Thursday, June 30, 2016

Measure By Seasons

I woke up Wednesday morning around four am when Eowyn crawled into bed with me completely naked after going to the big potty on her own.  She told me she pee peed, and I wanted to sleep so I didn't question it.  Two hours later, Wren woke me up by saying there was "a huge amount of poop" in the front toilet.  I turned my head to see Eowyn's bare, unwiped butt on my pillow.

And that was a relatively good start to the day.

The details and daily ins and outs of parenting can be tedious beatdowns.  That's not to say that the every day components aren't great.  It's just that on a daily basis as a mom, I don't always see the progress I'd like to, especially when my expectation is that we will hit a developmental milestone by a certain time, like knowing the difference between pee and poop and communicating that, then we don't.

But I've found lately that our progress may not be the problem.  The issue seems to be in the way I am measuring things.

Just like you don't see someone change if they are in your life daily, it's actually pretty hard to see children's leaps and bounds if you watch them creep through them over time.  That's why people from the outside can tell you "It goes so fast!" and you want to tell them, "That's because you're not in it!"

This summer has given us a great way to measure by season instead of by days, and I'm noticing that when I take that approach, the progress we've made is pretty monumental, especially with the twins. Here are some areas of development:

Potty Training

Last year at this time I was banging my head against the wall because my guy Sam was potty trained by 20 months-old.  His sisters?  They showed mild interest in the potty last year at this time, someone peed in one by accident, then they basically made a pact to treat the potty like it was the spawn of satan and never go near it again.  There was absolutely no changing their minds, even though D and I were so over paying for diapers times two.

This year diapers are gone.  In fact, those disgusting cesspools called training potties are also on the way out since they will both use the big potty now.  Though we still have some night time accidents, we are way further down this road than we were last year.  Except, of course, for the occasional dingleberry.

Sunday School

Last year, after joyfully attending Sunday school for six easy months, Asher and Eowyn just stopped at the age of two.  They wailed so loud and for so long that someone from the children's building had to come get us from the service so we could calm them before they vomited.  Thus began the year of D and I sitting in the lobby trying to catch snippets of the church service between chasing two toddlers.

Two weeks ago on their birthday, I called straight BS on this arrangement.  D and I had not sat in a service with other church goers in 12 months.  We get a date night about once every 18 months, and church was the only guaranteed time we had without our children on a weekly basis.  We had no idea what our fellow believers were studying, and we were tired.  So I dropped them in their class and told the teacher to let me know if things went south.  And they did, but she had enough helpers to figure it out without us having to step in.

To be fair, they have been saying, "No go to church!" for the last two days, so I know they are not pleased by this arrangement.  However, they are at least doing it without hyperventilating, so I'm calling this a win.


I remember when going to the pool was a fun relaxing adventure, back when D and I lived in an apartment, my BMI was less than 50, and the two of us would just back float across the pool in between making out.

Since having four children, going to the pool is an adventure in counting heads to make sure everyone is bobbing properly and trying to keep skin from burning in the Texas heat.  My kids being part Hispanic helps with the latter issue, but pool days are not the carefree times they used to be.

However, this year's pool adventures are moving back to the more fun days since Wren can swim, Sammy doesn't punch people who accidentally splash him with water, and Eowyn and Asher like their pool floaties.  Last weekend, D and I found oursleves in a pool surrounded by four children who were actually managing on their own.  All children's heads were visible, our hands were free, and we had a second to make out a bit like in the old days until we remembered that's what led to all these children in the first place and there's no way we could monitor five or, based on our past record, six at a time in a pool.

A few other achievements:

Wren's Celiac issues seem to be self correcting a bit more often.  It's a pretty big jump from the mess we were just entering into last year.  It's not perfect and never will be, but it's amazingly manageable considering where we've been.

Sammy is so much better at expressing his feelings in a constructive way than he was at the age of four.  It's sometimes difficult for him to express himself at all, but he's made big progress since last year.

When I start wondering when a particular phase will be over, I'm going to start thinking about seasons and where we were three months, six months, or a year ago.  Honestly, nothing feels like it changes that much in the day-to-day, but things obviously are even if I don't see them.  And I don't want to wish the seasons away, though I told D if I had a proper bat I would take those germ-infested training potties and go to town on them the way Ron Livingston tore up that printer in Office Space. Or I'd just set them on fire, though I'm not sure if residual poo would be an explosive risk, so to speak.

