“…on my birthday.”

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That was Lillian’s tag line for many comments … on her birthday.

“Henry is being obnoxious, which is completely unnecessary … on my birthday!”

“Tell him to stop annoying me. I cannot tolerate it … on my birthday!”

And, when I heard her arguing with her brother, who quickly accused, “Lillian started it!” Her calm and oh-so-logical response was, “Oh no, I didn’t. Why would I start anything mean … on my birthday?”

Presents! She is so easy to shop for and enjoys every little thing.

On Friday night, I kissed her forehead as she snuggled tucked in for bed. “This is the last goodnight kiss I get to give to you as a five-year-old,” I whispered.

She sighed in sweet anticipation of the next day, when she would (at long last!) turn six. She’d been counting the days since May. And then, once she discovered she was going to celebrate her birthday along with her baby cousin’s baptism at the house of one of her most favorite people, she was beyond excited.

In the morning, I announced her first six-year-old kiss, and she beamed eager to accept it. I could see the wheels turning as she contemplated what the day would hold. I wondered if she analyzed herself the way I did at some of my early birthdays. I can distinctly remember thinking: I don’t feel any different. Or look any different. I worried I was missing something or that the whole birthday thing was a sham.

Hula-hoop success!

It really was a spectacular day. There were minor melt downs associated with hula-hoops and Shrinky Dinks, and little and big boys’ hands on newly acquired birthday gifts. I’m sure if you had just unwrapped a Princess Celestia My Little Pony and your brother was trying to cart it off, you might get a little weak-kneed yourself.

The number of declarations that this was her “best birthday ever!” far outnumbered the “worst birthday ever” claims. I think she only once slammed her door in disgust, which makes it a banner day.

Can she do it?

… yes …

… she can!

We enjoyed the fabulously tasty and beautiful Pink Elephant cupcakes, and she and the other children swam, swam, swam.

Now, just humor my moment of reminiscence. That change that happens between five and six seems to me almost unfair. In that year’s time, I’ve watched my little girl – as I have the three children before her – change so dramatically. She’s become more connected to reality, and her sense of humor has morphed into that of a 10-year-old boy (thanks Henry!) more than I’d like to admit. Her face has changed. Her features aren’t as soft, and reveal many more angles and much less baby fat, even when compared with photographs taken just a few short months ago.

I don’t know if it’s a sign of wisdom or desperation, but I feel a vigorous need to cherish the nuances of each stage the children are sprinting through. Perhaps since our oldest is now 20, I have a living, breathing reminder of how very, very fast it all goes.

Oddly though, even as I write this, I’m not a documenter. I don’t scrapbook or take much video. Unlike the example set by my parents, I sadly don’t have a library of beautifully arranged leather photo albums filled with only the best snap shots.

But when I look into the eyes of my children, I try with my might to save fleeting glimpses of their hearts – hoping that I if I collect enough morsels of those sweet love memories, I will have an abundance to feed me when they are all grown.

Fleeting morsels

Every single time we exit the van, Lillian runs to the swing that Richard hung in our front tree. She jumps on and quickly returns to her cherished dream world: chattering to herself, head back, hair blowing. Richard and I have many times watched and wondered what memories she will keep of doing that.

As I watch her – toes pointing to the sky and eyes gazing into the leafy green – it is my hope that she too gathers morsels that will sustain her when time and the stuff of life eventually forces her feet (at least occasionally) to be firmly planted on the ground.

Shout!

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If you’re wondering how Cliff is doing with his speech, the answer is GREAT! He’s really talking and communicating. He still has his moments of gibberish, but hey, don’t we all?

The newest development in his language is the fact he says nothing quietly. Or remotely quietly. He has so much to say that he just pretty much yells it. And everything he says starts with an attention-grabbing: “Mom!” just to make sure I’m paying attention.

“Mom!”

Mom!”

“MOM!”

Add that shouting “Mom!” to all the other times I hear “Mom!” in a day, and well, I just  may lose it. (Even as I type the word in this quiet corner, my ears are ringing at the thought of it.)

