Thursday, April 30, 2009

Fat Boy Fionn VS the Carrots

Neon puke, stinky diapers, hours of puree-ing here we come.....

The News from Binerville

A few weeks ago during Early Intervention, Emerson's OT was making him do one of his least favorite activities: play in the sand. Just like the paint and playdough in the past, she was slowly getting him to touch it using equal parts creativity and trickery. After limited success on this particular day, we tried an equally frustrating session of painting (the paint was fine - it was the rolled sleeves that drove him nuts), followed by a struggle to get him to wash his hands in the sink. When the OT asked me if he had any other tactile sensitivities, I responded, "Brushing his teeth, washing his hair, putting on sunscreen, (recently) swimming in pools, and touching stuffed animals."

She sighed and handed me a paper booklet, "Fill out this sensory profile for me and we'll create a plan from there."

I calmly said OK and took the paper, but inside I let loose a string of curses. "Oh bloody hell. Here we go again."

Luckily, the results did not create a new diagnosis as I feared, and we have gotten some helpful tips from the OT. He has made steady progress, which is encouraging except that the therapist implied none-too-subtly that a parent's over-emphasis on cleanliness could be a major contributor to the problem. She is right of course, but I have to say I was quite happy with the overly clean little man I had created. I had great hopes for his future spouse - but alas I'm being forced to give that all up so that he can one day create masterpieces out of sand and playdough. Nuts.

On a similar note, I got some interesting news from the school when I finally pushed the issue of getting Fionn's Early Intervention started. I know other parents of children with albinism are probably aghast that I waited six months to get things moving, but honestly, he's on target for all his developments and gets plenty of visual stimulation from an older brother, so I haven't been in a rush. I was dreading this conversation because technically siblings aren't allowed at therapy appointments, so I have been racking my brain trying to figure out how to pay for childcare for whoever wasn't getting therapy on that particular day.

When I mentioned this concern during the conversation, the therapist said, "Oh, that won't be an issue. Emerson will be starting preschool half days for four days a week in the Fall, so Fionn can have his weekly appointment during one of those times."

Say what?!

For sixteen hours a week the school is going to watch and teach my child for free? My mind swooned in the glory of so much free time while my heart lurched at the idea of Emerson being so old and independent. I knew that when he was 2 1/2 he would transition to a new program, but I've been dreading the resulting paperwork and special ed lingo so much that I hadn't researched what this would really mean.

Now when I think of it, I do a little happy dance

In other news, Emerson has added some new signs and a couple of words, has decided that following older kids around may be the coolest activity ever, and - thanks to some practice with large groups in Texas - we took him to the insanity that is the mall playground and he didn't shed a tear.

I still get frustrated when I see my friends' 2-year-olds counting to ten, repeating entire songs and books by memory, potty training, etc. because Emerson is nowhere near any of those things. But it is what it is.

The other day we were talking with some friends about breaking all the parenting "rules" and Robbie said (completely joking of course) "Yeah, I mean they say breastfeeding makes kids super smart and Emerson was breastfed for a full year, but look at him." We all turned to look at Emerson, who coincidentally was standing in the corner with his face pressed against the wall. The group of us erupted into laughter at this humorous if unfortunate timing and Emerson was blissfully unaware of what happened except that he made us all laugh.

(By the way, he was doing this because he's spent a lot of time in the "time-out" corner lately and to show me how little effect it has on him, he frequently puts himself in time-out while laughing hysterically. But that's another post.)

Fionn is the complete opposite of his brother in almost every way. While Emerson was very shy and stoic around strangers as a baby, Fionn is all slobbery smiles and reaching out for people to hold him. While Emerson could have cared less about solid foods for months, Fionn watches every bite that goes into our mouths like a starving Oliver Twist and he devours everything we give him (see video to come). Fionn is ready to touch everything and anything - jump into any activity with enthusiasm while Emerson never does anything without forethought and hesitation.

Emerson has proven to be one of the sweetest and most interesting children I've ever seen, but Fionn's ability to be an "ordinary" baby is equally exciting in its own way.

