Monday, December 28, 2009

A New Toy

Michael and I are on vacation this week so I'm not sure how many chances I'll get to post. It takes me all evening to clean up all the fun we are having during the day. Oh yeah, and the laundry being generated by another attempt at potty training.

We had a wonderful Christmas filled with family, food, and an oven fire. (All three are traditions.) I won't go into details, but let's just say that if you intend to make Pastor Ryan's monkey bread from the Pioneer Woman's website; DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT use three packages of Grands biscuits instead of three packages of regular biscuits.

One of the gifts I got this year was a Flip video camera. Andy has been kind enough to figure out how it works for me, download all the software, and start editing video for me. Hmm, I suspect this may have really been a joint gift. Whatever, it's cool.

I'm going to attempt to post a video of Santa Cam that occurred the day after Christmas. This is what life is like in our household. Enjoy...I hope.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Randomness Now with random photos!

There is a running joke about my profile picture and how dour I look. I really do smile and laugh, and I do it a lot. However, most snapshots of me don't catch me smiling. Or, if they do, I look really silly. As it turns out, Michael is the same way. So, that's how I ended up taking over 200 pictures for our Christmas card this year and there were only three pictures with good smiles. All three were of Andy.

So, let me share some of the photos that didn't make the Christmas card cut. Just for fun, I'm going to toss in some randomness as well.


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Last night when I picked Michael up he wanted to stop at the grocery store to pick up fruit gushers. I lied and said the store was closed. My mom followed it with a snide and judgmental, "I never lied to you guys when you were kids."

This morning Michael was crying and clinging to me when I dropped him off. I took him up to my mom's apartment. I then pretended to get a phone call from Santa. I hung up and told Michael that Santa needed me to run errands for him, and he let me leave without a peep. My mom gave me the thumbs up sign.

I guess it's OK to lie when Santa is involved?


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Last weekend Michael came running to me crying. He was upset because he had shoved a blue crayon up his nose and it broke off and got stuck. My first reaction was to ask Andy to get the forceps from the junk drawer. (Yes, I have forceps in my junk drawer). Before Andy found them however, it dawned on me to cover the empty nostril and have Michael blow. The blue crayon flew across the room. Success!

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On the ride home last night, Michael informed me that he stuck a T-Rex tail up his nose. Clearly he didn't learn from the blue crayon so I asked him why he stuck a T-Rex tail up his nose.

"So I could get the hard boogers out."

Well, at least the was a logical reason for it. I tried to explain why he shouldn't do it, but I don't think it worked. I came very close to suggesting that he just use his finger.


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I have a Christmas confession to make. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I have learning disabilities. One problem I have is that I can't memorize the words to songs, and only know a few songs off the top of my head. Michael likes for me to sing to him before bed, so for the past several years I've been singing "Silent Night" to him. He's going to laugh so hard when he realizes I've been using a Christmas Carole as a lullaby.


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I was one of those kids that asked my parents unexpected and difficult questions. It's not surprising that Michael is too. When I picked him up yesterday, Michael asked me, "Mommy, if I kill you, will you be dead."

I stuttered over how to respond to that one while my mom laughed at me. "At least you never asked me that one."

She followed that up with, "I think someone is watching too much of daddy's TV."

Um, no. I think someone has had too much exposure to dinosaurs. That's the only place Michael is exposed to words like "dead" and "killed".

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And finally, because Andy cannot pick up the camera without taking pictures of my butt...



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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The calm before the storm?

Have you ever noticed that when you have been getting by on just a few hours sleep, when you finally do get a good night's sleep you feel even more tired the next day? That seems to be my problem today.

I was pretty stressed out by the time I left work yesterday. I tend to try and come up with every possible solution to a problem, even though it's not always necessary. When I do that with multiple problems - like a car that won't start, a sick kid, a ton of cookies to make in a short period of time, an entire Christmas dinner to plan and prepare - I tend to wear myself out. I really wish I could just shut my brain off for an hour and zone out, but instead I just keep going over my plans trying to figure out how to make everything work as smoothly as possible. It means I normally pull everything off, but I'm exhausted by the time everything is over.

I had really hit a wall yesterday. I dropped off my mom's car and then Andy came over to pick Michael and me up. As soon as Michael got outside he dove right into the snow. All I wanted to do was go home, but instead both Andy and I had to chase Michael down and fight him into the car. He was in the back seat crying while Andy was grumbling about something and my head was spinning when I heard a little chiming sound.

