Monday, January 30, 2012

Little Big Man

We kept saying that one of these days, he was just going to let go and....well, GO.  Today was that day, a few days after he turned 16 months....we were having an unusually quiet morning at home with Daddy on a weekday, because Nathan was waiting for someone to come fix his laptop.  I was in the living room with Zoe and Nathan had just come down the stairs with Owen.  All of the sudden, I heard Nathan from the other end of the hallway saying "Sarah! Sarah!"...I looked and there was little Owen, grinning ear to ear, WALKING right to me.  We all sort of held our breath and when he made it to me, we all clapped and cheered and had a grand old time making him walk back and forth for the next 20 minutes or  so, so we could get a good video of it.   I alternated between laughing, cheering and crying the whole time (and throughout the rest of the day, honestly) happy because Nathan happened to be home to see it, because Zoe is such a sweet big sister that she was just as excited as we were and because you really just can't NOT get caught up in the magic of the moment when witnessing your kid accomplish such an amazing feat both physically and mentally....also, so sad because my little baby isn't such a baby anymore.  He's been my little monkey, always so content to be quietly riding on my hip everywhere we go.  We won't be having any more kids so this is a big moment for me...I've wanted to be a mother my whole entire life and while I love every stage these kids go through, I can't help but feel melancholy at times like these...these moments have a way of making perfectly clear how quickly time hurtles past and how much these little people change.  Really, though I cherish the melancholy feelings because it always forces me to try and soak up every moment...anyway, today the proud, happy feelings won out as they always do, and I spent the rest of the day marveling at my Big Boy walking and walking and walking....

Zoe summed up the vibe in our house this morning perfectly when she, pen in hand and with her new "Feelings Notebook" (a book that has so far only been used to try and express difficult/sad/angry feelings) in front of her asked, "Mommy, how do you spell "YAHOOWEEEEEEEEEEE!!!"?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Funny Feeling Kit

I don't really like parenting books in general.  Sure, I've read many of them but it feels like every time I pick one up thinking it's going to be just what I'm looking for, I end up realizing that my kids don't fit into any of the "molds" in any of the books.  I read them for a bit and then end up either returning them to the library or feeling like I wasted my money by buying it (most often on impulse) at the bookstore.  I do usually leave the book feeling like I took at least one useful thing away from it so I suppose that makes it worth it (if I borrowed it from the library at least).  Normally I find that I can get along just fine by "trusting my gut" and "going with the flow" but, here and there, inevitably a new phase rolls around that causes me to frantically run to the library or bookstore.  I've come to accept this as part of the parenting package and I'm at peace with it.

My most recent wave of "holy-shit-what-is-going-on-I-have-no-idea-what-I'm-doing-my-kid-is-screwed-for-life" feelings had me rushing to the library to check out the book Raising Your Spirited Child (along with regular phone conversations with my sister Jill, which is much more valuable than anything I could ever read but since I can't have her at my beck and call 24/7 I had to get a book to supplement).  I have to say, although it wasn't a cover-to-cover fit for us, it has helped immensely.  It helped me to start considering Zoe's more difficult moments less as a personal attack against me and more as a life-struggle for her. Because of that, Nathan and I have been making a conscious effort to get into the habit of asking her where she is coming from, or what's on her mind, or what is so important instead of getting immediately aggravated the second she starts melting down.  It's been really eye opening and it feels like we're headed down a more constructive path right now.

I also had a great follow up experience to reading the book last night.  I went to a talk at Zoe's school titled "Understanding Your Child's Moods", given by Lisa Dion, the founder of Play Therapy Institute of Colorado.  Lisa talked a lot about brain development and shocked us all when she told us that the part of the brain that allows us to take in a challenging situation and make a well thought out decision about how to react doesn't fully form until we are 25 YEARS OLD!  She talked about how our brains are designed to react to a challenge in either a "Fight or Flight" or "Freeze, Fall Asleep" response.  She mentioned the "myth" that it is possible to become 100% calm and relaxed 100% of the time and assured us that our inability to embody that myth is not because we are not doing enough yoga but because our bodies are not designed to NOT react.  We all kind of breathed a collective sigh of relief and I know that I listened to the rest of her talk with the knowledge that I've been too hard on myself for getting off track once in a while and too hard on Zoe for melting down when faced with a challenge.  One of Lisa's main points was that we all go through life facing challenges and reacting over and over again.  The skill we should be aiming to master isn't to be able to avoid the reaction but to find a way to lessen the amount of time you stay in that reaction and to avoid getting "stuck".  The same goes for our kids, and since their brains are developing, it's our job as parents to help them figure out how to get back on track.  It's all really interesting and there's no way I'm explaining it correctly so if this sounds interesting you should check out the links above and see if you can get a more complete picture.

