Monday, June 30, 2008

Barbie Kicks

We spent a few hours this past weekend floating in my sister's pool. It made me realize how little exposure my fellows have had to swimming. We have done intermittent swim lessons at various times in their lives with some mixed success, but we haven't had continual access to a pool so their opportunities to swim have been staggered. All three of my boys like the water as long as it stays in its proper place, ie. not in their eyes, mouths or noses. No one likes water up his nose, but it is harder to learn to swim if you don't put your face in the water. I do remember my mother doing an interesting version of the crawl with her head and face, adorned with sunglasses, bobbing above the surface, but the boys aren't there yet.

This weekend was only the second time we've swum this season so when the guys first got to the pool, there was some hesitancy, most, surprisingly from F. He had been the guy you couldn't let near water because in the past, he would just charge in with no sense of the physics of floating or sinking. However, this time, even with his upper arms encased in blown-up plastic, otherwise known as waterwings or 'floaties' in my house, he first clutched frantically to my arms and hands. By the second day, however, he realized that the floaties would actually allow him to, well, float (hence the name), and he became insistent that we didn't touch him. "No, I want to swim," he cried with great emphasis, as he beat his legs ferociously, bobbing along by himself. It seemed suddenly clear that if we just gave our fellows regular access to water, maybe we would get to a point where they could put their faces in the water. Now I understand why people join YMCAs or pool clubs...

My favorite moment of the swimming came when S was attempting to use a kickboard. He curled his fingers over the top, positioned his pale torso on the board, and set off with clunky kicks, spraying water in all directions. I tried to explain that when kicking, he should try to keep his legs straight, don't bend at the knees, and do small flutter kicks that didn't need to make large splashes. "Yeah," my sister explained, "My girls' instructor told them to do Barbie kicks. You know how Barbie's legs look--kicks just like that."

"Who's Barbie?" Sam replied.

That response made a big, happy splash in my book.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Equity, Part II

While we are constantly negotiating issues around equity and fairness in little and big ways daily, this one recent incident caused both P and me to pause, since we were really unsure what to do.

Last week, we went to a dance performance that included some audience participation. We were warned at the start of the show that because there was a large number of children attending, not all would get picked to join in. I immediately started to fret, remembering this incident. P and I were sure to repeat the performer's words that not everyone would get to participate directly to our guys, adding our own "but it will still be fun no matter what." We were there with a friend from school, and early on, one of the dancers came over and grabbed our friend's hand, C's, and F's. S watched patiently, enjoying his brothers and friend scrambling out on the stage. Each time the dancers came looking for more participants, S held up his hand but was continually passed over. As the performance grew on, I had a harder and harder time enjoying the other kids' dancing, worrying about S's feelings and wondering how pushy I should be (or not) about getting him picked. At one point when we quietly asked him how he was doing, he turned and said, "It'll be Ok if I don't get to do it," but no sooner did those words leave his mouth, he was wiping tears from his cheeks. It was heartbreaking watching him trying to hold it together, to enjoy the show, but yearning to participate.

If only the other three weren't chosen, perhaps we would not have been so uptight about S not getting to participate. Ultimately, we knew it wouldn't be tragic if he didn't get to dance but there would be hurt feelings and surely some fall-out. Was this a good time for him to learn the "life's not fair" lesson? We weren't sure, but neither P or I thought it appropriate to intervene with the professional dancers' pickings. In the end, just before the performance finished, one of the tall, willowy Italian dancers came over and gently grabbed S's hand. He bounded out to the stage and both P and I audibly sighed, as if we were holding our breath since the time his brothers scampered out there. From our darkened row, we could suddenly just be, drink in the moment, and watch S delight in his opportunity.

