Posted in family life

happy birthday Aubade!

In the in-between week from Christmas to New Year’s, a baby girl was born, and now we have one more reason to celebrate every holiday season!

And while the flu may have meant that we didn’t get any first Christmas pictures for Aubade, I did make sure to have the camera on hand on her first birthday.

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I know I’m biased, but I think she’s pretty much a perfect baby ❤

Aubade, I love your zest for life, your self-assurance, and your sweet affectionate gestures. I love the exuberance with which you dance when I sing, and the excitement with which you run to the shower when you hear the water turn on. I love when you sit next to me on the floor, each of us doing our own things but happy to be together, and I love when you sit on top of me, knock me over, and bounce on my belly while laughing uproariously! I love when you bring me books to read, and I love how you get so enthusiastic about turning the pages that you won’t even give me time to say the words first. I love how even though you don’t say any words yet, you still communicate exactly what you’re feeling, thinking, and wanting.

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You crawled over rocks to get to this wheelbarrow, because you saw Rondel playing by it and wanted to know for yourself what was inside. You were uncomfortable, but you didn’t cry. You were too short to reach in easily, but you didn’t ask for help. And so you found the satisfaction both of accomplishing your goal and answering your curiosity!

I am so excited to get to watch you continue to grow and blossom, my daughter. Whatever life holds for you, your strength, tenacity and joy will serve you well.

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Posted in family life

2017

2017 is coming to a close.

We started out with postpartum depression and RSV; we’re ending with all three kids sick with the flu! (Well, to be more accurate, they were sick over Christmas and are mostly better now.) In between we fit more into one year than I would have thought possible, with therapies, medications, travel, moving into a new home, dipping our toes into the world of special needs education, and beginning a new round of transitions with my husband graduating and finding a job (which will start shortly after the New Year).

And I have learned so much this year, including about things that I thought I already understood but was able to look at from personal experience or through the new and edifying perspective of someone else’s experience or research. I acknowledged my anxiety as an obstacle in my path rather than a personal failing, thereby removing the associated guilt and shame and allowing myself to move forward; I began to make space for myself and the people I love to be different, express their differences, and be loved for who they are with those differences; I learned when to stand up for myself and when to disengage, and that both are ok given the circumstances as well as my own mental state; and I found the courage to make uncommon decisions for uncommon reasons without becoming defensive or belittling the choices I turned down. At least, those are the seeds of change that are beginning to germinate within me as a result of this year – I think I could spend a lifetime watching them grow!

This was also a year of good reading. What began as a way to cope with my depression when almost nothing else could distract my mind from the darkness turned into a re-ignition of my lifelong compulsive love of books and a chance to discover new characters, adventures, worlds, and authors. For the first time since childhood I kept a book log for myself, which was a massively encouraging endeavor in and of itself, and managed to read and record 84 previously-unread-by-me books since I started tracking mid-January! I think the books deserve their own post so I will say no more here – but it was a major part of my year and a consistent source of pleasure and refreshment as well as an escape from my own head.

And of course this was the year of Aubade, since she just barely made an appearance in 2016 but has by now infiltrated herself into every thread of the warp and weave of our lives. Through her, the boys have gained independence and learned compassion and gentleness. She has stolen our sleep but given us laughter. She is a confident baby princess, secure in her belief that whatever she wants, she should have, and she will get it for herself if no one will get it for her! She is a fearless baby explorer, certain that she can do whatever she sets her mind to do, and that around every corner (or behind every door, or on top of every high place) there is something new and exciting to discover. She is a bestower of hugs and a jealous claimant to her mommy’s lap. She is a passionate lover of showers (or pools, or baths, or splash pads), peek-a-boo, mud on her fingers, the thrill of the climb, the loudness of blenders and vacuums, snuggles with the people she loves, and singing or playing music. I can hardly believe she has only been in our lives for a year, because life without her would seem so empty.

Overall, it was a year of crashing lows, dark valleys to endure, and steep mountains to climb (my saint for the year was St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes, and it certainly seemed fitting when I was in the depths of the depression) – but it was also a year of soaring highs, transcendent mountain views, and glorious sunrises. A more stable and mundane year would certainly have been easier, but I am thankful for the things that happened and the way they shaped the person I am now. And now, let the adventures of 2018 begin!

