"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Monday, October 31, 2011

halloween, and, 'peech therapy

It all started back in September. "I think I want to be a cheetah for Halloween," he said. "Oh, yeah? Why's that?" "Because cheetahs are the fastest land animals on the planet. So that's what I want to be." And I thought it was decided. I'd get a yellow hooded sweatshirt and some yellow sweat pants, draw some spots, add a couple of ears and a tail, and Voila!, Halloween Costume: Done. As soon as Max heard that we were turning into Wild Animals, he was all over it: "And I be a baby tiger and get candy!" Easy enough. Swap out the yellow sweats for orange and the spots for stripes and there are two easy DIY costumes.

But then a few weeks later, we were reading a book about Big Cats and we came across the elusive and mysterious jaguar. The next morning at breakfast, Evan put his head in his hands and said, "Oh, I Just. Don't. Know." It was a school morning, so I said, "I do! You'll have a GREAT day at school today, hon!" "No, no, no," he answered, "I just don't know whether I should be a cheetah or a jaguar. Cheetahs are the fastest land animals on the planet, but jaguars are So Cool. And powerful. And sneaky." I shrugged my shoulders and told him that he had plenty of time to figure it out. Nothing to worry about.

And then we read the rainforest book.  "Oh, man. I just REALLY don't know what to be. I mean, cheetahs are fast and jaguars are powerful, but ocelots are aMAYzing! They can jump and climb and THEY LIVE IN TREES." At this point, it was the end of September and I was going to need an answer in the next few weeks so I could draw the appropriate spots on the yellow sweats, but I didn't want to rush him...he was in clear mental anguish over the decision. And so, I assured him that all of the choices were good ones and that he'd make the right choice. Meanwhile, Max was just thrilled to talk about his baby tiger costume and all the trick-or-treating he was going to do.

The first of October came and went and I told Evan that I was going to order the sweatsuit. "So, just to be sure, you want to be a cheetah, a jaguar, or an ocelot, right? So I'm going to order a YELLOW sweatsuit, right? And then you can figure out the spots later?" "Right," he said, "Yellow." The place I was going to order them from was out of stock in yellow in his size, and it's a good thing: A week later, Evan came home from school So Excited about a book he found in his classroom. "And the Most Amazing Thing in the book was about an Amazing Animal. And it's what I want to be for Halloween. A Snow Leopard."

Snow Leopard. So....white sweats? Okay. I let his decision sink in for a few days and then triple-/quadruple-checked before pushing the Submit button on the online order form. But as soon as he saw that creature in the book he knew and he didn't once waiver....and he was just about the cutest snow leopard this planet has ever seen:

And, try not to melt, but here's the baby tiger:

And there was an unexpected benefit to Evan's Costume Choice: It provided a valuable teachable moment in his unofficial Speech Therapy. Last year, Evan's preschool teacher recommended that he be evaluated by a Speech Therapist. He was. She noticed what we all do, that he drops or replaces a lot of initial consonants in words with initial /s/ blends (i.e. smoothie becomes "poothie," small becomes "pall," stop becomes "top," snake becomes "take," and snow becomes "coe") but thought it was largely developmental and did not recommend therapy at this time. We did, however, take the information and realized that it was time that we stopped thinking how adorable it was when Evan requested a Poothie, or referred to Captain Hook's right-hand man as Mr. Pee, and start trying to correct some of his speech errors. 

We started by just repeating his mistakes and emphasizing the correct pronunciation. So, for instance, when he would say, "Max! Top!" I would say, "Max, Evan is asking you to please SSSStop." Or when he would say, "Mom, can we make poothies?" I'd say, "Sure, we can make SSSSSmmmmmoothies!" And he'd look at me like I was a little loony and didn't seem to catch my drift. So, we became a little more direct: "Actually, Ev, his name is Mr. SMee, not Mr. Pee." And then he'd say, "I can say it however I want."


And then, the costume. One day a few weeks ago, we were playing outside with the neighbors. Three of us moms were standing together and Evan came over. "Evan!" one of the moms greeted, "What are you going to be for Halloween?" "A coe leopard!" Evan answered enthusiastically, but was met by a brief moment of silence before I stepped in, "A SNow leopard! Yup, he's going to be a snow leopard!" To which the moms oohed and ahhed over his wise decision. I don't know if it was embarrassment that his mom had to step in and speak for him, or maturity....he realized now what I had meant when I had previously tried to explain that if you don't say things correctly, people might not know what you mean. But whatever it was, something clicked that afternoon. "SSSSSS-NNNNNNN-OOOOOO leopard!" he repeated over and over until it became automatic. Since then, when he mispronounces a word, we repeat it with emphasis and he slowly sounds it out until he can say it loudly and proudly. Such a big boy.

