Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Give them a "Hand" for this amazing "Feet!"

Aidan and Leo created this Halloween decoration today, and it's an understatement to say they put their hearts and "soles" into making it perfect. Aidan used his hands and feet to create the bats and larger ghosts, respectively. He filled in the moon outline with yellow paint, all by himself. And an important lesson was learned about Leo and paint on hands and feet: he hates it! The three smaller ghosts were achieved amidst shrieks, screams and cries of horror... not because it gave him a fright to see the ghosts, mind you, but because of the squishy paint on his feet. Plan B, it seems, is in order for those footprint Christmas crafts I was planning....

Oh, for the love of......

Loveys! Why, oh why, don't they make GPS for loveys? After spending the umpteenth hour searching for the lovey who has been lost umpteenth times, I am fantasizing about simply pressing a little remote control button.... hearing the shrill beep.... and quickly, speedily, heroically locating the lost lovey.

Aidan's lovey, Gladys, is a small, limp, formerly-yellow-but-now-a-shade-of-gray duck. She bears a small blue scar, courtesy of an overzealous painter (Aidan) who insisted she could "watch" as he "helped" Daddy paint.... her beak bore the brunt of Aidan's cutting teeth when he was younger, and is matted and disfigured as a result. More recently, she has become the experimental object of choice in every flying experiment Aidan conducts. (In other words, he constantly flings her around the room.) She's been lost beneath mounds of clothes in the dress up box, cooking away in the (play) microwave, trapped under the seat cushions, and, most harrowing, pinned beneath the garden hose and abandoned in the mulch. Yet she's survived it all, and is loved all the more for it.

Leo has two loveys: Flat Cat, whom he's had since birth, and Flat Lion, who was acquired during one of Flat Cat's first disappearances. Wise moms warned me when they saw Gladys for the first time - buy two loveys, in case something happens to one of them - but everyone knows that there's only one true lovey. Like Gladys, Flat Cat is formerly-yellow-turned-gray, and has no stuffing in any part of her body besides her head (thus, appropriately named.) After watching me wipe down the kids' table with a shot of Windex and a paper towel, Leo apparently decided Flat Cat was a good substitute for a paper towel.... and proceeded to mop up the excess Windex with poor Flat Cat's backside. The result? Total trauma: the two hours it took to wash - and dry - Flat Cat in the laundry.

Why, exactly, are these stinky, floppy, unattractive animals so well-loved? What makes us become so attached? And when I say "us," I really do mean "us." For as much as I sigh and moan and complain when I'm searching for the Lost Duck and Lost Cat (closely followed by searching for my Lost Mind) I am nearly as invested in finding them as my children are in reconnecting with their lovey. Gladys and Flat Cat are with us in the best of times, and in the worst of times. Sometimes, I feel like they are my partners in fighting the tears - frustration, exhaustion, pain, hurt.

I'll never forget the day my dear friend wept when she realized her daughter's "Baby" was lost, forever, at the grocery store. Never mind that SHE had the foresight to have a backup Baby, never mind that her daughter (eventually) came to accept the backup as the original. Perhaps, in our minds as mothers, we realize that those loveys become surrogates, the companions who can sleep each night tucked in the crib or bed, who can travel safely in the car seat, who can snuggle under chins during favorite videos or after a long day of preschool, surrogates for what we feel in our hearts but cannot always provide with our arms.

My father's childhood lovey, Bell Boy, held a place of honor on a shelf in our family room. My brother's lovey, Munchie Mouse, was attached to a quilt given to him on his 30th birthday. My own lovey, Pink Bear, attended my wedding dressed in a tuxedo. And it is with these renewed memories of loveys, lost and found, that I redouble my efforts at finding Miss G......

....who has deftly maneuvered herself into the book basket!!!

Friday, September 26, 2008

... and finally, Boy.

It is long overdue that I introduce several other, very important members of our family. By Aidan's insistence.

For at least two years, Aidan has had an imaginary friend named Boy. Boy and Aidan enjoy countless adventures together, the most notable of which (for me, at least) was when I was forced to put Boy into a time out in the second-to-last aisle of the grocery store due to the mischevious antics of Boy and Aidan in aisles 1-11....

