Monday, February 27, 2012

The Twins Update - Six Months Old

They're going mobile!

It won't be long now. Leo can get up on all fours like he's about to crawl (check out the video!)

And Zoe is beginning to roll to wherever she wants to go (see how far she got!)

It's going to be a whole new world around here soon. Time to rearrange the furniture again!

They're both really interested in their own toes lately. And each other's. (Another cute video.)

We can't lie them down too close on a blanket without close supervision because they want to grab each other's body parts and pinch and tug. Ears are a particular favorite, but I've seen both of them going for the other's eyes before, too. I tend to allow them to poke and prod each other quite a bit, but I'm not ready for a trip to the ER.

Zoe's favorite physical activity is pushing things with her feet. She'll get both feet positioned against the arch on the Gymini and push it around to shake all the hanging toys. It looks like she is surfing. Her other big thing of the moment is touching faces. It's so sweet how she will reach out towards my face with such curiosity. I've started pointing out body parts to her and she seems interested. In fact, both of them enjoy "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," and "Where is Thumbkin." This month, Zoe has become more smiley. When I walk into the nursery, Zoe bangs her legs on the mattress and wiggles back and forth and it looks like her mouth is going to eat up the rest of her face, the smile is so huge! I really need to get that on video.

Leo can sit up on his own now! If he puts his hands on the floor in front of him, he can sit for about 30 seconds, and with no hands, he can balance for maybe 5 seconds before he topples. As I said, he continues to work on crawling. It's amazing to me how determined he is. It's like he knows what he needs to do, but just isn't physically capable yet. Sam never worked so hard at anything, and Zoe works, but her ambitions are more in line her abilities so she succeeds before driving herself crazy. Leo drives himself crazy, but it does mean that he's doing things sooner than either of my other children. Another great thing Leo does now is that he raises his arms when he wants to be picked up. It's his first "word" in his own sign language. All babies use sign language, whether you teach them ASL or not, you know.

Speaking of sign language, I don't know if I've written here that we are doing it with Leo and Zoe, just as we did with Sam. We've started with only the few, most important words: "sleep," "food," and "more." And I've finally started reading to them. It's ridiculous that it took me so long, but I couldn't figure out how to read to them because I couldn't figure out the physical positioning. I can't hold them both and a book at the same time. And they still topple over on the couch. So I gave up trying to let them see the pictures and just stared reading to them while they're lying in their cribs. They seem to love it, but it's not too fun for me because there is no room for two cribs plus a chair in their room, so I either stand or sit on a little stool. Hopefully when they are sitting up well, we'll do lots of reading on the couch.

Both Zoe and Leo love the exersaucer now. Their feet just reach the base so they can push off and make the whole thing shake and rattle. They love that. But it's getting hard to just lie them or sit them somewhere and expect them to entertain themselves. They're at that awkward stage where they are ready to do more exploring, but are not quite mobile yet. As soon as they can sit up, I can give them the magic box - a shoebox filled with a few household objects or small toys. That was my go-go activity for Sam for quite a while once she was sitting up. Opening the box, exploring each item, and then spreading them around was fun, but she'd also lose things behind her so she had to learn to turn around and reach and develop all those skills as well. I love the magic box. Another activity that will start soon is the jumper - you know, one of those things that hangs from the door-jamb on an elastic so the baby can jump. Sam loved that, too. Leo is probably ready now, but Zoe still needs more back strength. For now, I tend to move Leo and Zoe from place to place during their play-time so they don't get overly frustrated, but of course, allowing them to feel the frustration and work to solve it is part of my parenting method. It just means I have to listen to a lot more whining and groaning now.

