Sunday, May 31, 2009

I scream, you scream, we all melt down for ice cream

Today on our way back from a nice weekend at Lake Rabun, that also came with a bit of sleep deprivation for Will, we stopped at the Varsity because Will needed to go to the bathroom and we’d agreed to buy him and Owen an ice cream to split as a mid-trip treat. He ordered a vanilla ice cream in a cup. I got a second cup so he could share a bit of the giant scoop with Owen. It suddenly occurred to Will that he’d prefer a cone but I was already splitting the ice cream between cups and explaining to him that a cup would be less messy in the car anyway. You can get a cone next time, Rob and I explained. But Will launched into tears before it was possible to come to a reasonable compromise. We’ve made it policy not to change course because Will is crying; if crying were an effective weapon for Will, he’d be sobbing all the time. By the time we’d made it to the car, he was entering tantrum mode, trying to wiggle out of his seatbelt, demanding a return to the ice cream counter and sobbing and sobbing.

For probably 40 minutes, we listened to Will cry in the back seat as his vanilla ice cream melted in the cup holder in between the front seats. He was welcome to eat it at anytime, but he was too focused on driving back to the Varsity to get a cone instead. It was incredible to me that a kid who loves ice cream so much could become so fixated on a silly power struggle with his parents that he would deprive himself of ice cream for 45 minutes and opt to engage in futile sobbing and pleading instead. When he recovered, he did so suddenly and beautifully and he came out of his tantrum as pleasant, polite and willing to comply as ever.

This isn’t Will’s first foray into tantrum land. He had the things in sometimes beastly ways when he was in his twos and then settled down for good in his threes. Or so we thought. Over the past couple months, the tantrums have returned occasionally – always when Will is tired, always over bizarre little issues of control and occasionally with a horrible ferocity. It’s quite common apparently for a reformed tantrumer to relapse sometime between four and five. Here Dr. Sears talks about why – and offers some advice for coping (scroll down to "Managing Tantrums in Older Children"). First on my list is to get the boy to bed by 8 or 8:30, even when we’re on vacation.

I’m also crossing my fingers that we miraculously conquer this second tantrum phase in the three weeks before we set out on our road trip to Colorado. Otherwise, Rob and I may need to bring along a suitcase full of patience and a couple sets of ear plugs.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Summer rhythms

Pre-school is out and I am loving our summer non-schedule already. This week, with rainy weather hovering almost all day long every day, I’ve been sneaking out to the park with the boys for early morning exercise and play between storms. The playground is wet but the tennis courts are relatively dry, and yet abandoned thanks to the inclement weather, so we’ve been having our own version of tennis camp in which Will and I play no-net teamwork tennis on one side of the court (this is where we try to establish a slow-paced rally of two to four consecutive hits with many bounces between) while Owen runs around with a paddle ball, which he uses like a golf club to putt tennis balls to Will and I. “I love tennis!” says Will when I ask him if he’s tired yet.

Will has been finding more time for imaginary play, with Owen and alone.

Will and I have been enjoying cooking together during Owen’s afternoon naps. (I agree with food writer Nigella Lawson -- who talked on the subject on NPR yesterday morning -- that it makes sense to have kids join you in the kitchen, assuming they’re in the mood, rather than wishing them away. Lawson also offers some recipes for kid chefs.) At 4 Will can finally actually speed up a cooking project instead of slowing me down – especially if we’re baking oatmeal cookies or cornbread.

And Will and his mimic, Owen, have been making lots of time for art. Today Will asked me to move our kids table directly in front of the screen door that looks out on our carport so that he could sketch the tires on our car. Later he decided he wanted to paint a picture of something outside our front window, so we set up his easel on our tiny front porch stoop and he painted the house across the street. At one point mid-painting, the mail man came, delivered the mail directly to Will and offered a favorable critique of his painting.

After Owen’s nap, we used up the leftover paint inside.

What are your kids finding time to enjoy now that summer has arrived?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Weaning with reading

This weekend after almost 23 months of nursing Owen, I managed to gently wean him. Every mom has their own point when nursing starts to seem like a drag – for some moms it’s 6 months, for some it’s a year, and for some it’s whenever the child is ready. Somehow I suspect that both of my boys would have decided to nurse until they were 4 if I left the ball completely in their court. But when both Will and Owen began approaching 2, I’d pretty much had my fill of the sleep-deprivation that comes with continuing to nurse kids who don’t night-wean easily. For the past several months, I’ve been getting up twice a night and dragging myself into Will and Owen’s room to nurse Owen, who was quite happy with the arrangement, since he just nursed right back to sleep.

