Saturday, October 11, 2014

And Amelia!!

So, in posting my last entry about Sylvia turning five, I realized that I never posted one when Amelia turned two....on August 8. Oops. I'm not sure if the oversight should be blamed on how busy we were in August, how much I've neglected this blog, or just what it's like to be a second child. In any case, it's never too late -- so here's that two-month-old birthday post:

Selfie. Oct. 10, 2014
My littlest is two. She’s a full-fledged toddler, learning to negotiate the world and her place in it. She is a child of contradictions and big passion. She is snuggly and craves closeness and affection, but she is also mercurial and throws epic tantrums when she doesn’t get what she wants. She is learning new words every day and understands so much, but the frustration of not being able to communicate perfectly results in hot, streaming tears. But while she gets upset easily, she also recovers easily, and her happy times are as joyful as her angry times are difficult.

In mid-August, she started attending the same school as her sister. Unfortunately, the church was in the middle of a demolition project next door, so she only associated school with giant construction equipment that was “too loud,” making her full of stress and apprehension about going. Now that construction is over, she’s happy about school (“my cool!” “backpack!”) and even seems upset on the days when Sylvia goes and she doesn’t. They enter and leave the building holding hands and melting my heart. She now knows her teachers’ names (“Mizus Davy” for Mrs. Davis and “Mizus Dunky” for Mrs. Duncan, the movement teacher – which is her favorite activity). She is excited to show me her weekly “libe-ee” book and tell me each day, in her broken words, what she had for snack.
She is still a Mama’s girl. She demands “up” regularly and really prefers to see the world from the viewpoint of someone’s arms. She has plenty of affection for “Daddy” and “Pop” and “Ninny,” but always prefers Mama. She runs after Daddy to ask for goodbye hugs, always wants goodnight hugs from everyone, and requests “snuggle” most evenings.

She is demanding and emphatic. We try the parenting tactic of offering two choices, and she frankly rejects the premise. She will hold her ground on everything from food to walking to wanting to do it herself. “SELF!” she yells multiple times a day, even when the task is too difficult or not allowed. Screaming and tears follow any attempts to help. She will squeeze out the empty toothpaste tube herself, alone, for 15 minutes before finally asking for “help, Mama.” Then again, sometimes she wants “help, Mama” for tasks she can easily do alone, usually just because she wants the company.

She gets away with all these demands because she’s so adorable. She has soft blonde curls that frizz in the back, surrounding her head like a feathery halo. She has big hazel eyes, a bow-shaped mouth and her grandmother’s big cheeks. Her laugh is low and husky and she is usually quite happy, curious, and enthusiastic. Friends and strangers want to snuggle her, but she tends to pull away and stick close to Mama.

She adores her older sister, but doesn’t worship her. She wants to play with her but also wants to do her own thing. They get along quite nicely and Sylvia is thankfully patient with her. She plays her own versions of Sylvia’s games: stealing Daddy’s shoes for keep-away, running into the yard instead of getting in the car, and dressing up in “tutus” (any fancy skirt).

Amelia loves to eat, and she eats all day. Her favorite foods are cheese (usually shredded), olives, sautéed mushrooms, cucumbers dipped in Ranch, soups, grits, Cheez-Its and lollipops. She does not have the sweet tooth the rest of us do. While she will beg for treats like most children, she usually takes just a few bites before being “all done.” Instead, she has an active salty tooth and will surprise us with the amount of salty food she can put away.

She recently started liking puzzles and can do them quickly. She has finally allowed us to read her books instead of just flipping through them maniacally, though she doesn’t have much of an attention span for them. She likes to play with big Legos or blocks, plastic food, crayons, just about any of Sylvia’s toys, iPad and iPhones. She loves all the wheeled toys, proudly has her own scooter now that she rides well, and seems to think she’s big enough for all of them. She has just started sitting still for television, and often asks for Daniel Tiger or Curious George. She loves Starfall on the computer.

Amelia is a handful. She has strong opinions and big feelings. People want to love her and generally do, but they acknowledge she’s hard work. She’s headstrong, coquettish and loveable. I am just crazy about her, even when she drives me crazy.


