Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Asher: 8 years old


In my lap, like the baby he used to be
(I just found this draft... I thought I published this post weeks ago! My poor neglected children.)

Three weeks ago we celebrated the boys' 8th birthday. As I say every year, I can't believe another year has gone by! I can't believe those little preemie-sized babies I delivered have turned into such strong, smart young men. I can't believe that I only have 5 years to save up for their bar mitzvah!

Asher's update first. He is so mature (until he is tired). His teacher joked to us that Asher seems ready to babysit his siblings if Eric and I decide to go on a date night! Asher is a serious student, who diligently does his homework without complaint. He says his favorite school subjects are math and science, and he just joined the after-school science club. In the past year, he has also turned into a very competent and interested reader. Although he never chooses a book as his #1 activity, he likes to read and seems to understand everything he reads. He has also engaged in extra-curricular projects, as his teacher encourages creativity: a piece of wood decorated with positive sayings (I asked, "where did you learn all of that positive thinking? Certainly not from me!"), and a little booklet with pictures of our trip to Washington, DC.

His favorite activities are: playing outside, playing basketball, and playing Xbox (or watching youtube videos of some guy playing Roblox). He has become good friends with the daughter of our friends down the block, and the two of them play together at least 2 times a week after school. At home, he is my most helpful child. I can count on him to do chores, not make horrible and dangerous decisions, and act like someone 10 years older than he actually is. Every time I need to pay for something at school, I put the money in his backpack. He asked, "Why do you always give that stuff to me and not Benjamin?" and I said, "Because I can trust you to actually give it to the teacher." 

Asher has a sense of curiosity and interest- he is almost always interested in trying a new activity or going to see a new place. He is always ready to be on the go, whether we are going to take a walk to Aldi or a day trip to DC. He LOVES his family, and says Passover is his favorite holiday because he gets to see all of his cousins. Asher has also taken an interest in Judaism and his Jewish identity. This summer, he'll be spending 3.5 weeks at a Reform Jewish sleepover camp. I don't know if I can live without him! He seems confident and excited about going, but I am dreading it.
I can still pick him up and carry him! But my time is running out
He has recently become best friends with our neighbor, and they play together almost everyday after school. I am not really joking when I say that he has left me for another woman- this is the first time that he has ever paid more attention to someone other than me. I was fairly convinced that he would be devoted to me forever.

We are still trying to deal with Asher's food aversions and pickiness. He does like meat and vegetables, but otherwise it is all carbs, all the time. And only in certain forms- he likes mac and cheese, but only if it's not too cheesey, and also as long as it is hot and not warm or reheated. Packing his lunch for school has become increasingly difficult. His favorite foods are my risotto with peas, pizza, mac and cheese, pasta with tomato sauce, plain bagels with nothing on them, and our homemade cinnamon rolls. (Notice a carb-centric theme?) He also likes broccoli, spinach, carrots, and string beans. I let the pickiness slide until his doctor's appointment, but now it is time to eat!

I have noticed that Asher already has a good capacity for empathy and to anticipate people's emotional reactions. When we watch movies, he can read the emotions on the actors' faces. When we talk about interpersonal situations, he is able to understand how the people involved might feel. And he is fairly in touch with his own emotions. After one particularly fun evening, when I tucked Asher into bed he said, "Mommy, sometimes I just feel so happy, I feel happy and I'm all warm inside." I said, "that is a wonderful feeling! I feel that way, too, especially when I spend time with you and our family." Then, from his bed on the other side of the room, Benjamin piped up and said, "Mommy, sometimes I have a feeling... like I want to eat something, but I don't know what.... But maybe it's candy..." Eric and I had a good laugh at that, and we agreed that Asher has inherited my emotional intelligence, and Benjamin inherited his.

