Thursday, January 16, 2014

How about that to you?

 Here's a short list of adorable Walter speech patterns that we are absolutely not allowed to giggle at in front of him:

  • When proposing a plan for what we should do next, Walter will say "How about that?"or "How about that to you?" Example: "Mama, you want to play with blocks? How about that to you?"
  • As in the example above, he's also all about telling us what we want to do. "Mama, you want to sit down and you want to eat more cereal and more milk right now."
  • Many, many things are required "right now." 
  • While immediacy is important, so is patience. Walter also frequently punctuates his playtime discussions with "Just a minute" and "Not yet."  He likes to pick out some of the blocks we're building with and put them under Sally's pack n' play to bake. "Do you want to use these blocks, Walter?" "No. Not yet. Just a minute. They need to bake.  Right here, in the tunnel. *pause* THEY'RE READY!"*  
  • When more time for an activity is required, Walter asks for two minutes. Just two minutes, Mama and Dada. C'mon. Two. Minutes.
  • Totally out of the blue the other night: "Thanks, Mama.  Thanks for talking to me!

*This may also be a good time to reveal that nearly all toy and objects in our house are at some point utilized in imaginative play baking and cooking.  His workbench (with saw, screwdriver, and other tools and such) produces excellent make-believe cake and oatmeal. It also frequently becomes a check out counter for our trips to the grocery.

Friday, January 10, 2014

7 Signs You're a (Millennial) Success

Today, hour 2 of On Point with Tom Ashbrook was a panel on Millennials and their hopes and dreams for the future. The point was made, as it always is, that this up-and-coming generation has had to re-define success.  

I sat there, feeling sick and miserable, so sick that I was home from work and listening to npr in the middle of the day and thought to myself, "Hey! I'm kind of a success!" By my own definition, anyway, I'm very nearly successful. I'm on the old end of the millennial group and my definition probably reflects that.  But here goes.  
You might be a (milliennial) success if ... 

**You can go to the doctor and take time off of work when you're sick.
This one's near and dear to my heart this week. Walter has been sick since the weather turned cold.  Sally just started getting sick at 2 this morning. I'm on my third week of feeling awful and finally starting to (really) feel better because this week I took off work, stayed home and slept. That means I was able to take care of myself so now I can better take care of Walter and Sally. The kids have been in to see their doctor several times over the last three weeks and I've been able to take them in as soon as they needed to go. I mean, ideally, we'd all be healthy.  But the fact that we can afford the time, doctor's visits and medicine we need to take care of ourselves when we're sick is huge.  

**You live close enough to family and friends to see them regularly and help each other as needed.
I used to think success was about independence and limitless options and opportunities. Now I think success hinges on interdependence and limiting ourselves to living in places where we know we'll have a good support network. We live about two hours away from my parents, and I don't think we'd want to live any farther than that from close family (and/or friends who have become like family.)

**You have vacation time.
Having enough paid time off to not only take time off for illness or family illness but also to rest and have fun when you're feeling well is pretty much my generation's definition of luxury, I think.  Salaries are low these days.  But if you have enough money to cover your basic needs AND some free time and a flexible work schedule then you are living the good, good life. 

**You are able to stay on top of basic life stuff without falling into despair. 
This is one that Sean and I struggle with.  It's currently about 11 at night and Sean's outside running the snow blower. This is not a task that brings him joy.  Next week I'm going to have to wade through a backlog of snail mail to make sure we didn't miss anything important while we let it sit this week.  Dealing with paper is a battle as constant and wearisome as laundry.  But, welcome to adulthood, right?  This is how it is and how it always has been. Sean and I fall behind on these things, in part, because we try not to do any of them when we could be spending time with Sally and Walter.  Occasionally we despair a little bit.  I'll ask Sean how he feels about it when he comes in from the snowblowing. (Update: Sean reports that snowblowing is his only reliable source of exercise endorphins, and thus key to fighting laundry and paperwork-related despair. Noted.)  

