Kiera, Matteo, Oliver and Soren

Kiera, Matteo, Oliver and Soren

Sunday, December 11, 2016

10 Years

My brother posted a picture of mom on Facebook. I don't think I've seen a picture of her in years.  She died before I owned a digital camera or before it was common to post pictures online. All my pictures of her are back in New Jersey, or in frozen in my mind. And suddenly there was her picture, and for a split second, I forgot that she was gone.

Reading my brother's tribute to our mom on the 10th anniversary of her death, it surprised me how similarly her absence has affected us.
Ten years ago today, while sitting in a computer lab at Rowan University, I got a life-changing call from my sister: my mom had passed away the night before while visiting her cousin in Wisconsin. Though she struggled with health issues, which necessitated open-heart surgery two years prior, her passing was nevertheless completely unexpected.
I struggled terribly that winter. There was a lot of crying. There were a lot of twisted nightmares in which my mom visited me in various forms, in which I was aware of her death, in which I wasn't, one in which I couldn't stop screaming at her for leaving us, and one in which she died slowly right in front of my eyes. There was a lot of pain. Ugly. Unprecedented. Profound.

Ten years later, the pain is not gone, but is mostly subdued. It occasionally resurfaces, often at this time of year when the impending anniversary of her death and the increased darkness combine, or anytime I think of how she never got to meet my wonderful wife and son. I knew Stevie was the one when I realized how sad it made me that my mom would never get to meet her.

I think a common worry among the bereaved is that the memory of their loved one will become diluted with time, and ultimately erased entirely. If no one remembers the loved one, it will be as if he or she never existed at all. Keeping the memory alive stills that fear.

My mother was not perfect, but neither was I. I was a hyperactive child who knew how to push her buttons, and she had a short temper, and sometimes lashed out at me. But however we may have hurt each other was certainly unintentional, always with underpinnings of love at our core.

So much of who I am today can be traced to my mother. She was a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer for decades, and is one reason I have always loved to write.

She was an avid traveler, having been to all 50 states and many areas of Europe and Asia, and to this day, a travel scholarship exists in her name at Bowdoin College, my sister's alma mater. She always encouraged me to see as much of the world as I could. The picture of her here is from the time I won a cruise to Bermuda and invited my whole family, though only my mom could come. I'd like to think she would be proud of some of the trips I've taken since her passing, including driving across America, driving from England to Mongolia, and teaching English in South Korea for five weeks.
She was born and raised in Gettysburg and enjoyed American history, and is one reason I love stopping at museums everywhere I go now.

My mom even tried her hand at teaching, as an English teacher both here in America as well as in South Korea where my dad was stationed in the army.

She loved dogs, labs especially. She hand made quilts by the dozen, giving them to friends and family as presents. I never once slept with a store-bought blanket growing up. She rarely watched tv but read mystery novels on the living room couch by the truckload. She was not known for her culinary skills, but still made time each year for large batches of homemade apple sauce, strawberry jam, and vegetable soup. She indulged our family's obsession with all things German, though never learned to speak it herself.

Her name was Louise Ann Harbach, and I love her and miss her every day.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving

Before those gathered at my table for Thanksgiving dove into their meal, I thanked them all for being here and told them how much I love to be able to host a holiday meal. My introverted mother-in-law who does not like a crowd explained with a bit too much enthusiasm, "Oh good!"  Sounds like someone is a little too eager to bestow hosting duties on the next generation.

I really do love hosting Thanksgiving, or any holiday for that matter. I enjoy catching up with friends and family I don't see regularly and making more memories with those I do see more often. I take pride in planning the menu and decorating. And most of all, I'm thankful for the traditions I can create for my children.

Our Thanksgiving was "small" this year with only 12 people. That may sound big to some, but when my immediate family accounts for seven seats at the table, 12 isn't all that big. The advantage of having "only" 12 is that we all fit around my dining room table.

We tried something new this year by having dessert at my brother-in-law and sister-in-law's house two blocks away. We called it a progressive Thanksgiving dinner.  Part of our party went ahead to set out the dessert spread and let their Goldendoodle, Watson, get it out of his system to jump all over everyone and steal their shoes. (That only kind of worked.) The rest of us stayed behind to clean up, which meant there was nothing left to do when we came back home to put the kids to bed.
Grandma Nan, Kiera and me
Our au pair Nina's first Thanksgiving


I always have grand decorating ideas, but rarely pull them off. But this idea worked! A adorned a burlap runner with six feet of garland, clementines, little pumpkins and candles.
Yes, Legos and Minecraft made it on the list of things to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

I'm With Her


Of the many reasons #imwithher it's for these two - born in China, naturalized American citizens, raised by white parents.

