Thursday, January 31, 2008

He Doesn't Have Red Hair, I Swear!

I don't know how much more wholesome we can get. It's one thing to bake cookies with 6 little kids in tow. It's another to toast s'mores in the fireplace when the power goes out. But milk delivery? In this day and age?

Nevertheless, we started milk delivery this week, from Rosenberger's Dairy. The quaint glass bottles have gone the way of VHS and Atari, but we did get some quaint metal boxes to show off on our front porch.

It's a practical solution for us, since with so many kids and coffee-drinkers in the house we go through a lot of milk. In fact, our milkman was pretty impressed with our first order, which was a conservative 5 gallons. (I love the fact that I can say, "our milkman." It basically means, "I'm a good mother. I care enough about my kids to have fresh milk delivered right to my door at odd hours in the morning.")

Which brings us to the title of this post. As Amy can also attest, as a brown-haired mother married to a brown-haired father with a red-haired kid, you get a lot of inappropriate questions about the genesis of said red hair. So don't even ask.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Night Out

Keri and I just got back from a night out, just the two of us. We went to a reading downtown, then out to dinner. And somewhere at the end of the leisurely meal, after the remnants of the hummus wrap and beet salad we shared had been cleared from the table, and the check had been paid, it occurred to me: we should do this more often.

It seemed like anyone who knew us would find that a weird thought. Keri and I are together all the time. We're together in the kitchen every morning, feeding the kids. We often go to the gym together, then sometimes out for coffee and a scone with the twins or our friend Lauren or whoever else happens to be with us. In the afternoons, we consult one another a hundred times: what should we have for dinner? how much babysitting do you need tomorrow? can you drive the kids to school? should we go to the zoo on Saturday? etc., etc. But we very rarely are alone for any length of time. I couldn't remember the last extended conversation we had without Andy and/or Matty around, one that didn't involve obscure codes or spelling out words so little ears wouldn't figure out what we were talking about.

Andy and I make an effort to go out without the kids a couple of times a month. Keri and Matty try also. And the four of us leave the kids at home on occasion, to dine at a restaurant where the food is inevitably inferior, in my opinion, to what we eat at home. But Keri and I really don't make that same kind of time for one another, and I think that needs to change.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Forever is a Long Time

Declan just came into my office, crying hysterically because Erika was planning on keeping his knight helmet "forever." He wasn't upset that she was playing with it, but the thought of her holding on to it forever was just too much for him to bear.

The kids use this as a pretty effective threat against each other--Declan is just as guilty as any of the others. And it truly amazes me how effective it really is. Because it doesn't take a fortune-teller to know that it only takes 8.2 minutes for Erika to tire of the knight helmet, or Declan to tire of the toy cell phone, or Hilary to tire of the Mickey Mouse figures, or Ronan to tire of the "I Love Shabbat" board book, or Aaron to tire of the purple sequined purse, or Gretchen to tire of the baby doll... well, okay, maybe Gretchen could hold on to the baby doll forever.

I know that kids have no real sense of time, but I guess they don't have any real sense of logic either. It just isn't feasible to hold on to a toy very long around here, between mealtimes and baths and school and sleep.

Of course, kids don't have great memories either, so this whole post is probably moot.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

5 Little Monkeys Jumping On the Bed

When people marvel at our living situation, not-so-secretly thinking that living with 7 kids must be, er, difficult, this is what I want them to see. It's bedtime, and the kids are fresh out of the bath, clean and combed and snug in cozy pjs (there's nothing like a freshly laundered kid in his pjs, is there?). They all climbed in to Declan's bed, Erika read a story, Matty threw them in the air and bounced them up and down, and I hovered nervously nearby in case they should, as the titular monkeys did, "fall off and bump [their] head."

No one fell, and of course the fun can only last so long--there are bedtimes to be met, and teeth to be brushed, and tired little children to be put to bed.

But it's times like this that make living in this house so rewarding, it's times like this when we really see what it means for these kids to grow up together, under the same roof.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Jonah Is Gone

Last Thursday, Andy and I drove Jonah to the hospital he'll be staying in for the next six months, or maybe longer. We've been waiting for a spot to open up on this unit for four months, ever since Jonah was expelled from his new school after only seven days. The doctors and therapists at this hospital include some of the greatest autism experts in the world. Andy and I know this is our best shot at extinguishing the aggressive behavior that has been Jonah's biggest problem since he was two years old.

