Monday, November 10, 2014

Little Things I Love

Sylvia still has very few words (compared to the 140 her brother had at this age--goodness). But she is fluent in gesture and she is such a mimic. She watches constantly, and tries out everything we do. She is currently on the floor with one of Andrew's t-shirts, alternately trying to put it on and trying to bundle her stuffed animals in it.

Peregrine calls Mulan "Mow Da Lawn." Like, in a really hick accent. It's the best.

Sylvia is obsessed with the chickens. Completely obsessed. She looks for them out every window, in our house or not. Woe betide you if you try to feed the chickens without her. She will quit eating and beg to get down so that she can accompany you and she has even been known to wake up from nap right before Andrew or I was planning to feed them. She doesn't mess around with it either. She goes straight for the food container and starts yelling at you to open it up. She can pretty much do the chickens herself. Except for, you know, opening all the latches. Raccoon proof equals Sylvia proof.

Peregrine says "look likes" instead of "looks like." Usually, it's stuff like, "Oh, dat look likes a upside down L!" but my favorite is "Look likes it's rainin' today!"

One of Sylvia's very few words is "dee." And it's probably her most often used. (Though "more" is a close runner up, as it basically just means "I want.") When I give her a dee, I usually sing a dee song--nothing fancy, basically just singing "dee dee dee" over and over to this jazz tune I taught my middle schoolers once upon a time--but she has started singing it, too, every time she sees a dee or puts a dee in her mouth. She already has a sense of pitch, and a lovely, melodious little voice. I love hearing her sing! (Surprisingly, P pretty much never sings. And, I'm betting he won't until he knows several songs perfectly--pitch, rhythm, words, the works. Then he'll sing perfectly. This is just the way P does things.)

Peregrine contracts "will not" as "willn't." It's the best ever. It's hard to stay stern when you've told P to do something and he looks at you with his big blue eyes and says, "Oh, I willn't." It's icing on the cake when you tell P not to do something, and he looks at you with his big blue eyes and says, "Oh, I willn't."

Sylvia is utterly obsessed with Peregrine. Another of her very few words is "ka-ga" or "cha-ga" and she asks for him all the time. He's less than enamored with her habit of constantly being in his business, but he loves her as much as ever. Those two. Their friendship is the absolute best.

Peregrine has such a strong little soul, so very aware of God and life. He is asking so many questions these days and it's amazing and humbling to know that God has put me in the place of answering them. Sometimes it's heartbreaking, seeing him trying to make sense of a world that is messy. My logical, honest-to-a-fault, truth-seeking boy always wants clean answers, and sometimes, there are none to give. But, it's beautiful, walking beside him in this faith journey of his. He asked me the other day if I was scared of dying. I'd love to tell him I'm not, but I am, and I told him so. He told me he was "so much scared" of dying, and I told him none of us knows what it will be like, but God has promised to be with us the whole way, and to help our souls get to heaven. And we stayed in that moment, together. He's still so very little, but he's such a person already. I am honored to have some of the keeping of his soul.

Sylvia loves babies. Loves them. It cracks me up, because she is one, but she can spot them anywhere. She loves baby dolls, but real babies are the best. We were in church the other day, sitting toward the back, and a dad was standing up and rocking a tiny little baby back by the doors. Sylvia tracked his every movement. She begged to hold the baby (she is very, very fluent in gesture) and kept singing the rockabye baby song. She was so concerned when he left and took the baby out into the foyer. And the other day I was in Toys-R-Us with the kids and I heard Sylvia desperately asking for something. I looked around to see what of the gazillion shiny things around me had caught her eye, and lo and behold, it was a mom across the aisle with a tiny baby in an Ergo. She's a sweet little mama, my daughter. I think all of my grandchildren will be lucky ones.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My daughter, the almost-toddler

This little one is a delight. She really, truly is. She's growing up so quickly these days.

She is the happiest little person I can imagine. I do remember Peregrine being crazy happy at this age, but it still takes me by surprise. She coos and giggles and warbles and smiles and laughs. At everything.

Since she was about six months old, I've felt like we could have honest-to-goodness conversations, even though only one of us spoke legible English. It goes so much deeper than speaking. She sees people. She has a special, unique relationship with just about everyone she knows well. She has jokes and games she reserves for individuals. And if you ever laugh at something, she will laugh at it, too. She watches you astutely, figuring out what you like and how to engage you on those terms.

She reads feelings like nothing else. This is new to me. Peregrine is kind of stoic, most of the time. He's very tender, and very sweet, but it's hard to really get him down. He doesn't take things personally. He can get scared or panicked or sad if that's how you're acting, but nothing like Sylvia does. It's like she just tastes the feelings in a room. She watches my face, constantly, to see how I am reacting to everything. She picks up fear, sadness, anger. She picks up happiness and calm, too, fortunately. It's easy to reassure her, just by acting reassuring.

She is the child I was pregnant with, the child who is never still. She is insanely wiggly during diaper changes. I have to pin her down. Dressing her takes about five times as long as it should, because she undresses herself that many times. She'll pull a foot out of her pants when I'm putting the other in. She will not keep shoes, socks, or hair decorations, in.

She is single-minded and ridiculously hard to distract. If she has a goal, she goes for it, and nothing gets in her way. But she doesn't frustrate easily. And she rarely ever asks for help. She just keeps going back, keeps trying until she finds a way that works. She learns systems quickly and figures out how things work the way they do. She can already put her own dee in in the middle of the night (you'd think that would make her sleep better, wouldn't you?), and she's figured out the concept of puzzles. She mimics brushing her hair, brushing her teeth, putting on socks and shirts and pants and hats (and she knows where on her body they all go!). The other day she found a washcloth and started scrubbing the floor, then quickly realized it wasn't the washcloth I had just used. So she carefully strategized, propped herself up against the wall, leaned and stretched and reached, never fussing or complaining, and after several minutes, got the washcloth she was looking for.

