Thursday, July 31, 2008

Molly, My Irish Molly

Our First Video Attempt

Amy and I both just bought nifty new devices for easy video taking on the go, so expect lots more where this came from... Enjoy!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Declan in the Middle

Whether middle child syndrome is real or something cooked up by The Brady Bunch writers to give Jan a plausible storyline remains to be seen. All I know is my experience with Declan, whose birth order puts him right in the middle of the 8 kids in the house, but whose personality makes him youngest of the big kids or oldest of the little kids, depending on the day.

Declan is truly the best candidate for middle sibling in our household, because he's so adaptable. He's equally at home in an elaborate pretend world with Erika and/or Hilary as he is pushing a stroller with Gretchen or striking a sword with Aaron and Ronan.

Instead of being neglected, as is the stereotypical case with middle siblings, Declan seems to have the most options. At almost 4 years old, he's still young enough to play with the little ones, but mature enough to play with the big kids.

I can't help but wonder how his position in the family will change as all the kids get older. Will he spend more time roughhousing with boys Aaron and Ronan as they mature? Or will he gravitate toward the more creative play favored by Erika?

I've been thinking about this more as I grapple with the decision of whether to send Declan to kindergarten when he turns 5 (which is the last day before the cut-off) or to wait and hold him back a year and send him right when he turns 6. If he starts kindergarten when he turns 5, he will be the absolute youngest kid in his class. He will also be just one grade behind Hilary. But if I wait until he turns 6, he will be two grades behind Hilary, but just one grade above Ronan and the twins.

Does it matter? I'm not sure. As the kids get older and spend more time at school and in their various after-school activities, it seems their playmates at home will take more and more of a backseat. When Declan is in first grade, and Hilary in third, and Erika in fifth, their worlds will be so completely different, I can't help but think this separation will transfer to the home as well.

But until then, I'm enjoying watching Declan in all his many roles: big brother to Ronan (who adores Declan, even when clobbering him over the head), doting cousin to Gretchen, prince to Erika's princess, puppy pal to Hilary's puppy.

I'll enjoy it while it lasts, because all too soon I won't be worrying about whether the kids are playing together, but whether Declan is dating Hilary's friends or Gretchen's friends. And I'm certainly not ready for that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Rude Awakening

Yesterday, Keri took Declan, Hilary and Molly to a playdate. Andy and I had a tennis match scheduled at our club, so we just piled everyone left into the minivan and took them with us, so Ronan, Aaron, Gretchen and Erika could enjoy a little swimming under the capable supervision of Marina and Oat.

Andy and I didn't play our best tennis, but we still had a great match against our friends Ricki and Andy Eisenstein. When it was over, we went down to the baby pool to hang with the kids.

In case you're counting, that now makes four adults watching four kids (one of which is a very capable swimmer) play in about ten inches of water. Plus, a friend of Andy's from work was there watching her two-year-old and chatting with us. Not that she was in any way responsible for our kids, but she does represent another set of eyes that you would think might notice if something went wrong.

Which it did.

Erika had helped Ronan climb into a little floatie meant for a baby to sit in, and somehow, he managed to tip himself over so he was upside down in the water, and couldn't right himself.

And the first person to notice? Andy Eisenstein, one of our tennis opponents, who was sitting at a table near the baby pool with his family and dashed into the water in full tennis attire (including his shoes and socks) to grab Ronan and haul him on to the deck.

Ronan was fine - he was crying, and scared of course, but he didn't cough up any water, so I don't think he was under more than a few seconds. But it is scary, that so many of us were there and nobody noticed what was going on. I feel like we had just started to react when Andy jumped in the pool, but maybe what we were reacting to was the drama of Andy jumping into the pool - it's hard to know for sure, given how fast everything happened.

I've written before about how nice it is to have as much support as I have from Keri and Matty, and how they remind me of things I need reminding about and keep me from screwing up too badly. But, as I learned yesterday, there's a flip side to having so many responsible adults around - it can breed a false sense of security, the assumption that someone else is paying attention. I see it all the time at the house - Ronan or Aaron or Gretchen finishes breakfast or lunch and wanders out of the kitchen, and Keri and I don't scramble to retrieve them, because surely if they start to do something too destructive or dangerous, Marina or Oat or Iza or even Erika or Hilary or Declan will notice and call us.

And we've paid the price a few times, nothing too bad - mostly unwanted marker scribbles on the carpet, the dining room chairs, even on Erika's crocs.

