Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Two evenings of forced gaity

One thing I've never liked about New Year's Eve is the pressure to have such a great time. Really, we usually don't do anything so different than usual. We have some friends over, some food, some drink. I'll make a more elaborate spread, then stress over getting it all finished in time. It's fun, but not crazy fun.

I think I have recreated that this year in Halloween. The boys were pretty good sports, humoring Mommy pretty well with a bit of prodding from Daddy to humor Mommy some more. See, I've always loved Halloween. No, that is not consistent with my faith, but I am not observing this tradition on some spiritual level. It's just plain fun. Crazy fun. For the last couple weeks I had been looking to find out when It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown would be broadcast. When I saw it was to be last night, I had my plan. On my way home from work I picked up a pumpkin to carve and set about celebrating Halloween exactly right. Now this all had been preceded a couple days ago by making ghost shaped cupcakes, so we were in the spirit.

We gave the kids dinner fairly early, then set to work. It was great fun for them...for about 5 minutes. The first sign of all this unraveling was Hayden saying he didn't want to empty the pumpkin because it's gross. Sure, I know it is. But..this is for Halloween! I told him he's a little boy, and little boys should like gross things and to Man Up! Then Fillip preceded to graphically demonstrate what that choice phrased is derived from and the boys sat there..ahem...gestering and shouting "Man up!" "You man up!" "No, you man up!!!!" Fortunately, I did not get a call from the school today. I haven't ruled it out. Soooo...Logan was man enough to empty the pumpkin and help me scrape it smooth on the inside. Fillip got the pattern traced despite having to stop to clean up the milk that went flying when the boys were fighting over a tool and knocked the cardboard into a glass of milk. We moved on to punching holes in the pumpkin. Again, fun for about 5 minutes. They both helped, but Hayden wanted to only do it himself, despite needing a little extra strength, and Logan wanted to do it himself, despite a pattern that was already laid out. However, they can definitely say they helped. We got a bat carved into our pumpkin just in time to quickly get ready for bed in time for It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown!

Logan Man-ups

Now, one thing to keep in mind. My kids don't watch any tv. This is not due to some moral standard of ours. Believe me, if they would sit still for 20 minutes and quietly pay attention to something, I would put on The Girls Next Door. However, they aren't even interested in Dora and have never sat though an entire episode of anything here. But...this is Charlie Brown. This is only on once a year. Sure, I could purchase the dvd, but that is completely uninterrupted, without the suspense-building commercials. No, they were required to sit nicely and enjoy that tv show, darnit! This went well for about..say...5 minutes. They really liked Snoopy and Charlie Brown, but the other characters were not engaging enough for my little guys. After all, the tv just sits there. It's not a toy that you can build with, or makes noise while it moves around the room. You aren't allowed to touch it like a book and flip the pages to the part of the story that you want to see. Tv is so boring! We were firm. It's a training process. We watched the entire show and even Hayden agrees that the Great Pumpkin must really exist, but he wouldn't miss tricks-or-treats to verify that. After all, we don't have a sincere pumpkin patch for miles around. The boys were finally released from all this forced festivity to go to sleep.

Halloween morning came at last. The boys were very excited to get in their costumes and head to school for the Halloween Parade and potluck. It was so cute to see the kids all dressed up. The teachers kick the parents out to the parking lot and get the kids lined up. Then they all parade out. The teachers sing Halloween songs to familiar melodies, and the kids come out each with a varied attitude to the whole thing. Most of Logan's class seemed to schlepped along. It's not like they were unwilling. They were perfectly happy to be led around, but seemed a little confused by being taken out of their normal environment and paraded in front of the parents. This was not the regular schedule! Some were more animated and would wave as they spotted their parents. Logan finally saw me and I got a bashful "Hi Mommy" as if he were slightly embarrassed, yet really proud of his big muscle-y Spiderman costume. Hey kid- remember I'm the one who got you dressed! Hayden came out with his class and seemed a little dazed as well. He was dressed up as Batman, complete with a mask that was driving him crazy. So, I'm not sure he could see all that well, but was happy when he spotted me. The kids looked absolutely adorable and the teachers had gone all out on their costumes. I took a bunch of pictures, and true to form, balled my eyes out at how freakin' cute it all was. They really did look quite proud of themselves, as they should be for being so freakin' cute!! They all went inside where we were allowed to visit...for a few minutes. They run a very tight ship there. Parents were told they could return at 11:30am for the potluck...not before. I had to go to work, but dutifully bored my co-workers with the pictures on my digital camera, that I just happened to still have in my purse. Logan as "Piderman" at the school Halloween parade.

