Thursday, November 17, 2011

My Automated Car Unloading System

We came home from a camping trip a few weeks ago. Since John is 12, we expect him to help us unload the dirty clothes and groceries. It's not a lot of work. If everyone helps we get done in about 10-15 minutes. We have light things Hannah can carry and even Cote gets in on the action.

But wow, John did an amazing job of making it a miserable for everyone. He complained and berated us. He spent five minutes getting himself a glass of water and even sat down to play video games. He was upset because he didn't think Hannah was pulling her weight so he took her stuffed animal from her and placed it above the curtain rod in her room because he thought "it was a distraction to her."

I got to thinking that every time we bring home groceries, it is the same thing, but not as intense as a camping trip. My mother and I did some John brainstorming that night. We talked about how groceries were not as routine as just coming home on a normal day and camping was even more out of the normal. We talked about how it wasn't really much work and he always imagines it's way worse than it actually is. I recalled my own aversion to having to unload in those instances too. Together, we came up with a new plan.

Now, the kids have each been assigned 2 or 3 cloth grocery bags and special loading/unloading laundry baskets for more bulky items. Their items have been color coded with pieces of duct tape.

They love the new system. I don't even forget my cloth bags when we go to the store anymore because they each want to carry their own.

There are no timelines on how quickly they need to unload when we get home but they know they aren't supposed to go past the kitchen until their bags are back in the van. Each child carries in his or her bags and unloads them *gently* onto the counter or the table in the kitchen and takes the bags back outside. Then, I put all the groceries away.

John is more comfortable because it seems equal to him that Hannah has the same number of bags as him, even if they don't contain as much. He knows that no matter how slowly she moves, she's not manipulating her way out of work. He also isn't afraid I'm going to keep him working for hours or doing ungodly amounts. He knows he has three bags, no more than that.

It has worked very well. No one is jealous of the other. When I was in college, we talked about giving children ownership. I didn't even think about this when I was doing it, but those little pieces of colored duct tape have given them more than a new assigned task. They've given them ownership in the process. We've even used the duct tape to label eye glass cases and their favorite sword fighting sticks.

What kinds of things have you done to stream line having the children participate in the responsibility side of the family equation?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Historically, I've always hated history

My father is a history buff. When he discusses history, it comes to life. His passion is contagious and I learn more than I ever did from a text book or a history class in high school or college.

I'm familiar with all the reasons everyone spouts about how those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it. And so with the heavy obligation of preventing my son from repeating regrettable history we dutifully studied it in our homeschooling.

I've read more philosophies of education in my college career and in my quest to be the best home educator possible than I can count. Some say history should be studied in chronological order, creating a time line for the children to gain perspective. Others say one should start social studies by exploring out from the child's own experiences, moving from families to neighborhoods to city to state to American history and eventually world history.

I didn't have to do all this research to teach my children to read. I ADORE reading, so I did what came naturally, I read to my children. Later we've danced between whole language and phonics using moves from both as was dictated by the learning styles and needs of my children.

History is different for me. It is a study I embarked upon with reluctance and foreboding and, dare I say, great ignorance. I can not tell you how many times I've approached a new history lesson and have been amazed at how little I know.

The reason I am so baffled by this is because I was an exceptional student, yes, even in history. I was a National Merit Finalist which meant the state university I attended was eager to grant me a full academic scholarship. I don't say that to brag. I say that to make a point. In theory, that puts me in the category of students who got the most out of their educational experiences. I was not a slacker who didn't pay attention.

I'm not faulting teachers, I'm faulting the way education as a whole perceives the study of history and then projects that to the students. I viewed it as a collection of trivial information which had no impact on my current life. As an A student in my middle school history class, I embarked on a personal study of the Ancient Olympics for my history fair project. I did it well. I learned a lot. I also learned, after I submitted the project, that the class I had been taking for months was American history therefore my project was disqualified. How does a student with an A in a class not even know what the class was about?

