to call The Babies) would love it and I agreed. He said we should buy it for them. I disagreed. So he begged. He pleaded. He said, "How much joy do you think we would be buying for only twenty dollars."

Only twenty dollars. This from the kid who just a few weeks ago would sooner have parted with a kidney than five quarters but I caved.

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And the short answer is: a lot. A LOT of joy for $20 although it has been more like $19 worth of Edward joy and $1 for Caroline since every time she walks within five feet of the Big Red Cah Edward lets out a scream like a gwythaint and races over hands a'slapping. We are, by the way, working to correct this trait.

I got some good advice from my old friend Carrie (sorry my... my childhood friend who is only six months older than I am) about climbing children. She said you need to help them learn to climb safely and then back off or you will crush their spirits like so many dead ladybugs. This is sort of the exact opposite to the approach I took with Patrick who I wrapped carefully in cotton batting and carried everywhere until he was six but... ok.

I wasn't going to win the climbing battle with Caroline anyway so I have removed deadly and semi-deadly stuff from the counters and I try not to freak out when I find her perched in the kitchen like a pretty pink gargoyle.

I discovered her on top of the breakfast bar and I thought she looked so pose-y with her crossed ankles and flattened palms so I grabbed my camera.

Look cute, I said. She obliged.

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Now look happy, I suggested.

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And show me mad.

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I think she needs to remember to elongate her neck and always find her light but regardless she kills me dead. I know my children are not here just to entertain me but they are sort of.

Total aside: we are not an AA Milne friendly house (an old Wodehouse dispute mainly) and as such the only time Caroline has seen the creatures from the Big Woods are on the waistbands on a diaper. She was interested so I said, "Eh, that is Winnie the Pooh."

"Oh," she said and promptly mangled the name in her mind such that a commercial came on the other day and Caroline shouted, "Oh no, Poopy the Bear! It's a boo-boo trap!"

Like I said, she kills me.

And I digressed so far in this post I no longer remember what I thought it was going to be about. No questions for you today but I always like a nice dialogue so any questions for me? Or each other?

The floor is yours.

PS BIG p.s. I have an ad up right now for a reader who makes gorgeous jewelry and I would love it if you checked out her site. So if you need any additional incentive to pick up your finger and cliiiick I will say please. Please.


Chunky

The other day Edward sat with the back of his head pressed against my chest as he ticked his favorite things off on his chubby fingers, "I yike cars. I yike twains. I yike Cahyine. I yike tucks. I yike books. I yike Cahyine. I yike kitheth." 

"Oh," I said, "may I have a kiss then?"

"No!" he said and laughed. "No kitheth. No haaugs! No yuv you!" Then he laughed again.

My favorite definition of a joke is that it is something which sets up one expectation but then delivers upon another. Provided this meshes with Edward's idea of humor he adores me, otherwise it's going to be a long eighteen years.

I told my mother that Edward is starting to sound like someone who has a severe speech impediment. To the layperson's ear it's as if he has every possible problem all mushed together: omissions, additions, distortions and substitutions; a farmers' omelette of disorder.

"Oh no!" said my mother but I explained that this is actually a good thing, a marked improvement over his past language which sounded like gargling.

Prior to the last couple of weeks he had been making progress in producing isolated sounds and a few key phrases ("Cayhine share!" was beautifully articulated as were critical things like "brok-o-lee peese" and "moh peach yohgut") but as soon as he started to string it all together into sentences he was totally incomprehensible. But he has had another breakthrough and now he is just mostly totally incomprehensible. Huzzah! Progress.

I know it sounds odd when I put it that way but he really is doing very well. He met all of his goals for the first 26 weeks of therapy and his pathologist just gave me his new goals for the next six months. God I love speech therapy. It was terrific for Patrick and it has been terrific for Edward, although he is progressing at a slower rate than Patrick did. Was that an unfair parental comparison? I hope not. At the time it seemed perfectly reasonable to me that Patrick would go from howling like a wolf to interning with NPR in six months but in retrospect it was amazing. Every week Patrick mastered another sound and then he was done. Edward is more languid. However I expect eventually he will speak in perfectly modulated tones and in the meantime it doesn't seem to bother him that he has to keep throwing out different words until we twig to what he needs at bedtime, "Tuck? Yehyoh tuck? Bebee yehyoh tuck pay moom?"

