Posted in family life

aubade’s second birthday

It’s hard to lose the habit of calling one’s youngest child “baby”, I think. The older siblings protest as they grow, and the name passes on to the younger ones – but it holds on more tightly when there is no one to take up the mantle.

Still, now that Aubade is two, we don’t really have any babies in the family anymore, no matter how much we still call her our baby.

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At two, Aubade is hitting a verbal growth spurt, leaping from the occasional echoed two-word phrase to consistent spontaneous three and four word phrases – linking words are still a challenge, but her vocabulary is expanding exponentially. She has always been adept at communicating her thoughts, and it is so fun (and often amusing) to watch her incorporate language into that communication more and more.

Far more than either of the boys, Aubade has developed an attachment to certain toys (a few stuffed animals and a few hard rubber animals, alternating depending on her mood and the demands of the situation) and an affinity for choosing her own clothes. To be honest, she’s enjoyed selecting her own outfits for at least a year now – but at this point she likes clothes enough that she considers them birthday presents worth getting excited about. She even has a hierarchy of favorite pajamas… as she was telling me when I asked her what she wanted to wear, “bear jammies dirty… food on it. puppy jammies dirty… food on it. firetruck jammies!” (She did not have food on her dirty pajamas, but that is her current understanding of why clothes need to be washed. Wearing something for two consecutive days and nights apparently doesn’t count if you haven’t covered it in food…)

She loves to be held but she also loves to climb on your head and flip upside down in your arms; she pulls her brothers all around the house but also loves to find herself snuggled up with them, and never goes to bed without making sure to give them both a goodnight hug.

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She wants to do everything her brothers can do, and do it all by herself, and she has perfected the sideways glare, the downwards pout, and the backwards flop to use when she isn’t allowed to do something she wants. Also the persistent requesting of the thing desired, with perfect confidence, until you start to wonder why you aren’t just doing what she wants after all 🙂

She loves fiercely and plays fiercely and fights fiercely, all over tooth and claw and growls and pouncing possession of all things good and desirable as hers.

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She gets very enthusiastic about something for a short time, then moves on to the next thing – she doesn’t have the deep and lasting interests that the boys had even at this age, but rather roams widely over a variety of objects and activities. Limerick, for example, was happy to sit still on a three hour airplane flight with a magnet board drawing letters before he was even two years old; Rondel could spend hours talking about cars; but Aubade needs to be able to move, mostly, and to have a range of toys (or other medium-sized things) to move around with her. I think that means she is a typically developing two-year-old and that we have nothing to be concerned about!

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When she gets excited about something, she wiggles side to side in a manner slightly reminiscent of a satisfied feline. She will pretend to cough or laugh just to make other people laugh at her, and she has a smile that is almost a smirk that she flashes just for the answering attention of a smile in return. Far more so than the boys, she is tuned in to the people around her, seeking out eye contact and thriving on back-and-forth interactions, copying social behaviors and imitating types of play.

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But more than anything else? She is light and laughter, the flashing energy pulse of our family, the multiplier of our love – her very own self, just beginning to take on her own unique shape and form, unfolding in bright bold colors like a sudden grin or the brilliant burst of a firework.

Posted in family life

when a boy turns four

When a boy and his big brother have been singing happy birthday to all their toys for four months straight, and it is finally his birthday and he is going to be four now – 

 That is a big deal.

That is cause for delighted giggling, and for concentrated practice with the little sister so that she no longer calls him three. It is reason to curl up into a cozy ball and snuggle all squirmy with Mommy and Daddy.

Turning four means a cake shaped like a four, with four candles on top, and his whole face lighting up with excitement because the cake is a number, and it is his number now!

Turning four means opening the most wonderful new book, one he never even imagined, in which prime factors and counting and modern art meet, and it hardly even matters that there are other unwrapped presents on the bench beside him because this, this book, has to be the best thing ever.

Turning four means getting to spend the afternoon at Grandma’s house, and swim in the hot tub, and choose what food everyone will eat for dinner, and generally spend the whole day enjoying himself.

And it is such a happy thing to be able to give him, a day of joy for his birthday, a day all about him, when he is so often the one who thinks of others first. He is the one who, seeing his sister’s favorite toys lying around, will bring them to her; he is the one who notices what his siblings are building with the Legos and finds pieces that they could use; he is the one who is always willing to share his cup or his snack with someone else who is hungry or thirsty; he is the one who will voluntarily take apart his flake creations so that his brother can have the color flakes he wants.

