Kirsten, Chris, Oliver, Soren, Kiera and Matteo

Kirsten, Chris, Oliver, Soren, Kiera and Matteo

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Drowning in Laundry

I used to like doing laundry.  Seriously.  Despite how otherwise untidy I am, I was fastidious about my laundry.  I found it greatly satisfying to have an empty hamper and a neat stack of clean, ironed and folded clothes.

Then I became a parent and now I stand around with other parents complaining about laundry and how children, whose clothes aren't that big, create so much of it.  That satisfaction I once got from doing laundry dates back to when I did two loads (one lights and one darks) every one and a half weeks.  Our washer and dryer now runs every single day.  Sorting clothes has become a luxury.  Everything is washed together in cold water.

Chris' career goal is to make enough money so he can pay someone to do our laundry.  Until then, laundry doesn't wash and fold itself.  Therefore, this is the average state of our mudroom.  
I cannot stay on top of the laundry.  A neighbor once said that life is too short to spend trying to match kids' socks.  Unfortunately, habits die hard.  Thankfully the kids will be old enough to do their own laundry someday. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Kiera is Off and Pedaling

The first time Kiera hopped on a tricycle, she road it around like she'd always known how to pedal, even though we knew that was far from the case.  So it surprised me that she could not figure out how to ride a bike with training wheels.  She would pedal half a revolution and then push the pedals backwards and engage the brake.  Kiera is persistent and would want to keep riding, so I'd help push her feet forward and every single time, she'd pedal half a revolution forward and press her pedals backward.  Every single time.  Locked into place, our stubborn Kiera would continue to slam her feet backwards on the pedals until she'd start crying in frustration. I was out of ideas for how to teach her to pedal forward and her perpetual frustration wasn't productive either, so I ended up no longer letting her ride the bike with the training wheels and made her ride the balance bike.  

Then one day our seven-year-old neighborhood offered to teach Kiera. She patiently pushed on Kiera's legs to force her to pedal and then pushed the bike by its handlebars so Kiera could learn that that pedals work when you push forward.  After only a few minutes and a couple trips up and down the sidewalk, Kiera was pedaling on her own.  I couldn't believe it!  And Kiera was so proud of herself too.  She rode up and down the block and each time she passed by me, she turned and flashed me a huge smile.  If she hadn't know she's not allowed to ride past the house on the corner to the south of us and Halifax's old house (the 110-pound Bernese Mountain Dog) to the north of us, I think she may just have pedaled off into the sunset.   
 Oliver, who had recently relearned to ride a bike without training wheels, was not so impressed.  He wasn't sure what the big deal was or why I cheered encouragement to Kiera every time she pedaled past me.

I refrained from reminding Oliver that even though he now knows how to walk or eat with utensils, we cheered for him when he took his first steps and when he managed to connect his spoon with his mouth instead of flinging his food into his face. Rooting on our children when they experience a success, however small, is what parents do.  And for young children, it's developmentally appropriate.  When we smile and talk baby talk back at a babbling baby, they are motivated to keep "talking" until they eventually say something that means something. And then we cheer some more. 

We don't know if Kiera had anyone cheering her on when she said her first word or took her first steps, or if she felt like anyone cared.  But we do know Kiera is a little girl who needs lots of encouragement. Almost daily we witness Kiera experience a situation similar to not being able to pedal not the bike and not being able to ask for help and then getting frustrated to the point of tears.  To watch her work to figure something out was such a proud mom moment.  We don't know much about her past, but as she rode by me and made sure I was watching her and that I was excited for her, she knows she has parents who cheer for her unconditionally. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Soren Update: 4.5 Years

Many nights I read bedtime stories to the kids in my bed and once we're finished, Soren wants me to carry him to bed. I pick him up and carry him like a baby and pretend to rock him and tell him how I remember when he really was a little baby and I carried him in my arms all the time. I try to lay him down just as gently as I did when he was a newborn and I'd lay him in his crib, except he's so heavy that as I lean over I end up dropping him into bed. He soaks up this tender, loving "babying" type of attention. 

Soren is a sensitive kid.  Celina usually gets the kids dressed in the morning, but so often Soren holds out and demands that I get him dressed.  I asked him why he wanted me to get him dressed so badly when he could do it himself and he shrugged his shoulders and looked down at his feet as if he were embarrassed.  He clearly couldn't articulate why, but I think it's just comforting for him. 

He has a routine every morning where he has to wave to me "from the window and the sidewalk."  I hug and kiss him goodbye and as I leave out the front door, he races the couple steps up the staircase where there's a little window that looks out onto the porch and he waves at me furiously.  I stand on the porch and wave back and blow kisses. When I get out to the sidewalk, I've got to stop and repeat the waves and kisses. In one last frantic goodbye, Soren races out onto the porch and props open the storm door and yells, "I love you and I miss you and I'll see you at dinnertime!" 