Boy is extremely knowledgeable, helpful, friendly..... and a troublemaker. He teaches Aidan all sorts of interesting facts and ideas. He has a sister, Fishnika, who celebrates a birthday about every third week. (We sing "Happy Birthday" to her, and give her cookies from the play kitchen oven.) Boy has a brother named Calvin; his dad is named Ssssssss, and his mother is, appropriately, Boy's Mommy.

More on the delightful world of Imaginary Friend Boy in posts to come. It's time for the McCain/Obama debate, and I'm guessing McCain wishes he had an imaginary friend right now to do his debating for him.... or maybe that's what he was thinking when he contemplated not participating in the debate?? His Boy could do it for him?

the "Literacy" in the Literacy Farm

I am ecstatic to see Aidan's developing literacy skills, his phonemic awareness, his love of reading and writing. On the newly-sealed driveway the other day, Aidan was setting up the start and finish line for the race he was about to have with (his imaginary friend) Boy. He drew one line and wrote "CTT". He announced, Start. This says "Start." And indeed, it does. With invented spelling, he has just taken one huge leap up the ladder of literacy, making the move from late emergent reader and writer into early letter name-alphabetic stage, where he will begin to recognize words based on their familiarity, begin to track reading according to the salient beginning (and ending) sounds, and begin to read on his own. Very exciting stuff, indeed. While he is still a ways off from having a concept of word and truly reading on his own, I was highly impressed with his rendition of "start." Not only did it have a beginning and ending consonant, it also contained a blend, the "st" sound, one of the harder concepts among beginning readers.

Hooray for my late emergent/early letter name-alphabetic reader!!!

Meanwhile, on the Leo Literacy front, he continues to gain more signs each day. When he lacks a sign, he invents his own, moving his hand up and down in a small motion for "bell," (indicating his desire for the "coffee bell" the boys use to rouse me out of bed), or turning both hands in a small way while saying "vroom!" to indicate car, and in a big way, big hands and VROOM! to indicate truck. The more you try to ignore his signs (more! more! more COOKIE!!!) the more precise and grandiose his signs become. His best word, after Mama, is cookie, pronounced in the cutest little baby voice.

There is nothing more endearing than seeing the two literacy worlds collide, when Aidan sits snugly next to Leo and "reads" books like Five Little Pumpkins or Brown Bear, Brown Bear.

Show and Tell

Preschool Show and Tell is seriously stressful.... for me. Each Thursday, Aidan is supposed to bring in something that corresponds to the letter of the week, something he wants to share, to tell others about, to impress his friends with..... and each week, I want him to have something that is "just right." Something that fits into the decorated brown lunch bag his teacher sends each Wednesday, a tacit reminder: "Parents, you'd better fill this thing with something for tomorrow's Show and Tell." Something he'll be proud to show... and tell. I want him to choose something that he can talk about without inhibition; something he really likes; something that's not too expensive (the camera he wanted to bring) too valuable (his lovey, Gladys) too cumbersome (his brother, Leo) or too strange (a photograph of the "nook", a corner of the family room that has two chairs. And a basket of toys.)

And so the pressure is on. This is definitely Aidan's thing; Aidan gets to decide what to bring. But still, the latent teacher inside me knows that the chosen object at show-and-tell is most definitely a reflection of the kind of parents we are. Or at least, that's what my latent-teacher brain has managed to convince the worried-mother brain of mine. So each Tuesday, we begin plotting what he might bring. I write big, bold reminders on the dry-erase board, because - god forbid - what if he FORGOT show and tell??? What would that say about me as a mother? We contemplate many possibilities. This week, the letter was A. He quickly decided on a photograph of our cat, Alice. I worried... would the teacher think he had his letters confused? Bringing a "C" object for "A" week? Would a small, gray, Lego cat representative be a better choice than a photograph? Should he draw a picture, his own rendition of his cat? Aidan insisted on a photo. When I could not locate a single one on our computer, he decided to take one himself. With our (expensive, highly-guarded) camera. I admit, I got impatient when he took forever to set up the pose, tell the cat to say "cheese," try to see her through the viewfinder, and finally snap the photo. I tried to convince him to let me snap a photo with him and Alice, and he'd have a "double A" picture. He refused to give up the lens. The kid's a natural, though. His photo was just right, ten times better than the one I impatiently snapped at the beginning of the photo shoot. We printed it in 8x10 format on cardstock; I tucked it away in his backpack on Wednesday night, and sent him on his way, confident that Thursday's Show and Tell would be all the rave at the dinner table.

