More Real Life

Marko and I finally made it back to our Thursday playgroup today for the first time since Max was born. It was a cold morning but Marko was a good sport about walking because he had his snowball maker. Max was not so into the cold wind, but he fell asleep pretty quickly. There are lots of new babies in this playgroup and it's nice to have some mom friends who are doing the whole up-all-night thing. I like that I can send a message in the middle of the night and pretty much expect an immediate reply.

The morning playgroup and the walk there and back paved the way for an afternoon nap for Marko, although sadly, Max was awake so I didn't get to lay down. After that, it's exercise time (dancing to YouTube videos), and then we pick up Laurel from school. And bam, that's the day, because it all goes to hell when we get back home.

If the weather isn't terrible, we stay and play in the school yard. There's another mom who has a very similar tolerance for dirt and free play, as well as a similarly chill schedule, so there's always at least one other kid to play with. Today they got super muddy. I'm not sure what game they were playing, but the snow melt today created some pretty intense mud conditions. When we finally called them out of the school yard to come home they emerged clutching large balls of mud. I seriously thought they were holding cow poo. It was made slightly worse by the fact that Marko had a bloody nose at some point, which the girls took upon themselves to help him with, so he was covered with dried blood. I made my kids strip on the front porch with the plan of immediately heading towards bath time. (If it's getting dark, I consider it night and appropriate to start night time routines. Who cares if it's 5 o'clock?)

Laurel had already reached her limits today, and started arguing. She loves to argue so much she will argue against getting things she wants. Then she cries. So then I had two naked children, one of them yelling and crying and the other gleeful to be naked. And a screaming baby. I wish I could say this was unusual. If it's not mud, it's something else.

People warned me about this three kids thing. It's a lot more kids than two kids, they said. No way, I told them.  I was a teacher after all. I'm used to dealing with children in groups of 20.

I try not to think of parenting as an Us vs Them kind of thing. But if it were a competition? The kids would win the matches played between 4 and 6pm. Every. Single. Day.

So here's what I do. First, I put on Brian Eno's Music for Airports. And I get myself a coffee or a beer. This relaxes me more than the kids, but you gotta put your own oxygen mask on first. I neutralize Marko by putting him in the bath. He'll hang out there for a good twenty minutes and there's a minimal amount of destruction he can cause in the bathtub. Sometimes he even remembers to wash himself. Then I help the baby because there's only like 4 things that make him cry and 3 of them I can take care of really quickly. By this time I've gotten used to Laurel's wailing and tuned it out. If I give her a good 10-15 minutes to cry, she comes around with an apology and a solution. Ten minutes is a long time to listen to a six year old cry (sorry, neighbors), but I honestly just think this is part of the way she processes her day.

By six o'clock they are usually all in pj's and eating a snack. (You'll notice there is no mention of dinner...cooking or eating it. I'm sure at some point I'll have to figure this out, but for now, I have given up on real dinner. I make them pb&j's or quesadillas or an egg. Almonds, carrot sticks and green smoothies on the side. Clif bars or muffins for dessert and a hearty glass of milk.) Real dinner is reserved for grownups who don't complain about being served dishes with multiple ingredients that touch each other.

Then we have story time, and suddenly I like having three kids again. If Max is awake, he joins us and the kids will read something to him. Tonight I read Lemonade in Winter and Leaf Man to Marko and the first part of a children's version of a Midsummer Nights' Dream to Laurel. Max fell asleep too fast to get a story this time.

At this point in the evening, Marko becomes the wild card. Some nights he lays down in his bed and falls asleep. If he does not fall asleep right away, I will spend the next 2 hours bringing him ice packs for real and imagined injuries, helping him on and off the toilet, tucking his covers, removing or adding various layers of pajamas, finding his water bottle and other various requests he comes up with that have just enough legitimacy to make it hard to say no. Three year olds are geniuses at this sort of thing.

Laurel falls asleep immediately pretty much every night. Thank you, full day kindergarten.

Once everyone is asleep, I take a bath, which is a cue for someone to wake up. Seriously, as soon as I just start to relax in the water, someone cries. Most nights M is home from work by this time so he deals with it. Tonight he is at a meeting, so I'm just not going to bother trying.

