Sunday, December 27, 2009

One year ago, I was just meeting my favorite little guy for the first time, in all his bruised, brunette glory:

Now he's a golden boy, charming and happy and gregarious, and his only bruises are from his tumbles into immobile pieces of furniture as he tries so hard to perambulate:

Happy birthday, Sam. I'm so glad you're here.

Sam's birth story is here: part one, part two.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I like to take care of potential danger and inconvenience by worrying them away, crushing them under the weight of my crippling anxiety. And so it was that no doubt because of my fretting and hand-wringing that our plane from Detroit to Kansas City did, in fact, get off the ground, and did not, in fact, suffer from constant turbulence. As we glided to a slightly shaky landing, I heaved a sigh of relief that would have been audible had we not been seated in row 25, right next to the engines. The plus side of the constant shouting-level white noise was that it drowned out the sounds of my shrieking children. Just kidding--they were wonderful and quiet and well behaved. All thanks to my fretting.

The only factor left that I had applied my magical worrying powers to was our car. You see, when we flew to Grand Rapids in August, our car sat in the economy lot for a week, and when we returned, it had acquired a new trait. It coughed and sputtered and idled low and threathened to conk out completely. We pulled over about 10 minutes from the airport in the 90 degree heat and baking sunlight to have a little all-family freak-out fest before returning to the highway at a decidedly slow 50 mph and with the AC turned off for good measure. I sat in the back, wedged between the children's car seats, trying desperately to placate two sweating, unhappy kids, while I too was melting into a puddle of rank flop sweat. The culprit, we determined later with the help of Jeff's dad, was a crusty spark plug, likely caused by a little bout of rain during our absence.

Our stay in Michigan this time around had been in much more severe conditions, and I was expecting the worst from our otherwise trustworthy Subaru. Jeff and I had had the foresight to send him off solo to fetch the car from economy while the children and I luxuriated in the warmth and bustle of the baggage claim area of the Kansas City airport. I awaited his call with trepidation, and was relieved to hear that he had made it to the car, and the car had started up fine--once he had gotten into it. It was, it seems encased in a thick crust of ice. "It'll take me a while to chip out," he explained. "No problem!" I replied. "We're doing fine!"

And at that point, we were. Our suitcases had been accounted for and now surrounded us, forming a protective ring in which Charlotte frolicked, narrating a tale of Santa and Rudolph and her stuffed orange kitty, while Sam crawled, squealing and bellowing "BALL" at any remotely spherical object. I relaxed, relieved, all my worries proven naught.

But you see, when you let your guard down, that's when bad things happen.

Feeling the need to be proactive, I decided to change Sam's diaper and get him into his pajamas. The baggage claim area was nearly empty at that point, and I figured Sam would fall asleep in the car, and this way I could seamlessly transfer him into his crib when we got home. Jeff had most of the diapers with him, but I had thought to grab one before he left. Sam wasn't eager to be torn from his exploration of the super-fun jungle gym he had discovered in the luggage carts, but he was fairly agreeable. What wasn't agreeable was what I found when I opened his diaper: a poo of remarkable capacity and malodorous profile. I was rendered speechless and also temporarily paralyzed. Jeff, you see, had the wipes with him.

"Uh...oh. Um..." I said. While I sat frozen, Sam reached down and grabbed his nuts with one hand. His nuts, it should be noted, were covered in feces. And now, too, his hand. "Um." I said.

Charlotte's little voice, shrieking in my ear "OH NO! Sam did a HUGE POOP!" snapped me back to my senses. Thinking quickly, I whipped Sam's fleece pants off and used them to wipe his hand, and then his bottom. My water bottle was empty and Charlotte's was MIA, so I made do with the dry fleece the best I could (it wasn't very good). Then I popped a fresh diaper over his still poo-streaked buns, turned the now-dirtied fleece pants inside out and stuffed them into the front pocket of one of our suitcases, praying I'd remember they were in there the second we got home. (I didn't).

Once I wrestled Sam into his footie sleeper, an experience not unlike what I imagine it would be like to try to put clothes on a cat, I released him to once again explore the wilds of the baggage claim, and I sighed with relief once again. What a funny story that will be to tell Jeff, I thought. I was relaxing into a mindless, exhausted ease when the second shoe dropped.

Charlotte, who had previously been playing and chattering constantly, suddenly froze in a panicky, slightly crouched posture I knew well. "Mama," she called out. "I have to do a turtle!" My insistence that she needed to wait until dada came, and that she should just tell her turtle to go back inside, was futile. She had the glassy-eyed, red-faced demeanor of one whose bowel movement was nigh. Luckily, at that moment, an airline employee came into view.

"Ma'am!" I said, not without urgency. She appeared startled, apparently not expecting to find a little camp-out of disheveled mom and tots in the area. I asked her if she could watch our things as I was alone with the children and my daughter really, really needed to use the bathroom. She agreed and we were off. I carried Sam, who thought we were really having a "BALL," while Charlotte ran stiff-legged, clutching the seat of her jeans with both hands and hyperventilating.

We made it. Charlotte turtled in record time, and I managed to wipe her up with only one hand, and even washed hands while wrangling giant Sam, who thought this would be a great time to practice his full-body backward-flinging move. As we walked back down the hallway from the bathroom, Charlotte loudly announced, "I really had to make a turtle, and so did Sam! We both made GREAT BIG POOPS today at the airport!" much to the amusement of the people we passed.

The rest of our time in the airport passed (no pun intended) without incident. Jeff was amused when I told him of our Great Fecal Adventures, and I knew I would have a story for the blog. As well, of course, as a new worry to add to my ever-growing list of anxieties.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Another video! This one focuses on Sam: Fall 2009.

I realized after I had saved and uploaded it that the titles at the beginning are out of order. I didn't care enough to go back and fix it...sorry about that!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Charlotte's Preschool Christmas Sing-a-long: click here!

Sorry the video is so long! If you're pressed for time (or just not interested in watching 9.5 minutes of singing preschoolers), then I recommend you skip to 5.23. The last two songs are really the best.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sorry about not posting yesterday. Late Monday night/Tuesday morning, I realized that this paper was simply not going to come together in time. It was coming along, sure, but I've developed to ability in my years of graduate work to project how much work is left before a paper is "done," and in professional opinion, this paper was about 50% potential awesomeness, 25% half-formed thoughts, and 25% random gibberish. I needed more time, in other words.

So I asked for an 2:30 in the morning. Perhaps the time stamp on the email is what motivated my professor to respond so readily and kindly to my request. Regardless, I got more time, and worked all night last night, and part of this morning, and now have a 21-page paper that I'm reasonably proud of. I'm meeting with my professor (who will also, I hope, be my dissertation director and chair my comps committee) in about 45 minutes, and I will then hand her this paper, and I swear I WILL NOT read the paper copy that I have, because I KNOW I will find errors or problems and then I will begin dripping with flop sweat. I don't need sweaty palms as an accessory during our Talk about My Academic Future and Plans and Goals and Timelines.

So I promise a few things over the next two days: 1. Video of the kids (possibly separate videos, as I have a lot of material for each kid); 2. A couple more posts

For now, I leave you with this from Charlotte:

A few Christmas songs have been on heavy rotation in our house lately. Feliz Navidad and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are two favorites. Frosty the Snowman is another.

When Charlotte and I got to preschool today, we went into her classroom to check out her "job" for the day. Charlotte's eyes got wide when she spotted something in the classroom, and I followed her gaze as she pointed, wordlessly, to the Frosty the Snowman DVD sitting on a shelf beneath the TV. "Yeah, it's Frosty the Snowman!" I said. "I dreamed about him last night!" she said excitedly.

One of her teachers was nearby, and Charlotte ran over to her. "Mrs. Kelly!" she said. "I dreamed about Frosty the Snowman last night!"

"You did?" Mrs. Kelly responded. "What were you doing in your dream?"

"We were just together, Frosty and me," Charlotte answered. "We were together, and singing and playing in the snow."

"That sounds like a great dream," Mrs. Kelly said.

And doesn't it? Certainly better than my annoying academic stress dreams I've been having lately. Here's hoping I dream about Frosty tonight, too.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Charlotte's preschool Christmas concert was yesterday. While I'm currently in the midst of writing my seminar paper (and therefore have no time to post), I thought I'd throw a few pictures from one of her teachers up on the blog. Enjoy! And watch for a real post sometime tomorrow.

Monday, December 07, 2009

A couple Charlotte-isms:

While I was changing Sam's poopy diaper the other day. Charlotte: OH MY. *gags* Wow, Sam. You made me very unhappy with that poop.

Jeff: How do I have such wooonnderful children!?!
Charlotte, immediately: Well, Mama got them born, and God gave you them.

