Friday, May 22, 2009

Grateful for Great Kids

Harper and Jack are full of sweet goodness these days. I just wanted to take a moment to write some of their cuteness down before they are doing a completely different set of cute things, and the memories fade.

First, little Jack. He's gone through some major changes the last couple of months. I can't believe he's 20 months old-- getting closer and closer to being a 2 year old, which really marks the end of the baby stuff. He still has some baby ways about him, but since his 18 month birthday, he's gone through some big changes that make him seem older.
On a walk with Daddy and Uncle Steve. Some day he'll grow into those feet.

Thankfully, long and narrow as it is, his footsie still looks like a baby's.

First, he got his "big boy bed" and moved into Harper's room. It took a few weeks of pacing-while-singing him to sleep, setting him down carefully with white noise, and then further comfort and more singing until he was in deeper sleep before I could leave the room and have him stay there. Jack would often wake after only an hour in his bed, and he'd cry for me, which upset Harper. But just when we were becoming impatient with the adjustment, Jack turned a corner and began sleeping there without a gripe.

During those initial days in his new bed, Jack relied on "Tucker" more as a comfort. (For those who don't know, "Tucker" was Jack's pacifier. It came from "Sucker.") I didn't like this too much since eliminating Tucker was also on my list of things-to-work-on. One night, through the monitor, I could hear him comforting himself back to sleep several times by sucking away on Tucker and this bothered me. If I was planning to get Tucker out of the picture, I needed to be lessening his dependence, not creating an addict! I could also tell that while he slept/sucked, he wasn't sleeping as deeply and was waking more often. Tucker was keeping him from crying, but it was also keeping him from really sleeping well.

So, after about a week of the new bed (and Jack still not at all used to the idea of his own bed), I decided enough was enough. One thing I've learned as a parent, is that sometimes kids need slow and smooth transitions, but sometimes kids don't at all. It's often worth it to try the cold turkey route first and see how that goes, then gauge from the reaction if this transition needs different ease or not. This was one of the times, I'm happy to report, when the cold turkey went just fine. When Jack looked for his Tucker (usually at nap or bedtime, sleepy times), I decided I'd see how it went to say Tucker was "all done" (the same phrase we used to talk about Jack's last nursing and to tell him 'no' gently the first few days after weaning). To my complete surprise, Jack didn't bat an eye. If he found Tuckers lying around in their old familiar places, he'd hand them to me and tell me Tucker was all done! He never looked back, never even asked for one after that. I was relieved that this transition was so easy for him!

You were a good buddy, Tucker. Bye, bye.

Jack's talking has gotten more elaborate and fun these days. He's a very lovey boy, but also a very funny boy who likes to entertain and perform. He loves to sing, knows a million songs (including ABC's, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Twinkle, Itsy Bitsy, I'm a Little Teapot, Muffin Man, Wheels on the Bus, Pop Goes the Weasel, Old Mac Donald-- which he initially pronounced as "O Donga" and now calls "O McDonga", Bingo, Freight Train, etc., etc....) He definitely has a greater attention span for singing songs than he does for reading whole books. I've found that he gets distracted by his sister when we try to read together as a little group, but the best way to get him engaged is to explicitly address him and ask for his interaction. "Where's that piggy? Can you find the piggy?" "Is that tiger thirsty or hungry?" -- that kind of thing. I also point out what the text is referring to so that he knows where to look in the illustration to understand what I'm saying. For example, if the text talks about the berries they are eating, I'm pointing to the berries on their plates. Often I track the words I'm reading since I think that was a part of Harper's quick grasp of reading and I think it's valuable to make those connections early. His best attention to books happens, though, when Harper's at school and it's just the two of us. Poor second child doesn't get the chance to focus the same way! When we two are alone reading with no other distraction around us, Jack listens intently and brings me book after book.

