Thursday, January 19, 2012

Chanukah Wrap-Up

I'm like a month late writing up my Chanukah wrap-up, but here goes anyway.

LL was just 3 months old at his first Chanukah (2008). We bought him two (very small) presents, we lit candles the first few nights, then we flew to visit my parents, where we celebrated with my brother and his family as well. It was low-key, there were limited gifts, and we did very little to establish or follow through on any actual holiday traditions, but it didn't matter much, because LL was just 3 months old.

In 2009, LL was one, but he still had very little concept of presents. We bought him a few books, he got a few gifts from grandparents, we lit our menorah moments before he went to sleep each night. And I was super busy with work. Honestly, Chanukah barely registered for us that year.

In 2010, LL was two, and we decided that since he was old enough to understand the whole opening presents thing, he would open one present each night of Chanukah. (When I was a kid, we had one present each night; some were very small, and one or two were bigger, and there was a ton of strategy involved in looking at the pile of presents on the first night and plotting out which one to open each night. Open the big one first? Save it for the last night? What if size doesn't relate to how cool it is? So many decisions!) We got LL his own little menorah and we lit candles as a family and played with dreidels and read Chanukah books. It was nice. Also, I was 9 months pregnant at the time, and I was a little desperate for LL to have a great holiday before his whole little world fell apart with the addition of a sibling. So it was needlessly stressful. Also, even though LL understood the presents, and enjoyed lighting candles, I don't think there were very much comprehension of the holiday.

Which brings us to this year. LL was three. Kermit was days away from turning one. I had started a new job just days earlier. Things were hectic. And they got a bit out-of-hand. Grandparents sent gifts; aunts and uncles sent gifts; we bought (too many) gifts; and when we added it all up, we had a pile of thirty presents sitting in our dining room on the first night of Chanukah. We hadn't put up any decorations (I usually decorate a bit, just to make things look festive for a few days), we barely got the menorahs out in time, we were lucky that we had enough mismatched candles to make it through the holiday, I didn't find the dreidels until the week was almost over, and I did a crappy job of explaining to LL what it was all about. As a result, I'm pretty sure that all he got out of the experience was that you light some candles and then you get toys. Which really sucks, honestly. Big Chanukah FAIL, in my opinion.

The only thing working for us, I think, is that LL is likely to have only vague memories of Chanukah 2011 when it rolls around again next December. He'll remember a bit, I think, but not very detailed. But this year is probably the last one for which I'll be able to say that. Half-way through Chanukah this year, I told S that I felt like we had blown it this year, but we now had eleven months to figure out what we want this holiday to be for our family, and one more shot to get it right before we would be confusing the heck out of our kids by changing stuff on the fly.

So. Next year, there will be a plan. A conscience effort to celebrate Chanukah the way we want to celebrate it for the majority of our kids' childhoods (with minor variations based on changing circumstances of course; right now, we're trying to get the broad strokes to line up with our family values, if that makes sense). And while I know that Chanukah isn't "supposed" to be a major holiday, it has always been important in my family, and I would like it to have special meaning for LL and Kermit as well. (Though still not as big a deal as Passover.) (I love love love Passover.) Here's what I'm thinking:

We should put up some decorations, because I like the idea of the house looking different during holidays. For us, this usually means dreidels and menorahs decorating the windows and a foil Happy Chanukah sign hanging in the living room. It also means a blue wooden star gets displayed, which my grandfather made when my mom was a little girl, which he gave to me when LL was born and I didn't even manage to take out of the garage this year. We should get out the dreidels and teach the actual game to the kids, and we should have M&Ms on hand to play with, since that is our traditional dreidel currency. We should have some chocolate gelt around the house as a treat after dinner. Lighting the menorahs should be the centerpiece of every evening. We should have homemade latkes one night, and at least one really festive dinner. We should get out the pile of Chanukah books that are mixed into our bookcase year-round and make a point of actually talking about them during the week. And we should limit our own gifts for the kids, so that they end up with truly one gift per night, some of which are new socks, because every Jewish kid I know gets a pair of socks as a gift for at least one night of Chanukah.

Not to say that we got everything wrong this year. I was happy with how a few things played out. LL loved "lighting" the toy wooden menorah that my mom got him last year. Both kids ended up liking latkes, which was a nice surprise, since they both hate potatoes. (The applesauce helped.) The abundance of presents included many books and very few things requiring batteries, and really, it's hard to complain that we were just so darn fortunate that our friends and family bought too many shiny new toys for our children. And best of all, I overheard LL explaining Chanukah to one of his friends, and he carefully told her that after we eat dinner, we light candles and then we sing and then we all get a big Chanukah hug, and then we open presents.