In honor of the screaming, I give you this version of Shout, sung by none other than Lulu. Yes, the same Lulu who sang (and starred in) rather sweetly “To Sir With Love.” (Or if you went to Tuna Tech, that would be “To STAR With Love.”

I know my son has the shouting down, now he just needs to learn the wiggle.

The black-eyed pirate who loves Jesus

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The resident pirate wearing a little faith scapulin from romanticcatholic.com.

After the first of the year, I decided to diminish my participation in music ministry at our parish. The main reason was Cliff. In an effort to spend as much time as I could working on his speech challenges, it meant that I really couldn’t spare the hours of weekly practices and commitments. The byproduct has been that without all the weekly commitments, we’ve branched out and enjoyed a few occasional trips to some of the beautiful historic churches in Detroit.

Today, we visited St. Josaphat’s. It was hot, and attendance was rather sparse. The homily was solid, and the music was good. The organist has a fantastic singing voice. The acoustics in church (oddly) aren’t that great, though. And he sings without a mic. Which I don’t quite get. He even announces the songs by sort of hollering them from the choir loft. And it’s hard to pick up what he’s saying. In part because he also tends to give somewhat extensive instructions (“We’ll sing all four stanzas of the song and only sing the refrain at the beginning and end”). That said, they’re always pretty familiar traditional choices and a joy to sing. One Sunday during Lent, he sang after communion John Stainer’s “God So Love the World,” and well, I thought someone was going to have to peel me off the floor. It was gorgeous, holy, meditational and spectacularly resonant, even with his back to the congregation as he played (beautifully, I might add) the organ.

We’ve gone to noon mass there a few times since March. The pastor is young and energetic and is responsible for that church as well as two neighboring churches. And when I say neighboring … I mean neighboring. One (Sweetest Heart of Mary) is barely more than a stone’s throw away.

When visiting St. Josaphat on Palm Sunday, I had to remove Cliff from the sanctuary and hang out in the vestibule. It had something to do with his pointing out all the many paintings and depictions of Jesus in the church and wanting to discuss them. In full voice. And since he is a boy with whom we do not want to discourage talking, it was just better to take his need for conversation elsewhere.

That’s when we saw it: A tomb with a life-size statue of Christ. Complete with crucifixion wounds. Cliff – at the time – would often say, “Jesus died on the boss.” (To which I would inaudibly come back with “and the E Street Band” before modeling the correct pronunciation of the word “cross.”) When he saw Jesus in the tomb, he declared, “Jesus died in a box!”

I did my best to try – in three-year-old terms – to explain what it was that he was seeing. That it was a statue, wasn’t scary and was for a display to help people understand the story of Jesus dying and rising.

His first instinct was to gently touch the wounds on the statue of Christ.

He couldn’t stay away from it. I quickly snapped the above photo with my iPhone. I was moved by my son’s compassion for a statue that I believe many three-year-olds would find a rather unsettling. When mass was over, he made sure Richard and the other children saw it.

On Good Friday, we visited Sweetest Heart of Mary. It  had a similar statue and a tomb as part of a rather elaborate display. We examined it with Clifford hoping it was a least a step in helping him put the whole Jesus-in-a-box experience in context. We ended up going back there during Easter so Cliff could see the empty tomb.

Richard shows Cliff that Jesus isn’t in the box any more.

I was surprised today at St. Josaphat when I saw that the tomb was again tucked under the stairs to the choir loft (or bell tower – I’m not sure where they lead exactly). I assumed it would be put away somewhere. However, instead of being exposed, the statue was covered with a white sheath of some sort, which to Cliff was very unappealing. He wanted to see Jesus again. I was grateful the statue was covered; it was easier to pry him away and take him into the church.

True to form, during mass (sometime after the Offertory and before he got a shiner from knocking his head on a pew) Cliff’s loud monologue about Jesus dying on the cross (which he pronounces perfectly, now) began.  He started to point out all the paintings and statues of Christ in the church. Finally, he motioned to the back of the church and announced in full voice that, “Jesus died in a bag. In the box. But he’s alive.”

We’re getting there. I think.

Black eye a la pew.

Time out

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What? Me worry?