"Aidan! What did the kids think of your picture at Show and Tell? How did it go?" I implored. "They liked it," he replied. "Oh yeah? What did they say? Did you tell them it was A for Alice? Did you tell them you took the picture all by yourself?? What did the other kids bring in???" "Um, I don't remember what they said...." I looked at him, perplexed. I prodded for more answers. I tried every trick in the book, asking "gateway" questions, naming specific kids, trying to get him to open up, give me the scoop on every detail of Show and Tell.

Clearly, and thankfully, Show and Tell is not quite the stress-inducer for Aidan that it is for me. So perhaps I should start my own Show and Tell, with my own friends. What would I bring? Well, for A week, I'd bring Aidan. Or a carefully composed photograph of Aidan. Or an Aidan representative, perhaps the outlined body portrait he's been working on for weeks. I'd bring Aidan, because he's one of my two biggest achievements so far in life. I'd bring Aidan, because of the humility, the joy, the love and laugher he brings to our lives. I'd bring Aidan, because, as my firstborn, he was the definining person in my emergent life as Mom. I'd bring Aidan, despite my earlier disclaimers. He wouldn't fit in the brown paper bag; he's too expensive; he's too valuable; he can be rather cumbersome and strange at times, he's still that forbidden F word... Four.... yet when I meet someone new, when I'm with my friends, when I'm around people I've known forever, the first thing I want to do is show and tell.... show and tell Aidan, show and tell Leo, show and tell Jeff and our entire family.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Birdseed & Trailer Hitches

Two phenomena of childrearing that cease to amaze me: the joyful willingness to eat things that are not food, yet reject the delectables that Mom has prepared; and the ability to view ordinary objects with extraordinary possibilities. Cases in point:

Leo eventually became what we decided was an excellent eater - especially compared to his brother at the same age. He tried many new foods, ate the same healthy choices without batting an eye, and ate heartily. But it was a phase. Suddenly, Leo is Mr. Picky Picky. He goes on only-freshly-made macaroni-and-cheese binges, followed by "snack food only" streaks, followed by rejection of the food he loved the day before. He turns his nose up at anything new, remotely new, or possibly just seen the day before yesterday. Oddly, though, two quirks interrupt his picky stage. One: while refilling the bird feeder with "gourmet seed specifically blended for cardinals and songbirds," excess seed spilled onto the deck. Thinking nothing of it (except maybe that it would entice the birds to come closer) I did not bother to sweep it away. I look over not once, not twice, but three times to find Leo eating the birdseed!!!!! And loving it! (At least he's moved on from the cat food he used to digest daily...)

Two: there are some strange habits I've retained from my childhood. One is eating a birthday candle on someone's birthday, but that's a topic for an entirely different blog. Another is eating raw spaghetti. As long as I can remember, I have eaten raw spaghetti as the rest of the pasta has properly boiled in the pot. It's a trait I picked up from my mother, and it has always baffled Jeff. Every single time I've cooked pasta in the 9 years we've been together, I've eaten raw spaghetti. Every single time, he's stared at me with an incredulous, horrified expression. Much to his dismay, BOTH Aidan and Leo have developed this same affinity toward uncooked pasta, and munch on it while waiting for dinner to be served.

Aidan's ability to see objects in a myriad of possibilities never ceases to amaze or delight me. Ordinary objects like paint stirring sticks become wings of an airplane. Bungee cords become trailer hitches; the trailer itself might be a deck chair, his wooden boat, his brother.... Short-handled brooms become swords and wands. Plastic hangers become "getters." And peanut butter, paired with a superhero cape, apparently makes flying possible among ordinary mortals.