So at least he knew to list all the important parts.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Time Away

Confession time: I have never spent a night away from Kermit. And the only nights that I've ever spent away from LL were when I was in the hospital with Kermit (three nights when Kermit was born, and another three nights when Kermit was hospitalized for RSV one month later). During the nights in the hospital, my mom stayed at the house with LL, and S visited every evening, to make sure that LL was okay. So while LL was away from me for a few days, he was in regular contact with me, and still saw S during the day, and I was only a short car ride away.

S has spent a few more nights away -- in addition to the nights at the hospital with Kermit, he also spent one night at a bachelor party and a few nights on business trips -- but that's it. No weekends away. No time at home while the kiddos visit with Grandma. I have spent every single night responsible for at least one child since LL was born more than three years ago. And I've never been more than a thirty minute drive away from either of my kids, ever. I have always always always been nearby, close enough that I can get to either or both of them if the need arises.

When S and I want to go on a date, we typically do "date days" instead of "date nights" -- we know that we have reliable childcare during the day that the kids are comfortable with, so when we want to go on a date, S and I each take the day off from work (or make strategic use of holidays, when work is closed but childcare is not, like this Monday's MLK Day holiday) and we spend the day together. Our typical "date day" involves a leisurely morning coffee at our favorite coffee bar, fancy lunch at a nice restaurant, early afternoon movie, then more hanging out at a coffee bar, often with a few games of cribbage or similar portable game thrown into the mix. On the rare occasion when we have actually gone out at night, we have typically gotten one of our friends to come over to babysit, we're home by 10pm, and I can count on one hand the number of times that we've done that in the past 3+ years.

Yes, I acknowledge that this is a little ridiculous. We should be going out more. We should be spending more time as a couple, away from the kids. And if we had local grandparents, I'm sure that we would. But childcare is hard. We have no reliable evening or weekend babysitters. Most of our friends have kids of their own now, and the few that don't tend to have very busy schedules. LL does not do well around strangers, so random babysitters are kind of out of the question until we can find one that we can introduce slowly. And twice now, we have tried to groom teenage babysitters from our neighborhood, only to have their parents decide that they should really be focusing on their schoolwork instead of "working." (As an aside: dude, when did parents start prohibiting kids from babysitting on Friday nights?!?) And I have no idea how we would possibly orchestrate a weekend away, because there is definitely no one local who could watch our kids overnight.

But, we are now facing a decision. One of our best friends from college is getting married. (He quite possibly is my best friend from college, except that I should probably give that designation to S, since I married S. But S and I were both close friends with this guy, all through college, and we've remained close.) He's getting married several time zones away from where we live. He has expressed several times that he really really wants me and S to attend his wedding. And he has also told us, somewhat apologetically, that he and his fiance do not want children at the wedding. (Yes, that is an annoying thing to impose on out-of-town guests with young children, but I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt and saying (a) he doesn't have kids so he doesn't realize how annoying a restriction like this is; and (b) he and his fiance deserve to have whatever kind of wedding they want.)

So... what do we do? The options, as I see them:

1. Bring the kids anyway. Seems kinda rude, if they're not wanted.

2. Bring the kids on the trip, then ask our friend to help us find a babysitter for the wedding itself. I'm not all that comfortable with this option, because I hate the idea of cooping the kids up in a hotel room for an entire evening with someone they don't know. I do not see it going well, at all. LL, in particular, would freak out (he's very very shy around strangers; we've tried this sort of thing before), and Kermit would absolutely never go to sleep. They would both be crying the majority of the time.

3. Ask some grandparents to come to our house to watch the kids while we go away for the weekend. I'm sure we could get one of the grandmas to agree to this plan, but it would be expensive for either one of them. (They would need to fly here.) Also, it makes me very very nervous that on my first extended time away from Kermit, I would be a plane-flight away. Honestly, this option makes me a bit queasy. (But only for Kermit; LL would totally do fine with this option.)

4. I go to the wedding while S stays home with the kids (or vice-versa). Theoretically fine, but seems very unfair to whomever doesn't go. Also, it would be very hard to decide who that would be, since we're both friends with the groom. Also, if I were to go without S, I know that I wouldn't have as much fun, so I'm not positive that it would be worth it.

