Saturday, June 27, 2009

When Momma's Happy....

My parents gave me the best gift in the world.

Free time.

For the past two days, I've had 6 glorious hours each day to go to the UU General Assembly by myself. I got to ride the train downtown and instead of wrangling children, I was able to just sit and observe the world around me. I watched the long stretch of businesses and industrial sites that line the train track whir by - many covered in murals and graffiti. (My favorite was a Diego Rivera-esque mural of iron workers that someone had spraypainted with the phrase "When you burn down paradise, you can blame it on progress.")

I noticed the glittering squares of compacted scrap metal at the recycling center, the thick patches of thistle weeds blooming misty purple, the woman in the seat next to me trying to hide three squirming kittens down the front of her shirt.

I was able to get ready by sunscreening or pinning down squirmy bodies to put pants on. I walked from place to place without 50lbs of children to haul around with me. I got to eat lunch with my classmates and feel like a seminarian again - an intelligent adult who can carry on a conversation and finish a meal without being interrupted.

In short, it was heaven.

When I got home the first night, I told my mom, "I really need to find a way to get more alone time. I'm such a better mom when I come back."

Then I proceeded to put my child in the bathtub with his diaper on.

It took me several minutes before I noticed the giant swelling mass barely clinging to his body. He looked up at me with an expression that clearly said, "What the hell, mom?"

So maybe I'm not a more alert mother....but a happier one.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

My Animals

I'm always on the hunt for books with simple pictures to help the boys, and I just came across one at Pottery Barn of all places. It's called My Animals by Xavier Deneux and has adorable black and white images worthy of hanging on the wall. It also has a hole in every page, which is a strange touch, but Emerson loves exploring each one:

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Indoctrination Has an Upside

Ch-ch-ch-changes.....Amidst everything else going on with Emerson right now, we are trying to get him to give up his bottle addiction (Robbie finds it humiliating - I could care less except that he's chewing through a $7 nipple every week) and we are beginning the dreaded potty training journey. I was feeling a little overwhelmed at my growing list of motherly duties, so I looked to Barnes and Noble for some outside support.

After scouring the shelves for several minutes while Emerson overcame his fear of Thomas the Train in order to play on the train set, I found two perfect books: No More Bottles for Bunny! and Once Upon a Potty.

Luckily, he LOVES his new books. When Bunny proclaims that bottles are for babies and tosses his bottle into the trash, he eyes the illustration with a mixture of fascination and trepidation. But I have noticed a drop in the number of times he asks for the bottle each day.

The potty book has an equally interesting picture of "poo-poo" in the potty, which he turns to again and again while sitting in the bathroom. The only thing that bothers me about the book (besides an uncomfortably graphic picture of "Joshua's little hole") is that the potty looks like a water pitcher. But whatever, it's doing the trick.

Since these books have been a success so far, I'm going to move onto others that I saw on the shelf, like Hands Are Not for Hitting, Teeth Are Not for Biting and Feet Are Not for Kicking. As he gets older, there's also the dinosaur series: How Do Dinosaurs Clean Their Room?, How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food? and How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? Hopefully he likes dinosaurs.

I figure if indoctrinating my children with books works, I'm going to write a series of them for the teen years and beyond. With titles like Once Upon a Curfew, How Do Teens Pay for Their Own College?, No More Living in Mom and Dad's Basement for Hippo, and Parents Are Not for Putting in Nursing Homes, it's sure to be a success.

I know, I'm hilarious. Now back to researching potty training....

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Never have truer words been spoken (or I guess written in this case). My friend recommended this book long ago and I am just now getting to read it - thanks to my parents acting as built-in babysitters, chefs and maids. (Although even with all their help, we all collapse into bed at 10 every night and I only read one chapter before passing out).

This books discusses what has become a popular topic lately among bloggers and pop culture writers: how freakin' hard it is to be a mom. This isn't new news, but I'm glad to see that women are becoming more honest about their lives and trying to help each other rather than judging each other.

I've been thinking a lot about this topic because if anyone is convinced that they are the world's worst mother, it's me. I don't say this to get a bunch of emails and comments praising me, honestly. In fact, whenever I get a new reader to this blog, I'm surprised at how often they tell me: "You seem to have it all together."

To which I can only reply: Who's blog are you reading?!!!

The other day, after dragging my screaming children to early intervention late once again and then losing the only remaining pair of medical sunglasses left (I lost the first pair the week before), I asked Emerson's coordinator if we could have a talk. She was helping me lug the lightbox the visual teacher had just given me to my car and then we stood in the rain talking. I told her that we were concerned Emerson might have another condition besides low vision that was causing him to have so many delays.