On a final and yet unrelated note....after my last post, my mother questioned whether Zen masters were a good comparison for my children. "I thought Zen masters led by example, by being calm and Zen-like all the time, in which case I'm not sure that applies to the kids."

"Well, I once learned about a group of Buddhist monks who beat their students with sticks to keep them alert and focused," I said.

"My children are those kind of Zen masters."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Little Zen Masters

As we were driving home last Sunday, I heard a story on NPR about the power of meditation. The guest was a man who had written several books on the topic - including "Mindful Parenting." When the interviewer asked him about children, he talked about the life of a parent being as challenging if not more so than monks who devote their lives to secluded contemplation. He called children "little zen masters" because of the way they constantly challenge us. I sort of drifted off in thought about this, so I didn't hear his follow up (how's that for being mindful?), but my own experience definitely supports his comparison.

They challenge us to live in the moment - allowing us to relive the wonder of each new sight, smell, sound and person. They challenge the limits of our patience (OH how well a 2-year-old can do this), and they challenge our perceptions of ourselves in profound ways.

After the story was over, we stopped at the grocery store and Robbie ran in with Emerson to pick up a few things. I pulled out Fionn to feed him, and then propped him up in my lap to look around. It was dark except for the parking lot lights and raining softly. I focused on being present for this moment, noticing how the water running down the windshield reflected on Fionn so that his face looked like a moving sea. I noticed how clear his violet eyes seemed, how sweet his perfect bow-shaped lips were, how much I loved the soft gurgling and cooing noises he made.

Then Robbie swung open the back door, the overhead light blasted the scene with a harsh yellow light, and a screaming Emerson plopped into his car seat. He was overly-tired and apparently not placated by anything we could offer, so we listened to him scream the rest of the way home and well into the bedtime routine.

Zen masters indeed. Children certainly have the potential to teach and challenge, but I'm afraid that when it comes to my own little Bodhisattvas, I'm no where near Nirvana.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Part 2 - A Green Easter

As I recently mentioned, I am one of THOSE people right now, so naturally I decided the Easter Bunny was going green this year. We hosted an Easter egg hunt and lunch for our friends and family at our new house, which meant I could impose my wonderful idea on everyone else as well.

Nothing terribly fascinating happened at the party (ok, maybe one slightly interesting thing, but that's not my story to tell) - we had a wonderful meal with wonderful people

Emerson and his little friend Keagan perfected their egg-hunting skills

the adults had a successful (albeit less competitive than in previous years) egg hunt for themselves; Robbie got an excuse to use a blowtorch in the process of glazing the ham; and he took home the egg-cracking game championship

I promised some people that I would share what green ideas I found, so here's a rundown of what I did:

(This blog had a lot of good suggestions)

For plastic eggs, I reused several from previous years as well as purchased a big bag of second-hand eggs from a thrift store that should give me enough to last a long time.

I purchased baskets from the Salvation Army for the kids and for decorations.

Instead of traditional candy, I opted for some organic fruit-based gummi bears and jelly beans from Whole Foods. While I missed my sweet sweet Peeps, the organic candy was incredibly good. I also filled some eggs with fun-size Fair Trade chocolate bars.

For the kids, I filled some of the eggs with candy and other eggs with a coupon for a prize. I chose some little inexpensive instruments from Ten Thousand Villages, reusable water bottles, stickers, and some re-gifted small toys. Other great ideas I've heard from parents recently include homemade bubbles, sidewalk chalk, pocket change, homemade play dough, homemade baked goods, etc.

For the adults, I tried a complex system that would have worked except some last-minute cancellations sort of threw the whole thing off. Basically everyone ended up going home with a small prize, which included things like: Natural Home magazine, seed packets, reusable grocery totes, large Fair Trade chocolate bars, natural soap, etc. The only non-green item was a bottle of Chocolate Stout, but I suppose if I hadn't run out of time I could have made that better by getting a local label.

For food, we bought mainly organic (I won't lie, the half ton of velvetta cheese in my mom's famous au gratin potatoes doesn't even qualify as real food much less organic, but it was for the sake of tradition). The best part was the ham, which we managed to find locally from a meat hawker at Eastern Market.

