Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Summer Days

I haven't had much time for posting sister-in-law Kirsten and her daughter, Caitlin are here visiting from England for three weeks. It's been really fun seeing the cousins together - Caitlin is four months older than Brighton so the three are running around in a well-matched pack. It was really cool to see actually - the kids haven't seen each other in two years but got along right away.

We've taken the opportunity to do some of the fun activities we hadn't tried yet here in the Twin Cities, mostly successfully. The only challenging part of the visit so far (well, apart from three kids under the age of 5) was the several days of extreme heat when K and C first arrived. The heat index was listed at 122 at the worst and it was pretty uncomfortable. It's cooled off since then and we've had absolutely gorgeous days and lots of fun outdoors. Here's some pictures of our adventures thus far...

We lasted 25 minutes at the park at 9 am. SO HOT. It was
a good excuse to eat ice cream at 9:30 am though.

On a trolley ride

I think Brighton sees an iceberg ahead

Taking the trolley home (this was such a fun - and free - activity)

At a Saint Paul Saints baseball game. Pacey takes his baseball
very seriously. 

Classic ballpark food - french fries, pretzel and Hawaiian Punch
(it contains a whole 5% fruit juice you know)

Caitlin wasn't too sure about the food...

The girls trying out Pacey's bed

Playing dress-up...this girl is way too comfortable
in a tiara

Harriet Potter

Pace got in on the action

Ready for an adventure

Someone who shall remain nameless
celebrated a milestone birthday the other
day. Again, B went right for the tiara.

Posting may be light for the next couple of weeks while we continue to entertain our guests and eke as much pleasure out of the remaining summer months as we can. I can't believe it's only a little over a month until school starts (not that I am counting or anything...)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reading is fun! (no, really)

I'm a reader. A really voracious reader. At this point in my life I read mainly for escapism and reason I really like e-books (no one can see what fluff you are reading). I didn't read to my pregnant belly with either kid, although arguably Brighton eavesdropped on Pacey's bedtime stories for awhile. I have always been excited about sharing books with my kids though, and they already have entire series of chapter books waiting for them to be old enough to read aloud (Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Ramona Quimby and all the Roald Dahl books, to name a few).

However, it hasn't been as easy to get the kids interested in books as I thought. I don't know how early you can identify a "bookie" but neither kid shows any early signs. There were phases, sure, when Pacey was younger that we were pretty good about reading every night before bed but when Brighton was born it all sort of went out the window. One day a few months ago I retrieved Pacey from his bedroom following his Quiet Time and found that he had ripped a book into a million little pieces. One we really liked too! (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, in case you wondered). I was really upset with him and removed all books from his room at that point.

It's been a ongoing goal of mine, though, to be more book-centric and so I thought I would share a few of the things that have worked in getting the kids more interested.

1. Create a space for books. I've always made a point of having books all over the house, always accessible. I find, however, that if books are competing with other more "exciting" toys, they'll often get brushed aside. Recently, we decided to convert our upstairs landing (outside their bedrooms) to a reading corner for the kids. I moved a bookshelf out there and organized all their books within their reach (putting the board books all in a bin on a shelf made them feel more manageable to keep tidy) and plopped a bean bag chair and colorful US map rug down in front. Amazingly, they've independently chosen to sit down and read more times in that space since I put it together than in the last year altogether.

2. If you have more than one kid, read to them separately. There's nothing I love more than having a kid tucked under each arm listening to a story. Realistically though, that lasts about 3.2 seconds before someone is poking someone, someone else gets distracted, and suddenly the kids are involved in a wild rumpus rather than reading about one. Plus, they have different interests at this age. I've had much more luck getting the kids to listen to a story individually, and this has allowed me to read to Brighton ("my" kid to put to bed) each night again.

