Monthly Archives: January 2012

A Love Letter to Lady Grantham and the Six Sigmas

I thought about writing to solicit any readers of this blog for suggestions of good books you might recommend. But as I started typing, I realized that I HAVE piles of books sitting on my desk, my shelf, and my kindle app which I want to read but have not because when the magic hour comes very late in the evening when four children slumber, all my fried brain can handle is 30 Rock or Downton Abbey on Netflix. I’m thinking something right now that is pretty dumb, but I’m just going to say it: watching Netflix on my iPad has totally changed my life. This housebound woman, not unlike the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, can snatch moments of entertainment on the fly–during baby’s feedings, while my preschooler stalks big game on the Wii, or while making everybody lunch. For someone who can’t leave the house much, it’s a complete dreamboat.

So maybe I should solicit suggestions for worthwhile shows I can access on Netflix. I’m on a roll with delightful period dramas like Sense and Sensibiliity, A Room With a View, I Capture the Castle, and Jane Eyre. I’ve reconnected with fun, theatrical Baz Luhrman favorites like Moulin Rouge and Strictly Ballroom. And I am voraciously consuming the aforementioned 1912 soap opera set in an English manor house, and the seriously so funny stories springing from the mind of Tina Fey (“Everyone looks their best in a Sheinhart”).

My ten-year-old loves Netflix as much as I do, but his favorites lean more toward America’s Funniest Home Videos, Drake and Josh, and iCarly. He and I recently bonded while watching Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. I’ve been singing “Baby, Baby, Baby” all day in my head, which I consider a small price to pay for quality time with eldest child. My three-year-old has figured out (with no tutorials from me, believe you me) how to wake my sleeping tablet, navigate the icons, and fire up Toy Story 3 for his six-hundredth viewing. Sweet Jack, however, just doesn’t give a hoot about Netflix, even when it produces such appealing options as Thomas the Tank Engine. He does, however, perpetually take off with my iPad charger for good times involving dragging cords rapidly through the house.

This extended period of enforced solitude I’m experiencing makes me see such marvels as Netflix as a sort of lifeline to the world outside. It’s also a pleasant way to briefly forget that the world outside is experiencing January. I think I can honestly say that while hibernation doesn’t really mesh with my natural tendencies, hibernating in the winter is not a completely bad idea. Nor is secretly planning a beach vacation.

Blessedness

My house is all a flutter as we prepare for our wee one’s baby blessing tomorrow at our home. Things are busy. I’m a bit frazzled. I have zero tolerance, currently, for kid messes and I have turned into an over-zealous defender of the house. Toss your dirty hoodie onto the floor and my head just might start spinning around in circles. I keep mentally quoting my friend Stephanie, who has special kids and lots of similar challenges. She always says, “You can’t tell that I cleaned, but you would REALLY be able to tell if I didn’t clean!” While I am at church tomorrow teaching Gospel Doctrine, Jeff has been instructed to Guard the House. At. All. Costs. It’s really clean, people, so don’t mess it up!

In our wild, frenzied preparations, I found today that sometimes it’s just the little things that make me pause and look around and feel really happy. Just little, random things like the tween girl on the sidelines of the Junior Jazz basketball game who looked at me with a shy smile and told me that my hair looked like something from a Tresemme commercial. Or eating queso and tortilla chips with Jeff at Costa Vida tonight with nary a kid in sight (unless you count the loud and dramatic gaggle of show choir teens at the table near ours, which I do not). Things like a jewel of a babysitter who not only guards the house, but who also knows and loves the eccentricities of each kid in her care and makes them feel important.

This week a little thing became a big, happy thing: I had been planning for months to take my baby to a studio just days after his birth to have his pictures taken. One premature birth later, those plans were blown out of the water and replaced with a sad longing that I couldn’t take him anywhere and would miss photographing him in his precious, squishy, newborn phase. I kept saying to myself, “I need someone with a really good camera to just come to my house and take my baby’s picture!” Who that would be, I had no idea. Until my friend Mandi (who happens to be the mom of a seriously cool kid who we met in Early Intervention years ago, as well as the mom of our OTHER gem of a babysitter) called me and informed me that she now owns a really amazing camera, and that she was coming to my house to take my baby’s picture as her gift to me.