No, I don't want the days to go by too fast.  I guess I just want to see that we're moving, and sometimes in the middle of a wonky week when I see regression and distress as the norm, it helps to think about where we've been and how far we've come.  Everyone is where they need to be, doing the best they can.  Even me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

June Book List

This month was an even split between fiction and non-fiction, and all four books are  impressive in their own way.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan:  Cahalan was a twenty-something living in New York City when she started showing symptoms of mental illness.  In this account, Cahalan uses her journalist skills to try to capture the month she lost to an autoimmune disorder that attacked her brain.  Her writing style is addictive, and the interviews and medical records she studied paint a horrifying picture of what happens when a disease unknown to many doctors in the world sets its sights on our minds.  This books made me examine the connection between mental illness and physical illness and see the complexities of the brain without being too hard to understand.

The Lady with the Borzoi:  Blanche Knopf, Literary Tastemaker Extraordinaire by Laura Claridge:  If you love books or authors, you must read this nonfiction book about Blanche Knopf, one of the female pioneers in publishing.  The book is a who's who of early 20th century authors, and it shifts focus from the books published by Blanche and her husband to their marriage, which was troubled, open, and lasted until Blanche's death.  One of the women fighting for her rightful place in a working world full of men, Knopf was both an inspiration and a troubled soul.  I highly recommend this for any literature lover.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes:  I would have never in a million years picked this book out for myself since it is classified as romance.  However, the sequel, After You, is on my BookPage list, and one of my dearest friends said Me Before You was the everything in her world.  So I put this one on hold and found myself happily immersed in the world of Louisa Clarke and Will Traynor for the short 48 hours it took me to devour it .  Moyes' dialogue and the way she writes characters is so true to life that you will feel like you know these characters as you turn the pages waiting for the suspense and emotion to unfold until the very last page.  Not a typical romance, Me Before You brings up questions about what it means to live, to lose, and to love. 

After You by Jojo Moyes:  Of course, after Me Before You I had to grab the sequel.  It is definitely worth the read, but it's not near as good as the first one.  This book is bloated with way too much going on in the first 60 pages, though Moyes still makes readers geniunely care about the characters she creates.  I won't go into plot points since you need to read the first book, but the adventures of the characters are still worth following, even if they aren't quite as intriguing the second time around.

I abandoned Little Red Chairs and may pick it up at a later date, but I am in the middle of four other books right now, two that I should finish up this week.  That means the July Book List should be pretty full.  Happy Summer Reading!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Intersection of Mom and Words

I saw a post on Facebook the other day about a child who had to write about what her mom did.  Her mother is a writer, so she did a job report about that aspect of her mom's life.  I read about how other people's kids put down the word writer as their parent's occupation when the parent has published work out there.

I think if you were to ask my kids what I do, there's a fair chance they'd say, "Referrees fights, loads the dishwasher, and puts clean laundry on the table but never in a drawer."

And they'd be right, kind of.

The first time I actually put the word writer as my occupation was during a doctor's appointment where I was asked to update some paperwork.  My hand trembled and I thought of marking it out, though by that point I'd had six essays published.  When I first said it out loud, I almost puked. Someone I didn't know that well asked what I did, and I said, "I'm a writer."  He nodded politely and did not ask more questions, thank God, because I could have been convinced to change my answer out of fear of being called a fraud.

So it's really no wonder my kids have no idea about my clandestine life frolicking with words.  When it comes to creativity, I seem to still be in the closet.

There are some good reasons, one of them being that my kids have a very negative reaction to me using the word work.  I have worked full or part-time most of their lives and only left my part-time employement at a library in 2014.  They remember that job the most, and though I loved it and they loved the perks of me bringing home new books all the time, their main memories were of me not being home when they went to bed at least a couple of nights a week.  This was a problem for them since kids get emotional during bedtime.  D usually had to try to put weepy, distraught children in bed on his own the nights I worked.

So when I tried telling them that I was going to work at the coffee shop for a couple of hours a couple of months ago, they lost their collective minds.  There was crying; there was full face planting into our concrete floors.  It was bad.  When I explained it would just be for a couple of hours, they calmed down and I made it out the door after peeling them off my legs.  I returned to children who acted like I had deserted them for days, but it was nice to get all the extra snuggles.

The other reason is that I don't let them read my work.  The articles I have had published since August have all mentioned my children or been based around my experiences as a mother.  While I am glad to have these memories out there, I don't particularly want my kids reading them right now. It's not because I reveal embarrassing information; I just want my kids to be able to form their own perceptions of their childhoods and their experiences without feeling like my words define that for them.  One day I will give them these words and all the other ones I've written that have never seen the light of day.  I don't collect family heirlooms or keep objects for sentimental reasons, but when it's time my kids will collect a load of paper, little windows into my heart and mind just for them.  It's just not time yet.

