Thursday, May 29, 2008

Project Declan

On Monday we took all the kids to the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair. Erika couldn't wait for the Border Collie exhibition, Hilary loved the pizza and candy, Ronan wanted to ride the carousel over and over again, and Declan... well, Declan wanted to buy some shoes.

We passed the shoe stand on the way to the rides and Declan fell in love. They were nice and reasonably priced, so we told Declan we would buy them later, on the way out. We went to watch some horses.

"I want to buy the boots."

We went to ride the carousel. "When can I buy the boots?"

We offered him ice cream. "Can we buy the boots first?"

He was a boy obsessed. And when he slipped his little feet into those chunky black boots, his face erupted in joy, much like Ronan's had when we let him ride the swing in the carnival.

Declan is obsessed with fashion. I don't think he realizes this; to his mind he just knows exactly what he wants to wear. And what he wants to wear is a plain, long sleeved shirt (which he calls a "down-sleeve shirt"), long pants, and his new black boots. The plain shirt fetish began several months ago, coincidentally right after I discovered a treasure trove of adorable little boy t-shirts that had been Jonah's, all decorated with age-appropriate pictures. But then, Declan announced that he did not want to wear shirts with pictures, or with stripes. Defeated, I tucked the decorated shirts in Ronan's drawer and bought Declan several plain long-sleeved t-shirts. All was fine.

Now that it's finally getting warm (okay, hot), I try to dress him appropriately for the weather: shorts and (plain) short-sleeved t-shirts (which, by the way, are a lot harder to find than you'd think). But that's not what Declan wants to wear. He doesn't like shorts, doesn't like sandals, and still really, really wants to wear down-sleeved shirts every day. I don't want to stifle his aesthetic, but I don't want him to overheat on the playground either.

What I find most interesting is that Declan's clothing preferences are remarkably similar to his father's. Declan would be the first to tell you that he's a Mommy's boy, but I guess even at the ripe old age of 3, he knows that capri pants and tank tops are not appropriate for young boys. Matty's never discussed fashion with Declan (shocking, I know), but Declan must have just noticed that Matty never wears shorts or t-shirts but rather pants and a long-sleeved, button-down shirt all summer long, the sleeves rolled up to the elbows. (Amy even immortalized this quirk of Matty's in song at our wedding: "You could wear a t-shirt once in a while!")

I know that I'm supposed to let Declan pick out his clothes in an effort to trick him into thinking he has some control over his life, but I always thought that meant letting him go to school in plaid shorts and a striped shirt with a feather boa and cowboy hat, not letting him swelter in 85 degree heat under heavy khakis and shit-kicker boots.

In an attempt at compromise, I bought Declan a couple of long-sleeved button-down shirts, just like his father's (also surprisingly hard to find in size 4T). His face lit up when I took them out of the bag, and he begged to put them on immediately. And this morning, we let him wear one to school, sleeves rolled up to the elbows, with shorts and sneakers. He wasn't 100 percent happy. But he was pretty close.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Well, it finally happened. I forgot one of my kids.

Given the number of children I have, combined with my complete lack of organizational skills and poor short-term memory, I suppose something like this was bound to happen: I went to a haircut appointment, assuming that Marina would pick Hilary up from preschool as she often does - only Marina had recently had shoulder surgery and couldn't drive, so Hilary sat unclaimed in the synagogue lobby.

Fortunately, the preschool has an after care program, so Hilary just stayed at school while the director tried to track me down. She reached Matty at home, who picked Hilary up just as the school was closing at four o'clock for Shabbat.

Of course, I apologized profusely to Matty and to Hilary. Hilary had a great time at after care, where she was fed ice cream, so she didn't feel abandoned at all. I can't really say what Matty thought of the whole thing, since he was his usual nonchalant self, but I imagine he and Keri had a big laugh about it (as I deserved) in the privacy of their own room.

This, in a nutshell, is what I love most about having Keri and Matty here. It's actually not that they're both professional chefs and do all the cooking - although that's what I tell people. What I love is the security, the knowledge that I can't screw up too badly without someone covering my ass, putting me back on track, and generally making the world right again. While Andy is usually good for anything involving my ass, he's working a lot of the time. But Keri and Matty remind me that the kids have to dress in blue and white for Israeli Independence Day and nag me to call the pool people, the electrician, the milk delivery guy and other various service providers. They let the dogs out in the morning if I'm late coming down, make sure I register the kids for day camp, and (incorrectly) diagnose my children's contact rashes as parasitic infections. OK, so Matty was wrong that time. But hey, nobody's perfect.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Because I Love Him

Declan: When is Jonah coming back?