It was one of those moments when the heavens opened and the sunlight illuminated my friend’s angel wings and I felt so loved. She came over and worked her magic photographing baby boy in his fresh, infant sweetness. My house is clean. My kids are happy. I have sitters who are such a gift to my family. And Jack made my day by doing twosies in the toilet tonight. Seriously, the blessings are thick.

Cinema Glazed

I am a devoted cinema-phile. For the past few years, Jeff and I have made a weekly date night a number one priority as a means of preserving our sanity. Weekends at our house can be an exercise in endurance with Jack home and requiring our constant attention, with the exception of when he has therapy. We find that Jack plus three other boys in wildly different stages equals frenetic Saturdays. By five o’clock we are thoroughly weary and ready for the dark, quiet, kid-free ambiance of the megaplex. Of course it’s not really happening right now with one little preemie in the house, but normally we see movies within a week or two of their premieres.

Last winter was the first time that Jeff and I sat and watched the Academy Awards together. It was like a really sneaky, fabulous little date: a Sunday evening, kids in bed, and a big bowl of popcorn on our laps. Scandalous! I think we even pulled out a bottle of bubbly (Martinelli’s) left over from the holidays and acted like we were totally living large. The best part was that for the first time in our lives, we had seen nearly all of the movies nominated for the bigger awards. We finally had a horse in the race or a dog in the fight, or however that metaphor goes. It was really fun! This year, with our wild ride of having a fourth child, and a preemie to boot, we are sadly less schooled in many of the Oscar contenders. I still anticipate watching the awards as a voyeur, however.

Going to the movies is like the quintessential escapist activity. We leave our worries at the door, load up on cinema snacks, and allow ourselves to be entertained for a couple of hours. I have embraced this miniature weekly holiday to someplace other than my own life, because the respite freshens me for another round of exertion in parenting. I’m refilling my cup and recharging my batteries, and all that. It’s my break, and it makes me nicer to be around. And I just love movies!

Of the movies that I was able to view this year, these are my favorites: The Help, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two, The Debt, Jane Eyre, Midnight in Paris, The Muppets, and Twilight Breaking Dawn Part One–psych! I did not care for the latest installment in that franchise. I know that I have missed some good flicks, though, and I want to catch up with them eventually. At the top of my list are The Artist, Moneyball, and Warrior. Please weigh in and fill me in on what’s worth seeing and why. I want your opinions!

Blowing off Steam

I’m essentially housebound this winter with a premature baby who can’t go out in public places, particularly during the season when RSV lands many infants in the hospital. We were there for a month after baby’s birth, and I really don’t want to go back. So basically I don’t leave the house, unless Jeff is around to spell me briefly.

In my state of hibernation, there is ample time to ponder the current state of my family. I had an epiphany this week. Call it the result of lengthy rumination. Call it cabin fever. I’m not sure which it is. Sometimes I suppose it takes being stuck at home with little opportunity for escape to get the creaky gears of this “mommy brain” turning. This epiphany may sound really basic and obvious, but for me it stood out and screamed, “Hey stupid, why didn’t you think of that sooner?!”

It happened as Jeff and I scrubbed another impressionistic mural from Jack’s walls and windows. My mind flashed back to a distant support group outing when my friend April described in glowing terms her newest family addition–a Sargent Steamer, which had proved completely life-changing as she was able to deep-clean and sanitize pretty much every surface in her house with complete ease. April spoke of this machine like it was crack. She just couldn’t quit. After cleaning her entire house in detail, she was moving on to items in the garage, and planning to haul the Sargent to her family’s cabin for a soothing weekend of deep, pressurized steam cleaning. To this mother of a kid with special needs, hearing about said Sargent propelled me into a hypnotic state of fantasizing about a level of cleanliness currently unattainable. Why didn’t I just buy a Sargent myself, you ask? Probably because they cost somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen hundred bones. And probably because I really hoped that this season would quickly pass and wouldn’t necessitate such a fixture in our house. But this week as I struggled with another mighty mess, April’s obsession came back to my mind and I felt like a fool for not already owning such a device.

