Five Hours

Five hours is the on-average amount of sleep I’ve been getting every night lately.

Part of it is owing to stress — ordinarily, holiday excitement and baby preparation would be enough to keep me wired 24/7, but this week we also had the meeting at school for Jeffrey’s Individualized Educational Plan (or IEP).  Nobody likes to hear criticism about their child, so sitting in a room with five educational professionals listing Jeffrey’s problems was not fun.  Even though I agreed with most of what they said — in fact, some of their findings (via testing) matches up exactly with what I’ve been telling them for quite some time now.  Such as: Jeffrey doesn’t need occupaional therapy; his writing is fine, it’s his spelling that needs help.  Or, that Jeffrey is fine cognition-wise; it’s his lack of focus in class that has caused him to fall so far behind the curve.  He needs small-group, individualized instruction. And it looks like he is finally going to get some.  Yay!  Let’s see if the school follows through with its promises.

What irks me is that whenever one of Jeff’s teachers has mentioned his inattention to me (from age 3 on up) they always look at me like I have some kind of magic solution for solving this problem.  I always want to smack myself on the head and say “Why, how silly of me!  I forgot to turn the switch on the back of Jeffrey’s head from ‘naughty’ to ‘nice’ this morning!” 

But, really, there aren’t any easy solutions beyond patience, patience, and more patience.  Our daily one-on-one homework sessions last about 60 minutes, and frequently involve Jeffrey screaming himself red in the face, chewing up his erasers and throwing pencils on the floor.  He’s been especially obdurate lately since Eleanor has begun to bring “funwork” home from kindergarten, which she zips through with glee while Jeffrey struggles to write sentences.  As he tearfully said to me yesterday, “Next year Eleanor will start real homework, and she’ll race so fast ahead of me that she’ll be in seventh grade by the end of the year!”  I reassured him that he’s just as smart as Eleanor, he just needs to work as hard as she does, and he sat down and began to write.  For about 30 seconds.  And then the eraser-chewing began once more.  (And when I say “chewing,” I don’t mean that he sucks on his pink eraser; he takes BITES and then SWALLOWS.)

Yes, educators.  I know exactly how difficult it is to teach my child.  Which is why I need your help.

So I keep waking up at 4:30 or 5:00 — late enough in the morning that my body doesn’t initially “feel” like it needs more sleep, but early enough for me to collapse some time around 9:30 a.m.

The fact that I get nightly ligament pain around my belly bulge doesn’t help, either.  What I call my “tummy tendons” ache constantly unless I get out of bed and walk around the room — for some reason, it helps the pain go away, but not always.  Last night’s session was particularly bad; I still have “phantom pain” in my hips this morning.

Well.  Time for a nap?  We’ll see if my brain can calm down enough for one to happen.

Dancin’ Man

This winter, teachers from the Tanner creative dance program came to Jeffrey’s school to teach his class some moves.  He absolutely adored it; the teachers always brought along a pianist or percussionist, so the kids could move to live music, and they created dances based on words and language. 

Two weeks ago they put on a performance for parents, and I was able to film a bit of it.  Jeffrey, unfortunately, was just as interested in chewing on the ties of his sweatpants as he was in dancing.  My friend, Heather, was also there an said she didn’t notice the pants-chewing at all, but admitted that if she were Jeffrey’s mom, it would take all her willpower not to leap into the performance and yank the thing out of his mouth.  Amen.

That said, this is the most adorable gangly dance I’ve seen in a while:

If you’re wondering why there is a kid in the background with a red mohawk, it was also Silly Hair Day at the school.  Earlier that same day, I had volunteered in Jeff’s classroom, and the boys who hadn’t dyed their hair were all obsessed with running their heads under the water fountain so they could “spike” themselves.  Geez, boys.

Every Good Boy Does Ritalin

So, the big news around here lately is that Jeffrey has been officially diagnosed with ADHD.  We’ve suspected it for a while, but until recently it was difficult to separate symptoms of the disorder with the usual abberations of early childhood behavior. 

We had him psychologically profiled when he was five, and even tried a short run of Adderol, but it had no apparent effect, which is common for very young children taking Adderol.  He couldn’t try any other medications because he, at the time, could not swallow pills.

Since entering first grade, things have been rough for Jeffrey at school.  He couldn’t follow directions, he couldn’t sit still long enough to listen to a story.  When doing math, he would forget what number he was counting to in the middle of solving a problem.  Within the first week of school, I was notified that Jeffrey was occupying almost all of the student teacher’s time.