She can climb up slides and stairs and into Peregrine's bed. But she can't walk around furniture. She hates being left out and can't stand it when anyone leaves the room or closes the baby gate. Although she's fairly certain she can make it through the baby gate--I frequently come back from a laundry expedition to find her with an entire limb--or two or three--through the bars, the rest of her patiently easing its way through, despite the futility of her mission.

She is remarkably tough when no one is watching. She's accumulated far more scrapes and bruises than her careful, precise older brother ever did. She falls, and gets up. But if she thinks she's been insulted--if the person or inanimate object did it on purpose--she weeps and wails and gives me the most pitiful cry you ever saw. If Peregrine so much as touches her in a mildly bumpy or scratchy fashion, her little lip starts quivering and her little eyes start pouring tears. Start your skills strong, younger sibling.

She eats like a horse, and constantly. She went through about 8 raviolis (big ones!) the other night, and was still hungry. She is especially fond of juicy fruits, and pasta with savory sauce. Oh, and ice cream.

She says Mama, and Daddy, and bye-bye, and dee (of course!), and squeezie, and more. The jury is still out on all-done and thank you. Mostly she yells, but we're working on using our words and asking politely.

She is fiercely independent and hates having you do things for her if she could be doing them herself. She hates it with a passion when we try to feed her (unless she's terribly hungry). She sobbed and wailed and shut her mouth and refused to eat ice cream today because I wouldn't let her have the spoon. Andrew and I kind of dread her toddler years. Between the independence and the tendency toward melodramatics--well, it's going to look a lot different from Peregrine.

She's remarkably opportunistic, and she's not above picking pockets. (She's quite good at it, actually--she managed to whisk away this little crumb-scraper from a waiter the other night. No one realized it until minutes later, when we looked over and saw Sylvia industriously scraping crumbs from the tablecloth. And she manages to get my phone out of my purse, usually without my noticing it, every time I pick up the two of them together). She fully accepts that Peregrine is above her in the pecking order. But she lies in wait, patient as always, until he has abandoned whatever it was she was wanting. As soon as he is out of sight, she swoops in for the kill.

She loves noises and sound effects. Her very favorite game is to bring me her stuffed animals, one by one, and have me make the various noises for them. She has no patience for most books, except the ones with texture. She loves music and will bob her head whenever she hears it. She can hear clapping from a mile away and always claps along. She plays pretty independently, a lot of the time. She loves to be with me, and insists on being at my side most of the day, but she doesn't love doing things with me the way Peregrine did (and does!). She just wants me nearby while she does her exploring.

She's still my little Owl, and still not a shining example in the world of baby sleep. She's gotten better, slowly but surely, though. She's a champ at going down--she puts herself to sleep almost all the time, and tolerates Peregrine's loudness and babbling and multiple potty trips with remarkable grace. He can wake her up with his shenanigans, and she will settle down peacefully, often with no assistance. So, despite her owling, I have to remind myself she has a lot of strengths. But she still owls at night on occasion, with no apparent reason. And she still wakes up a lot, even if she's not hungry. Andrew and I are going to try keeping her in her room all night and see if that makes any difference.

I love her so much, and I love her at this age. She is growing and exploding with curiosity and joy and mischief. I know she'll change so much over this next year, and a few months from now, she'll be so, so much more grown up than she is now. Her soul will be the same--souls are, it seems, it's remarkable to me how both my kids are so solidly the same people they always have been--but she'll know and do so much more.

Here's to you, my owlet. I love you so much.

My son, the boy

In the last week, Peregrine has:

-Dismantled the baby food grinder

-Dismantled the bicycle pump

-Dismantled his (second) spray bottle

-Eaten an entire bag of craisins in one sitting

-Learned to pee standing up (entirely on his own, and with no motivation other than seeing his cousin do it).

-Torn the bathroom door off its hinges

-Carefully and deliberately unscrewed the apparatus that makes the front screen door prop open

-De-cushioned most of the chairs in the house and on the deck, multiple times.

-Eaten bites of anything he can get his hands on, and then left the evidence (okay, nothing new, he just has longer arms, plus he's discovered that with a step stool, the world is his oyster).

This kid is a force of nature right now. A fierce little whirlwind of doing and undoing. He's kind of turning into a boy.

I'm a good candidate for a mom of a boy, I think. I have a high tolerance for most chaos and mess. Germs, dirt, and snakes don't really scare me (tarantulas are another story, but fortunately, those are hard to come by hereabouts). Andrew grew up on a mountain, hacking out his own trails and sleeping in the woods alone with a knife, even as a pretty young kid. I want that for Peregrine. I want him fierce and wild and free. I want him to own the land, to have it in his heart the way Andrew does. I want him to know and be comfortable with the dirt, the sea, the rocks, the sky. I want him to grow up into the kind of man his father is, the kind of man I married, the kind of man who captured my heart and soul with his craziness, his spirit, his just-barely-tamed love of getting dirty and living life outside.

But it can be draining on the day to day. The trail of destruction he leaves. The hose that's constantly on, and spraying everywhere. The piles of wet, muddy clothes, and wetter, muddier socks (my goodness the socks! He's obsessed with socks--obsessed, he won't go to bed without them--and he puts on and sheds several pairs a day. They are everywhere.) The elbows digging into my belly when he hugs me, the feet that are constantly stepping on mine, the fact that he never, never, never slows down. And the fact that he freaking undoes everything I do. I give him leftovers to put in the fridge, and in the ten feet there, he manages to take off the lid, eat some of the food, and then forget how to put the lid back on. I put on one shoe while he throws the other downstairs.