What are those bells? Why are they coming from my butt? Oh, someone sent me a text. I pulled out my phone and saw "Girl" I started cheering and giggling with excitement. Of course Andy and Michael had no idea what was going on, so it pretty much stopped them both mid-grumble. I had to explain that London is having a girl. By the time I had gotten through my whole "London is my blog friend, but I've meet her in real life, so she's like totally a real life friend too, and she's pregnant and we've all been guessing if it's a girl or a boy, and I really wanted it to be a girl, and it's a girl, and OMG SQUEE!" routine, I think both Michael and Andy completely forgot that they were grumpy and were instead wondering if I was insane.

Whatever. The distraction worked. Not only did it perk me up, but it seemed to infect all of us. By the time we got home, I didn't even care when Michael decided to dive into the snow instead going into the house. We let him play a bit, and then settled down for a nice evening.

The big news for me was that my car started. I'm still a little suspicious as to why it didn't start, but so far it's working. Let's just hope it stays that way.

The next thing that went well were the black and white cookies I made. They were a lot of work, but they are really yummy and pretty. Success!

The really big thing was Michael though. He's still coughing a bit, but last night he was in a good mood and actually agreed to head up to bed. He was so tired that he almost feel asleep on me while I was reading his books. I sang to him and tucked him in, and didn't hear a peep from him all night. It was the best night of sleep he's had in over a week.

Which, lead to my best night of sleep in over a week. Wow, am I ever tired.

Today has been a lot less stressful. I've managed to collect my thoughts a bit and I think I have a good plan for the next few days. I'm sure it's only temporary as I plan to kick into full gear tomorrow, but for the moment I'll be calm and take the chance to breathe.

I'll worry about the potential ice storm on Christmas day tomorrow.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Tis the Season...

...To be cranky?

I think I have a right to be cranky. Michael has been sick, I'm still sick, Andy is getting sick. Mother nature seemed to forget that it wasn't winter yet and dumped 10 inches of snow on us this weekend. It's COLD! Between my coughing and Michael being afraid of the dark, I was up at least five times last night. I'm tired! Oh, and the icing on the cake? I went out to start the cars up this morning and mine wouldn't start. It's dead!

But you know what? Despite all of this, I think I'm a bit jolly anyway.

First thing, the snow. We got lucky. We only got 10 inches. 15 minutes down the road, and it was 20+ inches. It was light and fluffy and easy to clean off the cars. It was a weekend, so it didn't keep us from doing anything. And oh my word is it beautiful. Once the sun came out, it is crisp and clear and about as Christmasy as you can get.

Michael had a blast playing in it. On Saturday he went sledding with some of the other little ones in the neighborhood. When he finally came in his cheeks were bright pink and he was smiling from ear to ear. He looked like a rosy little elf. Yesterday he got to go out twice. Multiple mitten and boot failures failed to slow him down. For a 3 year old, it really is a winter wonderland.

Next, the cookies. I've been baking cookies. And banana bread. And Pioneer Woman buttered rosemary rolls. The house smells heavenly and my tummy is full. I'll worry about the side effects when I make my New Year's resolutions.

Finally, it's Christmas! I keep thinking back on how exciting this season was when I was little. The food, the fun, the family. This year, Michael is really getting into the spirit and it is so much fun to see the excitement again through his eyes. Such simple little things are so much fun for him. Last night I let him have chocolate chip cookies and milk for dinner. He had chocolate all over his face, and milk spilled down his chest, and the biggest smile you have ever seen.

So, while I wonder about what's wrong with my car and how much it's going to cost to fix, I'm also anticipating Michael's face when he comes down on Christmas morning and finds the presents piled under the tree. I think about how much work I have to get done in the next few days, but then I think about my family sitting around the table on Christmas night with our bellies full and laughter ringing through the house.

On this, the longest night of the year, I can really see how wonderful it is to celebrate at this time of the year. It cold, it's dark, and things can be rough. Being surrounded by love and laughter is the perfect way to pass the day.

