Saturday, June 20, 2009

6/20/09 Outdoors day

Our disastrous landscaping has been bugging me, and there's just so much disaster. Most of it is completely visible from the street, and I'm getting tired of being the neighborhood eyesore.

I planted this small potted rosemary plant when we first moved here. It's grown into a monster that oils anything that brushes by it, which is everyone and everything as we enter the house. It's in a bad spot. From time to time, I hack it back. Today was the day.



I actually left more than I have in the past. It will recover. This was fun; Julian helped me put all the cuttings in the yard bin, which he completely filled. He really was a help, not to mention being really good company.

I knew Betsy and her bunch would be at our favorite nearby park, so I took Julian and Katrina and stopped by. Julian and Andrew had a great time playing and chasing each other.

They found some tennis balls (Andrew had one and Julian found one, something like that), and fortunately were in a great place to throw them, as this park has lots of open field area. A young teenage boy got involved with them and played with them for quite a while, catching the tennis balls in his hat. I chatted with Betsy while the boys were completely absorbed in ball play.

Julian puts his whole body into throwing, it's pretty funny. Betsy said, "He has an arm!"

Hmmmm, maybe I should look into baseball for him....he's pretty good at batting too. (Where "pretty good" in this non-sporting household means "better than Gabriel.")

Meantime, Katrina played on the play structures, even climbing up a little.

After home, lunch, nap, it was back to more outdoor work. Katrina joined after her nap, with her hair in a hilarious swept-up do, a leftover from a quick ponytail I stuck in so I could give her a quick rinse-off bath before nap without getting her hair wet. I've mentioned our landscaping is really bad, but it's not just ugly -- it's very very dusty and the kids get filthy in minutes. This is really a problem!

I also hacked back my rose bushes, with Julian's help, then Dave let him water the few remaining stalks (which I also know from past experience will grow back), with Katrina's "help."

And where was Gabriel in all this? Sick as a dog, poor thing. He was getting a cold last night, but today it turned into a full-blown cough and fever. I really wish that normal, peaceful, unstressful days around here could be had when one of the boys isn't out of commission. What a difference. Gabriel's lethargy meant a lot of good time with Julian today for me. Isn't there a way to do that without one of them being laid out flat on the couch sick all day?

(I can't believe it, he still sleeps with his right eye slightly open, he's been doing that since he was a baby.)

I like working outside, but it's a little discouraging just how much there is to do, and how very many different places around our oddly contoured lot need attention. And all our work is just that -- work. Yardwork, landscaping, getting rid of overgrown things, trying to stay just barely ahead of Mother Nature. No actual gardening. Still, I think it's time to plant a new rosemary bush.


Friday, June 19, 2009

6/19/09 Grounded by the pool

I was exhausted today after being awake much of the night, then getting to work unnaturally early (8:15?!). I've decided it's time for some changes regarding work...on the same day that California announced its highest-ever recorded unemployment rate of 11.5%. Yeah, that's the day to decide to stick it to a generous and flexible employer!

As tired and angst-filled as I was today, I found odd solace in the boys's swim lessons. I expected this would be a drag by now, but I've really come to look forward to it. I like chatting with them on the way to the lesson, I like watching them laugh and splash and work in their lessons. I thought I'd hate waiting, but I love it. I bring a book, but I hardly read it. Mostly, I watch my strong healthy burgeoning sons, marvel at their energy and growth and think about how much I love them. This time is really grounding for me, and brought me back home after a tossing-and-turning night and intense work day.

We usually run some or other errand after swim class; today it was returning library books and borrowing new ones. And running around in a small redwood grove outside the library.

And then, after this wonderful boy-time, I am happier than ever to see my now mostly-darling toddler girl. Katrina's usual demeanor these days is cheerful and silly and playful, though her demanding insistent bossy side is still alive and well.

Today she actually permitted a few photos, goofing around walking backward. I'm always happy to encourage such athletic feats from her!

This shot cracks me up, like she's some sort of model twirling for the camera. Models don't wear pigtails, silly!

Very sweet. And I got a few very, very welcome moments of peace when I first walked in the door, thanks to some pooped-out boys and a new set of Rainbow Magic fairy books.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

6/18/09 The Workout

I was all set to swim tonight, especially since I just wasn't feeling well in the stomach and my head is filled with angst and ideas about the summer, work, and life. Stomach upset, confusion, probably related -- that calls for a good long swim to work it all through. I was so bummed when I arrived at the pool and found it closed. It happens, but, bummer! Why tonight?

A poor substitute, but I figured I'd stretch a little and do some situps in our room while Dave put the three through the usual bath/bed paces. To my surprise, Julian asked if he could join me. He was really interested, and put in a really good effort in following what I was doing.

Then Katrina joined us. She was supposed to be in bed, but lately she's entered that Excuses little-kid phase of life. But how can I tell a kid they can't exercise? Dave told her just a few minutes, then she had to go to bed when Mom said. She seemed like she really wanted to do the simple stretches with me and Julian, but I think she just doesn't know how to imitate. Athleticism and body awareness are not among her gifts.