Sylvia Turns Five

As of October 8, I've been a parent for five years now. The platitude has turned out to be very true: parenting means long days and short years. All told, those five years of exhausting days, long nights, endless hugs, daily laughs, dancing, singing, coloring, adventuring – they have resulted in the most wonderful little five-year-old a mother could ask for.

Sylvia is in many ways a miniature me. She is rather intense and serious. Her teachers even told me they were working on having her take things less seriously, especially things that are difficult for her. But she is smart and inquisitive and the teachers find her “a delight to teach.” They also said she was very kind to other students (My heart! Bursting.). That said, she is often not kind to me these days, using Mama as a punching bag for her very big emotions, and testing out tantrums, foot-stomping, yelling and nastiness for their effectiveness in getting to do what she wants. She is stubborn and headstrong. That stubbornness has its positive side too, though, as she really applies herself to achieving goals. She wants to figure things out, learn all she can, solve the problem and overcome the obstacle.

She continues to be quite accomplished in physical activities and coordination. Darren likes to tell people that she’s ripped (her back muscles are indeed impressive). She is amazingly quick and agile on her scooter. She is strong and nimble on the monkey bars, and she is advancing quickly in gymnastics. Riding a bike (with training wheels) is still challenging to her and she gets frustrated on it easily. We haven’t yet started any sports, but she likes to throw and catch. She is mostly fearless, but Year Five has taught her some wariness about too much speed or height, which I greatly appreciate.

She’s very interested in the natural world, constantly exploring and asking endless questions about bugs, rocks, soil, stars, and animals of all kinds. At least weekly, she has me looking up and learning about some new thing. We regularly have bugs in jars around the porch and house, we’ve grown caterpillars into butterflies, and we’ve kept Polly the hermit crab alive longer than anyone expected. She has so many “special” collections of rocks, twigs, feathers and acorns that I have to regularly sweep her room when she’s gone or it would become its own forest. She can spot a tiny inchworm or a beautiful feather in the most hidden places, and she will fearlessly let any creature crawl into her hands.

Sylvia still loves art projects and breaks out the paints, crayons or markers regularly. She’s been working on illustrating a book for a while now. She’ll write letters but isn’t constructing her own words yet. She loves to dance and to sing. She memorizes song lyrics quickly and sings regularly, often making up her own songs. She started theater class last week and loves it, and she really enjoys going to see plays. She still puts on costumes several times each week, and regularly adds accessories to her outfits. She wears only dresses (hasn’t worn pants or shorts in two years) and cares very much about what she looks like each day. She has special ways of putting clothes together (butterfly shirts with flowered skirts, for example). She is still pretty obsessed with princesses, but she also likes fairies (we had a fairy-themed 5th birthday party), mermaids, unicorns and most anything magical.

She talks nonstop and has a rather impressive vocabulary for her age. She tells long stories and wants to have lots of books read to her (we just started chapter books, but she clearly misses the pictures). I think we get even more frustrated with her tantrums and fits because she suddenly loses her reason, which is usually so intact. After a tantrum or fit, she has a lot of EQ and can discuss all that happened, but during one she’s unreasonable and difficult.

She is wonderful with her little sister and shows an impressive amount of love and empathy. Yes, they fight, but only briefly. They seem to truly adore each other. Sylvia has stepped nicely into the “mother’s helper” role too, and enjoys conspiring with me to make things work with Amelia’s mercurial nature. She’s also starting to help more around the house, and now when we cook together, she’s actually more of a help than a hindrance. She is very independent at home and in her play, but she’ll cooperate much better if she’s had some special one-on-one time with me each day. We’ve started playing card games and board games, and I truly enjoy this time together.

Sylvia, I wouldn’t change you for the world. We may butt heads because we’re so alike, but I am in wonder of your accomplishments and growth each day. I love you at age five and I’m excited about the girl you are and the one you’re becoming. Happy birthday, Dumplin’.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Big Emotions

I've been with my kids nearly nonstop for about three weeks. Those weeks included three all-day car rides. Before that, I had three weeks of no plans for Sylvia, though Amelia did have a sitter two mornings each week. So, we've had a lot of time together, the girls and I, and I've had very little "me time."