Andrew's nickname as a kid was Dr. Destruction. Peregrine is not terribly destructive, per se, although he does a fair bit of it. He's more just Dr. Entropy. Order tending to disorder. I don't think he's even aware of it, half the time. He walks through a room, and will just randomly sweep pillows off chairs, covers off beds, towels off racks. He turns on lights, fans, and faucets. It's so maddening. Making him pick it all up is torture, and so much more work than doing it myself.

But, I know Dr. Entropy will grow up. I know he'll get big enough that it won't be unreasonable to ask him to pick up a whole room. And honestly, work though it is, I'm looking forward to the years ahead, tainted and colored and made both frustrating and exciting by the presence of boy in them. He'll probably break everything I own and eat the rest. But I hope he'll always stay free and wild and strong. I hope my home is a safe haven for him to come to after he's been tramping in the woods all day. I hope I'll still know how to nurture his soul, and his friends' souls, and that they can come in, and talk, and eat things, and grow into good men.

Tiny boy, I love you more than you'll ever know. I hope you learn to break less, or at least to fix what you break. I hope you learn the art of sitting still, at least for a little bit. But I hope you never lose the crazy beauty in your soul. It's my honor to have the keeping of it, and I hope I keep it well.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Local Mom Disappears Into Bathroom, Is Not Seen For 2 Minutes. Panic Ensues.

Breaking News!

Burien, Washington.

Local mother Rachel Nelson, 28, is by all accounts a fairly normal woman. She has two young children, she has a decent repertoire of songs (though sadly, none about police helicopters), and she is adept at putting on underwear and opening boxes of raisins. But appearances can be deceiving.

This morning, Nelson simply got up, left her 24-hour mothering job, and walked into the bathroom. Alone.

"I just don't understand it," sobbed Sylvia Nelson, 11 months, speaking through an interpreter, "I love her. More than anything in the world. She loves me too. And yet--she chose the bathroom over time she could have spent holding me?"

Her older brother Peregrine, 3, is also perplexed.

"People like to be with people," he explained, "We do things together. It's part of human nature. We share our experiences. It's not the going to the bathroom thing that got me. I mean, everybody has to go potty once in a while, right? It's the fact that she just up and went, alone. She invited no one to go with her."

We asked if Peregrine ever desired to use the bathroom alone.

"No, never!" he exclaimed, and then added, "Well, of course I don't want Sylvia in with me. If I hear her even crawling in the direction of the door, I scream. Usually I stand by the door and hold it shut while screaming until my mom picks Sylvia up. Not that I can do that now that I've ripped the door out of its hinges. Now I just scream. But, I'm getting off track, as usual. This has nothing to do with Sylvia and me. Never would I ever shut my mother out of the bathroom, unless I was planning on eating soap or dismantling a toilet paper roll. A mother-son relationship is nothing like a brother-sister relationship. They're different entities entirely. Mothers and sons want to be together. They do things together."

We asked Sylvia the same question. Does she ever use the bathroom alone?

"No!" she responded, "Never! And I just really don't understand it. I mean, she's still got a lap when she's sitting on the toilet, right?"

Did they hear from their mother, or was there simply the sound of terrifying silence?

"Oh, she called to us," Sylvia responded, "She was all like, hey, Sylvia, I'm still here, I love you, I'll be back in a second. What on earth does she mean, still here? Way off in the bathroom is not still here. That's, like, in another country. If I can't get there in five seconds of fast crawling, that does not qualify as still here."

"We're not actually sure it was her," Peregrine confessed in a low voice, "It could have just been a tape recorder. She was saying really generic things--'I'm still here' and the like. When I asked her a question about police monster camper firetrucks driving through rocks, she claimed she 'couldn't understand me' because I 'wasn't talking loud enough.' It was just really canned and rote sounding. I didn't want to scare Sylvia, so I didn't say anything, but inside I was like, that is not my mother. My mother knows everything. She gives me detail, not one-liners that make no sense."

When asked if their mother had left the door open, or deliberately shut them out, Peregrine and Sylvia were quick to reply that she had, indeed, left all avenues of entrance and exit available for their use.

"But that's not the point," Peregrine insisted, "The point is that she went at all. Sure, she left the door open, but if she had truly welcomed our company, she would have invited us to go with her. She would have come into the room where we were both playing peacefully, and said, hey, I'm going to the bathroom, who wants to come sit on my lap and discuss the elimination process with me? It's not like she has a problem interrupting our play--she's quick to do it if it's nap time or dinner time or something. Why not now? It's just really fishy."

"I knew she was there," Sylvia added, "I crawled, I don't know, ten whole feet maybe? in the direction she'd gone. But I couldn't see her, it was so confusing. So I just put my head down and wailed. Then Peregrine put a pillow on my head."

When Nelson returned, she simply acted as though nothing had occurred.

"She just walked back out and was like, hey, P, what are you holding? And I was like, a lego, because it was. And then she started talking to me about fire trucks. It was a total distraction tactic, and it really made me suspicious. What was she hiding in there? Does she eat ice cream or something? It's not like I would have bothered her, in there with her. We would have talked, had good fellowship. I would have peered in the toilet and asked her about it. Totally normal stuff. I don't know what she's afraid of."

And how did Sylvia feel about seeing her mother after her long absence?

"I love her!" Sylvia exclaimed, "She's just--the best! I mean, she's soft, she's funny, she's the coolest person in the world except Peregrine, she has all these magic ways of getting stuff down and making food come out of boxes, and she even makes her own milk. I just--I don't know what to say, I love my mom."

We are currently monitoring Mrs. Nelson to see if this was merely an out-of-character mistake in judgment, or if there are deeper neurological imbalances causing her unorthodox behavior. Meanwhile, everything seems back to normal--for the time being.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Minus Four Wisdom Teeth

So, I got my wisdom teeth out on Thursday. I've had them in for about ten years now--they came through when I was in college--but they're in perfectly straight and they've never caused me any pain. Dentists have told me I need to get them out because my mouth is way too small for them, but I've put it off, primarily because I've never had dental insurance, and also, who wants to volunteer for surgery without significant motivation?