5. Don't go. The ultimate in problem avoidance. Except that, well, then we would miss the wedding.

Am I missing a magical sixth option that is better in all possible ways? Any thoughts?

Thursday, January 12, 2012


When a child turns one year old, they transition (officially) from "baby" to "toddler." When LL turned one, this designation was a source of mild amusement, because he had barely learned to crawl, he wasn't particularly fond of pulling himself to standing, he wasn't all that into cruising, and he rarely consented to take steps even when holding onto our hands. He was still several months away from actually doing any toddling, so I was happy to still call him a baby.

Kermit heard that he was now a toddler and decided that he'd better start toddling, as soon as possible. He had been cruising with giddy abandon for quite some time, but in the week leading up to his birthday, he began to experiment with letting go. At first, he practiced just standing on his own (and clapping, usually, or signaling touchdown, depending on the context). Then he started "leaping" from couch to chair, from chair to table, from table to Mommy, launching himself through the air with a giant grin of determination. These weren't exactly steps, though he would sometimes need to put a foot down between objects, but rather a very deliberate attempt to fall into something other than what he was originally holding on to. It was only a matter of time before he started taking real first steps.

I'm not totally sure on the timing, since it's hard to decide what counts as a first step and what is just falling ungracefully away from the couch, but I'm officially saying that his first real steps happened on the day before his birthday. That day was when it became obvious that he was letting go of one object, steadying himself, then launching himself towards a different object that was at least two steps away. Mommy to chair. Mommy to Auntie. Auntie to Daddy. Couch to Grandma. By the evening before his birthday, everybody in the house was able to say that he had taken two or three steps towards them (after which he would collapse onto them; these early steps are much more like barely-controlled falling). He demonstrated this amazing ability to take two steps before falling down at his party, much to everyone's delight. And now, at the tender age of one year five days, he has improved on his technique by not falling down every time. Now he is truly doing the drunken Frankenstein thing -- he takes a step, pauses to steady himself, takes one more step, regains his balance, steps again... and before you know it, he has covered a decent distance and is still on his feet, albeit very shaky. The very definition of toddler.

Somewhat related: Kermit had his one-year checkup with Dr. K yesterday, where we discovered that he is at the 90th percentile for both height and weight. So, he's big, but he's proportional. I don't quite know what to do with him, because LL was always at the 30th percentile or less, and lately he's been stretching out, so that he's at the 40th percentile for height and the 20th for weight. He's all lanky preschooler while Kermit is a solid little linebacker. At this age, LL was eating mostly yogurt, rice puffs, and little jars of pureed food. By contrast, Kermit hasn't eaten anything pureed in months. He eats entire chunks of fruit and vegetables, and can polish off an entire cut-up chicken breast in a sitting. He ate short ribs for his birthday, and he would have happily gnawed the meat right off the bone himself if we'd let him. We went out to eat this weekend: LL ate one-sixth of a child-sized pizza; Kermit ate an entire fillet of chicken parmigiana, a side of spaghetti, and a handful of carrots.

Kermit is approaching the age where most kids begin eating like birds, so we're happy to keep feeding him as long as he's interested in continuing to eat. And his tentative walking is most likely going to turn into lots and lots of practice walking, followed by running, very soon, which is likely to burn a whole lot of calories. (Dr. K warned us that he may also start climbing. Um... he figured out step stools several weeks ago. He's already stacking boxes next to high tables in an attempt to get to out-of-reach toys. The climbing thing is already done.) (Also, he knows how to open doors. He can even open doors that open towards him, not just the ones that push away from him, so nothing in our house is safe.)

So yes, Kermit is figuring things out, at an alarming rate. Toddle away, little toddler.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Vacation Days

S and I were both off work for 10 days at the end of December. It is common in my industry for companies to just shut down entirely at the end of the year, which is one of my very favorite job perks. (As I told my coworkers, I'd been at work for almost three whole weeks at that point; I could really use a week off.)

Natasha's was shut down then as well, but we asked Rosie to work a few of those days so that S and I could have some rare child-free time. Thus, in addition to a full week of us both being home with the kids, S and I also had three entire days to ourselves.

What did we choose to do with this precious alone time? We rearranged our house, of course!

