Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dog wear

The proportion of Will’s pants bearing wide-open slits in one knee is running upwards of 50 percent -- and climbing fast. This is because the kid remains addicted to pretending he’s a dog, at least a full year after he first became obsessed with this pastime along with his other 3-year-old classmates at preschool. Many of those friends have adopted upright roles since then – as superheroes, policemen, firemen and the like -- but apparently there’s still plenty of room for one quick-footed (or, more precisely, quick-kneed) dog in their fantasies. Will prides himself on being a smart and speedy dog and I’ve decided to swallow my pride when it comes to dressing him. (Not that I’ve ever been one to make a fuss over fashion to begin with.)

I did an iron-on patch for one pair of jeans but I’ve been procrastinating on all the other pants. So for now we’re sending Will to school with his knees peeking out. It’s just too hard keeping a dog well dressed.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Toddler fury

Over the past couple weeks Owen has begun to discover his inner rage. Yes, my one-time angel baby seems to be in that fledgling stage of learning how to tantrum. He’s only had one bruiser of a fit – about a week ago when he screamed inconsolably for 30 minutes straight and was especially irate when I tried to force him into his car seat as he arched his back and flailed arms and legs furiously. It was easy to chalk that one up to sleep deprivation – after an early wake-up that morning I’d been putting off his afternoon nap until after we went to pick Will up at pre-school.

But even when he’s well rested, Owen’s favorite new phrases are “No!” (shouted with much enthusiasm and accompanied by a swift swat through the air of both arms) and “I do.” And if we let him do, we’re able to avoid most meltdowns. So Owen is now in charge of buckling himself into his booster seat for eating and of snapping the final buckle on his seatbelt before we drive off. I’m only allowed to help him finish the task if he calls “help” after I’ve gotten myself into the driver’s seat. He pretends to brush his own teeth, after I dive in and get the real work done with one of those finger brushes designed for younger babies. And sometimes Owen even stands on a kitchen chair and washes dishes beside me, even though we always have to change clothes after that adventure.

The main things left for minor tantrums are those things that Owen can’t safely do himself. When he wants to borrow a steak knife from me, or the big scissors or glue from Will. When he wants to be up beside me cooking dinner when I’m handling raw chicken. And the list goes on of course. For now, a well-rested Owen is fairly easily redirected and his little bursts of frustration are short-lived. Hopefully we’ll be able to keep it that way most of the time and avoid the full-blown tantrums that his well named older brother used to struggle through in the height of toddlerhood. But just in case, I’m going to start gathering my patience.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Beginning the garden

This year I’m particularly excited about spring because we’re beginning preliminary work on a little vegetable garden and finally I get to really be a part of it. Last year at this time, Owen was sitting on a big blanket outside and contentedly eating grass and dirt if you didn’t watch him like a hawk. So I wound up doing indoor domestic chores – always the drearier stuff – with Owen while Rob and Will did the bulk of our garden planting.

Granted our gardens have always been pretty modest ones – so far it’s just a collection of dirt, compost, leaves and manure in a small raised bed at the far end of our backyard-- but it’s still a great excuse to go outside and dig in the dirt with the boys. I enjoy watching Owen’s outdoor pastimes as we work. He digs a bit, sits in the dirt, opens and closes the gate to our backyard and aches to hold whatever garden tool Will currently has in his hands. Will meanwhile spends much more time doing what he considers to be serious yard work. But he also makes time for off-task play. Yesterday Will was highly amused to learn that we were adding poop to the garden and he and Owen took great joy in running around the yard with the empty manure bags while we mixed the stuff with the soil.

Now, having added appropriately processed poop, one of our primary challenges is to sort out how to prevent our cat Frances from adding her own fresh poop to the garden. When we had a larger garden a couple years ago, she decided to make it her litter box. Will had suggested building an elaborate fence with a door and a roof to keep Frances out at one point. Besides our reservations about putting a roof over a sun-hungry garden, Rob and I were feeling too lazy for fence-building. So we began looking online for strategies for keeping our cat Frances’s poop out of our garden.

Our favorite remedy was to add lion dung, which both repels cats and is great for the soil. But we weren’t sure where to acquire lion dung, so we opted for a simpler trick. Owen and Will and I went across the street and collected big pine cones from our neighbor’s yard, which boasts one of the most ancient, gigantic pine trees in town. So rather than building a big fence or going hunting for lion feces , we’re just going to line the soil with little prickly pinecone surprises that spoil Frances’s digging fun.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Library picks

A month ago, I stumbled on a section of the children’s room in the Columbus Public Library where nice big collections of fairytales and other fables are housed. I brought home one collection of fairytales from around the world then, and after we read them all with Will several times over, I picked up a new collection during our next library trip. This go-round we’re enjoying The Barefoot Book of Fairytales, which includes a rendition of Rumpelstilskin and Hansel and Gretel as well as an Argentinian tale entitled “The Magic Ball,” and a German tale about “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” which have all become fast favorites of Will’s. In spite of all the beheadings and parental abandonment
in these not-so-P.C. fairytales, I
also find them more enthralling than a lot of the picture books we bring home from the library – and the illustrations are benign enough that we don’t have problems with nightmares.

