Thursday, November 14, 2013

Love and Happiness

I've been busy chasing my tail for the past couple of months, and the poor blog has been neglected once again.  As it has been all year long . . . 

I had a bit of a slap back into reality today, and, my gosh, it feels good enough that I need to share.  It stung a little and I cried a little, but I know I needed it.  Maybe you'll feel a refreshing slap at the end of it all, too.

We all set expectations for our lives -- for our spouses, our jobs, our morning commutes, the guy behind the counter at a coffee shop.  Some expectations we can control but most we cannot.  Usually the really important ones we cannot control.  Like our children.

I was talking with a friend recently who just had her first baby.  She was sharing with me her difficulties in letting go of selfishness and control.  I told her it does get easier.  But I didn't tell her that it ever goes away.

I really just have a few expectations for my children:

1.  To be happy.
2.  To love and be loved by others.
3.  To be kind and thoughtful.
4.  To make smart decisions.

But I cannot control all of this.  As a parent I am supposed to guide my children in the right direction, but I can't control every little move they make.  I know this, but I've still been quite the A-hole to myself . . . and worst of all to Mimi.

Oh, little Mimi.  There's more personality and spunk in her left pinky toe than in most people I've ever met.  This kid is bound for greatness, but that doesn't mean she's easy to parent.  She does things the way she thinks they should be done and cares very little what others think about that, thank you very much.  Moving to a new place where she had no friends was a little bit more difficult for her than I expected, but she has transitioned even better than I have.  Other than telling a little boy at camp that he cried like a baby, but that's another story. . .  

I've been pretty rough on her and it's not all her fault.  She turned 5 a few weeks before kindergarten began, but I stopped seeing her as a girl who just finished being 4.  She is a kindergartener.  The expectations should change.  She should do things the first time I ask.  She should be able to get her boots on by herself.  She should be able to remember her sight words.  She should be able to subtract the apples from the bananas.  She should not scream and cry when she has to wait her turn.

And I should have done a better job at teaching her these things.  Or at least that's what I've been thinking.  I should be more patient.  I should know exactly how to turn a frustrating task into a game. I should set a better example for being independent.  But neither she nor I have been living up to these expectations, and I have been very, very ugly about it all.

This morning I had the first parent-teacher conference of the year with Mimi's fabulous teacher, and I was a bit nervous going in.  I was afraid to see how Mimi compares with her classmates.  Afraid to hear about her lack of attention or ability to follow directions (yes, I've been worried about ADD).  Afraid to hear that we may want to consider repeating kindergarten.  Y'all, I'm very serious.  Doing homework with this child makes me want to stick toothpicks in my eyes.  We're both so mad at the end of it that I would drink vodka straight if someone handed me a glass.  "Frustrating" doesn't even begin cover my emotions.  And this school district we're in is serious business.  Like 27 is the average ACT score at the high school.  The high school that has about 1,300 freshmen.  Seriously, shit just got real when I learned that.

Anyway, I didn't hear any of these things.  What I did hear was that Mimi is happy.  Happy every day and all day.  Happy to talk with everyone.  Happy to help others.  Happy to check on a classmate who is sad.  Happy to tell a silly story to make everyone laugh.  And that she has improved so much academically since the first week of school.  The teacher and her aide know they need to remind Mimi to stay on task from time to time, but they definitely aren't concerned.  She just turned 5.  She just finished being 4.  She's being just exactly what she's supposed to be.

And she's loved.  Her teachers love her, her after school instructors love her, and her friends love her. They love her personality and they love the way she treats others.  They love that she's making smarter decisions about listening and waiting her turn.

And that's really all I've ever wanted for her . . .

She's not perfect, but she's learned some good stuff in her short life.  She is listening to me and she is following some of my guidelines.  She's trying really hard to stay in the boundaries, but sometimes it's just so much fun to cross the border a wee bit.

So I'm backing off of her and myself once again, and I feel like a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders.  