So yes, I am just a little bit jolly.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Phone Photo Friday

My day didn't get any better after my post yesterday. I had to pull together a meeting when I should have been leaving work. The meeting was silly and should not have been necessary. It made me cranky. I guess I should say crankier. When I did finally leave, there was a huge truck fire on the highway that I had to detour around. It added time on to my ride. When I got back onto the highway, I almost got hit by a board that flew off the back of a truck. Scared me half to death. Next, I stopped to pick up our Christmas cards and they had screwed up my order.

It was a really crappy day.

Michael was in a pretty good mood when I got home. He was playing with his tubes. They are like small PVC pipes and are the most fun when played with in water. Michael asked to take them into the sink, but I wasn't up for that mess. Instead, I decided to kill two birds with one stone and we headed up to the bath.

It was a great idea. Once I shut the water off, we decided to dunk the tubes into the water and then blow it out.

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It was really fun. At one point, Michael managed to twist the tubes so that they were squirting him in the face.

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We both burst out laughing. I'll tell you, after a day like I had, there is nothing like coming home and laughing hysterically with your kid. What a great idea to take them up to the tub.

Well, until Michael figured out that if he could point the tubes at himself, maybe he could point it in other directions. Like this!

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I may have gotten a little wet. And, I may not care either.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bark, Bark

I had a whole big post planned for today. It was going to have pictures and everything. But, I'll be honest, I'm just not up to it today.

Last week Michael developed a nighttime cough. That happens sometimes because he sleeps face down with his blanket and pillow pulled over his head. However, by the weekend the cough was bad enough that he was waking up gagging. I was on the receiving end of his gagging one night, so I was sure that this was more than just his normal stuffy air cough.

The thing is, he seemed other wise fine. He wasn't coughing during the day. No runny nose. No fever. Just a random dry cough at night. The only other problem he was having was rough morning wake-up that lead to some amazingly horrible morning drop offs with my mom. (By horrible I mean carrying him, kicking and screaming, into the building and placing him in the elevator, then pressing the 6 button while my mom restrained him.)

This went on long enough that I purchased a cool mist humidifier to see if that would help. It did. His dry cough because a moist, croupy sounding cough. I could hear him coughing on and off all night. In the morning he would be tired, but otherwise fine. I was starting to think maybe there was something in his room that was irritating his throat when I started to get the tickle in the back of my throat. At least it let me know that whatever was causing the problem was a contagious illness and not an environmental trigger.

Last night he did pretty well. He coughed a little right after I put him to bed, but he was so quite that I actually went in and checked on him before I went to bed. He was breathing peacefully.

I laid down and immediately started coughing. I was afraid that my coughing was going to wake Andy or Michael, so I kept trying to ignore the tickle in my throat. It didn't work. I knew that if I could just fall asleep, I'd be fine. But, my mind was churning over all of the five billion things I need to do in the next week. Finally, about half an hour later I started drifting off.

"Bark, bark, bark."

I popped awake. What on earth? I swear, there was a seal barking in Michael's room. Andy heard it too, so I was pretty sure I wasn't going crazy.

"Bark, bark, bark."

So, I got out of bed and went to check on Michael. I've heard the term barking cough before, but I've never actually heard one before. It's really strange to watching a child cough and hear a bark come out. It's also very concerning.

I woke Michael up, gave him some water and got him settled back in bed. He was tired enough that he fell back to sleep without the pillow or blanket over his face. He didn't make a peep for the rest of the night.

Me? I couldn't fall asleep. My throat tickled, I wanted to cough but didn't want to wake anyone, and in addition to all of the billions of things running through my mind I was also listening to hear if Michael started barking again.

Michael woke up in a good mood and has been having a great time at my mom's. I've been tired, cranky, and coughing all day long. I'm pooped. All I want to do is go home and curl up in bed, which we know won't happen. Instead, I going to work on some of those billion things I need to get done and fall into bed exhausted way latter than I want. And then, I'm not going to be able to fall asleep for coughing.

So, that's why you are getting a whiny, cranky post today instead of a good one with lots of pictures.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'm happy to say I have nothing to blog about

I've been interested in watching how the H1N1 pandemic has played out in the months since it was first identified in Mexico. Part of my interest has been seeing how the Governments throughout the world handle this issue. Part of my interest has been on a much more local level. By local, I mean my family.

