Friday, March 28, 2008


Amy told me yesterday about a conversation she had with Hilary, in which Hilary said she had to eat lunch at school by herself while her best friend Catherine was out of town; apparently none of the other kids wanted to sit with Hilary. (At least, this is what Amy thinks Hilary said. Hilary doesn't always make a lot of sense. She might have actually told Amy that she was leaving town shortly to visit Schmernia.)

But whether she said it or not, it makes me sad. It always makes me sad to see the kids slighted in any way, even if they're not aware of it. I remember a trip to Sesame Place when Erika was 2. She was playing in the sprinklers, chasing after some older kids. The kids, of course, wanted nothing to do with the pale, chubby child in a too-small bathing suit (some things never change) who followed their every move, and I just remember watching Erika, a longing look on her face, as the kids climbed and played in ways that her toddler body couldn't yet accomplish.

Now, as I watch Declan interact with other kids, I wonder how much, if any, I should intervene. I've written before about his slightings at the hands of his cousins and other children. Yesterday it happened again, on a playground outside his art class. Two of the kids in the same class, both probably 6 months or so older than Declan, were playing together and adamantly refused to let Declan join them. But they also didn't want him playing on any of the equipment that they deemed "theirs." I didn't interfere when Declan stared up at the climbing structure the other kids had called their "special clubhouse," and didn't get up from my bench when I saw Declan underneath the double slide the kids had commandeered. But when Declan came over and told me that the other kids had told him he couldn't use the slide, I had to intervene.

The kids were brats, and fought me on every front (all while their mothers ignored the situation nearby), but Declan got to use the slide and the climbing structure and even managed to avoid being struck by the wood chips the other kids threatened to throw at him. But I couldn't help but wonder what would happen next time, when I wasn't around.

The fact is, I always just assumed that Declan and Ronan would be well-liked and, well, popular. I'm not sure where I got this idea from--I was certainly not a popular child, though of course I had my friends. But with their easy-going natures and outgoing personalities--not to mention their dashing good looks--I thought they would have it made.

Kids are so fickle, however, and the fact is that Declan and Ronan could just as easily be outcast as popular. It makes me so sad to think about, because unlike now, when their young minds can't really grasp the idea of being excluded (even Hilary, at almost 5, didn't seem too upset that she had to eat lunch alone, certainly not as upset as Amy and I were), when the kids grow up and form their cliques and groups, they will know when they're being insulted or excluded or ridiculed. And as sad as it may make them, it makes me even sadder.

Until then, I'll just keep my Mommy radar on high alert. I know of a couple of kids who just might have an "accident" on the playground outside art class next week...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Not To Wear, I Guess

Recently, I read an article about what to do if you don't approve of your sibling's parenting style. But what I really need to know is what you should do if your sibling doesn't approve of your fashion style. Because Keri is always on my case about what my kids are wearing.

Look, I don't know what she expects of someone who wears track pants every day, but just half an hour ago she asked me, pointedly, "What size is that outfit Gretchen's wearing?" Just because the top rode up a little bit to show her adorable belly! This morning Keri noted about Aaron's outfit - every piece of which, except for the sneakers, had been passed down from Ronan, "He looks cute, except for the sneakers."

Keri has also advised on previous occasions that Hilary's clothes were too small and that Aaron's ensemble was "too babyish" (she probably said that when he was about eight months old).

Honestly, Keri has no idea what kind of Pandora's Box she's opening by challenging me in this arena. Several years ago, I had a real addiction to shopping for kids' clothes. I would spend hours in Gymboree and Baby Gap, and I was an absolute sucker for coordinated socks and little sunhats. Andy thought he was going to have to send me to retail rehab.

Well, I'm happy to say that I'm (mostly) recovered, and while I still drool at the adorable peasant blouses in Janie and Jack, I'm generally content to dress the kids in whatever hand-me-downs I blindly pull out of their drawers each morning. Of course, Jonah and Erika, as the oldest boy and girl, have to get new clothes every season, so I decided to start the imprinting early and bought Erika for the spring a couple of pairs of . . . yoga pants. I wonder what Keri will think of those???

Monday, March 24, 2008

Cute Boys

Happy Birthday Erika!

Erika celebrated her 7th birthday last week in the quiet, subdued manner we've all come to expect in a household with 7+ kids.

