Monday, November 30, 2009

Where The Wild Thing Is

There are days that I long for the kind of anxiety that causes kids to cry, and seek comfort in the arms of people who love them.  But that’s not the course that J’s anxieties have taken.  I don’t know why he has so much fight in him.  Probably has something to do with the fight-or-flight response.  I think he was only wired for fight.  I try to tell myself that it will be a benefit to him someday.  That he’ll be able to protect himself, and stand up to people.  I just would rather that he didn’t stand up to ME.  I’d prefer that he just unquestioningly accept my profound maternal wisdom and just do what I ask.  Go get dressed.  Find your shoes.  Please!

Last month, I took him to see “Where the Wild Things Are” in the theatre.  It was his first time in a movie theatre, though he insisted that he had been before.  He was nervous and excited.  Since no one tried to look at him or talk to him, the excitement won out.  He enjoyed the experience, despite the fact that he walked right into a pane of glass on our way out of the theatre.  And since he wasn’t really hurt, and no one looked at him or talked to him, he recovered from that fairly quickly.

For me, the whole experience was much more profound.  I’ve always loved the story of mad Max and the Wild Things.  And they did a great job with the movie, made it much more dynamic and true-to-life.  It was also heart-wrenching--at least for me.  Half-way through the film, I realized that Max was the embodiment of J in so many ways.  He yearns for time and attention, love and consistency.  He is so overcome by the strength of his emotions at times that he doesn't know what else to say except, "I'll eat you up, I love you so!" He cherishes time spent with his older sisters and is crushed when he’s pushed away, even if it is due to his own behavior.  He doesn’t realize that he hurts people with the way he acts.  He wants to escape to a wild land where he can do whatever he wants, but longs for the comfort and familiarity of home once he’s there.  He’s sometimes out of control without really understanding why.  Or how to stop.

Max put it quite succinctly in the film as one character was fearfully waiting for an outburst to subside, “He doesn’t mean to be like that.  He’s just scared.”  She was struggling with the knowledge that this other out-of-control character depended on her and loved her.  And though she loved him as well, she longed to be free.  To pursue a less treacherous path, to leave the anger and outbursts behind in search of peace and understanding.  I suppose she would be the character to represent me.  Except that I know the treacherous path is the path I must stay on.  If I disengage, there will be no one who can pick up the pieces and make everything all right.  If anyone can.

In the end, of course, Max leaves the Wild Things.  Their fate is left uncertain.  There’s no one there to help them through their troubles.  Well, except each other.  And the audience is left unsure of their ability--or willingness--to pull together.

But Max returns home, where someone loves him best of all.  Home to a loving, understanding mother who forgives everything and just embraces him.  I don’t know if I can be that mother.  If I can forgive everything and embrace my wild thing, and all the trouble he trails.  But I will continue to try.  I suppose that if there is a path that can craft me into that person, it is the one upon which I walk.  Perhaps my wild thing, with his roaring and gnashing and rolling, will be the thing that tames me.  And I hope he knows that wherever I am, THAT is the place where someone loves him best of all.

Friday, November 27, 2009


It's a kindergarten tradition around here to dress up as Pilgrims & Indians.  Here's a flashback from when S was 5, and a current one of J.  I think my favorite part is the painted pasta necklaces.
I failed to mention in my previous post that I am also grateful for a husband who can cook.  We did very minimal planning for our Thanksgiving meal this year.  So Shaggy was left to season the chicken with what we happened to have in the house.  I don't know how he does it, but he pulled it off.  My culinary skills have yet to be tested when it comes to the main course for Thanksgiving.  Another thing for which I am very grateful.

K is showing promise in learning the traditional sweet potatoes with marshmallows recipe.  It was surprisingly good this year.  I'm typically not much of a sweet potato fan, but this batch was good for more than just toasted marshmallows.

With fork and spoon in hand, R is ready to have her plate loaded with food . . . to play with.  Though she did love the sweet potatoes, too.  It probably helped that we told her it was pumpkin pie.

We only break out the good plates a few times a year.  Which explains why we still have them.  J ducked out of the picture just before I took it.  Maybe he was self-conscious because he didn't comb his hair and it was still sticking up all over.  That happens a lot when we don't have to go anywhere.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Park Play

There are too many things that I am grateful for.  I can't possibly list them all here.  So I'll share just a few that I was reminded of during a recent trip to the park.

