Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 and the things I left out

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2013 ends in two days. TWO days! I can’t believe it’s that time of the year again – time to reflect on all that has brought us here today.

If you looked at my Facebook’s Year in Review, a neat little feature that compiled some of my biggest moments in 2013 based on the popularity of the posts, you’ll see that Pickle turned two, and we celebrated her birthday at a water park resort, my girls went to the zoo and fell asleep while holding hands on our way home in the car, Little Miss participated in a theater camp and had her theater debut in the summer, we vacationed at the Smoky Mountains, Pickle started to talk in full, sometimes hilarious, sentences, she started her first day at her sister’s school, I broke my tailbone two days before our Florida vacation, where we visited Disney for the first time as a family, Pickle finally moved to a big-girl bed in the room that she shares with her sister, Little Miss turned five and started violin lessons, and Pickle likes yogurt all over her face.

According to Facebook, that’s 2013 in a nutshell, although it did leave out the major milestones, like Pickle’s weaning and potty training at 2.5 years old, or our really special holiday celebration with their grandparents from Florida when they joined us here for Christmas festivities.

But here’s something it left out.

On the first day of our water park vacation, we kinda, sorta lost Little Miss. We walked into an enormous aquatic center, and immediately, My Guy pulled our firstborn to the side and told her, “if for some reason you get lost and you can’t find us, come back to this spot,” he pointed at the seats by the surfing area. “Tell someone that this is where you have to wait; we will come find you.”

No sooner than 30 minutes later, she went missing. She ran up the stairs to one gigantic slide and came down another, but because she changed her mind at the last minute, I waited at the one from which she said she would appear, except 10 minutes later, she still hadn’t emerged. The slides started three stories high and intricately snaked around the compound, and with so many kids in line, it was difficult for me to find her.

I finally went to the surfer’s area after 10 minutes of searching and there she was, crying next to a lifeguard who was trying to console her, grateful that, of all the times she didn’t listen to us, this wasn’t one of them. After this incident, we kept a closer watch and she always came down the same slide on which she said she was going. Lesson learned; heartbeat restored.

Here’s something else you wouldn’t find on Facebook.

One summer’s night, when the girls were already in bed but not sleeping, when the light finally acquiesced to the dark as evening found its way to the end of our day, I spontaneously decided that it was time to catch some fireflies. With an earlier-than-most bedtime at 7:30, the girls were often asleep in the summer even before the sun went down, so when would they ever get the chance to catch fireflies? Isn’t that a quintessential childhood summer thing? Bedtime be damned. We had childhood memories to make!

I grabbed a mason jar from the kitchen cupboard and went into their bedroom, “Girls, get up. Let’s catch some fireflies.”

At first, they were puzzled – this has never happened before – but they ran out with me eventually, in their pajamas, armed with a mason jar and girlish delight. We spotted countless fireflies in the park right by our building, and Pickle was just as smitten by the moon, which was rather evasive in the summer months to little girls with a pre-dusk bedtime.

“Mommy! Look! It’s the moon!!!” she exclaimed, over and over.

We caught and released a few (fireflies, not the moon), and the girls giggled and squealed, unable to contain their excitement of doing something unexpected, something that felt a little naughty, like breaking a rule for leaving their beds at bedtime. 

On our way back, Little Miss announced, “This is the best thing we ever did!”

To this day, of all the adventures we had this summer, this stood out for me, even though the moment never made its way to Facebook or the blog. I now feel it needs to be encapsulated, as I hope this will be the first of many sparks along their childhood where they remember us being there to share in their wonder, their sheer, unadulterated joy. Because I felt it too.

But there were many more moments that were left out of the public domain.

Early morning snuggles with the family, late-night conversations with My Guy, and several amazing dates with him, like our first time at Lollapalooza together – his birthday present to me –in lovely, temperate, 75-degree weather when it was normally 95 in August. There, I saw The Postal Service perform for the first time, something I never thought possible because they were only a side-project band that came together to record one album, which happens to be one of my favorites, about ten years ago, and My Guy made this moment happen, knowing how much it meant to me.

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There, we also listened to our song, “Slow Show”, being performed on stage by The National, another favorite of mine, while he held me in his arms as these words stirred magic in the air around us:


“You know I dreamed about you
For 29 years before I saw you;
You know I dreamed about you
I missed you for, for 29 years.”


Those words struck me when I first heard it because that’s when I met My Guy, when I was 29 years old, and it felt like I hadn’t felt truly alive until I met him.

Everything wasn’t perfect and smooth-sailing since we met, of course, but that’s what makes our journey so real and so utterly amazing to me. That we’re still here, nearly nine years later, in spite of it all, with each year better than the last.