At four (and really at three, since a day doesn’t make much of a difference), he is keenly intelligent, deeply enamored with the world of numbers (he has broken down in tears because we had to stop reading a math book at bedtime; he invents his own simple word problems to ask us; he can multiply any two single digit numbers together and loves to skip count with chalk on the driveway to see the patterns in the series of multiples), and beginning to read; but it is his attention to the small details of his siblings’ lives, and the sweet care he gives them as a result, that mean more to me. And so just as I nurture his academic strengths with number games and puzzles to solve and books to read, I try to nurture his budding compassion and sensitivity by pouring into him connection and love. I hold him and when he looks at me I look straight back into his eyes because I know that is significant for him. We play the silly and sweet games of early childhood, meaningless save for the connections formed.

Because ultimately? No matter how intelligent he is or what he does with that intelligence, he needs to be assured of his parents’ unconditional love for him more than anything else. Maybe because he has this talent he needs that assurance even more – he already shows me that he has perfectionist tendencies regarding himself. But that assurance has to happen on his level. And he is four. He has just turned four, after all!

So for now? We are – we strive to be – his safe haven, his rich soil, his clean air, so he can grow in wisdom and knowledge. Happy fourth birthday, my Limerick.

Posted in musings

turning thirty

I suppose turning 30 is as good a time as any for contemplating my twenties and looking ahead to my thirties, since we use a base ten system. Ten years is such a long time, when I sit down and think about it – I mean, ten years ago I was single and in college, and ten years from now I will have two teenagers…

It is interesting how time passes, how so many things change about life and circumstances, and how yet, inside, I still feel like the same person I always have been. I suppose I have grown and matured since childhood; but I still feel like the preteen who couldn’t put feelings into spoken words even when she was bursting with them, like the teenager who was haunted by feelings of inadequacy and failure, like the college student who knew how to excel academically but could never maintain social connections, like the young adult who tried to bury her insecurities by attempting to be perfect at absolutely everything. I suppose that is part of being a complete person: carrying a self that at its core remains one thing, one entity, despite the processes of maturation and the effect of time.

And what have time and maturation done for me, these last ten years?

Superficially, I graduated college; got my first non-student job (which I’m still at 8.5 years later!); lived with roommates for a year; recovered from a break-up; lost a treasured mentor; dated and got married to my husband; bought two homes (we moved); and had three kids.

Not so superficially, I struggled a lot over the last ten years with my inner companions of depression and anxiety. The first year of our marriage was especially hard because it felt too good to be true, I suppose, but in the long run our marriage has ended up being one of the most helpful things for that struggle since I have a partner I can trust to unconditionally love and support me through hard times. Also in this decade I sought out professional help for the first time and found it incredibly helpful. I’m realizing that depression and anxiety are fairly loyal and steadfast traveling companions, so I know I’m in for a more struggles still to come, but I’m also realizing that having them around doesn’t make me any less valuable or worthwhile as a person.

Along with mental health and marriage, parenting and neurodivergence have been the two big players in my life over the last decade, particularly the last five years. I have been learning that difference is not necessarily negative, in either myself or in others, that perfection is not the goal (and is ultimately a subjective goal anyway). I have been (and probably always will be) learning to be patient 😛 I am learning how to draw boundaries for myself – even with my children – and how to teach my children to draw boundaries for themselves. I am learning that a bad day or a difficult season does not make me a failure as a parent. And I am learning not to compare myself or my family to other parents and families, because the differences of personality, neurotype, and circumstance are so vast and varied.

Most days, honestly, I feel like an imposter at this whole adult-ing thing. Inside I’m just a teenager, nervous and insecure, with the added pressure of having more years of mistakes to look back on 😛 According to my husband this is fairly common, though, which is somewhat consoling 🙂 My hope is just that, however many years are still to come, I will keep growing in wisdom and holiness, and that I can be a blessing to the people around me instead of running away from them.

Posted in family life

and just like that he’s five

This month, my baby boy turned five years old. Five years ago now I heard his choked little cry before the nurses cleared out his throat, and saw his little round and red face scrunched up at me for the first time. Five years ago I fell completely, deeply, in love with this tiny new person, and he fell completely and deeply back in love with me (as babies are wont to do; the reciprocity is helpful for both parties 😛 ). And as he grows older, and as I learn more about him as he comes to understand himself and discover the world around him, I find that I only love him even more.