What I want to remember about today is looking across the school yard and watching Marko and Laurel hug each other. Max's big round eyes and his smile when I bounced him on my knees and how pleased he looked with himself as he is learning to hold his head up. I want to remember sharing the last slice of Marko's fire truck birthday cake with him today after nap time and how he relished each bite. Laurel nestled in next to me while I read to her and how quiet and still she was while she tried to make sense of Shakespeare's words.


Real Life

Max just spent a half an hour trying to let go of his left hand with his right hand. You know how little babies can't really control their grasp for a while? There was much grunting and heavy breathing over the effort, but no crying. Exhausted from the effort, he fell asleep. I took it as a gift and grabbed the opportunity to make myself some lunch and read Facebook while I pretended that I didn't know that Laurel and Marko started another Netflix show.

It is 5 o'clock. Laurel has no school today or tomorrow. M was in Florida for work last week, and I don't think I've quite recovered from the experience of being by myself with 3 kids. The days were long. The nights were longer.

Also, winter.

Getting everyone dressed and out the door and then immediately back in the door and undressed because someone forgot to use the potty and then redressed and out the door and the baby is now screaming because he's hot...well I didn't even start down that path today.

Things that happened today....

Marko and Laurel found Pez dispensers. And many rolls of Pez. They hid under the couch and ate them for breakfast. Thank you very much to whoever bought these for my children.

Marko went to his annual physical and apparently had an ear infection that is now fortunately clearing up on its own. He also has gained the appropriate amount of height and weight despite refusing to eat 85% of what we prepare for him. PB&J's forever.

Laurel emerged from Quiet Time with a large amount of makeup on her face. But it wasn't makeup because she's six and doesn't have makeup, so she used crayons. It was applied surprisingly well considering she doesn't have a mirror in her room.

I bought a subscription to Beachbody because I'm all gungho about working out and losing what I'm calling baby weight, but is actually more due to my husband becoming an ultra marathoner this year and me eating enough to also be an ultramarathoner, but not putting in the miles. The kids ended up doing more of the workout than I did because Max screamed the whole time and I sort of tried to keep up using Max instead of my dumbbells but I'm not sure I actually burned any more calories than I would have if I was just doing the usual rocking and bouncing and patting routine.

I'm a little bit in denial about how fussy Max is.

I have a book and a magazine and three weeks worth of New York Times Sunday Editions still mocking me from inside their blue bags, but I cannot comprehend anything more complex than blizzard photos right now. Just a tiny bit tired these days.

So Facebook it is, and a few words on this blog and waiting for M to get home from work so we can have Pho.

And that's Real Life around here.


Max at One Month

Max is a month old already. I just reread what I wrote about the other two when they were this age and found it hilarious how similar Laurel acted when Marko was born to how Marko is acting now. Three year olds, man. They are a trip.

Laurel had a colicky stage, which forced us to go to great lengths to stop her crying (and eventually just masking it to save our sanity). I can remember one time my parents walking in and we were rocking her in a cradle with the vacuum cleaner parked next to it, all other sources of white noise having failed us. If there is a six year old version of colic, she still has it. Her feelings will not be a secret to you or anyone else. She has a need to cry in order to process some things and bursts of creative energy that must be released. It's kind of beautiful actually, to see the world through her perspective. It's so very intense.

Marko was the pure opposite as a baby. Maybe because he was a tinier baby and born at an earlier gestational age? He didn't really do anything except sleep until he was about 2 months old. He has lots of energy now, but is goofy and entertaining. He can read an audience and perform in a way that Laurel doesn't.

And who will Max become? As a newborn, he has been somewhere in between. He gets a little fussy with gas at times and he hates to have a soiled diaper. But we can also swaddle him up and put him down. He can fall asleep and stay asleep without touching someone. In fact, he doesn't really like to ride around in the wrap or to sleep on my chest the way the other two did. Sometimes in the afternoons or evenings, he wants to be held in the crook of our arms, cradled close to our bodies, but so that he can look at the lights.

M and I go between enjoying the ease of having a third, healthy baby and dropping f-bombs over the astonishing amount of mess and chaos that descends upon our family from time to time. We know how to take care of Max, so that part is much more relaxing. On the other hand, it's totally nuts around here. We'll have everything under control, and then some kind of a cyclonic energy hits the kids and everyone cries, dumps out every toy they own, pees their pants, spills our coffee...all at once.

