Friday, May 29, 2015

It's Your Fault, Christopher Columbus

Ready for battle, at Jamestown

What do you get when you combine snippets of Amazing Race teams running around India, a classmate of Ethan's who hails from the country, and a family trip to Jamestown, Virginia?

A whole lot of confusion, apparently.

"Mamma," Ethan asked the other night at dinner earnestly. "Why is my friend from class not fighting me if we are at war with India?"

Because I am fluent in Ethan-speak, or maybe it's Ethan-think, I knew exactly what he meant. I just had no idea how to respond.

I've always wondered if, when and how Ethan would grasp history. Science, math, and reading are more concrete. And while history does involve lots of facts and dates (a plus in his category), it's also more abstract. It's covering long-ago events and people. It's not right in front of us (obviously -- it's history!). For a long time I haven't known how Ethan would "get it."

Now I see he's, well, kind of "half" getting it. And I can't blame him.

The gist is this: In Ethan's mind India is a far-away country where it's hot and the people have darker skin (thank you, Amazing Race). He knows a boy in his class is from India. But then there's this whole dump of information that came from the movie we watched in Jamestown about the American Indians and the English settlers.

It was a 20-minute film. I wondered how much he was paying attention. Listening to a bunch of guys in wigs speak in bad British accents can't be that fascinating to a seven-year-old boy. I figured he'd take special note that they were fighting, sometimes with bows and arrows. I was right. Apparently he also picked up on the word Indian and that the Indians were fighting the other guys.

So you can see how this is coming together. And you can see why he is confused. The American guys were fighting the Indian guys, who of course, must be from India. Who can blame him? Thanks, Christopher Columbus, for messing up, big-time.

"Ethan, we are not at war with India," I began half-heartedly, knowing this would be a struggle.

"Yes we are!"

"That movie in Jamestown was about a long time ago. And they were not fighting the people from India."

"They said Indians!"

"I know, I know." I shook my head. Inspired, I went off for the globe and brought it to the dining room table.

I attempted to show him the India of The Amazing Race; North America; the route Columbus sailed when he got really confused and "bumped" into what he thought was India and named the people he saw "Indians."

(On a side note: It would have been tremendously beneficial if the film had used the term "Native Americans." I could be wrong, but I thought I read somewhere that native peoples actually prefer overall the term American Indian, however.)

So, after lots of gesturing, spinning the globe, and explaining the difference between Indians and American Indians (including some bits about the land bridge that completely danced over his head), I asked if he understood.

I waited.



He's only in first grade. He hasn't even officially started taking "history" yet. We've got time. I'm more than willing to let this one go.

Only -- he doesn't want to. Which is why he came home from school again the other day and asked, "Why are we still fighting India?"

Back to another futile spin of the globe.

Wait until he gets the story straight and then asks why the settlers were fighting the Indians for land.


As usual, my kids help test me on what I believe, and why. And you know, it may be frustrating sometimes, but in the end, that's a very good thing.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Today's Grammar Lesson: Idioms

"Mamma, what's the difference between an idiom, a simile and a metaphor?" Ethan asked me not long ago.

Oh crap, I thought, the English major guilt creep in; similarly to the way I feel about having never read The Grapes of Wrath OR Of Mice and Men. I should know this, but all I could think of at the moment was how similes use "like" or "as."

"You're talking about this in school already?" I asked.

"Yeah. In Lexia." Lexia is this computer phonics program that I'd call roughly a modern version of those mimeographed phonics sheets the teacher used to pass down the aisles...when I was in FOURTH grade, not first. Sheesh.

"It's raining cats and dogs, that's one," Ethan pointed out. "Or if you say someone's in hot water."

An idiom, Wikipedia tells us, is a phrase or a fixed expression that has a figurative, or sometimes literal, meaning. An idiom's figurative meaning is different from the literal meaning. Well, THAT makes it perfectly clear.

Okay, wait a second: defines idioms as "a collection of wise sayings that offer advice about how to live and also transfer some underlying ideas, principles and values of a given culture/society."

However you want to call them, Ethan loves them, so we've been going on idiom hunts in our conversation, from time to time.

"Down in the dumps!" He'll call out. "That means someone's feeling bad."

"A piece of cake means easy!" I'll shout back. "What about 'costs an arm and a leg'?"

"Rub someone the wrong way?"

