Visiting family

We’ve been in my hometown visiting my parents as well as my brother and his family, who are also visiting. The highlight for me is watching the cousins playing together. They have a relationship which is a bit like a combination between friendship and sibling, and enjoy each other enormously. This afternoon we took them to a pool. I spent quite a while playing with Joanna on the steps; she’d come down two or three and then launch herself to me, with more enthusiasm and pizzazz as time went by and she got more comfortable. I love her big delighted smile, and the times like that when we can be totally focused on each other. Those times are so rare. But this afternoon Hazel had her cousins to swim with, Ted had Emily, and I was free to take Joanna into the river current in the pool, to the steps, to walk around in the shallow end, to hold her in my arms and enjoy her. It was such a treat.

I want to make that happen more often, for Emily and Joanna and Hazel, as well as with my niece. One-on-one time is so important for bonding and for deepening relationships.

This morning we had my brother’s kids over at the hotel for breakfast with our family. The five together were so incredibly well-behaved. I dashed back and forth ferrying waffles, and they had fruit and eggs as well. After breakfast there were puzzles to play with, hide and seek to play, and general hilarity. When my brother and sister-in-law came back to the hotel, we wound up watching a “Sesame Street” Martian skits, to great enjoyment.

This afternoon while the twins were down for their nap, I took Hazel to see my friend D, who was also my American History teacher my Junior year in high school. We have reconnected, through the auspices of Facebook. She read a book to Hazel, and we had a good conversation about family, change, communication, and hot topics.

After our trip to the pool we decided to get White Castle burgers. Probably an error in judgment, at least in degree. Ted and I ate too much and my tummy is unhappy with me. Though now I’m actually looking forward to January’s Round Two of the Whole30 month of no grains and no sugar, so that’s good. Silver lining, right?

It only took five tries to get Joanna down tonight, so Ted and I have a chance at a good night’s sleep. Woo Hoo!

More adventuring tomorrow.

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Christmas Day, cousins, life lessons

The plan hatched by Ted and me in the wee hours as we cleaned and wrapped and got sleepier and colder after our furnace went down to its nighttime level, worked. That is to say, when the kids woke up (LATE! by gum, despite going to bed early) at 8 am (which would have felt like sleeping in to us, if only we hadn’t been up until almost 4 am – Ted – last night, and 4:30 am – me -), Ted took their stockings (provided by their generous Uncle C) in to them in their bedroom. The stockings and their contents occupied them for an hour more.

I am not sure (but am I ever sure?) if all those parenthetical comments are strictly necessary, but they do a reasonable job of providing a glimpse into chaos of my thought processes (though that sounds too organized, frankly).

🙂

The day was good, though full of the usual drama that attends any meeting of Hazel and her cousin B. That relationship is loving and stormy, and seems to bring out all of Hazel’s most difficult (for me) behavior patterns.

The biggest gifting irony of the day was the fit Hazel threw the moment after I realized that Hazel was drawing in Joanna’s little coloring book and told her to stop, to leave it for Joanna. Ted and I had spent some time in the store discussing which of those particular books to get for each kid, and ultimately concluded that we should get the same ones (fairies and butterflies) for Hazel and B, because otherwise they were inevitably going to covet the other person’s books and have a fight about possession of the most desired one. As it happened, however, Hazel said she didn’t like the butterflies or fairies, and wanted Joanna’s, that had animals in it.

Actually, no, I am wrong. That is not the biggest irony. The biggest irony was the moment she threw an even more colossal fit, having discovered that the twins had (OF COURSE) scribbled in B and her coloring books, given that the big girls had left them out, along with the markers, while they went to do something else. The twins are 2.5 years old. The result was entirely predictable. This is a lesson that has been learned (though clearly not well enough) before. Instantly, that book was her most treasured possession, and she was very mad at Joanna for ruining it.