Again, as we mark another year gone by, I cannot believe how quickly time passes. I can't believe that Asher is only 12" shorter than I am, that he knows more than I do about certain aspects of US history, and that he can run faster than I can. I look back on that curly, blond-haired baby and can't even see the big boy face that has grown out of it. Asher is a love, a joy, and a sweet, smart boy. 

Benjamin: 8 years old

Benjamin is, remarkably, in a completely different place at 8 than he was at 7. Whether it is the attentions of his current teacher, his work with his therapist, or our work at home (and really, I haven't done much work), he is much happier than he was a year ago. He went from crying before school, or after school, to loving school. He even chose to go to school for 1 hour last week after he went to Take Your Child to Work Day. He has been invited to several birthday parties and has friends to play with at recess.

At home he seems much less angry than he was 7 months ago. He comes to us for affection more than he did, and doesn't get irate the way he did. We haven't had trouble with impulsive behavior. He still needs more reminding in regards to his daily responsibilities, but he does them eventually. I tell him all the time how proud of him I am, and I can see his growing pride and confidence in himself.
An illustration of our shortcomings left on my pillow
He continues to be a creative writer and artist, and is finishing an art class at the art museum that he enjoyed. I adore his poetry, and his illustrations of our everyday moments.
My favorite poem
The plan for my birthday breakfast, followed exactly as drawn
A drawing of a cougar from a cat drawing book
Benjamin has an obsession with his small stuffed Tigger tsum tsum, whom he calls "Tiggy." Often Benjamin will use Tiggy to speak for him. Tiggy comes to school in Benjamin's pocket each day, a habit which ends with 2nd grade. Benjamin writes poems about Tiggy. Tiggy stars in all kinds of fantasies and is the main character in most of Benjamin's drawings. Benjamin is quite attached to Tiggy, and gets down when Tiggy is misplaced. We are actually on Tiggy #2, after Tiggy #1 went missing and didn't return after a couple of weeks. Tiggy has seemed to help Benjamin with these changes and transitions, so we take him everywhere with us.
Tiggy creeping into our selfie
In addition to his love for books, art, and poetry, Benjamin has an obsession with video games. He will play them on my phone, on Eric's computer, on the Xbox, or whatever he can get his hands on. He and Asher love to watch YouTube videos of some young man playing Roblox, and then play Roblox themselves.

Cool dude selfie
 Benjamin began growing out his hair in the fall, and grew it all winter long. Then, two weeks ago, he said he wanted to cut it. As much as I didn't want him to grow it out, Eric and I had always said that we wouldn't fight with our kids over hairstyles. And when he was done with it, that was it. Benjamin is absolutely his own person- he doesn't really care about his appearance or how he is dressed. He is himself everyday. I am proud of him for doing what he wants and what he feels comfortable doing.
He is shocked at how he looks with short hair!
 We have always said that Benjamin is a little out to lunch, and not necessarily paying attention to what is happening around him (in contrast to Asher, who is highly attuned to what people are doing and saying), but it has become clear recently that Benjamin is quite aware. He might choose not to get involved, but he knows what is happening. He gave me a poem for Mother's Day and was right on the money about everything in it.
Benjamin is aware of his role in the family- we have had many conversations about how when his brother and sister act up and have tantrums, he just sits back and waits his turn. I told him how I appreciate him not having tantrums. I am making sure to give him a lot of positive attention, and I think the art class he is taking has helped with that, since we have prioritized our weekend plans to get him there. 

Benjamin is still our best eater, eating 3 good meals a day. He prefers savory foods at breakfast to sweet ones, and will sometimes eat leftovers or hot dogs instead of cereal or waffles. He always eats a lunch with two fruits in it. He doesn't love vegetables, but does eat broccoli. He and I love to eat all kinds of fruits together. He will sneak soda and chips if given the opportunity, because we don't usually have them in our house. Overall he is a healthy eater, even if it doesn't seem to result in him being taller or larger!

