Saturday, July 26, 2008

7/26/08 S'mores

We went to Dave's company picnic tonight....tonight? Yup, it was at 6pm, at a recreation park with camping, but also large picnic grounds for group functions. There was a central area with a pool, jump houses and a huge inflatable slide. It was a really nice warm evening, and I don't say that lightly, as we got very lucky on perfect picnic weather.

The picnic area was covered in short, soft astroturf -- this was great! I loved it! I played frisbee with the boys for a while, and found it so easy to run and play on the even, soft, dry surface. I'm gonna have to re-think a real lawn for our yard.

Katrina had a great time running -- well, stumbling -- around the astroturf too. But anything else? Forget it. While I played with the boys, Dave tried swings, a bounce house, and a sand area , but she'd have no part in any of it, screeching in a combination of fear and anger at the offer. She sure is easy to find in a crowd.

We'd planned to make an early exit, which turned out to be before the scheduled 8pm dessert of s'mores. "S'mores!" Gabriel exclaimed. It pained me to tell him, "sorry bud, we gotta sister...." As usual, Gabriel took it well, and we successfully departed before Katrina reached a state in which everyone wished we'd go. (I hear kids have tantrums about things like that -- Gabriel, tantrum? Imagine!!)

While Dave put Katrina to bed, I went out for a very short run (haven't exercised in a week!), tucked an ATM card in a pocket, and stopped by Safeway on the way back. That's the sort of neighborhood we're in now -- instead of having Whole Foods within a few minutes' driving distance, we have two Safeways within walking distance. There were so many people out -- walking dogs, kids playing on scooters in driveways, pregnant couples strolling, restaurants with open doors. It's no Willow Glen, but it's still much earthier than our home neighborhood.

When I got home, the big reveal: "Guess what, boys -- s'mores!" Gabriel smiled, and Julian asked what they were. The boys put on their headlamps and we found sticks in the backyard and toasted marshmallows over the gas grill -- a poor substitute for a campfire, but it did the job. Grahams, chocolate, squish, and we had s'mores!

Gah, people do this camping? S'mores are the stickiest, messiest treat there is! I practically had to hose down Julian afterward. But his marshmallow-smeared face and wide-eyed fascination was great. Gabriel has made s'mores before at the CDC, and has a slightly skewed view of the process: "Wait Mom, you're supposed to microwave the chocolate!"

It's not quite like camping, but it was a nice time anyway!


Friday, July 25, 2008

7/25/08 Julian's turn

We've had a bad dynamic developing with Julian for some time, in which he throws himself into a draggy obnoxious resistance to do mostly routine things: getting ready to go out, coming to the table for dinner, bedtime steps, and my biggest bugaboo, setting the table for dinner. Yeah, I give him plenty of warning, offer him choices, the usual warm-fuzzy positive stuff, but all that does is drag it out.

Tonight, his usual groanings of "I don't WANNA set the table!" were too much for me. Usually I manage to coerce him to finish the job, with numerous proddings, countdowns, timeouts, threats -- and always lots of peppery talk to distract him, praise when he does it quickly (or at all), no grudges held. But it's a struggle every time.

I'm feeling a lot better today, Katrina was -- dare I say it -- darling tonight, no grueling tantrums, so I had energy to tackle Julian. I told him that if he didn't start setting the table within a count of 10 (time to execute), then he was going to bed right after dinner. As usual, he dragged it out to the last number.

Boy, did he throw a fit while Dave set the table instead. "I WANNA SET THE TABLE!!!" Nope, go pee and wash hands for dinner. He tried to resist that too, but I told him, and I meant it, that he would go to bed now if he didn't cooperate. His reaction was almost worthy of a Gabriel tantrum, but with stress instead of anger. Screaming, hollering, jumping up and down, crying -- I actually enjoyed this! It was sinking in!

During dinner, he continued to cry and carry on, but I sensed it was short-lived and ignored it, talking with Gabriel and Dave about enticing (to Julian) subjects. No boy can resist poison-oak stories! He settled down and participated, but still injected sadly, "Do I still have to go straight to bed?" or "Why can't I have any playtime?" If we answered him at all, it was only to say briefly, "we're not talking about that now."