But the pool is a different story altogether. And maybe we were less vigilant because the water is so shallow, and the kids navigate the pool so confidently, and we didn't appreciate how dangerous it still was. But now we know. I'm still not sure what specific strategy we should employ: assign specific children to specific adults? Just constantly remind the adults present to be more vigilant? Don't let the two-year-olds play in floaties meant for infants?

I am sure of one thing, though: we owe Andy Eisenstein a new pair of tennis shoes.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Modern Brady Bunch?

That's what NPR host Bill Radke called us on Weekend America... Listen to the full story here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

But It's A Great Opportunity, Dammit!

Last summer, Andy and I joined a . . . I hate to say a "country club," because that sounds so snooty, and this club will basically take anybody, but that's pretty much what it is. We signed up for the tennis, but I really fell in love with the swim team program they offer for the kids. The coaching staff runs practice six times a week (I think they hope the kids will come two or three times a week, but of course they can come as often as the parents want to take them), where they teach swimmers as young as five or six the correct form of freestyle, backstroke, breast stroke and butterfly. There are meets every week, in which even the beginners get to participate, so all the kids get to feel like they're part of the team.

And did I mention that all this instruction and experience costs a grand total of $50 per kid, for the entire summer?

Amazing, right? Fantastic value, right?

So you can imagine how frustrated I am now that Erika has decided SHE DOESN'T WANT TO BE ON SWIM TEAM.

This was Erika's second summer on the team. And she is only seven. So of course, it's hard work. She doesn't have the technique or the endurance of the older swimmers - not yet. And I think even I would be exhausted by the number of laps of the Olympic-sized pool the kids complete every practice.

But it's just so good for her.

This is how I look at it: swimming is great exercise, one that strengthens virtually all the major muscle groups. Even if Erika chooses to spend her summers exploring more sedentary activities, such as drama, or zoo camp, or playing with farm animals, at least I know if she goes to swim practice several times a week she's staying active (which is a huge priority for all my kids, as so many relatives on both sides of their family have struggled with their weight, including both their parents). Plus, consider the fact that swimming is one of the few sports people can do their entire lives (how many outlets are there for adults to play field hockey, lacrosse or even soccer?) and that there's no substitute for early instruction when it comes to learning any skill. Factor in the discipline, sportsmanship, and yes, the price and convenience, and it seems like a no brainer that I should MAKE Erika be on the swim team.

I know, I know - I sound so autocratic. And I always thought I'd be the kind of parent that encourages my children in their unique abilities, and helps them pursue even their most idiosyncratic dreams. (As far as Keri claiming in an earlier post that I'm forcing Hilary to take the exact same activities as Erika, when she really wants to be a ballerina, I will just say that Hilary is somewhat of a dilettante at this point in her life, and decides from day to day that she wants to take ballet, to take soccer, to become a fairy, to live on an island with Barney, etc., but that I can say for certain that ballet is definitely not one of her unique abilities) But you know what? That unconditional enthusiasm has to be tempered with the fact that Andy and I are adults, and we do know what's better for Erika than she does right now.

But I'm all for compromise, and Erika and I already have a tentative deal on the table: she'll do swim team next summer, and I'll let her go to horseback riding camp (a sport I've always resisted, because it's relatively dangerous and, from what I can see, builds no skills that can be applied to anything other than horseback riding - furthermore, and most damning, should she excel at this sport it would eventually require us buying A HORSE). Hopefully, we can continue this kind of negotiation with all the kids, this balance between passion and practicality, so that we will all be happy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Thanks, Dr. Doom and Gloom

At the pediatrician practice we go to there are two doctors. One is laid back and amenable, quick to dismiss the occasional rash or runny nose, happy to go along with our own delayed vaccination schedules. The other one? Well, we call her Dr. Doom and Gloom. She's a bit, shall we say, overenthusiastic about tests and hospitals (this isn't always a bad thing; when Matty and I thought something was wrong with Declan since he was so small, she's the one I went to see, knowing she would order the full battery of tests I needed to assuage my fears; he was fine). She has sent Amy's kids to the hospital on more than one occasion, once to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia since our local hospital apparently isn't good enough. She has literally begged me to get my kids vaccinated on the right schedule. Oh, and she told me at Molly's one month checkup that she might have Down Syndrome.