Sometimes, I get exasperated. Why can't Leo just eat the perfectly normal English muffin pizza I've made him? And why can't Aidan simply see a chair as a chair, meant for providing a resting place for the weary? I know I'll come to miss these days, though. When Leo is a famished teenager, eating us out of house and home, and Aidan refuses to get his weary self up from said chair, I might look back on today and chuckle. I guess that's my food for thought, then: this computer, this Internet, this blog, an ordinary object with extraordinary possibility, helping me to remember forever what might otherwise be lost, the daily minutia of childrearing that makes the journey so joyous.

(Clearly, the photos illustrate the flying potential of
Aidan and Leo: Just Add Peanut Butter!)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Happy Campers

The camping trip was a total and complete success! I don't know who had more fun, the grown ups or the kids. It was hot, to be sure. Low 90's, extremely high humidity, hot sun as it was setting. The kids splashed in the baby pools, ran with wild abandon in the open field of grass, played with the flashlights as night approached, and crashed hard into a good night's sleep... well, most of the kids, anyway.

I don't know if it was the beautiful and serene setting, the view of the surrounding mountains and valleys, the distance from highways and busy life, or possibly the great vineyard grapes (kids) and wine (adults) that made the whole experience positively therapeutic, but I will never forget the fun that we all had individually and as a group. Or maybe it was actually the people that made the trip so much fun. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of this amazing group of friends, brought together initially by our very young children, yet building friendships far beyond weekly playdates.

It struck me this weekend that most of the kids, the older ones at least, are finally at that age where they will remember these adventures well into their adult years. These memories, built during their formative years, will quite possibly mould and shape who they become as parents, how they spend time with their own families, what memories they try hard to create for their own children. At least, I hope they do. Because although there are some definite rough patches in the road of child rearing, and huge obstacles to overcome, this parenting journey we're on is far better than I could possibly have dreamed of, in part because of the rich reward of the friends we've made in this group.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

WHAT was I thinking?

We're going camping today. Yep, all of us, plus six other families from our playgroup. Fourteen children ages 1 1/2 - 6. We're camping at one family's vineyard, in tents, all night long. I'm wondering what, on earth, I was thinking six weeks ago when I shouted an enthusiastic YES in response to the invitation to camp! A quick reality check: Aidan is afraid of the dark. And thinks that bears are out to get him. And tried sleeping in a tent, in his room, for a week, but never made it more than an hour before surrendering to his own bed. Leo has been sleeping through the night for a mere 4 months. Four months!!! And I am being quite generous, and ignoring the habitual waking-at-five-a.m.-and-needing-some-patting routine. Now Jeff and I used to camp often, and we had some wonderful adventures together - until our last trip, which we affectionately called "Surviving," not camping. [In a nutshell, the hurricane-force winds sheared the bolt off the top of our tent. Undeterred, we bought a pup tent - you know, the boy scout kind.... for boys who are three feet tall.... and tried, for an hour, to boil water for our dinner, but the high winds kept blowing out the gas stove. Finally, we crawled into our tent, exhausted, when that night a herd of wild ponies streaked by us in a stampede. No wonder. When we asked the ranger to recommend a campsite for us, he replied "Western Maryland." We laughed a hearty laugh and thought it strange he was recommending a campsite 200 miles away.....]

Worst case scenario, we pack our stuff in the middle of the night and head home. I don't think it will actually come to that - except that my own vivid memory of camping as a young child is just that. On that trip, with my family and our close friends, the weather was so awful, but we were so determined. It ended in a big sleepover in the middle of the family room, a night I'll never forget, because of the fun, the laughter, and the absurdity of it all. The tent is packed, the flashlights have new batteries.... and the carpet is freshly vacuumed, in case we have to resort to Plan Z.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Proving that Alaska is not an Island...

An idea is born. In a nutshell, it is this: in 10 or 12 years, in the year 2018 or 2020, Jeff and I will lead our family on an adventure lasting 3 to 4 months and covering many continents and countries.

But let me start at the beginning. (And no, not like the beginning of a Michener novel.) In high school, I was a good student in nearly every subject - but definitely not in geography. During my junior year, while studying a map of the world [instead of just our familiar US map] I had an "ah-ha" moment, a sudden burst of new knowledge that finally integrated itself with old schema, a piece of the puzzle that finally fit. "You mean Alaska is not an island?!!" I asked my classmates and incredulous teacher. Think, for a moment, of how they draw US maps. Alaska is always in its own little box, right next to the box of the Hawaiian ISLANDS. I'd never noticed that it connected to Canada until that time in my junior year!