Beautiful weather.  Leaves.  Playgrounds.  Baby blues.  Static electricity on slides.
Big sisters.  Construction toys.  Photographs.  Happy kids.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Lion's Den

Weekday mornings fill me with dread.  And it doesn’t help that I have yet to embrace the whole “morning person” thing.  I am reluctant to leave my sweet slumber, my comfy bed, the pure bliss that is not having to do anything for anyone.  But the part that causes dread in me is when I face J’s closed bedroom door.  Each school day, there is a possibility that I may have to face one of my greatest fears.  That J will flat-out refuse to go to school.  This is what I think about as I stare at his door.  Well, that and the fact that it’s pretty dirty and I really ought to wash it.

The house is relatively peaceful with his door closed.  Every morning, I long to leave it that way.  Let him sleep.  Let calm fill my soul.  Let the air be undisturbed by unwelcome sounds.

But alas, he must get to school--and preferably on time.

So I turn the handle . . . and enter the lion’s den.  I’m greeted with groans, shrieks, grunts or yells.  The last sounds I want to hear that early in the morning.  My ears ring and yearn for the peace of just moments ago.

J doesn’t like to wake up.  He unfortunately takes after me in that respect.  So he usually starts out grumpy.  Add to that the fact that he doesn’t respond well to being hurried through things--his usual response is to dig in his heels and take even longer.  And top off the whole scenario with the fact that he doesn’t really WANT to go to school in the first place.  The idea of rushing off to a place full of strangers is never appealing to him--it causes his anxiety to skyrocket.  He’d much rather stay home and play with familiar toys and pester his little sister.

But I would much rather he go to school.  Social anxiety is something he cannot overcome at home.  So I put on my nicest smiley face and use my best falsely-excited, super-patient voice, to try to get him moving.  That’s the trick, to get him out of bed and moving towards either the bathroom or the kitchen.  Sounds simple enough, but always ends up being quite an ordeal.

Ideally, I can produce some amusing story that will lure him out of his fetal position, his face buried in the mattress.  Like how I tried to stuff my pillow in my roommates desk drawer during a sleepwalking episode in college.  Or how little R maybe dreamt of roosters and did he hear her say “cock-a-doodle-doo” in the middle of the night?  If I can get him to laugh, our morning usually proceeds a little more smoothly.

I can’t say that I relish having the role of comedian forced upon me.  Shaggy is much better at it than I am, but his mornings are busy with dog walking, making lunches, and getting ready for work.  And J usually roars “MOOMMMYYYY!!!” if Shaggy attempts to cajole him out of bed.  So it’s left to me.

A long lost friend with whom I was recently reconnected, has a child with anxiety issues, as well.  One day, she had to drag her out from under the bed by her ankles and carry her, kicking and screaming, to school.  And they survived.  AND THEY STILL LOVE EACH OTHER!  She’s my hero.  That story is one I try to remember when I’m faced with an especially rough morning with J.

At least my little lion isn‘t usually THAT wild.  And if my friend’s daughter has improved to the point that she can speak in public and perform at piano recitals, there’s hope for J.  So I will continue to face his roars on a daily basis in the hope of growth and an increased ability to control his anxieties.  Until that day comes, I will try to find solace in the fact that Daniel survived his time in the lion’s den.  Maybe I will too.

Here Lizard Lizard

We've had a fish tank with goldfish for years.  But they weren't normal looking goldfish.  No.  They were the huge-eyed-freaky looking ones.  Normal wasn't novel enough, apparently.  Well, recently Shaggy grew weary of the goldfish.  I can't imagine why.  They were SUCH a pleasure to look at. 

But now the goldfish are gone.  Some died in recent months.  Some were given away.  All the water has been drained from the tank.  The gravel's been replaced with woodchips.  The fish food has been cleared out of the cupboards to make
room for . . . crickets.  Mmmmm!