That said, his favorite books tend to be lift the flap type, Mr. Brown Can Moo, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie (probably because of the accompanying cookie), and Here Comes Peter Cottontail (because we sing it). Although he sometimes abandons my lap to get another book while we're half way through, I continue reading aloud and I've been surprised the next time we read the same book to hear him anticipate the next pages. Apparently, he doesn't even have to see the page or appear tuned in to be taking it in. This kid has particularly good hearing, and is possibly an auditory learner/favors that modality. In the same vein, he reports when planes are flying overhead, when he hears a "worker!" down the street, and "ambulance siren", a dog barking next door, a dove calling.... and often from inside a closed house! He is very aware of what he's hearing, very interested in following sound. I've been saying that I think Jack may be a musician and that's not to exclude Harper in any way-- we'll certainly be offering them the same opportunities, but it seems like Jack may have a special ear.

In the busy environment that is our home most hours, Jack is very musical and jovial. He taps, claps, makes bird calls (his favorite is the dove call, but others include the pigeon, peacock, chicken, crow), and constantly requests songs. He dances along, requests specific songs, sings with a silly low voice and a O shaped mouth for a laugh, and leans his head to one side to show he's putting on an act. Jack also likes to substitute silly or random words into songs as his funny joke. "Twinkle, twinkle, little circle. How I wonder what you triangle..." One day, Grandma asked Jack what he'd like to eat when they were outside at lunchtime. He replied, "Dirt." and laughed, she laughed, and he then knew that that was a funny thing to say. Since then, "dirt" has become his comedy evergreen, and he often puts that into songs. "O McDonga had a farm, E I E I O, and on that farm he had some DIRT!" ha, ha, ha...! His 20-month-old-jokes are pretty funny!

If he hasn't coerced you into taking him to the park to the "wings" (that's Jack for swings), J also loves to play with his dump truck, holding the sides and rolling it all around the house. He also loves Daddy's "scootadoo" and his truck, and points out the "cycles" when motorcyles pass by. I seriously think that the fact that his Dad owns a truck and a scooter gives Jack two more, meaningful reasons to love Ethan. He's also obsessed with workers, and today at lunch he said to me, "I a worker!" He's overly friendly to any man who is dressed for a blue collar occupation, who might fit the bill of a "worker". Daddy calls him a little commie.

Jack Jack likes to cook in his kitchen and pretend to make hot things that require a mit or a towel to touch. He blows on his food and tells you it's "too hot-- cool off!" He loves to get into character by wearing an apron, holding a whisk, juggling the pots and pans, filling them with various play veggies, and taking pretend sips. He's even started to get into the tea party thing with his big sister. He's also learned how to "plie and releve" from Harper's ballet class and when they both do it together, it is hilarious. They've got great form. Whatever their scenario, the kids' pretending always involves the maximum amount of accessorizing and props possible.
Jack's telling me his pot is "too hot-- don't touch!" in this photo.

Pretending to be in sleds.

In fact, the two of them are becoming quite a pair. Harper often says she wants to marry Jack because he "makes (her ) laugh...has a nice smile, and gives (her) hugs when I'm sad"-- all of which is true of Jack. He's funny, handsome, and empathetic. (And if that's Harper's three year old criteria of a mate, well, she's off to a good start...) When Harper's upset, Jack's always ready with hugs and even kisses to help her out.

As their Mama, it pleases me to see how they empathize differently, because both kids have genuine empathy for others. Harper will seriously feel the other person's pain as acutely as he/she does. Her instinct, when near another kid who is upset, is to cry the same way, need hugs and comfort likewise. At this age, she has to physically remove herself from the upset kid's presence to prevent too much despair and to help her keep a healthy emotional distance. Once physically apart, we can talk to her and she understands that the issue is not something she need bear. It is my hope that she is learning how to distinguish and separate others' pain from her own, and that she'll eventually learn when she has some responsibility to help and when she need not get emotionally involved or feel responsible. Does that make sense to anyone but me? Anyway, those are my goals in terms of Harper's empathy. I adore her for her sensitivity because, frankly, I can relate. I'm sure some of my thinking here is colored by my own tendencies to want to shoulder others' burdens, and my own learning about how that turns out not-to-really-work-for-anyone, and my own learning in how to distinguish and separate. Hopefully, I can spare the girl some time by setting up some healthy patterns while she's still little.

