And then we got a hamster....

We got a hamster. His name is Jojo and he came from our babysitter, Jessie, who also provided a complete and luxurious hamster habitat and a starter supply of bedding and food. Marko calls him "Ball" and is not allowed to touch him. Laurel is supposed to be in charge of taking care of him, but let's be real....I'm the one who is going to be dumping soiled wood shavings. She did a good job of changing the water today, though. Jojo got off to sort of a rough start when he bit Laurel last night. To be fair, she did put her finger directly between his sharp rodent teeth. There was blood, and tears. But the transgression was forgotten the next morning when the kids woke up; the first thing they wanted to do was check on Jojo. They desperately wanted to feed him again but it wasn't time. They were disappointed that he was sleeping and Laurel cried when I said that he was nocturnal. The thing I love most is seeing them next to each other, peering into the cage.

Happy Siblings Day, to my dear siblings. Pete and Danna, I can only hope that my kids have as much fun together as we did growing up. Love you both so much.


Game Changers

Today while I was at work I had a conversation with a second grade child about honey. She had an old faded copy of a Winnie the Pooh book. She actually looked pretty engrossed in it when I walked by; she was definitely reading the words. I asked her if she liked Winnie the Pooh. "He's kind of a dope," I said, "Always getting stuck in those honey pots." She smiled and then said, "What's honey?"

Later, M and I lay in bed with Laurel, paging through her First Human Body Encyclopedia and looking for the pages on blood. When we got to the part about where blood cells are produced - in the bone marrow - she told us about tasmanian devils and how they eat marrow. When we looked at the magnified photo of the white blood cell, she said, "Reeve has lots of those because he is sick right now."

I'm the sort of girl who wears an "I love books" t-shirt to work, so yes, my kids read a lot. But it's not just about the reading. Bring a wide variety of reading materials and have rich discussions to build comprehension and vocabulary, that's what I tell my Reading Warriors. Also known as "Read stuff your kids are interested in and talk about it." Laurel learned the thing about the tasmanian devils from Wild Kratts, so sometimes "reading" is replaced by "watch a video." Whatever, it's the interaction that matters.

Do you know how hard it is to describe honey to a child who eats all of her meals in the school cafeteria and has never seen a bee hive?

So much word gap, so little time. One of the reasons I am so devoted to teaching teens about reading has nothing to do with the elementary kids they are tutoring now. I want them to understand the extent and complexity of the word gap and make sure they have babies that know what white blood cells are when they are four.


I keep trying to post here but then....

....these two little munchkins suggest we stop by the playground or go out to eat at D's or there's just really crazy free form art being created in our dining room by Laurel. Last night M prepared a cartoonishly large pot of milk to make skyr and we got the kids bathed and ready for bed in record time, but the weekend wasn't ready to be done with us. First Marko popped back up, then Laurel, then they were both up and we gave up on putting them back in bed. Everyone ate more food and read more stories and snuggled more. I tried not to look at the clock, or think about our alarms going off in the dark in the morning. We were all pleasant with each other, Laurel helping M out and Marko peering curiously into the giant pot. I gave up on waiting until the kids were in bed and just poured myself a glass of wine. I avoided wishing that all days were like weekends and dreading Monday and instead just enjoyed the moment for what it was. Sunday. Bluegrass on the radio. Cozy in our house, together. But still, this morning I was back to resenting that moment for being so fleeting, until my friend posted something about writing a "Get To Do" list instead of a "to do" list, and it was exactly what I needed to hear to just celebrate the fact that I "get to do payroll" this week (actually, it's super nice to have funding to compensate my wonderful teen employees), and "get to suspend some of those teens for ditching training" (because really, it's a privilege to be able to have a calm and respectful conversation with a teen about consequence and balancing our time and bus schedules, and watch them grow into their responsibilities).

Soon, it will be evening and my Get To Do's will be giving more baths and more stories and more snuggles and the rhythm continues. Mostly there's really ordinary things going on here, but it makes me think of what poet William Martin wrote:

Make the Ordinary Come Alive Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,but it is a way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples, and pears.
Show them how to cry when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.


Is my kid racist? And other pressing parenting questions that were not in the books.