But we have dental insurance now, and they did need to come out, and the dentist convinced me it would be okay for breastfeeding because he would just give me standard post-C-section narcotics (presumably safe to nurse with), and I would only need local anesthetic.

That's right. Local anesthetic. So, basically, being wide awake while someone puts multiple shots into my mouth, and then holding my mouth open while four teeth are extracted.

But, I bit the bullet and scheduled it. Because sometimes you just have to.

It was unpleasant, not gonna lie. It's disturbingly easy to remove teeth--just a little bit of pulling and shoving, and out they pop. Or, at least, three of them did. The fourth was a bit more stuck--the dentist accused it of having "very long roots"--and it took pulling, shoving, and a fair bit of drilling. Eventually, I took to just closing my eyes. Because I wasn't in pain (twelve shots will do that to you), and I wasn't even that uncomfortable, but watching the dentist approach the inside of my mouth with various torture devices was a bit much. I still have no idea what the drilling was all about. I know it required three stitches to repair. But, I wasn't about to ask him.

Also, teeth sometimes crack when they are being pulled. I had been warned about this, but I thought I could handle it, seeing as how I wouldn't be feeling them cracking. But, it turns out, the body has a very visceral reaction to hearing its own bones breaking, even if no pain was involved. It was gross, memorable, and will now haunt my nightmares. As will the smell of something burning during the drilling episode.

It was funny, however, how much they expected me to communicate with them during the surgery. Not just yes-no questions either. They would ask me if I felt pain, or just pressure, or a little bit of both? They asked me how old my kids were. While my difficult tooth was being drilled, the dentist squirted a lot of water in, and most of it ended up lodged over my tracheal opening. When I politely indicated that something was wrong, they started asking me all sorts of questions about what, exactly, I was feeling. Pain? Pressure? Coldness? Sharpness? Bad sound effects? My mouth was completely numb, and wedged open, with a drill inside. Unfortunately, there isn't a convenient hand sign for "Chinese water torture."

My recovery has been pretty easy, though. I was on Vicodin for a day, and it was gross. I felt awful while taking it, so I've just been on ibuprofen since. Andrew has been home to help with the kids, which means I can just rest, which is bliss. I haven't been too swollen, and I've been able to talk.

And the kids have been sweet about it, too. Sylvia is kind of missing me, since I'm not supposed to lift her, but Peregrine has some basic understanding of what's going on. When I first came home, all numb and unable to talk, he put his arms around my neck and started singing "Rockabye Mommy" to me (actually, he started with "Rockabye Peregrine" and then realized that he was in the caretaker role, not me).

However, small child understanding only goes so far. Later that afternoon, after snuggling in bed with me for awhile, he nodded and me gently and said, "Mommy, get up and decided to give us dinner."

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Transitions: Reflections on (almost) a year of having two


Several people have asked me recently about the transition from parenting one to parenting two--was it hard, how did I cope with it, that sort of thing. And now that I'm almost 11 months (!) into this whole parenting-two business, I feel like I actually have something to look back and reflect on. It's become second nature to me now, parenting both kids. It's hard to imagine there being only one of them. But there was only one of them, not too terribly long ago. And there was some mess and adjustment involved in figuring two of them out.

Honestly, it was never as bad as I had expected it to be. I talked to a lot of people, pre-Sylvia, who had really rough adjustments from one to two. And mine wasn't. It was an adjustment, make no mistake, and there were rough days and sleepless nights and frozen dinners and a grand overall lack of housecleaning. But it really wasn't miserable at all. And there were very, very few moments of collective meltdown.

Mostly because I got lucky, I think. Peregrine was a very easy two-year-old and Sylvia, while not necessarily a textbook easy baby, was a lot easier than Peregrine, so I was pleasantly surprised by her easiness. If she had been fussy or colicky, or if she had Peregrine's drive to be held (and moved! constantly!) all the time, or if Peregrine had been an easy baby and my expectations had been different, the adjustment would have been a lot harder on me. If she was a newborn now, and I was dealing with the three-year-old Peregrine instead of the two-year-old one, that would have been a whole new level of challenge. But they meshed well. Timing was perfect and generally felt pretty natural.

Also, Sylvia's birth was simple and straightforward, and healing was uncomplicated. I had lots of help right after the birth, and I had very little postpartum depression (beyond the usual round of expected "baby blues"). I stayed remarkably healthy when Sylvia was tiny, and so did she. So we had a lot going for us.

But there's a paradigm shift that happens when you parent two, and I think I'd made it before Sylvia was born. I'm not actually sure when. I think it's built into me a bit, from years of being the oldest of several, of babysitting multiple children at once, of teaching whole classrooms, of taking care of my niece and nephew along with Peregrine when he was tiny, and really, of raising Peregrine, who was neither textbook easy nor textbook fussy, but certainly impossible to keep content. I went into parenting two having already readjusted, and I think the adjustment would have been much, much harder if it was something I'd had to figure out after Sylvia was born.

I think what you have to realize when you parent two is this: Not everyone gets what they need all the time. And that's okay.

