Monday, March 30, 2015

The Bridge to Active Parenting

I spent the entire drive home from preschool pickup on Thursday in tears. Both kids in the backseat and me sobbing.

Benjamin was TERRIBLE last week. He was sleeping until like 11 and refusing to allow us in his room when we tried to wake him. He broke his Dropcam in a fit of rage. Locking him in his room doesn't work. It does give me a break, but it doesn't work in giving him time to show remorse. He just doesn't. He's angry and even angrier when I end it. Can go on for hours. 

I chalked last week's crazy sleep up to (mostly) him still recovering from this terrible sickness when he didn't sleep well for an entire week and was on PST zone, but I feel like other kids transition easier regardless. Transition better.

So, I told his preschool teacher at pickup the other day after two days of screaming at dropoff that I didn't know anymore. That things are getting out of hand and we've nearly considered a child psychologist because all of my understandings of parenting and tantrums and sleep habits and all the reading I've done seems to be aiding me nil in the process of parenting this one.

She told me she didn't think that would be a bad idea and that maybe they would provide more insight into what is going on (seeing a child psych). 

I cried. BIG FAT CROCODILE TEARS. I was thinking, but then she validated that my kid has issues. If you've never been told by someone that your child is anything but awesome, you may not understand this feeling. And really, it's not so much he has issues (we all do, really, especially his bereaved parents!), but needs his parents to understand how he needs parenting applied to him

I went home and called Elliot after another meltdown (that broke the Dropcam). We decided that for now, the problem with a child psych is that while B has good verbal skills, he's not verbal enough to fully understand the breadth of his problems enough to communicate them aloud. We figured they would send us to literature, so we're seeking that out first. We actually went on the website for the child psych my pediatrician recommended (because her advice made me laugh-- sit by his door during tantrum-- what for two hours?, ignore them-- what and risk my entire house being completely mutilated?). 

The child psych website recommended this book: The Explosive Child 

We had that in our hands hours later via Barnes and Noble.

Elliot's almost done and I'm still reading. It basically sums up that when he starts to shut down (you can literally see his eyes close and his mind go elsewhere), that he doesn't interest being "bad", but simply doesn't have the necessary problem solving skills that most kids have innately driving their decisions. That we need to help him process through this. Essentially, this is a learning disability because he has not learned and does not possess the skills of flexibility, adaptability, frustration tolerance and problem solving. So, me rushing him to get moving each morning for preschool at a reasonable 7:30-8:15 to get dressed and eat a granola bar is sometimes too much for him. He isn't the rush-able kid. But really, he has to be ready sooner or later because kindergarten isn't far down the road. We're learning and trying new ways to smooth transitions with him.

The biggest trick is that with a kid like him, just shutting down and telling him no for things he desires or views as the correct solution isn't the answer. It's all about trying to understand his brain and help him process through the why of how the world works. I hate that he isn't the type of kid that can just be read the law. That would be too easy. Instead, I fear we will be looked at by outsiders as a weak parents who allow our kid to "get what he wants", when in reality normal parenting tactics just don't work for him. I do believe he wants to be good. He can be the biggest sweetheart. The book is also helping us take his behavior less personally (i.e. What did I do wrong?) and see him as not as much of a punk 3yo, but someone who is lacking the ability to process through problem-solving.

It feels like we've left the soft parenting stage and entered the real deal here. Not that every age isn't impressionable and creating a foundation, but this stage being one that is crucial to really set things into motion. Healthy eating, literacy exposure, hugs and kisses aside. This is active parenting.

It's easier to see things in perspective after the fact, but during his fit where I insisted he get moving on picture day last Thursday? That he simply wake up and put on some freaking clothes (I had him pick out the night before sensing an issue might arise) and threatening that I was leaving which then resulted in him running outside and stripping all of his clothes off in the driveway on a 30-degree morning and ultimately was dragged into school unwillingly dressed in mismatched clothes he reluctantly allowed me to put on him?

Not so easy to gain perspective. These are going to be some interesting years ahead.

We probably won't be investing in those spring pictures.

Monday, March 23, 2015

One Off Tucson

We just returned from a 4-day trip to Tucson, tagging along with Elliot to a nice hotel in the middle of the nice, warm desert. We love these trips. The actual travel and sleeping parts are often stressful, but so much fun to visit a new place and share these experiences with the kids. My parents also love Arizona and booked themselves a flight from California and took three days off work to spend time with us while the husband was at work meetings all day. With winter overstaying its welcome here in Illinois, we were looking forward to our Tucson trip for awhile!