While every big moment - good or bad - has taught us something about ourselves or, at the very least, brought us much joy, they haven’t all made it to this blog. Or Facebook. Nor are they all going to. It’s a little sad, knowing that I won’t remember everything years from now, but honestly, I am just happy to be living these moments with my family in the first place, however lovely or imperfect, ordinary or extraordinary.

2013, no, life has been good to me, and I am immeasurably grateful.

 

FamilySelfie


*  *  *


Happy new year, my dear friends! May 2014 bring you much love, peace, and joy.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The F word(s) on Christmas Day!

To entertain Little Miss when we’re traveling in the car, we sometimes play “The Letter Game”, which is really “I Spy” without the I spy, and we use letters, like “I see something starting with the word W!” and the rest of us has to guess what that is – Water! Window! Wheels!

We started this when she began sounding out letters over a year ago, and it stuck. It’s still our go-to car game. Even Pickle joins in, although she doesn’t always get it right – I see sumping (something) starting with the letter O!”

”Orange? Oval?”
”Birds!” she squeals excitedly.
”Okaaaay….” we play along. She’s happy; we’re happy. That’s the point of the game after all.

Today, on Christmas Day, the Letter Game popped into my head because everywhere I looked, I saw something – many things, in fact – starting with the letter F.

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Family, especially those who left 78-degree weather to be here for the 8(!) degrees with which we welcomed them on the day they arrived.


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Fabulous gifts and surprises.



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Freedom from my second most hated chore (ironing being the first). Thank you, honey!



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Fathers
and sons in (and around) the kitchen!




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Five-mile run in frigid temps.




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Friends
who joined us for our feast.




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Full, felicitous heart, grateful for the most wonderful Christmas ever.


*  *  *


If you had to describe your Christmas celebration with one letter, one would your letter be?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Love and magic and pajamas in bookstores

With his first cranberry-white-chocolate cookie that I made for the holidays this year, My Guy said to me, “I love our traditions.”

And I had to agree. I am especially in love with the fact that we’ve done this enough as a family to actually have traditions, despite having both our extended family so far away from us, despite not being raised with Christmas myself.

Our traditions are cobbled together from what he grew up with, what I had always longed for, and what we hope to create just for our girls. Like picking and decorating a tree together.

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Like enduring the cold for some beautiful Lincoln Park Zoo lights.

 

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Like creating Christmas crafts together.


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Like baking the same cookies together every year (cranberry-white-chocolate, Mexican wedding cakes, and cut-out sugar cookies), and (bravely) hosting a kids’ holiday and cookie-decorating party, although this time, we threw in some ornaments and a tree for them to decorate as well.



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While many of our holiday events have been with us since Little Miss’ first year, we continue to add new ones to our repertoire. Sometimes from sheer practicality, like going to the Holiday Flower and Train show at the Lincoln Park Conservatory instead of the Christmas Around the World exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry, which we’ve visited every year, because one’s free and the other is far from that.

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Sometimes new traditions are formed quite by accident, such as the one we created last night, when we spontaneously decided to drive to a neighborhood famous for its Christmas lights after we were already in our pajamas. “You can go in your PJ’s,” My Guy offered, and the girls were thrilled. I wanted to protest, but I stopped myself. Why the heck not? We’re only going to be in the car.


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But you know what happens with kids and best laid plans…

Near the end of our tour of the neighborhood, my newly potty-trained Pickle quietly said, “I need to go pee pee,” and suddenly, it’s STOP THE PRESS! STEP ON THE GAS! FIND A RESTROOM! 

Because we were many miles from home, we had to improvise. We found a Barnes and Noble bookstore and hurried in. I cringed as we walked in with my hair still wet from my post-run shower, and we were all in our pajamas! So much for not leaving our car.

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I’m a fashion don’t.

 

The plan was to get in and out as quickly as possible, because, hello? Family in pajamas.

Except we’re in a bookstore, for cryin’ out loud. We can’t just go in and out of a bookstore. It’s impossible! This also became our most expensive potty break, because did I mention this was a bookstore? We can’t just come out of it without buying something. For each of us.



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Despite the glitch, or maybe because of it since we all had so much fun, we decided that we wanted to have a night like this every Christmas holiday, and thus, Pajama Lights Night was born. 

But that wasn’t the only new tradition this year.


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The girls’ grandparents surprised them with their own Elf on the Shelf in the mail, who they named Blizzard. It’s another exciting reason for them to run up the stairs every morning – where’s Blizzard? There! Look! I found him! This is after they find their Advent Calendar surprise, which could be anything from candy to a treasure hunt for a little present from a small handmade note in the pocket from me. My Guy rolled his eyes when he saw me making the notes with a hand punch and ribbon—Really? he asked. Really, I defended, They’d love it! 

And they do.

Isn’t this what the holidays are about? Love and joy and magic? More why not’s than why’s? Although, I suppose, if you ask my girls, they’ll add, and candy and lots of presents!

