Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Because he has more time and better ideas

Noah has a blog. I will be posting some of his projects. Fromthemindofnoah

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Eggerts do Disney

I document my insanity to preserve it for my own memory, which is poor. If it helps someone else, with vacation planning or to get a good laugh at my expense, then BONUS.

When I picture my perfect vacation it’s foreign, educational and adventurous. I love to plan a vacation. I arm myself with numerous guide books and websites, looking for the best deals on the best places to stay, the things not to miss and the best places to eat. It is part of my enjoyment of my vacation – the discovery and planning phase. And I have learned that it’s just as important to me to plan for Disney World as it is Guatemala.

My Mom had been wanting to take her grandkids to Disney World before she had grandkids. And she had been asking me regularly when we could go for years. I finally told her that I’d like to go within a few months of Lee turning two. This way he was still free of charge but he could enjoy it on some level. So after Christmas we made the plans – we’d go end of September 2011. I really wanted to stay in the resort. As a kid I’d been to Disney 4 times – 4, 10, 14 and 17. It’s really the only family vacation I remember going on with my Mom – we didn’t do regular beach or mountain getaways. But Disney is pricey and my Mom was a struggling working mother so we never stayed in the park. I remember the traffic getting into the park and it seemingly taking forever to get there and I dreamed of staying within monorails reach of Magic Kingdom. So I was genuinely excited to book a week at the Polynesian after finding a good package deal on Mousesavers – which my mother more than HELPED with. I picked the Polynesian not only because I remember taking the monorail through it and thinking how lucky the people were who stayed there, though that is certainly part of it. I also had read that their rooms had been recently updated and were among the largest single rooms in Disney – which is a big deal for a family of five.

When I booked the package they told me I could make dining reservations 180 days prior to the start of our trip. This struck me as insane. It meant that in March I had to have our whole week of vacation planned out. You can’t make dining reservations when you aren’t sure which day you are going to be at which park. And now the real research began. I had to figure out which day to head to which park and most importantly what were the best places to eat. If you opt for the dining plan it means you get one table service meal a day and since I’m a bit of a foodie and obsessed with getting a good value I had to do serious dining research. I quickly decided that heading to the best buffets and family style meals was our best bet. This way the meals would be faster, which is key with a 19 month old, we’d definitely get enough to eat and my boys wouldn’t be relegated to eating chicken nuggets off the kids menu at every meal. I used the reviews in the Unofficial Guide to Disney World and made our plan, breathing a sigh of relief when everything was booked.

One of the smartest things I did was to buy the boys Birnbaum’s Kids Guide to Disney World. Noah and Ray devoured it. They read the description of every ride. They also watched Disney World promotional videos on Netflix. Their excitement was at a fever pitch. And per the guides suggestion we made lists the week prior to the trip for each park that included which rides we couldn’t miss, which were maybes and which ones we definitely could go without seeing. The boys loved this. And a few days before the trip I looked at the Unofficial Guides touring plans and made our own plan based on what we wanted to see and geographic location. I also kept track of which counter service restaurants would be decent to hit for our second meal a day based on where in the park we might be. And though in retrospect I definitely overdid the size of our order I was also pleased with ordering food from Garden Grocer and having it delivered to the resort since we didn’t have a car. Most important was the fruit we ate for breakfast and the water and juice boxes that kept us going without paying $4 at the park.

I admit even I thought I was being insane with all this planning. But damn am I glad I did it. And I’d do it again. All our sit down meals were excellent. And because we had a plan there wasn’t much standing around squabbling about what we should do next. And the time of year was perfect – the lines were short and though the heat was uncomfortable at times it also made for a perfect pool day.
There are a few things I would do differently. I thought Hollywood Studios was a major disappointment and I won’t go again. I was a bit disappointed in Animal Kingdom too, but I’m sure if we saw some shows there we’d have enjoyed it more. They told us we had to line up a half hour before a show to get in – and Lee just wasn’t in a stage where I’d wait in line half an hour and then sit through a show with him.
Some things were more awesome than I hoped. The kids enjoyed Epcot way more than I expected. The loved the rides Test Track, Soaring, Nemo and The Land. They still laugh about Turtle Talk with Crush. But they also loved the countries for two reasons, the biggest being The Kim Possible missions. Kids sign up to be on Team Possible and get a fake cell phone that then sends them on mission in one of the countries. They look around for clues and the phone triggers magical things to happen. It’s quite cool. Despite never having seen Kim Possible this was right up Noah’s alley, half his play has to do with spies. The boys did 4 missions – in Germany, Japan, France and the UK. Ray got a little frightened on the Japan mission, what with the killer robot babies, but he got over it. I also got the boys Epcot passports and it was a fun activity to have them stamped in each country.

Lee’s favorite thing about Disney World was the ducks. He’d have spent all day every day chasing ducks around every Disney constructed body of water. But I was most struck by Lee’s fearlessness, as I often am. I took him on every ride that didn’t have a height requirement. He went through the pitch black spookiness of rides like Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean seamlessly. Once or twice he’d go “MA?” as if to say “Are we okay?” I’d hold him tight and say “It’s okay. I’m right here” and he’d be fine. I think his favorite ride was Small World – he looked around and chattered as if chiming in with us trying to identify the countries represented.

