Thursday, December 31, 2009

‘Tis the Season

So, we’re in the thick of it now: cold and flu season. So far, thanks to diligent hand-washing and flu shots, we’ve avoided the flu at our house, but the head colds have been running rampant. I just recovered from my first cold-turned-sinus-infection of the season, and hubby’s got a sinus infection himself now (on a business trip, no less, and you really haven’t enjoyed the full effects of a sinus infection until you’ve flown with one). String Bean has either had a month-long endless cold, or about three colds back-to-back. Peanut has been the luckiest, with only mild versions of the cold each time, but she more than makes up for it with the fact that she’s three now, and acting like it.

I can’t even blame preschool for all of these colds, as the girls have been off school since a week before Christmas. I read a study once that said kids who are in childcare or preschool, those lucky ones who have multiple colds every year of their young lives, have a lower risk of developing childhood diseases, like leukemia. Something about a well-exercised immune system. I don’t know if that study has held up over the years, or if it was just written by a parent trying to reassure himself that all of those colds his kids brought home were worth something in the end, but I’m looking forward to the end of this cold season, and I hope next year all of our systems are a bit tougher.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Perfect Gift

Apparently, Santa got it right this year. String Bean has been asking for a new bike for a while, and not just any bike, but a princess one, purple, if at all possible. When she woke up on Christmas Day, and sleepily dragged herself out into my mom’s living room, and there it was, in all of its perfect purple splendor, with a matching purple princess helmet, she just wanted to snuggle with me and avoid looking at it until Peanut woke up, too. At first we were worried that she’d changed her mind sometime in the past week and no longer wanted it, but once Peanut joined her in the living room, where Peanut found not only the scooter she’d been ogling in one of the toy catalogs that had come in the mail, but a hula hoop, which she’s been asking for nonstop for several months (how she even knows what a hula hoop is, I’ve never figured out), then the excitement finally hit. The girls donned their princess helmets, jumped on the bike and scooter, and took off. Well, not really, because we were inside, and my mom’s house is on six unpaved acres at the end of a long dirt road, and there wasn’t anywhere flat or paved around. So, they made do with doing a tight circuit around the kitchen.

Later, we took them out to a nice long, paved bike path that cuts through some beautiful woods, and has no cars or non-walking, non-biking traffic of any kind. Peanut decided that what she wanted was to stand on the scooter with both feet, while me, hubby, and my mother took turns pulling her along. But once String Bean hit the pavement, she was booking right along. She figured out the brakes, steering, and how to climb a hill within minutes. In the end, we had to quit, not because String Bean was tired from her long bike ride, but because we were all tired from dragging Peanut and the princess scooter around behind her.

After naps (and she took her first long nap in a long time that afternoon, another great benefit of the biking outing), String Bean immediately hopped onto her bike and started doing laps around the kitchen again. She then figured out that if she pedaled hard enough, she could ride on the carpet, so she started doing laps around the dining room table. When bed time rolled around, and I told String Bean it was time to head into her room for her nightly story, she looked at me and said, “Instead of a story tonight, I think I’d rather ride my bike around the kitchen some more.” So, with all of the many wonderful gifts from grandparents and aunts and friends that the girls have been enjoying, it’s nice to know that Santa was still able to bring the biggest winner of all.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

In my family, we always have our big family gathering and gift-opening session on Christmas Eve. I’ve never gotten a clear answer for why this is, beyond a vague reference to German ancestors who must be to blame. We still had the Santa gifts to open and stockings to wake up to on Christmas Day, so in a way it was the best of both worlds. We had a big get-together and a big meal and lots of new stuff to play with Christmas Eve, and when we woke up, we got a bunch more stuff to open and even more toys to play with. I’m keeping up the tradition with my girls, who will no doubt one day ask where it came from, so that I can give them the same ambiguous answer about someone somewhere generations before deciding that it should be done this way.

In our modern new family, we not only have the Christmas Eve/Day celebrations (usually at my mother’s house, followed by a sledding trip up the mountain from her house), but we also have the early Christmas with the in-laws, the informal pre-Christmas gathering with my step-siblings, and the post-Christmas brunch gathering with my father and step-mother. In all, this amounts to five Christmas gatherings/gift opening sessions for the kids. At several of these get-togethers, we’ve banned gifts for all but the kids, because it was just getting too hard to prep for otherwise. So, in light of all of these family holiday get-togethers and new toy/clothes binges, it may take several years for the girls to catch on that not everyone exchanges the bulk of their gifts on Christmas Eve. And that not everyone has five Christmas celebrations each year.