Luckily for them, I’m pretty sure there’ll be those too.

And may you have all that and more as well.

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Merry Christmas from our pajama-clad clan to you and yours.


* * *

Friday, December 20, 2013

Goodbye milky – weaning a 2.5-year old

PickleBalloon
Find mommy, see her in bed, climb in under the covers, time for milky!
That had been Pickle’s mantra since she could get out of her bedroom by herself in the mornings.

While I had cut out the afternoon and evening sessions gradually over the summer and fall (oh yes, this has been a process months in the making), it had been difficult to persuade her to do anything but latch on to me first thing in the morning. Maybe because I also enjoyed snuggling with my tiny girl. Maybe because I’m nocturnal, and I’m always the last to be up from bed every morning so every time she comes to my bedroom, I’m still in bed, and her Pavlovian instincts kick in. Find mommy, see her in bed, climb in under the covers, time for milky!

But during these past few weeks, Pickle had often been distracted and fidgety while nursing so forget the sweetness and cuddling. With 18 pearly whites, it wasn’t the most pleasant experience for me either. It was mostly business for the both of us, so it was time.

I didn’t think it would last this long, what with her sister weaning at 13 months, but I was also working full time then and pumping more than I was nursing. The change wasn’t drastic for Little Miss, who was already on the bottle more than she was on me.

Having stayed home for Pickle all her life, it was harder to justify weaning at an earlier stage. The World Health Organization recommends nursing until two, and I didn’t have any place to be other than to be right there for her, which was how we arrived here, 2.5 years and still nursing. Just to be clear, I’m not defending myself as it’s every mom’s personal choice; I’m merely presenting the facts so when the girls read this some day, they may understand why there was a difference between them.

I wasn’t nursed, and the only reason I was given was that I didn’t like breast milk, and to this day, I am mystified by that. But that’s my mom’s decision, and I didn’t want to question her – if it felt right to her, then it had to have been. Sometimes we all do what we can, and sometimes, we do what we must. And whatever led her to that decision, I know, having gone through this on my own, must have been a difficult one.

When I finally decided that this was it, I knew I had to do something drastic.

And that’s why I agreed to wake at 5AM every day with My Guy last week. Trust me, for someone who’s always last in the family to rise from bed, that decision was colossal.

My Guy finds his peak productivity in the first two hours of the morning, before the girls wake, but recently, he was having a hard time waking on his own, and who can blame him? We’re all afflicted by the hibernation effect of winter, especially when it’s so cold and so dark, so early in the morning.

I asked (fully knowing the answer), would it help if I woke with him every morning, and he didn’t hesitate, Yes! It would!, and it was perfectly understandable. I wouldn’t want to be the first to wake from a warm bed to work in a cold room either.

And that’s what we did, changing our sleep pattern by going to bed at 10 the night before, which is unheard of for night owls like us. For as long as we’ve been together, we’ve always been nocturnal, so this was another huge step for us in addition to all the changes during our Big, Big, Week. He probably thought, wow, what a partner. I was thinking, I have to break this Pavlovian cycle for Pickle.

I was right; it worked.

When she saw me working at the dining room table and not in bed the first morning, it didn’t even occur to her to ask for milky. It happened the next morning, and the next, and the next. Wake up, see mommy in the dining room, time for breakfast!

It seemed like the only thing I needed to do was to remove the trigger, which, for her, was seeing me in bed each morning. She didn’t even mention milky until Day Three, during naptime, when she asked, “when I wake up from nap, I drink milky from yours boobs?”

I skirted around the answer, “But it’s the afternoon; you’re just going to nap, it’s not morning time when you wake up.”

And she didn’t say anything more. Whew!

The 5AM mornings were working out on many levels. My Guy was right; it was peak productivity time when this part of our world is quiet, and we could focus with our coffee in hand, which he always prepared the night before and programmed it for the morning so we were always greeted with caffeine.

That was my condition – no coffee, no dice. And he kept his word. He always lured me out of bed with coffee – I feel like a cartoon character, floating on the aroma until it finally settles me on my dining room table, in front of the computer, where I quickly perk up—alert and productive.

More work less milk production. Two birds, one stone.

Last Sunday, Day Seven, however, we decided to sleep in, and I was a little late in getting out of bed. Pickle came upstairs just as I was leaving my bedroom, but even though I was dressed for the day, something about seeing me in the bedroom must have triggered a reaction in her head because the first thing she said was, “Mommy, I want milky from yours boobs!”

Uh-oh.

Then I scrambled to pull every trick I could find to distract her from it. In the end, the only thing that worked was chocolate. I know, not my best moment, but I did what I had to. Here, want a treat? I asked as I pulled a Hershey’s Hugs from the pantry, and her toddler instincts quickly replaced Pavlov. It’s like you could see her brain switching gears and suddenly, she’s honed in on a different obsession. Thank you, chocolate. 

