Saturday, January 29, 2011

Vehicular disappointment

This afternoon, while Meatball and Musical Daddy napped and Grandma and The Boy were out getting haircuts, I cleaned out our van. It was in desperate need of some big time crap removal. I then decided to play around with the seating arrangements in the car.

If you are familiar with the basic model of the Chrysler/Dodge minivan, you know that it has two rows of seats in the back--one that seats 2 and one that seats 3. We have the boys in the middle row, right next to each other, and I was wondering if perhaps they'd be a little happier with the larger seat in the front, giving them more room. Meatball has a habit of pestering The Boy at the most inopportune times, like when he is in a lousy mood, or when he is sleeping. A little distance between them, even though they can still see each other and talk to each other, might be just the thing. Even if just for a little while.

I removed both rows of seating, vacuumed the seats to remove random crumbs and things that seem to get stuck in there, and I put the larger row of seats in the second row. Great. Worked fine. I installed the carseats and found that while there was a little bit more room, probably enough so that Meatball is unable to reach The Boy, the seats themselves are so wide on the the top that it is impossible to seat a third person in the row, which was something that I was hoping to be able to do in addition. So that if Grandma rides in the car with us, she doesn't have to climb in the back. Because, you know, she's 61 years old. If you know my mother, you can hear her saying this, complaining while proudly declaring her age.

I then tried to put the smaller row of seats in the back, and it just doesn't fit. Just can't figure out how to make it work. Maybe if I remove the arm rest...but I don't see how that is possible.

Rather than take the whole thing apart and start over (which I'll have to do later anyway), I did leave the seats in place, and the extra row of seats is sitting in the garage.

I'm glad to have cleaned out the car, and I'm also glad to have chili cooking on the stove and clothing in the washing machine and dryer.

Not sure yet what is on tap for the rest of the weekend. The Boy is going with Grandpa and Daddy to a baseball event. Definitely NOT for Meatball. Perhaps he and I will call a friend or go play somewhere.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Organic Solutions

I feel I should preface this entry by saying that the title "Organic Solutions" has nothing to do with food. I am using the word "organic" just to mean something that occurs naturally, rather than through manufactured, calculated processes. I realize that the food definition also means the same thing, but again, I'm not talking about food today.

I attended a "Manic Toddlerhood" group today at the Jewish Community Center. This is an hour-long discussion group that takes place in the "Family Place" area, which is basically a big playroom. Parents bring their infants/toddlers and let them play while a discussion is facilitated by experts. The experts today were both people with experience in development and, of course, with children of their own. They introduced themselves and said that no, they did not have neat little solutions to problems in boxes to hand out. Each parent said their name and the names and ages of their children, and whether they had any issues that they'd like to address with the experts and the group.

When I introduced myself and began with "I have a 3.5 year old cancer survivor who wears hearing aids..." things pretty much came to a stop. You don't often find a person who has been through the wringer as we have in attendance at a "normal" parenting discussion group. And yet, I was there with just my typical 18-month-old.

The themes for discussion as picked out by us parents were sleep routines, time-out/punishment, communication between parents and other caregivers such as nannies, finding relief when Mom is sick and baby/toddler doesn't know how to take it easy, and potty training, as well as other issues of independence.

The issue that really struck me and helped to prompt this entry was that of time-out. A father who stays home with his daughter said that they have a punishment chair, and that's what they call it. At first it seemed to "work," but now his daughter doesn't really care if she is put there. It also seems as though she gets put there quite a bit for actions that seem pretty normal for 2-year-olds. She gets put there for running away when he is trying to get her coat on to go to the store. She gets put there for running away instead of coming for diaper changes. He wanted to know what other people did for punishment/discipline. A few other parents (and nannies, as there were a few nannies in attendance as well) said that they also had time-out chairs or time-out corners, and it works for them. Some said that they have similar issues of trying to find the right "discipline" methods as their kids are younger and don't understand, but they feel that their kids need "something."