Max at one month is about 10 pounds, up from his 8 pounds 3 ounces at birth. His ears are very round. He has different cries...he uses a particularly angry one for a wet diaper. He likes the Soothie brand pacifier and relaxes the second he hears the white noise app on my iPhone. He has a tiny tuft of hair that sticks up on top. I have only given him one real bath so far and he seemed to like it ok, once he got over the initial shock. I haven't read to him that much but the other kids do. I love the way that he recognizes my voice and turns his head when I come into the room, and how he looks at me with big, round eyes. Chemical love. It's deep and out of my control. I do not choose to love him, it washes over me. Slows my heartbeat. Flows down my arms so that my shoulders drop their tension. I suppose this happened with the other two, but I was always distracted by worries. Was the latch right, what's that rash, should we sleep more or less, should I cut out dairy? This time, freed from such distractions, I can really savor the mother/newborn bonding that is happening.


Not What I Expected, But I Probably Should Have...

Last year we went to CodeMash for the first time, which is a conference for developers, but also has a bunch of activities for families, which they call Kidzmash. I remember being really surprised and delighted because so much of what is called STEM for young children is poorly done. The main thing Laurel remembers was making a robot that colored. She wired it up and everything. Very cool. The conference also has the benefit of taking place in the country's largest indoor water park. A bunch of people from M's office go, and some of them were presenting, so of course we thought we should go again....despite the fact that we had just welcomed Baby Max 4 weeks before and have not exactly worked out all the logistics of managing our family yet.

Sometimes we have good ideas. And sometimes we have good ideas that end up not being that fun when we do them, but they have that element of "2nd degree fun" - miserable now, but it makes a great story, or we'll laugh about it one day. Great childhoods are dependent on lots of 2nd degree fun.

And sometimes we just have terrible ideas. This was pretty much in that category.

After we arrived home and I was giving Marko a bath, I asked him what his favorite part was. He said getting candy from the vendors. There was a 12,000 square foot wave pool and a van de Graaff generator, but he liked getting the mini packet of M&Ms from the guys at the IBM table. We never even really made it to any of the formal sessions for the kids because just getting all of us to the bathroom was practically an hour long process. I didn't get a chance to ask Laurel what her favorite part was because she went to bed immediately, saying she had a headache. My guess is that she probably liked the candy the best too.

Live and learn, though. I'd rather try stuff and have it not work out perfectly than never go anywhere with the kids.

I wanted to blog about Kidzmash, but I don't have much to say except that the Open Hangoutz room was spectacularly equipped with toys, games and art supplies, and Marko and Laurel played with other kids and learned some very cool new games. Marko liked Gobblet Gobblers in particular. Laurel dug into the art supplies and immediately started crafting all sorts of interesting things. She totally gets the whole "Make It" movement, although she seems to be driven more towards artistic creativity than engineering creativity. Of course, the stack of empty boxes from the conference t-shirts proved to be the one thing that all the kids liked playing with the most. We did not get to make a flashlight or play robot laser tag or use the Snap Circuits. Perhaps next year.

Instead, I'll tell you about the parenting lessons learned. It was a humbling three days.

I should have borrowed a double stroller. I usually think of Marko as way too old for a stroller. And last weekend he walked almost five miles right along side us. But if I had brought one with me, he would have taken a few cat naps on the go, which is what he really needed. Last year he was 1-almost-2 instead of 2-almost 3 and that's a big difference. He probably weighed about 22 pounds and I carried him on my back in the Ergo, leaving my hands free to help Laurel with the activities, which is why she got to do so many cool things. This year, I ran out of hands and he had no place to sleep. I am totally shopping for a double stroller on Craigslist right now.

White noise is magical. This should not surprise me, but the white noise app put a fussy Max to sleep in the middle of a chaotic hotel room. Wish it still worked on the big kids.

Don't try to make it epic. Because last year was so amazing, we had high expectations. On Thursday, we left our hotel for the conference center right after breakfast, with plans to stay there until the big Family Dinner which was starting at 6:00pm. Disastrous. By 10:30, I was losing my mind. I actually wrote my phone number ON MY CHILDRENS' BODIES because I was worried I would lose them. There was no place I could sit and nurse Max while watching both Marko and Laurel play. There were thousands of people everywhere, and it was way too noisy and overwhelming for the kids. They needed some quiet in between the activities. I ended up taking them back to the hotel for a couple of hours to chill out in our room. We should have picked one conference activity and one waterpark activity each day, and that would have been more than enough. Should have kept it simple.

