Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Longest Solstice (or Happy Sixteen Month birthday, Sally!)

"This day, Sean ... I mean ... this day.  I have to write it down."
"Just start with the popsicle story."


Sally shivered gleefully in her highchair, stripped down to her diaper, sucking on a popsicle.  Walter and I sat with our feet up on each other's chairs, lounging a little, luxuriating in popsicles of our own.  Sean stood by the microwave, waiting for his dinner to be done. Hank sat like a sphinx in the middle of the kitchen floor. Riffing on a favorite Daniel Tiger tune, Walter sang: "When you're sick, you can get a red popsicle!"  Sean cracked up, and then Walter and I did, too.  Sally clapped, and to our delight, he sang it again.

Here's how we got there:

This morning I woke up with an undeniable lingering head cold, which in my profession is known as "the thing that happens every Christmas."  I lingered in bed a little longer than I meant to, but got up when I heard Sally waking over the monitor.  Umma (holding Sally,) Walter and I converged in the little hallway between the kids' rooms.  Walter got out a few bars of the "good morning song" before I turned everyone's attention to the situation at hand: Sally had pink eye.

The sight of her eyes all gooped shut made me angry.  When is this baby going to catch a break?  She just finished an awful round of croup, and was starting to get back to her sweet, sassy Sally self.  Now this. Ugh.  I hugged her close and gently wiped the goop out of her eyes ... where it stayed, firmly ensconced in her long lashes.  "OK, maybe I need to be slightly less gentle with the next cotton ball."  Sally stayed still and leaned her face toward me to help me get a better angle ... she wanted the goop out, too.  "Eyes, eyes," she said, smiling at me.

Sean took Sally to urgent care while Umma, Baba, Walter and I headed to church.  It was a beautiful service.  I always look forward to the Sunday we read the annunciation story, but I look forward to it with some trepidation, because those verses in Luke about Mary are so dear to me, so close to my heart, that I worry I won't do them justice in my preaching.  Fortunately, my preaching isn't the only means of grace in worship, and today everything came together: the incense burning on the altar, the service we put together using music from Holden Evening prayer, the solos sung by teenage girls, bringing Mary's song to life.  "Holy is Your Name," which always gets me.  And the sermon turned out to be a good one, too.  We didn't get it recorded, which is fine.  Sometimes a good sermon should be ephemeral, like incense.

After worship, we all got into Baba's car and Walter was completely delighted to find me sitting next to him.  He held my hand and we snuggled under blankets together, and he smiled and smiled.  I wonder if he remembers how I used to sit next to him in the car when he was a baby, before we added that second carseat?  I was very grateful to have that moment next to him, too, and his hand in mine.

The four of us had a very nice lunch and headed home to rejoin Sally and Sean.  They'd had a nice morning together, too, even with the sickness and urgent care visit.  Sally was hungry and in a good mood. Umma and Baba headed home. Sally did a great job with her eye drops.  I nursed her and she fell asleep; after putting her down all cozy in her crib I joined Sean in his efforts to get Walter down for his nap.  As we left Walter's room, we heard Sally throwing up in hers.  In the manner of people who have done this countless times before, I took care of cleaning up Sally while Sean took care of cleaning up her crib.  Walter left his room and ran around singing and laughing at our requests that he return to his bed.  We got Sally back to sleep ... I don't remember how ... and it took a very long time for Walter to go down for his nap, but he eventually did.  I didn't sleep; too congested.  But I got a nice little rest.

Walter woke up about an hour too early, climbed into bed with me and watched some cooking shows until we decided it was time to wake Sally up and start working on dinner. Sean worked on a beautiful stuffed pork roast while I played with the kids.  Sally did some truly amazing dancing--I have never seen such moves on one so young.  When Sean went to bind the roast together, he realized the string mesh the roast had come in was gone.  He also couldn't find his ball of kitchen twine.  But, more pressing, where was that mesh?

There are times in adult life when it's not entirely clear which emergency you should attend to first.  As we looked around for the mesh and realized it wasn't there, the "we need to get that roast in the oven and feed our children" emergency took a serious second to the "maybe our dog ate something that could really hurt him" emergency.  The way we decided who got to take Hank to the emergency animal hospital and who got to feed and entertain the kids was by having one of those brief, but meaningful, check-ins that spouses do.  We checked in with each other, and it was clear: Sean would take Hank, I would stay with the kids.  Sean and Hank headed out into the dark night. (Sean: "I was imagining so many deer all the way to Kronenwetter.")

I got Sally in her chair and started heating up leftovers for dinner.  We ate.  I sent Walter to the potty ... where he peed all over the floor.  I mean, puddles.  I gave him a roll of paper towels and went back to helping Sally finish up dinner.  Walter got the bathroom clean enough that Sally and I could come in, and I gathered up the paper towels and got him out of his clothes.  By this time, Sally had pooped, so getting them both into the tub seemed like the obvious course of action.  They were delighted, and co-existed in the tub very well (for the most part.)  They took great delight in washing my right arm with great vigor and thoroughness (Sally: "Arm! Arm!")   I got them both out of the tub before they wanted to get out but also, crucially, before they stopped having fun and started really bugging each other.

I got Sally dried and dressed, and Walter, too.  Two clean kids, ready for books.  Sean blooped to update us on Hank: a dog his size could probably pass the mesh with no trouble, but the vet decided to induce vomiting just to be safe. The mesh came up right away, and they followed up with some anti-nausea medicine, and Sean and Hank started the thirty minute drive home.

In that time, Sally demonstrated a very limited capacity to sit and read books, as well as a tenacious desire to stand precariously on Walter's rocking chair, bringing all of his books down off of the shelves (and onto her head.)  I looked up from our book and said to Walter, "She's making me nervous.  You?" "Yes," he said, somberly.  We decided to call Umma and Baba.  Sally did some more energetic dancing, was very happy to see Umma and Baba, and then cheerfully headed back to the bookshelf for more wanton destruction. She happened to step on one of Walter's favorite old birthday cards, and it played a few bars of the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."  Both kids were enchanted.  Walter took the card and looked at it, pointed to the writing at the bottom and said, "This is from Henry."  "Did you read that, Walter?" "Yup!" he said, and smiled.  I think he probably just remembered, because it is a favorite card and Henry is a favorite friend, but still.  We looked up the song on youtube and watched several versions together, while Sally continued to squirm around and climb all over the world.

Then I heard her poop again ... and again with the assuredness of one who has years of experience with such things, I knew that it was diarrhea this time, and that my window of non-blow out opportunity was small, if any.  Sally did not want to have her diaper changed and so the window closed, and so I cleaned up a very messy baby.  (Me: "That tub might have been premature.") I got her clean and diapered and then thought ... what the hey ... she's naked, she's sick ... let's get her rehydrated.  Popsicles for everyone! (Regular for me and Walter; pedialyte for Sally.)  That's when Sean and Hank got home.  "Hey, naked baby!" Sean said to Sally, who looked up from her popsicle and smiled winningly at him.  I wanted to say, "They were clean. They were in their pajamas." But then Sean hugged me so tenderly ... I knew he was just relieved, and glad to be home.  And very tickled by the comedic brilliance of our son, who can make a Daniel Tiger song his own with the best of them.

After the popsicles, there were wash cloths ("Maybe another tub?" I mused, but dismissed it. It was getting late.) After the wash cloths, there was Walter draping a knit blanket over his head and proclaiming, "I am the king! I am the king!" Soon he clarified that he was a king bringing presents for Jesus.  He brought some shoe boxes and race car tracks to Sally (Jesus.)  "Jesus, some tracks for you!" he said.  "Jesus, some tracts for you!" Sean added.  When Sally slid off my lap and went off to make mischief (again) Walter informed me that I needed to fill in. "You are a baby named Jesus!" I obliged.