There were amazing moments: watching the girls rediscover their love of the beach, observing Sylvia learn the joy of making her little sister laugh, feeling my heart burst as my mom and the girls played together and as Amelia issued special hugs to her great grandfather. There were sloppy shared popsicles, carefully created sandcastles, intense dance parties, lots of giggles. We took daily naps, read lots of books, and soaked in a vacation time that I know is rare and will be missed.

On the other hand, there were few breaks. After these long weeks out of our routine, away from some of our regular breaks, I am feeling the strain. I am emotionally drained, low on personal reserves. I am overtouched and overstimulated. Sylvia is feeling it too. She has returned to throwing tantrums: long, loud, frustrating fits of tears and screaming that fully drain both of us, despite my best intentions to remain calm and present. I am snippy and yell too much. She is picking fights and being dramatic. We are not our best.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine just found out one of her children has leukemia. I cried over breakfast when I read the news, and pulled Amelia into my arms for a too-tight hug. My heart hurts. I immediately felt ashamed of my frustration with my children and my longing for a break from them. I was overwhelmed with feelings of being blessed, lucky, joyful. My healthy children beamed up at me, smeared in cherry juice, wearing stained pajamas, and I felt my heart expand three sizes. They are healthy. They are mine. We are blessed.

And yet, this feeling did not last long once I wrestled both girls into the car, listened to the endless fight over whose baby doll is whose, chased them throughout CVS to ensure Amelia didn't perform her normal game of removing items off the lower shelves, carried a screaming Amelia into her room to attempt a nap, dealt with Sylvia's frustration at trying to do a task too hard for her age, and watched the dog run away as Sylvia stood near an open door.

It is still hard. Blessed or not, healthy or not, they are demanding. Today, though, I'm reminding myself how much harder it could be, how truly lucky we are, and how fast I know this hard time will go.

But still...I could really use a day alone to recenter. Anyone up for all-day babysitting?


Monday, May 26, 2014

Escapes!

Friends, my sanity has (mostly) returned. It turns out all I needed was to run away from home for a while.

In April, after I sunk into a depression upon cancelling my work trip to DC, I realized how much I needed a break. So I booked an inexpensive flight to Chicago (thank you, Southwest) to visit one of my best friends, Al. She moved there years ago and I've never visited and have always wanted to see the city. D gave me his full blessing to leave for a long weekend, even though Amelia was still having occasional difficult evenings, and he was really busy in the semester, but I know he sensed my mental health truly needed it.

When Al asked me what I wanted to do in Chicago, I said, "Eat great food in places where kids aren't welcome, do the architecture tour by boat, and go to the aquarium." I'm an aquarium dork and have always wanted to see Chicago's, but we actually didn't make it as the line on Sunday was incredibly long, and I hate to wait in line to get to tanks. Next time. But we had a great time on the boat tour and we sure did eat well, including a 16-course tasting menu at Acadia that will always stand as one of the most amazing meals of my life.

After three days of wonderful adult conversation, quality time with a dear friend (and her boyfriend, whom I wanted to know better, and sister, who was a fun addition), and a break from my children and my routine, I returned home refreshed and feeling like myself again. That said, I can't wait to go back. So, photos:

Required photo at the Bean

Riding a boat amongst sky scrapers

You know what you can't do with kids? Drink champagne flights in the middle of the day.

On one plate: veal cheek, crab and bone marrow. Pure decadence.

My adorable hosts.

Al and her sister have matching shoes and a shared interest in getting off the 103-story-high platform of Willis Tower.
Two weeks after my get-away, D and I got the chance to take a romantic trip of our own. We'd scheduled the time months ago and arranged for my mom to come stay with the girls. I had researched flights to Florida and the Bahamas, trying to get us somewhere exotic and relaxing within a three-day time limit. The planning became too difficult, and we were concerned that Amelia's constant requests to be held would injure my mom's weak back. We also just didn't know how the girls would do without us. (Sylvia loved staying with my mom when D and I took trips, but we've never left Amelia and she's always been the clingy one.).