Ray never wanted to leave Disney World. Last Christmas he saw a picture of my Mom in front of the Epcot geosphere and was impressed with the giant golf ball. When I told him he’d see it in person he was excited and it didn’t disappoint. He lists it among his favorite rides. Of course his list of favorite rides consists of almost everything he rode. And he rode everything he was tall enough to ride – including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, which is his biggest coaster to date. He loved it – and rode it three times. The other thing Ray loved doing was looking for Hidden Mickeys. He is still obsessed and anywhere he sees circles he sees one.

Noah has become my thrill seeker. He went on almost every big thrill ride twice. He goes on things I break out in a sweat just considering. Space Mountain was his favorite but he also enjoyed the Rockin Roller Coaster as well as Mission Space. My sister and I went to take him on the more adult version of Mission Space after the attendant reassured me it was just two complete spins different – but after I got in that small simulator box and the head guard started pulling down I panicked and had to be let off the ride. But Noah loved it. He’s way cooler than me.

Mark was a Disney cynic. I think part of him wanted to be underwhelmed but he just couldn’t be. In fact I could tell he was a bit taken with the classic feel of Magic Kingdom. We might not be fond of huge conglomerates constructing palatable vacation experiences but we do love a theme park. And well, the food was good. He can’t argue with that.

One of my favorite things about the trip was Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween party. My Mom splurged and bought the extra tickets the party required and though I knew the kids would love it I was a bit suspect of their worth. However I LOVED the parade. I watched it a second time while everyone else went on rides. I loved the grave digger and zombie dancers. So much so that we’ve been watching the parade repeatedly on Youtube. I can’t get the music out of my head.

Of course the best part of the vacation was being together. My Mom and her husband followed us around on our harried schedule – helping out with the kids, taking them on rides and keeping them busy. And that was real quality time for all of them. And watching the kids enjoyment of the parks was, dare I say it, magical. And yes, we all got over tired and over stimulated in certain moments but the lines were short, we were on a mission and mostly we just kept going.

The boys want to plan another Disney trip tomorrow. I’ve told them a day at Hershey Park will have to do next summer. But I can see us going back to Disney in 5 years – the boys at 12, 9 and 6. I picture us staying in one of the lodges in the Wilderness Lodge resort. It’s farther out and you have to get to everything by bus but you stay in a little cabin that I imagine would be fun and more appropriate for boys of that age.

Here are petty details of the dining itinerary, again these are more for my reference than for thrilling reading:

Sunday Epcot Center with my sister, her husband and son
11:30 Sunshine Station in The Land – Excellent choices, excellent quality of fast food lunch. Totally recommend. I loved my veggie noodle bowl.
4pm Germany’s Beer Garden Buffet – Not only is the food excellent but the kids really loved the German band and danced their little hearts out. I dare say our kids were entertaining the entire house.

Monday Animal Kingdom
11:30 Local Anandapur Café – Again, really fresh and flavorful fast food.
4:00 BOMA in Animal Kingdom Lodge – everyone says this flavors of Africa buffet is awesome and they aren’t exaggerating. LOVE. I was a bit put off when I realized it wasn’t in the park and we had to go a bit out of our way to get there and back, but it was worth it.

Tuesday Magic Kingdom
11:30 Character buffet lunch with Pooh and friends at Crystal Palace – The food options at this buffet are more conventional but done very well. Everything was good.
4:00 Starlight Rays – This was rated as one of the better fast food options at Magic Kingdom, which has a reputation of having lower quality food than the other parks, because it has a burger fixins bar but I was not impressed. Edible but meh.
9:00 snacks at Pecos Bill – Another fast food place with a fixins bar. Fine. But I can recommend the onion rings.

Wednesday Pool Day
12:00 lunch at Captain Cooks in Polynesian – Flat bread pizzas, sandwiches and noodle dishes were decent but once again the kids picks were just nuggets, mac and cheese and PB&J. The kids can’t even get the pizza with their meal plan. It’s a sin. I used the adult meal plans to feed them.
5:00 O’hana – Family style dinner of wings, dumplings, low mein, broccoli and grilled meats. Tasty. And fun.

Thursday Hollywood Studios
11:30 50’s Primetime Café – This was the only sit down menu meal we had and it was fantastic. The boys all devoured the chicken noodle soup and my fish dish was so tasty – mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus included. But nothing could beat my peanut butter milkshake. Awesome.
6:00 dinner for boys from Captain Cooks
7:15 Citricos- My Mom watched the boys so Mark and I could have an early anniversary celebration. I mentioned our anniversary in an offhanded way when I booked it and Disney put that info on our stay info so we were constantly being wished a “Happy Anniversary!” At dinner they took our photo and gave it to us as a souvenir. We found this sort of corny but it made us smile. This is a Disney Signature restaurant and takes 2 table meal credits per person but we decided to just pay cash. We totally splurged, getting a bottle of wine and ordering a full meal. Everything was delicious. REALLY delicious.

Friday Magic Kingdom
12:00 Columbia Harbor House – I found this a better fast food option than the burger places. I had a tasty salad and Mark enjoyed a tuna fish sandwich, though he was disappointed he couldn’t get soup with our meal plan.
4:00 Liberty Tree Tavern – A family style Thanksgiving style dinner. It’s as good as you’ll get over the holidays, probably better.

Parts of me was dreading Disney World with three small children. But it was absolutely great. If I had to do it all again - I'd worry alot less. Well... if that was possible for me.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Readin, Writin, Reflux

The beginning of the school year has been a momentous one. Big changes in these hills.