"You want me to bring you the baby yellow truck from the playroom?"

"Oh-TAY!"

I think having Caroline around has helped him because he tends to mimic many of her pet phrases, "That's so funny!" and "That's so silly!" being two of his favorites. Of course Caroline says, "That is just so very silly and funny, Mommy!" and Edward says, "Thasth zho shillee!" but, you know, he gets his point across. He has also taken a copyright on "Hey that's not nice!" which he says to everyone in the house - cats included - at least once a day. Infractions that result in an Edwardian reprimand can range from failure to give him a strawberry (me: Edward loves strawberries and tomatoes but I am 95% sure that both cause him to turn rashy) to sleeping on his train track (cat) to grabbing the box of crayons and running with them to the porch where the perpetrator then thrusts them before slamming the door, knowing that she can open the door again but he cannot (Caroline. obviously.) 

It is the way he says it that slays me. Like it pains him to know that we are failing ourselves when we refuse to read Scarry's big book of cars and planes and whatsits for the fifth time. More pity and sorrow than anger. Personally, I find it reassuring that he has such a true moral compass paired with such a strong sense of his obligation to correct error in others. 

Caroline in contrast is much less worried about our failings and much more interested in perhaps exploiting these weaknesses in order to get us to do what she wants. She's an artful one, she is.

A couple of days ago I discovered that she was walking around with a marble in her mouth.

[MARBLE! in her MOUTH! Aiiiiieeeeeee! Danger danger danger! Choke choke choke! Aiiiieeee!]

So I went to take it away from her and she tried to snatch it back and we sat there tugging at each others' hands with our teeth clenched while we conversed like a pair of dowagers. No vulgar verbal brawling here:

"Give me the marble, sweetheart. It's not safe to play with and I need to put it away. Let me have it please," I said.

"Caroline play with it? Yes? Mommy give it back to Caroline? Please? OK? OK! Great!" Caroline said.

Then, realizing she had the marble in her palm and I did not, she abruptly changed her tactics.

"Mommy and Caroline play hide and seek now? How fun! Mommy you go hide!"

Right. I was going to go hide and, what, leave her with the marble?

I don't think so. But artful, you see. 

I always considered myself a baby person and I still love babies (your baby, for instance) but as Caroline and Edward leave babyhood firmly behind them I find that I am not even the tiniest bit wistful. They were good babies and I enjoyed them muchly and now they are very fun toddlers and I am enjoying that just as muchly. I look forward to what comes next: The Preschool Years, and I imagine Edward's little crayoned sermons and Caroline asking Santa for a set of lock-picks.

*

I am not really sure what the specific plans are for the farm. It had been owned by an elderly woman who raised sheep and kept horses (hence the barns and stables) but there have not been animals on the property for at least a few years. She leased a bit of land to a guy who still waters his cattle at the pond and grazes them on the hillside. Steve and Jeff are looking into whether some of the land can be certified for organic growing since it has been out of agricultural use for over twenty years which should mean that residual pesticides are low. Any farming will be leased out. The woods are enrolled in a program with the Wisconsin DNR and continuing with that was part of the purchase agreement so there is some forestry management. I know that Steve and Jeff will be planting food plots for deer and they have spent the past decade theorizing about the best ways to manage that population but the topic bores me stupid so I know little to nothing about it. There is a trout stream that I am excited about although I am sure that is news to you as I have never before mentioned my affection for fishing. Patrick is anxious to increase his morel empire by expanding operations to a new state and he projects a record haul this year. Every day after school he has been taking his mushroom journal to last year's hot spots and recording soil temperatures. He and Steve are very excited by the warmer than average March followed by the recent rains here and they anticipate an early morel season.

I suggested that they get matching hats saying "Team Fun Guys" and they both thought this was a pretty good idea, which tells you what geeks they are. Seriously.