They deserve a president who values them as Chinese-Americans and believes they belong here. My daughter certainly doesn't deserve a president who objectifies women's bodies, or worse, normalizes sexual assault. Their seven-year-old brother, who has been paying more attention to this election than I ever gave him credit for, deserves to feel safe that the outcome of this election won't impact whether or not his brother and sister are "allowed" to stay here. I assured him that they are "allowed" here as much as anyone else in our family. I find it sad that he has heard those campaigning to lead this country propose kicking entire groups of people out or not letting others in. At seven years old, he believes that his non-white brother and sister or foreign teachers and au pair might have to leave. I can't imagine how he would feel if he were black or brown or Muslim or gay. #lovetrumpshate

On a lighter side, I've enjoyed all the fun us "nasty women" Hillary supporters have had with the "pantsuit nation" campaign. 

Two co-workers and friends of mine designed these kick**s t-shirts. Of my favorite t-shirts of all time, this one ranks up there with my "This is what a feminist looks like" t-shirt I got from the Bowdoin Women's Association in college and my "Every Child Counts" t-shirt from Love Without Boundaries.
We wore them to work on Friday and they were a huge hit. Folks are begging my my friends to order more for after the election.
I was a jittery mess yesterday in anticipation of the election, but while some of the nervousness remains, today I'm filled more with pride and hope. I was excited to go to the polls with my children and Nina.  Despite the long lines reported by those who voted early, there was no wait. Danielle was one of the election judges and we saw many friends and neighbors voting. Some of my friends wrote on Facebook about how they became emotional as they filled in the box next to Hillary's name, but I simply felt happiness. It felt like the most normal thing in the world to vote for a woman as the next president of the United States.
In a nod to Hillary and a movement that has been nicknamed the "pantsuit nation," women (and some men) wore their pantsuits to go vote. I had long given away my formal business attire, so I wore my "Nasty Women Vote" t-shirt. Some wondered if we'd be stopped at the polls since Minnesota law prohibits campaign materials, t-shirts, buttons and the like at polling stations. I figured my t-shirt and the pantsuits would be a loophole since they don't reference any candidate or party. 

Aside from the voting, the rest of the day was mundane as I had taken the day off work to take the kids to various doctors appointments. But that gave me plenty of time to follow all the inspirational stories on the Pantsuit Nation Facebook group. The stories I've been reading there are better than any political commentary on network TV.

As I sign out for the night to tune in to the election results, I leave you with this fun Pantsuit Power Flashmob video. Now let's go make history!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Halloween

We started back in August talking about the kids wanted to be for Halloween. Oliver quickly settled on being a ninja and Soren Darth Vader. Kiera didn't have any ideas, so to promote girl power in a family of lots of brothers, I suggested we create a superhero persona for her. Matteo was adamant that he wanted to be a police officer, but Oliver's costume from last year was way too big. Grandma Nan, the family's costume seamstress, came up with an idea for an M&M costume and once Matteo saw the prototype, he was sold. "M" is his favorite letter after all. 



Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Soren is Five!

Soren has the last of the fall birthdays for the boys in our family and left his four-year-old "triplet" siblings behind by turning five. After watching his brothers and dad get attention, gifts and cake on their birthdays, it was finally his turn. He was so excited that he made his own birthday crown. 
Although Soren is five and headed to kindergarten next year, there's still so much little boy in him that makes my heart melt. We've never been co-sleepers, but one night Soren climbed into our bed for no reason and it was so comforting to roll over and feel him sleeping soundly next to me. He's an awesome cuddler! I could snuggle him all night (but am still thankful we upgraded to a king-size bed when we came home with Kiera and Matteo). He has a cute lisp and like a lot of kids his age, can't say the "r" sound, so "real" sounds like "weal". Sometimes the "l" sound is challenging, so Oliver sounds more like "Owiver".  And even though he's capable of getting himself dressed, he still wants me to dress him in the morning. He couldn't articulate why he wants me to do that, but when I suggested that perhaps it  made him feel loved and cared for, he solemnly nodded his head yes.

Pre-kindergarten is growing on Soren. He seemed lukewarm about the idea at first, but more and more, he reports that school was the best. Perhaps he needed to get used to the "rigor" that is Pre-K. Nina recounted the afternoon he came home from what must have been an exhausting day for him because he heaved a big sigh as he hung up his book bag and jacket. He turned to Nina and announced that Pre-K was so hard; it was like going to work. He wasn't trying to exaggerate or being whiny. In his mind it was the honest truth.

The good news is that all that hard work means Soren will be more than ready for kindergarten and to join his brother at the German school next year. He knows most of his letters and can count to at least 10. He loves being read to, but now that he's been listening to the chapter books we read to Oliver, he's at the point where he can follow along and is as interested as Oliver is. Oliver checks out a book in German each week at his school's library and although Soren doesn't understand German yet, he still listens intently when Nina or I read aloud in German.   

