Saturday, February 28, 2009

Our other car is a bakfiets

It has been a long month. It turns out that our youngest got sick as well so we spent a third week caring for a miserable-feeling little guy and struggling tremendously with childcare coverage. It now appears that one of the twins is moving into his second round of illness as he now has a dry, hacking cough with a fever. We are going to just hang this weekend, hoping, just hoping we can all recover and get back on schedule this coming week-- the week of admissions decision making for me and a week of mid-terms for Peter. Is my desperation coming through in this post?

One wonderful bright spot, however, has been the arrival of our bakfiets! She (I am hoping to christen her a girl's name but we are in negotiation at the moment) arrived on Thursday and is absolutely gorgeous. P and I have each taken her out a few times. Yesterday, P went for a long ride on our local bike path with F for about 1 1/2 hours and then this morning used it for the bagel run and to get S to his guitar lesson. Even though I read this on the numerous reviews of bakiets I tracked down, I am still amazed how smoothly this bike rides and no, it is not hard to balance. I still need to figure out just how wide a turn I need to make, but I do think this investment (and yes, it was a hefty one) will allow us to remain a one-car, well--minivan family for at least another year.

One reviewer said you should not buy a bakfiets if you are not a social person because he gets stopped and engaged in conversation constantly about his cargo bike. I see this already with the number of folks who have asked questions while I was out riding. It reminds me a bit of when the twins were babes and we had the awesome double decker carseat stroller that gave me such a measure of freedom with the boys. People always got a kick out of seeing us, walking along the streets of NYC, and often commented or stopped to chat. The bakfiets does get a similiar reaction, but I am happy to discuss it because maybe some other folks will get inspired and soon New Haven will have a fleet of family bikes.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Identical Twins, Identical Ailments

Another week, another ear infection. Weird. We haven't had an ear infection in a few years and now in the course of a few days, both S and C have been diagnosed with ear infections. I know those two exist in close proximity to each other, but I still find it totally wild that the headache moved to a fever that moved to vomiting to now ear infections in both boys. F has been fighting a tenacious cold but has been spared--so far-- these other symptoms. There's always next week however!

My sweet, sweet C though-- he hardly ate anything all day, limply lay tucked under a blanket on the couch in front of PBS for more hours than I care to admit-- came up to me tonight after his first dose of amoxicillin. He tucked himself right under my arm and told me that I was all the medicine he needed to feel better. And if that wasn't enough to make me hold him even closer, he continued with great sincerity about his 3AM throwing-up, "Sorry about all the ruckus last night. I didn't mean to wake you up."

Welcome to my pity party...

I should have known better. When the twins were babes, one would get sick and then the other would follow suit. I didn't even try to keep their germs away from one another, recognizing the futility of separating spoons or binkies, accepting the inevitability of both boys becoming ill at the same time. All-in-all with the fellas, we've been pretty fortunate on the health front (Dare I even write that? Surely I am tempting fate...). We have had our share of gunky noses and coughs and a few ear infections along the way, but mostly these guys, despite their petite selves, have been really hardy.

I do believe the studies that show that their immune systems were boosted by exclusive nursing for over a year (Am I allowed to admit my incredible pride in this fact while being sensitive to mamas who struggle to breastfeed or make a different choice?). It also helped that up until this year, P or I were either full-time at home or working a part-time job with some flexibility. This allowed us, at the earliest sign of a runny nose or fever, to keep the boys home from preschool because we had the childcare thing covered. It let the boys have the necessary downtime to recover and didn't expose other kids to our burgeoning yucky germs.

Now that P and I both have full-time, out-of-the-house commitments, I recognize how fortunate we were to make the 'easy' choice to keep a boy home. Last week with P away, I took on single parenting duties and for the first time all school year, one of the boys got sick. I became panicked. In the end, I was fortunate to have access to back-up childcare through P's university for two days, but it was far from ideal. Poor S, curled up on the couch, feeling so lousy, and poor me, having to leave him with a woman I had just met 15 minutes before. It was incredibly stressful even though I knew she had been vetted, and I was regretting the fact we lived near no family and that we were no longer on a boarding school campus where we could have found someone to cover either our work or hang with our boys. After two days, I could no longer in good conscience leave S home with this caregiver, given that she did no actual care giving, outside of being a warm body on our living room chair and allowing me to go off to work. I write this sentence, understanding that this still puts me in a privileged position-- that there are women all over this country who have very little choice or very little access to quality childcare. However, it simply sucked to have sick boys at home (F joined S on the second day with a vicious cold), P away from home, my work being at the height of its craziest time, and a woman caring for the sickies who hardly interacted with them. On Wednesday, after learning that S had double ear infections and having missed the day of work, I raised the white flag and called P and asked him to come home a day early. S ended up being out of school the entire week, except for a brief hour on Friday morning, when we thought he was feeling better so brought him to classroom, only to bring him home when it was clear he was not.