Hayden as Batman at the school Halloween parade

Because I had not arrived at work until 11am, I couldn't leave early. I high-tailed it best I could in ridiculous L.A. traffic, picking the boys up 15 minutes late. For once, the teachers were very gracious about it, but I don't like feeling that rushed. After all, we had to quickly have dinner so we could go trick-or-treating! Dinner was not a big hit, as they were probably already very tired from their day, and excited to go out. We pushed for real food the best we could, then got them back in costume. They happily grabbed their candy bags and pumpkin flashlights and headed out into the dark night.
They seemed to enjoy going from house to house, but clearly did not get the concept. Oh, they understood that people would be giving them candy. However, they didn't understand that each house call is simply knock-knock "Trick or treat!" in goes the candy "Thank you!" and move on. Like a one night stand who didn't realize that's all it was, they wanted to stay and chat. They would ask about the pets, the train set, and had to confirm with one neighbor sitting on a dark porch that he did in fact have a front door and could get back in the house. Seriously, they wouldn't budge until he demonstrated that he could open from where he sat. Some of the neighbors seemed to enjoy the extra chatting, while others kind of stood their awkwardly with a pleading look to us to have them move along already. We got to see all kinds of cute costumes and everyone oohed and aahed over the adorable superhero brothers. We had gone down our street and across when Fillip discoverd Conan the cat following us. He apparently wanted to go trick-or-treating too. If there weren't a lot of kids around he would go right up to the doorstep. Other times he would stay by the street and patiently let strange kids touch him. I was a little more nervous and would ask them not to. He is 95% nice, but...

Trick-or-treating with my boys...including the cat

We covered all the lit up houses on our street. There was only one that was really scary. We arrived with a pack of kids, but Logan was the only one brave enough (maybe gullible enough) to approach the doorstep. Just as he got there a guy in a scary costume jumped up at him, making him cry. I felt so back for the poor unsuspecting little guy. Hayden approached cautiously and before accepting any candy suspiciously asked the ghoul "What's your name?" The ghoul just shook his head and we had to explain to Hayden that he didn't have any way to talk. Fortunately, he didn't ask questions. We revisited the school lesson that there are scary things, but they are just pretend. We only had a couple more houses to go, which were all neighbors we know. Logan made sure to tell them all about the house that scared him. He had recovered quickly and had no problem finishing his mission.
We were out for about an hour, and even though I would have been happy to go around another block, I think it was the perfect distance. They were clearly tired, but still happy. That 's a fine balance. We got home and checked out the loot!

They each got to pick a piece of candy, and within a second found the biggest ones. Hayden had a huge piece of blue taffy, and Logan tore into a big tootsy pop. That thing was so big for him that he drooled all over the front of his costume, and finally told me he was all done, then threw it away. Despite the giant pieces of candy, they each wanted more, and were very good about settling for one Hershey's kiss each and didn't ask again. Sweet Hayden offered me and Fillip each a piece without us even mentioning it. He scored big points for that move.

That blue dye can't be healthy

It took awhile to finish their candy and get them washed up, then off to bed. At that point they staged simultaneous meltdowns. I imagine that if it weren't so darn frustrating, it would have been quite impressive to watch. Despite the fantastic tantrums, they both went to bed without getting up, asking for water, wanted to pee, wanting to tell us something, bringing us a blankie, etc...

Bruce Wayne getting ready to brush his teeth

Maybe Peter Parker plays a fairy princess when he's not casting webs

I think they really did enjoy Halloween. We did all the things I had deemed relevant to build great memories and traditions. Some activities were bigger hits than others, but at the end of the day...I have a boatload of candy!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Story Time

Not too surprisingly, our evenings aren't always a piece of cake. Sometimes one or both of the boys has another idea of how things should go. They are 2 and 3 so, go figure. Monday night Fillip had gone out for the evening so me and the boys got baking. The only reason Fillip's absence is relevant is because he is much more vigilent about bedtime than I am. This is not a bad thing as better rested children make for a happier family unit. However, those ghost cupcakes weren't going to make themselves.

When we got home I guided the boys at the counter with the mixer while they made the batter. Filling cupcake tins is a bit tricky, requiring more help from me. We've done this a few times though so there is always much discussion regarding how full to fill the cups. Logan tends to err on the more conservative side, while Hayden would fill them to overflowing every time. We popped them in the oven and I preceded to "remake" dinner. "Remake" meaning I grabbed the odds and ends of leftovers in the fridge to create a new pasta dish. We had 1 1/2 chicken breasts, less than one serving of several types of vegetables, and already cooked whole wheat pasta. I added some Canadian bacon, Italian diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Those kiddos didn't even know I had snuck in the rejected spaghetti squash from the night before. Hah!