I sat on the couch next to Hank while Walter and Sally piled up more and more presents for me (Jesus.)  Hank watched the kids with what looked like great tenderness, or possibly the remnants of some nausea.  He seemed (and still seems) a little extra tired.  While the kids played, I got to pet him gently for awhile, which did us both some good.

Eventually, we got the kids to bed.

Today is Sally's 16-month-birthday.  It's also the winter solstice; the Longest Night.  Friends, I have to tell you: it was a long day.  Also, the only picture we took today was this one, sent to my email from Sean's phone, with the subject line: "It's out!"
We didn't get a picture of Walter with his royal blanket.  We didn't get a video of Sally's amazing dance moves.  I didn't even snap a quick shot of my two beautiful kids in the bathtub ... that classic picture that parents cherish (and kids too, secretly, right?) for years to come.  And that's OK.  Some of these long days should be ephemeral, like incense.

But you can see why I had to write it down, right?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Let's talk about Sally

Just by looking at her, you can tell a lot about what kind of 15-month-old Sally is.  She's always got a bruise or two on her noggin. She's not particularly clumsy, she just has no concern for her own safety. The big bruise in these pictures happened at daycare when she dove headfirst over the back of a toddler-sized couch.  She also recently dove headfirst out of Sean's arms, and would have hit the floor, but (fortunately?) hit the wall instead, with such force that she bounced right back into Sean's arms.  She's never been disoriented, no signs of concussion or serious injury.  But she scares us, routinely. When we're able to stop her before an accident happens, she insistently goes right back and tries to do it again.

We gave a penguin-shaped icepack to Sally after she hit the wall, and tried to convince her to put it on her owie by having the penguin kiss her forehead.  She decided the penguin's name was Owie, and will now, with great delight and desire, ask for him by name, saying, "Owie! Owie!" and pointing and gesturing emphatically.

When she has a close call--almost hurting herself, but managing to stop or minimize the damage--Sally says, with the perfect cadence, "Whoa!"

If I'd managed to write a 14 month round up, I probably could have made a decently accurate list of Sally's first words.  Now, it just feels futile ... the girl talks all the time, breaking out new words without breaking a sweat every day.  She repeats words back to us, too, which makes the list almost limitless. She's still mostly communicating at Curious George level, I'd say.  We're big fans of the animated Curious George series on PBS, and George doesn't speak, per se, but imitates speech in a way that's very communicative and easy to interpret, with some of the words ("Ok"and "uh huh" for example) being almost perfectly formed, and the rest a very intelligible mix of monkey and English.  We understand our little monkey perfectly much of the time, and some things anyone meeting her would be able to understand, while others would require a bilingual interpreter (me, Sean or Walter, usually.)

Some of the things Sally likes to say (not a comprehensive list!):
Bubble (one of her first words ... she loves washing her hands)
Thank you
More (this is her word for nursing, too, but sounds more like "Mo" when she's using it to mean nursing and not just more of something else.)
All done
Waba (Walter)
Pop Pop (still working on "Grandma")
Please (she uses sign for this one, along with the word)
Moo (What does the cow say?)
Baa (What does the sheep say?)
Woof woof (What does the dog say?)
*sniff sniff* (What does the bunny say?)
Ball (this was also one of her first words)
Row row
Diaper (she tells us sometimes when she needs a new one, and signs diaper, too.)
Fishy (she uses this to mean fish and shoes, too.  It sounds like, "Ishies!")
No (a fan favorite.)
Uh huh
Here you go (said as all one word.)
Uh uh
And almost anything else you prompt or ask her to say.  She will try it! She's game.

Sally's game for most new things, in fact, which makes her a lot of fun to be with.  She loves all kinds of foods and eats cheerfully and heartily in a totally undiscriminating manner.  She likes meeting new people and going to new places; she's almost always up for an adventure, even if she's tired or not feeling well.

It's (not quite, technically) winter in Wisconsin, so of course she's not feeling well.  She got tubes in her ears a little over a month ago, and that seems to have ended the endless ear infections.  She's been sick since then, but hasn't needed antibiotics.  We're currently monitoring a nasty cough.  Her upper molars are almost all the way in, and her bottom molars are close behind.  She's got canines peeking through her top gums, too.  It's kind of remarkable how cheerful she is given all of this, and the frequent head injuries, too.

And Sally is very cheerful ... and very, very sad.  Oh, the sad.  I was explaining to our friend J., who's expecting his first baby in February, that the sadness of toddlers is real.  She cries real tears, and she means it when her face crumples and she starts to wail.  But, if you give her a little space and not a lot of direct attention, she gets over it just as quickly as it comes on. The trouble comes when you have to intervene and pay attention, because she's doing something naughty or dangerous.  The will is strong with this one.  Very strong. And she's not open to being reasoned with at all, or being distracted or redirected. It makes a person tired, sometimes.  Other times it's kind of funny and cute ... the way she rolls her eyes and sticks her chin up in the air, shaking her tiny butt and singing, "No! No no no!" as she walks away from me and toward whatever gaping chasm she's interested in at the time. She's very charming, Sally.  But we try not to let on too much when her defiance strikes us as especially cute, looking ahead to days when it might not come in such adorable, relatively safe, forms.

Sally and I were having a serious disagreement about markers the other day... a disagreement that is actually ongoing (she keeps testing, giving me the look, to see if I'm going to stop her from writing on non-paper surfaces again.  Persistence over the course of days, weeks ... that's Sally.)  The disagreement made both of us crabby with each other.  I have a strong will, too.  Walter observed all this, and eventually said, "Mama, do you still love Sally?"

"Of course I do!  With my whole heart, just like I love you!  No matter what, right?"

Walter nodded, looking thoughtful.  He's still not entirely convinced.  So, we keep telling him, and her, and trying to show them in every way we can.  The truth is, they are easy to love.  Even when they are at their most difficult.

I pick Sally up and cover her in kisses. Walter makes funny faces and makes up silly words.  Sean calls her "Salamander" and gazes lovingly into her eyes.  She rolls her eyes at us, but, obligingly, smiles.

She knows.

Ok, so immediately after I posted this I thought of like a million more favorite Sally words (or rather, I heard her say them after she woke up from her nap.) So:
Bye bye
Hello (Hi-Oh!)
Nose ("no")
Snow (also "no."  Context is all.)
Agua (we kept correcting her and saying "wawa," until I heard her daycare teacher repeat it back to her as "agua." Bilingual baby. Noted!)
Hat (usually said while patting her head. "Hat hat!")
Arm, leg, hand, toes ... great at identifying and saying the body parts
On! ("On on on!" This can mean she wants something on, or that she wants something off, something open, something closed, etc.)

With all these actual words to choose from, she also still really likes chatting to herself saying, "dibbadibbadee."

Great example of Sally's persistence and planning and Walter's advances in Executive Function from tonight: Sally wanted to play in the "bags and wraps" drawer, full of expensive bags and sharp edges for tearing plastic wrap.  After a struggle, I diverted her by opening the rag drawer and asking her to clean the floor, which she did.  Walter joined in and they were very industrious together.  Walter even disappeared for a few seconds and came back with a damp rag he'd taken to the bathroom, wet, and wrung out himself.  They got lots of rags dirty and had a good time. Walter didn't even want to stop for Advent wreath and cake time. As soon as we all had cake in front of us, Sally told Sean she was all done and wanted to get down ... and immediately went back to the forbidden drawer. Her plan all along had been to wait until we were distracted, and the cake provided the perfect opportunity.  When Sean stood and ate his cake in front of the doors, Sally relented.  And asked for some cake.  As soon as Walter was done with his cake, he went over to the drawers, and I watched him think about which one he was going to open.  He chose the rag drawer, and resumed his task, very pleased with his good decision.