Charlotte "reading" from Bible Stories for Kids: From Bethlehem to Kansas; From Moses and Mary to the little girl who saw...and Jesus was in his way...and some fish from God. And the sea to shining sea. And God is with us. Now YOU say, And God is with us.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Last night, I was talking with a classmate about books, and in particular juvenile literature. We were both recalling some of our favorite books from when we were young adults (L.M. Montgomery's books, the Little House series, the Narnia series, etc.) and trying to articulate what the experience of rereading those books was like. I put it this way:

When I was very sick at the beginning of both of my pregnancies, I could handle doing very few things. I had little energy for anything physically taxing, and even things that require mental exertion were beyond my ability. One day when I was about ten weeks pregnant with Charlotte, I was at the library (returning a movie, perhaps) when I noticed the Little House on the Prairie and Emily of New Moon books on the shelf. I checked them all out, and over the next week I read them all. I moved on to the Narnia series, To Kill a Mockingbird, and the Anne of Green Gables books.

I told that story because I felt like it best illustrated what those books mean to me. I wanted something familiar yet still wonderfully entertaining, calming but still engaging. Reading those books again was like visiting with a good friend, the kind of friend who doesn't care if you don't change out of your sweatpants when she comes over.

Comfort is an interesting idea. The word comfort is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it means, among other things, aid, succour, support, countenance; or, one who or that which strengthens or supports; or, the feeling of consolation or mental relief; the state of being consoled; or, a state of physical and material well-being, with freedom from pain and trouble, and satisfaction of bodily needs.

You, dear reader, might be familiar with some of its common applications, such as: Comfort food, food that comforts or affords solace; hence, any food (freq. with a high sugar or carbohydrate content) that is associated with childhood or with home cooking. orig. N.Amer.

Comfort break n. euphem. (orig. U.S.) a break taken to use the toilet.

Comfort stop n. orig. U.S. a short stop intended to give passengers a break from a (long) bus or coach journey, esp. in order to use the toilet; (hence euphem.) a short break taken from any journey or activity in order to use the toilet.

As a verb, it means what we usually think it means: To soothe in grief or trouble; to relieve of mental distress; to console. Comfort the verb also has several interesting archaic meanings, including to strengthen (physically), support; to make fast, secure; to strengthen (morally or spiritually); and, most interesting of all, to comfort in a negative sense means to encourage in, or to, that which is evil.

One of the things I think I'm most responsible for as a parent is doing something rather vague and unspecified that I think can best be described as comforting my children. I soothe them when they experience grief or sorrow. I attempt to relieve their mental distress. I console. I strive to offer them freedom from pain and trouble, and satisfaction of bodily needs. I hope I am an aid, a support, a succour.

Sam has something related to comfort that I didn't find defined in the Oxford English Dictionary, but which several parenting books I have call a comfort item. This is a favorite something, such as a doll or stuffed animal, that the child turns to to help comfort him or her, usually before sleep. Sometimes children use their comfort item at times of stress as well.

Charlotte never had a comfort item, although we tried to encourage one in the hopes that it would get her to sleep better. Sam's comfort item is his little giraffe blankie, a brown satin/velvet blanket about ten inches square. He's had it since he was a few weeks old (it was a gift from my Terlouw cousins) and I worked from the start to try to promote an attachment. I would rub it against his cheek as he nursed. I would place it next to him as he slept. When he got older and more easily distracted, I used it like horse-blinders, draping it over his head when he nursed to try to keep him focused on the task at hand instead of gawking and taking a chunk of nipple with him. Now he still nurses at night and before naps that way. And somewhere along the line, it took. Now he uses the blanket to comfort himself down, by rubbing it on his upper lip and sniffing it. I mean, really getting into it, with big, loud sniiiiiiffffffffs. It's adorable. He rests his face on it when he sleeps, and if it should happen to drop out of his crib while he's going to bed, you'll hear some genuine, full-out wailing from Sam.

Sam has his blanket. I have my old, familiar books. What's your comfort?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

I can't stop! I'm addicted to daily posting! I need an intervention!

Just kidding. I just had a Charlotte-ism I had to share.

Tonight, when I was giving Sam a bath, Charlotte was getting ready for bed. I gave her her nightly gummy Winnie the Pooh vitamin, and she commented how the different characters were different colors. I thought this might be a nice teaching moment, so I mentioned that in real life, people came in all different colors.

Charlotte: What color are you, mama?
Me: I'm sort of, peach color.
Charlotte: Me, too! I'm peach, too. And Sam's peach colored too.
Me: That's right!
Charlotte: And dada's hairy colored!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Wow, I did it! I made it through NaBloPoMo, postin' like a mofo, shootin' out my mojo, keepin' it on the down-low.

I apologize for that last bit. I'm just excited to have made it. I promise not to inflict my lame "rhymes" on you again.

Like some guy said one time,* my month of daily postings will end not with a bang, but a whimper. I wanted to put together a video of the kids for the last day of the month, but instead of editing video tonight, I met with some of my fellow students to hammer out a potential panel we want to propose for a conference (a.k.a. grad school stuff). Business before blogs, as the saying goes. It doesn't. I just coined that on the spot. I'm spinning out magic over here, people. Blog magic!

Speaking of magic...GOB Bluth!

So, this is the final countdown (see what I did there?? Huh?) to NaBloPoMo, but I think it's taught me a few lessons, just like DJ Tanner would have learned. For one, writing every day is hard, but it's not that hard. So I think I'm going to try to post more often, even when I'm really busy. Because the other thing I've learned is that I get a lot out of posting on this blog. I thanked my readers a few days ago, so I won't embarrass us all by doing so again.

Okay, I lied. Thanks! You're the best.

*Actual way one of my students introduced a quote in an academic paper once.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Last year, at the beginning of December, I was very pregnant with Sam. Although I wanted to find a Christmas tree farm and head out with Charlotte and Jeff to cut down our tree since this was the first time we had space for one (our apartment in Athens was too small), in the end we got a tree from the Morning Optimists Club in the Hy-Vee parking lot. The tree, I recall, was a little under six feet tall, and cost $25. I remember this, because Jeff thought that was pretty expensive. (Foreshadowing!)

This year, I really wanted the full-on Holiday Tree-Sawing Extravaganza! So we headed out to what seemed to be the only nearby tree farm, Strawberry Hill. I had attempted ahead of time to find out their pricing info from their website, and when that failed, sent out a friendly email of inquiry, to no avail. Well, no problem. I was sure the pricing would be posted at the farm to help us make a selection within our budget.

When I mentioned to Charlotte last night that we'd be going to a Christmas Tree Farm to cut down our tree the next day, you'd have though I'd told her we were going to Fluffy Puppies and Unlimited Candy Farm or something by her reaction. She wouldn't shut up about about the Christmas Tree Farm. She even mentioned it, loudly, during the children's sermon at church today.*

So, the anticipation had built up to quite a boiling point before we headed out today. We got all bundled up and grabbed our hacksaws (just kidding, we don't have any) and hit the road. The place wasn't far from our church/C's preschool, and it didn't take long to get there.

When we arrived, I could see that this wasn't the most high-class operation. Sure, they had a ton of employees (mostly college-aged guys) wearing their company's embroidered shirts, but it all seemed kind of run-down and tacky. Whatever. Charlotte didn't care. I also noticed that there weren't any prices posted where I could see them. Huh.

So we headed out, sizing up trees, looking for the perfect one. I wanted a smaller tree, not too huge, but we ended up (after being kicked out of the wrong field...sorry, guys, they looked like trees to me) picking a decent, only slightly crooked six-footer. We posed for the obligatory family picture in front of the tree, then hopped on the FREE hayride back to the shed where we'd pay as they packaged our tree up.

An interlude: I love the thing where they stick the tree to violently shake all the dead needles off it. I get a strange sense of calm watching the tree shaken brutally.

So, we headed into the "gift shop" to pay our bill. This "gift shop," and want to use that term even more loosely than the quotes imply, was a metal shack with a tiny, labyrinthine path that meandered through the tables and shelves of random, holiday-themed crap. Just the kind of environment I wanted to be cramped into with my three-year-old and kicky 11-month-old in a backpack! But the promise of cookies and hot cider lured us on. Plus, we had to pay.

The cookies, we found once we reached the bowels of this horrid junk shanty, were slightly stale off-brand Hydrox sandwich cookies, and the tiny dixie cups for the hot cider held just enough to convince you it was too hot to drink by the time you'd thrown back the shot. This was unsatisfying, but even more unsatisfying was the price that rang up on the cash register when the ancient crone behind the desk tabulated our cost.

Jeff turned to me with a look in his eyes first of disbelief, then of horror. A vein in his forehead began to pulse. We carried on one of those side-of-the-mouth, tense muttering conversations. "Is that right?" he hissed. "I guess it is," I whispered back. His eyes widened so that I could see the whites all the way around the irises. I expected them to pop out in the manner of that Nazi in front of the ark of the covenant in Indiana Jones. At the very least, I thought his flesh would melt. " can't...I..." he sputtered. "Just pay," I whispered. "We can't do anything about it now."