**You are resilient enough to handle a few unexpected crises.
One of the frightening things about the economy right now is that just about everyone I know (I don't know many super rich people) is one or two crises away from a catastrophe. It would be terrifyingly easy to lose everything. Since becoming homeowners and parents, Sean and I have found out that unexpected expenses (refrigerator dies; gallbladder comes out; flying squirrels need to be evacuated from the attic, etc.) happen.  We've been OK so far, but this is a tough one, and an area that I hope will get better.

**You give generously and habitually.
I had to come back and add this one after posting, when I had another baby-sponsored blogging opportunity and some time to think about it. I used to think one of my goals in life was to make enough money to be really generous.  I've learned (from studies Biblical and otherwise) that generosity isn't about what you have; it has much more to do with the practice of giving regularly until it becomes a habit, just part of life and who you are. You don't have to be rich to be generous. And that's a good thing, because I'll probably never be rich, but I can realistically aspire to living generously. 

**Your grandparents live long enough to see you into adulthood. 
This isn't a fair one to include, right, because you don't have control over it.  But part of defining success as a millennial is realizing you don't really have control over any of these things. The idea that our success is in any way self-made is just self-delusion. Sure, ambition and hard work are important. But the accident of where and what color and what gender and what socioeconomic class you were born into carries an undeniable weight in the equation. And no success story, of any generation, ever happened in a vacuum. So, maybe this is the generation that will finally stop trying to be self-made men and women for just for themselves and start figuring out ways that we can all be successful together.

Optimism, I learned today, is a marker of the millennial generation. 

Anyway, you can't control whether or not your grandparents live to see you into adulthood.  But I've seen couple in their 30's get married with all four sets of grandparents present and I tell you, those people are rich. They are enviable. And they are what I hope my kids will be: making that perilous transition into adulthood grounded in love that spans generations.

It's not a success you can strive for, but it's something you can hope for.  That's what it's all about.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Walter builds towns

Sean and I both spent much of our childhood playtime building with wooden blocks. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that blocks were my favorite toy, and that I'd prefer building with blocks to any other common game/activity (playing school, playing with dolls ... dress up would be a close second, I think.)  It was something I liked doing with my Dad, although he's so good at it I'd mostly watch him while he built (this is still true ... Baba is ridiculously good at building with blocks. I just sit back and watch in awe.)

We got Walter a set of wooden blocks for his first birthday, and at his birthday party invited people to decorate the blocks with messages for him as a kind of guest book. Over the past year he's been interested in them off and on, in spurts.  First, he built walls, carefully lining up the square blocks end to end, creating a barrier across the living room floor.  Then, he built towers.  He got very good at stacking the tallest blocks higher and higher, far higher than I thought he'd be able to go.  You could watch him learning about balance and gravity, getting the feel right and figuring out how high he could go.

These days, Walter builds towns.  They are sprawling and expansive, incorporating every block-type object we own. They usually have steps and ramps up to different levels.  They are wider than they are tall--he's recently gotten nervous about the blocks falling, even though we've been encouraging him to take the falls in stride and see them as creative opportunities. "It going to fall a little bit," he warns me as I add a small block to the top of a sky scraper.  There are outlying suburbs in these towns, and downtown skylines.  He builds walled gardens and libraries.  He builds churches.  Lots of churches. He builds small, one-block homes for the people he loves, all right next door to each other.  "This is baby Sally's house," he tells me, putting down a square block.  "Look, Mama, I build you a house!" he says, putting down another square.

Walter talks to himself while he works.  "Right here. Over here just a little bit.  Just in case. OK. And another one."  When all available blocks are in use, he walks his fingers around the town, or takes his toy cars up the ramps.  He likes to find good parking spaces for his cars.  He flies his fingers from the top of one building to another, narrating his progress from church, to school, to park.  I ask him what he's doing at each place. Usually, the answer is "eating cookies." The other day he threw in some broccoli for variety (and to please me, I think.)

