Thursday, February 23, 2012

Free U: Just let it happen

For a few weeks, I'd been taking a more structured approach with the kids in anticipation of formally starting homeschool next fall with Danny. I'd instituted two structured times a day. One in the morning, which Danny deemed blanket time, centered around some music and movement, a kids devotion book and any other book they brought to me. A typical blanket time usually lasted as long as the kids were interested. Table time occurred after I put Owen down for his nap and usually lasted about a half hour. The kids would play with some sort of manipulative or work on handwriting and drawing.  It seemed to work well when it was cold and rainy or just plain cold. It kept the kids from tearing up the house and it gave us a rhythm to the day.

 Lately, this has not been working so well. Danny won't sit still for blanket time any more. It's devolved into endless begging to play "Red Light, Green Light." Meanwhile, Owen is running laps around the room, tearing through our spread-out blanket, and the dog is trying to sit in my lap, as she does every time I read to the kids. What can I say, the dog likes story time. And lately, I've been so exhausted by lunchtime that I corral all the kids upstairs for a nap and forego table time all together. Then I collapse on my own bed for a nap.

The best thing to come out of those weeks was developing the habit of after-breakfast chores. Owen, it turns out, is an excellent dishwasher emptier. Fiona is good at putting away the silverware, in the proper slots, too. Danny is my compost runner. He takes the veggie scraps out to the compost bin.

I also set out to start unit studies. We checked out a bunch of books about butterflies and caterpillars for our first attempt at this. No day seemed right to start this, however. One kid or another was in a bad mood or sick. I just didn't have the energy to carry through on reading the books that the kids weren't too interested in or crafts that I would just end up doing myself or trips the museum butterfly pavilion that just were not a good fit for that particular week.

By now, I'm feeling like a pretty crappy homeschool mom-in-training. One of the things I like best about homeschooling, though, is the ability to change tactics when you see that something is clearly not working. Since I know my kids best, I can do what works best for them on any given day. And they let me know what works best for them by rebelling against the order of the day.  So I backed off and just decided to let the days unfold again.

This week, we went to the museum and saw the daily butterfly release. The kids got to hold butterflies and one landed on Danny's face. He is now terrified of butterflies. Fiona kept crying on the way home that she wanted a butterfly. Apparently, she thought the butterfly would come home with her. The kids even got to see a butterfly with it's proboscis (it's tongue) out eating an orange rind. That afternoon, I hustled the kids up for quiet time as usual. Danny wanted me to read one of our library books on butterflies. It was a fairly long book and he wanted me to read all the words. Since he's reading now, I can't get away with skipping words or pages anymore. I couldn't believe this was the same kid who wouldn't sit still for blanket time.

This week, we're also talking about Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Lent. We went to the pancake dinner at church Tuesday. On Sunday, we received a Lenten calendar and rice bowl to fill with coins for Catholic Relief Services. The calendar provides a different story for each week of Lent about a person/family from a country that CRS is helping, plus there is a recipe for each week. Each day, there is information about the country. Some days there are questions such as "How many faucets do you have in your home?" and it instructs you to put 24 cents the rice bowl in for each faucet you have. I basically have six weeks of unit studies to do with the kids that cover geography, culture, charity, cooking and math (money, counting) among other things.

I've been pondering how to introduce the whole concept to Danny and Fiona. Blanket time or any kind of formal sit down lesson is out of the question. So I just hung the calendar in the kitchen, put the rice bowl on top of the microwave and waited.

Around 4:30 p.m. today, Danny strolled into the kitchen, looked at the calendar and started asking questions. I got down the rice bowl and explained that we would put money in it to help Catholic Relief Services. He darted off to get his little safe full of birthday money and coins that he's collected over the years.

We got the safe open, he counted out a few coins and put them in the bowl. He continued taking coins out and I started twitching a bit because it just seemed like the wrong time to dump coins and bills all over the table. Supper was simmering on the stove, after all. But I decided to relax and go with it. He began counting out his bills. Then he wanted to start counting the coins. So I directed him to pick out and stack up all the quarters. When he was done with that, I told him to make piles of four quarters each. I explained that four quarters make up one dollar, so I had him count all the piles. We came up with $7 in quarters and $16 in bills.

I could not have planned that. I could not have directed that. He would have squirmed so much his little butt would have caught on fire.

Sometimes I try too hard. Today, I just had to let it happen. Whatever it happens to be.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Yes, this is normal

Sometimes my husband and I come upon scenes in our house that make us want to grab a video camera. Because no one would believe these stories.

We often wonder if our kids are the only ones who constantly act like animals who've just been let out of cages. These videos could have a variety of applications: evidence in our commitment hearings, blackmail, guilt, justification for humiliating them as teenagers.