Some people call me a little crazy for choosing to travel with kids. No, it's not always fun. But, there are always redeeming qualities from these trips. Sarah wrote a little about making memories that last recently and it totally made me think of this trip. Even if we have an uncooperative kid for a few hours on an airplane, we know there will be some excitement that will make it all worth it. We really want our kids to have these explorations so they know there is a big world out there to see and enjoy. It's there for them and they just have to prioritize their interests. We just don't want it to be us who didn't plant the seed of interest.

With all that said, this trip was just a little off. Nothing catastrophic happened. We are all alive and still happy we went. But just about everything we did, we encountered some kind of issue.

My parents have a timeshare in Tucson they've stayed in before. It was booked. It's never booked. I was sort of banking on them being able to take the kids overnight or something. Didn't happen.
They booked a hotel local to ours and were still able to come and relieve us for breaks like a date night and hike.

Benjamin came down with a serious stomach virus the day before our flight that lasted the entire trip. The worst virus he'd ever had and the longest lasting one, too.
Miraculously, we still managed.

Elliot dropped us off with all our luggage at Midway Airport ticketing. Me + the kids solo. In that 15 minutes of time, Benjamin starts to gag and in the knick of time, I made it over to a garbage can where he vomited into the trash at 5:00 in the morning as ticket agents watched. Before our flight.
Miraculously, this was the last vomit of the trip. Lethargy and diarrhea took over from there.

Our hotel room might has well have been in New Mexico, it was so far away from the main hotel and parking.
But, it was nice. And clean. And spacious. And we brought our double stroller to transport.

All six of us got suited up to head down to the pool for hot tub time. It was too cold for the pools or the waterslide. There were three hot tubs. Two were cold for some reason and the third had just closed because someone vomited into it. No hot tub for us. Then, Benjamin had to use the bathroom and told me he was done, but he wasn't. Diarrhea all over us both.
Hot shower followed.

We stayed for four days. The first two days were rainy and in the 50's with weather before and after our trip in the 80's with no rain in the forecast.
We did have a full day of perfect weather and the day we left was nice, too.

On our first nice day, we planned a zoo trip. Elliot accidentally took the keys to the car into his important meeting, so we were stuck in the hotel room without a way to get the carseats out.
We made the zoo trip an hour late, but still saw all of the attractions and animals, with time to spare.

We were supposed to have a date night beginning at 3:00 and his meeting didn't let out until 4:30. (Kids were still on CST, so our bedtime was still early for them and thus we had to return early.)
Date night was still nice and we ate delicious food, had delicious drinks and a nice drive after. Short, but sweet.

There was so much traffic from Tucson to Phoenix that we barely made our flight.
We made it by 12 minutes. With dinner in hand (nevermind that we didn't have lunch!) and the very last 3-person row on our Southwest flight.

The rental car people took ages to check us in when we returned. Then, the shuttle to the airport was about 100 people long. Only for our airline. Of course.
We still got on a bus and people gave up their seats for us with the kids.

Benjamin dealing with a stomach virus the entire time we were there and sleeping terribly.
He didn't fall out of the bed (haha) and only managed to wake Claire once (who went back to sleep easily).

There were great memories made though:
- Getting to spend 4 days with my parents and having the kids spend more time with them.
- Enjoying the wonderful 1.5 days of sunshine we got!
- Eating delicious Mexican food, homemade tortillas and some fun gems recommended to us by friends.
- Having a date night at a restaurant we used to eat at in El Segundo, California (we just found out closed!) thats original location is in Tucson.
- Driving by to check out the Air Force boneyard and enjoying fun drinks without the kids
- A nice zoo day with my parents (even if the kids slept the majority of the time)
- Making memories. Even if it would've been easier staying home in our bubble, it's so nice to get out, explore, find some fun gems and share as much of the world as we can with our kids.

Arrived at the Westin and Benjamin was chipper... until the sicks hit again. On our way to the pool and it rained.

He wanted to go down the water slide. He wasn't allowed.

That bathing suit is a 6/9 months! Score on two seasons!

Delicious.

Lemon/pina colada/strawberry mix + veggie sandwich is where it's at!

We love Grandpa. This was when we all attempted to hit up the hot tub... that was cold. All three out of commission.