Interestingly enough, after the performance, another parent came over to our side of the auditorium to speak with her friend. Loudly, she began complaining with grand indignation how those dancers kept passing over her child and had the nerve to pick the kid next to him, three times, in fact. She went on to kvetch about the dancers and their seemingly-targeted snub (in her eyes) of her son, especially since she had told them again and again that her child didn't get a turn but this neighboring kid did over and over. The whole experience was clearly ruined for her (and most probably her child), and while I had just been feeling the anxiety of potentially hurt feelings from S, she was a good checkpoint for us. This mom wanted to do right by her son. I totally got that. However, her bitterness about the injustice done to her son just sounded... just wrong somehow.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Equity, Part I

Living in a home with three little fellows who are incredibly concerned with justice and injustice, we tend to have loads of discussions about 'fairness.' When I first started in the classroom, I remember someone teaching me the saying, "Equity does not mean everyone getting the exact same thing. Equity means everyone getting what he/she needs." I like this idea a lot and I suspect I repeated that adage once or twice in my own teaching. Growing up, however, I don't remember my own mom being quite so philosophical when we complained. I think her response to our whines of "it's not fair" probably tended to the "well, life's not fair" variety.

When our first fellows came along, P and I were hyper-aware of being fair, especially given that they were twins. We made sure we had an equal number of gifts at Christmas and birthdays, well before they could count and compare. I always tried to switch up who went first in all things, even referring to them in speech or writing, S and C, C and S, intentionally interchanging whom I listed initially. We never wanted to dress them the same, but I always wanted to make sure their outfits were of equal 'cuteness.' I hate the question about who is older, resisting answering by simply saying, "Well, I had a C-section so they pulled one out a minute before the other," not wanting to give some implied 'superiority' to an older twin who was the one who happened to be lifted out first. Heck, as identical twins (or monozygotic, as I've taught the boys to say) who came from the same fertilized egg that somehow magically split, it isn't even like only one is the result of the winning sperm in the race.

I remember shopping while carrying around one of our monogramed LLBean bags with one of the twins' names and being questioned in the store by another momma of twins. She wanted to know if our other guy's name was on the other side of the bag since she always made sure all personalized items listed both names. I quickly explained, feeling just a bit defensive, that they were gifts and we had two such bags, one for each boy, but I always made sure to take turns carrying the bags so both got equal use. Still when I grab one from their perch in the front hall, that exchange always crosses my mind.

As the boys have grown older and with the addition of a third fella, the issue of equity and fairness has become more complex to negotiate. Lately, P and I have tried to stick with the earlier philosophy of equity meaning everyone getting what he needs. Our guys have varied when they've needed more attention, more cuddles, more emotional support, and we've tried to give the individualized attention and extra support as needed, even going out on one-on-one daddy or mommy dates. But it's hard to figure out the scheduling for individual time AND even more difficult to determine just what is fair and how much we can or should manipulate the world around us to satisfy their desire for equity and fairness in all things.

More on this subject tomorrow.....

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Power of Music

This afternoon, we hit another concert as part of New Haven's International Festival of Arts and Ideas. Immediately it was clear that the Cool Cats jazz group had played for kids before. The five members were all excellent musicians, and of equal importance, the group's leader knew how to talk to an audience full of under 12-year-olds. They played some traditional jazz, but then gave a quick, comprehensive tour of American music. The boys were totally attentive, shouting out answers to questions asked, clapping in time, and applauding enthusiastically after each piece.

When the leader introduced Spirituals, he talked a bit about slavery and the tradition of singing and playing one's blues. The group began Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen and the leader sang out, then invited the kids to sing along. Soon C turned to us, genuine tears in his eyes. "That song just makes me so sad," he explained as he cuddled up next to my side. P and I exchanged a glance, and he reached out to rub C's back. "Now that's the power of music," P softly decreed.

Later, while the three boys ran on the green, P said to me, "You know, there is a lot of talk about C being sensitive, and all of that is true. However, his sensitivity is not a bad thing. Look what a beautiful soul he has. He is lucky to feel like that."

And so, while I worry about my guy C going off to school and getting his feelings crushed by others who don't quite get him, I need to stop. And breathe. And thank my lucky stars (and his) that he has a daddy like that.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


He started at 4:45PM while we were walking home from downtown. His brother, growing increasingly whiny about the walk, complained that he had no more energy, absolutely none. When we pointed out that we were close to home, just look what street we're on. How many more blocks to go? "I'm just too tired to count," said the energyless one. The other perked up. He missed the counting blocks bit and just started counting.