I did his bath-bedtime routine alone, and it went surprisingly well. He read a book to me (one of his "First-time Reader" library books), and accepted it when I told him he had to stay in bed now, but could look at books as long as he wanted.

I learned a few things here. First, I think he likes the attention of the constant cajoling and prodding for table-setting. Second, a lot of what I accomplished with his "early" bedtime was that he was getting to bed on time for once. This late sunset has all kids going to bed too darned late!

The struggles with Julian prompted me to order a book that someone on the 2004 Las Madres mailing list saw referenced in an article, and she'd tried some of the method and found it miraculous. I am awash in skepticism about any book that claims to tame the defiant child, as I never found any of the standard advice to work on my exceptionally defiant firstborn. But the standard advice often does work on the more typical kids, and Julian is. Indeed, it's almost more effort with him because things do work, so we have to try! I don't know if I can deal with referring to a chart for every step in a day in which he practices putziness, but I could use a brush-up on being firm, consistent and calm. Even if it doesn't work.

And while I still have low expectations for him the next time he has to set the table, I have higher ones for me.

Another park morning!

Katrina was too grumpy this morning to keep at home, despite her throwing-up last night. But at the park, she was actually pretty hungry. She asked me again and again in her tiny halting language, "moh wah...FOO? moh wah...FOO?" (more waffle) I couldn't turn her down. She stuck close to me at the park, but was calm, while her brothers played with old and new friends.

After an apple snack for all three at the park, we made a mecca to TJ's, and cocooned happily at home together for the rest of the day.

Despite Katrina's awful tantruming and fussiness, I'm going to look back on this week with fondness. I loved all the time we spent together at parks, doing....well, not a whole lot. We all needed that sort of time. Gabriel remarked today without complaint that today was going really slowly for him.

Back at the ranch, Gabriel was very proud of a Lego train he built. It's based on a kit, but he made some of his own modifications. He worked hard on this, barely looking up from his work for an intense hour. I've lived with this kid for 6-1/2 years now, but his focus and resolve when he sets his mind to something still astound me.

I grilled dinner tonight! I'm officially food-cool! Gabriel took this photo, hence the low angle and cut-off head, but at least he's a willing photographer.

Grilling is a man's world. The tools are designed for men -- the handles are all too thick and the tools too heavy and long (mine's bigger than yours....)

Even bigger news, I actually ate dinner tonight, for the first time in days. Dave says he's hungry but feels nauseous at the same time, so I had to ask, "are you sure you're not pregnant?" You might all be shocked to hear that he can be a tad high-maintenance when it comes to eating anyway.

But the best news is that Katrina passed some turds -- the solid kind that roll out of a diaper (ew, sorry, ick, but that's big news around here). She was back to being her bright, cheerful, funny self tonight. While we had dinner, she was in the family room by herself, shouting "ME-OW! ME-OW!" to pictures of cats. Hall-e-LU-jah!

I can't think of a better way to cap off a week "off" than with a weekend!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

7/24/08 Girl love

Gabriel said sometime today, out of the blue, "Mommy, I'm SO glad you had a girl!" Then he hugged me. My boy!

Sigh, I wasn't going to do this, it's late, but's the rest of the day, with way too many photos.

We went to the library this --

...ah hell, Katrina just woke up throwing up again!!! excuse me gotta change my shirt...glad I was up and heard her right away...

-- morning, for a Family Fun Day thing with lots of nice toddler-sorts of activities that the boys had no interest in, plus Katrina was being really grouchy. The day was saved when the White kids arrived though. Gina got Gabriel climbing statues (she's a much better climber!), and Julian and Katrina joined in the drawing...

...and marking.

One of my missions was to get a library card and get a few books, but it took so long to get the cards that we had to bail on the books....until Gabriel asked me softly as we were about to get into the car, "Mommy, why didn't we get any books?"

Why can't he be obnoxious or whiny so I don't feel so bad? Peaches and cream in the extreme, that one. I felt SO bad, I turned them all around and went back in to get books, grumpy, hungry, nap-needing, and apparently, still not feeling so well, toddler notwithstanding.

We picked a few books quickly, and it was a smashing success. Both boys couldn't wait to get into the car to read their books, and Katrina loved the one Julian found for her.

