Monday, August 31, 2009

Huzzah for Declan's 5th Birthday!

Declan is growing up. I hate to say he's maturing, since his behavior is by all standards often very immature ("poopy" is still one of his favorite words), but I suppose he is maturing through the typical stages of a boy.

He now insists upon using the men's room by himself when we're out, rather than go into the women's room with me. He's not nearly as clingy or affectionate as he used to be; he's sometimes aloof and distant and will grace me with just a perfunctory peck on the cheek at bedtime (clearly he's already learning how to drive women crazy). He's got an attitude and isn't afraid to use it. He's become brazen and sometimes disrespectful. He randomly started calling me "Sweet Betty" on our vacation (the fact that I couldn't stop laughing only made it worse).

Of course, this new "mature" Declan isn't all bad. He's become interested in longer chapter books and has patiently listened his way through Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson. After three years of asking for guitar lessons, he'll finally start this year and couldn't be more excited. While on vacation in Colonial Williamsburg, he was held rapt by the historical reenactments and presentations while Ronan played in the dirt.

After we returned from vacation, Declan was playing with his cousins and raced by me, galloping on a "horse" and waving a sword in the air.

"Are you a brave knight?" I asked.

"No, I'm George Washington fighting the Indians!" he replied, recalling his history from our visit to Mount Vernon.

So while I may bemoan the cuddly little mama's boy I'm quickly losing, I do look forward to seeing the (mature) boy Declan will become.

As soon as he stops yelling, "Poopy!" all the time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

All American Vacation

We took our first family vacation this summer.

It's not our first trip away, of course; we often travel to Ireland to visit Matty's family and Florida to visit mine, but until now our travels have always centered on family. This time we were on our own.

(Except for a few days in the middle when we visited my cousins in Asheville, NC.)

We went on a good ol' fashioned Road Trip, making our way from Philadelphia through Colonial Williamsburg, the aformentioned Asheville, and Washington D.C., with stops for real North Carolina BBQ, a great bowl of matzo ball soup, and some caverns along the way.

We came home with an $80 souvenir from Tennessee, a very dirty car, and a lot of wonderful memories.

Our trip did not start well. I forgot my shoes and we had to go back home to get them. Molly had a huge poop while we were crawling through traffic; by the time we stopped to change her it had leaked all over her carseat (and her). Ronan had to poop so suddenly and urgently that we had to pull over and have him poop in a plastic bag. This was all before we even hit Baltimore.

But things picked up. The kids fell asleep. And we arrived in Colonial Williamsburg tired but happy. We spent two days there, during which the kids dressed in period garb, trained to be a soldier, learned to work a farm like their forefathers, and marched in a fife and drum parade. They learned how to write with a quill and how to split a log. They watched Benedict Arnold ride into town and learned of his treason. They had fun.

From there we headed to Chapel Hill, about halfway between Williamsburg and Asheville. We ate some fabulous BBQ and pie and drove through the town, stopping to wander the stands of a local farmers' market. We were in Asheville after lunch, where we spent three days with two of my cousins and their children. They mined for gems, played on the playground, and went to a children's museum. They had fun.

We stopped in Natural Bridge, Virginia on the way to D.C. to break up the trip, and toured the deepest caverns on the East coast. The kids held up well in the car all day, "reading" comic books, listening to books on tape, watching movies, and coloring. But we were all happy to finally arrive in Alexandria, Virginia, just outside D.C. and where we stayed for two nights.

In D.C., despite the heat, the kids enjoyed the Air and Space Museum and American History Museum, though they were unimpressed by seeing the real live actual ruby slippers Judy Garland wore in the movie or the actual kitchen in which Julia Child cooked and whose refrigerator featured a magnet from our friend's former restaurant in Somerville, Massachusetts. But they had fun.

On the final day of our trip we went to Mount Vernon to explore George Washington's estate and history. It was probably the highlight of everyone's vacation, and not just because the boys got replica guns and we got to eat a very good meal in the colonial tavern. The boys got to dress up, Molly got to crawl around the grounds released from the confines of her stroller, and Matty and I got a chance to walk through history, something we both, though avid fans, don't get to do very much.

After a short three hour jaunt back to Philadelphia, we were all happy to be home, and back to playing with cousins and sisters and brothers-in-law. And Matty, who was opposed to the trip from the start, is already planning our next road trip to Florida. Or maybe Canada. Who knows? Maybe we'll even go somewhere we don't have any family...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Behold, the Amazing Walking Baby!