This has been a really good year for Benjamin, and I am hoping that spending half the summer apart from Asher will give him even more opportunity to gain confidence and a separate identity. It felt like I lost the Benjamin I knew a year ago, but now I have him back. I am truly proud of him, and grateful for where we are right now.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Guest post from Papa Nick: Bubble Bath Rhymes with...Trouble Bath?


Tubby Time is a highlight of my Tuesday evenings at the Whitten's. I arrive around 5:00 to help Eric with Asher, Benjamin and Charlotte while Rebecca works late. Some Tuesday milestones over the years - learning to climb trees, helping each one with reading, Charlotte's learning to ride a bicycle...

This week Eric and I started with our tech geek version of, "How was your day?" while the children played and dinner cooked. A friend from the block had come over to play with Asher and Benjamin, she decided to stay for dinner. We had "Dinner Theater" where I held up and read a picture book as the children ate. We discussed the pictures, Charlotte read some pages for us, even raising her voice when the words were in BIG PRINT. Asher also read a bit, but Charlotte was reluctant to share the duty. Didn't realize this foreshadowed further adventures.

More playing between dinner and dessert. After dessert it was Tubby Time, an all-around favorite. There's a rule to encourage prompt attendance - the first one in the tub gets first choice about where to sit - first class is next to the faucets - and when they get out - usually last since bath time is even nicer when you can stretch out by yourself. Second one gets second choice, third one is stuck, usually has to sit at the far end where the water is shallower and cooler, then get out first. Tonight it was Asher first, then Charlotte and finally Benjamin. 

Added some shampoo to the water, and it was a bubble bath. Asher made a bubble beard and mustache - he was quite handsome. 

Charlotte couldn't seem to get comfortable in the middle. No matter how Benjamin sat, she was convinced he was squeezing her space. She would push him with her legs or arms and constantly complain. Fortunately, Benjamin was very patient with her. All evening I had noticed that 8 year old Whitten children are substantially more mature than the 7 year old versions. 

I asked Charlotte to calm down and notice how much space she had. She replied, "I just want to relax and hit my brother!" When she repeated this and we saw scratches on Benjamin, Eric took her to the shower. Finally had a great time with just two boys in the tub. They started making waves that threatened to spill out of the tub. We improvised on Hues Corporation "Rock the Boat" - "Rock the tub baby, Don't let the wave splash out! Our love is like a tub on the ocean, sailing with a cargo full of love and skin lotion! Moisturize, don't let that skin dry out!"

After moisturizing and tooth brushing, I said goodnight. Asher and Benjamin were each reading in their beds before lights-out. Eric told me Charlotte was in her room. I entered, saw the blankets turned down with Gray Kitty and Black & White Kitty. No Charlotte. I stood there looking, thinking out loud, "Hmm...Charlotte's pretty skinny but I don't think she's under the blankets...I'll see if I can spot her from the other side...No, she's not here, either!"

I started bending down to check under the bed and an invisible child called out, "Don't look under the bed!" When I got down, there she was - some books, a few second-string animals, very pleased with herself. Still in her birthday suit. 

I said, "Looks like Charlotte's wearing her invisible pajamas tonight!" She was very pleased with the concept. As she emerged we discussed the benefit of invisible pajamas - they don't have to go through the laundry. I mentioned that you could just leave them on the floor and the room wouldn't be messy. Charlotte warned that someone might trip on them. We decided it would be OK to just throw them in a corner.

Eric had to work hard to persuade Charlotte to replace the invisible pajamas with underpants and warm pajamas visible to the adult eye.

All-in-all, a wonderful evening. Though I rushed out the door and forgot to thank Eric for sharing his children.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

8 year well visit

This afternoon I took the boys for their 8 year well visit. The nice part is that they haven't been to the doctor since their last well visit! Except for flu shots, which apparently gave them PTSD, because they wouldn't stop asking if they were going to shots, or, as Benjamin said, S-H-O-T-S.