So we did. But the afternoon was a bit colored by this unexpected expenditure. I mean, when you go into a venture expecting to pay $X, and end up paying $XXX, it feels a bit obscene. Those of you who know Jeff, and know his extremely frugal, Dutch penny-pinching nature, know that for him, the day was ruined. I managed to pull it together and have a fun time decorating the tree (which, of course, is totally lopsided) with Charlotte.

I'm also chagrined to find that our XXX amount is not really as horrible and vulgar as I had thought. I posted a brief version of our experience on facebook, and mentioned the amount when others asked. Well, not only do most people not think twice about paying XXX, several had paid XXXX and even XXXXX for a tree. A tree! A tree, made of tree materials, and not of, say, gold, or puppies and candy even.

Needless to say, next year, we're going to the Optimists Club again. I myself am optimistic my husband won't have a coronary event in response to Holiday Sticker Shock, and we'll all be merrier as a result.

*I just love it when kids do this during the children's message--belt out random, sometimes inappropriate things. Mrs. Jane was talking about Christmas trees, and she said, "Maybe some of you went out to get a Christmas tree this weekend," when suddenly a tiny little voice chirped out "We're getting OUR Christmas tree TODAY!" Guess who!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Video evidence that we were there last night!

Santa visits downtown Lawrence

Watch for us at 1.43, and again for Charlotte at about 1.52.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Oh, hey, what's up? Yeah, it's late, and once again, I'm barfing up some totally lame last-minute "content" for my "blog". I'm tired, okay? I was up really early, at 3:45 a.m., so I could go stand in line at Target with a bunch of people. Some, like me, were bemused. Others were Very Serious, as in hand-drawn maps of the store Serious. As in, won't share what items they're looking for Serious. Most were cold. And then the doors opened and I did some Christmas shopping and got some good deals and did not get trampled. The end.

I think I'm also tired because we went downtown this evening for the downtown Lawrence Santa/Tree-lighting event. Look, a link! The event itself was a bit tiring because wrangling the children in a crowd is always draining. But even more tiring than the great Santa rescue itself was the sudden flood of questions about Santa the event inspired in Charlotte.

"Why is he on the roof? Why did his sleigh break down? Where are his reindeer? Where will Santa go now? How will he get back to his sleigh? Will his reindeer be okay?" etc.

I did my best to answer her questions in a way that would keep the mystery alive for awhile but still tried to give the story the flavor of a story, so she doesn't think we're totally full of it. As we drove home, and the answers came faster and faster from the backseat, Jeff and I looked at each other with one of those Significant Spousal Nonverbal Exchanges.

"She's finding every hole in this story," I said.

"She's smarter than this," Jeff responded.

I answered a few more questions ("His rudder broke!" "The reindeer are eating some hay and carrots! They're resting up for the return flight!" "The mechanics are fixing the sleigh!") and then said "I am just digging myself deeper into a pit of lies."

Dramatic, yes. But this is the girl who was so fixated on the possibility that my dad heard a turkey on our walk yesterday ("But what did papa hear?" "Where is the turkey?" "Will the turkey come to see us?"). She's really interesting in the world around us, and has a particular curiosity about the strange, the bizarre, the out-of-the-ordinary. Which, really, this whole Santa thing is.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Apparently I'm getting up in about six hours to go be trampled by a mob of psychotic shoppers, among whom will be my mother. Can't wait!

So I invite you over to flickr to check out some photos of our lovely post-feast walk today out at Clinton Lake.

I am thankful for many, many things today, not least among them the amazing food we were privileged to eat together in our comfortable home. I'm glad Sam's fever broke and he was back to his old happy self today. I'm less glad that he pooped his pants so violently this afternoon that I was washing feces out of his hairline. I'm thankful Charlotte was a sweetheart today, and that she ate some real food, and that she says so many hilarious things that I can't remember them all, but I do remember laughing all day long. I'm glad my family could come down and help justify the preparation and consumption of a first-class Thanksgiving meal.

And I'm thankful for you, the readers of this blog, for giving me this creative outlet. Thanks.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This is spot-on:

Tomorrow, expect a full run-down of Thanksgivingpalooza!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I briefly mentioned the cake failure in yesterday's post. I tried making a recipe from the always reliable Smitten Kitchen for this chocolate peanut butter cake that sounded divine. She mentioned that this cake was soft (she may have even used the word "tender") and that freezing the layers for a half-hour before frosting them would make them much easier to handle. "No problem," I thought. "I have plenty of time." I started the cake-making process early in the afternoon. Little did I know that first half-hour of Sam's nap would be the only half-hour of Sam's nap. Also, little did I know that when Smitten tells you to not only butter your cake pans, but also line your pans with parchment, which you should also butter, she really means it, and that if you happen to not have parchment, you may want to consider making a different cake altogether. I discovered this last part when about one-third of my first layer came out of the pan, and about a quarter of the second. I was staring at my sad cakes in dismay when Sam woke up.

All was not lost, however. I put the cake bits into a freezer bag, where they will suffice quite nicely for a future trifle (or, let's be realistic, late-night snacking). And when Jeff and Charlotte got home, I handed cranky Sam over to them and tried again. I still had no parchment, but I buttered the HECK out of a square cake pan, floured it liberally, and prayed.

Well, it was delicious, even though it looked like I had baked the cake on the roof and the tossed it down onto a plate waiting below. A bit bedraggled, but nothing that the liberal application of peanut-butter cream cheese icing couldn't fix.

It was the perfect follow-up to Jeff's birthday dinner, wherein I served what is fast becoming my go-to fancy meal: The Pioneer Woman's steaks with heart-attack sauce. I added a bag of spinach to the sauce, to make it healthy!

I also posted a new recipe at Tig Eats, one I made tonight and am pretty dang pleased with. Check it out: Creamy Pumpkin Penne!

Monday, November 23, 2009

In many ways, today was a pretty crappy day. Really, it began last night, when I went to bed. I had been feeling off all night, but I was busy grading papers so I tried not to notice. As the night progressed, my goal of completing this round of grading before Thanksgiving break slipped away as the grading wasn't going as fast as I had hoped (it never does) and the papers weren't as good as I had hoped (they never are). So around 10:30 I decided to call it quits.

As soon as I lay down in bed, I knew something was not right. My gut was emitting noises like a very unwell beast, and I felt nauseated. Then the dizziness kicked in. I was exhausted, but every time I would get close to sleep, I'd feel like I was falling. I'd jerk awake, heart pounding, stomach swimming, gut churning.

It was a long night. I think I got about two or three hours of sleep before my 10-month-old alarm clock began cooing at 6 a.m. I sat up, and my stomach said, and I quote, "REEEEEEEEEE-uuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhh-*blorp*". "Not happening," I answered.

So I got the baby, but before I did that, I emailed my students to cancel class. Jeff and Charlotte woke up shortly after Sam and I, and the day began. For the three of them, that is. Jeff kindly let me sleep after I weepily told him my sad stomach story.

A few hours later, I was feeling closer to human and my stomach wasn't making any more conversation. So that was good. But then Sam started having one of his crabbiest days on record. Teething? Growth spurt? Ennui? I asked what was wrong, and all he said was "ball!" Not helpful.

Also not helpful was the fact that he boycotted his afternoon nap today. I decided to stay home to try to get a few things done (I had a cake to bake, for one) while Sam took his guaranteed afternoon nap. Well, guaranteed except for today, when I needed the time to get things done. No nap, and my cake was a disaster.

So Jeff and Charlotte got home and Sam and I are both in foul moods, which are contagious. Before long, all four of us were sitting around grumpily grumping and crying intermittently.

Jeff and I watched the clock and as soon as 5 p.m. rolled around, we fed the kids and hurried them into bed. But the theme continued as Charlotte had a full-blown bedtime meltdown the likes of which we haven't seen in weeks. I talked her down as Jeff stirred the onions on the stove.

So, in many ways, not the best day. But in one way, it was.

Happy birthday, Jeff.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Date night!

That's right: Jeff and I actually get to go out on a date tonight. Woo! See you tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Foto Fridays are Flippin' Fantastic!

This photo is one of my favorites. It pictures the author as a young child, weeping while dressed as a Dutch peasant. This was taken in May of 1979, when I was 18 months old.

For the sake of comparison, here's a picture of Charlotte at the same age:

Here, she is weeping not because she's been costumed as an impoverished 19th-century European, but because her mother, who up to that moment had been fairly loving, kind, and protective, brought her to a shopping mall and handed her over to a stranger with a puffy white beard and a bizzare coat-and-hat ensemble, a stranger who was so dedicated to his craft that he stayed in character, jovially bellowing HO HO HO in spite of the despondent wails of the tiny blonde person on his lap.