I decided that while Sargent Steam’s price tag is way beyond what I’m willing to fork out for a cleaning machine, it’s not the only way to achieve the nirvana that April found. I also decided that while no more disasters is the goal, I have to throw myself a bone and find a steamer. I’ll settle for any cheapo version that heats up water and blasts it at messy crevices. My friend Chris, whose immaculate home inspires me to clean with a little more enthusiasm, is letting me test-drive her steamer. So far, so good. We haven’t had to use it yet! Maybe just having it in the house will serve as a talisman against disaster.

Desperate Housewife

Something is happening with Jack. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s not good. It has all the signs of a downward death spiral, which is something we’ve faced several times before. Despite therapy, school, his sensory diet, and many a problem-solving session with teachers, doctors, and therapists, Jack is coming off the rails. We are always combatting problem behaviors of one variety or another. But at this moment in time, all the most difficult behaviors have crashed over our family like a tidal wave and it feels like we are swimming desperately through the debris and chaos of a storm surge.

You’ve already heard about the poop. That’s still happening, although thankfully not every single day. We have occasional moments of success. My son has become a tornado of destruction. We have resorted to putting our house on lockdown–practically every door has a locking knob to keep one boy from shredding the contents of each room. It’s only a band-aid sort of solution, however. It keeps him from making messes, but it doesn’t fix the behavior from happening as soon as the door opens for one reason or another. It’s also problematic as we have other little children who would like access to these closed off rooms of the house. You really can’t blame them for wanting to occasionally enter their own bedroom, say, or possibly the playroom. The irony is thick: we have a locked up playroom because we do not wish to allow one seven-year-old to dump every single toy from the shelves onto the floor, into the bathtub, or off of the deck and into the frozen backyard. Our imperfect system of locked doors helps to a degree, but it simply results in keeping the tornado in the main living areas of the house. Still shredded and destroyed, now it’s the first thing people see when they enter our house.

We are at a loss as to how to proceed. It’s hard to brainstorm solutions when one is holding one’s fingers in the leaking dam of household destruction and behavioral outbursts. I have a feeling our next step will involve a visit to the behavioral health clinic at the university to chat with the child psychiatrist. I’m grateful such a place exists, but I really really hate that place. The doctors are nice and sympathetic to our concerns, but Jack’s complex mental deficiencies befuddle even their expertise. Pretty much every visit to said clinic, to date, has involved the doctor recommending that we procure more help at home. They listen to my tales of poop, destruction, and meltdowns with horror and compassion before recommending that we get extra sets of hands to help us more.

I don’t like hearing this. First, don’t they realize that a smart girl like me has already thought long and hard about such an obvious answer? Of course I could use more help! And second, I find it maddening that the help I already have from teachers, sitters, and therapists (which is considerable!) is still not enough. I’m envious when I see a mom with a bunch of kids going to the pool together, or the mall, the movies, or the grocery store. “She doesn’t even require an assistant!” I marvel silently.

I’m hopeful that our next visit will be helpful, and not simply in the vein of suggesting that I hire yet more support staff. I’m eager to get the gears of our collective creative thinking turning. And I’m prayerful that I can find a way to meet Jack’s needs, as well as those of the rest of the family. Because call it what you want–a tornado, a tsunami, a dam break, or a death spiral, it’s pretty much a state of emergency.

Interfacing with the InterWeb

I resisted joining the world of social media for quite some time. Its not entirely clear to me why I was a total grumpy-pants about getting connected online, but looking back I think it’s safe to say that I was just too beleaguered with raising my special child to think about it. I figured I would have nothing to say unless it was about poop. But the inevitable happened. I started lamenting that I was out of loop when my sisters or friends talked about postings on Facebook. I realized that people put a whole lot of interesting pictures and stories on their blogs and that not all blogs are perpetually cheery braggy braggerton-type “Christmas Card” updates. Some are, for sure. But by cloistering myself from social media, I was simply missing out on some good stuff.