While I have seen many of the greatest attractions and amazing wonders of the United States, I have not traveled outside the country much at all. Jeff and I have dreamed of traveling abroad, but it always seems like one of those way-to0-distant future things. Until now. I read an article in Wondertime magazine about a family who saved money for more than a decade and then took one year off to tour the world. They saw 28 countries in 52 weeks - an amazing and unforgettable adventure. Inspired by their story, Jeff and I have agreed that we want our own tour of the world, with our children, albeit on a smaller scale.

We had earmarked an investment we made two years ago for "something big" in the future, not really having any idea what that might be. We've renamed that earmarked investment to "Proving Alaska is Not an Island Tour". We'll set yearly goals of what we'd like to save, depending on what our budget allows. As the time draws closer and we start planning where we will go, we'll look into opportunities like me teaching at Semester at Sea, or Jeff doing the nurse's equivalent of Doctors Without Borders. We'll look at a trip with the Sierra Club, which offers international, family, service-based trips.

One of the parts of the magazine article that stuck out to me was this: the family described that there was no way they could not go on the trip without losing face, because they had told so many people about it, talked about it for so long, and the trip became a veritable family mantra that it would have been impossible not to do it.

So if you hear Aidan muttering the Carter mantra, "Alaska is not an island...," maybe he's just plunked a few extra pennies into his piggy bank....

Dirty D.O.G. Day

Yesterday when I arrived to pick Aidan and Leo up from Grandma and Grandpa's house, I was greeted by the two dirtiest, sweatiest, and happiest boys I have ever seen as they rode up in the tractor with Grandpa. Leo's normally fluffy, fly-away hair was matted down to his head; he looked as if he'd dunked it in the lake. Aidan's curls were wet and plastered to his forehead. Leo was positively covered in dirt. Dirt was on his face, in his scalp, in the creases of his neck, outlining his diaper, covering every bit of his clothes and shoes.... "What have you been doing??" I implored. They looked positively filthy, and utterly happy. I soon learned that they had been working very hard with Grandpa, moving rock after rock and stone after stone into the trailer and clearing the ground for new grass seed. Whoever imagined moving rocks could be so much fun? I mused.

But that's exactly the point. Moving rocks was so much fun, because it was moving rocks with Grandpa. Cookies have never tasted so good as the ones made with Grandma. Steam cleaning the carpet has never been more fun than with Grandpa. Eating grilled cheese always tastes better at Grandma's house. Indeed, as I consoled a sobbing Aidan who was simply not ready to leave Grandma and Grandpa's house, I remembered what it was like to do the most ordinary of things with Grandma or with Grandpa. I had far fewer chances than Aidan and Leo have to spend ordinary time with grandparents, but I know how magical chores and errands suddenly become when spent with the beloved "AM-ma" or "BA-pa", as Leo affectionately calls them right now.

Regretfully, I did not have my camera with me to capture the dirt. I actually considered loading them in the car, dirt and all, and taking a picture at home.... but they were JUST TOO DIRTY. While this day will probably fade into the collective memories of Doings not out of the Ordinary with Grandparents, (D.O.G, that is) I , for one, will long remember this Dirtiest of D.O.G Days.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

...and he flew.

"Come to the edge," [s]he said.
They said, "We are afraid."
"Come to the edge," [s]he said.
They came.
[S]he pushed them...
...and they flew.
-Guillaume Apollinaire

What a difference a year makes! Today was Aidan's first day of Little Friends 4 Preschool, and he soared through a wonderful day. Preschool was a hard, hard transition for him last year. He would have preferred very much to stay home with me, or for me to stay with him at school. Despite an outstanding teacher and a class full of sweet and lovely children, it took Aidan many, many tear-filled months for him to adjust. While I know that there may be some tears in the weeks to come as the routine of preschool settles in, I am amazed at the composure, courage, excitement, and pride with which he greeted the new year. He has grown by leaps and bounds, and I am so proud - and so happy for him. I feel like I, too, have grown as a mom, letting go and watching him fly...