Day nursing has always been fine – Will loved it as much as Owen since it was a time when I could read longer chapter books to him without Owen cutting in and demanding a picture book more his speed. It was a great way to help Owen past emotional rough spots -- and there were a couple times over the past year when Owen was sick and refusing all other forms of food and drink that I was grateful to still be nursing. But the night nursing was finally wearing me thin. And I have an easier time weaning when I can truly communicate with my kids.

So I gathered all my emotional resolve to tell Owen no when he wanted to nurse beginning on Thursday. I braced myself for some long cries and generally fussiness for several days. Instead, when I began denying Owen’s daytime nursing requests and offered to read to him instead, he pretty quickly accepted “read book” as an accepatable alternative.

And when I told him on Thursday night that we weren’t going to nurse at night anymore because Owen was getting to be a big boy like Will, he agreed: “I not nurse.” That night he woke up with a terrible fit of coughing and crying and I relented and nursed him. Friday night, though, we made our resolution together again. “I not nurse” Owen said and laughed. You say that now, I thought, but what about when the middle of the night rolls around?

That night when he woke up crying to nurse, I reminded him we were all done nursing. He promptly swatted me in the face and sobbed and screamed all the more furiously. So restraining his arms just a bit, I took him out of the bedroom he shares with Will so that he could do his high-volume screaming. That lasted all of two minutes before he relented and asked to go back in his room, back to his crib, where he promised to lie still and quiet.

So there I sat beside Owen, reaching through the crib rails to gently cover his eyes and stroke the bottoms of his feet (a routine I’d established as an alternative to nursing him to sleep at night). I realized then that this was going to work. After three minutes of protesting, Owen was going to return to sleep without nursing and I would never nurse a baby again.

I got so simultaneously nostalgic for this era of my life with the boys, and so grateful to Owen for making the transition so easy for both of us, that I started crying silently – tears, tears and more tears, all of them quiet, all of them sweet, for the ten minutes or so that it took for Owen to drift back to sleep.

Last night, after a birthday-party-filled day, Owen slept solid from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. Now he is taking a nap. He said, "I nurse" a couple times but after a reminder from me that we're all done nursing, Owen changed his words. "Nose, nose" he said as he pointed to my nose, laughed and started a game of pointing to parts of my face. And it only took a book and a half to get him drowsy enough for some afternoon sleep. We will be reading a lot together in the days and months to come. And that will be perfect.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The sibling bed crashes and burns

Last night both Owen and Will were thrilled at the opportunity to try sleeping in Will’s double bed together. Owen agreed in theory to lying still beside Will, and Will knew that he had to model lying still, being quiet and shutting eyes for Owen – but only Will upheld his end of the bargain. Owen was feeling uncontrollably squirrelly and talkative in his big new bed and I kept removing him to the crib until he vowed to lie still with Will, who was patiently feigning near-sleep through it all. Back in Will’s bed, Owen inevitably went back on our deal. (Meanwhile, a couple times when he was in his crib, Owen did his “I get out” trick where he puts one foot on the top crib rail and threatens to climb out – which is what sparked our experiment with the sibling bed in the first place).

Finally after a half-hour crib-to-bed-and-back-again circus, Owen and I both got frustrated and he started crying and finally pointed to his crib in defeat. This time I put a willing Owen in the crib, rubbed his feet for a couple seconds and watched him promptly fall asleep.

If you’d asked me to bet on an outcome for the sibling bed experiment, I would have predicted a high likelihood for this sort of complete failure. But what the heck, it was worth a try. Now we either need a crib tent, a new house with an extra bedroom, or the mixture of parental courage-and-negligence required to just cross our fingers and hope Owen doesn’t actually escape his crib and get hurt in the act.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Graduating...sort of

Today Will graduated from pre-K. In the fall, he’ll be starting the same pre-k program (but with a different teacher) at Wynnton United Methodist Preschool all over again, so he’ll be doing an encore graduation performance this time next year. (With his August 31 birthday, we're figuring giving him an extra year to be a carefree kid can't hurt.) So for this graduation ceremony, I figured I didn’t need to get too weepy. But then -- after the kids sang a cute marathon medley of about 11 songs spanning the months of their school year -- one of the children’s father’s sang “Let Them Be Little,” and as soon as I spotted another mother near me crying quietly, I got all teary-eyed too. Tears are contagious for me.