I was pretty impressed with both of them!  Sally's learning how to hatch plots, and Walter's learning how to delay gratification.  I watched him stare at a spoonful of whipped cream at Thanksgiving, waiting for the coffee to be ready so he could put it in the coffee, wanting to eat it right away but willing himself to wait. And he did it.  He got his hand painted when we went to see Santa this weekend, and stayed perfectly still and did not touch the painting until it was dry.  It was amazing to watch.  And even though I don't like the contest of wills that often comes with it, I love watching Sally persist, and plan, and come up with all kinds of different problem-solving strategies in her quest to get whatever she's after.

Proud mama.  Headed to bed before I think of any more words to add!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Walter's conversation with Santa

Last year, Walter was excited to go see Santa, but too shy to say anything to him.  Since then, he's been preparing.

Santa: What's your name?
Walter: (very quietly) Walter
Santa: ?
Sean: Walter!
Santa: Hello, Walter! How old are you?
Walter: I'm three. (slight pause.) My birthday was in October.
(Santa and Walter chat quietly, and I can't quite make it out.  Santa must ask Walter what he wants for Christmas, because the next thing I hear is ...)
Santa: A candy cane?  Anything else?
Walter: Yes. A candy cane. (makes a pinching gesture with his fingers, just like I do when I say I want a snack.)
Santa: A big one?
Me: I think he's talking about the candy canes in the basket next to you.  He'd like one of those.  Can he have one?
Santa: Oh, of course!  Is there anything else you'd like for Christmas?
Walter: A purple blanket, soft, with my name on it. (This is what he's consistently been saying for weeks and weeks. I kept asking him thinking it would change, and it hasn't.  When we told Heidi today, she said, "Oh! Anna has one of those. A purple blanket with her name on it."  So maybe he saw it during our weekend in Osh Kosh in August?  Whatever the reason ... Santa is taken aback.)
Santa: I will get my elves working on that right away!  Do you ... want anything else? Are you sure?
(I break in, now, getting Sally into the picture and talking about how good both kids have been. Through all of this, I never noticed that Walter was very gently holding Santa's hand, the way he does with people he loves and trusts.) ***

Walter was disappointed that he didn't immediately get his blanket from Santa today, so we explained that it's going to take some time for the elves to make it.  On our way to the activity room, I said to Santa, "Pretty great request, huh?" Santa said, "That was definitely a first for me, yes!"

The blanket the elves were able to make turned out to be a little maroon, more than traditional purple, with violet letters for his name. I hope he likes it! Now ... to wait for Christmas!

***Edited later to add: Watching Baba's video of this, I remembered that at one point, Walter tried to reach past his sweater into his shirt pocket and said, "I have a gift for you, Santa."  I realized he was looking for a little jingle bell he'd found earlier the day and decided to bring to Santa as a gift.  I went to help him get it out but Baba shook his head and said the bell had been left at home. We promised Santa, and Walter, we'd put the jingle bell out with Walter's letter on Christmas Eve.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Laziest Blog Post Ever

In which I copy facebook status updates and compile them into a blog post.  *Sigh.* New blogging low, reached. The good news is that both children are healthy again, but in the month since my last post we've had a rough time indeed.  Sally learned how to use an inhaler, which demonstrated that she's incredibly reasonable and cooperative when she believes that what she's doing is entirely her idea.

Even in the most sleepless, snot-filled, terrible times, I manage to document some fun Walter witticisms on facebook.  The written statuses are mostly about Walter, because he's a talker, and the photos I post are mostly of Sally, because she smiles for the camera (it is entirely her idea to do so.)  No time or energy for photos tonight, but hopefully those will come soon.  Sally turns 14 months old on Tuesday, and Walter turns 3 on Wednesday.  Lots to catch up on, and lots to celebrate, but in the meantime ... some recent glimpses of the brilliance that is Walter:

Walter: What are little sisters made of?
Me: I don't know. What are little sisters made of?
Walter: (surveying his little sister.) Eyes ...
Me: Yes. 
Walter ... and cake! 

Walter at worship this morning, looking around at all the people gathered: "All these people are Jesus."

Walter, age almost-three, on the absurdity of advertising:
"Mama, why does that mini wheat have a face?"
"He's like a mascot, or a spokesperson. He's trying to get you to buy and eat more mini wheats."
(Pause.) "But Mama ... he IS a mini wheat."
"I know buddy, I know."

After dinner with K. and J., Walter says "*sigh* What a lovely evening."

Just overheard Walter asking Sean why our Christmas garland is still up. Oh, Walter ... someday your parents will have it all together, I promise.

Got put in my place tonight when I went to the stove to warm up a tortilla. Walter: "NO! You are a Mama! You are not a Dada! You can't cook!"

Today Sean said, "Look, Sally found your toy hammer" and Walter sang, "If I had I hammer! I'd hammer in the morning ..." Tonight, I said, "We're having church at the river tomorrow" and Walter sang, "When I went down in the river pray ..."
I love that boy. 

(It's true.  I do!)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A new month dawns

Today, Sally is 13 months old. She is finally looking and acting like she's getting over the ear infection and cough/cold she's been struggling with all month.  She's smiling easily again: her sweet, happy self. This is a relief. Crankiness combined with her usual level of deviousness is, it turns out, not a fun combination, and she was starting to get a bit of a reputation at daycare.

As far as this latest family virus goes, I'm a few days behind Sally, and Walter's a few days behind me.  I have hope for him and for me based on Sally's recovery, but it could take awhile. Walt's not at his best these day, but he's trying, and with both of them there are always such bright and wonderful moments in with the difficult times.  They are determined little people.

I'm too tired to write more ... it has been a month of no sleep, and I am worn down to the fraying edges of my being. But I want to record: today was a good day, for both kiddos and both parents.

Where there are naps, there is hope.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Telling stories

Today was a bad day.

Sally was up all night, still struggling with a bad cold and probably some teeth.  When Walter and Sean woke us up at 8 I was sure it was 6 or earlier. Sally woke up sad, sad, sad. She was sad while I nursed her, sad while I changed her diaper, sad while I took off her pajamas, and sad while I got her dressed. We were running so late that Sean had to take Walter in to daycare first so he wouldn't completely miss breakfast and then double back for Sally, which made Sean very late for work. I felt awful sending Sally to daycare so sick and sad. It took several tries to hand her over to Sean before she stopped clinging to and reaching for me.  I decided to go get her from daycare and then take her to work with me.  That decision meant I was running late all day, messing up both her schedule and mine for largely my own selfish reasons.  It meant that she didn't get a good nap on day when she really needed one to help with her recovery. She came with me to lunch with my colleagues and made a mess of the floor so bad I tipped 80%. I did not, however, clean up the mess. I took Sally back to daycare, further messing with her routine. Getting her in and out of her carseat was especially difficult today--lots of back-arching, screaming, and crying of real, heartfelt tears. She reached for me, with pleading eyes, begging me to take me out and nurse her, and I just persisted and insisted and made her sit in the seat, because we were running late. I was also late picking the kids up from daycare at the end of the day.  When we got home, Sally woke up very sad again, and had trouble eating because she was so phlegmy. Then I tried to give her some Advil to bring down her fever.  She cried herself into a terrible state but I persisted ... and then she retched and threw up a huge amount of phlegm and Advil (but we couldn't give her more before putting her to bed, because we don't know how much she actually ingested.) We got her out of her clothes and into the shower with me, and she was sad for most of the shower. She bit Sean once and me twice: hard.  She also decided that running toward our open and un-gate-able stairway was a great game, and alternated it with her other favorite game of putting her hands in Hank's water dish. While Sean and I took care of Sally, Walter was by himself in the kitchen, watching an endless stream of Curious George. He watched a lot of videos tonight and did almost no playing, and I had hardly any time with him at all. Perhaps because of that, Walter resisted bedtime mightily and is still awake as I write this at 9:45. He shows absolutely no sign of letting up and going to bed. Hank the Dog is worrying that we'll never be able to take him out.  I can hear Sally coughing over the monitor and I know it's just a matter of time before she wakes up and we have another night full of coughing, spitting up, rocking and crying.  And here I am ... not doing anything to catch up on all the work I need to do.