That's what everyone asks me, and what I see asked of any number of moms of more-than-one: "How do you juggle all the needs? How do you stay on top of it all?" And I always answer: sometimes you don't. Mostly you do, because you have to (and you do figure it out, and it becomes so much easier with practice), but sometimes you don't, and that's okay.
Not pictured: Peregrine, not being held.
When I was talking about this with my friend, I told her I think of parenting less as meeting individual needs and more as managing a household. Not that individual needs are neglected. But they aren't the ultimate goal. I've read so, so much about parenting being simply connection with one's baby, learning cues and meeting needs. And while I appreciate the simplicity of the advice and the core of truth in it, it's easy to get sucked into thinking that your only goal as a parent is to tailor your child's world to your child's person, to orchestrate it perfectly so that he never feels discomfort or discontent, and to be there for him at every turn of the road. That may be possible, with one child. I can't imagine it ever being possible, with two.
Not pictured: Peregrine, still not being held.  He didn't choose to have the not-measles descend upon his family.
If I truly thought parenting was simply a manner of meeting needs, that my job as a parent was to anticipate my child's needs and fulfill them, I don't think I would ever have chosen to have a second child. I really don't. Because discontent happens. Disappointment happens. They happen daily, hourly even. They are constant, for every member of the family. And I'm not talking about making a child wait to play with you until you get off the toilet. I'm talking about making a child wait for half an hour outside a closed door while you calm a screaming and overtired baby. I'm talking about canceling a day out because someone got sick, or listening to one child scream while you comfort the other one because you simply can't hold them both at once. I'm talking about shortening bedtime routines, saying no to snuggles, putting away fun toys that used to be able to litter the floor with abandon, getting in the dreaded car seat every day because big brother has to go to preschool. My kids' presence in each others' lives greatly limits their personal fulfillment. They hamper each other, annoy each other, make each other cry, and steal me away from each other. If I measured my success as a parent by how often my kids are discontent with their lot in life, I would have failed, utterly and completely, a long time ago.
Pictured in the background: Sylvia, utterly miserable that I put her down so that I could fill up Peregrine's long-awaited water table.
But I don't think that's what parenting is all about. It is so much more than that, in the end. Discontent and disappointment are very present in life, no matter what. My job as a mother is to see my kids through those times, not to prevent them. And, while small random needs go unmet, and people feel tired or annoyed or upset or ignored, and children cry and I sometimes have to choose whose cry to respond to first, it is so very possible to parent two and meet all their needs. It just takes an understanding, I think, of what needs really are. Snuggles get postponed, but there are still snuggles. One kid may have to wait for food, but in the end, he does get fed. Fun activities get cancelled, but there are hugs and kisses and comfort, and the promise of fun things to come. Missing some cues, leaving some things undone, having to say no, even when needs are completely and thoroughly legitimate, do not cancel out the consistent presence of trustworthiness and unconditional love.
Plus, there's learning about life. There's learning to cope. There's the beauty of letting other people into your life, messy and interrupting and annoying as they are. And there's so, so much wonderfulness to make up for it all. My kids my hamper each others' singleminded pursuit of happiness, but pursuit of happiness is a poor substitute, in the end, for relationship. They delight each other. They laugh at each other's jokes like no narrow-minded adult ever could. They miss each other terribly when they're apart. They check for each other first thing after waking up. Sylvia adores Peregrine with everything in her, no matter what toy he's snatched from her or thrown at her head. Peregrine protects her with every ounce of being in his little soul. The friendship they have, the bond they share, is worth so many inconveniences. I don't think they would ever choose to give up that friendship in order to have their needs met more quickly and consistently.
Not pictured: Dinner, not being ready on time. But look at the way they're looking at each other!
And for all the moments of can't-do-it-all, there are so many more where we simply just learn to live with each other. For all the moments where not-being-first is a source of tears and misery, there are so many more that are taken in stride, or even filled with humor and playfulness and fun. Laps of crying toddler-and-baby that melt into laughter because there's too much baby on my lap! and then suddenly, that's funny, to everyone. Collisions and conflicts over toys that erupt into playing an entirely different game, and then my lecture on being kind is lost because Peregrine just put dees on a lego truck and brings them to Sylvia and yells, "Dee delivery!" and then we all laugh because, well, dee delivery is funny.

Before Sylvia was born, I wrote about choosing to be family-centered. I still hold that phrase, always, in my mind, and it has been a very solid anchor in the uncertain sea of re-working our family and adding another person. And I think, more than anything, that mindset has helped us all make the transition from one child to two.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fresh Baby Peregrine

So, Peregrine is not big on imagination. He's quite skeptical of it, actually, and I could write a whole post on that subject. But today, he turned off the lights in his room, turned on his Sleep Sheep, and walked out the door, finger over his mouth, informing me that "anudder Baby Peregrine" was sleeping in there.

Unfortunately, Anudder Baby Peregrine's nap was quickly cut short, as I needed to access the kids' closet, but Peregrine didn't forget his responsibility. As I was putting his pajamas on tonight, he came over to me, both hands cupped carefully in front of him.

"See these?" he squeaked out lovingly.

"What are they?" I asked.

"Two little baby Peregrines!" he exclaimed.

We snuggled them, cooed over them, told them how cute they were, the usual. Then "dis one" got thirsty and wanted a bottle, so we fed him (it?), and then we fed the other one, and then they wanted water (apparently, we'd fed them milk earlier?).

And then, lest this threaten to become a normal game of imaginary baby, Peregrine lifted one (still carefully protectively cupped) hand to his nose.

"I smelled one of them," he informed me.

"What did it smell like?" I asked. (Seize the moment and run with it, right?)

Without missing a beat, he replied, "Fresh baby Peregrine."

Friday, May 16, 2014

Adventures with the (not) measles

Well, once again, it's been awhile. I've been in a writing funk lately. I'm not sure why. I've gotten busier, for sure. Sylvia is moving more and napping less. And Peregrine has hit his 2's hard. Sometimes, when naptime rolls around, I just feel like zoning out completely. Doing something incredibly boring that requires no brain (hello Facebook!).

We've also been bogged down with sickness for the last month. I had a sore throat and on-and-off cough for weeks. I had a few miserable days, but mostly I just felt tired, down. I held off going to the doctor because I never go to the doctor, and it's not like I can take any medication while breastfeeding, but finally, I gave in. I called the doctor, and set up an appointment, and within hours, my sore throat went away. And didn't come back. Seriously. Apparently, all I had to do was call the doctor. Not even see her. Just threaten to see her.