Car seats are clearly engineered by the Devil himself. We have a midsize SUV. You should be able to fit 3 kids in the back. Why are car seats so wide? Why are the latch hooks designed for installation of only 2 car seats? Why do the little seat belt clicky things fall down into the abyss? Who put a banana peel underneath the car seat??? After much YouTube research and experimentation, I finally found a way to safely install our seats, but it is a long and involved process each and every time.

Six year olds still have a lot of needs. I suppose all humans have a lot of needs....they just change over time.  Laurel is extremely outgoing and self-sufficient, so it's easy to backburner her when Max is crying or Marko is suddenly naked for no clear reason. Recognizing her changing needs has probably been the biggest adjustment for us lately but we're working on it.

If Momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy. Put your own oxygen mask on first. Otherwise, the whole family is doomed.

Remain united. We may be technically outnumbered by children now, but M and I are smarter, more experienced and have the money and the car keys. It's all good as long as we work as a team.


Farewell to 2015

I'm watching Max sleep right now and his cheeks are starting to get fat baby jowls. His legs are stretched out straight which make him look twice as big as he did three weeks ago when he was born. Three weeks?! It's only been three weeks? It feels like a minute and a half, but also an eternity. Sleep deprivation will do that to you. In the other room Laurel and Marko are playing some elaborate game of pretend. There's a cell phone and a grocery order and some otters involved.

M and I had a great plan to order Thai food for dinner tonight, but the restaurant was either closed or too busy to answer their phones. We had just been to the grocery store and were on our way home when we tried to order. All 5 of us together in the truck...it's crazy. Everybody is within arm's reach now and it's a complicated affair to get all the buckles ratcheted down correctly when we get in. I took Max to the cafe area (grocery stores have bars and cafes now, apparently) and fed him, while the rest of the crew went to find some pork roast for tomorrow's dinner.

2015 was a good year for us. No major calamities and a healthy baby boy at the end. M placed 1st or 2nd in a number of ultramarathons this summer and PR'd two marathons. He also reached his goal of completing a hundred mile race, and finished well under his projected time, earning the coveted belt buckle. Laurel started kindergarten, lost a bunch of teeth and learned to ride a bike. Marko went from toddler to imaginative little boy and I feel safe in declaring him potty trained. We took a very long road trip to Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, where we got to visit some of our favorite cousins (and aunt and uncle!) and a good friend who now lives in Baton Rouge.

I had a good year but my accomplishments are more subtle and hard to write about. I did absolutely nothing I would list on a resume. It was all tiny little domestic and neighborly acts - delivering banana bread and writing for the neighborhood blog and shoveling someone else's sidewalk. I babysat other people's kids when school was closed on Election Day and did a run for 412 Food Rescue and gave away 75 ice cream sundaes on National Night Out. I wiped a lot of butts and did a lot of laundry, and of course spent the majority of the year gestating a human.  I'm really good at making tortillas after a year of Taco Tuesdays. I repaired all of Mrs. Schreiner's Montessori mats and volunteered to be the assistant leader for Laurel's Daisy troop. I took a lot of walks in Frick Park at kid pace. I gave away children's magazines to fussy little kids on the PAT bus and restocked the Little Free Libraries with some of my favorite books. I sent a lot of messages to 311 and served on a traffic safety committee. To be honest, it often felt like nobody cared or even noticed what I was doing and when I first sat down to write this blog post I was wondering what I would say about my year. Half of the things I did got undone fairly soon. I thought I had accomplished nothing. But in fact, I grew into my role as mother and joined the ranks of generations of women who just keep things going in their homes and neighborhoods and schools. At this point, it feels like a year well spent.

Happy New Year!


Welcome, Max Benjamin!

I am very happy to announce that we welcomed a new baby boy to our family. Max - inspired by the book - and Benjamin in honor of my grandfather who passed away just about a year ago. My due date was actually on the anniversary of his death. He would have been delighted to have another great-grandchild.