Me: Probably in July.

Declan: Is that in a week?

Me: No, it's in the middle of the summer.

Declan: I want him to come back right now.

Me: Why?

Declan: Because I love him.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jonah Update

Jonah has been at Kennedy Krieger for almost four months now, and as you can see, he's changed a lot. He lost twenty pounds due to a combination of med changes and crappy hospital food. For a while there, Jonah was looking so much smaller and more vulnerable with each visit that Keri kept joking that one day we'd show up and he would have turned into Aaron.

More importantly, Jonah's mood has been pretty well stabilized. It turns out, as his psychiatrist here suspected, Jonah has bipolar disorder along with his autism. Lithium and abilify have drastically reduced his aggression, irritation and spontaneous crying. Although he can still be provoked into fits of mostly self-injurious behavior (hip-banging and hand-biting) when his therapists deliberately try to push his buttons, when he's just hanging out on the unit, his violent outbursts have pretty much dropped down to zero. And the members of his behavior team aren't resting on their laurels - they're still working out a behavior plan to clean up the lingering problems. Jonah definitely learned some bad habits over the past six years since he started school.

Still, as happy as we are to finally understand the neurological reason behind all those violent tantrums, the bipolar diagnosis definitely scares me. The cover story in this week's Newsweek is about bipolar kids - kids whose conditions aren't compounded by autism - and the situation seems pretty bleak. One boy has been on 38 different meds trying to control behavior that sounds a lot like what we've seen from Jonah in the past - meds that have only partially controlled his rapid mood swings, and haven't completely prevented suicide attempts and other self-destructive behavior. The piece closes by acknowledging that this boy's most difficult days may still be ahead of him, as he attempts to navigate the hormonal crisis that is adolescence. I've also been reading "An Unquiet Mind," a book by Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychologist at John's Hopkins who has written extensively about her own lifelong struggle with manic depression, and she describes moods so black, and others so frantic, that I can't even imagine what Jonah has gone through, or what lies in store for him in the future. It's ironic isn't it? As Keri pointed out, maybe autism is the least of his problems.

But this kind of speculation is counter-productive, I know that. For now, we're just relieved that Jonah seemingly has found some peace. Keri, Matty and the boys were in Baltimore last week to see a Red Sox-Orioles game and they took Jonah out to dinner afterwards, and Keri told me the next day it was the first time she really saw how sweet Jonah is. I told her what I always believed: that the sweetness and affection represented Jonah's natural temperament, and the tantrums were aberrations - albeit frequent aberrations. Hopefully, when Jonah gets home (at the end of June or at the beginning of July, it looks like), that sweetness will be obvious to everyone, instead of something many of our friends and family members could only experience indirectly, through our own accounts and assurances.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Letting Go

Sometimes, I have no patience for my kids.

Sometimes I don't want to be silly or let them ride the merry go round for the 7th time or let them play for just 5 more minutes before bed or read them yet another story or tickle them until they can't stand it any longer or watch them run around in circles until they fall down dizzy or play in giant rain puddles.

But then I realize how much happiness it brings them and then sometimes, just once in a while, I let them.

And even though the practical part of my brain knows that being cold and wet for so long can give them pneumonia or that dank standing water can carry all sorts of bacteria and that I shouldn't teach my kids that it's okay to play in rain puddles, I couldn't help but feel my heart swell as I watched Ronan yesterday, so full of joy and excitement, as he splashed through the puddles in the driveway and was quickly joined by Gretchen. They were thrilled.

And so was I. We only want our kids to be happy, and if that means breaking the rules once in a while, so be it.

But I still made him eat his asparagus at dinner.

Monday, May 19, 2008

For Love of the Game

I finally realized how to get my kids to love baseball as much as their father does: feed them crap.

Last week the Murphy clan journeyed to Baltimore to watch the Red Sox play the Orioles. Both the boys had been to a couple of games before, though they had been so young they remembered little. We went last summer, when Declan was almost 3 and Ronan 1 1/2. So when we told the boys we were going to a game, Declan got very excited.

"We're going to see the Red Sox, Ronan!" I was thrilled Declan was so thrilled. Maybe we could actually stay for the whole game this time.

"Yay!?" Any time Ronan sees any sport on TV, he points and says, "bay-ball?" So clearly his "yay" was merely a function of Declan's enthusiasm.