This was due to several factors: the new VT hadn't noticed a correlation between low vision and developmental delays in her years of experience, many of the other children with albinism we've met haven't had delays or their delays haven't been as severe, and Fionn (so far) hasn't had the same kind of delays.

The coordinator pondered this for a moment and then said, "Well, I haven't noticed anything about him that would indicate he has another condition. He just seems like a typically developmentally delayed child."

My heart leapt. "So he'll just grow out of it in time?"

"Maybe. Or he'll be delayed for life."

My heart plopped out onto the wet asphalt with a sickening thwump.

She continued, "The difference is whether or not he continually progresses. Many kids leap forward all of sudden when they start preschool and others don't. If he doesn't, that means it's a lifelong issue."

Just then we heard a crunch as two harried parents trying to get their minivans out of the parking lot behind us crashed into each other. Between that and the gray drizzle, I couldn't wrap my head around what she was saying.

She went on to say she would talk to the other teachers and get some second opinions, but in my head I was visualizing the "special ed" preschool class we had visited a couple of weeks beforehand since he will start in January. The class was full of subdued children with perpetually runny noses - and every degree of handicap was represented. On the one hand, I knew that having him in special ed would relieve the pressure on both of us since he can't speak and therefore function in a regular class. On the other hand, nobody wants to admit their kid has to be in special ed. And now here was this woman telling me that it could be lifelong. That word feels like a baseball bat in the stomach.

I've done research since then and have come up with a wide array of "labels" to get at what might be going on with him: sensory processing disorder, language learning disorder, language delay, and (hardest of all) slight mental retardation. Only time will tell which one is the case, but right now none of them seem to fit exactly.

Robbie finds it hopeful that the coordinator doesn't recognize a condition and that none of these labels fit perfectly. I understand where he's coming from, but on the other hand I want a label so that I know what's going on and what to do about it. I see people watch him with questions in their eyes: why doesn't he like certain textures? why doesn't he talk? why does he seem less mature than other kids his age? But I don't know the answer any more than they do. And that makes me feel like a shitty parent.

Here's the reality: I took all the prenatal vitamins and herbs, did yoga and meditation, had a natural, unmedicated birth, slogged through breastfeeding problems determined to keep nursing, coslept, did cloth diapers, nursed for a year, made him homemade organic babyfood, still feed him a vegetarian and mostly organic diet, analyzed and researched the hell of out every vaccine, agonized over soymilk vs. cow's milk, made sure I introduced the right foods at the right times and didn't use antibacterial soap so he wouldn't get allergies, I took him to playdates and classes and early intervention...the list goes on and on. But in the end, I still gave him genes that caused low vision and delayed development and a severe peanut allergy.

What's even worse is that despite everything, he is a sweet and loving little boy who - because of the lot he's been dealt in life - needs even more patience and affection from his parents. But instead of giving him that, I agonize and feel guilty and lose my patience and generally hate the job of motherhood 95% of the time. And that makes me feel like a shitty parent.

I desperately hope that someday Emerson will be a highly functioning member of society and we will laugh at the idea that we ever worried about him. But in the meantime, I will keep popping Zoloft and sign Emerson and I up for "Mommy and Toddler Yoga" class.

Most importantly, I need to tell that perfect image of motherhood I dreamed of before I actually had kids to hit the road. I will proclaim it from every mountaintop if it helps any other moms: My children are special needs and I am a shitty mom...but we're going to get through it together.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Utah or Bust

We survived the 8 hours of travel and made it to Utah in one piece! My mind is heavy right now from staying up late to research speech disorders, so instead of being a Debbie Downer (wah wah), I'll post some pics from our trip so far:

Fionn, post first haircut

Cousin Jackson tries to explain to Emerson why he should want to crawl into this cave at the dinosaur museum.

Fionn takes in the sights at the museum

Trampoline antics (That platinum blonde is my sister- not Emerson and Fionn's secret birth mother. Despite what she tries to tell strangers.)

In the swing of things

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Boy and His Bike - A Girl and Her Trike

If you are my mother, just save yourself the heartache and stop reading now!

So, thanks to this post from Sweet Juniper, my husband finally got his way and made us into a biking family. I've been holding out on his pleas to get us all biking, but once he saw Dutch's "popscycle," I could tell by the glint in his eye that I had lost the battle for good.