 

Posted in family life

fine motor delays and pre-reading skills

At Rondel’s evaluation for services with the school district, he scored low enough on his fine motor skills to be classified as having a moderate delay (which is significant enough to qualify for special services). When he draws or paints, he can’t seem to figure out how to hold his writing tool, switching up his grasp every few minutes, and even changing hands periodically. To put in simply, he looks like a much younger child – and his drawings reflect that: although he attempts to add depth and detail to his drawings (at a level up to or above the standard for his age), what he puts down on the paper is not recognizable as the object he is trying to create.

However, when he sits down with Duplos or Brain Flakes, he can build creations that are complex and true to form. His Duplo animals really look like the different animals he’s trying to make – he’s constructed dinosaurs, lions, spiders, owls, bats, and more, and a lot of them are very realistic and innovatively detailed (Duplos are a challenging medium for fine detail, after all). With the flakes, he’s currently working on making all the letters of the alphabet; in the process, of course, he is intimately familiarizing himself with the shape and orientation of each letter just as another child might through writing the letters over and over again on paper. Additionally, he is beginning to wonder about letters in general, and asked me tonight what letters were for. So he is still gaining valuable pre-reading skills, despite the fine-motor struggles – and he is doing so through a self-motivated, self-developed method, without any external pressure or stigma.

My desire as Rondel’s parent isn’t to mold him into some predetermined form but to help him find his own voice and his own path. If his life so far is any indication, it seems that all he needs to do that is access to means of expression that work with his strengths instead of taxing his weaknesses, and room to grow in a space of acceptance and accommodation.

Posted in family life, musings

in pursuit of peace

Genuine peace grows in the rich soil of vulnerability and grace, fellowship and forgiveness, community and compassion. It involves an honest coming together of people, flaws and oddities included, followed by the bending and reshaping of everyone involved to accommodate the needs, quirks, and broken aspects of everyone else. Consequently, it also requires the humility of the strong, healthy, intelligent, confident, and well-prepared: those who can shift and sway the most are called to humble themselves in service to and love for the weak, sick, insecure, and foolish.

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Sometimes peace means taking the time to show others how things work, instead of losing patience with their ignorance or clumsiness; sometimes it means admitting our own inabilities and weaknesses and being open to learning something new.

Peace means setting other people before either efficiency or self-sufficiency; putting harmony and mutual respect above pride.

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Peace means making the alterations and accommodations needed to fit our ideals, visions, or traditions to the needs of the people around us – the people in our community, our family, neighbors, and friends. It may look like learning to cook new foods so that friends with food allergies or neighbors from different cultures can join us at our table. It might involve giving up time with our extended family to make sure we spend time with our spouse’s family. It means offering a helping hand instead of judgmental sideways glances at Thanksgiving dinner or on Christmas morning, when excited kids aren’t acting the way more staid adults expect. It means showing others – from the oldest to the youngest, from the richest to the poorest – the courtesy and respect we would like them to offer to us.

Sometimes, peace means we hang the breakable ornaments higher on the tree, leaving the more durable ones down low, so that even the youngest and most inexperienced people among us can enjoy the Christmas tree in their own way.

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Peace is when everyone does their best to love each other, and forgives each other when that love is imperfect; when everyone is willing to compromise, and reconcile, and try again, and give others the chance to try again as well.

Peace is when someone sits in the chair you thought was yours, because it was the only chair from which you could reach your snack, but you don’t make him move, and he doesn’t exclude you, and together you both find happiness. Maybe you both find even more happiness in the compromise, this new solution to things, than you would have if either one of you were sitting alone.

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Peace requires willingness to try, and fail, and try again. People are complicated, and the situations of life are complicated, and harmony – any kind of success, really – is rarely instantaneously achieved. Peace necessitates our dedicated, persistent, patient, and flexible pursuit. If one solution doesn’t work, peace says, let’s try something else. Let us leave no stone unturned in our efforts to create communion in this place, between these people.