Once he hit 100, he realized he could count even further. We reached our door. He kept counting. He took a few breaths, walked into his bedroom, and kept counting. He circled his room, re-entered the living room, and kept counting. He put a DVD into the player for his little brother, grouchy from just waking from a stroller nap, and kept counting. He greeted a friend at our door, but kept counting. At 5:27PM, he reached 1000.

"Wow! One thousand! You counted to one thousand, S. That's amazing!" we cheered him on.

"Should we call and tell the newspaper man?" S asked.

Somehow, I don't think the newspaper man or woman would greet this news with enthusiasm matching ours. So there you go, folks, all five of you who read this blog, S counted to 1000 today for the very first time.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tail End of My 30's

I received an email from one of my sisters this morning, wishing me a happy birthday and enjoyment in the "tail end of [my] 30s." I have never been shy to share my age with others and don't have a problem being 39, but somehow that expression caught me a bit by surprise. These past ten years have been filled with incredible changes: our marriage, the births of our three sons, the deaths of both my parents, jobs in two different schools, apartments in three states. Just looking at that list exhausts me! But what was true about my twenties, has remained true about my thirties-- I've remained open to change and adventure. Some of these changes have been more trying than I expected, but I know I've been stretched, physically and metaphorically, and I continue to grow. Age 39 brings some new challenges and I look forward to feeling physically and mentally strong and fit come 40.

Today I was lucky to spend my birthday with my four favorite fellows. I awoke to presents (books, books and more books in my house) and coffee in bed (my favorite). We then took full advantage of New Haven's International Festival of Arts and Ideas. We hopped on the shuttle bus downtown, which the boys often enjoy more than where we are going-- How's that for a life lesson? We walked up to the green, spread out a picnic blanket, and ate lunch to the sounds of East African music. Although the boys were hungry, sitting and eating were not overly appealing once the music started. They jumped to their feet and danced for the next hour, raising their arms, clapping, marching, swaying back and forth. I loved sitting behind them as they danced with pure joy and instinct, and it made me think that I can not remember a time I was so unselfconscious in my body and movements. Next, we headed to a Japanese drumming performance, which excited the boys for the booming sound and the mimed storytelling, particularly one slapstick scene of a dancer goosing a drummer. Finally, we walked up to the Yale Art Gallery to see this. The boys were the only kids in the gallery this afternoon and their exuberant comments echoed across the space. It was impossible to miss F's excited, "Starry Night! Starry Night!" as we rounded the corner to see Van Goh's stunning work hanging by itself on a pure yellow background. Staring at those thick swirls of paint, layer upon layer, it was truly awe-inspiring thinking, "Wow. This is really it." Not a copy. Not a print. The original, painted well over 100 years ago. And we got to experience it, together. Quite a birthday gift.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Freaky Friday

One of my sisters has an incredible memory. She recalls scenes from our childhood with great detail, and when she says, "Do you remember when...?," more often than not, I don't. I can't tell you the names of most of my elementary teachers or specifics about kids I played with or what I liked to eat for lunch. There are, however, a few strong childhood memories that remain lodged in my seemingly sieve-like brain. One includes a green and white van, a drive-in movie theater, and Freaky Friday, the 1976 original film with Jodie Foster, not the updated Jamie Lee Curtis-Linsay Lohan affair.

In 1976, I was seven years old and my parents drove a green and white striped van, not a minivan, but an industrial-sized van with three bench seats in the back that could accommodate our family of nine. One night after dinner, my folks treated us to a grand surprise-- an evening at the drive-in movies to watch the Disney film. We brought pillows and blankets, spread them out on the roof on the van, and sprawled on top. My dad must have jerry-rigged the speaker so we could hear the sound atop the roof. There we watched Ms. Foster, in all her shaggy-hair glory, magically 'become' her mother for a day and vice versa. Confusion and gags ensue, but ultimately, daughter and mother come to an understanding of the other's position, that life is not easy or smooth for the other, and that everyone has her own share of stresses.

