November 10, 2006

Eggnog Latte

The holiday season just seems to start a little bit earlier every year. Today, I embraced the madness of it all and had my first holiday beverage- an eggnog latte from Starbucks. My friend Eric and I are passionate about these yummy drinks, and they are only available on the Starbucks holiday menu.

While taking my first sip and savoring the delicious and oh-so-special flavor, I started thinking about this Christmas and what's in store for me and mine. Due to my "delicate" condition (i.e., being roughly the size and shape of a holiday parade float as I grow our second child), this year all the family are coming to us. I'm so excited to see everyone, enjoy the food and treats and decorations and celebrations and music and gifts...

"Crap. Gifts! What the hell am I going to get for everyone?!" The thought hit me hard, like a fetal kick to some important internal organ, and I took another quick swig of latte to calm my panic. Because why is it, seriously, that the people who are the MOST important, the MOST beloved, are the people that it is 100% impossible to shop for? I mean, sure, I can find gifts, easy, for the 1 and 2 year olds, but aside from that? Total mind wipe. I have no ideas.

For instance, my sister-in-law, who I speak with weekly (if not more), who I love, adore and cherish as a friend and family member, is the hardest person to find something nice for! Not because she's picky or her standards are high; she's not, and she'd be just as happy with a hug and a nice card. It's that I, me personally, want to get her something fabulous as a way to express how important she is to me.

How do you do that with a gift? Does a sweater say, "You're an amazing person who has made my life great"? Can you say that with lotion, maybe, or a gift card to Borders? Y'all see my dillema.

I want my gifts to express something personal, and by their very nature, most gifts are as generic as could be. I'll probably do what I do every year- just the best that I can with the imagination given me. I know that everyone else has the same problem, too. I know that my husband knows I love him, even if receiving a copy of Clerks 2 doesn't exactly express the point clearly. Part of me wishes I could give in to the new-age mindset of NOT giving gifts, giving donations in a person's name or baking special cookies and writing a heartfelt letter instead.

But the truth is, I love giving presents! I love wrapping them, I love putting the bows on, I love seeing the smiles when they are received and opened. Maybe it doesn't matter so much what's inside. Maybe, all cliches aside, it really is the thought that counts.

And just in case I end up giving one of you a bright red chenille sweater with a Christmas Tree applique and silver bells on it... remember that it comes from a place of love... and panic.

Happy Holidays, y'all! Enjoy those Eggnog Lattes while they're here!

October 30, 2006

Demonic Posession or Normal Toddler Behavior?

Here are the things I know are true:
1) Anna is a very sweet and loving girl, with a wide grasp of understanding for certain things (books, songs, phrases). She has giggle fits that would charm the stars from the sky, and she has the ability to be deeply concerned about small harms (For example, asking her tamborine in a sad voice after she's thrown it, "Oh, you okay? You sad? Did you bonk the head? Oh, poor toy.")

2) I am a good mother. I work with her, every day, to get through the bad spots. I don't raise my voice all the time, I negotiate, I explain, I sympathize and I comfort. I know she's frustrated, I know she's not being malicious. I do the best I can, every day, every moment, so when I crack, while it makes me feel AWFUL, I know that it's just a part of the process and it's time to get back up after my cry and start again. Being a parent is an ACTIVE job, you can't just sit there and think it'll all be fine. It's draining and emotionally wearing and, (oh, I hope!!), worth it in the end.

3) After she has huge blow up and I have a huge blow up, she's usually better for the day, like steam releasing pressure.

4) When I lose my temper it escalates her temper and makes everything worse for everyone.

Here are the things I am doing already:

1) Pseudo-time out: this is a sit out time that takes place, instantaenously, whenever and whereever she crosses the line. I say, loudly and firmly, "No hitting!" (or whatever she was doing), and put her down away from me, sitting and alone. She usually stays there for a minute, pouting, then forgets about it. If the offense is very severe, I'll say, "no hitting" several times and put her alone, and very firmly, in her crib. She'll cry it out and then be fine.

2) Whenever Anna starts in with her massive frustration fits, I try to talk her down and distract. This works about half the time. If it works, we're all happier, if it doesn't, she ends up in a supervised time out.

3) Not yelling. I try so hard all day not to yell. Today, no dice, but most days, we're okay. Anna is already so sensitive to sounds and environment, yelling just SUPER-startles here and makes EVERYTHING worse.

4) Losing the thrown object. She started using one of her favorite toys as a weapon the other day, hitting everything in sight with it, so Dolly went buh-bye in a public way.

Here's where I'm lost as lost could be...:

It breaks my heart. That's the honest truth. It breaks my heart that my little girl, my sweet little girl who I am so completely in love with, has this vast and awful alternate personality of violent and bratty behavior. This afternoon, after a full morning of the up-down splits that she does, where she's fine and happy and pleasant and then INSTANTLY violent, screaming and awful and then INSTANTLY happy, etc, I just cracked. She said she wanted lunch, but when I gave it to her she screamed, "POPSCICLE!" and threw her bowl of food. I scooped her up, mess and all, ran her upstairs, plopped her in her crib, said (yelled), "No throwing food!" and then went down to the living room and had a good cry.