So this is the routine every morning, except if Chris happens to be home.  Then I'm chopped liver from Soren and his brothers.  At least Kiera still pays me some attention.  But Soren? He's like his brothers and is a total daddy's boy.  He's often Chris' sidekick helping him on projects around the house.  When Chris needed to replace the frame around our storm door, Soren accompanied him to Home Depot and then helped him measure the lumber.  I was folding laundry in my bedroom and looked out the window into the backyard and there was Soren helping Chris carry a piece of lumber from the garage. Chris could have easily carried it himself, but patiently let his four-and-a-half-year-old helper carry half the load.   

As attached as Soren is to both Chris and me, he's showing signs of independence.  He now joins Oliver to play at the neighbor's house, something he's until recently been terrified to do given their exuberant and forever young Labradoodle.  Soren still wants to keep sweet Lulu at a distance, but he now trusts that Lulu will be kept away from him until she can calm down and leave the kids alone.  He's starting to be able to play on Oliver and Paloma's level and they seemingly welcome his company.

Soren has generally liked going to preschool, but lately he really looks forward to it. I don't know if it's because Oliver talks so positively about his own school that his excitement has rubbed off on Soren, but regardless, Soren is pretty jazzed when he finds out it's a preschool day. 

Soren is still into Legos, of course, but also enjoys riding his bike, coloring, building with Magnatiles and playing with Kiera's dollhouse.  He might play with it as much, or even more than, Kiera.  One day he was spent and kept saying he was tired and wanted to go home and play with the dollhouse. 

Soren continues to be a relatively picky-eater and if Oliver gets going on not liking something, he can bring Soren down with him.  Luckily, if left with no other options, Soren will eventually try what he had previously refused to touch. 

With the changing of the seasons, we also changed out Soren's wardrobe.  He's still in size 4T shirts, but can fit in some 5T's and is now wearing 4T pants.  Chris took him shoe shopping a few weeks ago and I was shocked that he's now in size 10.5.  (Also shocked, because he walked into the shoe store wearing size eight shoes on his feet.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Matteo Update: 3.5 Years

With his super stylish glasses and a personality that makes an impression upon everyone he meets, Matteo elicits adoring comments from just about everyone. His can-do attitude and eagerness to please is just so darn endearing.  

In the coming weeks we need to make a decision about preschool for next year.  Matteo's September birthday means that he's not eligible for Pre-K along with Soren and Kiera, but he likes learning and we want something that will be challenging enough for him and fun all at the same time. 

We're super impressed by how many letters Matteo knows and he likes to point them out to us, especially the letter M!  Chris took Matteo and Soren to the boat show and while Soren's main interest was climbing aboard every boat, Matteo's favorite activity was to look for the license number decaled on each boat and pointed out if he saw any M's or 3's.  (He's very proud of being 3, so of course that's his favorite number.)

My only nervousness about schooling of any kind, even preschool, is that Matteo's speech is still very difficult to understand, if you can understand him at all. We're hoping that this is the reason he doesn't try to talk much unless we actively engage him. 

We hit a milestone recently when Matteo tattled on his brother.  I was downstairs getting ready for work when I heard Kiera crying.  I ran upstairs and found her sitting on her bed crying, but she was unable to tell me what had happened.  Matteo, however, was very eager to speak up for her.  His speech was still very difficult to understand, but Matteo was able to communicate, "Oliver hit back" and pointed to Kiera's back. Yup, when you have a child with such a profound speech delay, you get excited about any form of verbal communication, even in the form of tattling.  

Matteo loves swimming and was fearless jumping in the water at the Y. He didn't even plug his nose like his mom still needs to do.  He's a pro at his tricycle, and is now just barely big enough for one of his brother's hand-me-down bikes, which he immediately got the hang of and cruised down our block. 

The one thing he has feared has been dogs, but slowly (very slowly), Matteo is warming up to them.  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law's exuberant Goldendoodle, Watson, is still a bit much for Matteo, but Celina is having luck helping Matteo grow to like dogs by hanging out with her friend's Great Pyrenees puppy, Gustav.  Although Gustav will quickly outgrow Watson and seems like a odd choice to bring around a kid terrified of dogs, Great Pyrenees are pretty chill dogs. He's clearly growing more comfortable because when I asked a guy at the park walking two Great Pyrenees if I could pet his dogs, Matteo ran right up and voluntarily gave each dog a quick pat on the back. One turned and licked him in the face and while he wasn't thrilled about that, he didn't shriek in terror. 

