Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat!

The day began, predictably, with a lot of excitement. Baxter, upon opening a pumpkin-shaped Halloween card from my parents at the breakfast table, let out a gasp you'd think would be reserved for Christmas morning. "It's today?" asked Lyle, eyes wide, hugging the card to his chest. "For real life??" Also predictably, the day ended with two tired little boys melting down out of sheer exhaustion, and finally dropping into bed in complete and utter silence.

In between, we had a really great day. A couple weeks ago I had the foresight to cancel my last two clients of the day, which allowed me to volunteer in Baxter's class for one of the first times ever and then be at home for the afternoon. I had a great time finally getting to match more faces to the names and helping them make pop-out cards. I was also able to make connections with more parents. It was a blast. Here's Baxter hard at work at my center:

This afternoon, after some quiet time, the kids got dressed into their blessedly simple and sweet Halloween costumes and we headed out to the house of some good friends who live in the beautiful Edgewater Glen neighborhood filled with old, single family houses on leafy tree-lined streets. Almost every household for blocks was handing out candy, neighbors sitting on their front porches. It was an absolutely idyllic Halloween night. Our friends always invite lots of families to trick-or-treat together and then go back to the house for a party. Here are some of my favorite shots (I'm posting them small because there are so many - you can click on them to see them full size, if you'd like):

Back at home, Baxter practiced the art of candy sorting and counting, learned from his friend Claire tonight. Lyle worked hard to count his, as well. The adorableness was not to be believed.

Until the meltdowns, that is.

Happy Halloween!


Happy Halloween, everyone!

Baxter took this of me last week and I've been saving it for you. Blurry, but special, no?
Photos of the actual trick-or-treaters will be available after tonight's Halloween extravaganza.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Monday, October 29, 2007

Gross Out Songs

Like most kids of a certain age, my kids like gross. I've already described how Lyle uses his potty words in the bathroom - that is, by racing into the bathroom when overcome by the urge to shout out his litany: "Pee-pee, poop, penis, butt, and bottom!!!" I love that "bottom" is a bathroom word to him, and I also want to add that I never said he couldn't talk about his penis outside the bathroom, okay? Just wanted to make that clear.


We now have a new ritual added to the bedtime routine. In the past, we all laid down on the big bed outside the boys' room and sang some sweet good night songs. However, thanks to Matt, we now also sing "gross-out songs" before bed. Yes, on any given night you might hear something along the lines of "Pee pee, poop, and throw up, too...hope there's no dog poop on my shoe" to the tune of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star". It's always improvised and always met with gales of giggles. From all of us.

Ain't we got fun?

Kitchen Counter: Found!

Hey, look, everyone! I found the kitchen counter!

Turns out it was green all along. Who knew?

Just goes to show you what can be accomplished by staying up really late.

Maybe now I will stop YAMMERING ON about it on this blog.

(But don't count on it.)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Letter of the Day

As I might have anticipated, this kid-free weekend was brought to us by the letter P... P for “productive”, “pumpkin pie”, and, well, maybe also a little “panic” thrown in.

Panic might be overstating the case, but I’ll bet you all know what happens when you start to organize the house. You open the storage room downstairs (which should have a big “Beware: Can of Worms!” warning on the door), preparing to finally move the big rug into it and – Holy too much crap, Batman! – you find yourself two hours later still moving boxes from one closet to another, with a huge pile of Goodwill donations by the back door. At the end of the day, you have accomplished a great deal, really, you have - the only trouble is, much of the impact is actually invisible to the naked eye, and you still can’t see the kitchen counter or your desk. Nor have any pictures gone up. You face reality all over again – that the work is really, truly never done, and while you are thrilled with what you have accomplished, you’d feel much better if you had the next two weeks available to keep going.

In the midst of the chaos, I received the phone call I’d been expecting and – to be honest - dreading just a little bit. It was a nice woman from church following up on my offer to make a meal for one of the couples who has recently had a baby. It’s true: I had told her this would be a good weekend (my time is flexible, after all). So, yes, yes, of course I can make a meal for these new parents tomorrow night. Absolutely. (Gulp.) Overwhelmed, I put it out of my mind and enjoyed a fun evening out with Matt.

I was up early today, happy to rise when I was good and ready. (Too bad I was "good and ready" quite so early.) Enjoying a leisurely few minutes at the computer, I discovered that not one but two bloggers I read regularly had posted delicious-sounding fall recipes this morning! How did you all know that I needed inspiration today? I am happy to report that I have made both Jennifer Graf Groneberg's lentil soup and Kristen’s pear bread this afternoon. With a nice salad thrown in, this will make a wonderful dinner for these first-time parents tonight. My kitchen smells absolutely fantastic.

I’m starting to suspect that the personal satisfaction I receive from doing things for others is making the difference in my stress level (that is, keeping it strangely low). Could it be that the sense of well-being that comes from lovingly preparing a hearty fall meal for a sleep-deprived couple I’ve never met – and beginning the planning process for a fabulous non-profit (more on this soon!) - leaves me feeling like it’s all going to be okay?

I don’t have to be in control of everything. I don’t need to freak out about getting to the surface of that kitchen counter or being caught up on every bit of paperwork because I am spending a lot of my time and energy right now on much bigger and more important things. Perhaps this helps to put in perspective the feeling of never being caught up enough in my own life.