Today was a good day.

Sally slept in her crib all night for the first time in days.  It wasn't uninterrupted sleep, but it was better sleep for both of us than we have been getting lately. I slept quite well on the comfy bed in her room, and was glad I could open my eyes now and then to reassure myself she was OK. Walter and Sean let us sleep in until 8 am and woke us up by singing so sweetly together "Good morning! Good morning! Let's start our favorite way. Good morning! Good morning! And how are you today?"  Even when Sally is sick and sad, hearing her brother sing that song makes her smile. Sean took Walter in first so I could have some more time to get Sally ready.  It took a few tries, but eventually we asked Sally if she was ready to go to school and she told us she was by smiling and reaching for Sean to take her from me. She brightened up and I could tell she's on the mend. I asked a member of my congregation if it would be nice for me to bring Sally to visit her mom who is on hospice care, and who may be in her last days. She said that would be wonderful, so I picked Sally up from daycare and took her to visit S. S. has always loved getting visits from my kids, and it was fun to remember how Walter ran around her apartment when he was first learning to walk, and how Sally fell asleep on her shoulder when she was just 2 months old.  S. was delighted to see Sally and Sally was delighted to see S. Sally held her hand, smiled at her and talked to her in sweet baby language. Sally played with S.'s caregivers and was incredibly happy and sweet. She was sweet during lunch, too, and seemed to genuinely enjoy having some extra time with me during the day. She made my day, and the days of everyone else she encountered, a great deal brighter. When I took her back to daycare, she seemed glad to be there, too.  I found out when I picked her up that she spent some of the afternoon in room 3, where the slightly older kids fell over themselves to make her feel welcome: bringing her their favorite toys to play with, showing her how to sit in the big kid chairs.  When I picked the kids up, one of the slightly older girls helped me get her in her carseat: carefully pulling apart the straps and patting the chair gently to show Sally it was ready for her to sit down. Walter was wonderfully helpful, too, and seemed like he'd also had a great day.  He spent the whole day in dry underwear, using the potty and had no accidents.  On the way home, Sally fell asleep, so we brought her into the house in her chair so she could stay sleeping for a bit, and Walter and I had some good time just the two of us, playing his ukulele. I'd seen a neat cover of one of his favorite Peter Gabriel songs on facebook, and without telling him what I was doing I decided to show him the video. As I brought it up on my phone I whistled just a few bars of it. "Mama! That's 'Don't Give Up'! We heard that yesterday." So smart.  And also, how great is it that he can identify tunes that well and yet still refers to all times in the past as "yesterday"? He spent the rest of the evening singing the song, which is beautiful to begin with and extra beautiful when Walter sings it. When Sally threw up, I got in the shower with her and she was able to get out about a week's worth of phlegm in a relatively pleasant way.  She was still sad, though, and that's when I remembered ... my parents had left a birthday gift for her in the guest room, and said, "Give it to her when she needs a present." This was clearly the moment. I opened the card and showed her the photo of her with Umma and Baba, which they'd put in a magnetic frame. She was overjoyed, and actually clearly said, "Umma!" and a second later, "Baba!"  She gave the photo kisses and smiled and smiled. Then we opened the present: a soft baby doll with a ladybug on her outfit. Sally gave her kisses, too, and beeped her nose.  She played with the doll while we took care of her way-too-long fingernails. When we were done she grabbed the photo and the doll and headed toward the stairs to look for Umma and Baba. We redirected her, and she decided to get in her carseat, instead, so we could take her to Umma and Baba.  She sat in the seat and kissed the photo and the doll, smiling and laughing.  She ran over to Walter and proudly showed him the photo, and then ran over to Hank and showed him, too.  She put the photo on the fridge, giddy with delight. Walter and Sally brushed their teeth together and then went into Walter's room for stories.  I'm usually getting Sally to bed while Sean reads to Walter, so this was a treat for me: Walter sat on my lap while I read Go, Dog, Go to him and he amazed me with his knowledge of opposites and prepositions. I also got to read him the Sleepy Bear book I used to read to him before Sally was born, and he snuggled in very close and did all the interactive parts with me. Then I helped Sally get to sleep.  She was still feeling better than she has been lately and pretty wired. We nursed, and then I rocked with her and sang her lullaby. She reached for her windchime and was so happy when I lifted her up to start it chiming. She fell very fast asleep in my arms, and even though she's coughed a few times, she hasn't woken up yet.  I went into Walter's room where he was watching the original video for "Don't Give Up" with Sean.  I got a wonderful goodnight kiss and hug from him. He asks us to pick him up when we hug him, and so we get to hold him extra close as we do, and marvel at his long legs and strong arms. He gives sweet kisses, leaning in and closing his eyes. "A hug," he says.  "Can you pick me up? Now, a kiss." He cried as we left his room and tried several stalling techniques.  He left his room at one point and came upstairs; we let him sit in bed with us for 15 minutes, snuggling in between us while I worked on this post and Sean watched Rick Steves' Europe. I transcribed some of Walter's patter as I typed. He talked a little bit about his imaginary friend, Bobby. "Bobby and I write sometimes at work. I told you that yesterday! We watch TV sometimes, too. But Bobby doesn't like TV. Hmmmm.  Um, Mama? (Sigh) Sometimes I work at my work. (To the TV.) They are making pasta. They are on a boat, Mama. I love you, Mama.(snuggle.)" When Sean took him downstairs Walter cried and knocked his chair over a few times, but eventually went to sleep, much to the relief (literally) of Hank the Dog.  I'd gotten the idea for this post while I nursed Sally, and it feels wonderful to take the time to write something I don't have to write.
Take me to the people in this picture!

Like most little kids, I had a tenuous grasp on the difference between fact and fiction.  It's fun to see that in Walter, now, as his imagination develops along with his language skills. I blurred the lines between truth and invention well into fifth grade, when one of my best friends, R., called me on it. She didn't call me a liar, though. She said, "Oh, Annie. You're telling stories again.  You're always telling stories." It took me some time to figure out if she meant that as a good thing or a bad thing.  I decided it was a bad thing, at least in the way I'd been doing it.  I worked hard to direct and contain my storytelling toward fiction writing and other intentionally creative pursuits, and learned, in all other contexts, to tell the truth, even when it was uncomfortable or boring to do that.

Like most adults, though, I know now that truth itself is pretty subjective, and the stories we tell (and don't tell, and the way we tell them) shape and construct our reality.  Depending on how I tell it, today was either bad (relatively) or good (relatively).  The truth is that it was something that can't be captured that easily, not even in this post (possibly one of the longest and most tediously detailed I've ever written.)

This past weekend we went to a bluegrass festival, and a woman a little older than my parents engaged us in conversation.  Her name was Suze and she was wearing head-to-toe tie dye and hippie-style headbands that looked pretty authentic.  She complimented us on our parenting and also gave quite a lot of parenting advice.  Then, as Sean chased after Walter, she leaned in close to me and started telling me stories about my kids and their futures.