"Hold your horses!"

And on and on and on.

We'll continue these conversations until they run their course (idiom, yes?), and along the way I feel as if every time we identify another one, we're slaying dragons (now would that be an idiom or a metaphor?). "Take THAT!" Ethan is saying, each time we pluck an idiom out of the air. There's one less mind-bafflingly confusing phrase in the English language to trip him up (idiom?!). And this is important because, and I think I've written about this before, the English language is so darned tricky.

"That word's a rule breaker!" Ethan has said to me on multiple occasions lately. He always sounds almost personally offended, questioning why "they" had to make the word that way. And I can't say I ever have a good answer; never mind not really knowing who "they" actually are, or were.

So, it's all about the idioms these days. I'm learning something. I'm learning that there are way too many idioms. There are hundreds! I'm using them and not realizing all the time. Arrrggghhhh! I didn't know "state-of-the-art"was an idiom. Never mind that it's a tired and old cliché, now I'm really never going to use it in my freelance work, if I can help it!

I've still got to get around to (wait -- is that one?) explaining to Ethan the difference between a metaphor, idiom and simile. I'll get right on that. Once I figure it out for myself.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Slouching Past Suffering

I'm probably playing the part of Captain Obvious here, but I've come to the conclusion that my to-do list is never going to be completely finished.

This used to (and often still does) really bother me. I'd like to think that's not just because I'm anal, detail-oriented, and a control freak. It's not really that I have to have my house spotless, yard properly groomed, files organized, and so on.

It's more the feeling of futility when there are so many things to attend to and so few hours in the day. Like when I race around the house to find every stray piece of dirty laundry to wash, so I can celebrate the few seconds in which I claim I HAVE NO LAUNDRY TO DO!, and then realize there was a whole pile of stuff in Anna's room that I overlooked.

Does anyone else feel this way? Especially you more laid back, Type B personalities? Sometimes there are too many things to get to, too many messes to clean, too many rooms that need to be tackled, and the prospect of it all just seems so overwhelming and daunting and impossible that you end up doing nothing at all? Only that exacerbates the problem, which leads to more procrastination, which leads to stress at things not dealt with, and the cycle goes on and on?

I was talking with someone not long ago who straight out told me to stop playing the victim whining about disorganization and at least do something. Just to say I did it. And after thinking, "ouch," I realized she was right. How in the world was ignoring everything going to solve anything?

We live in a world of excess. We have more than enough stuff, more than enough ways to communicate, more than enough information. I heard somewhere once that the more choices you have, the less happy you actually are. I'm starting to think maybe that's true.

I go online, and I am bombarded with information about the sorry state of the world. There are news stories on earthquakes and tornadoes, war-torn countries, horrific terrorist acts. There are six different blogs about mothers dying of cancer or a children fighting for their lives. Their are fierce injustices. Missing people. Familes torn apart.

And ironically, the more I read and hear, the less I feel. Or maybe that's not right. Maybe it's, the more I feel powerless.

Over time the images swirl into a giant cloud of "this world is a hopeless, overwhelming mess." I'm staggered by the sheer need and my inability to meet it. Numbed, I scroll and do nothing, because really, how could it matter?

This is tragedy in a social media world, in the time of the 24-hour news cycle.

But what can we do?

You know that cliché story about the starfish? Yeah, people may be tired of hearing it. You know, the one about the little girl throwing back the starfish that had washed ashore, and when the man asks her why she's bothering because there are thousands of starfish and miles of beach, how can she possibly make a difference, she replies, "It made a difference for that one." There's something to that.

Or the story in the Gospel of John, when Jesus walks past legions of sick and crippled people to reach one man who'd been lame for 37 years. "I only do what I see my Father doing," he says. That day, even when there were so many others, that doubting, whining man was the one destined to be touched.

I think one thing at least I have to do is not become so engrossed in the internet versions of tragedy and heartache. This is not because I'm heartless but rather the opposite - because I don't want to become calloused. I don't want to become so calloused by stories about people I don't know and will never meet that I fail to pay attention to real life, to the real needs and hurt and loss going on around me. Maybe next my my church.

I need to unplug sometimes and engage myself in my world, in the things I can influence, with the people I see day in and day out. I need to wait for that still, small voice and ask, "What can I do? Where? Who?" rather than endlessly scrolling the screen.