Between preschool, speech therapy sessions and all the things Celina keeps him busy with, Matteo is tired by the end of the day. He doesn't nap anymore, but if we drive anywhere farther than Target, he falls asleep in the car.  Because he so desperately needs at least a catnap, we sometimes plan a post-lunch drive to give him a chance to sleep.  The only problem is that Matteo is GRUMPY when he wakes up.  

I'm not sure what's fueling that little body of his because he's getting a little pickier with food and for the most part won't touch vegetables.  However, he'll still eat vegetables if they're chopped up and mixed in a dish.  He's not the type of kid to refuse to try something new and if there's nothing else for dinner he likes, he'll eventually eat what's being served.

Whatever Matteo is eating, he's still growing.  He very recently moved up from 2t pants to 3T, but is in 3T shirts for the time-being.  I can see him being in 4T shirts by mid-summer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Oliver Update: 6.5 Years

We recently met with Oliver's teachers for the spring parent-teacher conferences and every teacher had nothing but glowing compliments. His drama teacher even referred to him as his rock in a class that's gotten a reputation for being quite rambunctious. But that's his personality - he likes structure and rules and he thrives in environments where there are rules. His kindergarten teacher talked about how well he's doing academically, but also about how well he behaves.  He's the calm child who helps his classmates and participates.  She was shocked when I shared some stories of the Oliver we see at home.

Because at home we see a kid with energy to burn.  It's a continual challenge to help Oliver constructively channel that energy and with a good attitude while he's at it. I'm glad he's super well-behaved in school, but I wish Chris and I could experience more of the inquisitive, friendly, excited-about-life, curious, artistic and helpful boy his teachers get to see for hours every school day. 

Luckily, since he's always over at our neighbor Paloma's house, we don't actually have to parent him that often.  Just kidding! But he does spend a lot of time over there.  Whenever we get home after being out, I haven't even turned the ignition off in the car before he's asking if he can go play with Paloma.  If it's right after school, Oliver wants to meet Paloma at her bus stop, so I joke that Paloma's mom could outsource bus stop pick-up to Oliver.  Paloma just might be the first person he thinks of when he wakes up because he immediately wants to run next door.  Unfortunately, our family wakes up early and Paloma's does not, so we make Oliver wait until what we consider a reasonable hour. A couple of times he's been turned away.

Anyway, those two get along so well and share a similar sense of humor.  They love to play Legos, Star Wars and video games, like Lego Dimensions. They're very creative together and come up with elaborate games of super heroes. 

For all the energy Oliver has, one quiet activity he can partake in is drawing.  Chris finally bought him his own set of markers and crayons and a sketch pad that he doesn't  have to share with his siblings.  I had hoped the sketch pad would cut down on the pieces of paper with various states of completed artwork that are lying around his room. Every couple of days I do a clean sweep and recycle most of it, but I'm waiting for the day I accidentally recycle something he considered a masterpiece. 

Oliver recently re-learned to ride his bike without training wheels.  He had barely mastered this new skill at the end of last summer, so by this spring rolled around, he had forgotten. So he wanted nothing to do with his training-wheel-less bike and instead tried riding his siblings' bikes, including Kiera's balance bike that is really too small for him. This of course caused lots of fights, most of which Celina was left trying to mediate since they occurred right after school as the kids took advantage of a last chance to play outside before dinner.  

Chris, the parent in this duo with the most patience, took Oliver out to reteach him how to ride without training wheels and surprising to us all, it took Oliver all of 10 minutes to get the hang of it and feel confident enough to bike a couple of laps around the block.  Later on Oliver, Soren and I took their bikes to the path down by the river where they biked and I jogged.  Oliver was happy as could be to pedal on ahead as I plodded along at my own pace. 

Oliver shows no signs yet of losing any teeth.  His baby teeth were late to come in (he had only a half a tooth by his first birthday) and I didn't lose my first tooth until I was in first grade, so maybe he's just destined to lose that first tooth late. Honestly, that's fine with me. He's got such a cute smile I've been admiring for a few years now and I'm not quite ready to have that change with the loss of teeth.  

Oliver weights not much more than 40 pounds and he's currently in 6T tops and 5T pants. However, just the other day I looked over at him and noticed that his pants are suddenly looking a little short on him. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Full of Egg Hunts

Our Easter can be summed up with one word - chocolate.  Lots of it.  With three days in a row of egg hunts and visits from both the American and German Easter bunnies, the quantity of chocolate the kids received rivaled Halloween. I've got to find a non-candy tradition for next year.