I will start with Ray because his change is much less complicated. Ray started going to Young Children’s Center for the Arts for preschool. He attends three 6 hour days to get him ready for fulltime Kindergarten next year. I was a little nervous about how he would make the change but I needn’t be. He was so excited leading up to his first day and he has loved every minute of it. And unlike Noah whom I have to drag information from, Ray comes home and tells me what songs they sang, what paintings he made, and what his teachers and classmates say. He is just itching to share. And he calls all his playmates “my friend.” He is doing great and I am so proud and excited for him.

With Ray and Noah in school I am home 3 days a week with just Lee. This is fantastic but also a bit overwhelming. I can’t remember what in hell I did with Noah at 18 months old to keep him busy all day. I’m going to start operating on more of a schedule to keep us both busy and entertained after our upcoming vacation.

And then there is Noah. When the time came to figure out where Noah was going to go to Kindergarten I was petrified by the steps and all the options. In the public school district there are 3 kinds of schools. Charter, which enrolls by lottery, Magnet, which enrolls by application and ability – and is for upper grades, and Neighborhood which enrolls by geographic area. Our neighborhood school is Moffett and I wasn’t satisfied with sending Noah there. When you don’t want to send your kid to the neighborhood school you can fill out a Neighborhood Transfer Form that says you want to go to a school in a different neighborhood. However these schools take the kids from their neighborhood first and only after that do they take kids outside if they have spots. Often they do not. How each neighborhood school handles the spots open to transfers varies. I put in Noah’s transfer form and put his name in for some charter school lotteries but really I wasn’t crushed when those didn’t yield results. The moment I went to Frankford Friends I fell in love with it. It was small, modest, and close knit. I could tell that they weren’t just going to be teaching my child the basics but also contribute to his character and his view of the world. I could see from the middle school kids who were all so individual and warm that it was a very special place. A place I wanted to be a part of. And we couldn’t have been more thrilled with Noah’s Kindergarten experience there. I will always love Frankford Friends.

But this summer I started to think about two tuitions. Three tuitions. And about the inevitability of moving our kids to public school. I came to the conclusion that even if we could struggle and make ends meet to send all the kids there – that it would cost our family other opportunities for growth and learning. I began to think that if we didn’t have to pay for school we could use even a portion of that money to supplement education with lessons, sports and educational trips – things that would be harder to do, even impossible while paying tuition. And so I realized that a change was going to have to be made eventually. But when? Which made me come to the realization that sooner was better. Better to move Noah before he became more entrenched in his Frankford Friends friendships, accustomed to the smallness. Better to move him when there was just him to move. And I realized I should have tried to transfer Noah to First Grade at Greenfield, a neighborhood public school downtown with an excellent reputation and a Gifted program that begins in Second grade. Noah had spent the summer playing with friends who went to Greenfield and whose parents were very pleased. But of course it was too late to make such a change. I should have done that paperwork last September.

I decided I’d write the Principal on the off chance they had a space for Noah. I told him about Noah, about how awesome he was and why I wanted to make the move to Greenfield. Of course he wrote back right away and said basically “No, fill out forms to transfer them both next year.” But I decided to pursue it further anyway. I asked friends whose kids went to Greenfield to mention us, and how great Noah was to the Principal. I wrote him again and I called and talked to him on the phone and he told me the same thing but also said they had a policy that if a child doesn’t show up for the first ten days they strike them from their books and then they might have a space. So I had to think whether I would have N go to FF for 2 weeks and then transfer him. I told him I’d do that – that it would be hard for him but it was for the best. That he should let me know if they had a vacancy. I also stopped into the office to meet the Principal in person and give him copies of Noah’s report cards and again said how much we wanted it. On the first day of the Philadelphia public school, after a sleepless night spent obsessing over it, I wrote the Principal an email that said PLEASE - how it would be great if he could find an opening for Noah before he started his school on Thursday – how it would be a lot less stressful for him. He didn’t respond to my email.

So I called Wednesday afternoon. The conversation went like this:
“Hi Dan, It’s Nicole Eggerts.”
(Perceived sigh.) “ Hi, Nicole. You are persistent.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to irritate you.”
“No. You are not. Noah starts school Thursday, right?”
(To his secretary) “Sherry, what are the counts for 212?”
To me “You can bring him in and register him tomorrow morning.”
I signed him up the following morning satisfied that I left him in a class with one of his neighborhood friends, after seeing another one of his friends in the hall with her class.

But of course now I’m wringing my hands about whether it was the right thing. Frankford Friends was so wonderful, so small and precious. Greenfield is enormous in comparison, A REAL schooly feeling school with 3 first grades, an auditorium, cafeteria, gym, computer and science labs, gardens and new play equipment. Its such a big change. Noah seems to be doing fine with the adjustment though he said he does miss his old school. In a way I know Noah will do good any place. He is really a self motivated learner and I’m glad that during first grade he will be tested for admittance to the gifted program and that should help to challenge him. But I’d be remiss in not mentioning that I am not sold on his new teacher yet. She is new to the school but had previously been teaching middle school for 20 years. Noah says he likes her but it seems they have been doing a lot of copying off the board and uninteresting worksheets. And she’s unexpectedly out the beginning of the week and didn’t leave any lesson plans for an ancient sub. So now I’m spinning my wheels about whether I should have tried to get him into Second Grade – since he’s only 2 months past the grade cutoff mark and already reading at a Third Grade level. Always something to obsess about. The feeling of triumph is fleeting. Am I doing enough for them? Am I doing the right thing? It’s dizzying and I feel a bit ill.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Kissy Kissy

Noah faced his first bullying incident last week. But before I get to the details I want to talk about his summer camp.