At 14 months, 2 weeks, 4 days, I present to you, the amazing, the wondrous, the perambulating...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Silver Linings, Part 2

Last night, Jonah, Erika, Hilary and I went to the end-of-summer "prom" at Camp Joy, the camp for developmentally disabled children and adults that Jonah went to for the three weeks he didn't have summer school. We got there a little late, and the party was already underway, but our arrival caused the kind of stir I would previously have attributed to celebrities on the Brangelina level. For once, it wasn't about Erika's beautiful red hair, or Hilary's radiant smile - it was all about Jonah. The campers and the counselors wanted to spin with him to the Macarena, or his new, second-favorite song, the YMCA. They wanted to hug him, tickle him, and bring him cake. I almost cried, I was so touched by the affection everyone clearly had for him.

Many well-meaning friends, acquaintances, and even strangers have complimented me over the years about how well Andy and I have dealt with Jonah's autism, and I've always chafed under their praise. We adapted, as all parents do - despite the many protestations I've heard: "I could never handle it." But the real admiration should be showered on those who choose to work with these difficult children. I can't tell you how many amazing people I've met since Jonah was diagnosed - those with incredible patience, perseverance, and love, love, love for kids who - believe me - aren't always easy to love. I could name them, but I'd be afraid of leaving someone out.

I took this picture of Jonah and Sam, a Camp Joy counselor, last night. Sam is off to his freshman year of college this year, to study special education and psychology, but another counselor told me that Sam started volunteering at the camp when he was about ten years old. Ten years old! If I had never had a child with a disability, I would never have met Sam and all the others like him, people whose passion never fails to sustain and inspire me. It's not a hermit crab, but this silver lining is infinitely more precious.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Pickle Diet

A few days ago, Hilary informed me, "I'm going on a pickle diet."

"What does that mean?" I asked. "You mean, you're going to eat only pickles?"

"No," she said. "I'm going to stop eating pickles until I'm as skinny as Erika."

Wow. So many thoughts were swirling through my head - Is Erika really that much thinner than Hilary? This is all Hannah Montana's fault - I blurted out the first coherent sentence I could put together: "Honey, pickles don't make you fat."

In retrospect, that was probably beside the point.

This isn't the first time I've had a conversation like this with one of my daughters: when Erika was about six, she rejected her wardrobe of classic, little-girl dresses with empire waists because they made her, in her words, "look fat." It doesn't matter how careful I am not to lament in front of my kids about the ten pounds I just can't seem to lose - it's not big news that our culture is weight-obsessed. When Hilary was four, she had pneumonia and didn't eat for a week. When she finally returned to pre-school, the teachers couldn't stop gushing about how fabulous she looked.

But as much as I want my kids to have healthy body-images, I also don't want them to think that weight is unimportant. I never want them to have to deal with the social and physical consequences of being fat. They're not even close, not now, but frankly, virtually everyone in both Andy's and my families has struggled with weight issues at some point. It's unlikely that any of the kids (except possibly Aaron) will ever be able to eat whatever s/he wants, whenever s/he wants, without care.

Let me just say, it's an incredible fine line between raising healthy eaters and repressed, mother-hating anorexics. The best thing I feel I can do for my kids is teach them moderation, and praise them for making healthy choices. Sometimes, when they come to me for a snack, I'll ask them if they're really hungry. Needless to say, like every mother (especially of daughters), I carefully weigh each word that comes out of my mouth on this topic.

Or maybe I should just encourage them to eat more pickles.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Silver Linings

Two weeks ago, we were driving in the car, when somehow we started talking about how tough life is for people with different disabilities. Then Erika pointed out that, although she would never want to be blind, it would be nice to be able to have a seeing-eye dog that you could take everywhere with you.

"That," Andy instructed from behind the wheel, "is what we call a 'silver lining.'" We then spent the rest of the trip explaining to Erika and Hilary about the bright spots that often accompany the most dismal situations.

That conversation seems so ironic to me, given that less than one week later, Erika knocked out her two front, permanent teeth when our boat, moving at a decent clip, hit a big swell none of us expected to encounter in the relatively placid waters of the bay.

I will never forget that moment when I picked myself and Aaron off the floor of the boat, and I yelled at Andy to stop, because I thought he was driving recklessly for the thrill of it (he wasn't), and I looked up and saw Erika in the bow of the boat, her face covered with blood. And then she was screaming, her mouth wide open, and I saw the huge gap where her teeth had been. We thought she lost three teeth, but it turns out one baby tooth was pushed back up into her gum by the force of the impact.

