Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Secret To Maintaining Harmony In A Family Of 11

So far, our blogs have been pretty tame. But obviously, living with so many people isn't always easy. And I hope that Keri will write someday about what it's like to live with someone else's autistic kid, or the frustration she and Matty must sometimes feel living in a house they have told me will never feel like theirs.

One thing that might surprise those who wonder about our arrangement is that there are virtually no fights (at least, not among the adults). And this is why: we've learned that keeping the peace requires letting a lot of things slide.

This flies squarely in the face of one of the big lessons I remember my mother teaching me when I was a kid: if someone does something that bothers you, tell her (or him) about it. The problem is, when so many people live together, there's always something bothering somebody. Andy, Keri, Matty and I have all been guilty (to varying degrees) of leaving messes, forgetting messages, and of STOPPING THE MICROWAVE BEFORE IT CYCLES DOWN TO 0:00 AND THUS LEAVING 17 USELESS SECONDS ON THE DISPLAY THAT MUST BE CLEARED BEFORE THE NEXT PERSON CAN USE IT, WHICH MAY SEEM LIKE A SMALL THING BUT KERI DOES IT ALL THE TIME EVEN THOUGH SHE KNOWS IT DRIVES ME CRAZY. Right. Now, what was I saying again?

But seriously, there have been a couple of times where I spoke out of annoyance and I always regretted it afterwards. Because the target of my sniping would inevitably get defensive and point out (not inaccurately) of previous transgressions on my part. And who am I, arguably the laziest person in the house, to get peeved at anyone else's lapses? So now I hold my tongue. And you know what? A couple of hours later, the tide of annoyance always recedes, and good feeling is restored without ever actually being disrupted. Although we've never discussed this directly, I suspect Keri and Matty have the same approach. I can tell sometimes that Keri is irritated about something, but if I don't ask, she doesn't tell, and it passes.

Of course, when it comes to the big things, it's a different story. Probably the most important thing about two sets of parents and two sets of children living together is that the same rules apply to all the kids. And it's an ongoing conversation. One of the few times Matty has snapped at me in the last year and a half was when he thought I took a toy away from Declan as a punishment for a squabble he was having with Hilary in the car on the way to the aquarium. I was only enforcing a rule I've had since Jonah threw one of his Sesame Street figures in the eagle exhibit at the zoo - no toys on outings. But it turns out Keri and Matty didn't have that rule. Now we've agreed to make the kids leave their toys in the car.

So I guess I would have three questions for anyone who was considering a similar arrangement (and as far as I can tell, that consists of exactly one person, a teacher from our district who was recently out several times to evaluate Jonah): first, does everyone really truly like each other, second, how laid back is everyone involved, and third, are any of the parties involved professional chefs? Actually, the more I think about it, the last two questions are really all that matters.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bad Kid

I love my kids. I really do. But lately Ronan has been such a complete pill. Remember this post? Well, you can forget about it. The award has been revoked.

There are many things I admire about Ronan. His red hair, his lean and muscular build, his strong will. Oh wait, did I just say I admire that? Never mind. I hate it.

Declan has always been very sweet and accommodating, so at first I was impressed by Ronan's strength and independence. I looked at his willfulness as a positive thing, something that would make him a stronger person. And perhaps one day it will. But right now it makes him just really, really hard to parent.

When Declan was Ronan's age, we started disciplining him for typical toddler infractions by putting him in time out for 2 minutes. After a few time outs for things like throwing cups at the table or biting, he seemed to get it and stopped doing it (for the most part--hey, he's not perfect). But Ronan just doesn't seem to get it.

Ronan likes to throw things at the table. Heavy things. Towards people's heads. He finds this hilarious. So hilarious, in fact, that he waits until you're watching him, then gives a sly smile and chucks whatever's handy--sippy cup, steak knife (oops), plate of pancakes, tissues (not quite so dangerous, but still annoying). When we reprimand him for it, he laughs. When I scold him and explain to him what he did wrong and why he's going to time out, he smiles. And when he comes out of time out, suitably upset and teary, he does it all over again.

I'm sure he'll outgrow it. I don't know too many adults who throw their drinks at the table. And I know Ronan's not a bad kid. I just wish he could be a little more good.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Another Successful Holiday Card

Holiday cards are symbolic for me in a way I know they aren't for most people. I love to get cards from my friends and family members with pictures of their adorable children doing things children do: playing in the snow, splashing in the pool, mugging for the camera. Those cards symbolize normalcy to me. Normal families have plenty of pictures of their normal children behaving normally. I always assumed they didn't have to make the decision about whether or not to send out a holiday card based on whether they had even one picture in which all their kids looked normal. That's my criteria. I need one group picture in which Jonah doesn't look autistic. It helps if the other kids look good too, but all I really care about is that Jonah isn't playing with his fingers, biting at the base of his thumb, or flapping his hands. That's the way you can always tell the autistic kid in the picture, by the way. Just look at the hands.

This year, I got a great picture. Well, technically I didn't get it, but a photographer was able to get a good picture of all the kids in which Jonah doesn't look autistic. It doesn't qualify as a great picture by my mother's standards, which require that all subjects be smiling and staring at the camera, but I think it's sweet. Jonah is looking down at Hilary, his favorite sister, who sports a rather serene smile. Erika is rocking back a bit, almost laughing at something. Gretchen is in profile. Only Aaron actually looks at the camera. So this year, I sent out a card, which is something I wasn't able to do last year.

What's ironic is that, in considering this year's crop of cards, so many of my friends have opted to use the wonders of digital photography to design cards with separate pictures of their kids, instead of one group shot - an option I had always rejected in my quest to do what I thought normal families did. I guess I'm not the only one who finds it difficult to get a good picture of all my kids together. Maybe it's not as much about normalcy as I thought. Maybe it's just about being realistic about the nature of children.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Sick Kids

It's December in our household of 7 kids, which means three things: the kids are whining for more Hanukkah presents (because 8 each isn't enough); Andy's turning the heat down while the rest of us are surreptitiously sneaking it back up; and someone is sick.

Who? It doesn't matter. In this house, the illness creeps in sometime in late November and slowly makes its rounds of the kids repeatedly until late March. With 7 kids hanging around 7 different groups of other kids, there isn't a germ in the world that doesn't find its way into this house.

Today, it's Declan's turn. Hilary, as usual, started the fun last week with a fever/vomiting illness that lasted a few days. During this time period she watched TV for about 72 hours straight, leading the rest of the kids to think that being sick is just about the coolest thing ever. (Of course, when Hilary was sent home from school early this week and Amy informed her that there would be no TV, Hilary said, "I'm feeling better now.")

Declan, thankfully, has avoided the fever/vomiting illness but is stuck with a cold that is causing him to leak from almost every orifice (at least the ones on his head).

I'm always so conflicted when it comes to whether or not to keep the kids home from school. Our mom had a clever policy: good ol' Jewish guilt. "Only you know if you feel too sick to go to school," she would tell us, and leave us to anguish over the weight of lying to Mom versus the freedom to sit home and watch TV all day. But how do you instill Jewish guilt in a 3-year-old?

The truth is, the only reason not to keep a marginally sick kid at home is because, frankly, it will be a drag for me. I'm not proud of it, but the first thing I thought this morning when Declan said he was too sick to go to school was, "No way, buddy, I'm not missing spin class again." The fact is, there's nothing he'll miss in his pre-pre-K class today that can't be made up. And wouldn't the world be a better place if every mom kept her leaky kid home from school?

So, he's home, infecting, er, playing with Aaron and Gretchen. (Hey, it's only a matter of time, right?)

Stealing My Thunder

On the second night of Hannukkah, I gave Andy a present I knew he would absolutely love: a "Dick in the Box" t-shirt from the hilarious Saturday Night Live skit of the same name (check it out here at NBC if you haven't seen it). He was, in fact, thrilled with the gift, and was in the process of effusing over it when I heard from across the room, "Eh-hem."

Andy was so enraptured, he didn't notice. Then I heard it again, louder this time: "Eh-HEM." Everyone looked at Keri, who was sitting on the couch, waiting for me to acknowledge that the gift had been her idea.

And it had been her idea. She had almost bought it for Andy before going in with our mother on a different gift. I think she found it trolling on the internet for humorous t-shirts. (She also found one with a shofar on it that said, "BLOW ME," which I thought was perfect for Andy, since that's a favorite catchphrase of his, but we decided he could never wear it out of the house).

I've all for giving credit where credit is due. However, in this case I just wished Keri had kept quiet. As Andy's wife, I have so much more to gain from his happiness than she does. We've been married for ten years, and it's gotten harder and harder to think of great presents for every birthday, anniversary, Hannukkah. What do you give the guy who has no expensive hobbies or collections? (This year, Andy was so sick of me complaining about how difficult he is to shop for that he made a list of fifteen gift ideas for himself, which he showed me when Hannukkah was over. One of the items was running boards for his truck, a gift that would have required me first noticing the boards were showing some wear, then somehow sneaking the truck, which he drives to work every day, to the dealership. Who is he kidding?)

Giving the perfect gift is rejuvenating to a relationship. I really believe it creates a tangible increase in goodwill that can manifest itself in countless ways. Maybe Andy would have rubbed my back while we watched TV that night, or offered to run downstairs for the baby monitor we always forget to bring with us when we go upstairs for the night. Maybe a trace of satisfaction would have lingered all the way to my birthday in May, when it will be his turn to pick out a gift for me. Conceivably, Keri's short-sighted quest for gratitude and recognition might have cost me some serious bling.

And the fact is, I WOULD have thought of it myself, if I only knew such a t-shirt existed. I came up with the idea of a new gym bag on my own, and that was number two on Andy's list.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ronan on Silver Strand, Sherkin Island, Ireland, August 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

A [n Unwanted] Room Of Her Own

I have to say, not much about parenting has completely surprised me. I suppose I might have been surprised by some things when Jonah was a baby, like the fact that newborns have no eyebrows, or that raisins come out pretty much exactly as they go in. But I can't remember the last time I felt as caught off guard as I felt when I realized that Hilary decidedly did NOT want her own room, which is what she got when Erika moved in to her new room last week.

Honestly, it never occurred to me that there was anyone who wouldn't want a room of her own. But that's just my bias as the older child, the one who was always desperate for privacy to write angst-ridden poetry and listen to Air Supply. I don't even know, so many years later, if Keri ever wanted her own room, or if she liked having me close by, the way Hilary obviously liked being close to Erika, so much so that she announced she was going to sleep in Erika's trundle every night. We told her that wasn't an option, and almost every night since she's come into our room minutes after being tucked in to mournfully inform us that she had a bad dream and needs to sleep in our bed.

Andy told Hilary that when Gretchen was a little older, she could move in to Hilary's room, and Hilary seemed pleased by that idea. I'm curious to see whether she's as enchanted by it when she's six. In other words, what plays the greatest role in shaping our desires: age, birth order or inborn temperament? I can't help but wonder, as I imagine Keri and Matty have also, how Declan might be different if he was growing up as the older of two children in a home instead of the middle of what basically amounts to a family of seven.

Overall, though, Hilary's adjusting pretty well. We're trying to spend more time with her, and we praise her for what a big girl she is. And the fact is, she doesn't hate everything about having her own room. Like every kid in the world, she really loves sleeping on the top bunk, which she claimed the night Erika moved out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

You Don't Know From a Lot of Kids

Declan has a book called A Squash and a Squeeze (by the wonderful duo Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, who also brought us the fabulous Gruffalo) that tells of an old woman who thought her house was too small. A wise old man had her bring in various farm animals to pack the house, then release them one by one. After the last animal is gone, the old woman is thrilled to have so much room in her house. Moral of the story? It's all relative. This past weekend we got a taste of that ourselves.

I never thought I'd say it, but thank goodness there are only 7 kids in this house.

I always thought 7 was a lot of kids. (See earlier post, "A Lot of Kids.") But at various points during the holiday weekend, we had as many as 20 kids roaming the house. They weren't particularly difficult children, but let's face it: 20 kids is a lot of kids. That's 20 cups of juice, 20 plates of food they won't even eat, 20 cries for dessert, 20 mouths to silence with a movie (for the record, The Sound of Music).

The kids, for the most part, had a blast, though the inevitable cliques and clubs started and folded melodramatically. Tears were shed. But there was also lots of laughter. Amy, her friend Katrina (mother to 3 of the aforementioned kids), and I took 10 of the kids to see Enchanted (when I asked for 3 adults and 10 children's tickets, the usher replied, "Good luck with that"); we took up an entire row and none of the kids made a peep... until after the movie, when 9-year-old Carlyn pronounced the movie "too kissy."

But the fact remains, as sad as I was to see all our friends and family leave, I'm happy that we're back to 'just' 7 kids in the house. I know these kids. I know their fights. And I know we're absolutely, positively, definitely not having any more kids.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Room Of Her Own

If there was one longing that defined my childhood, it was my desire for my own space. When I was ten, I wrote a letter to President Reagan, begging for a little plot of land for a garden (I received a form letter in reply, regretfully informing me that the president couldn't possibly grant every favor that was requested of him). I made my mother nail bedspreads to the ceiling of the room Keri and I shared, and insisted that Keri say "Knock, knock," if she wanted to come over to my side. So as long as Andy and I have been together, I've been adamant that I would never have more kids than I could provide individual rooms for. When we moved into our white elephant of a house with its eight bedrooms, it seemed like that would never be an issue. Then again, I never anticipated having five children, or that Keri and Matty and their kids would move in with us. Suddenly, everyone but Jonah was sharing. And it was fine, until the last few months, when the novelty of bunk beds had long worn off and Erika began melting down on a regular basis about the "little kids" that were always following her around and "messing up" her stuff.

I readily admit, I was sympathetic. And Matty told me that the storage room at the back of the second floor could be converted into a bedroom easily enough, just by ripping out some built-in cabinets and giving it a bright coat of paint. At first, my plan was to set the whole room up and surprise Erika, but I chickened out when I realized that if she was too afraid to sleep so far away from everyone else, I would be stuck with a lilac and buttercup guest room. So I told her, and she was as thrilled as I hoped she'd be. She moved in on Thanksgiving day, even though the carpet, desk and nightstands haven't arrived yet, and her clothes are still in her old room because I'm still cleaning out the closets in her new room. She hasn't even complained about the fact that the room is always cold - and I mean really cold, sixty degrees cold, two comforters and a space heater cold. But I know I wouldn't have complained either. She's just happy, as I would have been, to have a door knob to hang her "Keep out" sign from.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Jonah and Amy on Newport Beach, Summer 2002

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Lot of Kids

Sunday night, through an unusual set of circumstances, Andy found himself in charge of 5 of the 7 kids in the house. On Monday, he admitted to me that he hoped he wouldn't be judged as 'Uncle Andy' on the basis of his performance Sunday night. "It's a lot of kids," he admitted.

Monday night, those kids reminded us of why we all live together in the first place. It was about 7:30pm, the last hour before bed ticking slowly by. The kids were scattered, but then Matty started kicking around some tennis balls in the foyer. Erika jumped in front of the steps to play goalie. Declan heard the commotion and ran in to help Erika block balls. Ronan jumped at the chance to throw tennis balls--hard--without repercussion. Aaron toddled in, eager to be a part of the gang. Hilary made a valiant, if failed, effort at goalie.

Everyone was throwing balls, everyone was getting hit by balls. No one was crying. Andy taught Erika how to throw properly, Matty taught Declan how to catch properly (for a 3-year-old). No one noticed the clock tick past bedtime.

This is what I envisioned when we first talked about moving in with my sister. Sure, it happens. We just need to make it happen more.

I Already Failed

Though I must admit I was tempted to fake a few posts by backdating them, I have to concede that just 2 days into November I dropped the ball on the NaBloPo challenge. Many apologies to my reader.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Must... Post... More... Often...

In the hopes of guilting myself into posting more often, I signed up for NaBloPoMo--National Blog Posting Month. The goal is to post once a day for the month of November. Two posts today--I better pace myself.

Halloween Through the Eyes of a Child

If you think about it, Halloween is a truly bizarre holiday. We take our children to strange homes, ring the bell, and take candy from strangers. No wonder Ronan had such a hard time with this yesterday. It might also have something to do with his lack of a sense of time. What's the point in saving candy for later when you can eat it right now?

Here's how Ronan does trick or treating: Take candy, try to tear open candy with teeth until grown-up takes pity and intervenes, eat candy, at next house, throw candy on the ground to begin ritual anew. If I actually got the candy out of Ronan's hand before he ate it and put it into his candy sack (which was mostly empty), he would wail and run back to grab some more candy from the unsuspecting homeowner. It was pretty cute, and it was a special occasion, so we caved and mostly let him eat candy all night.

I was actually quite impressed with Declan's approach to trick or treating. After each house he would ask, "Are we going to see more people now?" Not, "Are we going to get more candy now?" He seemed to really enjoy the social aspect of the holiday. That's not to say that he didn't eat more than his fair share of candy, and of course there were tears shed later at home when we shut him off.

In fact, all the kids were happiest when we ran into other groups of trick or treaters on the street. Unfortunately, that rarely happened, as we seem to live near a decidedly quiet neighborhood. The other kids we did run into, mostly all preteen girls, were quite sweet with our little ones, exclaiming over their costumes and constantly crying and pointing, "You're so cute!"

And they were so cute. Hilary made an adorable Minnie Mouse, Erika a cuddly white bunny, and Ronan a solo little pig. But not Declan.

"I'm not a baby!" he whined when I told him how cute he looked. I conceded that he was, indeed, a very scary pirate. Satisfied, he cried to be carried and stuck his thumb in his mouth.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I couldn’t help but be impressed by the quick-thinking four-year-old Colorado girl who activated her car’s OnStar system when her mother passed out while driving. She had never been specifically taught how to do so, but had overheard a salesperson explaining it to her mother when she had purchased the car two days earlier.

So I decided to test my four-year-old. I kind of knew how she would do, but I was hoping she might surprise me.

Me: Hilary, I want to talk about what you should do in case of an emergency. Do you know what an emergency is?

Hilary: Yes.

Me: What is it?

Hilary: I don’t know.

Me: Well, say for example I fell asleep right now [we were waiting in the car for her sister’s school bus] and you couldn’t wake me up. What would you do?

Hilary: I don’t know.

Me: Or, what if we were home and I fell down the stairs and you couldn’t wake me up. What would you do then?

Hilary: Cry?

I think it’s because I’ve been so concerned over the past nine years that one of my kids would call 911 by accident that I haven’t actually taught them what to do in a real emergency. We’ve never organized a fire drill, or shown the kids how to hit the panic button on the alarm panel. I haven’t even been diligent about making sure the older kids know their address and phone number. Hilary has been walking around for a couple of weeks now announcing to anyone who will listen that her middle name is Rachel and her last name is Lutz and I suspect that’s the extent of her identifying information.

It’s hard to know how much and at what age you should teach your kids about emergencies. I certainly don’t want Hilary hitting the panic button every time her cousin bops her with his foam sword. On the other hand, it would be nice to know that in the worst of worst case scenarios, if fate should ever place the reins of life in her chubby little hands, she would be able to do something more heroic than just . . . cry.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Disney World? But I'm Soooo Sleepy..

Remember what I said about the joy of childhood, blah, blah, blah? Well, when we woke Erika to tell her we were going to Disney World, she looked at us through half-closed lids and moaned that she was tired. Tired! Hilary was the most excited, and actually managed to jump up and down. Declan was excited too, once he learned that we were going on an airplane.

That's not to say that the trip wasn't successful, but I think next time we'll tell the kids well in advance of the trip. After all, there is something to be said for anticipation.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Shh... We're Going to Disney World Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning we're going to wake up Declan, Ronan, Erika, and Hilary at the crack of dawn and tell them we're going to Disney World. Declan will be thrilled just to be going on the airplane. Ronan will see that everyone else is excited so he will be too. But to be honest, I just can't imagine the joy that Erika and Hilary will feel.

I think the capacity of a child's joy far surpasses that of an adult. Children feel an exuberance about things that isn't tempered by responsibility. When Declan hears that we are going away for 5 days, his first thought won't be, "Who will feed the fish?" But if Matty surprised me with a trip to St. Maarten, my excitement would surely be somewhat tamed by trying to figure out all the logistics of babysitting, laundry, packing, and the like. (Of course, I'd still like that trip, Matty.)

I envy the excitement they're going to feel tomorrow morning. I can't wait to see it.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Award for Most-Improved Kid Goes To...

Ronan! (applause)

It seems like just yesterday that Ronan was a royal pain in the tuchus, a stubborn, willful baby who steadfastly refused to do anything asked of him. His naps were erratic, his demeanor... not so pleasant. He wouldn't cuddle or kiss or hug, any of the things we want from babies. We all loved him, but no one really liked him.

Now, Ronan is a gem. He's always got a smile on his face and seems to enjoy naptime as much as I do. He's a happy guy, always running up for a hug or a kiss. Dont' get me wrong; he's not perfect--his newest favorite thing to do is scream at Gretchen and make her cry--but he's a much better version of the kid he used to be.

What happened? I don't know. But I do know that Aaron is going through the exact same thing right now.

I have to laugh.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Declan the Lothario

My son is a stud.

It's true. I'm not just saying it because I'm his mother.

At his birthday party on Saturday, I heard first hand from the parents of all his lovesick girlfriends:

"Brooke called me at work and said, Daddy, I have a boyfriend and his name is Declan."

"I saw Jessica in the hall at school and she told me Declan was her boyfriend."

"I know Declan has a lot of girlfriends, but don't he and Avery look perfect together?"

Later, I verified this with Declan. "Who's your best girlfriend?"

"Ava," he said solemnly.

"Second best?"


"And Brooke is third?"


You would think such a ladies' man would be the life of the party, but when Matty took Declan to Brooke's birthday party the day after his own, Declan turned the wallflower. He and Matty wandered the outskirts of the party, Declan completely engaged in his own play but not willing to actually speak to any of his friends.

Is this why he's so appealing to all the little girls in his class? Is playing hard to get (and being attracted by it) so innate a human behavior? Is that why Declan's so popular with the girls?

Probably not. Yesterday, Declan's teacher sent home a picture of him and Brooke, her arm draped around his shoulders, a satisfied grin on his face.

"He looks like a pimp," Kylie observed.

Hard to get, indeed.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Just a Walk in the Park, er, Zoo

Yesterday, Jonah asked to go to the zoo. It was a beautiful summer day, the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, so Andy and I decided to load up the minivan and head over. Although we usually have my father-in-law helping us out on Sundays, this particular Sunday he wasn't with us, so it was just me and Andy and the five kids. But we certainly didn't want to sit around the house all day, and all the kids love the zoo, so it seemed like a great idea.

Things did not start off well. We actually got out of the house a little after nine - quite timely for us - which allowed us to enter at the zoo shortly after the 9:30 opening, before the crowds got there. The problem was, Jonah always wants to eat "ketchup and french fries" immediately upon arrival at the zoo - which is usually fine, since we rarely go that early. But clearly 9:45 was too early for lunch, so we told Jonah he would have to wait, and he became extremely agitated. Waiting on line for a ride on the gigantic balloon didn't help matters, and as I held our place with the girls and the twins (who were themselves cranky, since they missed their morning nap), watching Jonah crying and flailing and throwing himself down on the concrete while Andy tried to calm him down, I wished we had never come.

But Jonah enjoyed rising 400 feet in the air, as we knew he would, and Andy and I made the executive decision when it was over that 10:20 was not too early for lunch. So we headed over to Nathan's, where we ate the best meal we had ever had at the zoo. I guess the food is better when the oil is fresh and the french fries haven't been sitting around under heat lamps for two hours. And we had no trouble getting a table.

Afterwards, Jonah was in a much better mood - which made one of us. Hilary spent most of the morning whining that she wanted her face painted, she wanted a ride in the swan boats, her feet hurt (we really need to toughen her up). Erika thought it was too hot. The twins cried off and on because their sleep schedule was thrown off. But we did end up seeing some animals before we left at around 1:00: we saw flamingos, elephants, giraffes and bears. The three older kids saw the vampire bats being fed dishes of cow's blood, which Erika thought was adorable.

We are so fortunate to have all the help we do with the kids - an amount of help I'm almost embarrassed to tell people about, between the two nannies and the housekeeper and the aides and the grandparents who come several times a week. But all I really want is to go out as a family without any help at all - me, Andy, the kids, that's it. That's when I'm most jealous - when Keri and Matty take their boys out to dinner, or when my friends plan amazing family vacations at all-inclusive resorts in the Caribbean. And I think we'll get there. The twins will get easier as they get older and stop napping and start being able to talk and follow directions. And Jonah is already so much more verbal and better behaved then he was when he was younger. I can't wait to see what he's like this time next summer, after a year at his new school. Maybe we'll always have to make certain accommodations - but, as we learned, there may actually be no better time to have lunch at the zoo than at 10:30 in the morning.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Top 3 Tips for Visiting Paris with Les Enfants

1. Sleep.
Today was much better than yesterday, possibly because after yesterday's debacle, we went home and all fell asleep at 7:30pm and didn't wake up until 10:00am. In retrospect, fighting fierce jet lag and lack of sleep on a 2-day holiday doesn't make much sense. In the future, we'll plan our short sortie on the way home from our longer vacation, once we've already adapted to the time change.

2. Don't plan too much.
Today was a great day, because we simply set out with vague destinations: the Eiffel Tower at some point. We walked the streets (without the stroller, this time) and stopped as the feeling struck: an outdoor cafe where we enjoyed a late breakfast of pain du chocolat and quiche; a few hours later a leisurely lunch at another cafe where the kids enjoyed the French version of chicken nuggets. Since we had no where specific to be at any time, we had time to play in the park and take a carousel ride. We eventually made it to the Eiffel Tower, though Declan was more interested in the dirt underneath it.

3. But plan enough.
After the Eiffel Tower we, well, I, decided that I absolutely positively had to have some macaroons from Laduree, a famous bakery/restaurant/tea cafe on the Champs Elysees. Well, I was pretty sure it was on the Champs Elysees. I justified it by saying that I thought Declan would be impressed by the long display of pastries for sale, and the rainbow of macaroons on offer.

It turned out to be a miserable trip. It was easily 2 or 3 miles, it was raining, and we didn't have a stroller. The kids would only walk for short bits. We stopped in a wine shop and while Matty was browsing, Declan got mad and hit him, which wouldn't have been so bad if not for the strategic location he struck. Needless to say, we didn't get any wine. Declan fell asleep soon after in my arms, so I walked the last mile carrying him and trying to keep him dry. It was close to 7pm, we hadn't eaten dinner, and I was starting to wonder if this was such a good idea.

But it was. We found it, the case just as impressive as I remembered (even though Declan slept through it). Ronan was impressed, though, and even scored a free macaroon (no small feat, since they cost 1.40 euros each). Matty loved the place and we left with a small box of macaroons. We were wet and hungry and tired but we had found what we were looking for. And we were happy.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

We'll Always Have Paris

When we told our friends we were spending two days in Paris en route to visit family in Ireland, everyone had the same response: With the kids? Aside from the obvious logistical question--What on earth else would we do with them? Stow them in a locker at the airport?--there was the question of pride. Maybe other people couldn't enjoy the world's most romantic city with two toddlers in tow, but we certainly could.

We were lucky to have use of a cousin's flat while in Paris, so after a somewhat successful overnight flight--both kids slept soundly on the floor of the bulkhead, though the airline broke our double stroller--we dropped off our things and headed right back out. It was cloudy and drizzling, but we braved the city's decidedly un-stroller-friendly Metro (hundreds of stairs and no elevators to speak of) and got off to stroll the Mouffetard, a quintessential Parisian street, cobblestoned and lined with patisseries, boulangeries, and every other kind of -erie you can think of.

We began to feel smug in our worldliness. Both kids fell asleep in the stroller (broken, though still manageable) and we found a tiny cafe where we could sit at a table outside and park the stroller alongside. We dined on rustic pate and duck confit and drank wine. It was perfect. Even when it started to rain.

We continued to stroll the city through the sprinkles of rain; the kids nibbling hunks of crusty baguette and eating grapes we bought from a street market.

But, like all idyllic fantasies, this one came crashing to an end. The stroller was far more broken than we had realized, and soon became impossible to steer. The kids had slept well on the plane, but only for 4 hours. And the small plastic cover we had borrowed from our hosts to keep the rain off the stroller proved to be no match for the torrential downpour that befell us just as we were about to stroll along the river and past Notre Dame.

Less than an hour after our wonderful lunch, we were huddled under a narrow overhang, desperately trying to stay dry (did I mention that we forgot to bring an umbrella?).

I was still trying to stay optimistic, until Declan began to cry.

"I want to go home!" he wailed. "Right now!"

Matty and I looked at each other. So did we.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mama Bear

I'm sure most moms feel this way, but when I see Declan get slighted or insulted, I get really, really upset. Even when he doesn't seem to mind.

This happened a few weeks ago when the family of one of Hilary's friends came over. Hilary and her friend, a 4-year-old boy, were playing in the pool, while Declan sat by the side, trying to play too. He wasn't welcome, however, and Hilary and her friend started throwing water at Declan. Not an obvious, soaking kind of water-throwing, more like an, "oops, we spilled a bucket of water on your feet, and oops, we did it again." The parents weren't paying attention, and I was at a loss as to what to do. Declan responded as any toddler would: he snatched their toys. So they threw more water. After a few minutes I scooped Declan up and took him back to the house. I was angry and insulted and let Declan watch tv.

Last night Matty, Declan, Erika, Hilary, and I were in the car on the way to watch Amy and Andy in a tennis match. Declan had woken up from his nap a bit cranky and sad, so he was just sitting quietly sucking his thumb. Out of the blue, Hilary said, "We hate Declan."

Matty and I looked at each other in shock. Declan didn't say a word. Matty and I took turns lecturing Hilary, telling her what she said wasn't very nice, telling her she didn't mean it. Erika chimed in, and forced Hilary to apologize many times over. Declan continued to sit in silence, and soon began to cry. He ignored Hilary's apologies and Erika's ministrations, and just sat, sucked, and sobbed. My heart broke. I began to cry too.

A few minutes later, Declan threw up. He was sick, not irrevocably insulted.

I'm such a sap.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Schmernia, Oh Schmernia, We Hardly Know Ye

When I think of which of the kids is the most creative and imaginative, I inevitably think of Erika, who spends most of her time at home engrossed in elaborate scenarios involving a combined universe of Polly Pockets, Littlest Pet Shop and toy horses of all kinds. But it's actually Hilary who has had the biggest impact on our family lexicon. The only made-up word, for example, that we all use is 'dye' (or 'di' or 'dai' - who knows how you spell made-up words?), which Hilary started using when she was two years old and barely speaking at all to mean 'tickle me.' She presents her arm, leg, chin, etc. and announces, 'Dye arm.' The first time Erika used it really took me off guard, as she demanded, when I was putting her to bed, 'I want you to die.'

Now Hilary has the whole house buzzing again, this time about her imaginary daughter, Schmernia. No one has any idea where this name came from, but we've gathered this much: Schmernia is 11 years old, and has a little brother named Sammy who is 2. The tragic element of this story is that Schmernia lives at the Little Gym, and every day Hilary tells us that she will talk on the phone with Schmernia tomorrow. How sad to be separated like that from her own child! And what pathos in her own life is Hilary projecting on to this banished daughter? Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, and Schmernia was really just a spontaneous, temporary creation that achieved lasting life through the interest of me, and Erika, and Kylie and Keri, who drill Hilary almost every day about her - primarily because we all like to say 'Schmernia,' and hear Hilary say it. If she had named her imaginary daughter 'Amy,' like Erika named all her dolls when she was four, this would have been a non-story.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Turn, Kick, Reach

Declan and Hilary graduated from their swim program today, after being tossed into the water and fulfilling the swim school's mantra: turn, kick, reach. Now we can't wait to go home and impress our friends by "accidentally" tripping the kids into the pool and having them turn, kick, reach their way out. They'll stop crying eventually.

In honor of said graduation, we took the kids to Toys R Us to pick out a toy. Hilary picked out a dress-up outfit to add to her arsenal. Gretchen got a baby mirror so she could always look at her favorite person. Aaron got an animal board book, Ronan a small Magna Doodle. And Declan, of course, picked out an underwater rescue set, because it included a small scuba diver. Never mind that the rescue boat was huge and I told Declan he couldn't bring it home because it wouldn't fit in the suitcase. I searched the store for a larger solo scuba diver, one he might actually hold on to for longer than a day, but this set was it.

Later, he was playing with the scuba diver while I changed his diaper. He made the diver swim back and forth, and said "kick to the wall!" I asked him what his scuba diver was doing and Declan said, "turn, kick, reach!"

For the next hour he said little else. I asked him what he should do if he falls in the water.

"Turn, kick, reach!"

After a while, he started chanting it, like a freshly shaved new recruit to the cult of Baby Otter.

"Turn, kick, reach! Turn, kick, reach! Turn, kick, reach!"

I can't wait to go home.

To Intervene, Or Not To Intervene, That Is The Question

Ever since I read that children today aren't developing functional conflict resolution skills because parents tend to intervene at the first signs of a fight, I've been trying to let the kids work things out for themselves. But what if - as is always the case - one party has a sizeable advantage? Aaron, for example, has decided that the only toys he wants to play with are the ones Gretchen is holding in her fat little hands. So he crawls over, and takes them away, and she cries. Since she can't really crawl herself, she can't even go after him to retrieve them. Sometimes I let Aaron get away with this and try to distract Gretchen with a new toy, but as soon as she has something different, Aaron immediately loses interest in whatever he has and the cycle repeats, over and over.

It isn't always a physical advantage. Recently, I walked past the family room, where Erika, Hilary and Declan were playing with a plastic train/teeter totter riding toy. Because there were three of them and only two seats on the train, Erika reasonably announced they would take turns. However, it turned out that what she meant by this was that Hilary and Declan would take turns, and she would ride the entire time. I considered poking my head into the room and saying, "Taking turns means you too, Erika." After all, Erika will probably have the psychological edge over those two for the better part of the next decade, and there's something to be said about protecting those who are not as big or as savvy from what amounts to constant exploitation. But I just kept going, and said nothing. The younger children in our house may grow up to be hoarders, unwilling to voluntarily get rid of anything, or they may grow up to be paranoid misanthropes, sure everyone is out to take advantage of them. But they will have great conflict resolution skills.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My Son, The Fish? Not So Much

It probably goes without saying that Ronan's miraculous transformation devolved the moment we entered the parking lot for his next swim lesson. He started crying before we even got out of the car. Not only that, he was far worse in the water than he had been the day before. It seems he had the "flippy flops."

This technical swimming term means that when we forced his head underwater, he flipped his head up. If you try this yourself, you'll find that tilting your head back forces your body into an upright position, rather than the typical prone position in which most folks swim. (See Gretchen demonstrate this technique above.)

Apparently, my son, the genius, figured out that it's a lot easier to breathe with your mouth out of the water (which happens when you throw your head back) than with it in the water.

Who am I to argue with that?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My Son, The Fish

Well, Days 2 and 3 of swim class were remarkably similar to Day 1. There were lots of vomit, tears, and pee, though by Day 3 Ronan was crying as soon as he saw the building (instead of waiting until he actually got in the water). But this afternoon, everything changed (for Ronan, at least).

We went to my cousin Meri's house for swimming and dinner, and Ronan suddenly decided that he loved the water. After I held him under water to kick his way to the side, he came up with a big smile on his face. After I guided him toward the steps (underwater, natch), he climbed out of the pool, then ran around the side to me to jump back in. He couldn't get enough of the water.

Though I'm sure, tomorrow morning, he'll be crying again.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Sink or Swim (Swim, I Hope)

Today was the first day of our survival swim course. Hilary, Declan, Ronan, Aaron, and Gretchen are all taking the 5-day course, offered by the Baby Otter Swim School. Since it was the first day, they explained to us, it would just be orientation--letting the kids get to know the instructors, get used to the water, and even learn to put their face in the water. No big deal.

What a bunch of liars.

I guess it's simply a matter of interpretation. "Learn to put their face in the water" actually means "I will hold your young child's head under water while I force him/her to kick maniacally to reach the side of the pool... and then repeat this four times... and then repeat the whole of it four times." In between such torture, the children clung to their instructors in a haze of crying and, in the case of Gretchen, sleeping.

Later, after I cleaned off all of Ronan's breakfast that he had vomited on me, I asked Declan how swim class was.

"Good," he said. "I cried."

"I know," I answered. "Maybe tomorrow you won't cry at swim class."

"I don't want to go to swim class tomorrow!" (Insert heartbreaking lip quiver.)

Later, under pressure at dinner, he was forced to acknowledge that going to swim class tomorrow was "okay," after Hilary announced that she thought it "great" that we were forcing them back into the arms of their captors swim instructors.

I can't wait 'til Saturday.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

My Son, The Lawyer

Last nght our friend Curt came over for dinner. Curt is amazing with kids. Legend has it that he once kept a tantrum at bay by ordering his about-to-erupt son to, "Go over there and throw a tantrum, right now. I said, THROW A TANTRUM!" Needless to say, there was no tantrum to be found.

But last night he used his toddler-whispering skills for evil rather than good (if you can call manipulating your child "good"). Declan was in a particularly needy mood, and decided that he wanted a pop after already getting two cookies after dinner. Now, the pops that Declan gets are really just frozen fruit juice, but to him, they're treats, and he'd clearly had enough treats, so I said no. Then Curt got involved, whispering suggestions into Declan's ear. So this is what Declan said to me:

"My blood sugar is low. I need sugar."

"Don't you love me, mommy?"

"If you loved me, you'd let me have a pop."

I couldn't stop laughing, and even though I knew Declan didn't really know what he was saying, I also felt a little weird about having him in such an awkward position. I ended up giving him the pop. (I know, I violated every rule of parenting.)

But when he asked for another, even Curt told him he was pushing it.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Clean Out The Fridge Pasta

Last night we had one of my favorite dinners: Clean-Out-The-Fridge-Pasta. It's Matty's specialty (along with anything-hash), and he makes it with, well, whatever he can find in the fridge. This most recent incarnation had baby spinach, white beans, and leftover steak, along with the usual garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, and chicken stock. Matty kept some pasta plain for the kids, which they had with some steak of their own.

At one point, Erika got up from the table to dispose of a piece of steak that ws "too chewy."
About 10 minutes later, Declan got up and told me that his piece of steak was, you guessed it, "too chewy."

At least he threw it in the garbage, which is better that what he usually does: spit it out onto his plate. In fact, Declan's been known to chew a piece of steak so long that it loses all color and I've completely forgotten he was eating it to begin with... He might spit it out an hour later in the bath, or outside on the playground. He does this with oranges too.

I actually watched Matty make COTFP one night and wrote down what he used. Click on the link at the right for the recipe.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Tricking the Kids Into Eating, Redux

Tonight I'm making the kids' favorite dinner: breakfast. I've only made it once before, but the kids have been talking about it ever since. It's not easy to find something all 7 kids will agree on, but this one satisfies even 10-month old twins Gretchen and Aaron, who only have 6 teeth between them.

I'm not sure where it ranks on the nutrition scale, but I think I've got most of the food groups covered. The menu will include scrambled eggs, pancakes, turkey bacon, and berry smoothies.
When I ask 6-year-old Erika what her favorite meal is, she usually says, "Breakfast Dinner." I think it was the sheer incongruity of the meal, eaten at the dining room table with the grown-ups rather than at the breakfast table in the morning rush, which so appealed to her. Maybe tonight I'll make the kids get into their pajamas before dinner to complete the picture.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Shabbat Shalom!

Last Friday we had a Shabbat dinner, something we haven't done in a while. We started having them last summer, when Amy decided "she" wanted to learn how to make challah (and by "she," I mean "me"). Our friend Lauren taught us, and I've been making it weekly on and off ever since. I made a few tweaks to Lauren's recipe: I increased the salt, twice. In addition to more salt in the dough, I also sprinkle sea salt (I like Maldon Fleur de Sel, though any kind of coarse salt will do) on top of the loaves just before they bake. It looks great, and the large crystals add a nice salty crunch. I was also having a problem with some of the loaves burning on the bottom; the recipe yields 4 small loaves of challah, and I can fit two loaves on one baking sheet. To keep the loaves on the baking sheet on the lower rack in the oven from burning, I stack a second baking sheet underneath the first. This provides enough insulation to keep the bottom light and golden.

It's a good thing the recipe makes so many loaves. One of the loaves always disappears moments after coming out of the oven (there's nothing like warm bread and butter, even on a sunny May afternoon). And sometimes (just sometimes), we have a loaf left over to make french toast Saturday morning. And if we're lucky, Matty will make his famous banana rum sauce to go with it. I'll post the recipe here as soon as I figure out how to do it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Tricking the Kids Into Eating

At Epcot Center last year, desperate to find something to bring back for my nieces, I found plastic training chopsticks in a clearance bin in "China." I picked up a set for each of the kids with their featured zodiac (2 1/2-year-old Declan was born, not surprisingly, in the Year of the Monkey) for a whopping 99 cents each.

Amy was unimpressed. I could almost see the thought bubble over her head: "What a lame gift."

Those 99 cent chopsticks, and the $2.99 ones that replaced the first set after they broke from overuse, have changed the kids' eating habits. Sure, there are now swordfights and puppet shows at the table, but they also eat steak and chicken and even peas with them, which they wouldn't touch before. I highly recommed these; you can buy the fancy $3 set online in lots of fun animal shapes at House of Rice.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Cousin Love

It looks like they really love each other, doesn't it? Until they don't.

At lunch today, Declan announced to Hilary that they were eating breakfast.

"No, it's lunch!" she cried.

"It's breakfast!" Declan trilled back (at 2, already able to push someone's buttons).

"No, it's lunch!" she screamed. She was really upset. Which, of course, only made Declan egg her on even further.


At this point, Hilary fell apart. Andy stepped up.

"Hilary, just because Declan says it's breakfast doesn't make it true. You know it's lunch. So eat it."

Of course, this didn't help. But don't feel too bad for Hilary. The day before, Declan lost it because Hilary kept humming under her breath, "No, no, no, no, no!" I'm still not sure why he was so upset. But I'm sure Hilary does.