This year I signed Noah up for day camp at Bridesburg Rec Center. He had attended preschool there and the Kindercamp in summer but this was the first time he was going to attend the camp for the school age children. The program runs from 10 to 2 on Monday through Friday, in 2 four week sessions. The cost is a mere $170 a session. The first session includes a daily swim lesson, a weekly field trip and a lunch (which Noah doesn’t eat because it’s too processed). The camp is structured on the kids doing their own thing. They have a playground, a sprinkler, sports fields, game tables, crafts, lego area, action figure table, sand hill and lots of grass for kids to just hang out. The kids are mostly free to do what they want when they want, including when to eat lunch. There a few adult teachers who lead the camp but the bulk of the counselors are neighborhood teens who themselves went to the camp when they were younger. I love this aspect, as a teen I taught a girl scout summer day camp and I like to envision Noah as a counselor someday. The kids also have access to a table where they can buy snack food, popsicles and candy. And while I am not thrilled with the selections I do like that for the first time I give Noah money and he figures out how he wants to spend it. As a result he has really learned the value of coins and how to add and subtract them – while buying ice pops and Doritos. As you can tell I’m quite pleased with the camp as I have been with our preschool experience there.

The camp is part of a neighborhood rec program. Bridesburg is a very old neighborhood that is fairly traditional, white and blue collar. And while the lack of diversity is an issue for me I do like that the neighborhood is so invested and involved in the rec center. Many of the kids who go there are the kids of parents who also attended the programs when they were young, and possibly even their parents. And the bulk of the school age kids who attend the summer camp are ones who also attend the neighborhood elementary school that is right next door to the camp. These kids know each other, and each others families. Noah is an outsider however I signed Noah up with some of his little friends and though he hasn’t really made any new friends he has really deepened the bonds he has had with his already existing friends – which mostly happen to be girls.

Only Noah and his friend (we will call her) Rose attended both sessions of the camp. And the two of them were inseparable. Rose is an only child and very spirited. She rules the roost, but Noah is pretty easy going so they make a fine pair. But over the course of the summer Rose has gotten a bit possessive and jealous about Noah. She wants him all to herself and in a way she has prevented him from making new friends at camp. Her father says Rose has always been jealous – she was left in an orphanage in China at the age of 3 months and spending time in an institution where attention was fought for and fleeting has left an impression. Rose gets visibly upset if her parents even look at another a baby let alone hold one. So Rose and Noah have been a constant twosome, tied at the hip while at camp. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Last week a big group of girls, the bulk of them around 9 (I guess) went up to Noah and Rose and asked if they were boyfriend and girlfriend. I am unclear what exactly transpired other than the girls were chasing them around, Noah was knocked down , his knee skinned and his Croc broken. The girls told them they wouldn’t leave them alone until they kissed. They made them kiss. At some point during this Noah hid in the bathroom and cried. (He told me that.) When I arrived to pick Ray up from his Kindercamp Noah and Rose were having a picnic under a tree and there was a gaggle of older girls around them. I asked N&R how their day was going and Rose said “BAD.” And then she told me these girls around them made them kiss. At this time it was the only portion of the story I got. But I immediately addressed the girls – shaming them for picking on 6 year olds and shooing them away from the area. I then went to the head of her camp and told her the kissing part of the incident since that was all I knew.

When all of it went down I was really upset. But I quickly realized Noah didn’t really want to keep talking about it. He has some pride and was trying to be brave and unfazed so as far as I was concerned since I scolded the girls, the counselor scolded the girls, there was no repeat incidents and it didn’t ruin Noah’s enjoyment of the camp then I was good.

Rose’s parents were more upset and wanted the parents of the girls to acknowledge the incident as being their child’s fault. And as a result they kept bringing it up with me and the counselors in front of Noah, who so badly wanted to pretend it didn’t happen. Part of their issue was they wondered if the kids were picked on because Rose is Chinese. And that may very well be part of it – she is a minority at a camp in a neighborhood known for being not entirely tolerant to differences. But to me it seemed just as likely that they were picked on because they were not known neighborhood kids and because it’s been funny to watch this pair of 6 year olds walking around like a married couple for the last couple of weeks. Whether it was one of those reasons or all three- it doesn’t matter. The parents aren’t going to admit the problem at the core is that they don’t like Chinese people and have a change of heart. Of course when Rose’s parents talked to the counselor about the discussion with the parents they were told the girls had different stories and denied things and their parents believed them. To which I said “Of course. You’d probably do the same thing.” I know I would unless my kid had a history of not being believable, but at our core we all want to think our kid isn’t capable of bullying.

So there it is. Noah was bullied. As far as I know there has been no further issues. Noah is sad that this is his last week of camp. He had a great time. He’s gotten to be so grown up there. He’s had a great time with his friends, Rose in particular. He is now a fully skilled swimmer and no longer needs any floatation device. And he’s insistent he go there again next year – and that he’ll watch out for Ray who next year will also be old enough to attend. What I love about the camp is the freedom the kids get because that is truly what summer should feel like. Just chilling with your friends with all the fun at your finger tips. But then again the lack of supervision is an issue if bullying becomes a problem. I guess we’ll just have to hope that it doesn’t.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

only the lonely

I started reading blogs when I was trying to get pregnant with Noah. To get a glimpse into the life of a Mom, to find answers to questions about possible infertility since it was taking us so long to conceive. I started this blog when Noah was a few months old – to get advice on mothering, to work through the questions I had, to document his young life and to communicate with the world since I was home alone with him the bulk of the day.

