Friday, November 14, 2014

Third Time's a Charm

Dear Sam,

Three years! Three years you have been in our life! What an emotional, funny, hard, crazy three years it's been. You're like a ball of emotions turned into a little boy. You go from miserable to insanely excited and back again, stopping at every station along the way, about 20 times a day. It's part being a toddler and I think just part you. It's going to be interesting to see what sloughs off as you get older and what sticks around.

This was your first full year of talking. Around people you don't know well you can be quiet and reserved, but at home you have a lot to say. And what you have to say is often weird and hilarious. I think of anyone in our family, you are the most likely to become an entertainer. You love it when we laugh at something you do, and you will do that thing over and over and over until everyone has left the room. And sometimes you'll start incomprehensibly chattering away really fast and then at the end of it you'll crack up at your own joke.

I hope I always remember your scrunchy smile. I don't know if you'll keep it, but it's so cute and funny. If we tell you to "Smile" for a picture you scrunch up your eyes until they're almost closed, crinkle your nose and pull your mouth back into almost a grimace. It looks like this:

You love cars and animals and puzzles. You also love playing the iPad and even though you can recite the rules, "No videos, no shows, no movies," you still try to be sneaky and get them in whenever you have it. Your love affair with milk has no ending in sight and I think if I fed you nothing but milk and crackers (and maybe the occasional ice cream) you'd be perfectly happy.

It's a shame we're not planning any more children, because you LOVE babies. It started with Taylor, shortly before you turned two, and then Beckham a few months later. You always want to hold them and help feed them and if they're crying you'll tell them how it will be ok. You're a wonderful older cousin. I'm sure they'll look up to you.

You're a sensitive soul. One day Ruben was crying on the playground and you went over and knelt down next to him, talked to him and then when you realized your help wouldn't be enough, you ran and got his mommy. Watching your empathy develop is wonderful. Sensitivity has two sides, of course, and it also means you're more subject to your emotions. That's been a learning curve for me as a mother, but I think recently I've been getting better at handling it.

You're also very stubborn. As a baby you wouldn't hold your bottle, period. Now, as a toddler, you won't use the potty. It's been very frustrating for Daddy and me, but we've had to come to accept that you will be potty trained when YOU want to be, not when we want you to be. I foresee some epic battles of wills between us in the future. But I think your stubbornness also translates into perseverance. You don't give up easily. Every morning we walk Ben and Ruben to school, and usually they're off running before we can blink. And there you are running right behind. You're three years younger, so right now you can't keep up, but that doesn't stop you. You keep running until you catch up with them at the corner. It's inspiring.

You started school a couple months ago. Sometimes you say, "I don't want to go to school," before we leave, but when we get there and you see all the toys you're off running. You also started gymnastics class. I feel like this year might be the year you start to get out from Benny's shadow a bit and become your own person. But that doesn't mean Ben isn't still your favorite playmate. Your "Wreck-It Sam" stage seems to be coming to an end, and sometimes you and Ben actually collaborate on a building project. You two also seem to be developing your own language or short-hand. I'll be making a meal and the two of you will be laughing hysterically at the table, but I have no idea why. I definitely feel like you two gang up on me sometimes, but I suppose that's what brothers are for.

One night at dinner I said to Daddy, somewhat exasperated with you, that when you're in a good mood you're absolutely delightful, but when you're in a bad mood it's HORRIBLE. He looked at me rather pointedly and said, "I wonder who that sounds like." You do take after me personality-wise, in a lot of ways. You're still a TOTAL Daddy's boy, but hopefully that'll ease up in the next year, so I can start guiding you in the ways of being sensitive and introverted. I'll be honest, it's not an easy road, but I know what it's like and I'm here to help you.

I love you so much, Sammy and it's like a ray of sunshine on my face when you point your scrunchy smile at me.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hard lessons

Remember that feeling I had that Sam would be harder to potty train? I could not have been more right. For about a month we were trying hard to get him trained, but after a while it became apparent that he just wasn't interested. It was SOOOOOO frustrating because he would barely stay dry or clean for an hour, let alone a whole day. After a few weeks of that we did something that is very hard for Heath and me to do... We admitted defeat. I bought training pants (which are basically diapers masquerading as underwear). At first I intended for Sam to only wear them in public, but now he's wearing them all the time and potty training has ground to a halt. It's a bit demoralizing. I thought we were going to be done with all this nonsense by now. No more diapers! No more diaper bag! *sigh*

It's one of those lessons of parenthood. Every child is different. Every child does things at their own pace. Blah blah blah.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Sam's first day of school

I was a little nervous for Sam's first day of school... Not as nervous as for Ben's, but with Ben it was merely the newness that was nerve wracking. Ben's so outgoing I knew he'd be fine going to school. But Sam's more sensitive than Ben, and I was afraid we might have a different drop-off situation with him. I've seen parents having to walk away from their screaming child at drop-off and always been glad it wasn't me. I didn't know if suddenly I'd be on the other end of that.