First, we went to Bertucci's, where Gretchen screamed most of the time, Aaron screamed part of the time, Ronan threw dough at us a few times, Hilary was whining some of the time, and Erika and Declan were mean to Hilary a number of times (Me: Why is Hilary crying? Declan: Because we told her we shaved Dora's head and ate Dora and Boots).

Then we went home for Amy's favorite Carvel birthday cake (Sure, Amy, that's what Erika wanted). Erika took one bite and exclaimed, "This is delicious! Who bought it for me?"

Amy and Andy were so proud.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Longwood Children's Garden

Here's my public service announcement for today: If you have kids and live in the greater Philadelphia area, you must go to Longwood Children's Garden. As you can see, the kids love it. There are dozens of fountains for the kids to play in--yes, that's right, the kids are encouraged to get wet (so don't forget a change of clothes).

Oh yeah, there are also some nice plants and flowers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Death Becomes Him

Declan is obsessed with death. This is not, as Amy might suggest, because of his love of swordplay (or his parents' leniency regarding said swordplay).

It's because of Gaston.

Ever since Declan saw Beauty and the Beast last year, he's been obsessed with the final scene involving Gaston and the Beast fighting on the castle. It seems that his toddler mind can't quite wrap itself around the fact that the Beast transforms into the Prince, so Declan assumes that since the Beast is stabbed by Gaston and disappears, he in fact has been killed by Gaston.

So whenever the topic of the Beast comes up (frankly, you'd be surprised at how often that is, with 7 kids in the house), Declan gets into an argument with whomever will argue with him.

"The Beast dies," Declan will say matter-of-factly.

"No, he doesn't," comes the reply from Hilary/Erika/probably Gretchen any day now.

"Yes, he does."

"No, he doesn't."

"Mo-mmy! The Beast dies, right?"

At which point I explain to him, for the 100th time, that the Beast doesn't die, that he was about to die but Belle's kiss saves him and transforms him back into a Prince.

This was only the beginning of Declan's fascination with death. If we're watching a movie or TV show and someone is asleep, or falls, or blows into a million pieces yet miraculously comes back together (as in the Tom and Jerry videos all the kids have taken a shine to), Declan will ask, "Is he dead?"

Yesterday Declan and Ronan were playing together in the family room, when they both started whacking the toy trains with their swords.

"Let's kill the trains!" Declan shouted, and Ronan eagerly followed suit. They spent the next 10 minutes happily beating the s**t out of poor Thomas and Percy.

Declan doesn't seem particularly disturbed by the idea of death, though of course I haven't really drilled into him how permanent it is. Still, he likes to talk about it a lot, so I try to be as truthful as possible.

"Declan, do you know what it means to die?"


"What does it mean?"

"I don't know."

Okay, let's try another tack. "Why do people die?"

"Because someone kills them. The black man dies because he tries to save his son. But no one kills him. He just dies."

Pardon? Lately Declan has been describing any man dressed in black as "the black man."

"What are you talking about?"

"The movie with the light savers." We showed Declan a clip of the duels of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker on You Tube, along with Erroll Flynn, The Princess Bride, and Zorro so he could see some real swordplay. You can guess what stuck with him.

"That's right, Darth Vader dies."

"But he comes back."

"No, Declan, once you die that's it. You don't come back."

"Except the Beast, right?"

Sigh. I give up.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dispatch From Ohio

So, we made it to Columbus, Ohio: me, Erika, Hilary, Aaron, Gretchen and Oat.

Besides the fact that the babies cried off and on the entire journey, and Hilary announced every hour that she really, REALLY wanted to go home, and I got a speeding ticket for going way too fast in my desperate desire to get the 8+ hour ride over as soon as possible - well, besides all that, the trip was great.

We are staying with our dear friends the Scogginses, and so far everyone is having a wonderful time. Katrina and I took the older kids to see Horton Hears A Who, and we've just been hanging out, eating a lot of Mexican food and drinking a lot of margaritas - and really, what's wrong with that?

There has been one rather ironic development, and that is that Gretchen has decided she wants to potty train. At 20 months old.

What this looks like in practice, in case you're curious, is that every ten minutes Gretchen announces, "Iwa poop! Potty! Iwa potty!" and I drop everything, run with her to the bathroom, strip her of all her clothes, and hold her on the toilet seat so she won't fall in. And then she may or may not pee (she has yet to poop), and I congratulate her on what a big girl she is, and try to re-diaper her with the most tired sticky tabs ever seen on a diaper.