I want to pay attention and to start doing something, even if it's one thing. I want to help that one starfish rather than slouching past suffering, too burdened by the weight of it to do absolutely anything at all.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Vacation, Part 3: ("It's hard to believe out of this came something so great...")

The skies were murky and the streets were wet. Everyone had slept well. We decided to drive to Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America.

The area is a little confusing, because there is one museum at the actual historical site, and another larger one just down the road with replicas of the English and Indian villages and the three English ships that first sailed there. We decided to visit the latter (more young kid-friendly), but first took a drive around Jamestown Island, which is adjacent to the historical site.

I loved this. I loved the threatening skies and lonely marsh and the murky James River. I loved that this place had been preserved and really appeared, in many respects, the way it must have to people 400 years ago. I loved the quiet. I loved that there were no chain restaurants and hotels. Just land and water. We drove for close to an hour, stopping at various historical markers along the way.

When we arrived at the living history museum down the road, we decided to start with the movie that provided an overview on how Jamestown came to be. There are times when educational pieces like this tend to bother me -- I feel as if we've gone 180 degrees from "Rah-rah, America!" to "Everything about America is evil," but this one was pretty even-handed.

I saw a cast of characters -- both English and American Indian -- who made decisions out of all kinds of motivations. I saw flawed people who sometimes got it right but other times failed hopelessly. I was reminded that behind every story, there will always be good and bad, but also an awful lot of gray. This is not always a bad thing. Like the skies above. Melancholy and beautiful.

We walked down to the ships, and Dan climbed on several with the kids while I stayed back with Chloe since they weren't quite stroller-friendly.

I was standing watching them from a distance when an older man, alone with a pretty nice camera, came by. "Amazing," he said to both me and himself, shaking his head. "It's hard to believe out of this --" he extended a hand -- "came something so great."

He kept walking, searching for something to capture on film.

I thought about humble beginnings.

I thought about how something worthwhile can grow out of imperfection.

I watched the choppy waters and remembered. I remembered the way I used to melt down every time something went wrong and snap and Dan and try to control the minutiae. I saw that the past few days had illustrated I was getting just a bit better. Not perfection -- never that -- not even close. But progress.

Jamestown nearly failed. Eighty percent of its colonists died during The Starving Time. But somehow, they made it. The town ended up serving as the colony's capital for 83 years. It had a gritty start, as did all of America. As do all of us.

That can't mean we discount the good. That can't mean we don't stop to reflect on what has gone right. That can't mean I shouldn't take a minute to thank God for taking this muddled piece of clay that I am and molding it into something better. And asking for the grace to continue to be pliable.

The next day, we drove home. The sun was shining again; the traffic returned in full-force just a few hours from home. We did our best to choose patience and gratefulness. Not always succeeding, but doing just that. Trying. Because that is what we are called to do.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Vacation, Part 2: "Due to approaching inclement weather, we will be temporarily closing many of our attractions..."

We arrived at our hotel an hour or so later. There were about 75 people in the lobby, dressed to the nines. More were unloading in the parking lot; laughing in the rooms behind the front desk; partying in the pool from what we'd seen when we'd driven by. Apparently we'd stumbled upon a great deal of people celebrating some sort of occasion.

"There sure are a lot of coloreds here tonight," someone from the hotel staff remarked to Dan in the elevator. Since he didn't know how to respond to that, he continued quietly on his way to our third floor room.

Yes, the South is a different place.

But Mother's Day dawned bright and sunny, a relief after seeing some sketchy forecasts the day before due to a pesky tropical storm that had decided to form (in May??) nearby. Somehow, despite my weather-geek background, I'd not heard about it. We didn't need to deal with a tropical storm! We were headed to Busch Gardens!

I'd never been there, but Dan had fantastic memories of a childhood trip to the park and had plans for all of the coasters he was going to tackle with the kids. Four years ago in Tennessee Anna hadn't batted an eye at riding on her very first upside down coaster. Now Ethan was tall enough to ride at least two of the "grown up" coasters, too.

The parking lot was blissfully near-empty, evidence that visiting a theme park on Mother's Day might not be an exceedingly popular idea. We walked through the gates, admiring the lush flowers and gardens, headed straight to the brand new coaster...and the wheels came off the bus.

"I can't ride that," Anna said forcefully, her eyes fixed on the spiraling track. Dan was befuddled. "What about the one next to it? The standup coaster?"