In high school, I had a combined studies class that endeavored to combine the time periods of history and literature. They had fantastic aspirations but those studies were never combined. The history teacher had a love of Chinese dynasties and the literature teacher a love of Shakespeare.

As I've escaped the need to ensure progress with tests and my special needs child has helped me to remember to tailor education to the individual, I've tried to redeem the combined studies program's lofty goals. We study literature from the time period in history or historical fiction about that period as we study the history. We also travel with my husband on his business trips and try to cement the information by visiting historical sites like we did this month when we visited Boston and reviewed our Revolutionary War studies.

I recall from my teacher training that children (and adults, for that matter) need to be able to connect new information to prior learning in order to retain that information. I look at John's interests and experiences as a framework for attaching new information. I've come to see history as a way of making connections.

He recently expressed an interest in the atomic bomb. Part of me recoiled, thinking it was too macabre a subject. But the other part of me said this was a chance to attach a lot of other learning. Since then, we've studied WWII, read some great historical fiction, discussed the human aspect and effects of the bombs, the decisions which led to the bombings, the Holocaust and on and on. John keeps a journal in the form of writing only one sentence a day of something important he remembers from what we've read together. Much like a test, it doesn't really demonstrate what he has actually learned. That comes out in meaningful conversations and connections that have impressed me and made me so glad I'm finally understanding the importance of history.

In Boston, we visited a haunting Holocaust memorial. It was the same week John was finishing reading Number the Stars. The memorial consisted of six glass towers which represent the six death camps. Each column has one million numbers etched in the glass representing a Jew who was killed.

We had an amazing time, especially as we were there on the anniversary of 9/11. We talked about both events as we used multiplication to find an area of numbers which was roughly equivalent to 3,000. It was such a small place for so many numbers. We talked about the horrible loss of life on 9/11 and how many people that was. Then I stood with my hands blocking out that space and we tried to view it in comparison to the enormity represented by all six towers. I found it difficult to breathe.

We read the quotes of survivors inscribed on the towers and discussed the tiny lights that looked like stars coming up through the grates below each column. We noted how the columns were beautiful but reminded us somewhat eerily of chimneys.

It has been obvious to me that I'm much better for having studied history with my son. I always have the impression that John is learning and making these connections as well. Today, we discussed Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor as well as their invasion of the Philippines. We talked about the death march of 80,000 people. a very sober John remarked about the similarity to the Trail of Tears, recognizing the evil despite the difference of time periods and continents.

A chill runs down my spine as I finally realize for myself just how important and fascinating a study of history truly is. I no longer consider it a burdensome obligation to teach my children to learn from history. I consider it an honor and a privilege to learn right alongside them. And any insight we might glean by taking a detour to explore the Holocaust on a field trip intended to study the Revolution certainly won't be disqualified just because it wasn't on the syllabus.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I Defaced the 100 Easy Lessons

This is my second time using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I need it to last at least through one more child. I love the content but the large paperback book is quite cumbersome. I've dreamed about it being an ipad app or at least an ebook. If anyone figures that out, please let me know.

I was just making due until we took a week long trip to Boston recently. I only wanted to take enough lessons for the week, but I couldn't copy it easily on our scanner because of the book's unwieldiness. I lugged that heavy burden to Boston and back. I vowed I would never do that again.

This morning I committed a book-loving sin, I dismantled the entire thing. It's in a binder now, where I can prop it up more easily or take out the pages I need and put them back in again. Plus, if a page starts to get damaged, I can always scan it and put a fresh copy in the binder.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Nothing's Bugging Her Now

I've been meaning to post for a while about why I like camping so much. Sure, I love the great outdoors but I love even more what it does for my children. Campgrounds afford John freedom to explore on foot as well as with his bicycle. He makes friends quickly in a laid-back environment where he isn't having to face prejudices from kids who have experienced his previous social awkwardnesses. Every campground is a clean slate in which to practice interacting with his peers. Cote's curiosity is absolutely sparked by being outside which encourages her cognitive and motor development. But the focus of today's post is Hannah.