It’s hard to believe it’s been four months since I posted. I had to put myself in time out. Actually, I led a Lenten prayer group for moms, then planned Vacation Bible School, and all the year-end school stuff – and working. As I type that, it reads a little bit like a litany of excuses. And is, sort of.

There’s a bit more as I’ve been sorting through all kinds of things. Pondering, thinking, praying, reading and pondering more on some of the nuances and occasional heartache of what it means to live in this world as we know it. I know, that sounds pretty heavy duty.

And I guess it is – because it made my little stories of daily life seem insignificant. Rest assured, our family life is strong and everyone is well. It’s all much more big-picture than my little nest. But in the insightful words of my dearest friend – “it must be exhausting living in your head.” And, I will admit, sometimes it is.

But I’m back. Perspective has been granted (thank the Lord!). Life goes on. And all is good. Because God is good. All the time.

Scenes from a Sunday

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Sunday was a glorious day – in spite of a moment of complete failure.

Richard made breakfast. French toast, fresh fruit, sausage. And as always, he makes the best coffee. Perfection from a coffee press with bit of Godiva chocolate powder.

We headed downtown to mass at Sweetest Heart of Mary. Since I have tried hard to reduce some of my singing obligations, one of the by-products is that we can occasionally visit some other churches (although we miss our own when we don’t attend).

We decided to make it our mission to be sure the kids have an opportunity to attend mass at some of the old gorgeous still-operating Catholic churches in Detroit. We want them to learn a little of the neighborhood histories and about the folks who worshipped at them – especially in light the upcoming mergers, clustering and looming closures.

The pictures above are from Old St. Mary’s in Greektown.

But wait, you inquire (somewhat perplexed), weren’t you going to Sweetest Heart of Mary?

Let me just say that nothing says “you-Spring-ahead failure” louder than swinging wide open the huge center doors of a big old (full) church for 10:30 mass on a Sunday morning only to catch the eye of the celebrant as he recesses with his crew full-speed-ahead – to full organ music – right in your direction. Mass was over.

That’s when Richard looked at his phone and queried, “Why does my iPhone say 11:27?”

Don’t worry. It only took about .005 second for Richard and I to inhale the stench of our collective stupidity. A wide-eyed glance at each other, an about-face and a brisk walk of shame back to our vehicle made it almost seem like it never happened. The only breadcrumbs we left  behind were in the vapor trail of Lillian’s endless questioning (which I can only assume eventually dissipated).

By 11:32, we were headed across the freeway and closer to the river for noon maas at Old St. Mary’s in Greektown.

Mass was lovely. The homily fantastic. The priest used my favorite St. Augustine quote and said we were born with a hole in our hearts that can only be filled by Jesus. Two things I say in my St. Mom’s U program. So … it felt like Kismet. If you can call it that. (Probably not.)

The music — an a capella schola standing off to the right in the front few pews — was very nice. Some lovely voices, a nice blend and the acoustics were accommodating. Grant it, we were only four pews from the front so the sound was clear and full where we were. Kind of an interesting mixed bag of mass parts. But it was nice. So, as much as I was hoping to hear that beast of an organ, no such luck.

There are some interesting grotto spaces at the entrance to the church. I’m not going to lie: the kids thought they were creepy. Okay. And while, I’m being truthful: so did I. There are kind of scary statue heads of Christ and a few other less-than-settling images. I’m not sure if something can be equal in kitsch, charm and being the stuff of nightmares – but that’s where I’d put a few of the scenes in the grottos.

And, since going to one church and being completely embarrassed at another apparently isn’t enough for us, we also stopped at beautiful St. Joseph’s.

The organist was the only one left following noon mass, and he graciously let us in for a few prayers and photos. At our next opportunity, we’re going to go to mass there. It seems completely untouched by time. Richard and I are hoping to attend some of the Solemnity of St. Joseph Day activities on Monday if we can.

So, failings aside (which are always abundant anyway) all in all, our scenes from Sunday were sweet.

Embrace your inner girl

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My daughters and I were invited to a bridal shower – the first of my college friends with a child getting married. A lovely young woman with an excellent head on her shoulders … and one seriously beautiful head of hair. (She’s a hair-stylist. And obviously a good one. A quarter of the women there had their hair done by her, and there wasn’t a questionable “do” in the bunch.)