And now this week is our supposed 'vacation' week. Knowing that while our school is closed, I still have a lot of work that needs doing, we signed them up for vacation child care (VCC) Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Yesterday, C woke up complaining about his head and I should have seen it coming. "This seems familiar," I immediately thought to myself, but after breakfast he insisted he was feeling better and really wanted to go to VCC. Given that P had to go have a colonscopy and I was feeling work pressure, I packed all the boys up and off to 'school' we went, which also allowed me pick up P from the hospital when his procedure was finished without having to drag the boys along. I knew, however, that C was just off. Normally an incredible sensitive fellow, he was even more so, and the tears flowed far too much all day, showing no resiliency at all. By the time we got home, C declared his extreme fatigue and just climbed into his bed, falling asleep at 6PM, having not eaten a thing, including a special snack of chips he passed on to his twin. Once a six-year-old does this unprompted-- diagnosis confirmed: he was really sick. So it wasn't too much of a surprise, to us anyway, when he awoke at 3:11AM and spent the next hour or so throwing up, poor fellow.

So here I sit on another Wednesday at home with a sick little guy on the couch, very little sleep below my belt, not working but feeling incredible pressure about it. And you know what? I am feeling sorry for myself. Even though I know this is a real picture of parenthood, a prime example of putting another's needs before your own, I am just feeling sorry for myself. And to misquote T.S. Eliot intentionally, February is the cruelest month. Welcome to my pity party, and you know--it's my party so I'll cry if I want to.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Getting Crafty

I could write a whole lot this week about my kids getting completely sick and having to stay home from school these past days while P is away on a mandatory quiet retreat (he's a divinity school student/ seminarian). I could write about my adventures with back-up emergency childcare and single parenting/working parent dilemmas, especially when one lives near no family. I could write about fevers and vomit and hacking coughs and goopy noses and boys who can't sleep because they feel so lousy. I have quite a bit to say on those aforementioned topics but I just can't face writing about it because I am totally mired in it enough already.

So instead, I decided to concentrate on my family's recent attempt at getting crafty. Now I know there are numerous blogs that document some amazingly talented folks who sew and paint and design and construct. I like to read some of those blogs every once in awhile and can find them to be 1. inspiring and/or 2. totally cringe-worthy given some of these bloggers' McGyver-like abilities to take scraps from Goodwill and create the hippest kid's outfit you've seen while simultaneously whipping up a batch of homemade sweet potato biscuits, carving an eco-friendly and toxic-safe baby chew toys, and capturing on film (with perfect light and composition) their gorgeous children digging organic rutabagas from the garden that these offspring will happily eat at their next meal. I am far from one of those bloggers and my kids still try to maintain that ketchup is a vegetable.

I have modest talent and creativity, but I am getting more interested in making stuff for my kids. I've been addicted to Etsy and have tried to buy mostly hand/homemade gifts for the past year. I've always liked handmade lettering and computer graphics. I loved making the pink shirts for boys and others.

This summer I adapted a talented blogger's felt birthday hats and had fun making homemade birthday crowns out of craft foam and ribbon for recent celebrations.

And I guess I can't forget about our annual tradition to make the boys' Halloween costumes. Love those colored sweatsuits, glue gun, fake fur and fabric paint!

Truthfully, I don't consider myself a big project mom but admire those who are. In our house, we tend to have spurts of baking pretzels and cookies and dabbling with origami, but for the most part, with painting or clay forming , I sometime cannot summon the energy, and I just want to hide when the boys get into their big paper airplane making phases. I appreciate their interest, but I'm just not keen on trying to decipher those directions and making the correct folds. C, however, picked out a new craft book last week (a reward for a certain number of stars he earned for good exits from the house in the morning and school in the afternoon--behaviorism at its best) that instantly became his new focus. For the next four days, when he wasn't in school, he was studying directions, cutting pieces out of the book, experimenting with his own folding, and learning the joys of Elmer's glue and paper clips. Yesterday, he put the finishing touches on his paper triceratops that he has named Boulder. I have to admit that I was impressed.