Like his once-fearful siblings, Soren pretty much gotten over his fear of dogs. Hurrah! Watson can still be a little much for him, but he's fine with Lulu, our neighbor's 90-pound Labradoodle.  He surprised us by asking if he could invite Ernie, a friend's elderly Beagle, to his birthday party.

It's convenient for Soren that he's not so afraid of dogs anymore because he enjoys playing with Paloma, whose dog is that previously mentioned large Labradoodle. Every afternoon he and Oliver beg us to let them go next door and ask if Paloma can play. Legos are still their main obsession, but Paloma also introduced them to Star Wars. 

Soren is currently wearing 4T pants and just moved into 5T shirts when the weather turned colder. For the time-being he has his wardrobe to himself, but by this winter when Matteo is predicted to outgrow his 3T pants, Soren will have to part with half his wardrobe. 

Friday, September 30, 2016

Matteo is Four!

Matteo had a special birthday buddy to celebrate with this year. Our au pair, Nina, turned 21 on the same day Matteo turned four. Nina was kind enough to let Matteo pick what we would have for dinner on their big day and they also graciously shared a birthday cake. After dinner and presents, Matteo hit the sack, while Nina made the most of her 21st birthday falling on a Friday and went out to the Wild Onion with friends.
Matteo is still winning hearts with his rosy-cheeked smile, stylish glasses and Pillsbury dough boy laugh. He's so ticklish and it's easy to get him going with a few pokes to his belly. No matter how hard he's laughing, he always wants to come back for more. 

Even though Matteo is the youngest, he's the most empathetic of our children, and overall wise beyond his years at the tender age of four. One afternoon the kids were building Legos when Soren stole Kiera's chair, which caused her to scream and cry as she unsuccessfully tried pulling the chair back out from underneath Soren. Matteo assessed the situation and then pulled a chair from the other side of the room over to where Kiera was standing, tapped her to get her attention, and then very enthusiastically patted the seat to encourage her to sit down.  

Matteo likes everything to be in order and have its place. When Matteo was up at the cabin with his dad and brother, he disappeared into the bedroom they were all sharing. When Chris checked on him, he found Matteo had lined up all the water bottles and snack cups neatly on the nightstand and he was in the process of making the beds. Chris said  he was working so hard he was sweating!

Speaking of the cabin, Matteo loved being up there this summer. Anytime Chris took the kids to the cabin, Matteo and his siblings were giddy with excitement anticipating the opportunity to pack their bags and load up the minivan. Matteo loved spending time on the boat, tubing, roasting marshmellows, having sleepovers with his brothers, pedaling the paddle boat, fishing with his Ironman fishing rod...and well, everything about the cabin and being Up North.  

Being the youngest, Matteo uses a lot of energy to keep up with the rest of the family. He also doesn't nap anymore, except for catnaps in the car. This probably explains why he often falls asleep within seconds of kissing him goodnight and is the last to wake up. Kiera is not the most considerate roommate and often turns on the lights or just causes a ruckus while Matteo is sleeping, but amazingly, he doesn't wake up. 

At four years old, Matteo is approximately 39 inches tall and 33 pounds. He has been in 3T bottoms for awhile, but with the change in the weather, we moved him up to 4T pants. His speech is still very unintelligible, but we're hearing a little bit of progress. As always, everyone says what a joy it is to work with him.

Matteo is so brave when it comes to medical appointments. Granted, this is a kid who's used to having people look in his mouth, but the dentist was still surprised at how compliant a child of Matteo's age was when having x-rays taken. He finished has last cleaning with no tears, happily picked out a toothbrush and stickers, walked out the door of the waiting room and then ran smack into a wall. And that's when he burst into tears. 

My faithful readers who have long known about Matteo's intense fear of dogs will be surprised to read that Matteo is not only no longer afraid of dogs, he now LOVES dogs. Our former au pair spent a lot of time with Matteo (as well as Kiera and Soren) "puppy-training" him by having him spend time with the Great Pyrenees puppy her au pair friend's host family had gotten. Even as he slowly got used to Gustav, his aunt and uncle's large and hyper-active Golden Doodle, Watson, was a little too much for him. And then seemingly overnight, Matteo not just tolerated dogs, he sought them out. Watson spent some weekends at the cabin and when the others grew bored with petting the dog, Matteo made sure he continued to get some attention. He loves throwing the ball to him and doesn't even flinch as Watson tries to grab the ball out of Matteo's hand before he gets a chance to throw it. 