Now, what's ironic about this, is that I would have sworn up and down that if there was anyone who deserved an early potty-trainer, it's me. After all, Hilary didn't poop on the potty until she was significantly past four years old. Four years old! It was embarrassing, being the mom to the oldest kid in swim diapers at our tennis club. Hilary told me once, "I will NEVER poop on the potty," and for a while there, I believed her.

But no one ever told me that having an early potty-trainer is no picnic either. If Gretchen really is going to potty train, that is. Maybe she just enjoys the way the world grinds to a halt every time she utters those magic words. Or maybe she likes ticking off the names of all the big kids she knows who poop on the potty, which we do as she sits on the toilet: Eka (Erika), Nana (Hannah), Irry (Hilary), Abna (Andrew? Jonah? Who knows? She's not even two, she can't really talk!) But the fact is, Gretchen's just too little. She can't undress herself at all, or stay balanced on the seat. She still has a bladder the size of a peanut, so it's unreasonable to expect her to be able to go any amount of time without peeing. And worst of all, she can't even have a rational discussion, as in, "Gretchen, do you really have to go, or is this another false alarm?"

If you're wondering the magic age at which I wouldn't complain about potty training, it's three. That's when Erika did it, and the whole process was over in a week - no accidents, no pull-ups. So easy.

Still, I understand the conventional wisdom is to let your kid potty train at her own pace, so if Gretchen keeps asking to go, I'll keep taking her.

It may very well be a LONG trip home.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Spend that Money!

After a prolonged struggle, Erika lost one of her top front teeth yesterday, right in the middle of her end-of-session drama showcase - which, I may add, contributed significantly to the drama.

Naturally, the tooth fairy visited our house last night, and left a dollar under Erika's pillow, with which she was very pleased.

I hesitated a bit, however, before I put the plain one dollar bill under her pillow. Erika was sleeping over at her friend Abby's house last year when she lost her very first tooth, and the tooth fairy that handles that jurisdiction left a dollar bill with a note written all around the margin. Apparently, that's a tradition in Abby's family, and her mother still has all the dollars she got from the tooth fairy when she was a kid, with her parents' witty, loving missives permanently inked on the bills.

I had my own collection of souvenir money as a child - a whole cup full of half-dollar coins, Susan B. Anthony dollars and two dollar bills I had amassed over the years as prizes for finding the matzo every Passover. They were gifts from well-meaning adults who wanted to give us something more "special" than plain old money. I'm not sure what happened to the cup - I think it was lost when I left home to go to college.

So I wondered if I should do something more symbolic with Erika's dollar - write another note she would cherish forever, or fold it into an origami flower, something like that. There's such a strong impulse to make every moment in your kids' lives memorable, saturated in meaning. My unadorned dollar looked so . . . forgettable, folded between my fingers.

Then I decided there will be no lack of special mementos from Erika's childhood for her to share with her kids - favorite toys she's loved, adorable stories she's written and illustrated - and if notes from me are so priceless, I can put aside a few of those as well. But I don't want Erika to feel bad about spending her own money. I want her to save it, and to think about what she really wants, and make smart decisions.

Unfortunately, what I've discovered recently, while probing Erika about what she wants for her birthday next week, is that she pretty much already has everything a soon-to-be-7-year-old could possibly want.

So much for my lessons about money.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Keep in Touch

I recently emailed my dear friend AJ in Boston, someone I've known for 12 years and who was a bridesmaid at my wedding (and I at hers). We hadn't spoken in months and I was embarrassed to tell her that I was more than 6 months pregnant. I felt like a big loser for not calling her sooner to let her know my news.

She wrote back quickly, only to report that she, too, was pregnant, with a girl, due May 29th, same as me.

That b***h! I can't believe she didn't call me sooner to tell me!

You would think that with the modern advantages of email and cell phones and AIM, keeping in touch would be easier than ever. But I find it harder. How hard is it to send an email? Not very. Yet I, and many others I know (hi, Amy!), find ourselves more out of touch than ever before.

My best friend, Michelle, lives in San Francisco, and I'm lucky if we talk more than twice a year. I've only seen my good friend Cat twice since she moved to Colorado 4 years ago, and only spoken to her a few more times. My friend Jess lives in St. Maarten (so you'd think I'd try extra-hard to maintain that friendship), but we've gone as long as a year without talking. Aside from my mother, who calls every few days whether I feel like talking or not (I do, Mom, I swear!), my family rarely hears from me. Am I a bad person?