Today I was reminiscing with my mom over the phone about Easters past and she reminded me of a couple more ideas I'm going to try in the future. One was to dip a cut-out of a bunny paw print in brown or white washable paint and "walk" the prints up and down tile floors or cement walkways so it looks like the Easter Bunny truly did visit. I know I have friends who will consider this traumatizing and/or twisted, but my mom did it for me and my sister as kids and we thought it was amazing.

She also once made us biodegradable baskets by inflating a balloon and then wrapping a large ball of string around it until it was coated. Then she covered the whole thing with sugar water and let it harden. Like papier mache, she popped the balloon and then cut out a hole so it looked like a giant Easter egg that could be filled with candy and other goodies.

These ideas only reinforce two things I know about my mother:

She is very crafty
She never slept

I hope everyone had a wonderful Passover/Easter/Spring Solstice!

Easter Weekend - Part 1

Saturday morning was one of those mornings. You know, the kind where it's physically painful to peel your eyelids open and you keep coming up with seemingly logical reasons why you should continue to hit the snooze button. Until you finally come to and realize that not only are you now late, but those "logical" reasons for sleeping were actually jibberish.

Our best intentions were to arrive at the Georgia Street Community Garden's Easter event an hour early so I could get some quality volunteer work in. Unfortunately, by the time we dragged two equally sleepy and stubborn children out of bed, got them dressed and sunscreened, and drove the hour to Detroit, that hour was long shot.

Luckily we at least arrived in time for the event, which was an egg hunt followed by breakfast and entertainment. Their version of a small child's egg hunt was brilliant - scatter eggs in an open field and let them go at it. Emerson, still sleepy and grumpy, was clearly wondering why the hell we were making him stand in the cold and pick up plastic eggs. After a couple of demonstrations, he dutifully placed two eggs into his basket, declared "all done" and climbed back into Robbie's arms.

The organizers did a great job arranging gift bags for all the kids along with eggs full of candy, so even a handful of eggs was more than enough for him. He protested when we sat him down to inspect his haul, but then I bit into a jelly bean and put it in his mouth. It was like a drug addict getting his first hit.

"Mmmmm." he crooned, pink drool oozing down his chin.

And thus he became an instant fan of Easter.

The best part of the event was meeting the people involved with the Garden, such as the founder Mark "Cub" Covington. He's one of those people who just exudes warmth - the kind of person you can instantly believe in. He rushed around greeting visitors, handling event minutiae and giving interviews to the local press, keeping a smile on his face all the while.

We also met Tammy, a board member and volunteer for the Garden. She told Robbie about their new community center across the street - a vacant storefront that until recently had served as a haven for crack addicts and prostitutes. In fact, as they were cleaning it up for its new purpose, they apparently found one such prostitute inside and had to literally run her off.

We also met countless other volunteers and supporters who only reinforced the kind of energy and creativity that can be found in Detroit. My measly contribution to the event was to stir some pancake batter (and even that I managed to botch by spraying myself and a sleeping Fionn with said batter), but I'm looking forward to getting my hands dirty in the garden this summer.

Robbie made several friends when he attempted to teach some boys how to fly a kite. I walked up just as it soared triumphantly into the air...before swan diving into the closest tree. They managed to get the now mangled carcass down and Robbie pulled out his best Macgyver moves, replacing a broken bar with a twig. The boys' commentaries during all this had us rolling with laughter.

When we got home, Robbie started brainstorming ways to get involved with their outreach programs for kids. I hope he does it - his ability to connect with kids is one of the reasons I adore him.

After the event wound down and Emerson was practically comatose, we drove around getting to know the area better. Several minutes passed and it became clear that Emerson was not going to sleep (probably due in large part to the high amount of sugar he consumed), so we stopped by Eastern Market. We've wanted to go to this ever since we moved to Michigan, but our track record for getting up early on Saturdays is less than stellar.