Matteo loves his family. He adores his brothers, is an awesome brother and partner-in-crime to Kiera and lives to be his daddy's little sidekick, whether it's fixing something around the house or making a Home Depot run. And at the of the day, he wants his mommy to put him to bed and kiss him goodnight.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Oliver is Seven!

The boy who made me a mother turned seven. When I snuggle with him at bedtime, I tease him about how I once was able to bath him in the bathroom sink. And now he's an artistically-talented, intelligent, social, Lego and Star Wars-loving little boy.

Oliver devours chapter books...as fast as we can read them to him. He's read every book in the Clementine series, is waiting for the upcoming release of a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book and he just discovered Geronimo Stilton, which he received as a birthday present.  Oliver hasn't learned to read yet and I keep having to take deep breaths and remind myself that students in immersion programs read later and when they do, they can read in both languages. More importantly, he loves books and he loves being read to, something I hope continues even after he can read to himself.

At least the reading balances out the Minecraft.  I only vaguely knew what Minecraft was (I could tell you a video game, but nothing more) and didn't think Oliver knew anything about it, so I was taken aback when Chris returned from a trip to the cabin with the boys with a new Playstation and Minecraft.  It doesn't matter if Oliver had been unfamiliar with Minecraft or not, because he's obsessed with it now. There's part of me that admittedly enjoys a bit of piece and quiet when he disappears to the basement to play, but when I have to cut him off, oh my oh my.  He's a textbook example of the addicting qualities of screen time.

And oh my gosh, the Legos. That's another obsession of his, but one I consider much healthier, at least for his development.  It's not necessarily healthier for my sanity. I'm engaged in a never-ending battle to contain the Legos.  I can't vacuum without doing a detailed survey of the floor and when I try to clear out what look like piles of partially-built, unidentifiable creations from Oliver's room, I'm met with cries of "That's my [term I've never heard of and probably comes from Start Wars]!"

As happens every fall, I push Oliver into the next size of clothing even though they're a tad too big for him.  Last week I swapped out his 5T shorts and size 6 t-shirts for size 6 pants and size 7 long-sleeve shirts.  He's short and skinny, so his shirts hang a little long on him and we have to cinch the elastic bands on the inside of his jeans as tight as they can go.

Oliver continues to flash a smile full of baby teeth. I think he's starting to wish he would lose some teeth like all his friends.  I know it will happen soon enough though. Until then, he's my big boy with a smile full of baby teeth.

We signed Oliver up for a parks and rec league soccer program because he enjoyed playing during recess at school last year and we wanted to have him in an outdoor activity before starting on indoor activities for the winter. Not surprisingly, it took him awhile to warm up to it and even while he eventually had fun, he never loved it. Because of his birthday, he was in a group with older kids and he didn't know any of them. He's an active kid, but I think he likes to enjoy activities on his own terms.

An activity Oliver is loving more and more, despite his humble beginnings, is swimming. He is so much more comfortable in the water and takes every opportunity to go swimming. Even though his last formal lesson was this past spring, he has since learned to swim short distances. He can also now jump in the water, even if it's well over his head, like when he jumps off the dock or the back of the boat into the lake (with his life jacket on of course). For a kid who was once terrified of getting his face wet, (and who still isn't thrilled about having to wash his hair) this is a huge!

Oliver  got up on water skis for the first time this summer, although he still needs to develop more balance and strength before he'll be able to cover any sort of distance. Chris was Oliver's age when he first learned to ski, so this milestone made him one proud dad.
And he's (just about) up!
The picky eating and power struggles over food continue with Oliver.  Intellectually, I know not to engage in power struggles with my children, but it's hard not to when your child truly enjoys so few foods and there's little room for compromise. Dinnertime with four little ones is admittedly not often a very enjoyable experience at our house, but I do take comfort in the fact that we still eat dinner together most nights of the week and hopefully that's the memory that prevails.

These dinnertime power struggles are a few of many examples of the little disappointments or problems that can send Oliver into a spiral of emotions and negative talk. My psychologist friend calls them "automatic negative thoughts." It's hard as a parent to watch my child melt down over something so trivial and talk negatively because even though I know he'll eventually calm down and be back to his happy-go-lucky self, in the moment, he really feels those feelings.

I'm believe strongly that children (and adults!) need proper sleep at night and that children need more hours of sleep than we think. We've always had early bedtimes for our children because they, especially Oliver, need it. As a young child, Oliver was not the kid who could skip a nap or stay up past his bedtime because he melted down. Although I still think his bedtime needs to be 7:00 p.m., it's so difficult to eat dinner at 5:30 p.m. and still have enough time for the kids to wind down, go through the bedtime routine and be in bed an hour and a half later. On the rare nights we achieve that, Oliver still has trouble falling asleep.