Owen meanwhile has adopted a couple of the Stage 1 “I can Read” books – which are really designed for kids Will’s age and a bit older to start practicing reading on their own with – as his newfound favorites. He loves the simple sentences and storylines that he can process. Right now we are reading and rereading and rereading “Footprints in the Snow” and “Biscuit Goes to School,” which Owen finds both compelling and hilarious in his own 19-month-old way. He also likes to have me “read” the pictures in more literary children’s books, like "A Pocketful of Cricket," a Caldecott Honor book whose story is geared for a child Will’s age or older but whose pictures are lovely to talk about with a toddler.

What are you reading with your kids?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Our heads make a heart

This year Will got busy writing Valentines. He gave nearly 30 store-bought Valentines to all the pre-K children at his school and wanted to write his name and theirs on all of them. Many of the names ran over to two lines or had backwards Js and the like – but I’m pretty sure they got where they were supposed to go. Will also cut out and painted construction paper hearts for his aunt, uncle, grandparents, and great grandmas and insisted on writing his own messages in marker.

We didn’t realize until yesterday what he’d learned in the process of writing his Happy Valentines Day messages. As he was talking to my parents on the phone about the card he sent he told them he’d learned how to spell two words and began reciting them on the spot: H-A-P-P-Y and L-O-V-E. Rob and I were glad to realize that those words were the first he’d learned to spell (other than the names of our family). Good words to live by, whether you’re a kid or an adult. Today he wrote both words a few times over on sticky notes I’d left on the kitchen table. I’m not pushing writing or spelling on Will at all – just helping him do it as he asks. And I’d be content to let those two sweet words be the main ones Will writes for months to come.

But beyond spelling V-day words, Will, who obviously has a sweet spot for Valentine’s Day, has also been seeing hearts everywhere. He made a heart shape with his oatmeal yesterday morning and discovered a heart in a splash of Ranch dressing that had spilled onto the table at dinner tonight. And this morning, as he and I were sharing a hug, Will looked up and noticed our adjoined silhouettes on the bedroom wall. “Mom our heads are stuck together and they’re making a heart!” he said as he looked at the shadow of our hug. I think I was even more excited about that discovery than he was.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pure, naked joy

Recently Will and Owen have adopted a post-bath ritual in which they run naked around our house, slapping their thighs and laughing as they go. It’s great fun to watch and hear, but I quickly realized that the naked run was revving Owen up rather than quieting him down before bed. I was paying for those few minutes of fun as I tried to pat wide-eyed Owen to sleep for an extra 10 minutes each night.

So yesterday, we switched things up and went with a pre-bath naked run. Today, we left on underwear and diapers and started the “run” a good 15 minutes before bathtime, which gave the boys a healthy frolic session while Rob and I got to attend to our own chores uninterrupted. For some reason, when they’re wearing nothing but their respective loincloths, Will and Owen are too happy to squabble or whine -- and life is just plain good.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Let them play -- more

Here’s an article worth reading on “The Serious Need for Play” from the January issue of Scientific American. It’s another reminder that research tells us to relax and let kids be kids as often as possible – that when we overschedule and overstructure the way children spend their time it can impede their physical, emotional, social and intellectual development.

It points out that creative play requires higher levels of language use than most interactions between children and adults. (“Studies show that children use more sophisticated language when playing with other children than when playing with adults. In pretend play, for instance, “they have to communicate about something that’s not physically present, so they have to use complicated language in such a way that they can communicate to their peer what it is that they’re trying to say,” Pellegrini explains. For example, kids can’t get away with just asking, “Vanilla or chocolate?” as they hand a friend an imaginary cone. They have to provide contextual clues: “Vanilla or chocolate ice cream: Which one would you like?” Adults, on the other hand, fill in the blanks themselves, making things easier for kids.)

And it reassures moms like me who wonder whether to intervene when the pretend fighting revs up, that even those not-intended-to-hurt punches are a tool for mental and social growth: (“Play fighting also improves problem solving. According to a paper published by Pellegrini in 1989, the more elementary school boys engaged in rough-housing, the better they scored on a test of social problem solving.”)

It also talks about the sometimes dire consequences of depriving children of adequate time for free play.