I did not expect the effort to vaccinate large numbers of people over a relatively short period of time to go well, and therefore I am not surprised at the results we are seeing. What is surprising to me is the vast differences in distribution from state to state and even county to county. There are people down south that not only have been able to get their children vaccinated, they have been able to get their booster doses as well. In addition, some people who are not in the high risk group have been able to get their vaccinations. Meanwhile, I wasn't even able to get information about the vaccination in Pennsylvania until about a week ago. I asked the pediatrician, my pharmacist, even my Gyn. No one knew anything.

I've been checking the web every few days for updates and spent a lot of time being pointed from local health department websites to state websites and back to the local sites. It was frustrating, but if nothing else, I am persistent. Finally, last week the county health department started posting information about H1N1 walk-in clinics. None of them were close and the timing was really bad for me. Plus, the thought of standing in line with Michael for three hours pretty much sounds like hell on earth. So, I decided to call the department of health and see if we could go there. I thought it was unlikely, but hey, it's worth the phone call.

Much to my surprise, they had several open appointments for this past Monday. I was so surprised I'm sure I sounded like an idiot when she asked me what time I would like to come in. I picked the best time and enjoyed my success for all of two seconds before it hit me. I was going to have to take Michael to a building I've never been to before, locate the clinic within the massive building, and manage to control Michael long enough to allow someone to give him a shot. Since that didn't go well with the seasonal shot this year, I started worrying about how poorly this adventure could go. I had mental imagines of Andy and I holding him down while he kicked and screamed (you know, like he did when getting his stitches removed). I pictured us roaming around the building, lost, while Michael kicked and screamed. All of the worst case scenarios were running through my mind.

I decided to go with some serious planning. I asked Andy to go with me. I drove by the building 3 times so I could locate parking and the building's entrance. And most of all, I didn't tell Michael what was coming. I normally like to prepare Michael ahead of time, but I figured this was not the right time to do that.

Basically, I planned for the worst. I tried to hope for the best, but I really couldn't imagine that we would get away without at least one tantrum.

Guess what? I got the best. The whole event was a complete non-issue. I found parking right out front. The building was clearly marked with big yellow arrows leading to the clinic. The clinic was well run by pleasant and organized woman. They even had the flu mist version, so Michael didn't even get a needle. We were in and out in 30 minutes. It was great.

Now, I'm on a quest to get my mom and I both vaccinated.

I'm not going to pass judgment on how poorly this vaccination effort has been handled. A lot of people have done wonderful work in getting as many people vaccinated as possible. But, this is not the kind of situation that can be managed through personal heroics. I hope our government and citizens recognize that one of these days we will be staring in the face of an even more serious pandemic and that to prevent significant loss of life we need better planning, funding and technology. Let's take this opportunity to make the necessary improvements.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Baking Gingerbread Men

My house is a mess. I haven't even ordered my Christmas cards yet, let alone mailed them. I still have gifts to buy, a menu to be drafted, and tons of wrapping to complete. However, it's the Christmas season and we have a small child in the house. This is one of only a few magical years when Santa is real, reindeer fly, and making gingerbread men is more fun than work.

Michael and I already decorated our rice krispy houses, and we tried a prefab gingerbread house a few years ago. I've learned two things from these activities. I prefer working in 2D and gingerbread is not an easy material to work with. However Dooce posted about her not so wonderful experience making gingerbread men, and it got me thinking. Maybe I should give gingerbread men a try. Despite all the hassle, her cookies turned out well, so maybe I could do it too. Plus, it helps that I have 25 years of cookie making experience - OMG I've been baking cookies for a quarter of a century- and that I had Heather's post to help guide me.

I searched through my cookie books and came up with a recipe that I liked. It did not require over night refrigeration and it had a great tip on how to roll out the dough. I picked up the ingredients and on Saturday morning I got the project started.

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I've tried to get Michael to help me bake before, but he's never been interested. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was really into making these cookies. I think it had something to do with the molasses. The dough looked enough like mud that Michael was immediately attracted to it. He may have been pretending to dig for dinosaur fossils, but the end result was that he helped me get the dough thoroughly mixed.

The main problem I noted from Heather's post was that the dough kept sticking to the counter, making it hard to work with. That molasses is sticky stuff. The first trick was to let the dough rest at room temperature for about an hour. It made a huge difference in the texture of the dough. The next trick was to roll the dough out between two sheets of wax paper.