I met a mom at a park recently, and we had a long discussion about the challenges with our sons.  She also has a son who as a toddler struggled a little to catch up because of sensory issues similar to Mack, and although she was working so hard with her therapists she still felt like a bit of a failure.  As she was pouring her heart out about this to her mother, her mom simply told her, "But no one is trying any harder.  No one."  And then she told me, "And no one is trying any harder than you are either."

I repeat this to myself occasionally when things just aren't turning out as I expected.  I am doing all that I know I can do for my children -- just as most moms are.  No one is trying any harder to raise our children than we are.  So let's quit beating ourselves up, mmkay?

What about this guy?

Whew, I don't even know where to begin with him.  Not even the same child as he was 4 months ago.    Every single day he does something that shocks me.  Today it was singing along with "Gangnam Style." Maybe that's not something you would be proud of, but for a kid who was barely speaking a few months ago this is kind of a big deal.  And no one even knows what that song is really saying, so I'm pretty impressed.  This is just a little progress we've made:

1.  Barely giving eye contact to his parents to giving eye contact to complete strangers and telling them, "Hi!"
2.  Not tolerating my singing (who can blame him) to singing along with every cartoon theme song after hearing it only once or twice.
3.  Shying away from all overwhelming social situations to finding a calming toy to play with in the middle of the chaos.    
4.  Staring at a toy car's wheels for long periods of time to actually playing with the car in a play garage, on the sidewalk, and all over the house.
5.  Not allowing anyone but immediate family to touch him to walking over to a new babysitter today to give her a hug as soon as he met her.
6.  Avoiding all children except his sister to telling a classmate, "Bye, Brendan" today.

If any of the beginning statements scream "autism" to you, you better believe they did to me.  His initial evaluation last December also screamed the A-word on paper, but his therapists quickly realized that wasn't it.  Mack was too overwhelmed and didn't know how to cope.  Hearing and seeing and touching was too much for him, and learning to communicate was the last thing on his agenda.  He just wanted to find a way to escape.  So he wasn't learning as he should for a about a year and a half.  But now he is and my word it is beautiful.

Yes, he is matching words with their beginning letter and lining them up in order.  "I do it myself, Mommy!"

Several friends have asked about adjustments we have made, and I'll share a few of those in case you also have a little guy like mine.  Some of these tricks work on all children (and adults) who get overwhelmed:

1.  I've reduced the language.  I don't say, "You need to put the banana peel in the trash before you can have your banana."  Say, "Peel in trash first.  Then banana."  Lots of "first, then" statements.
2.  If he's overstimulated, I match his excitement (or a little under) and slowly bring it back down.  I slow down movements and language and even lower my voice and calm my tone.
3.  I get on his level to speak to him.  I am squatting all the time.  I pick his toys that he's playing with off the floor and put them at eye level on the couch or coffee table.
4.  I gesture a lot because sometimes language is too much.  I pat the floor when I want Mack to sit by me.  I wave him toward me when I need him to come.
5.  I narrate his play, which annoys the crap out of me.  "Oh, I see your horse is climbing up, up, up the hill, and whoa, now he is sliding down, down. Crash!"  But it gives him some words to match his ideas and then he will begin to repeat this as he is playing.
6.  I ask questions that require him to use language.  "Do you want red or blue shoes?"  "Milk or juice?"  If he doesn't say any words after the third time I ask, then I give it up to not frustrate him.
7.  I make sure he has a way to get the sensory input he needs before going into a crowded or new place.  I let him push his large bean bag across the floor.  I ask him to help me push a chair across the kitchen.  I let him play at the park before we go into preschool.  I let him chew gummy snacks or drink a smoothie through a skinny straw (yes, he will probably have 85 cavities in his baby teeth).  Clint even makes Mack push him, which Mack thinks is soooo hilarious.
8.  I let him stand up when he eats.  This was hard for me at first because I'm Southern and we are supposed to teach our children to have impeccable table manners, but he has the wiggles.  And he actually eats his food, which is more than some people can say about their three-year-olds.
9.  If he begins to throw a fit out of frustration over something not happening the way he expects (block falls over, Buzz's wing keeps falling off), then I calmly say, "Aw, man" or "that makes me mad" or I simply sigh.  Sometimes he still throws his fit but sometimes he says, "Aw, maaaaan," and it's the cutest thing in the world.
10. This is the hardest -- I am patient.  I take deep breaths and remind myself that this is going to take a while.  He's already come so, so far since therapy began at the end of January.  He cannot learn if he is unregulated.  And he will not be regulated if he senses I am a nervous wreck.