When it comes to her parents and brother, Harper's particularly sweet and affectionate. The other night, I stuck my feet into their bath because the warm water looked inviting. They loved having my feet in there and immediately started rubbing my legs with their washcloths and scrubbing my toes. Harper noticed that I had a small (old) scratch on the top of my knee. She got her wet washcloth and laid it gently on me. "Mama, if there was cold water, I'd put that on your leg to make it feel better, but there's only warm water."
"Oh, sweetie, that warm one feels so good, thanks. Harper, I just love you. You really care about others, huh?"
"Yes, but, I care about you the most." Needless to say, I melted. (I'm so glad that's written down so I'll never forget it!)

Jack is very aware of how people are feeling around him, and likes to report to me his concern. He'll tell me, "Harper's sad. Harper's crying." when she's on naughty chair. He then goes to her without hesitation and tries to comfort her. His willingness to get right up close to the heartache is a contrast to how Harper reacts in the same place. He hugs and kisses her, and Harper is instantly comforted! He is a balm to her aches often, and even though H's trip to the naughty chair is intended to teach a lesson, I never stop Jack from comforting his sister. I love that he has such sweet instincts, and I think he is learning about the transforming power of his affection in those moments.

Speaking of emotions and how pleased I am with my sweeties, we had our parent-teacher conference a couple of weeks ago. First, I was proud to hear that she is not only "an excellent reader" and the teacher's astonishment at just-how-well she reads, but also that Harper's into math as well, gets the concept of zero not just as nothing, but also as a place holder, and that she can do the "binomial cube" with her eyes shut.

This is the one she's so adept at constructing. The teacher said that they recently bought an all natural wood colored one to provide a greater challenge and that Harper's able to do it as well. The teacher also shared that Harper's got all of the solid shapes down, including ones such as ovaloid, ellipsoid, triangular based pyramid, square based pyramid, triangular based prism, cylinder, all of those 3D guys.
Aside from the academic successes, which are not surprising but fun to hear about, there were a couple highlights for me. It was nice to hear from an unbiased, knowledgeable source that your kid really does offer some special gifts to the world. Teacher Lori said she thinks Harper may end up a scientist of some sort, or a professor of some difficult or obscure sort of literature (hmmm.... kind of like her Aunt D?), or something else very heady. She has told me that she's "never had a kid like Harper before" and she's been teaching preschool for 11 years. And although all of the above is super cool, my favorite part of the conference (and the part that choked me up) was when I read the little written report her teacher had prepared and it said, "when there is a conflict, Harper knows how to make her needs known."

Her sensitivity has had me concerned that she might be run over by other, more dominant personalities, but this eased that concern. I couldn't be more proud to hear that my girl is able to speak up for herself, let others know what she needs. It's definitely something we've explicitly worked on, practiced, even role-played, and I am so glad it is becoming natural for her.

Harper's silly smile.
Harper and Rylee at Rylee's Gymnastics party.

The last couple of weekends, Harper's had birthday parties for girlfriends, Rylee, our neighbor, turned 4, Paige (from school) turned 4, and Chloe (from school) turned 5. For all three, I made homemade clothes. Harper is eager for me to make her a similar outfit. Chloe wore her skirt, bow, and embellished tank top to school on that first Monday, and Harper and I were pleased and excited. According to the teacher, Chloe is Harper's best bud at school. She tells me that they play "princesses" a lot. It's neat for me to see H making friendships that have absolutely nothing to do with me. She's friends with Chloe and Paige because she was most attracted to them in her class at school, not because they are the children of Mommy and Daddy's friends. There's something extra cool about that to me.