But lately I've been struggling with the idea of my writing being a vocation that I keep from them.  I want to emphasize the importance of this pursuit, how it helps shape me and allows me to do something I love, something besides raising them.  I've never felt like "just being a mom", whatever the hell that means, wasn't enough, but I also don't believe anyone is "just a mom".  I'm a mom and a lover of David Gray's music, a creator of phrases, a decaf latte drinker, a believer in hugs as stress release, a weepy prayer warrior, and a person who hopes all four of my kids will realize the full potential God created them for.

It was a long time down the road before I was able to see my parents as something more than people who existed solely as parents.  I knew they had jobs, but I didn't know much about their passions.  It's only now that I am talking to my 84 year-old grandmother about her life as a girl. She revealed to me that she wishes she had talked more to her mother about her early life before she died, but now those stories are gone.

I don't want my kids to feel like they never heard my stories or didn't know how much storytelling meant to me.

So when I sit down to work on an essay while they have screen time, I make a point to tell them, "Mommy is writing, doing my work."  When I leave for the coffee shop to get in a couple of hours of uninterrupted time working on a piece, I tell them, "I'm going to write now because that's what I do."
I'm not sure the words mean that much to them right now, but it means something to me to say them because I still suffer with insecurities about following this artsy, flimsy career path that contributes very little financially to my family.  I think I'm trying to define myself to me as much as to them.

And that's okay.  Words have meaning, and there's power in just saying them.

For a peek at work I've had published, click the Other Writing Tab on the blog menu.

The little peeps.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

In the Land of Two Threes

My babies, and we still call them that, are three.  Three years ago I was so ready to not be pregnant and also petrified about my third c-section.  I had Asher and Eowyn and then did not sleep for 48 straight hours due to adrenaline and breast feeding.  I reminded D of this yesterday and he said, "Hmm...three years later and we still don't really sleep much."

Here are some details about the tiny people who pretty much rule this joint:

They have eclectic taste.

They evolved from listening to the Blade Runner soundtrack before bed to watching octopus videos.  Asher and Eowyn are obsessed with octopuses(octopi, is that a thing, English is weird).  Before bed they watch a video of people in Korea eating LIVE OCTOPUSES!  D found the video on YouTube and thought they would love it, and they do.  It's probably even weirder than the whole Blade Runner thing.

They learn everything from their siblings.

I realized recently that both girls can count, recognize letters, and do all sorts of things I don't remember teaching them.  That's probably because I didn't.  Sammy and Wren ensure the younger two learn the basics, which is good because by kids three and four, I can't even remember what they are supposed to know by certain ages.  You'd think it would get easier, but I have a lot less time to hang out on BabyCenter checking out developmental milestones these days.  Plus, these kids have fried my brain so I can't remember much except that they all have to be fed and watered regularly.

What I've Learned

Do not ever actually talk to the adult siblings of twins.

Parents of adult twins will talk nostagically about the twin connection and all that jazz.  I think these individuals have blocked the biting, hair pulling, and screaming that comes from having two people the same age competing for everything.

But siblings of twins don't play.  While at the park, a woman saw Asher and Eowyn and said her twin brothers were born when she was eight.  Here's how the rest of that conversation went:

Lady:  Yeah, they were something else.  They drove a car through our house when they were three.
Me:  What?!?
Lady: But that's nothing compared to that time with the bomb.
Me:  What?!?
Lady:  Yeah, they made a bomb and set it off in the back yard, but it caught our tree on fire and then the house caught.  I think they were 11.
Me:  What?!?
Lady:  Yeah, twins are seriously advanced in certain areas, like problem solving.

Which I guess is true if the problem is you can't drive the car because you're toddlers and the solution is one of you steers while the other pushes the pedals.  But still, it's not encouraging.

Probably not planning world domination.  Asher on the left.

One-on-one time at home is near impossible.

Some of my favorite times with the kids are instances of one-on-one time.  With Wren and Sam, I can grab one of them and read a book or cook a snack, and the other one does not feel the need to freak out.  That absolutely cannot happen with Asher and Eowyn.

I think it's probably because they are the same age.  If I try to read a book to one of them without including the other, it is a disaster of epic proportions.  They love each other so much, but there is a desire for fairness that rivals anything I have ever seen.  Even if the other one is going to get special time next, they can't comprehend it.  I've stopped trying and now we do one-on-one time outside of the house, which ensures one parent is left at home with a screaming toddler who assumes they are being left behind because they're just not loved as much as sister.  I have no idea how to fix this problem.