3. Accept that they may not like the books you like. This is a hard one for me. My mom saved all of our books from childhood and has been sending them to us a few at a time for our kids. So, so awesome (I love my battered copy of Goodnight Moon) but a lot of them are not huge favorites with my kids. I get so excited and nostalgic to see the books I loved as a child but...I don't know, maybe they just don't have the frame of reference yet? Whatever the reason, they couldn't care less about Swimmy or Stone Soup right now. Thankfully they do love some really great books, like the Llama Llama series by Anna fact, Brighton's very favorite book right now is Llama Llama Mad at Mama. (foreshadowing?) Anyway, I hope that one day they'll enjoy the books I remember loving so much, or at least will develop the maturity and politeness to sit through them while I enjoy them.

4. Don't hesitate to simplify a plot or words. I don't feel like either of my kids is really in the process of learning to read right now, so we're not focusing on word recognition or anything like that while we read. I have found that at times they really like characters and plotlines but the books are just too wordy. So, I have started summarizing the pages in more of a conversational tone with them, until they get the idea of the plot. They tend to be much more interested, thereafter, in listening to the story as written.

This is something that's so important to me, and it's been really hard to be patient with the process. We do make progress all the time though, and I make a point of taking the kids to the library too even though it's mainly a giant pain in the ass to make sure they are behaving appropriately and not spending the entire time whining to play computer games on the library computers.

We have a really great collection of classic kids' books, but I would love to hear some suggestions of more recently published books your kids are loving.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Why It Matters

I have to preface this post by saying that I am extremely conscientious about taking my kids places in public, especially restaurants. We pick kid-friendly places and do our best to remove a kid who is creating a scene. However, I think that it is entirely appropriate and necessary to take kids out in public in order to teach them acceptable behavior. It doesn't happen magically or immediately, but it has to be done.

So. I took the kids for lunch one day at a well-known soup-and-salad type establishment. Totally kid-friendly and it was 11:30 or so in the morning. I maneuvered our double stroller into a quiet-ish corner where I could set us up without being in the way and got the kids settled. As I got our food to the table, my hot-headed little tempest in a teacup took offense at my admonishment to wait a minute while I got things organized before she started grabbing for food. She gave the food tray an indignant shove and my bowl of soup went flying into the booth seat where I'd piled my bag and our coats.

Now, this is not my first rodeo. I've dealt with spills and messes and shabby behavior in public places before, so I'm pretty good at just getting on with it. This, though, this was a pretty big mess. Tomato soup in my bag, on my bag, covering Brighton's coat and part of Pacey's. I took a deep breath, enlisted the help of a waitress and started cleaning up. It was clear to me that Brighton's coat was a goner. It'd been a clearance buy to begin with and just wasn't worth trying to get it home to be cleaned. I folded it up to whisk it over to the garbage can and managed to dump the half a bowl of soup it contained onto the floor.

At this point I was feeling pretty stressed out. The kids were hungry and Brighton was upset because she knew she'd caused the mess. Cheeks burning, I took the coat to the garbage and noticed two men dressed in business attire, laptops open, sitting in our corner. They exchanged looks with each other and one rolled his eyes. Jerk. On my way back to the table and my screaming daughter, a couple of moms gave me sympathetic smiles and one asked how much I felt like crying. Eh, I shrugged, it happens.

And then, as the heart-of-gold staff member that was helping us escorted us to a new table nearby so she could clean up the mess in the booth (seriously, this woman was a saint), one of the businessmen cut his eyes at Pacey and lobbed a bomb. His comment doesn't bear repeating...I have to hear it in my head and I don't want to have to see it written here. It was hurtful and it included the term "retard."

At that point? Yeah, I felt like crying. I felt like punching the guy in the nuts, I felt like dumping my fresh bowl of soup over his briefcase (lord knows I had no appetite for it at this point). But somehow the rational part of my brain prevailed and I sat with the kids, facing them away from these assholes, and focused on the fact that they had no idea what had happened. I gritted my teeth, smiled at the kids and swallowed past the giant lump in my throat as I helped them eat their lunch. I managed to hold it together until we exited the restaurant and then I couldn't anymore - I called my husband and sobbed.