Maybe, just maybe, this weekend’s P was actually for “perfect”.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Full-nest Syndrome

Have you ever felt concerned about your lack of stress?

I am actually worried about not being worried tonight. The weirdest thing is, I'm not much of a worrier most of the time. But I am strangely calm at a time when, truth be told, I have no right to be. I don't know exactly what-all I'm supposed to be doing with my evening, but I can tell you with certainty that it's not: a) having a nice long chat with my husband over a yummy dinner delivered from the Heartland Cafe; b) catching up on email and blogs; or c) going to bed early and reading until I fall asleep.

No, I'm pretty sure my time is supposed to be spent doing something like the following: a) unearthing the kitchen counter; b) writing October therapy notes and doing the end of the month billing for my practice; or c) writing one of those many progress reports or insurance documents that families have asked for. But I'm not doing those things right now, nor have I done them for the past couple of days when I had a moment. I'm really behind on things. And I'm totally calm about it. This is unlike me.

Maybe this is the calm before the storm. (I do see the storm that is the period between Halloween and Christmas on the horizon. It's a-comin'. Halloween, Baxter's birthday, work days at nursery school, evening meetings, evaluations I said I would do for new clients (what was I thinking?!), and then sailing on into Christmas and our trip to California. Yee-ikes.)

Matt's parents are taking the boys for the weekend. Yes, again! Although we have some fun things planned for ourselves, we are going to spend a goodly chunk of our quiet time working indoors on household chores that are long overdue. A few more pictures will be hung, some furniture will be rearranged, and errands will be run. So perhaps the promise of this upcoming productivity is enough to keep my stress at bay right now.

It reminds me of the New Yorker cartoon Matt stuck to our fridge tonight: a psychologist says to the thirtysomething woman lying on the couch, "You may be suffering from what's known as full-nest syndrome."

Amen to that.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Book Review - Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's

I have posted a review of the new book Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison at The Family Room. It's a truly wonderful and fascinating book, so come on over and read all about it.

While you're hanging out in The Family Room, stop and read Susan's review of Autism: The Musical because she gives it a more in-depth review than I did and we really need to get the word out about this incredible documentary.

Furthermore, Susan points us to a very helpful new post explaining the mysteries of the IEP process (to the extent that any of us can explain them) written by Kariana this week over on Silicon Valley Moms Blog, one of the sister sites to the Chicago Moms Blog.

Thanks, Susan, for keeping us all in the know!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Santa's Elves are Watching

Am I the very last parent in America to use Santa's elves as incentive for good behavior? It's freakin' amazing what the boys'll do for a good report from those little guys.

It's not even Halloween, for god's sake, and I'm pulling it out already. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Baxter keeps stealing those toy catalogs from the mailbox while I'm at work and is making the world's longest Christmas list. In October. Thanks, Fisher-Price.

It might not be listed in the "Right Things To Do" category in the current edition of Trends in Parenting*, but it works wonders.

Because you just never know when they might be peeking in the windows.

I'm just saying.

* Don't go running off to Google that journal. I made it up.

Monday, October 22, 2007


The little blond boy and I walked together down the stairs of my office building in Bucktown. Step, wait, step, stop. He is tall for his age, and thin. He wears round glasses, giving him a look of intelligence. Look up at the ceiling, glance towards the window, hoping to get a glimpse of an airplane passing by. He is intelligent. Though he doesn't speak more than a few words, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that this child is taking everything in. Step, step, wait, step, stop. There's nothing speedy about this process, nor should there be. Due to developmental delays, this child has a significant motor planning challenge, and although his movement is greatly improved and he can even run (on firm ground) when he wants to, there is no hurry to get downstairs and out to the car.

From around the corner of the hallway rushed a muscular, nice-looking man in his 30s. Given his helmet, cycling garb, speed, and perfectly-wrapped mailing envelope, I took him to be a bike messenger. "Let's move over, buddy," I said to the child, helping him move closer to the railing. Looking up at the man, I smiled and said, "We take our time."

The man slowed his pace, saying, "That's okay." He followed our choppy walk down the next flight of stairs, watching this child without a trace of pity. Without gawking curiosity. His uncommonly steady gaze was one of unfolding respect and understanding. At the bottom of the stairs, he held the door for us. He saw the child's caregiver approaching and asked, "Are you coming in here?" and then stepped back to let her in. I don't know how long he stood by. Had he moved on by the time the child had dropped to the ground, crying in frustration and pinching us because it was time for him to get into the car and he hadn't spent enough time gazing at the sky? I don't know.

All I know is that this child touched that man somehow today. I wondered if there was a child with special needs in the man's family or among his friends. Or was it simply that he was able to respect the effort it takes some of us to walk down the stairs when others are able to scurry down quickly and pedal off onto city streets, relying on rapid decision-making and perfect motor coordination to survive in the urban traffic?

I respect that man greatly for slowing his pace to match the little boy's, and to offer us assistance in such a positive manner. But my intuition is that the man received more from those few minutes than either the boy or I did. I believe that, in some way, the man was transformed by whatever came over him when he made the decision to walk down the stairs with us instead of ahead of us.