Our daughter was growing more nervous. "I can't do it. It's too scary. Please, please, don't make me do it." The tears started.

"I want to go on a coaster! When can I ride a coaster?!" Ethan started exclaiming.

I didn't get it. Anna wasn't one to be fearful. She'd given us absolutely no indication that she no longer liked to ride coasters. I thought back to the Ferris wheel the night before; to the video she'd watched on YouTube of the Bizarro ride at Six Flags New England. In it a guy in the crowd had said, "Did you know someone died on this ride?" Was that where this was coming from? Was it that darned "Air Disasters" episode (never again, I say -- never again!) that had helped her see that yeah, sometimes scary things happen?

"Aren't you going to ride any coasters?" Dan asked incredulously, the disappointment in his voice unmistakable. Twice over the years we'd taken trips to big theme parks primarily to ride the coasters. He was sure she'd just been waiting to get tall enough.

Anna kept shaking her head, obviously petrified. We all walked around, dazed, crestfallen, and yeah, angry for a few minutes while Ethan continued to wail and plead to ride a coaster. I told Dan to go ride the standup so at least he could enjoy a coaster ride.

The kids climbed on the Tea Cups, and I stood, heart sinking. There was nothing really wrong with her not wanting to ride coasters. What bothered me is that it was so unlike her, and what bothered me was to see Anna giving in to fear. As someone who hates watching stunts because I'm waiting for someone to die, who keeps an eye on airplanes to make sure they stay in the sky, I had taken some relief in seeing that Anna had always seemed much more happy-go-lucky, so less prone to imagining worst case scenarios. Until now.

We knew we had to buck up and enjoy the place. Chloe, at least, was happy as a little clam in her stroller. We found a play area for her that involved water and she went to town.

I took the kids on a few rides while Dan stayed with her, and we all went searching for the Verbooten, one of the two other roller coasters Ethan could ride.

There was a chain-link fence in front of the Verbooten. "Sorry, mechanical problems," said the guy keeping watch to make sure everyone kept out. "We're not sure when it'll be fixed."

Sigh. The kids rode the giant swings and Dan and I leaned on a fence, looking down at a stream. Anna's words kept running through my head. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry I disappointed you," she kept saying. She was right. She HAD disappointed especially Dan, who had great plans of replicating his childhood trip and riding coasters with his kids.

I hated to hear her apologize. It reminded me of growing up as the child who always tried to make everyone happy. We couldn't let her think she was ruining everything, that the weight of her parents' happiness rested on her back.

"We HAVE to let her be a kid," I said to Dan. "Even if it's frustrating." He agreed. And so we dropped the pressure, checked out a few more rides, even got the kids to ride the Loch Ness Monster (a smaller upside down coaster!) and were taking a boat ride as a family when the monsoon started. I hadn't even noticed the sun disappear.

Ahhh, this is one of those tropical showers that'll clear up in a few minutes, I figured. We ventured back into the park and quickly realized just how hard it was raining. In minutes we were completely drenched, and Ethan added to the excitement by jumping into the deepest puddles he could find.

Drenched during the first rainstorm
"This has got to end soon, right?" I asked Dan as we purchased some $8 pretzels. After that I headed with Anna and Ethan to the log ride, figuring we were already soaked, why not try a water ride?

There was just one family in front of us in line when suddenly, it stopped. There was a threat of severe weather nearby, the ride operator said, so they'd just gotten the message to shut down the rides until it passed.

Crestfallen, we headed back to Dan, who was trying to stay dry next to some sort of snack building and had let Chloe (now waddling with a smelly diaper) run barefoot in puddles to keep her happy.

"I heard the announcement," he said drily.

Again, we found ourselves staring in a melancholy fashion out at the dripping leaves.

"Maybe this day is supposed to be all about teaching our kids how to deal with disappointment gracefully," I said. Of course, first we would have to learn.

Dan decided to take the kids on one of those indoor motion rides with a screen, some kind of 3-D flight over European cities. I sat with Chloe near speakers blasting Irish music (the park was divided into different "countries" and we were most definitely smack-dab in the Emerald Isle). As she began to drift off to sleep, the sun came out again, full-force. The day appeared beautiful once more. Moments later I heard the announcement that the rides were opening again.