Speaking of mushrooms I just spent an hour with google trying to figure out if there is any reason why Patrick could not use ebay to sell his dried and vacuum sealed packets of morels and I still do not know. Do you? The state of Minnesota's website has left me very clear on the fact that I am not allowed to cater bar mitzvahs out of this kitchen nor I am allowed to jar and sell mayonnaise but on the topic of virtual lemonade-cum-mushroom stands they are silent.

*

I got my lab results back and my Vitamin D levels are low so that is something. My liver function is also not what I think one would like to see in a healthy person of average habits but I have not yet been able to talk to my doctor; I am just basing this on the numbers they sent me and the normal ranges they listed.

I have been keeping my "headache" journal and it seems obvious to me that the visual ooginess is linked to hormones. A chunk of the month I feel totally fine and a chunk of the month I do not. I find this sort of depressing because what on earth do you do about the fact that you are being poisoned by your own estrogen. I cannot decide whether I should see a neurologist or a - I am laughing as I type this because do they even see non-baby wanting patients? - reproductive endocrinologist. Or maybe my OB? I feel like something is out of whack here.

*

I totally forgot to mention this but I looked into all of your good ideas for getting Edward and Caroline out of the house next year. What I really wanted was a program just like the preschool Patrick started when he was three. So it finally occurred to me to call the wonderful director of his old school and ask her if she might be willing to take Caroline and Edward a little early. She said that she would need to file a variance with the county to allow her to take them before 33 months (they'll be 32 and change on September 1st) but that it was no big deal and that she'd be happy to do it. We discussed being flexible based on whether or not they enjoy it (if either of them - ahem Edward ahem - seem a little young for it we'll just pull him (or her. but him) out and try again later. But! For now the plan is for them to attend preschool two mornings a week starting in the Fall. I am SO excited and I think they will really really like it. Especially Caroline.

*

I have been meaning to get your opinion on this for a while but I couldn't figure out how to phrase it properly. I want to get your thoughts - general and specific - on extracurricular activities and what the point is supposed to be. Here is the deal: Patrick went to a birthday party two years ago that was held at a local gym. He really enjoyed it and every time we drove past the gym he would say that he would like to try tumbling again. So last August I signed him up for a beginning tramp and tumble class and he has been in that class, seven weeks at a time, ever since.

Patrick has a problem with coordinating his large motor movements. Anything that requires him to synchronize big motions with both sides of his body, like pedaling a bike or swimming (or gymnastics) is really hard for him. If we were a family of circus performers this might be a major problem but we're not, so it is not. You know, it literally just occurred to me as I am typing this that we could probably put him in OT and if he ever seems to be troubled by it we probably will. Or should we be more proactive? What do you think, any OT experience to share? Consider that a side question.

One of the things that I liked about the tumbling class is that it seemed to be helping Patrick figure out how to move his limbs. The first two sessions he was like one of those spinning fireworks that send explosions along different points of a circle but by the third session he finally mastered a skill and got a ribbon and he was SO PROUD of himself. Oh, I forgot that part. To get out of beginner tumbling you have to master nine skills and for each one you get a ribbon. So the next session he didn't get any but the session after that he got two in a row and he felt great and I thought well this is working out and then... nothing. He got a new teacher and he stopped making progress.

After a few months I thought maybe I should talk to someone about it so I stopped by the desk and made a complete ass out of myself.

The guy asked politely what he could do for me and I blurted out that my son has been in beginning tumbling for eight months and he has only gotten three ribbons. And I am pretty sure I sounded like I was having a super-special-snowflake moment because the guy looked at me with total disdain and asked, "Well is he having fun?" and I said, "Uh, well, yes" and he said, "And isn't that all that matters?"

So I blushed and said of course of course and slunk back to the corner where I like to sit and watch the three year old class. They're adorable.

But after I thought about it a bit I got sort of defensive. Because, yes, I want it to be fun but I also wanted him to learn some tumbling skills (hence the $135 a session; as Steve said we could put a mattress on the floor of the basement - that'd be fun) and right now all we seem to be teaching Patrick is that he really really truly sucks at tumbling and no matter how hard he tries he continues to suck.

For what it is worth his current instructor is a high school kid and although I think he is very nice I think Patrick's learning curve might have been steep enough to defeat him.