And even if I’ve got another year with Will before he starts all-day elementary school, I’m still nostalgic about the little boy who’s growing up in front of me. We’re hoping we’re making the right decision for Will – giving him one more year of just half days at a largely play-based pre-school with plenty of time left over for creative play, reading, art and park adventures at home. Will, for his part, seems happy with the idea of another year at Wynnton. When I asked him today how he felt about school ending and summer starting today, he said: “I’m nervous about going to kindergarten.”
When I reminded him he’d be doing pre-k again in the fall so that he can be one of the oldest kids instead of the youngest this time around, he said, “Oh yeah,” and smiled in relief. We’d visited a kindergarten classroom earlier in the spring and he was troubled by the lack of toys there.
Now I’m looking forward to a summer without much of a set schedule. We’ll see how we enjoy our freedom.

Here’s Will with his beloved teacher and a couple of his fellow graduates.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cabin camping

Rob’s dad came down this weekend for what was supposed to be Owen’s first-ever camping trip at Pine Mountain. But we got spooked by a rainy forecast and Papa decided to treat us to a night in one of the Callaway cottages instead. From our cottage, Will could ride on the bike paths to Robin Lake beach while we pushed Owen in the stroller. Owen played on the beach while Will and Papa squeezed in some fishing. Back at the cottage, we grilled hot dogs on the back deck instead of over a campfire – and roasted some marshmallows over the grill for dessert. Here’s Owen dragging his marshmallow (not pictured) over the coals while Will laughs at the mess. All in all, it was a pretty luxurious camping experience, topped off by a tasty breakfast buffet at the Callaway lodge instead of our customary Coleman stove oatmeal.

Next time Papa comes to camp, I might just hope for rain. Still, I’m looking forward to getting in a tent again one of these days.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bedroom sharing with crib escapees

A couple days ago when I was trying to put Owen to bed for the night after a too-long afternoon nap, he started protesting, and managed to swing his right foot up on top of the crib rail as he said matter-of-factly “I get out.” It looked to me like he could make good on the threat so now we’re puzzling over the next best sleep solution for our 2-bedroom house.

We could opt for a crib tent, but something about the idea of pinning Owen up in his crib, doesn’t feel quite natural to me. On the other hand if we open up one side of the crib and drop down the mattress as we did with Will, I know I can count on Owen to hop out of his makeshift toddler bed and climb up into Will’s double bed with rails. He already loves to climb up there, get under the covers and pretend that he’s sleeping.

I’ve toyed with the idea of turning that bed into a sibling bed – to see if by some stroke of luck both Owen and Will wind up sleeping more soundly next to each other, which I know can work for some kids who are comforted having their big or little brother beside them. (Experts say there are no safety concerns if children are 2 or older). I can also imagine scenarios where Owen and Will decide to have a little dance-and-jump party in the bed in lieu of sleeping, or where Will’s sleep is disturbed when Owen wakes up crying at night.

So, with no obvious solution in sight, I’m seeking advice. If you have any thoughts on how to make bedtime work in a shared bedroom with a 2- and 4-year-old, please share.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Friendy and the ethics of bug-keeping

Sunday's Ledger-Enquirer included a story of our adventures with Friendy, the little Eastern tent caterpillar-turned-moth that stayed with us in a jar in our kitchen for over a month. It's also a meditation on all the little ethical dilemmas that arise when you hold a backyard creature captive for an extended period of time.

Here's a photo of Will releasing Friendy the moth in our backyard:

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Remembering Nana on Mother's Day

This mother's day, we remember Ann (our Nana). Nothing was more important to her than being a loving mother and grandmother, and she was wonderful in both roles. We miss her so much.
I asked Will to draw a picture from this photo of Nana and him at St. Augustine last summer, and we compiled the photo, his drawing and some writing and remembering he did about Nana in one picture, which we'll frame as a tribute to Nana. Here are the pieces of that tribute, shown separately.