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It is so wonderful to watch him as he grows in every way – social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical. This year he has begun singing, albeit in more of a “sustained talking” manner to borrow from The Music Man, and even sung Happy Birthday to his Bisabuela Carmen on the phone for her birthday! He is learning how to compromise and be flexible when playing with others (though I think people never stop needing to improve here), and how to establish rules and set patterns that minimize the chances of unexpected necessary compromise or change. He and Limerick have begun to do things in alternating patterns – who gets to snuggle with me at bedtime, for example, or who gets to pick first when they’re selecting toys – so that the negative event isn’t a surprise and the positive event can be anticipated. He even told me the other day that sharing (by which he meant both of them drawing from the same pile of toys) was hard for him, but when they could sort the toys into two piles first it made it a lot easier for him to play with Limerick, and I was proud of his self-awareness.

He has a keen and accurate memory, often reciting back to me his favorite books, or using phrases he’s heard from me in conversations with others. He’ll also take a plot line or a story from a book and alter it ever so slightly to make a new story – for example, retelling the tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff with a different animal like a pig or a cow for the main character. As the elements of the story become more comfortable to him, he’ll start altering them even more: building bridges with his toys and having a T-Rex lie in wait underneath them, for instance. It is so fascinating to me to watch his play incorporate the events, stories, and discussions of his life, giving him the chance to explore, process, and understand them in more depth.

He is an ardent collector of both facts and things, storing up information in his database of a mind, and storing up found treasures in a many-compartmented fold-open fishing box that he received for his birthday. Anything interesting or strange or beautiful, whether a concept or an object, is bound to end up in his collection, to be catalogued, admired, and shown to others with the excitement of revealing something precious and wonderful.

He is quick to anger, a trait he inherited from me, but his temper is paired with a compassionate heart. He is quick to apologize, and is often angry not on his own behalf but because someone else is hurt. I have seen him yell at Limerick because Limerick made Aubade cry; I have been lectured by him if I have been too rough and made Limerick upset; and he will physically attack anyone who hurts someone he loves. Unlike me, he seems willing to let his anger go as quickly as it comes – but like me, he can be moved to tears by the plight of even a fictional character (he was so devastated when he realized Littlefoot’s mother dies in Land Before Time… he tried to deny it and ended up crying in my arms.)

He is probably going to lose his idiosyncratic pronunciations of words soon, as he grows older, and I’m going to miss a lot of those. I mean, he’ll be easier to understand, but the way he says “booga” for “beluga” makes me smile every time I hear it 🙂

He has become an adept builder this year, with Viahart brain flakes as well as with Duplos, Legos, and wooden blocks. He can make representative animals with Duplos that are as good as anything I can create, and invents dragons and monsters with the brain flakes that incorporate features from around the animal kingdom – crest feathers, spikes, beaks, wings, tails, and so on. And everything he builds has a voice and a name and a place in his imaginary world for the day; he has shown little interest in the symmetrical shapes, stars, and patterns Limerick and I design.

And of course, he loves animals (though, as he would say, not as much as swimming or Mommy) – animals close and tangible, animals at the zoo, animals in books, animals in movies, animal toys, animal pretend games. He remembers which animals give birth to live young and which lay eggs; he remembers which animals hunt and which prey they are able to catch; he remembers what size many animals are, and which animals live near each other. Sometimes if I don’t remember some detail about an animal, but suspect that it had come up in one of the documentaries he loves, I’ll ask him about it, and more often than not he’ll know the answer. He also creates his own animals, absurd menageries of bears as big as a million houses, or monster fish who can hunt blue whales, and regales us with tales of their adventures.

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His energy and imagination are abundant and bursting with life – which is pretty much just how things should be when a person reaches five years old – and he knows how to lose himself in happiness and wonder. It’ll be exciting to see where this next year takes him!

Posted in family life

happy birthday Aubade!

In the in-between week from Christmas to New Year’s, a baby girl was born, and now we have one more reason to celebrate every holiday season!

And while the flu may have meant that we didn’t get any first Christmas pictures for Aubade, I did make sure to have the camera on hand on her first birthday.

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I know I’m biased, but I think she’s pretty much a perfect baby ❤

Aubade, I love your zest for life, your self-assurance, and your sweet affectionate gestures. I love the exuberance with which you dance when I sing, and the excitement with which you run to the shower when you hear the water turn on. I love when you sit next to me on the floor, each of us doing our own things but happy to be together, and I love when you sit on top of me, knock me over, and bounce on my belly while laughing uproariously! I love when you bring me books to read, and I love how you get so enthusiastic about turning the pages that you won’t even give me time to say the words first. I love how even though you don’t say any words yet, you still communicate exactly what you’re feeling, thinking, and wanting.