So the boys donned their Wild Animal suits tonight, grabbed their Trick-or-Treat buckets and some umbrellas, and headed out in the cold and the rain to score some loot.

Evan thoughtfully gave some of his Skittles to Grandpop to enjoy "after dinner tomorrow," and Max shed some tears when I finally said, "No more candy tonight, baby." But, overall, it was a Happy Halloween for two of the cutest, SSSSSNNNNNuggliest, Wild Animals ever.

Lesson Learned:
And the best part for Mom: we sorted out the unsafe candy to trade with The Great Pumpkin for toys...which means that ALL of those Reece's Peanut Butter Cups and Kit-Kat bars? They're all mine, baby.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

preschool diaries: let the bribery begin!

Preschool is going well. Evan is happy when I meet him in his classroom after school. He is bringing home stories to tell and artwork to hang on the fridge, and he is participating in classroom activities (well, most of them: they go to a Music and Movement class each week that Evan Does Not Like. He doesn't like the singing, the interpretive dancing with scarves, or the Participation Stamps the kids get on their hands at the end of class. He thought the solution to avoiding having dirty ink on his hands was to sit on the sidelines during class and refuse to play along. The teacher greeted him with a cheerful, "Oh, that's okay! EVERYone gets a stamp!" which was NOT okay with Evan.).

But preschool is going well....for the most part. School mornings are still pretty sad and drop-off had gotten completely out of control: I was walking Evan into his classroom, helping him unpack his things, helping him to "get settled" in one of the Open Centers, and then *trying* to say goodbye. But then his eyes would fill up with tears, his bottom lip would start to quiver, and I found myself unable to leave. So I'd try to help him find a different center, I'd back away towards the door, and he'd follow me. I'd give him one more hug, an "I'll miss you, too, but you'll have FUN!", and I'd try to sneak out while the teachers attempted to distract him with a Special Job. It was tough.

But then, on Monday, we hit rock bottom. It was the classic scene: a sobbing child (and teary mommy) (and squirmy "I walk now all by MYself, MOMMY!" 2-year old) who needed to be PEELED off me by the teacher. It was awful. After I wrangled the Wild Thing across the parking lot and composed myself in the car, I called Sam to figure out what to do. We couldn't figure it out. "I'm sure he's fine now, though," Sam said, "it's just the saying goodbye that is so hard for him." And he was right. I called the school ten minutes later and asked the assistant director to go and check on him. He was fine...participating happily in an ART PROJECT of all things. And at pick-up time? Happy as a clam.

And so the brainstorming began. How to ease the transition between Mommy and School, if school itself isn't the problem?

Both the teacher and my sister suggested Happy Drop-Off "Incentives," aka: Give the kid candy after school if there are no tears at The Goodbye. The promise of something special would help soften the transition, and it could easily be scaled back once the problem diminished.

Since yesterday, we have talked a lot about our new morning routine. I would walk Evan into the classroom, help him to unpack his things, and give him a kiss goodbye. Then, HE would find a center to play at, or he could choose to "just walk around," or ask his teacher for help finding an activity. If there were no tears, a piece of Halloween candy would be waiting in his carseat after school. This morning, every time he said that he felt sad about going to school, I corrected him. "You don't feel sad about going to school. You like school. You have fun at school! You tell me everyday that you wish you could stay at school longer. What you feel sad about is Saying Goodbye. And you're allowed to feel sad about that. Saying goodbye is hard. I'm going to make that hard part easier by letting you have a piece of candy after school if we can say goodbye without tears."

It felt wrong to say that, but I'm learning that sometimes, a Quick Fix in parenting is the right fix. You don't always have to psychoanalyze every anxiety or worry or tantrum. You don't always need to get to the bottom of an issue and fix it from the inside out. Sometimes you just need to break a bad habit cycle, which is what we were in. And sometimes, to break a cycle, you need to introduce a distraction, which is what the candy was...a Distraction.

And it worked!

It helped that we were able to sit in traffic on the way to school and watch the road-paving crew and their cool trucks get to work. And it helped that, due to the traffic caused by the road-paving crew, we were late to school...which meant that, instead of entering the noisy, not-yet-settled classroom with the rest of the class, we walked in to the quiet hum of ten kids playing happily at their centers. And, it helped that both of his teachers met Evan at the door with great big smiles and a welcoming "Look what we're doing today, Buddy!" And there wasn't a single tear.