She's been hesitantly interested in the world of bugs and critters for a long time. She would look on in horrified fascination from behind my shoulder at some specimen. I was always sure to offer her a chance to touch the bug or frog but it was usually summarily declined. Occasionally she'd extend a quivering hand, only to chicken-out at the last moment amidst squeals of terror.

There is something to be said for desensitization therapy. Apparently living every weekend in a box in the woods since July has worked some magic. A few weekends ago, the kids found an Assassin Beetle and I heard an excited giggle as she said, "Quick, John, you need to catch it!" I knew her interest was increasing as she kept clamoring for my attention to her discoveries, "Mom, look at this little guy!" and "Hey, I wonder if a frog lives in there."

I hadn't realized the gradual disappearance of screams upon encountering wildlife until she found me in the bathhouse after my shower one morning over Labor Day weekend. I had noticed a tiny salamander on the wall. I pointed out my visitor to Hannah. I was a little sad the bug cullecting jar was nowhere near. It didn't bother her though. "Oh Mom, stand back, I'm gonna capture this little baby friend!" With surprise I watched as my previously squeamish daughter cornered that lizard and scooped him up into her bare hands. She beamed, "John's gonna love this guy!" She ran all the way back to the camper. Two days later she was demonstrating to Cote how roly-poly bugs could crawl up her arm. And our library book choices seem to feature a lot more insects.

That's why I love camping.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I've added a new blog. This one will concentrate on sharing insights I'm gaining on living with John specifically and learning how to speak Aspergers.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Asperger's Syndrome

While John was in the hospital several weeks ago, he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome in addition to the Bipolar diagnosis he's had for years. Those two words have been a Godsend to me. Being as I was trained as a special educator, I knew what those words meant immediately. They explained so many of the quirks that Bipolar didn't exactly encompass. It meant he really didn't get it (whatever the particular it of the day was) even though I'd explained it a million times. It meant I hadn't failed as a mother or a teacher and that he wasn't being disobedient in the ways I had presumed. It was a big moment for me and it changed so much about our relationship without ever changing anything about John.

Immediately, my school teacher mode kicked in and I went to work. Unfortunately, I kind of left a few people in the dust as I ran ahead. I think some of them understood some of why I was relieved but didn't quite understand why I was so different in my interactions with John as well as my greatly increased hope. (And my new busy infatuation with scheduling.)

At one point, a dear friend who also has a newly diagnosed Aspie, questioned me, "How do I know when he's being disobedient and when he's doing something due to Asperger's?" I tried my best in the moment but I think my attempt at helping her understand fell flat.

Two weeks later, my husband asked nearly the same question. But I'd been mulling it over for a while and realized the problem wasn't my answer but that the question was leading us all in the wrong direction.

You see, you will never be able to separate what is Asperger's and what is the individual child. The truth is that whatever is inappropriate behavior, is simply inappropriate behavior. It needs to change into an appropriate behavior. The diagnosis helps me to understand that the way I've been trying to train my son on appropriate behavior was never going to work. I could consequence till the cows come home (trust me, they had been mooing loudly and milling around my kitchen for years). Dealing with him as one would expect to deal with most children doesn't work.

I think, at first, my husband felt like I was excusing a lot of John's behaviors. No, just because I stopped yelling, scolding, removing privileges and sending him to his room, doesn't mean I was choosing to let him get away with it.

Since I've known John, I've seen the same pattern repeat. He makes a simple, normal mistake. (Or sometimes not so normal, but seemingly innocent enough). I then try to correct or steer him in the right direction and he then PANICS. He reacts in such bizarre and over the top ways, breaking 15 other rules and endangering himself and those around him in the process.

Nowadays, I tend to notice a problem area and think, "Hmm, he doesn't get this. I need to find a way to teach it to him." So I do what I can to calm him down. Or just wait out what is going on. Or simply non-emotionally try to explain it in the frankest and most simple of terms. He's a smart boy. He grasps certain things so easily and it was frustrating before because one had to assume he was not doing what other children naturally do on purpose. I mean, at least have the decency to act sheepish when I catch you in the act. Maybe, sometimes, it was on purpose. Either way, he needs to be taught an appropriate behavior instead.