But Dan and the kids were still on the ride. Apparently everyone else in the park had had the same idea when the weather grew bad. I waited...and waited...and waited.

Forty minutes later when they emerged I accosted them in seconds. "Everything's open again! Let's get out there!"

We walked back to a fantastic water ride, the Pompei, I had done with the kids earlier. While Dan and the kids were in line, I saw the thunderheads growing.

No, no, no, I found myself silently praying. Don't do it. Don't you dare.

The sun disappeared. Dan and the kids were screaming down the Pompei's hill. They returned to me a few minutes later.

"We were the last people to get on the ride before they closed it again," Dan said.

The wind was picking up now as another remnant of the accursed Tropical Storm Ana began to move overhead. "Attention please," a voice said from a nearby speaker. "Due to approaching inclement weather, we will be temporarily closing many of our attractions..." This was punctuated by a robust rumble of thunder.

"Maaammmmaaa!" cried out Ethan, who is terrified of thunderstorms (not the thunder, mind you, the lightning). "We have to get out of here!"

People began streaming towards the exits as if we were in some sort of old Godzilla movie. I felt pulled along by the tide as Dan and I took split seconds to decide, yeah, we were done with this. Sayanora, Busch Gardens. The time was approximately 3:30pm.

A half-hour later we were seated in a Mexican restaurant, chomping on some really tasty chips and salsa. The sun had come back out. Despite The Weather Channel's predicted 100% chance of rain for the rest of the afternoon, no other showers or thunderstorms returned on what turned out to be a quite pleasant evening, in fact.

We could have gone back to the park. But somehow I have the feeling we would have managed to bring rain, wind, and storms with us.

And so we had another round of breathe in, breathe out. Let it go. We were all together. I hadn't had to cook dinner. The kids could swim in the hotel pool. It really was, in the end, all good.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Vacation, Part 1 ("Why Do We Have to Look at So Many Animals at this Zoo??!")

We loaded up the car, got the kids out early from school, and by 3pm were ready to hit the road and get as close as we could to Washington, D.C. that evening. We revved out of the driveway, down the road and onto the highway...and proceeded to hit a traffic jam five miles down the road.

Chloe started crying. Chloe never cries in the car unless she's been traveling for hours and hours. I mean it; never.

"Why is she doing this???!" wailed Ethan. And so, five minutes later, I was in the backseat, sitting on Ethan's carseat (he'd moved to the way back with Anna) and rubbing Chloe's tummy, whispering consolation. She stopped. Blessed peace.

Three hours and several traffic jams later, Dan announced we were stopping for dinner. A joyous whoop went out -- particularly from Anna, who was excited to see we were stopping at a mall.

This wasn't just a mall. This was a mall with an indoor aerial ropes adventure course like our own business. We wanted to check it out (i.e. "spy"). Not only that, but the place had a mammoth Ferris wheel in the food court.

After eating (a comedy of errors that involved several spilled drinks and napkins everywhere) the kids clamored to ride it (after we managed to cajole Ethan away from joyriding on the escalators that led to Dave and Buster's). I should note that Dan stayed below with Chloe, who we've discovered has a phobia of all rides, including the electronic Barney bus in the food court that moved ever-so-slowly back and forth.

Trepidation on the Ferris wheel

As we rode to the mall's soaring ceilings and back down again amidst creaks and groans, I noticed Anna's eyes were terrified. This is not like her. "I bet they don't even inspect this thing!" she hissed. She desperately wanted to get off.

The English major in me would like to point out that if this were an essay and we were in class, you might want to make note that the previous paragraph would be what we call "foreshadowing." We'll get to that.

Back on the highway we finally started to make better time and blew through New Jersey and then into Maryland. Unfortunately, we'd already wasted so much time in traffic and stopping to eat that it was well past 9pm. Then we hit construction in Baltimore. At 11-somethingish, we finally found a hotel, lugged our things to the room, and got ready for bed...

...but of course the kids thought this was a grand adventure. Everyone was checking out the room and nearly bouncing off the walls. Chloe, most of all, considered this all great fun. Even when big brother and sister had decided, sometime after midnight, to start drifting off, she was still going strong. She was deeply offended by us turning off the lights and putting her in the pack and play. She made that quite clear by crying and then just standing, sucking her thumb, and watching me (now the only one awake) until past 1am.

The next morning, she was up by 6.