It's Black History Month, and Laurel came home with a coloring book page of Jackie Robinson. We asked her why he was important, but really all she seemed to get was that he was a good baseball player. Marko also participated by coloring his own picture of Jackie Robinson. He used an orange crayon. He doesn't really know what baseball is, so I can't begin to imagine what he thought of that activity. And maybe that's the point. Maybe infants and preschoolers are just supposed to become familiar with famous Black people and not dive into the whole whys and hows of it. (Note, the daycare director and much of the staff is Black.) And not that this makes my kids racist, by any means, but it still got me thinking about whether or not I'm doing all I should be.

Did I miss the chapter on "Keep Your Kids From Turning into Racists" in the baby books? I suppose I had this loose expectation that if I raised my kids in an integrated neighborhood and we had friends from a variety of backgrounds then it would all take care of itself. (That was sort of dumb and white of me.) Little kids make a lot of broad and inaccurate assumptions as they are trying to figure out the world. Laurel, when she was about 2, seemed to think that the term "neighbor" meant someone with darker skin...I suppose because we often prompted her to wave to neighbors as they passed by our front porch.

The problem with trying to educate kids about the history of race relations is they just stare at you, incredulous at the absurdity of it all. When we recently talked about "black" or "white" with Laurel she gazed at her skin...trying to make it fit into her understanding of "white." When I asked her if she knew any Black people she named a selection of friends and family members, including my mother. (Why she thinks my mother is Black, I am not sure.) After she said that, I realized it's probably not that important for my daughter to classify people she knows by labels that they may or may not use themselves.

My kids have a lot of exposure to people who are not white. Not that I want them to be rude ever, but I especially don't want them to be rude to people of color. I'm not quite sure what level of white guilt spawns this desire, but it's there. I want to teach them ways to be respectful about labels and names and hair and culture, which roughly equates to just being a generally well-mannered human but seems to require some added clarification.

Part of me thinks I should talk with her a lot more, and part of me thinks we should just let it go for now and let her form her own ideas.

I work with a lot of people who are not white (or not all the way white like me? Am I all the way white?). I hesitate to even use a label because so many of the teens in my program balk at labels in general, or identify as multi-racial or Jamaican and are totally offended by the term "African-American" - but it's in my organization's mission statement and there's definitely some icky racist stuff going on in Pittsburgh that requires us to think something and say something about institutional racism.

This week, I've been carpooling with a young man who lives a few blocks away. Today, I almost asked him to meet me at the Walgreens. I say almost, because I realized at the last minute that a white lady pulling up to young black man in a parking lot known for drug trafficking might look rather suspicious. And we didn't really have time to get pulled over...we had an after-school program to run! Hahaha! Funny police stories. But seriously, this was a legitimate concern. And that's kind of indicative of the true state of racism in our country today.

So, happy black history month! Or African American History Month, if you prefer. Here's a few things I'm thinking about this month.


Sorry! So sorry!

Bad news when it's only Monday evening and you think, no, I just can't. Just no. No.

I'm obsessively checking the Weather Channel because there's supposed to be more snow or freezing rain tonight and the city ran out of salt and please, oh please, let there be a two hour delay tomorrow.

For reasons that would be very lengthy to explain, I ended up way on the other side of the city this afternoon. I crossed rivers, man. I did so with the condition that I would, under no circumstance, leave the site later than 5:00pm so that I may make it back to my 'hood before being charged a dollar a minute late fee at the daycare. I left at 5:18. It was really 5:23 by the time I pulled out of the school parking lot. Miraculously there was no traffic in any of the places I expected it to be and I got caught behind only one bus. I made it to the daycare with 2 minutes to spare, and my kids were not the last ones there. Whew.

By the time we got home though, everyone was crying (I want daddeeeee!!) and I had to carry 15 bags and a baby and a four year old into the house and we were all sliding on the ice in the driveway, and people were still calling me from work about things I really have no control over. There was no dinner and M was out at a meeting.

And I said I can't, but really that's not an option. Keep calm and carry on, and so we did. My friend texted me to say that she can take Laurel to gymnastics on Wednesday, and I whipped up some scrambled eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches and got everyone in and out of the bath in record time. Marko brought me Good Night Moon to read and Laurel read some of the pages and I felt very cozy sitting there with a lapful of children. Suddenly it all felt very manageable again.