I said that I rarely, if ever, did time-out with my kids because I don't find that it works for them, and if I have to address an issue of behavior, the solution is tailored to the individual situation. If my children are fighting over something or not playing nicely, I separate them and talk to them. I try not to pin too much responsibility on The Boy, particularly since Meatball is a little instigator, but I do tell The Boy as often as possible that he needs to show Meatball, and other people, how he'd like to be treated and how he'd like to play. As such, we try to model behavior as adults that we want to see in the children. I gave the example of The Boy wanting to keep a toy he was playing with, even though Meatball wanted it, and saying "The Boy was playing with about the pig?" and handing Meatball the really cool piggy bank toy to play with, so that they both have a toy and they're both happy.

I have two fundamental problems that I have with the whole time-out discussion as it went with this group, and as it frequently goes. The first is that parents think that every "undesirable" action on the part of their children requires retribution. Although the intention is to correct a behavior, it quickly becomes a matter of letting the children know that they can't get away with whatever they did without being punished. It's a difficult mindset of which to rid oneself (and plenty of parents don't feel that they need to get out of it, yet they wonder why they are constantly punishing their kids), because it just doesn't seem that productive.

That isn't to say that time-out never works for any child and is never appropriate for any situation. Some children do a better job of getting themselves together when they have time to themselves. Some parents need a minute to collect themselves if things get out of hand. The point is that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution, but retribution can't be the starting point.

The second problem is a logical extension of the first one, and that is the concept of consistency. Frequently when talking about consistency with small children, people are telling you that you have to use certain punishments for certain actions, and then the child comes to expect that and, ostensibly, will stop doing the offensive actions. But again, why the retribution? It just isn't necessary. And so what if your child does something you don't like, and you don't get around to punishing him because you're busy hugging him to make him feel better?

Here's the consistency that has worked for my children: I consistently model positive behavior for them. When I tell The Boy that I'm going to do something for him, I do it. I prompt him to do the same for me, that when he says he is going to do something, he should follow through. Sometimes he does, and sometimes he doesn't. He's 3. The more I model this behavior for him, and for Meatball as he gets older, the more he'll do it. I consistently meet their emotional needs and acknowledge when they are making sacrifices for me. Because yes, interrupting playtime to go to the grocery store is a sacrifice for them, and I always thank them for coming with me and helping me pick out food for the family. And needing a hug is a valid reason for being a little cranky, and I try not to let any crankiness get out of hand before I recognize it and address it with food or snuggles or rest or attention.

I feel very positively about the way that my children do things. They're not perfect. They drive me crazy from time to time. Sometimes they reach up and pull the cereal box down onto the floor instead of just asking for some cereal. And sometimes the fight with each other. But they are good, as all children really are, and I hope to continue positive and respectful relationships with both of them, with consistent love and meeting of needs, and consistent guidance free of retribution for the sake of keeping the score in my favor. Because as soon as I start keeping score with my children, I'm going to lose. Better to let them "get away with" something, knowing that eventually they'll notice that whatever it is that they're doing has a more positive alternative.

Slight topic shift, but under the umbrella of the same title: I've been noticing the differences in my private music students and the way that they learn. I have a pretty standard set of beginning repertoire, along with standard posture and position ideas. How they get through the repertoire, what books they end up using, what tricks and devices work to solidify posture and all varies from student to student. I realized that one of my students would really benefit from some rhythm practice. He is doing an excellent job, but he would really do that much better with additional ways to think about rhythm and additional ways to practice it. But it isn't as though I'm saying "at this point in your studies we must practice rhythm in this way because that's what comes next." It is an organic solution, in my mind, because it seems like the appropriate time to do this work, and is in response to issues that come up with his playing and the repertoire that he is studying.

It just feels better to be flexible and, while anticipating problems is certainly an important part of parenting and teaching, organic solutions and organic problem avoidance just feels better.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Today Meatball went down early for his nap, as I mentioned, and I got about 45 minutes of time "to myself" before I needed to pick up The Boy from school. The den and the kitchen were total disasters, so I cleaned, and then I relaxed.

