Monday, September 29, 2008

What's Brown and Sticky?

From what I can gather from Erika, my source for the current state of school affairs, the popular kids at school these days are the funny ones.

When Erika was in kindergarten, all the girls wanted to eat lunch with Kyle, who made the girls giggle so hard they snorted their milk. Now that she's in elementary school, Erika has no interest in Kyle—he plays with the mean boys, she says—and has moved on to David, who seems to be the apple in many 2nd grade girls' eyes. At the back-to-school picnic, Amy spotted David easily by the half-dozen girls surrounding him like a pack of hungry lions. I couldn't help but be surprised at how smug Amy was that Erika got the first play date of the new school year with David last week.

If David is any indication, my boys are off to a good start on the road to popularity. Even though they're just toddlers, they've already mastered…

Dry humor:
Me: Goodnight, Ronan!
Ronan: I not Ronan, I Declan! (rolls around bed laughing)

Slapstick humor:
Ronan: Getchen, look at me! (Smacks self in head and falls on floor. Gretchen laughs. Repeat.)

Me: You can play for 5 minutes before bed.
Declan: 5 minutes? Wow.

And, of course, political humor:
Me: Who do you think should be the next president, Obama or McCain?
Declan: Blabii da da goo goo! (drops to floor in fit of hysterics)

Humor plays a huge part in our household. The one joke Matty knows is a family favorite (What's brown and sticky? A stick!), and Andy begins teaching each of the kids jokes as soon as they can talk.

A three-year-old trying to tell a joke is always funny. Even if she can't quite tell it right. Actually, especially if she can't quite tell it right. Which is what happened at Thanksgiving four years ago, when Andy whispered a joke into Erika's ear, and she stood up at the head of the table to repeat it:

Erika: Two penises were walking down the street…

Stunned silence.

Andy: No! Two PEANUTS were walking down the street!

I'm not sure which was funnier, that Erika yelled "penises" in front of two dozen family members, or that each and every one of those family members believed Andy would actually teach her a joke that involved said penises.

Either way, with role models like these, I think Declan and Ronan are well on their way to popularity… or the principal's office.

Monday, September 22, 2008

I'll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

Erika wants a sleepover. With a boy.

So far, I've done a good job of deflecting the issue. When I picked her up the last time she had a playdate with this particular boy, and she asked, "Can David and I have a sleepover?" I responded, oh-so-smoothly, "David has an electric scooter? That is so cool!"

What I really want to know is, why can't she? Erika and David are seven years old. Their friendship is completely innocent, and based - as far as I can tell - on the kind of shrieking, chasing and general roughousing Erika's girlfriends are not typically interested in. Our houseguest, Rhea, asked Erika what she liked about David recently, and she said that he was funny, and "a weirdo, just like me."

So romantic.

Still, I can't shake this feeling that it's somehow wrong for a boy and girl to have a sleepover. Am I really afraid of what they'll do when the lights go out? Not really, despite the fact that Rhea also told me about another friend who found her young daughter in bed, under the covers, with her clothes off, with a boy who was visiting. Frankly, if that's what Erika and David really wanted to do, they'd have plenty of opportunities during the course of a regular, non-sleepover playdate.

Is it the where-do-you-draw-the-line issue? That is, if I let her have sleepovers with boys when she's seven, will I have trouble telling her no when she's nine, or eleven, or thirteen? I don't think that's it, either. I mean, there are a seemingly infinite number of activities that are appropriate at different ages, and kids understand that. Just because it's okay to shower with Daddy when you're four, doesn't mean it's okay to do it when you're fourteen. Just because it's okay to run naked on the beach when you're two - etc., etc.

So, although I'm probably not going to let Erika have her sleepover, I can't help but think that by doing so I'm sexualizing her to a far greater degree than exposure to Bratz dolls or "High School Musical" could ever do. And teaching her, from the beginning, that friendships between boys and girls are different, and more restricted, than friendships between girls. As if she won't learn that lesson soon enough.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Question of (Preschool) Ethics

Declan's recent birthday party presented me with two moral dilemmas. The first centered around the gift of a picture book. We already had a copy, but it was well-loved and well-worn, so we were all happy for the second copy. But when Amy opened it to read to Declan after the party, she found a very moving inscription... to the child who gave Declan the book: To "Pat," with love, Grandma and Grandpa.

Amy thought I should call the offending parent and innocently mention her "mistake," in the guise of wanting to return the treasured book. But I felt that any mention of her misstep would be extremely embarrassing. Matty agreed, and we kept the book.

The second dilemma was over the insane amount of toys Declan received. As you can imagine, in a house with 8 (10 for now) children, there are a lot of friggin' toys. So really, the last thing we need is another toy. Of course, Declan loves toys, and what else are you going to give a 4-year-old? Theater tickets?

After he opened them, I packed up Declan's presents and doled them out one at a time, so he wouldn't lose them all instantly to the general chaos of the house. Some of the presents, however, were remarkably similar to one another... and some of those same said presents had convenient gift receipts attached. Would it really be so horrible to return some of the presents and get Declan some shoes?

I hope I don't sound ungrateful. Declan truly loved all his presents, since almost all of them featured a pirate in some form or another. But even as we opened them, I couldn't help but take mental note of the tiny swords or gold doubloons or pirate hats, knowing that as soon as they came out of the box, they would most likely be lost in the void.

With preschoolers, moral dilemmas are made all the more difficult (or perhaps easier) by the fact that A) they have short memory spans, and B) they don't have a truly developed sense of morality yet.

