Marko learned to talk, Laurel learned to read

In two weeks, they both blossomed, Marko looking more and more pleased each time his request was intelligble to us. Laurel prolific from the backseat, cranking out pages of cartoonish, captioned drawings. A girl crying because she lost her hamster. Aliens, no kids dressed as aliens, but in a real spaceship. A map of our neighborhood. I wonder how much of my recognition of each small milestone helps propel their development.

They spend a lot of time wrestling, though. Dumping stuff out for no reason I can figure out. They yell at each other and tattle. Which is why this moment of listening to recorded books and coloring felt so unexpectedly peaceful.



Sometimes things don't go as planned.

It is winter, though. Not totally unexpected. But the ice/snow/rain today offered up the opportunity to check out the aquarium in Chattanooga and it was awesome. When we get home, I'll write more on the jellyfish exhibit, Montgomery, AL's Venezuelan restaurant, jalapeƱo sausage Po'boys, and how two small children can utterly destroy the backseat of a car.


Snow Birds

No matter where we go,
they just play in the dirt.
I hesitate to call this a vacation, because M was working pretty much the whole time, and the rest of us were doing pretty much what we always do...playgrounds, libraries, walking in the park, etc. But it was definitely nice to walk around in the sunshine. It was close to 80 degrees the day we hiked in Balcones Canyonlands, just northwest of Austin. We did see some of the Golden Cheeked Warblers, as well as great views of Hill Country. It was the first place where it really felt like we had come west. I wanted to keep on going through Texas into New Mexico, but we had other plans.

M and I have had to really adjust our expectations when it comes to hiking. Marko can be carried, but often doesn't want to. Laurel can really move when she wants to, but Marko's slow pace seems to sap her zest for hiking. So, we look for trails that are under 2 miles long and we take our time. The kids spend a lot of time stopping and looking at the things that we don't necessarily think are interesting and if we point out something that is rare and awesome (i.e. the endangered golden cheeked warbler) they are like, "Whatever, here is a piece of wood mulch that I found on the trail and is not even part of the native landscape, but was trucked in to keep the trail from washing away and it is way cooler than the golden cheeked warbler."

This is a fact about parenting that could really drive you crazy if you forget that (1) kids are people and are going to have their own opinions, desires and interests that may not align with yours and (2) when you go someplace it doesn't have to be all about creating magical experiences for the kids. Maybe YOU want to see the golden cheeked warbler and their lack of appreciation for the rare opportunity need not ruin your experience.

Laurel: Much happier on the
OUTSIDE of the Arch.
I think the Gateway Arch is one of the prettiest monuments in the country and I've always wanted to go up to the top. The weird, little tram cars that take you up were a unique design to accommodate the curve. The kids and I watched some videos about the design contest and the construction, before we left on our trip. Laurel recognized it as we were driving in towards St. Louis. Unfortunately, she hated going up to the top. I don't know exactly what her limit is for going off the ground, but she's always climbing to the highest point possible on the playground and giving me a heart attach by dangling upside down from it. It might actually have been the sway of the structure that freaked her out. It was built to sway up to 18 inches. While I don't think it was that windy the day we were there, it was definitely moving a little bit. 

We had to arrange our travel days to accommodate M's work schedule, which was a little challenging at times. Being in the Central Time Zone helped a bit, since he got an earlier start. But it would be one thing for him and I to hit up a Starbucks for a couple of hours. (Or 8, as it were.) Quite another to figure out what to do with a two year old and a five year old for that amount of time. Luckily we had some seriously generous family and friends to stay with for much of the time. Thank you Heather & Lisa, Joe & Donna, and Kristi-Jo and Brendan! I love getting to visit with my far-away friends and family. Email and Christmas cards are one way to stay in touch, but there's nothing like sitting around with a cup of coffee in the morning and catching up. Or driving around the city of Austin and cheering on marathon runners, including M! And we loved wandering the campus of LSU and checking out Mike. Tigers are a thing in Baton Rouge. There was even one at the gas station we stopped at. Not kidding.

Tigers. Everywhere in LA.
I had to keep the kids occupied. We brought their bikes and they rode those a lot. We hit up every playground we could. I also prepared a series of geography lessons for Laurel. Driving the route we did gave us a perfect opportunity to look at the features that give the states their borders. Particularly along the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico, the land is a constantly changing thing. We read books that we brought as well as the pamphlets from the places we stopped at. We also looked at coins, restaurant menus and maps. Laurel is really driving her reading and writing development right now and has grown in leaps and bounds this month. She spends a lot of time sketching and writing sentences. I don't interfere unless she asks me a question.  One thing I am doing is helping her with penmanship practice. I also brought some recorded books, including a pretty long chapter book. Marko had Duplos and matchbox cars to play with, and he often joined in for coloring.