I had the enormous good fortune of viewing the documentary "Autism: The Musical" last Thursday night. This description summarizes it well:
The film follows [5] children over the course of six months, as they create, prepare and then perform a live musical play on stage. Led by an intrepid acting coach who is herself the mother of an autistic child, this team of children defies their diagnosis. As it follows their journey, the audience not only better understands the nature of what autism is, but celebrates the joyful spirit of each child.
At this point, "Autism: The Musical" is touring a very small number of cities in the United States and is in each city for only 3 days. If I had gone on Tuesday night, I would have made an attempt to go all three nights, bringing more people with me each time. It's quite possible that I would have completely run out of Kleenex, however. The film is beautiful, honest, and inspiring. I began to dream and scheme of bigger and better things that I could do professionally for families and children with autism immediately. (More on that later.) If you happen to be reading this from San Francisco, it's playing there this week; it will also be in Boston in a couple of weeks. The website has more information.

It would be difficult to say what I loved best about this film, but one of the most joyful parts for me was to watch the transformation of one of the mothers; this mother described in grim detail the way she initially felt about her daughter's diagnosis. How her hopes for her daughter's future were wrapped up in her desire for her child to fit in and to be like everyone else, and how painful her lack of acceptance of who her daughter really was became for both of them. To see this woman let go, relaxing and enjoying her daughter as a teenager - joking and dancing around the house with her - was as heartwarming to me as anything else in the movie. She talked about the fact that having her daughter in her life transformed her into a completely different person; what she was saying was, it changed her for the better.


I can't speak for a parent of a child with autism, but I too have been changed for the better by the children I work with. My whole notion of success is completely different. I am able to grasp at what might appear to be a fleeting, abstract change in a child's behavior and see it as an enormous success, something tangible, a solid rung on the elusive developmental ladder. I celebrate the gestures more than the words, the process more than the product, and the social friendships more than the academics. I keep going back for the hugs, the small steps, the joy in the children's faces. For the warm, loving relationships that the experts like to tell us are impossible for children with autism, but that my colleagues and I are able to cultivate with every single child with this diagnosis.

And for watching a strong, healthy man instantly humbled by a quiet young boy making his way down the stairs on a Monday morning.

I'm No MLK

I can't believe how much I'm posting about the kids this weekend. I don't know if it's just because I've been with them non-stop while Matt's away, or if they have simply hit a new level of fabulousness, but here's another one for you...

On the way home from church yesterday Baxter and I were idly chatting about what I was going to try to get sorted out around the house when we got home. I told him, "I have a dream, Baxter, that this week Daddy and I will finally move the rolled up carpet from the living room down to the storage room!"

Baxter responded drily, "Well, it's a really good thing you aren't Martin Luther King, Mommy, because I don't think thousands of people would be coming out to hear that dream speech!"

The kid has a point. I guess I'd better watch what I say.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Home Place

Looking up from the Welcome Table where I was helping families get signed in for our Unitarian Universalist youth programs, I confirmed that my own boys were sitting on two chairs across the room. In front of a large window, Baxter was reading a book and Lyle appeared to be vacillating between Baxter-watching and other-people-watching.

At ten o'clock, as the pastor prepared to enter the sanctuary, he banged the - well, now, what is it? a gong? a cymbal? - Cara? Matt? Tanya? Somebody help me out here. Regardless of the source of the sound, the kids and I are supposed to stay at the table a few extra minutes to help sign in any late-comers before heading in for the service ourselves.

After a moment I looked up again to check on the boys and they were -- gone.

I caught just a glimpse of the two of them holding hands, walking into the church sanctuary. By themselves. Amazed, I watched. My two little boys marched confidently down the center aisle. Baxter led the way into a row of his choosing, up near the front. Lyle pulled himself up onto a chair and sat next to him. Although they were fine without me, someone covered for me at the table so that I could join them. By the time I reached them they were both flipping through their hymnals, Baxter looking for his favorite "Spirit of Life" hymn and Lyle hoping that perhaps this week they had finally added some pictures to it.

As the service began with a trio singing "Dona Nobis Pacem", I was flooded with a feeling of enormous gratitude. Gratitude for this place, where my children feel so at home, so at ease. This is what I wanted for them to get from a church - another environment in their lives that is filled with people and events that make them feel safe and at home. Even when I'm not there.

It's All About the Samples

My kids will eat anything.

If it's from the Trader Joe's sample counter, that is.

These boys, who a year ago in California would not let any meat pass their lips - nor would they even look at condiments or anything spicy - happily took samples of kielbasa and mustard yesterday! And ate them!

Kielbasa! And mustard!

I think they are assimilating to America's heartland nicely.

At dinner, I wanted Lyle to try some turkey meatballs I'd bought at the store and he flatly refused. Finally, I put a piece in a small clear medicine cup that looked remarkably like the kielbasa sample cup, and stuck a blue toothpick in it - lo and behold, he tried it.

A Brefkist Moment

Mere moments after Lyle adorably complained about spilling juice on his "bajamas" and asked me to please put them in the washing "bachine" trying to unbutton his shirt like a man on fire, Baxter earnestly observed, "It's a good thing oatmeal looks like this before you eat it, because if it was ever too hot and you had to spit some out, it would still all look the same."

I'm thoroughly enjoying this solo weekend with the boys.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Pajama Morning

Well, I successfully engineered a (mostly) relaxing morning at home with the boys. At around 11 am, fresh from the shower, I went into the living room (where the boys had been assigned the task of watching The Backyardigans so that no one wandered into the shower to tell me I looked "crazy"), thinking maybe it was time to get dressed since we had to run to the grocery store before lunch.