Since his diagnosis, I've worked on his panicking and running out of the room when I say something he doesn't like. Fifteen times one afternoon, I walked calmly to wherever he ran and silently and gently and strongly took his hand. I pulled him back to where we had been talking and said, "It is rude to run away when someone is talking." Then I continued where I had been interrupted.

The fifteenth time (after doing this his entire life and my punishing him repeatedly and explaining) he took three panicked steps away and came immediately back. He said, "Running away is rude." I smiled and continued whatever it was. Whenever he runs away I repeat the process. Never again has it taken 15 times in a day and most days it doesn't even happen anymore but sometimes it does. He does, after all, have a lifetime of the habit and still suffers a great deal of anxiety.

In special education, there is a concept called remediation and accommodation. Remediation says you work on the parts where there are deficits. If they are behind in math, you go to the highest level they have mastered and work to help them develop new skills. You don't get angry because they are in fifth grade and haven't yet mastered simply addition, you just keep working at whatever pace is necessary to help them continue to move forward. In the meantime you offer accommodation. For a child who cannot walk, you offer a wheel chair, walker or crutches while you may still offer physical therapy to help them support their body weight on their legs, and so on. In John's case, remediation comes in the form of explaining what behaviors are unacceptable and showing what to do instead. And accommodation comes in the form of making his environment as predictable and safe to him as possible.

Now, a rigid schedule and very explicit rules are frequently preferred by children with Asperger's Syndrome, but it is obvious that you don't want to always give into that inflexibility and need for routine because they will never be able to handle any changes. So it is a balancing act. You hold as many things as possible in a predictable manner while you make small incremental changes. He feels safer and less anxious and many of the behavior issues are lessened just for that fact.

In the meantime, when I notice something is not right, I try to find out the reason. Because John thinks so differently than myself and most people, I'm usually surprised to find out why he's doing something. He was tilting his head back and forth in a sneering, disrespectful manner when I said something he didn't like. It was very easy to assume he was just being rude and nasty.

But he probably saw a teenager in real life or on TV and saw it as the way you respond when someone says something you don't like. He was executing it perfectly and in the right context but had no idea of the meaning behind his actions. And when I got angry at him, it bothered him and made him panic and usually run away. Suddenly, it dawned on me one afternoon. "John," I said in my non-judgmental, teacher voice, "tilting your head back and forth like that is just as rude as sticking your tongue out at someone." He looked shocked and then regretful. Sincerely and sweetly he responded, "I wasn't meaning to be rude, Mom." I told him I knew that now and thought I should explain that it wasn't appropriate. We are still working on polite ways to show you disagree with what someone is saying.

I'll probably have more examples to share as John and I continue to learn how to communicate with one another and I try to help him navigate the social world that eludes him so. For now, I hope that this might help some of you see a new way to interact with children on the Spectrum.
And maybe have a little sympathy for that mom who has a stressed out kiddo and is choosing to deal with that behavior in a way that will change it for life as opposed to "making" them apologize to the kid they threw sand at or whatever consequence seems appropriate to our experience with neuro-typical children. In fact, maybe those kids could use the same kind of teaching rather than punishing consideration.

I'm having to rethink all sorts of things these days.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Emergency Mail

You may recall Hannah's roller coaster experience with the U.S. Postal Service. You can read about it here and here. She has remained utterly fascinated with the magical silver box that brings good tidings of great joy.

Today, as on many days, she doodled across several pages and stuffed them in an envelope. She's been working on writing names and wrote completely unassisted "Hannah" and "Audrey" to indicate the letter was intended for her cousin. She slapped a huge Tinker Bell sticker (from her dental visit the other day) in the upper right corner. Then she asked if she could put it in the mailbox.

I agreed and she skipped out to the garage while John and I completed math. Breathlessly, a few minutes later she ran back into the house. "Mom! We have a problem! The mail lady turned off her car. She wants to help me but she doesn't have the number it goes to."