(Until I told Max that he wasn't allowed to run across the parking lot without holding my hand.)

Lesson Learned:
The parenting experts may not agree that resorting to bribery was the Right thing to do, but it worked today and will hopefully work for the next few school days. And then, when we're in a Happy Drop-Off cycle, we can scale back the treats and just focus on the Happy.

When I picked up my smiling, happy, Just Rescued A Daddy-Long-Legs From The Dangerous Playground, kiddo, I praised him mightily for having such a great day. And when I gave him his Life Saver Gummy Mummies, he looked up at me and said, "It was scary at first, but then, I think I learned my lesson." We both did, buddy, and we will keep doing so as the lessons continue to change.

Friday, October 21, 2011

he draws

Evan is a Tool Man. He is a builder. He is a truck driver. He is an animal rescuer. He is a natural scientist and an "Experiment Maker." He is an imaginer. He is a story teller. 

But Evan is not an artist. 

It took me awhile (four and a half years?) to get used to this difference between us. I am a doodler by nature and I best express myself on paper (or computer). It was hard for me to understand why a child wouldn't naturally want to color or doodle or just simply put marker to paper. But Evan just didn't. 

I wasn't concerned about his apparent lack of the Artist Gene....he certainly expresses himself very creatively in other ways...but I was growing concerned about his fine motor development. Sure, he has a lot of practice on a daily basis manipulating small objects, etc., but there are important pre-writing skills that just need to be developed with writing instrument in hand. Would he be able to keep up with the rigors of kindergarten without having those skills developed? (And I can't believe that I, again, had to write the words "rigor" and "kindergarten" in the same sentence.)

But, in true Evan fashion, his time came.

Several weeks ago, Evan greeted us in his preschool classroom with a surprise. "Close your eyes, Max! I drew you a picture!" I gasped. Audibly. It was the first time, the FIRST TIME, he has ever drawn a picture without me forcing encouraging him to. Max clapped in anticipation of the gift to come.

It's a picture of Max.
Notice the attention to detail: the ears, the hair, the shoes on the feet. "And are those Max's eyebrows?" I asked, pointing. "Nope," he said, "Those are his windshield wipers." He pointed his fingers down over his eyes and swished them back and forth, "EE oo, EE oo, EE oo."

We were so stunned, so impressed by this gift that we laid it on pretty thick. We hung the picture on the fridge and admired it often. And so...the drawings have continued to come home from school (he still has zero interest in our own fully-stocked art cabinet, but, whatever). 

This one is an excavator. You can tell by the caterpillar treads:

And this is a Shark Submarine. It's a research vessel that uses shark powers to travel to the deepest part of the oceans to study whales (shown in pink).

And then there have been teacher-directed art projects. This one is my favorite, and is STILL hanging on the fridge.

He was in charge of the cutting, gluing, and !!! FINGER PAINTING.

Lesson Learned:
Progress! I am LOVING watching this kid take his time and find his stride. Because he Always. Does.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

REPOST: a new vocabulary

BlogHer is teaming up with Anderson Cooper, CNN, Facebook, and others to help spread the word against bullying. The online movement is called Stop Bullying: Speak Up and encourages people to take action and Step In and Speak Up when they are witness to bullying. 

I originally posted this in May, but I think it deserves to be posted again in line with this campaign...and because as much light as is being shed on the subject by this and the "It Gets Better" messages directed at LGBTQ youth, for some kids, it's NOT getting better...and more lives are being lost. 

Also, if you want to take the pledge to join the movement, you can find Stop Bullying: Speak Up on Facebook or just click on the widget on the right side of this page to take the pledge now. 

I was in sixth grade. One of the girls in my class approached a group of about six of us on our way to the cafeteria and told us about a game we were going to play at lunch. She was going to tell a bunch of nonsense jokes and we were all supposed to laugh hysterically. The game was to see if The Target, another girl in our class, would laugh, too. The theory was that this girl was such a follower of our Super Coolness that she would laugh, too, even though she couldn't possibly Get the jokes. And the game would prove, unnecessarily, that we were cool and funny and The Target was a Loser. Unnecessarily, I say, because our 11-year old minds had already been made up about this girl.