My objections to biking were twofold: first, I don't like the idea of carting our children around with nothing but a foam and plastic helmet between them and the rest of the world speeding by. Second, I completely lack the balance and coordination to ride a bike.

I grew up riding bikes all the time - it was the ticket to freedom for every suburban child. In fact, one of my favorite pictures shows me riding my infamous "Dusty Rose" pink bike while wearing a ruffled pink dress. The image is nothing but a pink blur with a horizontal brown smudge that represents my long hair streaming behind me.

However, occasionally my coordination handicap got the best of me. One time I was riding down the sidewalk and I just...fell. I didn't hit anything, wasn't startled. I just fell. Now add on top of that being out of practice riding a bike for 15 or so years, and you have a disastrous combination.

Despite my well-reasoned concerns, Robbie was on the internet searching for a bike for me within seconds. (He is on his third bike from Craigslist and the first two never saw the light of day.)

As I watched helplessly, I saw a picture that intrigued me. "That's what I want - a bike with three wheels!" I blurted out. "That seems much more stable and safe."

Robbie laughed. "First of all, if it has three wheels, it's a tricycle, not a bicycle. And second of all, those are for old people."

"No it's not! I've seen people riding them around town," I retorted.

This really got him laughing. "Yes, because we live right next door to a retirement center!"

I rolled my eyes and left the room, not wanting to waste my energy. When I came back, he had Craigslist open and was searching for tricycles. To both our surprise, a brand new post advertising a "bike with a third wheel - $50" immediately popped up. Now Robbie was really on fire.

"I'm going to call him first thing tomorrow and set up an appointment to see it."

I hoped he would forget about it overnight. He did not.

When he came home from work the next day, he announced we were taking a family trip to middle-of-nowhere Michigan to see this contraption.

"What did the man say when you called about it?" I asked.

"He said: 'It's in good condition. It' know...for old people.'" Robbie couldn't even finish the sentence without laughing.

Apparently he told his co-workers that we were going to look at a tricycle and one man said, "Don't make her buy a tricycle. That's just mean." Robbie tried to explain to him that I WANTED a tricycle, but the man didn't believe him.

Suffice it to say, by the time we pulled off a rural highway and into the seller's yard, I was mortified.

The seller was a middle-aged guy typical of rural Michigan (he was no Farmer Mike, though). We'll call him John.

Apparently it was his sister's bike, but she had become too old and frail to ride it. So I guess tricycles are only for sort of old people. Or really old people in really good shape. Anyway, John motioned to the wooden garage and there stood the three-wheeled, maize and blue beauty.

"Take it for a ride if you want," he offered.

"It's actually for my wife, so I'll let her try it out," Robbie said, clearly stifling laughter. When John looked confused, Robbie continued. "She's afraid of regular bikes."

It's hard to regain one's dignity in a situation like this, so I did a mini circle with the trike and called it good. John, however, wasn't satisfied.

"No, no. Take it outside and ride it as far as you want."

I begrudgingly peddled into his tiny driveway and then veered dangerously toward the garden. Within a couple of seconds, I was stuck on some rocks and had to get off to push it out. I could hear Robbie and John talking behind me all the while.

"She can drive it on the highway if she wants. It might be easier," John offered.

Robbie was downright gleeful by now. "She's too scared to ride a regular bike, so there's no way she's going to ride on a busy highway!"

I made my way back to them and tried to close the deal as quickly as possible. I thought Robbie could just throw it into the back and we'd be off again, but apparently a tricycle takes up a lot more room than you might imagine. Robbie had come prepared with straps and had a plan to tie it to our roof.

I was more than doubtful about this, but we were stuck now. John looked equal parts doubtful and amused, but he said nothing. Several minutes later, this giant hunk of metal was perched on our car and strapped down. As we waved goodbye, I called out to John, "If you hear about a horrible accident involving a tricycle, it's probably us."

He snorted and shook his head in amazement as we pulled away.

The slow, painful drive home was made worse by the deafening hum of straps in the wind and the constant fear that a tricycle was going to bounce off our car and into someone's windshield. As we made our way, I also noticed what a strange shadow we made, bouncing up and down the fields on either side of us.

We did eventually make it home without incident, thanks to Robbie's ingenuity. I immediately tried to take it on a ride around the block, but only made it to the end of the street before feeling so humiliated that I turned back. I let Robbie ride it for a while and the sight of him only confirmed that you cannot have any dignity while riding an overgrown tricycle.