Now, I have to point out that in 4.5 years, this is the only bad experience like this that I have had. I do believe that generally people are good and kind and don't say things intentionally to hurt. But many people I know uninentionally say things that hurt. I understand that generally the use of the term "retarded" is not intended as an insult to my kid. But it is meant as a insult and is used as a synonym for stupid, and every time it's used that way it's hurtful. It's so easy to pick another word...the English language is full of them. I even have a suggestion. If that word is on the tip of your tongue, change out a few syllables and go for "ridiculous." It might save someone a really bad day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Take Me to the Faaaaarm

I usually look at the weather forecast first thing in the morning to determine what our day's activities will be. Today was predicted to be lovely and cool and indeed, it was about 75 degrees with a few puffy clouds in the sky. "The farm!" I thought. A perfect day for the working farm about 30 minutes away that is open daily to the public.

Here's the place where a quote about best laid plans would go.

The kids love animals. I talked to them on the way about where we were going and that we would get to see animals. They were so! excited! We got to the farm and I decided to forgo the stroller that they would be begging to get out of immediately anyway and we set off into the farm.

Here is a list of things we (read: Pacey and Brighton) did while at the farm:

Pick up rocks
Pick up more rocks
Find sticks and threaten each other with them
Climb on rocks
Jump off rocks
Attempt to climb fences
Plop down and refuse to get up
Refuse to walk
Scream to be carried and then thrash about like a fish out of water
Examine sheep poop and try our very hardest to step in it

Here is a list of things we did not do at the farm:

Look at any of the animals for more than 2.2 seconds
Walk cooperatively
Listen to a single syllable uttered by any figure of authority (that would be me)
Thank our mother for a wonderful, educational and exciting outing

I really have to work hard in these situations to remember our objective for the outing: for the kids to have a good time. Does it matter that all they wanted to do was sit down and play with the rocks? Not really. They had a blast. I'm pretty glad we didn't pay for it though (it's free).

There were two moments that made the whole trip worth it for me. The first was when we ran into a group of several young adults with disabilities and another young woman who had clearly brought them to the farm. The kids were excited to say hello to them and shake their hands, which brought smiles to all their faces. One of the young men had Down syndrome and seeing Pacey greet him, two stubby-fingered hands coming together, was amazing. One of the other young men was deaf and pointed to my Twins t-shirt and gave me a thumbs up. He was wearing a Vikings t-shirt so I responded in kind, throwing in the sign for "football" (thanks Signing Time!) His face totally lit up and he grinned from ear to ear. Awesome.

And finally, when we were on our way out we ran into three farm hands that were attempting to lead four sheep to a different pen down the path. These sheep were so hilariously stubborn - they were pulling on their rope leads, digging their heels into the path, dropping down onto their knees, and finally just laying down and refusing to budge. I literally could not stop laughing at this scene, so incredibly similar was it to the last hour-and-a-half I'd spent trying to cajole my own little animals around the paths. I felt SUCH sympathy for the poor farmhand that got stuck with two non-compliant sheep...he looked as close to throwing in the towel as I feel many days.

And here is the proof: "See kids, I took you to a damn farm!"

"And look at THIS one"

Brighton "washing" Pacey's back with a stick

Master Sulker

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Friday, July 8, 2011

Silence is (not) Golden

The thing about having a child with a significant speech delay is that you can never stop watching.

Pacey will be five in November. His most significant area of developmental delay is his speech and he is, for the most part, not proficient in verbal communication. That's not to say he doesn't communicate...he uses sign language and gesturing and, sometimes, what looks a lot like a game of charades. He's pretty adept at communicating the most basic needs: he can sign or ask for simple things like a specific food or drink, to go potty, that something is hot or cold and similar. He can count and say the alphabet and can sight read familiar words (mostly names and titles).