They're two of the most hilarious people ever.

They will talk to you with their butt cheeks.  They quote movies in the actual character voices.  On certain days, they will only speak to each other using robot voices, and then they laugh maniacally at themselves.

Eowyn is a tender child.  Her feelings can be hurt by a glance, and though she is usually the one to instigate physical violence, she is also the one who cries the hardest if she thinks she's disappointed anyone.  When left at Sunday school this morning, she is the one who cried the entire hour because she thought she had received child abandonment for her birthday.  She loves to cuddle and would start breastfeeding again if she thought it was even a possibility.  It's not, but she still serenades my boobs on occasion just in case.

Asher is my physical child who figured out how to move around in her water floaty and how to climb up to places I didn't want her to be the earliest.  She likes to do what the big kids are doing, and dancing is one of her favorite stress releases.  She adapts to new environments fairly well, but she has no problem letting you know if she's not happy about something.  When it comes to antagonizing, she is the one who will put her finger really close to your face but not touch you then cry when you retaliate.  She is also a cuddler, but she can play on her own just fine.

Eowyn in the red
I still haven't figured out all the finer points of raising twins.  It's new everyday, and sometimes I feel like we're in a pretty good groove and other days not so much.  They teach me about myself constantly, and I am honored to be their mom.  If I can keep them from setting our house on fire, I think I will consider this parenting thing a real success.

Friday, June 17, 2016

What You Should Know About Raising an Introvert

I've always been very reluctant to label my kids.  I think it's easy for kids to hear words used to describe them and then assume they have no choice but to become those descriptions.  I've always been a believer in the idea that words have power, which is probably why I need to stop calling the twins high maintenance.  They feel obligated to act accordingly.

However, I think it can sometimes be useful to know certain things about how your kids work and be able to address those to make sailing smoother for all involved.  Which is why I can say with almost absolute certainty that Sammy is an introvert.

This realization became obvious early on.  Sammy was a child with the ability to use complex sentences before the age of two, but he wasn't particularly keen on using them with everyone.  As he grew older, his desire to play on his own and to be easily overwhelmed by too many people around him continued to point the path to a more introverted child.

Sammy is five, and we've learned a few things on this journey.  D is a classic introvert, and I am about half and half, sometimes an extrovert who needs people to feed me energy and sometimes an introvert who is worn out by others.  Between the two of us, we've established a list of helpful things to know should you end up raising or being around an introverted child:

You have to convince them to go to places they enjoy.

Imagine this scenario:  Your child has waited for a year as he watched his older sister go to AWANAS.  Finally, the time has come for him to go be a Cubbie.  He has his vest on, his backpack ready, and it's time to leave when he announces, "I'm not doing this."  Why?  Just because.

After talking him through getting to AWANAS, you find out he had a blast with his friends and learned a lot of great things.  His teachers love him and he walks out the door with a smile on his face.  When you mention to him that he'll be back in a week, the smile disappears as he informs you, "I'm not going back."


This one stumped me until D stepped in and explained what socializing can be like for introverts.  He said, "You know how athletes do that whole pumping themselves up before a big game thing?  That's what introverts have to do before pretty much every social encounter, except they do it internally.  They have to drum up the energy to see people, figure out things to say to people, and hang out with people even after they want all the people to go away.  Even though he had a good time, he'll have to pump himself up everytime, and he probably won't look forward to or enjoy any social event until he's already in the middle of it.  That's the story of my whole life."

And this is EXACTLY what happened all five days of VBS this week.  Sammy went to VBS, played and won games, ate candy, and watched the girl leader get slimed when the boys brought in the most cash for missions.  Perfect week, and he came home smiling everyday.  Then every morning, he refused to admit he enjoyed a thing and moped his way to the car.  The only reason I am 100% sure he really did want to go is because the day he lost his sandals, he offered to wear his socks and shoes.  Socks.  Sammy was going to voluntarily wear socks just so he could go to VBS.

First day of VBS.  Wearing his shirt but still not sure.

Last day of VBS.  He had a blast all week but was still anxious about leaving the house.

You frequently try to solve the wrong problem.
Sammy generally goes into shutdown mode when he is upset, leaving me to try to figure out what happened.  What I used to do was pick what looked like the most likely problem and address it.  It took me years to figure out that more often than not I was solving an imaginary problem and missing the real one.  The right response with Sam is usually to wait until he is ready to talk.  He will then tell me what really upset him, and it is usually something I would have never figured out on my own.