Speaking of growing up, Harper has a new nap deal: Each week, she gets to skip 2 naps. The rules are posted on her closet door, along with the week. It'd become more difficult to get her to nap, she kept coming out for various "reasons" and trying to stall. Since we've established the nap skips, there's much less commotion over nap time. I feel like a successful Mama having figured out a solution to what was becoming a problem. It not only gave Harper boundaries, but it also alleviated my anxiety about losing some of my alone time (since nap time is when I get things done, like this blog post, for example, or all of the home-sewn gifts I'm doing these days). Now, we use her "nap skip" days as a chance to have some one-on-one Harper and Mama time, have big girl conversations and do things together. Some days she watches me as I sew and asks me questions about sewing. Other times, we do something semi-academic-- reading from a "Reading Comprehension" workbook (princess stories) and checking for understanding. Sometimes we color side by side in a coloring book. We check our email (don't forget to email Harper!). Sometimes we bake cookies together and indulge in a milk and cookies treat. Harper's nap skip days have turned out to be good quality time for us girls.

Followed the recipe on the back of the Nestle bag of chocolate chips. Made a ton, were super yummy.

The warmer weather has been good for our family. We've been outside more and gardening. But Jack's eczema has been bad lately so we saw an allergist last week. We're still waiting for results, should hear next week, to see if there's anything we can easily avoid to help his sensitive skin. In the last month or so, we've been avoiding soy as well as we can (it's hidden in EVERYTHING!) and I do think I've seen a connection between less soy and less itchy, red patches. We'll see.
The frog in the watering can was a fun surprise when we were watering the garden the other day.

Since the spring has sprung, we've been going to Farmer's Market most Thursday evenings and it's always fun to strollerler through and run into friends, find compelling fruits and sample local cheeses or honey. The other evening, on our way home from said market, Harper was reading her Your Big Backyard magazine. It was an article about skunks. At the end, she held her magazine down to peer over at me and said (direct quote), "Mom. Two reasons why I don't like skunks. One: they eat birds. Two: they are stinky." Though she can be exhausting, I love that her mind doesn't quit and that she's constantly taking in, analyzing, and deciding about things.

But lately, my favorite time of day has been bedtime. Harper still fits into a set of white onesies (this will definitely be the last time) and Jack wears them too. They both sleep in them during these warmer nights and I feel like I've got two babies. I do. I've got two babies-- big enough to talk to me and make their needs known, but small enough to wear onesies.

Their skinny bods, their fresh-from-the-bath, moist skin, their eager bedtime story choosing, their side by side teeth brushing... it's just too cute. After the lights are turned out and Harper's tucked in, she gets kisses and lovey reassurances. Then Ethan and I stand in the middle of the room, Jack in my arms and sing our lullaby to her ("This is..."). Lately, Jack's been joining in, singing each word with us to his sister. Then we leave the room with a CD of 4 sleepy songs playing to help her get drowsy.

I walk with Jack up and down the hall, around the living room, singing the same song to him repeatedly. One night, full of joy, I paused the song to whisper to him. "Jack, I love you sooooooo much."
He surprised me by being awake, and he spoke back. "Mama, I love you sooooooo much."
"You're a good, good boy, Jack."
"You're nice to Mama."
"Sleep tight, Jackie."
"Sleep tight, Mama."
Ever since that night, I always find a moment to interrupt the singing for a similar little conversation, to remind him that I love him, to tell him how good he is. He pats my back with his tiny hands and I pat his, too. This special time is so important in my day.

On the more difficult days of mothering, when I tend toward over-worrying and I wonder if what I want them to know is sinking in, their hugs and their eyes say it all. They love their Mom and Dad. They are well-loved. They're gonna be just fine.


Dhanasakthi said...

Great Post on two of them and that reminds me to check mails from Harper :)

Katia Clark said...

Those kids are incredible. You're doing such a wonderful job with them. We're lucky to know them.

Rachel said...

What an amazing post. You manage to capture them so well. One day, they will look back on these posts and know just how much love they were surrounded by. What a special mama you are!