Here is how I found them watching the video:

Easy Enough for a 1st Grader

In case anyone out there is wondering, "Just how easy could it be to use an iPhone?", I have the answer.

This afternoon I took Lyle downstairs to his room for a nap and promptly fell asleep on the floor next to him for one of my refreshing mini-naps. When I came upstairs 30 minutes later, Baxter (whom I'd left playing with the map feature on my iPhone) was deep into a text message conversation with Matt in Seattle.

It had taken Matt 4 messages to figure out that it wasn't me typing. Baxter actually started the conversation on his own with a "Have a great time" message! I think it was the turn when he told Matt that he was reading a book with a "palintologist" in it that Matt finally realized it was his son! Now they're having so much fun that Baxter's taking a photo of me to email to Daddy, at Matt's request.

Baxter has used email before and can type and send messages independently, but to be able to navigate around text messaging so easily? That's one user friendly piece of technology.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Gee, Where'd He Learn Those Lines?

Lyle (whining excessively): "Mommy, will you go downstairs with me to find my Ramone car?"

Me: "Well, I'm making dinner right now. Why don't you ask Baxter?"

Lyle (still whining excessively): "Baxter, will you please go downstairs with me to find my Ramone car? I'm too scared to go by myself."

Baxter (not looking up from his book): "Well - maybe, Lyle. But only if you can ask me without whining."

Lyle (immediately changing his tone): "I will, Baxter, I will ask you without whining! Will you come downstairs with me to find my Ramone car?"

Baxter (still not looking at him): "Maybe. If you look all over the upstairs first and can't find him. But, really, I'm busy reading right now."

If only that worked for me.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Cool Shoes!

Although I buy myself high quality, comfortable shoes most of the time, I have tried to avoid spending a lot of money on shoes for the kids. Knowing that they may only get 6-9 months of wear from them, it seems silly to spend a lot.

However, it's been hard to find good middle-of-the-road priced shoes...the ones I've bought at less expensive places that I expect to have decent quality (such as Target and Land's End), have literally fallen apart and had to be returned. I refuse to buy shoes from those stores anymore. Most of the time I try to go for the Stride Rites or can get some good Merrells on sale. It kills me to spend as much as $50 on a pair of shoes for the boys but once in a while I end up doing it in a pinch. It's a really good thing I don't have girls, because it would be very hard to resist those pricey girls' shoes, though!

It's not easy, however, to get cool shoes for boys in a decent price range. So when Umi offered me a free pair of ultra-hip leather shoes for each of my boys, I (eventually) agreed to review them.

When I ordered the shoes over the summer, Umi's website was brand new and there were very few choices (especially in Baxter's big kid size) but I liked the styles I picked out. It doesn't appear that more shoes have been added to their site yet. Lyle has the Sierra ($60) and Baxter has the Zazu ($65). (Remember, on Zappos (where it appears there are many more Umi styles) they'll beat the price of an online competitor - looks like maybe the site has them at a higher price so you might get a really good deal by ordering them from!)

Now that the boys have worn them for about a month and a half, I'm happy to say that these are great shoes. (Okay, so I'm mostly happy to say this because they look REALLY cool!) Baxter absolutely loves his, which has really surprised me, given his usual preference for sneakers. I think he secretly likes all the compliments he gets on them. They are sturdy and appear to be well made; he says they are very comfortable. Lyle wears his less because I'd rather he not spill paint all over them in nursery school, but they are adorable with a pair of jeans when we go out. He also loves wearing them. My kids each only have two pairs of shoes - a pair of sneakers and the Umi leather shoes (beyond beach sandals) - so their shoes need to hold up well.

I recommend Umi if you are looking for high quality, comfortable, and fashionable kids' shoes. I'd buy them again in a heartbeat, but will look for them on sale.

Sharing the Zappos Love


In case you didn't love Zappos enough before, read this right now.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Little Zen Goes a Long Way

I dragged myself into the house at 5:30 pm tonight, dropping armloads of bags, a coffee mug, and my thermos as I stepped out of my clogs. It was a long, tiring day that came fast on the heels of a longer, more tiring night.

But the boys were quietly reading on the couch with their babysitter, and the house was in order. Our sitter had run and unloaded the dishwasher, put laundry through and left it folded on our bed, cleared the kitchen counter, and even scrubbed the kitchen sink. It was white again. She's unbelievable.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Home. Even though Matt wouldn't be home tonight until late, I was relaxed. I dimmed the lights and put on my ultimate relaxation music, George Winston's Autumn CD. (I must've had that album loop 50 times non-stop while I was in labor with Lyle; Matt could give us the exact figure, because I'm sure it matches perfectly the number of times he wanted to put a gun to his head.) I spoke quietly to the boys and started to make dinner. I was so calm that I didn't even jump out a window when I got the voice mail from Lyle's school informing me that both teachers are sick and he doesn't have nursery school tomorrow.

I put dinner on the table and called the kids in. I lit the candles, signaling to the boys that they could begin to eat (thanks, Cara, for that wonderful ritual). We ate and quietly chatted about our days, piano music still playing in the background. Lyle actually started rubbing his eyes while he ate, so relaxing was this meal. He needed that.