There is not much to say- the visit was uneventful, and both boys are healthy. 
Asher was: 50" tall (48%, 2 inches taller), 56.6 lbs (53%, 2.5 lbs heavier)
Benjamin was: 48.5" tall (23%, 1.75 inches taller), 54.6 lbs (43%, 5 lbs heavier)

The doctor wasn't pleased that Asher hasn't gained very much weight. She wants me to load him with calories, no matter what they are. I asked her if that is something she has to tell other Jewish mommies to do, or if I'm the only one. She did say that at this age, she would rather see kids be a little underweight than overweight. But really, I could never imagine that I would have children with any trouble gaining weight. How can a growing child only gain 2.5 lbs in a year when I can gain that much in a weekend? It's a mystery to me.

I told her that Benjamin has been making great strides with his ADHD and that his teacher told us he is vastly improved in the classroom. And with Asher our only concern is that he is too picky about food and that it's keeping him from eating enough.  She really didn't seem worried about any of it (either that or she wanted to get home to her family for dinner), so we got clean bills of health and went on our way. Another year of wellness- we are so fortunate.


Monday, March 19, 2018

Charlotte- is reading!

Hair in braids hours before she got a haircut that is a little too short

An update on my big-little girl: She has taught herself to read! Eric and I are quite impressed with her ability; she is even reading with inflection. Neither one of us did anything to teach her, other than my saying "sound it out" if she found an unfamiliar word. And there you go- she is off and running, just like she has been with every other major milestone in her life.

Charlotte and I got to spend extra time together today. She asked that I come and join her for lunch at school, and rather than stay home and do my work notes or clean the house, I went and had lunch with her and her friends at their little table. Then I got to sit on the carpet with her in my lap and read a book to her and some of her friends before I left to run errands.

After school, the sun was shining (and it is supposed to snow the next 2 days, don't even get me started), so I made Charlotte play outside. She had no same-age friends to play with, so I became her playmate. We went on the swings together- and I mean together, she sat in my lap and let me do the pumping- and I got extra hugs and kisses. We did a little racing and playing tag; she is actually quite fast and I didn't have to slow down too much for her to catch me. We played hide-and-seek. When we got home she came to help me in the kitchen while I made matzo ball soup. And then after dinner, we had extra snuggles on the couch before I left for work. I adore her, especially when she is in a sweet and loving mood like she was today!

I am so proud of my girl for being so smart and so strong and so confident. I hope that it carries through her life and she can grow into a smart, strong woman.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Thank goodness it's over...

No great tragedy or trauma, but the past week (9 days, really) were trying. It feels silly to complain about what are simply the normal ups and downs of life, but here I go.

It started with a snowstorm on Friday the 2nd. I was surprised by it- it came with heavy winds and snow. Trees toppled everywhere, roads were blocked, the train lines all closed down. We managed to all get home safely, and I even brought in a couple of the boys' classmates whose mom couldn't get out of the city.  Everything was calm and pleasant, until- the lights went out. The good news was, my parents had electricity. We packed up one night's worth of clothing, the food we had bought for dinner, and went over to my parents' for the night.

On Saturday, still no power at home, or pretty much anyplace else we were supposed to go (a birthday party for Charlotte, a fundraiser for the boys' school that Eric and I had planned to attend).  After breakfast, Charlotte said, "I think I'm going back to bed to take a nap." I didn't think much of it at the time, but by the time she woke up from her "nap," she was flushed and feverish. Child #1 down.

My mom had come down with a cold at the end of our trip to Sedona (another entry for another time, it was beautiful and filled with delicious food) and was mostly dead when we arrived, so she stayed on the couch the whole time, coughing and blowing her nose. I started to feel congested in my chest and not 100%, so that made 3 of us who were sick.

By Saturday night, Benjamin had started with a fever as well, and it seemed like his tonsils were swollen. Sick person #4.