File that one for future reference.

But, really, likely the reason I wasn't getting well was because I wasn't sleeping. Because my already-owly daughter decided to start cutting her teeth, while miserably ill with a mysterious disease that is now formally known around here as the Not-Measles.

Backpedaling a bit.

Sylvia has one of the best immune systems I have ever seen. The kid does not get sick. Her brother goes to school and picks up every germ out there, he strokes random cars lovingly, he chews on his shoes, and then he goes and shares water bottles with her, or sticks his finger in her mouth just for the fun of it. Sylvia has had some runny noses here and there, but other than that? Germs don't appear to affect her. Andrew and I call her Iron Woman.

Anyhow, she got sick. Bad. Poor baby was miserable. She was whiny and cry-y and wouldn't sleep at night and just wanted to cling to me in misery all day. One night she spiked a high, high fever very suddenly, her first fever ever. I had already given her Tylenol for teething, so we just waited it out. The Tylenol kept it manageable but she was a sad, sad baby. Two days later, I was changing her diaper and I noticed a rash on her belly.

I don't know what made me think of the measles. It's not like I'd ever seen a case before. But the rash was new and different, and I had been wondering why Peregrine was showing zero signs of even fighting sickness while Sylvia was so miserable. We had been in Bellingham the prior weekend, and I had heard of some measles cases there, so I guess that brought it to the forefront of my mind. So, I went and did what any self-respecting mother would do: I googled it. Dr. Google confirmed my diagnosis (though that isn't saying much, Dr. Google would confirm a diagnosis of cancer or necrotizing fasciitis if I wanted him to), so I decided to call my pediatrician and see what he said.

Unfortunately, the office had just closed, so I talked to his nurse-on-call. After grilling me for half an hour on symptoms and exposure, she decided measles was a possibility and that I should take Sylvia to the ER just in case. Only, I've never been to the ER. I dread going to the ER. I have heard too many horror stories of 4-hour wait times and terrible hospital bills and I didn't want to put my sick, tired baby through that only to learn that she was, I don't know, allergic to teething or something random and stupid like that. So I went to a minor emergency clinic instead.

The doctor there examined her, grilled me on symptoms and exposure again, and finally told me he was 99.9 percent sure she had the measles. He explained that there was nothing I could do but keep her fevers down, nurse her lots and give her Pedialyte for fluid replacement, and keep her from unvaccinated babies. He assured me that she is strong, that she had fought it admirably, and that, barring some unforeseen complication, she would recover just fine.

So I went about my merry way, wore my baby, nursed my baby, monitored her temperature, put cream on her rash, and introduced her to the joy of sugary fluid replacement drinks. She had a few more miserable days and started getting better.

Then Public Health called. Or rather, Peregrine's preschool director called, telling me Public Health had been calling her non-stop and asking for my information, and could she please have my permission to release it. Then Public Health called. And kept calling, and calling, and calling.

Apparently, they should have been involved from the get-go. I was surprised that they weren't, honestly. I was surprised that the doctor had just let me go without even signing anything. I assumed he would just write a report later, but apparently, he didn't. Word reached Public Health via a grapevine related to the preschool, whom I had notified shortly after the diagnosis, when I tried to notify everyone I might have inadvertently exposed.

Public Health was actually quite pleasant to work with, if extremely aggressive about making sure I answered their calls. They didn't even seem surprised that the doctor had been so lacking in knowledge about formal protocol. (Apparently, one should never ever make a measles diagnosis clinically, and, as measles is freaking airborne, one should never just release a measles patient into the wild. Who knew? But, I'll tell you who knows now: I do. And so does that doctor, who, Public Health kindly informed me, was "educated" about his error. Anyhow.) They suggested (and even kind of begged) that I have Sylvia formally tested, both blood and urine, for antibodies to the measles virus to make sure that was what she had had.

And I worked my butt off for the next several days doing just that. They had me keep a log of everywhere she had been, and everyone she had potentially exposed, during all her theoretical infectious period. Fortunately, I have an excellent memory and a pretty stellar ability to keep track of every detail of something, but it was a daunting task. And a sobering prospect when that list included, you know, a good portion of the cities of Bellingham and Burien. But that was the easy part. I also had to get her urine and her blood tested.

Let me say this for the record: it is incredibly difficult to get a urine specimen, amounting to 50 milliliters of fluid, from a baby girl. First of all, it's difficult to get that much fluid into a baby, let alone out of her. I milked her love of the novelty of Pedialyte bottles for all it was worth. Poor child was force-fed more sugar water in those three days than I hope she consumes over the next month, at least. I had to put these bags inside her diaper, in the hopes of catching a full ounce-and-a-half of baby pee. Let me just say it was never proven impossible. I suppose those bags might work for a very still, calm baby boy, but Sylvia is a wiggle monster, and baby girl pee goes everywhere. We had eight failed attempts. Eight. She pooped in two or three of them, and as for the others, either she didn't pee a full 50 mils, or she did, and that much liquid dissolved the adhesive on the bags, rendering them entirely useless. We never did make it work. Her blood test results came in right after I finally made an appointment to catheterize her. I'm really, really glad that didn't have to happen.

The blood test, actually, wasn't all that bad. It was no pediatric finger prick, but a full-on blood draw, with arm veins and tourniquets and those little tubes of blood. But Sylvia did fine. I think she was more annoyed at the tourniquet than anything. She was having a great time flirting with the nurses, so she would fuss for awhile, then cry, then look up at them and laugh, and then fuss again, like she was trying so hard to be their friend, but the rubber cutting off her circulation (not to mention the twisted arm with the needle in it) was kind of throwing her off a bit. I think it was worse for Peregrine, who was anticipating the whole thing, and who has inherited his mother's great dislike for needles of any kind. Poor kid. He felt so bad for her. He kept saying, hesitantly, "I think Sylvia not want her blood draw."