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It was pure genius! Look at how nice and neat that is. It has the added benefit of not needing to add additional flour to the cookies to roll them out. I popped the dough in the refrigerator for an hour, and cutting the cookies out was a breeze. After baking the men one sheet at a time, I ended up with these.


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They looked good enough to eat!

Finally, it was time to decorate. We sat down with some icing and gel coloring and went to town.


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I love watching Michael was he's so focused on what he's doing. He can be so serious. I tried to get him to smile, but he had no time for that kind of thing. He had cookies to decorate!


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We all tried our hand at deocrating gingerbread men. We didn't have any masterpieces, but they were good enough for us (and my poor co-workers - I'm not eating all those cookies!) In the future I'll just use icing and not the gel, but for now I consider this a sucess.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Phone Photo Friday

Michael decided to play in the living room last night while Andy and I ate dinner. We kept hearing odd noises, but nothing that raised too much concern. We heard the toy chest open and close several times. Then we heard a strange repetitive clicking sound. I quickly figured out that it was Michael's mechanical fishing game. Next, we heard little plastic clinks as he removed every little plastic fish from the game and let them fall on the coffee table and the floor. After several more minutes of clanging and banging I finished my dinner and went into the living room to see what he was up to.

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He had the tubes stuck into the fishing game and they were rotating around in the air. It was pretty messy with tubes and fish all over the floor and table, but I was still entertained by his inventiveness.

How long do you think it will be before he starts taking apart electronics to figure out how they work?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Randomness

I've got so many things running around in my head that I'm having trouble forming any kind of coherent post today. So, instead I'll go with randomness.

  • Michael has been really into eating apples lately. He gnaws around the apple like a beaver gnaws on a tree. He eats all the way around, but not up and down. He ends up with a apple that looks like a hourglass, with good apple flesh above and below the "equator" that he won't eat.
  • I've been really irritable for the past 24 hours. I think I may be suffering from supper PMS or something. It's making my work day very, very long today.
  • I checked the weather and it's supposed to go down to 19 degrees tonight. 19 degrees and windy. The normal low is 32 degrees. I'm a little concerned about the weather trends so far this year. Brrr...
  • Michael has been a bit lethargic and cranky this week. He hasn't been running a fever and does not seem to be sick. He's just not himself. It's made for two of the worst morning drop-offs ever. I pulled a muscle in my back this morning trying to remove him from the car. It was like a scene from a cartoon where some character throws out their arms and legs to keep from getting through a door, and the arms and legs just kept stretching as the other character tries to push them through the doorway. Only we weren't cartoons, and it wasn't funny.
  • The Pioneer Woman is going to be in town on Sunday and I really want to go and get my copy of The Pioneer Woman Cooks signed. But, I just don't think I can afford to spend hours on a Sunday right before Christmas hanging out in a book store.
  • I'm debating what to serve for Christmas dinner. It was a family tradition for years to have lasagna, then I switched to roast beef sandwiches. Last year I made bowties with Italian Sausage in a tomato cream sauce (Thanks Laura!). I considered doing a new main dish, but I think instead I'll add new sides, deserts and cookies.
  • Great, now I'm hungry.
  • I swore to myself that I wouldn't blog about this, but I can't help myself. Michael has learned a new skill. He can toot on demand. He'll climb up on my lap, let one fly, and then giggle uncontrollably. It's disgusting and uncouth. I really need to stop laughing every time he does it. Or, at least train him to do it only to Andy.
  • Yesterday Michael asked for "Mommy Milk" instead of his usual pink milk (strawberry milk). After I picked my jaw up off the ground I asked him just where mommy milk comes from. "Mommy Cows". I eventually figured out that he just wanted plain milk. Considering he self weened at 15 months, I have no idea where this one came from.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Balancing Act Update

Back in September I blogged about trying to realign all the conflicting priorities in my life. I was very stressed out, and I knew a large part of it had to do with my mom's surgery and the need to provide daycare for Michael while she was recovering. I decided to focus on that issue first and then try to deal with the other issues.

One of my other issues was exercise. I really enjoy exercising. I also need to exercise for health reasons. So, exercise has remained on the top of my list. Unfortunately, I allowed my stress levels over my mom's surgery to effect my eating and exercise routine. Now, if I want to gain control of some major muffin top, I need to move exercise even higher up my list of priorities.