Max was the biggest of our kids at birth - 8lbs 3 oz - but also the easiest birth, and it's been a pretty smooth transition. The day we got home from the hospital it already started feeling like he had been here forever. Marko and Laurel adore him. M was able to take some time off work. His love language is food, I think. He starts cooking whenever he has some free time. In addition to the roughly 50 pounds of sauerkraut he made, he also kept me well fed with pot roast and tacos and soup. He also got to spend a lot of time with Marko, who is pretty hilarious at this stage. (For instance, he has renamed himself "Markoooo" and has an amazing range of acting skills. Ask to see his "surprised" face.) I spent 2 weeks in bed or close to it, as I vowed to do this time. I feel pretty well rested and relaxed as a result.

Next week might be a different story. M is going back to work and school is closed for winter holiday. What do I do with a 6 year old, 2 year old and 3 week old in the dead of winter? What are the odds that we'll eat anything more complicated than peanut butter and jelly? Will I be able to get them all in the car by myself?

One afternoon this week, M went out to run an errand and took Laurel with him. Max is pretty mellow but sometimes he just wants to nurse for hours on end, so I was camped out on the couch with him, "watching" Marko. The plan was to put on some tv and just chill out. But he didn't really want to watch tv. He peed his pants. I sent him upstairs to change and he came down wearing a pair of terry cloth, vintage-looking undies that said "I'm somebody special!" on them. And nothing else. What made it funnier (or more disturbing, I suppose) is that I have never seen this pair of underwear before and have no idea where they came from. He absolutely refused to put any other clothing on, although he did go back upstairs several more times before M got home, each time bringing another batch of trains or blocks or blankets. The living room was a complete disaster within minutes. He also took advantage of my position on the couch to go rooting around in the fridge. He did this pretty stealthily because I only knew where he was when I heard the alarm go off on the fridge door. Another time I thought he was playing in his room, which has a 4 foot high gate on the door. I was just on my way to go check on him when Laurel came down. When I asked what she was doing up there, she said, oh I was just talking to Marko. Oh, yeah, I said, what's he up to? He's just coloring on your bed with Sharpies, she said nonchalantly.


Well, it turned out he grew just tall enough and just smart enough to unlatch the gate himself. So much for that purchase. Luckily, he was coloring with Sharpies ON PAPER while sitting on my bed. So, no harm, no foul.

Max is super chill so far and sleeps through a lot of the chaos in the house. I think he looks exactly like Marko and when he's sleeping, like a tiny version of M's dad. Having a third kid is awesome because you enjoy all of the cuteness of the newborn phase with about a tenth of the anxiety. I'm looking forward to many adventures with our family of five.


Screen Time

When I was pregnant with Laurel, there were lots of things I worried about. I was convinced that vaccinations and formula would irrevocably damage my baby. And I definitely wasn't going to let her watch tv until she was 5. Or maybe never. Our pediatrician, a wise and unflappable man, made some very good arguments about what the research actually tells us about vaccines, and was simultaneously supportive of breastfeeding while staying on top of our slow-to-gain-weight babies. But mostly, he taught me what to get worried about and what to let go.

My kids watch tv, and despite my original ideas about children's television, I'm actually rather impressed by some of the programming available. Marko is definitely learning the alphabet from Superwhy. Martha Speaks has a great approach to robust vocabulary instruction...pretty much what I learned in grad school! Wild Kratts frames each episode with a focus on an animal's unique adaptations so it's not just random facts about animals. And we are also pretty fond of the David Attenborough narrated nature programs as something the entire family will watch together, although nature can be shockingly harsh sometimes.

So, tv isn't killing my kids after all, and it was time to let them - well Laurel anyway - get a tablet. We bought her a Kindle Fire for her birthday and she really, really loves it. A lot.  I resisted this purchase for a while, but then I thought about the fact that in a few short years we are going to have to give our kids cellphones and better to build good habits and ingrain some internet safety practices while we have more control.

What I like about the Kindle Fire is that you can create different profiles and the parental controls are pretty easy to use. I've been browsing the amazon app store for free stuff and the selection of ebooks and audiobooks that are available from the library's collection. I do the downloading and then approve which content she can see from her profile. So far, I like Monkey Word School Adventure and Starfall and everything else I looked at was utter crap. These apps are definitely supporting the kindergarten standards she's learning in school. It's basically worksheets that provide immediate feedback and saves me the bother and bore of drilling her on sight words and phonics patterns. I'm still figuring out the Overdrive app for ebooks and audiobooks, but it's definitely better than borrowing those little PlayAway things from the library.