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And of course pursuing peace is more difficult than hanging an ornament on a tree, though it shares the same requirements for patience, persistence, flexibility, and creative thinking. The ornament and the tree are inanimate partakers of the process; every person in a community is involved in the process of peace-making, and brings with them a unique will, opinions, emotions, and experiences. Sometimes, peace fails.

The promise of Advent is that someday peace will fail no longer. The selfishness and anxiety that hamper it in even the best of us will be healed in Christ; knowing each other without the sin of objectification or the response of fear, we will be able to build a more glorious peace than any our world has yet known.

Posted in family life, recipes

St. Nicholas Day (and a recipe for cookies!)

Due to St. Nicholas Day creeping up on me unawares in the middle of the week, I did not remind my boys to set out their shoes; due to the boys being only 3 and 4, they fortunately did not remember that small mysterious gifts should have appeared overnight. I had aspirations of making small St. Nicholas dolls (inspired by Waldorf pocket dolls) and placing candy canes in their hands like staffs… maybe they could tow along some chocolate coins as well…

However, I did introduce them to the story of St. Nicholas (no books, just me – again, I was woefully unprepared), and we baked speculaas cookies to celebrate!

I found a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website that didn’t call for too many obscure ingredients, stopped to buy sugar on my way home from work, and began mixing up the dough with the kids. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my almonds anywhere to make almond meal… so we improvised by cracking 1/2 cup worth of fresh hazelnuts we had lingering around aimlessly, and grinding them up in the food processor with a couple tablespoons of flour to absorb any oils. We also doubled all the spices because more is better, for spices at any rate, in my opinion.

Apparently it is also true in the boys’ opinion, as I couldn’t get them to stop eating the cookie dough, and I can’t get them to stop eating the cookies now!

But really, they had so much fun mixing, tasting, rolling, tasting, cutting, tasting, and so on 🙂 And the cookies turned out quite well! Crunchy, spicy, sweet, and addictive, with nubbly texture from the larger hazelnut crumbs – I’ll be adding this tradition to our annual list, and hopefully adding to it in years to come (in addition to books and gifts, I’d love to celebrate the day by being like St. Nicholas and anonymously blessing a family in need – I’m sure there is a good way to coordinate the timing of that with the holiday, and I know there are many opportunities to do so).

And now for the recipe itself!


St. Nicholas Day Speculaas Cookies

Slightly altered from King Arthur Flour’s Spiced Star Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts (more traditionally, ground almonds or almond flour)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I use unbleached)
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk

Directions

  1. If using whole nuts, grind them in a food processor with 2-4 tablespoons of the all-purpose flour
  2. Cream together the sugar, butter, vanilla, and spices
  3. Mix in the ground nuts, the remaining flour, and the baking powder; the dough will be very crumbly at this point
  4. Stir in enough milk for the dough to hold together
  5. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill (in the fridge for 2 hours or in the freezer for 30 minutes)
  6. Preheat oven to 325° F
  7. Roll to 1/8 inch thickness, cut into desired shapes, and bake on parchment paper for 15 minutes (King Arthur suggests 15-20, but my cookies were ready between 12-15 minutes)
  8. Enjoy!
Posted in family life

dance to the music no one else can hear

So now, having just explained in great detail why I think special ed preschool could be a great help for Rondel despite my misgivings about the public school system in general, I am going to argue the other side against myself. Hopefully writing this out will help me make a decision! And if not, hopefully it is helpful or interesting to someone else in a similar spot.

First, you should know this about Rondel.

When my son is in a highly stimulating, fun, chaotic environment, his energy ratchets up so high that he can’t always control it. Simultaneously, especially if he is hungry or tired (or if another kid is pushing his buttons), his anxiety often escalates as well. Either of these things could be a struggle independently, but when combined they can make situations very difficult for him. His body feels out of control, his emotions feel out of control, and his external environment feels out his control. In response to that, he will often take actions that on the surface appear irrational or bizarre: he may get overly aggressive in his play, wrestling after his friends have asked him to stop; he may try to run away to escape the chaos; or he may break down into incoherent tears.

