Monday, July 17, 2017

California 2017: SoCal

Watching the sunrise over the planes 
We are back from our first airplane trip as a family of 5- and the boys' first time ever on an airplane.  We decided months ago that we would attend my cousin Erica's wedding in California (excellent decision), and told the kids they could come. Erica made plans to include the kids in her wedding, and they were thrilled- they had never been to a wedding, either.

On Monday, July 3, we woke up at 4 am and took a taxi to the airport in the dark.  The kids were talking as if they had never been outside of the house before ("What is a motel?"), and were so excited.  We had a connection in Chicago, thinking we would get out and stretch our legs.  Fortunately everything went smoothly, but we probably didn't need the connection. The kids were all great on the plane, with the exception of their use of chewing gum.  Benjamin took his gum and stuck it on the seat, and Charlotte let hers fall out of her mouth and then sat in it.
With our friends in Santa Monica
We arrived in Orange County around lunch time (California time), and got our rental car. I had gotten in touch with a friend of mine from high school who lives in Santa Monica, and we drove to meet her, her husband, and their daughter for lunch. I hadn't seen her since her wedding in 2001!  She is also a clinical psychologist, so we had a lot to catch up on.  The weather in Santa Monica was absolutely gorgeous: sunny without a cloud in the sky and warm but not hot.  I can see why people pay a fortune of money to live there.  We had a very California lunch, and then went to the beach.
Santa Monica Pier
Smile! It's our 11th anniversary!
Around 5 we headed back to the car and drove back to Anaheim. We stayed at a Marriott Courtyard close to the Disneyland entrance and it had its own little waterpark.  The kids loved it, and it was perfect for our family and our trip. The room had 2 queens and bunk beds and we all slept like rocks. That first evening, Eric and the kids went to the waterpark and I ran to Walmart for groceries.  We had a little dinner in the room and fell into bed.

We were still mostly on East Coast time in the morning and awake before 6 am.  I went out for a jog (I am much faster in cool, less humid air and on streets that are completely flat) and then we got ready to go to Legoland. Since it was the 4th of July, we thought we would stay for the fireworks at 8:30, but who were we kidding- it was hot and we were exhausted.
Welcome to Legoland!

Legoland was fun; we rode the rides, went into the waterpark, and spent many minutes in the gift shop deciding what souvenirs to get.  We were all exhausted by about 4 pm so decided to just call it a day, and went back to the hotel to enjoy the waterpark there. I got to see a bunch of fireworks from our hotel room, and we were all asleep by 9.



For our first day at Disneyland, we went to Disney California Adventure. Top of our list was Guardians of the Galaxy, which is just a fancy new name for "Tower of Terror."  The height minimum was 40", and Charlotte is now 42", so it seemed like a great idea to take her on it.  Ha! She screamed, and screamed, and yelled, "When is this going to end?!? Get me outta here!" When we walked off the ride she was hysterical, crying that she hated it. She spent the rest of the day saying things like, "I don't think anyone should go on Guardians of the Galaxy, ever. That ride is a terrible nightmare!" Aside from that disaster, we had a great time. Asher and I rode the California Screamin' rollercoaster 2 times, we saw a great performance of Frozen, and went as a family on the Radiator Springs Racers. Benjamin was cautious and didn't want any rides that went too fast or who were too scary. Asher, on the other hand, thought the scarier the better.
Charlotte can't even look at the sign, she is so scared
Radiator Springs
Lightning McQueen
We left the park around 4 to go back to our hotel- the kids were just as excited about the water slides at our hotel as they were about Disneyland!
The boys in Radiator Springs
The ferris wheel- everyone enjoyed it, no one was scared
On Thursday the 6th, we went to Disneyland's main park. I took Charlotte and Asher on Space Mountain (Charlotte didn't love it; Asher did). We crammed in several rides in the first hour and a half the park was open, before the crowds got heavy and the sun got too hot. As a cost-cutting measure, we ate breakfast in our hotel, and I packed sandwiches for our lunches. Asher did complain that we ate a lot of sandwiches on vacation, but I had to cut a corner somewhere!  We did get treats in the afternoons.