I’ve only just discovered within the last year what most people have probably known for quite some time: Facebook reveals much about the people who frequent it. It is really fascinating to me that I know all sorts of mundane and momentous things about people whom I haven’t seen since high school. We’ve become grown-ups as our lives have taken divergent paths. And frankly, we are all a whole lot more interesting now than we were back then. It’s really satisfying to hop online, particularly with one’s ridiculously convenient mobile device, and catch snippets of people’s lives.

Some people might argue that the things people post online are a carefully construed presentation which casts them in a favorable light. I tend to think, however, that the snatches of a person’s life one sees online are actually pretty honest. What we choose to put online reveals a good deal about how we spend our time and what we value. Anyone who reads my Facebook posts knows that I am lost in the netherworld of parenting. I’m living in Kid City, and that’s a fact. I personally love to troll the comments people leave on posts. They reveal so much! My sister only does this–she never posts anything of her own. She simply reads what everyone else puts out there. She’s like a ghost of the Internet. She calls it “lurking.” I call it lame. If you’re going to devour other people’s photos and status updates, at least have the decency to share some stuff of your own.

My sis claims that shyness keeps her from saying anything. I guess I can sort of see where she’s coming from. As the number of my Facebook friends grows, I find myself thinking hard before posting. Is it something I want two hundred people to see? Seriously. When in history have average clowns like me had a platform for sharing whatever we are thinking, whenever we want with two hundred people? And I know that some people have many more “friends” than I do. While it does give me pause, I am completely enamored with the glimpses into the lives of friends that I see online.

I think seeing each other on the web makes us feel more human. We see familiar elements and themes in the lives of our peers. We get to hear random, pedestrian thoughts someone has on an average day, instead of simply reading the once-a-year Christmas letter update which may or may not say anything of value. For me, being online is ironically validating. I do, in fact, sometimes discuss poop. But by just posting snapshots of the actual happenings in my peculiar little world, I am saying to myself and everyone else that children are magical and precious; that motherhood is demanding and relentless; and that my weird little life is totally worth reading about.

Practically Perfect in Every Way

Jeff has a birthday coming up this spring, which reminds us both that we are firmly entrenched in the decade of our thirties. It’s a busy phase of life for us, what with these hundred children we have running around now. My first and my fourth babies were born exactly ten years apart. This is great as I have a helpful and eager big bro who loves to tote his baby brother around and even feed him bottles or rock him to sleep on occasion. It’s also completely strange having children spread widely among divergent stages and interests.

One of my weirder I’m-such-a-grown-up moments happened last fall as I (pregnant with Truman) watched Charlie play trains in the waiting room of Henry’s orthodontist, while I meanwhile texted Jack’s therapist to ensure she would be arriving in time to get Jack off the bus. When one dreams about becoming a parent, it doesn’t usually involve visions of orthodontia. Or behavior therapy, premature babies, and potty-resistant three-year-olds. But while my pre-baby visions of motherhood didn’t necessarily foresee some of the complex family dynamics we face, that doesn’t mean they are unwelcome. Parenting, I have found, involves a great deal of stamina, creativity, problem-solving skills, and emotional endurance. I couldn’t have imagined back in the day what life with my children would look like. We really aren’t “typical,” yet it is our eccentricities which make us interesting. It’s the weird unpredictable stuff that compels us to grow.

In graduate school I had a quote from the theorist Michel Foucault taped to my desk which said, “What is true of writing … is also true of life. The game is worthwhile in so much as we do not know what will be the end.” It’s the unknowns in the journey that are part of the excitement and appeal of raising a family. I was born with some perfectionist tendencies, which I really wasn’t proud of. Fortunately, my kids have pretty effectively beaten the fruitless quest for perfection out of me. Jeff and I have resolved to live more in the moment and less for the future. We’re trying to appreciate the present and just accept it for what it is. Except when it involves poop-smearing. Then we are going to just go ahead and hope for a better day.