I hope not. Just a bad correspondent. I hate talking on the phone, but even so, who has the time? By the time the kids are in bed at night all I want to do is lie down in our brand-new king-sized bed. I used to have a 45-minute commute each way for work, during which I caught up on many calls, but now that I have a 45-second commute from bedroom to office, my chat time is way down.

But emails like the one I received from AJ give me hope. Because they mean that I'm not the only bad correspondent out there. All my friends are just as bad.

Monday, March 10, 2008


Weren't we all such proud agnostics in high school? So jaded and sarcastic! We wanted to believe, of course, but who could accept something so fundamentally implausible as God without proof?

Then, once I had kids, I began to feel, for the first time in my life, as if someone were watching over my family. There were just so many things that could have gone catastrophically wrong, but didn't. Twice - during his escape phase, before we managed to put the entire house under lockdown - Jonah was picked up by a police officer walking along the busy road in front of our house. Once, he got away from Andy in Costco and made it all the way to Toys R Us, about a third of a mile along a commercial road, before we found him. He was never hit by a car, or snatched by a stranger (although I always thought, with a weirdly inappropriate sense of pride, God help the stranger who snatches Jonah). He's punched through at least four glass windows and never even needed stitches. Then there's the scary circumstances around Hilary's birth, when a little voice made me, who never confronts doctors about anything, change my OB at 30 weeks because I was so sure something was wrong, and the receptionist at my first practice wouldn't give me an appointment less than a week away - and it turned out Hilary was in heart failure, and had to be delivered by emergency C-section, and spend the first two and a half months of her life in the NICU.

But that's not faith. That's gratitude.

Now, I've come to understand what faith is. Faith is the belief in transformation, without any real evidence to support that possibility. For many people, the central transformation is that from body to soul, from death to afterlife. For me, now, my faith lies in the transformation of my son at the hands of the doctors and therapists at the hospital where he has been for almost two months.

On the one hand, this might not seem like a matter of faith, because there's plenty of evidence this hospital has had a lot of success treating problem behaviors such as the ones that necessitated Jonah's admission. But I don't just expect him to stop throwing aggressive temper tantrums. Just consider the changes we've made while he's been away: we're in the process of painting over all the Sesame Street graffiti Jonah's scribbled on the walls over the years. We've put family pictures out on display. Because I really do believe - even though the hospital has given me no reason to think so, even though these aren't behaviors Jonah's therapists are targeting - that when Jonah comes home he will no longer write on walls. I really believe he won't steal the pictures off the tables, stuff unflushables down the toilet, trash the kitchen whenever we leave it unguarded in his desperate search for the salt and vinegar potato chips he KNOWS we've hidden somewhere.

I really believe that when Jonah comes back, we will be able to do more things as a family. I believe we will be able to go out to dinner - to real restaurants, not just McDonald's - and on vacation, without bringing an aide along. I believe that life will be easier. I really do.

This is my faith.

I Know What You Did Last Summer

I was daydreaming about warm weather and sunny days when I came across these pics from last year on my computer. Hope they warm you up as much as they did me...

Friday, March 7, 2008

Family Dinner

Last week, Matty and I were out on a date at a local pub/restaurant, where we saw a young family with a daughter about 3 years old sit down for dinner. As they settled into their seats, removing jackets and opening napkins, the mother took out a portable DVD player, set it in front of the little girl, and proceeded to play Monsters, Inc.

The family looked happy, Mom and Dad engaging in meaningful conversation, I'm sure (I couldn't quite hear over the blare of the movie), and of course the young girl was thrilled. But I thought this was terrible.

I hate to judge (okay, I don't really hate it), and I have no idea of this family's circumstances. Amy, I know, has used this technique when Jonah was younger, and for all I know, this little girl had some kind of developmental disorder and might go into anaphylactic shock without a steady dose of Billy Crystal. But I don't think so. (I couldn't take my eyes off the movie, so I had a pretty good view of the family all night.)

I won't launch into yet another defense of the family dinner, but this seems to cross the line. You don't have to dine out as a family; if you feel that your child cannot sit still and behave for an hour while you eat, you can either eat dinner at home or hire a babysitter. But frankly, by the age of 3, I think a child is old enough to dine in a family restaurant without constant entertainment.