If someone had questioned my involvement in the "game" that day in sixth grade, I would have brushed it off and said that we were just playing a joke. Just teasing. Was it bullying? Nope. Bullies are tough, mean boys who rough you up on the playground and trade your milk money for a black eye. But I would have been wrong. I regretted my involvement almost immediately, and we never played a game like that again.  I didn't think the girl held a grudge against us for our behavior--she did, after  all, invite us to her birthday party later that year. But if that day is seared so indelibly in my mind and still, 21 years later, I feel remorse about it, just imagine the effect it had on her. And even though we lost touch after sixth grade, I've thought about that girl often. I used to hope that she found better friends than us when she got to middle school. It wouldn't have been hard.

When I was in sixth grade, the stereotypical image of a "bully" didn't match me or my friends. We didn't think that what we were doing was so wrong. We were just joking. Just teasing. And that's where we come to a problem with our vocabulary. It's always the Joker, the Teaser who says that it's all in good fun. Ask The Target, The Victim, and she'll have a different word for it, for sure. The word is Bullying, and it's time we stop making excuses for our behavior and the actions of our children and start calling a spade a spade.

When kids start name-calling, it's not Kids Being Kids or "Playground Politics," it's bullying.

When you pass along an offensive joke on Facebook (whether it's directed at an individual or a group of people), it's not funny...it's cyber-bullying.

When someone makes a hurtful observation about another person in a public and humiliating way, it's not "telling it like it is," it's bullying.

 It's time we start teaching our kids, early and often, that Teasing is Not Okay. I know that some people are going to tell me to lighten up....but I won't. Teasing hurts and you can never know how deeply it can hurt and how long that hurt is going to last. So just don't do it.

Maybe this will create a generation of "soft" kids....kids who can't take a joke. Maybe. But maybe it'll be the first generation that doesn't produce a Ted Kaczynski...or a Timothy McVeigh...or an Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold....or a Seung-Hui Cho...or...a bin Laden?

(Imagine if it were that easy to cure the world....)

So teach your kids to be nice. And funny. I'm all for funny. Being nice and being funny are not mutually exclusive. The funniest jokes are the ones that make everyone laugh--for real.

Lesson Learned:
Imagine all the people, living life in peace.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

tell me lies...

It starts innocently enough...

"Look at what Santa brought you!" you say to your less than one-year old child on his first Christmas, as he's tearing open the gift YOU bought and wrapped and placed perfectly beneath the tree.

But before you know it, you're not just providing yourself an alias, you're creating entirely fabricated worlds within our own. "Yup," you say in response to your questioning four-year old, "Santa sure MUST have a lot of factories in the North Pole to make all of those toys. And yes, the elves are the factory workers. They sure do have a big job to do!" I find myself doing a pretty good job of convincing him (and myself?) about this fanciful world and the magic of the holiday.

But it's okay because we all do it, right? Lie, I mean...to our kids.

I was noticing the other day how many lies I tell the boys...probably because the holidays are around the corner. In our house, there's the Santa Lie, the Elf on the Shelf Lie, and another holiday-related lie in the mix: because Halloween Candy is unsafe for Evan's milk and peanut allergies, we leave our candy out after trick-or-treating. While we're asleep, "The Great Pumpkin" comes and trades our unsafe candy for a super-cool new toy. The candy finds a nice new home at the top of the pantry for Sam and I to enjoy after bedtime.

So we tell the boys stories to create a magical childhood. That's not so bad. And, now that there's a baby mysteriously growing in my belly, we tell them stories to keep that childhood age-appropriate: "How did the baby get in there?...Um...well, when a mommy and a daddy love each other Very Much, they might decide that they want to start a family. When they're ready to start their family, THAT'S when the baby starts to grow!"

And that, somehow, this baby has to find her way out: "Well, the mommy waits until the baby is all finished growing and ready to be born. When the baby's ready, the mommy goes to the hospital and THAT'S when the doctor helps the baby to be born!"

They're not outright lies, and I'm comfortable sharing information on a need-to-know basis, but pretty soon, Evan's going to realize that intentionally placing unnecessary emphasis on certain words does NOT constitute an acceptable explanation.

And then there are the lies of omission...telling only part of the story to avoid hurt feelings or an epic meltdown: "When you're at school? Oh, you know, we just do boring stuff like go to the grocery store" [but on the way home, we'll go to the playground. Or we play at our friends' houses. And sometimes, we even go out to lunch at a RESTAURANT!!]. When I bring Max up for his nap, Evan goes into his room to read while I read to Max. As soon as Max is asleep, Evan comes back downstairs to play or watch a movie or just enjoy some one-on-one time with Mom. Max is thoroughly convinced that Evan sleeps, too. I never told him that....I just don't correct his assumption when he wakes up and asks, "Evan awake now, too?"