But beyond using the Kindle to read and listen to books and practice basic skills, I want Laurel to be able to use technology the way M and I do...to learn about things that interest us and solve problems we face in daily life (like what to do with the 85 pounds of saurkraut sitting on my kitchen counter right now!). I also use the internet to stay in touch with faraway friends and family, and to share my thoughts with the world (as I am doing on this blog post). But once you open up access to an internet browser, you are entering this whole other world. We're still trying to figure out how to give Laurel some freedom to use these tools, but still monitor what's going on with them. Because she's 6, after all. She really likes taking a video of herself talking and I think it would be cool for her to do a little podcast. She checks the weather app and I downloaded the school lunch menu so that she can check that independently.

The best I can figure is that she can read and listen to books on her own, but the other stuff has to be done alongside one of us. 

I'm still a big fan of old-fashioned, paper books and always will be. Especially for little kids. When I watch Marko and Laurel page through the National Geographic encyclopedias we have, I can see that they are interacting with the information in a way that is very different than screen based information. And I get a special thrill from how worn and soft the pages are of our favorite books. But there's definitely room for both.


Real Life, Misc.

The other day, Marko was trying on our glasses. When we couldn't find them later, we asked them where he put them. "On the table without the sausages," he said, completely seriously.  Well, ok, then. Two days passed as we checked all the tables that did not have sausages. Eventually I found them in a small hamper where I throw clothing that needs to be mended.

Laurel recently learned the phrase "Waking up on the wrong side of the bed." And truly, this girl does wake up cranky almost every day. I'm trying to help her figure out ways to ease into her day. I think self-care is probably a really good skill to learn. Although, I wonder about this because I definitely spent at least a decade of my life working too hard and partying too hard and being completely oblivious to self-care, which led to many, many mornings of waking on the wrong side of the bed. But it was also a time that provided the most intense pleasures and pain and learning experiences. We formed life-long friendships and collected crazy stories and dared to do things that well-rested people would have said no to.

I kind of miss that.

I'm wrapping Christmas presents right now. That's kind of insane because it isn't even December 23rd yet, which is usually when we start thinking about shopping. But this year, we have a plan and a budget because with a lot more humans to take care of, you have to watch your money more closely if you ever want to do anything fun again. Also, when the third baby is about to arrive, you remember vaguely that it will be hard to take a 5 minute shower for a month or so, let alone do anything else.

I panicked over not raking the leaves up last week before it rained, but then a big wind came and blew them all away. Anything left was basically mulched into the grass by the force of the wind. So, sometimes it's better to wait and see.

I'm still working on the Road Safety Audit committee and we are banging away at getting some of the recommendations approved. And funded. And actually constructed. It is extremely tedious to work with multiple boroughs and Penndot. But one thing I've recently observed is a complete failure by most drivers to stop at a stop sign. Almost everyone coasts and yields. When I learned to drive, we were told to brake completely, count to three, look in all directions and then go. Is this a Pittsburgh thing or an everywhere thing? I'm trying to think of ways to get people to stop completely.



Our girl is six!

I love seeing the ways she is drawn to certain activities. She loves making art and will spend hours or days working on a series. She's creative with her use of materials, often layering paper and cloth or bits of trash from the recycling bin. She plays around with attaching things in different ways. She doesn't ask first, how to do something. She dives in. Sometimes it's messy.

Her knife skills are improving and she can help with chopping fruits and vegetables.

Last year at this time she wouldn't even ride on the balance bike, but a friend's birthday party at the Wheel Mill - an indoor bike park near our house - helped her gain some confidence, and by spring she was riding a two wheel pedal bike with no training wheels. She ran a race and got a trophy for first place in her age group. She runs through the woods so light on her feet that even M is impressed. She can climb up and over anything and when she jumps down from something high, she reminds me of a cat. Wednesdays are her favorite day of the week because that is the day for gymnastics class.