And he is the prettiest little boy I have ever laid eyes on.

He's a fantastic snuggler.  I should know because he climbs in our bed every night, but we don't mind.  Mimi just stopped doing it, so I'm a bit sad knowing this may only last a couple more years.

He is crazy smart in some ways -- I'm pretty sure he can see how something is done once or twice and can then do it himself.  I can hide nothing from him because he sees everything I do.  He is fantastic at puzzles and letters and numbers.  He is already sounding out words and counting everything in sight.

He loooooves to dance.  The beginnings of cartoons are his favorites because of the music.  When the song is over, he always strikes a pose.  The dancing is a little Elaine-ish, so we're going to have to work on that . . .

Mack also loooooves his play therapy class and his preschool.  Neither are close to my house, so I am on the road all day, which is kind of wearing on me but so worth it.  And his teachers really love him, which makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

Most importantly, my children adore each other.  This morning Mimi told Clint and me that after kindergarten she will go to college and then she will marry Mack.  We told her that a girl doesn't marry her brother.  She asked who she should marry, and I told her she will marry her best friend like I did.  She then said that Mack was her best friend so that is who she will marry.

About a year ago I wrote a post about how the pediatrician told me to pick up a copy of Bringing Up Bebe and sort of made me feel like Mimi was the reason that Mack wasn't talking.  The pediatrician felt that Mimi commanded so much attention that Mack didn't see the need to ask for any.  I'm mad at myself for even listening to her.  Because this girl is so good for him.

And Mack is such a blessing for Mimi.  Because of him she is thoughtful and caring.  She constantly checks on him and in return he comes running to her when she's upset.  "Mimi, you 'kay?  Aw, Mimi."  She chases him around the house and helps him get all his wiggles out.  He follows her around with her friends at the park, and she tells everyone, "Oh, he's just my little brother Mack and it's fine that he's playing with us.  C'mon, Macky."  She has no problem standing up for him when another child points out that he isn't talking much.  He's taught her that things aren't always fair, and she is learning to cope with that.  Sometimes he does get a little more attention and extra help when she doesn't.  We do have to sacrifice some things for him.  She doesn't always get her way, and more times than not she is being very understanding.  
So I am going to let them be 3 and 5 and quirky and wild and exactly who they are being . . . until I mess up and have to write a post like this again in a year . . .

Monday, September 9, 2013

Don't wake me if I'm dreaming . . .

Have you ever had one of those days when you need to be pinched?  

Not in a bad way but in a wake me up because there hasn't been a total disaster yet so I must still be dreaming kind of days.

The past couple of weeks I've been a bit on the cray-cray side.  I've been exhausted from lack of sleep thanks to a little guy who forgot how to snooze.  Laundry and dirty dishes seemed to be coming out of no where (along with more spiders).  The kids have had loads of parent orientations, kid only and no siblings allowed orientations, come fill out more paper work, stop by to register, just pop in for 15 minutes and get to know your teacher, and by the way it would be better if you come with no children or only one child.  Oh, and they all conflicted and happened during times that no sitter or husband was able to help.  But that's okay.  I worked everything out and we survived another week.  