Don’t judge.

Since then, she’d perhaps asked for milky once more, out-of-the-blue, and again, distraction worked, although I didn’t have to call upon the mighty powers of chocolate then. Today is Day 12, and I’m pretty sure the factory has shut down altogether. There may even be some bats living there.

I’m often informed by Pickle that she’s ready to step up, rather than the other way around. In a way, it’s a good thing, and I’m grateful. Less tears are shed and less work on our part too. But when it happens unexpectedly, I have to brace myself for the inevitable pang of a parent unwilling to let go.

One day she’s my teeny, suckling baby and the next, she drinks milk from a glass cup and doesn’t even realize herself that she’s no longer nursing. Except I’m keenly aware. I’m both proud and jubilant at the ease with which we’ve arrived at this point, yet a little despondent now that we’re finally here.

You know, the regular emotions of parenting. You always celebrate a milestone with such bittersweetness—happy to be done with a particularly hard stage, yet sad, knowing that this is it. You can never have this back again, especially with the last baby in the family.

With every achievement, every new stage, you applaud with your hands when they see you and clutch at your fragile heart when they don’t.

And you do this over and over again, for as long as you live.


WinterSun

 

*  *  *

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A big, big week

Last week was big for us. Really big. 

Pickle continued to make respectable strides in potty training, stopping in the middle of play to run to the bathroom by herself, unassisted, which is huge considering, what two-year-old likes to pause at playtime? She did, however, have a few misses – one at school and two at home, but that’s not bad for a kid who basically decided to do this on her own. It was forward and onward with her big girl underpants, all the same.

Or without.


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She also had her first haircut! Since birth, we’ve never known what to do with her thin, wispy hair that turns into a rat’s nest every time she sleeps, so we decided to see if a cut would do something – anything! – to tame that wild mane of hers.

Aaaaaand it didn’t. 

But she had a great time during the appointment since the salon also houses a sizeable indoor playground (how brilliant is that??!). On a freeze-your-arse-off winter day, that was a welcome respite for all of us. I mean, there are only so many pajama days we can have at home before we start poking our own (or worse, each other’s) eyeballs from boredom.


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While we forge ahead with many milestones of firsts with Pickle, inevitably, we also have to face some lasts. On this very big week, Pickle was finally, fully weaned from breast milk. At 2.5 years, I felt it was time, especially since I knew her morning (and only) nursing session wasn’t from need of nourishment or attachment. Rather, it was out of habit – a Pavlovian response to seeing a still-slumbering mommy in the mornings. Wake up, find mommy sleeping in bed, climb in under the covers, time for milky!

But that process is a post for another day, as the biggest reason for our very big week deserves its own space.

The week culminated in our annual holiday party, where kids decorate sugar cookies (that my girls helped make), and this year, since my younger one is old enough to sit still for a little craft, we took it a little further and had them make ornaments (from a DIY kit that I purchased at the craft store because it was easier for the parents – read: me – to help as well).

We then wrote their names behind their artwork and trimmed the little tree that we put up in our family room / kids’ corner downstairs. Their very own Christmas tree filled with ornaments they made and ones that the guests brought as a memento of our time together this year. Another way to bring more magic and merriment to the holidays, so I figured, why not?



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Our sweet little four-foot tree of big love and wee hands

As with most parties we host, I’m often running around, making sure everyone has what they need, so pictures of smiling faces and happy kids, especially my crazy, sugar-hyped girls, are scarce. It was a little chaotic, after all.

Come on, kids loaded with sugar? What other outcome could there be other than madness? But that’s exactly what my girls love—sugar, friends, crafts, and more sugar—and thus, a Christmas tradition was born.

But in the spirit of preservation, here’s the aftermath.

HolidayParty  

As we toasted to the holiday season, I suspect we were also celebrating the big week we had. Potty, haircut, weaning. Come to think of it, I am quite blown away by the seamless transitions we’ve gleefully, thankfully experienced from one stage to the next.

Perhaps it’s the birth order, as we have less dedicated time to focus on the developmental milestones of the second child when we’re constantly distracted, trying to keep up with two and prying their sticky, grubby hands off each other as they fight for the same toy. And perhaps it’s in Pickle’s nature to chart her own course that we only need to be there for her when she’s ready, rather than having to coax her.

Either way, it’s a wonderful thing.

Both My Guy and I fell onto our beds with relief at the departure of the last guests, but that was short lived when our girls started bouncing on us. Riiiiiight. Sugar. 

I finally exhaled when the tiny tyrants were in bed and all was quiet in the house again. Under the glow of the Christmas tree lights, we snuggled on the couch after some cleaning, bone weary but heart happy. Then we stuffed our face with more cookies than we should and finished an opened bottle of wine from the party together. 