Still: how do you explain to your autistic son that he can't, as he so desperately wants and asks all the time, "go home"?
And: how do you explain to your autistic son, whose conception of time is such that, since Labor Day, he has been asking a dozen times a week, "First June, then waterpark?" then proceeding directly up to his room to change into his bathing suit and wait for June, how do you explain to this boy what "six months" means, or "maybe longer"?

We've been speaking to a nurse or to Jonah's behavior specialist every day, and the report is that he's starting to get used to it. He's started developing relationships with the aides on the unit - which doesn't surprise me at all. The other kids are, for the most part, very low functioning. There are two boys whose arms are wrapped with some kind of padding because they are so self-injurious. There are kids Jonah's age and older who wear diapers, who are completely non-verbal, who seem almost catatonic in their affect. As tragic as it is to see children with such profound disability, it did provide some degree of relief, to know that Jonah would get a lot of attention and affection from the aides, who have some say in which patients they work with.

The drive is not so far, about two hours, so we'll go down to visit at least once, sometimes twice a week. Jonah has been cleared to leave the hospital for four hour stretches, so on Saturday, Andy and I will take him out - maybe to an indoor pool, or the zoo, or, maybe, if we really want to make him happy, we'll find the nearest wholesale club and let him climb in the tires, slip into the freezers, and pick out whatever gigantic sheet cake he wants.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sweet, Sad Day

I'm looking out the window at beautiful snow falling and watching Declan, Ronan, Aaron, and Gretchen run though it. They all look so happy and sweet, trying to catch the flakes and running around and around the circular driveway.

It's a bittersweet day, because today Jonah left for several months for a residential medical program that will hopefully correct his behavioral problems. It was sad to see him off but we're all very hopeful for his return.

Oh wait, what's that I hear? Aaron screaming? The kids are back inside. It seems a winter wonderland only lasts so long.

Monday, January 14, 2008

7 Bribes for 7 Brothers... and Sisters... and Cousins

This will probably come as a shock, but our combined 7 children don't always want to eat their peas/finish their homework/not write on the walls. In fact, more often than not... okay, always, they'd rather eat buttered pasta at every meal of the day/watch TV/write on walls and books and themselves. So we do what any enlightened parent would do. We bribe them.

For Jonah, it means that he doesn't get his favorite food, "ketchupandfrenchfries," if he hits. For Erika, it's the promise of two hermit crabs complete with all accouterments (Cage? Cocktail sauce? I'm not sure) if she completes a giant math workbook. Hilary and Declan are susceptible to the standby Eat-Three-More-Bites-of-Chicken-And-You-Can-Have-Ice-Cream... You-Call-That-A-Bite? bribe, while Ronan, Aaron, and Gretchen will do almost anything if you let them "read" a board book at the dinner table.

Am I conflicted about this? Not yet. I know you're not supposed to offer dessert as a reward for eating dinner, but with a son who's just above the 3rd percentile for weight, I'm more concerned about calories than lifelong eating habits. But what about when they're older? Is it okay to give your kid a dollar if he brings home a good report card? How about $100? When does "incentive" become "bribery"? Or "blackmail"?

What about you? Do you bribe your kids? Where do you draw the line?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

You Have To Stop Sometime

Okay, I admit it: I'm jealous of Keri.

Of Keri's pregnancy, I mean.

And not a lot jealous, just a little. Still, it's crazy: I never imagined myself with five kids, and I probably wouldn't have chosen to have five kids if it weren't for the twins, and I'm not planning on having any more kids (but I am on the same Depo shot that Keri was on, so who knows?), so what do I have to be jealous about?

I guess it's because pregnancy is such an exciting time, so full of potential. You walk around filled with purpose. I mean, giving someone the chance to experience life - there can't be a greater mitzvah than that. I understand why some couples choose to have eight or ten or twelve kids. You see the kids you have and you think, what if I had stopped having kids before this last one was born? What a tremendous loss that would have been! And just think of the other miracles that will never be born if we stop now! It's kind of addictive in a way. Who knows - if it weren't for all the extra issues involved with parenting an autistic child, compounded by my fear of having another child with autism, maybe Andy and I would have had a couple more kids.

I'm sure my jealousy also has something to do with the fact that I'm now in a different stage of life, a later stage. I'm no longer in my childbearing years, but my child rearing years. And naturally that makes me feel old.