And then, having ripped through the wrapping paper on all of her presents, Hazel was quite distressed to find that she had no other presents. “IT’S NOT FAIR!” echoed throughout the house.

*sigh*

My parents might say, given the frequency of my use of that particular battle cry when I was a kid, that this is merely poetic justice. And they might be right. Nonetheless, I do think that part of our parental job with Hazel, and with all three of our kids, is going to be to teach and cultivate gratitude. When receiving things merely brings unhappiness and a sense of insufficiency, I am not sure that receiving things is a net good.

What I can tell is that there is a lot of processing ahead for me, so that I can have brief but (hopefully) effective conversations with Hazel on these topics.

In other news of the day, Ted, my sister, and I produced turkey pesto meatballs, sweet potato hash (originally intended to be latkes, but didn’t sufficiently cohere), roasted Brussel sprouts (yummy!), warm cider, and salad. Earlier in the day we had green beans and broccoli, and peanut butter/almond butter sandwiches. It was a very satisfying food day. Joanna ended her dinner by eating Brussel sprout after Brussel sprout. This makes me inordinately happy.

Also, at dinner Joanna got some sort of owie, and consequently wanted to be comforted by Hazel, who took her up into her lap. Pretty soon after that Emily wound up in B’s lap, and the four of them stayed that way for quite a while, happily sharing food and coziness. Lovely.

Also lovely and heart-string-pulling was the sight, after all the bedtime reading was over, of the three girls snuggled up in the same bed, Hazel in the middle. And when we left the room and Joanna started to cry, Hazel shushed and sang her into peace. They have been sleeping ever since.

What I am everlastingly most grateful for is the people in my life. When G and I were saying goodbye this evening she said that it’d gone reasonably well. I said that yes, and especially given the severe dysfunction of many family gatherings, some inter-child tension in ours wasn’t a big deal. That might sound like cool or inadequate praise. But I think it’s a very good thing that both Hazel and B have this safe space in which to learn how to get along; to learn how to deal with other powerful people in their lives, which is a circumstance they will both face over and over; to learn the meaning of family and love, in the form of time spent together; and, gradually, to acquire the development, willingness, and ability to prioritize those goods over the physical goods sometimes exchanged at the holidays and birthdays.

Thanks to our friends and family for all the thoughtful gifts given to us and our children. And thanks, most of all, for the love thus shared.

Yikes, it’s Christmas!

It’s 3:30 am. I got home from my gig (a late-evening-but-not-midnight mass) at 1 am.

Ted and I spent a good part of today rearranging furniture in order to go with the flow of how the house is being used, but to improve it. What this means is that the toy storage is now all in the living room instead of being split between the living room and the yellow room (which was principally the domain of the twins when they were very little). When I left for the gig all the big pieces had been moved and I’d gotten the main white toy chest filled up and organized, but there was a very substantial, multi-part, intimidating amount of stuff left on the floor in both rooms. While I was at my gig, therefore, Ted was continuing to arrange, put away, clean up.

The most personally exciting aspect of my gig was that during rehearsal, as I was leaning a bit forward on the rickety chair to look at something in the music, the aforesaid chair slipped out from under me and I wound up suddenly sitting on the floor, feeling quite surprised, but cello in hand and safe. My body produced a reasonably strong adrenal response, and I felt a bit twitchy for a while, but settled down fairly soon. I think I must have tensed without being aware of it, though, because my back and left arm were unaccountably sore and tight. Sleep will be good.

Of course, when I got home to a marvelously clean and organized house, Ted had only just started wrapping presents. We finished that up together at 3 or so. The kids are going to be awake in 3 hours.

Heeeeeeellllllllllllllllllllp!

Uncle C sent, among other things, stockings for each of the kids. We brought them upstairs with us, and are going to give them to the kids when they wake up in hopes of buying ourselves some time. And then, Ted’s going to suggest to Hazel that they make a sign to welcome my sister and niece to the house for Christmas. That ought to buy some more time. I hope. And then, well, I don’t usually drink coffee, but I might have to tomorrow.