Both of them love going out, even if it's just a ride in the car to pick Sam up from school. We do go out more and more, but it's still exhausting for me, lugging around the car seats, getting them in the stroller, etc. With Sam, it was a huge relief when she learned to walk, instead of the endless chasing nightmare that most parents describe. It just meant I had to carry her less. She was happy to hold my hand and walk along with me. Sam walking marked the end of the difficult baby days and the beginning of the most wonderful toddler days. But with two, one of whom is Leo, I don't know how it will be. I won't rule out using one of those baby-leashes (or two) if it makes life easier on me. I think that would be better than sticking both of them in a stroller every time we go out. With Sam, we hardly ever used a stroller once she could walk, and I think it was good for her to get around on her own that way. The leashes look cruel, but they allow the child more freedom than a stroller does. And what's worse: being constrained by a rope, or being constrained by a mommy picking you up every time you stray too far? I know which one is worse for me, and as always, I think our interests coincide!

Half a year. I set my expectations that the first year would be miserable, and so far it hasn't been nearly as bad as I'd expected. Still, I feel relief that I've made it this far. And whenever I feel like these baby days are never going to end and that I'm doomed to a lifetime of menial labor, I have Sam to remind me of what is yet to come. The best.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Exciting Times

I'm overdue for Zoe and Leo's 6 month update, but it will have to wait a few days. They've both been sick, along with the rest of the household. Besides dealing with my first serious round of illness with three children, we've had a lot of other stuff going on around here.

Sam and Adam spent a few days in Florida, visiting Adam's parents. It was too much for them and for us for all five of us to make the trip. Adam's dad is still recovering from the Whipple surgery and subsequent pneumonia he had back in November. The good news is that his cancer markers are in the normal range and he has already beaten the odds for stage-4 pancreatic cancer. The word "remission" has been used by more than one doctor, although nobody will officially call it such. If you look up Jeff's type of cancer, you will see that remission is considered impossible, and we all know the cancer is still there waiting to return, but for now, there is no sign of it. They still have a lot of challenges, but Adam's dad and stepmom are starting to make travel plans again - amazing!

Sam had a mid-winter break from school, so also in the middle of all the illness I had more kids to deal with. My babysitter has an internship that requires that she work weekends and holidays, so with Valentine's Day and President's Day she wasn't around as much as usual. But we made it through and the calendar is much more clear for the next couple of weeks.

Sam's Montessori teacher invited Sam to stay on one more year in Primary - basically repeating kindergarten. I seriously considered it (and if you know me at all, seriously considering something means doing tons of research and teasing out as many implications as possible). It was an attractive idea because we adore Sam's school and we know she is thriving there. There is certainly another whole year's worth of learning she can do in that classroom, and I'm not concerned with her being officially "behind." She has an early birthday and has always been immature for her age. However, we decided against it for two main reasons. First, I really want to start homeschooling just for my own gratification. I've been studying and preparing for this for years now, and I want to do it for my own satisfaction as well as for the benefit of Sam. Second, this first year is our trial-run. I'd rather find out sooner rather than later if it isn't going to work. If it doesn't, the younger she is, the easier it will be for her to go back to a regular school. I hate to even think about that because I can't imagine where we'd send her, but whatever the situation is, I'd rather not delay it another year. (Of course, homeschooling might work for a few years and then become a problem, but we can't plan that far ahead.) There is also the cost of Montessori tuition, but we found that to be not significantly higher than the cost of a part-time nanny for the twins, so it wasn't a big factor.

Now, we're considering hiring an au pair. It would only cost a few grand more per year than a part-time nanny, which we can manage. It would give me time to homeschool and to start actual fiction writing, instead of just compiling story ideas that never go anywhere. It would allow me time to go to the gym and to have doctors' appointments and to take Sam to her activities without having to bring Zoe and Leo along (which is no fun at all). We'd have the same person for a whole year, so I wouldn't have to worry about my help moving on to greater things. And we'd love for the kids to learn another language - probably Spanish. There is only one downside, but it is huge - we'd have another person living in our house. This is a horrifying prospect! But we're considering it. We might start with a nanny over the summer and see how it goes and possibly hire an au pair starting in the fall. But if we do get an au pair, it means we have to rearrange the house, and that's another big project. Sigh.