What I probably SHOULD have done is given up one or both of those activities in favor of PRACTICING.

But soon, I'll make a date with Herman the German.

For those who don't know, I'm not stepping out on Musical Daddy with some other guy. I play a 1979 Pöllman double bass, and the previous owner, who was my bass teacher, named him Herman.

More ills and thrills

Musical Daddy has strep. How in the world did he get strep, and of all the people in the house, why would he be the one to get it, considering that he does NOT spend his time around little germ factories children? Of course you'd think that The Boy would pick something like that up at school, or that Meatball would pick it up because he still has the annoying habit of putting stuff in his mouth, food or not. So he was home yesterday and is home today and has spent almost the entirety of that time in bed. Thankfully, he got himself some antibiotics. And those are wonderful things to have when you really need them.

The Boy is having a keen time going to school. Today he brought his Alef-Bet Yoga book to school to show his friends. When we were visiting New Jersey over the "winter break," we visited a synagogue, and we spent the time with other little kids and moms. One of the activities that they did was Alef-Bet Yoga, right out of this book that we got. It has real poses, or variations on real poses, that resemble the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Amazingly enough, The Boy remembered doing this weeks later and started doing it at home, so we bought the book. I would love to go through the book with him every day or almost every day so that we remember how to do it and we get a little yoga practice in. I don't know how my time just fills up but perhaps next time he asks to play a game or watch something on TV we'll do this instead. Not sure if Meatball is ready for this yet.

That said, Meatball does an excellent job of performing the motions for songs and games that he knows, and he even starts to fill in the words. Patty-Cake, Row Row Row Your Boat, If You're Happy And You Know It, and The Wheels On The Bus are among the ones that he enjoys. So maybe he would get into a session of Alef-Bet Yoga.

Meatball has gone down for his nap, and since Musical Daddy is right across the hall from him asleep, I can just leave and go get The Boy from school. I hope he is still having fun. The teachers told me after last week that he is really enjoying himself and is doing a great job falling into the various routines. That's something that is much easier to teach to a group of similarly-aged children because they all want to do what the other ones are doing, and--much less important--they want to please the grown-ups. Peer pressure is not always a negative--if the other kids are putting on their own coats or cleaning up toys or going potty, then that's good.

Anyhow, I'm going to get The Boy. I'm sure I'll have more to say later.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


Objects at rest tend to stay at rest, and objects in motion tend to stay in motion. That's inertia as we learn it in basic physics classes.

To divert from real science into personal practicality, if you have something that you HAVE to do, it is easier to muster up the energy than if you don't really have to do it, or if you can put it off until later without much trouble.

I had only recently recovered from a terrible cold, and I ended up with another one to start the week. I'm guessing that it came from the new preschool student in the house, who did have both a fever and a stuffy nose over the weekend. I don't think I had a high fever like The Boy did, because I never bothered to take my temperature, but I was definitely knocked on my behind from Monday afternoon through yesterday evening.

Fortunately, the weather cooperated with me and kept me home from Tuesday night's rehearsal and gave me a pretty easy out from last night's travelling music lessons, which I might have been able to handle if they were all close by, but they're far away with quite a bit of travel time in between each one. I have to make them up this weekend, but I'll manage. And since I am making them up, I won't lose the money.

I still had to get up to take The Boy to preschool on Tuesday, because he was feeling perfectly fine by then, but taking him to school is a net gain for me in the napping department, even with having to leave the house twice, because it meant that he was tired enough to nap with me.

I wonder, if I were working full-time, how many of these days would have been "sick days" for me. Maybe Tuesday, but probably I would have kept on trucking and gone to work, because once I'm moving, unless it's REALLY bad, I can at least function. It's hard to get up out of bed when you're sick, though. Your whole body feels heavy and slow.

Objects at rest REALLY want to stay at rest.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A little Sunday wrap-up

The Boy had a successful first week of school and will be happy to return this coming week. He said he played with friends, he told me a few times with whom he sat at lunch, and the teachers said that he's doing just fine. Pretty successful in terms of potty at school as well!