Gabriel spent nearly an hour immobile, reading his book about various sorts of signals (railroad, flares, lighthouses, etc).

Julian too spent much of the afternoon reading -- actually reading -- his Berenstein Bears book.

After lunch, nap, cleanup, and dinner, we went to another park (two in a day!) to meet up with longtime pal Lance (from Tonya's) and his mom, for an evening park playdate.

I hoped for a nice trio-photo, but Katrina wasn't cooperating. She was fine playing though, and indeed was much much better than she had been this morning(~guilt~ and now I know why).

The boys had a great time on the seesaw and tire swing together, thanks to Lance's patient mom who swung them.

We left at 8pm, way, WAY late for us, but that's how a good a time they were having!

Does 2 parks and a loving first-grader make up for my irritation at my fussy grumpy toddler, enough for me to get a Good Mom badge for the day? I got my answer when I was changing Katrina's pajamas just now. She was very very calm as I gently pulled her new PJs on, so I paused to pull back and look at her. Then she raised her eyes to mine and smiled.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

7/23/08 Park Day and school thoughts

We're still all recovering, but everyone was well enough to make it to a park playdate today. First I chatted with 2004 moms I knew, then ran into another mom I know from Gabriel's piano lessons, struck up numerous conversations with moms she knew, then as I was about to leave, ran into another mom I know from the 2002 group. Talk about networking!

This was for more than just fun though. Katrina has been unbearably edgy, demanding, tantruming at the slightest provocation, and generally being a big pain in the *ss. I'm sorry, I'm tired of sugar-coating, that's really the only way to sum it up. I had to get her out. But I called it right, and she did have a good time at the park.

A nasty blowout she had there (and on my shirt) explains part of her ill temper -- she's still not 100%. I can forgive her that (grumble).

It was really nice being in the park again, doing mom things, chatting with real full-time moms. They seemed happier to me than working moms, but I remember well feeling when I was a full-timer that the working moms I knew were happier. It made me think that I'll look back on these days as being free and happy and idyllic, even on a day that I have a sickish, grumpy toddler. Will I regret not having more days when the big highlight is a park playdate? I thought at one point I was done with full-time momming. I thought I was done with working full-time, too. Even if I wanted to, I can't go back to days like this every day with all three of them, since school looms ahead. But will I regret not doing more of this with Katrina?

One mom at the park has a son who goes to Gabriel's school, and he just finished first grade. She said that if I thought kindergarten was a shock, just wait -- first grade is worse! Oh no!! Her son had a teacher who assigned homework nightly, not a once-a-week package as Gabriel's kindergarten teacher did. Nightly homework leaves no margin for error, there's no skipping one night and making up for it the next night. Or, as Gabriel often did, doing the entire week's homework on Monday night. Yikes.

Am I doing the right thing having my kids in a traditional school? I'm finding myself thinking more and more in terms of well-roundedness, less focus on academics, more on broad thinking. Academics and testing will come later. Kevin's daughters are entering high school and 7th grade, and had no trouble adjusting to "regular" school, and his older daughter says her junior-high teachers appreciated her ability to think out of the box. But I don't want to short-change them either; if any kid was built for straight academics (which our school isn't; it does attempt to be balanced), Gabriel is. But does that mean he should be getting other things now? It's interesting that the uber-academics agree with the granola-ites that early childhood learning is vital, but what that learning should be is vastly different.

I remember in high school that it seemed unthinkable to take a year off between high school and college to travel or work. Now I look back and see experiences like that in youth as invaluable. Can I extrapolate from that the same sorts of broad experiences have the same life-altering effect if they happen in elementary school?

Then again, how much well-roundedness needs to come from early schooling? I got some of those sorts of experiences in other ways, such as our family's cross-country camping trip when I was 10. Some of my most character-developing experiences came later, as an adult (travelling by motorcycle, for instance). As a teenager, I regretted not being pushed more in high school, I needed it and would have done much better; doing well in school was important to me, but I didn't know how to do it. I don't think that mattered much in elementary school.

I'm pretty sure my solid academic base started around junior high, when I was old enough for things to build on themselves. Mrs. Turner, my rigorous 6th-grade math teacher, changed my life. But would I have done better in school, and life, if I'd had a more "whole learning" elementary education before that? Will my children? This is an impossible question to answer, but you still have to take a guess and sign them up for a school!

