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November 2009
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December 2009

Mostly Ditto

This post is being brought to you courtesy of the good people of Disney and a DVD that we own but Patrick refused to watch - ever - called Little Einsteins and the Something Something. It has sat in dusty obscurity for years but Caroline could watch paint dry (provided the paint was on a television screen, a devilment of which I have no doubt she is more than capable) and Edward likes Rocket, who he calls Air-pane. So I have a few minutes and a pox upon anyone who doubts the solid worth of judiciously applied animation. Patrick finally watched this with Caroline and Edward the other night, by the way, and when the irritating nasal girl who sings flat said, "Met-a-mor-pho-sis. Can YOU say... metamorphosis?" Patrick replied "Yes but why would I want to?" He had a point. It's a very silly show (although the line "Let's all clap for Rimsky-Korsakov! Clap clap clap!" is awesome.)  

I did not mean to stop communicating with the outside world but I now spend anywhere from two to three hours a day shuttling back and forth to/from Patrick's school and although I am pretty sure an hour of that is coming from time I formerly spent asleep, the rest of it is stolen directly from my stash of self-indulgence minutes. I miss sleep and sitting in a car for hours when I have guests coming and presents to wrap and phyllo to butter is enough to make a person weep... but it is not all bad.

As Patrick and I trundle along we get to talk about his day and my day and we listen to our book and that aspect of the commute is actually more pleasant than anything. After years of failing to understand the allure of recorded books I am now their devoted slave. This morning Patrick and I finished the second book in the Cressida Cowell Viking series (delightful - thank you for the recommendation) and after a few dull days in which I moped after Patrick had gone into school wondering why I had to wait for the boy to listen to the rest of the story I got the first of the Aubrey-Maturin series out of the library on CD and I listen to that in his absence. I am learning that books I like to read and those I like to have read to me are not the same thing. The O'Brian books, for example, I love but I think they are a little much to follow in the car. Something frothier would be better (suggestions appreciated) but the Regency with which I also idle away time is completely out of the question as I would die from embarrassment the first time the hero strips to the waist so maybe something less frothy than that (suggestions appreciated?)

On a normal day I should be able to drive Patrick and still function but the smallest setback - like Edward's four days last week of mysterious high fevers that resulted in his inability to nap and almost constant crying - leaves me surrounded by piles of unsorted laundry and pasta for dinner again. I'm sure we'll all adjust eventually but the last few weeks have been struggle.

In the meantime I have missed you and thought often of the things I would be telling you about if I only had access to space age voice recognition technologies or - failing that - a scribe. Like I have been dying to mention my amusment/irritation with these ridiculous midget traffic circles (or roundabouts as they call them in London and here in the eastern suburbs, also known as Littler Than London or the London of the Outer Edges of a Mediumish City in the Upper Midwest) that have recently been installed (erected?) all over our previously rural county. It's like Springfield and the monorail and I suspect some smooth-talking modern day Lafayette conned many a city council into turning four-way stops into the tiniest circles you have ever seen.

Two problems with this:

1. The distance between the spokes is at most ten feet so there is no way for a person to manoeuvre from lane to lane without squashing someone and;

2. This is Minnesota where people are not only nice but they need to be perceived as being nice; therefore it is a land full of drivers who are desperate to yield the right of way at all times

I grew up in DC (a well-circled city) and learned from my older brother that the only possible way to handle a traffic circle is as aggressively as possible, driving as fast as you can in the direction you want to go. I cannot tell you the number of times I have approached one of these itty-bitty farm circles during our new commute only to find all of the cars stopped - the ones trying to get into the circle and the ones trying to get out; all cheerfully waving their hands like idiots "You go ahead!" "Ohhhh no no, YOU go!"

I waver between wanting to pat their heads and wanting to smack the tuna salad out of them. Either way I take comfort in knowing that they'd get eaten alive trying to get onto the mean streets of Chevy Chase.   

My family is coming tomorrow and staying for the week. I am very excited but slightly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things I have left to do before they come. Beds need to be made and towels need to be folded and we have no cookies or fudge and I thought I might try my hand at a yeast danish for Christmas morning and I have made all sorts of fillings for things that I have not yet made to fill.

So I'll wrap this up with a couple of pictures from yesterday and my very best wishes for a happy end to your year.