By the time we finished dinner the cupcakes were out and ready for decoration. I made a really yummy cream cheese frosting, gave them each some frosting, a spreader and a cupcake, and let them have at it. There were also sprinkles, and Hayden managed to dump a whole jar onto one cupcake. He asked how to put them back in. Sorry, you don't. They each ate their custom made ghost cupcake with varying reviews. Logan devoured his in about 2 minutes, saving just a bit of frosting to amuse himself with while Hayden poked at his. Hayden hadn't wanted strawberry cake batter, objected to Logan's choice, threw a fit in the store, and remembered this objection 2 weeks later. He so didn't want to like his cupcake. Add to that he doesn't particularly like cake, even though he likes baking, and his cupcake went the way of dinner -rejected. Decorating cupcakes

No worries, it was a fun evening anyway. We brought some over to our neighbors and played for a few minutes. When it was time to go, Hayden threw a raging fit. I knew he was overtired, and my neighbor likely could see it too. I carried him out, plunked them into the tub for an express bath and helped the boys into jammies. By this time, it was about 8:30pm, very late for them. As I was brushing Logan's teeth, Hayden came in with a mouth full of something. It was candy- the same candy I had repeatedly told him he couldn't have. He does understand that, yet blatantly defied me. As much as I hated to do it, after putting up with him not eating his dinner, still indulging him by letting him have a cupcake, then his tantrum at the neighbor's house, he had to go to bed without a story. I told Logan to pick out a book, then wait for me on the couch while I tucked in his brother. Fortunately, Hayden seemed to recognize his own exhaustion and climbed right into bed. I snuggled him for a few minutes talking about the otherwise pleasant evening we had spent together. He did say something that made me laugh. "Mommy, do you know what my favorite part about making cupcakes is?" I would have guessed either operating the mixer or decorating them. "Eating them!!" Well, this didn't seem particularly accurate, but the way he said it was so endearing I had to laugh. I tucked him in and went out to Logan on the couch.

When I came into the family room, Logan had done exactly what he was told. He had selected a book and was waiting on the couch. What I hadn't anticipated was to find him reading a story to Conan- the cat. Conan seemed happy to give his full attention. He was laying there calmly, watching what that little imp was showing him, likely just relieved the little imp wasn't pulling his tail. Let's face it- that cat is happy to get any attention. Needless to say, I thought this was absolutely adorable. Despite the more challenging moments of the evening, it really was a nice ending to a sweet evening with the boys. Story time for Conan
Click on the link to see the video- so cute!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The first number two

Despite all the drama I seemed to have absorbed due to the wildfires that are in not directly affecting me, we did have a significant event in our house last night.

Like clockwork each evening Logan poops during dinner. He makes a bit of a strained announcement, then leans over in his seat, face turning completely purple as he works so hard to relieve himself. He has always made this face, and it has always struck us as hilarious. Sometimes his little tongue pokes out to help. What's not funny is having to change that diaper every night during dinner. Since he does seem to know in advance I have been loosely encouraging him to go sit on the potty. Well, last night he did!! He announced "Mommy I poop" and I quickly unbuckled his seat so he could run like the dickens to the bathroom. Sure enough, our timing was perfect and his face didn't turn nearly as purple.

I'd like to think that this is the beginning of the end of changing Logan's diapers. However, I really don't believe he is ready to potty train. Maybe we'll get him on there for these evening excavations, but he seems to have no interest otherwise. That doesn't mean I'm not celebrating this small success. My son #2 did his #1 #2 last night!!!

Monday, October 22, 2007

So Cal Fires- A broader perspective

Yesterday we left our niece's birthday party, on a miserably windy day, not the least bit surprised to see huge plumes of smoke on the horizon. We played the game where we guess exactly where it is burning (Piru, Fillip won, hands down) and commented matter of factly how this is so typical for the season. As I drove down the hill I could see a new fire starting off to the east. There were wisps of white smoke and no emergency vehicles yet. I still don't know if this is the origin of the Agua Dulce fire that has destroyed so much, or one of many more minor fires in the area that did get extinguished. Either way, by the time we turned on the news a couple hours later, Southern California was being subjected to over a dozen major blazes and the smoke all around made me think of all those apocalyptic movies I've seen through the years. Watching the news coverage, we could see the mass destruction from the arial views provided. It gave a perspective of the vast acreage being consumed all around familiar landmarks. We tried to help the kids understand by pointing out the beach we go to where the fire was only yards away. We showed them the water helicopters flying over our house and explained their purpose. The kids seemed unimpressed with the relavance of this information.

