Monday, July 16, 2018

Asher at overnight camp

The boy in his bunk

This is out of sequence- we took Asher to overnight camp 10 days after we returned from our trip to France- but I wanted to write about the experience before he comes home.

Asher asked to go to overnight camp around January, I think. Prior to him asking, I had been sure that it wasn't going to happen in our family. I didn't really like overnight camp as a child; my first experience was 4 nights at a girl scout camp in Texas, and I had hated every single minute of it (cold showers, bugs, dirty mattresses, terrible food, incessant homesickness). Eric had never gone. But in the area where we live, it is pretty common for kids over 8 to go away for at least three weeks, and I had simply been burying my head in the sand. So Asher asked, and I asked if he would prefer a Jewish overnight camp, or a non-religious one. He said a Jewish camp, and so it was a done deal- we would find a way to make it happen.

I was anxious for days before Asher's departure, and didn't sleep much in the nights leading up to it. There was such extensive preparation, with buying things and labeling things and sorting things and packing things. Finally we were ready to go, and on June 27, I drove Asher up, along with family friends whose daughter was also attending. I thought I would certainly cry, and just wanted to hold it together so that he wouldn't see me.

We arrived, and after a temperature check and a lice check for him, we proceeded to his cabin and unpacked his belongings. While I was unpacking he ran outside and started to play Gaga with some of his bunkmates and counselors, and I had to pull him back in to show him where I had stored all of his belongings. He was eager to return to playing, and gave me a really quick hug and kiss goodbye, and that was it- he wasn't sad at all. His comfort at being left with friends helped me feel comfortable in walking away.

The first week wasn't bad. After leaving Asher at camp, I had a full day of work and then Eric and I flew out to California. We came home and it was the July 4 holiday, and time raced by. But he's now been gone almost 3 weeks, and I miss him painfully.

Our whole family seems off-balance. Charlotte and Benjamin don't get along too well. She tries to boss him around, and he is moody and tries to tattle on her whenever he can. He is suffering from insomnia and won't stay in bed at bedtime, getting up with a rotating list of complaints (I'm afraid of the dark, the air conditioner wakes me up, I am itchy, etc.). Everything seems to be a little low-energy. I went to Trader Joe's yesterday, and had a powerful pang of missing him. Benjamin wrote him a letter and said, "Dear Asher, you must miss me, since I really miss you." and drew a picture of himself parachuting into Asher's cabin to join him at camp.

I write him about every-other-day, and we have received one letter in return, 2 weeks ago. It was 3 sentences long. He said: Camp is amazing, I swim in the lake, I like woodworking, and I am trying new foods. We haven't heard anything else! I am hoping that it means he is so busy having fun with his friends that he doesn't have time to write. We can see pictures online and he seems occupied and happy.

The countdown is on- less than a week until he returns. I dreamed about him last night, I am missing him so much. For his homecoming Charlotte wants to decorate the house, and I want to bake him a big cake. And of course, smother him with hugs and kisses. This separation has been difficult on our end, and I am very eager to hear what it was like for him.

Charlotte's pre-k graduation

The graduate and her teachers
On June 6, Charlotte graduated from pre-k for the 2nd and last time. She was in a kindergarten curriculum this year, and is more than prepared for public school kindergarten in the fall. She is full-on reading and is very proud of her abilities.

Her graduation ceremony was short and sweet. Unlike last year, where she clammed up and said nothing, she did all of her parts loudly and proudly.
Walking into preschool for the last time 
The graduates assembled on the stage
Between two of her friends
Accepting her diploma
Taking a bow
 Charlotte was excited and eager to reach the big day, and was happy up until I told her it was time to go, and it appeared to sink in that she wouldn't be seeing everyone again the next day. Once again she was in a class full of good friends, and everyone seemed to love each other (and everyone seemed to especially love Charlotte). When we started to leave, she began to cry, and cried all the way home. I am happy that all of our children had such a warm and loving experience at their preschool, and it is hard to believe that our 6 years there are now over.  From her graduation, we left immediately for our next adventure- 10 days in France.

Monday, July 9, 2018

June 2018

The family in France

I am so overdue on so many posts. June was a wild month.  Our main events were:

  • Charlotte's graduation from preschool 
  • 10 days in France and the wildest wedding we ever attended
  • Asher's departure for 3.5 weeks at overnight
  • My trip to California with Eric 
I will go through these things 1 by 1, but I wanted to let anyone who reads this blog know that I am not in fact dead, but simply busy.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

6th Broad Street Run + Healthy Kids Running Series

Waiting for the subway
The beginning of May brought us to our big races- the Broad Street Run for me (and this year Eric) and the kids' racing series. 

This year, Eric decided to train for, and run, Broad Street. I won't say that he ran with me, because although he started his training unsure of how he would do, his pace quickly picked up, until I was toooo sloooow for him, and he had to run it by himself.

The weather this year was good for running- cloudy and not too hot. My running partner from last year, Lori, was sick all winter and so deferred her registration. My other running partner, Alex, moved to a different part of the city and so we planned to meet up at the start of the race. Unfortunately, they changed some of the entrances around where we had decided to meet, and so I couldn't find her before the start. I got ready to run all by myself, with my old play list. Then, one mile into the race, I was able to get cell service again, and got through to her. She was about one minute behind me, so I jumped out of the race on to the curb and waited for her to catch up. At that point, whatever pace I might have had for the race was blown, so Alex and I decided to take it easy and just enjoy ourselves. We kept a slow, easy pace and talked the whole way. Around Mile 8 my friend Dan was dj'ing on the corner so I ran over and said hello to him. I didn't come close to wishing I hadn't entered the race until Mile 9, so that's not bad at all!
With DJ Jersey Dan
The last mile was hard, which it always is, but as soon as the race was over I felt fine- no aches or soreness. Eric's knee started giving him trouble around Mile 8, he said, so he was limping and in pain.
With Alex- our 4th year in a row together
Eric hasn't been running much since, and he is going to do some PT before he really runs again. I am ok with this because I don't know that I want us both running all these races- I kind of like it when his thing is cycling and my thing is running. It gives me a way to spend time by myself, or with my friends. But he certainly isn't forbidden from participating- it is a fun race, and I could see why he might want to do it again and again!

On to the kids- Charlotte and Asher competed again in the Healthy Kids Running Series. Charlotte ran the 4 & 5 year old's 75-yard dash, and Asher ran the 1/2 mile. Charlotte was again determined to get a trophy. In the first race, she let her nerves get the best of her, and ended up coming in fairly far back in the pack. After that, she gained confidence and placed in each race after that, ultimately getting 2nd place overall. Her sportsmanship was much better- although she cried at the end of some of her races, she never stopped trying her best or running her fastest. I told her that in the fall she has to run the 1/4 mile, and the next day she went out running with me and ran .6 miles! She is already taking it seriously.
Proud girl with her trophy
Asher's season wasn't as spectacular- he ran hard every race, but over the course of the season, his times got slower and slower. He says he wants to return again for the fall, and hopefully we can all get out and work on our running, because he is naturally a fast and graceful runner, and I think he can run faster than he did this spring.
In our final week, Benjamin decided he wanted to come and watch the races. While the officials tally up the points to determine winners, the parents are invited to run a mile, which I did. Benjamin wanted to run some of the mile with me, and he did- he ran about half a mile at a good speed! He felt strong and confident, and said that he thinks he would like to compete in the fall. Again I am thrilled at the change in his personality and confidence, and I told him I would love to have him join us. 

No one had their best running season this spring, but we all worked hard and enjoyed our runs. It always feels good to push yourself a little bit. Missed goals just mean you work harder the next time around.

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.