Wow, that girl has quite an imagination, I thought. Nevertheless, I stood up and peered at the end of the driveway. There sat the car with a flashing yellow light on top.

OH NO! Well, I couldn't let Hannah down. I slapped a tiny looking address with what I hope is the correct zip code under the enormous "AUDREY" and a return address in the proper place. I put a stamp on the corner and gave her the envelope.

She ran back out and handed her envelope to the carrier. The woman smiled and said, "Alright! Now I think I can help you. It has a stamp and I know where to take this."

I stepped out the front door and called a thank you to her. And she waved and grinned and said, "Don't worry, we'll take care of her!"

I LOVE the U.S. Postal Service and that sweet lady who sat during her busy and demanding schedule and waited for five minutes to make a little girl's whole day.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A friendly letter?

Today's writing assignment was to write a friendly letter. Specifically, this letter was to ask one family member for a gift for another family member. The student was to detail why the recipient was deserving of said gift.

Here is John's letter. He seems not to have lost his touch since the tales of Thunderblot.


Dear Grandma Missy,

I'm asking for money for comic books for Uncle Ben because I missed his birthday. I would love to do it myself but I don't have any money.

He can't buy it himself because Aunt Stefi took all his money. He needs to get out of the house a little while. There's a new comic book he really wants. I am asking you because I trust you better than anyone else.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Life Lessons at the Learning Lab

Here, at Laughner Learning Labs, we believe in tailoring an educational experience to the unique cognitive and developmental needs of each student. We are willing to work with any age student, espousing a wholehearted commitment to the full spectrum of life-long learning.

Student Profile: COTE LAUGHNER

Cote is a lovely, inquisitive child (Age: 14.5 months) who has recently demonstrated a keen interest in art. She has been given access to appropriate art supplies and the freedom to create without criticism. Her art seems to be broadening in scope both cognitively and physically as she acquaints herself more fully with the medium. Her instruction also includes proper usage of tools and care of one's personal workspace.

Photographs are shared below from a lesson when Miss Laughner learned that markers are only to be used while standing properly at the easel. These are rare educational insights directly from our lab. They are realistic depictions of the learning experience, which certainly isn't always easy. Prepare yourself. These photos may be too graphic for sensitive viewers. Rest assured, in the end, Miss Laughner successfully learns her lesson and blooms creatively and artistically while submitting to the rigorous standards of her elite learning environment.

Student is given instruction to leave markers at the easel station for the fourth time.

Student looks in anxious denial to classmate for support.

Student demonstrates sudden awareness of the instructor's commitment to proper marker storage.

Student experiences momentary crisis of faith in her ability to meet the standard.

Student resigns herself to compliance with a tear in her eye.

Student has demonstrated responsibility and is happily back to work contributing to a growing body of valuable artistic expression from the students at Laughner Learning Labs.

Now accepting applications.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ms. Hannah, Master Instructor

Sure, she's adorable.

One might even say "wonderfully precocious".

It all starts with a sweetly condescending, "Casey, you are going to be my helper today, because we have a lot to do with this marker..."

The next thing you know, we all have post-it note name tags and are sitting under the tutelage of a four-year-old iron-fisted schoolmarm.

Oh, and apparently my name is Casey. That's spelled I-J-A-M-H-O-N-A-I, FYI.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Do you have an Ascenta?

Today, Hannah drew a lovely picture. I'm sure it was inspired by the fact we reread Welcome with Love, a beautiful story book about a homebirth. A year ago, Hannah was captivated by Cote's birth. She reenacted it many different ways over the first few months of her sister's life. She even struggled with important decisions like sometimes she gave birth in a hospital and sometimes at home. Each time, I was amused and heartwarmed by her sweet antics.

Obviously, an appreciation for the miracle of birth has once again settled on her mind. She gleefully brought me her drawing and began narrating:

"This is me, with a baby in my belly. This is my ascenta feeding the baby (indicating the blob floating over her head and tethered by some sort of squiggly line). This is my honey holding my hand. And... this is the menwife."