She learned to read. Her penmanship still needs work, but she spends lots of time writing. She leaves us notes, grocery lists, copies of her daily schedule and stories. I often find post-it notes around the house, labeling various objects. She reads short books on her own, but also is really into listening to audio books - which for some reason we all call "books on tape" even though none of them are ever on a cassette tape!  We read chapter books to her before bed. We've read nearly the entire Laura Ingalls Wilder series together this year.

She loves listening to the classical radio station and asks us lots of questions about things she hears the DJ's say.

She started kindergarten. Even though she was attending a public Montessori school for the last two years that was a "big kid" school in many ways, this seemed like a huge milestone. She started at a new school right in our neighborhood that has a pretty heavy environmental focus. Her interest in animals and plants has deepened and I learn a lot from her. She lost two teeth. She became a regular customer for a few vendors at the weekly market and handled lots of transactions completely on her own.

We moved her into her own room when cousin Sam moved out. I think it's really good for her to have her own space, away from Marko. She still sneaks into our bed some nights, though.

She still talks all the damn time and is quite forward and friendly with anyone she meets when we go around town, friend or stranger, child or adult. Our annual ice cream social was the highlight of her summer and she went door to door to invite neighbors. She is quick to find playmates, but she doesn't have anything like a best friend. She can have a quick temper, with us especially. She stomps and throws things when she's mad, and has a very low tolerance for anything she perceives as unfair. She's a great big sister, maybe a little too bossy sometimes, but is right there for her brother when he needs her.

When I think back six years ago, to the weeks and months when she first came into our lives, her Laurel-ness was apparent from the beginning. It's so obvious in retrospect, but I remember all the daydreaming and wondering that I did about what she would be like once she was out of the baby stage. But in so many ways, she was telling us who she was even back then.

Our job as her parents is not to train her to be a certain way, although that is sometimes tempting to me, but rather to help her be the best Laurel she can be. Now that the early labor-intensive years of hands-on parenting are more or less over with her, we are easing our way into the next stage. It involves more emotional pain on my part, because it means letting her make her own mistakes and sometimes these are hard to witness. But sometimes those mistakes lead to such incredible growth or take her in an unexpected direction, and it makes me look forward to the years ahead.

Happy 6th birthday, Laurel!


Baby Books

Do people still fill out baby books for their kids? My mother recently shared the one that her mother wrote for her, and I've been browsing through it. The cursive writing is difficult for me to read. The voice is very much that of my grandmother, and the notes range from the typical recollection of first steps to musings on personality. I could imagine what it was like to parent my mother, which was a little bit weird to think about. I don't have baby books for my children, but I suppose this blog is one. It would be difficult to look back and see exactly when they lost their first teeth, but I can certainly tell you what it was like to live with them at various stages. And perhaps more interestingly, how I have changed as a person in that time frame.

Marko has been very challenging lately, so I went back and read my posts about Laurel at this age and low and behold, they contained many of the same themes. Messes. Yelling. Illogical demands. Yesterday we were trying to get things ready for Halloween. M's family always comes over for trick or treating and to celebrate his mother's birthday. We cooked a big batch of tomato sauce in the tradition of his grandfather and did our best to straighten the house and finish various errands. At one point, we heard Laurel shriek, "He's naked!" and sure enough, Marko had stripped down entirely and was parading around the living room. You could tell he felt great being naked. It then took another hour of power struggle before he was fully clothed again, because I'm trying to get him to dress himself. I know he is capable of doing this, because he does it sometime. But I'm not sure he always sees the point of getting dressed. I tried a sticker chart for a while, but he just isn't motivated by extrinsic rewards. If you try to bribe him with a tv program or a piece of candy and he doesn't feel like complying he just says "no I don't like tv" or whatever.

I think he is getting some molars right now. He weighs 29 pounds, up a few from his last check up in July. He fits in almost all of his clothes from last winter except his shoes. Laurel was much louder, but Marko is funnier and sillier.

He hurt his leg last week and went through a strange few days of crawling on all fours. He's started to walk again so I think the doctor was right in that it was a sprain or a strain or something not too awful.

He does not like to go to bed by himself. He tells everyone about the dinosaurs that are in his room at night. We have given up for now, and just let him stay up until we go to bed. I put a gate on his bedroom so he can stay in there and read books or play quietly with the lights on until he's ready to fall asleep. I think maybe he's just not tired until 9 o'clock or so.