However, as a second child Sam has some benefits, as well. He's seen Ben going to school for his entire life and at times he's been very jealous he didn't get to stay and play. So he was very eager to start school and it's been great. We've had exactly zero tears from him, and on the first day he was pretty much the same as Ben. We walked in, said goodbye and he was running off to play with toys. Such a big boy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


Today, while reading an article about a New Yorker's experience on September 11, 2001, the thought struck me: Will Ben learn about 9/11 today? Do they talk about it with kindergartners?

We've never told him, because there's never been a reason. We weren't personally affected by it and it's not exactly a conversation you have with a 3 year old.

But it got me thinking... Ben lives in a pretty nice world right now. He lives in a world without 9/11 and assassinations and Nazis and slavery and all the other atrocities committed throughout human history. But he's going to learn about those things, and probably very soon. If not this year then maybe next. And I want him to learn about them, and think critically about them and become a knowledgeable human being... But... It's just hard imagining my children learning about those things.

Ben's not nearly as sensitive to stimuli as I am, but I remember in 8th grade when we did a whole unit on WWII it was pretty emotional for me. I couldn't - and still can't, really - believe that people would do such unthinkable things for, what? Power? It makes absolutely NO sense to me. And the idea of my children feeling that hurt for people who died long ago... Well, I was going to say I didn't want them to feel that pain, but maybe I do. I want them to be empathetic people, but unfortunately that does mean taking on a lot of pain that's not directly your own.

There are hard conversations in our parenting future and while I don't love the idea of my childrens' innocence being shattered by the reality of how horrible people can be, I do relish the idea that I get to explain how we can be better than that.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Curse of the Second Child

Sam starts preschool tomorrow. He's going two days a week from 9am-noon and he's SO EXCITED. For months every time we passed the church where it's held he'd yell out, "There's my school!"

He was supposed to start last Monday, but the air conditioner broke and wasn't fixed until late in the week. Unfortunately, by the time we found out we'd already started excitedly telling him, "You start school tomorrow!" He was pretty disappointed.

I'm having trouble with this, but not for the usual reasons. With Ben I worried and fretted for months before he started preschool. On his first day I bawled (though, in fairness I was 7 months pregnant). It was the same with Kindergarten, though in a more toned down way. But with Sam I have none of that. I was a little nervous last Sunday, before we found out school was cancelled, but nothing like with Ben. And I'm while not 100% certain, I'm pretty sure I won't shed any tears tomorrow when I drop him off. And I hate that.

I don't want to not be moved by milestones in Sam's life simply because Ben did it first. It seems so unfair to Sam. I suppose in the grand scheme of things it doesn't really matter, because I didn't fret in front of Ben and I didn't let him see me cry on those first days, so to them it's all the same. But it's not to me. I'm no less proud of Sam when he accomplishes things, but I have to admit, sometimes it is a little less exciting. It's his first time, but it's not mine as a mother.

Right now Sam emulates everything Ben does, but once he's tired of being in Ben's shadow I have a feeling he's going to be a pretty different kid. So I will have those moments that are true firsts with Sam. I just don't want him to feel like he got the short end of the stick, and I certainly don't want him to feel like Ben's the favorite.

*sigh* This parenting thing is HARD.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Six in the books

Dear Ben,

This past year wasn't one of our best. You and I clashed a lot. I think I've yelled more in the past year than all my other years of parenting combined. Really, I think it was the alchemy of you, Sam and me together all the time. I didn't get enough time to myself to recharge, you didn't get enough social time, neither you nor Sam got enough of my attention. Everywhere you looked nobody was getting enough of what they needed and everyone was grumpy because of that. Luckily, our savior arrived in the form of Kindergarten. These past few weeks have been wonderful. You get plenty of social time at school, I get plenty of alone time while Sam naps and we're all much happier when we come back together. We get the chance to MISS each other. It's a very strange feeling, missing you. We've spent most of the last six years together. But missing you makes the times we are together all the more sweet. I look forward to picking you up from school and hearing about your day (what I can get out of you, playing 20 questions). Our conversations are getting more interesting as your mind and world expands. And it's just more fun being together. As you get older you'll realize that even the best relationships need some air, and Kindergarten is just about perfect for us.

One of the best things about this year was COUSINS! Taylor and Beckham were born only a few months apart. You're not overly interested in them yet, as they can't keep up with you, but when you do turn your attention to them you're extremely sweet, doling out hugs and kisses. Avery, on the other hand, is becoming a more worthy sparring companion everyday. She runs and jumps and climbs and swings right along with you. And hearing your duet of the Frozen soundtrack in the back of the van was one of the highlights of my year. It makes me so happy that you get to grow up around cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. That is one of the greatest gifts I can give you.