And while C was carefully constructing Boulder (future paleontologist, perhaps?)-- I was following through on my newest craft attempt, one I had been thinking about for some time: freezer paper stencils. So on Saturday, each of my boys will receive a hand stenciled t-shirt from me for Valentine's Day. I would like to say I found each of the shirts at yard sales but alas, I ran to Old N*vy last weekend. The stenciling was tons of fun and not hard, although I need to work on my X-acto knife skills. It was incredibly satisfying peeling that homemade stencil from the shirt to reveal the design below (it's the I Love You sign in ASL)...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Big Families

In today's paper, this article caught my eye, And a Baby Makes How Many?

As the fifth of seven kids, I am always extraordinarily sensitive about the big family debate. Yes, I find the story of the octuplets born to a woman with six kids under eight extremely problematic. Personally, I am thrilled and overwhelmed with three kids under seven so I just cannot imagine, can NOT imagine, having more children. However, I loved growing up in a big family and I have a tremendous respect for my mom especially, but my dad as well, who did an amazing job raising us.

Both my mom and my mom-in-law, who has four children, remember(ed) a time when people had no problem stopping them on the street to chastise them about having so many kids. The idea of this vexes me beyond belief. A stranger would not criticize another's lunch choice publicly. It's amazing that someone would feel the right to comment on a far more personal and important decision. And we are not talking here about the extremes, the ethics of a fertility doctor who should not be implanting so many embryos, nor are we talking about this murky stereotype that some people have that a woman, presumably poor and uneducated, is having more kids just to collect more public assistance (which is incredibly presumptuous to assume).

My mom's standard response was, "You worry about the quantity. I'll worry about the quality." And my mother-in-law, who is amazingly kind and sweet, had a stranger come up to her, nodding in disgust at the four kids. "Didn't your mother ever teach you anything" the stranger spit out, of course, referring to birth control. "Yes," my mother-in-law responded, "She taught me to mind my own business."

Did I ever tell you that I have a great mother-in-law?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Good Stuff

I've been feeling rather gloomy lately. I recognize that it is a combination of things. The winter has been dragging on quite a bit here in the East Coast, and while I am a fan of flaky snow and warm scarfs at the start of the season-- I am well over it now. It stinks to park the car on the street, sidled up next to these huge, icy snowbanks that make you need to get the boys out on the car side of the street, always concerned about impatient drivers who just want to get past a woman helping three little fellas from the side door. I am also in the thick of things work-wise, at the height of the season, and feeling well out-of-control this first go-around. I don't even know what I don't know and that ignorance would be bliss, except that it smacks me in the face a bit too often-- when suddenly someone asks me if I've finished something that I didn't even know I was supposed to do. It makes me feel crappy to feel crappy at my job. Finally, P is off on a required school thing for five days, leaving tomorrow. The anticipation of the suckiness of single parenting this next week, as I feel the heat and weight of job expectations, as I scrape up against dirty mounds of ice and snow, just has put me over the top. The irony is that he is off to a five-day retreat, filled with quietness and contemplation, something that I know he needs and is good for him, not just a part of fulfilling his MDiv requirements. However, it feels like it is just what I need, but could no way do right now, and makes me feel bitter about his program and how it is so clearly not designed for a parent of young children.

When I am wallowing in self-pity, I often do a pretty good job of beating myself up even more but putting stuff into perspective. I am lucky to have a job, especially given the economic climate and the reality of more and more folks finding themselves jobless each day. I am lucky I have these three amazing boys and incredibly fortunate that I don't have to single parent every day of their existence. I am profoundly blessed by having this amazing partner, who is good and kind and supportive and actually feels incredibly guilty about going away for rest and retreat for four-and-a-half days.