I read that working moms say sorry a lot, so I've been trying not to do that. I didn't apologize at all today. I took a gym break midday and only put three things on my To Do list. Points off for eating lunch in my car, but at least it was food.



I finally took Marko to his well baby check up today. Nineteen pounds, 28 inches long. He's really into this book, Bear in the Square, right now. He walks, pretty steadily now, but sort of a side shuffle. When he gets close to me, he flings himself into my arms and giggles.

Laurel is pretty rough with him, but he doesn't seem to mind, for the most part. He likes going to daycare and being around other kids. I'm still his favorite person by far, but I can see that time coming to a close. He eats like crazy...grilled cheese sandwiches are his favorite.

He can say "that's good," "mmmm good," and "daddy".

I wrote a lot about Laurel in her first year. Part of it was the newness of having a baby in the house, but part of it is her charisma. She's got to be center stage.

Marko isn't like that. He's very mellow compared to her. He's the baby on my hip while I go about my day. He orbits around us in the morning, toddling into the bathroom and out while we are getting dressed, poking around in drawers. He's pretty good at staying just under the radar. I think about all the stressing over bedtime and sleep schedules I did with Laurel and he just goes to sleep, pretty much at the same time each night. He wakes up happy every morning. I'm not really that much better of a mother.

I wonder what we would be like if he was born first and we were just finishing her first year.


Deep Winter

Marko got it first on Saturday, then Laurel on Sunday. By Sunday evening, M had it too, and I got it shortly after. Monday became a sick day for all four of us, lounging around in our pajamas and watching 8 hours of television. We occasionally staggered into the kitchen for ginger ale and pedialyte. It snowed again, so M made his way outside to clear the sidewalks. Laurel, who was feeling better, thought this was great fun, unlimited tv and no chores. I realized we have very few baby holding devices to strap Marko into. He's mostly free range, which works fine, unless both parents keep laying down "for just a minute, I just need a minute."

I went to a complimentary personal fitness session at our gym on Sunday afternoon, where the trainer ran me through all sorts of foreign motions...burpees and push ups and leaping up onto a board and then back down again. She measured my body fat and declared it to be "not good, but not terrible."

"I'm still breastfeeding my son," I told her. She stared at me for a second and then wrote down a number. My new body fat percentage goal.

She launched into a series of questions about my previous fitness goals and why I had failed to reach them. Then she asked me about upcoming class reunions. Bikinis in the summer, and so forth. She asked me what sort of exercise I enjoy doing. "I like to walk," I said, without hesitation, "Really, really far."The session ended poorly, with my fitness goals not really lining up with their sales pitch, but I was happy to have learned a few new exercises along the way.

Still, I regretted the entire thing the next day, when I woke up after vomiting half the night and was incredibly sore. Combine the hit-by-a-truck flu feeling with too many burpees and...wow. I couldn't even move.

But all things considered, it wasn't a bad day of snuggles and stories and watching the snow fall from inside our cozy house.


Walking the Walk

Marko is. There is officially a toddler in the house! He's a climber, too. Today I found him gleefully sitting on top of the bed. We had dinner with friends and I watched him walk tentatively across the entire length of their apartment, pausing periodically to squat and regain his balance.

School was finally back in session today, and I visited with some Reading Warriors. It feels good, at this point in the year, to have built real relationships with these teens. I love when they are proud of their work and want to show something off to me. Sometimes they text me photos of themselves reading aloud. They boast about the progress of the little ones they work with.

Some days it feels like I bit off a little too much. Most days, I just want to give them all more. That's how I know I'm walking the walk.


Happy Birthday, Marko!

The kids and I went to Texas to visit my cousins last week. I have tons of good memories of hanging out with them as kids. They lived in the South Hills, which of course felt very far away from the North Hills. (I am a yinzer in that way.) I can remember sitting in traffic in the Liberty Tunnels sometimes. We were always scheming to make the family party last just a little longer. It was fun to pick up where we left off, now with another generation of kids to run around and play with each other. Many thanks to them for hosting us for an entire week and cooking fabulous GF food the entire time. Also, the weather was a welcome reprieve from this winter. It was 65 when we left Houston on Wednesday and 5 when we arrived in Pittsburgh two hours later!