Anyway, when Lisa was describing the "Freeze, Fall Asleep" response, it immediately brought to mind one of the biggest challenges I've been facing with Zoe lately.  When we get into certain situations (usually involving a crowd of people she's not familiar with) she completely shuts down.  I used to call it "shyness" but it's seemed deeper than that lately for some reason.  On the worst days, she is pale and tired looking, very clingy, unable to talk to people (even people and kids she knows really well) and obsessed with food (Mommy, when are we going to have snacks?  Mommy?  When are we having the snacks?).  It used to annoy me but lately I've felt really sorry for her mostly because I have no idea how to help her.  Anything I do seems to make her more uncomfortable and I don't believe the answer is to totally coddle her and give her anything she wants in the moment.  So, I realized that what might be happening is that these situations cause her to shut down because her brain doesn't know how to process all of the information that's flying at her.  It's my job to help her figure out things she can do to get her back on track.

So this morning, I told Zoe I wanted to talk to her and she and I cuddled on our bed as I told her I'd noticed lately that she's been feeling uncomfortable in certain situations.  I asked her if there was anything I could do to help her when she is feeling like that and we had a great conversation.  We decided together that we should call her feelings the "Funny Feeling" and that it might help to put together a "Funny Feeling Kit" that we could bring with us whenever we think she might need it.  Here is what we put in the kit:

-2 buddies
-paper, markers, crayons and colored pencils
-a beautiful thing
-a tape measure (she usually feels more secure if she has a "project" so she and I thought she could measure a bunch of stuff with the tape measure)
-a stitch counter (I got one for Christmas and she loves playing with it.  It makes a really satisfying click when you press the button and she and I thought it would be fun for her to count stuff with "How many things in this room are yellow?  How many adults are here?  How many kids? How many cups are in that stack?" etc..)
-a stopwatch (same rational as the two things above...just another way she could create her own little project)
-a few homemade stress balls (while we were talking, I asked her how she feels when she has the "Funny Feeling" and she scrunched up her body and face and clenched her fists. I asked her if she'd like something in the kit that she could squeeze and she liked the idea.  They are all balloons filled with either sand, corn starch, barley or a combination of sand, cornstarch and water.  I filled one balloon with a funnel, tied it off and then put THAT balloon into another one with the end cut off.) UPDATE:  If you are making these stress balls, definitely stick with filling the balloons with cornstarch instead of the other suggestions I just made.  Over a few weeks time, the others became VERY stinky and gross. I suspected this might happen, but now I'm sure.  Zoe likes the cornstarch one best anyway....

I hope it helps her when she needs it, but we'll just have to wait and see.  As I was putting her to bed, I asked her what her favorite part of the day was and without hesitating she said "When we put my 'Funny Feeling Kit' together."  I asked her what she liked about doing it and she said "Cuz now I have something to help me when I'm feeling funny."  So fingers crossed...if it doesn't work, we'll just try something else!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Stock Show and Painting with Light

Our day began yesterday much like any other Saturday around here when the calendar shows not one plan for the day....slow morning, extra cup of coffee, long morning nap for Owen, all of us lounging around in our PJs for an obscene amount of time...not a bad way to spend a Saturday for sure, but Nathan changed it up when he asked us what we thought about going to the National Western Stock Show in Denver.  We'd talked about going before but the thought was always fleeting and we never really looked into when it actually was held so it was a fun, out of nowhere suggestion and Zoe and I jumped right on board.  We quickly got dressed and ready and headed out the door, all of us buzzing with the excitement of an unplanned adventure.  We ended up spending a few hours there and it was an action packed few hours, to say the least:  finding parking in one of the 5 or 6 HUGE lots (that all cost $15-$20), dodging piles of horse crap as we neared the coliseum (realizing after about 5 feet of it that this was what we would be doing all day so I might as well be Zen about it)....getting our tickets and going in the nearest door only to spend about 15-20 minutes trying to figure out which direction we should turn in to actually find the animals (the place and experience is so was hard to wrap our brains around HOW to actually experience it)....finally finding our destination and walking through crowds of people gnawing on gargantuan turkey legs (as if it's the most normal thing in the world to be doing while walking around in a crowd of people) and vendors selling things like Fried Twinkies (and said gargantuan turkey legs)...entering the VERY crowded "Petting Farm" where goats, pigs, sheep and llamas roam free along with all manner of kids and adults (I had to laugh at myself as I spent the entire time wanting to run for the "Exit", fearing for my life as I watched in envy as all of these little 5-6 year old children calmly pet the animals, not caring that they were standing directly behind another animal that could, in my mind, decide to give them a swift kick at any moment)...trying to find someplace to sit and eat (an enormous challenge in a place like that for a wacko vegetarian like me....I ended up having french fries for lunch)....stumbling upon the John Deere section, where the kids were allowed to sit on all of the tractors (thrill of Owen's life) walking through the seemingly endless stalls and lanes of cows, then sheep, then chickens and finally horses (once in a while being suddenly and alarmingly shooed out of the way so a team of beautiful Clydsdales could make their way down the lane we were on....or the time I happened to look behind me to see a 15 year old boy with a panicked look on his face and a number pinned to his shirt, trying to wrangle a clearly much stronger cow to the exact spot in which Zoe and I were trying to take a picture)....finding the Kid's Floor and caving to Zoe's request for a pony ride and trying to divert her attention from the face painting station....finding our way out to head home and stopping at the tent where they were holding a "stick rodeo" (little kids in cowboy hats and chaps riding stick ponies and doing "tricks" on them all the while being enthusiastically cheered on by the cute and funny)....realizing we had forgotten to change Owen's diaper all day (he was completely soaked and I hadn't brought any extra pants...I was forced to put his legs through the arms of his coat for the ride worries though, if you know him at all you won't be shocked to learn he thought it was really, really funny)...finally, stopping at the mini donut vendor for a well deserved helping of cinnamon/sugar donuts dipped in gooey chocolate (and a cup of coffee for Mommy)....We. Were. All. Exhausted....and really glad Nathan thought of it!