I asked Sean if he ever built towns with his blocks. "No, I built castles," he said.  That's what I built, too.  And simple, functional lodgings for my Barbies and My Little Ponies. Never these city scapes. Never these marvels of urban planning and civil engineering. It never occurred to me that a single block could represent a whole building.

I don't know what it means, that Walter has this big picture, zoomed out approach.  I just know it's a lot of fun, and liberating for me in a way that's hard to describe.  I always worried about the logistics of buildings: big and heavy blocks down first to create a foundation, windows and doors tall enough and spaced correctly to allow for roofs, etc. But when you build a town with Walter, you are free.  Any block can go anywhere and be anything. And we can collaborate without me taking over ... when we bake together, for example, Walter can participate, but he has to follow my rules.  When we build together, we work side by side, complimenting each other (literally and figuratively, "Mama! That is beautiful!  Is this beautiful, Mama?") and building on each other's work without either of us dominating or being in charge.

I treasure our time building together, and Walter does, too.  I've noticed that he works hard, these days, to recreate happy moments.  When something good happens to him, he tries to make it happen again and again. "Mama!  You sit on the couch here. Right now. You hold baby Sally.  Dada, you sit on the chair.  Walter here, with blankets."  As you may know, it's hard to re-create a spontaneous happy moment.  Even when we manage it, there are diminishing returns, there is disappointment.  A nostalgic two-year-old is a sad two-year-old, ultimately.  And there's some of that going on when we build together (he's remembering fun we've had building together in the past, which is always "yesterday," no matter how many days ago it was.)  But he's also learning how to live in the moment, I think, because each town is so different. And when our skyscrapers fall, there are tears, but there is also opportunity for building something new.

When he's bored and tired, Walter can be destructive.  He throws things, he deliberately hurts himself. It's not anything unusual for a two-year-old boy, but it's hard on all of us. My mom described it the best: "He's over the edge and having a hard time finding his way back."  So, we're always looking for projects, something he can focus his energy on in a positive way, so that he doesn't get lost out on the edge of destructive behavior.  Baking and cooking with us, play cooking in his own kitchen, Legos on a table in his room ... these are all good, but blocks are the best, I think.

He'll probably move on to something else, soon (I'm thinking playdough may be the new blocks, but we'll see.)  For now, I'm just happy to sit on the floor next to my boy, while he works and snuggles sweetly up against me now and then, casually reaching out to hold my hand for a minute or rest his foot on top of mine, doing something that is, really and truly, constructive.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Sally Bug!

Dear Sally,

I think you enjoyed your first Christmas day.  It got off to a rough start: you woke up at about 5:30 and nursed well, but then threw up quite a lot of milk.  We got you and me cleaned up, you nursed some more and went back to sleep.  When Walter woke up you started to stir, too, and we all met up down in the kitchen to start making breakfast. Umma and Baba played with you while Walter, Daddy and I made puff pancakes.  I've been making those pancakes for Christmas breakfast since I was 14 years old and brought the recipe home from my jr. high foods class. It was fun to get your brother in on making them this year, and I could imagine you beating the eggs while he mixes the flour in years to come.

No longer safe!
You were interested in the baking, and especially interested in the eating ... you are watching us eat very intently these days!  And drooling! Daddy says you are starring in the movie Drooly and Droolia. That's a really good sign that you are getting ready to eat solid foods, and maybe even starting to get your first teeth.  Walter has been looking forward to getting to feed you your rice cereal, but you (and he) will have to wait a few more months.  In the meantime, we hold you with us at the table and let you watch ... you're getting a little too good at grabbing at things, though! We've almost lost a plate or two already.  When you get bored and frustrated with the table we let you play in the rainforest bouncer.  You are very serious about your playing and do an excellent job exploring all the different moving and sound-making parts. You are starting to do sits ups in it, though, so pretty soon we'll have to get you sitting up with us in the high chair.

After breakfast, you and I sat and nursed by the tree.  You were a little distracted by the beautiful lights, and also by me ... we like to smile at each other a lot, and sometimes that gets in the way of eating. I really enjoyed that quiet moment with you, before the present unwrapping began, just you and me and our little Christmas tree.
You love looking at the tree.