Tucson Tamale Company for dinner one night. Yum

Zoo baby. Dirty knees because, no interest in walking but LOTS of interest in moving about.

Zoo selfie with a peacock. Both kids were asleep and we were walking the zoo in peace.

Hello Mr. Giraffe.

Date night. We went on many dates to this restaurant in California... visited the original and ate delish food again!

After drinks at dinner, we got more Eegee drinks and headed on a little drive to the Air Force boneyard.

Claire was not a good kiddo on this flight, but Benjamin was great for both flights. I think 3yo + iPad is the easy zone. Claire was crying and we were drinking. Thank you, Southwest Airlines for serving such a quality beverage. 

Little sister was happy to be on that flight out, but also happy to be vocal about her disapproval on the way home.

Finger Rock hike the day of our departure. Left the kids with the grandparents for about 5 miles of beauty.

*Most photos taken by Gawbee and Grandpa and these were the ones I managed to get uploaded from my phone! I have more, but this blogging app is driving me bonkers, so I'm done.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Five Year Check-In

That's how long it's been since we boarded that one-way airplane back to the States from our six months in Germany. We were headed back to a new state, about to sign the contract to our new home, buy a new car and get pregnant with a (new, first) baby. We were excited. I was so ready to embrace the change of moving more than 5 miles from the beach (that's how far, or less, I lived my entire life thus far). I was looking forward to meeting new friends and having kids and exploring the land together as a family.

And then Andrew died.

The husband calls me a pessimist. He says I wasn't always one, but crossed over from realist to slightly pessimistic after Andrew died. He's right.

My sister-in-law quickly corrected me when I said something to the likes of, "I secretly don't love living here." She told me outright, "It's not a secret, Brandy. Everybody knows." It's not that I hate it, but I can surely name off a few handfuls of places I'd rather be. But in all honestly, I think much of that stems from the biggest tragedy and failure in my life happening within 9 months of me planting my feet on the ground here in the Midwest. 

It's just... it stings. Every memory we have made here involved Andrew in some way. I became pregnant two weeks after we touched down on U.S. soil, here in Illinois. We had just closed on our house and were hoping we'd have more exciting news to share, and did! I actually remember my mom commenting to us after we told her we were moving to the Midwest from California that she hated that we were moving and we would probably have grandkids right away, to her dismay. And we did-- never intentionally trying to hurt anyone, but carrying on with our marriage and life as mid-late 20s was flowing through our blood and we had careers and a home and a great marriage. It was time. 

It was basically the perfect timeline. Unfortunately, I've lived here over 4 times the amount of time with him dead than he was alive. Hurts.

I remember the walls closing in on me after he died. We have four bedrooms upstairs, 2 bathrooms and an attached office. Among the three floors, we have over 3900 square feet of living space and I felt I was being suffocated by the enormity of the space. We closed the doors to the three additional bedrooms and bathroom upstairs. No natural light flowed in. The space felt so big and I felt so small. I hated the house we were so excited about and spent those 9 months of my pregnancy preparing for our growing family. 

We bought this home with the sole intention of raising kids here. If we never hoped kids were in our future, we would probably be living in a fun loft downtown. Somewhere more chic, less kid-friendly and definitely not residing at the corner lot house with the bus stop on our property. I loathed the buses that drove by after he died. I hated seeing kids get off and go into their houses-- houses that were filled with their well-used toys and things and beds that were slept in. 

So yeah. Chicago is kind of a B-list city for me. It's truly a beautiful city (but we live in the 'burbs, y'all, and the lack of scenery is kind of nonsense). It's just, the worst of times happened here so suddenly, muddling some of the beauty it could've been. Thank goodness for great friends, decent food and rainbow babies. Five years is turning out a whole heck of a lot better than the end of year one. Without a doubt. And those doors upstairs? Well, I can't keep them closed if I tried. We have a three-year-old who just loves making it known that he LIVES here. 

Makes me always wonder what living here would've been like (to my psyche) if he didn't die. If our perfect world remained pretty darn perfect for a little while longer. You know, despite the fact that there are no mountains here (our very favorite). 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Beach Bash Third Birthday Party

Benjamin is officially out of the toddler stage and into the "preschooler" stage. He's three.