This is progress. We have to keep reminding ourselves. Last year at this time (post-gig) we realized we hadn’t actually gotten the kids presents. We raided our belongings in the basement storage and found some good ones. This year, we remembered to get them gifts. Next year, perhaps we’ll remember earlier, and get them wrapped a day or two before. The year after that, maybe we’ll even get them wrapped during the daytime. Let’s not get too wild and crazy in our speculations, though.

I know, it sounds completely bizarre that we’d have forgotten gifts. What can I say? We’ve been so totally overloaded with three kids, with the should-be-straightforward-but-is-NOT task of pretending to be competent adults and parents, that sometimes major things slip through the cracks that gape to giant chasms at the most inconvenient of times.

Nonetheless, we have managed to clean up our previous disaster of a house, there are presents under the tree, and tomorrow we get to spend a good chunk of the day with G & B. If we’re really lucky it won’t rain, and we can (more easily) take the kids to the park at least once to run off the energy that’s going to pulsing through them like small but intense neutron stars.

I wish a lovely Christmas Day to all who celebrate it, and a refreshing nap to all who may need it as much as I will by midday tomorrow.

Chamber music party, critique, inspirational friends, Chanukah, family

Today I had a critique meeting. My friends pointed out a big problem, which was that I was having my protagonist do something that made her untrustworthy and unlikeable. What was amazing to me was that I hadn’t noticed it until they talked about it. This is one reason why having a critique group is so invaluable. Changing her actions actually makes everything work better, too; it allows her to experience secret-keeping in a particular way, to retain her integrity, and creates a foil in the person of another character in the book which will allow for some interesting character development.

After that I had a chamber music x-mas party to attend. The music was fun, the people are wonderful, and I’m really glad I went.

However, I didn’t just fall off the Whole30 wagon at the party; I jumped off. I tried to enjoy the experience, knowing what I was doing, but I have to say that all that sugar & grains & gluten made me feel sick. Ugh. We’re going to re-do the Whole30 month in January (my friend D’s plan to use that month was always probably better than our effort to stick to it during the holiday month). Nonetheless, I’ve gotten a lot out of the 24.5 days I managed to achieve sugar-free. It has shown me how far I’d gotten away from it, not just in infrequent occurrences, but as a regular thing. And I know I can do this: I’ve done it before.

One of the co-hosts, my friend F, is going to be 87 in February. I hope to be playing cello and vivaciously living life as well as she is when I am her age! I hope to be her age, for that matter. She says 87 doesn’t bother her, but the fact that 90 is only three years away gives her pause. She is an inspiration, with an unfailingly positive attitude and such love for music and people and life. She is always warm and welcoming, glad to see everyone who comes, and always has a kind word. A lovely soul.

I had a good talk with my friend R in between the party and running to the store for some dinner items. He’s had good news, in the form of employment and also moving along toward the next step in his process in the justice system. I was glad to hear it. We shared some laughs about the grammatical errors on the signs in prison, and about the bureaucratic nature of it, with the expected time delays and random ridiculousnesses.

Then, when I got home with dinner Ted had cleared off the dining room table, and it was so great to see it with a fresh table cloth and the lovely center piece one of my students gave me for a present at her last lesson. Our friends A and P came over, and we had a great visit with them. Joanna climbed up into P’s lap and wanted her to read to her, all snuggled in. This makes me so happy to see. A had Hazel and Jasmine in his lap for a while, too.

After dinner, which was such a pleasure to eat at the dining room table, all together, we lit the menorah and watched the candles while Hazel soaked her arm.

The kids went to bed very late, but there was no crying. They all got happily in bed, Ted turned the lights out, and I sang “Frere Jacques” our traditional three times (French, English, French). I bashed into the dresser as we left, but that didn’t disturb them.