Unfortunately, only my husband saw this one through the window as he took a business call outside last week:

Fiona and Owen were tossing sticky notes from the desk drawer. Danny grabbed a handful of index cards and threw them in the air. Danny then got a hold of the dog's collar and began riding her side saddle as she sprinted around in circles. I think he may have been wearing just his underwear. Meanwhile, Owen was teetering on the third step trying to mimic his siblings' leaps onto the bubble wrap runway below.

I was the one who caught my daughter jumping off the ladder on her brother's bunk bed. She was on the second rung from the top. I sort of thought that's what she'd been doing all along. It certainly sounded that way in the kitchen. The bunk bed was disassembled this week. For their safety and our sanity.  

Some things you expect and meet with laughter, such as when the toddler, the third one we've encountered, violently pushes your hand away and tells you no because he doesn't want to stop shoving moss into the dryer vent. Poor kid. I can't meet that kind of adorable defiance with a straight face anymore.

Some days, though, I look around at what is actually going on and wonder "How did I come to accept this as normal?" Weird things happen all day long. Incongruous, bizarre, unexpected yet completely predictable.

Earlier this week, the kids and I played out in the yard for the first time in a while. Between the cold, rainy weather and illnesses, we've just not gotten out much. Danny, Fiona and I kicked the ball around the front yard. If you'd driven past my house at the time, you might have been jealous of the mommy magazine-quality time I was spending with my kids. It all seemed so normal. Until I spied my 22 month old contentedly shoving leaves in a toddler potty in the front yard. Don't even ask why there's a potty in the front yard. 

Later, Fiona appeared wearing a football jersey to match her brother's jersey, all three of her tutus and a butterfly backpack.

"I have a tutu tower, mommy," she says.

Meanwhile, her big brother is losing his mind because she has all three tutus on. He begs her for one of them. She rejects his earnest request. I was impressed that both of my children seem oblivious to gender stereotypes.

All this played out as I was making monster be-gone signs for their bedrooms. It's the only way I could convince my son to sleep with his bed under the vent in his room. We printed out Do Not Enter signs and a picture of the Lowe's NASCAR, because, of course, NASCARS scare away all monsters. I slapped some contact paper over it and punched a hole in it before stringing it up on his vent.

Later that afternoon, Owen wouldn't nap, so I let him loose to hang out with his siblings. I hung out in my bedroom for my own quiet time. It didn't take long for all hell to break loose.

Danny came rushing in to report that Fiona was pulling on Owen's privates. I rush in and find Owen crying sans diaper.  Fiona had pulled the little potty into Danny's room where there were books and stuffed animals everywhere.

I asked what was going on as if I'd get a somewhat logical explanation from a 3 year old and a breathless 5 year old. I already knew what was going on. She was trying to teach him how to use the potty. I can only imagine that she was trying to manually make the pee pee come out. Who knows, really.

Of course, I had no explanation for the blood trickling down his chin. And it just didn't even phase me. This kid busts his lip at least once a day. Hell, he even busted his lip during Mass two Sundays in a row. By now, I'm sure most moms, or at least those with only one child, would be freaking out at, well, everything. The mess. The crying. The penis pulling. The blood. The impromptu potty training led by a 3 year old.

Blood wiped. Diaper reapplied. Time for toddler nap, take two.

I banished older kids to rooms and returned to my own room. Then I hear the all too familiar, completely maddening trickle of water. I'm pretty sure that sound is going to drive me over the edge one day. I peek out to find Danny sipping water from the sink with a straw.

"I'm getting a drink of water," he says. Of course you are.

Deep breath.

This is normal. I need to get out more.

Thursday, February 09, 2012


It's been a big week here.

Danny is reading now. The first book he read was Big Pig and Little Pig by David McPhail. I hope the copy Nana bought for him arrives before we have to return our copy to the library. He tells me that he doesn't want me to donate his book. He reads more and more words every day when we're reading with him. Just this morning, he read the prayer from our devotion book. He's also noticing everything around him and asking about it.

Hey, mom, that girl has her hands on that guy, Danny says of two preteens walking down the sidewalk. The girl had her arms around the boy's waist.

Hey, where's number 11? Danny asks, looking at his fingers. I told him number 11 started on his toes.

He's also asking us to repeat everything we say. I hate repeating myself.

Danny, just repeat what you hear in your head, Jim says.
I don't hear nothing, Fiona pipes up from the backseat.
Do you hear the wind, Fiona? Jim replies.

Fiona turned three about a week ago. Once again, we had to cancel her birthday party; this year it was due to illness.

So how old are you today, Fiona?
I'm 11. 

Owen is experimenting with the word no. There's no animosity or drama with it. Yet. It's actually kind of cute.

Come on, Owen, let's go change your diaper. 
Excuse me? I sputter.