Eric wanted a picture with the stick-guy behind him but didn't want to wait in line

Charlotte is speechless at meeting Minnie

Overjoyed to be with Minne

Outside Space Mountain

Charlotte is screaming in fear on Space Mountain

Despite those muscles, Asher was unable to remove the sword from the stone

Lunchtime indulgence: gigantic turkey leg
Meeting Moana


Benjamin adores Tigger
That day, Eric took Charlotte and Benjamin for a nap, and Asher and I went on Splash Mountain. After our ride, we caught the 4:30 parade, and then I made Asher go back and take a nap, too. That night we attended the nighttime Electric Parade, and the fireworks that followed.  I must still be a child at heart, because I love all that stuff, and I couldn't get enough of it.  The kids seemed to like it, too.

There is more to say, but I want to get this posted, and then I will get to work on Part 2 of our trip: Northern California and the wedding.

Monday, June 26, 2017

End of school/Las Vegas

Since I last posted, all three kids finished their years at school, summer vacation began, and I took a trip to Las Vegas for a conference.

Charlotte was the first to finish school.  She finished pre-k, although she will now have to do 2 years of kindergarten since she is a December birthday. Her teacher, Miss Tammy, organized a lovely graduation ceremony that started with the kids bringing roses to their parents.  Charlotte hammed it up through all of the songs and performances, but clammed up when it was time for her to get her diploma.

She had a really amazing year this year; she made friends with everyone in her class and was happy to go to school everyday.  She is ready to read and loves to learn.  I feel so fortunate that we have a preschool where our kids get such good care and learn in a warm, loving environment.
Charlotte with her 3 teachers
 Charlotte saw many of her classmates getting flowers and gifts and got upset that I hadn't gotten her anything (what can I say? I didn't even think about it). So after her graduation lunch, I brought her home for a nap and went out for a walk with a friend. We walked up to the shopping area nearby and I picked out a necklace for her. I wrapped it and tied it with a bow and gave it to her when she woke up.
Opening her gift
I was so excited- the necklace had a rose quartz heart and some fake diamonds- it was sparkly enough to be appealing to Charlotte but tasteful enough that she could wear it for years to come.  She opened the package... and started to cry. She was disappointed that the present wasn't "big" enough. I picked up the necklace and said I would hold on to it until she was ready to enjoy it- which turned out to be the next day.
Friday night at Chanticleer
 On June 10, Alex's Original Lemonade Stand was across the street.  The kids all look forward to it all year long, and this year the boys volunteered to serve lemonade with their friends. They both seemed excited about it, but when the day of the lemonade stand arrived, this is what we got:
look closely at Benjamin's face
 After all of the anticipation, Benjamin couldn't stick it out- he complained that he was bored while serving lemonade, then didn't want to play any of the games, then decided he had to eat lunch at exactly the time they did their choreographed dance which he had practiced at least 10 times.
Asher ready to serve with his friends Jonathan (left side of the photo) and Luca (right side of the photo)
 The rest of the family thoroughly enjoyed the lemonade stand and all its lemonade, games, crafts, and friends.

Then the boys started their final week at school.  I was a room parent for Benjamin's class and helped plan an end-of-year party for his class and teacher. It was a steaming hot day and we were wilting in the sun, but the kids had a great time. I had very mixed feelings about his teacher this year- I had heard she was one of the best, but Benjamin had some struggles with her, and she seemed more focused on his shortcomings than on his achievements at some points.  On the other hand, Benjamin's reading skills increased, his writing is impressive, and he did seem to make some good friends (and some undesirable friends, too- he has an affinity for those).
Benjamin's class
Asher had a better year- he and his teacher were a perfect fit, and the kids in his class were all sweet and easy.  Asher's reading level went up to a Level M, which is amazing given that he was around a level H at our March conferences.  He has since started picking up chapter books and reading them all the way through, a huge change from my begging him to read me just a few pages.