Now I’m writing the blog, listening to the first Brahms sextet, which I love so much, and thinking of how lovely it will be to lie down in my own bed in a bit.

And I have forgiven myself for the leap off the wagon. It helps that I know I’ll do a better job in January. Life is so much better without shame and self-hatred. Yes, that is my aphorism for the day. 🙂

Peace and Joy, all!

Chanukah, Hazel’s big owie, holidays

Chanukah candles
Tonight is the 4th night of Chanukah. This festival of lights is, for me, a reminder to be grateful for the lights in my life, both physical and metaphorical. I have always loved watching the candles burn down. When I was a kid, my brother and sister and I used to sternly remind each other not to breathe too hard when the flames had diminished to small blue wavers. Lighting candles each year brings back this and other memories of my childhood to me, and the sense of continuing a tradition I have whenever I manage to get the menorah out and the candles lit. Most years I don’t manage every night, but last year we did, and I hope to this year as well. I have more and more in my life, more for which I am grateful, more complication, more joy, more pain, more dimension, more engagement. For me, in my personal interpretation of Chanukah, it becomes ever more relevant.

I love candles, flame, fire. I love the beauty and ephemeral nature of them, the reminder that life is finite, there is beauty to be found all along, from start to glowing finish. My favorite part of the flame is that transparent vivid blue at its base. But of course, that heart is beautiful in relationship with the bright yellows and deep reds in the heart of a fire. We need all of it, all colors, all parts. Fire is holistic by nature and in its expression.

—–

A few weeks ago Hazel got a rubber burn at a kids’ play area. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but it got infected, and since she was keeping it covered up under a band-aid, and since she uses band-aids for tiny little owies, it was a few days before we realized what was going on. I took her to the doctor, who gave us anti-bacterial ointment, and told us to have her soak it in Epsom salt water twice a day, keep it bandaged up, and let her know how it was going. We did. It got much better, appeared almost totally back to normal. Then she got another pustule. And today there was a saga that started with some major unpleasantness in the morning as Ted squeezed and Hazel cried, on through to the doctor’s appointment I made for this afternoon, during which the doctor attempted to get a sample to culture, and Hazel protested mightily and cried more as I held her arms still.

Ugh.

So now she’s got an antibiotic and probiotic (which will continue for some time after her arm has healed), and we’ll be going back in on Monday, by which time, hopefully, the results of the culture will be back. And in the meantime, it’s vitamin C, alternating between hot and cold plunges for her elbow, daily baths, bandages, and immune support. We want to knock this thing out. Poor Hazel. Poor us.

While we were at the pharmacy waiting for her prescription, we found a cool little teapot with a snowflake design and matching cups. We bought the teapot and 4 cups for the kids; they like to have tea too, so we make them peppermint or some other non-caffeinated variety. I wanted them to have a special kids’ set. Tonight after dinner we pulled them out of the bags to show the twins and Ted. The small fry were all very excited.

I have one more day of teaching on Monday, but since Ted’s going to be off all next week and the week after, I am feeling like we’ve entered the winter break. I am looking forward to time with family, time with friends, and then time with grandparents.

Happy holidays, all!

Women’s connections, banana jousting, learning to read, missing cello, friends

Today I bundled the twins into the Madsen and took off to a park where I met up with a woman who’s considering getting a cargo bike for herself and her kids. We talked about pros and cons, about music (her son is interested in cello lessons) about pregnancy and its impacts on one’s body. One thing I enjoy about being a woman is the way in which women are able to connect on a personal level having never met one another before. In my experience, it is easiest to do that with another woman, and sometimes possible to do with a man. The men I know, however, talk about how hard it is to engage in personal conversation with other men, who are socialized away from that sort of interaction. Parenthood helps. Ted, and various of my male friends, have described softer interactions with other people when they’re out with a baby or child. There are more smiles, more conversation, more openness.