So we settled on a two-day, one-night quick trip to Hendersonville, NC, about a 75-minute drive from here. We found a romantic-looking B&B and figured we'd make plans when we got there. We kicked off our trip with a couples' massage (ahhh!), then strolled around Hendersonville. We ate Thai outside, did a little shopping in the cute local boutiques, then headed back for naps, reading and general relaxation at the beautiful Melange B&B. The decor was lovely and exotic (the owners are from Turkey), but the rooms were private and modern. We strolled around a nearby lake resort and ate a nice white-tablecloth dinner there, then enjoyed our first night of sleep without threat of crying babies in almost two years. We had a glorious breakfast the next morning, went on a short hike, then hit the downtown again for some of the best sushi I've had in a long time (really! in small-town NC!). Full of exotic food, quiet time, good books and lovely couples'-closeness, we returned to our children, who seemed much more adorable than they had when we left (and who had been happy and wonderful with my mom, thankyouverymuch). Turns out you can really feel like you "got away" in just around 30 hours. Photos from our brief excursion:

Turkish tea and books on our private porch. 

Lakeside stroll before date-night dinner.

Jump Off Rock Scenic Overlook

Note the lack of children in these photos.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter

We talked about Easter in the car with Sylvia today. Because of her age, I didn't want to delve too much into the full Bible story, so we focused on the day as a celebration of God's love, of life, of spring, of new beginnings. I have never felt that sentiment more than this Easter day.

Easter bunnies
From April 4 until April 19, someone in our family has had a stomach virus (we now know it was norovirus). D. was hit the hardest and had a relapse; Sylvia had it the longest and also relapsed (she only went 4 days of 14 with no stomach issues). Thankfully, Amelia and I only had mild, temporary symptoms. But basically, for over two weeks, we've been anti-social, rather inactive, and in low spirits.

On Maundy Thursday, it was clear that things with Sylvia had taken a turn for the worse, as she had basically just given up. Out of energy and just so tired of being sick, she got behind on drinking and eating and just couldn't make up for it. Worried about dehydration, our pediatrician sent us to the hospital -- or first time to ever take one of our children. Two kids had gone in the day before with Sylvia's same symptoms, had been given IVs, and had stayed overnight. So I packed a bag, arranged for Amelia's care, and drove us to our first hospital stay.

Perhaps it was the excitement of going on an adventure of sorts. Perhaps it was fear of the impending needle, which I had tried to describe to her. Or perhaps it was the dull hour we had to kill waiting in the room. In any case, Sylvia quickly downed three glasses of water and Powerade before the first doctor saw us. Though my description of her condition had everyone quite concerned, the examinations showed she was no longer dehydrated. We stayed a few hours for observation, then made the call to come home. She was drinking again, her attitude was vastly improved, and I could see that she was again my bright and lovely child.

She spent Good Friday still sick and having to deal with my endless admonitions to drink. On Easter Saturday, though, she awoke in better spirits than I'd seen in weeks, her body seemed to be working again, and we decided to let her spend the day with cousins. We kept a close watch on her, but it really felt like we were out of the woods. Finally.

So Easter morning was indeed, for us, a new beginning, an end to the darkness*. After two long weeks, we are healthy and well.  After long days of bland meals and cancelled plans, we had feasts and celebrations. After several days of grey rain, it is sunny and beautiful, and we can actually get out to enjoy it.

Easter was indeed joyful in our home. I hope you all were able to experience the joy of Easter as well. Also, remember to wash your hands.



*This blog was a bit hard to write because I sound overly dramatic. Yes, this was a hard time for my family, but relative to the struggles some of my dearest friends are now going through, our hardship was minor at best. That said, I hope my friends are seeing the Easter joy in their lives. One had a baby at just 28 weeks, but that little girl has survived through the most difficult parts and is making healthy strides every day. Another friend, a mother of three, was just diagnosed with cancer, but she found it so early that her prognosis is very positive, and her attitude about it all is amazing.
It's easy to see the suffering around us, but it can be tricky to stop and see the turning points when things get better. Easter reminds us that such turning points exist. So whether the struggles are minor or all-consuming, they will take a turn for the better. And I give thanks for those moments.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Skillet Cookie, aka Skookie

My daughter turned 4 1/2 today (which she'll tell anyone who asks her age). Also, my husband was very kind even after Amelia kept me awake off and on from 3:30-4:30 a.m. before deciding to get up for the day at 5 a.m. Finally, D. capped off his big day by removing five spider egg sacs from our front porch. This day called for a celebration/food reward. I searched Pinterest for something easy and special, and low and behold -- I felt the day had come to try a skillet cookie (known to aficionados, apparently, as a skookie).