For the week that we had, I can’t imagine ending it any other way.

 

*  *  *

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Who they are now - December 2013

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Years from now, we’ll have the pictures and the stories I’ve captured of ourselves here, but even then, I think I’m sometimes missing the details. The little things that make us who we are at any given moment. The same details that won’t always stay the same as we’re constantly learning, changing, transforming, growing.

So here’s a snapshot of who the girls are now, as seen from my eyes.

(The pictures below, however, were taken in November by each girl, trying their hand at phone photography.)



LittleMiss

Little Miss, 5 years

- has no qualms in saying, “Would you like to play with me?” at playgrounds to girls she meets for the first time. And, so far, they have always said yes, and they’ve always had a good time.
- continues to loathe violin practice, although she is getting a lot better at playing it.
- has always been good with pronunciation, even when she was little, but she still says “yogret, hostipal, and breakfixt”.
- likes to be called “Victoria” when playing pretend games.
- is reading chapter books! She prefers reading adventure and fantasy stories, like “The Magic Tree House” series. She can devour one book in one sitting, in 30 minutes.
- will do anything for chocolate.
- colors inside the lines beautifully and still gravitates towards pink.
- has developed a penchant for My Little Ponies but hasn’t quite graduated from the Disney princesses yet (Ariel being her favorite, Belle a close second).
- has stopped napping, but uses that down time to read, play on the iPad, and other pretend games with her dolls.
- enjoys playing Chutes & Ladders and the Princess Cupcake game (which I admit I enjoy myself), even when she doesn’t always win, so perhaps her tendency to lose sorely is dissipating the more we play.
-  she can be a good big sister, but only if Pickle does exactly as she says.
- loves to boss everyone around, but doesn’t mind following herself if it’s a peer she admires.
- stomps in anger, screams in frustration, and always points out the negative first before noticing the positive (something I’m desperately hoping to change).
- hates anything that requires a lot of effort on her part (like soccer and violin) and loves things that come easily to her (like swimming and acting).
- plays her favorite CD’s over and over again – Disney Princess songs from the movies, “Click, Clack, Boo” soundtrack from a local stage production, and of course, “The Sound of Music”.
- She also loves Vampire Weekend (“Diane Young” is our summer anthem), Black Keys, White Stripes, Chvrches, Of Monsters and Men, and Daft Punk.
- does a good job mimicking her sister, but steals her thunder whenever she can (maybe it’s a first-child thing)
- looks forward to staying at home in her jammies all day, crafting, baking (with chocolate!), having me read to/with her at bedtime, the movies, and dessert.
- loves playing the baby in Baby and Mommy pretend games.
- favorite foods: Roast chicken/duck (especially the skin!), Palak Paneer (Indian dish with spinach and farmers’ cheese), Ethiopian food, Dim Sum, mushroom anything, olives, fries (duh!), eggs, and all things with sugar, except ginger-flavored treats.
- eats anything you put in front of her, but prefers to stay away from tomatoes, unless it’s in a BLT. And who can blame her? Bacon makes everything better.

 

Pickle

Pickle, 2.5 years

- stopped calling herself Pickle once I renamed her on the blog and gave her the same nickname she gave herself. (Of course!)
- always wants to know what we ate or are eating if she sees us chewing or smells it on our breath: “What’s that smell? What are you eating? I wanna try it.”
- runs to the kitchen when I’m cooking to taste the food I’m making even before it’s ready, saying “Mmmm” when she likes it and “Blech!” when she doesn’t (like uncooked mushrooms from the cutting board).
- adores her big sister so much that anytime she gets something for herself, she remembers to ask for one for Little Miss too. Always.
- says “I love you so much” out of the blue a lot.
- always the first to notice that the other parent is missing: “Where’s daddy?” and often says throughout the day, “I miss daddy…when’s he coming home?”
- is also called “The Imp” in our house because that’s exactly what she is, taunting Little Miss by skillfully pushing her buttons, or refusing to get dressed by giggling up a storm so it’s hard to even get mad at her.
- says “Pleasa help me,” “Pleasa can I have more?” – it’s pleasa, not please.
- loves to play the mommy in Baby and Mommy pretend games. Her voice always changes, and she’s always going “wunning” and to work when she plays that part.
- wears myriad expressions on her face, making her the family clown; loves to be laughed at and isn’t afraid to laugh at herself.
- adores singing, snacking on yogurt (not yogret, unlike her sister), puppies, kitties (okay, most baby animals), and potty humor. 
- is 90% potty-trained, wearing underwear all day with the exception of nap- and bedtimes.
- cackles more than laughs.
- says, “eighteen, nineteen, eleventeen!” Never twenty.
- likes princesses (Ariel is also her favorite), but I suspect it’s because her sister is into them. She’s happy with any stuffed toy that comes in purple, which has been her favorite color since she could name one (at 18 months, I believe).
- like her sister, salivates at the mention of chocolate.
- is obsessed with the TV show, “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” and loves The Sound of Music.
- eats anything she’s in the mood for, really, especially meat. The girl can eat!
- refers to Tuesdays when relating a story that happened to her, so whether it actually occurred on a Monday, Sunday, or Friday, it always happened “on Tuesday” in her version.
- has tried our coffee (with cream, no sugar) and likes it, so she keeps asking for more.
- will not hesitate to run up to dogs, big and small, to try to pet them (something I hope to curb for her own safety).
- may be losing her lisp, but says “lello” for yellow, just like her sister did, which makes me happy.
- calls herself “Shuga” (Sugar?) when playing pretend games.
- is pretty original; she may be the only kid who’s ever given this voiceover to her Han Solo figurine: “I need to scratch my hair; it’s itchy,” and proceeds to do so with his little fingers on his plastic hair.