Anyhow. In the end, the results came back: Sylvia did not have the measles. No one knows what she had. My second guess was roseola, but the nurse I talked to said it didn't sound like that. Who knows. She has cut another tooth since, so I think we can rule out allergic to teething. If that's even a thing.

It was actually kind of a bizarre experience, since, by law, I'm not required to cooperate with Public Health at all. I could have just said no, hung up, and been fully within my rights. So, while they were rather aggressive in pursuing me, they took great pains to make it as easy as possible for me. They paid for the whole thing. Practically every nurse or doctor I spoke to knew my name, and Sylvia's, and greeted us accordingly (and if they didn't know us, they apologized profusely for it). They helped me out with parking at the hospital, and didn't get annoyed when I got lost multiple times. Tests were expedited and results were communicated immediately. I was put at the front of every line, and allowed to come in during lunch breaks and off hours. It was weird. I've never felt like such a VIP in my life. Especially with strange doctors, where I'm used to being very much just a number.

But it's over now, and I'm so glad it's over. I have so much more respect for parents of chronically ill kids. I can't imagine the kind of stamina it takes to do that for more than three days. It was a whirlwind of stress and learning and so much relief when I learned I would not have to attempt another urine bag for a nice long time.

But, in retrospect, I should have just gone to the ER. Probably, I should have called Public Health first with my concern, then showed up at the door and told the receptionist, worriedly, that my baby had spiked a high fever and shortly after broken out with a pinprick rash, and I was concerned about possible measles exposure. Then I wouldn't have had to worry about any wait time or money at all.

Oh well. Next time.

Thursday, April 10, 2014


(So, I found this in my drafts. It was about two sentences short of being complete. Due to the nature of the topic, I'm not surprised it disappeared when it was all-but-finished. I almost deleted it because it's been three months. But then I read it and I thought, hey, it was real. I learned a lot in the first four months of toddler-and-baby parenting. So, here goes.)

 It's a rough season, this season of parenting two very small ones. Not in the pulling-out-my-hair, everyone-screaming-at-once way I had envisioned it. Just slowly, drainingly, wearyingly hard. The kind of hard where it takes so much time to do absolutely everything. The kind of hard where I feel like I truly do work a twelve-hour day shift and a twelve-hour night shift. Every day, seven days a week.

Andrew and I were talking a few weeks ago, probably while trading endlessly long shifts bouncing a certain baby on a certain yellow exercise ball, and one of us mentioned that so much of this season is about coping. Finding ways--creative, lazy, compromising, or otherwise--to get through, to do what needs to be done. It's so true. And I'm okay with that. I'm not a glowing picture of housewife-hood, or really even motherhood, right now. Most of the time, I'm coping.

And you know what? It's okay to cope. Whatever stage of life you happen to be in. There is so much pressure to be at the top of our game. So much pressure to do every single moment the best. So much pressure to have a set of parenting ideals, and then parent to those ideals (no big deal, right?). But sometimes, seasons are hard. Emotionally hard, or just plain physically hard. And in hard seasons, you do what you need to do. Because they're seasons. Stitches heal. Colic eventually goes away. Sleep training (hopefully, eventually, please please please) works, and sleep gets better. Potty training also works (someday). Parenting two tinies soon becomes parenting two not-so-tinies.

If there's anything I could tell new parents, or new parents-of-two, I think it would be simply this: It's okay to do what you have to do. It's okay, in this season, to lose the big picture in order to live as peacefully as possible in the now. 

As with everything else, what coping looks like will be unique and different for each family, and for each new addition within a family. But here are the things that have been helpful to me over the last four months.

1.) Try to maintain something approximating a schedule. I am not a by-the-clock person, but I do have a toddler. Routine matters a lot to toddlers, and a ridiculous lot to my particular toddler. He is happier and feels safer when he knows the general flow of a day and a week. Also, by trying to orchestrate my day so that basic needs (think sleep, food, potty, etc) are met at certain specific times, the vast majority of the preventable toddler meltdowns don't happen. Not that I manage this all the time, but keeping it at the back of my mind makes everyone's days smoother. Also, having specific times of the day to connect, read, play, etc (even if only a little) are stabilizing and grounding and allow for bright spots, even if the rest of the day disintegrates.

2.) Make cooking simple, easy, and as much as possible, healthy. Cooking takes far too much time. But, when it comes down to it, it has to be done. So it's worth having a stash of recipes that are quick and easy. It's worth learning how to use a crock pot so that you have the option of cooking during morning nap instead of during crazy whiny meltdown hour. And it is worth prioritizing health. Not in the sense of making everything from scratch or eating all organic, all the time. But people are calmer and happier when they're eating good food, and calm and happy are worth their weight in gold. Usually it's simple decisions, like choosing a whole-wheat quesadilla over mac n cheese, or eating fruits and veggies with every meal. (And taking vitamin D, it's helping me a lot here in my sunless corner of the wintery world). I like cooking, usually, but I'm holding my meal plans lightly these days and being willing to just whip up something quick at the last minute. And, if that fails, remembering that prepared food is not the end of the world. In almost every dinner situation, food--even if said food is the third pizza of the week--is better than no food.

3.) Try to do something, however small, in order to feel pretty. This one is hard. But I do think it's important, at least for me. I'm the kind of person who always gets dressed, so if I spend the day in pajama pants (tempting though this often is), I feel like I'm getting over the flu or something and I act accordingly--lethargic, unmotivated, and annoyed at those who try to make me do things. I act better when I'm wearing clothes. Also, it has been worth spending a few dollars on a few pairs of thrift-store jeans in a much larger size than I would normally wear. It's worth not being down on my reflection every time I look in the mirror. Or, you know, being constantly unable to breathe in my tight pre-pregnancy clothes.