After dinner we read stories, practiced the week's spelling words, and got ready for bed. Both boys clambered into their bunks without argument and drifted off to sleep with a silence that was as eerie as it was uncharacteristic, while I lay fighting sleep on the floor next to them.

The juxtaposition of this evening with the race I ran this morning - getting my sleep-deprived self out of the house and losing Pokemon battles all the way to school - was sobering.

I need more of this. We need more of this. More quiet.

Matt will be going away on Saturday for a three-day weekend trip to Seattle to visit his oldest childhood friend. This friend and his wife are expecting their second child next month, and Matt knows how their life is about to change, that this is a good time to see an old friend. I'm grateful to have such a thoughtful husband and am glad he will get to have this weekend away.

The boys and I will have a quiet day on Saturday. Tonight I have canceled every single thing we were supposed to do. Maybe we'll go out somewhere adventurous, like one of the museums. Maybe we'll take a walk to the beach. Or perhaps we'll just stay home in our pajamas and read books and watch Mary Poppins and CARS all day. Who knows? All I know is that the choice will be ours.

Because we need more quiet.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Abstract Random Apple Has Fallen From the Tree

Back in college, because I thought I'd be a kindergarten teacher when I grew up, I took an education class that (I believe) was called "Theories of Teaching and Learning". One day we took part in an exercise that, thanks to the Google, I now remember was called the "Gregorc model". On this web site, I found the following description of the Gregorc model:

The Gregorc model is a cognitive model designed to reveal two types of abilities, perception and ordering. Perceptual abilities, the means through which information is grasped, translate into two qualities: abstractness and concreteness. Ordering abilities are the ways the learner organizes information, either sequentially (linearly) or randomly (non-linearly). Gregorc couples these qualities to form four learning categories: concrete/sequential (CS), abstract/sequential (AS), abstract/random (AR), and concrete/random (CR). Although everyone has all four qualities, most people are predisposed toward one or two of them.

Although we found it humorous, my friends were not particularly surprised when I came out of that test with the label "Abstract Random" - let's face it: it fit. Matt and I have laughed about it for years when I say or do something that's maybe, let's say, not so linear.

We've known for quite some time that Lyle was following in my footsteps. The more we see his art and the language he uses, the more obvious this becomes. Last summer Matt's mother described Lyle's art as being Salvador Dali-like when he created a sticker picture with all the people flying and trucks on the rooftops. As a big fan of Marc Chagall, I love it.

Tonight I wrote down a joke he made up at the dinner table and Matt voiced the words that were in my head: "Now that's Abstract Random!"

Q: "Why did the cheeseburger cross the road without Frank the Bull* chasing him?"

A: "To get to the beer napkin!"

* CARS movie reference

Pokemon Battle

Each and every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on my way to work, I drive Baxter and another very cute second grade boy down to school. The ride is about 20-25 minutes long. And I do mean LONG.

These boys love Pokemon. They study it. Yes, in books. In order to defeat me in battles. All. the. way. to. school. Now, there is truly the rare morning when I'm in the mood for this and have a really good time with it. Unfortunately, far more often it bores me to tears.

Here is how a typical battle goes down:

Chicago, 8:20 a.m.

Boys: Time for a battle! Who are you going to be?

Me: Wait, wait! You've forgotten the 3 magic questions you have to answer first!

[Insert a series of math, language arts and Scooby Doo-related questions designed to kill at least 5 minutes - 10 if the math is extra-hard. Somehow Matt once stretched this most of the way to school; I need a lesson.]

Boys: I choose you, Tentacruel! I choose you, Blastoise!

Me: Umm, does that mean it's a land battle?

Boys: NO! It's a water battle!

Me: Oh. So who can I choose from?

Boys deliberate for 3 minutes (hooray!) over the Pokemon book they share in the back seat and will soon give me a choice between three or four wicked crappy characters that they will be able to defeat in about 30 seconds. Which would be a good thing except we will have to choose new characters and start all over again when I'm defeated, so it doesn't really matter.

Me: I wonder if I remembered to bring that new boy's file - the one I am planning to spend an hour reading before he comes in today. [I hadn't.] Is this the week DJ is at the doctor or is he coming in today? Hmm, I think he's not coming. I'd better call R's family to let them know I have that slot available. I wish I could keep track of which new kid has which OT. I'm going to just have to call the OT practice, give them a list of names, and tell them to have the appropriate therapists call me. I'll do that right at 9 after I drop the boys off. Maybe one of them will get back to me today.

Through the din of my own inner voice I am barely hearing, "So which one do you want to be then, Mommy?"

Me (saving face): Gee, I'm not sure. Which one do YOU think would be best?

Boys (giggling) assign me the shittiest fighter and I accept.

Me: I choose you, Polywrath!

Boys (screaming): Tentacruel use Sonic Boom! Blastoise use Ice Chamber!

My little otherworldly fighter is now likely deaf and trapped in an ice chamber for the next few minutes (score!). Unfortunately, I am not.

Baxter: Umm, it's your turn, Mommy.

I wonder how to get by without them realizing that not only do I have no idea what my powers are, I now no longer even recall which character I have.

Me: What do you think would be best in this situation?

(Yes, they always fall for this stalling tactic.)

More conspiratorial whispering takes place in the back seat.

I start wandering again: Oh, no, the roofer is coming today and Matt doesn't know it! I wonder if he's working from home or if he went out? I'd better call him. [Insert phone call.] Do I have something scheduled during nursery school tomorrow or is this one actually free time? What should I do? Catch up on work? Go to Target?