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You crawled over rocks to get to this wheelbarrow, because you saw Rondel playing by it and wanted to know for yourself what was inside. You were uncomfortable, but you didn’t cry. You were too short to reach in easily, but you didn’t ask for help. And so you found the satisfaction both of accomplishing your goal and answering your curiosity!

I am so excited to get to watch you continue to grow and blossom, my daughter. Whatever life holds for you, your strength, tenacity and joy will serve you well.

Posted in family life

when a little boy turns three…

He knows birthdays involve cake, so he comes to you in tears with his sad tiny voice telling you he’s hungry, and when you ask him what he’s hungry for he answers, “cake!”

(You may have stayed up until 11:30 the night before baking said cake and want to cut into it just as much as he does! But these things must wait for the proper moment!)

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Six layer cakes require a ludicrous amount of buttercream frosting – as in, I used a whole pound of butter…

He may be so excited about being the center of the family circle, with everyone singing happy birthday to him, that he literally cannot contain his joy, and bounces up and down laughing the entire time.

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He may love rainbows so much that when the cake is cut and he sees for the first time the colorful layers within he may just squeal with delight!

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A rainbow cake is really the only appropriate choice for a child who has stayed up late with me pondering on the wavelength of different colors of light, how some colors can mix together to create others, and how white light can split apart into all the colors

He may be such a generous and inclusive little soul that he lets not only his beloved older brother but even the pushy and interfering (from his perspective) baby sister help unwrap his birthday presents.

And he may be so happy with his gifts that he spends the rest of the afternoon contentedly playing with them, with the family that he loves.

Happy birthday to a boy who is curious, intelligent, and observant like a scientist; who finds pleasure in order, symmetry, and patterns; who adapts his desires and whims to accommodate his siblings with a grace and maturity far beyond his years; who can be rough and wild with Rondel but gentle and protective with Aubade; who grows more independent every day and always loves to help and learn; and who still loves to snuggle with his mommy for any reason and no reason at all. It is such a joy to watch him grow – to see his understanding (emotional and intellectual) deepen and the lines of his personality and character emerge.

Posted in family life

on the occasion of Rondel’s fourth birthday

Four years ago today you were born, little boy, a big baby forced from your comfortable residence within me over your loud protestations. From the beginning you were loud, demanding, and sensitive – and I loved you from the first choked, gut-wrenching sob you let out as they carried you away to suction the mucous and meconium from your nose and lungs. With that cry you sealed your place within my heart: my first born, my love, my delight. For you, I thought, I will sacrifice my sleep, my personal space, my quiet and uninterrupted thoughts.

And now, now that you are four years old, how you have grown and matured from that squalling newborn boy you once were!

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You have an imagination like no other, as if a spring of stories and fantasies lies bubbling up deep within your heart. Every day there are new monsters, fighters, savers, babies, mommies, and daddies peopling the house and going on wild adventures together; you make “movies” (you have no camera to record them) about the things that interest you, anthropomorphizing the sun, moon, and stars to perform for you; you create crazy games with Limerick that seem perfectly designed to draw out the core of joy from every moment and experience.

You are filled with a sweet and precious love and care for the small and vulnerable, which most typically displays itself in a flood of hugs and kisses for every baby in your vicinity. At a friend’s house a few days ago, there were three babies crawling around the room and you blissfully rotated from one to another, round and round, giving them all your affection in turn. And when your sister cries, you run to her with toys and games and laughter to bring back a smile to her face.

You are still sensitive to loud sounds, bright lights, and large groups of people – you probably always will be. But you are learning to cope, to regulate your own environment and your reaction to the uncontrollable aspects of it, and I am proud of you for the efforts you make to fit in and be with people (as your social self craves) when the sensory input of it all can be overwhelming.

Yours is an age of big feelings and intense fears; a broken toy or the thought of a favorite food going bad can bring you close to tears, and the prospect of being alone in your bedroom at night terrifies you. In those moments I am reminded of how young you still are, despite your height, your intelligence, and your maturity – you are just barely four years old, and it is your undeniable right to be scared by the world whose vastness and hiddenness you are just beginning to understand, and to express the emotions that flood your mind without years of experience to help filter and process them. It is also the age at which I am beginning to notice in you a desire to make others happy and proud by your actions, along with the first flickers of conscious guilt or shame. And I hope, my son, that you never become ashamed of what you feel and who you are, because even in your lowest moments (and we all have them, and they do not define us) I see you in all your beauty, just the way you are, and I love you with all of my heart.