"We're going to get cotton candy!" Ah, of course. To keep Declan quiet and sitting last summer at the game, I told him he could get cotton candy. He had no idea what it was, but anything with the word "candy" in it had to be a winner. I had seen the vendor halfway across the stadium and figured it would only be a matter of time before he neared our seats. Time, I may add, that Matty and I could use to watch the game.

Declan was obsessive about the cotton candy, and after 45 minutes of pointing out the approaching vendor and discussing the merits of said candy, the vendor disappeared. Finally, I sent Matty to buy it.

I'm sure it will come as a big surprise to learn that Declan did not like the cotton candy. (I ate it.) But he sure fell in love with the idea of it, because it was all he could talk about in the days leading up to the trip to Baltimore.

Of course, I bought the boys cotton candy as soon as we got there, paper cones of purple sugar that were bigger than their heads. Ronan dove right in (literally), and Declan managed a few bites before passing it to me. "I don't like it."

Without the cotton candy to distract him as it had the last game, Declan was a bit fidgety. And Ronan, well, Ronan was difficult. He had zero interest in the game. But he did have an interest in the food. So, we kept feeding them. After the cotton candy came Edy's ice cream bits. Then, pretzels, followed by Cracker Jack, and finally, chocolate milk.

From the game we went to take Jonah out to dinner for his favorite food: ketchup and French fries. So, to top off their nutritious lunch, Declan and Ronan had hamburgers, French fries, and sugary fruit punch for dinner.

Not 5 minutes after strapping Ronan into his stroller, the vomiting began. He threw up three times in quick succession, and was fine immediately afterwards. Never have I seen such incontrovertible proof that eating too much crap can literally make you sick.

Declan waited until that night to throw up in the comfort of his bed, and was also fine immediately afterward. By morning, the sickness was forgotten and only the fond candy-coated memories remained.

They can't wait to go to their next baseball game.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Happy Birthday, Hilary!

Today is Hilary's fifth birthday. And on the kids' birthdays, I always try to fulfill their wildest desires, whether it's shelling out almost a hundred bucks for two American girl horses for Erika, or taking the entire extended family swimming in January for Jonah.

But this birthday of Hilary's has really tested me. Because I don't want to give her what she really wants.

Barney. Dora. An entire collection of Teletubby dolls. These are all things Hilary has asked for. But I've been resisting, because, frankly, I think five is too old for Barney and Teletubbies. Dora is . . . marginal.

Hilary has always been socially and emotionally immature for her age. And I worry about her. I just don't want her to be, you know, THAT kid. The one who picks her nose, wears pants that are too short, and has no friends.

Well, she may be guilty of two of those things, but she seems to be making friends just fine. In fact, I ended up inviting our friends the Hirsches over for birthday cake tonight after Lauren IM'ed me to tell me that her daughter, Maddy, who's been great friends with Hilary since they were babies, was distraught because Hilary's other BFF, Katherine, has been mean to her (Maddy), and Maddy was sure that Katherine was with Hilary on Hilary's birthday and Maddy wasn't.

Hilary wasn't with Katherine at that moment, she was at drama with Declan. But it did make me feel better about things to hear that Hilary was at the center of this little preschool triangle.

Which makes me wonder whether I should just step back and let Hilary make her own choices. If she wants to play with Teletubbies and her friends either don't care or also secretly love Teletubbies, then what's wrong with that? I mean, it's one thing to go to bat for your kids, but it's another to club them over the heads with it.

By the way, it's four o'clock on Hilary's birthday and I still haven't bought anything to give her tonight - that's how conflicted I've been. I suspect I'm going to go to Target and find some adorable toys that are not Dora-, Teletubby- or Barney- themed. But I did tell my mother-in-law when she asked that it was okay if she bought Hilary a couple of Barney videos she wanted. So, hopefully, everyone will be happy.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Where Did I Come From?

Last weekend at a book sale I stumbled across this classic from my childhood, and snatched it up for 25 cents.

"Where Did I Come From?" by Peter Mayle (yes, that Peter Mayle, author of the books "A Year in Provence," and "A Good Year"), published in 1973. This, my friends, is the very same book our mother used to teach me and Amy about the birds and the bees. And, like many books of its time, it's hilariously frank, honest, and straightforward, with adorable x-rated illustrations (oxymoronic, but true).

The illustrations are made all the more adorable by the captions.

Under a picture of a baby boy staring at his penis: "It gets bigger as you get bigger."

Under a picture of a girl skipping rope with her dog: "Making love is like skipping. You can't do it all day long."