I wonder how much will change and how much will remain the same the next time I do this…

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Capturing the funny

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Anyone with kids will probably agree that while it’s a pain in the butt to raise them most days, we also enjoy it because kids are such funny creatures. I find myself laughing hard and often every day, which makes the challenging part – like making sure they have some real sustenance in between their favorite snacks, practice their violin despite the excruciating whining, get to school on time (okay, who am I kidding? I can never get that last part right) – bearable. 

When they say the oddest, craziest, funniest things, we just want to bottle that moment up and store it away forever. Except we can’t. I wish I would remember to write it down immediately, but even when I do, with a two-minute lag in my search for a pen and paper or my phone to jot down the details, the situation starts to get fuzzy, the words jumbled. And the funny? Lost somewhere between that moment and my leaky brain.

Honestly, with these spontaneous, sometimes ridiculous situations, you just had to be there. Capturing them with words is like catching a butterfly in a mason jar to see how high it could fly. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try. None of these may mean anything to someone reading this, and I may not even do it justice with mere words, but as a memory keeper, I can’t just let some of the best moments slip away just because I’m incapable of preserving it.

Besides, even my poor attempts may spark something that evokes a smile years down the road, even if the laughter ceases. No one said memory keeping was an easy job, but here it goes anyway.

Note: Most of the pictures here have nothing to do with the content. That’s the problem with trying to capture a moment. I can scarcely manage it with words, let alone pictures!


* * *

The girls are both doing their own thing – Little Miss is reading, and Pickle is trying to keep herself busy, too, but not very successfully as she finds herself meandering over to bother her sister on occasion. Then you hear them arguing over who did what, and Pickle declares, “Yes, me is!”
Without looking up, big sister corrects little sister, “Yes, I did.”
Pickle repeats the phrase, “Yes, I did!”
And Little Miss quickly, without missing a beat, asserts, “No you didn’t!”

We laughed because it was so like Little Miss to correct her little sister first before defending her own position, but yup, you just had to be there.

photo (51)
mini training on the mini iPad


* * *

From my last post, you may have an inkling on my struggle in getting Little Miss to practice violin every day. In my explanation to her one evening that a music education is forever (meaning she’ll always be able to read and understand music, and probably even play the instrument if she kept at it), she yells in protest, “Oh…not forever! I’m just going to do it for 15 years!”
“Oh? Well…just, just 15? You sure?”
”No, no, wait. 10. Just 10 years!”
I feign disappointment and concede, “Fine. 10 it is,” and she lights up while I do cartwheels in my head.

Oh, but it doesn’t mean she doesn’t still fight practice every day. Because she does. <Insert my sigh of exasperation here.> 

* * *


My two-year-old has created an alternate universe for herself, where there’s a  “New Mommy” and “New Daddy”. Occasionally she’ll mention, “My new mommy is in my new home, playing with my new puppy. And the puppy looooooves me. He jumps on me, he climbs on things, and I say, no, no, down puppy, and he licks me a lot. And he makes me laugh!”

She has once pointed at a car on the street and said, “That’s my new daddy’s car! My new mommy’s in there…”

Funny sometimes. But also creepy. How very Coraline of her, which makes me wonder, do the new mommy and daddy have buttons for eyes?


* * *

photo (49)
This was back when Pickle was probably still Thumper, back when she just started talking in short sentences and mispronouncing most words. One of her favorite TV shows was “Ni Hao Kai Lan”, which is essentially a Chinese version of “Dora, the Explorer”.

Ni Hao means how are you, in Mandarin Chinese. And what Pickle used to say was, “Mi Hao” and I would try to correct her by emphasizing the n sound. “N- n- n- Ni Hao.”

”Pickle, say nuh, nuh, nuh.” I’m poorly illustrating the n sound here, in case you’re wondering, and she would repeat back to me flawlessly, “Nuh nuh nuh.”