That's Owen all the way up there on that big seat


Zoe took this one of those times we were quickly shooed to the side so these guys could pass.

"Daddy, what's that big thing hanging down between that one's legs?"

Under Armour for sheep, I guess!

Phew!  When we got home it was dark so I told Zoe and Nathan I wanted to try this "Painting With Light" experiment I'd seen on a blog that I check for ideas once in a while.  I had seen it last week and fiddled around with my camera for a while after bedtime one night to see if it was capable of doing it.  I found (after looking at the product's website for a bit) that if I put it on the "Night Scenery" setting and took off the automatic setting that helps correct any hand shaking movements it worked...basically, you just need to figure out how to get a slow shutter speed and I think it would work.  I had gone to the dollar store on the way home from the stock show to get some glow sticks, and had bought this crazy bubble machine for Zoe at the show (it's also also a multi-colored flashlight) thinking it might be a cool thing to use for this experiment as well.  It ended up being SO FUN that Nathan practically had to drag me and Zoe away to eat dinner.  She and I were going picture crazy as we would take turns executing ideas and then run to the camera to see the results, yelling "OOOOO COOOOL!" at almost every single one.  You should definitely try it...she and I had a blast with it for a really long time and I bet we will revisit it.  By the way, though, while the glow sticks added a layer to the pictures, they were definitely not as spectacular as flashlights and the bubble machine...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Owen the Artist

My sweet little baby boy is getting big so fast these days.  He's getting really good at communicating what he wants/needs...sometimes by lying flat as a pancake on the floor face down and then arching his back to cry as hard as he can towards the sky, eyes closed (pathetically cute most of the time)...other times sweetly pointing, babbling and's becoming clear to us how much he is watching because without being specifically shown, he is doing things like pretending to fill a cup out of the faucet of the play kitchen and "drinking" it...I recently started encouraging him to sit on the little potty with his clothes on and after sitting there a few seconds, he goes to the sink, climbs up on the stool and asks for me to turn the water on and get him some soap to wash his hands.  He loves brushing his teeth and has started asking for floss too and today was loudly "spitting" into the sink after brushing, running the toothbrush under the water, brushing and so freaking adorable.

Almost all of this has taken me completely by surprise.  It's funny having a second kid because life is happening around him and it's so interesting and exciting to watch him just pick things up on his own (as opposed to the hovering we did with Zoe and the constant evaluating of the stages she was in).  One of the most fun surprises I've had in regard to this lately has been his interest in art.  My friend Jessica and I run a Kid's Art Group for Family Housing here and our goal each month is to let the kids be totally free with paint and stuff.  We put down a big tarp and give the kids huge, head-to-toe smocks to wear and we let them get super messy.  This last time we had the group, I was headed over to our community room where we hold the group and asked Owen if he  "...want(ed) to get messy at Art Group today?" and he immediately nodded his head yes and smiled.  So, although it was a fairly tame group that day, I did let him go to town with the supplies and it was so fun to watch.  Then today, Zoe asked me to get the paints out and Owen was asking to get in his high chair to paint too, so I decided to let him make a huge mess and deal with clean up only when he decided he was totally done (not when I decided).  He explored and experimented quietly for a good 20-30 minutes (long after Zoe had lost interest and gone into the other room) cute...I'm happy to say that cleanup wasn't really that bad either!  Thank goodness for washable Crayola paints!
Art Group...painting logs

I made this sun shape out of masking tape before giving the paper to Owen to go crazy on so we could peel away the tape afterwards....

I helped him spread the paint around on the paper a bit when he started getting more focused on painting his PJ's.

This picture warms my heart...

Finished!  Next time we do this I'll definitely use stronger paper because there are a couple of big tears but I love it all the same.

Now just exploring the paint...I did let him go ahead and paint his PJ's by the way...

Stacking the jars.  He then tried dipping the brush in the top jar and we ended up with a beautiful splatter all over the floor...way to be, Owen!

Love love love it...that's my boy!