I feel like I am about to enter my own version of Freaky Friday, as P and I will remain true to our pre-kid promises to each other, sharing childcare as much as possible. In a quick reversal, come July 1st, I will be working out of the home while he takes on the role as full-time-at-home caregiver for the boys for the summer months. The news is just settling with me as I signed the contract only today and am wrapping my head around this whole new position, still in a school setting, but not in a teaching capacity. I swing wildly from being incredibly excited and overwhelmingly terrified, questioning if those folks at that school know what they are doing offering me the job. Being out of the (paying) workforce for some years has not-so-quietly eroded my professional confidence, and I suspect it will take Sara a bit to get her groove back (OK, I swear that's the only time I will refer to myself in the third person---so obnoxious, but I was playing on Terry McMillan, which maybe I should well avoid, given the cost of getting her groove back, an ugly, tell-all-the-secrets, bitter divorce battle).

ANYWAY, one of the most exciting parts of this job is that S and C will be joining me at this school in September, the school where we really wanted them to attend, but couldn't figure out the finances. Thanks to two of the sweetest words ever uttered--tuition remission-- the boys will get to go to this wonderful, progressive independent school. And thanks to the multi-age classrooms, our entire placement debate (K or 1st?; 1st or K?) becomes a moot point. YAY. P and I will still be spending a pretty penny for tuition for both the twins and F, who begins at the rocking preschool S and C currently attend, but we would rather put our money towards their education than a great trip to Jamaica or a second car. We are so lucky we can make the choice in the first place--or second, I guess, since we were unable to until I was offered this job.

So as I found myself, once again, gritting my back teeth with F's continued refusal to nap and sit on the potty, I stopped to realize that in a few short weeks, this will be more of P's job than mine. I'm no Jodie Foster, but I welcome the opportunity to step into another role for this next phase.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Return

P and I have been together for 12 years, married for ten. I won't say it was love at first sight, but we were smitten within a week of our first intense meeting, arranged courteously by the Peace Corps Dating Service. Early on, we learned that we were both completely monogamous by nature and while we were capable of doing things by ourselves, we both totally preferred time spent with other people, preferably each other.

Not to turn this into a 'we were fated to be together' story, there were practical things going on when we came upon each other. We were both 27 years old when we joined the Peace Corps and had dated others pretty seriously before we met, but had not been dating much leading up to our service. I am a big believer in timing, that timing really matters when meeting a partner, and our timing was spot on. We also shared similar backgrounds: East Coasters, from biggish Catholic families (he's one of four; I'm the fifth of seven kids), prep school and Ivy League grads, with parents still married, a love of travel, etc. You might say we shared the same tribe so we understood each other well.

While we truly like hanging out together, we have never done the whole Paul-and-Linda-McCartney thing, who supposedly never spent a night apart from each other throughout their marriage, outside of a night Paul was shacked up in a cell thanks to being caught with weed. We have spent time away from each other and are good about supporting one other when opportunities arise that may not always include the other person. So when P had the chance to go to Ghana for nearly three weeks, fully funded by a grant, I said, "Yes. Go ahead." I know he would have done the same if the situation were reversed.

Recently, I've been trying to figure out what is the longest period of time we've been apart since we got together. We were placed in different sites during Peace Corps, but were lucky to be on the same island, three buses, eight hours away from each other. We worked hard to get together and I think we managed to see one another every two weeks or so. I know for certain that there have only been two occasions that we have not been in the same country since our meeting in August 1996. The first was when P had a health scare and needed to go home from Peace Corps to see a doctor in New York City to determine if he could continue his service. Those were a tough two weeks for me, not knowing if he would return, but he did, and we became engaged right after he got back to the Philippines. The second time we have been apart in two separate countries, continents, too, has been this time he spent in Africa, and if my memory serves correct-- this trip was longer than his one home during Peace Corps. Add to the scenario that we now have three children together, none of whom are self-sufficient when it comes to bathing or a few other essential life skills, and these 18 days were a looonnnnnng time.