"What's your little girl's name?" She asked. "Sally! Sally will make a lot of money. She may have a few divorces, too. She'll dress in red and black, with some white accents. And gold jewelry ...just gold, she shouldn't waste her time with silver. Walter, if he doesn't find the right woman ... I'm assuming he's hetero ... I see him with a good dog, like a labrador, as his companion. Walter will always be steady for you. Sally will be your challenge, but she'll be successful." Then she giggled.  "I hope I'm right!" I told her, based on what I know of my children so far, that she might be.  Later on she introduced me and Sally to her husband, who was pleased because he has a sister named Sally; she's a dentist living in the Twin Cities (I didn't ask if she'd had a few divorces, too.)  Suze asked what Sally's middle name is.  "Joan?!  Ohhhh ... she'll have an interesting and successful life!"

Adults who tell stories like this intrigue me.  I wonder about their powers of observation and intuition, and the way they notice so much more than most of us do.  For example, most of the people at the festival assumed Sally was a boy, because she was dressed all in blue boy's clothes that day.  Suze listened to us talking and paid attention enough to know that she's a girl.  Most people don't do that. 

But the real gift Suze gave me was reminding me that my kids have their own stories. Right now, I'm constructing their narratives, and I have a pretty great amount of control over what they'll remember and what they'll know of themselves at this point in their lives. But that's not always going to be the case, and that's a good and scary thing. Someday, Sally might read this post and Suze's story and think, "Well, everything else she predicted is true ... I guess my first couple of marriages are doomed to fail." Or she might think, "That's ridiculous. That hippie lady can't tell me what to do." (I think the latter is more likely, based on Sally's personality at one year old.) Either way, God and Sally are at work on her story, and my role in writing it will be greatly diminished as time goes on. Likewise, I really hope Walter finds the right woman (or man ... I make no assumptions) even though canine companions are wonderful, and labradors especially so. But I don't get to decide that, either.  

That's not my story to tell. 

In the meantime, though, I'm going to keep telling stories.  At some point, Walter and Sally will combine my narrative with their own narratives and come up with something new.  

It should be pretty good.  They come from a family of storytellers, after all.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

11 months old for just a few more minutes ...

Sally turns one tomorrow, so if I'm going to write about what she's like as an 11-month-old, now is the time!

The short version is that Sally's much as she has always been, but moreso.  She's incredibly sweet, happy and snuggly.  She's beautiful, charming, funny and smart. And she's stubborn as the stubbornest mule that ever muled.

Funny story about that: Sean was telling me about how Sally was banned from using the car on the playground (she's short enough that she can stand up on the seat inside in a precarious way) and spent the rest of the outdoor time trying to get back into the car by various cunning and manipulative means.  "Oh, she's so stubborn!" I said.  "No!" said Walter. "She's not a stubborn!" He didn't know the word, but he heard the exasperated tone and immediately jumped in to defend his sister. We gave some examples of Sally's stubbornness being difficult for us, but also explained that her persistence can be a very good thing.

"On your bottom, Sally."
Sean writing now: I picked up Sally from daycare this afternoon.  Linda said she's been trying to conquer the table and chairs, I imagine like Everest, because they're there.  Sally giggled at our conversation like she was terribly pleased with her own exasperating industry, and took a long draw on her sippy cup.  She motioned to the car seat with her head, and I asked, "Are you ready to get in your chair and go find Walter?"  She smiled at me and let me lower her, then held herself upright in the chair while I buckled her in beaming.  "Aren't I a big girl!"  And she looked bigger, too.  Like a one-year-old.

As Sally practiced screaming in the car, Walter came to her aid again -- "It's okay, Sally.  You'll see Mama soon!" The two of them are really bonding, interacting more and more.

Annie back at the keyboard now.  It's been a long time since we've co-written a blog post.  It's been a long time since we've been this consistently exhausted, too.  We've done a lot of traveling, including a wonderful week with the Albrights in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  We've been sick, most recently with hand, foot and mouth disease.  And we've been playing and playing and playing.  Miss Linda says Sally plays at a two-year-old level.

11 month old Sally is incredibly mobile and strong--walking, running, climbing, dancing. She has some words, too: ball, Mama, Umma, Dada, up, bye, me and mine (that last one is her favorite.) She signs "water" and "toothbrush."  She's very communicative with shrieking and pointing, too.  She's at that point where it's pretty obvious that she really understands what we're saying, even though she can't say much herself.  It's fun to test out how much she understands, like playing with her in the living room and saying, "Are you hungry? Let's go get some dinner" and off she goes to the kitchen, where she stands by her highchair, looking at me and waiting to be picked up.

Sally still hates getting her diaper and clothes changed, but she loves many parts of her (relatively new) bedtime routine, and I think she likes the experience of routine in and of itself. She loves taking baths, and signs "water!" as she lifts up her leg and tries to climb in. She loves brushing her teeth. She lets me read to her a little bit, though she still squirms off my lap before the book is over. Her favorite is Goodnight Moon, and for the first page or two she snuggles in and rests her head on my shoulder. She likes it when I count the three bears and say "eek" when I point to the young mouse.  After books we turn out the lights and nurse. If she doesn't fall asleep right away while nursing, I sing her lullaby and she anticipates the kiss and hug parts.  Most of all, she loves it when I reach up and swat the hot air balloon windchime right above the glider.  She gives her big, nose-crinkly smile, and then reaches up and I lift her so she can make it chime, too.  We snuggle and give each other kisses.  She doesn't like being put into her crib awake; sometimes it takes a few tries to get her down.  She's had some trouble sleeping--with travels and sickness, especially--but is often able to sleep through the night.

Sean says: She's been doing a lot of mischievous laughter lately, but when she does it she smiles at you like you're in on the joke.  Walter and Sally like to imitate each other's noises.  I love how she loves to snuggle on beds and pillows--she lounges around, lazing about, stretching and enjoying the space and the softness. She really, really loves drinking water. She pats our shoulders very sweetly.  She's so happy to see us at the end of the day (especially Hank.) When she's done eating, she's really really done.  She screams: "All done all done all done!"

Annie says: Sally has eight teeth, and possibly more in the works right now. She enjoys most foods, but doesn't seem to like cold things. Her favorite meal is dinner and she eats voraciously then.  She gets an intense look in her eyes when she really wants something.  I call her "bug" and "buggy"; Sean calls her "shortcake." She enjoys adventures but doesn't like long car rides, though when he's next to her Walter is able to comfort her and make her laugh.  She's been exploring Walter's kitchen but she's too short to reach any of the cupboards. She loves to sing, dance, and play musical instruments.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Sally loves kisses. Hank the Dog is even sometimes like, "Whoa, Sally. Too many kisses! Give me a break!"

About 30 minutes now until it's August 21 ... I can't help but think of that early morning a year ago, and our quiet ride to the hospital by the light of the blue moon.  Sean's right.  She seemed different today: like a one-year-old.  And she seemed like our Sally, the one we met first as a loud wail that started before she was even fully cut loose, the very petite girl with the big personality. They wrapped her up and put her by my face--she was crying and choking a little bit on amniotic fluid, blowing little bubbles of rage. All I could do was kiss her face, so I did, and to my surprise she calmed down. It worked!  Later on, I asked Sean, "Do you think Sally is happy to be out here with us?" "No," he said honestly. "But I think she loves our kisses."

We love you, Sally! Kisses, shrieks, and all.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Walker

Sally is in the middle of her 10th month ... and she is walking!  Not just a step or two here and there anymore ... now she can travel short distances, up to 10 steps or so.  More and more she's choosing to walk instead of crawl.  She does best wearing her sneakers, which goes against everything I thought I knew about babies and walking and shoes (barefoot is best, soft shoes next best, hard soled shoes once they're established walkers, etc.)  Sean thinks the Nikes he bought her give her extra ankle support, and is very proud (of Sally, of course, but also) that the shoes he chose are working so well.  "Must be the shoes," he says, with a pleased little smile.

