Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Worry List

Any any given time, I have two children who keep me up nights with worry. I don’t know if it’s because truly two children at a time are experiencing struggles or—more likely—two is all the worry I can handle. This weekend, I abruptly graduated two children who have been languishing on my worry list.

Roscoe has been heavy on my mind this school year. He’s signed himself up for a brutal schedule of overlapping, demanding, and to be frank, soul-stiflingly negative theater rehearsals. And before that was over, he had joined the wrestling team. Because of his theater schedule, he missed the first few weeks of wrestling  practice and so was thrown straight into competitions with almost no experience or training. It was brutal. I couldn’t bring myself to go watch him. (Thanks to Uncle Joe for filling in for me.) In his first match, he was pinned before he knew what hit him. He was pinned again and again. Then about halfway through the season, he attained the distinction of losing matches by points rather than by fall. (Explanation of the scoring rules for high school wrestling here.) 
Roscoe's first match. That's him in black on the right.
Going down.
For his last home competition of the season, Mark and I went to the high school to watch. (I’ll tell you right now that the crowd of parents and friends at a wrestling meet is very different from that at a theater production. The soda and nachos and candy and burgers those people were eating!) When the whistle blew and Roscoe and his opponent locked horns, I felt proud of myself for not cringing or looking away. But as the first period ended and the second began, I noticed that I was having an adrenaline surge that threatened to make me cry or hit someone or pee.
In the third period, Roscoe pinned his opponent.

I never would have imagined myself as the cheering section for a high school wrestler. Nor have I ever been more proud of one of my children. When Roscoe was the team’s worst wrestler, he carried on. When he got his face smashed into the mat again and again, he kept trucking. When he had to put on a singlet, walk out onto the mat, and take a beating in front of a gym-full of spectators, he didn’t worry about his pride or appearance—he just did his best. And by the end of the season, his best had become pretty darn good.

On Saturday, we loaded up the kids again to watch Roscoe at a JV region competition. By the time we arrived, the tournament was almost over. Only one match remained: Roscoe’s. His opponent threatened to pin him twice, but Roscoe muscled his way out of it. He implemented every move his coach yelled to him. And in the second round, he won. Even Betsy clapped and cheered.

Roscoe is one of the most dedicated, selfless, hardworking, focused people on the planet. I’m so grateful he has had a dose of the success that is his due.

Jesse. Oh, Jesse. I haven’t been so much heartsick over him as contemplating his need for professional intervention. He is so creative, engaged, innovative, and precocious. But the gap between his maturity and the mean of his peers seems to be widening. His fits—somewhat appropriate for a toddler or even a preschooler—rage on. His tolerance for structure and instruction remains almost zilch.

But last week I succeeded—or should I say Jesse succeeded—in something I’ve tried several times over the years: Jesse did a chart. Following the footsteps of my dear mommy, I’m all about charts. Charts for chores, charts for behaviors. Whatever I want you to do, or don’t want you to do, I put it on a chart and attach consequences.
All circles filled.
Jesse’s first chart was as elementary as you can get. I sketched it out on a piece of scrap paper. He could earn a smiley face by doing any of three things: Do homework, get dressed for school, and don’t throw a fit. Fill all ten circles with a smiley face and get a little Lego minifigure pack as a reward.

The first no-fit symbol I drew did not meet Jesse's specifications, so he made me cut it out and make a new one. And all this involved screaming. (Which only points up the need for this chart!) Also this chart experienced some water damage.
Normally Jesse refuses to participate in any plan that smacks of behavior modification. But he was on board with this one. He threw exactly one fit in the four days it took him to complete the chart. I'm telling you: that's major progress. We've now created a new chart. It has even more circles to fill, plus an additional way to earn a smiley face. The reward when all circles are filled: A trip to a Chinese restaurant he's had his eye on to get a fortune cookie.
Jesse enjoying the fruits of his labors.
Now that Roscoe's had some success and Jesse's moving in the right direction, I'm working on interventions for their two replacements at the top of my worry list.

Friday, January 27, 2012

After-school Dance Party

He may not graduate from kindergarten...

...but I think he's ready for middle school.

(Notice Logan in the background pursuing his favorite pastime: hassling Mom.)

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Two of my boys are showing the compulsion for research that drives their dad.