I will pay you $10 to diagram that sentence.

So, what have we learned today? First, weeping when being made a spectacle of runs in the family. I can't wait to humiliate Sam! Second, I can't help but notice a more than passing resemblance between my daughter and I. Hmm. And finally, and most importantly, mothers are not to be trusted, especially when they are wielding a camera.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Normally, on Thursday nights, I'm in class right about now. But I wasn't feeling the greatest today, so I'm skipping. I should be spending this time doing either 1. productive things; or 2. sleeping. So I'm going to first do 1, then move on to 2 shortly.

So here's a picture of Sam that cracked me up:

This is post-bath. When he saw the camera, he sat up, propped his elbow up on his knee (conveniently blocking the camera's view of his junk with his hand...very clever!) and sat all smiley and posed like this for minutes. I guess I take a lot of pictures...he knows what's expected of him!
And also a bit of Sam news: he pulled himself up to standing today! In pursuit of a small toy of Charlotte's on an end table! A toy that is totally a choking hazard! Guess what I'll be doing this weekend!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hey, whaddya know! They didn't turn out so bad after all. In fact, I think they're pretty cute. Of course, Charlotte helped by giving them some of her best smiles. Well done, kiddo.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Today, November 17, is a day dedicated by the March of Dimes to raising awareness of the crisis of premature birth.

Back in the late 1990s, when I was in college, a family I babysat for was expecting their third child. They had two adorable redheaded daughters already, and were excited to round out their family a bit more. Little Ethan was born early--very early. I babysat for his sisters one day when their dad was visiting his wife and son in the children's hospital in Des Moines.

I was pretty naive, and didn't realize how bad things were. I asked the father when he arrived back home how things were. He seemed exhausted, scared, and sad as he told me a few things about his day visiting his tiny son in the NICU. While we talked, he had been folding and unfolding a paper napkin that he had picked up absentmindedly from the table. When the napkin was folded into quarters, he paused for a minute, then held it up to show me. "This is how big his diapers are," he said. It was incomprehensively tiny.

My family was on vacation the next week when we got a call from someone at our church, passing on the prayer request for this family. Little Ethan had died.

This is the closest I've ever come to premature birth. My children were both full-term babies with no health concerns, a fact for which I probably don't give thanks often enough. The concern and anxiety I pour into parenting my relatively normal kids gives me only the tiniest inkling of what it must be like to worry that your baby, the one you've been waiting and hoping for, planning on, might not make it.

But I'm not the person you should listen to on this topic. Please, go read Julie's (as always amazingly well told) story, and consider contributing to March of Dimes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

I am not the perfect mother. And most of the time, that's completely fine by me. I realize that nobody is the perfect mother, really. But I think there is this idea of a perfect mother, a Platonic Ideal Mom, if you will, that many people have lurking somewhere in the cave of their minds. You know: totally selfless and yet completely put together, fun and funny, encouraging and appropriately disciplinary, calm and patient and rational, and totally in control of everything that's going on. Comes with: mini-van/SUV, fancy cell phone, highlights, organic snacks, trendy skinny jeans that totally fit because she doesn't have a smidge of baby weight left.

I fall a little more toward the "average mother barely holding it together" end of the spectrum on most days. Today was a day I drifted below that point, into the "crappy frazzled mom who's pretty lucky her kid is too young to know better" range.

It was photo day at Charlotte's preschool. And I'm so irritated with myself because I knew this was coming up, but I just...forgot to remember. I had my typical Monday morning: teach from 8-10, office hours from 10-11, real office hours from 11-11:30 because that's when students show up despite the fact that I'm not supposed to be in my office then, panicky quick-walk to my car because I'm running behind, get home with just barely enough time to get Charlotte dressed and do something with her hair, nurse Sam, throw my stuff in my bag, toss some food down my craw, kiss Jeff hand off Sam and out the door we go! Whew.

And then when we walked into Charlotte's preschool, I saw that there was a little lighted backdrop area and cameras set up in the gym, and I saw all the other little kids be-ringleted and wearing their Sunday best, and I felt...well, horrible and guilty and suddenly frazzled and unkempt.

The thing is, the pictures will probably be pretty cute anyway. Sure, her hair is a little crazy (we were sporting a favorite look of Charlotte's that we call "bunny ears"--basically two ponytails holding the top part of her hair out of her face) and I might have selected a different outfit (although the sweater she had on is pretty cute), but she seemed relaxed and unfazed by the fact that it was photo day and we hadn't prepped her ahead of time. And she is only three, for crying out loud, so it's not like she noticed or cared that most of the other girls in her class had on floofy dresses.

But when I was driving away after dropping her off, I was so upset I started crying (dangerous behind the wheel, people. If you see a 2001 silver Subaru Forester piloted by a weeping blonde woman, I'd take the next exit). I called Jeff and told him what had happened, what I'd done (*drama*), and he seemed unconcerned, and in fact a little irritated that I was bothering him with such a trivial concern. Of course, this is the man who routinely dresses his daughter in outfits like this one, so grain of salt &etc.

But the thing is, sometimes I want to be...well, not Perfect Mother, but somewhere closer to Relaxed and Pretty Good Mom, as opposed to Last-Minute and Barely Okay Mom, which is how I feel most days. I know I am putting most of this pressure on myself. But there are times when I feel like I'm not doing as good of a job as Charlotte and Sam deserve.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

This picture is the best way to tell you why I wanted two kids, and why I think having two kids is awesome.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Okay, I'm a little low on content ideas tonight, so I'm going to do the linky linky thing.

To offset my dog and soldier love stories I linked to on veterans day, here are some cat videos that make me embarassed about how many times I watch them:

Cat meets empty soda cartons.

Same cat, empty box.

I miss my kitties. I like to pretend Hobbes and Murdoch are frolicking (who am I kidding? Lolling lazily, more like) around some happy farm somewhere. Jeff posits a different fate for my poor former smalls.

Anyway, enjoy the cats. Or, you know, see you back here tomorrow for something you're actually interested in.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A few minutes ago, I clicked "purchase" on our tickets to Michigan for Christmas. Moments before, I had selected two adults, one child 2-17, and one infant in lap as the passengers for this itinerary. I shuddered visibly when I selected that last one, because...well, Sam in my lap for a two-hour flight? It's not the cakewalk it was a few months ago.

Sam is really into things. Like, he's both physically into things, as in the fireplace, the cupboards, the bookshelf, any open doorway, the dishwasher, etc. And he's also really into things emotionally, invested in them fully. I kind of think of babies at this age as being a bit like the dog in UP, you know, Dug, the nice one? He's totally devoted to you, really interested in what you're doing, where you are, until SQUIRREL! Except for Sam, it's more like BALL and WHOA A CLOUD and WIND and HOLY COW A FAN! His entire body arches and cranes to be near the newest object of his affection. He loves taking baths so much that he all but flings himself bodily into the bathroom as I walk past the doorway holding him.

And he's a big guy. At the last appointment, he was in the 97th percentile for height, but had slimmed down a bit to the 85th for weight. But he throws all 100 percent of that weight around, army-crawl grunting his way across the floor at a remarkably fast pace, just to arrive at his destination (two blocks stacked one atop the other), which he proceeds to decimate. Our motto these days is SAM SMASH. He really does delight in roughing things up, throwing things, grabbing glasses and hats off our heads and then flinging them underfoot with a cackle.

Tonight, and oh how I wish I had charged the video camera's battery, because this was a moment I need to archive and share simply so others would believe me...anyway, tonight he GRABBED the footstool his sister uses to reach the counters (she wasn't on it at the time), LIFTED IT UP (and bear in mind he is in a prone position), and CHUCKED it across the room. It was like a little WWF match between Sam the Brutalizer and the kitchen rug. After the stool clattered noisily across the kitchen floor, Charlotte backed tentatively out of the room. Sam, meanwhile, was on to bigger and better things, like determining how he could access the oven and maybe TEAR IT APART.

So, perhaps you can understand my trepidation about flying with this 24-pound, 32-inch chunk of pure unharnessed spastic baby energy. And to the passengers in row 25 of NWA 7470: I apologize in advance.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Scatalogical Thursdays!

To understand this post, you should probably know that our bathmat is brown.

Charlotte really labors with her poops. I mean, really. We're talking extended minutes spent on the john, clutching her face and doing this weird moan/whine thing. And when she finally does produce, her face turns red, she does jazz hands, grunts, and SHAZZAM! adult-sized poo. Seriously huge turds for such a little girl. She clogs the toilet regularly.*

So, here's a conversation we just had after her 20-minute ordeal finally came to fruition, as it were:

Charlotte: I did my turtle (our word for poo, in case you're a newcomer)!
Jana: Great job! (Charlotte stands up.) Whoa, that's huge one!
Charlotte: I know, and it was so ouchy!
Jana: I bet! Wow!
Charlotte: Oh! My turtle matches that towel on the ground (bathmat)! They are bathroom twins! Except that my turtle is even browner, because it's even more stinky!