Hotel room mirrors are the best
Milestones and firsts abound these days.  Sally accompanied me, Umma and Baba on a trip out to Syracuse for my cousin Rachel's wedding.  And so: first airplane trips, first hotel stays, first swims, first visit to the extended family.  We realized that my first flight was to visit the Swifts (my dad's side of the family) when I was 9 months. old.  Walter's first flight was to visit the Swifts (for a wedding) when he was one year old. So Sally kept the tradition going, and she did beautifully on both flights. She showed no sign of ear pain, so she must have had a break in her semi-permanent ear infection (it's back. We had our first visit to Dr. S the ENT yesterday. Sigh. Milestones.)  She snoozed a little but was awake much of the time and pretty happy and interested in the experience.  On the flight home she made friends with a 20-month-old girl in the row behind her, which brought back great memories of Walter making friends with the baby in the row behind us on a flight back from Pennsylvania.  There's nothing quite as delightful for babies as finding each other on a plane like that.  They are so, so pleased.  The giggles! The kisses! The hand-holding!  They become friends faster in that exact context than in any other I've seen.

Dancing at the wedding
Sally approached the whole trip with an attitude of delight, and had a wonderful time, even with long stretches in the rental car, eating out and at odd times, and nap and bedtime all off schedule.  She slept quite well in the hotel rooms and was very charming and friendly with everyone she met.  Seeing her with my dear cousins and aunts and uncle made my heart very glad indeed, and I was very glad and grateful indeed that we were able to make the trip (Thank you, Umma and Baba!)  It was a beautiful wedding and a wonderful family adventure.

Sally and Walter both did some serious flourishing while they were only children for a week, but were also very relieved and happy and ready when we reunited at Umma and Baba's house.  We went to Ella's Deli in Madison and Sally got another first: her first carousel ride!  She clung to my shoulder, smiling and nervous.  Then she got braver and braver and soon she was holding onto the pole instead of me, looking all around in joy and wonder.  Walter, on the horse next to her, the old carousel veteran that he is, cheered her on and encouraged her.
On the carousel
It's good to be Sally, it really is.  Ear infections excluded, of course, but even that she manages pretty well.  We've started sleep-training her a little bit--she'll cry for five minutes or less and then go to sleep, and her sleeping has improved a lot with this change, but it makes her sad and that's hard on all of us.  Her life has many mundane aggravations: being put into her carseat, not being fed fast enough, not getting water fast enough, not getting (insert whatever Sally wants here) fast enough, having her diaper changed, having her toothbrush taken away when we're done brushing, not being allowed to imperil her life by going headfirst down the stairs, or eating small non-food objects she finds on the ground, or chewing on electrical cords, etc. She is very vocal in her displeasure and seems genuinely sad about it all. But overall I'd say she's a happy baby, who feels things very deeply, communicates well and has strong opinions and an above-average level of determination and stick-to-it-tivness.

Occasionally I'm tempted to compare my children to other children and this way lies madness.  But it's good, too, for me to observe that there are many babies and toddlers out there who are much more laid back and content than my kids and also just as bright, talented and interesting as my kids are. I've been tempted, you see, to explain Walter and Sally's intensity as a byproduct of their brilliance, but I don't think that's necessarily true.  My kids are intense and they are brilliant. Other kids are laid back and brilliant.  They're people, and people are different, with different personalities that are shaped by all kinds of factors, mostly beyond our control.

My thoughts when I'm trying to change Sally's diaper are not this calm and reasonable, I assure you.

Sally at 10 months old is sweet, funny, ornery, fiesty, joyful, adventurous, curious, communicative, musical, loving, friendly, smiley, stubborn, defiant, snuggly and proud.  She loves Walter best of all the people in the world.  She loves Hank the Dog, too.  She loves to play catch with me: I roll her a rubber ball, she grabs it and throws it at me with alarming accuracy.  She hates being left behind--if someone she loves leaves the room she cries real tears of real sadness. She continues to love our kisses and gives beautiful kisses in return.  She waves, she claps.  She maybe signs a little bit, mostly for water, but communicates clearly enough without it. I think she said "Ball" the other day, but I'm not sure. She definitely says, "Mama," "More" and "All done," though that last one requires a lot of
Look at those teeth!
adult interpretation to understand.  She has resolutely resisted all attempts at getting her into a bedtime routine and won't sit still for stories, so we let her run around while we read at her. She enjoys all kinds of food and has a very healthy appetite. She's got two more teeth poking through on the bottom, which will bring her total to 8. She's got an adorable gap between her two top front teeth and a smile that makes everyone in the world smile back.  She's beautiful.  I watched her sleep in my arms this morning and she was just so gorgeous I couldn't stand it.  I think I got a glimpse of what she's going to look like as a grown up--she doesn't look like me or Sean or Walter, she looks like Sally, and she is just lovely.  When she stretches and yawns my heart does somersaults.

"Hey Sally dear, hey Sally dear/ We are so very glad that you're here. Hey Sally dear, Hey Sally dear/ You're loved,  you're blessed, that much is clear!"

Monday, July 7, 2014

Too young to remember

Dear Walter and Sally,

We had quite an adventure this weekend! It was the 4th of July, but it was also the 40th anniversary celebration of A Prairie Home Companion, a radio show that has been very special to both Mommy and Daddy since we were little kids.  We knew we wanted to get there, if we could, and share it with the two of you.

On Thursday night, after you went to bed, Daddy and I packed and got ready for the trip.  We were pretty tired and wondering what we'd gotten ourselves into.  Traveling isn't easy--there are lots of things to remember, lots of things to figure out and take care of.  We would not have even attempted this particular trip if it weren't for the help we had from our amazing friends. (Friends make life so good, so good indeed.)

We got up early on Friday--got bagels, got breakfast to eat in the car, got everyone in the van and headed to John and Karen's house to drop off Hank. Hank was elated to spend time with John and Karen, their cats, and his best doggie pal, Sammie. From there we turned around and headed north and west.  We took many stops along the way for potty breaks and nursing.  Sally, you did some good sleeping. Walter, you did not, but you were very sweet and managed to have a good day even without a nap.  We did lots of snacking in the car (cheese curds from a dairy store we stopped at on the way ... yum) but held off on lunch until we arrived in St. Paul.

This is how we roll!
After 5 hours of driving we arrived: hungry and a little worse for wear but also very excited and so glad, so relieved to see our dear friends Uncle Ben, Aunt Arden and Greta again!  Walter, you were especially excited to see Greta, who you'd met when she was a little baby, and who is now walking.  Sally, you were excited to get out of your carseat and immediately got to work playing with Greta's toys.  She shared them very graciously with both of you.  We walked from their house to Macalester College, where the anniversary party was well underway.  After a delicious lunch (pasties and tacos from food trucks) we walked around the booths and settled in to play some more at the children's museum area.

The children's museum had set up a fence around a patch of grass and set out large blue foam blocks of various shapes and sizes.  There were colorful plastic balls, too--Sally, you and Greta played with those. Walter, you befriended two seven-year-old boys and engaged in some really fabulous imaginative building with them.  I was very impressed with you for keeping up with the older boys (and very impressed with the older boys for including you so beautifully.)

Soon it was time for the concert--40 Songs, 40 Years.  It was an outdoor concert; we weren't sure how long it was going to be, and we weren't sure how we were going to make it work.  You kids love music, but we weren't sure you'd be able to sit through a whole concert.  Again, our friends made it possible.  Ben and Arden packed an amazing picnic dinner for us, which we enjoyed while we sat on our picnic blanket as the concert got started. We feasted on chicken, hummus, carrots, pita chips, turkey sausage sticks, cheese sticks and graham crackers. As we ate, I sang along a bit with Garrison and his friends--musicians who had been with the show when it first started, and others who became regular favorites along the way.  We got to hear Robin and Linda Williams, Old Crow Medicine Show, Gillian Welch, Jearlyn and Jevetta Steele and Iris Dement. When Garrison joined Robin and Linda Williams to sing "Calling My Children Home" I held dancing Sally in my arms and cried happy tears.