This year brought a couple of big milestones. You took swim lessons all winter and by the time the pool opened on Memorial Day you could SWIM. Like, for real swim. You even passed your swim test and can now jump off the diving board! I'm so proud of your accomplishment, but even better was seeing you proud of yourself. Your other big milestone was riding on a plane all by yourself! You went to visit Oma and Opa in Phoenix. You're becoming so independent and capable.

You completed your last year of preschool in May. You and Ms. Dee Dee formed a tight bond of silliness and energy. She's the first teacher I think you really connected with and it was fun to watch that. I hope you have many more teachers who inspire you like she did. You also played your first year of baseball, with Daddy as the coach! You've been a natural athlete since you were two years old, so I think you're going to enjoy many more years of playing.

Even though we butted heads a lot this year, in between our yelling and crying I could see you maturing. You're emerging from baby/toddler/preschool-hood and becoming someone who can use logic and have patience and be helpful without even being asked (or not throw a fit when you are asked). Even though you've realized you can use your influence with Sam for evil (i.e. telling him to throw toys or make messes or cause chaos), sometimes you use it for good. You encourage him to eat his unwanted food, or help him in the bathroom or put on his shoes. As always, watching your and Sam's relationship develop is a joy of my life.

It's getting FUN to hang out with you. Like, actual fun, not just kiddie fun. We can all go to movies together now. You and I have gone to the Muny and the symphony and to paint pottery and we even went to Six Flags by ourselves once. You can ride rides that are fun for me, too! And we're moving on to chapter books! All summer we spent our afternoons reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (at which you laughed and laughed), Mathilda, Freckle Juice, The Phantom Tollbooth and just last week we started Harry Potter. Harry Potter! One of my favorite book series! It's so exciting to be able to share my favorite things with you.

I'm really looking forward to seeing how Kindergarten molds and shapes you. This year is going to be fun!

I love your pickles and fries,

Monday, August 25, 2014

Welcome to Avery Kindergarten!

Ben started kindergarten almost two weeks ago and so far it's been amazing. I assumed he'd enjoy it, especially once we found out his best friend and another friend from the neighborhood were in his class. I also assumed the transition would be a little bumpy. He's never done a full-day program before, so I was expecting him to be a tired, grumpy mess when he got home from school. However, I've been very pleasantly surprised. Completely unexpectedly, his attitude actually seems to have gotten better. Over the summer there was lots of fighting with Sam and whining and throwing tantrums (yes, even 5 year olds have tantrums now and again), but now that he's in school he's playing nicer with his brother and being fairly cooperative. Nobody's perfect, so of course he still has Moments, but overall he's been very pleasant.

It was a bit baffling to me at first, but when I started thinking about it I realized that he probably just wasn't getting enough extrovert time. Over the summer we were subject to Sam's naps, which meant he spent most afternoons with only me. And by the afternoon I was jonesin' for some introvert time, so more often than not he spent afternoons playing video games by himself. Going to school and being surrounded by classmates for seven hours a day must be like a breath of fresh air for him.

The idea that being in school restores him is ALSO baffling to me, but I'm so glad for it because it allows me to restore, as well. And I think that's the other piece of the puzzle. While Ben gets his extrovert tank filled at school, I get my introvert tank filled at home while Sam naps. So when we finally come back together at 3pm we're both feeling happier and more content, which obviously leads to a more peaceful co-existence. It's lovely.

Another lovely side effect of kindergarten is that it seems to have... opened up his brain. Since about age 4 he's been pretty resistant to us teaching him anything, like reading, math, etc. But now he doesn't seem as annoyed when Heath asks him math questions or I ask him to read something. And the other morning over breakfast he and I had a GREAT conversation. It started with him asking about ice ages and over about 10 minutes it morphed into talking about climate change, the origins of humans, evolution and why people have different skin colors. It was the best conversation we've ever had and it was truly a give and take. It wasn't just me lecturing him. It was amazing and three weeks ago I never would've imagined it.

So Ben is definitely flourishing in school and it's hard for me to express in words how wonderful it is to watch. It fills my heart to see him maturing and growing into the person he will be. It's absolutely amazing.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Master P(ee)

Sometimes you just get a feeling about your child. I had a feeling Sam was going to be harder to potty train than Ben. I'm not completely sure why, but something about Sam's personality was telling me that keeping his underwear dry and clean wouldn't be at the top of his daily agenda.

However, as we approached our three-day potty training boot camp I gave myself pep talks and by Day 1 I was feeling very confident. It worked extremely well with Ben. I had no real reason to expect less from Sam.

On Day 1 Sam had 44 accidents. Part of the reason is because with this method you give them A LOT of liquids, so they have plenty of opportunities to feel their bladder be full. You want them to recognize that feeling and know that means "get to the bathroom."