And while I was lying like a lump in bed this evening, feeling all these things, and thinking all these things-- I realized I have touched up against some really good stuff lately. And I love sharing good stuff that I discover with people. And I felt like I should put this all in a post. So here's some good stuff that has made me buzz a bit:

1. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. For the past few months, I've been voraciously reading YA novels. I tend to get on reading kicks-- memoirs, British/Irish chick lit, mysteries-- and I just look for more and more. I've had people ask me how I possibly find time to read. I don't even know how to answer that, except that I just do. I couldn't live without reading, and oh, how I wish I felt like that about exercise or broccoli, but I always find time to read even in just short snippets between responsibilities. Green is such a smart writer and I fell for this book and the protagonist immediately. Colin Singleton is a recent high school graduate and child prodigy, not a genius he reminds folks often, who is freaked out about losing his edge (you're not a child prodigy once you become an adult) and being dumped yet-again by a girl named Katherine. Colin and his best friend, Hassan, set out on a road trip right after graduation in that buddy bonding plot that I've seen before. However, there's tons of anagrams and a whole lot of math in this book and it's just smart and quirky and funny and like nothing I've ever read. And I secretly devoured all of Colin's thoughts because I couldn't help but think he is a bit like my own C , whom I don't dare label a prodigy, but has his own tremendous brain that gets in the way of his social connections at times. I suspect that author Green is a bit Colin-ish himself and I love the idea of this guy finding his own niche in the world. Good stuff.

2. Abstract City: I Lego N.Y. by Christopher Niemann . This collection of photos of Niemann's simple Lego creations that remind him of a much-missed New York City just got me with its cleverness. I had one of those "oh-I-wish-I-had-done-this" moments when I first saw it but I just love that Niemann did and the New York Times published it. I also just like the idea of Niemann hanging out with his three sons overseas, playing Legos in their room. Good stuff.

3. Slings & Arrows. I made mention of this brilliant Canadian television series in my last post. P and I watched the very last episode of the last season last night and this morning, we both admitted that we were in a bit of mourning about finishing it. The series takes place around a fictitious town's Shakespearean theater festival and has moments of great drama, laugh-out-loud humor, and just incredibly smart writing. The acting is top-notch and the series is such a great reminder of what good television really can look like (and a sad reminder that nothing on TV right now looks anything like this). Each of the three seasons focuses on a different Shakespeare play the company is putting up, and it was a bonus that I taught Hamlet and Macbeth, and made me yearn to teach King Lear. However, one could really enjoy this show without knowing the plays or even liking Shakespeare all that much (to start). It made me wish I had discovered the show earlier when I was teaching high school so I could have shared this gem with my students. Now, too, I want to watch everything that has actor Paul Gross in it, who just astounded me as artistic director Geoffrey Tenner, struggling with his own demons while trying to create great art and get the woman he loved and lost. Good stuff.

4. They Might Be Giants: Their kids' albums, especially Here Comes the A,B,C's and Here Comes the 1,2,3's are tons of fun. Clever lyrics. Good music that kids love and parents can stand to listen to again and again. And yes, we did just go see them LIVE last Saturday-- the boys' first ever concert. I love that from now on, now matter how old the boys get, when someone asks them who was their first concert, they will always be able to answer TMBGs! The band was amazing live, the energy awesome, horns blaring, kids and parents both stomping their feet and jumping in the air. Plus, I love them for passing out yellow foam hands with the big #1 fingers for free to all the attendees so we didn't have to be the mean parents saying 'no' to buying them stuff at concerts.

These guys (the band, not the three pictured) are nominated for a Grammy this year and I am so totally routing for John and John. Beside their CDs, it is also worth it to purchase the DVDs full of old-school animation and this good music-- you just don't feel guilty letting your kids sit in front of these videos. "Now that monkey rides a bike around with me. I named him Larry." Good stuff.

And bonus, while finding a link on TMBG, I found that on their website, they had posted the video of Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer at Barack Obama's Inauguration festivities and that just made me like They Might Be Giants even more. Good Stuff.

5. Finally, just tonight I just started reading David Levithan's Wide Awake. He's one of those YA novelists I have been recently devouring and have really appreciated his Boy Meet Boy (reading some incredibly poignant lines aloud to P) and the two novels he co-authored with Rachel Cohn, including Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. The premise of Wide Awake, published in 1996-- a gay Jewish president has just been elected. I can already tell that more Good Stuff awaits...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reading this NYTimes op-ed piece called "Till Children Do Us Part" makes me thankful that

1. P and I discussed how we wanted family life to look like before we had kids.

2. He does the majority of the cooking and the wash (and packing the boys' lunch boxes)-- so have worked against falling into traditional gender roles.

Of course, there's no gloating here. We still need work on the hanging out together with no children present bit.  Yes, a regular babysitter and a weekly or even bi-weekly or even monthly date night would be great. However, right now we'd settle for three sleeping boys, a good bottle of red wine, and another disk of Slings and Arrows. Why'd they only make three seasons of that show?