His teacher — who is amazing, and I’m very thankful we landed in her class — has taken great pains to help with Jeff’s behavior, but by the halfway point of the year, things were bad.  Jeffrey was old enough to realize that he was falling behind his classmates, he couldn’t seem to control the problem.

“Focus!” he would yell at me.  “I need to focus, Mom!”  He pounded the sides of his head with his palms, gritting his teeth.

Then he began acting out in class (which surprised everybody), and would come home so frustrated that he would throw his backpack down a window well before coming inside.  I began getting phone calls from the school, and there didn’t seem to be anything I could do about it.  Jeffrey wasn’t intentionally doing these things; he hardly seemed aware that he was in La La Land 90% of the time.

After a lot of tears and hair-pulling, I decided to take him to our doctor and give medication another go-round. 

Our first attempt was with Concerta, but this unfortunately caused Jeffrey to have a manic episode (he came home talking a mile a minute, biting his cheeks, and so dizzy that he couldn’t eat).  This terrified me, and I felt terrible.

After that terrifyingness, we switched to Ritalin, and his teachers have noticed significant differences in his behavior.  For the first time ever, he was coming home with his worksheets filled out, with words written legibly (instead of clusters of random letters scattered about the page).  He was able to pay attention during classroom read-aloud time (instead of wandering off to play with toys).  Best of all, his teacher arranged for him to take his standardized tests one-on-one with an administrator, and he scored above expectations in every category!

Yessss!  He’s a really intelligent kid, but it’s difficult for people to see that when he can’t line up in a row like all the other good boys and girls.  His teacher called me immediately when she got Jeffrey’s scores, and we were both practically jumping up and down together. 

However, it isn’t a miracle cure.  Jeffrey still spends most of his time at church chewing on his shoelaces and rolling on the floor, and piano lessons are as much of a trial as ever.  But he’s starting to see himself as a kid who can make good, and that’s a very big thing.

Quite Contrary

bambooFor Family Home Evening this past Monday, we decided to sit down with the kids and plan out our garden for the upcoming year.  Brian and I are quite excited — the yard behind our house is huge, and Utah, with its lack of mold spores, fine earth, and sunny weather, is ideal for gardening (that is, if you can get the water).

I was ecstatic because I managed to convince Brian that our garden should be surrounded by a cute white picket fence, in order to keep The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Green Tomatoes from happening again.  Hooray!  It will be SO ADORABLE.

The kids, on the other hand, were a mite bit puzzled.  If we were gardening, then why were we looking at pictures of plants, instead of heading out back to dig?  They did, however, love looking through some seed catalogs and making requests.  Eleanor, in particular, was excited about Shasta Daisies, and I look forward to planting some with her and then teaching her how to make daisy chains .  .  . while swinging in a hammock under a shady tree . . . with a mason jar of lemonade . . . sigh.  Why can’t summer come a bit faster?

Jeffrey, meanwhile, was most excited about a double-page spread of bamboo varieties.

“Mom!  We need to get bamboo and put it in our garden!”

“But Jeffrey,” I explained, “we don’t need bamboo.  It would take up too much space.”

“But Mom, it would keep the panda bears away from our garden,” he replied patiently.  He then went on to elaborate:

“See, we plant the bamboo in a circle around the garden, and that way when the panda bears come, they will want to eat the bamboo and get stuck in it and not want our vegetables!”

I nodded sagely at this advice, and Brian announced that it was time for treats.

Aftewards, I went back to clean up the catalogs, and Eleanor let out a squeal. 

“No Mom!” she cried as I began to close up the catalog displaying the bamboo.  “We need that plant!  It will keep the panda bears out!”

“Is that what Jeffrey said?”  I leaned in conspiratorially.  “Don’t worry, Eleanor.  I don’t think there are any panda bears in Utah.”

“That’s right,” called out Jeffrey, waltzing into the room.  “Panda bears are only in China!”

Eleanor thought about this for a moment, and then her little face screwed up into a frown.

“But I thought we lived in China!” she wailed.

Ah, disillusionment.  Of course, you do realize that when Jeffrey imagines China, he thinks of a nation whose gardeners are constantly beset by marauding panda bears.  It just cracks me up.

For further reading (ah, yes!  back by popular demand!  And by “popular demand,” I mean that three whole people requested its return!):

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Whose Garden Is It? by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Jane Dyer.  I usually aren’t too keen on picture books with rhymed text — they are often a little too sing-songy — but Hoberman’s (also known for A House is a House for Me) verses about the “ownership” of a garden are top-notch.  Who owns a garden?  The gardener?  The animals who live in it?  The “tiny seeds and whistling weeds” who make up the garden itself?  A clever book to get kids thinking about gardens, land, and ecosystems, perfectly accompanied by Dyer’s lush watercolors.  Check it out!