The boys emerge with enormous grins, making it completely obvious to me that I'm getting set up and am about to get whatever power I direct at them thrown right back at me with daggers of ice poking my eyes out, but I play dumb and accept their suggestion.

So it goes. Yes, all the way to school.

And this, my friends, is why I need that caffeinated beverage at my side, in the trusty little cup holder of my Subaru in the morning.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Book Review: The Other Mother

I have a book review up at Work It, Mom! tonight. It's on a new novel called The Other Mother by Gwendolen Gross. Come on over and check it out!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

On Writing

I've been tagged again! This time I can thank Susan for a writing meme that requires me to list five strengths I have as a writer. Since I'm so behind on my blogging to do list, I'm going to tackle this one right and-the-last-shall-be-first sort of thing.

I am only just getting used to this odd notion that I might be considered a writer. I've always thought of myself as a reader - and certainly a talker - but this writer thing is new. When Matt and I started writing Baxtergarten in 2005, it was read by about 8 people and I didn't even know enough to turn on comment moderation properly.

Still, I had been writing in my profession for years, and was (and still am) known as the therapist who wrote extremely long assessment reports and detailed therapy notes about each session. I try to explain to piqued colleagues that I do so because writing is the means by which I process and explain my work. We all do that in our own way.

Before long, I realized that the same phenomenon was taking place, but this time I was processing my own life rather than my work - and hearing my very own voice through the incredibly distracting din of parenthood and work - when I wrote on our blog.

Two years later, I am writing regularly and loving it. I have been shocked pleasantly surprised by crazy kind people suggesting I combine some of my posts into essays for a book, and I suppose someday if I can wade through the muck here and find a common thread, I might. But writing's never been an ambition of mine. So many of you are what I think of as "real" writers - teaching writing or working on novels; I am a therapist first and a writer second. Maybe even third or fourth, really. All this is to say that I am sincerely flattered that you all read what I have to say, and that Susan tagged me for this; so I'm going to shut up, try to think of myself as a writer, and just answer the damn question.

1. Speed. I write fast. I formulate my thoughts, compose sentences, and even type rapidly. People who have never seen me type before actually stop and stare. What can I say? I'm a little intense. My writing is certainly more polished if I spend more time on a piece, but I am able to write something that I'm comfortable posting on another site in short order.

2. I know how to construct a sentence. I didn't understand the value of that until I read undergrad papers as a TA in grad school. Just like my son, I have been reading good literature since I taught myself to read at age 4, and I was blessed with a couple of excellent English and writing teachers in high school. Add to that four years at a good liberal arts college and I emerged able to write a decent essay.

3. My own voice. I am comfortable with putting myself out there. Believe me, I don't write about everything in my life - after all, this blog is not anonymous and everyone from my neighbors to my grandparents read it - but what you get is honest.

4. Variety. You get a little of everything here. Or perhaps a lot about parenting and a smattering of everything else. My writing represents every facet of my life and I try to keep it interesting so that I'm not harping on the same themes again and again. I like to think of it as "juggling out loud".

5. Humor. I hadn't planned to add that, but Matt listed it as one of the strengths he sees in my writing and I can't think of another #5. So, okay, when I'm not filled with angst over lack of caffeine I enjoy sharing my special brand of humor with you all. Mainly, I crack myself up and when I take one of you along for the ride with me, all the better.

Brevity is not on my list for a reason.

I tag Matt and Christopher who are rumored to be working on a novel together when they aren't instant messaging each other at their desks all day, and Anne Glamore at My Tiny Kingdom, a thoughtful and humorous blog that makes me feel like I'm looking into life in the future with my boys.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Great Visit

Two days before my parents flew in for their visit, they received a call. The nature of this call was that the hotel they had reserved had apparently suffered flooding and would not have a room. (I looked out at the sunny skies and said, "Huh?" Matt thinks they suddenly remembered it was Marathon weekend and decided to ditch everyone and raise their rates. Yep, he's even more cynical than I am.) There were no good rooms to be found. Due to their bad backs, my parents can't sleep in anything smaller than a king size bed. We had a queen. An aging queen, I might add, that was getting rather uncomfortable for this aging princess.

After mulling over this problem for a few hours, Matt had a suggestion: "Let's buy a bigger bed!"


We measured the bedroom and found that if we robbed Matt of his bedside table and removed the trunk from the foot of our bed, we could fit a California King in our room and my parents could stay with us. We found one - the "W" hotel bed, of all things - on sale and it seemed to be the best option, what with the 10-year warranty and all. However, the bed was still a big expense and so we decided to - if you'll excuse my pun - sleep on it.

I worked out a deal with my parents the next day in which they loaned us some money for the bed, and I gave Matt the green light.

My husband called 1-800-mattress at 11 am. He talked them into same-day delivery and then raced home on his bike to get there ahead of the truck. Our incredibly luxurious, huge new bed arrived a mere three hours later. When I got home from work, it was set up in our room and our old bed had been transformed into a daybed/guest bed down in the playroom. As soon as we started thinking about this idea, Matt had brilliantly gone to and ordered new sheets with 2-day delivery; they arrived about an hour later.