We did a minor remodel of the fourth and final bathroom - our powder room on the main level. Just a new faucet, mirror, light fixture, and towel rods. We hired a handyman to do the work and of course he ended up coming on the first day of Sam's illness and in the middle of mine. That was not a fun day, but the bathroom looks great.

All the illness pretty much ended breastfeeding. I was so dehydrated I think I just stopped making milk. None of us seem to miss it much. I've tried to feed Leo and Zoe some avocado and banana, but they weren't very interested in that either. But that's the next big project as far as they are concerned.

Our trip to Hawaii is coming up soon, so we need to at least a little bit of planning for that. My parents are coming to town to take care of the twins so it will just be the three of us. I think it's going to feel like a real vacation for me! Adam has to work just one day, and we'll be there for six, so we'll have a lot of time. We decided not to go to OCON in San Diego over the summer, though, which we had originally intended to do. I think we're starting to realize just how expensive having two more children is going to be. We're thinking that now is the time to explore our local area and take small trips instead of big ones. There will be time and money for more exotic adventures in the future.

And that's what's going on around here lately. Lots of changes. Lots of decisions to be made. Exciting and busy times!


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Try This Trick

Adam and I are feeding the beasties for the final time of the night when we hear Sammy's voice from upstairs. "Mommy, I'm scared that monsters are going to come out of my closet." This is the third night in a row that she has come out of her room after being put to bed. For the past two nights, I've done  a "magic trick" to keep them away.
Me: Sam, I'm not going to do the magic trick again.

Sam: But I want you to do the magic trick, mommy, to keep the monsters away.

I planned ahead for this. She's five now - she can be reasoned with, right?
Me: Remember I told you last night that it would be the last time, because I didn't want to get in the habit of doing it every night?

Sam: But I'm scared of the monsters.

By this time, she has come halfway down the stairs and is talking to us through the railings. I have a brilliant idea:
Me: Well why don't you do a magic trick to keep them away.

Sam: Well, I can't do the magic, because I don't know how, and I can't do magic.

I try being firm:
Me: Well, I'm not doing it again. You need to go back to your room.

Sam: But I'm scared of the monsters!

We repeat the same arguments back and forth about five times. This isn't working. I remember something that has worked in the past:
Me: Well, I can't do anything about that. If there is something specific you need from me, please let me know. But I told you I can't do the magic trick anymore, and I can't make you not afraid. That is something you have to figure out for yourself.

Sam: But, MOMMY! I can't sleep.

Me: I can't make you go to sleep either. That is something you have to do on your own.

Adam thinks he has the solution:
Adam: If you can't sleep you can play with your toys or read your books, but you have to go back to your room.

Sam: But, DADDY!

Oh god, this is escalating. Am I going to have to get up and put her back into her room and then listen to her scream for an hour?
Sam: Mommy, you said that if I was every really scared, I could always come out and tell you.

Me: Yes, and you just told me. Good night.

Sam: Good night.

Me: See you in the morning.

Sam [retreating up the stairs]: See you in the morning.

A moment passes as Adam and I listen to the sound of her bedroom door quietly closing. Then we look at each other with dropped jaws. Now, that was magic!


Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Little Thing

The other day, Sam came running to me in tears - real, sad tears, not the tears of a tantrum or frustration at not getting what she wanted. I was concerned. She doesn't cry like this very often. She flung herself into my arms, and my daughter, who never shed a tear when we had to put her beloved cat to sleep, wailed, "Mommy - the iPad died!"

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Piano Lessons

We bought our piano in November of 2009. We bought it because Sam seemed so interested in playing. We were given some great lesson books and other materials. In January of 2010 I sat down with Sam one time with the first lesson book and it's been gathering dust ever since. It's not that she wasn't ready for piano; it's that she wasn't ready to take direction from me.