We try to avoid lies that are totally unnecessary...like telling kids that all the stores are sold-out of a certain treat or toy...or that the TV is broken when we've reached our screen-time limit for the day. We're pretty good about offering quick, succinct explanations for our rules or decisions....but sometimes I find myself feigning ignorance ("Oh, that [stupid] plastic disc that came in the cereal box? I don't know...it's probably around here somewhere [like, maybe in the trash can where I put if after you went to bed last night because it's a stupid toy with no play value and I'm tired of you throwing it at your brother].") or just stretching the truth a bit to keep everyone happy ("You stay at school until 3 because all four-year olds [at your school] stay until 3. That's how four-year olds [at your school] get ready for kindergarten.").

As adults, it's just an acceptable part of socializing with other adults. We lie to protect the feelings of others, to help us come up with an excuse for missing something or not being able to help someone out, and because sometimes it's easier to just agree...even if, by agreeing, you're lying about your true feelings.

But kids aren't in on this weird component of adult social interaction, so every time I hear myself do it, I'm afraid it will be the time that Evan (or Max) calls me out on it....and then what? Admit to lying? Lie to cover up my untruth? Where does it end?....because it really should.

Lesson Learned:
So I've become more conscious of my socially "appropriate" lying, like saying I already have plans to get out of attending something I don't feel like attending, and that can be stopped immediately (a "Thanks for the invitation but I will not be attending" is good enough, and honest). The kids don't need to overhear even those innocuous untruths.

But Santa? The Great Pumpkin? That magical readiness that allows babies to grow in a belly and, eventually, come out? I'm okay with those stories hanging out for a bit. And when the boys, someday...probably on the school bus, learn the truth about Santa and sex and childbirth...I'll try not to feign ignorance, but I may tell them to go ask their father.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

it's a girl. YIKES!

I had a few errands to run, none of which would have been fun with a Wild Thing in tow. So while Sam took the monkeys to the zoo, I headed out for a morning of shopping. (By the way, I can't write or say the word "shopping" without hearing Chris Rock say, "Women be shoppin'!" It's a problem.)

One of the stops required a trip to the mall to buy skinny maternity jeans (NOT an oxymoron) because I just can't have my favorite boots sit in my closet until next year. While at the mall, I, of course, popped into Gymboree to peek at their newborn girl clothes...because, well, I just couldn't help myself.

It was there that I realized that I just may be in over my head here.

As I was browsing, a mom pushing a less-than-one-year old baby girl in a stroller walked in. She very politely inquired of the sales clerk, "I'm looking for a hat for her that's sort of in-between fall and winter."


Moms of Boys: Did you know that there is such a thing as BETWEEN SEASON ACCESSORIES? Me neither. I waited for the clerk to look at the mom like she was the crazy person that I thought she was, but instead, she directed her over to a FULL RACK of fall/winter knit hats. The mom looked and said, mildly disappointedly, "Oh, I need something a little more neutral, her coat is red."

Moms of Boys: Did you know that the hat is supposed to MATCH THE COAT? Who cares?! The baby is not even ONE! Do people notice if the outerwear doesn't match the accessories?!

The clerk expressed her understanding of the mom's dilemma and directed her elsewhere: "Crazy 8, our sister store down the hall has an adorable black, white, and red knit hat. It is Too. Cute!" The mom responded, "Yeah....I was just there. It IS cute....but it doesn't match her other coat."


Moms of Boys: Did you know that you're supposed to have MORE THAN ONE COAT?! My boys each have a coat and a sweatshirt jacket. They have one hat and one pair of mittens. The hats don't necessarily match the coat/jacket and the coat/jacket is worn depending on the weather, not according to the outfit the child is wearing.

The mother picked up one of the "non-neutral" knit hats from the rack and said, "You know, I think I'll get them both."

Moms of Boys: Did you know that there are, apparently, different rules for girls?!

I started to panic so left the store empty-handed.

I did, however, walk into Crazy 8, which I've loved forever because it really does have the cutest boys' clothes, and I was anxious to see what the other half of the store held.  As I was checking out with my adorable itty-bitty pink koala sleeper and Too Cute tiny pink hedgehog onesie/skirt/leggings set, the cashier smiled and asked, "Would you be interested in coordinating hairbows or accessories today?"


Lesson Learned:
Unless I get busy learning the Rules For Girls, this poor baby is going to be the only little non-coordinating non-accessoried girl on the block. But at least she'll have two big brothers who will keep the perfectly matched, perfectly braided little girls from making any personal remarks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Maxwell!