Whatever your traditions are, and however many days they span, I hope you have a very happy holiday season.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

So Emotional

The other day I was in the middle of folding laundry when String Bean came rushing to me, in tears, so hysterical that she could barely speak to tell me what was wrong. I asked her a few times what had happened, and finally she was able to choke out: “Your paper fell into the dog’s water!” Apparently, the little notepad I use to jot down my grocery lists had fallen off the counter, and into the dog’s water bowl, where she found it floating, and this is what sent her into tears on my behalf. When I laughed it off, she looked shocked. “I thought you’d be sad!” she sobbed. “I get them four for a dollar at the dollar store,” I told her. “I have two more of them in the drawer.” She stopped crying, but kept looking at me with such a pained expression that I had to stop folding towels and give her a big hug. That finally seemed to do the trick, and she calmed down.

What is it that makes some kids so emotional, and others so even-tempered? Peanut wouldn’t shed a tear over the loss of any material object, no matter how big or small. She’d just shake it off and move on instantly, although she’d want to talk about it every ten minutes for the next three days. Never in any sorrowful way, she’d just marvel at how something she once had no longer exists, the way she’ll tell total strangers that we used to have two cats, but one died, so now we only have one. To her it’s all just conversation. String Bean, on the other hand, left a sticker on one of her sweaters, and it went through the wash, deteriorating the sticker into a sticky gray mess. She literally broke into tears when she saw it.

I’m hoping that as she grows up, String Bean will become a little better at filtering the true crises from the little speed bumps and won’t break into tears over quite so many things. But I can also appreciate that as the more emotional child, not only is she more likely to yell, cry, and gnash her teeth in anger, but she’s more likely to tell me she loves me, beg me to spend just a few more minutes cuddling before leaving her in bed for the night, and overflow with gratitude at a new pair of pink socks. Peanut isn’t as quick to cry or become angry, but she’s also not as affectionate, clingy, or easily impressed with little gestures of kindness. Peanut’s a live-in-the-moment child, and her basic mood is calm-leaning-toward-happy. She’s a giggly little girl, can be amazingly stubborn, and hurts herself about ten times more often than String Bean, but she never gets terribly excited or bent out of shape about anything. Maybe String Bean will learn a little from her sister about patience, resilience, and self-control. I kind of like that idea, that while String Bean usually falls into the teacher role, as she brings Peanut up to speed on recognizing her letter, numbers, and expanding her vocabulary, Peanut has her own lessons to offer her big sister.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Good Side of the Pillow

Peanut has been having nightmares pretty regularly for a while now. Night terrors might be a better description, as she’ll wake up screaming and thrashing around, tears streaming down her face, calling me, even after I come into her room, where I have to fight against her bucking body to get her to open her eyes and see that I am already there. Sometimes, even after she’s seen me and talked to me a bit, she still keeps screaming and crying like the nightmare is continuing, and maybe, for her, it is, and it just looks to me like she’s awake.

String Bean also has her share of bad dreams, real and faked, which prompt her to call me into her room to reassure her. I can tell when they’re real by her description of them. If it’s real, she’s specific: “A bad witch with a red hat was trying to get me.” If it’s just a ruse to get me to come visit her when she doesn’t feel like sleeping, her description is more like, “Um, it was about a dragon. And a lion. And a bad man. And a…robot. Oh, and there was a monster. And it was raining. And there was…a…dinosaur.”

Some nights I get up three or four times to soothe the girls back to sleep from night terrors, nightmares, and pretend nightmares. By 4am or so, when I’m running on only a couple of hours of sleep, I become a lot less sympathetic to the whole thing. I give them both pep talks, that the bad dreams are only in their heads, that they are safe from real dangers because the dog downstairs will protect us, that I won’t let anything bad happen to them. And then I start threatening them, that I need some sleep if they don’t want a cranky mama the next day, and that I won’t be coming back no matter how many times they call me.