Vintage photographs

My mom is currently going through mountains of photographs from my grandma’s house, which is in the process of being emptied since both she and my grandpa have passed away. It was enlightening to spend an afternoon looking through some of the albums and snapshots of everything from photos of my cousins, my sisters, and me in the questionable fashions of the ’80’s to shots of my parents as really young, hip-looking parents in the somehow much-cooler early 1970’s. But my favorite part of this little visual journey into my grandmother’s life was seeing the really old photographs of my Grandma Bernice as a young woman in the 1930’s.

It wasn’t just the glamorous sensibilities of that era which charmed me, although I loved the way my always-stylish and pretty grandmother looked in the pictures. It was rather her carefree expressions, her vivacious body language, and her youthful countenance that captivated me. It was like I saw my grandma for the first time as a girl–fresh, curious, happy, and on the brink of the rest of her life. Some of the pictures show her working for a summer at the Grand Canyon, where she worked in a shop and also sang with a group of girls in the evenings for visitors to the national park. She was really flirtatiously smiling at one of the cooks at the resort in some of the pictures, and in one shot he is holding her in his arms as she laughs.

Other pictures featured her looking beautiful at the prow of a boat on a peaceful lake, or smiling with friends next to cars so vintage they look like they came straight out of a period film set during Prohibition. I think the one picture that struck me the most was one of my grandma with her parents. In the photo she and her parents Itha and Lawrence sit in a field where they’ve finished a picnic. They are lounging comfortably with each other and smiling contentedly at the camera. Stylistically, it’s not the best photo of the bunch. The scenery is really plain and sparse, and it’s not a great tight shot of their faces. But the way my grandma looks as a girl, peacefully enjoying the company of her parents is grand, as is my great-grandpa Lawrence’s look of total happiness at sharing a day with his beloved wife and daughter. Bernice was the only child Lawrence and Itha had. The picture of the three of them together embodied what a good memory is: simplicity and sweetness. It was taken before my grandma married and faced the demands of raising a large family, and before my great-grandmother Itha died in her sixties of cancer leaving Lawrence a widower for many years. From my perspective looking back at the lives of my grandparents, it was taken at a perfect time.

But pictures can obviously be deceiving. When I look through photos taken during Jack’s toddler years, which was one of the most physically and emotionally grueling periods of my life, I’m always kind of surprised to see myself smiling like everything is right as rain. But just looking at some of those pictures inspires a kind of nauseated, stressful sensation to well up inside me. I can easily recall the major meltdown which preceded the event, or the sinking feeling I had as I watched Jack playing near cousins or friends who developmentally surpassed him by leaps and bounds.

When I see Jack looking tiny and clumsy and chubby and bewildered in those snapshots, I can’t believe how far he and I have both come from the dark and difficult Days When We Were Desperately Trying To Figure Things Out to today, when we still haven’t figured things out, but we are pressing forward at a steady clip and feeling pretty peaceful with who we are and how it’s going. I just want to grab his red curls and kiss his plump and rosy toddler face, which would never look into the camera, and tell him, “Brother, you and I are going to be okay.” Really.

"Fell-yer" is Not Fatal

Yesterday I heard a psychologist/life coach on the radio discussing the stumbling blocks we face in our lives, as well as the most effective ways to overcome them. He repeatedly said that we have to get over our fear of failure. But, as we are in Utah, it sounded more like “fear of fellyer.” Fellyer, he uttered in folksy Utahnics, is something many people fear because they don’t address the root of the problems that afflict them. In other words, we dance around our stumbling blocks, rather than honing in on the core of our problems and eradicating them. I liked what this guy had to say. It seemed really bluntly effective. It seemed honest. It didn’t allow for excuses, like the tendency people have of blaming failures on their circumstances, the culture–whatever.