Last year, I wrote this:

Maxwell was born at 9:15 pm...blood in his lungs, partial placental abruption and all. It was fast, furious, chaotic, and frantic....and I was thisclose to emergency surgery. I thought, with an entrance into the world like THAT, we were in for a doozy of a time with this kid.

I went on to say that I couldn't have been more wrong...that Max was calm and even, strong-willed yet flexible. And that's still true. BUT: His labor WAS INDEED indicative of his future personality. 

This kid is your classic Bull in a China Shop. He roared into this world and, over the past year, has continued to pick up that pace. He's moving at 100 mph and taking risks that he doesn't even consider to be second-thought-worthy constantly. He underestimates his size, squeezing his massive body into tiny spaces and then yelling, "Help! I stuck!" when he can't maneuver his way out. When he walks across a room, he walks in a perfectly straight line, completely disregarding any obstacle that may be in his way....much to the irritation of his Big Brother, who probably just set up an elaborate train set or construction site that has now been King-Kong-Babied.  

Max wears his heart on his sleeve. When he's happy, he's throw-his-head-back-laughing happy. 

When he's sad, his big, round tears stream down his face and leave perfect tear-stain streaks that last long after he's started smiling again.

And when he's offended, he has absolutely perfected his bottom-lip-jutted-out pout, complete with his hands on his cheeks or folded in his lap, and heavy sighing. 

Even with a new baby coming, this kid will never be the Middle/Forgotten Child. He makes his presence known...and we're such a better family for it.

Now that Max has developed his gift of speech, he's standing up for himself in verbal spars with his Big Brother...and, equally often, starting them. The other day in the car, Max said, "Goose!" So I responded, "Max! You're a goose spotter!" And Evan chimed in, "Oh! I see one, too!" To which Max insisted, "NO, E'an! I a goose spotter!" So Evan tried to explain, "I know, Max, but I saw one, too." And then the arguing began. I couldn't believe my "baby" wasn't even TWO YEARS OLD and I was having to break out the "If you two can't stop arguing..." empty threat. I didn't end the sentence because it was actually pretty amusing to listen to....

Max can be feisty when he wants to assert himself or when he's trying to get his way....but at his core, he's a Lover.

He's a snuggly, cuddly, "I hol' your ear a minute, Mommy?" Little Lovey. Just don't call him that. Or, "honey," "sweetheart," "baby," or even, "buddy." If you do, he'll give you a stern, I'm Serious look and say, "No I not. I a Big Boy." And he is. He has the classic two-year-old I'll Do It Myself mentality.

...and he's pretty capable in just about every endeavor his attempts: running to keep up with Evan? Check. Going up and down the stairs unassisted? Yup. Jumping and dancing and climbing to the top of just about anything? He can do it all, and then announce proudly, with his fists pumped into the air, "I DID IT!" Until the recent day when Evan tried to teach him how to do jumping jacks. He tried for a minute, realized it took just a little more coordination than his just-learning body could muster, and he collapsed in my arms. "I can't do it!" he sobbed. 

But he wasn't upset for long. Max has a natural sense of confidence. He plays well by himself, assuming that he'll figure out the rules of the game eventually.

He loves puzzles. He wants to complete them by himself, but prefers to have an audience while doing so....he loves the Completed Puzzle High Fives that follow. He is content to try to solve problems on his own before first asking for help, and he doesn't care if he does things a bit differently than his brother. This kid has his own style.

And he isn't shy to show it off.

He's an artist. A musician.

Max is an Experience-Life-With-His-Whole-Body kind of kid. When he eats, he gets messy. When he plays, he gets sweaty. He dances when he hears a melody and claps when he's proud, or excited, or happy, or when dinner's ready. He gets the most out of every moment and I love watching him do it. Max is our reminder to celebrate everything because, when you're two, life is pretty great. And so is he.

Lesson Learned:
On this, your second birthday, My Sweet [Big Boy] Love, know how much I adore you. Know how much fun I am having watching your charming, inquisitive, FUNNY, compassionate, and full of life personality develop. Know that, even when I may be frustrated by your Wild Thing tendencies, I love your independence and admire your I'm-Just-Being-Me attitude. You make me smile so big my cheeks hurt and want to bottle up the cuddles you still give out freely. I can't wait to see what you do and who you become, baby [Big Boy]. And I have a feeling you'll keep us on our toes the entire ride...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

a Mickey Mouse birthday party!

Max and I were sitting on the beach in August making sand "birthday cakes," complete with seaweed "sprinkles" and sea oat "candles," singing Happy Birthday and making wishes over and over and over, when I said to him, "You know, YOU have a REAL birthday coming up pretty soon. What kind of cake do you want for your party?" Without even pausing to consider his options, Max announced, "MICKEY MOUSE CUPCAKES!!" and promptly began jumping up and down and clapping.