Kermit has been sleeping in our bedroom since he was born. He started out in a bassinet, then moved to a crib, but both were positioned at the foot of our bed. LL started out sleeping in our room as well, but we moved him to his own room when he was not quite three months old. With Kermit, however, we hit a bit of a roadblock: we didn't have a room to move him to. Our house does have a third bedroom, but it was set up as an office, by which I mean, it contained two desks, all our electronics, most of our books, huge piles of paperwork, and every piece of junk we own that doesn't have a permanent home elsewhere. The room was a disaster.

But, as we approached Kermit's first birthday, it was becoming increasingly obvious that he needed his own room, and we needed some privacy back. It was time to bite the bullet and transform the office into a bedroom. And we had three days to do it. Actually, less than three days, because S insisted that we had to have some fun during those days, too, because who knows when we'll get any alone time ever again.

But we totally did it. Over the course of three days, we emptied the room; boxed up everything that we won't need for the next 6 months or so; generated a ton of trash; stirred up enough dust that I broke out in hives; disassembled, moved, and reassembled all our office and Kermit furniture; decorated the room for an almost-one-year-old; saw two movies in actual movie theaters; and hung out in a coffeeshop for several hours. It was awesome.

And now, ta da!, Kermit has his own room. I still need to get new curtains, and I want to hang his penguin quilt on the wall, but other than that, the room is done. It's very homey, and I'm happy with how it turned out. One desk and a limited amount of office stuff is now living in our bedroom, where Kermit's crib used to be, but it is not very much, so I am pleased.

Kermit seems to have barely noticed the room. He loves crawling around and exploring his new digs, but he is not sleeping any better or worse than he was before the move. (To be clear: he was sleeping horribly before the move, and he's still sleeping horribly.) Kermit and LL now share a wall, which was not the case when Kermit was in our room, and my fears were realized the very first night when LL woke up every time Kermit cried. But LL seems to have adapted quickly, because we haven't had problems with him waking up from Kermit since then. (To be clear: LL has been waking up before 6am for a while now, which sucks, but it does not appear to be Kermit's fault.)

I'm a little sad and nostalgic not to have Kermit in our room anymore, which surprises me. LL was in our room for a far shorter period of time, and I was happy to move him to his own place. Kermit, nearly 9 months older than LL was, and probably twice the size, seems too tiny to be on his own, so far away from me. I've been obsessively checking in on him far more than I ever checked on LL. I'm hoping it's temporary. Either way, though, I'm happy that we got him into his own room in time for his first birthday. A growing boy needs his own space. Or something.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Happy Birthday Kermit!

Who in the world allowed my baby, my little bear cub, my precious Kermit, to have an actual birthday and become a full year old?!?

Yes, the years with children always go fast. And yes, when LL turned one, I could hardly believe where the time had gone. But Kermit's first year seems to have gone even faster, a total blur of breast feeding and teething and crawling, of finishing grad school and hunting for jobs and taking care of two kids, of car accidents and unexpected hospitalizations and airplane flights and budgeting. 2011 was an insane, ridiculous year; definitely net positive, but unusual in more ways than usual, if that makes any sense at all. Added up, it means that the year sped by at warp speed, and now suddenly, it is 2012, and my baby boy is one year old.

Kermit's birthday party was today. As is our tradition, we served a collection of his favorite foods, but thanks to Kermit's insatiable appetite for anything he can fit in his mouth, we basically had all of international cuisine to choose from, limited only by what we are able to buy locally in January. We served pears and kiwi and grapes, cheerios and cubes of cheese and these little pumpkin flavored Japanese snacks that Kermit can't get enough of but we have no idea what they're called (we call them "kabocha balls" because they're round and are often flavored with kabocha squash, and I'm sure that they have a real name in Japanese, but nobody in the family knows what it is). We served bagels and muffins and hash brown casserole, and we grilled fresh Korean short ribs, mostly because our family didn't believe that Kermit really does love Korean short ribs. And I baked a cake shaped like a teddy bear, since we usually refer to Kermit as our bear cub. The cake was my first attempt at real cake decorating, which I taught myself by reading web sites and watching youTube videos, and I have to say, it turned out much better than I expected. I frosted it mostly in blue, which ended up being an interesting choice, because once Kermit was done smearing it over his entire face, efficiently coating his hair and neck and arms and ears and neck with it, he looked a bit like a fuzzy Smurf.