So what I am wondering - and this is the main question because I really welcome your thoughts - is whether it is enough for Patrick to be enjoying his once a week class without any gains in his skill level or if there is some expectation for progress. It seems to me that playing on a soccer team is worthwhile even if you are terrible at soccer because there are things like teamwork and winning and losing and running around and learning to be coached and interacting with others. Do you keep paying someone to teach you Spanish if you never learn a word of Spanish? But if I pull him out of tumbling is that just affirming that I don't think he can do it? Big picture question: why do kids do activities outside of school? Little picture question: what would you do with Patrick? Did I mention that he likes it but he is discouraged by his abilities?


The Bitten Dust

For years - for years and years and years - Steve has talked about wanting to buy what is known, by those who have rather earthy ideas on the subject, as a recreational property. So every few months he has trotted off to northern Iowa or southern Minnesota or western Wisconsin and looked at different places on the market. I used to go with him on these expeditions but I eventually realized that Steve and I need some spaces in our togetherness and one of these spaces is clearly labeled "Farm Shopping."

Since we have been married he has seen and rejected dozens of potential properties and by this point I have kinda gotten used to the nature of his trips:

"What are you doing?"

"Looking."

"Looking for what?"

"A farm."

"Ah."

"Ah."

"Well, shall we go?"

"Yes, let's go."

They do not move.

Nothing ever came of them but it made him happy to look and in the process he got some fresh air and exercise and - once his old college friend Jeff joined him and they decided to buy whatever it was together - the two of them became experts on the subject of tiny rural towns and the bars and motels that exist within them.

In theory I knew that there was a point to all this beyond getting Steve out of the house for an occasional weekend but I admit that I was startled when he and Jeff finally found something they both liked and shocked when they made an offer and - hey look at my face - I am even shocked-er that their offer was accepted. So despite the fact that Steve has been talking about buying something since I met him - in truth there have been times when I wondered if he would ever talk about anything else - I never really believed that I would wind up as half of a half owner of 150 acre farm in Wisconsin. And yet here we are (or there we'll be after closing on the 9th) all farmed up. Steve is so excited he can hardly stand it and I'm... shocked. 

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Surprise! It's a... farm.

Not that I am not also pleased. I am. I recently decided that just because I haven't seen myself as an abstract painter or a motorcycle enthusiast or a recreational farmer's wife in the past does not mean that I cannot be any or all of those things in the future. And the place is pretty in a death comes to the archbishop as Spring comes to the Midwest kind of a way, isn't it?

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There are two houses on the property, both in fair to middling shape; say, somewhere between a House Hunters where an American couple looks dubious and says, "We don't really like the color in the bedroom..." and a House Hunters International where a British couple looks at a pile of stones with a couple of chimneys and a leg bone sticking out of it and enthuses, "It has tremendous potential!"

One of the houses has an organ, which will be nice if we ever decide to rent the place out for funerals.

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And speaking of funerals I was only able to take this picture after I dropped the camera and screamed at Steve to KEEP THE CHILDREN AWAY FROM THE WELL.

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What? Am I the only one who had nightmares after that Little House on the Prairie episode when the kid (not the blind one. not Melissa Gilbert) fell into a well or a mine shaft or whatever it was?

You'll note that not one of them even turned around when I channeled the banshee. Also I guess it is not a well; it's a koi pond. Also it is empty. So crisis averted.

It's not officially ours yet (and theirs. ours plural. ourses) but Patrick is on spring break this week and the place is uninhabited so I suggested that we take the family down to look at it. Kick the tires, poke around the barns. I also thought it would be fun to find a hotel with a pool in kinda nearby La Crosse and see whether it is possible for the entire family to sleep in the same room. We're planning on driving to Vermont this summer and I have gotten varying opinions on whether this is undiluted insanity. While three hours is less than the three days it will take to reach the Green Mountains I thought it might be a nice test case while there is still time to buy airline tickets should the experiment prove to be a horrible disaster.