Ahhh! Yeah, I dream about another birth too, child after my own heart.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Explaining Bipolar Disorder to Children

My son, John, is in an acute treatment facility. It is a psychiatric hospital. A lot of children who know and love John are learning some new vocabulary, like Bipolar and mental illness. It's terribly confusing to them, I'm sure. One of his friends prayed for John's headache to go away soon. (Which is an incredibly sweet and innocent thing!) It's confusing to most adults. So, I thought I'd try to help, in case any of you are confused or have children you would like to explain it to. (I know it's really long, please pick which parts you'd like to share with them or modify with examples that apply to your own children.)

John has something called Bipolar Disorder. It affects how happy, sad, angry and worried he is. He doesn't have anything wrong that you can see, like a broken arm or a runny nose or a cut or a bruise. He doesn't even have an IV and isn't staying in a hospital bed.

When you find out you get to have cookies, it probably makes you happy. When you find out your grandma is coming for a visit you might be even happier. And when you find out you are getting to go to Disney World, you might get so happy that you run around, dance, start dreaming about what to pack and sorta get hyper. Something in John's brain gets confused and he can get Disney World happy over having a snack. Or he gets so excited about an idea that he does dangerous science experiments without adults.

When you drop a penny and can't find it, you might get a little sad. When Mom cooks something for dinner you don't like, you might be more sad. When your friend is really sick or a pet dies, you might get very, very sad. Sometimes dropping a penny can make John very, very sad. Or something very bad can happen and John doesn't even seem to care.

Different things probably make you different levels of angry. Sometimes John gets very angry about something that isn't very important. If someone bumps into him or teases him, he might think they did it on purpose and are trying to be mean. So he might hit, kick, scream or do something mean. When he gets angry like that, his brain thinks little kids are big, mean and scary like full-size bad guy grownups. This doesn't make it ok for John to hit and kick but it might help you understand that he's not doing it on purpose. It is important to tell an adult if you see John acting in ways that don't seem right to you.

Sometimes John worries about things that are adult problems. He worries if there is enough money for groceries. He worries that we might run out of gas or get lost. If he has a nice toy, he worries that people are going to steal it. He worries that people aren't going to be his friends or that he might hurt his friends or his sisters. He worries that his Mom and Dad don't really love him. (But they love him, very, very much!)

When the Bipolar is really bad, he can be sad, happy, scared, and angry for no reason at all. Last week, John started doing that and he was afraid because he got so angry that he might hurt his little sister. It is really scary to be that out of control of how you feel.

The day he went to the hospital, John even got confused about which parts of his life were pretend and which parts were real. Sometimes he knew and sometimes he didn't. He also has hallucinations which is kinda like having nightmares while you are awake. On Wednesday, last week, John got so sad and scared, he wanted to stop living.

Now he is in a hospital where they are giving him medicine to help his brain figure out the emotions better, so he won't get too angry, sad, scared, or happy. They are also doing classes with him to teach him to know the difference between regular angry feelings and too angry Bipolar feelings. The people in the hospital watch him all the time so he can't accidentally hurt anybody or hurt himself until the medicine starts to help him. He will be staying there until he is safer and until he stops having those daytime nightmares and he isn't confused about which things are pretend and which things are real.

It is very hard work for him to do. His brain is telling him that someone has been very mean to him and that he is very, very angry but he has to stop and tell his brain that isn't right and to calm down and look for special clues to let him know it's not as bad as his brain thinks it is.

He is very tired of the hospital and wants to come home very soon. He misses his friends and family. They keep him very safe and are helping him but nobody wants to ever be in a hospital. You can pray that his medicines will work right and that he will learn the special clues so he won't get so angry, sad and worried.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tiny Baby Undies

Cote spends most of her time out of diapers. It makes it so much easier for frequent potty trips. Unfortunately, we've not found a great bottom-covering solution, so she usually wears an unsnapped onesie and babylegs. Cote is a very small 13 month old. The smallest training pants and underwear in most stores are 2T/3T. It is going to be quite some time before she'll be able to wear those. I've read the suggestion to buy that size and try washing multiple times in hot water, but I've never had much luck getting them to shrink.