And ...

Hey, Owie, go find dada. Mommy's going to take a shower now. 

And speaking of no ...

Do you want to get up on the scale for me? the nurse asks Fiona.
No, she says rather matter of fact. (Who asks a 3 year old a question and expects a yes?)

You okay, Danny? I ask him as he's sputtering and coughing.
Yeah, [the juice] just went down the push up pipe. 

I peed in a cup at the doctor's office, Fiona proudly tells her dad. 
And we only do that at the doctor's office, he replied. You know, it didn't even occur to me to make this distinction.

Where's Owen? Jim asks. I go check. 
He's watching TV and playing with his dingaling.
Man, he gets to do all the fun stuff. 

Grapple juice and lemonade make flavors, Fiona informs me.

Mom, what's that red thing they put on my forehead at church? 
Um, I don't understand, Danny. 
That red thing. ON MY FOREHEAD, he repeats. Because repeating the same words louder always clears things right up, doesn't it, husband?
OH, you mean the blessing? 

Hey, they said that last week, Danny says as Mass begins. Yup, that's what it means to be Catholic.

Your job right now is to shut your mouth and eat your food.
But I have to open my mouth to eat my food. Touche.

Don't drive your mom crazy, Nana instructs the kids as she leaves. 
Yeah, we drive her crazy all the time. 

But that's dangerous, Fiona says right after I catch her jumping from the top rung of the bunk bed ladder. (I'm not even kidding.) 
Then why did you do it?
But we can't do that, she says. Nope.
What were you doing, Danny? I ask after breaking up yet another tussle.
Playing tug of war with Fi.
Did she want to play tug of war?
Then you weren't playing tug of war. You were being a jerk.

What are you doing, Jim? I ask.
I'm ripping up the bathroom floor before dinner, of course. Seriously? There really are disadvantages to having such a handy husband. Last week, he started replacing bathroom faucets while I was trying to get the kids to bed. Yeah, that means the water was off.

How do I get sunshine on my butt, mom? I want to go outside with sunshine on my butt. Just where did he get this idea? He had seen this photo of his brother:

Have a sunny weekend!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

The one and only Fiona

It really feels like it's taken three years for Fiona and I to warm up to each other. I know that sounds really weird. And not very motherly. Truth be told, I don't think that all mothers fall instantly in love with their babies upon arrival. It's way too much pressure to expect that of yourself, especially given the one-sided nature of a relationship with a newborn.

That was not how I planned to start out a post about Fiona's birthday. But there some things about Fiona's birthday I can almost plan on, such as having to cancel her party. Snowstorms and illness have conspired for three years in a row to cancel this poor girl's party. In fact, on her due date three years ago, I was nervously watching as 6 inches of snow fell.

Fiona represents some firsts for us. She was our first girl and our first home birth. She was also the first child to puke on me and the only one who slept through the night for at least a few of her early months, which kind of makes up for the whole puking on mommy incident. She was my earliest walker and is becoming my most talkative child.

However, Fiona came into the world silently. She uttered not a peep for at least 30 seconds while we cradled her and coaxed her to cry. Eyes wide open, she just stared at us. In the months to come, I would get a lot of those stares from her, most often at 3 a.m. That was her favorite time to stare at me, when the rest of the house was quiet and she had my undivided attention. My mother called her the cloud of silence, a distinction that's laughable now.

For three years, she's watched us closely. Today, she folds kitchen towels as neatly as an adult, puts away silverware correctly every time, uses the dustpan with precision and spills not a speck on the floor. It's stunning, really.

In the past year, though, she's gone from the curious onlooker:

To her brother's best partner in crime:

Now, I'm watching her closely. I spent much of the past year studying her -- her expressions, her moods, her habits and her personality. She alternately terrifies and delights me. She's physically strong, flexible and tough as nails. She rarely cries when she falls. However, she's a drama queen who cries hysterically if her brother takes something from her or if she wants a piece of toast. One day this week, I watched as she hurled herself on the floor repeatedly because she couldn't get her boots on. She calmly refused help and returned to flailing about the floor.

A year ago, I didn't really like her much. I know that sound harsh, but two year olds are about as lovable as porcupines with diarrhea. What was she like a year ago? Screaming. Crying. Throwing toys and food. Pooping and peeing on the floor. Jumping on the sofa. Hitting people. Breaking things.

Today, she's fully potty trained, she talks more than she cries, she eats more food than she drops and she rarely hits anyone. In fact, these days she's a magpie with a squeaky, high pitched tone that I swear only the dog can hear sometimes.

On her birthday, the weather was gorgeous. She wore a sundress with blue jeans and we made chocolate cupcakes. I let her lick the spoon and when I picked her up, at her request, she pulled me in for a hug.

Now that was a first.