We've added two little lizards to the family mix.  Merry and Pippen.  I'm sure you'll never guess where those names came from.  J had a delighful time at the pet store with Shaggy while they were buying the necessary equipment to set up the terrarium.  He tried his best to talk Shaggy into buying a turtle instead of lizards, but to no avail.  Shaggy's heart was set on lizards.

He couldn't buy just one, because he didn't want it to be lonely.  And what good is a Merry without a Pippen, anyway?

This is Merry.  She has turned out to be quite a fabulous hunter of crickets.  We're not sure Pippen will ever have the chance to eat any with her around.  But they're lizards, I'm sure they can work it out, right?  Like civilized creatures.

Pippen is a master of disguise. He changes color as easily as a dog barks. But he's always darker than Merry, and he's bigger, which is why we can tell them apart. The subtle differences in their countenances have thus far escaped us. Or me, anyway. Pippen also loves to bury himself in the woodchips during the day. And he clings to the glass, upside down in order to sleep. Doesn't look very comfortable.

They're crested geckos and they're nocturnal. So they're fairly boring during the day. They perk up in the evening and when we toss a few crickets their way. Little R gets quite excited about the whole cricket eating process.  Late at night, they're VERY active. Or so Shaggy says. I think he's turning into a nocturnal creature just so he can watch them. Not me. I like my sleep.

But the two features that made the kids instant fans (especially J) is that they like to eat rotten fruit (think fermented) and they lick their eyeballs.  Anytime anyone even mentions eyeball licking, J lets out his wonderfully infectious laugh.  He finds it hilarious that they lick their eyeballs.  And after having witnessed it myself, I have to agree with him.  It is pretty hilarious.  And a little creepy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


One night, a long while ago, we were sitting around the table eating dinner when the word 'shadowalker' somehow emerged from the conversation.  I don't really remember the details, but we were all pretty intrigued.  So at the expense of rinsing the dishes, we took turns sharing our ideas regarding shadowalkers.

A few days later, S emerged from her room with a handful of papers covered with writing and pencil sketches.  She was turning her ideas on the Shadowalkers into an entire story.  She would go through periods of intense, almost frantic writing only to then leave the story hanging for weeks.  Sounds remarkably like an artist, doesn't she?

She finished her story and then it sat on my very messy desk for months, getting buried and sorted repeatedly.  Finally, I got around to typing it up for her and had her draw a few pictures.  Then it sat around for another long while until a Shutterfly book coupon came along.  Leave it to a coupon to finally provide me with sufficient motivation.  I became her editor, giving her deadlines and harassing her until she finally drew a sufficient number of pictures.  Then it was finally ready to get published.  She was unbelievably excited when it arrived in the mail.

It's a delightful story about a little girl named Lina who opens her eyes one morning to find Mera, princess of all Shadowalkers, in her bedroom.  Amidst lots of amazement and gasping, Lina and her four siblings accompany Mera to the land of the Shadowalkers.

While there, the Adams children experience magic and healing, learn of a very literal version of forever friends and the colorful turkeys that share their magic with Shadowalkers.

The children get to go to a castle and end up being swept up in a great battle where they help the Shadowalkers fight off such nasty fiends as ugly trolls, goblins, pixies and minotaurs.

I think the battle scenes and images were most likely inspired by the books about Gregor the Overlander which we read to the girls in the months prior to the creation of this story.  I think she also borrowed the sense of breathless excitement which can be found in the Gregor stories.

In the end, the battle is won.  All the fiends are successfully fought off, though Mera's Shadowalker brother is killed in the battle.  "He is dead and his magic and turkey are gone forever."  After the funeral, the children sit in the grass and eat a dinner consisting of mashed potatoes, macaroni & cheese, grapes, and apple juice. 
Hmmm . . . sounds remarkably like S's imaginary favorite meal.

Lina and her siblings get magically transported home to their kitchen, relieved to see that their mother is reading a newspaper in the living room. How would you like to be the mom that hears this tale from your five kids?

I think my favorite part of the book, though, is the dedication that S thought up.
"To my Dad, who gave me the idea to write this story.
And to my Mom, who made me draw the pictures."

Illustrations © 2009 by S

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Not The Party I Expected . . . Aaarrrgh!!