We feel like we've finally turned the corner with this potty business. He has been good about taking himself to go, even when he has clothes on. We don't get on his case about it too much. Would he have done it himself had we just left him in diapers and not worked with him on it? I doubt it. There were a lot of habits that he needed to learn and there is a lot of "potty rhetoric" that he has finally adopted. Such as, twice when he has needed to go, he has said "I have to stop what I'm doing!" which is right out of the Elmo's Potty Time video, but has been something that we've said to him over and over, because he used to NOT stop what he was doing and then we had a problem.

Lots of sadness this weekend, unfortunately. A close online friend of mine lost her husband on Friday to a brain tumor. They knew it was coming and he held on for quite a long time, but they couldn't treat it, couldn't cure it, and he finally passed away. They have three sons, two of whom are close to the ages of my children. Of course there was the shooting in Arizona which, while it is convenient to say that there's some sort of partisan connection, just sounds like some crazy dude did some crazy stuff, irrespective of his politics. Not that I condone the manner in which some politicians choose to communicate their desires for change and opposition to certain people being elected, but I don't think that this particular whackadoo has anything to do with them.

The Boy had a fever last night which seems to have mostly gone away, and Meatball has been off and on feeling lousy. I'm still not feeling 100% from having been sick before. My nose is getting all stuffy again. Perhaps it's early to bed for Mum.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


The Boy now attends preschool every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from about 8:45 (drop-off time is from 8:30-9:00 and we probably get there in the middle of it) until 12:30. His first day was yesterday, and I wanted to write about it yesterday but as soon as I got home from rehearsal, Meatball was awake and looking for Mum.

The Boy is in a class with 9 children (including himself) and 2 teachers. That's a darned good ratio! There are 6 girls in the class and 3 boys. I have memorized the names of all the kids in the class and can identify them all within the class; some of them I knew already, and some I knew their parents. Also, there is a girl in the class who had a kidney transplant.

There are a few structured/scheduled activities that the kids do. They sit at the table for snack and lunch. They go up to the gym to run and play. They go outside to play. They have library on Tuesdays, something else on Thursdays (I'll find out tomorrow, might be music) and they do Shabbat on Fridays to get the kids familiar with traditional songs and blessings. At some points the kids sit together and do activities or songs. One of the teachers reported that David picked the ABC song to sing with the group.

They have little froggies with the kids' names on them.

I'm glad he seems to like it, and he is excited to go back tomorrow. I'm also enjoying the prospect of spending some time with just Meatball.

Speaking of Meatball, he is exactly one-and-a-half years old today!

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I realized that I spent far less time "connected" to the outside world via my trusty laptop over the course of my vacation. This can be attributed to my spending more time actually talking to human beings and, additionally, time spent attempting to sleep. Trying to get over the plague cold that has lingered in my system longer than nearly anything that I've had except mono.

And, as such, I have said very little about either my vacation experiences or my thoughts on the ending of one year and the beginning of the next. Being that I finally have a quiet moment to myself not earmarked for sleep, I'll go for it.

2010 was a year of healing. 2009 may have been the worst year in many ways, but 2010 was when we finally allowed ourselves to hit bottom and realize that we were broken people, and thus, the rebuilding could begin. Having my parents here, acting not just as loving grandparents but as caretakers for both the children and us, meant that we could focus on exactly what the constant fighting had done to us. Fighting cancer for our son while fighting just to keep our younger son happy for more than 2 minutes, while fighting with a bumbling idiot over my husband's career (a fight that while we didn't win it, we have heard about the results of this bumbling idiot's work, and he does a crappy job while teaching false discipline and phony confidence--no use teaching field commands if you can't teach actual playing and marching. Yeah, second-to-last in championships and outscored by our favorite group 2 band when you're a group 4. I'm talking about you, you overhyped buffoon. Looks like "cleaning house" didn't work out as well as you thought). Once we were able to stop fighting everything so much, once we were able to take care of ourselves as a family, we saw how much it hurt that we hadn't been able to do that before.