These days I don’t need advice. I have my own thing going and I rarely face a dilemma that I don’t have an idea on how I want to handle it. I’m seasoned in the small children rearing. That isn’t to say that I’m not interested in what others are doing or think that what I am doing is right for anyone else – just that I have a feel for what works best for me, for us. And though I still want to document the lives of the boys I rarely have the time to do that – and when I do it makes for a really boring read. For awhile I wasn’t very lonely – I had a network of neighborhood Moms who I became friendly with – mostly with kids Noah’s age, possibly with a sibling Ray’s age and we hung out as a pack. But as our older kids are now in school we get together less and less.

Lee was a game changer in a lot of respects. None of our friends have three kids. No one in my circle has a kid Lee’s age and oddly that makes a difference. I need to make friends who will be his little friends. In the past I made friends at play group, on the playground – just striking up conversations time and time again with faces that had become familiar. Though I am shy in my own way, I can also be fairly outgoing. But this doesn’t really work anymore. What I’ve learned is that people with one young child don’t want to become friends with a lady with three kids. Maybe it’s too much mayhem for them. Maybe it’s too annoying to have to deal with my “Oh when Noah was that age… And Ray was like this…” and my obvious “You think this is a big deal now but it isn’t.”

So now I’m lonely. I don’t feel like I am connecting with people, with adults. And though the kids bring me great joy every day, what I’m lacking is hurting me, is hurting us. I’m not sure how to resolve it. I know spending some time with my pre-baby friends, the friends I will always have regardless of differences in lifestyles, will help. But since I’m so clingy with my kids when they are under 2 it is hard for me to get away. I have to MAKE myself do it and sometimes that is added stress and not a stress reliever.

A couple of weeks ago I had a pregnancy scare. Though I wouldn’t say I was scared. My heart was excited. I really do want a fourth. I don’t feel done with the whole baby thing and I can’t force my emotional self to believe that it’s over – that Lee is my last. But my head was in a tizzy. I’m still feeling trapped by Lee’s toddlerhood since I can’t let my apron strings out before February so that was part of it. But the biggest part I was panicking about was what would everyone think. I can just imagine everyone shaking their heads over me having a FOURTH. Walking to the park with a tribe. Trying to control them all at the farm stand and the library – and all the “crazy” looks I’d get. And who wants to talk to the Mom of 4 at the park – NO ONE. She’s a roving stressed out circus. I don’t personally know anyone with 4 small children. It’s an anomaly. A freak show. Anyway – I wasn’t pregnant. And I was sad and relieved.

Any way – I’m lonely. And as a result I’m turning more inward, which is so not me. I’ve been described by someone as needing to update my Facebook status every time I “take a dump.” And while this person obviously doesn’t know me well enough because I RARELY discuss bathroom issues, I concede the sentiment. And they don’t even follow me on Twitter. But as of late I can’t summon the urge to update or tweet. I’m just not connecting – in any way.

This may be part of the depression that I’ve been struggling with since my Dad died. I understand that. I’ve been wavering between my depression being situationally appropriate and thinking maybe I could use some counseling. Of course since I can’t even get away to get my tooth filled that’s a moot idea.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Super Ray

A drop of golden sun

It's hard for me to talk too much about Ray without thinking about my Dad, without really missing him. I really feel like he and Ray were cut from the same cloth. I like to think that many of the problems my Dad had in his life were the result of his oversensitivity. He was easily affected by things and he never really learned an appropriate coping mechanism to deal with the things that hurt him. He would shut down mostly. As I say about Ray - when he's happy he's the happiest happy, and when he's sad he's the saddest sad. My Dad could be so much fun, he was effervescent when he was joyful. I'm still missing him very much every day.

But back to Ray - he is effervescent. People always smile and marvel at him. He can be this wound up ball of reckless energy however if he is wanting attention or he's not gotten enough stimulation. He is much more a physical being than Noah. He loves running, jumping, dancing and spinning. With Noah I've always switched up the classes I put him in - music, dance, and art - but Ray wants to take him tumbling class over and over again. He loves learning the tricks, balancing on the balancing beam, doing yoga stretches, and bouncing on the trampoline.

Ray turns four years old in 9 days but people always think he's older. For one thing he's quite tall and brawnier than Noah. Ray has also had a pretty impressive vocabularly and ability to be very verbal from before the age of 3. He talks. ALOT. In ways people are not expecting from a boy of his age.

Ray adores video games. If left to his own devices he would play endlessly online, on his leapster and on my iPhone. I limit his play mostly to things I deem educational. And honestly he's gotten so good at letter recognition, phonics and math because of these games. But what impresses me is how savy he is online. Though he can't read he can navigate a game that would seem to require reading. Just from being intuitive about where the START buttons and other functions would be. And he doesn't get easily frustrated with the games like Noah does. He'll take his time and try all the different options until he gets the right one. He had a friend over the other day who told me she used her computer at home but when Ray tried to show her something online she was baffled. She had problems using the mouse - and it wasnt until then that I realized how much he has truly mastered at game play.