Birthday parties, amusement parks, playgrounds, noisy restaurants, music class, movie theaters, and other noisy places can all cause sensory overload and meltdowns. Vigorous physical play may be avoided because of concerns about falling, sensory overload, and the potential for explosive outbursts and aggressive behaviors due to fight-or-flight reactions. Perhaps most unfortunately, the kinds of things done by the teachers who work hardest to make their classrooms fun for most kids – busy, colorful places with lots of “activity stations,” fun music, dancing, games – may be precisely the things that aggravate kids with SPD. As a result, these teachers may find that the harder they work to make class enjoyable and to involve these kids, the more they shut down or overload. It’s hard to imagine a more potent recipe for frustration and misunderstanding on both sides.

Brock Eide, The Mislabeled Child


Second, you should know this about me.

One of the greatest struggles in my life – a struggle that I have heard countless times in the lives of my friends and family as well – is feeling that I don’t belong: that there is no group of people among whom I can be completely myself and at the same time completely loved. It is out of this struggle that my parenting philosophy was born. My goal as a mother is to give my children a relationship (and ideally a whole family community) in which they will be listened to, understood, and unconditionally loved. Whatever societal forces are pressuring them to fit into a certain mold or to act a certain way, I want our home to be the safe place in which those forces have no power.

Now, I also have hopes and expectations for my children. I want them to be thinkers and readers; I want them to be wise and compassionate; I want them to love deeply and speak kindly. But even the wisest person has moments of foolishness; even the kindest person has words they regret. In those moments, I want my children to know that my love will not cease or waver, that I will always love them for who they are even as I help them grow and mature. And I want them to know that the rate of their growth is never a cause for shame, regardless of how slowly they may be progressing. The direction and the effort are the things that matter.


With both of those things in mind, putting Rondel in a special preschool designed solely to help him acquire certain skills by a certain deadline seems antithetical to my whole concept of parenthood. He is not a flowering bush that I can freely manipulate by well-timed applications of different fertilizers or hormones; he is his own person, uniquely designed and gifted, with his own path and timeline to follow. It is helpful for me to know the ways in which he is different than “normal,” so that I can anticipate his struggles instead of setting him up for failure, learn how to help him through difficult situations instead of flailing about in the dark, and access the accommodations he needs to thrive – but it isn’t helpful to focus on those differences as things that are “wrong” with him and try to fix them or train them out of him.

And my fear is that he will think just that: that we believe his way of being is inadequate or wrong, that we don’t accept him as who he is, and that we are willing to put him in an environment that stresses his sensory and emotional systems to the point of overload in an attempt to change him into someone else. It’s hard to think of a better way to demolish a child’s confidence in himself or to damage his trust in his parents’s love and understanding. When the music plays that only Rondel can hear, I want him to dance to that beat with freedom and fullness, holding nothing back in his pursuit of the calling for which God has designed him, no matter how strange or awkward that dance may appear to those who are deaf to the song. Speech therapy we can get at a private clinic, without needing to compromise our ideals in the process; the other skills he needs for life will grow in time, as he learns their value, in the context of love and peace and belonging.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in family life

sensory play without sensory issues

As babies and toddlers, neither of my boys especially enjoyed being dirty and playing in the mud. I still remember the first time Rondel explored the soil in our garden of his own accord, and the poignancy of watching him touch the moist dirt without panic or revulsion (he was better with sand, but dirt was difficult, and mud impossible for a long time). Limerick would tolerate and investigate things, but never sought out the sensations, preferring to watch and observe; there wasn’t the overt sense of something being off or abnormal that there had been with Rondel, but there also wasn’t the “typical” childhood pleasure of immersing oneself in those physical sensations that I remembered from my own experiences.

Aubade, however, actively seeks out the dirt, and very visibly relishes getting wet, dirty, and muddy. While this of course comes with its own challenges (any ideas for persuading a baby not to shovel fistfuls of dirt in her mouth whenever the opportunity arises?), it is so incredibly refreshing for me to have a baby who initiates that kind of interaction with her environment. She is so bent on exploring and experiencing the world around her, with no hesitations, anxieties, or sensory discomforts to hold her back, and I love watching her!