The second trip out, I rode while Robbie pulled the boys in their wagon. I was just discussing which hand signals to use for turn signals when a man in a vespa pulled up behind me. We immediately came to a stop sign, so I did the left hand turn signal I just learned and made a drunken swerve to the left. I could hear the man on the vespa chuckle and say sweetly, "It's ok, that's the way to do it."

If I hadn't already felt like a 3-year-old, that certainly would have done it.

When Robbie returned to work that Monday, several co-workers asked him "Did you do some triking this weekend?" And then burst out laughing. Robbie found it just as amusing, but he was also a little jealous of my new wheels. So at least in that sense I was vindicated.

Meanwhile, he began collecting bike seats and helmets for the kids to make this a truly family affair. We realized too late that a tricycle is not made for the kind of seats that hook on, so both of them ended up on Robbie's bike. I decided my job was to ride behind them and absorb the blow of cars and/or carry cargo in my giant basket.

Finally, last night we took our first official outing as an entire family:

(Do you hear that? It's the sound of my mother hitting the floor after fainting from fright. I knew she would ignore my warning and keep reading.)

The good news is that the boys loved it. Emerson had to be dragged out of his seat at the end. And I was finally proud of my unique ride. Mainly because a neighbor stopped to admire it for several minutes and never once called it geriatric.

The bad news is that I quickly realized a single-speed bike is not ideal for a city with lots of hills. That became unpleasantly clear when I had to stop and push my bike up 7th street while a grossly overweight man snorted and huffed past me on his bike.

This leaves me with three options:

1) Sink another $75 into a kit that will turn it into a 7-speed tricycle.
2) Take it to the campus bike shop and exchange it for a real bike of equal value.
3) Give myself enormously muscular legs.

Any votes?

Why is nothing ever easy in this house....

Monday, June 1, 2009

School's out for summer!!

My final paper is floating around in cyberspace somewhere and I officially have two months off school! That time is already spoken for by too many things to list, but right now I am focused on a 3-week trip to see my family in Utah. Besides the obvious benefit of seeing my friends and family, there is the added benefit that Robbie gets all that time to work on the house uninterrupted!

Since I leave Friday (send positive thoughts that I will survive a plane ride alone with two babies. Or send some strong tranquilizers), Robbie and I have been working feverishly to finish the garden. I will post pics tomorrow, but I am pretty proud of all we've done so far. And Robbie is especially proud that all the neighbors stop and comment on his artful bed-making skills. I thought two rectangles would be good enough, but apparently not for him.

Speaking of gardening, we recently went to a local farm to get heirloom starters and it turned into quite the adventure.

When we pulled up to "Destiny Farms," we saw a large house that had so many strange additions it was almost Escher-esque. We finally found the owners in a maze of gardens, greenhouses, several chicken coops and a couple of ponds. The husband, Mike, his twin sons and the customer he was currently serving immediately swarmed us as we walked up the garden path. I'm used to questions and comments about the boys' albinism, but these people wasted no time in bombarding us with every question in the book. Besides feeling overwhelmed, I was cringing at one boy who kept jumping up and down screaming, "Their eyes are so cool...I want a baby with white hair! I want one of those!" I knew he meant well, so I didn't say anything, but situations like these always make we wonder how I will react when the boys are old enough to understand. Which for Emerson is coming soon.

Anyway, Mike was exactly the kind of guy I picture when I think of small farmers - missing several teeth, smells like grease and manure, wears faded jeans with holes in the knees, has an easy-going manner and of course, has a look in his eye that suggests he's just a touch crazy. In fact, Mike reminded me of a younger version of my late Grandpa - who once owned his own mish-mash of a house and gardens. That's why, despite his lack of tact, I instantly liked him.

He took Robbie around to see the plants and offered him a wealth of information while I struggled to placate the kids. After we loaded up on plants, his wife took us around to see the chickens, including some amazingly beautiful exotic breeds and a few pheasants.

As we drove home in the milky pink dusk, we talked over our adventures that night:

Robbie: Mike told me that he spent a year in a coma when he was younger.

Cassi: How did that come up?

Robbie: I don't know.

Cassi: Did you ask him why he was in a coma?

Robbie: Yes. His response was, "Well, have YOU ever known anyone whose pituitary was crushed?!"

- pause -

Cassi: That's a very strange response. What are you supposed to say to that?

Robbie: I don't know.

That exchange left me laughing and puzzled at the same time. I'm not sure why, but that story seems to explain a lot about Farmer Mike.

In any case, we'll definitely be back next year.