However, he doesn't really have a way of indicating his preferences (without being given a visual choice), is pretty much limited to answering yes or no questions and doesn't have the means to explain things to us yet. Pacey's speech delay, as I understand it, is related to a motor processing disorder. His brain knows what it needs to say, but in the journey from brain to mouth things get a little...garbled. His pronunciation of most words is pretty unclear and, to complicate things, the pronunciation he uses tends to be inconsistent. When we are practicing a word, he may pronounce it differently 4 times out of 5.

It's really hard, therefore, even for me to discern what exactly he is trying to say a lot of the time. And so I watch. I'm sure it comes across as hovering to onlookers, and I suppose that's what it is. But the truth is, if Pacey comes to me in tears from the playground I have no idea whether it is a physical injury, hurt feelings or something else that has upset him and he can't explain it.

I know Pacey has preferences and favorites - of course he does. But, if you were to ask him his favorite color he couldn't tell you. I know, because I watch, that nine times out of ten he will select a red object if it's a choice and so I am reasonably certain his favorite color is red. If I hadn't been watching, however, I would have no idea.

Pacey also has trouble expressing things like hunger, tiredness, a specific pain or a frustration with something. So again, I watch. When he is upset about something and I am trying to "diagnose" the problem, I run through all the basic needs: has he had enough to eat/drink, when did he last go potty, what's the temperature like, etc. This is a lot easier to do now that I am with him all day. When he was at daycare all day I'd have an especially hard time figuring out what he needed or wanted.

In a lot of ways I am naturally really well suited to being Pacey's mom because I'm an introvert and I also communicate in lots of ways besides talking. I'm pretty intuitive and obviously very in tune with Pacey's "rhythms." There are times, though, that no matter how hard I try and listen and attempt to diagnose, I CANNOT figure out what he needs or wants. And I can't help but feel like I've failed him in those moments. Beyond his basic needs, I long to know what Pacey's thinking and how he sees the world.

I know that this is somewhat common with kids in general; I read somewhere that developmentally, children are not very adept at localizing a source of pain until they are six years old (this is why sometimes they will say their tummy hurts when actually it's a sore throat). And, frankly, kids are sort of unreliable with information anyway. But this speech delay for Pacey isn't one that will magically improve overnight and sometimes it feels like a long slog ahead of us.

Although this has become something of a ramble, I will put in a quick plug for Signing Time, the sign language program developed specifically for kids. Pacey and Brighton both love watching these DVDs and have acquired a pretty astonishing vocabulary of signs. It encourages them to simultaneously sign and say words and phrases, which is great when you have pronunciation issues. Pacey has even made up some of his own signs for things which has been a great tool for him. I'm surprised at how much Brighton signs as well - before we had Pacey I was sooo not interested in sign language for kids but now I'd recommend it wholeheartedly, special needs or not.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Reality, Back to

It's now been officially one year since I quit my job and took on the role of CEO for the Harris household. I'd planned to write a post checking in, thinking and reflecting on how I see my life and new "job" since this time last year.

However. This week has been such that I fear I would write a post that skewed heavily towards the more challenging aspects of this life and I don't want to preserve that representation. So, maybe later this week.

Instead, I'll go ahead and tell you how we spent our 4th of July weekend. Saturday we sat down to plan out the three days off, discussing which household projects we should tackle, what chores/errands needed doing and then fell silent, each lost in thoughts of boring responsibility. Then Chris said, "let's go to the beach." And I agreed. And we did.

There's a municipal "beach", by which I mean a sandy beach on the shore of one of our many (ten thousand, so the rumor goes) lakes, about five minutes from our house. I optimistically bought a summer-long pass for the family pre-season, for the whopping price of $20. Anyway, after I tried to take the kids by myself last week I was feeling a little discouraged about the usefulness of said pass but when we took the kids together it was a blast. Great facilities, the water was clean and warm and there was a place to set up camp in the grass instead of the sand (oh how I hate sand). Brighton swam like a fish and Pacey puttered up and down the shore, building sand castles with me.