My parents were dizzy from these goings-ons before they even arrived at our monkey house, and that's saying something. My mother's claim that we move at the speed of light felt pretty accurate. But we were so happy to have made this speedy accommodation; it was absolutely wonderful having them stay in our home, and we are thrilled to know that we can have them here anytime they want to come.

And, heck, now that they're gone we've got a really incredible bed!!

I'll leave you with some of the photos my dad took during the visit. (He's a professional photographer - on the side, of course, because he's that talented.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

O, How the Mighty Have Fallen

In a conversation with Matt this morning, I argued my point for quitting this ridiculous anti-caffeine campaign.

Matt: "But you'll feel so much better if you just hang in there a little longer!"
Me: "Maybe. But I feel crappy now, and I did NOT feel crappy when I was drinking regular coffee!"
Matt: "But you might not even know all the ways you weren't feeling good before, and you will realize it when you adjust to the lack of caffeine!"
Me: "If I didn't even know about them, then how bad could they be? I was sleeping great, not irritable during the day, and certainly not this tired!"

My argument defied logic, so Matt gave up. This is the normal course of minor arguments around here. Logic: 0, Lack of Logic: 9.

At dinnertime, I was dancing around the kitchen, giddy with enthusiasm about my day, the kids, and the burritos Matt brought home for us. "Do you know why I'm SO EXCITED??" I asked, my eyes fairly bugging out of my head. Amused, he said that he did not.

I imagined him thinking that maybe it was because it had been my work day at Lyle's co-op, or perhaps because I'd finally gone to the dentist for the first time since we moved to Chicago and didn't have a cavity. Perhaps it was the dark-o'clock work out, the carpooling, or the fact that I hadn't had a moment to rest all day after a pathetically short night's sleep. I mean, what's not to love about this day? But no. My answer: "Because I had some CAFFEINE this afternoon!" (When you haven't had it in a while, a half-caf beverage goes a long way.)

Matt proceeded to poke merciless fun at me at the dinner table, reducing me to tears of caffeine-enhanced laughter. "Did you happen to say good-bye to Eeyore on his way out?", he asked, following this up with a brutal Eeyore-like imitation of me these past two weeks, complaining about drinking decaf coffee and being exhausted already, first thing in the morning.

Ahhh. Sweet relief.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Welcome, Fall

I admit it. I have wished away the sunshine, afternoons at the lake, iced tea, and tank tops. After a uniquely prolonged summer, with temperatures up to 90 degrees until just two days ago, I have dreamed of fall. The autumn colors were here, but with air so hot and thick with humidity, I couldn’t see them properly. They were a backdrop to a show that started late – so late that the audience had begun to shift in uncomfortable, worn seats, looking and listening intently for clues that might explain the unexpected delay.

This morning the air is chilly, less than 50 degrees, and there is no trace of humidity. Gone too is the brilliant sun, hidden behind steel grey clouds. I am reminded of the long, cold winter ahead, of those short grim days when it’s so cold we try to stay indoors if possible, days when that steely sky has left us feeling claustrophobic, wanting to be anywhere else as long as the sun is shining there.

I try to live in the moment, not wish away my children’s youth or the warm sun on my shoulders. But like the funny, adorable two-year-old you think you can't bear to see morphing into an older child, eventually even the warm sunny days of summer grow tiresome; change is a blessing.

Welcome, fall.

[Cross-posted on Chicago Moms Blog. Photo credit Bob Sadler.]

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What I Really Want to Tell You

There is so much I need to be writing right now. Kristen tagged me a while back for a book meme that has been percolating in my brain but has yet to make it on "paper". Now that my kids have been wearing the shoes for over a month it's probably time for my review on them. I owe Work It, Mom! a book review they asked me to do and now that I'm finished with the book I suppose I'd better get cracking. I have so much to say about the wonderful visit with my parents that just ended today. I've got stories and photos to share with you all, really I do. And I will.

But honestly? What I really want to tell you tonight is that I went off caffeine - cold turkey - two weeks ago. And it sucks.

You see, I never got around to telling you that my heart had begun an occasional arrhythmic beat for no apparent reason - naturally, I was concerned (okay, okay, I was fairly sure I was dying), so I went off of coffee immediately - anything that could cause more jitters was unwelcome. Happily, I discovered quickly at the doctor that there is nothing wrong with my ticker and all tests came back negative; rather, it was an issue with my prescribed asthma inhaler dose. The day I got it cleared up, the arrhythmia stopped. Just like that.

So I could have had coffee again the next day. But I didn't. Instead, I popped a headache pill each morning for a few days and drank some decaf, hoping to trick my addicted self into believing it was satisfied.

I told myself that with all the work outs I am doing, my energy would get the natural boost it needed and I'd be better off without the coffee. (I mean, I didn't drink a lot - certainly not too much by anyone's standards, but doesn't it seem better not to be on any type of stimulant?) Sure, it's true that after I work out at 5:45 in the morning I do have an energy boost. Until about 9 am, that is, when I've run the marathon that involves getting myself and the kids out of the house and dropping the carpool kids off after waging a long "Pokemon battle" with them in the car. Because then what I really need is actually caffeine.

So here's the outcome: I can live without the caffeine. But I am really, really tired; although I get an energy boost from exercise, the fact is it is also another damn thing in my already tiring day and it wears me out that much more. I've been working on letting things go so that I can go to bed early (which means 10 pm for me) - I've gotten behind on paperwork for my practice, haven't read enough of your blogs, haven't posted much of substance lately. All for the sake of sleep - which is a noble cause, and yet two weeks into this experiment, I am still seriously dragging.