Twinkle, Twinkle

“Mommy, look!  It looks like a candy house!”

“Look at the sparkles, Mommy!”

My neighborhood is resplendent with Christmas lights, wreaths and garlands.  Even the lamposts are decorated with red ribbons, lights, and a sprig of plastic pine.  It’s a nice change from our neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where few of our neighbors put up any lights — a habit I presume is formed not from a lack of Yuletide spirit (although, granted, there were some Jewish families on the block) but simply because our 1930s cottages simply lacked good outdoor access to electricity.

Now we live in Twinkletown.  However, given that we are on the East Bench, it’s an austere, tasteful Twinkletown.  There are no blow-up nylon balloon Santas, animatronic reindeer, or hard plastic snowmen.  There’s one — just one — house on the block with a row of electric candy canes, but it’s very small.  Nothing blinks.

Therefore, I didn’t feel bad at all about investing in only three little strings of white lights to run along the roof of our porch.  No muss, no fuss.  The hooks were already there, we just had to hang the lights on them.  In my theory, Christmas light displays shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes to set up.  But I was concerned that my kids wouldn’t feel the same way.

I grew up on Army posts, where there were rules about how many lights could be put on residential quarters.  No lawn ornaments, and only a few strings of lights.  There’s no room for the Electric Light Parade in the Army.  But as a little kid, I always kind of longed for something more — something rainbowy to drape over our trees and bushes, to transform our practical-yet-mundane quarters into a fairyland. 

So I was worried that my kids would be disappointed with our tiny amount of twink.  But I needn’t have worried.

“Mommm!  Come see the lights that Daddy put up!”  Eleanor cheered and twirled as Jeffrey proudly displayed Brian’s work.  William clapped his little hands.  And I remembered that any amount of twinkle is special, no matter how small.  It’s our house; it’s special to our kids.

Last night I drove Jeffrey home from a Christmas party, and I pointed out lights from the windows.  We passed the candy cane house.

“Jeffrey, look!  Does that house look like it’s made out of candy?”

“Yeah, Mom!  It looks yummy!”

Then we turned the corner to our home, and I noticed that a third of the lights had somehow gone out.  I winced as I pulled into the driveway.

“Mommy, do you know what our house looks like?”

“No, Jeffrey.  What?”

“I think it looks like the way it did on Christmas night.”

I puzzled over this for a moment.  Does he realize that our house didn’t exist in ancient Bethlehem?

“Jeffrey, do you mean that our house looks like a stable?”

“No Mom,” he whispered.  “I think it looks like the sky full of stars on Christmas night.”

He fluttered his fingers in the air to demonstrate, and I think my heart fluttered, too.

It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas!

And I expect it will continue to do so for the next three weeks, or until we drop dead from exhaustion, whichever comes first.

Was Thanksgiving weekend just a week ago?  It seems much farther away, I suppose mainly becauJse we took down our few Thanksgiving decorations and put up the Christmas stuff so quickly.  My theory is: get the tree done as soon as possible, or it doesn’t happen at all.

Jeffrey was most interested in our creches — for the past several years, we have gone down to Ten Thousand Villages and picked out a nativity set from a different country.  So far, we have creches from Peru, Indonesia, Maylasia, and Germany (uh . . . we found that at a thrift store).  This year, we picked out a lovely one made of Kishi stone from Kenya.

All of this extra color and diversity must have inspired Jeffrey, because he immediately went to his room for a while before reemerging with a creche made of Legos.  Joseph is a little Lego person inside, but he couldn’t find any more Lego people for Mary and Joseph, so they are represented by a flower topped with a yellow brick.

A flower — I am especially fond of this detail, since one of my favorite Christmas carols is “Lo, How A Rose is Blooming.”

Speaking of which, Eleanor is delighting in dancing around to the various carols and yuletide melodies I plunk out at the piano after dinner most evenings.  When she isn’t dancing, she likes to sit on my lap and watch.  

Funny thing is, no matter what I play — from the Nutcracker Suite to “Go Tell It on the Mountain” — she points at the music and says, “When I was a little girl, I learned how to sing this song in Spanish at my preschool!”

Oh, when she was a little girl, indeed!

What’s in a Name?

William has a new nickname.

Jack Norris!

Yes, it’s a little bizarre. Here’s the story:

Jeffrey gave it to him on Memorial Day. We in the car with the windows rolled down, on the way to a picnic. The wind was blowing William’s hair around, and he was gurgling and cooing in his lovable Wimmy-way.

“Mom,” said Jeffrey, “when the wind is in Wimmy’s hair, he looks just like Jack Norris.”