Actually I was anxious for them to go to bed so I could concentrate, but I realized what an opportunity this was. I want them growing up thinking exercise is just part of day-to-day life, and fun, not just a drudgerous activity you "should" do. It's as important to good health -- and in my case, sanity -- as eating well. And it was a really really nice way to spend some calm, focused time together, which I was guiltily aware they don't get enough of from me. They both went to bed without complaint.

Julian's been doing an extra science class at preschool once a week for quite a while, and I told the teacher in email that he's leaving next week. I'm sure she's disappointed, because the classes are a little pricey and are the first thing to get dropped when parents are cutting back. But having talked with her before, I do believe she has a genuine enthusiasm for teaching little kids science concepts, and I don't think it's only a sell job when she tells me how wonderful Julian is in the class. I smiled all day at her final note:

He is definitely ready for K! I enjoy watching his mesmerized look when he is listening and absorbing information, and is then ready to share. I am so glad he is enjoying science!! I am going to miss Julian.
It's so funny, now that we only have a few days left of preschool, it seems like an eternity. Julian mentioned today that he's tired of taking naps, and he's increasingly jealous and interested when Gabriel comes back from the CDC with paper airplanes or stories about things he did today.

Time to go, Miss Excuses has to pee for the 4th time since going to bed an hour ago.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

6/17/09 Graduation talk

Talking about Julian's upcoming graduation tonight, Julian asked us very sincerely, "When are you going to graduate from work?"

Yeah, when. Noooo kidding.

First things first, kid. I am so psyched for Julian to join Gabriel in the schoolkid environment. I think he will thrive and blossom, he is so ready. I'm starting to wish I could graduate from work and join them.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

6/16/09 Getting the job done

Last night, tired of Julian's excuses and complaints for not setting the table (it's his week, lord help me), I told a fabricated story about work, that went something like this: Me and my coworker Carol both needed some papers from John to get our jobs done: "But John didn't finish in time. When our boss asked me and Carol if our work was ready, I said, 'No, because John didn't give me his papers.' But you know what Carol said? She said --" I gave them a cliffhanger pause "-- YES." I tried to let the power of that one word hang and gave them a knowing face.

"But how?" Julian asked. I answered, "Because found what she needed anyway, and she got the job done. *I* just told the boss that it wasn't my fault and gave him a bunch of excuses and reasons. But Carol got her job done." More pauses. Then, brainstorm: "And you know what? The boss KNOWS John didn't do his work! And he knows that Carol got her job done even though John didn't help her! John got in trouble, I got nothing -- but Carol got a gold star."

I was trying to teach a lesson about taking responsibility, like getting the table set even though someone is "distracting" you (Julian's best excuse, he's not even very creative). Still, I felt like I was engaging in one of these "magazine moments" -- parenting advice touted by adults, but is lost on kids. Julian seemed to take this in for a few minutes, before the borderline bathroom talk started up again. There's only so much poop-free talk two little boys can take.

Driving home tonight, Julian asked me if "John" bothered me at work today. I said no, but a computer program did (it's true, the newest version of MS Word froze on me at least 5 times today). Then, when we got home and entered the kitchen, Julian said something so miraculous I thought I'd just entered a parallel world: "I'm going to set the table RIGHT NOW so that I get the JOB DONE no matter what!!" And he did. Straight out of a magazine! Even if it never happens again, I'm encouraged.


Monday, June 15, 2009

6/15/09 When old meets new

My mother told me about a time once when my grandmother (her mother) shocked my mother's misbehaving older brother by sticking him in the shower with all his clothes on. My mother remembers thinking of that as being a harsh measure, and when I first heard it, I thought so too. My mother never had to resort to anything like that raising us.

But that was before I realized: at the time, my grandmother was in the same boat I'm in: two boys and a girl. (My grandmother actually went through more than that, including burying premature triplets after the two boys, then having another girl for a total of 2 boys and 2 girls.) Still, by today's standards, that's a harsh physical punishment, one that especially positive parenting would discourage.

Tonight, once again, was marked by the usual struggle to get the boys to respond to anything I tell them. Whether I'm asking, reminding, telling, instructing, demanding (I don't plead)...doesn't matter, I'm routinely ignored. By bathtime I'm especially short-fused. Once again, I was completely ignored when I asked, reminded, told, instructed and then demanded they get undressed for the bath. Katrina was also fussing -- happily a rare occurrence these days -- so I was in no mood for extra steps.

When Katrina was done with her bath and calm, Julian had just barely started to get his shirt off. I asked myself, what's the first tenet of positive discipline? Natural consequences. What's the natural consequence for still having your clothes on when it's bathtime?

Well, how about, you get in the bath anyway??

And so, I pulled Julian into the bathtub, fully clothed, and sprayed him with water. It's bathtime, and if you can't get your clothes off in 15 minutes with numerous warnings, so be it.

I hoped it would finally break the hysterical giggling-ignoring state the boys were in, and it did, moreso than I expected. Julian howled and wailed, and Gabriel screamed and shouted at me and tried to stop me. Normally he cheers on any action against his brother, but I'd crossed a line and kicked him into protective mode. But I did succeed in finally, finally getting them to stop ignoring me and tearing apart their room instead of getting ready for bath.