A few weekends ago, while Rob was visiting his mom in the hospital, Will and Owen and I spent an afternoon playing outside his sister’s house in Atlanta. She lives on a cul-de-sac that has attracted families with a total of 19 young children to the fairly small street. When we went outside, other children were lured out to join us and I realized how much less free play Will and Owen enjoy simply because we live on a busy street with relatively few children. As I watched Will negotiate play with his new friends I saw him learning and growing. If we ever move from our current house, Rob and I want to make proximity to other children and a relatively safe place to play freely with them a priority in our housing search.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Three times a lady

It’s been a week now since we lost Nana. The boys and I came back to Columbus on Thursday and left Rob to have some time with his sister and dad until Saturday. Now we are all getting back to the inevitable work of going on with life. The boys – with their inability to conceive of death as something permanent and tragic (perhaps because they are in ways wiser than us?) make that fairly easy. Still I've got Rob's dad on my mind much of the time and I walk around singing some of Nana’s songs in my head and aloud. There’s the hymn “How Great Thou Art” from what wound up being a beautiful funeral service and a wonderful tribute to Ann -- and the Lionel Richie Song “Once, Twice, Three Times a Lady,” which piped through the church at the end of the service as Rob’s dad’s final tribute to the woman he’s loved since he was 15 years old and the woman who shared his love for some good old Lionel tunes.

It’s meant so much to us to read all of your thoughts and memories of Ann in the previous post and to think of Will and Owen being able to read them one day as well. They’ve lost a wonderful grandmother who they will hardly remember except through our words and stories and photos -- so I want to do our best to make those vivid and lasting. If you’re coming here late, and you still have something to say, keep those thoughts and memories coming. We’ll keep checking back.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Remembering Nana, remembering Ann

On Saturday, Rob’s mother – Ann Thornton Addington – passed away. She was 61.

Rob and I were driving down to see her at the hospital in Athens when she died. We missed her by 20 minutes, but Rob knew it was time for her to go and had said his goodbyes last weekend, so he found peace in that. Ann died in the presence of an old childhood friend who she hadn’t seen in years but who felt compelled to drive four hours from Tennessee to see Ann one last time. We were grateful to her for perhaps helping Ann to let go. She had been in the hospital for almost a month battling pneumonia and a host of complications that arose from it including a stroke, kidney failure and lung problems.

A couple weeks ago, when Rob and I were visiting Ann in the hospital, one of the nurses in the ICU said, “I’ve never had a patient who smiled so much, even with all she’s going through.”

Ann felt driven throughout her life to comfort other people in their times of struggle. And in her own final struggle she still found ways to comfort us -- with gentle, serene smiles and whispered “I love yous” even as her body was shutting down on her.

I first met Ann in 1995 -- after driving with our friend Sean from Colorado to Georgia to visit Rob the summer before our junior year of college. I was immediately struck by what a warm, loving, welcoming person she was. I’d never met a friend’s mother who was so easy to talk to – who made you feel like she’d known you for years the minute you walked in her door.
As a mother in law, she always made me feel like a daughter -- confided in me, shared her struggles as she battled fibromyalgia, and expressed her love for all of us so warmly and so readily every day we spent with her.
One afternoon when our youngest son, Owen, was just a few months old, Ann sat out on a lawn chair at Lake Rabun, holding Owen under the shade of the trees as he slept on her for at least an hour. Nothing could have made her happier, she said.

And perhaps the most telling testament of the wonderful work Ann did while she was on this earth is the two children she mothered. Alicia and Rob are two of the most loving, loyal, generous, compassionate people I’ve ever known -- and I know it’s because they had their mother (and their father) as an example. I’m grateful to have them in my life and grateful to Ann for being such a wonderful mother to them.

Yesterday morning, with Ann still barely with us, I offered Will a last chance to go see her. We’d told him she was likely to die and he decided he’d rather stay home but draw her a picture. So he drew a picture of Ann slightly elevated off her hospital bed with Rob and I standing beside her. Then he filled the space around us and our bodies with brilliant colors. On the back he wrote in capital letters with no spaces between the words: “Will drew this picture. I love you Nana.”

He asked me later if we’d given the picture to Nana. I told him we hadn’t made it to see her before she died but that I was sure she knew he had drawn it for her. I suggested that we could make a book about Nana and include his picture, and photos of her throughout her life and with Will and Owen. Will liked the idea. “Then we can remember Nana forever,” he said.

If you have specific memories of Ann or just words of comfort to share, we would love to have you share them here. I’d like to create a sort of online memory wall that way – and we’ll print out your reflections for Will and Owen’s Nana book. You don’t have to tailor your thoughts toward children though. We’ll all read them now, and Will and Owen will keep them for a lifetime. If you’d rather not sign onto this web site, just send me an e-mail directly (at under the subject heading “Comments for Ann” and I’ll post them for you.

Thank you again for all your thoughts and prayers.

Before you read the comments, here a few photos of Ann on a ski trip in 1979 at Sugar Mountain that Reba and Laura Caudell shared with us...

And a photo from Melissa Plaisted, taken at a 60s-themed party 19 years ago (she mentions it in her comments):

And a photo from DeAnn Evans of some of the Georgia women who made it out to Colorado for Rob and my wedding in 2001: