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.