Levi has become a huge fan of Greek mythology, now branching into Egyptian as well. He checks out stacks and stacks of books and studies them carefully. For weeks he's been working on the computer writing his own book on gods, heroes, and their adventures. His plan is that he and I eventually collaborate to prepare it for publication.

His recent research interests have also included ankylosaurus and weather patterns. The other night at dinner Levi asked, "Mom, what's your favorite kind of rock?" I began thinking about alternative versus Southern 70s. Then Levi continued, "Igneous, metamorphic, or sedentary?"

Jesse comes to me every few days with a research question. One of his first was when he said kind of wistfully, "I've never seen a real platypus." I think he was thinking about Perry the Platypus on Phineas and Ferb. So we googled photos and videos of real platypuses. Platypi?

Since then we've learned how chickens hatch from eggs and how Sesame Street puppets work. (Jess had come to me with a theory that Sesame Street puppets were robots in costume.)

I, however, did not take the bait on the day Jesse said, "I still don't really understand how babies come out."

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Making 'em fit

Back when Mark and I were each growing up amongst five siblings, a family of eight was only mildly largish. I have nothing against families who opt for a a more streamlined headcount, but I do object to the misconception that you have to have a huge house with a spacious bedroom (plus expensive lessons and electronics) for each child.

Our house is not huge, and there are days when I wish for more elbow room. A bigger dining area, a basement rec room, bigger bedrooms, a writing shack... But I love our home and a part of me is grateful to live a bit more modestly. And generally, all it takes is a little creative thinking to make a small space work well to accommodate all the children you care to have.

Our upstairs bedrooms are very small. (So small, in fact, that we always had to kind of flub our foster care home inspections since the room don't quite have the square footage technically required to house two children.) Haley's bedroom has a set of big, study bunk beds--leaving no room for Betsy's crib. After a few sessions of strategizing, we finally hit on a solution. We took the doors off the closet, put them in the attic, and turned the closet into a nook for the crib.

When my mom came to help when Betsy was born, she helped paint the inside of the closet the same color as the rest of the room. This helps it looks more like a nook and less like a there's-a-baby-in-the-closet. She also sewed the yellow curtain along the top, which hides the boxes of outgrown clothes still stored on the high closet shelf. (More storage under the crib behind the dust ruffle.)

It's a very cute little solution, I think. In fact, once Betsy graduates to the bunk beds, I might install a table inside the closet and turn it into a craft desk for the girls.

Our dining area is probably the most crowded area of the house. We could really use a larger table, but the room is too small to accommodate one. Our table built for six must seat seven, and once Betsy's out of her highchair it'll need to seat eight. Haley and Jesse used to sit at two of these little toddler chairs on one of the short ends of the table. It was a great solution because the chairs were small enough to fit side by side. Now that those two are a bit bigger, the chairs were uncomfortable. So we came up with a new plan to seat eight at our table.

Mark and I bought two dining benches for about $30 each using a Groupon to a local discount furniture store. The benches were made for the long side of the table, so we cut the seat to size before assembling and attaching it to the apron and legs. I mixed white paint into some of the teal paint from my bedroom and painted the seat blue. We sanded the cut edge to match the other curved edges.
Now there's a short bench on each short end of the table. Haley and Jesse sit on one and we've got one slot to spare. Betsy also uses them as a snack table.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Turn on a Dime. Or a cookie.

One, two, three, four, five, I sent people out into this dreary, grey day. Oh the luxury of getting to stay home on mornings like this. By 8:15 it was just Jesse, Betsy, and me in my jammies, finishing our breakfast in the kitchen. Jesse snacked on a little bag of cookies like the ones the kids packed in their lunches. He kept setting two cookies aside and promising to save them for later, but next thing we knew, those two cookies would be eaten and he'd have to get two more from his bag.

As I did some morning Internet surfing, Jesse came and climbed up onto my lap. In no time, Betsy was at my knee wanting to claim her spot. So we hauled her up, Jesse on my lap, Betsy on his. Jesse faked sneezed for Betsy's entertainment, and she tried to follow suit. I wrapped my arms around my two youngest.

It was one of those magical moments of domestic perfection.

Then Jesse realized that he had accidentally eaten the Very Last Cookie.

