Thursday, December 28, 2017

Happy Hanukkah!

Winter has arrived. Although I am Jewish, I am only too happy to celebrate the holiday season in any way possible.  As soon as Thanksgiving is over, I start my holiday shopping, wrapping, and baking. I have been watching as many cheesy Christmas movies as I can on Netflix (Ooh they are trite but so pleasurable...). I am playing Christmas music on Pandora and in the car, and Eric can't understand how a Jew can be so into Christmas, but I am.

I don't even mind that it has snowed 3 times in 1 week. We are maximizing our winter fun with sledding, ice skating, hot cocoa, and outdoor play.  In between all of our outdoor activities, I have managed to order, address and send all our holiday cards; visit Asher's class to make holiday cards for the homeless; visit Benjamin's class to talk about Hanukkah; wrap every gift I purchased; bake 3 kinds of cookies, 1 cake, and banana bread; and eat latkes 3 nights in a row. Whew!
Sledding with my boys
Snow angel
The snowflakes were picture-perfect
Charlotte eating snow
After Snow #1 we went to our friends' house for dinner. While the lasagna was baking, we sent the kids outside to play in the snow, and they played for an entire hour!

The following day we took the kids to see the Christmas trains at the Morris Arboretum. I think I was he most interested of anyone- they had miniatures of famous Philadelphia buildings, and after the storm, they were covered in snow and looked perfectly picturesque.
Charlotte looking at the trains
The following weekend, after I organized and ran the bake sale at Charlotte's school on Friday, we had latkes and dinner with my parents and aunt and uncle and exchanged gifts. Then, on Saturday, we took the kids into the city to visit the Christmas village and go ice skating.  We ate all kinds of warm and gooey carbs in the village to prepare for the work of ice skating.

Charlotte has City Hall spouting out her head

Glass ornaments at the ornament stall
Eric was quite skeptical about ice skating, but the kids were all excited.  Benjamin took right to it and started skate-stomping around the rink. He was brave, and proud of himself.  It was wonderful to see him feeling confident, since he has seemed more quiet in the past year or so.  Eric and I have good balance, but we were pretty sore the following day!
Charlotte is mad that I wouldn't pay $10 for penguin she could push around the rink
At City Hall
We drove home from skating to meet our friends at the bowling alley. Charlotte used the guide ramp, but bowled over 100, all by herself! Charlotte had wanted bowling with friends as a little pre-birthday celebration, since her party won't be for another few weeks.  After bowling we had dinner at our friends' house, and the kids exchanged gifts after we lit the menorah.
Happy Hanukkah!
On Sunday we had one more party to attend- the cantor at our synagogue lives nearby and his daughter is in class with Asher; he invited us to a Hanukkah party at his house.  As we were getting ready to go, Santa came down the street on a fire truck, handing out candy canes. We have lived on this street for 11 years and this was the first time we actually got to see him! Our neighbors were with us, exchanging cards and holiday goodies.
The packed full weekend led into a short and busy pre-holiday week, which I will have to write about in other posts- both Charlotte's 5th birthday and Christmas. 

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Thanksgiving weekend 2017

We had a lovely Thanksgiving weekend, where we enjoyed the usual traditions- family and food.

Charlotte in her cultural appropriation gear from school
5 mile Turkey Trot: our annual tradition 
end of the trot, with the Mann Music Center in the background

 Thursday evening:
cousins, and nuts and pie in the foreground
the ladies
selfie by the fire
The men's side
Beginning our game of Taboo. My mom couldn't even talk when it was her turn.
Benjamin on our hike 
Late fall in the woods
We spent as much time as we could with family- my sister, cousins from Massachusetts and DC. We stayed out of the stores and went outside instead.  

We found time to relax as well as play.

Asher told Thanksgiving jokes at the table, and we remembered the things for which we are thankful.

In my annual ritual of gratitude, I am thankful for:

My three perfectly healthy children and their helpful and loving father. They continue to bring me joy each day. I miss them when I'm at work and still can't give them enough hugs and kisses in day.

My own good health- that I wake up each morning with no aches and pains, ready to take on the day.

Our warm, welcoming, messy home. I love that we bring in friends all the time, and that our house is a place for gathering and fun.

My parents, Eric's parents, and my aunt Jane and uncle Ed, who love our kids and spoil them rotten. Our kids can't doubt that they are loved.

Our good jobs, which continue to enable us to live a comfortable and easy life. We have a roof over our heads, cars to drive, and more than enough food to eat. Plus extra for fun!