It was Saturday, we were 45 minutes from Washington, D.C., and we had a plan: grab breakfast quickly and get to the National Zoo before the parking lots filled up. We filed in to the McDonalds down the road, encouraging the kids to fill up because we weren't going to have a big lunch in the zoo (with their astronomical food prices!).

"But I want a Happy Meal..." Ethan pleaded.

"What about the sausage burritos you loved last time?" I pleaded back. No luck. Apparently that day he ate not one but two breakfast burritos (just about the only time Ethan has ever eaten eggs) was an aberration. All three kids nibbled at their food. By 9 we were back on the highway and then driving through crazily ritzy neighborhoods just out of D.C. We reached the zoo just after it'd opened. Cars had already filled parking lots A, B, and C. D also was looking rather full.

Please, please, please I muttered to no one in particular, because the real God probably doesn't need to be bothered with such trivia. We were one of the last five cars to make it in before the lot was filled.

Smiling at our good fortune, we climbed out of the car, opened up the stroller and took out all of the other various accoutrements, got Chloe from her car seat, and then, I noticed.

"Dan, where's Chloe's other sneaker?" One of her feet was shoeless. A search of the car turned up nothing. Apparently, her sneaker, half of a pair of her best, most comfortable shoes, was back at the McDonalds.

Deep breaths. Let it go. I dug in the diaper bag for her sandals.

I knew the girls would love the zoo (Chloe's already shown an affinity for animals) while Ethan would tolerate it. What usually helps at these places (museums, zoos, aquariums) is to point things that would interest him (like a secret pipe running behind a display) or when Ethan chooses to latch onto something we might see as "unconventional" about wherever we are, and for him the day becomes about THAT. At the Bronx Zoo several years ago, for example, he wanted to look for exit signs. Here, he saw a sign for the American Trail. The American Trail was really just one of several paths that ran through the zoo, but Ethan saw it as something much more. So for a good portion of the day, we heard:

"Let's take the American Trail!"

"Where's the American Trail? We've got to find it again!"

And unfortunately: "We can't go that way -- we have to stay on the American Trail!"

At one point I asked him why he liked the American Trail so much, and he said it was because he liked hiking.

The National Zoo is a darned good zoo. I probably liked the Bronx Zoo a little better, but this one is free. We saw lions, tigers, and of course, pandas. We watched peacocks fight and elephants play. Anna and Chloe adored any and all animals. But the sun grew high in the sky. Three little stomachs started grumbling, and the snacks we'd brought weren't cutting it. It was clear the kids (particularly the two older ones) were done.

A brief moment of serenity
We were headed towards the exit, but it's a long walk. And of course Dan and I kept coming across one more thing we wanted to take a peek at. It's not like we'd be back anytime soon. Somewhere around the lions (or was it hyenas?) the sobs started. "Yes! I saw them!" Ethan cried, flailing about dramatically. "Why do we have to look at so many animals at this zoo?!"

At that point we picked up our pace towards the parking lot along with hordes of other parents whose kids had had enough. It was time to head to our next destination.

But we had to pass through D.C. first. We took the route right through the middle of everything so we could shout out a few sites as we passed them in the car.

The Washington Monument...Capitol Building...World War II and Jefferson Memorial flew by as we drove alongside the Potomac River. Yet Ethan wanted to know one thing: "Where was that bridge the plane crashed into?"

I am never, ever keeping the TV on again when he walks into the room during an episode of "Air Disasters" (a show honestly I shouldn't be watching, either). Only in our family would I be Googling a 1982 plane crash as we pass the nation's capital.

We never did find out which bridge, but by then Washington was in the distance as we headed off to Williamsburg. The traffic finally dissipated, the sun grew lower in the sky, and we pulled off to get something to eat at a restaurant with only Virginia plates in the parking lot.

Inside everyone looked up expectantly, as if they knew someone new was in town. Once we sat down I could see that people here talked a little slower and smiled a little longer. I wondered if grits were on the menu. I knew we were going to have to breathe in and breathe out and slow our pace down. Clearly, we weren't anywhere near Connecticut anymore.

To be continued...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Things I Am Pondering Before Our Mini-Vacation

Okay, so I love to travel -- especially a good old-fashioned American road trip with the windows down, radio blasting, everyone counting license plates; the whole nine yards.