I really enjoyed running this summer and I wanted to continue running over the winter. However, due to the weather around here that would either require investing in a gym membership or investing in cold weather running clothes. I really needed to be honest with myself. Was I going to go to a gym and run on a treadmill in front of other people? No. Was I going to run in 30 degree weather? No.

Andy and I discussed buying a treadmill. We both want one and we would both use it. However, we just don't have space for it. So I decided to replace my existing recumbent exercise bike with a computerized Schwinn upright bike. I'm very happy with the purchase. I'm getting a much better workout on it than I was on the old bike. It has a cross training program that involves interval training that is just kicking my butt...in a good way. As a bonus, it takes up less room than the old bike so we have freed up some space in our basement.

I really did enjoy running and I will pick it back up in the spring. In the mean time, I've asked Santa to bring me a heart rate monitor and I'm going to work on increasing my endurance and recovery time so that I can get off to a good start in the spring. We'll see how that goes.

In the mean time, I've sworn off red wine until my pants are comfortable again. So, not only have I gotten back to my normal exercise routine, I also have that extra incentive to avoid eating too much. All I have to do is ask myself, "Do I want those pretzels or do I want a glass of red wine?"

Hmm...I'm not sure what that says about me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Lessons Learned - Holiday Part 1

We kicked off the Christmas season on Saturday by decorating our Christmas tree. I love decorating the tree and the house, but doing it with a 3.5 year old in the house makes things a little challenging at times. So, here are some of my lessons learned from this past weekend.

  • Shatter proof ornaments are a necessity. When I was't looking, Michael pulled out a box of glass ornaments and started hanging them on the tree. I'm sorry to report that two of them did not make it.
  • Candy canes are STICKY. Very, very sticky.
  • Small children have no respect for hand made lace ornaments.
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  • If you really like making hand made snowflake ornaments, but your husband won't let you hang more than 10 on the tree, having a 3.5 year old in the house can be beneficial.
  • 3.5 year olds will have lots of fun decorating the tree. And un-decorating it. And decorating it again.
  • If an ornament is missing, you need to be creative trying to find it.

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  • If you sing "Frosty the Snowman" enough times you may not notice that you are singing "He's a Holly, Jappy soul" instead of "he's a jolly, happy soul" without realizing it. This is not suitable wording for kids to pick up.
  • Candy canes are amazingly sticky.
  • I may be a grown woman, but when it comes to putting this ornament on the tree I'm actually a 14 year old boy.
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(This is from a little known Frosty Sequel called Frosty Visits the Proctologist. It's enlightening.)
  • I really should have given up saying "Michael, please don't take the ornaments off the tree" much sooner than I did. All it did was irritate everyone.
  • I can take over 200 pictures of Michael and not catch even a hint of a smile.
  • Did I mention that candy canes are sticky? I'm still trying to figure out how he managed to get candy cane goo all over his back, under his shirt.
  • Decorating a Christmas tree is challenging with a 3.5 year old...but it's also totally worth the effort.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Phone Photo Friday

If I haven't made this abundantly clear already, Michael can be a tad bit obsessive about things. While letters are his first love, dinosaurs are a close second. Like many dinosaur enthusiasts, T. Rex is Michael's favorite dinosaur.

When Michael first became interested in dinosaurs, my mom hit the local thrift shops and found some interesting dinosaur products. One of them is a video exploring dinosaur tourist sites in the USA. It appears to have once belong to a library and was probably removed from the collection when VHS went out of style. The production value is not that great, but they did invest in some pretty cheesy songs for the show. One of those songs is Big, Bad Rex.

Michael loves the Big, Bad Rex song the way only a small child could. He has made my mom rewind the tape at least a hundred times so that he can listen to it and learn it. As a result, he now runs around singing

Big, Bad Rex is on the ground
He's the biggest, Baddest hunter of his day...

Over and over again.

Yesterday, when I got home, Michael was running around the house with an Optimus Prime voice changing helmet on. The helmet is too big for him, so it wobbles around on his head when he runs. He stopped to greet me when I came in and then took off running again. Next thing I know, I hear the Big, Bad Rex song being sung by Optimus Prime's voice as this little boy runs by with a huge helmet wobbling around on his head. These are the moments that being a mom is all about. It only lasted a few minutes, but it was the cutest, funniest thing I've ever seen. It totally made my day.