And so, today, two days before my Big Boy turns two, we had a Mickey Mouse Birthday Party!

Just about the WHOLE family was able to come (we missed you Matt, Megan, Emily, Meredith, Lyder, Kelly, and Steven!---Yes, even with seven absent, it was a full house. These boys are so lucky to have such a big family to help them celebrate their Big Days...). Max helped design the lunch menu (Mickey-shaped chicken nuggets, strawberries, grapes, and chips with guacamole).

And then, it was time for presents! (Evan did a great job "letting" Max open "his" birthday presents...although there were lots of squeals of delight coming from Evan when Max opened "his" remote control car, tow truck, and Mickey Mouse vehicles. And some pouting when Max was allowed to play with the toy first. And maybe even a slip once or twice in which Evan said, "I love my new tow truck!".....but, for the most part, he did great.)

And Max loved every bit of it. He's somehow already mastered the art of spending just enough time with each gift to demonstrate genuine gratitude while not taking so long that the guests become bored. He'll be a pro by his wedding shower.

And, of COURSE, there were Mickey cupcakes. I scoured Pinterest for ideas for these babies, but in the end went with my own design (way easier...just big and little Oreos, twisted apart and plopped onto frosting. I figured, "He's two. These look like Mickey. He'll be happy.")

But then the singing started, and the Happy Party Guy suddenly wasn't...was he embarrassed? We've been role-playing "Birthday Party" for months now with his Melissa and Doug Birthday cake set...but there were no smiles or clapping during the entire song....

As it turned out, he didn't actually want to EAT the Mickey cupcake he's been talking about since August. He wanted the one with the chocolate frosting and sprinkles.

Oh, well. He didn't blow out his own candles, but at least he ate a cupcake at his own birthday party!

(And the ENTIRE time he ate that chocolate-frosted cupcake, he said, "I LOVE blowing out MY candles at MY Mickey Birthday party!" Um? Okay......)

And, the Mickey cupcakes were enjoyed by the others. 

It was a great day.

Lesson Learned:
Max has been acting 2 for awhile now. But now that the big day is just about here, I CAN'T BELIEVE my baby is two years old. SLOW DOWN, TIME!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

it's a girl!

And I knew she was....ever since I first started *feeling* pregnant, I knew this baby was a girl. And I wasn't alone. The very first thing Evan said when we told him that there would be a new baby in the family was, "You mean a baby sister." Our entire family (except for Sam), the cashier at Kroger, the random lady at the park, and the girl at the airport all agreed: "That must be a girl, you're carrying so high!"

I don't feel like I'm carrying higher....I just *felt* like this baby was a girl. She is my daughter and I was already starting to get to know her. But I didn't want to admit it. When you're pregnant with your third and have two boys already, the common assumption (apparently) is that the only reason you're having another baby is to "try" for a girl. We weren't. I was afraid that if I told the people beyond my closest circle how strongly I knew that this baby was a girl, they'd interpret my feelings as desire. And I didn't want a girl over a boy, I just wanted the Right Baby for our family. And so I kept quiet. But I knew.

During the ultrasound today, I grew increasingly anxious as the ultrasound technician was taking the necessary measurements and identifying the vital parts, features, and organs. Once I had been assured that the baby was measuring and developing completely normally, I asked myself: What if it's a boy?...I knew that I would feel disappointed, and I was trying to reassure myself that it would be okay if I did feel that way. I wouldn't have been disappointed that our Right Baby was a boy, I would have just felt disconnected from my baby...as though I had been bonding with some other little girl baby, a baby other than then one growing in my belly.

And so, when the tech found the perfect angle and announced with complete assuredness that our baby is indeed Our Girl, I cried. I cried because everything was right. I had been bonding with our baby (as had the Kroger cashier), and now all I need is to meet her and to start to get to know this tiny person who is already so connected to this family.

This tiny person who, by the way, has a name. For almost as long as I've been feeling that this baby was a girl, we've known that the baby girl's name would be Molly. As soon as Sam tossed it into the Possible Name Pool, it was The One. We didn't discuss name selection with the boys at all....not really on purpose...we just usually talked about it after bedtime. One night at dinner though, I said to Sam, "Oh, and by the way, I heard Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da on the radio today. The name Molly is in a Beatles' song!!! So it's definitely The Name." (Not that that's a requirement, although Maxwell is also a Beatles' character....albeit a less than namesake-worthy one. And besides, John Lennon hated McCartney's Ob-La-Di, and I'm a Lennon girl.)