Who?

“Jack Norris,” he repeated. “He’s a guy who looks just like Wimmy.”

Brian and I were puzzled by this. Who in the world is Jack Norris? How on earth did Jeffrey learn about him? We immediately thought of Chuck Norris, but Jeffrey has never seen any of his films (and hopefully, he never will).

“Jeffrey, can you tell me what Jack Norris does?” I ask.

“He’s a guy who runs around really fast,” he replies. “And he’s a dwarf.”

Uh-huuuuuuh.

This was ALL we’ve been able to get out of Jeffrey about who this Jack Norris person is. He looks like William. He runs fast. And he’s a dwarf. Once Jeffrey even sang a song about it.

Jack Norris runs around,

He saves the people all around

And he’s a dwarf!

He’s a dwarf, he’s a dwarf, he’s a dwaaaaaaaarf!

Nowadays, it’s become a family running gag. Whenever William is being especially, ah, intrepid — say, stuffing styrofoam peanuts in his mouth, or tipping a bowl of freshly folded clothes over on himself — we punch our fists in the air and say, “Jack Norris is on the case!”

Especially if the wind is in his hair.

Spring is in the Air

Little kids seem so much more receptive to the little changes. Sometimes this can be trying, such as when I use the –gasp!– wrong cup for Eleanor’s milk, or layer on Jeffrey’s blankets in the incorrect order at bedtime. (For the record, it is: cow blanket, polka-dot blanket, and then the blue pinwheel patchwork quilt. Which he then promptly kicks off as soon as I leave the room.)

But there are other times that my kids pick up on the best details in life. There’s a passage in Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins in which young Rose walks into her bedroom and immediately notices how the sunset is coloring the room, “with a child’s quick instinct.” That quick instinct — that uninhibited reaction to nature — is something I love in kids, especially when it helps me experience seasonal changes, like this burgeoning spring, through their eyes. (Oh, that old cliché. But it’s true.)

The wind is blowing briskly, and Jeffrey wants to go outside. “I like to play in the breeze,” he says. “Because it keeps me fresh.” He is always wanting to report on the weather at his preschool. “I felt a breeze today, Megan,” he reports proudly. “It must sign up for the weather report and say that it’s windy!”

Our first few flowering bulbs have come up, and our kids are enraptured with them, shining out like rainbow-colored coins scattered in our grey backyard. Poor little blossoms — they don’t stand a chance against my kids’ chubby fingers. Jeffrey made short work of the crocus, while Eleanor is slowly plucking the hyacinths apart. The realities of wilted flowers are hard, however. “Mommy, my flowers are melting,” says Eleanor sadly, tumbling a wrinkly, rubbery pink nub into my hand. “The flower melted, Mommy!”

A few mornings ago Jeffrey was quietly staring out the window over his breakfast bagel, his hand softly cupping his cheek. “Mommy, why is it pink all over?” I asked him what he saw outside that was pink, and he wrinkled his brow in thought. “Everything. Everything is pink,” he said, sweeping his hand across the window in a grand, yet vague, gesture. I looked, and it was all grey to me, but after gazing for moment, I could see it — how the sunlight slanted across the tips of the trees foresting the hillside, and if you didn’t look too closely at one in particular, you could see streaks of pink, like a gauze hung over the spindly, bare branches. It was the budding leaves, the raw pink tone they have just before bursting, the color of baby’s tongue. Birthing is hard, renewal is hard, the struggle to produce something new and gorgeous out of what essentially seems like a bunch of sticks in the mud. I love that Jeffrey can see it, this secret way of looking that he can show me, that we can share.

One of my favorite springtime books:

Rabbit’s Good News by Ruth Bornstein — There’s a big ol’ rainbow of pastels at work in these illustrations, although they aren’t showy by any account.  Little rabbit uses all of his senses, from sniffing the air to listening for birdsong, to see if spring has really arrived.  Then he bounds out of his den to share the news. Little kids enjoy the simplicity of this tale, and like being able to match up Rabbit’s senses with his body parts (“he hears with his . . . EARS!”).  Sweet ‘n’ simple.

Loving and Leaving Pittsburgh: The Phipps Conservatory

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Jeffrey and Eleanor were on spring break this week, and I thought we’d take advantage of the spare time to see the always-gorgeous spring flower show at the Phipps Conservatory. I always try to take some good photos of the kids with the flowers; this is the third year in a row that I’ve done such portraits.

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So many memories of this place! It was one of the places I visited on my first trip to Pittsburgh, back in May 2001. Brian and I were absolutely enchanted with the butterfly forest.