So I ask--- Is it problematic, does it reflect a serious issue in our relationship, that all my current fantasies of my wonderful husband's return, truly my life partner, includes him (ie. not me) wrestling with a two-year-old to put on the little pip's pajamas or wiping that same toddler's seemingly potty-averse bum?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Next 24 Hours

The next 24 hours are big, very big, in my life.

First, P will be home. Ok, looking at the clock, it seems like he should be home in our apartment in 25 hours or so. But in the next 24, he should at least be in the States, and on his way home from the airport if all goes well. That's one more bedtime. The bedtimes are becoming my undoing. Come 6PM and suddenly all hell seems to break loose: the fussing, the squabbling, the crying, the not listening, etc. and I just can not take it. Really no patience at all for fussing and squabbling and crying and not listening. Suddenly I become the shrieker and when it is all said and done, no matter how 'effective' my shrieking may be (it snaps them into some sort of shape), it doesn't feel good to be the shrieker.

I've had a few people comment, "Wow, P's almost home already. That went quickly." Ahhh, perhaps it went quickly for someone not doing dinner and bath and bedtime for three little boys eighteen consecutive days in a row*. To be fair, I've met a number of women (and I am sure this applies to some stay-at-home dads, too) whose partners tend to come home late from work every work day so they, as the main caregivers, are doing dinner and bath and bedtime by themselves daily. However, I am not one of those people. P does not have a long commute and once he is home from work and school commitments, he is fully engaged in the business of getting these munchkins fed and bathed and dressed in pajamas and teeth brushed and stories read and into bed, and into bed again when they get up for the myriad of reasons they come up with not to stay in bed. I miss P's partnering and parenting. Just one more bedtime.

Second, I got offered a job. Wow. A real, out-of-the-house, put on your professional hat, earn a paycheck sort of a job. The process was quite extended so I didn't get my hopes up that I would get the offer, but the phone call came in. And in the next 24 hours, I should have a written offer with details about salary and benefits, including the possibility of my sons attending the school where I am being offered the job. This is huge. With the written offer and the details spelled out, I will be able to make some guesses about how do-able this potential job will be: time-wise, financially, etc. The impact of this decision will not only affect me, but our entire family so I will be waiting at least 26 hours before I make a decision so I can discuss it with P. Ok, really, I'll give him a bit more time than that, but the I will move quickly to decide if I will completely change all our lives.

SOOOO here's to the next 24 hours. Think of me. Raise your wine glass if you are of the drinking persuasion. Send out a prayer if you are of the praying persuasion. Life will be different after the next 24 hours and while I try to make a point to enjoy the here and now, I am really looking forward to tomorrow night.

*Truthfully, I did have my sister-in-law here for two nights and she took on much of the night-time duties.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Every Day Miracles

A friend invited us along to swim at her family's pool club today. She is actually an employee so technically, not a member, but a good perk of her job is that she and her family can use the club. A perk of being her friend and my sons being friends with her son is that we got to spend the gorgeous day outside together, hanging near a pool. The boys happily played for hours in the toddler wading pool so thankfully, I could hang on the side,watching without getting wet myself. I am terribly wimpy about cold water and I figure after all my cold dip-and-pour baths during my Peace Corps service days, I've earned the right to refuse to swim or bathe in chilly water. I still offer up a small prayer to the hot water gods every time I take a shower. It really is a remarkable thing to have hot water running out of a pipe into one's bathtub. Remarkable.

Anyhoo~ when we returned home, F was so zonked from a day in the sun that he actually took a nap. Given his recent nap strike, the 45-minutes he stayed asleep were unexpected and glorious. S and C set about keeping themselves busy: C with a new library book, a good ol' Beverly Cleary one, Ribsy, while S decided to do an art project. He pulled out his markers, paper, scissors and set to work. Soon he was asking for the spelling of certain words: 'enjoyed' and 'thank' among them. When he finished, S showed me the completed work--a masterpiece in my mind. It was a thank you note to his friend for letting us spend the day with him at the pool club.

Which is better: Hot water that comes out of a faucet into your shower OR a five-year-old who writes a thank you note, unprompted? I find them both pretty miraculous.