The wonderful year we had, with the kids' first plane trip and our amazing time in California.

Our refrigerator is still overflowing, and I'm on to wrapping gifts, choosing cookie recipes, and planning Charlotte's birthday.  This is a busy and thrilling time of year!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

2nd grade conferences

Eric and I attended conferences with the boys' teachers on Friday.

First we met with Benjamin's teacher.  We have been in regular contact with her- Benjamin's adjustment to 2nd grade was somewhat better than his adjustment to 1st, but we have come upon several recurring problems: Benjamin's social skills are lacking; Benjamin has trouble paying attention in class; Benjamin's effort in his schoolwork is inconsistent.  The good news is that he is academically ahead of the game- he is on par with, or ahead of, his peers in every area. His reading and writing are excellent, and the teacher thinks he is very bright. His trouble with attention and focus are holding him back. 

We are in the process of having him evaluated by the school psychologist. My guess is that he meets criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD, but we will wait to find out. As much as I hate the idea of "labeling," it will give us some guidelines for how to address the struggles we are having. We're fortunate this year that his teacher is patient, kind, and consistent. She has been hugely supportive as we navigate the process.  I have struggled myself with all of this, wondering what I could have done differently for us to get a different outcome; normalizing what is happening by saying that all 7 year-old boys are kind of like this; minimizing my fears and then moments later exaggerating them (it doesn't take much for me to get to a point where this diagnosis will doom him forever).  The team at school who I met with, which was the counselor, achievement team head, psychologist, and speech and language therapist, all have the same goal: for Benjamin to love school, love learning, and be happy. In the end, that sweet boy is still my son, and I love and adore him, and only want him to be happy.  I am hopeful we are on that path.

Asher's teacher had many wonderful things to say about him: he is a good and quick learner, shows consistent effort in his work, has neat handwriting, and is a good citizen in the class. The only negative he had was that sometimes Asher overshares and doesn't know when to stop talking. I cannot imagine where he gets that trait from...

Asher's teacher also told us that Asher has some excellent leadership qualities and might be a natural leader.  How wonderful to hear! Later Eric says, "Gee, that sure was a nice way to tell us our son is bossy."  Hopefully Asher can use his charm and social prowess to turn "bossy" into "leader."

Overall, I left the conferences feeling elated at how the boys are doing. I am thrilled that they are successful 2nd graders, and love that they still love learning.  I hope it continues for a lifetime.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Fall fun & Halloween 2017

We kept Halloween to 2 weekends + the actual day this year.

First, a trip to DC for Boo at the Zoo- at the National Zoo! And a Sunday trip to Cox Farms with our friends.

We went to DC on a Saturday, and it was quite warm and sunny.  After lunch with my cousin, her husband, and their baby, we drove over to the Lincoln Memorial, which I have actually never visited. I visited the Washington Monument several times as a kid, but never Lincoln. 

I was pleased because the boys know about Lincoln, but they also instantly recognized the steps as the place where Martin Luther King gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. 
On our way into the Memorial
Asher took this picture
Selfie. I am in love with Charlotte's lips
Lincoln, looming
We looked at the Gettysburg Address, and I nobly tried to read it to Charlotte. 1/3 of the way through, I started crying and couldn't finish. The kids were astonished, and couldn't understand why I was crying. I tried to explain that I felt sad about the fact that our country still doesn't see people of color as equal, but I don't think they completely understood. Our visit was quite emotional for me, so I appreciated our moments reflecting by the pool.

We returned to the car, where Eric had parked in a place labeled "no stopping, no standing." We piled in and Eric turned the key. And, nothing. Eric had been sitting with the lights on and the air conditioning running but the engine off! We called AAA and the kids and I hopped in an Uber to meet our friends. It was a frenzied few minutes, but we got it together and enjoyed the rest of the night.
Our 5 kids at the zoo. Not a single picture with all 5 looking at the camera
Charlotte and a big, bad wolf
Boo at the Zoo in DC was a great time. They gave out tons of candy, and there were some creative costumes. We didn't get to see the pandas, but if you are a follower on this blog, that is par for the course for me there.

On Sunday, another warm and sunny day, we went to Cox Farms. We are old pros now, and maximized our time there.
Hay ride. Benjamin wouldn't go because there is a fake UFO and he is currently afraid of aliens
 We went on the hay ride, did the corn maze, saw the animals, ate ourselves sick on kettle corn (or maybe that was just me?), and ate apples.