Because the split personality thing is getting more pronounced, not less. I'm working with her, I'm finding new reserves of patience I never knew I had, and it's getting worse. Poor Kurt is so blown away that he wants to discuss it with her pediatrician. One thing we do have, in some sort of mental "it's not your fault" corner, is her diagnosis of dissociaton of maturation, where it clearly states that nearly all the kids with this gross motor delay that Anna went through, were SEVERELY frustrated and prone to massive fits of temper.

I just don't know what to do anymore. Nothing I try with her seems to make any effective headway. Yes, she doesn't hit me so much anymore... but she hits herself every time she gets mad. What do I do, take away her hands for 5 minutes? Kurt desperately wants someone to TELL us what to do, and I am fine with talking it over with her pediatrician, especially concerning her diagnosis, but I also think this is a behavioral issue, not a medical one, and he's not going to find the answers he's looking for in a doctor's office.

We set up the pack n' play on the main level so I don't have to drag her up the stairs all the time for time outs, and we're switching to REAL time outs, not just sit whereever you are ones. I try to do things with her to keep her stimulated and burn off that excess energy and we go on walks every day so she can run around, but even that backfires because as soon as I STOP the activity she loves, even if she's exhausted or it's been hours, she throws a massive fit and we're right back where we started.

So, what now? Therapy? Exorcism? I know it sounds like a joke, and I'm mostly kidding, but listening to her this afternoon when I put her in her crib did make me think of the Exorcist movie. She was talking to herself, like there were two Anna's- the good, sweet concerned Anna, and the Anna who screamed and beat the wall and shook the crib and tried to bring down the house. They were having a conversation.

August 19, 2006

In the Monkey House

Congratulations are in order for my dear and long-time friend, Wayne. Last night, in the monkey house at the zoo in NYC, he proposed to the perfect girl- and she said yes! Rachel is awesome, a totally amazing, intelligent and generally wonderful person and I could not be happier for the two of them.

As for the monkey house... well, heck, my hubbie proposed to me over strangely spicy hot dogs on a rock in Central Park, so untraditional locales may just be a New York thing. Anyway, congratulations to them both. I can't wait to hear more, see the ring and sit back in awe as the confirmed old bachelor talks babies, (ohmigod, Wayne is talking babies! The world is about to CHANGE!), and giggles like a little kid on Christmas morning who's just discovered that there really is a Santa Claus and he's brought everything special and wonderful that you could ever dream.

Showers of love, luck and fortune to you both. **HUGS**

August 09, 2006

My Funny Valentine

Okay, one more regurgitation of old material, and then I promise, I'll write new stuff from now on. This is, (shocking, I know), also from my college writing class. It's a descriptive piece about my brother, Val.

***

My Funny Valentine

The first thing anyone ever noticed about Mike was his dimples. Deep, identical indentations in his cheeks, they appeared every time he had even a hint of a smile. The dimples, paired with white blond hair and magnetic blue eyes, made my brother the poster child of cherubic cuteness. His smile would melt the coldest heart in seconds.

Of course, he grew up. At 21, he changed his name from Michael to Valentine. He still has the dimples, but his smile seems a bit predatory now. His hair is sometimes bluer, although occasionally greener or pinker, than his eyes and he resembles a fallen angel more than a little cherub. He wears a button on his black leather jacket that proclaims, “I’m the one your mother warned you about.” Nonetheless, women flock to his bad-boy charm like moths to a flame, sometimes with much the same results.

He is aggressive and charming, arrogant and sweet, pragmatic and idealistic, and a myriad of other contradictions, as well. Throughout my life, he has been the one constant and comfort among all life’s changes, no matter how unusual and contentious he might be. My brother, Valentine Michael , has given my life and my perception of the world, a flavorful twist.

My parents divorced when I was four. My brother and I moved to El Paso to live with my dad and his family until I was eight. In every instance I remember, Mike’s presence takes on a shining glow: the hero, the savior, the Big Brother. It probably wasn’t all shining happiness and hero worship. I’m sure we fought. My parents are sure, too. But what I remember most is him standing up for me when the neighborhood bully called me names, picking me up when I fell in the school yard, and tightly holding my hand the first time we ever flew in an airplane.

When I was in the second grade, the teachers showed us a movie about not talking to strangers. The film showed a mysterious dark figure follow an innocent and unknowing little girl home. He then tried to sneak into her house in the dark of the night. The point, I believe, was to teach us to not tell people where we live. The result, however, was 30 little boys and girls returning home in terror of the coming nightfall and forever after locking all windows against the darkness outside. As night settled in, I froze with terror. Staring nervously out all the windows, I jumped at every sound, real and imagined. My dad, always the perceptive one, decided I was getting a cold. He put me to bed early, to my extreme horror. The room I shared with Michael was big, with an enormous ground-floor window spanning the wall. As I tried desperately to sleep, a tree just outside threw gruesome, menacing shadows into the darkness.