There were a few times when all four of us were on the blanket together, but most of the time Daddy walked with one of you while the other one snuggled on the blanket with me.  Those one-on-one times with each of you were very special for and precious to me.  Sally, you climbed all over me, snacking happily on graham crackers and hummus and charming the bejeebus out of everyone sitting around us.  I sang to you and you smiled and smiled and smiled.  We nursed; we love nursing outside, with the wind in your hair and the warm sun setting all around us, surrounded by music and people and also entirely in our own world, too.

Walter, you spent most of the show walking with Daddy, mostly to check out the super duper fancy porta-potties. They were airconditioned, with wood floors, running water and artwork on the walls.  You and Daddy were both mystified and super impressed and made several trips. That probably would have been your favorite part of the concert ... if it weren't for the Wailin' Jennys.

Three beautiful young women (about my age ... I still call that young) took the stage and giggled with Garrison for awhile. And then they started to sing. Now, everything up to that point had been wonderful, truly.  But something changed when they sang.  They sang without musical accompaniment, they sang in close, perfect harmony.  The harmony hit the air and vibrated and hung there and then spread across the crowd like electricity.  Walter, you'd been snuggling, almost sleeping in my lap.  When they hit their first note, you stood straight up, electrified. You shot up and stood and leaned toward the stage, "What are they singing, Mama?" you asked.  You felt the difference in the air--you knew this was something special.

Kids, you are too young to remember any of this on your own.  That's part of the reason I try to write things down, so we're sure to share our memories of these times and give you a sense of who you were and what your life was like before you started collecting memories. Sometimes it's tempting to use your age as a reason not to do things, especially things that involve 5 hours of car travel! "They won't even remember it," I think to myself sometimes.  But seeing the two of you at this concert, the way you enjoyed yourselves so completely, the way you danced and sang along (even you, Sally) and basked in the glow of the moment and in our collective family happiness ... there is no reason to wait for this until you are older. Sharing the joy of our lives is something Daddy and I can do (and do, do) with you right now. We get to enjoy it with you in the moment, and add those moments to our own collection of memories. And we will help you remember it, for sure.

Right about the time the two of you started getting antsy and sleepy and needing to head out, Garrison announced an intermission.  Intermission!  The show had already gone on for two hours.  We decided to leave while everyone was happy and the leaving was good.   We walked around the booths one more time and did some very joyful dancing.  Sally, you almost levitated with happiness when you saw Walter dancing. The two of you brought so much joy to everyone around us. With the help of a security guard, we took a family picture and headed back to the house.

We stayed overnight at Uncle Ben's parents' house--you both woke up too early! Sally, you and I did some wonderful snuggling, while Walter and Daddy watched videos until it was time to get up, play and eat some delicious breakfast. One of my hopes for the two of you is that you have friends like Ben and Arden, friends
Sally and Greta: Babies who Brunch
who are so dear they are family. We had a wonderful, relaxing morning together. Walter, you did NOT want to leave. You wanted to stay forever. We all agreed with you, but got back on the road anyway and headed home. We stopped for lunch at a truckstop diner called Norske Kitchen which specializes in popovers. It was very yummy. We picked up Hank, who had been very happy where he was but was also happy to see us again (Walter, you said, "My puppy!! There's my puppy coming back to my house!") We ate some dinner and slept well.

This weekend was particularly adventurous, but every day things happen that make me think, "I should write that down, I want to remember that forever."  Sally, you are learning how to throw a ball, and the look on your face when we play catch together is so intensely beautiful I can barely stand it. Walter, you are in love with two songs right now, "Take Up Your Spade" by Sara Watkins and "Let it Go" from the movie Frozen. There's a line in "Let it Go" that you've rewritten ... the original goes "I'm never going back/the past is in the past," but you sing it, very earnestly, "I'm never going back/the past is in the bear!"  I don't know what it means, but it strikes me as very profound. And very funny.
The past is in the bear, kids.  The past is in the bear.

I love you,

Sunday, June 22, 2014


One of Walter's favorite books these days is Water Come Down.  He likes very much that it's by a Walter, and Walter Jr. at that (Walter Jr. is a character in another favorite, Walter the Baker.) He likes the illustrations, especially the page with the cows, and the page where some of the trees are dead but others are watered and green. He likes the kind of odd poetry of it, I think.  But most of all, he likes the way I make the sign of the cross on his forehead as we read, recreating the moment of his baptism.  I trace the cross on his forehead with my thumb, and say the words I said when I anointed him with oil: "Walter Paul Edison-Albright, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever."  Tonight he reciprocated, touching my forehead gently and saying: "Mama Paul Edison-Albright, you have been marked with the God of Christ forever."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Walter and the Wonderful Evening

He even smiled for a selfie!
When an evening with a two-and-a-half year old goes really, really well, it's worth documenting.  We've been having lots of good nights recently, but tonight was especially wonderful.

I got home before the rest of the family and did some kitchen cleaning.  When Sean and the kids got home, I got a big hug from Walter.  Sally slept in her carseat while the three of us made dinner together: chicken tortellini and escarole soup. Walter smelled and touched and explored different shapes, colors and textures while we cooked.  Sally woke up right in time for nursing and dinner.  During dinner we had a very nice video chat with Grandma and Pop Pop.  Walter was lovely during the call and also told Sean, as he has been lately, "This is a very nice dinner, Dada. Thank you!"

Everyone ate well and Sean, Walter and Sally retired to the living room to play while I cleaned up.  Sally, who'd been a little cranky pants since waking up from her carseat nap, brightened up considerably and practiced both taking steps and launching herself at Sean with great glee.  She and Walter cracked each other up and played well, if not together, then at least in the general vicinity of each other with very few conflicts. Walter tries so hard. He gave her a bunch of toys to play with, and was confused when she still wanted the toys he was playing with. "But ... she has toys!" Big sigh. "Well, she's a baby.  She doesn't know."

Walter and the fancy car wash
I hung out with Sally for a bit while Walter and Sean did some impressive tunnel building with blocks.  Then Sean took Sally upstairs for a bath and Walter and I got to build together ... it's been awhile since we've built together and we fell right back into our routine, which is to construct a basic structure and then take turns placing blocks on top and around it as ornamentation.  Walter has a keen eye for symmetry, and the final product tonight was really beautiful.  He declared that it was "the perfect car wash for me" and sent his car through several times to get the "poop bird" off the windows.

When Sally and Daddy came down and discovered Sally was out of clean jammies, I asked him if we should help and he readily agreed.  He came downstairs with me (he walks down instead of going down on his bottom, and uses the railing so nicely) found a Sally jammie and came back upstairs, where he helped keep Sally happy while she got dressed and ready for bed.  She's always looking for him, and is so relieved and happy when he comes into view.

Sally was still pretty wakey, so I brought her into Walter's room for some stories. This morning Walter had read several of his little Sesame Street books to us, and he did it again tonight ... I asked him if we could get a video of it to show Umma and Baba, and he agreed (Hooray! He's finally warming up again to being photographed and video'd!) He read the Grover's Opposites book and was very, very proud. "I did it!"

I took Sally to bed and when I came out I found Sean and Walter in the bathroom: Walter was going poopy on the potty. It wasn't the first time, but every time it happens we are especially enthusiastic and celebratory.  The potty training is gradually but noticeably progressing, and we're quite excited about it. Sean made us some tea (Walter: "I like tea.  Can I have tea, too?") and we went to his room to enjoy it together.  Walter thanked Sean for the tea and gave me a sweet "Cheers!"  He made up a little song while he drank the tea that was kind of a mashup of "We Are Marching in the Light of God," "Down in the River to Pray," and "We are the Children of Tomorrow" from Fraggle Rock. "We are walking, we are walking one two three. We are walking by the river to pray. We are walking by the river, one in heart, one in voice, one in name (one in name!)" Sadly, no video of that ... but it was one of those moments you don't want to ruin by running to get a camera.  We just sat there, grinning at our boy and at each other.