The other funny thing about Big, Bad Rex is that Michael has picked up "Big Bad Rex" as his tag. I'll walk into my mom's and I'll see it spelled out on his easel, or I'll see it when I glance at his scribbling. This is what I found on the "frigalator" the other day.


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I think it's pretty easy to understand why we don't leave crayons or markers laying around the house. Can you imagine this in black Sharpie on a wall?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Another "This is not what I expected"

This one is going to be a long one, but stay with me. For the full impact, you really need to understand the background.

I have learning disabilities. As an adult, they are a minor problem, but as a kid, they had a serious impact on me. I did so poorly in my first two years of school that they considered holding me back. My handwriting was illegible, I couldn't follow simple directions, and I often couldn't produce words for common things such a "cow" or "elevator". I also could not read.

What's interesting is that I could read words. If a teacher wrote the spelling list on the board I could read it, copy it down, and recall the words later. However, I couldn't read and comprehend anything longer than a sentence or two. While that will get you through kindergarten and maybe 1st grade, you can't progress through grade school with such limitations. And, considering this was happening around 1978 - 1980, there really wasn't much that many schools did with learning disabled kids other than hold them back and place them in separate Special Ed classes.

Only there was one problem with that approach. The first grader who couldn't say they alphabet or distinguish between a "b" a "d" and a "p" happened to be doing third grade math. Between my mom and some of the teachers at the school, there was enough push back on holding me back that they finally did some testing to figure out what they should do with me. In the process, they discovered that I met the requirements for the school's gifted program. I'm sure the person who got to reveal that little tidbit to my mom felt just a little awkward saying, "Well, it looks like you are right. Your daughter isn't an idiot. It turns out she's academically gifted. Oops, our bad."

The ironic thing about this? Being identified as gifted excluded me from receiving special education assistance for my still undiagnosed learning disabilities. At the time, the idea that gifted children could have learning disabilities was unheard of. Even now, many people still have a difficult time understanding how someone can be "twice exceptional." So, after making some improvements in my school work as the result of ADD drugs (which was a common misdiagnosis for 2E kids) I was placed in the pull out gifted program in third grade. I was placed in homeroom with the "phase 1" track kids and moved to math with the "phase 1" track kids. I was separated for reading and English and went with the "phase 3" track kids. My school performance improved a good bit.

However, I still couldn't read the way other kids could, and I was painfully aware of it. I come from a family of readers. There were always books and magazines throughout my home. My parents read to us often. Reading was just a part of life in my house. In particular, my mom and my sister are voracious readers. It's hard to even explain how those two simply inhale books. Not only are they both strong readers, but when we were little, it was a strong bond between the two of them. My mom would buy my sister the Little House on the Prairie books or Anne of Green Gables and then they would both read the books. They would share the experience of each book together.

As the youngest child, I will confess that I was very jealous of this bond they shared. As the baby, I often felt left out, and this only made that feeling worse. I don't know how many times I picked up Little House in the Big Woods and tried to read it. No matter how determined I was, I just couldn't follow it. I'd read the first page, but nothing would stick. After a few paragraphs I was hopelessly lost. I felt like a failure. By this time, all the girls in school were reading chapter books, and I couldn't get past the first page of the same stupid book I had tried to read a number of times. I felt like I was being excluded from a wonderful club with the amazing privileges great stories. A club in which all of my friends, my mom, and my sister were all members.

Finally, in fourth grade my mom took me for a private evaluation that determined that yes, I do have learning disabilities. They didn't give an exact name for my impairments, but they did provide advice and coping strategies to help me overcome the challenges of my learning disabilities which effected my reading, sequencing, audio processing, and hand writing. These skills really helped me improve even further in school, but there was one intervention that was nothing short of a miracle for me. Talking books.

They provided me access to the government's Talking Books for the blind program. What I was to do was read books along with the audio books. (They were on LP! Can you imagine?) It took some time to get me enrolled and for the equipment and talking book to be delivered. The first shipment included, at my request, Little House in the Big Woods. I remember sitting down on the sofa in the living room, putting the record on and opening the book. The voice started and I read along. And it worked. I was able to read. About half way through the book, I had to adjust the speed of the recording because I was going faster than the recording. I read the whole book in one sitting. THE WHOLE BOOK. Not a page, not a chapter, the complete book that I had wanted to read for several years.