On Day 2 he had 15 accidents, which was major progress! And he pooped in the potty that morning! Ben didn't poop until the very end of Day 3, but Sam's such a prolific pooper I was hoping he'd learn faster, and he did! We were so excited and proud. He even got up during the night and asked to use the potty! It was working!

On Day 3 he had 9 accidents. More progress! And all of his "accidents" at this point were merely getting his underwear a little wet, rather than peeing outright all over the floor. Plus, the only night he wet his bed was the first night. I was so delightfully surprised he was keeping his bed dry.

Oh, did I mention that Ben was out of town for all of this? So Heath and I could give our full attention to Sam, and he wouldn't be distracted.

Again, I had a feeling that things wouldn't go so smoothly once Ben was on the scene. *Sigh*

Unfortunately for my sanity this time around, Ben was really easy to potty train. After those initial three days, Ben was great. He had completely dry days that first week. He only pooped in his underwear a couple times and to this day I could count on one hand the number of times he's wet the bed. But he also didn't have an older brother distracting him.

It's now been seven days and Sam hasn't had one dry day. We've gone through 4-6 pairs of underwear and shorts a day, which has led to the new rule that if Sam's in the house he's not wearing shorts. And, very unfortunately, he only has about a 50-50 track record for getting poop into the potty.

I'm very proud of Sam because this is a huge change in his life and obviously he has made a lot of progress since the beginning. But it's still exhausting and disgusting and hard. Using this method you go cold turkey with diapers and never look back, so we must soldier onward. I just wish my feelings hadn't been right this time.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Alone time with Sam

This week Ben's in YMCA day camp. It's Art 101, but they also do a lot of traditional camp activities, like swimming, singing and games. He's gone to day camp before, but this year he's going all day, from 8:30am-3:30pm, roughly school hours come August. I think this is the longest amount of time Sam and I have spent together, alone, ever. And I have to say, it's been a delight.

For months now our lives have revolved around the Terrible Twos. Sam has been very whiny and tantrum-y and all listening skills seem to have gone out the window. Unfortunately, Ben's also realized the power he holds over Sam. Sometimes he uses that power for good, encouraging Sam to finish his meals or brush his teeth. But more and more lately he's been drifting to the evil side, merely "suggesting" Sam throw his food or spit at someone. It's been incredibly frustrating and I've found myself yelling more and more, but feeling like I've been accomplishing less and less.

At the beginning of summer I always have these rose-colored glasses, tricking myself into believing we're going to have a fun, sun-soaked summer lounging at the pool and flitting from playground, to outdoor concert, to food truck event. And it never quite works out that way. So even though we'd only had two weeks of summer, I was very ready for Ben to be in camp this week. I needed my quiet afternoons back.

Getting to spend time with Sam alone has been a benefit of camp. He's been so much more pleasant and I think it's because I can actually give him some focused attention. He's never really had that. We can do activities on a two year old level, instead of me having to find something that will entertain a two year old AND a five year old. I get to listen to what he says without someone else talking over my shoulder. He gets to choose all the games and the TV shows and activities, which is completely novel to him. It's been a good week, and I'm looking forward to Ben's next week of camp, in July.

That being said, all day every day Sam's been asking about when we're going to pick up Ben. He's never really known life without Ben for long stretches. The transition to kindergarten might be hard on him, too.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Summer Project

About a month ago, with summer approaching, I started thinking about what we could do everyday. Not just activities all three (or four) of us would enjoy, but something Ben and I could do during Sam's naps. He still naps 2+ hours most days. That's when Ben was at school, so I knew my quiet, alone time was turning into Ben time. He's not exactly a play-quietly-by-himself kind of kid. So rather than caving everyday and letting him play an hour or more of video games, I decided we should do something constructive. A summer project.

So I started looking around online, not entirely sure WHAT I was looking for. A big art project? A summer-long science experiment? Maybe we could make a movie - write the script, gather props, film it. But, honestly, I wasn't that enthusiastic about anything I was thinking of or finding. I'm not a crafty person and neither is Ben. A science experiment could be neat, but I wasn't sure I'd have the energy to keep up with it. Making a movie sounds cool, but is probably a better summer project for when the boys are older.

Thus, summer started and I had no concrete plan for Ben's and my afternoons aside from "play board games." Which we both love, but we only have a limited number of games he's ready to play and even the fun ones would get boring after a while. But then fate stepped in, in the form of Heath's old Roald Dahl and Judy Blume books. Ben has been ravenous to read them, so every afternoon we spend an hour or more reading together. It's so fun! I signed him up for the library summer reading program and we are well on our way to earning him prizes.

I love reading, but I think of it as mostly a solo activity, so I guess that's why I never thought of spending our lazy afternoons with books. But it's become a great way for Ben and me to connect without having to talk endlessly about Super Mario Brothers. And it's so much more fun than doing stupid summer crafts.