After we got back I fed the twins a quick lunch, as we were running a bit behind on our lunch/nap/picking Hazel up daily schedule. As part of their lunch I gave them each a banana. They devised a game wherein they each held a long piece of banana in their mouths and then jousted with them, giggling madly through the fruit. I laughed and laughed, and I also taped the moment, glad to have it to show them, both now and later. It was one of the funniest things I have ever seen. Twins are magic. I am so lucky.

When Hazel and I got home from school, she read a bunch of little books to me, with her sight words colored in to show which they are. She loves to do that, loves to show me what she’s learned. She was very sad to hear that she’s going to be off school for two weeks. I had to placate her with reminders of our upcoming trip to visit my parents, and that we’ll be able to spend time together, go the pool, etc., during the time we’re here. Hazel wants to spend all of her time with Ted and me, and she also wants to spend all of her time with her friends at school. She has a plethora of good options, but of course experiences these multiple desires as conflicts. Issues of time, relationships, and time management begin young! She’s always sad when she hears about something I did with the twins in the morning, because, “I didn’t get to go! That’s not fair!”

Nonetheless, I can’t wait to show her the banana jousting video tomorrow. I think she will love it.

Today was one of those days during which teaching made me miss my cello, and miss practicing my own repertoire on the cello, desperately. I don’t have any child care tomorrow, but am making a plan to practice when Ted gets home. I have so much work to do, and I want to get to it! Hazel’s not the only one with competing desires for how to spend time.

I am in more frequent communication with my friend R who’s in prison these days. He’s accomplishing a remarkable change of outlook, and we are getting to know each other again through conversations over the phone and in letters. I am grateful for that friendship, and for so many others.

good day, the multi-layered experience of a Christmas tree, my tribe

Today was an incredibly beautiful day, with bright clear light and blue skies. We went over to new friends’ house for brunch. Their daughter is in Hazel’s class, and they are friends. Together, they like to make a point of excluding A’s little brother, and we were hoping that the twins would be playmates for him, but he and they were all focused on joining the big kids. At one point I went upstairs to check on them because I heard P, the little brother, crying. He was lying on the floor in tears outside the closed door of A’s room. I went in and told them sternly that they are not allowed to exclude him. I didn’t handle it particularly well, issuing orders in the moment. I’ll wait for a quieter time to talk with Hazel about it. It triggers me some, having felt what I would describe as middle-child exclusion as a kid (though I am sure most people can relate, having experienced it in one way or another). It hurts my heart to see it. So there will be more conversations on the topic.

Nonetheless, it was a fun morning of yummy food, interesting conversation, kids drawing, playing, dressing up, and caroming around.

Yesterday we finished decorating the tree. It is still mostly intact, despite a certain amount of batting and pawing on the part of the feline inhabitants, and tugging and loving appreciation on the part of the small fry. It smells wonderful upon entrance to the house, and is something I love about this season, along with all the beautiful lights on people’s houses, bushes, trees.

Not having grown up in a Christian household, Christmas is on one level, for me, purely a celebration of lights and smells and yummy dinner. On another level, as a non-Christian, it is something that dominates the scene in a way that sometimes feels fairly exclusionary, though that is something I feel much more frequently many more times a year than just on December 25th, in ways small and large. There are so many people who want to loudly insist that “this is a Christian nation”. Well, no. It’s not. And if it is, does that mean I’m not really a full citizen? Those sorts of things get attached to trees and lights, too. Then you add in the frenzy of marketing and acquisition all wrapped up in nationalism, and sometimes the whole thing makes me a bit nauseous.

I lived in the UK twice when I was a kid, and there it really does just seem to be a national holiday, which can be religious for people if they want it to be, but doesn’t have to be. I enjoyed that.

For now, in our house, we’ll do the tree, give some presents, but continue to think about how to moderate the consumerist aspect of it, and how to present the religious aspect as well, as the kids get older.

Tonight we had another wonderful meditation/breath class. There was more singing and dancing. I have found one of my most important tribes. I am grateful.