Problem: the skillet cookie was so easy, so quick, and so very tasty, I might start making them regularly. This past weekend, I actually Pinned a paleo version (called a pizookie: pizza + cookie) here, but that's not what I made today. Today, it was a full-out treat, and one that will be repeated often.

I'm posting the recipe because I changed it slightly from the one I found online. Next time, I'll add 1/2 cup of toasted walnuts.

Way-Too-Easy, Way-Too-Tasty Chocolate-Chip Skillet Cookie


1 stick (8 T) unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teas vanilla extract
1 egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teas baking soda
1/4 teas kosher salt
1 cup chocolate chips (darker is better)

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter in an 8" cast iron skillet set over medium-low heat. Stir in sugars and vanilla and remove from heat. Let the skillet rest until no longer very hot (about 5 minutes). While it's cooling, mix flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
Crack an egg onto the butter and sugar mixture, and use a fork to whisk it well into the mixture. Add the flour mixture and carefully stir until flour disappears and the dough is dark tan and smooth. Stir in chocolate chunks and spread around pan if needed.
Put skillet in oven and cook for 15 minutes, or until it turns golden on the top and around the edges. Don't overcook -- slightly gooey is best.
For total decadence, serve with vanilla ice cream.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Parenting in the Internet Age

Two weeks ago, I was flattered to be invited by a friend, a nutritional counselor who now stays home with her daughter, to join her Facebook group of mothers who were into healthy foods for their Littles. Last night, I removed myself from the group after two weeks of feeling guilty about what I feed my kids, and how much more research I should probably be doing into their diets.


This feeling of guilt is not new. Since pregnancy -- or probably before -- I've been overwhelmed by the amount of things I'm supposed to know about raising children. I've posted about the exhausting number of (usually contradictory) advice books, but this guilt extends beyond choosing parenting tactics. A connected, educated mother can now dedicate her life to researching: what foods to eat and which to avoid; appropriate toys to purchase and those to avoid; how much plastic to permit in the house; how to discuss gender; how to educate (in school, at home, Montessori, religious, etc.); space to give or rules to set; and So. Much. More. It's exhausting. It's overwhelming. It can be paralyzing.

I sometimes find myself rocking my youngest daughter in the middle of the night, stroking her feathery head, and wondering if I'm even doing the right thing. Giving her love feels right, but is it setting a bad pattern? Encouraging a sleep crutch? Or responding appropriately to her needs? Why is snuggling suddenly so stressful?

I think the Internet, when combined with an inquisitive, research-trained mind, can be the downfall of the modern mother. Research can be endless, changes often, and is not always conclusive. Information can be overwhelming. And the pursuit of such research can be crippling to the actual act of parenting.

Before I toss out the baby with the bathwater, though, I also adore the Internet while parenting. I joined Facebook right before Sylvia was born, and I spent many long hours nursing her in one arm and feeling connected to the rest of the world while typing with the other. On long afternoons at home, a quick scroll through my phone helps me feel connected to other mothers. Status updates and posts from fellow moms make me feel like others are in the same boat, wading through the same struggles, and I feel buoyed and comforted by their fellowship. We are a scattered society -- most of my closest friends and family live hundreds of miles away -- but the Web keeps us together. My circle requires a Wi-Fi connection.

So I guess my real struggle is balance. How can I effectively use the Internet to see if that rash on Amelia's side is worth a doctor's trip, and then laugh with friends about Sylvia's latest conversation, but not fall down the rabbit hole of obsessing over BPA in my canned goods? If you have advice, that's some Internet research I'd happily take.