Matty disagrees with me here; the DVD player was rather large, about 7-inches wide; Matty thought a more discreet size screen, like on an IPhone, would be okay. But I still feel like it sends the wrong message to the kids. If they learn to only enjoy going out to eat with their parents if they can watch a movie the whole time, they'll never learn to actually enjoy dining out in a restaurant.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


I have to admit, my childrearing experience is decidedly girl-heavy. Between Jonah's autism and Aaron's extreme youth, I feel much more comfortable with dress-up, horses, dolls, etc. than I do around more traditionally "boy" pasttimes. So I may regret saying this in the not-too-distant future, but here goes: I just don't get how Keri and Matty can let their boys play-fight all the time. Their nonchalance really surprised me - mainly because they started out such sensitive, enlightened parents, with their baby sign-language classes, their love affair with wholesome wood toys from Melissa & Doug, the baby doll they bought for Declan when Keri was pregnant with Ronan.

Just consider this excerpt from Keri's previous post: "Click, clack, clack (the sound of a plastic toy sword hitting a toy hammer, or a microphone stand, or a pencil, whatever they have handy).


"'Sorry, Ronan!"

Click, clack, clack.


"'Orry, Dec-an!'"

Was I the only one who thought, "Why don't you just tell them to stop hitting each other with plastic crap???????" I mean, are two and three-year-olds really capable of understanding that it's okay to smack kids with some things, but not others? In my opinion, enough smacking goes on around here (amongst the children; the adults are pretty self-restrained) without enabling it by providing a cache of weapons.

I know the argument, that children (read: boys) will make guns and swords out of whatever is handy, even if no toy uzis are readily available. And I've seen Declan wave around musical instruments or even sticks from the yard as he struts around the house in full pirate mode. But is it too wussy of me to suggest that, when they pretend to play pirates, they also PRETEND to hit each other????

Maybe we need more toy guns around here. At least, when you pretend to shoot someone, there's no actual physical contact.

I'm sure Keri will be lurking around for the next year, waiting to gloat when Aaron starts attacking his siblings and cousins with a plastic spoon. Fortunately, it appears that Aaron is feeling his twin's pull more than his cousins', and has started playing with baby dolls instead of swords. Thank God I have nothing to worry about on that front.

Monday, March 3, 2008

So Close

One of my goals with the boys' new room was to make it as kid-friendly as possible. This might sound silly, considering it's a kids' room, but when I looked at their old room, all I saw were potential death traps: the tall dresser, whose drawers might be pulled out and used as a ladder to climb up; the heavy brass fireplace adornments; the glider that just begged for little fingers to catch in its grip.

Their new room is small, but as I've discovered over the past few weeks that they've enjoyed it, it contains everything two little boys need to occupy themselves for 30 minutes or so, which just so happens to be the exact amount of time Mom and Dad need to wake up in the morning.

There's a chalkboard wall, which offers at least 5 minutes of entertainment as they both scribble their masterpieces. There are just two small buckets of toys, limiting the amount of clean-up we have to do before breakfast. There's a fish tank. There's an easily accessible bookcase with all of their favorite books. And there are always two swords. Or at least two sword-like apparatuses. Not surprisingly, Ronan has easily acquired Declan's love of swordplay, so we often hear the following exchange each morning:

Click, clack, clack (the sound of a plastic toy sword hitting a toy hammer, or a microphone stand, or a pencil, whatever they have handy).


"Sorry, Ronan!"

Click, clack, clack.


"Orry, Dec-an!"

I love laying in bed in the morning, enjoying a few relaxing minutes before the day begins, and hearing the boys play so well together. They're so happy together (usually), and I love that they've reached an age where they can entertain themselves and don't need constant adult supervision or interaction. In fact, I can see a time in the not-too-distant future when I can leave bags of cereal at the bottom of the stairs and they'll be able to get up and enjoy themselves for hours before Matty or I even get out of bed. We're so close.

But now we're not. Now we're starting all over again with Molly. We're starting over with something I thought we were long done with--midnight nursings, witching-hour crying jags, hourly diaper changes. We're going back to babyhood.

I hate to sound coldhearted, but the fact is that I haven't quite yet come to terms with this pregnancy. As many of you know from my previous post, this pregnancy was about as unplanned as you can get. I'm still not entirely comfortable talking about it (or writing about it, for that matter). I know that when I hold little Molly in my arms all negative thoughts will vanish and I will fall in love all over again, but right now I am filled with apprehension and stress.

So now, when I see my boys inching ever closer to independence (for a child, that is), I am not filled with nostalgia for their baby years. Instead, as I approach a return to the baby years, I am filled with nostalgia for what I almost had. We were so close.