When I graduated from college I had this plan to drive out to Wyoming and back, by myself, just because I could, and because I wanted to cross off more states in my "Quest to See All 50 states" venture (I've been stuck at 37 for years now). Dan once planned a vacation out west a la The Amazing Race in which I had no idea where we were going and would open clue envelopes at each stop (Albuquerque-Denver-Reno-Yosemite-San Francisco was the end result).

So, yes! Travel! So exhilarating!

Then there's travel with kids.

We are venturing on a mini-vacation in a few days, the first we've officially taken as a family since starting our business almost two years ago now.

We will attempt the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., Busch Gardens in Virginia, and probably not much else, if I am realistic. And I'm trying to be realistic. We have a 15-month-old, after all, who now flails herself around in a tantrummy fashion whenever we wish to buckle her into her car seat and/or stroller. I'm determined to roll with the punches. I'm planning to approach this with humor and pray for a large dose of grace. So as I thank God that at least we now have vehicle that actually fits a family of five and isn't missing parts and pieces, I'm also pondering:

-  How to survive the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop in New Jersey. I am not lying: I just Googled this, and came across someone who calls it "A wretched hive of scum and villainy." Hyperbole? Weeeelll...I will just be happy if none of us get run over as we dodge past the parking lot chaos.

- Will Ethan fall for my feeble attempt to keep him occupied in the car when I christen him official "Trip Navigator" and give him a road atlas to track where we're going, or will he see through the ruse, throw the thing on the floor before we get to Hartford, and ask how much longer?

- Will we find anything, any attraction at all during our trip, that actually engages all three children? Ethan's not a big fan of zoos. Chloe can't go on most of the amusement park rides. Anna's not going to want to do anything too kiddy-ish. Wait, I've got something. Pizza Hut. Pizza Hut, they will all enjoy. Of course, we could have just driven 10 minutes to Windsor Locks for that.

- Will my children show a shred of gratitude without us having to launch into a "When I was your age..." script? We've tried to keep our destination a surprise, but I'm starting to think it's a bad idea, because I think they're expecting something Disney-seque. I keep hearing, "Are we going to Hawaii? California?" I can't say we're jet-setters and we certainly haven't had a ton of money to blow the past few years, but in their short lives the kids have gone to the Smoky Mountains...Baltimore, New York City and Boston...the White Mountains...Acadia National Park...three indoor water parks. Must I get all parental and remind them that I didn't make it to Disney until I was 18, and didn't climb onto an airplane until I was 21? That, woozy with morning sickness, I chose to galavant around Manhattan with them a few years ago? Yup, I'm going to end up saying it: ("You don't know how good you've got it!").

- Speaking of that, I am wondering if leaving on a Friday afternoon when you have to, no matter what, find a way to get around New York City, is a wise idea.

- Also: What, pray tell, is a "salt water pool?" And why would our hotel have one? What's wrong with a regular pool?

-  Can four people and a baby get a reasonable amount of sleep in one small hotel room? This question is now going to send me into nervous hysterics.

- Can I stop procrastinating about packing (i.e. writing this blog post) and get moving?

Yes. Yes I can.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Why I Love My Pediatrician

Our pediatrician is the type of person people love to hate. (Okay, "hate" is a strong word. Who can hate a pediatrician?).

We've been going to his practice forever. It's a team of maybe five pediatricians, but you get assigned to a primary who you see most often. I can recall him looking over a newborn Anna while I blearily tried to stay awake.

These days Anna no longer likes him: she didn't like the way he became gruff with her when she got really upset about having to miss school due to a concussion.

My earthy-crunchy-ish friends I'm sure would have an issue with his office's new policy about not treating families who are not vaccinating their children.

He's kind of old-school, he's nearing retirement and maybe a little set in his ways; he's not one to coddle helicopter parents.

For a long time he annoyed me because I couldn't see how he didn't pick up on Ethan's issues. I wondered why I seemed to know more about autism than he did, and I was the one who had to push for an evaluation. I considered switching practices for a while, but could never find one that "fit," so I told myself to give the guy another chance.

So yeah, he's not everyone's cup of tea.

When I took Chloe in for her one-year appointment several months ago, he brought up her shots. I've written about this before, about my reluctance with Chloe to have them administered altogether.

I reminded him that I wanted to split up her shots, as I'd been doing all along.