MC couldn’t come, but Helen was able to meet me there from school. It was an hour trip for each of us in opposite directions. I was looking forward to spending a few hours with her while celebrating the upcoming nuptials of this dear bride-to-be.

I was so eager to see my friend – it’s been too long since we’ve been in each other’s presence. (It’s funny – and sad – how an hour away might as well be the moon when life is so jammed-packed.)

I was looking forward to greeting her family and meeting the two little ones who have joined them through foster care. I was glad to share with her husband the story of our friends with five adopted children (soon hopefully six!) all through the foster care system.

When we arrived, it didn’t take long to notice that everything was just so completely perfect. Sparkly. Pink. Coordinated. Thoughtful. The best kind of party.

Every young woman, middle-aged woman and even older-aged woman had perfect hair. (I can admit, I was thankful that I put in a little extra effort on my generally unruly mop.)

The girls were all so fashionable and lovely. (And I’m sorry for saying girls. They are young woman. I know. But most were maybe a year of two older than Helen. I’m not ready to give up saying “girl” just yet. Being PC comes later in motherhood for me, I guess.)

Helen too was also acutely aware of the cute. She (admittedly, like me) is always a little apprehensive to embrace the sparkle – a trait not inherited by either of her younger sisters – they both thoroughly enjoy all that shines and twinkles.

She informed me that she texted her boyfriend and told him about all the pink and all the pretty.

His reply: Have fun and embrace your inner girl.

Smart kid. Good advice. And I can say she did. (And so did I!)

The food was casual and just right. The menu consisted of the Detroit original J.L. Hudson Maurice Salad, rolls, little stuffed pastry appetizers, tasty warm meatballs (turkey), chocolate-dipped this and that, drinks with frozen raspberries and mint leaves, glass jars filled with pink and white candies  and a fabulous array of cupcakes. All was all a very girlish and quite a bridal delight.

We had a lovely time. And I’m sure I looked like a nut job taking photos of the food with my iPhone. But I’m used to that.

And wait, did I say cupcakes? Yum!

Speak up(date)!

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Well, more than a month into visiting the Baby Whisperer, and all is moving along just swimmingly.

We’re still all diligently working as a team on this (Montessori school included), and the results are evident. Cliff has improved in both his speech and language skills markedly. I’ve demonstrated that I’m going to do everything in my power to help him speak, and – much to my joy – so has he.

Through the process, I’ve discovered that my little guy is one serious worker. As much as I’m obsessed with practicing words and sticking my fingers in his mouth to help him make certain sounds, he’s proven he’s up for the challenge and is willing to keep trying, trying and trying. I am so proud of him. We’ve already graduated to modeling three word sentences (which is much easier for me than two), and he has fewer moments of complete gibberish. And many, many moments of successful communication.

Today the Baby Whisperer said she’s not concerned that he has an expressive language disorder, because – based on his progress – he does not. I’m not the slightest bit concerned about that either. Every day he tells me something new. And every day I’m quite sure it is the most exciting thing I’ve ever heard. Yesterday, as I was pulling the van into the garage, and he noticed the toddler bed in the rafters and said, “Hey, that’s my bed!” You can be darn sure we got out of the van, and we studied that bed. We discussed every little thing about it. Its color, how it got up there, if he thought it was heavy, and the fact that now he is a big boy – something he proves to me more each day.

Well, I wanted to share the good news. Thanks to all the folks who’ve asked about the progress. We still have a ways to go, but we’re off to a flying start. Speaking of which, I have to fly so Cliff’s and I can brush his teeth while we sing the theme song to Spider man with new and improved lyrics … we sing “ka, ka, ka – ka, ka, ka.” Beautiful music to a this mama’s ears for sure.

Image

Yo! That was easy!

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I bought this thing a little while ago …

Yogurt maker

… and wanted to share.

I posted about making yogurt a couple years ago, and I’ve been using my little yogurt maker since then, enjoying it. But then in December, I saw a  TV clip for this EasiYo contraption. Of course, since it was around Christmas, I couldn’t get my hands on the thing. I finally go a hold of one in mid-January from (oddly) Sears online. Amazon is still on backorder.