I'm not proud of this fact, but it is becoming clear to me that the pace of this life I have chosen is not natural. I cannot maintain it with a basic regimen of 7 solid hours a night and regular exercise.

I haven't given in yet, but until these kids get older and a few critical changes take place, I just might need that coffee.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Friday, October 5, 2007

A Recovered Papa

My parents are here for the long weekend. It is so amazing that my father is doing so well and is recovered enough to travel already. The boys haven't seen him since Christmas and they are absolutely thrilled to have all this special time with their Papa again.

It is heart-warming to watch.

We are so lucky.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Edwards Campaign Takes Notice

As some of you may know, Elizabeth Edwards (yes, wife of Presidential hopeful John Edwards) met last weekend with the contributors of the Silicon Valley Moms Blog in San Jose. This was not our first contact with Ms. Edwards; she met last year with writes for the SVMB and was also the keynote speaker at the BlogHer conference that I never quite made it to.

This time, in addition to those present for the meeting in Silicon Valley, about a dozen moms from the Chicago Moms Blog and the DC Metro Moms Blog joined in the conversation by phone. Unfortunately, I wasn't available to join in, but it sounds like a great session and Ms. Edwards has once again impressed the world of Mom Bloggers with her compassion, strength, and intelligence. The live-blogged post is here on Chicago Moms Blog and it was also written up here on the John Edwards Campaign's blog.

We've been told that Ms. Edwards would like to meet with those of us in Chicago and DC as well when they're on those legs of the campaign trail. I for one would welcome this! The sister blog sites have all been diligently contacting the other contenders (both Democratic and Republican) as well, in hopes of more opportunities to ask the difficult questions that matter to us.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Reflections on Soccer Practice

I find Baxter's soccer practices a little hard to take. No, the coach isn't a big jerk like some of the others I've observed. No, the other kids aren't a problem. But sometimes it's just very difficult to sit on the sidelines and watch your child do all the things that drive you bananas when you can't do much about it.

Take tonight. Baxter arrived full of pent up energy and was dying to get out there and run. Great! It's soccer, after all, so let's use that energy! But when the kids were lined up waiting for a turn practicing a skill, he was busy kicking his friends' soccer balls out from under them - which made one (admittedly over-sensitive) girl cry in her dad's arms for ten minutes. Cringe. Then, no matter what the team was doing, my son was screaming and bellowing out on the field. "Yeah! Good one! Did you see that one? Wow!!!" Granted, it's excited bellowing, but it's irritating to me nonetheless. Because the other kids have MOVED ON and are PLAYING THE GAME while he focuses on his own volume. (I know, Mom and Dad, he comes by this naturally. I do recognize it!) When he stops for a water break I compliment him on how he's playing but always find myself saying things like, "Honey, less screaming and more watching what's going on, okay?"

When I groaned out loud and another mom saw me cringe, she pointed out to me the very real fact that they are all six years old and they are all squirrelly. I looked around at the rest of the team and it was true: many of them were kicking balls away from each other when they were supposed to be listening (including Crying Girl), and during the times when my son was actually playing the game, I was able to notice that there was a girl picking clover, another kid claiming she was too tired and her shirt was too itchy to play, a boy who overcompensated for his anxiety by putting the other kids down, and another boy whose main objective seemed to be to crash as hard as he could on the ground as often as possible. It helped me to realize that their parents were cringing and reminding their kids about all of these other things, things my child doesn't need to work on. At least not at the moment.

And at the end of the game, it became clear that the other kids really like Baxter; they single him out to say good-bye and leave the field together. In fact, as we were getting into the car, two girls appeared out of nowhere and literally lined up by his car door to say good-bye to him in high, thin, flirtatious voices: "Bye-bye, Baxter!", "Bye, Baxty!", and "See you Sunday!!" until their parents dragged them back to their own cars. One mom confessed that her daughter is somewhat "obsessed" with him.

So my reprimands? They are necessary if he's going to learn to regulate his enthusiasm appropriately. But I guess I don't need to worry that he's driving everyone else nuts.

Apparently, it's just me.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Overheard in the Bedroom

Lying on the boys' floor tonight for our last moments of cuddling before bed, I hold the two of them close on either side of me and half-tease them, begging in an exaggerated manner for them to always be three and six years old. "Please, please," I cajole, "You're so perfectly funny and adorable right now that you really don't need to get any older, do you?"

Baxter, knowing that it's supposed to be funny but taking my words a little too seriously as is his wont, says cautiously, "I really don't think I can stop having birthdays, Mommy..."

"Okay, okay, fine, " I say, realizing that this game is a bit unfair to them, "Listen, the truth is, I have wanted to freeze you at every one of your ages because I loved you so much - but then I learned that you would grow to be even more fun and adorable every year and I loved you even more! So I guess it's okay."

"Even when I'm 7 or 8?" Baxter asks. "Even when I'm a d'Cade?" (This is how he says "decade".)

"Oh, yes," I assure him, talking into his sun-bleached blonde hair, "especially when you're a decade old."

And then, knowing what his real fear of getting older is, I add, "And I will still cuddle with you when you're a decade old, too."

He turned to look at me. "You'd better," he warned, grinning, "or I'm gonna sue!"