But I really am only a little jealous. Babies are a lot of work, with not so much payoff at first. I'm enjoying the twins much more, for example, now that they're exerting their little wills and running to wrap themselves around my legs and laughing, "Iwa mo" (translation: I want more; at least, that's our interpretation) when I cover their necks with kisses. And I'm glad at the direction my life is taking. I'm writing more than I've been able to in a long time (and getting paid for it) and I'm faster and stronger than I've ever been - just ran a 5K in under 26 minutes, and I couldn't do anywhere close to that when I was ten years younger, with a childless woman's body.

Still, I'm sure I'll feel a pang when I hold tiny Molly for the first time . . .

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

He Likes It? He Really Likes It?

When we first moved in almost 2 years ago, Declan and Hilary were an immediate, inseparable pair. They were like brother and sister; they fought a lot, but they always wanted to be together. When one would go to sleep or leave, the other would plaintively ask, "Where's Hilary/Declan?" Erika never seemed to mind.

But more recently, the dynamic has changed. Declan and Hilary ceased to fascinate each other several months ago, and Erika seemed to take more interest in both her sister and cousin. Suddenly, instead of two best buddies, there were three kids with three distinct personalities at play. And while it may have worked for Jack, Janet, and Crissy, three is most definitely a crowd for Erika, Hilary, and Declan.

So now, the kids change alliances in the blink of an eye. Declan and Erika have become fast friends, both eager to play dress-up; he, the steadfast prince, she, an ever-changing array of princesses. They dance, get married, have a baby, torment Hilary... the usual. While Declan and Erika can spend hours immersed in their world of make-believe, they unfortunately do so at Hilary's expense. Sometimes they ignore her. Sometimes they're pirates, and Hilary's the monster they're hunting. Sometimes they're puppies, and Hilary's a bad puppy... you get the idea.

Of course, the roles change all the time (though, not surprisingly, Erika is rarely, if ever, the un-chosen one. Is this because Erika is universally liked or because she's the instigator of the ostracizing? The jury's still out on this one). This past Saturday, it was Declan's turn to be on the outs. Erika helped Hilary put on a hideously inappropriate Britney Spears-ish get-up (exposed nipples and all), then the two girls spent lunch huddled together on one side of the table, Erika whispering mean things into Hilary's ear to say to Declan. (For some unknown reason, calling each other a "mystery" is the worst insult they can come up with.)

Naturally, it makes me sad to see my little boy insulted, but Declan doesn't seem to mind. After the girls left the table, Declan announced he wanted to go after Hilary. "Why do you want to play with Hilary," I asked, "if she's being mean to you?"

"Because I like it when she's mean to me," he replied with a smile, and ran off after her.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Oops, I Did It Again

So much for the wonders of modern medicine. After a year on Depo-Provera, a birth control injection with a low, low failure rate of %0 to 0.4, the above was found living in my womb (rent-free, I might add).

Her name is Molly and she's due to arrive May 29. I guess she really does want to live in this house.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words...

This picture pretty much sums up Erika. (Note: not all the kids in the back line live in this house. In fact, there's just one resident: Declan, in the tux.)

Last night we had several families over for New Year's Eve festivities. Not only did all the kids (except for the under-2 set) make it until midnight, they had energy to spare long after the ball dropped; this picture was taken at 12:25am.

It seems that while the grown-ups were in the basement watching Dick Clark age before our eyes, the kids were upstairs staging a show, under the stewardship of Erika (pictured above, center).

We were called up to watch the show, which went something like this: The kids arranged themselves as shown, then, at Erika's cue, started counting down from 10. When they got to 1, the chorus line threw confetti in the air and started jumping up and down while Erika sang a self-composed verse:

"Christian or Jewish, I don't care!
Everybody celebrates New Year's!"

They performed numerous encores (of the same exact act), and what amazed me most was that no one seemed bothered to be confined to the rear of the stage. In fact, the kids were having a blast. (Of course, resentment might not kick in until much later, as is my experience; apparently as a child I was all too happy to spend hours singing back-up on Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman" while Amy took center stage.)

Corralling 8 kids ranging in age from 3 to 8 (who've all been awake upwards of 18 hours) to perform a show that is not only coherent but somewhat enjoyable is a truly impressive feat.

Kudos, Erika.

And a Good Time Was Had By All...

Happy New Year!