For two years, Sam has occasionally plucked at the piano by herself (doing it "my own way" in defiance of any instruction that I might offer), never learning much, but recently showing signs of being able to hunt down notes by ear. I've also fiddled around with the piano, and we've enjoyed the recorded music on it quite often. Guests have played for us. But still, it was mostly just an expensive decoration.

A couple of weeks ago, Sam told me that she wanted to learn to play Twinkle Twinkle. I think she has been playing music on the bells at school, and I had helped her pick out the notes on the piano a few times. (As long as I showed her the notes in the way that she told me to, she would cooperate.) I got the sense that she might be ready this time, so I asked her if she would like me to give her piano lessons, and she said yes!

We've had four or five lessons now. Sam will sit still and observe as I give her a demonstration, and she will attempt to perform the tasks as demonstrated. We've gone over the proper sitting position. We've learned the correct way to hold her hands and how her fingers should strike the keys. We've numbered her fingers and played "wiggle number four!" type games. We've played notes with specific fingers up and down the scale. We've tapped out quarter notes and half notes. Each lesson is short - maybe 15 minutes - and we always go back a couple of lessons in the book as a review. At the end of every lesson, we have "free time" where she gets to learn a song in her old, comfortable way - I point to the keys she should play and she hits them with her index finger.

I didn't have any plan at all when we started, except that I would use this particular book. The short lessons, the reviews, and the "free time" all came about naturally, and I realize that I've internalized a lot of the pedagogical principles that I've been studying for the past few years as I've been preparing for homeschooling. That is gratifying. A little bit more deliberate was my use of Montessori language; I told Sam that first I would give a "presentation" and then it would be her turn, just like at school. I've tried this in the past with her to no avail. But now it is working and we're having fun! I am teaching Sam something in a formal way and we are having a good time!

I don't know if this is a normal parenting experience or not, but this is a huge breakthrough for Sam and me. Since she was about two-and-a-half, Sam has generally shown no respect for any teaching I might offer. The quotation marks around "my own way" in the second paragraph were not scare quotes. I was quoting her literal response to just about every challenging thing I've attempted to show her or teach her for the past couple of years. The fact that I would show her a method automatically made it wrong to her, and she would insist on doing it "my own way." Writing letters of the alphabet, zipping up her coat, putting on her gloves, tracing sandpaper letters, putting her glass of milk on the far side of the plate, opening the car door, reciting a poem, putting together a jigsaw puzzle - anything. If I tried to teach it, she rebelled and insisted on doing it "her way." Most often, her way didn't work, but that didn't seem to matter to her. At first this was very upsetting to me and I kept pushing, but eventually I backed off simply out of frustration. If she didn't want to learn from me, I couldn't force her. So I kept offering, but as soon as she resisted, I stopped trying and allowed her to wallow in her incompetence. And in many areas, she really is quite incompetent for her age.

The change is not just with the piano. She is showing me the same respect in other areas now as well. A few days ago, she allowed me to teach her how to put a towel on a towel bar. Seriously, she is five years old and she had never learned this simple task. They use hooks at school and we have hooks for her coats, but every time she used a towel in the bathroom, it ended up on the floor. I'd watched her try to do it on her own and she just could not figure out how to even up the sides and use gravity, but there was no way she would allow me to show her. This time, she observed and then proudly did it on her own. And she keeps doing it - at least when she remembers that she knows how.

Sam has had the same rebellious attitude towards her dad, but quite so strong. At school she has always taken direction - no problem. And I've seen her accept instruction from adult friends of ours and from her peers. So I've always known this was part of her natural and necessary separation process from her parents. I just didn't know if it would ever change, and that has been a huge worry for me as a future homeschooler. No matter how Montessori-ish you make a homeschool environment, the student still needs to respect the teacher.