I went upstairs and Sean finished up the bedtime routine--there was some resistance but it sounded like it went well.

It was a wonderful evening.

Friday, June 13, 2014

And all the people say ...

The ninth month of Sally has been eventful so far.   Walter has been maturing by leaps and bounds, too. It makes sense that the time and energy I have to document our lives decreases in proportion to the rising number of events I'd like to document. One of the constants has been very poor sleep, mostly on the part of Sally (and her parents.)  Walter has been sleeping better with the help of Claritin ... there's an allergist visit in our future, for sure.  Sally had a reasonable night's sleep last night with the help of a few days of antibiotic and some Tylenol--she's had an ear infection since April 20.  There's an ENT visit on the calendar for her.  Uff da.  

Next time, there will be video. We were too excited!
In other news, though, last night Sally did some amazing unassisted standing.  The first time it happened I was alone with her in the living room; Sean and Walter were cooking dinner.  It sounded something like this: "OhmyGod she's standing. OhmyGod she's standing. OhmyGod she's standing.  OhmyGod she's standing. Holy cats!" (I would like to submit that this was not taking our Lord's name in vain, but in fact a very fervent prayer.  I'm not sure what cats have to do with it, but there you go.)

The second time we were all playing together in the living room and she just stood there, looking at us, totally cool while we all tried not to freak out.  Walter wanted to go over and give her a congratulatory hug; we convinced him not to.  Hank went over to lick her face and tried to gently knock her over (this is what he did when Walter started walking, too.  Hank does not approve of his babies taking risks.)  We got Hank away from her and she was STILL standing with no sign of going down.  Sean ran into the kitchen and got his phone, which of course did not work as well as one would hope.  After several blurry pictures and one reasonably clear picture, Sally was still standing. Finally, she started to lose her balance a little bit, and as she did she took a full, unassisted step to the side, stood for a few seconds more, and then landed gently on her bottom.  Sally's first step!  I suspect that she took other steps during the day at daycare, too.  They worry about parents feeling bad when kids reach milestones at daycare. So, the report was carefully worded: "Sally was really interested in trying to walk!" Also: "Today, Sally licked EVERYONE!"

This morning, Sally threw herself around with great abandon--she's in the reckless stage of learning a new skill, something I've noticed with her before. She mostly threw herself in the direction of Walter and attempted to remove his bellybutton. Repeatedly.  Walter laughed about it but agreed that she wasn't being very gentle, and appreciated my (largely futile) attempts to dissuade her. A little later Walter lifted his shirt and presented his bellybutton to her.  "Here you go, Baby Sally."  He does this all the time, mostly when he's playing with a toy and she wants it (for the record, that's all toys, always.)  He's a sweet boy and a good brother.  My goal is to teach her to respect him, too.  This morning Walter said, "Can you be gentle, Sally?"  He also said, "I call her Ben sometimes." "Ben?" "Yes, Ben." "Why do you call her Ben?" "Because I love her."

I don't know where that came from, but it makes me happy. (Another recent nickname he's tried out for her recently  is "Buddy Girl.")

While we've always been affectionate and encouraging with Walter, lately we've been taking a page from Mr. Rogers and been extra intentional about telling Walter that we love being with him, that just being himself is a wonderful thing, and that he makes us very happy.  It took awhile, and it might be a phase, but Walter has gotten much more verbally and physically affectionate in the past week or so.  The other night, he and I had this exchange at bedtime: "Walter, you make me so happy." "Jah, I do. Mama, you make me very, very happy." "Thank you, Walter.  I love you." "I love you, Mama!"

That, as you can imagine, makes me very, very happy. 

Walter can still be a challenge, and I'm guessing that when the next growth spurt hits, or the next developmental milestone, or the next ear infection, or whatever it is that seems to turn the switch in his brain on to "defiant," we'll have some very tough days/weeks again.  But we are in a good, good stretch with him, and we're all enjoying it, Walter probably most of all.  He is effusively thankful.  A sample from last night: "Thank you, Dada. This is a very, very nice dinner. Thank you for making dinner with me, Dada." He's also starting to do some neat speaking/thinking/reasoning things, like the "When I was ..." construction I've noticed other kids (particularly older siblings) use. Two recent examples: "When I was a baby, I had to take that medicine." (He was referring to Sally's Amoxicillin. I didn't have the heart to tell him that he might have to have it again someday.) Also, "When I was a dog, I ate bones." Hee.  

Sally and John
John B. visited us last weekend, which was so wonderful for so many reasons.  I think watching the people I love fall in love with my kids, and watching my kids fall in love with them, too,  is one of the greatest things in the world.  Sally and Walter were both smitten with him. Walter even told Sean, "Dada, Uncle John is my favorite."  "Favorite" is a relatively new concept for Walter, and we were all pretty thrilled with this application of it. 
John said something that has really stuck with me.  I asked him what he thought of the kids, and he noted that they are wonderful at playing.  And it's true!  Walter is creative and imaginative when he plays, more and moreso every day, in ways that just blow me away.  Sally is inquisitive and determined and joyful when she plays, with lots of big, charming smiles. The way they play says so much about them as kids, and also about us as parents, I think. And it bodes well.

I needed John's perspective to realize that. I think it was something I needed to hear. 

Sean and I have been a little overwhelmed lately.  We finally got Sally into her room, and after two relatively good nights she came down with a terrible stomach bug (Walter had it earlier in the week, too.)  She ended up staying overnight in the hospital, receiving IV fluids for dehydration and IV antibiotics for her terrible ongoing ear infection (her third course ... she's now on her fourth.)  Sean also got the stomach bug and was sick for about a week.
Sally teepin', 9 months old, with IV and tiny hospital gown
Sally got better and then had a relapse: the solution was to nurse her for 15 seconds every 30 minutes. It was awful, but it worked--she got over the stomach bug with no more trips to the hospital. And that's good, because I didn't want to have to hold her down for blood draws anymore.  I would have done it if it was needed--because of my own medical history, I can be brave that way.  But I did not want to (of course, no one does.)

I've missed a lot of work and fallen terribly behind; Sean's been burning up vacation days, too.  We're not in a great place, financially. We're not getting very much sleep.  The house is a wreck, moreso than usual, and it feels like that's not going to change anytime soon. There is a chipmunk living in our workshop.  So much feels so very, very broken. 

Walter playing dress up. Joy!
Walter's favorite song these days is Matt Maher's "All the People Said Amen."  One of our worship bands introduced it to us at church and he's been hooked ever since.  It has a great beat, a fun "whoah-oh-oh" part, and it's just very enjoyable to sing.  I think Walter likes the message, too.  He likes the part about not being alone: "You are not alone, when you are lonely/If you feel afraid/you're not the only."  Walter gets that, and he sings it with great passion.  I like "We're all broken and we're all in this together/God knows we stumble and fall."  Last night Sally and Walter and I got out the percussion instruments and sang and played a pretty rockin' version together (Sally is brilliant with the tambourine and the kazoo.  Absolutely brilliant.)  And it all came together for me in that moment.  My kids who really know how to play, who put their whole hearts into playing and learning and exploring the world with joy.  My broken, messy, beautiful life. God's promise to be there, to love us, to sustain us no matter what. We are not alone in our brokenness or our fears. "We are all the same/in need of mercy/ to be forgiven and be free. It's all we've got to lean on and thank God it's all we need!"

Amen, amen, amen.