What a remarkable intersection of old-fashioned physical shock discipline and modern-day natural consequences. However, no matter how you look at it, old school or new, I doubt it worked, as both boys clearly blamed me for their misfortune and only responded obnoxiously when I asked them what they thought I should do instead ("how about I spit in your face, Mom?"). They don't connect their own actions to consequences. They can learn to avoid unpleasant things, like Mom flipping out, for practical reasons, but I'm sorely skeptical they'll extrapolate any larger lesson from it.

They calmed down by storytime, and with the forgiving amnesia of young children, both gave me very sincere hugs and kisses goodnight. And I...well, I hope I can go my grandmother's way on this one, who probably didn't give the incident another thought.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

6/14/09 Hidden Villa Farm

There's a private farm not far from home that's a popular spot to take kids. Incredibly, I've never been there. Today one of my Las Madres group had a tour planned, and I decided to join. It'd have been smart if I'd looked back on emails and noticed that we were supposed to sign up. Or, even smarter to notice in email this morning that one family of 4 was sick and was bailing. Two stupids made a smart, and it worked out.

Gabriel's been to Hidden Villa before and was disparaging about going, but Katrina wanted to see the "aminulls," so I insisted he join us. Not much choice anyway; I really wanted to get them all out of the house once today.

In the Hidden Villa parking lot, where I discovered that my camera's battery was low, so I had to be conservative about photos.

This was GREAT! We had such a great time! The tour guide was an enthusiastic knowledgeable young woman who was great at talking with kids. Two of my mom friends had been there before, and they agreed it was much much different -- and much much better -- with a knowledgeable guide.

First, we went into the sheep and goat field. I was delighted -- thrilled to see Gabriel not only relax, but get really into it. Katrina and Julian were afraid of the friendly goats, but liked seeing a chicken coop inside the field. Gabriel had a great time, answering questions the guide asked, and asking his own questions. He's not a show-off kid, but he did seem to enjoy being the high-ranking kid there; his age (he was the only grade-schooler) and experience (from having been there once) showed.

Katrina was nervous about the goats at first, but liked the mellow sheep better. I almost had her touching one sheep, when the sheep squatted and took a big pee right in front of her. This proved to be a very significant moment later.

Next, we walked to a chicken field. The guide talked to us about the chickens and how to feed them, and gave the kids handfuls of feed to throw to the chickens. Gabriel was the only one brave (well, old) enough to take her suggestion of putting the feed on your shoes and letting the chickens eat it off your feet.

About now, an amazing thing happened. Julian kicked into student mode, and became quite serious about this visit. He asked many questions, and ran ahead to stay with the guide, almost puppy-dogging her to ask questions and listen to what she said. He got so really, really into it -- so much so that he hardly even smiled until lunchtime. I was fascinated and proud to see how studious and inquisitive he was. Gabriel too -- both boys stayed up front and asked a lot of questions, though Gabriel's were more pointed and directed. Julian just wanted the information flow to continue; Gabriel had to know about specifics, like a solar panel in the garden. This tour was for a group of Katrina's peers, but I was so so happy about not only how well-behaved my older boys were, but enthusiastic and involved.

After the chickens, we went on to see some pigs. Katrina again witnessed a pig taking a leak in its designated spot (pigs really are clean animals), and this again made a big impression on her.

Then the farm's organic vegetable and herb garden. The guide talked about the 6 parts of plants that we can eat, and picked samples for the kids to try. Julian was really in his element here, and tried everything.

A tunnel to get out of the garden.

Though my camera battery forbade taking too many pictures, thank goodness Sonia was there with hers!

After the wonderful tour, we had lunch at a picnic area. By now, it was past 1pm and I was worried about Katrina. She hadn't "gone" since we left the house, before 10:30am. I knew she must have to go, and I'd already tried to get her to use a toilet at the farm. Absolutely, no way, not.

When it was really time to leave, I packed the boys into the car and tried one more time to get Katrina to go. Lucky me, I hit upon a bathroom that happened to also have a shower in it. I stripped her from the waist down and tried to get her to pee in the shower...she thought about it, but, no. I washed her hands, hoping the water would inspire her. It didn't exactly, but she stopped screaming NO when I suggested going pee in the grass. So I carried her bare-butted out of the bathroom and found a spot behind a building where I could set her down barefoot comfortably. I talked to her, and incredibly, she agreed to go standing up. "Look mommy! I went pee in the grass like the sheep!"

This is the first she's gone outside our home or Tonya's home, a huge breakthrough. She was very proud of herself, smiling widely and saying again and again, "I went pee in the grass like the pig!"

All three kids had a really great time. Julian couldn't stop talking about it: "I really love Sue!" (the guide) and kept telling me about the questions he asked, and one he "got right" (guessed and was confirmed by the guide). It gave me a little insight into how he'll be as a student someday. He has a serious putzy side, but when he's interested in something, he gets consumed and you can practically see his mind opening and casting a net for any and all information. So different from his brother's laserlike focus, but almost as intense. Mostly, they all had so much fun. And so did I!