From what I saw on the clip, it addressed all the things that kind of irked me about my traditional maker. So, I’m chiming in my two cents.

I love it. When it arrived, it came with two packages of EasiYo brand yogurt powder. We tried those, and sure making it with the powdered “yogurt sachet” is easy. But they are expensive — which defeats the purpose. And my kids didn’t jump up and down about the yogurt. And wait, did I say this already? They are expensive. I like to use organic milk for yogurt, too. Not freeze-dried milk or whatever it is. And I want to be in control of sugar content, etc.

I need to first clarify (which I mentioned in my first post on the subject) for all the make-your-own-yogurt newbies out there — that any yogurt maker isn’t actually a yogurt maker. It’s more like a yogurt incubator — a device that keeps the milk and cultures warm enough for the cultures to work their magic and grow.

The traditional maker I have (by EuroCuisine) has seven small jars with lids and a warmer. I still have to heat the milk, cool it to a certain temp, add the starter (I use a tablespoon or so of already prepared yogurt), then keep it warm for a designated period of time.

Too long=too tangy. Too short=sometimes not set enough.

For me the magic amount of time seems to be 5 hours. Which is tough. It’s not long enough to make it overnight. The EuroCuisine has a timer, but it still seems to stay a little too warm in there. Every overnight batch I attempted failed. And trying to make it in the morning is a pain. We’re hustling to get out the door, and I’m standing by the sink trying to cool the scalded milk to get the darn stuff in the jars so I’ll be home in the afternoon (hopefully) when the five hours is up.

My life isn’t that schedule friendly.

My biggest complaints are that the jars just don’t want to come clean in the dishwasher, so I have to clean them with a bottle brush, and if I want to make another batch, I have to scoop the yogurt out of a bunch of little jars.

Plus, I’ve melted two lids on the dishwasher heating element during the drying process. So I don’t even have the satisfaction of seven uniform cute little jars of yogurt. (I know: What difference does THAT make? A lot. Sue me.)

I had high hopes for the EasiYo. I wanted a little more convenience. I got excited about the idea of one jar — so I could just scoop out what the kids wanted, and there was only one jar to clean.

The process is simple. I prepare the yogurt in the same way as before: scald the milk, cool it, mix in a starter, sometimes a teaspoon of vanilla and two tablespoons of sugar. (Most often, I make it plain and the kids add honey or a half of a teaspoon of grape or strawberry jelly.)

Yogurt eater

Once it’s all mixed in the jar, I just pour boiling water up to the designated spot, plop the jar into the maker  — which is really just kind of a giant thermos-type thing. It’s very convenient. It’s nice to thoroughly mix the starter with the milk  in the convenient lidded jar; it seems I get a smoother overall consistency. The best part is — I can let it sit in there for up to 12 hours. (Actually, I’ve read some folks have success even longer). Eight hours is plenty. So it’s perfect to make before bed. One jar. Easy to clean. The only con is that it is a rather big container, so you need space for it (it’s about the height and width of a half-gallon jug).

I found this decent video on YouTube of a lady making homemade yogurt. All the steps are the same — but you don’t have to make your own warmer with a heating pad or whatever she uses. But if you’ve never made yogurt and aren’t interested in the expense of buying some kind of a warmer — her method is good if you want to give it a try. Once you start making it, there’s really no comparison.

I have to include one of the commercials for the EasiYo, too. And really, making yogurt with your own milk isn’t just for hobbyists. It’s really not that hard. Sheesh. You can heat the milk in the microwave. (If you know how to press start, you’re good to go.)

Speak easy

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Well, after our second visit to the speech pathologist, we left with the task of speaking to our dear boy in two-word phrases. And to build every one-word utterance he makes into a two-word, correctly articulated gem. When he says “car,” I say, “drive car” or “blue car” or “car goes.” You get the picture.

In addition to an articulation issue (most likely due to the long-term fluid in his ears), Cliff shows some signs of an expressive language disorder. It’s not a confirmed diagnosis, since we’re only two weeks into the process. But the Baby Whisperer gave me a heads up that there are some indicators.When someone sits back and starts a sentence with “I don’t want to scare you …” Be prepared.