With the benefit of hindsight and negative test results, I can almost laugh about the whole thing now. But when Dr. D&G told me of her concerns, I began crying and barely stopped for 4 days. Matty and I examined Molly from every angle looking for the markers the doctor had seen: wide-set eyes, epicanthal folds, low muscle tone. That's it. Those were the only markers. Sometimes we saw them. Sometimes we laughed dismissively. We pored over websites and message boards looking for clues. We imagined our future with a child with Down Syndrome and suddenly began seeing kids everywhere with Down's: a tween skater dude at the movie theater, an adorable child on the pages of the Nordstrom catalog.

After 4 days, Molly began to be more alert and awake for longer periods. Her eyes, epicanthal folds and all, no longer looked even remotely Down's-esque. The wide spacing of her eyes looked like her brothers', nothing more. By the one week mark we were already fairly convinced that Molly did not have Down's; that night, the other doctor in the practice called and told me he very much doubted that she did.

By the time the tests came back on Friday, confirming that Molly did not have Down Syndrome, I was relieved, but not surprised. Though (I hope) it goes without saying that we would love Molly no matter what, life is hard enough without starting out with the deck so heavily stacked against you. Down's kids have a myriad of health problems to contend with, not to mention the social inequity from being so different. I'm sure Molly will have to endure many social hardships in her life, whether she's a purple-haired tattooed Goth chick or nerdy straight-A student. Or both. I'm just happy that this is one hardship she won't have to endure.

Pictures of Molly

There are 568 photos of Declan during his first 3 months of life. In the months that followed, there are whole folders of pictures on my computer with titles like, "Declan's First Meal," "Declan Goes to the Children's Museum," "Declan Goes Apple Picking."

There are far fewer pics of Ronan, of course, though we managed to snap him meeting his big brother the first time, watching his first marathon (we were living outside of Boston at the time), petting a goat at the zoo, traveling to Florida to visit the family.

And Molly? Well, here's Molly at the hospital:

Here she is her first day home... Oops, never mind. Here she is with all her siblings and cousins... Um, scratch that. Here she is during her baby naming, an important ritual in a baby's... Ok, forget that, here she is on her first trip to... No, don't have those either. Oh, wait, here's one, Molly at 1 month old:

Cute, isn't she?

I know I'm not the only parent to photographically neglect subsequent children, but since I've always given Amy so much grief about it (C'mon, she's got 5 kids! How many pictures do you think there are of Aaron?) I thought I'd be a bit more conscientious.

But here's Molly, 6 weeks old, and I'm already neglecting her. Does she really need her diaper changed in the middle of the night? I'll change it twice in the morning. Tummy time? Eventually. Music class? Ha!

I hope this early recognition of my neglect means I won't repeat it as Molly gets older. I hope that I can still mock Amy as her younger children suffer from tag-a-long neglect. (Yes, Amy, I'm sure Hilary really wants to play tennis and take drama, just like Erika (even though she told me she wants to take ballet); and yes, I know Hilary told you she wanted Erika to come along on her first ever trip to the American Girl store (which I'm told is a big deal to little girls), but was it really such a surprise when she decided at the last minute that she wanted to go with just you?) But I digress...

Admitting you have a problem is the first step, right? So here's my pledge: I will take lots of pictures of Molly. Though I have no problem with hand-me-downs, I will buy her a new dress to wear for her first birthday. I will not force her to play soccer and take drama, just because her older brothers do it. I will not...

Well, let's just start with the pictures for now.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

And in This Corner, Weighing in at 28 Pounds...

My boys won't stop fighting. Actually, only one of them won't stop fighting, the other one won't start. And I'm pretty upset about it. Though probably not for the reason you think.

Ronan likes to hit Declan. So does Declan hit Ronan back, sucker-punch him in the jaw, kick him in the kneecap? No. Declan cries. Not cry in pain, but cry out, as in, "Ronan hit me!"

Needless to say, Ronan finds this hysterical.

I know I should be happy that Declan is such a good kid--he's the least likely of all the kids in the house under 6 to hit or kick or punch or pinch--but frankly, I think he needs to toughen up a bit. I heard the following exchange from their room one morning:

Ronan hits Declan. Declan cries.

Declan: "You are mean!"

Ronan: "I not mean!"

"Yes you are!"

"No I not!"

Et cetera, et cetera, ad infinitum... Not once did Declan raise his hand in defense. Or offense.