The news coverage was going between several fires and we even saw coverage of a house that didn't yet have fire personnel nearby with hoses, being protected by a bulldozer. Maybe 15 minutes later, that house had been consumed on live television, and I could only wonder if the residents of that house were watching in heartbreak, or wondering somewhere in fear that their home was no more. The media constantly gives updates with phrases such as "fortunately, only 9 homes have been lost." Not exactly fortunate for those 9 families. Obviously, overnight those numbers have greatly increased. At what point would that reporter consider this unfortunate? Whenever I see a fire on the horizon, especially when there are so many at once, I feel a constant nervousness. I compulsively check news reports and watch the smoke. I'm not sure if this is a residual of my own personal experience of running out of our burning home when I was 14 (not a a brush fire) or some instinctive reaction to fire. However, I can't help this constant knot of dread in my heart for the devastation these fires bring. The media sensationalizes the loss of structures (as if it isn't already sensational enough), yet there is no mention of the thousands of animals that perish. There is no mention of the absolute panic all these animals must feel as a wall of fire approaches, then takes over. Although there is due appreciation for those fire fighters who put their lives on the line, it pains me to think of wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, children and friends watching the drama unfold, hoping that these brave people come home safe. Although the scope of a particular fire will be finite, confined to a calculated number of acres and structures, the lives affected are countless.

Maybe it is no wonder I sit here like a skittish cat on a windy day.

So Cal Fires- A self absorbed point of view

Far away from any brush fire, in the middle of Los Angeles, I sit on the 31st floor seeing smoke on the horizon in every direction. Yesterday morning I woke up to dry hot winds and said "This is my least favorite weather." The Santa Ana winds and accompanied fires bring back childhood memories of Halloween asthma attacks and the local emergency room. Because we lived in a small valley surrounded by brush, wildfires often raged around us through the fall months. For some reason, I strongly associate these with Halloween, even though logically I know there were only select years of the hills burning on Halloween. A couple years brought a "ring of fire"- we would be unable to come or go from our little city until the fires were contained. The smoke would settle on the valley floor, creating the most miserable conditions I could imagine when it came to my asthma. There was always a question on Halloween whether or not I would be breathing well enough to go trick-or-treating, or instead would spend the evening handing out candy in my costume, pretending that I felt just fine. Fortunately, I have no recollection of ever missing out on begging for candy door to door, but it was a concern most years. Generally, I would spend the day resting in my parents' bed, watching tv, while my mom came in periodically to give me medicine and check on me. It would feel like I had a steel beam sitting on my chest, constricting my lungs, causing pain and sapping me of all energy. From a child's perspective, that is no reason to miss out on trick-or-treats, and I would put on a great act of recovery in order ease my parents' minds about letting me go out. The prize: a pillow case full of candy. The price: being absolutely miserable, and possibly in the emergency the next day.

Now as a parent, I am gaining a new perspective. Waking up to those winds yesterday, my first thought was not about my own shortness of breath, but about the wheezing I knew I would hear from Logan. Sure enough, he was coughing and wheezing, even though he wasn't complaining at all. Never does. At only 2 years old, he already has some sense that he might miss something if he doesn't feel well. As the smoke hovered in the air I couldn't help but feel so bad for that little boy trying to push air into those little lungs that are already polluted with smoke particles. Yes, I am being slightly dramatic here as a) the smoke wasn't so thick where we were, and b) he really was acting fine. However, my memories of those times are terribly vivid and it pains me to think of him suffering in the same way. Fillip tends to look at him and say that he seems just fine so I shouldn't worry. Probably, he is right. However, from personal experience I do know that being short of breath is no barrier to running around, playing and doing all those typical kid things. A kid will just keep on doing those things despite the discomfort. When I finally would get to the point where I was visibly laboring or despondant, that asthma would have a vise grip on my lungs that was not easily loosened. When Logan got sick enough to be admitted to the hospital earlier this year, neither of us picked up on it until he was nearly blue and completely limp. He has gone to school, and even his teachers weren't concerned until he was in really terrible shape. He will run around until he simply can't. That is what worries me.

The bright side is, we already have an arsenal of weapons for fighting his asthma attacks. The pediatrician has given very clear instructions on when to start up those breathing treatments again (Now!), when to double up medications and how to keep him comfortable. This little guy is benefitting by years more of medical research than I had at hand. Hopefully, my memories of those times are also a help, letting me be in tune with his breathing patterns, and sensitive to his discomfort. Hopefully, we can keep it all under control, and he never has a memory of going to the ER to get some relief in a cold, sterile place. Today he is closer to these fires than I am. I am guessing the smoke is heavy in the air and noticeable with every breath. I have to get through my day with the faith that he is getting along just fine, or that we just start up meds when we get home. It seems that some of the wisdom I gain in parenting every day is to know when to swallow the worry and let him guide me. I know this- I never regretted one trick-or-treat, no matter how bad the breathing got. Never. It's that vivid memory of childhood that now needs to work to our benefit.