Hmmph...I think all I've done is confuse myself. At best, I've gone full circle. The whole-learning kids will easily catch up in academic discipline, and the "regular" school kids can get valuable life experiences all their lives. Is it possible that wherever on the academic--whole-learning continuum a child's early schooling falls isn't all that definitive in the end anyway?

Practicality and uncertainty will keep us at our same school for now. Our own kids' personalities don't make it obvious what to do either. Gabriel's so ordered and focused, he's going to do well or badly no matter what -- he moves the world around him, it doesn't move him. Julian's so putzy that he could fall apart without structure, or he could rebel against it. Katrina...lordy. I can't think that far ahead. I just want to get through today with her.

I took this photo because it was the first real smile I saw from her all day, while watching "Ladybug's Picnic," a Sesame Street YouTube video on Dad's iPhone.

And now she's happily giggling to a lift-the-flap book that Dad is reading her after a successful bath. Please oh please let this fuss-storm have passed, it's really been a bad one. But a good day anyway.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

7/22/08 Boys' turn

The day started with, "Mommy, my tummy hurts...~~bbbuuuaaah~~" First Gabriel, then Julian. Great. At least they had the heaves on the same day.

Katrina was better, if still very edgy and demanding. She allowed her brothers to join in some Lego building this morning.

She allowed Dad to snooze off on the couch too (while Dad was allowing Mom to take a therapeutic nap) -- but not before piling toys all around him!

Katrina's eating still isn't 100%, but she permitted -- insisted, really -- a banana to be fed to her. I'm in no mood to take a stance that she eat it herself, which she's perfectly capable of, as her will for a fierce tantrum is far far stronger than that for holding a banana right now. Besides, I had some help.

This is what happens when you order stuff online for kids, and let kids choose: Julian's monogrammed lunch sack will be Pink Rose -- there was no swaying him.

And Gabriel loves to shop the girl's clothes! He picked a very cute green shirt with a funky tree on it for Katrina, and chose a striped shirt for her too.

...but, great. The boys were up arguing after they were in bed, with Julian denying he'd ordered a pink lunchsack and Gabriel indignantly insisting he had. They came in to see me to resolve this, and after kicking out the know-it-all older brother, I had to tell Julian he really had ordered a pink lunchsack. I guess I'm calling Land's End tomorrow in the hopes we can get it changed to Lake Blue, though a pink one is probably being monogrammed in China now as I type.

Some parenting philosophies discourage gun play. That sounds nice on the surface, but what do you do when your 4-year-old takes a squeaky mouse that your 1-year-old got for her birthday, the most benign innocent toy there is, and he turns it into a "gun?" You sigh, shrug, accept it as a reality of childhood, and hope they don't "shoot" anyone who thinks you should stop gun play.


Monday, July 21, 2008

7/21/08 All but one

It's hit us all now, except Julian, incredibly, as he has the most susceptible tummy to stomach flu.

Katrina woke up throwing up today, though she had little in her to lose. Dave ended up coming home from work. Gabriel has a cold but has avoided the stomach thing, though he has a nasty cough. Julian's fine.

And I have a temperature, aches, chills, and a lot of the sort of stomach pain that precurses throwing up. It brings with it a form of PTSD, since it brings me right back to the painful, debilitating months I spent in that same pain while pregnant with Katrina, plus heartburn, cottonmouth, horrible tastes in my mouth, and countless other ills. Any sort of stomach pain makes me really paranoid.

But the constant, relentless whining from a sick and hungry toddler is very, very wearing. We're not supposed to give a vomiter any food or water for 24 hours since the last episode. That is really hard! Impossible, in fact. Distracting her and trying to hold her off didn't work, and the crying was always on the edge of turning into full-on tantrums. Katrina was clearly hungry tonight, and I tried to give her things that would take longer to chew, but in the end, she got a bowlful of rice and nearly an entire bottle of Pedialyte (with water!). She's finally playing happily tonight, chatting to herself, so I think the worst is over.

This week is supposed to be the week that I spend summer days with my children, taking them fun places and doing fun things. Not today! And probably not tomorrow.