And, scene.

*She's going to hate me when she gets older, isn't she?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Both of my grandfathers were veterans of World War II.

My Grandpa Terlouw, my mom's dad, was a plane mechanic in England. He got sick (pneumonia, I think?) and was hospitalized during his service. I've wondered if this illness (coupled of course with his years of smoking) didn't weaken his lungs and contribute to his eventual death from lung cancer. He died in February 1996, during my senior year of high school. The day of his funeral was unseasonably warm, and I remember thinking grandpa, who loved gardening, would have probably started puttering around outside a little on such a beautiful day, planning that year's veggie patch.

My Grandpa Deur, my dad's dad, served in the Pacific. His job was to set up radio communications on the various islands. For years I didn't know what this meant--in fact, I thought it was kind of a cushy, non-combative job. But apparently this meant that grandpa was one of the first people going into some of these locations. He was entering into the unknown. Grandpa Deur died April 2007, and at his funeral they played a clip of a presentation he did for a grade school class about his service in the war. He revealed details to these fifth graders that he had never openly shared with his own kids, details that revealed how terrifying the experience was for a fresh, untested 20-year-old farm boy from Iowa, and how closely he connected those experiences to his growing faith and love of his family.

When I think of Veteran's Day now, I don't just think about those who served, but those who were left at home. I think of my Grandma Deur, who found her courtship with my grandpa extended from three years to seven because of his deployment, who went out to Penneys for her wedding dress that she would wear in a blizzard just days after grandpa arrived back in Iowa. My Grandpa and Grandma Terlouw hadn't met when he was in the war, but I sometimes think of the conversations they must have had about his service after they were married, and whether she wondered about this part of his past that she had no access to but that must have shaped who he was in some indefinable way.

I think of Jeff's Grandma Beukema, who lost a baby on the day he was born while her husband was serving in Italy. I think of that letter or telegram, and that horrible aching and longing to be together that must have doubled, tripled at the news. I can't imagine.

I also think of my friend Kristin, my masters program buddy, whose husband, Nathan, was in Afghanistan while she was studying for her MA in Ohio. That was the closest I've ever been to someone who had a loved one serving in a war, and I can tell you with complete assurance that it sucked. Now Kristin (who is also in the military...yay, Cap'n Loyd!) and Nathan live in Colorado...together.

And I think of my sister-in-law, Katy, whose brother Rich is in Afghanistan now. His emails home are riddled with military terms and jargon I don't get, but they are also full of insight, intensity, and experiences that I will never understand.

But even if I can't comprehend the experience, the motivation, the reality of service, I can be thankful for those who have served, who have come out the other side unscathed, or with invisible scars that have shaped who they are.

Three links: Kate at Sweetsalty has written a moving account of her grandpa's war experience here.

The always-awesome Julie at alittlepregnant linked to a post from a couple years back.

And this one: Dogs welcoming home soldiers. Get the tissues ready.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Today was a big improvement. Charlotte was much more stable, less whiny and prone to crying fits and stomping "NO" and other awful three-year-old behavior. She was her usual witty, fun, inventive, sensitive little self.

I think it's the 5:45 p.m. bedtime, personally.

And speaking of that bedtime, we're still suffering under the 6 a.m. wake-up call, so I'm going to click "publish" and call it a night.

Coming soon: video of the kids!

Monday, November 09, 2009

I always feel a little down the day after my birthday, anniversary, or a major holiday. I love the anticipation that goes into preparing for the big event, whatever it might be. The celebration itself always contains a little disappointment, too, of course--does the reality ever live up to our big expectations? But the day after is especially depressing. The detritus of the day before (in this case, the dirty dishes from cupcake baking, the remnants of frosting stuck to the countertops) is a visible reminder that this day isn't special.

So today was a downer day anyway, and then it turned out to be one of Charlotte's worst days ever. EVER. Do things improve after 3 1/2? Because if they continue to get worse, I don't know how we'll get through. I have had days in the past few weeks where, after Charlotte goes to bed, I try to think about one thing about her that I liked that day, and I can't come up with anything. There are days, in other words, when she's a first-class brat, a real three year old. And today was one of those. She was so uncooperative, so deliberately stubborn and obstinate and sulky and talking in that horrible whiny baby voice she does now and refusing to cooperate with anything and ARGH. She went to bed at 5:45 p.m. and I really think we could have put her to bed an hour earlier. She was obviously tired and not coping well with her own emotions. It just sucked, frankly.

So, 3 1/2 = not my favorite age.

Sam, on the other hand, is in one of my favorite ages. Plus, he sleeps great, so he's already getting a grander portion of my vast estate in my will. I feel bad liking Sam's baby shenanigans so much when I dislike Charlotte's behavior just as much, like I'm betraying Charlotte, but it goes without saying that of course I love them both equally. Sam's needs are just simpler to understand, his demands fewer. Charlotte is tapping into a part of my brain that is unused. Reasoning with a willful young child is stretching out areas of my cerebellum in a way that is at times just painful. But it can be enlightening, too, and my hope is this stretching will lead to flexibility.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hello, internet! Would you like a cupcake? It's delicious--I made them myself.

Is it lame that I made my own birthday cupcakes? I hope not.

Yes, today is my birthday. I got flatware from my mom, and I was totally excited about it. Both of those things seem appropriate now that I am 32. Getting really worked up about new flatware is a 32-year-old thing.

I'm using my new flatware to eat a slice of this:

The lighting was so bad that I couldn't make the picture look decent in color. So enjoy my dramatic art-student black-and-white emo cake.

Charlotte really wanted me to use 32 candles on my cake. Because we don't have a fire extinguisher, I declined.

Charlotte was also very enthusiastic about helping me bake my cake, because she knows that baking = beaters to lick. As she was going to town on the first chocolate-batter-covered beater, she suddenly said, "This is better than a corndog!"

And it is.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Post post post...

Just a quick post before I go out to celebrate my birthday (tomorrow)!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Man, I hate to be cliched, but this DST time change is kicking our collective butts over here.

The kids just can't/won't sleep past 6:15 a.m. And somehow, we can't manage to get them in bed early enough to make that a real full night of sleep. I mean, you try putting kids to bed at 5:30 p.m.

And somehow, that extra forty-five minutes of sleep in the morning was apparently what it took to make the difference between Functional Jana and Barely-Hanging-On Jana.

And it's equally difficult to convince myself to go to bed when I should. 10 p.m. sounds like a pretend bedtime.

Plus, that was fifteen minutes ago, and I still have grading to do.

I hate you, DST.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Three weird phobias I have:

1. Claymation
2. Turbines
3. Fog

Your turn! In the comments.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Today, when I was walking from the library to my car after a couple (excruciating) hours of student conferences, I had a...moment. I saw someone out of the corner of my eye, and for a second I thought it was Jeff. But not Jeff right now--no, Jeff from 1997, when we had been dating for a few months, but were still "fresh" enough that I got butterflies every time I saw him walking around campus. It was strange. This guy, from a distance, looked exactly like 1997 Jeff: the auburn hair, the sideburns, the coat, the baggy corduroys, the brown boots. It was eerie. And for just a second, my heart jumped a little bit and my breath came a little faster, and I thought "there's my boyfriend!"

Then I was back in the present, a nearly 32-year-old mother of two headed home after some really wretched conferences with seriously underprepared students. But at least my boyfriend was at home waiting for me.

I think, knowing Jeff, he probably still has those baggy corduroys around somewhere, too.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

My brother, Scott, a.k.a. Uncle Awesome, is in town. Rather than typing an entry here, I'm going back downstairs to hang out with him, no doubt so he can gross me out with more stories about making out with girls. Ewww.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Parenting is sometimes a thankless task, full of endless, repetitive drudgery, diurnal concerns, and little by way of compensation or even positive feedback.

Writing, too, is frequently unrewarding. The amount of time a poet spends carefully crafting the perfect alliteration, the right balance of tones and images, the exact word for that feeling is simply not reciprocated. The world doesn't give back equally to the hard-working poet, particularly the poet who works, as one does, in isolation.

Jeff's two jobs these days are: 1. Stay-at-home parent; and 2. Poet. Stay-at-home poet? I guess that would be accurate, too. Because he's not in a grad program or an active writers' group, he doesn't get the regular feedback and assistance of a group of like-minded peers. He often relies on my (totally unqualified) eye to look over a poem before he sends it out, with hope and faith, to a journal. And my schedule means I rarely am able to offer him the kind of attentive reading he needs and his writing deserves.