His dismay escalated into yelling. And threats. My efforts to distract or appease him failed. "YOU HAVE TO GIVE ME ANOTHER COOKIE!" Within moments, I was dragging him kicking and screaming up the stairs. "You don't want to do this," I told him. "You and I love each other." Just then, he landed a karate kick--his form well-honed after all that superhero practice--on my stomach. Now Jesse is locked in his bedroom, occasionally shouting, "ANGRY!" down the furnace vents for my benefit.

It was just like this Huff Post article. The majestic Mount Everest vista out of view for the moment. Back to the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other slog.

(And no, Jesse's behavior is not morally or developmentally acceptable. Our boy is struggling mightily. His behavior in many ways getting worse not better. I'm still holding out hope that he's in one of those awkward phases that precedes a big leap in maturity. While brainstorming Plan B should that big leap not arrive.)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Betsy, 9 and 10 months

This month Betsy has blossomed. She used to be the silent baby whose chuckles were hard-won by dedicated siblings who tickled and danced mightily to pry them from her. Now she babbles and smiles and laughs all the time. She's a busy bee, always grabbing, holding, dropping , moving, crawling, standing. She has a little sense of humor and loves to tease and play. When Logan growls, "I'm gonna get you!" she squirms away in fear and joy.

(In fact, once he said, "I'm gonna get you" and she promptly threw herself over the edge of the couch.)

Just in time for her grandparents' arrival last weekend, she put her to-do list on hyperdrive and started learning a new trick each day. 
She often sits with her knees tucked around her like this. Look at those toes!

Day 1: Crawl down stairs. Those of you with babies know that this is always a tricky one. To crawl down stairs, you have to turn your little self around and put your feet down first. 
Day 2: Walking holding hands. One day her little feet just didn't have that stepping-out action. The next day she was chortling with pride as she pitter-patted herself across the room.
Those plumpy legs and ankles!
Day 3: Speech! She dropped something and said, "Uh-oh." Now she worries "Uh-oooh. Uh-oooh" all day long. Of course she loves to play the gravity game, where she drops something over and over. Fortunately for us, she's willing to do her own pick-up.

She's been working on standing unsupported and standing from the ground (as opposed to pulling herself up on something). I'm sure once she does these, she'll be walking in no time. Betsy is much more a toddler than an infant these days, and so she and I had a little heart to heart. I told her that she could grow up if she would promise that we would be friends forever. She agreed.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Double Header

Saturday was an amazing day for our family. In the morning, Little Miss Haley was baptized.
More pictures to come--Jessica used her camera (and skillz!) for us at key moments and I'm awaiting the files from her--but here's Haley with two of the four grandparents who came to celebrate. Mom made this fantastically gorgeous dress.
Haley was luminous, as you can see. I've written--perhaps too much?--about my struggles as Haley's mother, but the flip side is that my joy over her accomplishments is even more poignant. I'm so grateful that she is living this life in this family, no matter our flaws. Watching her broken wings unfurl and fly makes me very happy indeed.

Later in the afternoon, Roscoe and several of his friends celebrated earning their Eagle Scout awards. Roscoe personifies Eagle Scout values in so many ways. He's handsome and talented, sure. But more important, he desires to do good, to be good, and to keep doing better.
We hired an Eagle show for the occasion.
The best part of the day was all the family members who attended. Here you see my mom, Joe and Jessica, Mark, Haley, Levi, and some of our ward family members. The Flemings, Ken and Vanessa, and the McGee grandparents were also there.
So many people help support and nurture our children. Thanks to you all.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year

Oh my goodness this house was well used over the Christmas break. Huge quantities of food and guests and children and Target bags surged in and out. But it felt like a real holiday, with plenty of rest and festiveness. Today I'm recuperating. Slipcovers have been bleached and washed. Cobwebs knocked down. A million things scattered here relocated to there.

Last night for Family Home Evening, we used this printable--found on Pinterest, of course--to reflect on our year. For me, the most difficult challenge, the greatest accomplishment, and the dearest joy were all one and the same--Betsy. She's been out as long as she was in and if I had to pay one long, horrible day of pregnancy for each day with Betsy in arms, I would.

This year each of the kids needs to grow out of a few things and into a few more. But by the end of 2012 we'll be thisclose to Roscoe graduating from high school and flying the coop. My fondest wish for the year is more of the same.