The photo for their album cover
 Eric and I were hot and exhausted after our trip to Cox Farms, and we were so hopeful that the kids would fall asleep on the way home. Instead they stayed awake while we worked our way through 4 hours of traffic.

This past weekend I boldly took 3 kids to Sesame Place on a sunny Saturday. After running 10 miles in the morning. I knew I was crazy to do it, but our season passes end at the end of the year, and I wanted to get every ounce of fun out of them. It really wasn't the best idea- it was a sunny day, with rain predicted on Sunday, and the place was absolutely mobbed. We were hot in the sun, the lines were long, and they weren't giving out as much candy as the last time we went. So we hit up every candy spot, rode the roller coaster 2 times, and went home again.

Guess who was giving me attitude?
Some kind man offered to take this photo
On Sunday night, we had our annual Halloween party at our friends' house. She does a nice job of decorating and we have Halloween-themed food (I made "mummy dogs," which were like pigs in a blanket. Charlotte helped me wrap them, and she was excellent help). We played mummies, and Eric did a thorough job of mummifying Charlotte.
Mummy Charlotte
Finally, Halloween! This year I am a room parent in Asher's class. Also this year, they outlawed food at the school parties. The other room parent and I were tasked with planning a fun, 30 minute, non-food party. We came up with fun things to do, but the kids were all hyped up from their parade and let's face it, Mad Libs is not the same as a cupcake.
Benjamin as Jack Sparrow. I made him a goatee and lined his eyes
Benjamin in the parade. He was quite happy
Asher and our neighbor, who is also his classmate
Asher's back in the parade
After the parade and the parties, I took the boys to meet friends for lunch. We had a very noisy, messy lunch, and then got ready to host dinner at our house. We had our friends come join us for an early dinner, and then we hit the road to trick-or-treat! I really love Halloween, and running into friends and classmates all around the neighborhood. I love where we live, and especially with the boys in the elementary school, we know so many people and it truly feels like a community. 
The group of 8, plus our friend Ken
This year's pumpkin creations. On the left is "Tiggy," made for Benjamin
With friends. I am a cat.
Because I am an excellent mother, I didn't get a single picture of the kids together in their costumes. Oh, well. I would still say it was an overall success, and all 3 of my kids loved trick-or-treating, and have been sifting through and sorting their candy ever since.
Charlotte with an amazing lawn decoration
"Oh my gosh, I didn't get a picture of you guys! Quick, smile!"

Now it is November, 3 weeks until Thanksgiving. We are still having September weather, though, so it is hard to mentally move on. Charlotte is especially struggling- she asked me if Halloween would be this coming Tuesday, too.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Running Series- Fall 2017

Two fast runners
Charlotte and Asher participated in the Healthy Kids Running Series again this fall. They both have fairly competitive spirits, and are thrilled to race.

Asher moved up from the 1/4 mile to the 1/2 mile, and came with the same consistency and energy he had in the spring. He has competed every season without getting a trophy, but he still tries his hardest. This fall, his hard work paid off and he got a 2nd place trophy! I was extremely proud of him. He is strong, and persistent.
Asher racing to the finish
On her mark...
Charlotte competed in the pre-k 75 yard dash. It was a small group of girls, and she was determined. The first 3 weeks, she came in first with room to spare. The 4th week, after a rain, she slipped and fell, but jumped up and ran through the finish in 2nd place. She cried, but I complimented her on getting up and finishing. I talked to her about the importance of trying your best, win or lose. Week 5, she got off to a slow start, but was gaining speed. Short of the finish, when she saw she wasn't in 1st, she stopped running and started to cry! I yelled at her to finish, and she did- in 3rd place. They tally the scores over the 5 weeks, and she tied another girl for 1st place, but the other girl was awarded the "Champion" trophy, and Charlotte got the 2nd place trophy. Charlotte and I had a long talk about sportsmanship and she congratulated the champion on her win. In the end, she was happy with her 2nd place trophy. 

I volunteered to help with the races. My job was to follow the last person to be sure they didn't get lost at the back of the course, and to ensure that they finished. I really enjoyed giving pep-talks to all the kids who were feeling weak and tired. I'm hoping that when we come back in the spring I'll be able to do it again.

Monday, October 23, 2017


I am a life-long insomniac- I remember having trouble sleeping from as young as 7 or 8 years old. Any change in time zone or location could throw me off. I remember a girl scout lock-in when I was 9 or 10 where I didn't sleep the entire night.  But those were occasional nights, rarely night after night. The anxiety about not sleeping would creep in early in the day, almost ensuring that I certainly wouldn't be able to sleep that night.