Me: Okay, now say Ni Hao.
Pickle: Mi Hao!
Me: No, it’s Nuh nuh nuh Ni Hao.
Pickle: Nuh, nuh, nuh, Mi Hao!

Oy.

One day, several weeks later, I mimicked how she would usually say the word, running: “Hey, Pickle, I’m going to go Wunning!”

”No mommy,” she attempts to correct me, knowing that I should have used the r sound instead, “It’s nuh nuh nuh Wunning!”


* * *


photo (50)At the Children’s Museum – DIY face painting is always a favorite with the girls

* * *

This happened over the summer right after Pickle turned two. 

One of Pickle’s favorite books is “Owl Babies” by Martin Waddell, where a mommy owl flies away from her nest while her three babies are asleep. They wake only to find her missing and wonder about her, growing anxious with each page. There’s the oldest, Sarah, then Percy, and little Bill, who always followed his siblings’ questions about their mommy’s whereabouts on each page with:

”I want my mommy,” said Bill.

Pickle eventually learned the line and would say it herself “I want my mommy, said Bill” whenever we read the book.

One time, she was looking for her water bottle and, out of the blue, said, “I want my bottle…said Bill, “ and she cackled, completely aware of the joke she made. So did we.


* * *

On our way to pick up her sister from school, Pickle announced, “Mommy, I want a treat. I want to eat a kitty cat!”

”Kitty cat?”
”Yeah! Kitty cat! It’s yummy, it’s my favorite…I like to lick it and put it in my mouth…”
”You want to eat a cat?” Then comprehension dawned, “Oh, you want to eat a Kit Kat!”
”Yeah,” she replied matter-of-factly, ”A kitty cat!”


* * *

At the store yesterday, this amused her. 

Dummy 

It’s probably that New Mommy of hers.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Lessons from the potty and the violin: When to push and when to let go?

One of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn as a parent is to back off. I mean, can you blame me? When kids are born, they’re so tiny and so helpless that we’re completely focused on doing everything for them. But that eventually dissipates as their own need for independence surpasses their desire to be babied.

However, it’s not black and white – there is no one specific formula on how they attain their autonomy and exert their individuality. Take potty training, for example.

THE POTTY
I had the hardest time with Little Miss - Reward her! Coax her! Pressure her! Punish her! I was doing everything right, according to Google, but many days, even weeks of frustration told me I was doing everything wrong. What was prescribed to and worked for many kids didn’t work with mine.

And then I did my research and found this book. If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember my Hallelujah moment with this book, and how it saved us all. The basic premise of their recommendations was to back off. It was so hard to do because the “training” in potty training meant doing something, and yet the book suggested otherwise.

Then I realized that perhaps, the “training” part was meant for me. To train me to respect her limitations, to nurture her need to grow at her own pace, and to honor her desire to achieve a goal in her own way. And so I did.

Shortly after implementing what the book suggested – like letting her go back to her diaper if that’s what she wanted, making sure she initiates the need to use the bathroom and don’t make a fuss if she doesn’t – she mastered the potty. And that was that.

Underwear for Little Miss. Lesson learned for me.

THE LESSON
Now, two years later, I am tested on how much of that lesson I’ve retained when Pickle started to show interest in the potty right after she turned two in May. Over the summer, there were many requests to use the potty when her big sister was also using it, so there would be moments where they were both “doing their business”. While holding hands. (Yup, it’s a mix of both Aww and Eew to me too.) Sometimes, they’d invite me to hold their free hand (lucky me), and we’d form a circle. I called that the Poop Seance – we’re exorcising the crap out of them!

Yes, I do have a way with words.



photo (44)You know what they say: A family that poops together…


But the most important thing we did was to not push the issue. We’d ask Pickle if she needed to go and respected her answer either way. Over the summer, when she would casually go, we’d offer praise but not reward. 

When we were in Florida, she used the restroom most of the time, much to our delight, but when we came back from vacation, she stopped going on the potty altogether. She’d also stopped sleeping like her usual rock star self, crying and fussing each time we tucked her in, and we chalked all of that to post-vacation stress. Children also suffer another bout of separation anxiety at around two, so there was that.

Pickle is back to her usual sleeping habits now (thank goodness) and two weekends ago, without our prompting, she decided to use the potty and hasn’t looked back since. Her diaper or pull-up would rarely be wet, although she still sleeps in them to prevent night-time accidents, but the most important thing was that her training was completely led by her.

 

photoShe’s read this book so many times on the potty, she actually learned the words!

Because we learned from our mistakes with Little Miss, Pickle has now graduated to underwear  – she picked Dora, the Explorer – at 2.5 months a few months sooner than her sister, and with a lot less frustration. In fact, there were barely any potty-related meltdowns or showdowns.