I snapped this photo of Brighton wearing my sunglasses and suddenly 12 years had passed and I was seeing her as a teenager. Yikes.

Anyway, great family day at the beach followed by an awesome evening with friends. Since we don't have actual family here, we've adopted a family of sorts consisting of two sets of friends and their kids. Our kids are the oldest and it's nice, finally, to be back in a place where we are more flexible and can keep the kids out a little later without major meltdowns and, for the most part, get to eat our meals in peace.

B and our friend, L. I can just see these two causing trouble
together 10 or 12 years from now.

Pacey and Sally, the dachsund. Pacey loooooves Sally.

C and my good friend Sharda's baby, Desi

Daddy's cheerleaders/critics

Sunday we split up and Chris took Brighton swimming again while I took Pacey to see Cars 2. He wasn't super into it, and I was a little surprised at the gun violence. We made it about 2/3 of the way through, which was plenty, and it was fun spending some one-on-one time with my boy. I last took him to the theater about this time last year to see Toy Story 3, and I was pleased to see that since then he gained enough weight to keep the chair in its proper position rather than getting sandwiched in it. 

Monday we played it pretty low-key and just grilled and did some sparklers and pop-its. As the kids get older I would like to do some more of the novelty fireworks with them. We always did them with my dad in our backyard and those are some of my best summer memories. 

All in all a great weekend, but now the kids are suffering post-fun letdown and are unbelievably crabby, and I keep finding myself mentally composing Craigslist ads for them. How long til school starts? 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Healthy Fear

Yesterday was a day that had me thinking about fear. As a kid, I definitely had more than a healthy amount of fear. Unfamiliar locations or people, an upsetting news story or a violent scene in a movie or TV show was enough to settle a filter of unease over my world. I dreaded the annual viewing of that damn Danger Zone movie (who doesn't remember the little girl sliding under the bus wheels to retrieve the valentine for her mom??) and "stranger danger" lessons left me suspicious and even more fearful.

Let me just say, I wouldn't wish that level of fear on my kids in a million years. Often I see their unshaken confidence that the world is a good and safe place and it's simply beautiful. However. They dart away from me in parking lots, giggling at my panicked expression and grabs for their arms. I'm pretty sure Pacey would walk off with anyone offering a hand and a kind smile. During a recent beach excursion, Brighton made a beeline for the water and headed out as far as she could get before I snagged her by the floatie and dragged her back in (no, she was not in danger of drowning due to her flotation device, but she is TWO YEARS OLD and therefore not at all ready to be swimming in a lake by herself). Basically, they have no idea that bad things happen.

I really struggle with managing the need to increase their awareness of real dangers with the desire to shield them, for now, from those remote and terrible possibilities that it is my job to protect them from as best I can. I know that age and maturity are a big factor in kids' ability to understand dangers and why they have to follow certain rules. But how do you teach a child that they cannot run into the street unless you are prepared to introduce the concepts of accidents and cars and injuries? How do you explain that to a two-year-old? Maybe the answer is that you can't, and therefore it's a matter of vigilance and gripping their little arms a little more tightly than may be comfortable. But my god, sometimes the weight of that feels enormous.

I love that my kids believe the world is inherently a good place and that they are invincible. It has to be one of the greatest treasures of childhood. But it's not realistic as kids grow up and I know it's one of my jobs as a mom to instill a healthy level of awareness and fear into them. There's a really interesting difference between Chris and I in this regard. I am sure that part of it is that I am the children's primary caregiver and therefore spend a lot more time fully in charge of their safety. He just doesn't see (or doesn't look for) the inherent dangers lurking out there. I feel like part of it is that he, as a large and strong male has probably never experienced a true feeling of vulnerability.

There's not really a conclusion to this post, but I would love to hear from anyone else about when and how you start introducing safety and awareness to your kids without making them fearful.