I was at my wit's end the other day, after a long car ride to Baltimore with the boys sitting far too close together. We've tried every sort of reproach with Ronan and nothing seems to work. But there's not much you can do in a moving car when the boys are strapped in right next to each other. This resulted in the following exchange:

"Ronan hit me!"

"So hit him back." Swat.

"Ronan hit me in the face!"

"So hit him in the face." Swat.

Unfortunately, Declan didn't really have the heart to continue, and Ronan found Declan's feeble attempts at revenge even funnier than his whining.

I don't really want to encourage the boys to hit each other, so now I've come up with a new approach. When Declan whines that Ronan hit him, I tell him, "You and Ronan need to work it out."

Declan's the smart kid. Hopefully he can figure it out. Because I certainly can't. Anyone have any better ideas?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

For The First Time, All 8 Kids Together

Jonah finally met Molly this Independence Day, as we took the whole crew down to Baltimore for the first time since she was born.

He was underwhelmed, to say the least. If I had to guess what he was thinking, it was probably something along the lines of, "Another baby in the house? Great. Can I have a lock on my door?"

Jonah did enjoy the pirate adventure we took on the Fearless, a ship that sails several times daily from Fell's Point. We all thought it was great, in fact - costumes, treasure, water cannons, singing and dancing (Jonah kept asking for "more dancing," which, I have to admit, was something of a surprise. I think this is a taste he acquired on the NBU, where they have dance parties all the time, and where, to my chagrin, he's developed a passion for the Macarena). We were very lucky in that no one else signed up for our time slot, so we had our own private excursion.

We all also decided that Fell's Point was by far the coolest neighborhood we'd seen in Baltimore - much nicer even than the Inner Harbor, which is more slick and commercial, flush with chain stores. We didn't have a lot of time to walk around, but it looked like there were plenty of quaint shops and restaurants, along with an open square where you could relax and enjoy soft pretzels, if you're Jonah, or shockingly blue ice cream, if you're every other kid in the family. I just can't believe no one suggested we check out Fell's Point before this. I mean, it's literally down the exact same street Kennedy Krieger is on. Oh, well. Better late than never.

Monday, July 7, 2008

In Defense Of Hilary - And Myself

I was cut to the quick by Keri's claim, "I've asked Amy to teach Hilary some tact, but to be honest, I think Amy finds it all too funny to put to an end."

Although I do find some of Hilary's questions funny - such as, "What would we do if there were no bathrooms?" and "What if cars didn't have tires?" - I wouldn't find it at all amusing if she, in her quest to solve all the mysteries of the universe, said something hurtful.

But the reason I haven't taught Hilary tact is that I just don't know how. How do you teach a five-year-old that some things shouldn't be said, even if they're completely true? Why is it okay to say, "That man is tall," but not okay to say, "That man is fat?" Why is it a compliment to say, "That lady looks young," but an insult to say, "That lady looks old"?

The fact is, Andy and I have spent so much time drilling into Erika and Hilary the importance of always telling the truth, that I'm not sure I want to complicate matters by trying to explain to Hilary the exceptions to this rule. Hopefully, as she gets older, she'll become more socially savvy, and she'll begin to understand why she shouldn't announce, upon opening a present, "Oh, I have this already."

In the meantime, if anyone has any tips on how to help develop this kind of social awareness, please pass them along!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The "Whys" Child

Hilary is driving me crazy.

I know you shouldn't say that about a child, much less your own niece, but the fact is Hilary's got a new habit that just makes me nuts.

Lately, all that comes out of her mouth is question after question after question. I'm all for encouraging curiosity, but for the most part, these are questions to which she already knows the answers. (I'm more tolerant of the questions she actually doesn't know the answers to, like "What if we didn't have any skin?" Really, what if we didn't?)

On a recent 90 degree day when Molly was crying in the car: "Why is Molly hot?"

After Gretchen pinched Aaron's face: "Why is Aaron crying?"

When Ronan's in time-out after pulling Hilary's own hair: "Why is Ronan in time-out?"

And a classic: "What's a bathtub for?"

Usually I just respond with, "What do you think?" and she answers correctly each and every time.

Then there are the questions that she might not know the answers to but still shouldn't be asking:

To her grandmother: "Why is your skin like that?"

To me, a few weeks before Molly was born: "Why are you fat?"

To me, just the other day, pointing at my still-recovering belly: "Are you growing another baby?"

To a family friend: "Why do you eat so much?"

I've asked Amy to teach Hilary some tact, but to be honest, I think Amy finds it all too funny to put to an end.