 Then, like the good mom that I am, I took off mid-week to go to a conference in Las Vegas, letting the kids finish the week with only one parent.  I went to the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists with my friend Molly. We have never traveled together, and it turned out that we were well-matched companions. Neither one of us gambles, neither one of us is a big drinker, and we both like to go to bed early.  Neither one of us slept that well, but that is ok, too.
At the pool
Aside from attending the conference events, we spent many hours at the pool. We enjoyed a fancy dinner at the steakhouse at the Mirage, and then I had the brilliant idea to walk 1.5 miles across Vegas at night (it is still 90 degrees at 9 pm, in case you wondered). We both had blistered feet and were hot and sweaty.  Next time- Uber.
At dinner
Saturday night we got tickets to see Magic Mike Live at the Hard Rock Hotel. I was prepared for it to be sleazy and cheesy, but it was actually a great show with professional actors/dancers. It was amazing! I would go again. In fact, anyone want to go to Vegas?
Put 3 sex therapists/educators in front of this restaurant and there is no shortage of jokes 
At home, Eric got to deal with Asher coming down with strep throat and missing all the birthday parties he was supposed to attend, and taking all 3 kids to Diggerland on Father's Day.

Worst of all, Eric's Aunt Annette passed away suddenly, and he went to Maine for her funeral. She was a kind and generous woman, who I always thought had a great sense of humor. She will be missed by everyone.
Benjamin with Aunt Annette, Christmas 2010
After the end of school and my travel, our summer adventures are just beginning. There is more to come!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day Weekend 2017

Memorial Day weekend had all the makings of a wonderful holiday weekend. But sometimes reality doesn't live up to expectation.

It was my 15 year college reunion. In some ways, this was tough to swallow, because surely it can't have been that long since I was in college.  I drove up to Rhode Island on Friday via New York City, where I picked up my friend Amanda.  Amanda and I met the first month of our freshman year and have been friends ever since.  We have traveled together, know each other's families, attended each other's weddings, and have rushed to meet each other's children after their births.  So no matter what happened at the reunion, it was wonderful to have that time with an old friend.

Although it was warm and sunny in Philadelphia, by the time we reached Rhode Island it was cold and raining.  We tried to make the most of it, but overall, between the bad weather and the fact that most of our close college friends weren't at reunion, the night was a little bit of a let-down.
Where we spent much of our extracurricular time in college
Ready for our big night out
Friday night ended with Amanda passed out in one bed, and me waiting for a pizza to get delivered while watching Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  And then me eating the pizza the second it arrived and burning the roof of my mouth!

Saturday morning, Amanda rushed back to NYC because her baby had been sick- I was quite impressed by how well she tolerated being away from him overnight when he was sick for the first time in his short life. After she left, I went for a jog around Providence, running past many of the places I used to live and spend time. Being at Brown was one of the happiest times in my life; I truly had an ideal college experience, where I balanced the freedom of being young and unencumbered with growing independence.  I ran past the hotel where we used to put up the bands that played our summer concerts; past the pizza place where we ordered pizza at 1 am; through the park I ran through with my friend and roommate where she used to challenge me to "feel the burn!" as I tried to follow her uphill; past the house where I lived with 5 friends my senior year; past the building where I sat in a sociology class on the morning of September 11, 2001; past the Main Green of the campus where I spent warm afternoons "studying" on a blanket; past the mall where I shopped with my friends on weekends and spent hours drinking mochas from Nordstrom as we talked; past the hotel where I stayed with my college boyfriend the weekend of his graduation; past the bar where I did tequila shots and flirted with men I didn't know; past the Civic Center where I saw the Foo Fighters open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2000.  The memories of that time are vivid, and I am grateful for every minute of my time there.

After my run, I showered and went to the airport to pick up my sister, who was flying in just to drive down to Philadelphia with me.  The weather had cleared up, and so we went to Newport, and decided to have lunch outside at Castle Hill, where Eric and I got married almost 11 years ago.  We shared delicious food and a cocktail while we sat outside in the sun and watched boats sail through the bay.
Elana at our grown up lunch
a panoramic view from the site where Eric and I said our vows
We then walked off some of our lunch with a walk along the Cliff Walk, looking at the ocean on one side and the historic Newport mansions on the other.  Then I got anxious to get in the car and come home, because it had been too long since I had seen my babies.

On Sunday, the day began quietly, with a leisurely breakfast on the patio, our inaugural trip to the pool at the JCC, and naps for the kids.  Eric's parents had to come to visit while I was away at reunion, and Pat and I went out to buy some groceries while the kids rode their bikes in the parking lot at the school.