So basically I've been having lots of stay at home mom probs, and I've been quite whiney about it.  But today has been a blessing because of great sleep and laundry catch-up over the weekend.  Everyone was happy and smiley this morning, and I feel like I can stop yelling.  Whew, I know two kids who like the sound of that.  I even made muffins for breakfast, y'all.  This day has to be a dream. 

Loads of boring things have been happening in our "new world" as Mimi calls it.  I keep thinking we're going to need to head back to reality in the city and then remember this isn't vacay.  We actually live out of the chaos now!  Yippee!  Here's the rundown:  Mimi turned 5, Mack turned 3 (I can't spend much time discussing this or I will cry), my parents visited, my sister's family visited, we've had city friends up for a barbecue (that's right.  I didn't say to "grill out."  I used the Midwestern terminology "a barbecue" and I didn't explode), we've met lots of new people, we've been to birthday parties, Mimi started kindergarten, and Mack started a playgroup therapy.  

And now on to all my sister will bother with.  The pics.

Enjoying the great outdoors and loving the yard.  By the way, I think more chipmunks live in our backyard than anywhere else in the world.  They're so stinking cute, and we've named them all Chippy.  Clint and I even made up a song for them that we sing whenever we see them.  "Chippy chip chip, chip chip chip . . ."  

Bubble man.  


Loads of popsicles.  Orange is Mack's fave.


This guy has really challenged my sanity a lot over the past few weeks, but my gosh that sweet, sweet smile and hilarious giggle keep me going.  He's not the best with transitions, so he's been overwhelmed and out of sorts and clingy and fussy and just a pain in the buns since the move.  But today is a good day, so I'm hanging on to that.

We're super close to the Botanic Gardens, and the kids love the cool train exhibit.  Mack doesn't understand why he can't climb over the fence . . . 

For the kids' birthdays, we bought bikes for ourselves.  That's right.  A bike for Clint and a bike for Jeri Anne.  Mimi told me that's what they wanted, and we said, "Cool."  The real reason she wanted the bikes was for the trailer.  

Mack's been catching some good z's on afternoon rides.

I thought about getting rid of the double stroller, but the monkeys still love it.  And they're totally not outgrowing at all.  Absolutely not.  Still fits them perfectly.  They're tiny, tiny, little babies who will never get bigger . . . 

A few days before kindergarten began some neighborhood kindergartners got together to meet and walk to each other's homes.  This little group was so stinking cute, and the moms are great!  Yay, me!  I'm pretty sure I would be the worst at making friends if it wasn't for Mimi.  Let me tell you, having an outgoing child is the best for finding buddies.  If you don't have a child, you should go and get yourself one.  Insta-coffee and GNO buddies!  Woo hoo!

Here we are.  First day of REAL school.  Kindergarten.  Stuff's about to get real, yo.

Why, oh, why didn't I take any good photos when the cousins were visiting??  This always happens.  We're having so much fun that the camera never comes out.  But what would you rather have?  Good memories or good photos?

Coco is so cute . . . and Mimi's stuffing her face . . . 

The big sis!  Yippee!!

I can't get over how fantastic the beach is.  Simply stunning.  And even better with this little guy running on it.

This one could sit in the sticky sand all.  day.  long.  Flops down belly first and digs and digs.  

Classmate's beach birthday party.  It was only 70 degrees (and a bit too windy, if you ask me), but the kids didn't seem to care.  


Now back to hoping this beautiful dream can last a bit longer . . . 

Monday, August 12, 2013

The New Darby Residence, Est. July 15, 2013

Goodbye city life . . . 

and hello sleepy little beach town.  Do you hear that?  Listen . . .

Nope, me neither.  I hear nothing.  No car horns honking at my children and me to hurry up or get out of the way.  No sailor-mouthed bikers on Damen threatening impatient drivers.  No construction and no machinery and no chatty Cathys at the bus stop yacking it up into the wee hours of the night.