I've considered buying tiny underwear from some various places on the internet. The EC Store carries some for around $8 a pair. And Noonee Wilga also makes some for the same price. $8 seems really expensive for children's underwear.

She also has instructions on her website for making undies out of t-shirts. I've been meaning to go get some elastic and the supplies to make the panties but I had an epiphany. I decided it might be simpler and less expensive to buy a package of toddler underwear and make them smaller.

And that's what I did. It cost about $8 for 10 pairs of underwear and about a half hour of work.

First, I turned the underwear inside out. I had a pair of bloomers from a dress Cote wears. She's been wearing those bloomers as undies. So I just measured against those. I put pins in the waist band to indicate where the seams would start on both hips. Then I measured the distance from the crotch end of the leg hole to the hip end and pulled the front and back together so the leg elastic lined up.

Next, I just eyeballed a straight stitch between the two points. I really didn't try to do anything exact. I was trying to do something quick and easy.

Then I cut the panties about a half inch allowance and zizag stitched the edges.

Here's a comparison of the original size and the new size. Yeah, the rise is really long but, hey, they get the job done.

And, here are some action pics: (She seems to really like them, except they have to come all the way off when she's on the potty.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


My driver's license and my debit card went missing, probably with the help of a certain spritely four-year-old. I spent a week looking and agonizing, knowing it was surely in the house or the car. Finally, we called the bank and they deactivated our current debit cards, promising to send new ones in seven-to-ten days. Thankfully, Theo thought to get us ATM cards when he went in to withdraw some cash.

On Friday afternoon, we went to the DMV. I have aged significantly enough since my last photo that it was time to renew anyway. I stood in line for a half hour and moved one space. Then it was closing time and they "would be happy to put me on a no-wait list for Tuesday morning". (Monday was President's Day.) I was also informed I probably wouldn't be cited for not having it with me but the decision is left to the officer's discretion.

Tuesday morning, I decided to visit the express DMV rather than take my chances with the "no-wait list". I knew I would need to park on the street so I grabbed a handful of quarters, my brood and my checkbook. I detest parallel parking but I hate standing in line for hours with three children more. We circled the courthouse and found a convenient spot requiring us to cross no more than two streets.

I wrapped Cote up nicely. I lent John my jacket since he forgot his. I helped Hannah get out of her carseat and don her hot pink butterfly wings to go with her blue and white dress and turquoise tights.

We entered the courthouse to find they required airport-style security screening. The two guards were very friendly and allowed me to keep wearing the baby and Hannah to keep wearing her wings. As I walked into the room for license renewals, I noticed four stations of smiling employees, ready to serve. The nice lady at station 1 invited me over. She began to work on my form. I told her how nice this was and that we'd been to the one on Bonny Oaks Drive on Friday. She gave me a sympathetic nod, knowing the full ramifications of that remark.

I asked to borrow a pen so that I might go ahead and fill out the check. **Blink, Pause** "We can't take checks," she said. "We aren't actually the department of safety. We can take cash, debit or credit cards."

Now it was my turn to blink. Seriously? No checks?! It's the county court clerk's office. There was a big sign saying to make checks payable to Bill Knowles, County Court Clerk. But there is no sense in arguing. This is why they won't let you take guns into the courthouse, I suppose. "Um, okay. Well, I guess we'll be back."

Crossed two streets. Removed Wings. Removed baby. Strapped in baby. Strapped in preschooler. Forfeited the meter money Drove to the bank where I had to wait until someone left so I could park and use the walk-up ATM. Drove back to the courthouse. Circled. Found new tighter space in which to parallel park. Unstrapped baby, wrapped her up. Unstrapped Hannah, replaced wings. Crossed one street. Entered building.

Wow, the guards remembered us. I suppose we were quite the spectacle. I was with a school-aged child during school hours. I had a baby strapped to me. And Hannah, well, was quite the riot of colors, frills and flamboyance.