Edward taking 200% more interest in football than Patrick ever did


Edward's preferred tantrum (amusing I think. he's so... Prussian)


Caroline plotting something


Finally, a virtual card - although all three of them look a little deranged when happy (is it unloving to think that the seven year old toothy and yet toothless grin is slightly unpleasant?): Merry Everything to you and yours from me and mine


And A Tub Of Hot Fudge

One week into the new school and - not to be jinxy - Patrick is like a different person. Not just a different person from the anxious/resentful kid of last week but a different person from the angry/bored/anxious/resentful mess of a child who had been developing over the past few months.

Let me back up.

I liked our old school quite a bit. We will most likely send Caroline and Edward there. I think lots of different kinds of kids with lots of different kinds of learning styles would thrive there. Unfortunately Patrick was not one of them; although it took me (and Steve, but the children and their day-to-day'ness fall under my purlieu) a while to recognize this.

I knew that Patrick was becoming more and more irritable. I knew that we were having a hard time with him. Even my mother (who adores him) noticed that he was remarkably crabby during her last visit. But I didn't know whether this was just the age or his personality or what. In retrospect I think that Patrick was having a miserable time in school (on all levels) and the worse it got the less he talked and the angrier he became. As the weeks went by I realized that something, whatever it was, was seriously wrong and I started considering that maybe his school was part of the problem. I had met with them in October when they reported that his eyes were glassing over and his tongue was hanging out during math. I suggested he needed harder work; they suggested he needed more self-discipline. I promised to talk to Patrick about being less of a marmot and they promised to look into the fact that... oh to pick just one... he had been attending the wrong spelling class for two weeks but no one had noticed. Or that he (this is true) left entire pages of math worksheets unfinished except for doodling the page numbers into various lengths of pi - they did four straight weeks on the value of currency and how much Miguel had left after he bought a peach; Patrick has been a coin collector since he was four, you decide how much he enjoyed this. Or that he had asked for a more difficult just-right reading book but been told no, so the following week he brought home not one but two Dr. Seuss books (when challenged by me over this choice he pointed out that it was The Cat and the Hat COMES BACK - so, really, much more scope than the original.) Where was I? Oh, right looking into alternative schools for him. You know, I have been asked by a lot of people over the years whether we found it worthwhile to have our kid tested (Patrick has done WISC WIAT and SB-V) and prior to this my response has been mixed. I, personally, found it soothing and it has been occasionally helpful with the school but I had not yet found testing to be particularly actionable, if you know what I mean. However, as Patrick's year rapidly deteriorated (remind me to never tell you about the worst parent-teacher conference in history - there was shouting [Patrick's] mortification [mine] and malevolence [no comment]) I was very grateful that we had actual data to discuss when I called people in various districts seeking counsel. It's one thing to talk about your snowflake's unique pattern; it's another to say these are his numbers what do you suggest? The overwhelming consensus was to see if what-is-now-his-new-school would be willing to make a space for him; otherwise our district (Patrick's old school is not in our district) was willing to bump him from second grade into a third grade cluster for the latter half of the year at our neighborhood school and then take him into their magnet next year (they start in fourth grade.) I can imagine many children do well with grade skipping (Steve did) but I doubt that Patrick would be one of them. He's young and he's young - late June birthday plus general late social blooming - and it is hard to imagine him with kids a year older. 

So that was the deal, mostly, and those were the options and so far the new school is working out better than I had even hoped. Patrick comes home in a genial mood and he is excited again. Actually he might be a little too excited. Over the weekend they had to come up with an experiment and share it with the class. Patrick wanted to make rock candy, so he did and it went over well. Giddy with success and fired with scientific curiosity Patrick paused in the middle of putting away his clothes last night and contemplated the electrical outlet in his room. What would happen - he wondered - if he placed a quarter on the prongs of the nightlight as it was pulled only partially from the socket... OH MY GOD! Patrick accidentally started an electrical fire in his room last night and scared us so badly we took turns yelling at him and himself enough that he continued to sob off and on for an hour. This morning I found him packing the blackened quarter and the half-melted nightlight into a sandwich bag in order to bring it into class to share the dire consequences of his latest experiment.

Speaking of cautionary tales, Peeks left this comment yesterday:

"It is rather a shame that our heroine was cooked and eaten following the soon-to-be infamous Julia / Twin City meetup.

But a Cautionary Tale for our times will be born."