The other form of feedback a writer usually receives is in the form of reponses from literary journals and publications to which work has been submitted. Journals get a lot of submissions, and accept a really, really low number of those submissions. So if you're an active writer who is sending stuff out, trying to get published, you're going to get alot of self-addressed stamped thin envelopes back.

This is all to say that today, Jeff got a fat envelope, with an acceptance to a well-regarded literary journal. And I'm so proud of him, and happy for him, and relieved, because a guy that works this hard at such a thankless task and has such talent that is usually only appreciated (and not appreciated enough, really) by me deserves a fat envelope every once in a while.

Congratulations, Jeff. And I suggest you all buy issue 23 of this journal in 2010!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

That's right, I'm doing it!
Uh, this counts as the first one, right?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

One year ago, I was wearing this:

And tomorrow, I'll be trying to recreate this with some of my grad school friends:

I'll be Stacey McGill.

I could write a rather long entry on the formative role the Babysitters Club played in my upbringing, even going so far as to offer a second-year doctoral student analysis of the ways this series works to indoctrinate young girls into their socially acceptable gendered roles as caregivers while simultaneously encouraging capitalism and individual interprise. But it's 11 p.m. and I gots freshmen to teach in the a.m.

Instead, I'll leave you with: hot pink leggings WOO!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's late, and I'm tired, and I still have a handful of student papers to grade before I can hit the sack. So I leave you with this fantastic Charlotte-ism that Jeff recorded today:

"There's so many orphans! In the Annie movie. There's like hundreds. Hundreds and hundreds. Remember at the end, there's fireworks? What was the doggy's name?"

Jeff, of course, didn't remember the doggy's name, so when I came home I was able to bust into a top-of-the-voice rendition of this song. Sam loved it. Jeff was mildly horrified.

(By the way, how fantastic is the girl who chimes in at :15?)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sam turned 10 months old today. To celebrate, Charlotte pushed him down the stairs.

Okay, okay. We have no proof C was a perp in this instance. In fact, I wasn't even witness to the event. I came home from school this afternoon, all cheerful and happy to see my family, and Jeff shamefacedly broke the news to me that: 1. Sam only took a one-hour nap this afternoon (after an equally short nap this morning); and that 2. Sam fell down the stairs.

A few days ago, I ducked into the bathroom for a minute to wash Sam's fecal matter off my hands and he kicked it into overdrive, belly-crawled at light speed over to the top of the stairs, and proceeded to hurl himself down them. I came out of the bathroom just as his chubby diaper butt rounded the corner and lunged for him, just barely grabbing his fat left ankle.* He thought it was pretty hilarious. My heart rate didn't settle down for a good 20 minutes. I made a mental note to: 1. not leave Sam unattended in the upstairs hallway...or perhaps in the entire upstairs; and 2. to procure and install a baby gate.

Of course, number 2 hasn't happened, and number 1...well...

In Jeff's defence, he was being diligent. The kids were playing fort or something under my desk, which is right across from the top of the stairway, and Jeff had been acting as a human baby gate, blocking the stairway with his body. He got up for a second to grab something off his desk, just a few feet away, and...well, in his own words, "As soon as I heard the first big thump I knew what was happening."

Sam landed face down in the corner of the landing, tumbling down eight carpeted stairs before doing so. He cried for a second, but was fine once Jeff picked him up. He appears to be completely unscathed, without even a bruise or a carpet burn. I have the baby monitor turned up full blast so I can hear every breath he draws just to make sure he continues to draw breath, but I think we're in the clear.

We were both sitting at our respective desks earlier tonight when a though occurred to me. "How did Charlotte react when Sam fell down the stairs?" I asked. "She was fine," Jeff responded. "She really didn't seem too worried or bothered by it."

Pause. Then we looked at each other and, in unison, said, "You don't think..."

In general, the sibling rivalry has been okay. Charlotte's affections are sometimes a bit too forceful, her hugs around the neck a bit too much on the far side of throttling, but most of the time she's delighted by Sam, and he by her. Most of the time.

So, what do you think? Did precious little Charlotte push Sam down the steps like a tiny blonde Damien? Or do we have a little Evel Knievel in cloth diapers on our hands?

*His right ankle is also fat. It's not like he has one fat ankle and one bony one or anything.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My first memory that I can pinpoint to a specific time is the night before my brother was born. What I remember is not the cute story told about when I met my brother for the first time the next morning (when I saw him, I said "he's ugly" and started to cry...sorry, Scott). What I remember is going to my cousins' house, and getting to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor of my cousin Angie's room. They had a little padded floor mat thing that I was to put my sleeping bag down on, and the vinyl-covered mat had one red side and one blue side. I remember thinking that I held the power to decide my future sibling's gender based on which side of the mat I chose to sleep on.

I chose blue, of course.

Charlotte is now older than I was when my brother was born, which means it's possible she's forming some permanent memories now. There are days when I don't think about that at all, days that probably don't go as well as they could, days that I hope don't get archived away.

Today, though, was one of those days that I wouldn't mind finding out is filling that first-memory slot. It wasn't anything special, just a normal Monday. I went to school, and then she went to school, and then we all went for a walk. There was music, and dancing, and sunshine, and giggling. And a fair amount of whining and begging for candy (oh, Halloween season, I love you so). But when we put the kids to bed tonight, I thought "this is one day I could do again." Nothing special, but special in its own way.

A couple things I'll remember from today: Charlotte saying "Oh, Sam's just devouring his hands! He's having a hand dinner!" and, while dancing to Run DMC, "I sure do like these beats!"

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why haven't I been writing?

This is a question I have been asked, and that I have asked myself. And the answer is: I don't know.

I think I'm going through a bit of a dry spell creatively. It may seem strange to refer to this blog as a creative outlet, but it's true, in many ways. Writing here is a different kind of writing for me than the kind I do for school.

So I'm feeling uncreative right now. It's not that there's nothing going on--quite the opposite, in fact. Our lives are packed full, and that's reflected in the lack of writing here, too.

I think rather than taking a hiatus, which is my inclination, I will do the opposite. I will try to post something here every day for the next thirty days. Some days it might just be a picture, or a Charlotte-ism. But there'll be something here. Hopefully it'll prod my creative side back to life.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I have two things primarily on my mind, two things that I want to write about. These things will probably not be linked by any kind of coherent, unifying narrative arc, because it is the eve of fall break and I've, my thinker? What's that thing called? Ah, my brain off for the duration of break. To that end, I have been reading a best-selling book for pleasure, a book that was a best-seller in this very century! I enjoyed it, as I am wont to do, but found that I enjoyed it with a different part of my brain. The part that doesn't multitask as I read, firing up synapses that trigger thoughts of relevant critical articles or essays or cultural and historical context. It was lovely.

So, anyway. Brain: off. Blog: on.

The two things:

1. Sam can talk!

When Charlotte said her first word at ten months, I was pretty surprised. In fact, I was so surprised that I thought I was hearing things, and ignored it for a few days. But then she kept saying it, and saying it in the appropriate context, so finally I just shrugged and got out the baby book and the nice black ink pen. "Charlotte's First Word: Duck. April 2007." From there, it was the veritable language explosion one reads about. Within a month she had an arsenal of a dozen discernable words, and just as many signs.

Sam suffers from second-child syndrome in many areas. I am not as diligent in updating his baby book. I randomly noticed that he had another tooth (his fifth) poking through at dinner yesterday, an event that would have been much anticipated with Charlotte. I haven't put together a single photo album for poor Neglecty Sam.

And it follows that I haven't been as hypervigilant about teaching Sam baby signs, about carefully using language and reinforcing the language use with a visual. I am really sorry to say that I hardly ever read just to Sam, although he frequently benefits second-hand from the reading we do with Charlotte.

So if you asked me to predict, I would have said that Sam would probably talk later than Charlotte, since by all accounts Charlotte's language acquisition was so early as to be kind of freakish. And yet, last week, Sam said his first word.

The situation mirrored Charlotte's first word quite closely. There was the random noticing of "hey, he seems to be saying something, and saying it appropriately." Then there was the setting up of test situations, where we would show him random other objects, and then the favored, named object, to see if all objects ellicited the response, or only the correct object. I wish, in hindsight, that we had videotaped these tests, perhaps in a plain, windowless room, with Sam seated in a folding chair under the light of a single dangling light bulb. In other words, it felt very scientific. And the test results proved the hypothesis: Sam is talking.

Of course, I have yet to get out his (dusty) baby book and the black ink pen, to record "Sam's First Word: Ball. October 2009." Maybe I'll get to that this (glorious long) weekend.

2. Charlotte's Skin

Oh, this part is painful for me to write. I'm getting emotional just thinking about it, which is really kind of ridiculous. But I am a woman, and I know what it's like to be a female in this world, and I also know what it's like to be a female in this world who is (overly) sensitive about her appearance.