Ray loves music. If it's rocking. He favorz male voices and songs that start with prominent guitar parts. He's a natural rock anthem fan. And he's a great dancer. He does his own thing with sort of amped up abandon. It is hysterical.

Ray adores Noah. He admires him. He follows him. If given the choice to be with or without Noah he'd almost always choose with (whereas Noah would probably choose a break from Ray). He mostly lets Noah take the lead with choosing their imaginative story lines but there are some games he favors himself. He wants to be Ron Weasely to Noah's Harry. He likes to play a puppy at the pet store that I pick out and take home. He loves to be Super Ray.

Ray is SO jealous of Lee. He tries to keep a level head about it, if there is such a thing for Ray, but his jealousy shows through. When I'm nursing Lee Ray will put his face right up to Lee's face to "love on him." In fact often when Lee gets hurt it's because Ray was loving on him. But most of the affection is still positive. He even talks of wanting us to have another baby.

When Ray misbehaves I can tell him to go sit on his bed and he'll go. Noah never did that. He would freak out when I suggested a time out - as if I just suggested life imprisonment. Ray seems to know he needs a quiet moment to collect himself and he just goes. I go up after a couple of minutes and we talk about whatever precipitated it. When Ray gets really upset however, like tantrum-ish upset, he seems like his tongue swells up. His tongue is sticking out of his mouth and he's trying to talk but he seems to be choking on his tongue. I tell him to calm down and stop crying and he says he can't and it usually takes me holding him and reassuring him to get him to settle down. He also goes through periods where he has night terrors, and this strikes me as him just being so emotional and needing to work through some stuff in the night. It wasn't uncommon for Ray to need to come to our bed in the middle of the night but he's been a bit better about it lately. At least for the moment. I never bank on kid's sleeping habits.

So there is some info on my Ray. He really is a piece of work. I readily admit he's a bit of a wild card and a slight bit wonky, but I don't just love him in spite of it, I love him because of it. I admire his spiritedness and am touched by how deeply he feels things. As an adult I can foresee Ray continuing to need me the most, but I can also see him making me feel the most treasured. Of course that could be the codependent in me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Noah on the grow

Noah had an incredible first year of school. Kindergarten flew by for him with nothing but positive things to say. No problems with classmates or teachers. His school was every bit the nurturing environment we had hoped it would be.
He is now a full fledged reader. This morning he woke up before me and finished his fifth Magic Tree House book. He is a regular book worm - often wanting to read for pleasure. Tomorrow starts the libraries book challenge which gives prizes based on how much you read and I'm certain this will motivate him even more.
Though he and Ray often butt heads they also play together quite well. Creating huge imaginative worlds in which they live. Though of course Noah prefers to be the one in charge at all times and has to be reminded to let Ray contribute in a way he didn't plan.
However nothing is as sweet as Noah with Lee. He adores him. Always ready for a cuddle and a smile.
Sometimes I feel like we need to apprentice Noah to someone - someone who can help him fully realize all his creative potential and isn't weighed down by the time, energy and attention constraints of having other children. He needs someone who can drop everything and help him make the movie he's been planning for 6 months. He would thrive as an only child.
And then I watch him play with his brothers and I remember how lonely I was and how Noah shares his whole life with his brothers and I am so happy that they have each other.
Noah is growing so fast into such a smart, sweet and lovable little man. So far I am confident that he will be an incredible person to know as an adult. And that's really the goal, isn't it?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Notes on Lee

He loves dogs. If he sees a dog at the park he will head right for it and show little fear of getting right up in it's face. It's terrifying.
He loves books. Especially tactile booms like those by Matthew Van Fleet or the "That's not my monster" series. He will hand you a book and back up into your lap. Sometimes he climbs into the yellow rocking armchair and sits there looking at books on his own.
He has great rhythm. He claps to the beat and often sings the melody of songs. He os particularly good at The White Stripes "Seven Nation Army."
He talks. He's getting a good arsenal of words. But he also chatters, incessantly.
He is a climber. He scales everything.
He loves to look out the window.
He will bring you his shoes because he wants to go out.
He likes to dress up. Put on your clothes, a necklace, some sunglasses. He looks proud.
He started playing with the toy kitchen.
His favorite past time however is taking things out of one place and putting them in another. Like putting clean laundry in the hamper or dirty laundry in the drawers.
He is a wanderer. He will take off with nary a look back. And if he sees you coming after him he will pick up speed and laugh.
But that doesn't mean I can leave the room he is in to get a shower. I have to sneak away every morning. He's fine as long as he doesn't see me go.
He is so lovable and charming it must be a sin. Just picturing his sweet face makes me light up, even in the grimmest of times. And some times have been grim.
He adores his brothers.
He is almost 16 months old and I have barely blogged about him. It isn't because he isn't noteworthy or incredible. It is because life is chaotic and fast and I rarely get a chance. But maybe if I try to do a word here and there I can back into it. Maybe.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Good grief, she's at it again.