Now I realize the trip is well worth the lost sleep. Even though it was a smaller winter version, tons of shoppers and vendors packed into a giant shed and spilled out into the walkway. You can buy everything there: vegetables, fruits, honey, meats, herbs, lotions - you name it.

More than anything I loved the visual spectacle of it all - a hefty woman wearing the gauzy white bonnet of a Mennonite selling freshly baked pies and breads...young men bellowing out the prices for asparagus and strawberries like carnival barkers...Easter lilies and hydrangeas lined up like soldiers, their heads nodding softly in the breeze.

We got some things for Easter dinner and some apples for Emerson to snack on, but we're looking forward to going back next month for garden supplies and even more local food.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing day. Now if only I can remember that on future weekend mornings so I can ignore the voice in my head that whispers "reach for the snooze."

Another side of Orson Welles

Monday, April 13, 2009

PLEASE read this book

If you find it wasn't worth the fast read, I'll personally come to your house and clean your toilets...or whatever else you might have done with that time. Within the bounds of decency of course.

the website: Ishmael


One of the great new traditions in Ann Arbor is an annual parade in honor of April Fool's Day called FestiFools. The parade features giant puppets made by UM art students - in addition to Townies willing to dress up and join in.

This year we went with Robbie's ex-cousin-in-laws (don't ask me to explain) and their four kids: Cadence, Lake, Pace and Tate.

Despite being a gray and wet day, the turnout was huge and the older boys had a blast getting random things handed to them like a rotting eggplant from a man dressed up eggplant. Emerson unfortunately could care less about parades, so he spent half the time eating crackers in his new wagon and the other half asleep on Robbie's shoulder. The best laid plans...

After the parade, we stopped by a friend's house to introduce the older boys to their chickens. The boys reached out a tentative hand to stroke their honey-colored feathers, then chased them into their chicken coop giggling madly all the time. They eventually added a chicken feather and freshly laid egg to their eggplant and candy from the parade, so they were proud of their eclectic loot.

Emerson could care less about the chickens, but he did enjoy being pulled around in his wagon like a little sultan in a gilded carriage.

Of course, Robbie had to pimp out the wagon with some carefully chosen bumper stickers:

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Cheating Death, Cheating Life

Last night I got home from school at eleven and found a red-eyed, sniffling Emerson waiting for me at the front door. Apparently he had been crying for me for the last ten minutes, so I bent down to give him a kiss and listened to the string of babble that was the story of his evening. Then he wrapped his body around me in a koala hug and I carried him upstairs to bed.

After we giggled our way through a couple of books, I turned off the lights and snuggled in (we always stay in his bed until he falls asleep). As I lay there - listening to his breath get slower and feeling his cold feet poke around for a warm spot in the crook of my knees - I couldn't stop the stream of thoughts rolling through my head.

I thought about the NPR story I heard on a man who successfully predicted many of the major modern technological advances (such as the internet) before they happened. His prediction for our future now is that by 2045, humans will have merged with their technology and we will likely be able to overcome death itself. A lot of this prediction is based on computers so small they can go inside our brains and even blood streams, which - according to him - we are not far from right now.

I thought about the class on ending oppression I had just been in - especially the image of my teacher with his arms stretched out in a circle as he said, "This is the pie. When you get a raise at work, you praise God. But in order for you to have more of the pie, someone else has to have less. Your wealth is putting poor people in an early grave, do you think that's what God wants? How far are you willing to go to keep the poor from heading to early graves?"

(And keep in mind this is at the conservative ecumenical seminary in Detroit, not my liberal school in Chicago.)

I thought about the book I was reading on the environment. Even though it was written 10 years ago, it warns of the current ecological crisis and the disastrous results of waiting too long to make changes to save the ecosystem. I wonder if the author has keeled over from a coronary after witnessing what's unfolded in the 10 years since he published this book?

When I think about all these things, I can't help but feel humanity is like a ball catapulted into the air. In the history of the world as we currently know it, our existence has been short and our rise fast. And like a ball, we seem to be gathering speed with time. But now we are nearing the end of the arc, we are about to reach impact. What I don't know is whether that impact will be in the form of a positive, peaceful revolution of sorts, or something...catastrophic.