So the name was out in the open, not really by accident, but not really on purpose. And Evan heard. And he burst into tears. "I do NOT like that name!" he wailed. And he continued to wail for the remainder of the evening.  We chalked it up to his disappointment over the fact that we had, apparently, nixed his name suggestions of Jo-Jo (also in a Beatles' song, oddly enough....) and the name of our next door neighbor (and not her first name, but Mrs. M_____). We were 100% set on this name and we weren't prepared to forsake it.

So we didn't talk about the name again. Until today.

After the appointment, I returned home to tell the boys the great news about their baby sister. Max was thrilled (he's good at catching on to excitement in the room and making it his own). Evan looked puzzled as to why I was making an announcement (after all, he's been telling us that this baby's a girl for about 14 weeks). And then I said her name. Molly.

And Max started dancing around the room singing, "Molly! Molly! Molly!" and Evan turned his back and very calmly said, "I just don't love that name." I told him that he didn't need to love her name today....he just had to love his sister, which I knew he already did. And we dropped it.

When Daddy got home, we celebrated our Baby Girl all over again and Max resumed his song and dance. "Well, Max loves her name," I said, somewhat snarkily, and within earshot of Evan. He stopped in his tracks, looked at me, and said, "You know what? I think I do, too."

And so it is.


The Right Baby.

Our baby girl.

Lesson Learned:
You can't pick your baby, and you can't predict your four-and-a-half year old's reactions to things. You just rest assured that you always get the right baby...and your preschooler will come around eventually. And then, when you do and when he does, you breathe a sigh of relief and bask in the knowing that everything is as it should be. Everything is Right.

I can't wait to meet this Baby Girl.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

we did it!

We ALL survived our very first ride on an airplane, with our sanity intact and without being placed on the No Fly List. One of us was even named a Junior Officer with the TSA Security Team. I'll give you hints: it was the same person who insisted on reading the Safety Regulations before take-off on each of the four legs of our journey.

The same person who was the only person on the plane listening intently to the Flight Attendant's How To Buckle Your Seatbelt mini-lesson. The same person who, despite having a nervous tummy prior to boarding for the first time, announced after landing, "When I grow up, I'm going to fly an airplane."  That Evan is going to be one busy grown-up.

The boys did so great. Max took several well-timed naps, much to the delight of our seatmates, and was adorable and charming when awake, much to the delight of the Flight Attendants.

Evan was a very interested passenger during take-offs and landings

(while Mommy feigned happiness and relaxation while gripping the armrests with white knuckles), and was content to play iPad games and watch videos during the flights.

It really was a very smooth and easy trip.

And when we got there: We were in FLORIDA!

For one last gasp of summer before trading in our sandals and beach towels for sweatshirt jackets and giant pots of chrysanthemums (which now, I'm so ready for, by the way). It was such a great weekend. Besides getting to spend time with my grandmother, aka: Mom Mom, Great Mom Mom, and/or Peg the Great,

we managed to squeeze in beach time,

a visit to a local nature preserve/sea turtle research center,

an afternoon at the "Funnest Playground In The Whole Wide World" (complete with splash park, Science Museum, carousel, and of course, popsicles),

and evenings spent at Great Mom Mom's "Basement," which was the lobby of her condo and provided entertainment in the form of a treadmill, a piano, and a pool table.

It was a whirlwind of a trip, but a very worthwhile one....and one that I'm sure we'll be recreating as much as possible. After all, we woke up each morning to this:

Lesson Learned:
Thanks to wonderful suggestions from friends, here were Our Airplane Travel must-haves: 
lollipops or gummy candies (for take-off and landing, helps the ears pop), stickers, Color Wonder markers/drawing paper, lots of snacks, iPad videos and games. Favorite apps in our house are: Cut the Rope, Angry Birds, Starfall, Make a Word, Miss Spider, Aqueduct, Rush Hour, and Baby Writer HD. I won't list grown-up apps, because you won't have a chance to use them.  We brought a lightweight stroller with us and checked it plane-side. It was great to have during layovers (to expedite travel between gates and as a napping spot) and was easy to stow and retrieve after the flight. We'll definitely bring it when we travel again.

And, everyone was right: there were nerves before the flight, but once we got on the plane (to the airport, really), Evan did great. He was excited and enjoying it, even. More so than I was, to be sure. I did alright....focusing on keeping the kids happy and occupied really did help distract me from my fears....most of the time.