I have the same quandaries about lying to the kids, even over ridiculous things (no, Declan, I'm certain you can't bring toy swords into the Renaissance Faire). I remember when Declan was just a baby and we were having brunch with another family. The father went out to the car to retrieve a few things and forgot to bring back his son's treasured bunny (or bear, or some other cuddly animal). When his son called him on it, Dad told him that Bunny was tired and just wanted to rest in the car. His son was momentarily placated.

I, however, was horrified. Why not just tell the kid you forgot? Tell him he can have it when they get back in the car? Why on earth lie to him?

But now I do it all the time, and I'm not really sure why. Sure, I could have just told Declan that I didn't want him to bring his toy swords (all 87 of them) to the Faire, since he'd likely lose a few and end up fighting with his brother and cousins over the ones they managed to hold on to.

Declan went through a phase recently where he would run up to tell me about every little transgression; this after I praised him for telling me the truth about a fight with Ronan.

"Ronan took my sword so I pinched him like this," and he would hold up his hand like a claw.

"Hilary wouldn't share the horse so I took it and threw it in the family room."

"Gretchen hit me so I took her baby away and gave it to Aaron."

The only problem was, Declan expected exoneration in exchange for his confessions. Once I explained that he would be punished for his crimes, regardless of whether I heard about it from him or the offending party, the admissions of guilt ceased.

Which I suppose is a lesson to be learned myself: Just because I am aware that what I am doing is wrong, doesn't make it any less wrong... matter how badly I want him to leave the damn swords at home.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

There's Something About Molly

I knew this would happen. Even as I wrote about my ambivalence toward my pregnancy, even as I moaned about the failure of my superdrug, I knew that once I saw her sweet, sweet smile, once I watched her fall asleep in my arms, I would be hooked. And I am.

But there's something different.

I am in awe of Molly. I can't look at her enough. Every smile is mentally recorded, every move fussed upon. I don't recall things being quite this way with my boys. Of course I loved them, but their babyhoods were more of something to be endured to get to the good stuff--the toddlerhood, the point where they became their own people. I was never much of a fan of infancy; I find babies to be boring to the extreme. Especially my own. But Molly is remarkable.

Is it because she's a girl? Because she's my last? Or perhaps because her being is so improbable?

I won't deny that she's an incredibly good baby: she sleeps 12+ hours each night and rarely cries unless she's hungry or very tired. She's happy and laid back, and doesn't mind being carted around on my schedule and catnapping when given the opportunity. She'll swing happily for hours while I develop recipes in the afternoon, and can fall asleep with The Colbert Report blaring while I nurse.

But it's not just those things...

I can't believe how close I was to not knowing Molly, to not having her in my life. I can't believe I thought my life was complete without her. I can't believe that Ronan almost missed out on being such a loving big brother, or that Declan might not have gotten the chance to "help" me with his baby sister.

There's something about Molly. Something that makes me feel wonderfully lucky.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Jonah's Miracle?

The very first book we read about autism - back before we got the official diagnosis, but knew it was coming - was Karyn Seroussi's account of how her son was cured of his autism through the implementation of a gluten-and-casein-free diet. So, for the next four years, we put Jonah on the same regimen: no milk or wheat products at all, which meant we had to buy special breads, pastas and pretzels made with rice or soy.

But it didn't cure him. It didn't help much at all.

There are many miracles in the autistic community. Kids have lost their diagnoses after being treated with vitamins, or chelation (a controversial procedure that removes toxins, such as mercury, from the body), or hyperbaric oxygen therapy. And we've tried a lot of those things. But none of them did for Jonah what they had supposedly done for other people's children.

I used to feel this incredible pressure to try every alternative treatment I heard about. Because what if Jonah's miracle was out there, but we never found it because I stopped trying? One thing Kennedy Krieger has done for us is relieve that pressure. Knowing that Jonah's tantrums were caused primarily by his mood disorder means that no diet, no B12 injections, no amount of oxygen could have "cured" him. Bipolar disorder is a medical condition, and requires medical treatment.

But now I'm thinking about miracles again. Because, although Jonah's aggression has virtually disappeared since he was prescribed lithium and abilify, his doctor at Kennedy has just started him on a new medicine that she hopes will help with the lingering irritability, crying and SIBs (self-injurious behavior, such as the hand-biting Jonah does when he's agitated) she is still seeing. This new drug, riluzole, is only FDA-approved to treat patients with Lou Gehrig's disease. But doctors have also seen amazing results treating psychiatric patients who haven't responded to traditional mood stabilizers - like Jonah, who has been on so many different medicines over the years, I lost track long ago. Clinical trials are going on at Johns Hopkins (across the street from Kennedy), and the psychiatrists at Kennedy have just begun prescribing it to their patients. The two who are now taking it, according to Jonah's doctor, have made enormous gains.

New drugs are exciting - so full of hope and potential. It's thrilling to think we may be part of the beginning of a great advancement in the treatment of kids like Jonah. Although I've stopped believing that Jonah will ever be cured of his autism, we sent him to Kennedy to solve the puzzle of his mood disorder. Giving him the gift of a tranquil mind would be miracle enough for us.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Happy Birthday Declan!

Where have the last 4 years gone? How did my baby go from this:

To this, big brother to two little ones?

We took Declan to the Renaissance Faire for his birthday, and he got to wear his new pirate costume, complete with hat and boots. He was by far the most dashing young pirate there. He loved the magic and the shows and the 3-foot-tall slushies, though was devastated that he couldn't buy (or touch, for that matter) the numerous (real) swords on display.

As soon as we got home, I rushed to bake cupcakes and prepare his favorite foods for his birthday dinner: steak, homemade mac-n-cheese, and edamame.

So did he enjoy his celebratory meal? Not exactly. He fell asleep in the car on the way home from the Faire and we couldn't wake him for dinner, even with the promise of cupcakes. He slept right through the night.

So we ate in his honor. Happy birthday Declan!