This is where the day took a turn for the worse- after Pat and I got back from errands, we found out that Asher had hurt himself while riding his bike.  I won't go into details of the injury, but I was worried. Pat assured me he was fine, but he was clearly in pain, and I didn't like the look of the injury, so at 8 o'clock I called the on-call doctor from the pediatrician's office.  After 2 hours of back and forth with the pediatrician, texting him photos of the injury, his consulting with a specialist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and a phone call with the specialist, the specialist requested that I bring Asher in to be seen.  So at 10:30 at night, Eric woke up Asher and we got in the car.  My mom offered to come with me, and although I was ready to go without her, Asher asked that she come. The 3 of us drove into the city in the pouring rain, and Asher was astonished that people were still out and about so late at night.

We were given excellent treatment at CHOP- we arrived at 11 pm and were walking out by 12:10 am.  Fortunately for us, Asher's injury was deemed insignificant and no intervention was needed, and all the medical professionals came right in and were cheerful and helpful. Asher was brave as could be, but I am still feeling some traumatic effects from the evening. It is a huge hospital, and I couldn't stop thinking of all of the truly sick children in there.  And it was still difficult to see my little guy on the hospital bed, both a brave young man and a scared child with his stuffed animal.  He was nervous about needing stitches, but he kept his sense of humor and talked with my mom and me all night (although with decreasing coherency). I love him so much, and have been especially affectionate with him since his injury and our trip to the hospital.  I don't know how parents survive worse; this was nothing but taxed me emotionally.  Asher seems completely fine, and says his injury doesn't even hurt today.

Today was also a quiet day. We had lunch at our friends' house, and the kids all played together so nicely that the adults could just sit around and talk. And then we hosted more friends at our place in the evening.  After getting the kids in bed, I tried to catch up on chores before I go in to work tomorrow.

It certainly doesn't feel like the beginning of summer, what with our 60 degree and rainy weather, and it was hard to feel like our busy and exhausting weekend was restful.  Better luck next year, I guess!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Asher: 7 years old

Running the 1-miler for his school
He's only been 7 for a month and a half, I'm not THAT late!

Asher is a typical first-born, even if he only beat Benjamin into the world by 12 minutes.  He is mature, helpful, and bossy.  He is an excellent big brother, who wants to take care of his siblings.  He is a conscientious student and hopefully a good friend!
Being a good big brother to his little sister
In the past year, I have really enjoyed my time with Asher as a friend.  We have a lot of interests in common- running, amusement park rides, walks, shopping, and talking.  He always jumps up to go with me on whatever adventure I might be heading out on. He has a never-ending curiosity about the world and how it works; on our walks, we have talked about marriage and divorce, mortgages, insurance, and how to save money.  I adore his sense of humor. Like me, he can find something so silly so funny, and fall to pieces laughing. His laugh is infectious, and I can't help but join in.  I think Eric gets annoyed with us when we get carried away (often at bedtime, which is when I tend to get hysterically laughing myself) because he thinks I'm winding Asher up.  Maybe I am.

He has continued to run, and takes his running series races very seriously.  Together we ran the 1-miler for his school, and just this week he rain the nature trail at Haverford College with me- 2.2 miles. I cannot tell you how much joy it gave me to run with him- he keeps a good pace, and we were talking the whole way.  I am in disbelief at how quickly he has grown from a baby into a friend, a person who I truly enjoy spending time with (and not just because he is my son).  He is so strong and determined, and I am so proud.