Later that day I described this psychologist’s theory to Jeff, whose first words were, “So what is the root cause of the poo?” (You see how it seeps into every aspect of our lives and dwells at the top of our subconscious?) Herein lies the difficulty to applying life-coach-guy’s philosophy to our family. The root of the poo problem is that Jack is mentally disabled. We can go on and on about why he resists the toilet, why he makes big messes, why two days of victories in potty training are followed by one nasty Sunday morning disaster (there’s nothing like a Code Brown to get the Sabbath rolling!), or why our efforts to fix the poop problem aren’t good enough. But the fact remains that Jack is a human being. He is a person with a whole lot of personality, and currently a whole lot of willpower to poop almost anywhere but in the potty. We can’t force him to finish potty training any more than we can force him to speak.
I honestly don’t know how to eradicate this stumbling block, other than wiping the poop off it and remaining patient with the person who put it there.

I don’t believe Jack came to our family to be “fixed.” We can’t cure him of his genetic differences, and really I think if we were to try we would be missing the point. We can’t fix him, but we can love who he is and learn from him–his sweetness, his innocence, his unabashed joy at simple pleasures like balloons, vacuum cleaners, bubble baths, and minty sticks of gum. I can’t stop the veneer of poop from coating my house, but I can react to it patiently. I can rant about how messes spring up perpetually around me, or I can clean it up and go on loving my Jack despite his flaws. So I guess my response to the radio dude’s comments is that while poop remains our stumbling block, the person who produces it is not a problem that needs fixing. He is an individual with many things to learn and also many things to offer.

My friend Tara, a fellow mom of a special child, posted on Facebook this little jewel from Winston Churchill: “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Thank you Mr. Churchill for helping me see that my efforts are valid, even when they don’t work. Thank you Jeff for being my longsuffering partner in cleanup. And thank you Jack, for keeping our family real.

Code Brown

All of you, dear new readers of this blog, be warned that this post is totally gross. But it involves one of the central aspects of my life. So don’t read it if you don’t want to. Consider this fair warning.

It’s not a topic of conversation for polite company. But at my house, it’s the recurring event that we plan for and anticipate with dread at all times. It’s Jack’s daily constitutional. The BM. The poo. Code Brown, baby. Nothing mobilizes Jeff and I like the whiff of sewage and a cry for help from the disgusted party who first discovers it. Like an unpleasant dinner guest, it comes at inopportune times and casts a shadow on the household. Five minutes of unsupervised Jack, in recent days, has resulted in one hour plus of Haz Mat-style cleaning efforts afterward.

Everybody poops. There is a cute little children’s story about this very topic. But nobody talks about it because it’s a quiet little private part of their day. We, however, talk about it quite a lot, unfortunately. It’s an omnipresent conversation topic when one is constantly wiping it off walls. And floors. And furniture. And electrical outlets. The pediatrician asked me how we get it out of the outlets. There is only one answer to his question: you don’t get it out. You throw them away.

No one is exactly sure why Jack has such an aversion to doing number twos in the toilet. And his need to smear it all over the place is another icky dilemma. One expert we consulted about the problem gave us this wise little nugget of advice: stay with Jack at all times, including in his room at night in order to catch him in the act. We rolled our eyes at this “helpful” solution and tried to brainstorm better ideas, all while we continued with the constant damage control of our house, or Poo Central. Now all these months later, we decided that the child psychiatrist’s dumb suggestion is our last hope for fixing this issue. We are on Jack all the time. We insist on keeping him in our sight at every moment, which isn’t at all exhausting with three other little boys around to care for. He’s now doing most of his therapy sessions while sitting on the toilet as we try to develop some better, more sanitary habits.

This week our efforts paid off. He did his business in the proper place and we threw him an impromptu fiesta in the loo, complete with high fives, hugs, smiles, and squeals, as well as his ultimate treat–a haircut with the clippers. He loves those clippers! In Jack’s mind, the only thing better than getting his hair buzzed with them would be dragging them through the house by the cord. I am beyond happy to cut Jack’s hair five times a day if it will help him transition from smearing to flushing.

So there it is, people. Our dirty little secret. It’s not actually secret, or little. But it certainly is dirty.