Ok, I will be the first to admit that somewhere during the preparations for J’s birthday party we may have walked the plank and gone overboard.  But long ago I made the realization that most of what I do for parties, I do for myself.  The kids don't care if all the activities mesh with the theme or if the cake is beautiful.  But I do.  Those things make ME happy.  So, as much as I'd like to claim altruism when it comes to my party planning, the ugly truth is that I do it for purely selfish reasons.  But I will NEVER tell my kids that.  I WANT them growing up thinking that I slaved away JUST to make their birthdays extra special.  But seriously, who would have thought that planning a pirate party would be so much fun?  Aaaarrrgh!!

I’ve never considered myself much of a pyromaniac, but it was surprisingly fun to burn the edges of these invitations.  And none of my neighbors even called the fire department.

Other prep work included cutting, stamping, painting, washing, baking, stapling, drilling, routing, tying, hammering, and sewing.  Yes, sewing.  I actually dug out my old hand-me-down sewing machine, dusted it off, and tried to remember how to thread the bobbin.  That’s symbolic of a pretty massive effort on my part.  Usually, I draw the line at sewing for parties.  I am definitely NOT much of a seamstress.  But once Shaggy figured out why the needle was completely stuck and the smell of smoke was permeating the kitchen, it didn’t take all that long.  And though it could be argued that it was technically unnecessary, the pirate do-rags really did look better with a hem.  For the record, I better add “fixing sewing machines” to Shaggy’s list of mad skills.  He doesn’t know much about sewing machines, but he was able to pull it apart, fix the problem and even reassemble it correctly.  Blimey!

I called upon Shaggy’s plethora of artistic skills to paint pirate flags and a little Jolleyboat which was once a cardboard box.  My only request was that the image wasn’t scary.  I’ll let ye scurvy dogs be the judge of how well that turned out.

The main attractions at the party were a big pirate ship, lots of colorful "cannon balls" to throw at the pirate dinghy, a swing over shark infested waters, and a treasure hunt.  Yo-ho-ho!  My vision of the pirate ship was fairly simple.  Our old inflatable pool next to a stick in the ground sporting a pirate flag.  Easy.  Except Shaggy took that task on.  It ended up slightly more complex than the picture in my head.  Hence the stapling, drilling, routing, tying and hammering.  But it was perfect, more than I would have even thought to ask for.

The swing over shark-infested waters was also set to be pretty straightforward. A rope.  Tied to a tree branch.  With a knot.  Hanging over a kidde pool filled with a little water.  And an inflatable shark.  But Cap'n Shaggy, for some reason, was concerned with things like child safety, rope strength, and the likelihood of breaking the tree branch.  So he used lots of rope, and a seat.  And he made it strong, extra strong.  Like he does with everything he makes.

The treasure hunt was great, probably our best one ever.  More like a picture treasure hunt, since the kids were too young to read.  The picture clues took them all around the yard trying to find the next clue.  They had to rescue some mates from the brig, walk the plank, wrestle an octopus, find a message in a bottle, and attack some black balloons in a pirate raid.  Once they had all the clues, the pieces fit together to lead them to the spot with buried treasure.

I spent hours decorating the cake.  Which, admittedly, is one of my favorite things about birthday parties.

Should have been a great party--the best one J has had all year.  And it was, for everyone EXCEPT the birthday boy.  It wasn’t that it was too complicated.  Every activity was geared towards him and the things he likes.  He chose the theme, after all.  And I made sure that the activities were unlikely to trigger his anxieties.  It wasn’t that we invited too many people.  I like to keep my parties small and manageable.  There were only five guests.  All kids that have come to his parties before since we didn’t want to risk the social anxiety thing.

So what went wrong?

It all started when the first guest arrived and J hid in the backyard.  He didn’t want to be seen.  It would have been nice if the little matey had mentioned this aversion before.  He had insisted that he wanted to invite some friends when we first started planning the party.  As subsequent guests arrived, he started crying.  Inconsolably.  Then he cut his toe on a stone which sealed the deal.  Long term meltdown.

Poor J spent the first half-hour of his party crying, and the second half hour curled up on my lap.  I was extremely grateful that only one parent stayed (and a very understanding, nonjudgmental one at that).  The only thing worse than dealing with one of J’s meltdowns . . . is dealing with one of his meltdowns in front of an audience.  Which also explains our marked lack of a social life.