We didn’t have any urgency for her to be trained at any particular time so we didn’t feel the need to constantly remind her to use the bathroom, we didn’t employ any three-day-or-bust training tactics that drive both parents and kids insane, we didn’t worry about portable potties when we’re traveling, and we didn’t sweat the fact that she may be in diapers forever because really, we knew it would eventually happen. It isn’t a race, and it’s no reflection on her abilities or intelligence, so who cares really when she does it, as long as she does it. 

She responded really well to this approach, just like her sister did when we finally implemented it, and voila! It’s done.


photo (43) On the Dora seat that saw both of my girls’ behinds, though neither uses it now



It’s been three days with no diapers and no accidents. And barely any effort on our part. How amazing is that?

If only the back-off parenting method would work with violin lessons as well.


THE VIOLIN
So this is the not-so-amazing part of my story.

HolidayRecital

When Little Miss turned five, we promised her violin lessons that she’s been asking for since she was two. Sure, it looks beautiful and serene in the picture. But what you don’t hear is the whining and complaining that accompanies every. single. practice. session. And it’s making me utterly stabby.

Let’s face it, the violin isn’t an easy instrument to master. And Little Miss only enjoys doing things that come easily to her. When “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” sounds like a chicken being choked by a goat, our nerves are even more easily frayed at practice with repeated reminders on proper form, technique, notes, etc. As the music parent – the one who has to sit through practice every day – I am ill equipped.

I’ve only had organ lessons for a year in my entire life at age 14, and my parents weren’t very involved so they didn’t care that I quit. But I do care about my girls’ music education – it’s something both My Guy and I are determined to provide for them because we both wish we had it ourselves, and we know that with it comes the reluctance and complaints and whining.

We get it. Kids don’t enjoy things as much when it’s perceived as work. And music lesson is work. For them and for me as it tests my patience, and I have to exercise control and moderate my temper with every fiber of my being. I thought potty training Little Miss Stubborn was hard, but that only lasted a few months. This is supposed to go on for years! (Kill me now.) 

After trying and quitting so many activities – soccer, ballet, gymnastics – we knew we had to put our foot down on something for Little Miss. Ideally, children should be encouraged to pursue a passion, not coerced into it, but I think there are times where parents do need to intervene and ignite that fire. Without the initial help, will they ever get there on their own? Did Yo-Yo Ma always eagerly pick up his cello to practice every day and begged for more when it ended?

So where and when do we draw that line? When is it okay to push? And when do we just back off?

Letting them lead worked wonders with potty training, but I’m not so sure it’s the same with music, when it’s always challenging in the beginning. Kids with a natural talent may acquire an appreciation for it quickly, but does that mean only those who’re gifted should be encouraged and the rest should just give up and find another calling?

All throughout my years in school, I was never an athlete. I never participated in team sports because I was easily winded and I could never keep up with my faster, more agile peers. That led me to believe, for years and years, that I am not an athlete. That I could never run.

Yet, here I am with a half-marathon in the bag seven months after I started running for the first time in my life. As it turns out, I only needed to train for it. I didn’t have to be the fastest; I only needed to complete the race, which I did. But I had to push through the more difficult sessions and get out there even when it was snowing/sleeting/raining/hailing. Now, not only do I run, I love running, and I would even call myself a runner, but it took hard work and discipline to get here.

Shouldn’t that apply to music lessons as well? I know, she’s only five, but we all have to start somewhere right? Here I am, at 38 and wishing my parents had forced me to continue so I can actually be of better help when sitting down with Little Miss at practice. I’m also thinking, when you turn 38 Little Miss, perhaps you’ll thank me then for enforcing these lessons.

But perhaps not. Perhaps she would recall these moments bitterly and wish I’d listened to her. That’s the thing – no matter what we decide now, it could go either way later. Parenting can be such a crapshoot sometimes.

And I’m rambling. (Can you feel my distress?)

Essentially, I am proud of Pickle in her Dora underwear, and I’m glad that, when it came to potty training, I was able to learn from my own mistakes. And now, it’s on to Parenting Challenge Number 5921: Music Lessons – to be or not to be.

I’ve been consulting a fellow mom whose kids are also taking lessons, and she has been so amazing in sharing her own journey. (Where would we be without the fellowship of parents with whom we can commiserate??!) I’m reading up on all the tips and tricks to help us all get through it, and just like I did when we first started training Little Miss, I am vacillating between doubting and trusting every decision.

Perhaps, again, my child with her own quirks and personality, will eventually show me the way, and something will stick someday. (One can hope?) And when it comes time for Pickle’s lessons – whether she chooses the piano, cello, drums or flute – maybe Little Miss would’ve taught me a thing or two by then to do the right thing for their music education. 

Or rather, to do the thing that’s right for them.


* * *


If you’ve experienced pushing and coaxing your child(ren) into something they eventually learned to love, please, please share your tips with me! I’ll take all the help I can get.

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