He was fine with that, because he knows I always follow up in a few weeks. He gently reminded me about the studies and the efficacy of the vaccines, etc., etc.

I decided that after 10 years, three kids, and a special needs diagnosis, it was time to level with this guy.

"I know all of the studies and I know vaccines don't cause autism. I really believe that," I told him. "But I still am doing this for purely psychological reasons. I can't explain it. It just gives me peace of mind."

He stopped for a moment. He smiled kindly. I knew that he saw me not just as any old parent but as a mother who had gone through an autism diagnosis and come out on the other side, but still fought demons about it sometimes.

"Your peace of mind is just as important," he said. "We all need that. If you are doing this for you, that's a valid reason."

And so when Chloe came in for her 15-month appointment, he didn't talk to me about the facts. Sometimes the facts are irrelevant. He worked with me to schedule another visit for some of her shots.

He's not everyone's kind of pediatrician. But these days I recall the way he called me at work when Anna, my firstborn, my five-month-old, had a brain bleed and small skull fracture due to me tripping and dropping her, of all things, and he spoke kind and reassuring words as I fretted, my heart breaking.

I remember that while he didn't catch red flags with Ethan early on, he did say to me, some time later, "I give you a lot of credit. I completely missed this." That's not something many doctors would admit.

I see that when he was talking sternly to Anna, hysterical in his office because she didn't want to sit in a dark room and do nothing due to her concussion, she felt perfectly fine thank you, that that was exactly what she needed.

Today I see that our relationship with our pediatrician, of all people, mirrors other relationships in life. The best ones aren't always with people exactly like us, but it's important they understand us. Sometimes they refine us. The special people in our lives don't have to be perfect -- they never will be. But humility is vital. So is compassion. And giving another chance.

Sometimes our quirks and worries cause us to do things that don't make sense. It helps when someone is there to nod and say, "It's okay."

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Box

"Ethan, it's time to get ready for school."

No answer. I'd told him 15 minutes before to go into his room to get dressed.



I went up the stairs and found him in his room, still in his pajamas, lying on his bed and lost in thought.

"Hey, what's going on? We're going to be late. Get ready."

"I caaaan't!"


"I can't stop thinking about Shovel Knight."

Shovel Knight is this game on the WiiU, created with Gen-Xers in mind, I think. It's basically a knock-off of about five video games from Nintendo I remember as a kid. Ethan has had a lot of fun playing it of late.

"Buddy, you have to stop so you can get ready."

"I CAN'T! It's the only thing in my mind."

This was not the first time this issue had come up. Ethan had come home with a half-blank paper from school the week before. When I'd asked him why he didn't do the back side, he said it was because he was tired of school and could only think about coming home to play Shovel Knight.

I thought for a second.

"Okay Eeth, I want you to think of something. Imagine a box, okay? We're going to open the box and put the Shovel Knight thoughts inside. And we're going to lock it up while you're at school, and then as soon as you get home you can open it up again."

His interest seemed piqued. I had another idea. "Get dressed, I want to show you something," I told him.

Downstairs a few minutes later I dug in a toy box and triumphantly pulled out this fishing tackle-sized felt box sized I'd gotten eons ago from some party selling educational kids' toys. It's the type of thing that's supposed to teach your kid to Velcro, zip, button, snap, and so on.

"Here is your box," I said, when Ethan arrived downstairs a few minutes later. "Now, can you put all of those thoughts inside?" I pretended we were extracting them from his brain, then clicked the box shut.

"All locked up," Ethan said, happy at the affirming "click." He went to get his shoes.

In the car, I told Ethan he could pull the Shovel Knight thoughts out of the box for a few minutes, but they had to go back in when we got to school.

Am I naïve enough to think this solved the problem? Do I really think Ethan went the entire day at school without being distracted by Shovel Knight thoughts? Of course not. But maybe we gave him another little tool in his collection to pull out when things get hard.

The more I think about it, the more I'm reminded that Ethan's not the only one who gets hung up in his thinking. How many times to I need to stop perseverating on something, to just put away the ruminating and move on for a little while? I am imaging, those nights when I wake up and toss and turn and wonder and fret...what if I just pictured the box, and placing each concern in it to take out at a more appropriate time (i.e. not 3 a.m., and not when I can't do anything about it)?

Yeah. Maybe I'm the one who needs the box. Maybe helping him, is helping me.