My friend Jodi and her three kids were on the boat with us, and the two of us hovered over Erika as Andy maneuvered back to the dock, trying to calm her down as she wailed that these teeth weren't supposed to come out, that she didn't care how much money she got from the tooth fairy. And Jodi and I both were on the verge of tears ourselves, because Erika was right, those teeth weren't supposed to come out, and they would never grow back, and how had it happened in an instant that my perfect daughter had, due to a completely preventable accident, been disfigured for life? I know that, on the scale of possible disfigurements, the loss of two front teeth barely registers - not compared to scars, burns, amputations, etc. I know that, if this is the worst thing that ever happens to Erika, she'll have lived a blessed life. But I couldn't stop thinking of her going through the painful self-consciousness of adolescence wearing a retainer with fake teeth on the front of it.

It turns out we may be able to avoid that retainer. Andy and Jodi's daughter, Jamie, found Erika's teeth, and, on the advice of my dentist, I pushed those teeth back into their gaping sockets (not easy to do when your hand is shaking like crazy and your well-meaning friend is standing right behind you yelling, "Don't touch the root! Don't touch the root!"). Erika saw three different dentists in the next four days, with many more visits to come. She may or may not need root canals in both teeth, and she'll need to have the baby tooth extracted. The most important question - whether or not the re-implanted teeth will last - is unknown. I get the feeling that it's unlikely they'll last forever, but the hope is that they last until Erika is old enough for permanent implants, 18 at the earliest. And sometimes they do last.

By the way, as if Erika wasn't miserable enough, she immediately had to stop sucking her finger - a habit she's been trying to kick for years - or risk pushing those very vulnerable teeth out of position. And she did it, with hardly any complaint. As I told her many times during the past week, I don't think I could have handled these events with nearly as much poise and patience and good cheer as she has.

And the silver lining? Andy felt so guilty he promised Erika the hermit crabs she's been wanting for the past three years. And, of course, as I heard her recount the story to a friend on the phone: "It hurt, but I'm getting a lot of attention."

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Family Ties

As I posted earlier, Amy and I spent brief periods at several camps before ending up at Blue Rill for the better part of our childhoods. What I remember most about camp wasn't the state-of-the-art facilities (not) or swimming pool, or the carefully orchestrated activities or the field trips to the roller skating rink or Color War or anything else that one might think is the marker of a great camp.

What I remember most is Herb.

Herb was the photography counselor, and though I don't quite remember how or when he became such a friend to us, what I remember is this: One summer, when my mother's back went out and she was confined to bed for a few days, Herb went out during camp to buy us milk.

That's what I want for my kids at camp.

I saw it at the camp I worked at this summer, Friends' Central, where Declan spent his second summer and Ronan his first. There were counselors who had grown up at Friends', and campers who were doing the same. All the staff knew and loved them. Camp was a family, open and inviting to everyone.

To me, that's much more important than the specialty activities or field trips or anything else. Because, let's face it, if there's one thing I learned as a camp counselor this year, kids find more happiness in each other than they do in anything else.

So that's why my kids will keep going back to the same camp year after year, to strengthen and build upon the relationships they've already begun. To extend their family far beyond the walls of their home. To have fun and be loved and love in return.

All from a camp.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Old Lady

I feel old.

Not because of my three kids or the gray hairs that have sprouted all over my head or the fact that I'm closer to 40 than I am to 30.

It's because of camp.

I remember camp (that's me at one camp, above); we attended a series of day camps before settling in at Blue Rill, where we spent the better part of our childhoods. I was a young teen there, an assistant counselor who spent her days gossiping with friends and ogling the boys.

There were two types of head counselors at camp: the young, pretty ones who were on their college breaks, and the older ones who were, well, old. They seemed a world away from us then, so unlike the hip 19- and 20-year-olds I yearned to be. They wore bras (the college girls certainly didn't--it was the 70s, after all) and sensible shorts. They were over 30.

Now, I'm the old counselor.

I worked at a day camp this summer, heading a bunk of 24 6-year-olds, 21 of whom were boys. Suffice it to say that my summer was challenging. But the worst part wasn't the boy who pooped in the pool, or the one who gashed his head open and required seven stitches, or the one who simply didn't listen.

The worst part, by far, was how old I felt.

My co-head counselor was 26. My assistants were 14 and 15. The head counselors in the other 6-year-old bunk were both more than 10 years younger than I.

The young counselors and assistants ruled the camp. They were all great friends and chatted excitedly in between activities. They hung out together after camp and texted each other during the day. They were deeply tanned and wore dozens of string bracelets up their arms. I'm nothing like them.

I was once, a long time ago, but now I'd rather spend my nights at home with my kids than at the Phillies game or the camp barbecue with the other counselors. The fact is, I am old. Older than I was, anyway. And when I snuggle with Molly as she falls asleep or watch Declan jump into the pool for the first time by himself or lay with Ronan as he drifts off to sleep, there isn't any place else (or any other age) I'd rather be.