After school, he created a series of four drawings depicting things he had done at preschool today. "A snail boy making playdoh at snail preschool;" "Roll the ball game at snail preschool;" "Circle time at snail preschool;" and "Monkey bars at snail preschool." (He explicitly wanted them labeled this way). Curious about his choice of specimens, I asked, "Aidan, why did you decide to draw snails instead of people?" He said simply, "I am interested in snails."

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

note to self

Note to self: when four-year-old child is oddly quiet, take this as a sign that there is Trouble. Case(s) in point: Recently I stuck Leo in his crib and made sure Aidan was busily occupied with toys so I could grab a quick shower. Usually this results in exactly 1 minute 27 seconds of peace and quiet before the crying and yelling MAMA! (Leo) and door banging and yelling MOM!(Aidan) begins. On this day, no such yelling, no crying, no noise. When I got out, still no noise, and I thought to myself smugly, "Huh. They finally figured out how to entertain themselves peacefully while I shower." After throwing on some clothes, it was still oddly quiet, and therefore time to investigate. Leo was still in his crib, for sure - but just barely. He was precariously perched on the top of an enormous mound of toys, books, a chair, blankets, pillows, loveys, you name it - if it was formerly in A or L's room, it was now in the crib. Reaching through the bars of the crib with his "grabber" toy, Aidan shoved the toys down into the crib while Leo cackled joyfully. "We're playing trash compactor!!!!" Aidan announced with glee, both of them grinning with pride and delight in themselves.

Today, I had a so-called brilliant idea: Aidan could wash, rinse, and dry all of the play food in his kitchen set. What could go wrong? I thought. I'd keep him happy and occupied, and the toys would get clean, to boot. I set up a nice station of bubbles, rinsing water, a new sponge to use, and drying towels. After watching him for several minutes and seeing how very capable he was, I headed upstairs with Leo to put him down for his nap. Again - the odd silence when I emerged from Leo's room. Aidan had filled the kitchen sink beyond what it could hold, and while he thoughtfully removed his own shirt lest it get wet, he managed to soak every other thing around - himself; the counters; the floor; the rug; all of the towels in the kitchen; the cat.... (okay, not really the cat. But her fur would probably have been pretty absorbant!)

So heed the warning: silence is not really golden. More like toy-filled and soggy.

"Legacy of Love"

My parents celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this weekend, which I find impressive and inspiring. A friend described her own parents' marriage as a "legacy of love," the greatest gift they could offer their children and grandchildren. Indeed, it is refreshing to see couples who have been together so long and share such love, happiness, and commitment to each other. (As for the cake, I'm afraid there's not much of a future for me as a cake decorator...)

Monday, September 1, 2008

The hand that feeds you...

...is the tiniest hand in the house. Leo has decided that it is his responsibility to feed the kitties in the morning. He patiently waits for Jeff to fill up the bowls with canned food, then carefully holds one bowl in each hand while leading the noisy, meowing cats out to their food area. He gets very upset if Alice tries to eat Zoe's food, or does not give her enough space, and squabbles at them or tries to snap his fingers at them. He is diligent and serious about his role, and it is very endearing to me - especially when the rest of the day is spent seemingly protesting all things food: throwing his own food on the floor, refusing to eat anything but goldfish and grapes, spitting his food out for the sake of entertaining his brother, and - my personal "favorite" - pushing his chair over to the fridge for the sole purpose of running the water dispenser all over himself and the floor, seemingly in competition with the basement that always floods when it rains...

That little voice inside....

Walking up from our late morning excursion to the lake beach, I was hungry for lunch, hot from the sun, and ready to be in the car. In one arm I held the sand truck, floaties, and Leo. On the other arm I shouldered the beach bag, crammed full with snacks, toys, waters, and discarded, sandy clothing. Mustering all the patience I could find, I said to the dawdling Aidan [who was busily studying the clouds while in the middle of the parking lot], "Aidan, honey, could you please try to walk a little faster? I am holding all this stuff and would really like to get to the car." "But Mommy," he replied, "you have big strong muscles!" "That's true, Aidan, but I am tired and just want to be there." Looking at me very seriously now he said, "This is when you listen to that little voice inside you that says 'I know I can do it!'"