4.) Respect your partner's coping skills. Andrew's preferred method of baby-soothing is to turn on a television show (usually a semi-violent crime drama that his wife has no interest in) and watch it while bouncing, rocking, or otherwise putting-to-sleep the baby. It baffles me sometimes, because the baby is subjected to a whole lot of extra stimulation that makes going to sleep take much longer. But you know what? It works for him, and if he desperately minds the extra time, he'll figure out another way. Because we do expect to share parenting equally when he gets home from work, it's only fair that we allow each other to find our own rhythms with the kids.

5.) Discipline the toddler for actual misbehavior, not for inconvenience. This one is hard. So, so hard. Both parts of it. It is so tempting to just let Peregrine do what he wants, until he bothers me. But that is so unfair to him, and creates for him a very unsafe, unpredictable world. This is one area where I feel like I have to think big-picture and not just what works in the now. But having this rule stored away in my head is important, and I reference it often. Even just having it as a rule helps keep me from sleep-deprived knee-jerk reactions. When I'm consistent and fair with my expectations, and am not acting on my annoyance at innocent two-year-old behavior (like, say, dumping out his whole dresser, or peeing in his pants), he is calmer, I am calmer, and everyone is happier. I can't say I always do this well. But having the rule helps.

6.) Use play as a filler. If quantity time isn't possible, go for quality. I don't play with either of my kids as much as I wish I did. And, honestly, I don't see much way around it. There's a lot of sentiment in the parenting world about kids being more important than housework and I love it, I get it, it's all true, but still, you have to feed them. You have to use the bathroom. You have to change the baby, and potty the toddler, and clean up messes, and arrange doctors' appointments, and that means a lot of turned-down opportunities to play. But? Connecting is important, and there are ways to connect other than intentionally sitting down and turning off all other priorities for a half an hour. A quick story read here and there, I Spy in the car, running a race to the mailbox--finding little ways to engage fills an always-looming need that can often feel like just another obligation. Toddlers don't need enormous efforts to make them feel valued and loved. Which brings me to:

7.) Include the toddler. Play is important, yes. But inclusion is more important. Most toddlers don't perceive much difference between a game of hide-and-seek and a game of drive-these-brooms-across-the-floor. Peregrine begs, daily, to make the bed, if only because he's always made the bed with me and he knows how that activity works. Sure, including a toddler makes everything take much, much longer. But it is a way to keep the toddler occupied, (mostly) out of mischief, and feeling noticed and loved.

8.) Babywear. If you and your baby can stand it, do it. Especially with a tiny infant. Like working with a toddler, it does take longer and is a bit more awkward. But it keeps the baby close, potentially sleeping, and usually happy. Even with Peregrine, who wasn't a huge fan of baby carriers, it was a better option than putting him down. And sometimes, work has to get done.

9.) Staying optimistic and having a good attitude can make all the difference in the world. If there is a small change in environment or activity that can facilitate a better frame of mind, by all means, go for it without guilt. I certainly don't mean putting on a smile-face all the time and pretending everything is rosy and perfect. But, here's what I've found: no matter how justified I am in feeling annoyed, apathetic, overtired, or any other number of things, if I act that way when I'm home alone with the kids, everyone suffers. Because, no matter how terrible I feel, my kids are neither going to sympathize with me or make things easier on me. So if something small--putting on music, making tea with extra cream, throwing the kids in the bath and going on Facebook--will improve my mood, it's worth doing. I often feel guilty for doing things like this (I mean, shouldn't I just be able to have a good attitude without giving myself a treat?), but here's where it's helpful to be able to forget the big picture for awhile. Yes, joy in all circumstances is worth striving for. But, as far as coping goes, and living gracefully in the reality I have--heavy cream and Hispanic pop music on Pandora are far, far better than snappiness and discontented children.

10.) Get out of the house. Preferably outside. Leaving the house gives everyone a reset. Fresh air, even when accompanied by cold and rain, is good for the soul. This one feels overwhelming, and it's one I often don't want to do, especially when cold and rain are involved. But everyone feels better afterwards, and it kills a lot of time. I've found that keeping a diaper bag stocked and by the door allows for quick getaways with very little preparation.

And, when all else fails, this is what I fall back on: in moments of chaos, find what really, truly needs to happen, and prioritize that. It's so easy to get frustrated with a day, or a week, or a season, or even just a moment, for falling apart. Or simply to let myself be swept away with the overwhelming task of trying to get everything done right, or even adequately. And if things are falling apart at the seams, sometimes I have to just step back and clarify--what needs to be done now? And then do what it takes to make that happen--just that, and nothing else. It sounds simple, but it helps me a lot. Because if I've identified we need to eat dinner, then I can focus on that, and if that means takeout, so be it. If I've decided Sylvia needs to sleep, then I can make that happen, even if it involves the Moby instead of her bed. My job is to do this well, not to do it right. Sometimes--a lot of times--that means coping. And coping, for now, is okay.

(And...three months later. It's easier. It really is. Peregrine is potty trained, pretty much completely, at least in the day time. The yellow exercise ball is no longer a daily part of my existence. (Thankfully. I got seasick on that thing. You know when you've been on a boat, and then you go to bed that night, and your brain thinks you're still on a boat? Yeah.) Sleep is...better, though Sylvia's not about to win any prizes. Or possibly even qualify for the finals. Or possibly even qualify for the competition at all. But, we've found our rhythm. We're a family of four, and we work. Sure, we're people, and two of us are very small people, and so we have chaos and meltdowns and miscommunications and all that. But it's not new anymore. I spend a lot less time coping these days.)