I can honestly say, I’m not scared. I have faith we’ll do our part. Cliff will do his. The Baby Whisperer hers. And that God’s got us covered – all in his way and his time. I have a healthy and capable little guy. So the way I see it, all is right with the world.

Googling expressive language disorders is kind of a bust. I can’t find much of anything on the web but some generic, somewhat broad information. And nothing really led me to any support resources for parents or anything, either. They were mostly for sweet little one’s with more severe learning issues or disabilities. I came across a bunch of text books. But I’m not in the market for those. I like to read about challenges, protocols, processes and successes. So I guess I’ll share ours.

Hey there. What's up?

Cliff has a mountain-high (although occasionally difficult-to-understand) vocabulary but not so much the ability to put words together. This has nothing to do with his intellect – if you know how cunning our little dude is, that’s an easy confirmation. But it could have an impact on his ability to say what he’s thinking. Or when he’s older, write his thoughts, etc.

After some retrospective analysis, it is pretty evident to us that although he says many two-word phrases, none of them have been very unique. Standing by a light switch and saying “light on” is indeed expressive. He is turning the light on. But that’s pretty much been the scope of it. Light on, light off, coat on, coat off. All done.

You get the picture. Sure he says other phrases: I love you. Stop that. Thank you. You’re welcome. (He’s very polite.) Oh, and Poopy Head. But those might as well be single words to him.

This isn’t really atypical of being a little one in a large family. There are six people who respond to his single-word commands. We know what he wants. And frankly, he’s always been a kid who wants very little. He wants to be fed, climb on the furniture and play. He’s a pretty simple guy.

So, picture this: I sit down with the bigger kids and tell them the deal. I say this is what we’re going to do. And they oblige and are doing it. Everyone is doing it. Even his fabulous Montessori school teacher. Five-year-old Lillian has at times expressed some opposition to the process. (“Why isn’t he talking yet since you’re taking him to that lady?”) I’m not sure she’s a big fan of all the attention he’s getting. (Gee, wait until she finds out I’m spending the money I’ve been saving for her sibling-rivalry recovery therapy on his speech therapy.)

And now picture this: If you actually know us, you know there isn’t an unenthusiastic one in the bunch. If you dropped by our house these past few days, you might think we were a bunch of over-caffeinated cheerleaders on steroids or something. We’re – collectively – one huge, living and breathing exclamation point. (!)

Okay. Now take a moment to picture this: Yesterday morning, my little guy is standing in the bathroom, and he turns to me and asks, “Where’s Henry’s puppy?” I didn’t get it at first, so I stooped. He grabbed my face and slowly said it again. (His version of Henry is a tough word to understand between two others.) He was obviously thinking of the stuffed toy they were playing with the night before. You can be darn straight we found that puppy!

Ready to get down to business.

And after school yesterday, he said, “Where’s my work?”

He couldn’t see his  prized sewing work in front of him on the floor of the van. AND! As we were preparing to go outside he asked, “Where’s my other shoe?”

I know. Say it. He’s a genius. (A motherly winky goes right …. here.)

It’s not much. But only two and a half days into this – it’s a lot. Today he said he “Want to see the toys” that Henry was packing for game day at school.

At another occasion, when I just couldn’t understand him, he tried to very slowly repeat his words for my comprehension. Then he looked into my eyes and quietly sighed and muttered, “I don’t know.” That’s the part that makes my heart ache for him in this process. As a person who very rarely is at a loss for words, I can’t imagine having my thoughts against my will held captive in my head. (Even though, I’m quite sure there are many times my thoughts should’ve stayed quietly tucked in their cage.)

The joy in his reaction when we know what he was saying is really a motivator for all of us. I truly marvel at how a little brain works.

Time will tell what the fruits of this will be and how he will be able to express and process his own thoughts better. And he still has some pretty significant articulation issues to tackle. I know it’s not going to be easy, but at least we’re off to a really good start.

We’ve found some nifty apps on the iPad that are really fun and useful for Cliff (only with parental interaction, of course.) I’ll have to share those, too. I want to share them with the Baby Whisperer first.