Soren, Kiera and Matteo had their first egg hunt at preschool on Friday, where each child was designated a color and searched the classroom and hallways for four eggs of that color. I actually thought that was a nice variation on the usual free-for-all. Because that's what they got on Saturday. 

The Germanic-American Institute puts on an egg hunt to raise money for their preschool program.  They actually have two egg hunts, one for the little kids in the fenced-in playground and the other out on the main lawn of the property.  The kids waited semi-patiently on the walkways surrounding the lawn as volunteers like Celina and Alina kept a watchful eye. Then the organizer blew her whistle and kids went scrambling. Some eggs were filled with candy, others with tokens the kids could exchange for small toys and a few with "golden tickets" good for specialty chocolates or German baked goods.  We ended up with one golden ticket, lots of tokens the kids enjoyed exchanging and of course, loads of chocolate. 

We spent Easter at Chris' parent's house where the final egg hunt took place.  Those Easter bunnies made our kids work for those eggs they were hidden so well!

Matteo got so into this egg hunt and yelled with delight upon each egg he found.
The "German Easter Bunny" (aka, our au pair, Celina) even left Chris and me a surprise.
We also enjoyed a wonderful brunch at the grandparents' with pancakes, an egg bake and Celina's homemade Hefezopf, a bread baked at holidays. Between that and the chocolate, we were practically in a food coma by mid-afternoon.  

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Not Special Like Twins

My call to the St. Paul School District's Student Placement Office started out innocently enough.  Friends with twins had told me that if one twin gets into a school in the lottery, the other twin automatically receives a spot too.  However, when I filled out the application to register Kiera and Soren for Pre-K, there was no way to indicate that the child had a sibling applying for the same grade. You could only write in the name of an older sibling already attending the school. So I called and asked what to do.

The first person I spoke to explained that the computer system knows when children are twins because they have the same birth date and home address.  I took a deep breath, and told our family's makeup, which is so normal to us, but certainly new to everyone else - Soren and Kiera are five months apart in age.  For the purposes of the school lottery, I wanted to know, how does the district know that my two are siblings?  According to the person I was talking to, the district didn't need to know because there is no preference for "similar-age" siblings, just twins.

A somewhat heated, but still rather civil, discussion ensued in my attempt to figure out why the St. Paul School District wouldn't apply the twins preference to my children.  The man I was speaking to quickly gave up though and offered to have me speak with his supervisor.  She hopped on the phone and started off with a cheerful "hello". I was hopeful. Surely there had been a misunderstanding and so I repeated our family's situation.  She actually seemed more confused than her subordinate. She told me the preference is only for twins because parents try to push a sibling ahead a grade or hold one back so that the two children are in the same grade. Growing even angrier, I explained that wasn't our situation as my children have October and March birthdays, so they fall squarely in the age range for Pre-K. I asked her why they have a policy to not separate twins, but she could give no reason that wouldn't also apply to Kiera and Matteo. 

After a lot of unproductive arguing back and forth, she offered to have the Placement Director give me a call. If I was fuming after the first two conversations, I was enraged at the point that he told me that if Kiera and Soren had coincidentally had the same birthday, they still wouldn't get the twin preference because they're not actually twins.  He was fixated on the idea that a "twins" preference couldn't possibly apply to children who are not twins. 

This mama bear had completed flipped her lid and a co-worker who had overhead my conversation commented to another coworker that he felt sorry for the person on the other end of line because this guy had knowingly stepped between mama bear and her cubs.

I get that our situation is unique, but I'm tired of dealing with people who can't think objectively. This not the first time in the short year since my children have been home that they've been treated differently than families with only biological children.  It was a nightmare to get my American children social security cards and put on my health insurance.  Someone at the Social Security Administration office told my husband Matteo's name was too long and we needed to shorten it.  (A call to Senator Franken's office had that issue fixed in 24 hours, because as his staff said, SSA isn't Twitter - your name isn't limited to 140 characters.) Even when I told a friend (who's coincidentally a twin) the story about my confrontation with the Placement Office he looked at me and said, "But twins are special."

More is at stake than the principle of being treated fairly. Without Kiera and Soren receiving preference if the other gets in, they will be separated.  St. Paul schools do not offer universal Pre-K and the limited classrooms they have are over-subscribed.  The district reserves the majority of the available Pre-K spots for children who are English language learners or have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), among other criteria.  Kiera has an IEP because of her speech delay, which means she pretty much guaranteed a spot. Soren does not have an IEP.  

There's a happy resolution - Soren and Kiera will be given the "twins preference". After talking ourselves in circles, the director suddenly agreed to granting them the same preference as biological twins and I got it in writing later.