I apologize for all the depressing Dad and death talk on here, on Twitter, on Facebook. But I process things in print. Writing is my outlet. If I don’t write it down and share it I will keep speaking it to myself over and over again in my head. I have to get it out, no matter how repetitive and in a shambles it is. Please bear with me.
On the morning of Tuesday, February 15 Noah had gone to school and Lee had gone down for a nap. I was watching our neighbor Ella and she and Ray were playing in the toy room. I was in the boys room trying to fold some laundry. My cell phone rang. It was my brother Jim. He said “Nicole, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this. Dad died this morning.” “WHAT?” And though he repeated himself and started with the details all I could think was “WHAT? HOW? WHY?” I was sobbing, in that kind of animal-like cry and I heard Ray tell Ella “Her Dad died. She is very sad. Let’s spy on her.”
Dad worked in a cold storage warehouse, meaning a giant freezer, using fork lifts to pick and load pallets of frozen foods on to trucks for delivery to grocery stores. He went to work at 4 am. He’d gotten up that morning presumably around 3. When what we presume was a stroke came on he must have gotten very light headed or lost his vision, which is what happened when he had the mini-stroke last year. It appears he walked into the edge of a cabinet and gashed his head which began bleeding a bit. He then went into the bathroom steps away to wash off the blood and collect himself. He sat down and died. My grandmother got up around 9 and when she came downstairs she saw the bathroom door was ajar a bit, she tried to push it closed but my father was in the way. She found him dead on the floor. She called 911 and my brother Jim who went right over and called me and my sisters on his way. We were all so shocked. Are so shocked. Will continue to be so hurt and shocked. We didn’t see this coming.
But then I tell myself Dad would have wanted it this way. If he had a major stroke and survived needing a lot of care he’d have been begging us to kill him. He was fiercely private about some things and very stubborn. He also would not have wanted to witness our suffering – sitting around knowing he was dying slowly, that his days were numbered. So for those reasons I guess we should be thankful – for him.
My Dad and I were in a really good place. I’d seen him a couple of weeks prior. Took the boys out to spend some time with him just because I tried to make sure we saw him and Oma once a month. He made a roasted chicken with carrots and potatoes that we all gobbled up. He played with the boys – watching Noah read and Ray write, even getting down on the floor to have fun with them. He seemed in good spirits. And it was an awesome visit. I called him a few days prior to his death and told him how much we’d enjoyed it. But the bulk of our conversation was about a TV. When I saw him I told him we bought a new TV and Dad said he’d been thinking about buying one and that if he could walk home from Walmart with one (Dad didn’t have a license) he’d have one by now. And since the visit I kept meaning to call and tell him that I’d help to get him a TV – watch for a good deal online and have it shipped free. But as always it took me awhile to call because the prime time to reach Dad was between 3 and 6 pm and that’s always the busiest with the kids. But Dad said he didn’t really need a TV yet but promised me he’d let me know if he changed his mind. It was a silly conversation but at least I know he knows I was thinking about him and what I could do for him. How I could help – though he didn’t really like being helped.
And yet I still have some regret about not calling him on Valentine’s Day. Worry that he didn’t feel loved. I meant to, but the day once again got away from me. I took some photos of the boys and doctored them up to make little silly Valentines and send them to a bunch of loved ones via text message. Dad’s phone was too old to see photos and I thought of posting one on his Facebook wall but he really checked it. So I thought “I’ll just give him a call.” And I didn’t. GOD I regret that. Not just that I would have had one more chance to talk to him but that maybe he would tell me he wasn’t feeling great and I could have persuaded him to go to the hospital. Of course that’s kind of a laugh since you couldn’t persuade him to do much, in fact he’d probably refrain from doing so until he was convinced it was his own idea. (Have I mentioned that Ray is my father?) But anyway – just to have heard his voice that one more time.
And yet I don’t feel like I have the right to feel that way. We didn’t have unfinished business. So many others did. My sister Elisha in Florida is wrecked that she hadn’t seen him in a year. My sister Jessica who hadn’t seen my Dad for 13 years was on the brink, after a year of Facebook contact, of finally re-meeting Dad when her mother once again forbade it. She never got to know him or really understand that though he wasn’t there for her like he should have been it wasn’t because he didn’t adore her. He was sad for not knowing her every day. And there is a lot of other family heartbreak.
There was a time I wasn’t speaking to my father, between my wedding and when Noah was born. I was so angry at him for not fixing the situation with Jessica. I knew it was hurting him every day and that he didn’t feel emotionally able to rectify it but I was so angry that he wasn’t there to be a father to her like he had been for me. Any one of us could go on and on about how messed up the situation was and why he felt the way he felt but when it comes right down to it I don’t believe there is any good reason to not be a part of your child’s life. And so I told him he had to fix his life and I couldn’t be a part of his until he did that. In retrospect I see that I really felt that this would push him to do something, but it didn’t and so it was more needless pain for us both. During that time period I would see my Dad everywhere. Every bald guy with facial hair appeared to be my Dad on the periphery. I just expected to have him show up.

And then he did. When I got pregnant with Noah I wrote a few letters to Dad. Too much time had passed and I missed him dearly. I knew that being a grandfather to my kids would mean so much to him. And that not having him in my child’s life would be a great loss. So I sent him information about my pregnancy and pictures from my ultrasounds. I didn’t hear back but without a word he showed up at the hospital the morning after Noah was born with a stuffed dog. And seeing him that morning was one of the happiest moments of my life. We didn’t really need to patch things up, he was just there. And he was at the hospital when I was in labor with Ray and the first visitor after Lee was born. And he was so thrilled with the boys. And they were really growing to love him and look forward to seeing him. It’s for them that I feel so robbed. They are too young to really know what they will be missing. But I know.
When I tell someone that my Dad had four children with four different mothers it sounds like my Dad was a womanizer. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. He was really a failed romantic. His women left him, he’d fall into a total self destructive depression, swear off romance for 10 years and then somehow fall into a relationship kicking and screaming about women being trouble. When he was young all he wanted was a normal, stable family – to be the good, around all the time Dad and husband that he didn’t have. And he tried to be that three times and with each try he got more beat down and unable to get back up. Not to say the man was faultless - he was stubborn, emotional and had a weakness for drink. But he was well meaning. He loved too deeply. Felt too strongly. But that love, when you were on the receiving end, as I always was, was the best thing ever.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The end of Dad's chapter

Whenever I’d ask Dad too many questions he’d joke “What? You writing a book? Leave my chapter out.”