I am no philosopher by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm struggling with these ideas and feelings because laying in the blue glow of a toddler's nightlight, watching his dinosaur pajamas softly rise and fall, I feel completely responsible for bringing him into this world. I feel completely responsible for ensuring I did everything I could to create a future worthy of him and his brother...and every other child in the world who has parents watching them sleep and worrying about their future.

And yet I don't know what to do. I do things in fits and starts...I get motivated, inspired, energized...then I get discouraged, lazy, complacent.

Right now I am struggling to stay somewhere around the energized part of this cycle, which means I am being extremely annoying and self-righteous to everyone around me. Hopefully they will be patient with me and try to see what I see:

A tiny hand wrapped around my one finger. Holding on tightly....expecting.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday Musings

When I was in the eighth grade, I had a geometry teacher named Art Hunter. He was a tiny man in his 60's or 70's with cheerful eyes and a head of thin gray hair cropped into a military buzz cut. I'm not sure how it started (and I won't venture a guess in case someone incriminates my memory), but somehow I started writing a daily quote on the white board at the beginning of each class. I don't know how this started, but I do know why I kept doing it - it had the double benefit of getting him to share witty stories and his thoughts on life, as well as taking up much-hated math time.

By the end of the year, I knew very little about geometry, but a lot more about life thanks to Mr. Hunter. In addition to discussing quotes each day, he had a host of memorable nick names for me, including "squints" (this is when I discovered my contact prescription wasn't strong enough), "veg-head" and "carrot-top" (he found endless joy in teasing me about being a vegetarian), and Cassiopeia (along with thousands of other variations on my name). I adored that man.

I sometimes wonder if he's still around my hometown, but seeing as he was already advanced in age in middle school, I'm afraid to do research and discover he has passed away.

I'd prefer to imagine him still out there, teaching and teasing another class of students. And in honor of him, I thought I would randomly share some interesting quotes as I find them.

Here's one I've been chewing on today, from Martin Luther King's sermon entitled "I See the Promised Land," given on the eve of assassination:

It's alright to talk about "long white robes over yonder," in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's alright to talk about "streets flowing with milk and honey," but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's alright to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

After the Apocalypse or An Ode to D-Town

When President Obama made his speech about the fate of the American automotive companies, I listened with great interest since I live in Michigan and nearly everyone here is affected by them one way or another. A few minutes into the speech, however, some household duty distracted me and I went into the other room.

Almost immediately, I felt the insistent tug of tiny hands pulling my pant leg. I sighed and followed Emerson back into the living room, assuming he wanted help with some dysfunctional toy or something to eat that he shouldn't be eating. Instead, he dragged me over to the television and then resumed watching the rest of Obama's speech with intense 2-year-old interest. I guess he didn't appreciate my lapse in judgment.

The first time I came to Michigan, it was on a cross-country trip from Salt Lake City where Robbie and I met, to his school in Flint, Michigan. After hours of driving through the steamy, languid southern states (we had gone through Texas and Memphis so I could meet his friends and family) I woke up in Michigan, uncomfortably aware of the temperature drop. Despite the fact that spring was in full effect at the beginning of April in most parts of the country we had been in, winter still had its icy fingers wrapped tightly around Michigan.

After a bleary-eyed conversation with his grandma (who's house we were staying in - he would never let me sleep in Flint), we were off to see one of the great wonders of the state: a coney island. For those not in the know, this is a hybrid of greasy diner and greek restaurant that pop up in various forms throughout the state. In the morning, it means a dingy storefront filled with the smell of pancakes and cheap coffee. At night, they are a haven for 20-somethings to gather and eat off their night of drinking with chili cheese fries and gyros (it's counter-intuitive, but it works). As a fan of breakfast foods - especially cheap breakfast foods - I consider these restaurants to be one of the best features of this fair state.

Anyway, sitting in a coney island for the first time, I looked around at the well-worn faces of the regulars and thought: "This is a state of real, hard-working, down-to-earth people. This is the state for me."