After the run, we stopped at Trader Joe's, and he picked out a bouquet of flowers for me, because he had given me a coupon for flowers for Mother's Day.  I loved that he remembered and wanted to follow through. Then, on our way home from the run, we were talking about whether he likes or loves school- he says he likes it, but doesn't love it. He said he would love it if he had more time spent playing and less time spent "learning." I acknowledged that was a fair point. I asked him if he liked or loved running, and he said he loved it.  It does thrill me that we share that love together.
Before the 1 mile race
Running his 1/4 mile race at the Running Series
Asher and I also share a love of amusement park rides.  We went to the local church "fun fair," and he accompanied me on the Ferris Wheel and then a ride that was like hang-gliding.  Eric hates rides, and Benjamin and Charlotte are still scared of them, so it is just the two of us getting our adrenaline fix.  Now that he is over 48", the amusement world is his oyster!
On the Ferris Wheel
Asher has been a fairly diligent student this year.  He seems more preoccupied with following the rules and being social than with academics, but his work is consistent and he is careful with it.  I have had to encourage him to read, but his abilities have grown by leaps and bounds in the past few months.  I bribed him with a book from the Scholastic order from his school and he read every night for a week.  He seems quite competent at math and has no trouble doing his work.

Asher's social skills are quite impressive for a young boy.  He is charming and polite.  Every time he has a play date, the parents report that he is excellent company. One parent said, "Asher is my next husband!" He isn't always charming and polite to his parents, but he knows how to work his charms outside the home.  It is hard to believe that our toddler who received speech therapy is now so articulate.
Asher practicing his meditation at our hotel in DC
His likes and dislikes- he continues to be extremely picky with food.  Over the course of the past year, he has had a few sessions with a psychologist to help him with his fruit phobia- after sitting alone at lunch at camp all summer, I was worried he'd be isolated at school.  He learned some cognitive-behavioral techniques that seemed helpful, and the school year started fine, but in November, a classmate showed Asher a mushy apple at lunchtime and Asher threw up in the cafeteria.  We went back to his therapist for a refresher and he seemed better, but he will still avoid being at the table when we eat fruit at home, and recently lost his mind over a grocery store croissant, so I would say food is still an issue.  He still loves his carbs- bread, cereal, crackers, pretzels, waffles, and desserts- but he eats a variety of non-fruit items as well.  He likes proteins like chicken, turkey, and some beef, and he eats almost every vegetable I cook (although he doesn't like salad). He likes hummus, and has gone back to eating the occasional Polly-O string cheese.  For dinner I make one entree and that is their only option, so he has eaten and enjoyed tofu, vegetarian curry, and various other adventurous foods.  The doctor didn't seem concerned given his consistent growth and overall good health.

Asher likes playing on the iPad, watching TV, and playing outside. He loves to have play dates with friends, and I always encourage him to have friends over after school on the afternoons I am home. He likes to explore new places, and I allow him and Benjamin to roam free while we are at the park.  It makes me a little nervous, but I remember doing it as a child, and the memories of the imaginary worlds I created with my friends are still strong all these years later.
I was suddenly in the mood for squid for dinner...
I do feel, if it wasn't already apparent, that Asher and I have more in common than I do with Benjamin and Charlotte- at least at this point in time.  This doesn't mean that he is my "favorite," because I am passionate about all three of them.  It is just a recognition that their personalities are all different, and at this point, Asher and I are more similar.  This has changed over time- I remember when Charlotte was a newborn I felt that we were in some way almost divinely connected- and I am sure it will continue to change.  But if my description of Asher appears more detailed or of a different quality than my description of Benjamin, that is why.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

7 year well visit

The boys had their well visit a week ago.  Good news- they are well!  Again, we are so fortunate that both boys are continuing to grow and thrive, with no major health concerns.

Asher's measurements:
48" tall (47.9%) (+2.25" from last year)
54 lbs (63.7%) (+6.2 lbs from last year)

Benjamin's measurements:
46.75" tall (26.1%) (+2.25" from last year)
49.6 lbs (41.3%) (+4.8 lbs from last year)

I got those percentiles from the CDC, so the ones the doctor gave me were slightly different, but that is the idea. It is surprising to me every year that their weight percentiles are higher than their height percentiles, because they are some of the skinniest kids we know.  Regardless, they seem to be in excellent health and are growing steadily.

Both boys' vision and hearing checked out fine.  The doctor's only concern was Benjamin's speech- although we are very accustomed to his mispronunciations, they must have stuck out to her.  She suggested we get him evaluated at school and see if he qualifies for therapy there.

I asked about Benjamin's tonsils, because he had strep twice this winter and the other two didn't get it at all (and neither did I!). She said the strep isn't frequent enough to warrant removing his tonsils, and that they looked fine when she examined him.