Finally, the photo and the renewal went off without a hitch. And I guess we got a little more exercise than we had planned. The whole ordeal probably took less time than the "no-wait list" at Bonny Oaks. And now I have a new driver's license with a baby's head poised just below camera and the opportunity to practice coolness under pressure. I might just borrow those hot pink wings for myself.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Funcycle Party

Cote turned one this week! I can't believe she is that old. We decided to celebrate in a unique way.

The e-invitation went out with this explanation:

We are celebrating Cote's birthday with a funcycle in leiu of a traditional birthday party. Please bring any toys or household items your would like to declutter from your home. Our family certainly has a lot of extra stuff after the holidays.

We will set up items like a free garage sale in our house. We will let Cote go "shopping" among the items first and then other children and finally, our adult guests. We will share the things we aren't using anymore. Maybe some of us will find treasures.

Anything left will be donated to a local thrift store. We want it to be fun and casual for everyone. Please do not feel you have to bring anything. Please limit your number of donations to one truckload. ;)

We got a lot of positive feedback on the idea and we were eager to see how it would work.

Some of our family members arrived early and spent some time entertaining and being entertained by our children. Each person carried in at least one offering to our event. There was something more casual and less flamboyant about the lack of glitzy wrapping paper and gift bags. It was almost as if the presents themselves were casually dressed, barefoot even. Natural and comfortable. The focus was on the relationship with each person instead of the appetizing mystery package in their arms. There were no expectations, just loved ones who held some momento or contribution in their arms.

The school room was set up with display tables and everyone placed their items somewhere while obviously checking out the goods at the same time. Some guests immediately smiled when they saw an item that piqued their own interest. It was all the fun of a garage sale without the uncertainty of asking, "How much ya want fer this?" It was a community sharing with one another. It was personal.

It strikes me how fittingly this gathering mirrored the warm, casualness of Cote's homebirth. That night, a year ago, some of the same people sat and enjoyed each others company, barefoot or in slippers, sitting on comfortable furniture. Those loved ones waited with me, projecting their love and encouragement as I labored and Cote traveled to meet us. There was laughter, compassion, remembrances. It was intimate and busy and lovely.

More friends and family arrived at our party with humble and joyful offerings. These were items from their own homes. Sure, those items had originally come from a store somewhere. But they had gone home, been loved and broken in.

At this point, I can't remember whether we ate or went "shopping" first. We enjoyed some homemade meatballs, mixed fruit and a lovely cake, designed with the allergies and special needs of all the children present.

It's all kind of mixed up in my mind with easy conversations and happy children enjoying each other's company. Some babies got fussy and were nursed. Some babies were wrapped up lovingly on their mother's backs. Children ran around inside and outside. Just like her birth, it was intimate and busy and lovely.

I took Cote into the "shop" and her body immediately leaned in my arms as she reached for a plastic telephone. I picked a few items I thought she'd like and she picked up a plush Mr. Spock which she owned before I put him in the donation bag. She'd never really shown interest in him before. Yesterday, she picked him up and declared "Dada!" as she lovingly regarded the Star Trek character, causing many to erupt in laughter.

The other two babies selected some items and then the older guests shopped. Liam found a toy lawn mower. Two-year-old Addie found several items including an Ab Roller! Nine-year-old Micah selected a nice mini mag-lite box set. Then she and her sister picked some items for their brothers who didn't make it to the party. John chose a tea pot with matching mugs in a rooster motif. Hannah found a princess hopscotch set. I inherited a friend's set of drinking glasses. My mother snagged a yogurt maker while my grandmother chose a board game to play with her friends in her retirement community. My mother-in-law found a decoration or two. Twelve-year-old Christopher took home a fog machine and some button-up shirts.

I'm not sure what everyone chose or even if everyone chose something. We have very few items left and plan to drop them off at Goodwill tomorrow. Thank you all who celebrated with us. We had a lovely, busy time remembering the birth of our Buttercup one year ago. Happy birthday, Cote Elise!

To see more pictures of the event, click here.