And of course, Marko had his birthday this week. One! He's getting really good at climbing up on furniture and stairs. For the past two months it seemed like he was going to start walking, but he takes a few steps and then drops to all fours. M's sister bought him this dinosaur bike thing for Christmas and he loves riding it, and has all sorts of interesting techniques for propelling himself around the room. I gave up on keeping his clothes organized, because they are in a drawer under his crib and his favorite activity is taking them all out. He also likes the dish towel drawer. He started at daycare at the beginning of the month and seems to really like being with other kids. He also started eating regular food. He went from purees to entire sandwiches in about a week and is back to being nice and round.

It's been an awesome year with him. He's pretty good natured, but strong-willed enough to hold his own with Laurel. Maybe it's the second kid, maybe it's his mellow streak, but the infant stage was way easier and more enjoyable this time. I'm looking forward to watching him learn to walk and talk in the coming year.



It's been a very stressful two weeks with Marko getting sick with an intestinal infection that resulted in a hospital stay. I started my new job last week - and by start, I mean canceled all my meetings and took occasional calls while holding a feverish baby in a hospital room.  I really want to jump in and get started on some pretty big goals my boss has for me, not to mention all the regular Reading Warriors programming that I need to be working on. But as soon as we came home from the hospital on Thursday, I felt my entire body unclench and suddenly had a need for a 3 hour nap. I wanted that nap to erase 2 weeks of very little sleep, and then I would just get back to it. But that didn't really work.

So. We're easing back in. (And bleaching. Babies show no discretion or restraint when they vomit.)

The biggest lesson for me in all of this was about how the diagnostic powers of a doctor are highly dependent on the evidence they see. You can be sitting in the same room with them, looking at the same kid, and be seeing totally different evidence. It's very important to pay close attention to details, take notes, track symptoms and offer up information even if they don't ask for it. On our first two trips to the ER the doctors really couldn't see anything other than a regular stomach virus, and I don't blame them for that. Yes, he was dehydrated and needed fluids, but there was no indication that it wouldn't clear up in 3-5 days (ER visit #1). Oh wait, it could last 7-10 days (ER visit #2). Hmmm, maybe we should start investigating other possibilities since he's been vomiting for 12 days (ER visit #3). Really, the only reason they knew what he had was because I gave them a dirty diaper at ER visit #2 and asked them to do a stool culture. The culture takes a couple of days to run so when we returned to the hospital they had the results and could start treatment right away. (He had yersinia, which is sort of like salmonella, but happens when you make chitlins, then don't wash your hands and touch your baby. Which totally didn't happen in this house, so... medical mystery?)

Aside from the whole thing taking a while to figure out, I was very satisfied with Children's Hospital. They were supportive of breastfeeding and even gave me meals while we were there. Volunteers stopped by regularly bring me water and snacks, or toys for Marko once he was feeling better. The nurses were great. They talked to Marko like he was a person. They have this stuff called Pittsburgh Paste, which is some sort of magical diaper rash elixir that cleared up Marko's diaper rash in two days flat (and it was the sort of rash you winced just looking at).

Unfortunately, he's now regressed to nursing every two hours and refusing to sleep except in my arms. I've hit this mental wall where I believe with all my heart that I'll never sleep well again, and I fantasize about napping while waiting at line in the grocery store. Sometimes I pull over on my way home from work and just take a 5 minute catnap in front of some strange's house. (Don't be alarmed if it's your house, just a tired mom here.) I remember hitting this point with Laurel. Girl just would not take to sleep training. It was worse because I had to stand up in front of 9th graders and try to make them learn algebra for 7 hours a day, which is soul-crushing work in and of itself, let alone when you haven't slept in a year and a half. Then magically, around 15 months, bam. She slept through the night and that was never a problem again. (Also, she was toilet trained at night from the beginning. I can't really complain.)

I'm trying to take care of Marko, take care of me, not neglect Laurel too badly, and have a conversation with M every once in a while. I know this is just life when you have a couple of little ones in the house, but dang...it's hard sometimes