After Christmas last year Dad had a mild stroke. At the time we took it very seriously. Dad would get so pissed as my sister and I tried to talk to his doctors. We wanted to know everything there was to know. What caused it? What could be done? Was this going to happen again? Within days he made a complete recovery. They told him first and foremost to quit smoking. And much to everyone’s surprise he did. They put him on medications and required regular checkups and blood work and I was amazed he actually kept up with it. And they told him to lose weight and get his blood pressure under control. I was pissed they sent him home with no information on exactly how to do that. I complained to Dad that the hospital really should give him an informative pamphlet on some simple things he could do to decrease his blood pressure and moderate his diet. I bought him a book on heart healthy eating and I’m pretty sure he shoved it in the drawer with the computer for dummies books I bought and he never used. And though he made great strides with some things, his weight increased instead of decreased. He said his medications drained his energy and he therefore got less exercise than he used to, and in quitting smoking he packed on some weight. When I’d ask what his doctors were saying he’d say they were still moving around his medication mix and that his blood pressure was still too high. But the disbelief, the relief that he’d stopped smoking was huge for us all. It made everything else seem like background noise.
And this is what makes me so mad. Blood pressure issues are so common, I never realized it was a real threat. High blood pressure and weight killed my father. Either the doctors never lead him to believe that it was this serious or he never passed that belief on to us. I’m so angry that less salt, more water, more exercise would mean he’d still be here with us. We should have had so many more years together.
And there is so much baggage. Unresolved issues in his own life, and huge issues about what is to happen now. There is a huge dispute rising up about what would be best for my Oma and I just have this heavy heart feeling that she’s going to be gone by the end of this year. I want so much to do the right thing by her, make sure she gets the care she needs but sadly it isn’t my decision. And I know how pissed my Dad would be with what is going to go on – how he’d spent the last year practically trapped in that house because he was afraid to leave Oma alone overnight and now she might end up shoved in some shabby apartment alone with no regular care. I’m at a loss about what to do.
The last two weeks I was in a tizzy of getting things done and taking care of others and now things are settling down and I’m feeling alone and insane. They say it takes a year to mourn and I can see now how that is true. Because at the moment I vacillate between disbelief, desperate sadness and anger. And trying to keep it all in check while taking care of the kids seems like an impossible task. I have problems taking care of myself under normal circumstances – and this, well HOW? I can’t even imagine how to do it.
My Dad had his flaws. He made mistakes in his life and he was often his own worst enemy – repeatedly shooting himself in the foot. But I can say without reservation that he was one of the most loving people. I’d seen him cry so many times – in happiness and sadness. He felt things so very deeply , too deeply in fact. And he hated to see us upset and would be devastated by all this suffering.
We went to a local park near my house on Saturday and scattered Dad's ashes in the Delaware River. It was me, my 2 sisters, my brother, his 18 year old daughter, and Noah. Noah was the only young family member who wanted to come. I asked Noah if he wanted to say anything to his PaJoe and he said "I hope he has a nice trip." And I know from further questioning that Noah meant that twofold - he was speaking of PAJoe's ashes traveling on the river but also of his spiritual journey. Noah is firm in his belief that PaJoe was going some place next and he hopes it is a grand adventure, one on which we can later accompany him. And I hope that too.


I have come to realize I am angry. So very angry. At no one in particular. It's just bubbling under the surface and bits come spitting out in moments of frustration. I am not being very patient with the boys. I feel out of control.

Monday, February 28, 2011

I miss him dearly

My father is gone. It was sudden. It is horrible. I read this at his service.

There is no way to make sense of this. We should have had so much more time with Dad. But rather than focus on what we no longer have I need to talk about some of the wonderful things we did have, what he meant to us, who he was.
Dad wore his heart on his sleeve. And sadly it had been broken many times. And though he carried around a lot of pain with him Dad was really a jovial guy. He had so many things that brought him joy – sitting at the bar, chatting with a stranger, taking a walk and seeing new things, going out for a nice meal, taking us to zoos, amusement parks, movies, museums, circuses and boat trips. But most of all Dad loved his family – loved getting us all together, cooking us a meal and watching the children grow and play. He had a sweet tooth and he made sure all the grandchildren knew where the candy jar was. He loved to look at photos of us all – and his walls were covered with all of our faces. Everyone had photos on that wall that they weren’t pleased with – but Dad saw beauty in them all. And that was what was the most powerful thing about Dad. He could make you feel so incredibly loved and special – and that love was unconditional. It shaped me and healed me so many times in my life. But the thing that he would be most proud of, the thing for which I am most thankful for is that he brought us all together. We all have different mothers, and some of us different fathers – but that doesn’t matter. We are a family. And we will all get through this tragedy, this pain, and all its grief in exactly the way he would of wanted us to – together.