My daughter is a beautiful, lovely girl. Her eyes, her hair, her smile, her sweet little hands and feet, her round you think I can get through this without crying? If you said yes, you don't know me. I get choked up thinking about this lovely, amazing creature and that I was privileged enough to contribute some DNA to her manufacture.

Charlotte has sensitive skin, and always has. She has a skin condition called Keratosis Pilaris. I also have KP, although much less severely, and only on my upper arms and occasionally my thighs. Charlotte has these little bumps all over her upper arms and (sob) her cheeks. It comes and goes on her face, and sometimes is better than others, but frequently she has these pimply bumps on her pretty little cheeks that just make me sad to look at them. Why? I don't know. I mean, I do has to do with beauty standards and not wanting Charlotte to be self-conscious of her skin the way I was growing up (and even now, to be honest) and wanting people to be able to look past the KP to see her beautiful face and eyes and smile.

Charlotte's also suffered from eczema on occasion, particularly in the winter months, although we've found we can keep that in check with the liberal application of eucerin lotion. She also has a tiny wart on her thumb that I made the mistake of pointing out and asking if she wanted mama to get rid of it for her. She hid her hand behind her back and wouldn't look at me and said "no, I wanna keep it" all ashamed like she had done something wrong. I wanted to kick myself. I explained that that was totally fine, and I just don't want it to bother her, but I also don't want people to look at my little daughter's sweet hand and see a wart and think "Gross" or something. So now I gave my poor little girl a complex about a stupid wart.

And then, this week Sunday, she woke up with a weird red splotch about the size of a quarter near the right-side corner of her mouth. Over the course of the day, it got worse and more pronounced, and eventually developed the distinct blistery appearance of a cold sore.

It was huge, and really nasty, and we kept her home from school Monday in part because cold sores are contagious, but also because I wasn't prepared to send a three-year-old off to school looking like she just ducked out of the Particularly Grody Skin Lesions ward of the leper colony.

Jeff and I talked a bit about the cold sore, about what to do to treat it (not much we can do with a three-year-old, unfortunately), and our reactions to it. And, of course, Charlotte heard us. I noticed her acting a little strangely, kind of hiding her face, and at one point looking at herself searchingly in the mirror. It clicked at that moment: What am I doing? What kind of an idiot would talk about someone's owie in terms that made it sound gross and perhaps like it was her fault or something?

So after that point, I made sure to just call the cold sore her owie and to treat it like I would any other scrape or bruise, with, of course, the added care a contagious sore requires. Today she went to school with a little band-aid over the cold sore, which apparently lasted almost the entire day, and helped keep her from touching it, checking to see if it was there, and then smearing her germy fingers all over her poor unsuspecting classmates.

I hope I didn't ruin her self-esteem already. This parenting thing is really hard sometimes.

Like I said, no tidy ending or satisfying conclusion that ties up loose ends. If I were grading this blog entry like I grade my freshman comp essays, I would give it a C+ at best.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Wow, two and a half weeks...I think that may be my longest break since starting this blog!

I hardly know where to begin. I've been bogged down for the last...oh, two and a half weeks, I guess. That's when I got my first batch of student papers. And, lo, the grading, it was painful. And time-consuming. And painful. Did I mention painful?

I like teaching. I think I would love it if it were my full-time job, and I didn't have to do this in addition to my own coursework and research. Add to that the additional flaming chainsaw of being a wife and mother, and suddenly my juggling skills simply aren't up to the task. It's too much. Forty student papers are too many to grade.

I am feeling disjointed and fragmented and unable to write a coherent anything. What I really want to do is go downstairs and drink a pumpkin beer and watch a movie with Jeff. So that's what I'm going to do.

We'll be back to our scheduled programming tomorrow, with pumpkin patch and homecoming parade pictures and stories of Charlotte and Sam's latest adventures.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Right now, Sam is supposed to be napping, but if I were to read back the transcript of what's been coming over the monitor, it would say "Ehhhhh MA MA MA ma ma ma ba ba BA ba ba..." and so on. He's not crying, just laying in there talking, and so I have no cause to intervene. When Sam naps during Charlotte's preschool afternoons, I get all manner of things accomplished. Laundry, dishes, cleaning, homework, baking...I compress all manner of Martha Stewart activities into my fleeting 90-120 minutes. When Sam is supposed to be napping but most patently is not, I get nothing accomplished. It really doesn't make sense. I could just as easily fold clothes and load the dishwasher while he babbles himself to sleep, but I can't, for some reason. I'm paralyzed by worry. I'd rather sit and fret and wring my hands that he's NOT SLEEPING and WHAT'S WRONG because HE ALWAYS SLEEPS SO WELL! Could this spell the END of our GOOD SLEEPER?! Fret fret fret.

So I'm channeling that anxiety into something useful: a mostly rambling blog post! Lucky you!

We've settled into a nice routine. My semester and Charlotte's fall schedule started at roughly the same time, and it was a bit touch and go for a while there. But now we know mostly when we need to be where, and what needs to be done when. I've sacrificed a bit of sleep in order to get all my work done and still spend some time with my children and husband, but I mostly don't feel the effects.

Sam's improving a bit on the crawling front. He still uses his army crawl method, but has picked up a bit of speed. He acts all helpless and stationary but as soon as you duck around the corner to make a cup of tea, he turns on the speed and the next thing you know he's across the room, eating a coloring book. Jeff and I watched Iron Man over the weekend, and the scene where Robert Downey Jr. as the titular character was heaving himself across the floor of his basement workshop, trying to reach his back-up chest piece/heart thing, we turned to each other and laughed. "It's Sam!" we both said. My description of the action-movie hero in the Sam Can Crawl video was very apt.

Charlotte is digging her new social lifestyle. She has new songs in her repertoire and will randomly bring up things from her movements outside our home that occasionally baffle us, but for the most part we get it and are delighted to see how preschool and ballet and Sunday school are helping make our bright girl shine even more brightly. We were having some issues the past couple of weeks where Charlotte would wake up at least once a night in an absolute weeping panic. She'd be panting, wailing, staring around all wide-eyed and frantic, and nothing we did could console her. I asked my facebook friends for advice, and the consensus was that she is experiencing night terrors. Several people mentioned that these can result from entering a deep sleep state too quickly, which in turn is caused by going to bed too late/overtired. So we've started putting Miss C to bed a bit earlier, and also easing into bedtime a bit more, as things could get rushed at the end of the day. So far, this seems to be working.

Now Sam has transitioned from placid babbling to agonized yelling, so my intervention may be required. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Nine Years

by Frank O’Hara

Have you forgotten what we were like then
when we were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth

it’s no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners

the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water

I wouldn’t want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New video featuring Sam "crawling." I use that term very, very loosely.

Sam Can Crawl!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Because my area of interest is nineteenth-century literature, I sometimes find myself reading texts that can only be described as romantic, sentimental, or even maudlin in their emotional intensity. One thing many nineteenth-century texts have in common is an idealized vision of childhood. While this isn't true across the board (the nineteenth century gave us many memorable, fleshed-out children's characters as well), it's hard not to get bogged down in the sappy sentimentality of the angelic child in the pages of these Victorian novels.


"O, Topsy, poor child, I love you!" said Eva, with a sudden burst of feeling, and laying her little thin, white hand on Topsy's shoulder; "I love you, because you haven't had any father, or mother, or friends;--because you've been a poor, abused child! I love you, and I want you to be good. I am very unwell, Topsy, and I think I shan't live a great while; and it really grieves me, to have you be so naughty. I wish you would try to be good, for my sake;--it's only a little while I shall be with you." --Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe

My daughter is, I think, I pretty good kid. She's bright and fun and interested in life. But I don't fool myself into thinking that Charlotte's a special, angelic princess, unsullied by life and sinful impulse. Like all other three-year-olds, Charlotte lacks empathy for others, and that is reflected in her self-centeredness. Again, I emphasize that this is normal three-year-old behavior, and I know that it is. The altruistic angel child of Victorian lit is simply a myth, a projection of idealized innocence.
Charlotte's selfish side comes out on occasion, such as when Jeff goes into her room in the morning instead of the preferred parent (me), and Charlotte responds by whining, saying "NO!" and holding up her hands to block out the very sight of him. Or when I'm trying to get her out the door and I need her to put on her shoes, and she moves across the room at the slowest possible speed at which she could be moving and still be considered in motion, like the glass in the windows of ancient cathedrals, seeping slowly downward molecule by molecule. And then when I ask her to please hurry up, she responds, "What!? I'm coming, see?"