I forwarded this to Steve who replied that reports of my death have probably been greatly exaggerated. When I initially told him I was going to meet the internet and asked him to meet me there afterward just in case anyone wanted to murder me he was scornful. "Why," he asked, "would anyone want to kill you; they don't even know you." I thought this was rude because it implied that the scenario might be different if they actually did know me.    

He was right though. I went out and met chunks of the local internet and not one person tried to kill me. Not even a little bit. It was fun although it reminded me slightly of my wedding. We invited about sixty people when we got married and before the event I looked forward to catching up with all kinds of old friends. When I did the math, however, I realized that speaking to each person for three minutes would take up three solid hours. Five minutes and the party is over and I haven't even had cake. The internet gathering felt like that. I wanted to talk to everyone but I failed. It was fun, though. It was great to get out and fascinating to meet completely new people and then Steve picked me up and the two of us went for an early birthday (his birthday is today - Happy Birthday Steve) sushi. I think I will do it again and I think next time we'll go bowling. I like bowling as I like most of the beer sports.

Moving on, I want to talk about presents because I am dying over here. I have gotten one (1) present for one (1) person (Edward) and then I have a stack of scribbled notes with question marks to denote that I have a gift idea but I am either not sure if it is a good idea or I am sure it is a good idea but I don't know where to get it or not sure it is a good idea and also not sure where to get it.

So as always around this time of year I am soliciting suggestions and offering my own:

Caroline - Caroline likes Patrick, dancing, pulling bread knives from countertops, and answering my rhetorical questions ("Where did I put the phone?" I mutter. "I don't know!" squeaks a voice from the region of my kneecaps.) She also keeps draping things around herself, like hand towels and bibs and anything she can rummage from the laundry basket. I am thinking about getting her a set of dress-up clothes, preferably something with a few different pieces. Any thoughts on where to get something toddler friendly (internet preferred)? Also I think she would like one of those dolls that you get to snap and button and lace and zip - you know what I mean? And maybe something in a play clock? Finally, I thought she and Edward could get a toy kitchen for their big present. I have looked online but the sheer volume of choice has staggered me. I want it to be, you know, fun and big enough for two kids to play with simultaneously. Any suggestions?

Edward - Edward likes Matchbox cars and Thomas the Train cars and school buses and airplanes and dump trucks and giant excavators and helicopters... and music. He likes pretending to feed people and things. He likes to count when we go up the stairs and he likes to identify letters when we read books. As an aside I have been trying to work with him from the sheets his speech therapist gave me and he finds this HILARIOUS. He says "Uh" and I say "Uh-PUH, Uh-PUH" as I pull my hand away from my mouth with the p sound just like she taught me and Edward literally falls over with mirth. I think I am doing it wrong.

The only present I have gotten so far is for Edward and it is this remote controlled car (well similar - I got the police car) because Patrick has one he built out of Legos (oh! that was a good present for a seven year old. I'll link it although I think you can do better on the price than Amazon) and Edward will lie on his stomach and watch Patrick drive that car around for hours.

Any other thoughts for two year olds? How about seven? I think Patrick will get a portable chess set (any chess people out there? any nice sets to recommend that aren't too nice?) and some Legos. Board games? I find that I am stuck in 1976 when it comes to games for children: Sorry, Life (which is a terrible game; remember how you would get mad if you wound up being a teacher and you only won if you got to be a doctor or lawyer? what the hell was that about?) Clue and Monopoly... any newer family games to consider?

For nephews three through seven I am thinking about one of the wonderful capes from BeeBee Bug and/or subscriptions to Lego Club (you get a "magazine" - I think it is a big ad but whatever - and a new small Lego set delivered every two months for a year; that's cool) and/or subscriptions to one of the Cobblestone magazine (they have lots of different ones that are great and kids of a certain age always love their own mail.)      

Oh! I almost forgot. I have three featured readers over the next week or two whose ads I will be rotating on the sidebar and I would love it if you check out their stuff. Shawna is a photographer with exceptionally lovely things for sale here. Grandpa Ernie (his daughter is a reader and helps run his etsy shop) makes THE MOST BEAUTIFUL wooden toys for sale here. And Scrollwork Designs has jewelry for sale here that makes me chew my thumb in greed.

So, how goes your holiday shopping and what has you excited this year?

PS What can I say? I LIKE buying presents.