We celebrated the weekend before his birthday and he celebrated again with his preschool class with pretentious, overpriced organic cupcakes. We also went to Cheesecake Factory and enjoyed not one, but two slices of cheesecake. They sang to him. He couldn't have felt more special. And then he tantrumed in the car because he didn't want to leave.

Months before his birthday, I began brainstorming ideas. I was walking through the aisles of Target one day with Claire (while Benjamin was at preschool) and spotted a clearance pinata.

I love pinatas. This one was an ice cream cone and just over $7. I snatched it up.

Now to plan a themed party around a pinata I bought on a whim. I immediately thought, pool party. Our basement has concrete epoxy flooring we had glazed and set a few years ago. No carpet, so I thought up a crazy idea to actually buy kiddie pools and make a mini splash party down there with real water! Concrete floors would be easy cleanup! Except, slippery. Total safety hazard and middle of freezing February. Meh. We'd be better off renting out the local indoor pool (which is a huge possibility for future parties). Actually, my husband vetoed the idea completely and he was right. Pool party, out.

Next idea. How about a beach-themed party? Because, I love the beach and I'm from the beach and know a thing or two about how to make that happen. It would go with the ice cream pinata still because it's summery and beachy. All I had at this point was a pinata. I bought 11 pounds of kinetic sand for his birthday present from Amazon anyway so I figured it could double as a party activity.

I wanted it to be somewhat of a sensory experience, just like a real beach. The rest just kind of pulled together.

The invite asked party guests to dress "beachy" and bring no gifts. They mostly got that right, but somehow I'm about to bust out at least 10 thank-you cards... (we did have a clever friend donate to Heal the Bay in Benjamin's honor, going with the theme. Cute!)

The Beach: kinetic sand
We tried to repurpose a lot of items we already had within the beach sensory experience. The plastic bin needed to be low depth for the kids to be able to reach, as I didn't want it on the floor because of the smallest party guests. Plastic bin from IKEA that I did actually buy specifically for the kinetic sand. Within the sand we threw in cookie cutters and some barrel nesting toys we already had (from E's childhood!) that make for great sandcastles! I don't recommend shovels or spoons in kinetic sand because it will find its way out of the bin quickly.

The Ocean: homemade flubber
I devoted at least 1.5 hours of naptime to this. I had about 25 clearance Up&Up brand glue bottles I bought at Target for $.03 (!) during back-to-school time. They went 90% off and I snatched them up, thinking we'd eventually use them or I'd plan to have flubber for the party. Initially thought to make flubber with the kids, but the coordinating of that and the messes and parent engagement wasn't sounding like a good idea. So, I made a bunch, dyed it blue, put it in an under-the-bed box we already had (low depth!) and called it ocean. I threw in more cookie cutters and random kitchen utensils and it was a huge hit. The whole batch cost me less than two quarters. We are still playing with it and my husband even commented that it's just as cool as the kinetic sand. Excited for back-to-school clearance this year like I am? 

Coral Reef: already owned kiddie pool with mini beach balls and colorful paper confetti
I knew this would be a big mess. It was. I knew the whole party would be. I predicted that. It was still fun and this was specifically chosen to be mostly for the littlest party guests, but I saw plenty of big-kid action. Note: don't put paper strips in flubber. You'll be picking it out for awhile. 

Seaweed: two packs of jumbo 32oz. cheap spaghetti, coated in oil + food coloring
I paid about $3.00 for two jumbo containers at Aldi. I cooked them up, colored them by hand (resulting in smurf hands...but only me as I made it... did not come off on kids!), oiled them up so they wouldn't stick together and threw them in our water table (minus the water). Was fun, but definitely a one-time-use thing. I felt a bit wasteful throwing it all away after 3 hours of use. Note: keep wet wipes on hand for that oil. Does make for a cool sensory experience, though.

Beach Ball Party Favors: beach ball bags filled with a container of glue (from that Target clearance haul!), measured borax in mini baggies and recipe to make your own flubber.
All 10 I made were about $2.50 total. I left these on the table, but should've warned that it is definitely something parents must help with. Borax is not safe for kids to handle alone. Guests also took home a bag of candy, temporary tattoos, playdough and fake mustaches from the pinata along with a lei for each of their kids.

Beach Sticker Scenes and Fingerprint Fish: I set the sticker scene and fingerprint fish at the table as a craft for kids who didn't want as much sensory or were done exploring.
Ended up being take-home items because kids just didn't sit down. Bought these from Oriental Trading on the cheap and while I liked them, they probably weren't necessary.