I need to pinch myself occasionally to remember this isn't a vacation house.  It's real.  A house.  A yard.    No one living below us.  No rushing to grab little hands the second we inch out of the front door.  No insane traffic.  No crazy crowds.  Clint keeps asking if I'm okay when he sees that far-away look in my eyes, and I tell him I'm more than okay . . . I'm finally able to relax.  Life is calmer.  Mack's tantrums have lessened.  We have room to stretch out and not be in anyone else's way.  I'm living in a dream world right now.

It's amazing what we had gotten used to and learned to enjoy.  Walking up almost three flights of stairs with 2 children, searching for parking nearby when the car was full of groceries, getting in line at the Y at 4AM to sign up for camp, long walks in the rain to preschool when I didn't have the car, and trying to keep an eye on both of my rowdy children at overcrowded parks.  It all began to feel very normal for me, and I quickly forgot how much easier life in a small town could be.  

But the city was cool and had so much to offer.  Our little neighborhood was awesome for children -- their schools, their classes, the restaurants.  Of course we miss our friends.  Mimi's best friends all lived within half a mile of us, and her very best friend lived only a few feet away (as did two of mine).    

I wouldn't take any of these experiences -- good and bad -- back for anything in the world.  Living in Chicago was such a blessing for us, and we are happy we survived the last three years.

But for the next 40 years . . .

That's how long I want to be able to live in this new house before I have to move again.  Until my hips break and I can no longer see to walk through the doors -- all 28 of them.

Not that we have 28 rooms, but we have many, many, many beautiful 83-year-old wooden doors in this house.  About half of them aren't necessary -- doors in and out of the kitchen and between the den and living room -- but I love the beauty and history in them.

Some privacy for the tiny bathroom under the stairs, please.

And the doorknobs.  Love, love, love.

Even a few emerald green ones.

The quaint table by the front door.

The super tall windows.

And, oh, that staircase.

Beautiful arches.

And this crazy old garage door motor that works surprisingly well.

And these windows.  Yes, the old curtains will be gone hopefully by this weekend, but the windows are something special.

I didn't even like this house when the realtor told us to take a peek at it before it hit the market.  I saw a pic and it wasn't even close to the Cape Cod gray wood with white trim I had in mind.  But I did her a favor, and I'm so glad.  The neighbors tell us the house has great karma, and we're starting to learn why.  The couple raised 5 children in this house and lived her for the past 35 years.  The wife loved to entertain and made this the "neighborhood house" with lots of cocktail parties, pizza parties for the neighborhood kids, dinner parties, and hosting showers and birthdays.  She left gifts for our children each time we visited the house before the closing, and she has already mailed several sweet notes that included information about the house and the village.  When I called the village about a fence permit, the lady on the other line said, "Oh, you're moving into the O'Meara house!  They were so sweet!"  Everyone loved them, so we have very big shoes to fill.

Until we get some of these cream walls painted and new window treatments hung, maybe we can use the outdoor space for the social events it seems we need to be throwing.

Oh, to have trees!

The only reason Clint cares about a yard.

There is a little secret part to the backyard that I love.

Left for us . . . and it's staying.

See Mimi running down the street.  And Mack is already ahead of her.  Who's freaking out about this?  Not this momma.

  But it seems we have some old tenants who need to evacuate pronto.  Eeks!  Spiders!!  The combo of lots of trees and an old house with lots of tiny entries is not good for us.  I've already begun spreading the lavender oil.

While we have most boxes unpacked, it will still be a while before this house feels like ours.  Some paint, a few new light fixtures, and curtains will be enough for now.  Then on to the kitchen and bathroom, right, honey? um, Clint?  

 And this fireplace . . . what the heck is under this faux marble finish?

I must go enjoy a nice little rain shower in my favorite room of the house now . . . 

and then you may not hear from me for another year or two while I'm painting and sewing curtains and enjoying my new boring life in the burbs . . .