The third half-hour of the party, J stayed inside, playing with a present that I let him open early while the other kids were treasure hunting in the backyard.  At that point, he was beginning to show a little happiness and excitement.  Thank you for cool presents!

The final half-hour was redeemed with cake.  J requested that we didn’t sing to him and he didn’t make much effort to blow out his candles.  But he DID eat his cake with gusto.  Ahoy, everything is better with cake.

Once the guests left, who all had a fabulous time and didn’t seem to mind J’s tears, we had a party do over.  That was when the birthday boy finally let loose and enjoyed his party, even requesting me to take pictures.  Noooo problem.

So, at the end of the day, all the grumpiness was forgotten and we were left with just a very young pirate in search of a little adventure. 

And as you can see, even pirates like to hug their little sisters . . .

. . . and examine their fingers very closely.  Shiver me timbers, you never know what might be lurking under those nails after a day in the backyard!

I foresee many family-only-parties in this boy’s future.  I suppose the good news is that he has a fairly large and crazy family to make those parties fun.
Fair winds, me hearties!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Toddler Eating Habits

Sometimes I wonder how toddlers survive at all.  Their eating habits are notoriously picky as well as fickle.  Very frustrating when you're in the not-so-fun position of trying to nourish them.

Here's a few lessons that seem to hold true with R. 

If it isn't HER food, it's always more appetizing.  When she steals it on the sly, it just tastes better.  She tends to eat more when she sits ON the table rather than AT the table.  She will eat almost anything I put in her hands when she's outside. 
Sugar makes her world go round.

I was momentarily distracted away from my bagel.  She took full advantage of that, the little bagel thief!

I never, EVER leave her unattended for any length of time.  Really.  I haven't the foggiest how she managed to drag a chair across the kitchen, climb up, move the toaster and the butter, get a fork, remove the canister lid,
and help herself to the sugar.  Really.  No idea. 

Out of desperation one day when R rejected her PB & J yet again, I gave her a piece of bread with jelly and a spoonful of peanut butter.  She ate (or licked) every bit.
Go ahead, explain that one to me.

And this?  This is why I feel completely justified in confiscating almost ALL of her Halloween chocolate.  She rubs it on her lips like chapstick and puts some on her nose for good measure.  Such a waste of good chocolate . . . I mean . . . mess, such a mess!  The fact that I confiscate her chocolate has nothing to do with the fact that
I prefer chocolate.  Nothing at all.  The evidence is in the photo.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Not So Sweet Pea

Somehow, we’ve managed to avoid one of the parenthood rites of passage--when your kid sticks something up her nose and can’t get it out.  Until yesterday, that is.  R decided to stick a pea up her nose just before dinner.  We noticed her digging around in there with her finger and stopped to examine the situation more closely.  A green pea.  Stuck a little too high for us to be able to get to with our fingers.  We pulled out the tweezers and the bulb syringe, both of which caused R to screech with terror.  So we put them away and decided to go ahead with dinner, hoping the situation would somehow resolve itself.  As the parents of four, we find ourselves often hoping that various things will just resolve themselves.  Fighting.  Laundry.  Dishes.  It hardly ever works, but we haven’t given up hope.

One of our older daughters said the prayer in which she asked God to help the pea come out of R’s nose. Her unfortunate choice in words, made us all burst out laughing.  How irreverent.  We’d have to ask forgiveness later, but right then we had to get on with dinner.  Amidst all the negotiating of how much of each dish the kids had to eat, someone asked how R was doing.  Shaggy glanced at her and replied,  “She’s ok, but she doesn’t smell too good.”  What do you mean, she doesn’t smell too good, is she poopy?  “Nope,” Shaggy said, “she has a pea up her nose, so she doesn’t smell too good.”  The rest of the meal consisted mostly of laughter--a little short on nutrition, but good for the soul.  The puns became lamer and lamer, but the laughing continued.  By the time we finally gave up the charade and cleared the table, we noticed that there was no sign of the pea in R’s nose.  After a quick examination, we pronounced the problem solved.  And I guess that pronouncement was correct, since she smelled ok today.