Decor: Not much here. Didn't buy much, just repurposed items we had. I did create nametags for each kid using $.33 letter pasta from the Hispanic section at the store and added a cute beach-themed sticker. These were on the table with the sticker scenes and fingerprint fish craft sheets. I remember feeling so special as a kid when my name was on a chair or party favor at birthday parties.
I hung his birthday faces and hats I made for his (and Claire's) first birthday parties like I do every year. I put up a Happy Birthday banner and suspended a jumbo sand shovel we already had along with a fun paper ball thing. I hung some flip flop sandals from the lamp and at the last minute, I made the signs for everything above (and colored them by hand!) because I felt we needed those to tie everything together so it made sense for all the guests like it did in my head. I cut out some freebie clip art images from Google of under-the-sea creatures, colored and hung them on the wall. I did hit up the Dollar Tree (um, $1 mylar balloons that are still kicking 15 days later!) because I knew Benjamin would feel super special with balloons, even if they were not party-themed.

Food: DIY sandwich bar
Consisting of King's Hawaiian rolls, pulled pork, sliced ham, sliced cheese, red onions, lettuce, tomato, lots of condiments, hummus, sliced pineapple, fruit skewers (strawberry/pineapple) and two sand buckets (we had but thoroughly cleaned) filled with Goldfish crackers and Pirate's Booty.

*We actually won a House Party and they supplied all the King's Hawaiian products and leis and bags for our guests to take home. I'm sure I've talked about House Party before, but it's a website that you can apply for a party and if you score it, they send you a box of fun swag and free products from companies to throw a party! You just have to take a photo with people who came along with the stuff to prove you shared the loot. The incentive for them is giving away product that costs them little without the need for expensive advertising and word of mouth spreads. King's Hawaiian was totally perfect for our beach theme! I've hosted 11 parties from Budweiser, DiGiorno, Fisher Price ($170 of free toys!), Sabra, LEGO, Dietz & Watson, Qdoba.... If you're interested in learning more, go here.


Dessert: Ice cream sundae bar + two-bite brownies from Costco. No cake. Hooray for easy.
Regretfully, we have NO pictures of this! I have one of a friend helping one of the kiddos with his ice cream selection, but none of the full spread. I'm so sad! Included: vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, birthday cake ice cream choices, sugar and regular cones, chocolate syrup, caramel syrup, maraschino cherries, crushed Reese's cup, crushed Butterfinger, sundae nuts, gummy bears (hit!), Swedish fish, m&m candies, whipped cream, two-bite brownies, sprinkles and premium Goose Island Root Beer for root beer floats. Probably more impressive for a group of 10-year-olds, but alas.

Beverages: regular and mini water bottles, apple juice boxes and beer for the adults (outside because it was colder than the inside of my fridge).

This was definitely a lot of (unintended) work, but such a labor of love. I know I say it a lot, but these things continue to be so important and so special to me as a parent. Sure, I could've rented a room at the local kid play-place or something. And in the future, we will (when Benjamin has an interest to choose himself... maybe next year?). But these first few years, I pour my heart and soul into their parties because I want them to feel so special. I missed this with Andrew. All of them. And on the heels of sister's big first birthday bash (nevermind that his was just as huge a hers for his 1st!), I wanted him to know how important he is. Also, he's been talking about his birthday since the fall and finally understands it. We're totally in the middle of serious terrible-two, punkass teenager stage and I don't ever want him to lose sight that we love him unconditionally and will go to great lengths to celebrate him despite this rough developmental growth period. Anyway. I've jabbered enough.

I'll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.












/// and with that, birthday season has officially ended. {December, January, February} ///

Friday, March 6, 2015

Flash Before My Eyes

I think since Andrew died, I've been able to see possible, but unlikely scenarios flash before me that I would have never considered if he were alive today.

I was vacuuming recently and Benjamin was at a playdate at a preschool friend's house. I turned around and saw Claire chewing on the vacuum cord.

Right then, I immediately went there, planning the execution of how it would go down when I rushed her body to the emergency room and what I would say on my frantic call to his preschool friend's mom. I even envisioned pictures of the interior of that emergency room (we'd been to 4 months ago when Claire spiked a 104+ fever).

All of this was considered in a matter of 5 seconds. I hate that the worst-case scenario always turns into a neon flashing sign in my head.

Phew. It's been a heavy few months around here.