In my teenage years I tried melatonin- aka a sugar pill that only works for people susceptible to the placebo effect (this isn't me). In college I began receiving prescriptions for sleep medications- Sonata, old tri-cyclic anti-depressants like Elavil; then SSRIs like Zoloft and Lexapro. I took Trazodone for a period of time. I had a prescription for Ativan at the end of graduate school. I would usually get to a place where I was sleeping better and would then stop taking medication, but I would always have something in the medicine cabinet (Tylenol PM, Unisom) just in case, and eventually I would start taking something regularly again.

After the boys were born, I found it impossible to sleep, but was afraid to take anything because I was breastfeeding. Eventually I got over that fear, and by their first birthday I had started taking Ambien.  Somewhere along the way, maybe when Charlotte was about 2, I got a prescription for Lunesta.

Some nights I take a next-to-nothing dose, sometimes, if I am having trouble sleeping, I take a larger dose. But it has gotten to the point where I always take something.  If I don't have anything, I become anxious to the point of panic- heart pounding, mind racing. It becomes impossible to let go of the fear that I won't sleep at all, and there have been many nights in my life that I have watched turn into day, and many days where I have dragged myself along in fatigue and misery until I can go to bed and try all over again.

My doctors are completely aware of my regular, nightly use of sleep medication. In January, my primary care doctor told me she will continue to prescribe for me, but I need to have a "plan" for discontinuing my use of medications.

In April, I decided I was ready to try. I began the lengthy process of becoming a patient at the University of Pennsylvania's sleep medicine department, and finally, in September, started treatment.  I was ready and eager- I was going to be free of my enslavement to medication and anxiety around sleep.

It didn't play out the way I had hoped. The psychologist started by cutting back the hours I was allowed to spend in bed in an effort to "maximize sleep efficiency." My main concern with sleep is that I won't get enough sleep, so that put me into anxiety overdrive. Rather than maximizing my sleep, I began waking up earlier and earlier. This went on for 2 weeks, and I went from getting 7 hours and 20 minutes of sleep in a night to 6 hours and 20 minutes a night. Some nights even less. I became tearful, and exhausted. I had trouble paying attention to my clients. I had trouble being patient with the kids. And one morning I packed Asher a lunch and then put his packed lunchbag away in the cupboard. It became impossible. I went to my appointment and the psychologist was completely unsympathetic and not at all encouraging.

So I quit. I went back to my medications, my early bed time, and my almost 8 hours of sleep. I stopped crying, I became a much more pleasant person and much better therapist. Sometimes quitters DO win.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


My mom insisted that I have to brag about Charlotte.  She is worth bragging about, but I have tried to refrain because I don't want to a) seem like she is better than her brothers, and b) make all the other parents feel jealous.

Charlotte on her first day of school
About 6 months ago, Charlotte was our little sociopath. On some days she was delightfully charming, and on other days the words of a teenager would come out of her mouth, or she would lie on the floor and have a tantrum for no reason, or just argue with every single thing we said.  She is in a new phase now (it's always important for me to remember that the phases are temporary) and is just a joy.  She is helpful, funny, and kind. I had an earache one morning and put some drops in my ear. The next day she asked how my ear was feeling.  It seems like the first time in her life that she has noticed other people exist.
Sunny day at Sesame Place
 In addition to her more pleasant demeanor, she has been accomplishing things in every area of her life.  Over the summer she learned to swim and dive- although some dives are more like belly-flops. She worked hard on her handstands and has perfected her cartwheels.
apple picking
Her competitive spirit is alive and well and gets to come out every Sunday night when she participates in the Healthy Kids Running Series. She gets to run the 75 yard dash and takes her work seriously- booking it for the finish. She has come in 1st place both weeks and has her eyes set on the trophy at the end of the series.
First place (not in the highlighter green shirt), running in a skirt
 It is a joy to watch her strong body move.  She is muscular and graceful.  She still has her rounded baby edges, but she is solid and strong. She is so determined.

Charlotte has been eager to help around the house. She helped my mom get ready for Rosh Hashanah by setting the table and polishing candlesticks, and she likes to help me bake at our house. She has even started cleaning up her room occasionally! She is nothing but a joy. She comes to me every morning when she wakes up and insists that we snuggle together. Sometimes we do puppet shoes with Gray Kitty and Black-and-White Kitty, sometimes we doze together, sometimes we just make each other laugh. I love waking up to her cheerful face everyday, and I love having these days with her.