We unwrapped presents next.  You were really interested in the tissue paper from the gift bags and almost got to eat it a couple of times ... you are stronger and more persistent than I'd realized! You got many wonderful gifts, including a Mickey Mouse Club book from Walter (he helped me read it to you a few times that afternoon.)  We put you in your exersaucer and you immediately went for the teething flower, but then you turned your attention to the moving/noise making parts and had them all figured out within minutes.

You took a nice long nap on Umma while Walter, Daddy and I went outside to work off some of our excess energy and cabin fever.  It has been snowy and cold.  We haven't left the house much, which you don't mind as long as we keep you engaged with various activities.

As the day continued you had some bored moments and some colicky moments. Dr. L. says that colic is just you becoming aware of the world and not being entirely pleased with what you find. You had your four month well child check up on Boxing Day and Dr. L. was once again very pleased with you and your progress. Your stats: height: 24.25 inches (50th percentile); weight: 13 lbs, 7 oz (25th percentile); head circumference: 16.63 inches (90th percentile! Dr. L: "Her brain is taking off!")

You love your toes!!
It's taken me a week to write this post; today is your first New Years Day.  New Years and New Years Day tend to be pretty mellow for our little family.  And goopy.  Walter and I are both sick with a bad cold, and he just started antibiotics for an ear infection. He threw up at dinner last night which gave me a serious case of New Years Eve deja vu. You are a little congested, too, which makes you spit up now and then, but you are clearly doing quite well in spite of the spitting.  You are sleeping pretty well: you have taken up long afternoon naps, which makes our nights a little more difficult but I enjoy napping with you very much indeed.  You wake up happy, with big smiles and bright shining eyes. You are alert and very, very busy.  Most of your complaining these days is due to boredom; you approach every task (chewing on a teething frog, the activities in your exersaucer) with great intensity and focus.

Last night Daddy was trying to get your brother to sleep and Baba was trying to keep you entertained. He picked up Walter's toy helicopter--he'd discovered on Christmas day that you are very interested in the helicopter sounds.  He pressed the button to make the sounds and realized it was too loud--it would distract Walter from his bedtime routine.  So, he tried showing you the helicopter without making the sounds.  You reacted like you'd been pinched. HUGE scream, full-body sobs.  We comforted you and you settled down right away, but I have to admit ... it was pretty funny.  You are little, baby Sally, but you have big opinions.

You've got a good grip on me, baby girl.
Today we hung out around the house; you did good playing with Baba and very good napping with me. You grabbed my hand and wouldn't let go, which meant I didn't actually get much sleep, but somehow by the time you woke up I felt rested and better than I have in days.  You have a healing touch, I think.  In the afternoon we made pretzels, inspired by Walter's new favorite book from Christmas, Walter the Baker. They turned out beautifully and I think it'll be a new family tradition.  You watched us eat them with this look on your face like "I can't believe it.  They're eating again. Right in front of me! And they aren't going to give me any!!" Soon, baby, soon.  And, if we make them again next New Year's, you will certainly get a pretzel.

Now you are sleeping--rather lightly--in your bassinet. You are too big for it but we don't have your room and your crib ready, yet. I know it's time, maybe past time, to make that move, but I love having you close by.  You are growing up very fast, Sally Bug. To say "I'm loving every minute of it" sounds cliche and exaggerated.  You spit up right into my ear yesterday. For real. It was disgusting. And yet ... honestly, I do feel like I'm loving every minute, or at least very fully enjoying all the time I get to spend with you. And I love watching you enjoy life more and more, too.  You may be colicky and displeased with the world sometimes, but you are also delighted with the Christmas tree, fascinated by chewing, intrigued by the dog ... and today you laughed for the first time without tickling while you watched your brother dance.

Here's to 2014, Sally Bug!  It'll be a year of many "firsts" for you.  As your awareness grows, may you be increasingly pleased with all you discover!