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Over the years, I’ve learned a few hints about visits — go as early as possible to get a good parking spot, watch out for puddles, and never never never pay them a visit on Good Friday. The crowds are horrid on that day.

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Just before Eleanor was born, I took Jeffrey for a visit on that fated day, and it was so stressful. He kept dashing ahead of me (he was only 2 1/2 then) and with my huge tummy, I could barely keep up. There were a large number of senior citizens there, and I was afraid that he was going to knock somebody over. We were attracting curious looks, stares, and a few not-so-quiet “Humph!”s all through the gardens.

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Worst of all, there were two particular ladies that we kept running into over and over again. Every time I had to beg their pardon, I could feel my face getting redder.

I decided to cut the visit short and get out of there, when Jeff decided to run into the gift shop to take a look at the toys and — aaa! — expensive glass objets d’art. Lo and behold, who should be there at the botanical soap display other than those two same ladies again.

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But before I could apologize once more for Jeffrey’s behavior, they both smiled and shook their heads.

“Such a good baby you have,” one of them said. “Most babies wouldn’t want to walk that far without being carried. He went the whole way through without crying to be picked up once.”

Oh!

I’m sure I wasn’t able to mumble much more than a thank-you before running off to catch Jeffrey once again. If only those ladies knew how much their kind words meant to me!

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Jeffrey’s behavior has improved much since then. He and Eleanor were a couple of clowns for these photos. Whenever I sat them down and raised the camera, they immediately began to tickle, hug, and make silly faces at me and each other. They are such good buddies!

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William, on the other hand, had a bad cold, so he didn’t get photographed much beyond this:

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But he’s still awfully cute, wouldn’t you say?

In Which Jeffrey Buckles and Swashes

adventures-of-robin-hood.jpgWe’re still watching old movies around here. Today a DVD of The Adventures of Robin Hood arrived in the mail, and Jeffrey and watched it together while the other kids napped.

This is the old one with Erroll Flynn, and is considered by many to be the best version of the story. I have to say that I was a bit apprehensive, because every time I’ve tried to watch this before, I’ve found it a snore. But now I realize that that was due mainly to the fact that I had only watched blurry VHS versions before, with horrid muffled sound.

The restored DVD is sooo gorgeous — it looks like the old N.C. Wyeth illustrations springing to full Technicolor life. The pacing didn’t drag a bit. Olivia de Hamilland wears a differently-colored lamé dress in each of her scenes. Erroll Flynn takes out about seven baddies with a deer carcass. A deer carcass. What’s not to love? And really, I consider a film like this to be essential for cultural literacy. This movie has all the original action film clichés, before they were clichés:

  • The footmen with such bad aim they couldn’t hit the sidewalk with a can of paint!
  • Cutting the rope of the portcullis and then riding the rope as it goes up!
  • Ambushing the bad guys’ wagon train while swinging down on handy forest vines!
  • Swordfighting insults! (“You’d best say your prayers, Robin Hood!” “I’ll say a prayer for YOU, Sir Guy!”)
  • Bad guys who get hit with arrows under the arm, roll their eyes upwards, and clutch their chests while drooping slowly to the ground!
  • Characters whose clever disguise consists entirely of a heavy cloak that doesn’t conceal their faces in the least!
  • “Guards! Guards! After him!”
  • A duel that features shadows on the wall, candles being cut in half, and the villain’s secret spare knife!
  • DRAMATIC CAAAAAPES!

I was a little worried that Jeffrey might find all of this a bit boring, but whoa, was I wrong. He got into it even more than he got into Star Wars, and that’s really saying something. The excitement was up to the extent that we had to take occasional intermissions so he could use the bathroom more often.

The best part, though, was watching Jeffrey play “Robin Hood” with Eleanor for a good while just before bed. Armed with his foam pirate sword, he embarked on a lengthy duel with Daddy (who was able to conduct his swordfighting while lounging on a cushion). Later, he asked Daddy to hold a green blanket “vine” so he could “swing” off of it — and immediately after, he aimed a few more blows at him. (Said Brian, “What? I’m the scenery and the bad guy?”)

Jeffrey insisted on sheathing his sword inside of his pants. Eleanor, of course, tried to follow suit, despite the fact that her toy sword was twice her height. I’ll just let you imagine what that looked like.

Just before bed, Eleanor (who insisted that she was not Little John or Maid Marian but just Eleanor) was using building blocks to “play the violin” and was busy singing a song about Little Red Riding Hood.

Jeffrey, who was sitting on my lap, immediately began to whisper in my ear.

“Mommy, I think she’s singing a song about me.”

Oh, right — Little Red Robin Hood. Ha!