But I was still determined to get something in, and was delighted to find that a new letterbox had recently been planted in a nearby park. Perfect. After finding the letterbox and exchanging stamps, the boys played on play structures, whil Katrina pushed the stroller around. It was easier for me to be active and moving around than it was standing and watching them play, so we cut it short and were home by 11am.

It was definitely worth getting everyone outside today, even though every step was a lot of effort.

Thank heavens, Katrina took a 4-hour nap starting at 11:30, allowing me, and then Dave, some much-needed rest. We're going through the motions of parenting and childcare tonight, taking turns sleeping, but I'm counting the minutes until I'm horizontal again, huddled under mounds of blankets.

The worst thing is, normally I'd get in a great big fix of Food Network shows, but I can't bear to be around or watch anything having to do with food! Boy, there's a lot of bad TV out there. I'm not sure I'm in the mood for my Netflix WWII documentary either.

I feel absolutely horrible, but my baby is better tonight, so I am too.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

7/20/08 Taken down

What an exhausting, trying day. I'm wasted.

Did I say Katrina was a "good" sick baby? Well, even if she is, she couldn't stand up to the bug ravaging her tummy today. After a late bedtime last night, she woke up covered in throw-up around 11pm, leading to another half-hour up while we cleaned up.

I managed to sneak in a short swim this morning (20 minutes, 900 yards, still worth it), before all h*ll broke loose. When I got back, Katrina was taking a nap, and Dave said she wouldn't even lie down unless he stayed in the room with her, which has never happened in her life.

I sometimes do crunches or other boring exercises after swimming, and like to do them while watching TV. So I turned on Food Network and caught the beginning of "30-Minute Meals." To my surprise, Gabriel and Julian were really interested in the show, and asked me questions like, "Can you do this in 30 minutes Mom?" or "Look at the steam!" or "I didn't know mushrooms were food!"

I was having a great time talking with them when the fun was cut short by Katrina's waking up covered in vomit again. Indeed, the fun was over for the rest of the day. She cried and cried all day, wouldn't nap again, demanded milk and food, insisted on being carried, yet refused to be held, then cried and cried some more. She was clearly uncomfortable, and I did everything I could think of to distract her and help her. But it's very difficult to console a baby who doesn't hug or cuddle!

She did her best when I took her out briefly -- to drop off boxes at GoodWill -- reinforcing my theory that unless they're really really really sick, often getting them outside for a change of scenery does them good. The misery picked right back up when we got home though. I spent the afternoon carrying her, reading to her, trying not to feed her (she did get some Cheerios, that got me through 15 minutes), sitting with her, trying to lie with her, and trying numerous times to try to get her down for a nap, giving her Pedialite, reading to her, trying to play with her. She was gravely offended when I offered her the ever-reliable Mimi.

She had to wear down eventually, right? But the more tired she got, the more ramped-up she got. The crying escalated to full-on floor-kicking tantruming and full-blast screaming. This was different from the earlier painful whimpering, but much harder to get out of. Everything I did only worked her up more.

I needed to get dinner made for the boys. And I was seriously worn down from nonstop crying and futile attempts to calm her down. So I did the unthinkable: I put my sick, miserable, screaming baby in bed, handed her her Mimi (which she angrily threw), turned off the light, closed the door, and left. "Just for 5 minutes," I told myself. "I need a break."

She was zonked before that 5 minutes was up. Finally, without an audience, she surrendered. Thank heavens. I retract anything I might have said about her personality making her a good sick kid. Her resistance and making a show of rejecting things and refusal to give in worked very very much against her -- and me -- today when she got seriously overtired.

But I got a good reminder of the long-term prognosis. I had to put Gabriel on timeout for attacking, and hurting, Julian, then added time for reaching out with his hand to try to trip me while he was on timeout. He sat and glared at me and muttered insults, which I had a hard time not letting him see me laugh at. When his time was up, I told him to go wash his hands for dinner -- and he refused. Hah! He's gonna show me, all right, he's going to stay in timeout!. Oooh. I'm scared now.

His counterproductive conflict-seeking was much much more painful when he was a toddler, so now it was rather amusing. It's silly, he knows there are a lot of things at stake that he cares about. He's lost his edge with the ability to reason and weigh consequences. And his sister will too.

I'm looking forward to a sunshine-y day tomorrow.