Sunday morning I took Benjamin to urgent care. The boys' Hebrew school had been canceled- no electricity at the synagogue. We still had no electricity at home, and Eric and I had gone and collected more belongings, along with all of our frozen and refrigerated food. Benjamin's diagnosis was "viral," so I took him back to my parents' house to rest.

Charlotte still had a fever as well, and we had tickets to go the Harlem Globetrotters on Sunday night, but 3 of us had to stay home. Monday came around, and instead of having time to myself, I had two children and a sick mom to take care of. Charlotte and Benjamin weren't sick anymore, but couldn't return to school because of their fevers the day before, so it was the worst- two un-sick kids, bored out of their minds after an entire weekend in the house. In addition, I had an appointment to register Charlotte for kindergarten, an appointment for my annual with my gynecologist, and all 3 kids had appointments for the dentist. By evening I started to feel pretty lousy myself, and ended up canceling my clients so I could rest and get to bed early.

Tuesday I sent everyone off to school and got myself ready to go to work. By lunchtime, I had a text from Eric that Benjamin's fever was back, and he was sent home from school. Around dinnertime, I got a text from Eric that our power was back, and we could return home again (yay!). Lucky me, I got to be at work and avoid all the packing and moving- Eric handled it all.

Tuesday night schools closed for Wednesday due to another snowstorm. I canceled all my clients and we spent the day at home. Snow days at the beginning of the winter are one fun thing after another- sledding, snowball fights, the kids play for hours in the snow, we have hot chocolate and Eric makes a fire in the fireplace. This snow day, Eric worked all day without stopping, the kids didn't want to go outside, no one went sledding, and I made soup for dinner which all 3 kids refused to eat.

Thursday I had to go back to work, but the kids had a 2 hour delay, and Eric had to go out of town in the afternoon for a meeting. Then, Asher had a fever and couldn't go to school at all! Sick person #5. We had to patch together care- my mom, who was still mostly dead, got them from school in the afternoon and stayed with them until I got home around 5; then we had a babysitter come from 6:30-9 so I could go see more clients.

Friday was a similar mess. Asher had to stay home from school, and I had to go to work, and Eric wasn't here to take care of him. I dropped him at my parents', rushed back to our house to go to the elementary school to watch Benjamin participate in the 2nd grade "Famous Americans" assembly, then rushed off to work, saw one client, then brought lunch to my mom and Asher, then rushed back to work to see 2 clients, then rushed to pick Asher up from my parents', then off to pick Charlotte up from school, then rushed home to get Benjamin from his school. Every minute was accounted for and there was no room for error. Fortunately, we made it through the day, and I even managed to cook a homemade dinner and get it on the table by 5:15.

By Saturday, everyone was healthy again, and Eric had returned home, so we could try to resume a somewhat normal life. All 3 kids had over-indulged in TV and ipads, and their behavior showed it.  This week we have gone screen-free and had an improvement in attitudes and cooperation. Now we are eager for the snow to melt and the spring to come. And we hope for no more weeks of disaster!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Benjamin

I haven't gone into all the details about what is happening with Benjamin- or if I have I don't remember. Over the past 15 months, since he started 1st grade, we have been trying to figure out what is going on with him. Up until he started 1st grade, he always loved school, loved learning, got along with friends.  As soon as he began 1st grade, he began to complain: the days were too long, the work was too boring, he had no friends. We were in touch with his teacher throughout the year, but she wasn't overly engaged with him and seemed to be managing a difficult class where Benjamin wasn't the biggest concern, even if it was clear things weren't exactly right. He had a hard time sitting still and keeping all his body parts to himself. He would do things that he knew were against the rules even after being reminded not to do them. He loves reading and would read constantly, rather than whatever he was supposed to be doing at school.

I began to think about getting him tested. Maybe he was gifted and that is why he was bored at school. The school gives screeners to all 1st graders and the boys both came back as "high average," but not superior or gifted.

Over the summer he was miserable in social settings, and began to avoid new situations. Sometimes he would get excited and get involved, but he mostly pushed back against us whenever we asked him to do or try new things.