As it happened the children were perfect. We left after lunch on Tuesday and Caroline and Edward fell asleep while the rest of us listened to Septimus Heap on CD. Then Caroline and Edward woke up and there were trains - actual trains with engines and coal cars and tankers and grain - cruising along their tracks by the river (the big river. the Old Man. Proud Mary) and Edward was, all, hello world! and the half had not been told unto him. We stayed at a hotel which optimistically advertised itself as having an indoor waterpark when  in reality it had a spiral slide that emptied into three feet of water and another midget one that ditto'd into nine inches of etc. Under pretty much any other circumstances I would have been examining my copy of the Fair Trades Act but since three feet and nine inches respectively were the absolute perfect depths for the children it worked out fine.

There was a slight hiccup after the pool when I looked around the room before we went out to dinner and asked, "Where's the blue bag?"

"Right there," said Steve.

"No," I said, "where is the big blue bag with all of the stuff for Caroline and Edward in it."

And then as Steve looked at me blankly I realized that the big blue bag was no doubt exactly where I had left it on the landing outside of Patrick's room, filled with things like pajamas and clothes for the next day and their special blankies and Purple and Green Puppy. And I thought, oh no fucking way. I was already really worried about how Caroline and Edward would manage to fall asleep sharing a room with us and each other. Under normal circumstances Edward falls asleep around 7:30, Patrick passes out at 9:00, Caroline does god only knows what in her crib until 10:30 or 11, Steve falls asleep while reading a book by 11:30 and then I lie in bed reading and eating Peppermint Patties until 1 or maybe 2. So we are not what you might call ideal college roommates. 

For a couple of minutes I hyperventilated and then Steve reasonably suggested a trip to Target or Walmart or wherever which morphed into an even more reasonable trip to the La Crosse Goodwill. It is really hard to go wrong when you are shopping for clothes at $1.99 a pop although if you look at Edward a little too closely in the pictures above you will notice that he looks like a Girl Scout cookie threw up all over him. I was in a hurry and thought maybe the brown and green and aqua... who cares.  We couldn't do anything about Caroline's superspecial pink blanket that she has torn at one seam and turned inside out so she can rub the rough side against her cheek as she sleeps. Nor could we do anything about Edward's Green Puppy who tells him at bedtime how much he loves him and only him... Edward. However, clean clothes and some pajamas we could manage. All hail Goodwill.

Then we went to an inadvertently fancy dinner and apart from a few embarrassingly loud outbursts from Caroline ("I want a salad please!" "I would like some ice cream!" both uttered at the top of her lungs in an otherwise hushed restaurant and neither of which she has ever eaten before in her life) and her fascination with the waiter who she kept trying to engage in conversation ("Look! Do you know what this is?" she said holding up a partially eaten potato and shoving it towards him. "Right! It's a crescent moon!") it was fine. 

Bedtime was stressful as we tried to explain that they needed to go to sleep and Caroline asked, "Where is my pink blanket?" and Edward wailed, "Green Puppy? Green Puppy? Green Puppy?" in an increasing crescendo. Then they realized that they had been stuck into mesh cages (oh, you know, pack n plays) while the rest of us were going to be rolling around on actual beds and they started to freak, a little. 

I am trying to remember moments in my life of actual indisputable brilliance and all I can come up with is this one paper I wrote on a series of Hart Crane poems. It's not much of a legacy but I can now add the time that I put something soothing on iTunes and set the screen saver on my laptop to do a trippy lightshow and flipped it around on the corner of the bed so that Caroline and Edward could see it from their pack n plays. At first they stood and watched. Then they slumped over the sides and watched. I slid the laptop onto the floor and Caroline rolled over and went to sleep and Edward shoved his head as far as he could into the mesh to watch the lights until he fell asleep as well. 

So remember this if you are ever trying to get a little kid to fall asleep in a hotel room and I hope it helps and that is all I have today.

Oh, except for this video of Caroline at lunch singing "Sing" which... good grief she's just so cute and little and cute. I love how she drops her voice to let you know that you don't need to worry if your singing is good enough for anyone else *whisper* to hear. The drama is strong in this one.

PS I know what you're wondering. You are wondering what the hell, Julia? What happened to the year of plagues and locusts and switching from beeswax to tallow? Which column of the austerity budget expanded to accommodate the purchase of a farm or even a half-farm? It's what I'd be wondering if I were reading this and I have one word for you: accounting.