They're not particularly shy.
For a long time I thought introverts were shy.  However, Sammy's not shy; he's just particular.  He wants to talk about what is important to him, but he doesn't need to talk all the time.  When he does start talking about his interests, which are currently squirrels, Kung Fu Panda, and the shapes of real anatomically correct hearts, he can talk forever.

People will make unfair assumptions or ignore them outright.
Because they don't talk as much or always have the right words at the right time, people tend to assume introverted kids are rude or ungrateful.  There have also been instances where people have talked to all three of my fairly extroverted daughters and completely passed over Sammy as if he wasn't even standing there.  In all of these situations, D or I will work to help the adult engage appropriately with Sam, and we will make sure to tell Sammy that those sort of experiences aren't his fault.

It was fun to watch Sammy flourish this week, and because I now know more about how he functions as an introvert, I was able to see his complaints about VBS for what they were: complaints about figuring out the delicate dance of socialization.  He loved the experience; it just took him much more effort to give it a try.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Gluten-Free VBS Updates

We didn't change much about the gluten-free VBS plan.  What we did last year worked well.  Here are the only updates I made:

  • Wren brought her own container of water.  Last year I let her just use the water bottles provided, but I realized she couldn't open those herself and it's better if no one who has been in contact with gluten touches her food or drink.  I know it's probably overkill, but I live by what one of the professionals helping us with her disease told me once: if you can anticipate any form of cross-contamination and stop it, do it.  The reason: because it is virtually impossible for a Celiac to live uncontaminated.  They will get contaminated by small things you don't even realize, so anticipate and avoid everything you possibly can.

  • I sent Wren with her own rag.  Last year when I volunteered with the 2 year olds, I happened to run into Wren as I took a bathroom break.  This was during her OCD time, which I wrote about for The Good Mother Project.  I approached her and she said, "I can't wash my hands!  My teacher won't let me wash my hands!"  I know Wren's teacher and she is amazing.  She took care of Wren all week, so I asked a few more questions and found out why she wasn't letting Wren wash her hands at that exact moment.  The answer: because they weren't going to snack.  They were going to the sanctuary for a Bible lesson.  Wren had already fast forwarded and knew that snack was after Bible lesson.  Instead of making the logical conclusion I did, that the teacher was going to let her wash her hands at one of the two bathrooms they would pass on their way to snack, Wren assumed she was going to have to eat with dirty hands or forgo snack time.  This wasn't true, but in her mind it was.  We would find out two weeks later that her selenium levels were too low and this was causing a large amount of mental distress for her.  So this year, though she is not having as many issues with OCD, I sent a rag and told her if she ever became concerned to just wipe her hands off instead of stressing about it.  I notice her OCD behavior tends to pick up in group settings where she is left to handle things on her own, so I'm hoping this will alleviate some of her concerns.  
When we got to VBS the first day, the nurse on site as well as one of the VBS coordinators approached me to ask if there was anything they needed to know about Wren's situation.  I told them that it's one of those situations where if she gets contaminated her body will start attacking itself, but we might not know it's even happening unless she starts vomiting.  The damage plays out on the inside and increases risks of permenant damage throughout her life, but it can be invisible to the naked eye.  We just have to know our girl can handle her business and go from there.  They pointed me to teachers and told me they were there if we needed anything.

I'm not the only one creating safe places for the girl.  She has a whole army looking out for her.

Crazy Sock Day!  Sammy does not wear socks.

Eowyn waiting for brother and sister to be out of VBS.

Asher after not going to VBS.  She was still worn out.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Weekly Grocery Challenge Week 4

We're headed out of town to see my niece graduate from high school.  The fact that my niece is old enough to graduate from high school is not something I have fully processed yet.

The good news is I will have plenty of time to process that information since food is going to be planned when we get down there and will be pretty simple for the next four days.  I'm not bringing a ton of food from home because my hometown has evolved into the kind of place where safe gluten-free food is available.

I am going to make a trip to Aldi's to grab quick snacks, and we're making a trek to Whole Foods today to grab a cake.  Whole Foods has gluten-free cakes in their frozen food section that are made off-site in a gluten-free facility.  I could just make one myself, but I'm going to simplify life even more and grab a frozen one.  I pray that the fact that it is rock solid and impossible to cut until thawed will keep the six of us from tearing into it before the graduation party on Saturday.  Fingers crossed!

So, I don't have any new recipes for you this week, but I will post what we ate while we were out of town when I get back.  I always go a little indulgent when away from home, so don't expect an extremely healthy meal plan next week.  Hot dogs, pancakes, bacon, and cake are happening for sure if that helps give you any idea of how this weekend is going to play out!