"Merry Christmas, Marmee! Many of them! Thank you for our books; we read some, and mean to every day," they cried, in chorus.
"Merry Christmas, little daughters! I'm glad you began at once, and hope you will keep on. But I want to say one word before we sit down. Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little new-born baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?"
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke; only a minute, for Jo exclaimed impetuously,
"I'm so glad you came before we began!"
"May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?" asked Beth, eagerly.
--Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Today, we were all sitting around in the living room. Sam was sitting on his blanket on the floor, happily playing and babbling, surrounded by a ring of drool-bedecked toys. Jeff was reading on the couch, and I was making a grocery list on the chair nearby. Charlotte ran back and forth, singing, cavorting, and keeping up her usual running commentary. Then she paused in front of Sam, reached out, and shoved him over.
Sam, to his credit, was unaffected by his sudden move from semi-vertical to horizontal, as it's something that happens rather regularly on his own. On the other hand, I was horrified. Charlotte has never been an aggressive kid. She never bit, and I can count on one hand the number of times she's lashed out by hitting or kicking. But this was a deliberately malicious move. And she knew it.
"Charlotte!" I exclaimed. "What did you do?" Something about my tone, the cocktail of shock, shame, and urgency, drew Jeff's attention to the incident. He caught Charlotte as she was sprinting for the kitchen. (As an aside, that's something she does to avoid me when she's in trouble for some reason--runs for another room. Another thing she does is close her eyes. While staying put. As though if she can't see me, my anger doesn't exist.) Jeff carried Charlotte back over by me as I repeated the question.
Charlotte, standing in front of me, refused to answer or look me in the eye. Instead, gazing off into the middle distance, she asked, "What are you going to do?"
Now, if she had tacked on "about it" to the end of that inquiry, I would have been concerned. As it was, this question just demonstrated the three-year-old's natural selfish concerns--what's going to happen to me? How will I be dealt with?
I told Charlotte that we don't hit, push or hurt each other, and that if she did it again, ever, to anyone, not just Sam, she would be punished. And I told her how disappointing this was to me, that she would do something on purpose that could hurt someone. One thing I didn't do, though, was ask her to apologize. One of those hippie kiddie-psychologist articles Jeff or I read claimed that forcing kids to apologize actually postpones altruistic tendencies, so we don't ask Charlotte to, although we do try to model apologizing ourselves.


"Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive--it's such an interesting world. It wouldn't be half so interesting if we know all about everything, would it? There'd be no scope for imagination then, would there?"--Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery

Things went back to normal. I righted Sam again and placed him amid his drool-toys. Jeff sat back down, and Charlotte continued playing. As she ran past Sam, on occasion she'd make a point of patting him gently on the head, like a beloved pet, while making eye contact with me, as if to say "See, Mom? I'm a good big sister!"
After a few more minutes, I saw Charlotte stop in front of Sam again. She squatted down and looked him in the eyes and said something, quietly. Then she smiled at him, got up, and skipped away. Not once did she look at me.
What she said was "Sorry, Sam."
It's not empathy, but it's a start.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

So, this happened:

Yep, preschool. This picture was actually taken today. The thing on Monday was just a brief, hour-long meet-and-greet, visit the room and teachers sort of thing. We got all dressed up and donned the brand new Hello Kitty backpack anyway. But today was the real thing, so I took my friend Kristen's advice, printed up a sign, and started a tradition.
Charlotte takes after her mother in many ways, and her interest in school is just one of them. When we casually mentioned the idea of going to preschool almost a year ago, Charlotte heard and latched onto the notion. She never seemed to express hesitation about leaving her parents and home for several uninterrupted hours, something she's rarely done since we've never done daycare. To her, the appeal of a place full of other kids and organized activities and playing with other toys and reading other books sounded pretty much like heaven.
For the last few months Charlotte has been requesting we "do some school" at home, by which she means work in some of the various workbooks we bought to feed her insatiable brain. She's blown through these books at an incredible speed, demonstrating a hunger for learning that was pretty dang exciting. I mean, I don't have to tell you that I'm a real geek for education. I love the idea that my daughter wants to be challenged to learn, too.
Of course, preschool is really more about the kinds of things she actually needs to learn--things like socialization, sharing, listening and following instructions. I'm so excited to hear about the kinds of things she's learning and doing and experiencing over the next several months.
I have more I want to write, but I'm just coming off a terribly difficult week full of looming deadlines and dueling responsibilities and little sleep. I'm off now to study for my German quiz, but I promise I have more coming soon.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tomorrow, this tiny little person starts preschool.

More to follow, obviously.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Multiple Choice:

1. Jana is exhausted. Is this because:
a. School just started
b. She's still working on her papers for her summer course
c. Sam's stopped napping well
d. All of the above

2. Charlotte started ballet today. How did she look in her leotard?
a. Adorable
b. Beautiful
c. Charming
d. All of the above

3. Sam's begun boycotting naps on a daily basis. Could it be that:
a. He's teething
b. He's about to start crawling
c. He's possessed
d. He's screwing with us

4. Instead of writing this blog entry, Jana should be:
a. Planning for teaching tomorrow
b. Fretting about the H1N1 flu outbreak on campus
c. Editing her essay for the book collection
d. Writing her summer course papers

5. It's 9:02 p.m. Should Jana:
a. Hit the hay early?
b. Open that giant pack of M&Ms in the freezer and settle in for some work?
c. Check facebook one more time?
d. Publish this post and stop dragging out the pathetic quiz that she's hoping will pass for an entry for at least a few more days?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Catching Up

New video of Charlotte and Sam here. Sorry it's so long...we had a lot of ground to cover!
To the person who found this website by searching for "fat plumper":

Welcome! His given name is Sam!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

We went on vacation! To Michigan! And to say I was terrified that going on vacation would disrupt the perfect schedule we'd managed to carve out with our kids would be an understatement. I think I've emphasized in this blog how much I like my sleep, my sweet, sweet uninterrupted sleep. I'm one of those people who needs something more in the neighborhood of nine hours a night to feel refreshed and sprightly. Any less, and I'm a baggy eyed, droopy faced gollum. So the fact that a mere seven months after Sam's birth found us with two children who went to bed by 7 p.m. and slept at least eleven solid hours, leaving me free to while away the evening on facebook and turn in for the night without fear of being awoken...well, it was wonderful.

Every parent knows that vacations ruin everything. You'd think we were talking about some kind of horrid forced exodus or something when parents talk, in gloomy, foreboding tones, about how they're preparing for their upcoming family trip. "Well," we'll say, "we're going to pack the white noise machine, and the rotary fan, you know, just in case, and the security blanket and stuffed bear. And we thought we'd bring the sheets from his bed at home, and probably an extra pair of curtains for the window in her room." *anguished sigh* "We just hope it won't disrupt things too much."

"But...are you looking forward to your trip to Barbados?"

*crickets chirp*

The thought of enjoying a vacation doesn't really occur to parents of small children. The hope is for the least impact, the most minimal damage to the tentative balance parents have managed to eke out. And, perhaps, a few tropical drinks beachside.

But the thing is, we actually did enjoy our vacation! I mean, yes, it was stressful at times. Flying with two children under the age of four is not fun and relaxing. But they were troopers. In fact, they were troopers the whole trip. They shared a room for the first time in their short lives, and it went...okay. They woke each other up a couple of times, and both got up way too early, but we managed. Plus, the one thing I forget about vacationing with family/at the home of family members is that your family is there. That means people will be waiting, like a fleet of benchwarmers, to be called into the game, handed a baby or toddler and sent out into left field. I think that metaphor got confusing. What I mean is, I barely saw my daughter all week. She was a tow-headed blur running down the hall, chasing the family dog, followed closely by a grandparent or aunt or uncle. And my son spent a lot of time getting his ample thighs massaged by various family members, who were also only too eager to help support the further growth of those thighs by plying him with pureed Gerber goodness while I relaxed in the hammock. I had the use of both of my arms this past week for most of the time. I've gotten so used to doing things one-handed, to picking up dropped items with my toes and opening jars with my knees (not really) that I hardly knew what to do with my spare hand. Mostly I used it to hold a beer.

As you can probably tell from the many pictures I posted to flickr, we were kept busy with activities, more busy than my poor home-bound children are used to. Charlotte has been quite let down since we've gotten back. "What will be in the morning?" she asks plaintively every night. And instead of promises of the beach or a boat ride or a trip to the orchard I have to say "You get to help mama sort laundry!" It's a hard sell.

So we're back, and I'm in GTA (graduate teaching assistant) training this week, and then next week classes start. And I can hardly believe it, but I'm really excited. And at the end of the month, Charlotte starts preschool. And then before we know it, Sam will be coming home with his first paycheck or something.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Yes, Michigan!

We're in GR for the next few days. I'll be posting lots of pictures to flickr (link at right), so be sure to check them out. Here's just a sampling:

Jeff and Sam on the hammock

Charlotte takes a tractor ride with Papa T.

The kids, enjoying the sunshine.