I don't post photos of the kids, but I'm ridiculously proud of the cake, so here's a picture of the bear. If this whole PhD career thing doesn't work out, I can always go into cake decorating. But I can only do bears:

The party got a little out of hand (40 people? 14 kids? For a one year old? Um, probably too much) but it was fun, and Kermit loved being the center of attention. He even showed off his new super power, which is the ability to take two or three steps before falling over, when he's in the mood.

He then took a long nap, watched in complete confusion while his older brother opened all his presents for him, screamed in frustration when his brother tried to play with all the toys he had just opened, ate a big dinner, had more cake, and is now sleeping happily, dreaming of a world of sugar that he never knew existed.

Happy Birthday, bear cub. I love you very very much.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Huge Momentous Incredible TMI Milestone

We interrupt the sporadic blogging brought about by the simultaneous starting of the new job / husband recovering from major car accident / end-of-year holidays / horrendous sleep regression ... to report some amazing milestone-worthy news!

LL went to daycare today wearing Big Boy Underwear!

(Yes, Big Boy Underwear is required to be capitalized. LL doesn't quite understand the concept of capital letters yet, but if he did, he would insist on it. It took him approximately 6 months to shorten "Big Boy Bed" to the more commonly understood "bed." I suspect that Big Boy Underwear will take even longer.)

You may recall that we started casually potty training LL in the middle of last year, way back in June. By casual, I mean that we bought him some Big Boy Underwear, asked him several times a day if he would like to wear it, and then went along with his answer even if it meant that he carried the underwear around the house without putting it on for days at a time. We asked him if he wanted to use the potty but stayed cheerfully silent when he (quite often) responded with, "No, I want to pee in my pull-up." In other words, we took the no-stress approach. (The no-stress approach, by the way, is also the takes-forever approach. It is the sometimes-appears-like-it-will-never-happen approach. It is the you-really-can't-care-or-it-will-drive-you-bonkers approach. To use this approach successfully, you have to be really really committed to passively not caring about how long it takes. Luckily, we totally didn't care.)

For five months, LL wore underwear around the house, except, you know, when he didn't want to be bothered. He wore pullups whenever we left the house. He wore pullups at daycare. He wore pullups whenever he needed to poop. And he most definitely wore pullups while he was sleeping.

Then, about a month ago, we forgot to change him into a pullup at naptime, and yet he miraculously woke up totally dry. This seemingly tiny victory apparently gave him a taste of being a truly Big Boy, and he started wanting to wear underwear more often, specifically so that he could stay in underwear during his nap. He wore underwear to the park. He tried out bathrooms at other people's houses. He investigated bathrooms in public places. He went to the bathroom all by himself sometimes, locking the door and shrieking at us to don't come in!!! But he still insisted on changing into a pullup whenever he needed to poop.

Eventually, he asked us if he could wear underwear to daycare. And we told him, very calmly and with no pressure, that he couldn't wear underwear to daycare until he was able to poop in the potty, so he should let us know when he felt ready to do that. And waddya know, within the week, he pooped in the potty.

By the end of December, it seemed like all the pieces were in place. He could go fairly long stretches between potty breaks. He could both pee and poop in a normal-sized toilet. He went to the bathroom of his own initiative whenever he felt the urge. He could stay dry during naps. And, most important, S and I were both off work for 10 days, corresponding with LL being home while his daycare was closed for the holidays. So, the first day of our holiday break, we put him in underwear in the morning and never looked back. And for the entire 10 days, LL only wore a pullup at bedtime. He had two accidents early on, but that's it. And we went out a lot during that time, too. He wore underwear to restaurants, to shopping malls, to parties at other people's houses, on walks around the neighborhood, and to the playground.

And today, he wore underwear to daycare. And he did great. I know that kids often regress, even after being accident-free for months, but for now, Yay!!! Only one kid in diapers!* Such freedom!**

* Well, one and a half. LL wears a nighttime pull-up at night, the ones that are super industrial strength, and quite often manages to pee through it. So I don't expect to be doing nighttime training any time soon.

** Except that every time we go anywhere at all, I live in fear of LL announcing that he needs to go and I can't find a bathroom,*** so I don't exactly feel free.

*** We went on a walk once with LL in underwear, and halfway home, LL came to a sudden stop and then asked in a semi-panic whether we were almost home. I told him no, and he got a weird look on his face, then insisted that I had to carry him the rest of the way. I asked him if he needed to go potty, and he cheerfully said, "No, not anymore!" And thus I carried a pee-soaked LL the last several blocks home.