Under a picture of a baby about to sneeze: "It feels a bit like this, but much better."

I was expecting some questions from Declan about babymaking when I got pregnant with Molly, but so far our only conversation about it has been limited to this, in the car one morning on the way to school:

"Mommy, how is Molly going to get out?"

"I'm going to push her out." This was followed by a brief discussion about how Hilary and the twins were cut out, while Jonah, Erika, Declan, and Ronan were pushed out.

"Where are you going to push her out? Your belly button?"

Pause. "Where? At the hospital. Look, a school bus!"

Okay, so I can't put him off forever, but I'm certainly not ready to talk to him about sex. Especially because right now, he thinks it's so funny. In the morning, when I'm getting dressed, he often looks at me and shouts, "I can see your nipples!" His penis is now his best friend, and as such he likes to play with it whenever possible. This all makes me think he's a borderline perv, but Matty tells me it's perfectly normal... and will only get worse.

This weekend I took him in the shower with me because I was alone and needed a shower. He looked at me and said, "Is that your penis?"

"No, it's my vagina," (rhymes with Carolina, as the book says).

"What's a 'gina?"

Pause. "Look, a school bus!"

Maybe next year...

Friday, May 9, 2008

Oh, the Irony

Sunday is Mother's Day, and my little boys have been busy at school making heartfelt homemade gifts that are sure to make me cry. Declan's teachers went so far as to write down verbatim what the kids love about their moms. Declan wrote:

Mommy takes me to drama class and I love that and to soccer too. Mommy tickles me. Mommy is going to give me Molly and I'm going to be a big brother to 2 kids. She made me matzoh pizza, and it was soo good. Mommy reads me books. Mommy gives me swords and I pretend they're weapons, but only at home. I love mommy's kisses.

Too cute, right? That's why I feel so guilty about what I really want for Mother's Day: a day without my kids.

Ironic, isn't it? The day on which we honor moms for all they do, and now that I'm a mom, I know the truth: moms just want some time to themselves.

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Some friends of mine are organizing a Mother's Day eve outing Saturday night, with the dads the ones getting to spend some QT with the little ones while the moms go out for massages and Chinese food.

I love being a mom, I really and truly do. But I love it even more when I get a break from my kids, when I can think about them through rose-colored lenses and forget about the whining and hitting and fighting and screaming and did I say whining?

When Amy and I were kids, each year we'd ask Mom what she wanted for Mother's Day and each year she'd say, "All I want is a day without you two fighting." Since that was never going to happen, we gave her the next best thing: animal-shaped candles and coffee made with hot water from the tap. And Mom always smiled and acted like she really liked the kitten candle and pretended to drink the coffee.

This year, I'm sure, Matty will get up early with the boys and let me sleep in (as much as I can with an 18-pound bowling ball on my belly). He'll guide them in preparing real coffee and bring it to me in bed, along with the handicrafts from school that I promised them I wouldn't open until Sunday. And for a few wondrous moments, we'll all snuggle in our big bed and give each other lots of kisses and giggles and feel like a Hallmark family.

But then, Ronan will "accidentally" kick Declan in the head. He might even take off his diaper and poop on the floor, like he did this morning. Declan will give Ronan an "affectionate" smack on the cheek, after which Ronan will try to pull Declan's pajamas off by the neck. Declan will cry that Ronan gets to lay down closer to me, and then Ronan will cry because... well, just because.

And Matty, in all his infinite goodness and patience, will take the boys away to calm down and let me enjoy a little bit of quiet solitude, the best present I could ask for...

(although a gift certificate for a massage is good, too)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Truth About Franks and Dogs

Ever wonder what food actually tastes like to kids? Well, if the blind hot dog tasting I just held is any indication, we're probably better off not knowing.

I held the tasting (for the parents as well) for an upcoming article for The Philadelphia Inquirer. There were 8 brands for the grown-ups to taste, but I offered just 4 to the under-5 set. The four were powerhouses Nathan's, Hebrew National, and Oscar Mayer, and then, just for kicks, Applegate Organic Uncured Beef dogs.

Here's what the kids had to say:

"Tastes like candles."

"Tastes like bad apple."

"Tastes like lemon."

No wonder kids never want to eat. I wouldn't want to eat either if food tasted like candles.

Some kids had a more positive spin:

"Tastes like chocolate."

"Really yummy."

"Thumbs up."

And from Declan, clearly a connoisseur: "I like D best because there is a D on the cup."

I'm so proud.