When I recounted this story to a co-worker a couple of years later, she laughed and said, "Yeah, everyone starts out thinking Michigan is full of salt-of-the-earth people. Then you quickly realize they are just dumb-asses."

I admit, I laughed at this comment because by then, Michigan had long ago lost its luster. We lived in a string of metro-Detroit suburbs and realized that we were most definitely not suburban people. The endless, run-down strip malls combined with Michigan's interminably gray weather had me in a deep funk. Not to mention that the reality of Michigan's economy settled in when I went from being a PR person for Utah's biggest non-profit to a secretary for the University of Michigan. And it took me two months to find that job.

Like Tom Jones, I wanted to go home:

(Incidentally, this must be what a music video looks like for a professional karaoke singer.)

Despite my growing disgust, I was determined to defend Detroit and Michigan as a whole against outside detractors. When my best friend came up from Illinois to visit, she was terrified of even driving in the state by herself because she imagined it must all be like the movie "8 Mile." Not only did I have to talk her out of this, I decided I had to take her on a tour of Detroit to show her that it did have many good points.

I told her about my plans on the phone before she came, and she was very alarmed to say the least. "You know, my friend heard that there was a hammer killer going around Detroit beating people to death with a hammer when they got out of their cars to get gas," she told me.

I laughed hysterically. "That is ridiculous! I promise you, I have never heard of a hammer killer in Detroit," I assured her.

I knew our trip to Detroit was doomed when we pulled into a coffee shop on the way there and my friend immediately pointed out a newspaper for sale that had the headline "HAMMER KILLER CAUGHT."

"Well," I stammered, "He was caught wasn't he? So there's nothing to worry about."

The trip only got worse when I let my husband drive. He can navigate himself out of any situation - unless it involves driving in Detroit. Instead of showing her all the artistic and historical high points of the city, we ended up driving in circles through the most desolated neighborhoods imaginable.

Finally, we gave up and took them to swanky Birmingham a 15-minute drive away. My friend's husband, who had fallen asleep during the drive (apparently unaware that his wife was fearing for her life) woke up as we pulled into Birmingham's glittering downtown. He blinked several times and looked around in confusion. "Did we drive to another state?" he asked.

Since this escapade, I have traveled through more of Michigan's wild beauty up North and along the coasts. I have started attending an ecumenical seminary in downtown Detroit, which has introduced me to the strength and diversity of the people who live and minister in the city. And we have moved from the suburbs to Ann Arbor to be closer to our jobs. In Ann Arbor, we finally found our yuppie, hippie-lovin' utopia. I can write several more posts about this city alone, but for now let's just say that if I could move in an ocean, Ann Arbor would be heaven on earth.

All these events combined have led me to a renewed love of Michigan.

Watching the local news coverage after Obama's speech, I could hear the anguish and frustration of people who have been dealing with an economic apocalypse long before it made national headlines. When you walk through downtown Detroit, the crumbling buildings and deserted streets echo the apocalypse feeling.

Yet despite all this, I can't help feeling optimistic and even excited about the state's future and Detroit specifically. I know that coming from an upper middle-class Ann Arborite, that means absolutely nothing, but it's how I feel. Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to mobilize the creativity and passion needed to make major changes. And since Detroit hit bottom first, the eyes of the country are turning back to Detroit to see what efforts are in place to rebuild. And there are many efforts - from artists moving in and creating art out of destruction, to locals creating community gardens on vacant lots that not only provide fresh, local food for the surrounding poor neighborhoods, but also help green the city and bring up house prices.

If you are local, check out these two great organizations and get involved:
Georgia Street Community Collective
Michigan Land Bank

If you aren't local and want to see some amazing pictures and read equally incredible stories about Detroit - from packs of wild dogs to artist communities to deserted schools full of supplies left to rot - check out Sweet Juniper.

I don't "wanna go home" anymore - I do feel at home in Michigan now. And even more exciting (this is where I really cheese it up), if I make time to get involved, I can be part of something big. A new way forward. A new definition of growth.