And you know what? I didn't really love it the way my sister and mom did. I had joined their club only to discover that I wasn't sure I wanted to be part of it. I set Little House in the Big Woods aside and picked up A Wrinkle in Time, which I had never heard of, but my mom thought I might like. Wow, was she right. I devoured it, and in doing so I finally discovered just what was so magical about reading. Every book allowed me to step into a whole new world. It also allowed me to escape my own world.

The miracle of this exercise is that after reading three or four books with the talking books, I was actually able to read a book without any assistance. I guess the process rewired whatever was faulty in my brain and allowed me to become the voracious reader that I still am today.

Going through this process made reading a very emotional topic for me, and that was only strengthened as I got older and reading became my only escape from...well, from my mind. As I got older, and hit junior high and my hormones started going crazy, I also started to suffer from depression. I look back on those years and wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn't been depressed, and I know it would have been very different. But, I do know what it would have been like if I hadn't been able to escape into the world of fiction. It would have been a very deep, dark pit of despair. Books saved me from a significant amount of suffering.

I will never forget the years I spent shut out of the world of reading. I will never forget the miracle that talking books gifted me with. And, I'll never forget that books were my comfort during a very difficult time in my life.

So, as you can see, I have a lot of emotions invested in reading.

Can you imagine my delight when at 14 months Michael became obsessed with letters? By 16 months, he could name all of the capital letters. By 20 months he could name the lowercase letters and identify all of the letter sounds. Most importantly, he had no problems identifying "M" and "W" or "b" and "d" and "p". At 37, I still have problems with "b" and "p". I was thrilled that it appeared that Michael did not have my learning disabilities.

Michael's letter obsession continued straight throughuntil he reached 2.5 and decided o split his time between letters and dinosaurs. He would run into the house and head straight for the fridge so he could play with his letters. To this day he still treats letters as if they are his closest friends. It's been an odd trip that has even left me a little concerned at times as his letter obsession clearly impacted his development in other areas. How could it not, if a child spends 4-5 hours a day trying to write letters, he's not working on gross motors skills at the same time.

Somewhere over the past six months or so, Michael has really started taking an interest in words. It's the logical next step for a letter obsessed child. Because of his interest, my mom, Andy and I have all induldged his interest in words. I've writen some many words at his request that even my hand writing has improved.

However, Michael never seemed interested in reading. He only seemed interested in spelling words. He rarely made any attempt at reading words even though he spent hours writing them. I could prod him to read single words, but he only tolerated so mcuh of that before ignoring me.

I have very mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I don't want to push him to read. A 3.5 year old has no reason to be able to read. Studies show that pushing it on children often makes them resent the very thing you are trying to teach them. Clearly, I of all people know that you don't have to read early to end up being an avid reader. So, his lack of interest in reading is no big deal.

On the other hand, wouldn't it be cool if my kid could read? It would really set my mind at ease about possible learning disabilites. I would know for certain that he doesn't have the same problems I do. Plus, I could start to share books with him instead of just reading them to him. Woudln't it just be amazing if a mother who struggled so hard to read had a child that started to read early?

This brings me to last Saturday evening. Michael was being crabby and difficult. It was bedtime, but he didn't want to have anything to do with going to bed. He started pulling out all of the stalling techniques. "I'm hungry" and "I need to watch one more show" and "I need to go potty" followed imediately by "I'm not going potty." I was getting frustrated and annoyed while I watched him scribble on his Magna Doodle. So, I sat down next to him, took the Magna Doodle, and wrote "GO TO BED" on it. I heanded it back and walked out of the room.

Michael calls from the living room, "How do you spell WON'T?"

Son of a...

Michael read my note and understood it. I expected the first time Michael read a sentence to be an exciting moment, not an exaaperating one. I pictured us sitting together with a book with Michael reading as I ran my finger under the words. Instead, I got a flippant response to a simple request.

I think I add this to my file of "this is not what I expected" moments.

Oh, and to make matters worse, I refused to spell "won't" for him. When I came back into the room to try and get him moving towards bed, I looked at the Magna Doodle. It now read, "GO TO BED. NOT"

Great, my kid is a smart ass.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Lovey Transport

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Update: This is a picture of Larry the mama snake and Hannah the dinosaur in the bag we transport Michael's stuff in.