And Sam's personality has not changed. I'm still going to need to be the most unobtrusive type of teacher for her. Any whiff of an attempt to control her will cause her to rebel. Finding ways to activate her internal motivation will be my biggest challenge, I know. But the fact that she now recognizes that I know things and that I can help her without controlling her is huge. My task now is not to screw it up. I need to continue to give her examples of ways in which I can help her learn faster than she would do on her own, but I need to abstain from pushing. If I can do that, I think we might actually have a chance at success with homeschooling.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy Randsday!

I hope you'll all join me in celebrating Randsday. Today is Ayn Rand's birthday, and Harry Binswanger has come up with the perfect way to celebrate it:
To celebrate Randsday, you do something not done on any other holiday: you give yourself a present. Randsday is for getting that longed-for luxury you ordinarily would not buy for yourself. Or for doing that long-postponed, self-pampering activity you cannot seem to fit into your chore-packed schedule.

Randsday is for reminding ourselves that pleasure is an actual need, a psychological requirement for a human consciousness. ...

Read the full description here. Especially if you're unfamiliar with Rand's philosophy, please do click over. You might be surprised to get a taste of what Rand really means by selfishness.

I feel like my life is a series of Randsdays right now. I'm in the process of adding small goals and values back into my life, after having set so many things aside when the twins were born just to survive each day. The first things to go are always The Little Things, and there was one big Little Thing that I had been putting off, which will be my Randsday gift to myself: I'm getting my hair done again! There was no way I could make the appointment for today, but I'm going on Sunday. I don't care that it takes over two hours and costs a fortune - it makes me feel like a civilized human being, and that is not meaningless.

Here are some other values that I've recently added back into my life:

  • Basic grooming: Unlike when Sam was a baby, this time around I didn't neglect my showers. But most other personal grooming activities were neglected. Now I clip my nails, use moisturizer, and even blow dry my hair. Styling my hair is still beyond me, but I think that will come back when I have a nice haircut again.

  • Blogging: I've been up and down with blogging since the twins were born, but every time I write a post it gives me great satisfaction, so I'm committed to continuing.

  • Taking care of my health: Just applying my topical psoriasis medicine was too much for me for a few months. It didn't matter that my head itched constantly - I just didn't have the focus on myself needed to take care of the problem. I've gotten that back under control and I've addressed some other health issues as well. Next step: a dentist appointment.

  • Contact lenses: It takes one second to put on my glasses and almost a minute to put in my contacts. No contest in the early days. Besides, you can't nap with contacts in. I've started wearing contacts again on occasion, but I'm still having trouble with the idea that that one minute is worth it. I'll work on that.

  • Clothing: I've only had a day or two where I stayed in my pajamas all day, but the first couple of months I was ashamed and depressed every time I got dressed. Buying some new clothing, even if it is a few sizes larger than I want it to be, has helped me to remember what a selfish value one's appearance can and ought to be.

  • Jewelry: I've actually worn earrings a few times lately, although I have to stay away from the dangling kind for a while yet. You can't put a shiny, wiggly object right in front of a baby and expect it to stay put.

  • Massages: After just a couple of months, I started getting the occasional massage, and it was well worth it because feeding babies can really give you a kink in the neck. I don't really need the massages anymore so I've moved on to bigger and better things. Namely,

  • Exercise: I joined a gym this week, and I've worked out twice already! Some might think of exercise as a chore or duty, not worthy of this kind of list. But anyone who has kids understands that exercise can be one of the most selfish, pleasurable activities of the day. Just getting out of the house by myself is huge.

These are the Little Things that I need to do for myself in order to achieve and enjoy the Big Things. It's not a trade off, in terms of time and effort to accomplish them. And it's not a sacrifice of the long-range to the short-range. It's not even a matter of hierarchy. It's a matter of integration. It's a matter of being selfish and ambitious in all things, no matter how small. And when we dismiss the small, we lose sight of the purpose and meaning of the big.
Randsday is the time to challenge any duty-premise, re-affirm your love of your values, and honor the principle that joy in living is an end in itself.