The best part for me has been the days - and it's been most of the them - when the kids got plenty of running around time. They are so much easier to handle when they play enough and get plenty of exercise and fresh air. 


Winter Reprieve

Sometimes you want a little sunshine on your face and are willing to drive a thousand miles to get it.


Daily Life Here

They experiment with many
techniques. Sponges and craft
sticks are among their favorites.
Marko is using his newfound verbal ability to protest. "Stop it, mama!" and "I don't want it" are his favorite phrases. Yesterday I asked him to put these plastic letters away so that we could get out the art supplies - he and Laurel had just asked to paint. He looked right at me and dumped them on the floor. I wanted to tell him that he was being a jerk, but he's two. That would make me even more of a jerk. Instead I told him it was probably going to take longer to clean up now. He responded by kicking them all over the kitchen. We sing a little song now, "Everybody cleans up, what they dumped out, everybody cleans, cleans up."

Laurel made up a second verse about little brothers dumping everything out but not picking it up. I heard her quietly singing to herself while she was cleaning up one of his messes. I have a newfound appreciation for the maturity of five year olds. She has great economic sense, by which I mean she knows what it will take to get what she wants.

We have a yelling problem here. I think part of it is we are just a very loud family. We like loud music. We shout at each other from upstairs when we need something. We talk very loudly at dinner, especially when we are excited. When we argue, we yell at each other. We yell swear words. And sometimes the kids just shout really, really loudly for no apparent reason. Rule #2 in our house is "no yelling" and we spend lots and lots of time talking about this one, brainstorming ways we can be quieter with our responses. But we never change our ways. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. We live on a loud street, we're hardly bothering the neighbors. Perhaps it's just in our nature and we should revise that rule.

Marko builds letters.
Laurel is learning to read. To clarify, she's teaching herself to read. Rereading the same books over and over again. Using recorded books to memorize text and then repeat it back to herself. Reading board books to Marko. Carefully sounding out words. Copying words from books. She stays up very late in her bed with a flashlight and practices. We could be firmer about making her go to sleep, but school doesn't start until after 9 and I'm not inclined to yell at anyone for reading. Marko copies everything she does, so often I'll find him in a corner with a book, "reading" it to himself. He stops and starts with his babbling in a way that sounds just like Laurel blending sounds together. 

Watching my children develop language and literacy is one of the most fascinating things I get to do these days. It's also very interesting to see how having an older child influences the sort of books you keep around and the complexity of the texts the younger one ends up hearing. I have always been a big fan of mixed aged classes in schools, which is how Laurel's school works. The first school I taught at also had mixed grades, which also helped in keeping kids from getting held back. Marko doesn't have many friends his own age, but I actually kind of hate playdates with a couple of 2 year olds. They are horrible at playing with each other. If you get a couple of older kids around, the dynamic changes. An alpha emerges and the group knows what to do.

When I found out I was pregnant with Laurel, I spent way too much time on the internet researching how I was going to handle the first year of her life. Breastfeeding, diapers, vaccines, co-sleeping, etc. It was all terrifying, because every person writing about these things is basically telling you if you pick wrong, your kid will not love you or will get autism. In reality, this is not how attachment or developmental disorders work. Also, in reality, they are a baby for like a minute, and then you have an actual person to deal with for many decades to come.

Several years ago, I realized I needed to decompartmentalize my approach to parenting and I wrote the following....philosophy? Manifesto? Now I read it on occasion when my toddler is glaring at me and my five year old doesn't want to go to school anymore and we are spending a lot of time breaking Rule #2. 

All members of the family deserve equal respect.
Behavior is motivated by needs.
Practicing to identify our needs so that we can ask for things directly from our loved ones is a great thing.
Everyone's needs matter. When someone is asking for something that they need, and it interferes with something someone else needs, compromise is required.
Everybody messes up, gets mad, says things they don't mean, acts out in inappropriate ways and can be otherwise unpleasant to others from time to time. The role of the family is to love unconditionally, speak up when someone's actions interfere or are hurtful, and to guide by example.
One of the greatest lessons we can learn from each other is how to recover, repair and heal from mistakes.
As parents, we have a responsibility to teach kindness, social norms and manners, self-care, tolerance and knowledge about the world.
We do this through modeling these behaviors ourselves. Like all the things that we as adults learn, some lessons take longer than others to learn. There's also a lot of gray areas that need to be explored.

The daily work of caring for children can be rather monotonous at times. Virtually everything I do in a day has to be repeated the next day. While I actually do enjoy the work of taking care of the house and kids, it's a tough blow to my ego to no longer earn a paycheck for my efforts. And while this parenting philosophy is not specific to me being a stay-at-home mom (I was always a full-time mom - it's not something you leave behind for eight hours a day), I do have significantly more time with them each day for all of this life stuff to play out.