Then, one day in September, Benjamin was supposed to go on a Cub Scouts hiking trip, and backed out at the last minute. Instead we went swimming at Jane and Ed's, and while we were there, Benjamin tossed a toy tug boat at my cousin's husband's head. I was livid. Mostly embarrassed by his behavior, but also worried about what was happening inside of him that he was reacting to.

At back-to-school night, I let Benjamin's teacher know about some of the difficulties he'd had the prior year, and she let me know that she had already noticed he needed a lot of prompting and redirecting to get his schoolwork done.

Shortly after that, I had my colleague give Benjamin an IQ test, to rule out the "gifted" hypothesis. She gave me the results a few days later. His IQ test came back in the "average" range, but she said she didn't think it was representative of his actual IQ. He had done incredibly poorly on tests that required attention. She said, "Have you considered a diagnosis of ADHD?" Oddly, I hadn't considered that diagnosis, but as soon as she said it, all the pieces clicked and fell into place. His difficulty getting started on his work, the pushback when we ask him to do the work he knows how to do easily, and some of the impulsive behavior we had seen- all symptoms of ADHD.

Naturally, I right away got upset with myself, and blamed myself for the diagnosis. It was because Benjamin had to share my uterus, because maybe he didn't get enough nutrition in utero. What was wrong with me that I hadn't been aware of this earlier, and has he now suffered irreparable damage to his self-esteem? In need of comfort, I called my mom who said, in her usual comforting manner, "This is about Benjamin, not about you. Stop the pity party."

Right away I began the process of a full evaluation at the elementary school. Within days, the school counselor had organized a team meeting with Benjamin's teacher, the speech therapist, the head of the achievement team, and the school psychologist. Everyone was engaged and knowledgable, and we moved forward with a full evaluation. Benjamin's teacher had already implemented many things in the classroom and continued to do them to help him manage his time and to help him socialize with classmates.

In the meantime, I had been taking Benjamin to his own therapist to work on some of his social functioning and frustration. She agreed with a probable ADHD diagnosis, and we began to work on some activities to help Benjamin with mindfulness and attention.

The fall was a very difficult time. Benjamin was often angry- particularly after he had access to a screen for a long period of time. He continued to struggle socially, and seemed unhappy almost all of the time. I began to fear spending time with him, because he could be so unpleasant. He would yell at us to "LEAVE ME ALONE" and stay up in his room to get away. I think we all walked on eggshells around him.

In December, we got the full report from the school, and Benjamin was officially diagnosed with ADHD. At the beginning of January, we met with the team at his school once again to put in place an Individualized Education Plan- for which he qualifies due to his delays in speech.  He is getting twice-weekly speech therapy, and his teacher has made arrangements in the classroom to help keep him focused.  Benjamin is going to therapy every-other-week, and goes to a social skills lunch at school called "lunch bunch" once a week. His teacher reports that he his making friends and having an easier time at school, and has stopped dreading recess. We see mostly improved behavior at home, unless he has access to electronics, which turns him into an angry monster, so we have had to limit his access.

It has been a huge relief to see positive changes in him. I still worry, and we are trying to make sure he has the attention and love he needs to be successful. But the future is hopeful.

The other week, I took Benjamin to therapy and told his therapist that sometimes it is hard to be a mom of a little person. When the boys were babies, it was so easy; all I had to do was feed them, love them, and change diapers. But the bigger kid stuff is hard, and I am worried I'm not doing a good job. Benjamin was playing at the time, but also listening, and he said, "You ARE a good mom!" He gave me a big hug. It made my day. And then we had a lovely evening at home, where Benjamin did his homework without complaint, ate his dinner without complaint, took a shower and got bathed without complaint, and then snuggled next to me in bed while we read books. He was his sweet and loving self, and a joy to be with. Everyday may not be like this, but it gives me hope that we are doing the right things and are on the right track.