Then, as I thought my heart was about to explode with fear, Mike came in the room, putting himself to bed early, too. He stayed up most of the night with me. We sang Disney songs, made up nonsense stories, and he used his flashlight to break up the nighttime shadows. The sound of his voice from across the room soothed me. He recognized my terror and dispelled it with almost no effort at all.

Don’t get me wrong. He isn’t always that sweet. The charm only comes out for his family when it is really needed. I believe his rule is that no one better mess with his family; except, of course, for him. For the most part, he reserves his charm for strangers, and especially for girls. Mike always liked girls. Lucky for him, girls always liked him, too.

As we got older, he realized that an adoring little sister was a nuisance, to say the least. When I was 8, we moved back in with our mother, stepfather, and older brother, John. Mike thought the idea of a brother to play with was fascinating, and I started to make friends of my own. We grew apart, but he was still my hero. Mike was almost six feet tall by the time he was 13, and a very imposing figure he made, too. He discovered his strength, his undeniably intimidating appearance, and his superiority complex all around the same time. The rebel period had begun.

My brother has always had a problem with authority. I learned diplomacy half from trying to get him out of trouble and half as a defense mechanism for when he entangled me in it. He didn’t get along very well with most of his teachers, and often had problems at school, mostly due to lack of interest, I think. He was occasionally suspended for fighting, and his grades were never very good. Following him up through the ranks of education, I became a teacher’s pet because I had classes with all the shell-shocked teachers who had survived him. They would approach me first with tentative wariness, and then with exhausted relief.

Eventually, all Mike’s rebellion and rule-breaking had to come to a point. He didn’t have a happy relationship with the high school administrators and when the time came, they were completely unwilling to cut him any breaks. Messing around with friends one weekend his senior year of high school, Mike had casually tossed the broken BB gun they were playing with into his backpack, where it was promptly forgotten. Later that week, during a break at school, he found it and pulled it from his backpack. This was before the zero-tolerance policies that are now so prominent at most schools. The worst damage he could have done with the broken toy would have been to throw it at someone. Any other student would have gotten the maximum penalty: suspension and a reprimand. My brother was expelled. The whole expulsion trial was a farce, with the administration creating testimony from his teachers. My family tried to fight it, but it didn’t matter. His history of rebellion, his mediocre grades, and his arrogant lack of remorse decided his fate.

What I remember most about that episode in our lives is how furious my family and I were at the school and how he never really showed any anger. Mike always carried his emotions on the inside. I cannot recall a time in all his life when he ever cried, at least not where someone could see him. I know the expulsion was a horrible experience for him, and yet he never showed it.

That period marked a changing point in his life, and lead up to the time when he first left home. Mike finished high school in Wisconsin. He lived with friends of our family for that year. Because he was so far away, we began to lose touch, although I could still call him up and talk for hours about our plans and dreams. After he graduated, he returned to Colorado for a brief and unproductive jaunt into higher education. College did not appeal Mike, and neither did Colorado. He craved cities, excitement, and life beyond the homestead. He ended up in Chicago, where he completed culinary school. He is a wizard in the kitchen, and now works as an executive chef at a swanky uptown restaurant.

Oh, and remember, he changed his name to Valentine. He thought Chef Valentine sounded magnificent. He was right. Mike’s charm, attitude and rebellion have been siphoned into his work, at which he is very successful, quite probably for those very qualities. He comes home most years at Christmastime, loudly protesting with rude comments how much he hates Colorado. And yet he manages, through his acute distaste, to dress up like Elmo, to eerily mimic the Teletubbies, and to make my mother laugh, to the great amusement of all.

My brother has succeeded where so many people told him he would fail. He has fought, struggled and fallen to the ground. In the end, however, he is standing firm exactly where he wants to be, with a job and a lifestyle that he loves. What more inspiration could a sister, or anyone at all, ask for?

My brother Val, as he likes to be called, is a success. From his example, I know that I can succeed against all odds, from finding a job to finding happiness. I am also sure that if life ever gets too hard or too scary, he will be there, just like always, to make me laugh, hold my hand, straighten out my backbone, and push the shadows away.

Coffee

I made coffee for the first time in a long time this morning. As a pregnant lady, I'm honor-bound to avoid an overabundance of caffeine... but...

Caffeine is my friend. Caffeine and I go way back, you know? So, today I caved. I made a pot of almost-all decaf coffee, but with one beautiful, black and delicious scoop of Brazil's finest grounds. Ah..... A little bit of milk, a little sugar and I found heaven at last.