Other than that, she said we are lucky in our good health, and even though she loves to see us, she is glad we aren't there more often.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Benjamin: 7 years old

One super cool cutie (and Eric isn't so bad, either)
A post to celebrate Benjamin's 7th birthday.  Over this past year, I do think I have watched the boys' personalities emerge even more.  Benjamin is smart as can be. He can do his homework in 30 seconds, and remembers things I didn't know he'd even heard.  He loves to read (he came home from school today and told me he had forgotten to eat his snack because he had his nose "buried in a book"). Now that he is such a competent reader, he says he doesn't want to be read to anymore.  I miss our moments of sitting together, engaged in a book we both love.

While before I have always described Benjamin as easy-going, he has hit more obstacles this year. His first grade class isn't the same amazing group that he had in kindergarten, and while we had heard that his teacher is one of the best, she seems somewhat lackluster.  The year started with mixed reports- Benjamin hated school, hated homework, and had no friends (his reports); and that he was having trouble sitting still and paying attention (his teacher's reports).  At our most recent conference, we were told that he has matured over the year, and is better at paying attention, but he still doesn't love school the way that I wish he would.  He says he is "bored," and I do wonder if he finds the slow pace of his class frustrating. We decided that we will get him tested to see if he qualifies for the gifted & talented program.  Socially he doesn't seem as adept as his brother, or some other 1st graders.  It all seems age-appropriate, but his social skills are not as advanced as his academic skills.
Benjamin doing his 2 lines in the 1st grade musical.
Benjamin loves to draw and write.  I think he is a pretty good artist, and love what he comes up with while he is just hanging out (it usually involves a dragon and a battle of some kind).  He has written some pretty funny notes to us, especially when he is forced into quiet time in the afternoon while Asher naps.
Benjamin's hostage note
Practicing writing some of the new words he is learning at school
He is still my most adventurous eater, and will try sophisticated foods with more frequency than his siblings, but he occasionally will decide that he just doesn't like something before he even tries it.  His favorite food is probably Japanese- he likes cucumber sushi and yaki udon with chicken and vegetables.  He likes meat over vegetables, and fruit over vegetables, and is always happy to eat pasta.
Benjamin with Blankie as a hat. He is like an orangutan with his blanket.
Benjamin likes to play with Legos, but not so much to build them. He likes to collect Pokemon cards, but is known to make many a poor trade and he seems to get swindled often. He still has a particular attachment to his blue blanket (Blankie), which is now almost gray. Unlike his brother and sister, he is not competitive.  Of the three, his most likely to be on his own, whether it is reading or playing on the iPad.  He loves the iPad, and it is a constant battle to keep him off of it and engaged with the rest of life. When presented with the option to go somewhere or do something, he will ask to stay home, in the hopes of spending more time on the iPad. Eric is more inclined to let him play on it than I am, but I often lose track of who is where and doing what, so it happens under my watch all the time, too.

Benjamin does seem to have some anxiety around strange/new situations.  After one visit to the planetarium (where he declared it "too loud"), he would panic anytime we would talk about going back. The planetarium is really not that loud, but it seemed like he was somewhat troubled by the existential concepts presented. There have been other situations where he begins to panic and doesn't want to try something new, but often enjoys himself once he gives it a try.

Benjamin is often the odd one out among the siblings- Asher and Charlotte are more likely to play and engage with each other than they are with him. Most of the time this doesn't seem to bother him, but occasionally Charlotte will push him away or be hurtful, and then he comes to me with tears in his eyes. Although he often seems unaffected by what goes on around him, he does seem to be a sensitive person, and is more aware than I usually give him credit for.
After his haircut at the barber shop. I can't get his hair to look nearly as nice. 
I love him like crazy- he still has the sweetest little face, and sometimes, when he frowns a certain way, I can see him exactly as he was as a newborn. I am thrilled and astonished by how bright he is, even if it means we have conversations I'm not ready to have, or I have to shush him when he tries to tell Asher what "the F word" is (Asher said, "is it fart? It's fart, right?").  He still climbs into bed with us in the morning to be snuggled and kissed. Despite the growth and the changes and the new complications 1st grade has brought, he is still my sweet and lovable boy.