Things I remember about Nana:
She loves me.
She’s really sweet.
She tells me stories.
She sings “My Man’s a Garbage Man.” I like it, because I like trash.
May 2009

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

I dare you to draw

Children’s author Mo Willems (whose titles include "Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus" and "The Pigeon Wants a Puppy" – which I happened to notice won a Children’s Choice Book Award for 2009 ) was on NPR yesterday advocating for more adult drawing.

Willems says drawing a subject evokes empathy in us and that the world could use a little more empathy. And he believes that parents and teachers who draw become models for their children who become inspired to draw too. As I was listening to Willems, I realized that Will’s obsession with drawing (“artist” is his current answer to the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question) is probably due largely to the fact that Rob quite often takes time to sit down and draw alongside him.

I, on the other hand, generally think I'm too busy and just hand Will paper and crayons (he requests them at least a few times a day) and busy myself with some kitchen task. But this weekend I decided to force myself to draw some flowers for my mom’s mother’s day card as I sat on the deck while the boys played in an inflatable pool. I sketched flowers in crayon from a few different pots and merged them all into one for what was a mediocre drawing at best. Will kept getting out of the pool to check on my progress and offer praise.

And pretty soon both Will and Owen had abandoned the pool to draw. (When Will draws, Owen draws.) Will tackled the same flowers I had been sketching but drew a much more elaborate scene with three pots of flowers and Owen seated on his striped lawn chair. It totally upstaged my drawing and he was planning to make it his mother’s day card for my mom until he realized he couldn’t bear to give it away. (Instead he made a card out of a portrait he’d drawn of her last week while she sat across the table drawing him.)

Here’s another fun drawing Will felt inspired to do after he saw a big profile photo of Obama in last week’s newspaper with the headline “100 Days.” (I swear I didn’t put him up to it.)

So even if you think you lack talent, join your kids at the crayon box tomorrow and tell me how it goes.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Kids eat kale

It’s local food season in Columbus. Saturday marked this year’s launch of Market Days on Broadway, where local artists sell their creations, local farmers sell their largely organically grown produce and where members of the Columbus Natural Foods CSA (Community Supported Agriculture group) pick up their weekly haul of vegetables. For the first time we’ve sorted out a way to join a CSA in spite of our tendency to be gone or busy many Saturday mornings, thanks to the fact that Rob’s co-worker is willing to do pick up for us from the Harris County CSA that Jenny Jack Sun Farm launched this year. (If you live close be sure to check out the big community Dinner on the Farm this Saturday at the Jenny Jack Sun Farm -- and the monthly farm dinners hosted by Shannon Klein's Food Blossoms gourmet catering, which will feature more intimate dining with tables reserved in advance. Either way, it's a wonderful experience to eat delicious, naturally grown food as you sit outside on the farm that produced it.)
Our CSA produce doesn’t start coming in until May 20, so we picked up a bunch of kale and a bag of stone-ground grits at the market on Saturday. I’d already discovered that I don’t have to be the only one in our family willing to eat kale after my cousin April shared her simple kale preparation method a few weeks ago (it involves sautéing the stuff, finely chopped, in olive oil with some apple cider vinegar and soy sauce to taste). Rob and I like that method, and Will’s willing to eat a bit if I pre-boil the kale several minutes to get the crunch out.

But Owen was still turning his nose up at the stuff. So tonight I tried out this recipe for our latest bunch of kale. It comes courtesy of someone in the Columbus Natural Foods Group who posted it last season. I didn't have turkey ham, so I substituted some chicken sausage and used a bit less broth.

Owen said “This good!” as he gobbled his down, and both he and Will wanted seconds. So I’m sharing the “yummy kale recipe” as it was titled by whoever e-mailed it out. But try a simple sauté too – It's yummy too and I’m sure the kale retains more of its nutrients without an hour-plus simmer.

8 cups chicken broth
1 bunch kale, rinsed and sliced
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, cut into chunks
1 pound diced fully cooked turkey ham
4 cloves garlic, chopped freshly ground black pepper to taste

Measure the chicken broth into a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat. When it comes to a boil, add the kale, potatoes, ham and garlic. Season with ground black pepper. Simmer covered over low heat for 1 1/2 hours.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Celebrating Grammy

On her birthday, a few reasons I love my mom:

We had a wonderful fun-packed week with Grammy and Grandpa. Yesterday, after they left to fly back to Colorado Will got a bit peeved with me and told me he wanted to go live with someone else. I suspect he may have had a certain someone in mind.
Happy birthday, mom...