So we went to therapy. We started DOING things like playing in orchestra (me) and singing in a chorus (him). I did a little substitute-teaching in the city schools. He got a long-term sub job for the rest of the year, teaching math. While that ended poorly due to them not being able to find his gradebook, and way too much animosity being passed around over that, he was very successful. Granted, he now knows that he'd rather shove a fork in his eye than teach middle school math again.

We had two major miracles in the first half of this year. The first was that our giant scare at the end of 2009, where we thought that The Boy had a new tumor in his liver, turned out to be a whole lot of nothing. He was opened up for surgery, and the internal ultrasound that was run over his kidney and liver, after the spot that was supposed to be there, wasn't, confirmed that The Boy continued to show no evidence of disease on his treatment plan and could continue with what he was doing instead of us facing the prospect of a Phase I trial or having them give up. The second was that they took The Boy off treatment on April 1. April Fools' Day, you know. Not that I thought they were joking, and not that it was entirely good news--they were concerned about his kidney function and the fact that he was taking longer to recover, even from reduced doses, led them to believe that they'd done enough. Also, the fact that many other kids had received portions of this treatment without completing it and remained cancer-free.

Certainly we're not out of the woods yet, as we have to re-check every 3 months to make sure that the cancer stays away, and we get so anxious during that time leading up to those check. Scanxiety, even though he doesn't get CT scans but instead has ultrasound and X-ray.

Cancer treatment left The Boy with some cool scars as well as hypertension, controlled by medicine, and mild to moderate hearing loss. Fun souvenirs. He got the hearing aids, as I mentioned, and he is doing reasonably well with them. We haven't yet gotten to the point where he just puts them on all day. You know--set it, and forget it! But he has worn them at least for several hours at a time and should be able to get through his preschool day without a problem.

And yes, The Boy starts preschool this week! I'm excited. I'm nervous. I really hope he doesn't poo his pants too many times. I hope the other kids are nice to him, hearing aids and all. I'm thrilled that he is finally allowed to be around other kids.

Topic shift: vacation! Our New Jersey trip was enjoyable, although both too long and poorly planned. Next time I'm going to have to make arrangements with some friends ahead of time, because otherwise we just won't get it done. We left the week pretty open, because priority #1 was my brother-in-law and his kids. They'll probably not be making another trip out for awhile, but at any rate, we still had a great time with them. Our niece and nephew were great with our kids. It was particularly thrilling to watch the boys play.

Even so, it seemed as though we could do without such a long visit. Not that anything went wrong, and we really enjoyed ourselves, but we probably could stand to visit for a shorter time next time.

We did spend New Years Eve with our usual crowd. Except now it's a family party because just about everyone has kids. Great fun watching the kids interact (and pile-on, just like the grownups do).

New Years Day involved a family brunch (I made pancakes, eggs, and steak. What?) followed by dinner with Musical Daddy's BFF and family. They have an adorable niece who also came. She is 2 and loves to play with boys; fortunately, we had 2 for her!

So. Another year. I've never been one for big resolutions and dogmatic efforts to adhere to something without actually making the right changes. I like the idea, though, of using the new year as a stopping point, to recenter and refocus. I can't resolve to get a good job, because that's not entirely in my control--all I can do is make the effort.

I will resolve to continue to be patient. My children are lovely and wonderful, and so smart and so sweet, but sometimes they try my patience. Most of the time, I set the right tone for problem-solving and resolution; I'd like that to be even more of the time, because nothing ever gets done when anyone is screaming.

I will make a generalized resolution to be more active. Just for the sake of getting off my behind and taking the kids out more places where I have to chase them around. They need to be more active as well, although they do fine running circles around the house.

I don't have any major self-improvement projects on the horizon, just the usual. And I'll try to write in my blog a little bit more often.

2010 is history; 2011 is here so let's live it.