The other morning, String Bean proudly announced that she’d had a bad dream, but hadn’t called me in, because she wanted me to get some sleep. I gave her lots of praise and asked how she soothed herself, and she said, “I just turned my pillow over to the good side.” She then went on to explain to Peanut how, if you have bad dreams, it’s because your pillow’s on the “bad dream” side, and if you flip it over, you’ll have good dreams from then on. It was a very sweet and helpful concept, and I can’t figure out where she’d heard it, or if she could’ve made something like that up on her own, but wherever it came from, I’m grateful. Now if only Peanut’s pillow had a “no night terror” side, we’d be set.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Warm Milkshakes

So, one day per week, on our way home from school, I take the girls to get milkshakes and French fries to have with our lunch. But now that the cold, wintry temperatures are upon us, it really hasn’t been milkshake weather. String Bean’s all about the hot chocolate these days, with a heap of whipped cream on top (I use Carnation Instant Breakfast warmed up, for a little more protein in there). And even though Peanut loves hot chocolate just as much as String Bean, she’s still hooked on the notion of milkshakes. After a few half-tantrums in protest as I passed by “the milkshake store” on our way home from school without stopping, I offered to make String Bean her precious hot chocolate with her lunch, and to make Peanut a “warm milkshake” instead. You can probably guess that they’re both hot chocolate, and I’m sure Peanut has noticed that I prepare them exactly the same way, but this silly little distinction is enough to get Peanut in a better mood about the whole thing. If there’s one thing motherhood is good for, it’s teaching you to bend reality in the most creative ways. Anything to keep a stubborn little kid happy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas, Part One

The in-laws have arrived, and Christmas is officially underway at our house. The tree is up, the railings and banisters are wrapped in Christmas lights, the TV is playing an endless stream of holiday specials, and grandma and grandpa came bearing a suitcase full of gifts, which they have been doling out a little at a time to keep these two girls excited and entertained. Together they’ve made potholders, played princess bingo, done kitten puzzles, and tomorrow they’re tackling a gingerbread house. As if that wasn’t enough, their suitcase is still full of pretty and sparkly clothes for the girls to be wrapped and put under the tree, and today the grandparents took them toy shopping. While String Bean led them around pointing out everything she wanted (in short, everything, although everything purple or decorated in glitter or sparkles ranked just a little higher on her wish list), and Peanut drifted from display to display, lingering a moment longer on some items than on others, their grandma strolled behind them and put things into the shopping cart, which their grandpa then took up front to pay for and stow in the car. It’s funny to think that the girls saw every item they’re getting for Christmas, hand-picked each thing, and yet have no idea what exactly came home with us, overwhelmed as they were by all of the possibilities in the store. We escaped from toy-store over-stimulation just as the girls were beginning to crash, got them home and fed and down for the naps they didn’t take, and then, while the in-laws wrapped gifts and monitored the restless non-nappers, I got out for a couple of hours of writing time while the rain poured down outside and a mocha warmed me up inside. So, that’s part one of my Christmas, as well. There’s nothing like leaving rambunctious kids behind, getting to work on the next chapter of your novel-in-progress, with a hot cup of coffee, surrounded by finals-stressed college students, and getting some uninterrupted stress-free time for yourself.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Month of Christmas

String Bean is all about Christmas this year. Before Thanksgiving was even over, when those first Christmas catalogs started arriving in the mail, she started hoarding them in her room, gazing wistfully at them by day, requesting to “read” them together as her bedtime story at night. She wants, in short, one of everything. Sure, there are things that are higher on the list, like the Princess bike (in purple) and Tinkerbell roller skates (ditto) and a doll-house style princess castle, complete with mini princesses and a horse-drawn carriage for them to share. Lower on the list (but still on the list) are a baby doll that crawls, a little robot dog, a dinosaur that walks, and a remote-controlled helicopter.

The other day I was telling her to be patient, because Christmas isn’t until the end of the month, and she gave me one of her impatient looks and said, “Christmas isn’t a day, it’s a month.” I tried explaining that, like Halloween and Thanksgiving and Easter, Christmas is just one day per year, and that the month is December, but she wasn’t having any of it. I guess it’s hard to believe all of the ads, TV shows, movies, decorations, music and festive clothes are about a single day rather than an entire month, so I let it go.

Also adding to the confusion is the fact that between her three sets of grandparents she’ll have three separate Christmas celebrations, plus a gathering with my step-siblings and their children. So maybe having four family-gathering-plus-Christmas-present-opening sessions in a span of eleven days renders the whole concept of Christmas Day irrelevant. Let the month of Christmas begin…